When I Was Young – Christmas 1975

I think it’s fair to say that spoiling children is not a good thing, as spoiled kids have absolutely no appreciation for anything that they’re given. It seems that the more you spend on them, the LESS they appreciate it.

Spoiled, ungrateful kids really piss me off. You know the sort I’m talking about, spoiled brats throwing a tantrum, hurling a £300 games console back at their parents because it isn’t what they wanted for Christmas. “I want an X-Box! You got the wrong one! Wahhh!” (I have actually seen this happening). If any kid of mine ever threw a tantrum like that, they would find themselves playing with Lego and not a £300 games console. Those kids need a good, swift kick up the arse, if you ask me. And the parents need an even swifter, harder boot to the rear end for making their kids turn out like that in the first place.

Modern society has become so materialistic that it sickens me. It’s all about (for both kids and adults) how many nice, shiny, expensive new things you can acquire. I get so angry when I see how much more is spent on Christmas presents these days compared to when we were kids, and the complete ack of gratitude on the part of most of those kids receiving those expensive presents. Speaking as an Old Phart, I can state with some authority that back “in our day” we got a heckuva lot less, but we appreciated it a lot more. Which brings me to Christmas 1975, and one of the best Christmas presents I ever received.

I came from a very poor family (I could give you a “We were so poor that… ” story, but you get the picture). My Dad had to raise five kids on his own, after he and my Mum split up. He gave up his job to look after us, and, as a typical working-class man in the early-1970s, he was very ill-equipped to do so. Indeed, he almost gave up on many occasions, but he loved us, so he hung in there against all the odds, refusing to leave us hanging high and dry, where many other men would’ve given up altogether.

The worst part of all this was that our lives were a constant struggle against poverty. Life on the dole in Northern Ireland at the start of the 1970’s was no laughing matter, especially if you had to raise a family on it. Maybe it wasn’t exactly Bangladesh, but it was as near as a so-called advanced western society came to it. We managed to eat, just about, and very poorly. Meat only two or three times a week at most (I got real sick of chips ‘n’ beans), and chicken only very rarely, on special occasions (like Christmas and New Year). Buying clothes for the kids and paying the bills and debtors was a major problem. What we would take for granted today as the everyday little luxuries in life were totally out of the question for us back then.

And, most of all, Dad dreaded Christmas, with a passion that even I could only imagine, for all my strong dislike of the Festive Season. Christmas meant extra spending on food and presents. But how could you spend extra when you didn’t have it in the first place? Trying to feed the kids and buy a few cheap presents to give at least an impression that it was Christmas was a recurring nightmare for my father. And this went on every year for at least a decade (until we were old enough to work and contribute to the household ourselves). He’d buy a few little toys and confectionery items for the younger kids, but I was older, and toys didn’t do much for me. He knew I liked books, but wasn’t too sure what kind of books. So he’d usually pick up something on space or prehistoric animals, which he knew I had a thing for, and that generally kept me quiet.

Then one year he struck gold. I remember it well. Christmas Eve, 1975. He landed back late with the Christmas presents, and handed them out to us. Nobody in our family believed in Santa, aside from the two youngest, who were very young and already in bed. I was fourteen years old, and the other two brothers were twelve and eleven, so we were too old to believe in Santa. We knew Dad was the Man with the presents, and we were waiting like hawks when he came in the door.

The younger brothers got their usual ration of toys and sweets, which kept them very happy indeed. Then he handed me my present, obviously a book of some kind, large format and hardback. I ripped off the wrapping paper eagerly, expecting another book on dinosaurs, or spaceships, or Doctor Who. But I was in for a real surprise. It was an Annual, and not just any old Annual. It was the Avengers Annual 1975. I’d already been a crazy superhero fan for several years by that stage, and collected all three Marvel UK weekly comics, the (Mighty World of Marvel, Spider-Man Comics Weekly, and The Avengers), even if it meant walking the four miles home from school every day in order to save my bus money for them (no such thing as pocket money for poor kids like us in those days). But I’d never been able to afford the expense of any of the Marvel Annuals, which, at nearly £1, almost twenty times the price of the average Marvel weekly, were well outside my budget at that time.

And here was my father handing to me the Avengers Annual 1975! He might as well have been giving me the Crown Jewels. I threw my arms around him and gave him a big hug. He was very taken aback by this, as he wasn’t one to display much overt affection in public (Real Men didn’t do that kind of thing back then), although we all knew that he loved us. But he was obviously surprised and delighted that I was so happy with the present. He’d taken a chance on it, thinking that I might like it, being a fan of superhero comics. But the degree of joy I’d shown was completely unexpected. He shook his head in bewilderment, smiling, as I rushed off to find a quiet spot to read my new found treasure.

You wouldn’t even have known I was in the room, as I sat in that corner, reading the annual over and over again for hours on end. I was captivated by the gaudy front cover, with Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Vision smashing through a wall. And the even better back cover with all the Avengers together in one pin-up. There were more pin-ups inside. And the stories! Wow! The first one was a great Steve Englehart/Don Heck strip featuring The Mighty Avengers and The Uncanny X-Men at the mercy of Magneto.

The second strip was part two of the same story, with the three remaining Avengers, plus Daredevil, and the Black Widow, all taking on the power of Magneto and his mind-slaves (namely all the other Avengers plus the X-Men). In another strip, the Avengers took on the Lion-God, my least-favourite of the stories in the annual, but still interesting. But the greatest eye-opener for me was a classic Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Captain America and Bucky strip, set during World War II. I loved that one! I’d never seen any stories in a Golden Age setting before, and I found it completely fascinating.

Overall, this was a fantastic gift from my father, and out of all the Christmas presents I have ever received, that Avengers Annual from 1975 has always meant the most to me. And the cost of that amazing present? A cool ninety pence. That’s right, not even one lousy English pound. Sometimes the value of something, no matter how cheap, goes way beyond anything monetary. Which is a big reason why I get so riled these days by spoiled kids and their lack of gratitude for the vastly more expensive things they get, and the stupidity of their dumb parents for splashing out so much money on the ungrateful little brats.

I still have it, that 1975 Avengers Annual, and all the other annuals that my father made sure to buy me for the next few Christmases after that. I wouldn’t part with any of them, not for any amount of money, even though they’re aren’t really worth a lot in money terms. They mean too much to me, carry too many fond memories for me of my late father, and all those Christmases from long ago, when we struggled just to survive the Festive Season, when we were lucky to get fed, let alone receive presents.

That cheap little present still means more to me than anything I’ve gotten for Christmas in all the years since then. There are some things that money simply can’t buy!

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Eternals by Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr.

I tend not to follow modern mainstream Marvel or DC comics at all these days. With the exceptions of the various collections of Silver and Bronze Age material and the occasional, very rare, collection of modern material by authors that I like (Ed Brubakker, Warren Ellis, Mark Waid, Mark Millar, Kurt Busiek, James Robinson and a few others), they do absolutely nothing for me. Compared to the glory days of the Silver and Bronze Ages, the quality of new comics output by both companies is generally absolutely abysmal these days.

But every once in a while they do come out with something worthwhile, something a little different, like a brand-new kind of superhero story, or a high quality reimagining of an old one. One of the better “reboots” of a classic superhero comic that I’ve read in recent years was Eternals, a seven-part mini series produced by Marvel Comics, written by Neil Gaiman, and with art by John Romita, Jr.

This is a reimagining of Jack Kirby’s old Eternals title from the 1970s and early 1980s, and elevates what was really a second or third rate (although fun) Bronze Age Marvel series to true “classic” status. Although the original was an interesting enough series in its own right (and I myself almost always prefer the originals over reboots), in my opinion, Kirby was well past his best when he worked on it, and it showed.

I know that the purists will be screaming “BLASPHEMY!!” from the roof-tops at these comments, but I cannot emphasize just by how much this modern, “Gaiman-ized” version of the Eternals completely blows the original out of the water. Gaiman takes the original concepts and story and runs with it all, creating a fresh new look at the original, a more adult (in the good sense) story, and great characters. What else would you expect from Neil Gaiman?. All of the original characters, both protagonists and antagonists, get a real make-over in this new version.

The Deviants, in particular, are given the expert Gaiman treatment. These were the one-dimensional, bad-guy cannon-fodder in the original series. Now they’ve been fleshed out, made more three-dimensional, and given a lot more depth, darkness and outright menace. The two lead Deviant antagonists are a nasty team altogether, obviously modelled on Vandemar and Croup, Gaiman’s own creations, the two vicious assassins in his classic novel Neverwhere. These two are by far my favourite characters in the entire story.

Romita’s excellent art also sets off Gaiman’s writing perfectly, and the series was published in a number of variant covers (most by Romita) that all collectors will want to grab. I usually am NOT a fan of the multiple “variant cover” nonsense, but I made a point of grabbing most of these, because the Romita covers are so good.

I won’t spoil things by revealing details of the story itself. Just go buy it. The series was collected in both hardcover and trade paperback. I bought both, and I’d definitely recommend grabbing a copy of the trade paperback, at least. I’d say that anyone who is not a hardcore original Kirby Eternals “purist” should enjoy this one.