Friday, November 30, 2007

Vincent Bartilucci - 1976

sg Vincent Bartilucci I can't be certain, but I think the Battle of the Century made the evening newscast. After all, if Superman battling Spider-Man isn't the very definition of newsworthy, I don't know what is. Not that, at the age of ten, I was regularly watching the evening newscast.

No, one of my parents must have alerted me to the fact that there might be something of interest mentioned during that long, boring hour of television. Or maybe there was a mention in the newspaper that my folks clued me into. However it happened, I'm pretty sure that I knew about the big DC/Marvel crossover prior to seeing any ads for the treasury in a comic.

Yep, I knew about it and I wanted, needed, coveted--is coveted too strong a word?--that comic like no other. It's actually kind of strange since I was never a huge fan of either character. Oh, I've read some great Superman stories in my time and some superb Spidey tales, as well. But, regarding the characters themselves, I've always been fairly apathetic. The reasons are unimportant. Suffice to say that of the two, I guess I understood Superman's appeal a bit more than Spidey's. There is something very attractive about the biggest, the strongest, and the first of anything. It wasn't attractive to me, mind you. But I could see why the Man of Steel was so many kids' favorite hero.

Spider-Man, on the other hand, just baffled me. He certainly wasn't cooler than IronMan, Thor, Captain America, or the FF(give me a break, I was a ten year old boy!) Nope, he just whined more. Yet, he had three comics--Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up, and Marvel Tales--and before 1976 was over he'd have a third--Peter Parker, The Spectacular You-Know-Who. It wasn't until I read reprints of the original run of stories by Lee and Ditko that I began to understand Spidey's, or should I say Peter Parker's, charm. But that Peter disappeared when Ditko left the book and I've never connected with the whiny male model who took his place.

So, if I was backing either character in the big face-off, I'd have to say it was Superman by default. Regardless of my apathy for the principle participants, I still knew "cool" when I heard it and, boy, did that comic sound cool! I remember trying to figure out how Superman wouldn't win the fight in one panel. I arrived at the conclusion that Mr. Mxyzptlk must be involved. But which one of Spidey's villains would be working with Mxy? Man, I had to get that comic!

When I saw the ads featuring that great, iconic cover, "coveted" definitely entered the picture. I looked for that comic every time I went to Clearview Stationery. In other words, every time my mother needed to visit that particular strip mall. In other, other words, not nearly often enough. Why couldn't my mom understand that I needed to go to Clearview two or three times a week at a minimum so I wouldn't miss the Battle of the Century?

By the time February arrived, I knew I had missed out on the coolest, most important comic book event of all time. My mood was just shy of inconsolable. Even the week off from school smack dab in the middle of the month was no consolation because I couldn't spend that week tracking down the one that got away. Instead, my family was driving from our home on Long Island to upstate New York to visit relatives.

My dad wanted to get an early start on the drive so we hit the road bleary-eyed at about 5:30 in the morning. As we reached the expressway, my mother handed me a large paper bag. Within the bag were Action Comics #438, Justice League of America #129...and the Superman Vs. the Amazing Spider-Man Treasury! To say I freaked out is to put it mildly. Apparently, my dad had picked the comics and the treasury up at a newsstand in Penn Station and had hid them from me until the trip. I dove into the treasury immediately even though it was still a little too dark to actually read it! Luthor! Doc Ock! A ray to make Spider-Man the equal of Superman, at least temporarily! Wow!

The drive was a long one. When I finally finished reading the epic meeting 'tween Supes and Spidey, I read the JLA(bummer ending) and Action(first half of a two part story of which I've never read the second half). Then I reread the treasury. When we arrived at our destination, I left the comics in the car--I couldn't risk anything happening to them.

A week later, on the ride home I read the treasury again. The story was just as thrilling the third time around. About halfway home we stopped for breakfast at a roadside restaurant that might have been a Howard Johnson's. It definitely had that HoJo feel to it. Next to the cashier was a small two-tiered magazine rack with, among other things, comics. You'd run into comics in the strangest places in the 1970's! As my father paid for our meal, I quickly rifled thru a group of titles I had never seen before. There were comics featuring Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, and a host of other funny animal cartoon characters. Nothing this super-hero loving kid wanted anything to do with.

sgI did find two intriguing covers in the bunch. One featured a pair of American Indians(the accepted term of the day) in what looked like the Land of the Lost. The other showed a white man and a black man, both armed with spears, side-by-side next to a line of portholes. Neither one was a super-hero comic but the painted covers--something I had never seen before--looked so exotic. I snatched them up and dug out my four bits.

The comics in question were Turok, Son of Stone #93 and The Brothers of the Spear #11, the first, heck, the only Gold Key comics of my youth. Both comics were unlike anything I had read before. I loved 'em. The Brothers of the Spear issue, in particular, held a certain fascination for me, mainly because the white character's name was Dan-el. Obviously, this was a bastardization of the name Daniel, but at the time I was ready to make the connection to another, more famous "el". Maybe Dan was the long lost second cousin of Kal whose spaceship landed in Africa and who, as a baby, was inadvertently exposed to whichever kryptonite robbed Kryptonians of their powers. Sure it was a silly idea. Like I said, I was ten.

sgBack on Long Island, I looked for more issues of Turok and The Brother of the Spear but I never found any. A store at the local mall, Newberry's(sort of a 5 and Dime with delusions of grandeur), carried some of the funny animal Gold Key / Whitman / Western titles but I didn't see any of the adventure titles there except for the Buck Rogers movie tie-ins a few years later. A while back, I purchased the entire run of The Brothers of the Spear on eBay and it is a nifty little series. I understand that it was a back-up in the pages of Gold Key's Tarzan comic for years prior to receiving its own title. I'll have to track those issues down someday.

Thinking about Superman Vs. Spider-Man and those Gold Key comics led me to consider some of the pluses to being a comics fan in the 21st century. When DC and Marvel released JLA/Avengers, I never doubted that I'd get a copy of each issue from my local comic shop, Collector's Kingdom. If a new title strikes my fancy like The Brothers of the Spear did all those years ago, the guys at Collector's make sure that any new issues are pulled for me. And between my friends at Collector's, my monthly Previews mag, and the internet, I know darn near everything that's coming out. Nope, I never miss a thing.

But, on the minus side, I don't run into "intriguing" or "exotic" comics in "the strangest places" anymore. And that's kind of a shame.

Post Script 1: A few days after our trip, I must have left my copy of Superman Vs. Spider-Man on the living room table. After dinner that night, my father turned to me and said, "so, Superman almost killed Spider-man, huh?" My jaw dropped. Of course, he was referring to the sequence in the comic when, after taking a pummeling from a super-charged Spider-Man for several pages, Superman has finally had enough and throws a punch at ol' Webhead's webbed head. Supes realizes almost immediately that his punch could kill Spidey so he pulls back at the last second. But the air pressure from the punch is enough to send Spidey flying in a glorious, splash page kind of way. Now, I don't know if my dad had just scanned a few random pages of the comic or if he read the whole story, but I started discussing it with him like he'd done the latter. For a long time, he listened like he was interested. He probably wished he hadn't said anything.

Post Script 2: During one of my many rereads of the treasury, I accidentally made a small tear in one of the pages making Superman Vs. Spider-Man the first comic that I ever tried to repair with tape. The less said the better.

Post Script 3: I mentioned this trip upstate to my older sister recently and she insisted that it occurred in February of 1975 almost a full year before the Superman Vs. Spider-Man Treasury hit the stands. Wait...what? So, I went online and, sure enough, Turok, Son of Stone #93 and The Brothers of the Spear #11 were both released at the very end of 1974. I guess it's possible that my sister is mistaken and that those Gold Key comics sat on the shelves for over a year. Or it's possible that I received the Superman Vs. Spider-Man Treasury (and JLA #129 and Action #438) the following year in conjunction with a different trip--hey sis, when did we go to Disneyworld?

To heck with it. I like my timeline better than reality, anyway!


Anonymous said...

Alberto Gioletti, the artist on Turok (as well as MANY other Dell and Gold Key books) was an absolute genius! Severely underrated and unappreciated today. I learned more about drawing props and backgrounds from him than just about anyone.

Define999 said...

[quote]But, on the minus side, I don't run into "intriguing" or "exotic" comics in "the strangest places" anymore. And that's kind of a shame.[/quote]

Yea, I remember when even back in the early nineties you could find gems in old bookstores and flea markets. Now with all the media attention given to old funny books making huge amounts of money...... well lets just say ive seen crappy cover falling off comics from the bronze age selling for 20 bucks or more at flea markets....

Anonymous said...

I remember Brothers of the Spear from their back-up strip in Tarzan or Korak, but I did not know before now that they ever had their own self-titled book. Live and learn.