Inspired by the #FourComics hashtag: What are four comics that… got you into comics; you loved as a kid; got you back into comics; showed you comics were special; changed your mind about something; or made you who you are today? Here’s what the Panelteers picked:
Eric Margolis: I have to credit my grandmother for kickstarting my love for comics. I was never a weekly comic reader as a kid, but every time I went to visit my grandmother she had a handful of comics waiting for me. Unfortunately, I can’t recall most of the comics that she gave, but I can definitely remember when she got me X-O Manowar #1. It was like Conan meets Iron Man, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Once I hit Junior High School, I grew “too cool” for comics and wouldn’t touch them for almost a decade. Later, in college, I moved into a house with a friend of mine who was a complete comic book junkie. He tried to get me reading, but I always declined. One day after I had graduated undergrad and before going to law school, I got super nostalgic about the old Captain America and the Avengers arcade game. I remembered how cool I thought Hawkeye and the Vision were. So, I ended up shooting a text to my old roommate and asked what was going on with those guys. He went digging through his collection and gave me a copy of New Avengers: The Reunion and told me to just give it a chance. I’m glad I did because that got me completely hooked. I went back and explored some of the books that I was mildly familiar with when I was a kid, which brought me to Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing Annual #2 in particular stands out, and to this day is probably my favorite single issue of a comic. Alan Moore’s writing… wow, just wow. The whole going to Hell and back thing? Pretty crazy stuff. Finally, I found my way to what is my all-time favorite “superhero” book, Thunderbolts. The reveal on the final page of Thunderbolts #1 is one of the most unforgettable pages ever. I can’t possibly fit my love for Thunderbolts in a short blurb like this, so I’m not going to. Stayed tuned to Panels for more on my Thunderbolts obsession.
Helene: In chronological order of reading, here are four comics that made a significant impact in my life from before I could read to my teenage years. Always first: Tintin! Because that is where to story started. I couldn’t decide what my favorite story was. The Blue Lotus? The Secret of the Unicorn? Maybe Destination Moon…Next came Oumpah-pah. Yes we all love Asterix, but as a kid I was a bigger fan of this other collaboration between Uderzo and Goscinny. Oumpah-pah (whose totem is the puma) befriends a French aristocrat, Hubert Puff Pastry, during the French colonisation of America. All the magic of Astérix is already there. Then Lanfeust de Troy showed me what kind of world building could happen in a comic. The character designs are amazing. Christophe Arleston and Didier Tarquin have created a heroic fantasy adventure with heart, romance, magic… and the book never takes itself seriously (the meta-humour and anachronisms are reminiscent of Goscinny’s style). Don’t be fooled by the title, the best character of this story is Cixi, the fiery black haired seventeen year old who can change water from ice to liquid to vapor. Last but not least Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt is the comic that assured that I would not stop reading comics because I was growing up. I still have a major crush on the most fascinating sailor in the world. Don’t you talk to me about reality!
Dave Accampo: The first Star Wars film arrived in theaters when I was just 5 years old, so it’s nearly impossible to overstate how that epic is imprinted upon me, but the comic world took that spark and exploded it. I’m thinking here about Micronauts #28, in which the honorable warrior Acroyear, in order to defeat the ebony clad Baron Karza, calls upon the Worldmind, the collective “soul” of his homeworld of Spartak, and uses that energy to defeat Baron Karza, while knowingly destroying his planet. Damn, that’s some epic drama. In my later teen years, Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz would jam on an Elektra mini-series from Epic that blew my mind. Miller had shown me what comics storytelling could do with The Dark Knight Returns, but Sienkiewicz just added this layer of paint that changed the game. Around that same time, I discovered Denny O’Neil’s and Denys Cowan’s The Question, which I’ve previously written about, but which is somehow incredibly personal to me to this day — I found it around age 18, just when I was beginning to, well… question. Finally, I have to give it to Neil Gaiman. The Sandman was probably the final nail in the comic book coffin for me; I almost left comics, but just when I thought I was out… I read that book. I can even pinpoint it further: The Sandman #18, “A Dream of a Thousand Cats.” Shrapnel from that story still remains lodged in my brain to this day — the power of stories to shape reality… yeah. That may just be the book that cemented me as a writer.
Brian McNamara: I wish I remembered those first couple of comics that I read as a little kid. Well, I say read, but I really mean stared at the pictures and made up the dialogue. There were a host of them, but they’ve since fallen into the shadowy realm of memory. But the comic that I remember reading most as a kid was Robin #10, a Zero Hour tie-in that featured Tim Drake running into a time displaced Dick Grayson. We got a brief look at their contrasting styles of being Robin as well as some top-notch team work. It was the exact type of thing you wanted from Zero Hour, a glimpse of the past that informs the future. I still have the battered, dog-eared copy from 1995. The other big issue from when I was a kid was a special reprint of X-Men #1, the classic Chris Claremont/Jim Lee first issue. This version contained the first three issues of the series as well as having the full five-cover gatefold of that iconic showdown with Magneto. In hindsight, it’s not the greatest story nor the best introduction to the characters, but it was another issue that I read cover to cover as often as possible. It inspired a life-long love of the X-Men and has become the golden standard by which I judge all X-Men stories. Somewhere around the mid-90s I fell out of comics, maybe because the newsstand/tobacconist that stocked my comics reduced stock or I spent less time around it but I ended up drifting away until 2000. One of the comics that brought me back to the medium was Star Wars: Dark Empire II #1. I had owned the full-cast audio adaptation of the Dark Empire saga from Dark Horse and it had blown my mind as a kid. To later find out it was actually based on a comic made me love the audio even more. After much searching, I found a local comic shop that had the single issues and ended up with Dark Empire II first. I already knew the story but to encounter Cam Kennedy’s sketchy lines and the entirely unorthodox coloring style of the books really showed me what comics to be. A tie-in comic with European comic sensibilities. Finally, JSA: Our Worlds at War was the book that made me fall in love with the DC Universe. It’s neither the strongest story nor part of the best event, but this is the comic that revealed the depth of the DCU to me. Faced with a world threatening alien invasion, Alan Scott and Jay Garrick call in the JSA Reserves. Basically any and every character with a Golden Age connection and they’re all rendered in a wonderful two-page spread. The book and its cast felt grand in scope, the only force able to repel the Imperiex force were a bunch of WWII veterans and some wet behind the years kids. The JSA remain my favorite superhero team all because of a chance meeting during an event.
Chris Rohling: I didn’t get into comics in a big way until I was a surly teen, but there were always comics around. I loved the Marvel heroes as a kid thanks to a steady stream of cartoons and the eventual emergence of the X-Men movies. I have vivid memories of digging through random back issue boxes after a little league game and trying to find things that looked awesome to my tiny brain. That probably explains why I ended up with Ghost Rider #1 and Black Panther #1. I was convinced both of these were Super Important Issues and these characters had obviously never been in any books before these #1’s came out. I was very wrong on both counts, for the record. It’s a cliche at this point, but I really did read those two issues so many times that the covers fell off. There were other Ghost Rider back issues mixed in with my early collection. You can’t blame me. I was a kid in the 90s. I was contractually obligated to think Ghost Rider was the business. Even with those slightly gothic tastes, Avengers #4 always springs to mind when I think of early comics. There’s a huge chance it was my very first comic that I owned. It was the cover I could find that had the most characters on it. I was a very value oriented child. It’s one of those “Cap picks the new team” issues that I still have a fondness for and introduced me to most of my favorite Marvel characters. My fourth pick has to be Ultimate Spider-Man vol 1, which I vividly remember reading in a hot rental car while leaving Universal Studios’ Marvel theme park thing with my family. I wouldn’t catch up with USM until my sophomore year of high school, but it would be the book that tipped me into being a full on Wednesday Warrior. There was no turning back after I got my hands on those trades.
Ali Colluccio: The Death of Superman is, technically, the first comic I ever read. And while I remember a lot about the experience of reading it, I don’t actually remember a lot about the comic. However, I can still picture specific panels of the second comic I ever read when I close my eyes. Art Spiegelman’s iconic MAUS completely blew my 14-year old brain, and on subsequent re-reads it still carries that same punch. It was the first comic that showed me the power of comics as a storytelling medium. When I finally did get into comics in my late 20s, The Walking Dead was my hook. I was a monster/zombie movie fan long before I picked up a comic, so Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s epic tale of life after the zombie apocalypse was an obvious choice for me to dive in with. It’s an amazing and brutal and shocking comic. And even though I read it in trades, I could still appreciate the brilliance of the cliffhanger endings to each issue. I kind of ran out of the emotional gas it takes to be a long-term reader of The Walking Dead; but it’s a comic that remains near and dear to my heart. In lists like these I like to throw in a more modern choice to keep things interesting. And right now, there are few comics that make me happier than G Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel. And even looking back on all the comics I’ve read, not many have given me this much joy and even fewer have the hope and heart of this comic book. I am fiercely in love Kamala Khan and her story. And that is not likely going to fade anytime soon. On a more personal and emotional level, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s first comic collaboration Phonogram: Rue Britannia is just THE comic for me. It’s a book that came to me at a point in my life when I needed it the most. It’s a bit messy in parts, but it’s raw and personal and just really brilliant where it counts. It’s a comic that means so much to be I went and got it tattooed to my ribs.
Paul Montgomery: Thinking back on those creaking spinner racks, my mind immediately goes to Archie’s line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures with their cosmic wrestling odysseys and endless parade of “mutanimals.” Those odd, colorful chimeras likely played a pivotal role in my own love of character and juxtaposition. I liked superheroes well enough as a kid, but whatever the medium, I always gravitated first to the talking animals, hence the inclusion of Harvey Comics’ Pink Panther. For much of my childhood I fantasized and actively pursued creating my own comic strips. I think I valued comedy and style over action or complex plots, so I pored over collections of Sunday strips, primarily treasuries of Bill Amend’s Fox Trot. The joke construction and distinct voices got their hooks in, strong as a soap opera. Perhaps the most important find though was Tintin. I discovered the Belgian icon on a rack in the children’s section of a Colonial Williamsburg book shop when I was around ten. I remember hemming and hawing for over an hour as to which adventure to buy and take back to read by the hotel pool first. They all looked so enticing and exotic and secret. “King Ottokar’s Sceptre” won that day, but I was back for one or two more every summer for years, my first requested stop on each family vacation.
Jeff Reid: This might go against the game a bit, but three of my four most influential comics growing up were books with a ton of comics in them. My mother worked at our local library when I was growing up and I spend hours there pouring over Batman: From the 30’s to the 70’s and Superman: From the 30’s to the 70’s. Each contained selected stories from forty years of publishing history and I devoured them time and again. It was fascinating to see time unspooling before my eyes. Similarly, Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes contained 1940s-era stories with characters like Namor, the Human Torch, Plastic Man, the Spectre, and many more. To get these stories under one cover these days would be virtually impossible but this book was published in 1965, well before Marvel and DC protected their IPs with laser-like focus. Reading these early stories first hand was wonderful and deepened my love for comics history. Finally, there was World’s Finest Comics #239, which featured aliens sucking up swatches of the the rural midwest and Gold of the Metal Men appearing to kill Batman. That was one just weird but I read it over and over again. I’ve never trusted the Metal Men since. Gold is shifty.
Jessica Plummer: I’m not sure which duo I discovered first, but Betty and Veronica and Calvin and Hobbes definitely formed the basis of my comics reading as a kid. I do have a very clear memory of my friend Gabe showing me a Calvin and Hobbes book he’d purloined from his older sister’s room – I think it was Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons – and my brain absolutely lighting up at Calvin’s bratty, endlessly creative antics, whereas I think we can probably blame those Betty and Veronica Double Digests and their habit of reprinting vintage stories for my love of comics history. Over a decade later, when I discovered superhero stories, Impulse was the first complete run I devoured, sitting on the floor of my dorm room surrounded by stacks of bagged and boarded comics – but it was Quiver that instilled in me a deep and obsessive love for DC’s sprawling universe and messy continuity, and all the ways, brilliant and inane, that writers keep trying to paper over the holes in it. Sassy kids and cranky archers are still my favorites.
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