Today marks a momentous occasion for me, as it marks the 25th anniversary of my first ever review for Worlds Of Wonder, which was published on Jan 19,1996.
What began as a short term adventure to finance my studies and then later, my wedding, has surprisingly led to my longest “employment” to date. A lot has happened over the last 25 years, but somehow it seems like only yesterday that I sent a fax (look it up, kids) to Davin Arul, the co-founder of WOW (which used to be known as Marvellous Mags), trying my luck to secure a dream “apprentice” job. To my surprise, he made me his successor instead.
Although I’ve remained a freelance columnist for WOW, the fact that I’ve lasted 25 years does make me occasionally wonder if I have overstayed my welcome, or whether I still have unfinished business.
I remember a conversation I had in 1997 with The Star’s former Astronomy columnist, D.J. Batzer, in which I asked him how his column managed to last for more than 20 years. His response was, “Astronomy is a very huge topic”. I guess this also applies to comics, which is a huge topic in its own right, covering core universes, multiverses, alternate realities, reboots, retcons, graphic novels... and after spending 25 years silver surfing through this universe, I hope to find even more reasons to continue writing for WOW.
So, on my very special day, allow me to indulge in some “me time” this week as I head down memory lane and revisit some of the most memorable moments that made me say, WOW!
For the record, my “Hulk 180 moment” (first review) was a Punisher review (Castle’s Last Stand) that I submitted as a “pitch” to Davin. After I got the green light to write for the column, I was (over) eager to mark my debut with a bang and wanted to cover a potentially key milestone comic.
As fate would have it, the closest I got was Inner Demons: Tales Of The Marvels. It featured a key Silver Age moment where an amnesiac Namor the Sub Mariner was revitalised by Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch. Well, “revitalise” certainly had a momentous feel to it, so, despite my personal dislike for Namor, it became my first review.
Four months in, the biggest crossover (and still is) in comics history happened, as the two biggest publishers and their creations collided in the mega DC vs Marvel crossover. Since these were the days before the Internet, I had to “camp” at the now sadly defunct comics shop Final Frontier in order to get the “latest results”, and calling the editor to fill him in.
While the outcome indicated a close fight, the truth is that the whole thing was actually more of a balancing act between popularity and ego. Of the 11 showdowns, six had already been pre-determined by the creative team, and the final fights between the two companies’ big guns were determined by the support of the fans.
In the end, Marvel came out tops, with Spider-Man beating superboy, Wolverine outfighting Lobo, and Storm actually defeating Wonder Woman. As expected, Superman managed to out-punch Hulk, and Batman just edges out a close fight with Captain America.
Even today, I still wonder how a rematch with the same line-up would fare. Surely a Gal Gadot-inspired Wonder Woman can upstage a Halle Berry-inspired Storm now!
The year 1996 also saw the biggest U-turn in comics history, when Marvel welcomed back its ex-employees and then co-founder of Image Comics (Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and Whilce Portacio) to reimagine Marvel’s key titles – the Fantastic Four, Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America. The event was a total-revamp of the Marvel universe set in a “pocket universe” created by Franklin Richards... and I still wish I can get Zatanna to “ekam em tegrof!” this horrible event.
The moment where I became super-appreciative of this job came when I got to speak to Todd McFarlane in conjunction with the release of the 1997 Spawn movie. Two things I remember from that 45-minute phone interview was his confidence that the movie would get a sequel, and the confirmation that he won’t be doing a Spawn-Spidey team up – a statement that still breaks my heart 23 years later!
This is a topic close to my heart. Having seen Malaysians progress from the letters page of a comic to drawing it certainly brings out the patriotism in me. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview the likes of Tan Eng Huat, Kinsun, Milx, Alan Quah, Zid, Billy Tan, Sheldon Goh and other Malaysians who have stamped their creative marks in mainstream and independent comics.
In 2019, I also did a tribute for the 35th anniversary of local comics magazine Apazine. Having read this 100% made-in-Malaysia fanzine when I was 12 and being amazed at the local talent pool, I figured if I couldn’t join them, the least I could do was to pay tribute to them. It was the brainchild of the late Daniel Chan, who gathered a creative bunch of aspiring comic artists to share their works.
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While the San Diego Comics Convention remains a pipe dream, I am grateful to have had the chance to go to a few Singapore Toys Games Comics Convention and meet some of my favourite artists and writers, including David Lloyd, Art Adams, Adi Granov, Esad Ribic and CB Cebulski. And of course, not forgetting the memorable moment of being stuck in a cubicle with Joe Madureira and cosplay extraordinaire Vampy Bit Me – which would be a great tale for the grandkids one day!
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Ironically, most of my favourite comics and reviews revolve around the topic of death, such as the deaths of Phoenix and Gwen Stacy. Most poignantly, I had to do a tribute for my late father in 2013 and by Crom, it was only befitting that I pay tribute to his legacy via his favourite character, Conan The Barbarian. Using Savage Sword Of Conan #200 as the base, that story has Conan meeting his maker, Robert E Howard.
Still on the topic of death, there were a few “reverse-deaths” aka resurrections that brought up mixed emotions. For me, the most convincing one is still Bucky aka The Winter Soldier, and most ridiculous one is Jor El’s return after eight decades of being part of Krypton’s debris.
I personally feel that Groo is the most intelligent comic book ever published. Despite the cartoonish look-and-feel, the level of storytelling and visuals used to reflect today’s problems in a barbaric setting is certainly mind blowing. Not forgetting the hidden messages, the Ministrel’s rhyming couplets and to summarising the tales with a Moral... this is truly a case where the contents are worth more than the cover price.
Hence, it was only fitting that I paid tribute to Groo a number of times, including once via rhyming couplets (in 2007) and again in 2017 in conjunction with his 35th anniversary.
Being my own worst critic, I do re-read my views and most of the time, I feel that it could have been written better. However, the one piece that I felt made the grade was the one on the 30th anniversary of Crisis On Infinite Earths in 2015, where I reiterated why Crisis is a must read for all comic fans.
Who is faster – Flash or Superman? Who is stronger – Hulk or The Thing? Who is richer – Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne? Who the #@$! is Wolverine?
After decades of false alarms and fake memory implants when it comes to Wolverine’s origin, Marvel Comics finally decided to come clean on Logan’s actual identity via the six-parter Origin, which was done before Hollywood could beat them to it. Looking back, this story was the perfect tonic to Wolverine’s (then) 27th year-of-existence. Not only did it revealed his real name, it also shared his heritage and fetish for red heads!
A.k.a “Many thanks” in 2000AD lingo. Obviously, I couldn’t have lasted this long without the support of many people, especially my editors in The Star, the local comics community (I appreciate all the compliments and brickbats, as well as the friendships made) and the local comics specialty stores. Nuff said!
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