To me, they’ll always be comics. Manga’s another language, and graphic novel is a marketing term. They’re comics, and the first one that I totally loved was The Uncanny X-Men #133 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. It comes to mind because Comixology just released it on their iOS and Android app. It’s in the basement somewhere, but I clicked away the two bucks anyhow, and enjoyed a few minutes of nostalgia on my iPad, time and money well spent.
For me, comics weren’t the gateway drug for books. I was eight when I got hooked on novels, but it would be five more years before my second addiction took hold. It’s not that this was my first comic, either. I was born in Scotland and back before we moved to Canada in ’74, I had consumed a lot of war comics, as well as Valiant and Thunder, weekly anthology comics with six- or eight-page episodes of several different continuing adventure stories in them.
But put it this way: it wasn’t until I read Uncanny #133 that I began haunting Smoker’s Corner (the actual name of the store!) at the Pickering Sheridan Mall, spinning the racks and learning the names of the various skintight denizens of Spider-Man’s universe.
I guess it was the cover that made me pick it up: “Wolverine Lashes Out!” A lone costumed muscle-man with claws coming out of his fists fighting against a bunch of faceless henchmen armed with science-fiction-y weapons.
And what a fight it was! One lone (short!) mutant against an army of goons and their super-powered bosses in the Hellfire Club. This was in the early days of Wolverine, before his healing factor became magic, and his martial arts skills unbeatable. Sure he could heal from almost anything, but not right away. He was a more mysterious then, more vulnerable so that when he “disappears beneath a veritable avalanche of costumed, club-wielding bodies,” on the second-last page of the comic, you weren’t entirely sure he was going to be okay in the next issue.
That was what drew me in, I think, the uncertainty of it all. Wolverine isn’t the only feature of the story. His friends in the X-Men, captured by the Hellfire Club with the aid of their own mind-controlled team-mate Jean Grey, are also featured, but he’s the heart of it — the little guy, fighting against impossible odds against greater powers and greater numbers. The goons who hunt and attack him refer to him as a “runt” and a “little man,” while their bosses upstairs don’t even give him a second thought, much more intent on the X-men they’ve already captured.
American comics certainly weren’t new to me. I had been reading them off and on ever since the Star Wars adaptations came out in ’77, but this comic was the gateway to my full-blown addiction. When it ended, with Wolverine overcome by the goons, Cyclops bleeding on the floor and the Hellfire Club even more in control than ever, I had to know what was going to happen next.
What happened next, of course, was that Claremont and Byrne, and their successors, would keep me in that same state for years to come. Would Phoenix ever turn good again? Was she really dead? Would Kitty Pryde escape from the nightmarish “Days of Future Past”? Who were the mutants living under New York?
And so on. After that, I was lost in the emerging mythology of the four-colour world. The X-men led me to the Avengers, the Avengers to the Defenders, Black Panther, Daredevil, and before long I was delivering papers to feed a habit that continues to this day, more than three decades on.
The cover of that gateway comic can make my heart thump.
Oh, and a side-note: when my wife woke our three-year-old yesterday, he begged for “five more minutes,” after which she returned to find him reading a comic.