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A childhood Marvel

Published:Tuesday | December 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM

A childhood Marvel

Growing up, Gene Autry and I were avid comic collectors.

Comics arrived on Thursdays. We'd camp at the bookstore of choice and swoop down on the magazine stand the moment they were laid out. If uptown, it was Sangster's Book Stores (Liguanea). Downtown, we haunted Kinkead's Pharmacy.

As carefree, employed youth, our daily routine had little to do with work but revolved around food, comics, and horse racing. Our days began at 10:30 a.m. on Harbour Street when Angel Flake's freshly baked plantain tarts appeared. Two Angel Flake tarts with Coca-Cola was our midmorning snack. I've never tasted a better plantain tart.

Lunch usually meant Chinese food or a dingy hole-in-the-wall named Rathskeller (pronounced 'Rats Cellar'). I kid you not. The food was delicious and cheap. For Chinese, Golden Bowl was our favourite. Golden Bowl began modestly on Luke Lane. To get there, we stepped over mounds of garbage then climbed a mountain of stairs. The standard order was a choy fan: mini-samples of three or four dishes at bargain prices. The surroundings were unpretentious but the clientele was a mix of all social classes.

The Luke Lane property burned down. Golden Bowl moved to Barry Street. We walked past fish vendors selling rotting fish in the midday sun, took deep breaths of fresh sewage, and again climbed Mount Everest to sample the fantastic fare. Eventually, Golden Bowl moved uptown to York Plaza, then to its current Cargill Avenue location where I'm still a regular customer.

Food was important, but the week's highlights were Tuesdays (Jamaica Raceform for Saturday's racing published) and Thursdays (new comics). I was strictly a Marvel Comics addict because, although Superman, Batman and Green Lantern were exciting, I related more to a teenage superhero with acne and difficulty meeting girls. Peter Parker turned me on to Marvel, followed closely by the Fantastic Four. These were real people with real-life crises who were (incidentally) superheroes.

Marvel taught me lessons aplenty, including creative use of English. Words like 'furshlugginer' replaced words beginning with the same two letters in one's vocabulary. 'Phantasmagoric' meant magically fantastic; and the 'hoary hosts of Hoggoth' or 'crimson bands of Cyttorak' conjured fantasyland images long before Harry Potter.

Autry, more cosmopolitan than I, also collected DC comics. His favourite was Jonah Hex, a confederate survivor of the Fort Charlotte massacre who became a cynical, scar-faced bounty hunter with an aura of the undead. I stuck with Marvel's Kid Colt, Two-gun Kid and Rawhide Kid. We treasured our comics. They were sacrosanct.

It's surreal to see my boyhood heroes on big screen. But, something's lost in the technological maze. Technology gives us everything we want but little of what we need. With the tech boom, society is taught to glorify cheating at sports and selfishness as the political standard.

Marvel's superheroes, my exemplars, were untouched by these expediencies. They came alive on the pages and taught values like integrity. Now, we see them in movies but some of their humanity is gone.

During the latest Captain America movie, somebody said, "Captain America and his Howling Commandos." Nooooooo! All true believers know the World War II commandos striking fear in Nazis' hearts were Sergeant Fury and his Howling Commandos. The 'Howlers' were created by Marvel founders, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who handed over after seven issues to penciller Dick Ayers and inker John Severin, who made it their signature series. Yes, it's the same Nick Fury from subsequent spin-off, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Led by former amateur boxer-now-tough, cigar-chomping Sergeant Fury, the Howlers included second-in-command Corporal Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader 'Dum-Dum' Dugan; munitions expert Isadore 'Izzy' Cohen; debonair linguist Dino Manelli (modelled from Dean Martin); trumpeter Gabriel Jones; ex-jockey Robert 'Reb' Ralston (whose rebel yell, "Wa-Hoooo!", became the Howlers' signature); baby-faced Jonathan 'Junior' Juniper killed early on but replaced by wisecracking Brit Percival 'Pinky' Pinkerton with his ever-present bumbershoot (look it up); and Eric Koenig.

Marvel's Howling Commandos, decades ahead of their time, were a racial/religious potpourri: Dum-Dum (Irish); Izzy (Jewish); Dino (Italian); Gabe (African-American) in an integrated unit long before it happened in real life; Reb, (Southern Cracker); Junior (teenager), whose early death was a sensation at a time when comic book heroes NEVER died; Pinky (British); and Koenig, a late-joining German defector.

This was war storytelling like never before. Commercial compulsions shouldn't prompt today's movie-rights holders to corrupt history. These were (and still are) real people to us.

Here's hoping readers have a happy, fulfilling and prosperous New Year.

Peace and love.

n Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.