Everything's gotta start somewhere. Before it becomes your favorite food, your favorite movie, or the love of your life, it's just something you've never tasted, something you've never seen, or someone you haven't yet met. And it's also true of favorite musical performers, and of favorite fictional characters. For The Everlasting First, we'll take a series of looks back at my first exposures to a number of rock 'n' roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. Each entry in this 26-part series will be devoted to a single letter of the alphabet, and will include my reminiscence of both a rock group or singer and a comic book or comic book character (or other print-related topic) whose name starts with the letter of the day. Yes, it's Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do)'s answer to Sesame Street!
Each day's entry will also include Quick Takes, which continue the celebration of the letter of the day. Quick Takes will offer--you guessed it!--quick takes on the first song I remember hearing and the first issue I recall seeing of a performer or publication with a name appropriate to the letter of the day, yadda und yadda und yadda. I reserve the right to list as many (or as few) Quick Takes as I feel like doing on any given day, but there should always be an even number of pop music and comic book/magazine/etc. entries.
They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it's the subsequent visits--the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time--that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.
TODAY'S LETTER IS: A
I don't think I was aware of Aquaman before my Dad bought me a copy of Aquaman # 30 (November-December 1966), which cover-featured Aquaman's funeral. Aquaman would eventually become one of my favorite superheroes, but I doubt that I'd heard of him before getting this issue. But who can resist a cover full of superheroes? Fine, I didn't know Metamorpho or Hawkman yet, but I sure knew Batman and Superman! The thing is, even if Bruce and Clark had been replaced on this cover by some other superheroes that I didn't know--Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Martian Manhunter, The Hooded Halibut, even--I would still have been intrigued: it was a comic book cover full of superheroes! What more could a six-year-old want?! Perhaps it was a cheat that these heroes only appeared in a single panel in the story itself (with Metamorpho entirely hidden, but The Flash bringing up the rear), but I don't believe that put me off.
Given that the King of the Sea's comic book lasted another 26 issues in the '60s (and has been revived again and again since then), and that he became a Saturday morning TV cartoon star in the Fall of 1967 (and did so again as one of the Super Friends in the early '70s), and that he'll soon be moving into blockbuster Hollywood feature film stardom with the forthcoming Justice League and Aquaman movies...yeah, given all that, it ain't a spoiler to reveal that Aquaman survived his own death in Aquaman # 30. He's resilient.
I think I saw DC house ads for Aquaman #s 31 and 32, plus The Brave And The Bold # 73 (co-starring Aquaman and The Atom), but my next Aquaman adventure was Aquaman # 36 (November-December 1967), with its cover blurb proclaiming, "The King Of The Sea Is Now The King Of TV!" This would have gone on sale around the same time as the debut of the above-mentioned TV cartoon series, The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure on CBS. The series continued Superman and Superboy's cartoon exploits from the previous fall's The New Adventures Of Superman, supplemented by all-new animated action starring Aquaman and Aqualad, plus one additional cartoon each week starring one of a rotating line-up of DC superstars (The Flash, Hawkman, The Atom, Green Lantern, The Teen Titans, and The Justice League of America).
These cartoons were terrible--hokey, juvenile, formulaic, and strictly by-the-numbers--but I just loved 'em as a kid. Frankly, the comics at the time weren't exactly cutting-edge themselves, but there was undeniable energy, and there was artwork by Nick Cardy, who is possibly my all-time favorite comics artist. The TV show added a pair of black boots to Aquaman's costume, and I don't think it made much use of the comic-book supporting cast other than trusty sidekick Aqualad; the villains were there--I think I remember seeing Black Manta on TV--but there was no sign of Aquababy or Aquagirl. And there wasn't nearly enough of Aquaman's beautiful wife Mera. That was a shame! As drawn by Cardy, Mera was the hottest-looking female character in comics at the time.
But my favorite run of Aquaman stories began in 1968, when Dick Giordano took over as editor with Aquaman # 40. Giordano replaced veteran writer Bob Haney with young turk Steve Skeates, and the series just exploded with imagination, drama, and sensational quirkiness. Skeates' first order of business was a long, long serial involving Aquaman's search for Mera, who'd been abducted by unknown assailants. Giordano took Nick Cardy off the main art chores--Cardy retained cover art duties, and proceeded to knock everyone out with some of the finest covers of his long career--but found a more than able replacement in Jim Aparo. Like Giordano and Skeates, Aparo had come to DC fresh from budget-priced-but-brilliant work at Charlton Comics, a low-rent line we'll be discussing in a couple of days. Aparo's work on Aquaman was stunning, gorgeous--so much so that I still consider Aparo the definitive Aquaman artist, my eternal allegiance to Nick Cardy notwithstanding. This was just a terrific, underrated run, one of my favorite runs of any character at any time.
Sadly, sales weren't sufficient to keep Aquaman afloat. The book was cancelled with its 56th issue (March-April 1971), cover-featuring "The Creature That Devoured Detroit!" The book may have been too off-kilter to survive, but it was a blast while it lasted. Aquaman returned a few years later in the pages of Adventure Comics (inspiring a letter of comment from a certain future blogger in North Syracuse), and he regained his own comic book in the mid-'70s. The current Aquaman comic book is pretty cool (and Mera is still a knockout), but no version of these characters could ever top my affection for the Skeates-Aparo-Giordano era.
|Splash page of Aquaman # 56|
|My letter to Aquaman, Adventure Comics # 444|
Was Fairfax, Virginia's phenomenal pop combo Artful Dodger mentioned in Bomp! magazine's epic 1978 power pop issue? Either way, the earliest memory of Artful Dodger I can summon would be from Cleveland Scene magazine, a tabloid I used to see sometimes when I visited my sister Denise in Cleveland Heights. I think it was a review of an Artful Dodger show (possibly at The Agora), and the review mentioned that Artful Dodger's set included a cover of The Dave Clark Five's "Any Way You Want It." Well! In 1978, one way to get my attention was to cover the DC5. But I don't remember hearing any of Artful Dodger's music anywhere, so I didn't really pursue the matter.
In the summer of '79, I got my first real six-string (bought it at the five-and-dime)...wait, wrong summer, and wrong performer reference. Artful Dodger came to town that summer for a show at Stage East in East Syracuse, with Syracuse's own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes opening. If I have the story straight, Artful Dodger played a sparsely-attended Stage East gig the previous week; after three albums that didn't sell as well as anyone hoped, the band was nearing the end of its tenure with Columbia Records, but hadn't quite given up on makin' a grab for that damned elusive brass ring. A second Stage East gig was scheduled, with The Flashcubes (who had a large local following) added to the bill; as an added incentive, the first 100 ladies admitted would receive a copy of The Flashcubes' most recent single, "Wait Till Next Week"/"Radio," while the first 100 guys would receive an Artful Dodger EP. The Flashcubes did radio commercials for the gig, with 'Cubes drummer Tommy Allen referring to Artful Dodger as "one of the great pop-rock acts of our time." The message: Get to Stage East to see Artful Dodger, you lot!
The gig itself hit a snag early on: with so much of the crowd drawn there specifically by The Flashcubes--and specifically there to see The Flashcubes--the fans were reluctant to let The Flashcubes finish their opening set and make way for the headliners. The 'Cubes kept getting called back for encores, until our local lads finally put their collective foot down, announcing that they were done for the night. 'Cubes bassist Gary Frenay all but pleaded with the crowd to get set for Artful Dodger, "a really great band!," as the 'Cubes were finally allowed to leave the stage.
By this time, I guess Artful Dodger had a lot to prove to a skeptical crowd. I wasn't among the skeptical--I was eager to hear AD for the first time--but I was unprepared for the pinpoint accuracy of Tommy and Gary's description of Artful Dodger: A really great band? One of the great pop-rock acts of our time? Yes. Oh God, yes!
Artful Dodger seemed like a perfect combination of the best aspects of The Faces and Badfinger, with lead singer Billy Paliselli's raspy vocals calling to mind Rod Stewart, and the band's rockin' crunch conjuring a meeting of Ron Wood's swagger and the power-pop dynamics of Pete Ham and Joey Molland. I was mesmerized. Granted, I had a pretty good buzz on by now, after an evening at the bar with my pals, but the Artful Dodger boys delivered on their end of the bargain, with a ready 'n' steady supply of hook-filled rock 'n' roll music. They didn't do any DC5 material--the only cover I remember from that night is Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller"--but they earned my allegiance with their original material. I was particularly captivated by "It's Over," a mid-tempo number, drawn out in its live incarnation by a hypmotizin' extension of its musical intro. From that evening on, I consider myself at home as an Artful Dodger fan.
The next day, I played the Artful Dodger EP that my Y chromosome had awarded me at Stage East's door: four songs from the group's eponymous 1975 debut album: "It's Over,""Wayside,""Think Think," and my favorite, "Follow Me." I eventually acquired all four of Artful Dodger's LPs, and re-acquired the first two in the CD format, but my Artful Dodger collection began with that EP.
Quick Takes for A:
ABBA: First ABBA song I ever heard was "Waterloo," on WOLF-AM.
ACTION COMICS: First issue I owned was Action Comics # 356 (November 1967), starring Superman in "The Son Of The Annihilator!," plus Supergirl in "The Girl Of Straw!"
ACTION SWINGERS: I don't think I'd even heard of them before coming across a used copy of the group's Decimation Blvd. CD at a shop in Lake George, NY. Bought it on a whim--the album title's sly reference to Sweet's Desolation Boulevard was a positive factor--and subsequently enjoyed it at a rather loud volume. "No Heart & Soul" became an early favorite on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio.
ADVENTURE COMICS: Adventure Comics # 358 (May 1968), starring The Legion of Super-Heroes in "The Mutiny Of The Super-Heroines!"
THE ADVERTS: "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" on Brockport's college station WBSU.
ASTONISHING TALES: A Marvel split-book, published after the era of split-books--Tales To Astonish, Tales Of Suspense, Strange Tales--had passed with the end of the '60s. Nonetheless, Marvel tried it again 1970, and I came in with Astonishing Tales # 2 (October 1970), starring the jungle hero Ka-Zar in "Frenzy On The Fortieth Floor!" and the evil Dr. Doom in "Revolution!" The Ka-Zar story was pencilled by Jack Kirby, and Dr. Doom was drawn by Wally Wood--two legendary comics artists under one cover, for a mere 15 cents! Picked this up off the spinner rack while on vacation in Pensacola.
NEXT TIME: You would be correct to expect the letter B.