Thursday, March 30, 2006

I Was A Teenage Nerd: Fool's Gold

There's a famous quote in fandom, I'm going to attribute it to Maggie Thompson because she's the one I first heard it from, that says, "The real Golden Age is 12." 12 is the magical age at the tail of childhood and the head of adolescence, where, informed by knowledge and experience but not yet corroded by cynicism, a mind sees wonder everywhere. Anything can be the greatest thing ever to a 12-year-old.

I'm living proof.

My personal Golden Age stretched from November 13, 1993 to November 12, 1994 (the 12th is my birthday, but since I was born late in the evening, we'll just skip to the next day to simplify the calendar.) The comics I read during that time would hardly be the stuff of Golden Ages, but I loved them just the same.

I was an unrepentant Marvel Zombie then, and a Spider-/X-centric one at that. Gary Groth would have punch me in the balls if they'd dropped yet. My non-Marvel dalliances consisted mostly of Image books: WildCATS, Gen133, maybe a final issue of Youngblood before I abandoned Rob Liefeld forever. Oh, and one other thing, which I'll get to later.

The less said about the Spawn/Batman crossover, the better.*

As the year began, Spidey and the X-Men were winding down from a pair of crossovers themselves. The Spider-books had spent the summer embroiled in Maximum Carnage, an uncharacteristically dark affair revolving around a one-note villain's rampage through New York. X-Men's Fatal Attractions at least had a more interesting villain: Magneto, who scored a double-coup by recruiting Colossus into the Acolytes and ripping the adamantium out of Wolverine (a development that managed to ignite an interest in the character for me).

Across 1994, my favorite characters fared little better than they did in '93. Spider-Man dropped into an utterly absurd grim 'n' gritty phase following the events of Amazing 388 (google it, I don't feel like picking that particular scab). Ironically, the early installments of the Clone Saga seemed to promise hope, but we all know how that turned out. There was at least the launch of Byron Preiss Publications' series of Marvel novels with Diane Duane's The Venom Factor, but since I didn't read that until after Christmas, it doesn't really count.

Developments in the X-World were similarly tame. The biggest event was the wedding of Cyclops and Jean Grey in X-Men 30, and their subsequent honeymoon in the future in The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix. Oh, there was the requisite X-over, The Phalanx Covenant**, but in retrospect that was notable only for introducing Generation X (more on them next week), and for having the least-enhanced "enhanced" covers of the period (wraparounds with a one-inch strip of foil running down the front).

Truth be told, I was more fond of the ancillary stuff that came out around that time. Annex, my favorite character from the 1993 Annuals and you can shut the fuck up right now, got his own mini-series over the summer. I loved the heck out of the aforementioned Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix, particularly Gene Ha's somewhat Blade Runner turn on the art. There was an issue of Wolverine with a beautiful black-and-white cover, number 81 I think. And Warren Ellis started his Excalibur run, probably the last thing he did before his head swelled to the size of Nebraska and the resultant loss of blood to the brain caused him to decide he was too good to like superhero comics, but not too good to keep writing them.

Plus, 1994 was the year I discovered Jeff Smith's Bone, and that certainly didn't smoke.

The seminal event, though, would have to be the inaugural DefCon in Tulsa. I'd certainly heard of these mythical events where one could pore through entire tables of back issues, meet and fawn shamelessly over creators, and buy bootlegged crap that should never have seen the light of day, but nothing could have prepared me for the actual experience. I could write a whole entry on that day (and I may yet), but I'll instead distill it to three words: Klingon Teddy Bear.

But here's the thing: even though most of the comics I read when I was 12 weren't, in the strictest sense, worth the paper they were printed on, I still loved them. You could say it was because I had low standards, but not only would you be a dick, you would be wrong. I think it was more that I had simple standards, one really: Wow me. Make me say to myself, "Cool." Banshee tunes his voice to just the right pitch to liquify some Phalanx? Cool. The whole "parents" thing was Harry Osborn's revenge from beyond the grave? Cool. Rainmaker's a lesbian? Cool.

I titled this entry "Fool's Gold." It's accurate in a self-aware kind of way, but it's not really true. If I was a fool at the age of 12 (and that's pretty much a rhetorical "if"), it was a foolishness the would could use more of. An openness to the possibilities of each new day, each new thing. A Golden Age not because of what I loved, but because of how I loved it: with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul. And if no one's said that's the best way to love something, then somebody damn well should.

*Although I will admit the DC half of the event inspired an interest in American paranormal history that remains to this day.

** Phalanx Covenant was actually three crossovers in one, as the overplot, the X-Men's war against a techno-organic Sentinel program that *gasp* turned on humanity, was spread out over three different, non-connecting underplots. X-Men and Uncanny X-Men featured the unlikely team of Banshee, White Queen, Sabretooth and Jubilee racing to protect several young mutants from a Phalanx hit squad; X-Factor, Excalibur, and X-Force followed those teams' mission to sabotage an interstellar beacon the Phalanx planned to use to call more of their race to Earth; Cable and Wolverine teamed up with a recently-returned Cyclops and Phoenix to rescue the rest of the X-Men from a Phalanx installation in the Himalayas. The experiment was rather successful from a structural point of view, and I'm surprised it's been little-used in the time since.

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