|Okay ... this is a spinner rack in an American store, but we had |
them in UK newsagents, too. Trouble is they wrecked the condition
of the comics - not that we cared much about that back then.
|The records outside those second-hand shops would be tut ... |
terrible stuff I'd never be interested in. No Beatles or Dave Clarke 5 here.
In the UK, if distributors Thorpe & Porter accepted returns, it would have been the entire comic, which they would then likely pulp or possibly commit to landfill. But even during the Sixties, American comics had a perceived value and it was possible to find second-hand comics in the oddest of places.
Back then, like many kids in the neighbourhood, I had a bike. After exhausting the newsagents in the area, I began to range further afield to get my hands on yet more Marvel Comics. There were more newsagents to be found westwards along Woolwich Church Street, at least two of them before it became Woolwich Road and crossed over the Blackwall Tunnel Approach. Then, as Charlton gave way to Greenwich, I found a print shop that had a stack of comics in the window. That shop would become a regular source of older Marvel Comics for me.
Finally, at the furthest limits of my range, was New Cross and the Popular Book Centre, a sleazy haven for paperback books, assorted girlie magazines and three or four stacks of American Comics, all with a heavy "Popular Book Centre" stamp on the cover and a handwritten biro price, initially 6d, but that would go up over the next couple of years.
|Admittedly, this one's not too bad, but very often, |
the Popular Book Centre stamps were heavy and inky,
and often smudged on the glossy comic cover stock.
Later on, I'd become a regular customer of Bonus Books in Woolwich, which was much closer to home for me. In fact, I was in there almost every day and got to know the proprietor quite well, to the point where he'd save comics for me. I think his name was Dave. He seemed a like a very nice guy, even though he did appear to sell some quite scary porn, to some even scarier customers, from under the counter.
|The comics I bought from Bonus Books have long since gone, |
(and what happened to them is a story for another blog entry)
but I still have the Doc Savage paperbacks all these years later.
MORE CLASSIC MARVELSSometime in the second half of 1965, I had managed to find two really early Fantastic Fours ... 4 and 8. I forget now where I'd got them from, but I know I would have paid 6d from one of those second-hand shops. Being second-hand, they weren't in perfect condition, probably about Very Good to Fine in today's standards, but back then, condition wasn't a deciding factor, more of a bonus if the comic was a nice copy.
|My next Marvel "classic" was Fantastic Four 4.|
I had no idea that Sub-Mariner had been a major
Golden Age character ... but it didn't spoil my
enjoyment of this issue one bit.
|The underlying (at best) insensitivity of Reed Richards |
is present here when he calls Sue "Sue"
in the last panel and Ben "Thing".
Meanwhile, The Torch is hiding out in the Bowery. Why he would hole up in a fleapit flop-house isn't explained, but it's a quick way for him to meet The Sub-Mariner, who has lost his memory years before and is now a down-and-out. Stan and Jack show us an old Sub-Mariner comic but that didn't mean a thing to me, as I had no awareness of any comics older than 1960.
|Johnny Storm finds a vintage Sub-Mariner comic in|
a Bowery flophouse (yeah, right!) not six feet away from
the actual Sub- Mariner ... what are the odds?
|The first of several close shaves with The Sub-Mariner.|
At the time, this was the earliest Marvel comic I'd been exposed to. Heck, they weren't even called Marvel Comics at this time. And to be honest, I didn't think it was anything really special as a story. Mostly, I was thrilled to own it because it was such an early number of Fantastic Four. Even then, I was as much a collector as a reader.
One irony that occurred to me much later about this comic was the way that Jack Kirby didn't seem to have any qualms about using The Sub-Mariner in one of his Fantastic Four stories (Kirby had claimed for years that he did all the writing as well as the art and was robbed of his creations by Marvel), even though the copyright situation was a bit fuzzy, and the rights to the character may well have been owned by The Sub-Mariner's creator Bill Everett. I've always respected the heck out of Kirby's abilities as a creator, but even he can't have it both ways ...
LIKE A PUPPET ON A STRINGAnyway, in the same transaction I also acquired a copy of Fantastic Four 8. This too was a key issue because it introduced not only one of the dumbest-looking villains the FF have ever fought, The Puppet Master, but also the baddie's step-daughter Alicia, who would become the love interest for Ben Grimm and the key factor in the humanising of The Thing.
|Why did the Puppet Master look like a ventriloquist's dummy?|
And why did no one comment on his bizarre appearance?
When Reed bars Ben from the Lab, Grimm gets all paranoid and stumps off in a huff. Of course, Reed is working on a cure and doesn't want Ben disappointed if it doesn't work. But his moodiness is the catalyst for Ben to meet The Puppet Master - and more importantly, Alicia. This is one of the few times I can remember that Alicia is said to resemble Sue Storm. And the Puppet Master disguises her as Sue with the mere addition of a blonde wig and sends her back to the FF with a now mind-controlled Ben.
|This is one of the first times that Ben Grimm reverts to his human state, |
this time because of a chemical potion Reed has been working on.
|Even though Alicia is unable to see, she can sense that Ben is |
essentially the same person, no matter what his outward appearance.
|The early issues of Fantastic Four were filled with fun features like this -|
this one explains in "scientific" terms how Johnny Storm's power works.
THE X FACTORThis bit of bad luck and poor character judgement didn't deter me, though. It wasn't long before I uncovered a copy of X-Men 4 - a real key issue. It was the first time I saw Magneto (I pronounced it Mag-netto) and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
|A brilliant iconic cover to introduce the reverse X-Men.|
Pretty much perfect apart from a couple of silly colouring errors.
Inside the story was fairly routine, except that the characterisation again was way ahead of what any other publisher was doing at the time. At this point, Magneto was still a bit of a dictatorial control freak. He wouldn't get in touch with his nobler side until much later. But his followers were a mix of repulsive and pitiable.
|Without comment, we're shown life with the X-Men and how things go down|
as Castle "Evil Mutant" and left to decide where we'd rather be.
But the key milestone is this issue is the introduction of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch as reluctant allies of Magneto.
|We're offered an origin of sorts for both Wanda and Pietro. |
These four panels would be expanded on later by other hands.
The other high point for me in this issue was one of the house ads. It showed the very issue of The Avengers, coincidently also issue 4, where Captain America is introduced in a modern setting.
|For a Captain America fan like me, this house ad depicted |
the Holy Grail of comics ... The Avengers 4.
It would be many years before I managed to track down a copy of this immensely important (to me, anyway) Marvel Comic ... but that's a story for another time.
Next: More Marvel, more second-hand shops