A Nexus on the Spectrum of Love

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By Collin Colsher

The idea of collecting comic books is a complicated one. Having a really “complete” and eclectic collection is seemingly ideal. It’s also been said that building a collection is the first step to later selling it and making bank. For me, collecting was both of these things, but it was also a fun game of treasure hunting. I loved collecting.

And then I stopped.

I still have my collection hidden away in storage, but it’s been years since I added anything significant. There were a few reasons why I halted, but I did so mainly because the way I viewed comics changed. My insatiable materialistic desire to own comics morphed into a pursuit of subtext, weightier meaning, and pure enjoyment within those comics. But how, when, and why did this happen?

Eight years ago, I was a regular seller at the Philadelphia Comic Convention. The Philly Con was held once a month in a dingy, stained-carpeted ballroom in a Ramada Inn by the airport. (It’s currently held there, although the Ramada is now called “Clarion Hotel Conference Center” and I haven’t attended for years). I’m not sure what the average person knows about comic conventions, but this surely wasn’t Wizard World. No cosplay, no corporate sponsors, no guests of renown—no frills. This was more like a comic flea market. All the sellers were men in their late 40s or 50s and boy were they jaded. I’d hear lots of uncomfortable stories about “making the choice between a wife or a garage full of collectibles.” You can imagine what choice was made. I recall trading a rare early ‘80s Bernie Wrightson magazine for a Blob action figure, much to the disgust of the curmudgeonly snake-oil salesmen across from by booth. I also recall being the only person smiling.

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of nice folks. But the average seller was not trying to have a good time. He was trying to make money by pushing big-ticket items in the form of signed original artwork—an autographed Spider-Man by Ditko or a signed copy of Fantastic Four #1As a 22-year-old fanboy I had more interest in combing the maze of long boxes for cheap single issues. In fact, I’d sell most of my wares for 50 cents and barely break even, but didn’t give a hoot because I was having a blast soaking up the action at the coolest, weirdest ballroom in Philly. My rival sellers must have hated my youthful exuberance as I jovially collected quarters and darted around spending every penny I earned on other comics.

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It was in this strange environment that I discovered a pile of inexpensive Nexus comics. After unloading a pile of Starlog magazines, I had enough cash to pick up the stack of “New Color Nexus” issues. (There was indeed a previous volume in black-and-white, which I would enjoy later). Little did I know that this was the start of something that would impact me profoundly.

Right off the bat things were different than the normal superhero book. Writer Mike Baron introduced the ostensible superhero Nexus, aka Horatio Hellpop, but made it clear that “Hellpop” wasn’t a secret identity. Hellpop simply was Nexus and he was famous all across the universe—notoriously as an executioner. And that’s when the layers began to multiply and I became unknowingly enrolled in Professor Baron’s “world-building for serial fiction 101.”

Someone at a party once asked me to describe Nexus in one sentence. An impossible task, but I thought for a moment and replied: “It’s a Judge Dredd-like superhero space fantasy akin to Star Wars, except if Star Wars had legitimate political intrigue and news media involved in its narrative.” I’m still fond of that response, but it barely begins to scratch the surface and doesn’t do justice to just how amazing Nexus really is.

In quick succession Baron introduced a myriad of incredibly unique characters: Dave, Tyrone, Judah, Raul, Sundra, the Heads, Mezzrow, and Ursula. Little did I know that all of these characters would be so fleshed-out and vital to the story even 100 issues later. But that speaks to the strength of Baron’s writing. Nexus was at-first-glance a fascist cold-blooded killer, but underneath that veneer was the tortured man who has powers from an unknown source and is compelled to punish the wicked or face dire consequences himself. Also underneath the veil of the vigilante was Nexus the Lover and Nexus the Friend and Nexus the Savior of Thousands of Refugees.

But what really hooked me was The Dude.

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This was my introduction to Steve “The Dude” Rude, who remains one of my favorite illustrators—someone who I wish got more work today. The elegance of the bodies—the way they seemed to move with such exquisite life, the expressions on the faces, the complexity of the layouts, the sheer variety of alien plant-life and creatures, the perfect compliment to George Freeman’s vibrant coloring. I could go on forever.

Then I stumbled into a moment where Mezz bops Tyrone on the dome, mistaking his head-fin for a shark fin. This rare touch really wowed me—a calm moment that stepped back from the main narrative and showed the world as a snapshot of blissful simplicity. This was a world where people actually lived. This was a soapy world of spy games and space mystery and sci-fi fusion-casting explosions, but in spite of it all, this was also a world where banal things happened. And Baron and Rude made the banal ooze with charm.

And then I turned the page. Judah was returning from what was supposed to have been a cakewalk mission. My jaw dropped. In a single panel, the undefeatable hero was shown exiting his spaceship with his arms outstretched and a Tesla coil where his head used to be. My eye followed the scene sprawled out strikingly below: Dave fainting at the sight of his decapitated son and Nexus terrifyingly reacting. Like the gorgeous cover of an old EC horror book, it still gives me chills today.

Before Nexus, it had been a while since I had found a new title that struck me as being worthy of being added to my personal canon. Nexus was like finding a hidden gold mine. It’s hard to imagine returning to the Philly Con someday as one of those angry balding table-jockeys fighting for a buck. Did they once have the same gusto I had upon discovering something so great? Surely their introductions into the world of comicdom must have been happy, right? I guarantee my passion will never fade into a frowning countenance and furrowed brow caged-in by original art and towers of cardboard.

What’s that, you say? You haven’t forgotten about my rather large collection of comics in storage? And you haven’t forgotten that I stopped collecting? I see. You’re thinking that this is the classic origin of the “older angry comic guy” that wakes up at age 55, opens the vault, and realizes he’s saddled with a bunch of undervalued crap that he’s determined to flip into big bucks. Well, that’s an astute observation and fair prediction. But for me, Nexus serves as a reminder of why that won’t happen.

Back in the Ramada days, I was an adventurer, digging through long boxes to build the ultimate collection that other nerds would be jealous of. Now, I’m 30 and that era is behind me, but I’m still an adventurer. However, rather than making purchases merely for the sake of ownership, I pick up books with the idea that passion means cultivating richness from the stories inside them. For example, only in superhero comics do we get complex serialized narratives connected together by a seemingly infinite web built by hundreds of creators. While Nexus only had a few creators over its long run, it blew my mind with its own seemingly infinite web of plots, characters, and worlds.

I no longer treat comic books as objects.

Instead, I view them as complicated stories worthy of our admiration from a personal, scholarly, and analytical point of view. I’m more passionate about comics than ever, but I’m no longer lost in the “collecting game.” It’s funny. When you aren’t collecting, you can actually take the time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the very things you’ve been stockpiling.

Buying and selling will always be an important part of comic book culture, but when I think of Nexus, despite my introduction to the title amidst a “bag-and-board collecting atmosphere,” I’ll always think of love—how a love of comic books became a love of great stories.


Collin Colsher is a film scholar, writer, and teacher. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and is the creator of The Real Batman Chronology Project.

A New Dark Age

By Chuk Suffel

I can't remember when comics became part of my life.

I feel like there was always at least one or two lying around. I have some beat up, coverless Kamandi and Two-Gun Kid books whose lineage I'll never trace. My older sister had an Archie or two but they didn't hold my attention. Though neither of my parents were fans of comic books both were avid readers and encouraged me endlessly to read (encouraged = dumped mountains of "classics" on my head). So I drifted through my childhood into my teens reading the occasional comic book, loving them but not having the money or opportunity to purchase comics regularly.

Then came high-school.

Like many, high-school was my first true taste of autonomy. I took the bus and train to school everyday. I soon realized that if I spent a little less at lunch I'd have a little more to spend at Les' Candy Store on my way home.

The store was a throwback. It was a newsstand, candy store and (even in the 80's) sported a soda fountain. Les was the type of guy who didn't mind you sitting at the counter drinking a cherry coke and reading the comics, as long as you bought one. Comics became important here, and Chris Claremont's X-men became my family. We had the same issues, family problems, and clashes with authority. I ate it up.

Twenty some odd years and hundreds of comics later I was like many collectors out there: buying the series that interested me and following certain characters, artists, writers. There are many titles that affected me on various levels, many I'll never forget. I was by no means what I would consider a comic book geek; I've never had the type of mind that retained things like what color turtleneck Oliver Queen was wearing when he got shipwrecked. I envy that level of fandom. But I loved comics.

I even had a fleeting brush with writing them thanks to a friend. Juan, an artist who worked on biographical comics for a small local company had received a script he just couldn't work with. Somehow he convinced his editor to let me rewrite the script, so got as many books on the celebrity as I could. We threw out the old script and I started writing. It was a blast. I had written in grammar School, wrote the inevitable bad poetry and short stories in high school but this was so much better. Seeing my words and descriptions interpreted by an artist was surreal. I had known from the start I wouldn't see credit on that project. It had been fun though, and my dreams of writing my own book seemed more real.

Those dreams culminated in a midnight brainstorming sessions at the diner with a few of my friends. Juan, myself and a few other guys created characters, a story, and a universe. But the idea of self publication? In the early 90's we didn't even know where to start, and after seeing how that local company treated its writers and artists I didn't see much hope. Those dreams got further away as work and family became more real.

Then in 2011 things changed.

I had been collecting more heavily in recent years, and even had a pull list at Royal Collectibles in Forest Hills, NY. My friend Diane, who works there, was always one to steer me toward new and interesting stuff. She took pains to point out the small press stuff, but I wasn't an easy sell. My tastes were still in the Marvel vein. Though she had steered me toward collecting some of the Bat family titles I was still resistant to the idea of the "indie publisher". One of the books she had recommended was American Dark Age; it was not only small press but also written by a local.

I don't remember why I didn't pick it up. I probably passed simply because it wasn't my usual fare.

New York Comic Con 2011 was a real blast. I met many cool people, saw amazing stuff. As I walked through the aisles searching far and wide for interesting stuff I ran into Juan. He told me in no uncertain terms there was a book I needed to see, and brought me to MegaBrain Comics table. Meeting those guys and seeing them doing it was an eye-opener. They had their first issue for sale, I recognized the book and now with the push from another friend I picked it up.

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That night on the train home I pulled out my haul and flipped through the stuff I'd picked up. Among them was American Dark Age #1. At first glance? Not really my thing. It had a 2000 AD / Heavy Metal kind of feel that I had little experience with outside of Judge Dredd. But the more I read, the more I enjoyed. The writing was excellent, and the art? It was different, decidedly not mainstream. Like Les' Candy Store all those years ago, I ate it up.

At that moment I knew I had to tell people about this book. I guess I'd been looking for an outlet for years really, something I felt I could contribute to. But it was that book that launched my website whatchareading.com and led to a forum where I could tell people about books they just shouldn't miss. More importantly, American Dark Age made me a rabid advocate for the self-published. It made me realize that there is some really good solid stuff out there that people need to know exists.

If you ask the people at Royal Collectibles they'll tell you that I started as a total Marvel fanboy. Since that NYCC? The smaller presses have gotten more and more of my money. Kickstarter is a good friend of mine. And at comic book conventions? I love the panels and I love the signings. But if you want to find me look in artist alley or at the small publishers tables. I'm wandering around looking for that next great and unheard of book. The next book that may make me love comics even more... if that's even possible.

As for my own book? That may never come to pass but as long as there are good titles out there I'll keep writing and one day...who knows?

 

Want to read more from Chuck Suffel? You can always find him here.

No Fighting, No Enemies

By The Green Blogger

My earliest recollection of reading comic books was as a kid.

They were not mine but came from a close friend or from some neighbor. I’d borrow them from time to time. Locally produced, we call them "komiks" here in the Philippines and they usually depicted funny skits or fantasy stories featuring folkloric creatures. I enjoyed my time reading them. I loved the stories and the pictures; I loved the humor and equally important, I loved the art.

Although American superhero comic books saw publication here in the Philippines, I wasn’t familiar with them until later. Nevertheless the Philippines had some interesting comic books superhero characters, some of which are deemed to be iconic.

My first comic books were probably Quasar #2 and Excalibur #74. They were not the authentic ones though, and looked nothing like the ones published in the United States. They were released by a local publishing company here and translated into Filipino; and they were also sold cheaper. At first they were published in black & white format, but eventually become colored. Even without the color, I was overwhelmed by the drawings. I got myself some art materials and began to practice my craft. Though I did not end up as an artist, drawing super hero characters was a great part of my childhood. Just holding those comics now brings back memories of my childhood: the excitement of reading, and of sharing my obsession with my friends.

Owning these two comic books ignited my hunger for more. I started collecting other issues -- X-Men, Spiderman 2099, and Superman. I was just a student then and was at the mercy of my father who’d sometimes buy them for me when I saw them on the news stands.

Eventually, I wanted to own a genuine comic book from either Marvel or DC -- not just a black & white reprint. American comics were only sold in bookstores, usually located in malls which were relatively far where we lived. But we did go occasionally. On one visit my older sister insisted that I follow her. She led me to a comic book shop. I was amazed. I hadn’t imagined that there would be so many comic books, and I didn’t have the money to buy everything that I wanted. But I did make a decision about what I wanted my very first American comic book to be.

Uncanny X-Men #308 by Scott Lobdell and John Romita Jr.

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The issue was a thanksgiving story where Scott Summers proposes to Jean Grey. It was a good issue with almost all of the X-Men members present and having a good time. No fighting, no enemies. A fun day which led to a football match and ended in a happy dinner with Professor X, who got a broken nose. Wolverine  was not present though; he had just lost his adamantium due to Magneto.

I am not sure how many times I have read that comic book, but being my very first original comic book, I was really happy about it. I was very careful in turning the pages, given how much it cost. I still have that comic book. I can’t say that it’s still in good condition, but the pages are still intact. It’s still in its own plastic cover.


Afterwards, I began to pursue other titles, always looking for the Marvel or DC logo. I got myself some issues of Superman, Batman, Robin, Justice League International, Catwoman, New Gods, Wolverine, Spider-man etc. It was really a random collection. I wasn’t following any particular arcs, I just wanted to get myself updated with what was happening.

Then came my first graphic novel: Dan Jurgen’s “Death of Superman". I saw the comic book book at display on a nearby store and knew that it would be more expensive than any comic I’d ever bought. As soon as I received some money as a gift from my mother, I hurried myself to that store. Coincidence or not, the exact amount of money that my mother gave me was the exact price of the book. I didn’t care that I’d spend all the money to get that book. I’d gladly exchange anything I had for it. I loved it.

Luckily, my mother didn’t scold me. “Death of Superman" has been with me for some years now. And though its newspaper print pages have turned to yellow, I can say that it is still quite in good condition.

The hero I love the most, however, is Green Lantern. How did I got into Green Lantern? The reason is simple. I like the color green. I like wearing green shirts and green caps. I use my green bag more often than my other bags. If it is green, more likely I will like it. When I learned about Green Lantern and his Power Ring, I knew he’d be my favorite character.

Probably three or four years ago I got myself my first Green Lantern book. It was Green Lantern: The Greatest Stories Ever Told. That was my start of Green Lantern comic book addiction. My focus is now on graphic novels because I like getting full stories.

More than just being Green, I love what the color Green stands in the comic book. Green means Willpower. It means that you keep on going on. No retreat no surrender. Very heroic. I like that kind of ideal. This ideal really stuck with me when reading Green Lantern: Rebirth by Geoff Johns. In one part of the story, Ganthet, (one of the Guardians), sends Kyle Rayner (the current Green Lantern) to protect the body of Hal Jordan. In Ganthet's words,"Hope is meaningless against fear, Green Lantern of Sector 2814. Willpower is our only weapon."  I’d never thought that a color could mean something so great. Or that reading a comic book could help me feel empowered to do anything I wanted, as long as I had the willpower to do it. I do not need a real green power ring; all I need is the enjoyment of reading these comic books to be inspired.

The Green Blogger runs his own Green Lantern fan site. You can see it here.

Space, Money and Porcellino

In 2001 I was living in an area of Oakland just off of Piedmont Ave. My future wife had found our apartment on a job hunting trip while I was still living in Houston. I don't remember the exact square footage of the apartment, but if someone told me it was less than 400, I wouldn't argue with them. It was tiny to say the least.

The apartment could have been 200 square feet and I wouldn't have cared after I found out there was a great comic book shop within walking distance called Dr. Comics and Mr. Games. I started going there every Wednesday for new books. They had all the stuff you would expect, but they also had a section with independent publishers. I owned comics and books that weren't from the major publishers, but most of them were still superhero/action/adventure stories. I did have a friend who was more into the independent scene and he had been telling me for awhile to check out Dork! by Evan Dorkin. I saw that Dr. Comics had issue three and picked it up one day, probably with a stack of Vertigo and Alan Moore comics.

I loved Dork! It was filled with gags and short strips. A classic humor book that reminded me of how much Mad Magazine had cracked me up when I was a kid. I did some searching online in those early days of the Internet and I came across Evan Dorkin's web site and eventually got a reference to an interview with him in The Comics Journal. I liked the name, since I was working in a library at the time, and thought it lent some credibility to the topic. My next time at Dr. Comics I checked the shelves to see if that had any issues of The Comics Journal and I found issue 241.

This cover brought me back to my childhood tromping through the snow in North Dakota. It occurs to me now, years later, that Scott McCloud made some kind of argument in Understanding Comics that the more simple the drawing of a human the more the viewer can see themselves in the drawing. I think it was Scott McCloud but I'm too lazy to look it up. Anyway, somebody said that.

I enjoyed the approach taken by the Journal. They had an amazingly entertaining letters section. They covered comic books as an industry, including news stories that actually contained some journalism. They covered French and Japanese comics, too. When they talked about the mainstream it was always with a critical eye and without fanboy zeal.

The heart of issue 241 was an interview with the cover artist John Porcellino by Zak Sally. Sally got Porcellino to open up about his years of making mini-comics, depression, buddhism, alcoholism and punk rock -- really his life story. I had never read an interview with another comic book creator like this one.

I was dying to read some of Porcellino's work which he put out under the title King-Cat Comics, but Dr. Comics didn't have any. Porcellino mostly distributed his mini-comics through the mail to subscribers, but he did send some copies to stores. I took my bike down to Berkeley and visited Comic Relief. These were the days before the owner Rory Root passed away and the store was like Mecca for comic book readers on the West Coast. I was thrilled to find the latest issue in their mini-comics section and I also found a copy of Perfect Example, a small collection of Porcellino's work put out by the now defunct publisher Highwater Books. Just like the interview with Sally the work was very raw and emotional, a kind of honesty I had never seen in comics.

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There was definitely a "Porcellino Effect" on my comic buying habit from that point on. It was hard to get caught up in the fictional soap operas of the mainstream stuff. I started exploring the catalog of Fantagraphics (the publisher of The Comics Journal) and Drawn & Quarterly. I was relishing the weeks when a new collection of the samurai drama Lone Wolf and Cub came out. These tiny volumes were originally put out in Japan with consideration towards small living spaces. I just loved that they were books roughly the dimensions of an index card.

My weekly habit at Dr. Comics and Mr. Games turned into a visit on Wednesday and usually on Saturday or Sunday. We had a bookshelf in our living room that was divided into cubes, which I quickly filled. I had disposable income back then and a whole new world of comics to explore. I long for those days now. As a father with two kids I find it too difficult to rationalize the expense of comics now, and too impossible to find space for everything I want to read and own. I get some things digitally, which makes it cheaper and more space effective, but it's not the same as having a wall of glorious books.

In 2002 (or maybe it was 2003) I got to "meet" John Porcellino at the Alternative Press Expo (APE). I didn't really say anything other than, "I'll take these," as I picked up every issue he had available of King Cat. I've been a subscriber since about 2002. Porcellino still puts out about an issue a year. You can find out more about his work here. I would highly recommend becoming a subscriber and if books are your thing you should get all of his stuff, but my favorites are Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man and his sublime adaptation of Walden by Thoreau.

They’re worth owning. Even without space or money.

 

Starting At Zero

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By Matthew Derman

My dad is the reason I care about comics at all.

I don’t know the details of how he fell in love with them (bad son!), but he’s been an off-and-on collector for most of his life and all of mine. He had boxes of them in the upstairs level of our garage, and digging through those are sincerely some of the happiest memories from my youth.

That garage had an amazing smell, musty and muddy and warm.

I liked being in there for literally any reason, but flipping through the bizarre and beautiful covers of my dad’s comic collection was the best activity by far. It should be noted, however, that initially I wasn’t looking for actual reading material. I liked the pictures and knew some of the characters, but I wasn’t investing in any of the stories yet. What I wanted were images of superheroes in awesome action poses that I could cut right out of the pages, glue onto cardboard, and use as homemade action figures.

Action figures were where it was at, as far as I was concerned. TV, movies, and collectible trading cards all had a place in my life as well, but the toys were my real love. Not in a serous collector, mint-in-box kind of way—at the time I found that attitude toward action figures quite baffling—but merely as a kid with a big imagination who wanted a bunch of tiny people with which he could tell the stories in his head. I’d watch the ­­X-Men or Batman cartoon shows and they would inspire whole original universes of my own superheroes, and the toys I owned stood in for the characters that I was inventing in my mind. I had plenty of legit, fully moveable, Mattel-made figures, but sometimes I got tired of having the same old things to play with all the time, so I used my dad’s comics as a source for new toys. He was cool enough as a father and casual enough as a reader to let me cut up his old issues, and though I didn’t do it often, that was nevertheless my first use for them.

Eventually, of course, I did start to read comics. I adored them immediately, but only because they were new stories featuring characters I already loved from TV, or had read about on the backs of trading cards (which, by the way, I also used as action figures, smashing them up against each other until they got too bent and folded to use).

The comics were, at first, the least important part of my superhero fandom. The “real” versions were on the TV, and the best versions were the ones I made up on my own, so even though I knew that comics technically came first, they still felt less significant. They were my dad’s things. Glad as I was that he let me explore them, without any ownership or control over them they weren’t as exciting to me as the bins full of plastic people that I could make do whatever I wanted.

Over time, that attitude shifted slightly, especially when a comic book store opened up a few blocks from my house, maybe four minutes away on foot. Lewisburg, PA was a small enough town to only ever have one such shop (and sometimes not even that) so when that lone location was down the street for a while we had to take advantage of it. It was a very different setting in which to browse comics than the dusty garage and softening cardboard boxes I was used to. In the store, there were shelves taller than me from which the comics’ covers could stare me in the face en masse. There were special rare issues hanging on the walls. There were posters and figurines.

Looking back, I can see it for the tiny, dirty, humble store it was, but as a kid it seemed like a magical place with an endless supply of superhero stuff. It had never really occurred to me before where my dad’s comics had come from (because at that age I didn’t think too hard about where my parents got any of the things they got), so walking into the shop was truly a revelation. It was also my first exposure to new comics, all a bit brighter and crisper than my dad’s stuff, most of which was at least as old as I was (only like seven, but still, old enough that I could see the difference right away). The comic book store was a whole new world of well-displayed, bright-and-shiny objects, and I was eager to bring some of them home with me. By then, Spider-Man had a cartoon show, too, and he was the top of the pops in my young heart, so that was where I started.

Still, I was only an occasional shopper, popping in maybe a couple times month with my dad to pick a random issue or two of one of the numerous Spider titles so he could buy it for me. This suited me just fine; I wasn’t concerned with reading full storylines or worried about gaps in my collection yet. I still had my TV programs and action figure fanfic if I was looking for continuity. As far as comics were concerned, I just wanted a new fix now and then, and any single issue would satisfy.

It wasn’t until 1996, right around the time I turned nine, that I ever even paid attention to the numbers on the covers of the comics I was reading. Because that was the year Marvel released Sensational Spider-Man #0.

I can’t recall for certain which came first -- being entranced by the actual physical comic book with its holographic cover (an image surrounded by a field of web-covered white), or finding out about the whole “Peter Parker is a clone of himself” madness and thinking it was just the coolest thing ever. I suspect the clone news preceded the issue itself; it was probably something my dad read about in the paper and thought might interest me. He was not wrong. The Clone Saga doesn’t have a very positive reputation these days, and I’m pretty sure there was a fairly strong backlash even at the time, but nine-year-old Matt ate it up hook, line, sinker, and pole.

It wasn’t just the gimmicky nature of the story that worked for me, though that played its part. At that age, the idea of rewriting such a popular character’s history seemed brave and exciting, as opposed to the foolhardy marketing stunt I suppose it really was. But whatever, for me the appeal had way more to do with the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new character’s story. Ben Reilly, supposedly the real Peter Parker who had been replaced by the clone version years before, was taking over as Spider-Man so that clone Peter could retire to domestic bliss with Mary Jane. That meant I could start at the beginning with Ben, instead of just reading arbitrarily-selected chapters from the middle of ongoing Spider stories like I’d been doing up to that point. A zero issue was a clear invitation to be a part of the start of something, and I accepted without giving it a second’s thought.

Revisiting the comic today, it’s not an especially strong read. But back in ’96 it was phenomenal, something to be poured over and soaked up. I’ve never forgotten Armada, the oh-so-90s super-villain introduced in the issue who would (deservedly) end up nothing more than a minor footnote in Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery. Even the woman who offered Ben Reilly a job at her diner has stuck with me these past 17 years. Because before I even opened the cover, I was already a fan of the issue, and I would’ve absorbed every detail of whatever story it told.

The narrative was immaterial; what I was excited about was the big #0 on the cover and everything it stood for. It had exactly the effect on me that I’m sure its publishers were going for: by providing such an overt jumping on point, they afflicted me with the bug of collectorism, and I’ve never fully recovered.

Of course, at the time I wasn’t self-aware enough to see Sensational Spider-Man #0 as the major turning point in my life it would become. When I got it, I hadn’t yet decided, at least not consciously, to make the switch from reading a few stray comics to collecting every issue of a specific title religiously. But that’s what happened—Ben began his new life as Spider-Man, and I began mine as a devoted collector of comics. It morphed my whole attitude about the medium, and changed the nature of my relationship with my dad as well.

Comics were no longer his thing that I was merely globbing onto. Now they were our thing, a shared interest that we could discuss with equal knowledge and appreciation. Instead of me only borrowing his issues, now we could swap, lending each other books in both directions. It felt like growing up, like I was reaching his level, at least in this area of our lives. Since then, I’ve become a diehard comicbook enthusiast, and he has remained a more laid back fan, but it’s always been a comfortable, happy common ground for us. A ground that sprang into existence beneath my feet unexpectedly when I picked up this particular zero issue.

I followed Sensational for only about a year before getting fed up with the fact that Marvel spread story arcs out over all of their Spider-Man books, so that when I reached the end of a given issue of Sensational, it would tell me that its current tale was going to be continued in Amazing or Spectacular or whatever other Spider-series they wanted me to spend my money on. I didn’t have deep enough pockets to keep up with all of those books, so before long I moved on to following other characters, but I never again saw comics as the less interesting, less important curios they’d always been before. I’ve long since abandoned the cartoons, cards, and action figures, but my comicbook collection has only continued to grow.

Thanks, Marvel. Thanks, Ben. And thank you ever so much, Dad.

Matthew Derman loves comicbooks and writes about them every week on his blog Comics Matter. He also loves his lady and their two dogs.