I must warn you right at the start, in case such things would put you off reading it, that this piece contains occasional references to my childhood, my secondary school days and the early 1970s!
As at the present sentence it does NOT, however, contain any puns – so that’s all right then!
Back when I was a nipper there was no 24 hour, 7 day children’s TV – just a few programmes from when you got in from school to the start of the six o’clock news ; there were no home computers or games consoles (unless you counted the box with the Snakes & Ladders and Ludo boards in)!
So, when I wasn’t playing cricket with my friends on the nearby Bourne Park (not a responsible adult let alone a dirty old man in sight, ever!) or playing those board games with my Mum, Dad or little Sister, I was usually READING.
Actually I was FAR more likely to be reading than playing those games, mainly because I was the most appalling bad loser and the others were sometimes reluctant to play with me if I was likely to have a tantrum and walk out because I wasn’t winning.
And to eke out my much-read collection of “Biggles” books, in common with most British kids in the 1950s and 60s I subscribed to………….
And in Britain at that time there was a massive intellectual divide in the realms of children’s weekly published entertainment; on one side there were the ones I thought of as the “cartoon comics” – the tabloid newspaper sized “Beezer” and “Topper” along with the smaller A4 sized “Dandy” and “Beano”. I only ever got to read any of those when visiting my cousins!
I was never impressed with what (even as a small boy) I saw as rather banal and infantile humour. Instead I went for the “intellectual option” – a far more educational paper called “The Eagle”.
While this Boy’s comic did indeed contain illustrated stories, the quality of both pictures and words were markedly superior – more “art” than “cartoon”. More importantly, however, I learned a hell of a lot of the basics of my general knowledge from it; particularly the “How Things Work” articles with their amazing cutaway drawings of vehicles and machines!
It has to be said, however, that Eagle’s greatest achievement was introducing me to Science Fiction – “Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future” was the first thing I turned to each week and it took my childhood thoughts out into space well before either Cosmonauts or Astronauts were around to inspire me! I seem to recall that those stories also introduced me to the concept of time travel and some of its complications long before Doctor Who appeared – a space/time ship named “Tempus Frangit” pops into my memory from some deep bucket of trivia!
I don’t recall when I actually gave up taking “Eagle” but when I got to Secondary school there was another attraction.
And a whole new world of super-powered individuals opened up for me – although at first rather sporadically because the local newsagents didn’t receive them at all regularly or in the right order!
Let me explain.
As far as I was able to ascertain from the manager of the newsagents shop across the road from my parents’ house he was able to order the “Marvel” brand of comics, which included “X-Men”, “Thor”, “Fantastic 4”, “Spiderman”, “Incredible Hulk” etc, from his wholesaler because they had a facility for either importing those titles or possibly even printing them in the UK.
And, of course, because we could easily get that brand, we didn’t want them!
The other, and somewhat more famous at that time, brand was “DC Comics” – the publishers of “Superman”, “Supergirl”, “Batman”, “Wonder Woman”, “Green Lantern” (to name only those I can recall who have featured in movies) and dozens of others.
I was told that the reason for the haphazard and out of order arrival of DC comics was because they were imported through the nearby USAF bases on their supply transports as “padding” but have no way of telling whether this was true or not. If it was so then I presume the supplies came by sea – that is the only way to account for the fact that the date on the cover was sometimes nearly a year past. Oh, and you don’t pad items out with fairly dense paper if air transport is involved – you reduce the weight as much as you can!
Whatever the reason, they did arrive with (just barely) sufficient regularity to enable us to keep track of running storylines and there was the occasional bonus of an “80 Page Giant”, the equivalent of 2 or 3 regular comics in one. For some reason it was always one of those, rather than the less expensive ordinary editions, that I always managed to have confiscated by our 2nd year (now called year 8) Maths, Physics and Chemistry teacher “Bunter” Webb.
For more on HIM see https://littlealfie.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/
I must say, however, that they didn’t stay confiscated because as soon as that ineffectual, pompous little man left the room I would pinch my property right back from the unlocked desk drawer in which he had put it! He never seemed to notice.
Buying comics was put on hold as our exams got nearer but I started reading them again after I left school and following the storylines got easier when I had all of the town centre newsagents to browse for them.
Then, in 1971, I discovered something new in the DC comics’ universe.
The former Marvel Comics writer and artist Jack Kirby fell out with that organisation and “defected” to DC who happily gave him 3 new titles of his own as well as the existing “Jimmy Olsen” title to link the new stories with the established “Superman universe”.
The three new titles (“The Forever People”, “The New Gods” and “Mister Miracle”) were set against the background of a traditional “Good versus Evil” battle between the worlds of New Genesis (good) and Apokolips (very evil) using Earth as a battleground. As with his “Thor” stories for Marvel they knocked off quite a few ideas from Norse mythology but I thoroughly enjoyed them!
Going into the story in any depth will make me sound even more of a geek than I already am –so I won’t – but the important thing to me is that the 3 main titles came to halt after only 11 or 12 episodes. And I had them ALL!
The operative word in that last truncated sentence is “had”! In 1974 they were given away to the local children’s hospital in circumstances I prefer not to think about – suffice it to say the deed was done without my prior knowledge or permission because they were considered “childish”.
A friend of mine has since informed me that as “first editions” rather than later reprints they would now be “worth a fortune” although I’m not sure what that equates to in actual Pounds Sterling and can’t tell whether I was cheated out of a decent pension fund or just the price of a nice new car! I’m probably better off not knowing!
I can console myself a little by having found some files on the internet where some kind soul has taken those comics, scanned them and then made them available as computer images. I can now read them all again but it isn’t the same.
I was going to end this incredible ramble right there but I see that I haven’t offered any explanation of the title of this piece which has to do with the way that the world of comics deals with the eventual ageing of both its superheroes and, regrettably, its readership.
Basically – “Parallel Worlds”!
The easiest way out of what I think of as “the reinvention problem” was for the editors to invent a series of Alternate Earths (Earth 1, Earth 2 and so on) which were all very similar except that their superheroes appeared much later in each version.
All, that is, except for the aforementioned Green Lantern. His superhuman abilities are conferred by possession of a Power Ring and a new successor takes over every few years anyway.
Which is all well and good for the safety and peace of mind of the residents of those fictional universes but makes it all a little confusing for those of us on the outside, looking in!
To help us through these difficulties the Fans and publishers have reached a consensus of sorts and have designated the period up to the mid-1950s as “The Golden Age”; from 1955 to about 1970 as “The Silver Age”; from 1970 to 1985 as “The Bronze Age” and everything to date as “The Modern Age”. I suspect another re-invention must be due soon!
So, as my interest covers 1964 to the early 1970s I am “a Silver Ager”.
I like that – it matches what’s left of my hair.
Late addition – most of the above was written about a year ago but was left unfinished because, for one thing, I had not thought of ending it with the last eight paragraphs above until yesterday and the ending seemed a bit lame before that.
For another thing, I normally have to have a reason for publishing something I’ve written and I can’t for the life of me remember why I wrote the original so it’s had to wait until another reason popped up. And THAT happened the other day when a former colleague from one of my earlier contracts posted two almost identical pictures on Facebook asking if anyone got the joke.
The pictures, one of which was headed “Android” and the other “i-phone” both depicted the members of DC Comics “Justice League of America”, DC’s equivalent of Marvel’s “Avengers”. One character was missing from the “i-phone” picture – and THAT was the joke. And I got it! Instantly!
The person missing was the high-speed superhero “The Flash” and Flash is the application that runs graphics, animation and multimedia in most browsers – EXCEPT on Apple products such as i-phones and i-pads because of a serious falling out between Steve Jobs, the late head of Apple and Adobe, the company that developed Flash.
OK, it was rather a rubbish joke but it occurred to me that there cannot be THAT many 60 year old UK men with a sufficient knowledge of both DC Comics superheroes AND the workings of i-phones (one of which I have never owned) to be able immediately to get the point of the pictures.
I think that makes me rather special! Please keep it to yourself if you disagree!