Essays
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This category is for long form academic writing or editorial opinion. There might be shorter articles under the News/Features section and the Reviews can run as long as necessary, but this section might feature anything from a reader’s manifesto to a scholarly discourse on the symbolism of Superman’s underwear.

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By | Monday, February 11, 2013 | 5:17 pm | 5 Comments | Blog > Essays

I first started collecting comics during the summer of 2006. The first issues I started buying were 52 and the main Bat titlesBatman, Detective Comics, and Legends of the Dark Knight. It was an interesting time to try to get into comics, particularly the DC Universe, because 52 was basically a bridge between two Crisis events – Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis. Trying to dive in head first at that time was rather daunting, which is why I really appreciated the History of the DC Universe backup story that ran from Week 2 until Week 11.

As the weeks went by and I gradually started adding in titles like Action Comics, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Justice League of America, I began to wonder what came before. I wanted to know “the whole story.” I didn’t see it as me being suckered in, I saw it as me wanting to be a more informed reader. I felt it would enhance my enjoyment of the current stories. A good friend of mine, who had been collecting comics since he was a kid, told me that I would go crazy (and broke) trying to fill in all of the back story. He never said it wasn’t necessary, just that it would be too difficult.

That is when my huge inner debate began. “Do I need to read all of these stories?” I started posting all over the internet: “What should I read first?” “Where do I begin?” “What do I need to know?” The answers I got suggested to me that there was definitely more than one camp on this issue. I ended up just going with what felt best to me – reading what I could get my hands on and not worrying if I didn’t.

Fast forward about six years, to October 2012, when CBR posted in their Robot 6 blog a story titled “Mythology vs. Narrative.”  The post was in response to a recent podcast interview on www.SlashFilm.com with Rian Johnson, writer and director of the film Looper. (You can listen to the 1 hour 40 minute podcast here.  It’s very good, but it contains many spoilers on the film, so if you haven’t seen Looper yet, I strongly urge you not to listen.) About 1 hour and 30 minutes into the interview, Johnson was asked about the potential for a sequel. In response, he says “…Even if you do feel like you want to see more of it, do you really want to see more of it? Do you really want to see the stuff that right now are mysteries in our heads? … I think there is something powerful to it being mythology rather than having it be narrative.”

I don’t think there is a definitive answer to this question. It all depends on the person, their interest level, and their time and budget. I also think that opinions on this can vary from genre to genre. When reading a novel, the reader has to imagine how each of the characters looks and sounds. We are given clues to these things, but it is still up to the reader. The author can flesh out various plot points while giving small references to others. Because of the dependence on imagination, there are no limits as to what can happen in a particular story.

It is only slightly different with comic books. As we go from panel to panel, issue to issue, trade to trade, our mind has to fill in the flow of the story. We know what the characters look like and we know the main plot points and dialogue, but we are not given everything. Even within a single issue or trade volume. The action skips around and references are made to “off-screen” events.

Finally, in a film, very little is left to the imagination. At least as it pertains to the specific story being told. When we watch Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and we first hear a reference to “The Clone Wars,” we can use our imagination to figure out what that could have been about, but the details are not a necessary plot point of that particular movie, so the story moves past it.

As far as comic book reading, I think it is safe to say that those of us on this site want to know “the whole story.” That’s why we’re here. Whether we want to read every DC trade or we only want to read the post-crisis stuff, we all have a general desire to not only read the back story but to read it in some kind of accepted order. I (and others) don’t just want to imagine how the multiverse came about (and became so unwieldy so as to require Crisis on Infinite Earths), I want to read those stories. I want to see the progression of the characters and story lines so I can hopefully understand what happened and why. While it can be fun to leave things to the imagination, it can also be enjoyable to actually read these stories.

In addition to reading comics, one of my main areas of interest is film. The first film class I took was on the Western. The class started in January 1993, five months after Unforgiven had been released and just as all of its Oscar buzz was gathering. I learned a great deal in that class. Not just about the Western, but about film and storytelling in general. Towards the end of the semester, we watched John Ford’s 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, starring John Wayne, James Stewart, and Lee Marvin. The movie is perhaps best known for the following two lines of dialogue: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” One of the best explanations of this quote I’ve read was written by James Berardinelli on his website www.ReelViews.net:

That single quote, uttered by newspaperman Maxwell Scott (Carlton Young), encapsulates the primary theme of John Ford’s last great Western… Truth is only meaningful as long as it agrees with what the public wants to hear. When heroes don’t exist, it is necessary to invent them. And, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. A clear-eyed deconstruction would likely reveal that what most of us accept as “history” is a patchwork of real events, exaggerations, and tales so tall that Paul Bunyan would likely blink in amazement…. The film’s point is simple: history is as much legend as fact. Shocking as it may sound, George Washington could tell a lie. And there never was an address for “Camelot” on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.”

The fun thing about comic books is that fact and legend can be the same thing. My favorite comic book character has always been Batman and I am a huge fan of Collin Colsher’s website www.TheRealBatmanChronologyProject.com.  Like Ian has done here, Collin has spent hours upon hours trying to put stories that probably weren’t meant to be placed in any kind of order into a coherent chronology. One of the great difficulties a project like that has is deciphering what is canon and what isn’t.

And therein lies the fun. When I go to my local shop each week, I don’t simply go to pick up my books. I go to talk to my friends. No matter what topic we start off discussing, we inevitably get around to debating things like who is Batman’s number one criminal (Joe Chill?) or why is Marvel “ruining” Wolverine and whether or not movies like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises are good for the industry. We love going back and forth on why we love the characters we love and hate the characters we hate. Sometimes these discussions amongst friends can get pretty heated. But we keep coming back for more.

There’s no real right or wrong answer to these topics. There’s an argument to be made for each and every side. Some may read that and think “Well then, what’s the point in discussing?” The point is that it matters to the individual. And the same can be said about this whole “Mythology vs. Narrative” question. There’s a place for both aspects in this passion of ours, as well as in movies and other forms of entertainment. I do still get caught up in the whole “what should I be reading” debate.

But I try to remind myself that I read these books because I enjoy it. And if I have the time and ability to go back and read the Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex books I will. But I’m not going to beat myself up over it because reading the current All Star Western series has been fun in and of itself.

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By | Tuesday, February 5, 2013 | 6:44 am | 4 Comments | Blog > Essays


Whether it’s Super FriendsJustice League, or The New 52, there’s nothing like a premise which unites all of DC Comics’ most popular superheroes to make startlingly clear that other than a thirst for justice, there is one other thing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Hal Jordan all have in common: every single one of them is white. This, of course, is when a Black Vulcan, a John Stewart, or even a Cyborg is drafted by the writers in an attempt to dismiss this uncomfortable realization, and such has largely been the role of the Black Superhero for decades. Out of the hundreds of characters in the DC stable, my research has warranted that only fifteen Black men and women have ever lent their likeness to the lead role of a comic. Let’s take a look at the timeline:

 1977: Black Lightning

The 1970s were by any measure an interesting decade for portrayal of Black men in Western media. America was listening to Sweet Sweetback sing his Badasssss Song, meeting the man called MISTER Tibbs, and learning just who was the cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about (talkin’ bout Shaft). To be sure, this was the brief window in time where the short-lived “Blaxploitation” genre was sweeping the country. And, of course, DC took advantage. With his low cut v-neck and jive-talking dialogue, Black Lightning (Jefferson Pierce) was a hero who could have only been devised in the seventies. Unfortunately for Jefferson, the infamous 1978 DC Implosion came only a year later and took most of DC’s ongoing titles with it, including this one only eleven issues into its run. The series was never collected as a trade.

1992: Green Lantern Mosaic

 14 years pass after Black Lightning falls victim to the implosion, and the world of Black leading men is just as silent as the decades of DC’s history which spanned before the seventies. But it was only by revisiting this period that DC earned its second Black-led title: John Stewart, Earth’s third Green Lantern, first appeared in 1971 in the now classic socially conscious series, Green Lantern / Green Arrow. Although Mosaic would never prove as popular as the series from which Stewart originated (to wit, it has never been collected in trade form), the series has gained a large cult following for its existential themes, dealing with not only what it meant to be a Black man, but to be human at all.  The series must have gone over the heads of the editors, though, as it was cancelled after a mere 18 issues. Black Lightning may have been the first superhero with his own book, but John Stewart was the first to be cast in a role independent of his race. John would later go on to gain popularity as the Green Lantern in Bruce Timm’s Justice League cartoon, but would never again have his own title.

1994: Steel

Any discussion of Superman in the nineties will inevitably begin with the Death of Superman arc. Readers everywhere were shocked to see DC’s most iconic character killed off — and yet, the title which bore his name would not be cancelled. Enter the Reign of the Supermen: not one, but four men rose to take Superman’s place. One of these men was John Henry Irons, the hammer wielding hero we would come to know as Steel. When the original Superman finally returned to life, as comic book heroes are wont to do, Steel packed his bags and moved back to his hometown of Washington DC, where he dealt more with gang violence, drug abuse, and pressing issues of inner city youth culture at the time than radioactive aliens and evil robots. Steel has the proud distinction of carrying his  own book longer than any other Black character, for a total of 53 monthly issues. You can find his first story arc, collected with his initial appearances after the death of Superman, in Steel: The Forging of a Hero.

Black Lightning #1

1995: Black Lightning

Though it had been seventeen years since his last solo title, the unexpected success of Steel allowed DC to bring back its original Black superhero to his own title. This one didn’t fare much better than the last, though, clocking in at only thirteen uncollected issues.

Batman: Orpheus Rising #1

2001: Batman – Orpheus Rising

Superman has Steel. Green Lantern has John Stewart. So why was Batman’s entire sizable network of operatives as white as the driven snow? Enter Orpheus, as introduced in this uncollected 5 issue miniseries. Originally a professional dancer, Orpheus would become Batman’s man on the inside of the Hill Street Gang, steering them towards a positive direction from within. At least that was the case for three years, until he was killed off during the War Games story line. So it goes. Two more attempts would be made to give Batman a Black friend, but we’ll get to that later.

2004: Firestorm

After the original Firestorm was unceremoniously killed off in Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, DC took the opportunity to recast this powerful but largely ignored mainstay in their stable as Jason Rusch, a Detroit teenager from a broken home searching for a way out. Rusch’s quick wit and good humor has made him a fan favorite. Though his series was cancelled after 35 issues in 2007, Rusch has been an important character in his own right ever since, playing a major role in the Blackest Night and Brightest Day story lines — and finding his own title once again in The New 52. Firestorm’s post-Infinite Crisis arc, as covered in issues #23-27, is collected in trade form as Firestorm: The Nuclear Man Reborn.

2006: Infinite Crisis Aftermath — The Spectre

 Crispus Allen, one of the lead characters in Greg Rucka’s cult classic Gotham Central, met a tragic demise near the end of the series. No one ever really expected to ever see the character again — until this street level detective found a new life as one of the most powerful cosmic entities in the DC Universe, assuming the role of The Spectre from Hal Jordan and Jim Corrigan before him during Infinite Crisis. This short three issue miniseries profiles his early days on the job as the new Spirit of Vengeance. Since then, Crispus Allen has gone on to become a central figure to the greater DC Universe mythology. The miniseries is collected along with Tales of the Unexpected within the trade Infinite Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre.

2007: Connor Hawke — Dragon’s Blood

In 1994, Kelley Puckett engineered one of many shake-ups in the Green Arrow family dynamic by introducing Oliver Queen’s estranged son, Connor Hawke. Though Connor has only one Black grandparent, he has become an important figure within communities which champion heroes of color in comic books. For over thirty issues, Connor assumed the role of Green Arrow in Ollie’s series upon his temporary demise in an airplane explosion, but would not receive his own title until this limited six issue series. For his pacifist demeanor, uncompromising honesty, and ironic lack of proficiency in ranged weapons, Connor remains a favorite in many circles despite having been written entirely out of canon. Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood is collected here.

Vixen - Return of the Lion 1

2008: Cyborg, Vixen

Quiz Time: which Black character has appeared in the largest number of DC Comics? If you guessed any of the guys I talked about earlier in this article, you’d be wrong: that title belongs to Vic Stone, better known as Cyborg. Cyborg rose to fame as a charter member of the New Teen Titans in 1980, and remained with the group for decades to follow: he even went on to become one of the main characters in 2005′s popular Teen Titans animated series, and 2011 would see him finally graduate to the Justice League proper. Strangely enough, 2008′s six issue limited series Teen Titans Spotlight: Cyborg, an initiative which gave several members of the team their own solo stories, is the only one which bears his name.

2008 also brings us DC’s first ever black female lead in the form of Vixen in her five issue limited series, Vixen: Return of the Lion. Vixen was first introduced in 1981 as a solo crimefighter in Action Comics, but since then has split her time between the Justice League and the Suicide Squad. What sets her apart from the rest, though, is that of all fifteen of these title headers, Vixen- real name Mari Jiwe McCabe- is one of two who can call themselves a native African. Return of the Lion sees Vixen return to her roots as she comes home to her village for the first time since she began her spandex-clad adventures.

Azrael: Death's Dark Knight #1

2009: Azrael, Black Lightning, Tattooed Man

When most comic readers think of Azrael, they imagine the man who briefly assumed the role of Batman during the 1990s’ Knightfall story line. But in 2009, a new iteration of this character developed in ex-cop Michael Lane who finds himself as an instrument of righteous vengeance for the radical religious sect of the Order of St. Dumas. Introduced in his own miniseries, Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight, Michael Lane would go on that same year to begin his own ongoing series, the first for a Black character in five years, for 19 issues. His first ongoing arc is collected as Azrael: Angel in the Dark.

Since Frank Miller began the trend with Batman: Year One, the Year One franchise has become a popular device for exploring a character’s roots. 2009 sees the Year One miniseries treatment turned upon our old friend Black Lightning, who at this point had finally found new life as a central member of Batman’s Outsiders. For those interested in the roots of DC’s original Black leading man, Black Lightning: Year One is a must read.

Of course, the biggest thing going on in 2009 was Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis. Although today it is remembered as “that story where Batman kind of died but actually not really”, arguably the most interesting parts of the story were told from the perspective of Mark Richards, (barely) better known as the third iteration of the C-List Green Lantern villain Tattooed Man. As one of the few people on Earth left free of Darkseid’s Anti-Life Equation, this former US Marine turned hit man finds himself forced to answer the call of duty when the fate of humanity may rest in his hands. After the story climaxes in Batman’s showdown with Darkseid, the Tattooed Man’s subplot is left to be wrapped up in his own miniseries, Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink.

2011: The New 52

Readers with particularly long memories may have noticed some omissions from this list: namely, the heroes from DC’s Milestone, Vertigo, and WildStorm imprints. I consider them beyond the scope of this survey: if you have to be segregated into your own continuity to be a DC superhero, that’s really not much of a victory. However, DC’s New 52 initiative saw these three imprints folded into the main DC Comics brand — as such, we may now welcome the beloved Static and WildStorm’s Voodoo into the family. Well, briefly, anyway: as of now, both series have been cancelled.

2011 would also see the return of Jason Rusch to his own Firestorm title, as well as two newcomers to the leading man scene. Batwing, real name David Zavimbe, is a vigilante sponsored by Batman himself to mete out justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo as his mentor does in Gotham City. The other ongoing series features Mister Terrific, once the coordinator behind the JSA, before being cancelled 8 issues in and integrated as a cast member of the ongoing Earth 2 series.

Lately, many have criticized DC Comics for unfairly representing minorities within their publications, if at all. All evidence indicates that DC is making more of an effort than ever before, but they still have a long way to go. If you want to see progress though, as they say in the fan communities, you can always “vote with your money”. Try and hit your Local Comic Shop this Black History Month to purchase or request some of the trades below:

Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom
Batwing Vol. 2: In the Shadow of the Ancients (On Sale Apr 3, 2013)
The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men Vol. 1: The God Particle

The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men Vol. 2: The Firestorm Protocols (On Sale Jun 25, 2013)
Mister Terrific: Mind Games
Static Shock: Supercharged
Voodoo Vol. 1: What Lies Beneath
Voodoo Vol. 2: The Killer in Me

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By | Wednesday, February 2, 2011 | 5:59 pm | 9 Comments | Blog > Essays

Black History

February is Black History Month here in the USA. Every year we honor a lot of fine men and women and each year I hear new stories that are exciting and inspirational.

We don’t often hear about blacks in the history of comics though, that art form near and dear to you and I.

It looks like there has been some great blogging already this month, though.

David Brothers posted an op-ed over at Comics Alliance (which inspired a heartfelt comment and this post.)

The Women In Comics wiki is celebrating as they do best – by listing useful information!

Over here at TRO, I wanted to throw the spotlight on the favorite comics of my youth, those produced by Milestone Media.

Milestone: Filling A Void

Milestone was launched in 1992 by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle and Michael Davis. They created an entire line of new comics, some of the best books and characters of the nineties. Those included Static, Hardware, and Icon. I’ve previously mentioned Hardware in my essay about How I Got Into Comics.

From the get go, Milestone’s founders had the commendable goal of drastically increasing diversity in the superhero genre.

They realized, quite correctly, that they couldn’t just launch one character – even if it was for a major publisher.

They needed to do some serious world-building. There needed to be a fresh start, a place where there wasn’t already an extensive history of all white teams prancing around for decades.

Over their six years they produced Hardware, Blood Syndicate, Icon, Static, Shadow Cabinet, Xombi, Kobalt, Heroes, Deathwish, Holocaust, Static Shock, and Wise Son plus the Shadow War, Long Hot Summer, and DC Universe slamming Worlds Collide crossovers.

In an era plagued by endless “number 1″ debuts  and terrible delays between issues, Milestone pumped out about 250 issues between their titles, with Hardware running to an impressive 50.

Milestone was successful. Maybe not making millions – the company suffered from the market oversaturation and eventual overall downtrend. But they’re still alive today, albeit as a licensing entity.

But I say they were successful because they had an impact. On me, on many readers, on the careers of many talented young women and men, and on the bottom line. The comics were good and the comics sold.

Milestone Never Settled

They didn’t settle for just creating black superheroes. They didn’t settle for telling the same old stories or falling into the “dark age” trap of over-gritty new anti-heroes.

Titles like Static were amazing, both for their ability to talk to young African-Americans, but the ability to compete in the mainstream and be thoroughly enjoyed by any kid. The Milestone books were the favorites of my youth and the first I hunted down in the back issue bins.

I was a Jewish kid with family from the Bronx. There were certainly plenty of us shmucks from the Bronx in comics history, but it wasn’t apparent when my young eyes gazed upon the racks. Seeing Static there… well, it just spoke to me more than anything else.

I don’t think it’s that weird – black history is human history. Black stories are human stories.

Simple as that.

It’s the creators who have struggled with blacks as “the other” that end up with such strange output. Those that understand how simple it really is end up telling some amazing stories.

Those at Milestone – those of all races and backgrounds, as it certainly wasn’t a mono-ethnic operation – understood how simple and complex it all is. And they understood how to make some damn good comics.

Here’s to Milestone!

The Milestone Collections

No post at this website would be complete without some discussion of collected editions.

I’ve updated the Milestone Reading Order tag with information and a header image.

I went through and fully tagged the characters and creators on each book, adding cover images as I went.

While it seems that DC has missed the opportunity to give us a new Milestone collection this year, I am pleased that they’ve recently made some significant progress in collecting these important and entertaining works.

It was probably because of the Milestone characters interacting with the JLA and getting their own prestige release, but hopefully it’s the start of a trend. I assume, crass though it may be, that everything is based on sales – so if you like these comics or ideas, buy the books! Sales for Hardware Vol. 1 will inspire the publication of Hardware Vol. 2.

Here’s the rundown:

Hardware

Hardware: The Man In The Machine (Amazon) collects issues 1-8 of his title.

The book introduces Curt Metcalf, smart as all hell, currently a cog in the system. When he finds out his employer isn’t on the up and up, he decides to fight back. A simplistic synopsis for a complex and sometimes disturbing book.

Written by Dwayne McDuffie, the story is brought to life by Denys Cowan‘s amazing art. Even the coloring is beautiful and different.

Like all the starting trades, it can be read entirely on its own.

Static

The first four issues of Static‘s ongoing were collected previously in Static Shock: Trial By Fire but they are collected again here in Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool (Amazon). This time, they’re accompanied by the 2001 Static Shock miniseries.

McDuffie is joined on this book by Robert L. Washington III and John Paul Leon, among others.

The gap between the two titles is a little confusing, but it makes for a thick trade with great value. It’s a quick way to introduce yourself to this wonderful nod to Spider-Man and classic super-heroics, with plenty of new twists. Static later ends up in the Teen Titans, starting in Teen Titans: Changing Of The Guard.

Icon

The first Icon book, Icon: A Hero’s Welcome (Amazon) must have had solid enough sales, because we’re lucky enough to have a second volume already, Icon: Mothership Connection (Amazon). The first trade collects issues 1-8, while the second jumps around a bit more, pulling in Icon 13, 17, 19-22, 24-26, and 30.

Dwayne McDuffie also helmed this title, working with artists M.D. Bright and Mike Gustovich.

This book, like the others, twists a classic premise. Here, that alien shuttle landed in the hands of a black slave. Augustus Freeman, conservative lawyer, is the result – until young Rocket discovers his secret and convinces him to use his powers for good.

Icon makes for one unique title, exploring black super-heroics through an alien who isn’t really black – but who experienced slavery first hand.

Also of note are the adventures in the second volume introducing Buck Wild, a Luke Cage-style parody character with unexpected depth of his own, used to play with common tropes about African Americans in comics.

The second book also crosses over with some other Milestone titles, giving us our first glimpse of the Blood Syndicate and Shadow Cabinet in trade (please give us the ongoings, DC!)

Contemporary Appearances

Justice League of America: When Worlds CollideBrave and the Bold: MilestoneMilestone Forever
Book 1: Meta Fictions
Milestone Forever
Book 2: Hardware Escape

The Milestone characters have experienced a recent resurgence in the pages of primary DC Universe comics. Static had a story in 9-11 Vol. 2 and joined the Teen Titans. Other characters were re-introduced in a McDuffie penned JLA arc, the center of a set of Brave and the Bold issues, and received an ad-free showing in two prestige Milestone Forever format releases.

We are now being treated to a new ongoing for Milestone’s Xombi, which might net us some classic editions if it sells well.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to see these guys back. The world is a better place with them around.

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By | Sunday, December 5, 2010 | 11:30 am | 19 Comments | Blog > Essays

I read a lot in the 90s. I was young and my memory is foggy, so I have no idea what my first comic was.

I got almost everything I owned from the 10 cent bins and loved looking through them. I didn’t take care of anything – it all went in a big wooden box that I shoved under my bed.

I remember the Death of Superman very clearly (the rise of Steel and that issue in “heaven” the most) and a healthy interest in Spider-Man.

I liked Spider-Man 2099. I remember seeing Preacher in the shops and thinking the covers looked gross.

I had a couple older western comics (Marvel, I think, I seem to remember a white clad ghostly rider on a horse), and a comic with a kind of lighthouse logo where the guy could see these weird bugs on everyone that represented their fears and demons that fed on them.

The guy glowed.

I had some Wolverine comics where the back up feature had a different cover on the back, but upsidedown – and you had to turn them over to read the other bit.

There was a crossover with Ghostrider where they went to Hell, I think – and my mutant comics were mainly of the Cable oriented variety.

The first thing I really collected was the Milestone line of comics, especially Hardware. I had almost the complete run.

The Milestone characters were at the start of their existence, modern heroes with interesting plotlines, and (probably because they were mostly black, though it didn’t really occur to me at the time) easily found for cheap. I still hold this imprint in extremely high regard today.

I remember very little about much of my collection, but you can be sure that like any 90s kid it was full of number one issues that never went anywhere.

I will never know what happened to these early floppies – it’s quite possible my mom got rid of them, cliché though that is.

I spent some time promoting an artist (Rin Ascher, still my best friend) in high school but didn’t actually read comics too much. The highlight of our business was making 3000 dollars in 2 days at Otakon – but that was mostly selling buttons we put together.

As I made my way through college, periodically I’d read some .cbr files or hit up Barnes and Noble, where I’d sit and read a few trades back to back. This is how I read Sandman, Preacher and the first volumes of Fables, for example. I mostly read Vertigo stuff, no superheroes (didn’t know where to jump back in, though they were my childhood favorites.)

I don’t feel bad about my freeloading days because they brought me to my current fandom – and on my budget it was either free or nothing.

The turning point in my life started with two things: A torrent of Alan Moore‘s run on Swamp Thing and finding the first three Books of Magic collections on a random stop into a comic shop in my hometown while visiting.

The torrent was low quality and ended right after his issues. But I loved it, was absolutely enthralled. I found an ebay lot of the trades, which were the first comicbooks I’d bought in a long long time.

Soon after I stopped into Modern Myths in Northampton, MA while visiting my family. The Books of Magic trades were under 5 dollars each and had magic and the Vertigo logo. Also loved them – still one of my favorite series.

This started my collection – I was soon getting every ‘classic’ vertigo book I could think of in an attempt to have a small but relevant shelf of comics. I was only interested in trades since I could get complete story arcs and store them easily on a bookshelf, which was a lot more aesthetically pleasing than longboxes.

But then I started getting more curious about the DCU connections – in Swamp Thing’s various crossovers and with Batman even showing up in Sandman.

I decided I’d get some essential Batman and Superman trades, just a few Year One era titles and the three volume Death Of Superman arc that I never got to see the end of as a kid (I bet if Milestone trades were released at this point I would have jumped on that, but they still haven’t fully collected these series.)

I had to do some research to figure out what was essential. Batmantrades.com was highly visited at this point. I became more active on comics forums, like CBR and The Batsquad. I started saving some ebay searches (I still maintain an average of just 6 bucks a book, though I often get stuff for much less now – I’ve become an expert at bargain hunting.)

I got the bug real bad and things went quickly downhill. I had about 40 Batman books soon – but there are hundreds.

I started getting obsessed with placing things in order and finding the books I needed to understand important events. At first I told myself I would only collect Batman. Then only Batman and Superman. Then just the Modern Age.

I wanted to catch up and I set my sights on Crisis on Infinite Earths and what came after. I started updating my list and hosting it at my personal website, talking with people about placements.

I took a History of Sequential Art class in my final year at Savannah College of Art and Design and started to develop a deeper understanding of the world of comics and found many new favorite creators.

About a year later I found a supplier that handed me every Showcase Presents book for very very cheap. After that point, the whole DC Universe was my baby.

In April 2010, tradereadingorder.com was purchased and the first version of the site launched.

It had been about two years since I first started keeping my DCU organizational list in an excel document, maybe 4 years since I started getting into comics again seriously.

I’ve decided to follow a few other core titles or continuities (like Ultimate Marvel and the Buffyverse) and do my best to create good documentation on universes I may not seriously collect (like mainstream Marvel.)

I wanted to create a site that answered all the questions I had while I was getting back into comics and would continue to fill my own needs. I use the database to manage my own collection, figure out what I should read next, and sort my own bookshelves – and if it’s useful for me, hopefully it’s useful for you.

It’s now about 8 months since the site has launched and I’m constantly surprised by how driven I am to make it the best it can be. It’s easy to motivate myself to work on this.

While the books that pulled me back are legendary, I’m not sure what caused me to get back into my childhood passion so strongly.

It’s possible that it was always waiting for me and I just had a few off years while I was trying to become a “serious” adult.

I may have given up – but I like to think that I’m just serious about my passion. And have admitted that comics are just as legitimate an art form to be interested in as any other.

I’m lucky to have a fiancé that’s amazingly supportive, an education that gave me some skills surprisingly useful in a fan effort (and a really nice scanner that I told myself I was buying for photography uses), and a pretty darn fast typing speed for actually getting all the thoughts I have out there.

This a fairly light summary, but hopefully it tells you a bit about me.

What about you folks?

I think that the titles that pulled me back are fairly common books for new readers – Batman, Sandman, and maybe even Swamp Thing. Fables, too!

How did you get obsessed? Or if you’re relatively new to comics, what is pulling you in?

Or back in?

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By | Thursday, November 25, 2010 | 12:48 pm | 10 Comments | Blog > Essays

Note from the editor: Here’s something a little special. The following was sent to me by my mother and I’m posting it under an account I’ve created in her name. We don’t always share much.

While she wasn’t the type of parent to actually throw out a kid’s collection, she has had trouble understanding just what it is I take so seriously about my hobby.

I was touched that she had a story to tell about her own experiences with comics and that she took the time to email it to me.

She’s given me permission to share it here with you guys. That’s her (on the left) and her friend Mara in 6th grade.
Happy Thanksgiving! -Ian

Penny Pitching For Comics

Move back in time to the period between 1961 and 1965, while we, young boomers, were in elementary school. Then you could buy comics for 10 cents new, or 5 cents used, or win them by penny pitching.

As the years flew by the prices rose to 15, 25, and eventually 35 cents. By then some of us moved on to fantasy and science fiction, and junior high, and passed on our collections.

Jay and Mark were avid collectors, and I suppose readers, of comic books. Somehow I remember the collecting more than the reading.

They had stacks of Marvel and DC comics.

In our gang Superman, Superboy, Batman and Robin, and Spiderman were the ones that I most recall. But we also collected Wonderwoman, The Flash, any of the Legion of Superheros, the Fantastic Four, and issues of Archie and Ritchie Rich.

I too had a few, but was not one for accumulating this kind of ‘stuff’. Boys seemed to be the ones with more ‘stuff’.

The girls seemed to spend more time chatting and playing with each other rather than engaged with things. Although we did tend to collect Barbies and their clothes.

I also spent a lot of time day dreaming.

Along with my friends I did read comics, especially the Superman series where Lois Lane and Lana Lang were featured. I was fascinated by these female archetypes, their clothes and demeanor.

Wonder Woman seemed cool, but was intimidating in her buxomness. I and my girlfriends also seemed to gravitate to the Archie series. Cute characters, humor, a peek into a fantastic world of teens and relationships, as opposed to a focus on action, fighting, and the dark villains of some comic series.

Winter and nasty weather days we’d gather in each other’s apartments with our ‘stashes’ to read and trade amongst ourselves. Jay, Stu, Mark, Sheryl, Steven. Maybe Karen, Penny, Judy, and Risa. Any one that lived in our section of the buildings on Gale Place, the Amalgamated, the Bronx, or were connected to it via a basement labyrinth. Mostly we hung out at Jay’s.

PS 95 Bronx, NY. Mrs. Lynch’s Class, 1960

Spring and summer were special times where we grabbed our stacks and headed to the Big Playground. It was easy to get to as the sidewalks were continuous from the front entrance of our building, 130 Gale Place, L-shaping along Van Cortland Park to the playground set up on a hill. It was on this hill that a lot of action took place. Kids came out with suitcases of comics, some in series wrapped in rubber bands. Some were lugged in little red wagons.

We laid out the stacks in displays usually 4 or maybe 5 rows high, and a few wide. Mark loved to command a post atop of the displays and hawk the opportunity to win a special edition or collection with the pitching of a quarter or two.

For the most, comics could be had for a penny landed on the smooth and often shiny surface of the cover. A few comics stacked together could command a nickle.

As they were slanted on the rise, getting a penny, nickel, or quarter to stick on top of the stack did require both skill and luck.

Aim true and you had a chance, but often the change could easily glide off the edges onto the grass.

Scooped up by the hawker, the change would add up over the course of a few hours or a day. This could be saved for ice cream money or a chance to pitch for a competitor’s collection.

Stevie had an admirable technique. He used to spit on the penny to ensure it would not slide off!

Those selling would arrange the difficulty according to whether they really wanted to part with their prize collections or how seriously they were bent on ‘earning a few’ . They would draw the pitching line close or far depending on age and size.

Little kids were always allowed to be closer to even up the competition. Girls also were at times given this advantage, though some of us prided ourselves on our aim and throw, and wanted to play evenly with the guys.

If the set up was too easy, the game was no fun , and there was no pride in winning.

We girls got to hawk our wares too, or even ‘man’ the collection for our comrades. We’d all save pennies over the course of the year for these occasions.

I never figured out how word got around to know when there would be penny pitching contests. Maybe it was partly the weather, a weekend, and a few kids together deciding to head out to the Playground with their stacks. Others seeing them probably made impromptu decisions to go get theirs, find their stashes of coins, and come back out to play.

It was like a mini-festival, a kid-version arcade on a much simpler but more satisfying scale.

It was community, and of course budding consumerism and learning a bit about business and sales.

Fast forward – Mark is a lawyer, Jay’s a millionaire. I’m no Veronica, but we’ve managed to stay connected.

And what happened to the comics?

Jay tells me his grandfather handed them out to the kids in Harlem from his butcher shop.

- Alison Myra Ozer
November 2010


Ed: Myself (second from left), my mother, and little sister (on her lap), and cousins, 1990s
On one of these same Bronx playgrounds.

Enjoy your family time everyone!

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