The covers in this post are of issues I had actually bought and read.

Those of you who know me personally would never see me as a comic book geek, although these days I may look like this guy, though.

Comic books for me in them days came in many forms, may it be those pocket black and white War Picture Library stories, British classics like Beano and Dandy, or those old and torn but well-loved volumes of 老夫子 (Old Master Q) that I used to read whilst having my hair cut at the local barber. I remembered old comics given to me by our landlord when my folks used to rent in Bangsar which were mainly war comics by DC – titles like Weird War Tales and Sgt. Rock came to mind (complete with what may now be considered non-PC character dialogue along the lines of “Now, Amelican! YOU BURN!!!” uttered by a Japanese soldier). And I had tough time understanding how BUDDA! BUDDA! BUDDA! was the sound of a machine gun (tip: don’t pronounce it like the, err… you know).

However, it wasn’t until 1982 that I was introduced to the world of Marvel comics, by a good friend in primary school named Thariq. I think the first Marvel comic Thariq introduced to me was the Uncanny X-Men, a group of mutants under the tutelage and leadership of a Professor Xavier who ran a school for gifted children. My superhero knowledge was somewhat basic at that time. Superman came from another planet. Batman, well… I wasn’t sure if he had any superpowers but his fights were pretty much in the style of Far East martial arts and good old fisticuffs. But the X-Men were different as the concept of mutants was somewhat novel (Stan Lee had alluded that by having the mutant concept, one can create any form of superhero without coming up with some backstory that involved whatever planet or radioactive knick-knacks). At that time, I was introduced to the team that comprised Cyclops, Wolverine (SNIKT!), Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler (BAMF!) and a pre-Ariel Kitty Pryde[1]. Even at this early period, I wasn’t just marvelled by the stories and the myriad of characters, but I got to recognise names of the writers (the 1980s was the Chris Claremont period for the X-Men), artists (Walt Simonson, Terry Austin – to name two) and even letterers (Tom Orzechowski who did the X-Men was a firm favourite of mine).

The best X-Men tome I bought at that time, which costed me a few bucks, was a Marvel-DC collab of the X-Men and the Teen Titans with artwork by Simonson and Austin. If I remembered correctly, any stuff inked by Austin was gold by my standards. I don’t know much about artists on the DC side but this collab was pretty much Marvel – a neat story penned by Claremont and lettered by Orzechowski. I think this battered ish is tucked away somewhere in storage in KL. Just look at the cover, peeps.

These comics were also instrumental in improving my English vocabulary. I remembered learning the word ‘manifestation’ when reading about Dark Phoenix – that’s a big word for a 12-year old Malay kid whose English isn’t his mother tongue. Also, a smattering of choice German, thanks to Nightcrawler. Alas, the English tend to be in comic book speak. Who talks like this in real life, I wonder? Heh.

From X-Men, I branched out into the Fantastic Four and was introduced to the superb artwork done by John Byrne. It was later that I learnt that Byrne used to draw the X-Men, which led me to read X-Men back issues. In those days, I couldn’t for the life of me remember how I used to read back issues, as omnibuses of old issues like how Marvel does it today were not that many then. It was an interesting period for the FF as Earth was under threat by Galactus who is pretty much my favourite Marvel villain to this day, if I should say so myself. The concept of him devouring worlds was kinda alien (pun intended) to me – I even imagined that he would “eat” a planet as I would cake.

The thing with these comics is how inter-related the universe is, which is the cornerstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe everyone knows about today. You get little boxes saying “See Spider-man #133” at the bottom of panels whenever a plot has some relevance to another one in a different comic book. This allowed me to branch out to read other Marvel titles simply because I wanted to read about the reference in more detail, and also an excuse to buy more comics.

The Amazing Spider-man, for me at that time, wasn’t introduced to me concurrently with the other titles I was reading at the time, but Marvel had published an origins omnibus which introduced me to Steve Ditko and his Peter Parker (with the long forehead). The omnibus prolly had the first ten issues which ended with Spidey facing off Kraven the Hunter. Another origins omnibus I had was The Incredible[2] Hulk. I remembered getting confused as to what Banner’s first name was – it was Bruce in the comics but David in the Bill Bixby late 70s TV series. And how gamma rays cause a lot of trouble to people exposed to them, but with differing results.

Strangely enough, the Invincible Iron Man and the Avengers (I remembered Vision and Scarlet Witch vividly then) never caught on for me as the stories at that time (if I remembered correctly, Tony Stark was dealing with alcoholism) just didn’t do it for me. The style of artwork played an important part in my liking of particular titles, not just the story). Doctor Strange was too weird (strange?) especially when his cosmic exploits (I didn’t like the way they draw a number of planets in just one panel – did my head in) introduced me to the wider universe and different dimensions which… well, suffice to say, concepts of which flew over my head.

Funnily enough, in this period, I also bought less popular titles like Dazzler (a singing mutant who transforms sound into light) and, err… ROM, Spaceknight (based on a Parker Bros toy robot) – both of which weren’t greatly written/drawn despite my aforesaid preference in comics, but probably because these were newly introduced titles and I could (naïvely) follow the issues through to start a collection.

Comics in those days cost $1.80 (pre-RM Malaysia) an issue. The nearest places to buy them were either Ravoof Anwar (our local mamak newsagent) or Arenabuku – both 5 minutes on the bicycle. I remembered the days when I would collect the spare 5 and 10 (sometimes 1) sen coins in the drawer of the sewing machine in the backroom (that was where my parents would leave me my 50 sen daily pocket money for school) and cycle to the shop to get the latest issue of a title. I would like to add another little joy I get from reading these comics are the ads, especially those superhero tie-n ads by Hostess, an American confectioner which made Twinkies, Cupcakes and Fruit Pies (apple and cherry). Not living in the ‘States meant that it would be decades until I tasted my first Twinkie, though. And my last. Can’t it be any sweeter? Dang.

However, my dalliance with these comics was unfortunately short-lived. A year later, I went into boarding school and having a limited amount of pocket money then meant my interest in comics began to dwindle. Over the years, even at med school in the 90s, the interest in seeking out a printed Marvel title never really came back, despite the evolved style of artwork over the years. The titles and the tales woven in the Marvel comic universe had gotten a bit too convoluted methinks, as compared to what they were like when I was 12.

And then in 2008, a certain film directed by Jon Favreau came out.

(To be continued…)

[1]I will not list down each character’s powers as I will assume you’d know what they are, or you’ll know how to Google.
[2]I loved it how each title had an adjective unique to a character or group.