Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A 24 Year Search Comes To An End

As a youth I was often visiting my Grandparents in the small Northern Ontario town of Terrace Bay, (pop'n appx 2000). Their town center consisted (still does, in fact) of a street-long strip mall, where, years ago, my uncle owned and operated a ladies' fashion store that my Grandma also worked at. When we'd land into town, we'd often stop there first before going to anyone's house, because invariably that's where we'd be more likely to find our family.

A few storefronts to the right was the convenience store, where I'd often run to buy nickle candies, boxes of Nerds and Bazooka Joe gum, as well as invest in a comic book or two after seeing Grandma who'd dole out a $5 bill. There was never a "don't spend it all in one place" warning.

A few storefronts the other way was the bakery, whose delectable scent lives with me to this day, and whose honey glazed donuts have yet to be matched. Further down was the department store, a small affair for a small town. Down in the basement, past the braziers at the foot of the steps, I found a rack that contained a holy treasure of comic books, bagged up not in collector's quality plastic with acid free backing board, but in a cheap plastic with a printed ribbon that stated in bold yellow "3 / $1". The great thing was the bags, they weren't sealed, so you could flip through and find three comics you actually wanted.


It was here in the fall of 1985 that I started my decades long love affair with DC Comics, for it was here that I found my first issue of Who's Who, specifically issue #3, with Blue Devil front and center on the cover, and issue #5 with Cyborg taking prominence. Suddenly I was quickly seeing the breadth and variety of characters comics had on a level I hadn't previously conceived, with my limited collection of comics to that date leaving me familiar with all the A, B and C level characters, but someone like Black Orchid, B'Wana Beast, Claw the Unconquered or Crazy Quilt I would perhaps never have even cared to know about.

I became obsessed with completing the series and spent the next year hunting down the rest of the issues at discount retailers, since I had no idea that the direct market even existed yet. By the time the Who's Who Update '87 had come out I had every issue of the series, save one... the second issue. The reason for that is quite obvious:

Batman...
The second issue of Who's Who has for many years eluded me because Batman is popular and for some weird reason this single issue of Who's Who became more popular than the rest, thus more in demand and worth more. But it also made it harder to find, and in my scattered searches over the past 20 years I've not only not acquired the issue, but I've never even come across it before...

Until now.

At the Toronto Fan Expo this past weekend, flipping through the "W" section of the dollar bins (or 30/$25) at a vendor for some issues of World's Finest I came across it and I don't think I could have been more pleased... it was almost that look of when Indiana Jones comes across the idol at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Arc only when I pulled it from the bin a giant boulder didn't come chasing after me.

Reading through this lost treasure last night, it weirdly felt like a piece of my missing childhood had been restored to me. Although the issue is pretty loaded with Bat-related things, there's still plenty of room for obscure characters I should have known about 20+ years ago. I mean, Ben Boxer, jesus, why didn't I know about this guy. If I did I would have had a desire to read Kamandi a long time ago... he's officially my new favourite obscure DC Superhero. Until now, that was reserved for Forager. Black Bison... hey I saw him in an ad for an issue of Firestorm back in the 1980's, now I know what he's all about! That wicked illustration of the Balloon Buster by Joe Kubert really should have been embedded in my retinas years ago.

And while a little piece of my missing childhood has been filled, a little piece of my childhood also died reading this comic, as I realized that my beloved Who's Who is decidedly lacking in information and details on the characters and their powers. I mean the Beautiful Dreamer and Big Bear entries are almost exactly the same. I never did read the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe as a kid (Who's Who really was responsible for turning me into a raving DC die-hard) what I've seen of it as an adult show it to be far superior in this department. Though, I suppose, Who's Who really is far more readable and visually stimulating for a 9 or 10 year old than the info-dump over in Marvel Universe Handbook.

5 comments:

GF said...

Oh my yes, I remember Who's Who, particularly its most heartbreaking quality of coming out mid-Crisis. Fall in love with a character you've never seen before, then find out he or she "never happened now."

Nate said...

I started collecting just as those were coming out and got them all. I loved the write ups on Earth -2 versions of all the characters. And then *poof* Crisis wiped em all out

Graig Kent said...

It was really unfortunate timing on DC's part to do the series concurrently with Crisis. I think the idea for them was to highlight and detail all the characters who would appear in the Crisis, but you have to wonder... did the Who's Who editorial know how Crisis would end? They must have known that Crisis was only 12 issues and they were going at least double that...

Mike said...

You talking about this really caught my attention. I liked the Marvel Universe books, so when Who's Who came out, of course I had to buy them. I collected every issue of Who's Who except one...no, not #2; the one I'm missing is the first one you ever bought...#3! How's that for irony?

Graig Kent said...

Hah, that's awesome!