Friday, February 7, 2014

The 12 Days of Birthday, Day 3: Son of Origins

I can't remember at exactly what point in the development of my superhero appreciation I stumbled across my dad's slightly beaten up old volume of 1975's Son of Origins of Marvel Comics. I do know that, before reading it, I had a vague awareness that the superheroes I was beginning to so admire had existed for a long time before I was born, but that didn't really mean anything to me. In my world, they were established characters, and always had been. So the chance to actually read the very first adventures of some of those heroes, to get a little peek into a time before they existed, was welcome and admittedly a bit of a thrill. Especially when it came to the first issue of Uncanny X-Men, since that team was the cream of the crop for me at that time due to the TV show.

I probably read that X-Men debut thirty times, and can still recall particular panels with detail. I remember being confused and disappointed by Beast's more human appearance in the book, because I was familiar with the big blue version. But I soon came to appreciate that it was still the same kind-hearted science geek inside, and eventually I got into the tragic unfairness of Beast's mutation dramatically changing his appearance later in his life. After already getting used to his strange physical shape, he starts growing fur. That's a raw deal, and though I didn't have access to any of the issues where it actually happened (and I don't think I've ever read them, actually) I could imagine how hard it would be to go through, and it made me like Beast a lot more than I ever had.

What I liked most about the first ever X-Men story was how, despite the smaller cast and wildly different fashion, it was still at its core the same concept I loved so much from the cartoon. Misfit mutants struggling to be accepted, fight villains, and figure themselves out. To know I was reading something so far removed temporally yet so closely tied thematically to the TV series and characters I loved was awe-inspiring. As I mentioned yesterday, part of what I loved about the X-Men show was the ongoing nature of its stories. In Son of Origins, I had proof positive that the potential longevity of the X-Men concept was infinite, which made me excited about exploring both the past and the future of the team.

There were other characters in Son of Origins with whom I was already at least a bit familiar when I read it. Silver Surfer, Iron Man, and the Avengers had all at least been shown to me by my dad, and as such I read each of their respective origin tales numerous times. I was bothered by the fact that a Thor-specific bad guy brought the Avengers together, even though Thor was probably my favorite member of the team, because I wanted things to be fair. I was similarly upset that I'd never heard of Wasp nor Ant-Man before, because it seemed like anyone who was there when the goddamn Avengers got started should have a high profile. Also, the idea of being very small was something I'd already logged considerable imagination hours pondering, so they seemed like awesome characters and I didn't understand why the rest of the world didn't think so. I still kind of don't. Wasp is amazing, a complete badass at her best and one of the most professional superheroes there ever will be. She treats it like a career instead of an identity. Hank Pym is interesting for the opposite reason. He can't handle the pressure of his own genius, and he cracks under it every so often with horrible consequences. Both of them are a thousand times better than the Hulk, and it was as true in the first Avengers comic as it is today. But I did like seeing the Hulk as a circus clown. That's maybe the most vivid and beloved single panel I can remember from the whole book.

The Iron Man issue got read less than most, because I just so hated his original look. It was clunky and simple, and I know I only thought that because I had the benefit of comparing it to the sleeker and more modern armor of the current (at that time) Iron Man, but I was a kid and I wanted my robots to look sweet. Still, that story of a guy building himself a heart is compelling as shit, so I returned to it often enough.

As for Silver Surfer, it may have been second only to X-Men in my heart. It was the most super of all the superhero origins, the most epic and high-powered. Also the most tragic. Also, Silver Surfer looks incredible, and so does Galactus. They've got that cosmic Kirby magic about them, and you can't help but have those images burn themselves into your brain, especially at such an impressionable age. I wanted to read more about all of these characters, but I wanted to be the Silver Surfer. He was the only hero I felt any overt jealousy toward, though I'm not sure I would have expressed it that way at the time. That's what it was, though. I wanted his life and was a little bummed that it could never happen. Instead, I had to settle for living vicariously through his origin over and over again.

If any comic beat out Silver Surfer for the #2 spot, it was Daredevil. He was new to me, so I got to experience his origin without any preconceptions, and it was a doozy. A one-two punch of awful shit happens to a young and honest kid, and he bounces back and becomes a superhero about it. And I loved his powerset, still do, actually. I can still remember mining my dad for more information on Daredevil after reading Son of Origins, trying to get into the intricacies of how his enhanced senses operated. That was a whole new mind-boggling thing for my imagination to consider, and I would sometimes close my eyes and try to exercise each of my other senses one by one to strengthen them. Weirdly, I didn't really want to be Daredevil like I did Silver Surfer, but it seemed more attainable, and certainly it'd be better than no superpowers at all.

I have almost no recollection of either the Nick Fury or Watcher stories, but the Internet tells me they were included, and the cover image, which I 100% remember, backs up that claim. I must not have been as interested in a guy with no powers and a guy who doesn't actively do anything when I was a youngster. It doesn't surprise me, but it's too bad, because Nick Fury is an all-time favorite of mine now, and I wish I'd bothered to become a fan when I first had the chance. The Watcher I can live without (although his death is the center of the next Marvel event, right? Good for him!).

I have to assume Son of Origins is still somewhere in my parents' house. I should take that from them. I haven't read it in, like, probably 15-20 years, so I'd be curious to see how much I recall accurately, how much comes back to me, and what surprises might pop up. If you read this, parents, see if you can track that down, please.

Tomorrow: Action figures and my first best friend.

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