Between The Sheets

 

NOTE: THE FOLLOWING IS THE PERSONAL OPINION OF THIS WRITER AND NOT NECESSARILY THAT OF OTHER CBSI CONTRIBUTORS OR COMICBOOKINVEST.COM.

 

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If you’d rather NOT READ the following intro and get right to the list, skip down to where it says “START HERE.” I won’t be offended.

 

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Nerd is the new cool. Ringing affirmative.

That statement has most-decidedly been true for most of the first phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and the Star Wars Sequel trilogy era. Essentially, one would largely be considered “uncool” if they neglected to see said films. As such, that culture has pervaded pretty much all levels of nerdom, be it comic books or whatever be your fancy. People just don’t turn up their collective noses at nerdy stuff quite like they used to.

…and speaking of UNCOOL, we now have Bill Maher who, this past week in the world’s most colossally uncool move, decided to bash the memory of the recently deceased legend, Stan Lee, stating:

 

“The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning… Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess… The current interest in comics is due to the arrested development of the American public. Ivory-tower clowns have decided comics—can you believe this?— are sophisticated literature… We’re using our smarts on stupid stuff, I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.”

 

Bill, I admittedly, don’t know much about you and that pretty much proves my point; You are unimportant, irrelevant and, well, not cool.

As Neil Gaiman so eloquently replied in a recent tweet:

 

“More people cared about Stan Lee’s Death than care about Bill Maher alive.”  

 

The social and political comedian who has long-since seen the fading of his day in the spotlight pretty much came at comic books and those who read and collect them by saying that we are deluded in thinking of them as literature.

In that vein, speaking of Neil Gaiman, read a little Sandman and tell us it’s not sophisticated, Bill. If that’s not enough, here’s a little history about pulp fiction (a category which comics fall under) which Maher didn’t bother to look up prior to opening his uneducated mouth…

Charles Dickens was considered a pulp novelist for much of his day. Dickens is now considered amongst the most high-brow literature. Hell, even William Shakespeare was largely considered to be a hack by most of his contemporaries.

Want more, Bill? Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, Jurassic Park, pretty much everything Edgar Rice Burroughs ever wrote including Tarzan, pretty much everything Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote including Sherlock Holmes (and the list continues) were all considered pulp upon publication, much like comic books.

Can you imagine if we dismissed all of those (and so many others) because they were pulp fiction at the time? Can you also imagine, then, dismissing The X-Men’s social commentary on bigotry as “pulp for kids”? It’s rhetorical, Bill.     

So, in further reply to the haters, Maher and others, I’ve decided to finally launch a companion set of articles which have been a long time in the planning stages, “Between the Sheets.” I think it’s the perfect time to do so, juxtaposed against the idiotic mouths of the closed-minded

 

START HERE  

(for those that skipped the intro)

 

So your asking, what is this “between the sheets” thing, Mike? Well, each week here on Cover Tunes, we celebrate awesome covers that are undervalued and/or under appreciated. However, the most under appreciated thing about comics lately seems to be the interior stories.

I thought it might be time for us to explore some of the most important pages inside these covers we have come to love so much; actually crack open a comic (gasp!!!!) and read what is INSIDE (gasp, again!!!) and realize that over the decades, many important story milestones have appeared within the pages of comics. It’s time we celebrate them, too.

 

Here we go…

 

1. REAL 1st APPEARANCE

Incredible Hulk #180 (1968 Series)

PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – October, 1974

WRITER: Len Wein

INTERIOR PENCILS: Herb Trimpe

 

Yep, I’m starting in right away with this. Why tease you just to get at this one, eventually? So, guys and girls, I know I’m not going to change the market perception of Hulk #181. I’m not trying to. In full disclosure, I own fairly nice copies of both #180 and #181 so I don’t have a bias based on ownership.

The heights that #181 has reached over the past 6 months is astoundingly overwhelming. #180 is slowly following suit, but not nearly as much as it should be, in my opinion. Wolverine is probably the undisputed champion of post-Silver Age characters (yeah, nice try Harley Quinn people). Inasmuch, Bronze Age books, overall, are definitely seeing the heat, right now. Punisher, Ghost Rider, Moon Knight, etc. are starting to get into that untouchable range in high grade.

 

Argue all you want about cover appearance on #181, but THIS #180 IS the first full appearance of Wolverine. It is undeniable. He is in full figure, full frame and named (quite grandly, might I add) right in that last panel. You can call it brief if you want, but it is full-as-ever. A lot “fuller” than many other 1st full appearances, that’s for sure.

 

2. NUDITY

 

Elektra #3 (2001 Series)

PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – November, 2001

WRITER: Brian Michael Bendis

INTERIOR PENCILS: Chuck Austen

 

There are many other sex-traversies in comics (and I will get to most of them in future issues of “between the sheets”… it’s part of the reason I chose to name the column as I did), but only one got censored and it’s this Elektra #3. Frankly, I’m not sure why as the original, uncensored, version isn’t that bad and there had been plenty of instances of nudity prior to this one.

Whatever the case may have been, 2001 seems like an awfully late date to be censoring nudity that was this tame. In fact, as early as 1971, Gene Colan was essentially drawing Black Widow nude in Daredevil and allowed the colorists to add her “costume” in later.

Either way, enough people freaked out about this issue to get it censored where Elektra would be given underwear straps in the later printing. The original, uncensored, version isn’t actually particularly rare as it is purported that about 5000 copies exist. It can be found in the raw (pun intended) or via the Greg Horn signed Dynamic Forces version of which there were 500 copies.   

 

3. HOMOSEXUALITY

X-Force #118 (1991 Series)

PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – July, 2001

WRITER: Peter Milligan

INTERIOR PENCILS: Mike Allred (Michael Dalton Allred)

 

No discussion about the importance of certain story milestones in comics would be complete without first mentioning the Comics Code Authority (CCA) which largely prohibited the inclusion of anything that might be considered harmful to young readers.

Homosexuality and parallel issues, which fell under the restrictions of the CCA, were alluded to in comics as early as the late 1960’s in underground comics and strips (for instance, “Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates” by S. Clay Wilson in Zap Comix #3 in 1968) as well as in early Japanese Manga.

However, it wouldn’t be until this issue of X-Force that a mainstream comics company under the CCA would depict it, openly. Bloke and his boyfriend share a moment prior to Bloke leaving for the X-Force team.

It seems appalling that this should have taken up until 2001 to be depicted. Marvel dropped the Comics Code for this issue and, actually, it was this issue that led Marvel down the path of abandoning it, altogether.

RUNNER UP – Probably a more famous issue depicting a gay kiss would come in the form of 2009’s X-Factor #45 where Rictor and Shatterstar share the moment, together. For some reason, this issue is often discussed as the first gay kiss, but as one can see, it actually happened 8 years earlier.

 

X-Factor #45 (2006 Series)

PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – August, 2009

WRITER: Peter Allen David

INTERIOR PENCILS: Valentine De Landro & Marco Santucci

 

NOTE FOR THE DETAIL POLICE – Since Neil Gaiman is part of our earlier introduction discussion, in his Sandman stories he would depict characters with ambiguous sex and/or changes in sex as early as 1989 stating that the community was underrepresented in comics.

Further, 1993’s Enigma by Milligan and Fegredo would depict the first gay sex scene. Both Sandman and Enigma, however, fell under the sub-label “Vertigo” which was for mature readers and, therefore, was not governed by the CCA.   

 

4. DRUG USE

Amazing Spider-Man #97 (1963 Series)

PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – June, 1971

WRITER: Stan Lee (Stanley Martin Lieber)

INTERIOR PENCILS: John Romita Sr.

 

Sorry DC, but Marvel did it first… just barely. Spiderman #96-#98 all came out prior to Green Lantern #85-#86 which didn’t drop until September/October of 1971. While drugs would be discussed in Spiderman issue #96 (i.e. “He’s stoned out of his mind”) actual drug use wouldn’t be shown until issue #97 with two pill-popping panels (the first shown above) and the hand-off of a bottle. It is, however, probably the “trip” panel that is the most memorable (see both, above).

Technically, 1967’s Strange Adventures #205 (1st appearance of Deadman) is the first time the issue of drugs is brought up, but even though opium is mentioned, drug use is never shown. That issue made it through Comics Code approval, but the story of Spidey #96-#98 is a different matter.

Stan Lee and Marvel received a letter from the U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare suggesting that they do an anti-drug issue based on the reach and popularity of Spiderman with kids. When the story was submitted to the Comics Code, it was rejected. Strangely, there is no restriction on the mention or depiction of drugs in the code. It was restricted under the general article that read, ambiguously,

 

 

“All elements or techniques not specifically mentioned herein, but which are contrary to the spirit and intent of the code, and are considered violations of good taste or decency.”  

 

Stan Lee wanted to publish it anyway and went to Marvel Publisher Martin Goodman who agreed, eventually, to publish the three-issue arc with the code stamp omitted stating he would support Stan on any backlash they might receive. The rest is history, as they say.

 

5. VIOLENCE

THIS ONE IS A CLEAR TIE IN MY BOOK

 

Batman “Knightfall” #497 (1940 Series)

PUBLISHED: DC Comics – July, 1993

WRITER: Doug Moench

INTERIOR PENCILS: Jim Aparo

&

DAREDEVIL #181 (1964 Series)

PUBLISHED: Marvel Comics – April, 1982

WRITER: Frank Miller

INTERIOR PENCILS: Frank Miller & Klaus Janson

 

I have to mention both of these books. Both are famous but Bane breaking Batman’s back is probably more so. However, it’s so much later than the Elektra death which happened in 1982, it is hardly as shocking by 1993 – shocking perhaps because it’s Batman, but really for no other reason. DC did think it shocking enough, though, to add a half overlay on the cover to shield the similar cover image from sensitive eyes.

The death of Elektra panel still seems shocking almost 37 years later. It was definitely groundbreaking for the time. Daredevil #181 (the other, other #181 as I like to call it) sells for a premium whereas the Batman #497 can be found in dollar bins. That should tell you something about which is more sought after. Either way, both are milestones in violence in comics.   

 

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Well, that about does it for our first foray between the sheets. I hoped you liked this new concept. Let me know what you thought in the comments.

Next issue: Another real 1st appearance, alcohol, politics, race and sex. Stay tuned.

Have a joyful Thanksgiving, Americans and anyone else who may celebrate. Be good to each other and, as always, thanks for reading and happy hunting!

 

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