Monday, October 21, 2019

A reflection on my years of being a Marvel Comics fan

I am sharing what was essentially my sharing during the Make Mine Marvel panel at the SuperManila Pop culture Convention last Sunday, October 20 (at the Podium) with Jiggy Cruz.

My first ever comics were reprints of the X-Men issues re-Enter the Mimic (#75) and Bedlam is the Banshee (#76). My mother bought me these comics at the old Cherry Foodarama along Shaw Boulevard when I was five years old. She got them for me to keep me quiet and distracted while she was buying groceries. These were local reprints. I cannot remember who reprinted them. Was it Alemar’s? How much were these comics – 50 centavos. Yes, this was pre-OPEC oil crisis and during the early 1970s. So I am dating myself.

My Uncle Rolly had all the X-Men comics. It was a complete collection as he was a fan of the book. While visiting him one time at his home in Novaliches, I saw them and was enthralled. There were others -- Detective Comics, Hot Stuff, or The Avengers – but I wasn’t really into them. Except for the X-Men and Nick Fury Agent of shield. Why the later? Because of the awesome art by Jim Steranko.

These were American comics and not reprints. I have no idea where he got them, but I do remember badgering him every time I went there if I could have them. When I think about that time, I must have been really annoying to ask those comics – for free. Like he owed me something.

Eventually, he did give me everything (like 10 years later) and they weren’t in mind condition but I couldn’t care less. 

The first real comic that I bought (or my dad did) was Uncanny X-Men #94. We had just come from lunch at the old Shakey’s in West Avenue when we went to the old Mercury Drug Store at Delta. They had this rack of comics and there were quite a lot. But my eyes were immediately drawn to Uncanny X-Men #94 with the mutants being thrown out of their SR-71 Blackbird with the face of a leering Count Nefaria. I asked my dad to buy it but he said no. I was finally able to badger him into getting it one week later. So I guess – considering my Uncle Rolly did give me his X-Men comics – badgering works.

And I guess, you can say that X-Men were my first favorite comics and with Jonathan Hickman’s work, have reclaimed that title. 

I got my first Fantastic Four comics at a PX good store in Tarlac where my grandfather lived. I still have that actual comic which is coincidentally, the first time Johnny Storm wore his red costume.

But comics collecting back then was difficult. There were shops in Manila that sold them but you couldn’t bet on your favorite comic being there next month. 

I got my first Captain America comic book (Jack Kirby’s Mad Bomb) at the old Army & Navy Club along Roxas Boulevard. That was a club for military men and since my uncle was an officer, we would go there to swim, eat pizza and ice cream, and buy comics. 

I got my comics at this shop (where Papelmelroti is today and right in front of Gerry’s Grill) and comics cost about P7 which was a lot of money back then. It took me a year before I get could the follow up to The Doomsmith Scenario. In fact, the next X-Men issue that I got was #96 that was against the N’Garai. Then it was X-Men #107 that was the first appearance of the Imperial Guard. 

I got this hardbound trade of Amazing Spider-Man stories that featured the debut of the Spider-Mobile and him going up against the Jackal, Hammerhead, and Green Goblin. That cost 20 bucks and my parents refused to buy it. So I went to my grandfather. Being the eldest grandchild, he got it for me much to my parents’ chagrin. And they scolded me when we got home. And I loved that comic book to death.

The first Filbar’s branch was a small shop located at the corner of Edsa and Aurora Boulevard. It was hot and stuffy inside. He only had an electric fan and he sold his comics wearing a sando, shorts, and slippers. It was Annabelle who was his only helper back then. And comics sold for 10 bucks. He wasn’t able to secure a licensing deal yet as he relied on a friends of his – a stewardess to buy comics for him in the US.

He moved to New York street in Cubao when that building complex at the corner of Edsa and Aurora burned down. Yes, it burned down along with everyone’s comics. It took what – six or seven months before he re-opened at the New York branch. I remember going there with some other fans who would eventually become good friends to this day.

That is how I met Gerry Alanguilan, Oliver Pulumbarit, and others. 

Filbar’s was ahead of its time in terms of the comic book specialty shops. Maybe that was because we were so far from the United States. 

The mecca then for comic book fans was Greenhills. You had two branches of Filbar’s, Comic Quest – first in the old PCI Bank Arcade then in Shoppesville -- CATS, Comic Express, and Christhareth. In Ali Mall you had Platinum Comics. You had two in Katipunan and more. 

When I couldn't find what I wanted, I made that two hour bus ride from Manila to Dau, Mabalact that was just outside the largest American Air base outside Europe and North America, Clark Air Base. At the flea markets outside Clark, I could buy second hand (mostly) Marvel Comics. The downside was some of the time, they had this stamp or paper on it that said, "The subscription of Airman so and so or what have you." Yep, some had this subscription tags on them. Sometimes, they didn't. But did I care? Nope. Beggars cannot be choosers.

I picked up the early Punisher series – Circle of Blood and continued it when one Whilce Portacio became its penciller (Mike Baron was writing it, Scott Williams inking and Jim Novak doing letters). That was Punisher #8. Whilce drew like some Japanese artist. The name wasn’t Japanese so I wondered if he was Hispanic.

In 1991, Fil Barbasa told me that he was bringing over Whilce Portacio who he said was a Filipino. At that time, I followed Whilce onto X-Factor, a comic I never really collected except for its first three issues). And that was amazing stuff.

In 1991, Fil confirmed that Whilce was Pinoy and he had invited him over for some promos (since he was on Uncanny X-Men at that time). When Whilce arrived in January of 1992, being good friends with Fil (he went on to become ninong to my son Matt along with CATS’ Billy Lim-It), he said, interview Whilce. Fil also knew that back then while working at an ad agency, I also wrote for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Back in college, I wrote for the Inquirer and did part time work at McDonald’s New fro tier to earn extra money for dates, and buying comics and records. I also augmented my earnings by doing the homework of some of my classmates.

Anyways, that February 1992 article on Whilce was the first ever article about him anywhere. And I was immensely proud of that. That actually opened the door for me writing about comics – Gerry Alanguilan’s Wasted, writing about Alex Ross’ Marvels, and others.

However, prior to that an incident prompted me to sell my entire collection to Fil Barbasa for 20,000 bucks. A King’s ransom back then but considering it was a complete collection of X-Men #1-204, it was a good price. And this was 1988 currency. Inflated but not what it is today.

During one class while in college (I had already sold my comics to Fil Barbasa), I saw a classmate of mine reading Uncanny X-Men Annual #11 written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Alan Davis. The X-Men went up against Horde and featured Havok. He returned to the team in Uncanny X-Men #119 if I am not mistaken. I asked my classmate if I could read it and he lent it to me during class.

While reading it, my professor asked me a question. It is a good thing I studied and was paying attention prior to my reading the comic. I was able to answer the question leaving him to say, “Okay, you may go back to reading your comic book.”

The next day, I marched into Filbar’s except they sold out on Uncanny X-Men Annual #11. So I got my copy at Comic quest at the old PCI Bank Arcade. Then I picked up the Excalibur prestige format debut and went got into the Fall of the Mutants storyline. I was back. 

I tried to buy back my old collection from Fil Barbasa but he refused to sell it back.

How big a fan was I of Marvel?

My eldest son’s name is Matthew. I named him after Matthew Murdock aka Daredevil. DD is my fave character outside the X-Men. I got into DD when Gil Kane was drawing the book and read it to this day.

And I guess like the old school fans, I wrote letters to the editor. I wrote after the death of Jean Grey in Uncanny X-Men #137 (not because she died, but I guess, how tastefully and heroically the story was). I wrote to Mark Gruenwald to tell him how much I enjoyed the Captain America and Diamondback storyline. 

Four of the five Marvel Comics where I had a letter printed.

But my first letter to be printed in the pages of a Marvel comic was Daredevil #358 followed by Groot #3, Power-Man and Iron Fist #3, and Silver Surfer #200. I also have an issue of Fantastic Four where I had a letter printed. This was during Karl Kessel’s run (unfortunately, I lost that comic to Ondoy).

In fact, when I stopped reading Marvel and all other comics after my outrage over AvX, the Cap-Nazi story, and Steve Rogers not being Cap (for the nth time), I wrote a very scathing letter to Marvel. 

I was upset. I was the fan who read and bought a lot of comics. I even defended Marvel from Todd McFarlane who I engaged in an online debate several years ago after he took shots at the company. 

As a fan, I read Marvel and other comics from cover to cover. I poured over the soapboxes, bulletins, letter cols, and even the ads. Yes, the ads. 

I also submitted entries for No-Prizes. 

When I was working in New York, I would sometimes camp outside the Marvel offices at Park Avenue south waiting for anyone (we didn’t know who was who so we figured anyone carrying a portfolio bag was a freelancer) we could hand over our scripts, resumes, artwork. 

I wrote a story for Cap titled, “A Line in the Sand” and one for the X-Men titled, “Monaco” that was inspired by an old Modesty Blaise story that I read. Yes, I love Modesty Blaise.

One time, Alex Ross was signing books at Midtown comics and I didn’t go to work that day. How long was that line? For those who have been to Midtown Comics in West 40th Manhattan, you are close to Times Square. And the line for Alex Ross reached all the way to Port Authority.

When I got up to Alex, he asked, what do you want me to write? 

I said, “Can you write, ‘Happy Birthday, Ricky?’”

Is it your birthday now?

It is.

Got proof of that? Your driver’s license?

I showed him my license and Alex stood up and said, “It’s Rick’s birthday today and I’m signing all his books.” Some guys in the line said, “It’s my birthday too!”

Yeah, yeah, laughed off Alex.

During book signings in the US, you can only have two or three books signed at one time. if you have any more, you go back to the end of the line to have the rest signed. It is actually good practice. Except that isn’t practiced here.

Unfortunately, I lost almost all those Alex Ross books – signed Marvels, Kingdom Come, and the over-sized treasury editions to Ondoy. Only three survived Ondoy – Mythology, Liberty and Justice, and a sketch book. I do have video of that signing with Alex but it is on Video8 cassette. 

I have been able to buy back all those lost Alex Ross works and more. However, they are not signed.

Jiggy asked me to distill 80 years or my 50-plus years on this Earth reading Marvel into my three stories that define an era.

I chose X-Men #137 The death of Jean Grey/Phoenix because this was a storyline that ran for 40 issues over a four-year span. The comics if I am not mistaken were bi-monthly for a while. The gradual story made it a great one. There was anticipation and proper development of an X-Men canon that still exists to this day.

My copies of Daredevil #227-233 that I bought way back in 186-87.

I chose the Daredevil “Born Again” arc from #227-223. That was the beginning of these grim and gritty stories. Frank Miller brought a crime noir storytelling approach to comics and became the template for everyone wannabe who shows a hero’s breakdown and descent into madness before finding redemption. Plus, it is a powerful story that even the Netflix version of DD borrowed from.

And lastly, Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. Aside from the different point of view of the story – an ordinary man – this brought to fore painted comics. Deep story telling returned (that Busiek brought to Astro City). It was also a series that made Easter Eggs popular; ones that were copied heavily by the MCU.

The second time I stopped reading Marvel and comics in general was four years ago. I stopped because I was not happy with this Captain America as a Nazi storyline, the legacy characters, and constant reboots. Plus, I was upset at what marvel was doing to the X-Men. You cannot tell me that Cyclops is a bad guy and that One More Day is a good story by any chance. 

I went back after one dinner with now Marvel Editor-in-chief CB Cebulski. I joined Jiggy Cruz, Leinil Yu, and CB for dinner at BGC and he took me aside. Both CB and I read the same comics, liked the same creators, and felt generally the same about what was wrong with comics today. He also knew that I had stopped reading and sold a lot of my comics after I got pissed.

CB asked me, “What can I do to make you go back to reading Marvel?”

I cited three things:
1.    Send the original X-Men back to their era.
2.    End this Cap as a Nazi storyline.
3.   Have these legacy characters go to their own title and put Tor back in Tor, Tony Stark back in Iron Man, and Steve Rogers back as Cap.
4.    Stop all these meaningless crossovers.

CB said “Done” to the first two. The third, he was trying to cut the down and had nixed two of three proposals on his table. 

I do not mind diversity. I just do not think it should be rammed down our throats. You cannot tell me that this character changes his or her persona overnight. That is a joke. If it has been weaved into a storyline over time, then I and I am sure even the older fans can accept it. 

Comics for the younger generation are good. But do not disenfranchise your older readers who made you who you are. The newbies have no track record to begin with.

Anyways, I am back reading The Immortal Hulk (that takes me back to the Bruce Jones days), House of X and Powers of X, and its spin-offs, Venom, and Daredevil. 

I have always been a Marvel fan. I stopped twice, and I don’t think there will be a third time. When that happens, I would have shifted this Mortal Coil.



Thanks to the SuperManila organizers Sandy Sansolis, Jacob & Eric Cabochan, and Ivan Guerrero.

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