As Doctor Strange battles against The In-Betweener, an entity created by Lord Chaos and Master Order with the task of balancing the cosmos, he defiantly claims “I… Am… Doctor Strange!”. This one panel can pretty much summarize why I love comics. The format is a perfect pairing of writing and visuals to effectively tell grand ideas that couldn’t possibly exist in other mediums. For me, Marvel has always done the best job of grounding all of these high level concepts into one universe that has seen characters grow over generations in real life.
The first comic I ever purchased was a Marvel Tales featuring Spider-Man. I found it on a rack in the Thrifty Pharmacy down the street. I was a 9-year-old nerd wearing huge glasses, I’m sure I saw myself in that suit as Spider-Kid. Being a child of the 90s, I had already been introduced to the universe through the X-Men and Spider-Man animated series on FOX. I had been collecting all of the trading cards on the playground. However, I was confused when I saw Spider-Man in a black costume, that was supposed to be Venom’s costume. Then I looked in the top left corner and saw the number 276 and asked myself “How long has Spider-Man existed?”. Turns out a couple of decades. I would later find out this was actually a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #263, a comic published just one year after I was born. After I went home and read it, I was hooked. All of my allowance each week was going towards comics.
Spider-Man would end up being my gateway into this massive universe. I would follow him through into the Clone Saga where I became so exhausted I gave up the hobby for a while. It was pretty good timing actually, I skipped most of the terrible late 90s where Marvel almost went bankrupt and the content was gritty and extreme but ultimately empty. It wasn’t until college that I would revisit the hobby. Another childhood love of mine would rope me back in.
When I was at Comic Con after just graduating high school, I happen to come upon a brand new Transformers comic and it was like being reacquainted with two old friends. While that series ended up being incomplete and flawed, it was enough. I realized how much I missed going to the comic shop every week and visiting different worlds and stories. After that summer I never stopped. I got back into Spider-Man. Then X-Men. Then Avengers. Then onto DC with Green Lantern and Teen Titans. Then to non superhero comics through Image and Vertigo and so on.
After spending so much time with these characters in the modern age, I wanted more. As an adult living in the digital era, I was finally able to go back and read some of the most well known storylines from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I’m talking about what is referred to as the Silver Age and Bronze Age. Some of the stories hold up better than others. The storytelling was much more compressed and characters could completely change in just a few issues. It was a time before events and crossovers so you could stick to just one series and get a complete story. I am ready to take a more methodical and critical approach now. I want to experience these stories in chronological order and organize my thoughts through this blog. It’s not all going to be easy reading though, especially the earliest runs.
Which brings me to another hobby I’ve picked up as I’ve grown older: whiskey, especially bourbon. I love the taste and old world feeling of drinking it. I’ve found that it pairs nicely while reading older comics. It takes off the rough edges that date the comics and helps me see the bigger ideas that were so new at the time. It also allows me to slow down and really take in some amazing art. So much of it is easily taken for granted. We owe so much of modern storytelling and visuals to these older comics.
Strange Spirits is a way for me to record my thoughts and feelings as I read through entire runs of older Marvel comic series and the drinks that help me through them. I will be starting with Doctor Strange who has a special meaning for me. He was my Dad’s favorite character when he was reading comics in the 60s. When he first told me that when I was a kid, I remember thinking he was lame. Doctor Strange? He just stares at a crystal ball! Gambit charges playing cards and has a Cajun accent! As I’ve grown older though, I understand it more. This character does not fill the role of a traditional superhero. He is magical in nature, he visits other dimensions. It makes him unique and the stories told around him different than anything else the House of Ideas offers. It also helps that coincidentally some of the most talented writers and artists of the era were creating his books. I intend to go all the way through Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme (which is technically post Bronze Age but too bad). After that I’d like to cover series such as Master of Kung Fu, Man-Thing, Uncanny X-Men, Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor and more.
Ultimately I’m writing this for myself as a personal project. I am creating this publicly though in case others who have a similar passion can enjoy my findings. So if you are reading this I hope you enjoy the rest and Excelsior!