I’ve loved superheroes for as long as I can remember. I had a Batman birthday cake for my third birthday (and a Superman one the year before), not to mention countless pairs of Underoos, Mego figures, and other sundry superhero merchandise that would make Jordan Hembrough weep. The thing is, I’m not exactly sure why. It’s not like my parents were heavily invested in trying to transfer nerdom on to their children (you know, like what my fellow Nerd Parents and I are doing to our own kids). The only comics I remember my father reading were the old Lo Fu Zi ones he used to help me learn and understand Chinese. But whatever the source, I had the bug.
As much as I loved these characters, though, I was never really exposed to them in actual comic books. My Batman either lived inside the television — whether it was Adam West or the Super Friends — or in my imagination as I pushed my Super Powers Batmobile across the living room carpet. But I couldn’t tell you what was going on in the Batman comics at the time, and those formative years — 1985-86 — were smack dab in the middle of the comic book renaissance.
That said, there was one comic that changed my life irrevocably, and is the reason I consider myself a comic book nerd at all.
I don’t know how this particular issue came into my possession. We didn’t have comic book shops where I grew up; we got our comics at the local drug store up Main Street from my family’s restaurant. Occasionally, my cousins and I would walk up the block to the store and flip through the MAD magazines and comics. For some reason, this is the one comic I remember taking home with me. Maybe it was the evocative cover of Ripcord stalking… someone, while similarly — and unknowingly — being stalked by Zartan. Bringing this issue home, I had no idea how significant an issue it was going to be — both in terms of the Joe mythology and what it meant to me as a child.
See, “In Search of Candy” is the issue that 1.) introduces Quick Kick — and therefore should go into the Angry Asian Man archives, Phil. You know, for posterity. And 2.) it’s the issue where Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow learn the identity of the Hard Master’s killer and team up for the first time. Mind. Blown.
Up to this point, I was already an insane fan of G.I. Joe. Even at nine years old, I was like a middle-aged toy enthusiast, snatching up any and every Joe figure or vehicle I could find. I remember receiving a Cobra C.L.A.W. as a present during a classroom Christmas gift exchange in second grade, and I was probably the happiest kid in the whole school that day because of it. But my exposure was filtered through the cartoon. Although I voraciously read every stat and detail of the filecards that came attached to the toys, it never occurred to me just how different the personalities of the cartoon Joes were compared to the descriptions I was reading on the back of every figure. Not until I read their comic book counterparts.
This is how Larry Hama changed my life. His vision of G.I. Joe is the one I gravitated towards. And because he wrote the filecards as well as the Marvel Comics — and was not at all involved with the cartoon — the dissonance between the interpretations made sense. I didn’t know that Larry was responsible for this revelation at the time, of course. But I felt it. For the first time, these recognizable characters began to resemble the descriptors that came packaged with their plastic interpretations. And while I continued to enjoy watching the cartoon, I knew that it wasn’t my G.I. Joe. And thus began my life as a comic book snob.
The context for my comics passion lies somewhere between the 80s’ Marvel G.I. Joe and the late-90s era Batman and Detective. This is why it is a such a special honor to announce that both Larry Hama and Joseph Illidge, who served as an editor at DC Comics and oversaw “No Man’s Land,” will be special guests on the next episode of “Hard N.O.C. Life!” Along with fellow Nerds, N’Jaila Rhee and William West, the five of us discuss what it means to be a person of color in the comic industry — both behind the scenes and as a consumer.
It’s a fascinating discussion, so watch it on your screen, hit “play,” and check this!