Three Times that First Year

By Dave Noe

E-Man has a very special place in my memory, shared by only a couple of other titles. For many years it meant a specific time and place that was both exciting and scary.

E-Man wasn't sold in my area. At least, I couldn't find it, and as a poor farm kid, I didn't have much opportunity.  Just going to town was a real treat.

Sometimes, though, circumstances arose that were unavoidable.

My parents didn't say too much to us. We were pretty young. My mother had developed cancer and had to undergo treatment in a part of Missouri that was several hours away. My father, a quiet hard working man, would be stuck in an enclosed hospital room with two young energetic boys who were used to running the hills and valleys of the farm.

He took us to a barn-like structure that had vast unorganized rows of stuff laid out on low tables. We were supposed to pick out some sort of toy that would help keep us occupied. I found the stack of comic books.  E-Man found me. I was hooked.

Three times that first year, we took the pilgrimage. Three times we hit the barn store. Each time I came away with more E-Man.  Over the next few years we had to go back occasionally. The same comics were there for years. I ended up getting most of my E-Man collection from that discount store.

I never realized just how serious my mother’s condition was. We were just kids. I never understood the operation, the treatments, the check ups.  I didn't need to know the horror my parents were going through. I was buoyed by fantasy, by some of my earliest experiences with comics, by Alec Tronn and Nova Kane.

My mother survives to this day, a product of then new successful operating techniques that are standard today.  I still read comics today, a product of the superior writing and storytelling of all those involved with E-Man and its superb backup stories.

The memory of this story wasn't prompted by a trip through the longbox.  It was reignited by the Facebook group, The Charlton Arrow, which was created by fans and pros who remembered their love for the old Charlton Comics, the company who started The Charlton Arrow.

After bringing together old fans, the group did something even more amazing. They started taking submissions from new writers and artists. This was a group that had brought back many of the original pros.  They certainly didn't have to take submissions from newbies.  I was fortunate enough to have some of my stories accepted.  Many others were, as well.

 But this still isn't what prompted my memory. You see, the creators of E-Man, Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton joined the Charlton Arrow group. They, and all the contributing pros, actively communicate with the fans and newbies. When I say they actively communicate, I don’t mean that they post statements and watch for the accolades to come in -- they have actual conversations with everyone, sometimes in private messages, sometimes about subjects that have nothing to do with comics. They tell the inside stories. They provide tips and share their experiences, good and bad.

When I read those E-Man comics, I never had the slightest idea that years later I would be able to speak to the creators, let alone, tell them the story of why their creation was important to me and how it touched my life.

Thrashing Legends

By Brian Cross

As a kid, I latched on to comics rather quickly; my father often bought them for me from drugstores and the local bookstore down the street, as my parents were very supportive of my reading habit. That’s how I got into Iron Man, Green Lantern, and others that remain lifelong favorites. Many of my friends at school read comics, too, and of course we often borrowed, traded, and gave away each others’ issues. (When you’re a kid, comics are disposable, remember?) I read countless issues back then, but one that still sticks out to me was Avengers Annual #10.

I got it from a friend some time in the late 1980s, and he had nabbed it from either a flea market or a family member. I can’t recall which, because he had a whole pile of comics acquired from both sources, and AA #10 just happened to be the one he passed on to me. I don’t even remember which friend I got it from! Maybe I traded it for it? Who knows, but none of that is important. What is important is that I read that comic over and over again.

From a historical perspective, AA #10 is very important. Aside from featuring the first appearances of Rogue and Madelyne Pryor (though the latter may just be a kid with the same name as the later infamous Goblin Queen), the issue was a showcase for the stunning artwork of Michael Golden and Chris Claremont’s crisp writing. I didn’t know their names or their professional accomplishments at the time, but the quality of their work certainly made an impression on me even at such a young age.

The issue was a thrill ride from beginning to end, and it’s a testament to Claremont’s ability that even though I knew nothing of Ms. Marvel or her history with Marcus, I understood those subplots perfectly, as they were well explained in dialogue and flashbacks. The battle sequences were expertly plotted and rendered. To my young mind, watching a mystery woman trashing legends like Captain America, Thor, and Wonder Man just didn’t seem possible. The X-Men cameos were great, as was watching Iron Man finally came back into the fight as well as the rest of the Avengers using skillful tactics to defeat the powerful Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

I reread AA #10 so many times over the years that I even had to restaple it due to the book falling apart! As I grew older, I sold off most of my old comics, but I kept AA #10 lying around to read again once in a blue moon.

Alas, it’s long gone by now, and I have no idea what happened to it. Occasionally I entertain the idea of picking up a copy again, but it’s managed to hold on to a rather high value due to that Rogue first appearance.

Well, I can always look for a cheap reprint at some point. It’ll be worth that stroll down memory lane. I promise to take better care of this copy, however. AA #10 is not a book that deserves to fall into disrepair.

Three Kinds of Monster

Hulk_Vol_1_267.jpg

By Gene Hendricks

When I was a kid, there were several things I looked forward to about visiting my grandparents’ house, beyond seeing Nana and Pop. The first was that I got away with more. My grandparents were VERY indulgent of my sister and I, and we got away with a lot, which frustrated my father to no end. The second was being able to have our own little play area, which was the finished basement, complete with Nickelodeon on the TV and a fridge full of YooHoo. But it’s the third item that I want to talk about, and that is my comic book.

Yes, that’s right, singular.

The first comic book I remember is Incredible Hulk #267, cover date January 1982.  I might have had comic before this, but they were most likely Donald Duck comics, or some such, and as much of interest to my younger sister as to me.  This one, though, was all mine.  It was kept in a dresser drawer in the room we stayed in while visiting, along with some other toys and reading materials.  I have no idea where it came from, but I think that my grandfather bought it knowing that I was a fan of the TV Show.  He definitely knew that I was a fan, not because he saw me watching it, but because I always asked him to play David Banner with me.  Since he had green eyes, I would pretend he was changing into the Hulk (which was my role) when he made them really wide.

Every time he did it, I could hear that chord of music from the show.

The interesting thing about this comic was that I was in kindergarten when it came out and I managed to read it 3 different ways over the years that it was there.

At first I liked the pictures.  I’m pretty sure I knew some of the words, but I was more into the pictures.  The fact that the art in this was by Sal Buscema probably had something to do with that. In fact, I think that it was seeing this type of art very early lead me to appreciate those comic artists that draw figures more grounded in reality.

Looking back on it I realize that I’m one of those people that isn’t a fan of art that doesn’t look like something, or that I can’t connect to some kind of reality. Picasso doesn’t do it for me, for example. But with Buscema’s art you could see the reality there. Yeah, the Hulk was huge, but he was in proportion. Betty Ross and Rick Jones looked like real people, completely in scale and wearing non-skin-tight clothing. Buscema, Byrne, Garcia-Lopez, Jurgens, Perez, Ordway, these are all comic artists that make the superhero world they are working on look like it could actually exist.

Then I started reading the dialog balloons.  For some reason I thought that the yellow narration boxes weren’t part of the story (I was a weird kid, OK?).  I was able to get the story well enough through these and, since I didn’t know what I was missing, I didn’t feel like I needed more. It probably also had to do with my still learning how to read and being able to tell my parents that I had read the entire comic on my own. In any case, I’m pretty sure that phase didn’t last too long.

Finally, I eventually managed to read the whole thing -- all text included, but by this time the comic was getting kind of beat up. I do remember that I was able to bring it home at some point, but that was after I had started getting other comics, mostly Spider-Man, but also more Hulks and other titles as well.

I should point out that I do not have this issue any more.

After all the years in that drawer, and the fact that I have read it I don’t know how many times, it bit the dust sometime in the '90s. Being a snotty teenager at the time, I just tossed it in the trash, not realizing the sentimental value it would hold for me in the future. But such is life.

Part of that is probably because my grandfather was much closer, geographically, to us at the time. After my grandmother died, he moved in with us for a time, and then bought a house in our town. He’d come to our house for dinner every night and we’d spend weekends during the summer at his house, since it was on the water. I didn’t ever think that I would need a busted up old comic to remind of him, since I couldn’t conceive of a time when he wouldn’t be around.

I never really thought about it but I think my grandfather was the one responsible for getting me into comics. Not just for buying me this issue, but because he would tend to get me a comic when he would go to the newsstand/convenience store, even when I got into high school. I don’t think he “got it," but he knew that it made me happy -- so he would get me what he thought I liked. He would even get me the same issue multiple times, simply because he didn’t pay attention to what he’d already bought me. I was grateful for each one, never letting him know if I already had it. I didn’t think about it too much at the time, but I really appreciate it now, especially when I see what my dad is willing to do to make my daughter happy, even when I know he doesn’t really want to.

You can always read more Gene Hendricks' work at his blog www.thehammerstrikes.com

Smaller is Better: Support Your Local Comic Scene

By Max Delgado

The nice thing about running your own blog is that you can sometimes publish content that’s not mission aligned and there’s no one around to fire you.

As some of you know, I live in the Twin Cities and, like most local geeks, consider the opening of SpringCon this weekend here in Minneapolis to be one of those little gifts of spring -- like longer days and green tulip bulbs this humble little comic con is something I look forward to all winter.

Because of that I’ve been following the recent “Con Wars” controversy with some interest (the semi-covered fracas between Wizard World and the Midwest Comic Book Association). And as someone who had to peck around the internet to get the whole story, I wanted to quick overview of the situation with the major encouragement that you should attend Spring Con if you can.

Please note, this isn’t a unique piece of journalism, but a mash-up of good journalism that has already occurred.

First of all, for those of you haven’t heard the term “Con Wars” I’ll offer this definition: Con Wars is shorthand for Wizard World’s predatory practice of moving into new cities and setting-up their big ass Wizard World shows just weeks or days before smaller local conventions. While Wizard World (the organizer of Wizard World Comic Con) has denied any underlying motivation to this practice, many of the smaller cons who’ve had to survive the invasion of these mega-shows have all come to the same conclusion: Wizard World is systematically trying to shut down the competition and corner the market on conventions.

So why do community-focused geeks see this as a problem? Isn’t part of the American promise that you can set-up your lemonade stand across the street from mine and give the consumer a choice about where to spend his or her dime? Well, yes. But as the recent Con War here in Minneapolis just highlighted, Wizard World’s approach doesn’t follow traditional rules of engagement where one lemonade stand goes nose-to-nose against the other. Rather, I would argue, Wizard World has played dirty. And actively sought to undermine the very sense of community-meets-commerce that cons are supposed to create.

Overview of a Con War

August 2013:

Newshounds around the web got word that Wizard World, the parent company responsible for Wizard World, has once again scheduled a larger-than-life convention right ahead of a local con -- this time Wizard World’s target was the small but celebrated Spring-Con, Minneapolis’ oldest gathering of geeks. SpringCon has been at it for a startling 26 years, and is run by the Midwest Comic Book Association, a local non-profit that literally gives fans an admission discount if they bring canned goods in for a local food shelf.

Sensing the rumbling, Wizard World claimed it didn’t know anything about SpringCon, and had not intentionally scheduled their event to try and capsize the tinnier competition. Wizard chairman John Macaluso told The Beat: “We’re trying to go into more cities, and we do everything in our power not to compete with anybody. Why would we want conflict? It would reduce the amount the attendees going to both shows.” Further, in the same article, Macaluso told The Beat that SpringCon “was not on our radar,” and that their research into the area had not turned up this potential conflict.

The Phone Call of 2012

While this ‘aw-shucks’ posturing might seem to let Wizard World off the hook, it doesn’t add up. Nick Postiglione, co-owner of local comic shop The Source and a lead organizer for SpringCon came out to refute this message: “About a year ago,” Postiglione shared “we were approached by Wizard to see if we were for sale or absorption. I told them that given the fundamental structural differences in our respective organizations, that probably wouldn’t be possible. But we’d be happy to help their efforts in establishing a presence here.” Postiglione didn’t hear back from Wizard. And he had no idea that “they actually intended to land right on top of us.”

What About Other Dates? And What About FCBD?

Free Comic Book Day at The Source in Roseville, MN 

Free Comic Book Day at The Source in Roseville, MN 

One of the largest points of contention has been how close Wizard World scheduled Wizard World to SpringCon (Wizard World Comic Con hit Minneapolis two weeks before SpringCon, which is scheduled for the weekend of May 17). Wizard World further annoyed the local geek scene by scheduling Wizard World Comic Con for the same weekend as Free Comic Book Day (May 3) -- an annual event instrumental in pulling new readers and new blood into local comic shops (the very same demographic often attracted to conventions). Andrew Toth, owner of local shop Mind’s Eye Comic described the dilemma to Minneapolis newspaper CityPages more succinctly: “That’s two dick moves in one, forcing fans to choose between the new con and the established con, and between going to Wizard World and attending FCBD at their favorite local store."

Wizard World responded to this criticism by claiming that they had no choice. PR director Jerry Milani told CityPages that "Wizard World schedules its events based on the available dates on a convention center's calendar and how that fits into the rest of our schedule.” In order to check the validity of this story, geeks called the convention center and saw that other dates were indeed available.  Postiglione goes further, telling CityPages: “They tell us, 'Well, it was the only weekend we had.' One of my best friends is a traffic manager at the Convention Center, and he says that is absolutely not true.”

Wizard World Comic Con 2014:

Wizard World Comic Con arrived here in Minneapolis on May 2 -- and guess what? The fans made it great. Waves of geeks poured through the doors of the Minneapolis Convention center donned in costumes and eager to see the handful of pop-culture idols who’d flown in for the event. As to not ignore the efforts of FCBD a handful of local shops opted-out of Wizard World Comic Con and held events for local fans that featured local artists. Given the strong gravitational pull of Wizard World I would guess that most fans who attended WC weren’t even aware of the so-called "Con Wars" -- they were just there for the spectacle and Wizard World Comic Con absolutely delivered.

SpringCon 2014:

SpringCon 2014 will kick-off THIS WEEKEND, with doors opening on Saturday, May 17 at 10am. While the show still promises to deliver some of the con staples that geeks have come to expect from cons (artists alley, costumes contests, and creator panels), the event will also be low-key, with a special emphasis on local shops and local community. For those of you who’ve ever seen SpringCon in action, the relatively mellow feel of this weekend will highlight the quasi-absurdity of this whole “conflict.” The events are *so* different that it’s kinda like Wizard World is an orange picking a fight with an apple.

In Short:

When it comes to the local con scene some hardcore anti-establishment geeks want nothing less than the overthrow of Wizard World. And, to some extent, I can see the merit to this argument given that Wizard World’s first instinct is not to coexist, but co-opt. That said, when it comes to a scene like Minneapolis, where the local con has refused to be absorbed, the real question morphs to this: is coexistence possible? Too bad this doesn’t seem to be a question Wizard World seems interested in answering. Rather, they just want to stomp the competition -- and this stomping, I feel, reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the market Wizard World is trying to break into. Simply put, Wizard World Comic Con is sizzle, while SpringCon is steak. And if these events were scheduled further apart, or if Wizard World had actually decided to take Postiglione up on his offer to collaborate, then fans could get the best of both worlds. Instead, Wizard World’s lack of imagination -- and quest to dominate the market -- has fabricated a conflict that shouldn’t even exists.

What You Can Do:

Well, yes, cons are about community but they’re also about money. And while Wizard World might have made its name by creating a space where geeks can gather, the real goal is not connection. It’s cash. So, if there’s a next step here, it’s this: be mindful about how you spend that cash. If you like your local con scene, support it. If you’re in Minneapolis this weekend, go hit SpringCon. It may not have all the bells and whistles of Wizard World Comic Con, but it’s got more heart.

No Minor Superheroes

swordoftheatom.jpg

By Avi Green

My family immigrated to Israel in late 1983, just before I’d turned 9 years old.

Even before that, there were several comics my parents bought for me that I enjoyed, like issues of Fantastic Four #139, Spider-Man #138, The Flash #230 (also my introduction to Green Lantern); and Justice League of America #220. In Israel comics were not easy to find initially, but I eventually managed to find used book stores and specialty stores for magazines that sold them. I also spent plenty of time reading newspaper comics like Peanuts and Garfield.

My father and mother worked as high school teachers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey when they were younger, and moving here, my father took up a career as a language translator, with one of his biggest jobs being the assignment of translating a French medical dictionary. My mother took up jobs as a tutor in addition to continuing her work as a high school teacher. In the mid-90s I got a job working in libraries where there was some comics material available, although not much. This job helped me to keep up on comics a bit.

As time went by and I came into my adult years I began developing an appreciation for minor superheroes and their supporting casts. Doctor Strange, Hawkman, Metamorpho, Elongated Man, Moon Knight, Cloak & Dagger, The Defenders, The Outsiders, Sub-Mariner, Hawkeye, The Question, Quasar, and also, what is to be the main subject of this article, the Silver Age Atom. Besides owning plenty of back issues of gems like Avengers and New Teen Titans from the yesteryear, I also own a sizable number of trade paperbacks collecting some of the best stories like The Kree-Skrull War from Avengers, New Mutants, and Iron Man’s Demon in a Bottle from 1979. Much of these I was able to buy – along with various back issues – at two stores in Tel Aviv, one called Comics & Vegetables and the other called Comikaza.

Speaking as someone who took offense and felt revulsion at DC’s Identity Crisis miniseries (and similarly at Marvel's Avengers: Disassembled), and the shocking abuse of many heroes and supporting cast members who appeared in it, I was relieved to later find and buy a copy of the Sword of the Atom TP which reprints the 4-part miniseries and 3 specials published during 1983-88. For the time it was published, it was very surprisingly well written. The story detailed how Ray Palmer, following the discovery Jean Loring had cheated on him with a fellow lawyer named Paul Hoben (who, let me note, was the one who drew her into the affair), took a trip to the Amazon forests of Brazil where he met and fell in love with the princess of a tiny alien race called the Katarthans; this affair lead to Palmer's decision to retire from superheroing and marry her. But the best part of this arc was that it respected its cast of characters and, contrary to what DC told fans at the time of Identity Crisis, it wasn’t Jean who started the affair with Paul. Rather, it was Paul who’d talked her into it. Jean was upset when Ray found out, since she still had respect for Ray and didn’t feel so great about philandering, even after Ray used some of her own monetary reserves for buying a scintillator.

As the story by Jan Strnad tells, after nearly being killed by a pair of drug dealers who don’t want him to blow the whistle on where they’re growing some cocaine fields, Ray is stranded in the Brazilian forests, stuck at the Atom's 6-inch height after his gear short-circuits. Worse, he's been captured by the troops from the Katarthans’ tiny city called Morlaidh, where the leader’s advisor, Deraegis, is plotting an overthrow to control the population himself. He subsequently manages to flee with a band of rebels, princess Laethwen included, and they eventually manage to return and defeat Deraegis and his thugs. Thanks to an exploding engine, Ray’s size-and-weight controls as the Atom are restored, and he returns to his regular height. He goes back to the USA, where he convinces Jean to divorce and go her own way with Paul. He decides to reveal his own identity as the Atom through a book published by a pal named Norman Brawler before returning to the Amazon forests to be with Laethwen.

Besides the impressive writing by Strnad, which again respects the main stars, there’s also the excellent artwork by Gil Kane. His art talents, which I’d first gotten a good look at through the first Spider-Man issue I read (138), had advanced splendidly over the years. I sense that he too had a lot of love for both Ray and Jean, even if at the time, they were going to break them up. Pat Broderick’s art on the last story was also very good.

Plus, as mentioned, these books tell a very different story than what Identity Crisis and the profiling you’d see afterwards did: Ray was the one who revealed his own secret identity with Norman publishing it, and Jean provided her own input with Ray’s approval. And she acknowledged she’d committed infidelity with Paul Hoben, willing to face the risk of hurting her reputation in the legal business. A very honest, inspiring presentation.

If Dan DiDio thought he could discourage me from reading all about Golden/Silver Age heroes with Identity Crisis and turn me against Jean Loring, he was throughly mistaken. The crude miniseries from 2004 only had the effect of making me appreciate older, better material even more, and explaining why I reject a lot of their modern output because of its disrespect for their past products. I also found a couple examples from before and after Sword of the Atom, like The Atom #29 from the Silver Age, that gave a much different picture than what Identity Crisis would have you believe about Jean too, showing her as caring about a mother’s right to custody of her child. And someday, I hope I’ll be able to own much of those classic gems of yesteryear, the stuff we should all really be reading.

Sword of the Atom is a very good story depicting what would mark a shift in the life of Ray Palmer and his co-stars, and a worthy example of good writing with respect for the cast of characters that everybody should own. I highly recommend it.


Avi Green works as a librarian at an urban library in Israel and blogs about the state of the comics medium at The Four Color Media Monitor He strongly believes criticism of comics should be based on how good or bad the efforts of the writers are, not the characters appearing in the books, and feels that even third-tier superheroes and co-stars can make for good storylines with the right talent and dedication involved.