Key Issues – “Who’s Who #10”

Who's Who WraparoundIf “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is the book that made me a comics reader then “Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe” is the book that cemented my future as a comic book nerd. I use the term “nerd” affectionately and with pride.  In the past it may have been used as a pejorative but I think it has come to be a compliment and certainly a badge of honor as a term that is earned and not given. Either way, however, I enjoy being a comic nerd and “Who’s Who” is one of the early influences that made me into the person I am today.

“Who’s Who” came out at around the same time as “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and served as an encyclopedia to all the characters in The DC comics universe. Each issue covered a couple of dozen or so characters with full color art, brief histories and statistics on powers and weapons. Already pretty awesome right? Now, imagine a 10 year old boy who just got interested in comics by way of his new friends in a new town. Here was a kid desperate to know more about these characters so he could be part of the conversation (and also because he really loved superheroes) and at that moment he finds this comic or, more precisely, this series.

Who's Who The FlashIt is important to understand that “Who’s Who” wasn’t just a single issue but it was a multi-issue series that spanned several years and 26 initial issues. Once a month a new issue came out and I devoured them as soon as I could get my parents to buy the next installment at the local grocery store. I still had not discovered comic books stores nor could I have gone to one regularly anyway so the ONLY time I could get a comic was if I found it while shopping with my parents. I can still remember the thrill of finding a new “Who’s Who” on the shelf every so often. I would scour the spinner racks at the pharmacy or the magazine rack at FoodMax and then beg my parents for the dollar to get the issue once I found a new one. I didn’t always get it either which was devastating. I invented ways to try and hide issues until the next trip like putting a copy behind the “Home and Garden” magazines in the hope some other kid would not find it back their and snatch it up before I could buy it myself. I don’t know if that worked but it made me feel just a bit better about not getting the issue that day. Sometimes it would be months before I got a new issue but somehow I managed to get every issue that followed my first one, issue #10.

“Who’s Who”Who's Who 10 was great because it was just pages and pages of character back stories and wonderful art that was like getting multiple comics all in one book. You could read it cover to cover or just drop in to read a little about one character. In school kids would bring there issues in and during breaks we would sit around just going through them laughing at the silly characters and having deep discussions, deep for 10 year old buys, about the more serious heroes and villains. It was the kind of pure fun that often doesn’t come around anymore. I learned enough from those books to at least fake my way through comics conversation even when I really didn’t know the complete details. “Who’s Who” helped me make friends and feel accepted at a time when my world had been turned upside down.

The book pictured is my original copy of issue #10 which was my first “Who’s Who”. I didn’t come into the series until halfway through the initial run and it didn’t matter because there was so much material to read. You can tell this book is dog-eared and worn out and that is because I read it over and over. I don’t think the cover is even attached anymore. At any point when I was bored or sent to my room I could pull out my  “Who’s Who” issues and be content studying all the characters for hours on end. As the months went on and my comics collection grew, “Who’s Who” remained the most important of books. Without “Who’s Who” I don’t think I would have found such a passion for the medium. “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was great because it had all the characters in action but it was “Who’s Who” that told me who these characters were, where they came from, and why they were important. “Who’s Who” was the key that unlocked it all.

Looking back on it now I think I can also lay the blame on me being a complete DC Comics fanboy rather than a Marvel fanboy at the feet of “Who’s Who”. I read those issues that I owned so often that talking about those characters became second nature. While Marvel also had a similar series their books were a lot denser and I remember not enjoying them as much. I never connected with Marvel and I think “Who’s Who” has something to do with that. The combination of “Who’s Who” and “Crisis on Infinite Earths” locked me in to DC and I have never been able to develop a taste for Marvel even though I have certainly tried over the years.

I read and collected comics for a few years after this point but it was a hobby that was doomed to end because I was a kid and didn’t have money nor did I really have access to a comic book store on a regular basis. By the late 80s I was done and had turned my focus to fitting in with my peers in a different way. Comics became that thing I loved as a kid and I would occasionally revisit my old issues but I lost my way for a while. I still loved superheroes but I was more interested in thinks like the 1989 “Batman” movie and video games based on the characters. Comics faded from my life. I don’t show that I own a single issue from 1988 so I must have completely stopped in 1987 around the time “Batman: Year One” finished up so I was only really into the hobby for about 2 years but it was a magical 2 years and I saw a lot of seminal work during that time even though I didn’t know how important the period would be as it was happening.

Five years later comics came back into my life in a big way and changed everything forever.

Key Issues – “Crisis on Infinite Earths” #10

In the previous edition of this column I wrote about my first comic, Krull #2. At the time the column was called “Why I Love Comics” and I was never happy with that name and finally decided to use what I originally wanted to call the column which is “Key Issues”. My original idea was better and am not really sure why I chose to go a different way with the first column. Now that I am happier with the title it is time for the next installment!

In November 1985 my family moved to Alabama. I had just turned 10 and starting over in a new school wasn’t exactly easy. I was different. I liked basketball in a world where football was king. I had a Kentucky accent in the heart of Dixie and I came from an experiment school that didn’t have traditional classrooms. I went from a town where everyone knew my family and me to a town where I was a stranger and my family was seen as northerners (yeah, Kentucky is not “the north” but to people in Alabama it kind of is) who really didn’t belong. The good thing is that I found myself in with a group of kids like myself pretty quickly. One of them actually was another Kentucky transplant! So, I made a few friends quickly and then found out they were into comics. These guys were REALLY into them too.  They had stacks of issues they would bring to school and they knew the history of all the characters and everything! This was a world I was previously unaware of.  I, of course, loved TV shows like Batman and Super-Friends but I had no idea that there was so much more to the comic book universe. That is when I was introduced to a story called Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #10I don’t know if someone showed me this issue first or if I grabbed it one day while in the grocery story (I bought all my comics at the local FoodMax in the early days) because I recognized the title from other books the kids had but somehow this book ended up in my possession and it was awesome!  Crisis on Infinite Earths was a huge event in the DC Universe maybe the first real universe wide event ever in comics. It has certainly become the most important.

For a 10 year old boy who loved superheroes, however, all that matter is that this book had EVERY CHARACTER EVER! Well, not actually but close enough! Not only did it have Superman and Batman it had multiple versions of each character!  WHAAAATTTT??? This was my first introduction to the idea of the multiverse and it honestly blew my mind. My favorite cartoon as a kid was Super-Friends and this book was everything I loved about Super-Friends but way better in every way. literally this book had hundreds of characters, many I had never heard of before and they were all fighting against this huge universe ending threat. Even the villains were in on the act! This book sold me on everything comics and I will point to it as being one of two things that made me a life long comic fan.  I will talk about the other book in the next entry in this series.

In many ways it is kind of lucky that I stumbled into comics during the Crisis event. This is a showcase of two creators doing some of their best work in a series that would become legendary. If I had jumped in with another book, something of lesser quality maybe I would have moved on but starting with Crisis created an experience that I have been chasing ever since because I know how good comics can be. Sometimes I read books that live up to that experience but most of the time they fall short. That isn’t a dig on modern comics but a statement on how great Crisis is. I was in the right place at the right time and hanging out with other kids who loved this stuff in a way I was only just discovering.

The SpectreI devoured this issue and the two that came after. This was a time when getting back issues was really hard for a 10 year old and I didn’t read the entire 12 issue series until much, much later but I didn’t care. I had enough of the story in those three issues to sustain me for years. To this day I am still a major fan of The Spectre (he is the guy in the green cloak on the cover) and I have to assume my fandom is due, in part, to his part in the story and his major role in this issue and the story. After this event DC completely rebooted its universe and I got to be on the ground floor for all of the new things that came out of Crisis. I was introduced to The Flash who would also become a favorite character as well as John Byrne’s version of Superman which is still the Superman that I personally identify with. Comics would become part of my life for most of the next 30 years and I can point to this issue as being the catalyst.

What is also important here is that comics became something that allowed me to sort of fit in with this new world I was thrust into. Everything in Alabama was very different from what I was used to in Kentucky. The school was different, the people were different and I often felt alone and isolated. Comics helped me make friends and find a group of kids I felt comfortable being around. It was a little early yet for kids to start breaking off into cliques and reading comics wasn’t a “nerd” thing to do. That would come later but at the time it was exactly what I needed to start feeling better with my new reality.

Crisis #10 will always be a special book for me. That particular copy is pretty beat down. The cover is no longer attached and the pages are bent and dog eared BUT it is my original copy and it is still with me. The thing is though, comics are meant to be read not to be shoved into boxes and hidden away for some future, possible sale. The value in these things is the story and art contained inside. Yes, I have boxes of comics but every one of them has been read. Some are better than others but I am and always will be in this work they represent. It remains important to me to read comics and not “collect” them.

Come back for the next installment where we find out Who’s Who in the comics universe!

The Scarlet Gospels

I started writing this review back in June 2015 and abandoned it because I was so disappointed.  I decided to finish it today just to get it out there.  I think I am more interested in the introduction to the review than the review itself. Anyway, maybe there is something here worth talking about.

Throughout each of our lives we have first time experiences which define our future expectations. We spend the rest of our lives chasing those experiences in the hopes of having that same feeling back again if just for a moment. Sadly it is a rare to get those things backs even for a moment.  Try to remember how it felt the first time you fell madly in love or the awe at seeing something like The Grand Canyon or the castle at Disney World. Things like the birth of your first child, your first orgasm, or even your first drug experience all imprint on a person’s life in a way the second, third, and future repeats of the experience never can.  Life is filled with uncountable experiences that once you live through them ever other similar experience is always compared.  In some ways it a tragic reality of human existence that one of the things that makes us unique, our ability to have and remember experiences, causes us to try and relive those experiences often to our disappointment.

What I find lately is that I am constantly disappointed in things. I have this great experience with movies like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Those experiences were so good and so strong that I have spent hours and hours watching movies all in the hope in recapturing the wonder and amazement that I felt while watching those films even though I know now that it is unlikely that I will ever feel that again. What becomes tougher to accept as we get older is that the person that had those defining experiences is not that same person looking to have them again.  That person was young. That person was naive. That person didn’t have decades of life to compare to the things that were happening to them.  We are not the same at 40 as we were at 20. This speaks to the old saying that “youth is wasted on the young”.  We come to realize that there really is nothing new under the sun.

Clive Barker's The Scarlet GospelsI am kind of sad that nothing impresses me these days. Not movies that I have been waiting for or vacations that I take, or books that I read. Everything lately has been a “been there and done that” situation.  It is making it harder and harder for me to get excited about reading novels.  I get so damn disappointed when a book fails to have a satisfying ending.  This is exactly what happened by the time I got to the end of The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker.  This book was supposed to be Barker’s return to the Hellraiser mythology and the ultimate and final Pinhead story.  Fans of The Hellbound Heart have been hearing about this book for years and, at least for me, expectations were high.

My first exposure to Clive Barker came when I rented Hellraiser as a kid.  The film came out in 1987 so it must have hit the rental shelves sometime around 1998 which would have made me around twelve to thirteen years old.  It was like nothing I had seen before. It was gory ans sexual and took the material seriously.  It wasn’t jokey like the Freddy films or just ridiculous like Jason of Friday the 13th.  No, this movie was dark and kid of ugly but in a mesmerizing way.  I have often said this film started my horror obsession and chasing my first experience with the film has been one of those things that always seems to disappoint.  I don’t think I ever found another film that affected quite like this one did.  Even the more hardcore and disturbing films I came to watch later never stuck with me like Hellraiser did.  Again it is one of those moments in time that you can never repeat no matter how hard you try.

Of course as time passed I watched all the sequels, mostly bad, read the original book, pretty good, and found the comic series that has some really great moments.  If it was Hellraiser I devoured it.  As things go, however, the quality of the franchise fell quickly and the disappointment came back.  When Barker announced he was writing a new Hellraiser book and it was to be the ultimate Pinhead story I could not wait.  Finally it came out and I burned through it as quickly as possible.  Boy did it start out exactly like I wanted with the dark horror I was looking for but suddenly things changed and it became something else.  Something boring.  By the end I was left feeling unfulfilled.  Instead of a study of the denizens of hell and the ultimate battle for power we got some kind of road story with a bunch of humans kind of following in Pinheads wake.  The story had none of the raw energy of the original book and film.  The original book deals with the nature of desire and the demons (figuratively and literally) that can be released when desire is allowed to grow unchecked and there was none of that here.  So much of what seems interesting is completely glossed over and the least interesting parts of the book, mainly the humans, are given most of the word count.  A Hellraiser story should never be dull but this was, for the the most part, exactly that.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t some good to be had.  The opening prologue was excellent and set high expectations for the book.  The depiction of Lucifer was superbly original and more of that story/backstory may have helped the book rise above what it become.  Overall, however, it just left me flat and wishing for more.

Barker nearly died before the publication of this book and his health problems over the past decade or so have been so unfortunate but I still find it hard to excuse how this book came out.  It actually reminds me a lot of what happened to The Dark Tower series after Stephen King had his accident.  In that case everything that came after the author’s struggle seems to be missing the edge found in previous books and I feel the same about The Scarlet Gospels and Clive Barker.  Something was missing but the author wrote the book anyway and the result is less than spectacular.

Like a junkie I keep chasing those transformative experiences I’ve had with books and film while at the same time knowing that nothing can ever be the same as when I was young and more of a blank slate.  The more I realize that I will never have those feelings back the sadder I get.  It’s not like I dwell on those feelings or anything but it sure is disappointing.  I hope that one day someone ha new sights to show me.

Key Issues – Origin Story

*****Update – 2/20/16*****
I decided to change the name of the column to “Key Issues” no big deal but I did want to post an update here so it wasn’t confusing.

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A few years back I wrote a two part post about my journey through comics up to that point. It covered the three ages of my life where I was really into comics and the dark ages in between. The posts can be found below.

A Fanboy’s Story Part I
A Fanboy’s Story Part II

While those posts do a good job of laying out how I came to comics, what sent me away and what brought me back, I only briefly mentioned some of my favorite issues. As I have been considering new things to write about to breath some new life into this site I started thinking about these posts and maybe revisiting the reasons why comics are important to me as I enter my 40th year of life. Thus was the genesis of what is to be a new series here called “Why I Comics”. I plan to pull out issues from my collection that have some kind of special meaning or story and just kind of talk about them for a bit to document why I have this fringe hobby and what keeps me coming back week after week. I hope it is interesting and maybe inspires others to join the many other comics fans in the world. Now, on with the show.

I can’t really be sure what the first comic book I ever had really was. It is certainly possible and even likely that my parents or grandparents gave me a Mickey Mouse comic or an Archie comic when I was really young but if they did, none of them survived my toddler years. The book I do remember is Krull #2 from December of 1983. How this book manager to survive my eight year old self and then travel with me for 32 years I will never know but it did. The edges are worn, the cover is completely off and it looks like exactly what it is, a well read and well loved comic owned by a child.

Krull #2

If you aren’t familiar with Krull then let me give you the high points. Krull was a Sci-Fi/Fantasy film that came out of the post Star Wars era. It combined the sword and sorcery epic with an evil empire led by a dark and powerful force. The Star Wars influence was all over this movie including an impenetrable fortress and soldiers armored in all white. I don’t necessarily want to review the film at the moment but it is notable for early film appearances by Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane, that weird teacher from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and a pretty awesome score by James Horner.

I can remember seeing the trailers for this film on TV but I never got to see it when it came out. We didn’t go to a lot of movies when I was young (which probably explains why I go all the time now) but just the idea of this film fascinated me. I was a HUGE Star Wars nerd (still am) and this film looked to scratch that itch for high adventure. At some point around its release I got this comic. I have no idea who bought it for me or where it came from but I can only assume it came from a spinner rack or store shelf at the grocery store. In 1983 this would be the only way I ever came across comics. Having the comic meant I could play out the movie in my head. This being issue #2 it starts right in the middle of the action. Seriously, the first page begins with what is probably the creepiest part of the whole film, the swamp battle! You have this great swamp fight, a wizard, a cyclops, and the hero. For an eight year old it was AMAZING! I didn’t need issue #1 as this had all the best parts. It has section with a giant spider, fire-mares, an awesome throwing star/glaive weapon, and a really menacing bad guy that gets defeated at the end. This was my first “real” comic and it could not have been more appealing to me!

Looking back on the book now it is pretty awful. The art is bad, the story is mostly just told rather than shown and it crams a lot of story into the second of a two part comic. Honestly, the movie is pretty bad too but it remains one of my guilty pleasures and how good is Freddie Jones right? None of that matter in 1983 though. Here was a book that let me experience a film I wanted to see but couldn’t and I could go back to it as often as I wanted. I think that is what led to me getting into comics the most as a kid. I could go back and read these over and over again and have that joyous experience every time. Reading this book never got old for me and that probably explains why I still have it today.

Krull 2 Front and Back

This was my only comic for the next few years. I don’t remember having another book until 1985, there is nothing in my collection from those intervening years, and then my obsession exploded. While that is a story for another day, it is important to remember that it began with this poor movie adaptation comic. I think I learned that comics had everything I cared about. Things like Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and that they could be about movies or TV shows or whatever! I didn’t buy many adaptation comics through the years and mostly the ones I got were bad but I always remembered this one and how it was the stand-in for a movie I wanted desperately to see but never could.

The book today is worn but readable. I have certainly seen books in worse condition but this one can only have sentimental value at this point. Come to think of it, even the most well preserved books in my collection really only have sentimental value but this one is one of my “keys”. It isn’t a first appearance of anything, it isn’t rare, and it isn’t something that is sought after in the collectors market. It is my first comic and that gives it a special spot in my collection.

Tune in next time when we talk about one of the most important mini-series in all of comics.

LEGO Dimensions

My wonderful wife and daughter bought LEGO Dimensions for me as a Christmas present. I have been playing it almost daily since Christmas morning. We have sampled most of the toy-to-game products including Skylanders and Disney Infinity and this is by far the most enjoyable experience I have had with games of this type. It should be known that we have played most of the LEGO games culminating most recently in LEGO Batman 3 which should have just been called LEGO Justice League. Emily and I both enjoy them and love their co-operative play. LEGO Dimensions, therefore, was right up our alley and it has delivered on every level.

LEGO Dimensions Doctor WhoI want to especially note the Doctor Who level pack that Emily bought. It comes as pictured and once you play through the level as the 12th Doctor you “unlock” all of the other iterations of the character. In future levels when the Doctor “dies” he regenerates as the next doctor or, in the case of 12, he regenerates back to the first Doctor. You can also unlock the ability to change all of the in-game music to Doctor Who tracks.  It is a really excellent experience if you are a Who fan.

The other level pack that we have is the Portal level pack and it is equally well done. I never would have guessed that I would see GLaDOS rendered in LEGO form. All of the voice talent is there too including Stephen Merchant as Wheatley.  In fact, many of the franchises’ voices are on display within the game. You want Peter Capaldi?  You got Peter Capaldi! You want Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown? Well my friend, you GOT Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown.  Seriously, check out the cast listing! Some of it is from archive footage but a lot of new recordings were made as well.

LEGO Dimensions Cast Listing

The best thing about this game is that it is family friendly but there is a lot to be loved by the 40 year old geek like myself. Even my wife got a kick out of seeing Batman fight flying monkeys during the Wizard of Oz level. The downside of course is that to unlock all of the content you have to but a ton of stuff. The starter pack is a full game and you can get quite a bit of enjoyment out of it but it really shines when you add in other characters and open up their worlds and levels. Who doesn’t want to go tooling around Homer Simpson’s Springfield or spend time inside the TARDIS? If you like the LEGO games this will seems similar but the portal and the interactivity add an extra…Dimension…(Get it) to to formula. There are hours of game time in here so the value is there. You will pay more for this game than say Disney Infinity but I think you also get a much more enjoyable product. It gets my two thumbs up!

What I really want no is a full LEGO Doctor Who stand alone game. That would be wizard!