The following was originally published at the now-dormant Comfort Food Comics website, part of a series in which random people (I'm one of those!) discuss their beloved "comfort food" comics. Not necessarily critically acclaimed, genre-defining books, but simply their personal favorites. Here's one of mine.
Care Bears #5. The first comic book I owned was Care Bears #5. It was January 1987, I was five years old, and had just peeked inside the goody bag labeled “SCOTTIE” at my cousin Jeff’s birthday.
Here’s how the rest of that afternoon unfolded:
I cried. So much. Care Bears #5??! Everyone else got G.I Joe or Transformers comics!
My mom was annoyed at my aunt on my behalf, and
I somehow also wound up with G.I. Joe Special Missions #2 to rectify this grave miscarriage of justice.
TANGENT: I still have each of these issues, which I’ve debated dissecting for new collages, but I can’t bring myself to take them apart, even though they’re both so ratty.
And so began a tumultuous lifelong affair with comic books. I took hand-me-downs from relatives and made sporadic trips to dusty old book barns like Mr. Collector. In time, the Yellow Pages, good fortune, and the holy trinity of Mom’s station wagon, good mood, and being dragged around northern New Jersey to run errands sometimes yielded discoveries as golden as El Dorado: Grafik XS, Outer Limits, Strictly Mint, and Zapp! Comics, not to mention those random convenience stores that happened to have spinner racks in the magazine section, or the arbitrary three-packs at Toys ’R Us.
If our annual family vacation involved an airplane, you better believe the Hudson News kiosk at Newark Liberty got a visit from me and Dad’s three bucks. But in the six-plus years since Care Bears #5, I was only a tourist in the world of funnybooks. I’d take an excursion to the Baloneyverse in Sensational She-Hulk #14, an extradimensional trip with the X-Men to meet Colossus’s long lost broski in Uncanny X-Men #286, or sit on the sidelines of Gotham City and South Nambia to watch events unfold completely over my head in The Killing Joke and Green Lantern Special #1, but I never had any corner of any universe to call my own.
A stack of old Thor comics made their way to me, and as an avid collector of Marvel trading cards, I was somewhat familiar with the Asgardians, yet it wasn’t until The Mighty Thor #468 that I first settled on a hero to follow. The cover image of the book’s star squaring off with the Silver Surfer might as well have been hitting me; I was gobsmacked by this clash of titans. But it was the simple crimson banner across the top – BLOOD AND THUNDER PART 1 – that hooked me.
Finally, I could get in on the ground floor.
Thor was insane with the Warrior’s Madness, and much like other villains from my ever-expanding pop culture database – Mumm-Ra, Mon*Star, Galvatron, Nailz – this unstoppable god was downright scary. As the logline asked, “Can anybody stop him??!”
TANGENT: I’m partial to the two question marks, one exclamation point approach. Also, it’s kinda funny that the first hero I really followed in comics was the bad guy of his own story. I’m sure that says something about me.
Right off the bat, I was able to relate to Thor, who had a hot girlfriend in bondage gear that was also imaginary. But when he started smacking Lady Sif around, I was so angry and disappointed with him that I was eager to see his uppance come. Enter Beta Ray Bill.
I had no comics with this Korbinite, and I don’t remember his equine visage gracing any trading cards, so seeing him halfway through this issue was an epiphany. What a weird name, and a crazier appearance for this imitation Thor, but in a single page of standing up to a bully to defend Sif, this shredded orange stallion instantly usurped Hulk Hogan as my favorite tanning bed hero. As the story progressed, I’d go thumb-to-paper with a number of characters I was acquainted with from the prior year’s The Infinity Gauntlet crossover, like the inappropriately attired Gamora, foul-mouthed Pip, noblemen Adam Warlock and Norrin Radd, newly christened lesser-of-two-evils Thanos, and big dumb space Hulk, Drax the Destroyer. As the crossover bounced along from Warlock and the Infinity Watch, The Silver Surfer, and Warlock Chronicles, it became a greater challenge to track down the issues.
TANGENT: It was a wild world, children, when Adam Warlock had TWO SERIES simultaneously.
I didn’t live down the street from the CBS (this is what I called the comic book store), so getting new issues was a treat for me. To complete this mythic run, I bartered future report card earnings, Christmas gifts, and birthday presents for a couple additional trips in the fall of ’93. Luckily, we went away for Thanksgiving that year – first and only time that ever happened – so I also had the unspoken guaranteed vacation splurge ahead of me, too. Mom had to pick up last minute toiletries or whatever at Harmon the night before we left for California, and I asked to tag along. She was happy for the company, so it was easy to weasel my way into the comic shop next door. Rain pounded the pavement and I hid the comics under my jacket, petrified they’d get soggy on the way back to the station wagon. It was a particularly good score. I scooped up Parts 4, 7, and 8 – I remember those Tom Grindberg covers like yesterday – and read them mercilessly that night, the following morning at the airport and on the 6-hour flight, and under the covers of our hotel room for a week. But never in a car. (I should have expanded that rule to the airplane, too.)
TANGENT: On one road trip to Virginia, my dad got lost. I had enough of lumbering through the sticks of Old Dominion, and we had to pull over in some pasture so I could feed McDonald’s-inspired cud to the land. Thirty minutes of roving drive later, I exclaimed from the back seat, “Dad! We just passed my throw-up again!”
With all my Loki-worthy sly promises and tricks, by the end of the 13 installments, I nabbed every issue outside of Part 3 (The Warlock Chronicles #6; never found it) and Part 12 (Warlock and the Infinity Watch #25; like a green vixen in a fishnet body suit, the stiff $2.95 cover price was out of my league). Despite these two glaring holes in my collection, the satisfaction came from the wild hunt. This was my first experience of joyously searching for specific comics, rather than aimlessly picking up whatever looked cool… even though it started out that way.
I read the entire crossover as recently as three years ago, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you if it holds up. I’m sure it’s what you think it is: lots of blasting and punching and dire, dire straits. At one point, Drax, keeper of the Power Gem (he swallowed it) gets walloped in the gut so hard he coughs up the stone and Thor places it upon his own forehead. That was a “holy shit we’re all gonna die” cliffhanger if ever there was one. But probably, Blood and Thunder is one of those things that you had to experience and love as a kid to have any appreciation for as an adult.
There’s a scene in Jason Aaron’s swan song, King Thor, in the Library of Omnipotence City. A bookshelf is filled with tomes of actual Thor stories and eras like Siege, Disassembled, Thor Corps, and Heroes Return. No sign of Blood and Thunder, but we get a Heroes Return Easter egg? If ever there was any doubt, I’m now fully aware of where my first favorite run stands in the pantheon of comics, but it was never about it being a classic.
The introduction and exposure to my favorite J̶i̶m̶ ̶S̶t̶a̶r̶l̶i̶n̶ Marvel heroes stands out, but the thrill of the chase is the memory I keep, my face plastered to the backseat window of a maroon Taurus, trying to catch a glimpse of every business awning and plaza listing we passed in the hopes I’d see the word “COMICS” or “COLLECTIBLES”, then beg my mom to let us check it out. I’d kill to bottle limitless supplies of that sensation. And to think, I sort of owe it all to an unwanted Care Bears #5. So maybe that’s my comfort food comic?