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The Golden Age

Way back in 2011 I saw Thor.

I reacted with Geek Glee, Geek Rage, and Geek Envy.

Chris Hemsworth defied my expectations and was terrific in the lead role — handsome, charismatic, and heroic. Asgard and the Asgardians came off OK, the Destroyer got to blow things up, Loki was sympathetically malevolent, and Anthony Hopkins‘ Odin chewed the scenery. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but I really could not have hoped for a better Thor origin movie.

(Geek Glee! They got it right!)

I read my first Thor comic book a decade before Chris Hemsworth was born. I stuck with the series through some lean creative years, and developed that irrational sense of ownership geeks get over their closely-held secret obsessions.

(Geek Rage! How dare someone else cash in on my discovery!)

When I was twelve, I found my dad’s sculpting hammer and leaped around the overgrown hillside below my house, throwing it at trash heaps and rusty water heaters. I was still enough of a child that I fantasized discovery of an ancient hammer might transform me into a superhero, instead of the aimless and underemployed teen and twenty-something I would later become.

(Geek Envy! I was supposed to be Thor, not this talented Aussie with superior bone structure!)

if I could have just found the hammer, I know I would have been worthy!

The “Golden Age” of comics is twelve.

That’s how old I was in 1974, the year I discovered comics, and fell in love with Thor.

That same summer, I decided I also loved Captain America, and Conan the Barbarian.

(I kind of liked Green Lantern, too, though after seeing that movie, I think I’ll edit out that part of my past.)

All these characters and more besides came to the screen in the summer of 2011. This was either the apotheosis of my pop culture youth, or a rare moment of perspective on my Möbius-strip path through life.

Thor #227 — my first!

My little lad Jack was eleven. Miles was fourteen. They bracketed my age from the summer of ’74.

In 1974 I lived in Hollywood, California, which was no more glamorous then then it is now. My home in a 1920s-era bungalow on Cahuenga Blvd was up a daunting hill from a newsstand just south of Hollywood Boulevard. World News & Books is still there, and doesn’t look much different than I remember. Maybe they still sell comics, but those comics will be as different from the .25 cent books I bought as a kid as am I from the twelve-year old boy that braved that hill to buy them.

My boys have come and gone from the age I was when I discovered comic books, and they would never have dreamed of hiking a hill to buy comics with their allowance. They still watch comic book movies, but they far prefer video games or binge-streaming Netflix to reading comics or anything else. It troubled me that they refused to embrace my old comic book heroes, denying me the excuse to re-live my youth through them. But despite the boys (thankfully) growing into their own persons, superhero movies are a place where our interests intersect.

We liked Thor — liked it a lot — which was something, because after the first movie trailers, with all the screaming beards and hospital interns being thrown around, I expected the worst. We geeks always expect the worst when our heroes are reimagined for an audience that couldn’t be bothered with them in the first place. We threaten our dignity by letting our geek flag fly for Thor or the X-Men, and we imperil the rosy memories of our past by revisiting the deep affections of youth and remembering who we were, and who we might have been.

in the 1970s, Thor was often at his best in books other than his own

Watching these movies should be a victory lap, but instead it’s an ass-puckering second chance to feel ridiculous for loving comic books. Only now I’m not alone in a dim garage filled with comics longboxes — I’m defenseless in a theater, with my friends, my wife, and my kids. Even as Marvel’s movie franchise has grown to dozens of pictures with unprecedented and worldwide appeal, I still feel a little ridiculous embracing my comics fandom.

My favorite characters from my pivotal summer of ’74 got big movies all at once, validating in that only-money-makes-it-matter fashion that I had good taste as a kid. I stuck with comics, off-and-on, into my late twenties, but largely abandoned them as a fan during my brief career as a comic book writer.

And after coming home from Thor in 2011?

I was either ready to get out of comics once and for all or reawakening to a call long past its final echo.

I didn’t see it coming when I took the boys to Thor, but no sooner had that Sturm and Drang faded from the screen than Jack turned to me and said, “Hey dad, do you have any Thor comics out in the garage?”

Boy, did I.

behold, the Longbox Graveyard!

Longbox Graveyard is about coming to terms with comic books, and trying to enjoy them again. It is my method for examining why I ignored and denied my interest in comics for decades, to the point where I become burdened and a little embarrassed by my Accumulation of books.

My focus is on Marvel and DC books from the Bronze Age (1970-1985), because that “Bronze Age” was the “Golden Age” to me. Longbox Graveyard follows the transformation of my comics Accumulation into a Collection. I purge the books I no longer like, and tell you which books escape the Longbox Graveyard (and why). I write about getting (re)started in comics collecting — building databases, buying and selling back issues, and grading books. And I eventually try to come to terms with my own unsuccessful career as a comics creator.

I welcome your comments. Positive or negative, your participation encourages me to continue this blog.

(And if my nostalgia has you itching to read some comics, please shop through my affiliate link to MyComicShip.com, where your purchases award Longbox Graveyard with trade credit to buy … even more comics! Huzzah!)

NEXT WEEK: #2 The Micronauts!

(Special thanks to Farzad Varahramyan — a legitimate genius and a better friend than I deserve — for creating this blog’s original header art)

Longbox Graveyard #1: The Golden Age

Originally published June 22, 2011

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Six Degrees Of Jack Kirby

Longbox Graveyard #64

Forget Kevin Bacon!

It’s Jack Kirby that’s the “Center of the Hollywood Universe.”

You’ve probably heard of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” — the party game where you connect Kevin Bacon to other actors based on mutual film appearances. For instance, Kevin Bacon connects to Elvis Presley via Ed Asner, who appeared in films with both actors. But really, we should be aiming higher than Kevin Bacon … and at the great Jack Kirby himself! After all, with Hollywood dominated by superhero properties that Jack helped to create — in movies like The Avengers, Captain America, Thor, and The Hulk — it’s clear that Jack isn’t just the King of Comics … he’s the King of Hollywood, too!

Playing “Six Degrees of Jack Kirby” is easy — simply connect an actor or filmmaker to Jack Kirby in the fewest possible steps!

Why not start with Kevin Bacon himself? Mr. Bacon played Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First Class, and since Jack Kirby helped create the X-Men back in 1963, that means Kevin Bacon has one degree of separation from Jack Kirby!

Kevin Bacon with January Jones as Emma Frost … which gives the entire cast of Mad Men a Kirby Number of 2!

Joining Mr. Bacon with a “Kirby Number” of “One” is everyone else attached to some of the biggest movies of the last decade — names like Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson (Avengers), Chris Evans (Captain America), Jessica Alba (Fantastic Four), Anthony Hopkins (Thor), Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class), and Tim Roth (Hulk).

Given that dozens of Kirby’s characters have been brought to the screen, it’s no surprise that some cool names line up quickly when you expand to a Kirby Number of “Two.” Quentin Tarantino arguably deserves a “One” — there’s a Silver Surfer poster on Tim Roth’s wall in Reservoir Dogs, where Lawrence Tierney is also likened to The Thing; and I’ll bet you a dollar that Silver Surfer dialogue for Denzel Washington in Crimson Tide helps account for Tarantino’s uncredited dialogue assist on that picture. But there’s no disputing Mr. Tarantino’s rock-solid Kirby Number of “Two,” thanks to his close association with Samuel L. Jackson in pictures like Pulp Fiction, and we all know that Mr. Jackson is …

… Nick Fury, a character Jack Kirby helped create for Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos back in 1963! That means that Mr. Jackson has a Kirby Number of One!

(And so does David Hasselhoff, but we’ll pretend that never happened).

Some karmic geek symmetries appear at Kirby Number 3. William Shatner is forever connected with Leonard Nimoy, who appeared in the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek, where Thor’s Chris Hemsworth played George Kirk — Captain Kirk’s dad!

before he swung the hammer of Thor, Chris Hemsworth was Captain of a Federation starship (for twelve minutes!)

Playing the bad guy in that same picture was Eric Bana, who played the Hulk … who worked with Sam Shepard on Black Hawk Down … who appeared in Days of Heaven for Terrence Malik … which also featured Rockford Files stalwart Stewart Margolin, who in 1968 appeared in a television program with teen heartthrob Davy Jones. That’s right … Jack Kirby is just five degrees separated from The Monkees!

considering Jack also brought us The Forever People, he’s probably closer to the Monkees than we suspect!

Jack’s ripples aren’t confined to the realm of pop art, either. Lawrence Olivier has a Kirby Number of 2 (via Professor X — Patrick Stewart!). Orson Welles is a “three” (via Ian “Magneto” McKellan, through John Hurt in Scandal, who appeared with Welles in A Man For All Seasons). Marlon Brando is also a “three,” by way of appearing with Robert DeNiro in The Score, who is himself a “two” thanks to to his role in Sleepers opposite … Kevin Bacon (who is still pretty handy for stitching together these tortured threads).

The realms of sports, religion, and politics connect to Jack Kirby, too — even Adolph Hitler deserves a Kirby Number of “One,” thanks to the cover of Captain America #1!

OK, that was a bit silly … but it’s a short trip to silly when you work backwards from a base of work as broad as that of Jack “King” Kirby. Jack left us decades ago but his influence is still being felt. In fact, with movies like The Avengers working on it’s second billion dollars in box office, you could argue that Jack Kirby’s influence is greater today than ever before.

All of which serves to underscore why I am still fascinated with comic heroes and their legendary creators here at Longbox Graveyard. Comic books have left us a rich legacy of unforgettable heroes … and even in this golden age of superheroic film actors, directors, and special effects, Jack Kirby remains the biggest hero of them all!

Hail to the King, baby!

And since Jack would have turned 95 (!) on the 28th of this month, please view this video message from Jack’s granddaughter, Jillian, who will tell you how you can celebrate the King’s birthday and benefit The Hero Initiative at the same time!

Give me your own Six Degrees of Jack Kirby (or pose a Six Degrees puzzle for us to deconstruct) in the comments section, below!

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #63 Marvel Two-In-One Times One Hundred!

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