Back in late 2018, Greg Hatcher wrote about some of his personal pop culture ‘itches’ that took years to get scratched, which also drew a number of comments (including one from me) about similar instances. Recently, I realized that I had successfully scratched one of the long-standing itches I mentioned in that post, and realized that there were a few other comics itches that I had finally managed to scratch in more or less recently.
So here they are, in the chronological order in which they were scratched (which ended up being the reverse chronological order of their publication) and, coincidentally, in best-to-worst order as well. Interestingly enough, almost all of these itches were successfully scratched thanks to the Panini pocketbooks I wrote about a few years ago…
Uncanny X-men #119 and 130
My first issue of X-men was #120, and it instantly became my favorite title. At this point, the magical creative team of Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin was humming along at an incredible clip.
However, I was all of 10 years old at the time, and getting my comics fix exclusively from the spinner racks, so I had no way of getting back issues, even though I desperately wanted them. And one day about a month after I bought my first X-men issue, while flipping through the comics in a spinner rack in – yes, I still remember it specifically – the book and magazine section of the Fred Meyer department store on Lancaster Drive in Salem, OR, I came across X-men #118.
Needless to say, I snapped it up, and then spent a good ten minutes going through every comic book on that rack to see if maybe #119 might have been similarly left behind. Alas.
Of course, #118 ends with a cliff-hanger, as our heroes are confronted by Moses Magnum, who’s been wreaking havoc in Japan. I knew from editor’s notes in later issues that Banshee injured himself and lost the use of his sonic scream in that issue, so that made me want to read that story all the more.
Spotty spinner rack distribution also meant that – back then – I never read X-men #130, either. And that was just as the Hellfire/Dark Phoenix saga was starting to ramp up. That almost made me want to pull my hair out at the time, and prompted me to get a subscription of UXM – which only kicked in with X-men #137, i.e., the end of said saga.
At the time I still had no idea how to get back issues – by the time I discovered a comic book shop in Salem, some time in 1981, as well as Lone Star’s mail order catalog, X-men back issues were hot ticket items and too spendy for me. So I never read those two issues until about 2008 or so.
At that time, I bought used copies of the first two volumes of Essential X-men, which collect everything from GS X-men #1 and X-men #94 through #144 – so, the entirety of the fabled Claremont/Cockrum and then Claremont/Byrne/Austin runs. I *finally* got to read those damn stories.
Was it worth the wait? Oh, hell yeah. This run of X-men is perhaps the best single stretch of mainstream superhero comics ever published, and those issues (but esp. the one in #119, featuring Banshee almost killing himself to defeat Moses Magnum) did not disappoint.
Amazing Spider-man #161
One of the first issues of Amazing Spider-man I ever had, if not the first, was #162.
At that point, I was about 7 years old, and still randomly picking stuff off of the spinner racks. My guiding criteria for buying comics were: cool-looking cover, and/or Spider-man. I recall liking this one well enough back then, because it had enough action to keep me entertained – although I was a bit mystified as to who Nightcrawler was ( of course, my introduction to X-men was still a few years away) and why he and Spidey already seemed to know each other, to say nothing of the fact that they were apparently cooperating with some guy who, to me, was a villain (I mean, c’mon, he has a giant skull on his chest).
But I never read the first part of the story. Finally, when I collected Len Wein’s entire run on Amazing Spider-man in three Panini pocketbooks (Shattered by the Shocker, War of the Reptile Men and Green Grows the Goblin) about 4 years ago. The second volume included this story, which was a pleasant bonus.
Was it worth the wait? I guess so.
It’s a pretty standard Spider-man story of the time. Like the concluding issue, it hits all of the right beats and contains a good mix of action sequences (including the obligatory heroes fighting the first time they meet trope) and the ups and downs of Peter Parker’s personal life.
Basically, the set up for the two-parter is that someone murdering people in New York at random with a sniper rifle, with the implication that it’s the Punisher. However, it’s actually someone trying to frame him. Nightcrawler becomes involved because one of the people murdered was a friend of his from his days as a carnival/circus performer. It was a nice touch on Wein’s part to incorporate a character that he co-created, and he and Spidey seem like ‘natural’ partners. Really, what I found worth the wait wasn’t so much this particular story but finally reading the entirety of Len Wein’s run on ASM – I may write more about it at some point in the future.
Tales of Suspense #98, etc. (the Iron Man story)
This story from Tales of Suspense #97 was, for some reason, included in Son of Origins, which I received as a Christmas present one year. As I mentioned in the comments to Greg’s original “Itching and Scratching” post, it was such an odd choice to include in an origins reprint book, because the story sort of starts in medias res, with Iron Man lying on the ground and unresponsive (after the previous issue’s throwdown with the Grey Gargoyle), and ends in a cliffhanger (and, contrary to what the cover shows, IM and Whiplash don’t actually fight in this story).
I always wondered about how that story concluded. But when I discovered how to tap into the back-issue market a little later (as noted above) , it wasn’t as big a priority for me as other stuff, so I never went out of my way to find it. Then in early 2019, I ordered a batch of dirt-cheap Panini pocketbooks from the UK, which included these two, The Tragedy and the Triumph and Unmasked:
The first one collects the entirety of the Whiplash story – or, perhaps more aptly, the Whiplash/Maggia/AIM story. I finally got around to reading it – last week.
Was it worth the wait? Can’t say that it was. The story drags out over several subsequent issues, i.e., Tales of Suspense # 98-99, the odd bridge title Iron Man and Sub-mariner #1 and then the first issue of IM’s solo book.
Throughout the story, Iron Man’s armor is constantly at minimal power, which back then not only constrained his performance in any tussles with bad guys, but also threatened him with death by heart failure. This was, in fact, a pretty standard storytelling device in IM stories at the time: it figures in the stories preceding, and – albeit to a lesser extent – in the stories following in the then new Iron Man solo series (I also recall it was a major plot point in the earlier story in which he fought Namor, which was reprinted in Greatest Superhero Battles.) So he is on the defensive in his confrontation with Whiplash in ToS 98. Ultimately, though, he dispatches Whiplash later with a rather anticlimactic, single repulsor ray blast. By that time however, tons of other stuff happens, as an AIM cell in a submarine attacks the Maggia gambling boat they’re on, and general mayhem ensues. Really, one of the best characters throughout these issues is SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell, who acquits himself quite well.
After reading the whole arc, I have to say I’m just as puzzled as ever by the decision to include that particular part of the story in the aforementioned Son of Origins book. It just makes Iron Man look sort of pathetic.