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Elliott Serrano Presents:


Funny things happen when you sit down to write a column.

Sometimes you have a certain topic in mind that you want to cover, until a moment of reflection just sends you in a different direction. Case in point: today’s column was supposed to be a rant about the state of Tony Stark/Iron Man in the current continuity. I had all the latest issues of Iron Man, Mighty Avengers and Captain America (where Tony Stark plays a significant role) laid out in front of me here, on my desk, until it hit me. This week is Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, while being the most overlooked holiday of the year - what with the merchandising rush from Halloween to Christmas - has always been a special time for my family. We’d always make it a point of getting together and giving thanks for all the blessings we have received and yadda, yadda, yadda, you get my meaning. So it got me to thinking: just what am I grateful for this year? And what does it have to do with comics?

Man…is that a long story. (Don’t worry; I’ll try to make it short.)

I guess the one thing I’m most grateful for is the fact that it was my Dad who got me into comics in the first place. See, I’m a first generation Puerto Rican-American, as both my parents came to the US when they were barely in their teens. In those days, Puerto Rico wasn’t as ‘Anglo-Americanized’ as it is today, and the English language wasn’t as widely spoken there as it is now. So my mom and dad had a bit of adjusting to do, learning to assimilate and picking up the language. They met, fell in love, got married, and soon had a child to contend with. Early on in our household, Spanish was the language of choice. The first words I learned to speak were Spanish. The church I attended as a child had a Spanish-speaking congregation. The school I went to had a bi-lingual program that I was a part of. In all that, my father wanted me to learn how to read English. And that’s where comic books first entered the picture, when he bought me my first one.

My earliest memory of having a comic book is of a copy of Luke Cage: Power Man. I can’t remember the issue number or even what happened in the book, save that Cage fought a vampire of some sort, and that the vampire couldn’t bite him due to his impenetrable skin. (For someone who was deathly afraid of vampires, I found that to be a handy superpower.) I must have poured over that book hundreds of times, taking in the pictures, fascinated by the primary colors and not yet phased by the stereotypical portrayals of minorities. (The book would later meet an ignominious fate when my little brother would take a pair of scissors to that issue of Power Man and make a collage from it. God was punishing me for something that week.)

Then, on Sunday afternoons, my father would take me to the 7-11 down the block from our church and while he got his daily cup of coffee, I’d wander over to the spinner rack and see what comics were on sale that week: Archie, Richie Rich, Spiderman, Marvel-Two-in-One, Marvel Team-Up, Superman (with the classic Curt Swan on penciling duties) and Action Comics. (Uh, yeah, I’ll admit that I never understood why Superman had both his own title and Action Comics, ignorant as I was of the history of Kal-El at the time. Not many DC books in my collection back then as I was a ‘Marvel Zombie’ in training.) While I almost always bought Spiderman or Marvel Team-Up (that great Spidey vehicle) - and quite often passed on Marvel Two-in-One as I was never a big fan of The Thing - I almost never bought the same thing on a consistent basis from month-to-month. So, if a story in the latest Spidey issue wasn’t a stand-alone, I almost never got to see the next part. There are quite a few cliffhanger endings that, to this day, I still don’t know how they were resolved. But I digress.

Comics then were 25 cents a piece. My dollar-a-week allowance allowed for 4 books a week which kept me pretty happy for the most part. Then they went up to 30 cents, and quickly shot up to 35 cents! (Yeah, I know that Matt Maxwell has already covered this in his FULL BLEED column, but this helps give the next part of my story context.) I lobbied for a paltry raise in my allowance, to $1.50, but was stymied like a Democratic war-funding bill in the Senate. So my habit of 4 comics a week got cut back to 3, which led to much grousing on my part and resulted in my Dad introducing me to that wonderful conveyance of comics, the multi-pack. Now, for all you Gen-Y’ers out there, grocery stores once sold bundles of comics wrapped in plastic bags (cheap cellophane bags, mind you, and –gasp- sans backing boards!) and priced at a buck or so. These were most often books that were once sold on newsstands but after a few months or so were randomly bundled together, repackaged and sold in bulk. I’m not sure how legal that all was, but I didn’t care. The vagaries of point-of-purchase and return policies were lost on my young mind. All I knew was that I had a serious habit to support, and I didn’t care how my addiction got fed. My fix would arrive in this innocuous plastic bundle that would have yellow print on the wrapper proclaiming: COMICS! 5 for a dollar! Often there would be a couple dogs in the bunch (Man-Wolf? What the f**k is a Man-Wolf?! Ugh, Marvel Two-in-One? They kept turning up like fungus on a toe nail!), but often you got some good ones: Creatures on the Loose with Werewolf By Night, Iron Fist, Avengers, Captain Marvel (the cool Mar-vell Kree version in his green Spartan outfit, not the dorky Shazam version). Good stuff. My dad then took to cutting out the whole give-the-kid-a-buck-for-comics routine and would just pick up that treasured pack of comics for me when he was doing the weekly grocery run. Every Thursday after school I’d anxiously wait for him to get home from the grocery store to see what comics he had for me this week. Looking back now, he always seemed to have a look of satisfaction on his face when I expressed approval over the bunch he picked for me.

Soon after that came the oversized Treasury Editions that Marvel and DC put out, which cost (gasp!) a WHOLE DOLLAR! Often I’d debate with myself whether three Spidey adventures was worth sacrificing to read Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles. It was.

And through all that, I learned to read, voraciously. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby led to Gerry Conway and Ross Andru. Eliot S! Maggin instilled a love for Superman in me, who then, in turn, gave way to Robert Heinlein and Philip K. Dick.

(Then came Star Wars, but that’s a whole other column.)

My dad’s mission was accomplished. I fell in love with the English language and learned to read and speak it fluently. I also fell in love with comics, the characters and the medium, which would later help me get through some very rough times after my parents’ separation and eventual divorce.

So, needless to say, comic books became something that are quite significant to me. And I owe all that, pretty much, to my dad.

Ok, I lied. I said I’d make it short, but it wasn’t. Sorry about that.

Next time, it’s back to ‘What’s the Deal with Tony Stark?’ (Cue the Seinfeld theme.)

I mean, really, can someone explain to me how he can be delusional in one book, incompetent in another, and DEAD in yet another? I’ll try to come up with an answer myself, but anyone is welcome to chime in on this topic and drop me a line.

Until then: Thanks Dad.

And Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

E. Ruben Serrano is a writer/columnist/graphic artist who believes that Tony Stark is actually getting the bum’s rush. Not that bums rush in his neighborhood, for if there were bums, they wouldn’t rush but be allowed to mosey at their own pace.

E.R. Serrano

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