The first comic book I ever bought that actually featured a team of superheroes was, I think, Avengers 149 (July 1976), featuring Iron Man and other heroes trussed up on slabs with electrodes attached to them by the evil Roxxon Oil corporation and their diabolical ally, an alternate-universe version of Nelson Rockefeller wearing the dreaded mind-controlling Serpent Crown, I kid you not.
Yet I remember buying this a year earlier — which apparently spoke to me somehow: Jack Kirby’s The Dingbats of Danger Street.
Is it possible that The Dingbats of Danger Street is, in truth, the first comic I ever read? How might that affect a five-year-old’s psyche, or that of the adult he would one day become? I know this much: I still remember who the bad guy was: a creepy masked, jumpsuited, cannister-wielding nut called…the Gasser! (I may be forgetting some even earlier issues of Archie and that rascally dog Scamp that I read.)
What else, if anything, might I be forgetting from the years before I picked up Avengers, Brave and the Bold, a Wonder Woman with what seemed to my young mind a viscerally striking image of her draped across giant Rocky Horror-intro-like fangs, Godzilla, and Star Wars — before really diving in shortly thereafter with stuff like X-Men, Micronauts, Legion, Titans, and more, I wonder?
The aforementioned issue of The Brave and the Bold (January 1976: #124) was also a youthful-mind-warper, with a terrorist forcing artist Jim Aparo to redraw the story’s ending so that the terrorist wins and Batman loses — I encountered comics metafiction before I’d even gotten used to reading fiction (in much the way Nybakken says he often encountered parodies and satires before the originals as a young pop culture consumer — and, of course, in some bizarre cases, the original is already a self-parody, as with Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which cleverly deconstructs and renders absurd the Holmesian detective genre, despite being the first example of that genre).
One reason comics, for all their increased political content and violence, are still best suited to the young is simply that the young are more willing to take naive leaps into complex new worlds they know nothing about — that’s what children do all the time just by walking around, after all. A reminder of how inadvertently daunting comics, with their dense mythologies, can be to adult newcomers is provided by this Wikipedia entry on a recent X-Men character. Is she Jean Grey? Jean Grey’s daughter? Jean Grey’s daughter from an alternate timeline, raised in yet another alternate timeline by Cable, who is Jean Grey’s clone’s son from yet another alternate timeline? (That’s not a joke — and in fact I think that might be accurate.) Beats me. I just know that’s not how you get new readers.
P.S. It’s not exactly a superpower, but I’d imagine everyone’s typing speed is probably pretty good these days compared to a couple decades ago, what with all the computing and the texting and so on.