Monday, January 19, 2009

The Deliberate Error

sg Vincent Bartilucci - The last time Rob granted me the floor here at Hey Kids,! Comics! I wrote about my father, Shazam! #12, and a family trip to Scotland in 1974. I ended that piece on a bit of a cliffhanger. Here's a brief recap:

In the summer of '74, my family and I visited relatives in Scotland. Shortly before we returned home, my Uncle Albert purchased a copy of Shazam! #12 for me. That comic book was something of a milestone in my own personal comic-collecting history; it was my first encounter with the original Captain Marvel, who was one of my father's childhood favorites. Cap soon became a favorite of mine, as well. Almost 35 years later (yikes!) and I'm still fascinated by The World's Mightiest Mortal and his whimsical supporting cast.

But--and here's the cliffhanger part--as I mentioned in the first half of this tale, my Uncle Albert purchased two comic books for me on that fateful day in August of '74. Like Shazam! #12, this other comic book was my first issue of a series that I would follow for years to come, a series that would rival even The Brave and the Bold and Justice League of America for my affections.

At the time of the actual purchase however, this other comic book was barely on my radar. In fact, so intense was my focus on the cover of Shazam! #12 that I failed to notice so much as the title on the second comic that my uncle plucked from that wire rack in that Scottish pub (I swear, it was a pub!) we visited. And, since these comics were for me to read on the flight home a few days later, they both went into a bag and the bag went to my mother for safe keeping until our departure. We were airborne before I learned the identity of that other comic book.


Boring old Superman as a boring old kid. Ho-hum.

To be fair though, the cover to that other comic book, Superboy #201, did look kind of interesting, what with the unconscious form of the Teen of Steel lying in the foreground and some other super-hero squaring off with the issue's villain. I didn't recognize either of the combatants, or, for that matter, two additional characters that lay defeated in the background. Whoever they were, they all had neat costumes.

Despite the cover, however, I was still fairly certain that the story itself would be a dud because, as far as the Man of Steel concerned, the folks at DC were nothing but a pack of dirty cheats. Well, what would you call them? In the mid seventies, Superman and Action Comics boasted some of the most dynamic covers on the stands, exciting images that promised thrills and chills and adventure aplenty. Yet beneath those phenomenal front pieces lurked lackluster tales featuring goofy-looking aliens, monumentally outclassed super-villains, and a hero who was never, ever in any real danger. In my learned, seven-almost-eight year old opinion, Superman was dull with a capital D. I couldn't imagine how Superboy would be any different.

The fact is he wasn't any different. Superboy, the character, was just as boring as Superman. But Superboy, the comic book, was pretty darn exciting. Superboy, the comic book, had the Legion of Super-Heroes! And the Legion of Super-Heroes was…the Legion was…

I'm sorry but I just can't do it. I can't continue my tale without making an embarrassing confession. Do not judge me too harshly, fellow Legion fans but …

I originally read the logo of Superboy #201 as Superboy starring The Legend of Super-Heroes.

All these years later, I'm not exactly sure where "Legend" came from. Thanks to my comic book mania, I was a fairly strong reader with a vocabulary that was rather advanced for my age. Whenever I came across an unfamiliar word in the latest issue of Iron Man or The Flash or what have you I'd scramble to the dictionary to look it up. I knew what "invulnerable", "abomination", "supersonic", and a host of other words meant long before any of my classmates. I guess that's relatively common among young comic book fans.

In this case, however, I didn't investigate the unfamiliar word. Granted, I didn't have a dictionary with me on the transatlantic flight from Glasgow to New York. But I had better. I had my folks. I could've asked one of them what Legion meant. But I didn't. Instead, my brain just replaced Legion with a more familiar word. It was sheer laziness; the laziness that sometimes comes with being 'rather advanced' for your age.

I mean, the only alternative to laziness is that I glanced at the cover of Superboy #201 so quickly that I really believed the subtitle read Starring the Legend of Super-Heroes. But, if that was the case, if I had actually misread the logo, why the heck didn't I check it again when I discovered that the darn story took place in the future? I certainly don't recall ever thinking to myself, "hey, isn't a legend something that OCCURRED IN THE PAST?!?!?" Then, of course, there are all the times the words Legion or Legionnaire appeared in the issue. I just flipped thru a reader copy of this issue that I purchased recently and counted them up--19 in the main story, 12 in the back-up! 31 references to the Legion within the issue, averaging more than one a page, and I just sorta glossed over them all! Nope, I'm convinced it was laziness.

The really embarrassing part is that this went on for years. Even after I encountered and understood the word legion in other contexts--heck, even when I realized that the name of the group within the series itself was the Legion of Super-Heroes--I was STILL referring to the comic book as Superboy and the Legend of Super-Heroes. It became something that was willful, deliberate. I knew it wasn't right but I refused to correct myself.

And I guess that brings us back to my father and the tale I related last time. Captain Marvel was one of my dad's favorite characters and he filled me in on a lot of Shazam-lore before I ever set eyes on my first issue of Shazam! But somewhere along the line he had become convinced that Billy Batson, Cap's alter ego, was a crippled newspaper boy. Of course, it was Freddy Freeman, Captain Marvel Jr.'s secret identity, who was lame and hawked newspapers, but dad didn't remember it that way and he wouldn't be persuaded otherwise.

I don't believe for a minute that my father's error stemmed from any mental laziness on his part but I think I'm beginning to understand now why he stuck to his guns all those years. Sometimes what we remember is more important than the truth. Dad remembered Billy with a crutch and a stack of newspapers. I remembered reading Superboy starring The Legend of Super-Heroes. To correct those memories is to bring other, more important memories into question. And we derive too much joy from our memories to start tearing them down.

So, enjoy your memories. During glad times, revel in them. During sad, gain strength from them. Pull them all out and scatter them across the living room table like so many faded photo albums.

And, should you discover that a given memory isn't supported by historical fact, choose the memory. You'll be happier.


Anonymous said...

Don't feel bad Vincent. For several years I thought the JSA was named "The Justice League of Society" and that Titans was pronounced with a REALLY hard "i" sound: Teen TI-tans.


rob! said...

I still can't pronounce "maggia."

Vincent Paul Bartilucci said...

When it came to proper names of people or places I always pronounced stuff wrong.

For example, I didn't realize it was DarkSIDE until the Super Friends cartoons started using him. I remember reading a tale, probably at Mark evanier's site, about a kid at a convention asking Jack Kirby a question about DarkSEED and I thought, "hey, I'm not the only one!"

Anonymous said...

For me the misperceived words tended to be the last names of artists and writers. Dick Giordano, Carmine Infantino, of course Bill Seinkewitz, my friends and I were always adding extra letters or syllables or generally botching the pronunciation. Naturally we reinforced each others' errors to the point where we still can't use the correct versions even though we know them.

But I really have to thank you for posting that LoS cover--it's a milestone for me, too. It was one of the first comics I ever owned, but the reason it had such a big impact is that my father brought it home for me when I was sick in bed with the flu. I remember pouring over it for hours, drifting in an out of a decongestant-induced haze. The futuristic renderings of Dave Cockrum (we called him Dave Cockroy for some reason), the pathos of the disembodied Erg-1 trying to save the Legionnaires, the desperate attempt of Karate Kid to anticipate the death of a comrade (who turned out to be KK himself)--it made an indelible impression on my feverish brain. And was probably the root of my obsession with Dream Girl, but that's another story!

Anonymous said...

Memories of similar things get merged over time. For years, I remembered seeing an Abbott and Costello movie on TV when I was a child. They got stranded in the desert, saw a drive-in restaurant, and ran toward it. It vanished and they realized it was a mirage. Many years later, I finally saw it again. Only it wasn't A&C, it was Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. I also remembered an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea with a giant robot. I would have sworn under oath that the prop/costume was Robby (from Forbidden Planet). Years later, I saw a rerun of that episode and the robot was not Robby. Maybe I had that show mixed up with Lost in Space or some other show.