Oh, how I remember my first.
I'd had other comics before, plenty of them. My mother and grandparents would always pick up some for me at garage sales or a drug store, eager to give me something to read. But they were always a hodge podge--some Little Lulu mixed in with Spider-Man, Superman and Uncle Scrooge, a Batman with no cover. And I read these things 1,000 times each. But because of the scatter shot approach, I never got a clear sense of a comics universe, of there being continuing series and creative teams and serialized stories. And I had never purchased them myself, so there was never a sense of personal ownership, of a conscious choice being made. And then...
My mother was grocery shopping at Meijer Thrifty Acres (think proto-Super-Wal-Mart). After much nagging, she gave me 50¢ and a choice: I could buy 2 comics books ("Still Only 25¢") or a Mad magazine.
Oh, the care with which I studied the magazine rack!! The weight of that decision!! The consequences!! For what I purchased that day changed my life forever (I'll leave whether it was for the better to others to decide):
Fantastic Four #170.
Why? I don't know. I can't even remember what other comics were on the rack that week, or which issue a Mad (someday I'll get ambitious and look it up). The other comic I bought was Incredible Hulk #199, but for some reason that one didn't impact me like this one did.
One thing I'd like to note: sometimes it's far too easy for us older folks to dismiss some stories as "too dependent on knowing the continuity" and "too difficult for new readers to pick up." Maybe, maybe. But I think maybe we underestimate the ability of some readers to get intrigued by that, and to enjoy a story despite not understanding everything that was going on 100%. This issue, for example:
*was the third part of a 3-issue arc
*featured Power Man (just Luke Cage these days), whom I had never heard of
*was the resolution of an arc where the Thing had been transformed "permanently" back into Ben Grimm, and had to leave the FF because their "charter of incorporation" said they always had to have 4 "super-powered" members (tough luck, Batman, or Captain America!). But Reed created an "exo-skeleton" for Ben, so he could be the Thing at will (and yet, somehow still feel mopey for himself!).**
*had the Puppet Master as a villain, and it certainly puzzled the young me how Ben Grimm's girlfriend could have a father who was a bad guy.
*Sue and Johnny were barely in it--they were gone after 4 pages, and never even used their powers!
But despite all of this (or perhaps because of this) I was hooked for life. I had to buy the next issue, and of course as a result I became swayed by the in-house ads and crossovers, so soon enough I had a whole list for my mom to take to the store every week. I had no concept of publishing schedules or which day comics were released, so I know I became really annoying in bugging her every week when she got back. "Did they have the new FF? The new Spider-Man (he had only one book back in those days...)?" Soon enough I had actually subscribed to several Marvels, and would haunt my mailbox, waiting to see if any comics showed up that day!
And because they were my first, I ALWAYS had to read the FF. Even through some of the worst runs in memory (I'm looking at you, Tom DeFalco), and the "Marvel sold it's soul to buy some Image street cred" days, the FF was mine. They were, and are family.
So what hooked me, at first? Maybe it was the cover, which was pretty dynamic. Maybe it was the cover logo:
I could do without the picture of the Four up there, but I still feel that this was the best logo the FF have ever had. Strong, forceful, modern-looking...it still hasn't been topped.
Maybe it was the (in my young eyes) perfect splash page:
This was George Perez's first issue as regular FF penciller. He'd done a few back in the 160's, because Rich Buckler apparently couldn't handle on a big time monthly. From the letters column in FF #169: "...due to schedule difficulties, Rich 'Swash' Buckler is dropping the art chores on the F.F. to concentrate on DEATHLOK and a less strenuous, bi-monthly title or two..." Ouch, babe, called out on the letters page, long before the bloggers could diss you. Now, George Perez wasn't George Perez yet, but that splash page (and the rest of the issue) grabbed be hard.
This was fairly early in Roy Thomas' second run on the FF, and while he was no Shakespeare, he knew how to balance exposition and character in his dialogue, and keep things moving (at least to this young reader). And then there is his deathless Luke Cage dialogue:
Yes, Luke, we can dig it.
So this is the one that started it for me. Who knows what would have happened if I had picked Mad magazine, or a different comic altogether? Would I have become a DC-head, instead of a FOOM member? (Disclosure: don't tell Stan Lee, but I read a fair amount of the DC's anyway. A neighbor lad and I had a comic sharing arrangement, where he could read mine and vice versa; he had a lot more DC's than I did, I had more Marvels than he) Only the Watcher knows...
**SPOILER ALERT: The Thing was only "permanently" Ben Grimm for 10 issues. Damn you, Galactus!!! Damn you to Hell!!!