How Your First Comic Book Can Forever Change Your Life

RETRO HOT PICKS BONUS: A tale of universal truths…

David Hyde is my oldest friend in comics. I met him 10 years ago on the phone, and in that very first conversation, we bonded over the love of a specific issue of Justice League of America.

Well, that particular issue came out this week in 1979, so I invited David, who runs Superfan Promotions – a top-flight PR firm for comics companies, artists and writers – to be our latest guest for RETRO HOT PICKS, a weekly column in which we select the grooviest titles that came out at this time but decades before.

David agreed – but then completely blew up the format with a column that, fittingly, owes at least a small debt to Alan Moore. For one thing, David cites comics from the whole month of July 1979. But that’s cool — because I loved it so much, I decided to run it on its own as a RETRO HOT PICKS BONUS. (You can click here to find the regular weekly column, which covers July 8, 1979.)

I think you’ll dig this because it speaks of a universal experience that applies, in some way, to every one of us reading this. — Dan


The comic book is in my hands. It has a cover featuring 13 of the world’s greatest superheroes and a corpse. It costs 40 cents.

It’s July 1979. I’m at the Albany, N.Y., airport, with my parents, and I’m 5 years old. We’re about to fly to Virginia to visit my mother’s friend. It’s my first flight. I have enough money to buy one comic. It’s the first comic book I’ll ever buy.

It’s a big decision.

1979 is a weird time in America. In February, Patricia Hearst is released from prison for bank robbery. That same month, John Denver hosts the Grammys. On April 9, my mother’s birthday, The Deer Hunter wins five Academy Awards.

It is July 1979. I only get to buy one comic.

1979 is not a great time for mainstream comics. The spinner rack is full of journeyman artists, reprints and gimmicks.

Marvel Tales #108 features a cover with Doctor Octopus and Aunt May getting married. The title confuses me. My Uncle… My Enemy?

What If? #17 asks, What If Ghost Rider, Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel Were Villains?

Marvel Premiere #50 features the first comic-book appearance of Alice Cooper.

The covers on the spinner rack feature a parade of D-List supervillains. The Elements of Doom. They Who Wield Power. N.R.G.-X. Terrax the Tamer. These villains are less than super.

It is 2020 and I am searching for the comic book covers from my childhood. I miss covers with melodramatic warnings.

I’m standing in the airport. My dad is telling me to hurry up. The cover of Batman #316 warns, Watch out for Crazy Quilt — The Man Who Stole His Eyes. I don’t understand why Robin is a guest star. I don’t buy the comic, but I’ll buy it another time, from a sandwich shop in Vermont, when it comes shrink wrapped with other Batman stories. A bargain find.

My mom is wondering why this decision is taking me so long. Action Comics #500 presents Superman’s life story. 68 pages. No ads. Ross Andru and Dick Giordano’s iconic cover repeats into infinity. Superman, Supergirl, and Lois Lane in a cover within a cover, within a cover, within a cover….

It is April 20, 2009. My son is visiting me at my office at 1600 Broadway. We are in the lobby of DC Comics. We are standing next to a life-size Superman statue. My son knows the names of Orm Curry, G’nort, and Vic Stone. He is 2 1/2 years old.

David and his son greet the Man of Steel.

It is the summer of 1979 and it’s Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars. The cover to Star Wars #28 features my favorite Star Wars characters, Han Solo and Chewbacca, and the artwork of the great Carmine Infantino, the legendary Flash artist.

The cover to The Flash #278 says “You Must Read: Road to Oblivion.” I believe it. Dick Giordano’s cover composition is dramatic. Captain Boomerang looks outrageous. Someday the Flash will be my favorite superhero.

It is February 2007. I am at New York Comic Con. Carmine Infantino is in Artists Alley, doing sketches. There’s no line. The sketches are reasonably priced. I don’t introduce myself. I’m too shy.

We need to board the plane, someone says.

The cover to X-Men #126 is a classic Dave Cockrum hero shot. Storm! Cyclops! Nightcrawler! Colossus! Wolverine! It’s a highwater mark for the series: the issue where Phoenix rejoins the team. In 1984, I subscribe to The Uncanny X-Men. John Romita Jr. is, for me, the definitive X-Men artist. Each issue comes rolled up, covered in brown paper. Mint condition is an impossibility. But in 1979? I don’t buy the X-Men comic. I don’t even thumb through the issue.

It’s time to go, my mom is saying. Justice League of America #171 features Superman, Batman, the Huntress, two Hawkmen, Power Girl, Dr Fate, Red Tornado, Zatanna, two Green Lanterns, and the Flash of Earth-One and the Flash of Earth-Two.

It is October, 2004. I run the PR Department for DC Comics. The executive editor is explaining to me why he bought Avengers #100. He says it’s simple. It had the most heroes on the cover. I understand his logic.

I’m 5 years old. I choose Justice League of America #171.

I am on the plane. I read the comic. It’s titled The Murderer Among Us: Crisis Above Earth-One! It does not disappoint. It is a story about parallel worlds and the death of a mysterious hero named Mr. Terrific whose motto is Fair Play. I read the comic, again and again. It is the first of a two-part mystery. It ends on a cliffhanger.

It’s the summer of 1983. My older cousin, Tim, lends me his whole run of The Flash and Justice League of America comics, including JLA issue #172. And now I know: It was the Spirit King who killed Mr. Terrific.

It’s 1986. I’m 12 years old. I’m reading a new murder mystery comic book that Rolling Stone wrote about. The first three issues of Watchmen are sold out at my local comic shop, Imagine That. But I track down Issue #4 and start there. The Comedian is dead. Dr. Manhattan is on Mars.

It is October of 2003. I am interviewing to be the director of publicity for DC Comics, with the company’s president, Paul Levitz. He tells me that the best comics you ever read will be the comics you read when you were 12 years old. I understand this logic.

David and the Flash

It is 2020 and my 13-year-old son and I read one comic book together every night, before he goes to sleep. It is July and we are reading the seminal Gotham Central series by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, and a host of artists.

It is 1979. I am on the plane. I open the comic.


— RETRO HOT PICKS! On Sale The Week of July 8 — in 1979! Click here.

— RETRO HOT PICKS! On Sale The Week of July 1 — in 1985, with RON MARZ! Click here.

— RETRO HOT PICKS! On Sale The Week of June 24 — in 1973, with PAUL LEVITZ! Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Love the Doctor Manhattan framing. And I agree with Paul Levitz. For me, it’s JLA 114.

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  2. My first comic books that I remember were in 1965 – ACG’s Herbie (don’t remember which number), Challengers of the Unknown #43, Brave and Bold #59 (Batman and Green Lantern), and Superman 183 (80 page giant), I would have been 6 to 7 years old. My first Batman was #180 in 1966 – “Death Knocks Three Times” with Deathman. I still consider that a classic even though it came out during the camp era; but the story was grim, anything but campy.

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  3. For me, it was Superman 248. I was 4 and I had always had comics, but this was the first on I actually read. It was given to me by my uncle and he had me read it to him. I assumed he was just seeing how well I read, but many years later, I learned he was illiterate and wanted to know what was going on in the story. I had only a vague memory of the story, villain, and cover and searched for YEARS on the web to figure out what actual issue it was. Then last year, I bought a pile of discount TPB’s and TWO of them reprinted the story. I instantly recognized it.

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  4. Mine was Justice League of America #90. Got me hooked really good and also at age 5!

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  5. For me, it’s still Detective 444

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  6. I strongly disagree about 1979 not being a great time for mainstream comics. I actually think 1979 is the best year for comics.

    I have very fond memories of JLA #171-172. I bought them both at the local Convenient Food Mart in Whitman packs. They’re among my all-time favorite JLA comics.

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