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Tag: The New Mutants

Comic-Shop Memories: All About Books & Comics (Part I), 1986-87, Phoenix, Ariz.

I don’t know how quickly I was able to discover All About Books & Comics after moving to Arizona, but it was pretty quick, likely within a month or so after arrival.

The shop was farther from home, about 16 miles from home or a half-hour each way in the car, at 535 E. Camelback Road. Like most comics shops, it was in an unremarkable building, albeit one that had bright letters and even characters at times painted on its street-facing windows.

It would be an understatement to say I was impressed when I first walked into the store. Not only was the space large, but it was crammed to the gills with new and back issue comics — more than I’d ever seen in any other shop. And, I quickly learned, there was lots more in the back. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for, just ask, and they’d come back shortly with the book you needed in fantastic shape. I have a stone-cold mint copy of X-Men #147 I acquired from the “back room,” and an equally nice copy of X-Men #142.

What impressed me most at first was the back issue selection, which was deep. I checked out the X-Men selection and — just in the box — they had just about every issue back to #143, the end of the John Byrne run. The issues before that were prominently displayed along the walls in mylar sleeves for “exorbitant” prices that ranged from $10 to $30 for most except the earliest issues of the “new” X-Men run. Every other title was stocked just as deeply, if not more so, since those early new X-Men issues were the hottest thing going at the time and there were no reprints. So to read them, you had to get the originals. Classic X-Men had just started and it was going to be a while before it got to the Dark Phoenix issues.

A later printing of the first X-Men trade paperback, with a great cover by Bill Sienkiewicz.

I say that with one exception, that applies directly to this visit. While checking out a rack in the corner, I came across the first X-Men trade paperback, published in 1984, collecting issues #129-137, for the cover price of $7.95. I had to have this book, but couldn’t afford it at the time. Luckily, Christmas was coming up, and I told my parents this is what I wanted. So my dad drove me down to the store again, we bought it — I was sure it would be gone by that point — and it went home to be wrapped awaiting Christmas morning. I remember reading it that Christmas Day of 1986 and absolutely loving it. I’ll have to do a whole post on that book another time.

The following May, I graduated high school and was due to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson starting in the fall. My dad was working for a personnel company that had a temp business that served American Express, which had extensive operations in the Phoenix area. So he got me a summer temp job at one of their call centers, answering a national informational toll-free number for the Amex business card. The hotline was advertised in USA Today and other high-profile places, so my job was to answer these calls, answer basic questions about the card, take down the caller’s information and pass it on so that an application would be sent to them, or — if they were a larger company — a sales rep could contact them. It was boring and easy. Most of the calls came from the East Coast, so the afternoons slowed to a crawl and I’d read sci-fi books I borrowed from the library at my desk until I was done at 4:30. The perks included being able to look up cardholder addresses in the computer — few comics folks seemed to have Amex cards, but I never stopped putting their names in the system — and a fantastic deli in the complex called The Duck and Decanter, which is still there and makes the most incredible sandwiches. And it was located at 16th Street and Camelback road, just nine blocks down the street from All About Books & Comics!

So 4:30 would hit and, about twice a week, I’d make All About my first stop. I had this summer job and sufficient financial aid to pay for university, so I felt free to spend a little money on comics. I was in full-on X-Men fandom mode at the time, and so these trips were used primarily to raid those deep back issue bins. I’d grab four or maybe five issues per visit, adding in a few other back issues to series I still had holes in — The New Mutants and Alpha Flight in particular. When I started frequenting All About, my X-Men collection ran back from the current issue (around issue #220) back to about #174, with a couple of older issues in there. By the end of the summer, I’d filled it in all the way back to #141, plus annuals. I’d also brought up to date my run of The New Mutants.

I was really interested at the time in the issues from Dave Cockrum’s second run as artist, which I was reading for the first time. They were very different in tone and style than the stuff that hooked me on X-Men: issues Claremont produced with artists Paul Smith, John Romita Jr., John Byrne and Art Adams. But the more I read the Cockrum stuff, the more I really came to love it fully and completely, faults and all.

I also started trying out more comics, still mainly Marvel. Favorites included: Avengers by Roger Stern, John Buscema and Tom Palmer; West Coast Avengers by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom; and Silver Surfer by Englehart and Marshall Rogers. All About was well stocked, and you could pick up at cover price, new off the racks, the last six or so issues of these titles plus any recent annuals. And new comics cost 75 cents at the time, so it was not terribly expensive to try out six or so issues of a new series.

I recall flipping through a copy of an issue of Batman: Year One and not buying it — which was, again, really dumb. I did later acquire those originals for a very reasonable price.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had been getting my subs through Fog Hollow Comics until it closed, and then those subs were transferred to a shop called AAA Best Comics. On Fridays, I would often hit All About and then drive up to Fog Hollow for my subs and then home. It took an hour in the car in Phoenix summer heat — without air conditioning. But this was my thing and I was all in. I almost always went for a swim as soon as I got home to refresh my sweaty self and remember for a moment what it was like to be cool.

The day before I was scheduled to drive down to university with my parents and move into my first apartment with a roommate I had yet to meet, I wanted to get my new comics from All About. It was new comics day, but in those days that was far less of a weekly event than now. The books came in and sat in piles on the counter throughout the afternoon as the staff worked to verify quantities before they could be put on sale. So I waited. For quite a while. I looked through back issue bins. I checked out the small section next to the comics where All About stocked used paperbacks and discount comics. Finally, the new books were freed and I picked up my comics, including X-Men #224, and began the long drive home in the late-afternoon heat.

Cover to X-Men #224 (Dec. 1987). Cover art by Marc Silvestri and Bob Wiacek.

If you’ve ever been to Phoenix in the summer, you know it gets really damn hot. And when the monsoons come, it gets worse because the humidity goes up from nothing to something. This was a monsoon day. I could see the thunderheads building up in the mountains, and was driving toward them as our house was near the foothills of the McDowell mountains. I had sweat through my clothes several times over in my AC-less VW Beetle. And then I got a flat on Hayden Road, just north of Via de Ventura. I pulled off onto a side street and, having no working spare, found a nearby pay phone to call for help. Which took a very long time to come because it was rush hour and our other car was otherwise occupied. So I found some kind of shop to sit in, with my comics, and read them until I got some help and could get home, wash off the day with a dip in the pool and try to prepare for the next day’s events. But I had my comics. That made me happy. And since I had an apartment, I did take with me my collection — about three long boxes at this point.

On to Tucson, and another town of new comics shops.

Comic-Shop Memories: Warp 1, Edmonton, Alta., 1985-86

The opening of Warp 1 Games sometime in 1985 or 1986 cemented the Whyte Avenue strip of Edmonton as its comics capital. Warp One opened at 10332-81st Ave., which was almost exactly one block south of Comic Master on Whyte Avenue. (The old Warp 1 location is currently the Tea House Cafe.)

Warp 1 was a large store. I remember entering into a large lower area with I want to say blue carpet, and a line of racks for new comics along the left side. There was a little loft, where you went upstairs to an area with back issues both in long boxes on tables, and on the walls. I remember a window that was round and may have been a dome. I thought it looked cool, remembering having visited on rainy days where the effect of it was enhanced.

Warp 1 was best for back issues. Its selection was deeper than other shops in town and it was easier to track down issues older than a year or two. Back issues were reasonably priced, though condition often varied more than at other shops. It seemed to have more newsstand copies of comics, which means Canadian newsstand copies that have in recent years become in-demand variants.

I never cared for the newsstand copies. They usually were in lesser shape, and I honestly preferred the cleaner look that Marvel in particular used for its direct market copies, with that “M” design and the nice, big issue numbers. The newsstand issue numbers were squished and crammed into a tiny box to make room for the Comics Code Authority symbol, and presaged my typographical interest and subsequent distaste for distorted type.

Among the comics I remember buying at Warp 1 are Secret Wars II #6, X-Men #170, and The New Mutants Annual #1. My X-Men #170 is a very nice-condition Canadian newsstand copy, which may put a few extra dollar or two in my pocket should I ever sell it.

The other thing I remember buying at Warp 1 was a copy of Bill Sienkiewicz’s poster of The New Mutants. It was and is a stunning piece of work that just looks great. Warp 1 was the only store where I had even seen one and so I bought it in September 1986, just a month before we moved to Arizona. I wish I still had it, or that Marvel would re-issue it, as it’s very hard to find one and they’re quite expensive even if you do.

The New Mutants poster by Bill Sienkiewicz.

Of the stores I’ve written about so far, Warp 1 is the only one that is still in business. Online, I found this profile of the store from the Sequential Tart website. When I visited Edmonton sometime in the 2000s, I stopped in with my friends at its new location on Whyte Avenue at 99th Street. It was still a solid shop, though it had changed with the times to be more focused on graphic novels than back issues, even then. Warp 1 is still open, and has two additional locations called Warp 2 and Warp 3. I’m sure I’ll check it out again whenever I find myself back in Edmonton.

Christmas Comics: Power Pack #20 (March 1986)

“Turning Point”
Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Bob McLeod
Letters: Joe Rosen
Colors: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Carl Potts
Editor in chief: Jim Shooter

Power Pack always was a book I really enjoyed and, for a time, was one of the best books Marvel published. This issue has a Christmas tie-in, but there’s a pretty convoluted plot to wade through, not to mention a fair bit of continuity that’s not well laid out for new readers.

This story began in Power Pack #18 — a Secret Wars II crossover! — when mom Maggie Power is badly injured by the rampaging Kurse while picking up poster board for her son Alex to use for a school science project. That lead to a crossover with Thor #363 (which was written and drawn by Louise Simonson’s husband, Walt) and a double-size Thanksgiving issue in #19 that guest starred Cloak and Dagger and, of course, Kitty Pryde and Wolverine.

There’s also a bunch of continuity from The New Mutants to deal with, as Illyana had somehow lost control over Limbo in another Secret Wars II-related storyline I don’t exactly recall at the moment. And that’s where this issue starts: with a bunch of Limbo demons running through New York looking for innocents to sacrifice so they can move the entire island of Manhattan to Limbo.
Power Pack gets drawn into all of this because they’re at the hospital awaiting word on their mom, whose condition is deteriorating, when the demons show up to kidnap some babies from the maternity ward. They fight, find a library card belonging to their pal Kitty Pryde and call Xavier’s school to see if she’s OK. But it’s Dani Moonstar who answers, and she, Cannonball and Wolfsbane come to the rescue.

It’s a nice touch that this issue is drawn by Bob McLeod, who co-created The New Mutants. He has a realistic, illustrative style that is particularly expressive with faces. I like that all the characters are drawn with their breath showing when they’re outside in the cold winter weather. On the other hand, it’s occasionally too realistic for superheroes and there’s this odd quality, kind of like watching a movie version of a comic where they didn’t have the money or techniques to do really good visual effects, when it comes to the demons. And why the hell does he draw Dani Moonstar wearing leather Geronimo pajamas at the mansion? Isn’t the pinkish coloring of her skin, leather headdress, moccasin boots and native-style belt enough of an indication that she’s Cheyenne? Rahne isn’t wearing a kilt and playing the bagpipes and Sam’s not decked out in Kentucky overalls, so why pick on Dani? It’s just weird, looking at it now.

Anyway, the fight plays out like a lot of superhero comics from that time. Little Katie gets captured and the demons want to use her as an innocent and a power source to open the gateway to Limbo. Meanwhile, in case it wasn’t confusing enough, Dani recently became a Valkyrie in the big Asgard adventure from The New Mutants Special Edition #1 and X-Men Annual #9, which brought Hela into the situation regarding Maggie Power. Turns out Maggie is about to willingly go to her fate with Hela until Dani can remind her of her kids, then she changes her mind while Dani wards off Hela long enough for Maggie to turn away from the light.

When it’s all said and done, The New Mutants go home, Maggie wakes up and it’s the best Christmas gift the Powers have ever had!

It’s not much of a Christmas issue, to be sure. There’s not much carol singing or many holiday elements on display. In fact, it’s full of demons and pagan gods, which surely wouldn’t go over too well with folks who object to these sorts of things. But it does have a nice little Christmas coda and was something of a turning point in the story of Power Pack, which was transitioning from co-creator June Brigman as the artist to Jon Bogdanove, who took over with issue 22, I think, just in time for a big outer-space storyline that bookended the series’ opening arc.

Lastly, this issue can’t go by without mentioning the cover, penciled by none other than Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and inked by Terry Austin. When Mignola talks about the endless stream of Marvel comics he drew in the days before he struck out on his own with Hellboy, this is exactly what he’s talking about. It’s a little bit of a muddled cover, which is dominated by Lightspeed’s rainbow trail. The rest of the characters are small and get lost amid a mess of Limbo demons. It’s not going to leap out at anyone from the racks, really, but a closer look shows some really nice little touches and some very fine inking, which is no surprise from the excellent Mr. Austin.

Another Mutant Cinema interview leads full week of X-Men news

I wish I had been at New York Comic-Con for all the cool stuff I’m reading about, even as I don’t miss the New York weather at all. There’s lots of X-Men-related news that makes me unexpectedly happy, so here it goes:

  • First, on the Mutant Cinema front, an interview I did with the blog Four Color Commentary is now posted for your reading pleasure. Check it out here.

  • As you may have noticed from the image at left, the 1990s X-Men animated series is finally getting an official and complete DVD release! The details on the first two volumes have just been released, and they include 32 episodes in all. Read more here.

  • On the comics front, The New Mutants is back with a new series starring the original lineup of characters. If they’d get Bill Sienkiewicz and Chris Claremont back on the book, I’d be completely sold. Since there have been a few other revivals along the way that haven’t worked out, I may reserve final judgment until I’ve read a few issues. Zeb Wells, who I just saw win an Annie Award as part of the Robot Chicken team a few weeks back, will write with Diogenes Neves (an artist whose work I’m not familiar with) will be on art.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most potentially cool of all, is news of a new comic series titled X-Men Forever, in which Claremont will continue the series from where he left off in 1991 as though all the intervening years never happened. While it sounds like he won’t do all the cool stuff he had planned at the time, I think it’ll be really fun to play What If? in this way. Tom Grummet is on the art, which I think is a solid choice and should be able to evoke the feel of the book back then and take it somewhere new. Now, if only they could talk Jim Lee into drawing an issue or two, my 1990s comics flashback would be complete. IGN talks to the mutant master about the series here.

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