Origin Stories by Jordan Ferguson
It wasn't the first comic book I'd ever owned. That honour would probably belong to something from Marvel's STAR line for young readers: Heathcliff or He-Man or a random issue of the Transformers animated movie adaptation. But they don't count, not really. The first comic I really owned, the first one any of us really owned, was that issue pulled from the twisted metal spinner racks of the local bookstore or hobby shop or newsstand, those powder blue monstrosities that screamed in agony with every turn. The comics on those racks were risks; they required us to jump with both feet into a narrative that had been going on for 30 years before we got there. Reading one of those was like being dropped into the Running of the Bulls: keep up or be run over.
I was wandering around Windsor, Ontario's Devonshire Mall, on one of those biweekly jaunts my family made into the city. I wandered down the cast-off hallway, you know the one, every mall has one. It's the hall where the rents are cheapest, filled with engravers, tailors, watch repair shops and, in this case, the unfortunately named Leisure World.
Leisure World was primarily a hobby shop, they mostly stocked model kits and RC vehicles, but they had one lone spinner rack in the front of the store. Most of the offerings didn't catch my interest, but among them was my first love: Amazing Spider-Man #314, April 1989. A full story encapsulated in one image, rendered in the electric artwork of Todd McFarlane (hate on him all you like, I might even join you, but at 11-years-old, McFarlane was enthralling): a beautiful red-haired woman sits on a building's front steps in a blizzard, her face downtrodden. Santa Claus recoils in surprise as Spider-Man, in full costume, is ejected from the building by an unseen heavy, punctuating his demand with a firm, "... AND STAY OUT!" That juxtaposition of the mundane, the fantastic and the comedic (I mean, did the landlord know Spider-Man's true identity? Why was Spider-Man in the lobby in his costume anyway?) blew my soft little brain, I plunked my allowance money down, took the issue home and by the time I was finished the medium had seduced another innocent.
While the emergence of digital has been a seismic shift in how comics are acquired and consumed (a shift I'm all for), I am somewhat saddened that stories like mine (or those recounted in wonderful collections like Hey Kids, Comics! or Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!) are drying up. The spinner rack hustle, never knowing if you'd get ahold of the next month's issue, was part and parcel of my fandom as a child. I didn't get to pick where I started with any of these characters: my first X-Men book was part of the Inferno crossover and impenetrable to new readers; my first Batman a one-and-done that saw the Dark Knight breaking into the FBI to source intel on the location of a boy who'd been kidnapped as a young child, to bring him back to his dying birth mother (drawn by the inimitable Jim Aparo, whose Batman became “my” Batman for ever and always). I just had to take what I could get, which made every good comic I read that much more valuable. Arguably, the quality of stories being told today far surpasses those of the early Modern Age when I first started reading seriously. But, just as old men cluck their tongues at a generation that will never know a life without cell phones or the internet, I furrow my brow at those kids in their local comic shop, picking and choosing whatever they want to read, never knowing the heartbreak of missing a story's conclusion or having to buy Spectacular Spider-Man because they missed that month's Amazing (it was hard out there for Sal Buscema). You'll never know how good you have it, lousy kids.