Sunday, 25 February 2018

The fashion industry and its blame for my super-hero addiction.

As I lurk behind the rear exits of the Sheffield University Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, hoping to be bombarded by stray nuclear rays, people often say to me, "But, Steve, given that Britain had a flourishing and honourable comic book tradition of its own, just why did you start reading American comics?"

Well, I could lie and say it's because, at the age of eight, I was attracted by the Nietzschean overtones of the super-hero genre, mixed with a need to contemplate just what the effect would be upon any society that is suddenly exposed to the emergence of a new breed of super-men, but the truth is it was because I liked the bright and colourful costumes.

I know this because my main memory of every single super-hero comic that I encountered during that initial spell of reading them, in the summer of 1972, is what I thought of the costumes.

The first super-hero comic I can remember owning was Amazing Spider-Man Annual #6 and the thing that had made me want to have it was the sheer red and blue webbiness of Spider-Man's outfit.

Shortly after that, I picked up my first issue of Batman whose main appeal was down to his bat ears, the arches at the base of his cape and the bendy spikes sticking out of his gloves.

Around the same time, I got an issue of The Flash. His predominant allure to me was that he had lightning sticking out of his boots, wings sticking out of his head and he somehow managed to store his costume in a ring on his finger.

The appeal of Captain America in my first exposure to him was not the fact that he was fighting a talking gorilla but that he was wearing the American flag and had wings sticking out of his head.

The appeal of Superman was the big "S" on his chest, and his boots.

The first issue of The X-Men that I ever read impressed me by featuring the Angel vs Red Raven. I could claim to have been gripped by the pulse-pounding drama of such a meeting but the reality is that what most gripped me was that the Angel's costume was yellow with red bits and Red Raven's costume was red with yellow bits, meaning that they, to some degree, mirrored each other.

Likewise, my first ever issue of Teen Titans impressed me mostly because Kid Flash had a costume whose colours partially reversed those worn by adult Flash.

I suppose I should also acknowledge that wings featured a fair amount in the physical appearance of a whole bunch of these characters. Whether that was coincidence or whether a subconscious desire to fly meant I was drawn to winged characters, I could not say.

Interestingly, only weeks after this comic-buying splurge began, I got my first issue of Mighty World of Marvel. Of the three strips printed in it, only one - Spider-Man - featured a costumed hero. The Hulk just ran around in his trousers, while the Fantastic Four were, at this stage, still operating in their normal everyday clothes. What gripped me about those tales was that they dealt with alien invaders and thus created a sense of a world in permanent danger.

It seems that, in mere weeks, I had evolved from liking super-heroes purely because of their costumes to liking them for how dark and menacing their world was.

Interestingly, I don't think that, at this point, I had any great interest in their powers.

The one exception to that was Mr Fantastic. That issue's Spider-Man tale featured the wondrous wall-crawler's early, failed, attempt to join the Fantastic Four and, while the Invisible Girl, Human Torch and Thing's powers didn't mean anything much to me, I do remember being highly impressed by the visual strangeness of Reed Richard's stretching prowess.

So, there you have it; if you ever want to create a comic that's irresistible to eight year olds, start off by giving everyone brightly coloured costumes with wings, then, after two issues, switch to doing "B" movie sci-fi plots involving alien invasion and, from then on, fill every issue with men who can stretch like elastic. My experience as an eight year old suggests that, for a child, this is an unbeatable chain of events.


Killdumpster said...

In response of your observations of superhero costumes, that also applied to the supervillians for me.I always preferred stories with the heroes fighting costumed bad guys rather than ordinary thugs in plain clothes.

Anonymous said...

To be fair to you Steve, by the 70s the writers didn't have much interest in the superheroes' powers either - its almost as if they were purposefully poorly defined to make plotting easier.

I pretty much agree with you, although after initial exposure it was the more way out aspects of the FF and Thor that really did it for me, Galactus, Hela and Odin's headgear being a bit more visually interesting than a pair of wings.

Hard to explain why exactly, but I always found Kirby krackle enormously appealing.


Anonymous said...

I started reading Marvel comics because of the short-lived Planet Of The Apes TV series. Episode 1 blew me away and I instantly became a massive fan. Unbeknownst to me, Marvel UK launched POTA No.1 just six days later - somehow, I was completely unaware of the first four issues but when I saw No.5 on sale I HAD TO HAVE IT. Despite the POTA weekly not featuring any of my beloved TV characters I was hooked and so began my life-long relationship with Marvel. My interest in Marvel's superheroes just flowed seamlessly from the POTA weekly and my curiosity about Marvel UK's other comics. I think I liked superheroes because they were so unusual and different, certainly different from the Beezer and the Topper which I'd been reading previously. I was fascinated by the art in Marvel too because I loved drawing. But I've always been haunted by one question: if the POTA TV series had never been broadcast in the UK would I have ever started reading Marvel comics?

Anonymous said...

By the way, Steve - do you listen to Radio4 Extra, the digital station? Tonight at 8.30pm there's a documentary about "Children Of The Stones" presented by Stewart Lee, the comedian. This documentary was originally broadcast on Radio 4 a few years ago but I'm looking forward to hearing it again :)

Steve W. said...

Killdumpster, I think I felt the same way about costumed villains vs non-costumed villains. The only exception being in Spider-Man.

Sean, it's weird but I don't think I ever noticed the Kirby Crackle until I saw an example of it mentioned in a book about comic book illustration, in the early 1990s. I think that, as a child, I was sort of fixated on human figures, to a degree that meant I basically failed to notice everything else that was in front of me. That does, however, give me an idea for a post.

Thanks for the Children of the Stones tip-off, Colin. Along with Escape into Night and Timeslip, it was one of my childhood favourites. I shall make sure to have a listen.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Hey Gents!

Steve - Some of my earliest comic memories are of the green Cpt Mar-vell and Angel (yellow?) on the cover of comics as seen in a comic-book dispensing machine in the late 1960s. Simply walking by, stopping to stare, and then being nudged forward again by my mother. I have no idea which issues I saw.

I can't say if it was the colors, the uniforms, the situation... I just recall it being one fantastic image. (Though to this day I am highly biased towards the green Mar-vell and yellow Angel b/c of the color and uniform design.)

Sean - I remember being thrilled by "Kirby Krackle" in the late 60s too! But, I did not know it had a name until I was reading "The Buyers Guide for Comic Fandom" bi-weekly newspaper in the 1990s, after I had rekindled my interest in comics. Oddly enough, this past month I have been reading a TBP of Byrne's Fantastic Four (I missed out on comics from like 1975 - 1990) and there are images where I say to myself, "Where's the Kirby Krackle?" having been brought up on Kirby's and John Buscema's FF. I mean, the panels just seem to scream at me that they need the KK, LOL.

Steve W. said...

Comic dispensers sound like the greatest thing ever. Sadly, I don't think we ever had them in this country. We only had cigarette dispensers, which didn't have the same usefulness to an eight year old.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

O Steve - the comic dispenser machine was responsible for one of Charlie's greatest comic-collecting tragedies around 1972-3. It pains me to think about it 45 years later. Perhaps, with some proper grief counseling, all will be revealed in the coming days.

If you google "Hey kids a comic book dispensing machine" you can see what they looked like. A 6' tall, rectangular, coin-operated dispenser with two vertical columns of 5 comics per column.

It is in these dispensers that I glimpsed the fuzzy memories of Mar-vell and Angel that still orbit my brain cells.

Killdumpster said...

Yes Steve, I think I felt the same way about Spider-Man.usually the plain clothes baddies were henchmen for the likes of Hammerhead and Kingpin, or Silvermane's Maggie.

Killdumpster said...

Pardon me,"Maggia". Durn spell check.

Killdumpster said...

Pardon me,"Maggia". Durn spell check.

Killdumpster said...

And hiccups

Killdumpster said...

The design on the 60's Captain Marvel t-shirt available from Marvel back then was cool.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Killdumpster... I wanted that doggone t-shirt something badly of the green Cpt Marvell. But spending money on stuff like that wasn't going to happen in our household, lol.

I mean, when we went to the department store, we'd have one $.25 hotdog and have to share it 3 - 4 ways, lol.

I've plunked around on ebay and never seen one. Have you?

Killdumpster said...

Charley H 47
I know where you're coming from. Outside of holidays, only cash I saw as a little kid was loose change in the couch cushions,returnable pop bottles found along the road,& report card money (quarter for "a", dime for "b", etc.)

The first time I ever saw Mar-Vell was in the adverts in the back of the comics back in the 60's. He kind of had a Ultraman like pose, with Gene Colan art.

Maybe when the movie comes out there'd be retro shirts available. I know I'd get one.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Kd- our parents must be related lol! In retrospect I wonder what was wrong with my neighbors throwing pop bottles by the side of the road lol.

Killdumpster said...

Charlie Horse 47 & all other dirt poor comics kids.
Marvel offered statuettes back in the 60's. Set A included Spider-Man, the Hulk & Iron Man. Set B had Thor, Capt.America & Daredevil.
I scrounged up I think the 170 pennies that a set cost. My mom wrote out a check to send & I ordered set A.
8 weeks later 2 packages came in the mail. They had mailed me both sets! My mom said "If they mailed them to you, they're yours".
That was a happy time, having 6 of Marvel's greatest proudly displayed on my desk.

Killdumpster said...

I loved the Apes tv show also. The"family" tv was tied up by my sister's (with Brady Bunch or some such thing). My grandmother who moved in with us had her own, so after Lawrence Welk she was almost happy to have one of us grandkids willing to spend anytime with her. The whole 1/2 got of watching Apes consisted of her screech " Those monkeys SCARE MEEEEE...."

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Kd - you still got the statues? Anyhow, Brady Bunch and Partridge Family pretty much owned our TV on Friday nights in that era.

Lawrence Welk ... I've watched a few of his reruns the past year. God help me get a life!

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Hey Steve, Sean, Colin's, et al! You guys really getting the snow???

Steve W. said...

It is a little inclement at the moment.

I can't comment on what it's like anywhere else in the country but, where I am, the snow's about six inches deep which isn't particularly unusual. I remember in early 2013, the snow was two foot deep at one point, which really was a pain. My main complaint right now is that the weather's very grey and damp which takes all the fun out of a snowy day.

Killdumpster said...

Charley H 47-

No,20 yrs ago I needed cash to fix my motorcycle. Wish I still did, but got $250 for'em. The guy told me they were proto-types.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Bummer dude! Sounds like Chicago winters!

TC said...

The Flash #124 (1961), reprinted in #160 (1966), DC Blue Ribbon Digest #2 (1980), and Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told (1992), had a team-up with Elongated Man to fight alien invaders. Three-in-one.

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