The First Comic I Ever Bought

DC COMICS PRESENTS #59, DC Comics, July 1983
I've been reading comics since before I can remember. My relatives fed me a steady diet of French (actually, Belgian) bande dessinée as a child (Tintin and Astérix were the stars here), and my English teachers were Richie Rich and Archie (I know a lot about dating in the 50s and how to spend googles of money as a result). But it wasn't until the very early 80s, when I was 10 or 11, that I discovered superhero comics. These were black and white french translations labeled JUMBO which featured a truly random array of Marvel and DC Comics, padded with old House of Mystery-type shorts.

Soon enough, I was into the original-English mags invariably sold at convenience stores with moons, stars and rocketships on their signs, like Apollo News and Tabagie Astral (I don't know what it is about my home town, must've been the hippies). Proper comic book stores were still almost a decade away, but comics were cheap, colorful and invaded my consciousness like sweet, sweet heroin. The first comic I ever bought with my own money (yeah, like my mom didn't give it to me right there in the store) was DC Comics Presents #59.

Now, DCP was a team-up book, the one starring Superman. There were lots in the late 70s and early 80s. Batman had The Brave and the Bold, Spider-Man had Marvel Team-Up, and the Thing (wha? the Thing? wasn't he just happy to team up with the Human Torch, et al.?) had Marvel Two-in-One (which sounds like it should be double-sized, doesn't it?). Anyway, the thing with DCP is that whenever Superman starred with another headliner, like Flash or Green Lantern, the comic was boredom incarnate. But when some obscure loser who didn't even live in Superman's continuum showed up, it really sang. But that's me. I guess it just said something about the variety and longevity of the DC universe which appealed to me.

And what better losers than the Legion of Substitute-Heroes? These are the guys who couldn't make it into the superhero team that accepted Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad as their own! And these guys didn't make it. For god's sake, the real Legion has a chick whose power is to dream. I do that too and they never gave me a frickin' flight ring. So all these guys are incredible losers (all except Polar Boy who really got shafted, in my opinion). The villain of the piece is Ambush Bug - one of my favorites - who's not quite the king of parody he will later become, but he's already talking to himself. Judging from this monologue, he's not too far from (rightly) believing he's a character in a comic book:
"Ambush Bug II" (yep, that's the title) has a simple enough plot. Ambush Bug hops on Superman as the man of steel is flying to the 30th century (back when he could "Do the Delorian") and gets left in the Subs' custody while Supes' takes care of some business. Of course, they screw things up and he escapes. Now, the 30th century, before it got retconned all to hell, was a groovy place. Something right out of Flash Gordon or 60s Doctor Who. There are signs in Interlac all over the place (I wonder if this is the "additional dialogue" attributed to Legion of Super-Heroes scribe Paul Levitz... he was probably right anal about the century).

Ok, as you can tell (from the cover, if nothing else), this is all gonna be pretty goofy, but I like goofy. Keith Giffen writes and draws, and he's the master of goofy. He's one of the guys who sold us the Sitcom Justice League. And we bought it like it was a bag of Oreos. And he's making us buy stuff here too. I mean, Superman is time traveling, right? But he's going to the 40th century and has to drop off Buggy in the 30th because... what? It would take too long to get back to the 20th? Do detours matter when you time travel? From all accounts, the 10-century trip he just made took only a few seconds.

But we need this to happen for the hilarity to ensue. Well, I wouldn't call the issue a laugh a minute, but at the time, the simple idea of these ridiculously lame superheroes was good enough for me. Highlights include Fire Lad and Chlorophyll Kid discussing ad infinitum how to take Stone Boy (hippies at fault again) out of a hole without breaking his head off, and Color Kid throwing harmless technicolor beams at Ambush Bug. See?
Waitamminit, is that Bouncing Boy just standing around (red circle) letting this happen? And HE made it into the Legion? Something else I like is that Giffen and Levitz don't care about continuity here, in this scene with Chief Zendak sitting on the throne:
Is THIS the fabled additional dialogue by Paul Levitz? (I won't be happy until I find it!) Anyway, it all comes to a head at the Superman Museum, a building that could only have been designed to give Superman a super-ego. Now that's some powerful brand placement:
He'll finally get to do more than frown like Kirk on shore leave at station K-7 (sorry, "The Trouble with Tribbles" just annoys the hell out of me sometimes). Supes is of course worried that Ambush Bug will learn his secret identity there. So what's in this museum? Let's see...
Mmm, I wonder what case this piece of cake comes from? Must be important for Superman to rescue it. The last lunch Ma Kent ever packed him? Ok, what other priceless artifact can we find?
Look! It's red and green kryptonite! Is that a safe thing to have around in a city defended routinely by LSH members Superboy and Supergirl?

At the end of the day, Ambush Big sends himself to the Phantom Zone to bother Terence Stamp, which I only now realize is why the story must be called "Ambush Bug II" (there's also a Superman II joke somewhere in the book). And that's it, DC Comics Presents #59. Hippies?
Ohhhh yeah... Definitely celebrating Ambush Bug's return. Truly it can be said: He was my FIRST!


The Mutt said...

"Oh no! Technicolor!"

Bwah hah hah hah! I can't wait for the new Ambush Bug mini.

Austin Gorton said...

Wait, you mean...we never find out why the cake was so important? Was Superman just worried about having a splattered cake/broken glass mess to clean up?

billjac said...

For me, these early Ambush bug stories are where he really shines. Supes makes a great straight man and there's an entire relatively-serious universe to cause chaos in.

I just think that's more fun than the minis where Ambush Bug is lord of his own goofy tonal pocket.

This issue was one of the very first DC comics this Marvel zombie ever bought. I wonder if that's why I've had such a hard time taking DC seriously since.

billjac said...

As for the cake, I recall a Silver Age Superman cover where he's serving Metropolis citizens (Metropolitans?) slices out of a giant birthday cake; it could be that. Or it could be a slice of the cake Supes presented to Julius Schwartz in Superman' #411.

Siskoid said...

Hahaha. Well, it's a little patch of Silver Age in a Bronze Age landscape, isn't it?

Personally, I like the Ambush Bug who can see the whole Bottle. It's the same "reality check" power than Superman had whenever he winked at the reader. x100!

Siskoid said...

The cake is most certainly a reference to something. Has Giffen ever said?

Anonymous said...

I know that I knew what the cake was at the time, but my memory and google are failing me now. I vaguely think that there was an issue of Superman or Action a fairly short while before that in which a giant cake is baked, of sufficient size that everyone in Metropolis got a slice, and at the end of the story Superman put a slice, under glass, in the fortress of solitude. So by the 30th century that would be a thousand-year old historic cake...

hiikeeba said...

I really liked how Giffen drew Supes in the Golden Age style Wally Wood used in the revival of All-Star Comics. This was one of my favorite books, too. Thanks for bringing back the memories.

Matthew Turnage said...

Superboy baked a cake for the entire town of Smallville on his last day before he left town. One piece was kept to remember the occasion by. I had a Pizza Hut reprint of Superman #97 that told this story, and it was retold in the Superman: The In-Between Years backup in Superman #354. I've always assumed this was that slice.

Siskoid said...

I think you just solved it for us, Matt! That must be it!


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