By Shawn Warner
Like many kids of my generation, I was a child of divorce.
My parents parted company around the end of my first year of life so I have no memories of my mother and father ever being in the same place at the same time. In fact, I was nine years old before my gaze ever fell upon my mother. Before that time she was nothing more than the villainess haunting my waking nightmares. I was raised by my Grandparents in a working class Irish-Catholic household.
My Grandfather was the personification of everything I believed to make a good man; my Grandmother was a controlling matriarch, but she loved me in her own domineering way. Material things were her means of showing affection and gifts were given so frequently that they began to lose any meaning. I started to believe I deserved these gifts because my actual parents didn’t want me, that these gifts were compensation for the mother’s hugs, or for the kisses I would never know, or for the trips to the park with a father who was scarcely ever around, save when the mood struck him.
It was at this time that I not only met my absentee mother but that I learned I had two siblings – a brother and a half-sister from the second of my mother’s five failed marriages. It seems that she was pregnant with my brother when she and my father divorced. I hated my brother from the very second I became aware of his malignant existence. He was a horrid ugly rat of a child with beady rodent eyes and a mouth that spoke only lies. My half-sister was a dim-witted free spirit who would roam the streets bare footed playing with local boys. I had less than no interest in maintaining a relationship with any of these people. We just had nothing in common. My interests were mainly of an academic and artistic nature happiest when I was alone with a comic book, my sketchpads and drawing implements.
Around the age of ten my Grandfather gathered me up for a trip to the movie theater. This was not unusual. But unbeknownst to me at the time, this particular trip would be a life-changing event. The movie we were going to see was Star Wars. Sitting there in that darkened theater with my Grandfather and a few hundred strangers I could feel the electricity in the air. When the Twentieth Century Fox drum roll began, giving way to the opening notes of the Star Wars theme that was to be forever etched in my young mind, a new world opened to me. I no longer cared that I didn’t love or even know my mother and siblings. I had Luke, Han and Chewie, Artoo and 3PO, and all the rest of the characters that would become my friends from this galaxy far, far away.
We left the theater that night only to return four more times before the end of the film’s engagement. Each time was better, more exciting than the last and after every viewing my Grandfather would stop at the 7-Eleven on the way home and let me pick out five or six comic books from the metal spinner rack. I gravitated to the science fiction and super hero books; I didn’t care too much for war or western comics. I loved the Marvel teams especially the Fantastic Four with their tendency for outer space adventures and cosmic cohorts like the Silver Surfer. I also liked Spider-Man quite a bit, identifying with his angst and isolation.
But on one of those 7-Eleven trips I decided to journey out of the Marvel universe and try my first DC comic. I had watched the old Adam West Batman TV show and liked it enough to be a regular viewer. But I thought Batman was sort of goofy. However this cover caught my eye, it was Batman #300 and in bold red letters it asked the question: “Can A Legend Die?” It called out to me – the image of Batman taking off his cape and cowl while a stunned Robin and Alfred look on in shocked confusion. Dick Giordano, who also inked the incomparable Walt Simonson’s interior pencils, had masterfully rendered the cover. The story by David V. Reed was a bit heady for me at the time. It was a future story focusing on a crime cabal known as Spectrum. They were divided into seven sections corresponding to the seven colors of the light spectrum. It ended with Bruce having to choose between being Batman and marrying the woman he loved. Such heavy subject matter was not the stuff of Adam West and Burt Ward’s psychedelic romps. I was intrigued.
I continued to explore the DCU picking up several Superman comics just in time for the release of the first and still the best Superman film. After the movie my Grandfather and I made our customary comic book buying excursion to the 7-Eleven and although I was very excited by the Superman film the bulk of my purchases were Batman titles, including Detective Comics and Batman Family.
The eighties came and by then I was no longer buying my comics at the 7-Eleven or at the flea markets my Grandmother would take me to on the weekends. I was now going to my local comic book store called Universal Comics. I became friends with the owner and he soon began to recommend edgier titles and introduce me to writers like, Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Chris Claremont. I loved not only the amazing comic books I was discovering, but the camaraderie of the older guys at the shop. The first book I remember reading and having a lasting effect on me was a “What If”.
I had always loved the “What If” stories and this one was of particular interest because the cover so closely resembled one of my favorite Amazing Spider-Man covers. The book was “What If Spider-Man Had Rescued Gwen Stacy?” #24 by Tony Isabella with art by the incredible Gil Kane. The book opened my eyes to how important a single event could be in the life of even a super hero and that really stuck with me.
I also discovered Daredevil that year.
This was a wonderful time to be reading that book. Frank Miller was working his magic and back then I was able to pick up all the issues I had missed for next to nothing. Daredevil#168 is one that comes to mind as being particularly important in molding my young and impressionable mind into a discerning comic book reader, not just the Marvel Zombie I had been in my earlier days of the spinner rack.
Detective Comics hit its 500th issue milestone that year and I eagerly devoured it after school one afternoon. It contained another parallel world story among others in the anthology format. This story was the one that stayed with me over the years as it dealt with Bruce’s parents surviving and the changes it would have caused in him. I tended to gravitate to these types of stories because of my conflicting feelings about my own parents.
Another story along these lines came along in 1984 in Batman Special#1 by Mike W. Barr with art by Michael Golden. It contrasted Bruce’s story and the origin of Batman with the Wrath’s very similar story, but paradoxical in its details, both men were shaped by tragedy but ended up on opposite sides of the law. I love this issue and consider it to be one of the best Batman story ever, certainly one of the most influential on me.
Secret Wars also started that year and was my first experience reading a crossover event. Even at my very young age I found the writing to be agonizingly bad with some of my favorite Marvel characters acting outrageously unlike themselves.
Frank Miller returned to Daredevil for issues #227-233 this time with artist David Mazzuchelli. In this heart-breaking arc Kingpin breaks Matt down to his core stripping him of all that he holds dear and making him more dangerous than ever. The arc was called “Born Again” and it was preparing me for what was to come with my beloved Batman.
In 1986 I graduated from my white trash red neck high school in a Podunk part of Baltimore County called Lansdowne. I never fit in and had little to no friends at school. I spent most of my time with my Cousin Alex who at this time was half my age. He was quite intelligent for a kid his age so I got him interested in comics and sci-fi very early. We grew incredibly close and he soon filled the vacated role of brother in my life. We did everything together and he even began to accompany me on my weekly trips to the comic book store.
Shawn Warner is a writer for bagandbored.net, offering comic book reviews and commentary. You can read his writings here.