Comics / Cult Favorite

When Comics Grew up

By Philip Schweier
February 28, 2006 - 10:56

One of the first comics I remember reading was Lois Lane #131. I’ll pause until the laughter subsides.

Okay, I was only seven at the time, and by 1972, Lois was no longer pining for Superman, waiting for him to ask her out. The issue still had a fair amount of Superman to it, otherwise I wouldn’t have bought it again last year.

I’ve done that a lot lately, buying old comics that I once had when I was a kid. I chalk it up to “mid-life crisis,” trying to resurrect the innocence and fun of my youth. I keep thinking that as I grew up, so did comics, but I’m not the only fan, either younger or older than myself, who believes that.

Legend has it that Mark Twain ran away from home as a boy because he regarded
his father to be an idiot. When he returned a few years later, he was pleasantly surprised to find how much the old man had learned while he’d been gone.

So with that in mind, I’m sure it wasn’t comics who matured as much as I. Somewhere around the age of 12 I gave up on men in tights in favor of sword & sorcery material, and more adventure and science fiction. Maybe Conan the Barbarian wasn’t any more a mature title than Star Wars, but the point is I began looking elsewhere, exploring the independent market and alternative titles.

And like most comics folk, I fell victim to the implosion of the early ‘90s. All the over-hyped events, like the death of Superman (did anyone who knew anything ever truly believe DC would eliminate one of its most popular properties?) wore me out. And there are only so many variant covers and die-cut covers and foil covers fans can buy before we realize the emperor has no clothes and the stories stink.

At the time, comics was a collector’s market, with multiple copies being bought, bagged, boarded and stashed away in the expectation that they would accrue value, like older comics had.

But the reason old comics were so valuable was because they were meant to be bought, read, traded, and thrown away. Many of them were, so there was a certain scarcity.

Believing comics had abandoned me, I returned the favor. I sold the bulk of my collection, which had quite a number of gems. Old Adventure Comics from the 1960s, starring the Legion; a healthy run of Conan, beginning with #33; and seminal X-Men issues drawn by the likes of Dave Cockrum and John Byrne.

At the time, it seemed like the right decision, and I’d probably make the same one again without 20/20 hindsight of realizing how much I discarded, in terms of money and comic book history and personal treasure.

But every time I try to leave they pull me back in. Kingdom Come brought back so much of the sense of wonder and marvel I’d gotten from comics as a child. I identified with Superman as he was portrayed in that series. Super-heroes had lost their sense of direction, and returning to some of the classic elements that made these characters the inspiration we value may bring us back on track.

Comics are fun again, and they’re getting even better. I’m still one of those fans who believes that comics and I grew up together. It’s a personal interpretation, much like Mark Twain’s assessment of his father. Only the ongoing history of the comics industry will determine how accurate the idea may be. But it’s a world I plan to be a part of, and while I may get discouraged and try to leave at times, I’m sure I’ll be sucked right back in due time.

Praise and adulation? Scorn and ridicule? Email me at

Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 12:25

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