Armagideon Time

Punched out

November 6th, 2019

The Spinner Rack is one of the few bright spots in the hellsite known as Twitter. It’s a dedicated gimmick account, with said gimmick being an image-heavy rundown of the comics released x-many-years-ago on a given month and day. The results are always informative and entertaining, with an extra kick of nostalgia when a featured date falls within the bounds of my funnybook fandom phases.

Such a moment occurred last night, when the account issued a two-part tweet covering Marvel’s releases for November 5, 1985.

1985 was a watershed year when it came to me and my comics habit. At the beginning of the year, my pal Brian and I discovered a direct market shop in neighboring Stoneham. My trips to the store didn’t become a regular thing until Lil Bro and I were talked into taking on a paper route. I despised the gig but it did provide a stream of pocket money which didn’t depend of the whims of my increasingly erratic parents.

Every Friday afternoon, I’d hop on my ten-speed and make the treacherous three-mile trek up Montvale Ave to scope out and score the week’s new funnybook releases. For the first time in my comics-reading life, I was able to follow specific titles on a regular basis without the risk of missing an crucial installment — and I embraced this opportunity with the blind enthusiasm of a thirteen year old fanboy. (Which I was.)

And what an incredible fricking time it was for going all out — Crisis and Who’s Who and OHOTMU’s “Deluxe Edition” and Atari Force and Secret Wars II and the road to X-Men #200 and Fantastic Four and GI Joe and oversized EC reprints and previously unobtainable graphic novels and Direct Market offerings and…

Suffice to say, I spent a lot of money on comics that year, and not necessarily wisely. My collecting habits became more methodical, mapped out months in advance using Marvel Age and freebie upcoming release flyers. There hasn’t been a time before or since those months where I was as legitimately excited about and invested in the current comics scene. There have been occasional flare-up since, but nothing as sincere and cynicism-free as my fandom was in the back half of 1985.

The puzzle isn’t what brought a halt to that as much as how it managed to last as long as it did. A year is a geologic epoch from a thirteen year old’s perspective, and there were no shortage of distractions competing with funnybooks for my fickle attention and limited amount of pocket money. The post-Transformers wave of Japanese mecha-merch began flooding toy aisles while Bradlees beckoned with its cheap cassette bins and discounted Stephen King paperbacks. The D&D basic set entered my life and offered a novel interactive angle to my adolescent power-fantasies.

And, to be totally honest, the whole comics thing was hitting a level of diminishing returns. Atari Force ended, Byrne left Alpha Flight for Hulk, Secret Wars II was painfully embarrassing, and most of the other titles I followed entered protracted periods of wheel-spinning. Between my age and the type of material I’d been reading, I’d begun to suss out the contours of the bigger picture, and it was depressing as hell.

No book evokes that sentiment as effectively as Incredible Hulk #316 did. The much-hyped (by Marvel Age, at least) issue promised a massive slugfest between a mindlessly rampaging Hulk and the heaviest hitters of both the East and West Coast Avengers, written and illustrated by John Byrne back when such a byline carried substantial fanboy heft. It promised to be Wrestlemania for kids who spent way too much time memorizing the list of “Class 100″ strength characters in OHOTMU (and, in fact, I coded a text-based “fighting game” featuring the characters in BASIC in my 8th grade science class when the story was first announced).

As far as I was concerned, there was no way this issue could possibly disappoint…and yet it did.

The Avengers’ big guns show up, indulge in banter, and lay some (mostly ineffectual) smack down on the jade behemoth. Then Doc Samson shows up, sporting an 80s coke-douche ponytail and fighting togs purchased from a Sigue Sigue Sputnik rummage sale. He fights the Avengers for a while, at which point the Hulk gets bored and wanders off.

Before the tangled mass of forearms and fists can pursue, Samson points out all the damage the battle has caused and asks the Avengers to let him bring down the Hulk his way. The Avengers grudgingly agree to his contra-logical arguments, because this is where the narrative was obviously leading and there was no point in dragging things out further.

There’s also a b-plot where Betty Ross and She-Hulk swap flashbacks while fretting over an experimental treatment aimed at shocking Bruce Banner out of the coma he’d been in since getting chemically separated from his alter ego. It fills a specific number of pages and accomplishes its assigned task.

It wasn’t that the issue felt underwhelming given the build up. I’d read enough post Brood War X-Men comics to be inured to damp squib storytelling. It was that I couldn’t think of an alternate way the story could’ve worked. That was probably Byrne’s point, to deconstruct the mechanics of superhero slugfests in general while providing an answer to “why don’t the toughest Marvel heroes just gang-rush the Hulk?” queries by fans.

That’s not a terrible angle to play, but in my case it ended up being the feather which brought down a terminally stressed edifice. It didn’t turn me against the genre or kill my interest in superhero comics, but it did in whatever bits of my unexamined fandom remained after Secret Wars II. It wasn’t even a conscious thing. I just started dropping one book after another. The weekly runs to the shop stopped, and I settled for whatever random issues grabbed my attention from the nearby CVS’s magazine rack.

It would be another two years before I started getting back into comics as an ongoing thing, and by them my tastes had shifted to the “bwah ha ha” Justice League, Watchmen, and localized manga.

Related posts:

  1. Con and back again
  2. Bag and bored
  3. 1983: The Year My Voice Broke – The Comics

2 Responses to “Punched out”

  1. Pete

    His version of Iron Man always looked a little off.

  2. bitterandrew

    The Silver Centurion suit was goofy from the get-go.

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