If recent history is any indication, we all love comics. How else would the biggest Hollywood blockbusters be based on the four-color 'funny pages' so many of us grew up on? Marvel's The Avengers is the third highest grossing movie of all time, with its forthcoming sequel set to break that record. The Iron Man and Christopher Nolan Batman trilogies are among the biggest franchises in recent years. Comics have even taken over our TV screens with the recent success of Arrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and The Flash, not to mention the countless cartoons we've seen over the decades. No matter where you look, or what your personal interests are, it's hard to deny that today, now, at this time in history, it is good to be a geek.
I'm curious about how that started for others on an individual, more personal level. People always say you never forget your first, but if you ask most comic readers, they can't recall the first issue they purchased or read. I get it, it's easy to lose that memory in the shuffle of hundreds, possibly thousands of issues most of us read in our lifetimes, and we typically start at a young age with no proper introduction to this world.
I for one, remember with clear distinction the first comic I bought with my own money. I still own that very issue, not a repurchased copy, but the original issue that cost me less than a third of the cover price of today's popular comics.
My brother, a passive comic fan, had been letting me read his considerably small collection of comics for a couple months at the time. Well, as much 'reading' as any five-year-old does with a comic full of eye catching art. From the beginning I had a strong fascination with Iron Man, based mostly on the fact that he didn't have any flashy super powers. He couldn't back hand the moon out of orbit, or curb-stomp a pseudo-god, but was a hero because of his mind, long said to be the most powerful weapon in the world. He was a shining example of what someone could do with a truly remarkable brain. Not only that, he did all this with a life threatening medical condition while still sacrificing himself to save the world. And of course, the slickness of the armor was like wearing a Ferrari you could fly in.
When my brother realized that I was rereading comics multiple times because he wasn't buying new ones, he took me to the local comic shop so I could buy an issue I wanted, not realizing this would be the start of my very own collection. There were no Uncle Ben speeches of the power and responsibility of my choice, there wasn't a ceremony bestowing me with the worthiness to wield such a wondrous gift in my hands, and there was no warning of the significance of what I chose to begin the foundation of my 'library', possibly because there was no way of telling how influential this moment would be on the rest of my life. In any case I knew I had to choose wisely, like choosing the symbol to wear that would prove criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot.
It came as no surprise to my brother that I was immediately drawn to the small section of Iron Man comics, but what he found odd was that I wasn't interested in the latest issue. Instead, I held a seven year old issue that came out a couple of years before I was even born. In my hands was Iron Man #133, an unimportant, largely forgettable issue that today could be found in your local shop's 50 cent bin, if at all. But in 1987 it was like seeing a naked female for the first time, or possibly more apt, a frozen Captain America. I was filled with questions, and wanted to see more.
The cover depicted not only The “Invincible” Iron Man defeated on the ground, but also The Incredible Hulk laid on the floor, in a similar fashion. Jim Rhodes (prior to becoming War Machine) was clearly concerned over the well being of his friend, and Ant-Man, (who according to the cover was all-new and astonishing), stood shocked at whatever it was that transpired. What was it that happened? I had to know. The cover told me that Iron Man beat the Hulk, but asked “At what cost?”. More intriguing to me was the question; why would the two be fighting? To my five year old mind it didn't make sense. Although I wasn't too familiar with Hulk, I knew he was supposed to be a hero, and the idea of two heroes fighting was too much to take (this was well before Civil War or AvX) and I needed answers.
Truth be told, nearly 30 years later, I barely remember what transpired within the issue, but I do know that it was the start to my life long hobby, turned collection (borderline obsession), and career (hopefully). Iron Man #133 was the first of my 30,000 issue (and counting) comic collection. What I didn't know at the time, was choosing to buy that copy of Iron Man #133 not only started me on the sexy path of comic collector (hey we have to change the stigma any way we can), but also changed my life in a much more profound way.
Coming from a large ethnic family, friends weren't something I could choose. I was born with a great group of siblings and cousins that I will always love and cherish. But what that meant as a kid growing up in the USA was, I didn't have what my family called 'American' friends (regardless of their ethnicity). The first friends I was able to choose, were from comics, and that's why even in my 30's with a robust social calendar, I'm proud to consider Iron Man and Batman a part of my life.
With the purchase of that one issue I became a fanboy and haven't looked back since. I continue to spend way too much on comics, reading whenever I get the chance, even sporting a painfully acquired Iron Man & Batman tattoo.
New Jersey has played host to several small comic conventions which I've been attending for at least as long as I could drive, but there was a rare joy in my heart when I heard that Comic-Con was returning to NYC, and I made sure I was there for every minute of it. This convention has fed my habit, and given birth to a plethora of con moments.
However, my greatest convention memory was pure ecstasy for this fanboy. Several years ago at New York Comic-Con, while looking for a publisher to whore my writing to, I found a little nook of a booth with no customers. But what he did have, was a display of dozens of classic golden age issues, including Tales of Suspense #39. For those of you not in the know, that issue contains the first appearance of Iron Man himself.
Having not planned on making any lofty purchases, I didn't have the necessary cash on hand, so I had convinced the dealer to give me time to go to an ATM and (following a call to my bank to confirm that I hadn't gone insane) added to my ever growing collection, the crown jewel of Iron Man comics.
At that point, I had already collected every Iron Man series issue, and this addition gave me a new mission: obtaining the entire run of ToS with Iron Man. I can say with much pride, and pain in my wallet, that I have nearly completed this mission that began nearly 30 years ago with my innocent purchase of Iron Man #133. A purchase that was made with no fanfare, speeches, or clout, but nonetheless changed my life in a way no one could have foreseen. I walked into that comic shop a snot nosed punk (are all punks snot nosed?), and walked out, not as a man but as a fanboy with a single comic in my hand. A comic where the hero, and my friend, nearly died at the hands of the Hulk. Instead, he not only survived and showed why he’s called The Iron Man, but also proved he was ‘Invincible’.
For more from Alex Azar, check out azarrising.com