Back in 1997, while attending an animation symposium in Pasadena, California (when I worked for The Learning Company), little did I know the World Animation Celebration was taking place right next door. After the symposium closed for the day, a coworker and I had the opportunity to check out the big Warner Bros. presentation that evening. This was during the heady (and short-lived) "Second Golden Age of Animation", triggered by the success of Disney's Lion King a few years earlier, and the WB was rolling out a number of their new animation projects, chief among them The Iron Giant.
It's no exaggeration to say that, even with those first vague teaser images, I knew The Iron Giant was going to be something special...but I had no idea how special it would actually be.
Flash forward a couple of years as I'm escorting my son and a gaggle of his pals to see the The Iron Giant for his birthday, only to leave some 90 minutes later smiling ear to ear in a dreamy, shell-shocked daze.
Yeah....it was THAT good.
What did I love about it? Please, don't get me started. The fantastic character and set design, heartfelt performances, beautiful integration of traditional and CGI animation and, of course...a giant robot!
Did I forget anything? Oh yeah....SUPERMAN! This was the movie's biggest and most pleasant surprise for me, not only a cameo appearance of a Superman comic book (more on that in a minute) but the heroic ideal that Superman represented to the childlike Iron Giant throughout the story. I won't spoil the ending for those who haven't seen it yet (if not, what's wrong with you?), but Superman also plays a big part in the film's tear-jerking finale' as well.
Back to the "comic book scene". After befriending the Giant, young Hogarth hides him in an old barn near his home. Their first day together ends with Hogarth bringing a flashlight and a stack of comics into the barn, a stack which prominently featured an issue of Action Comics that looked so authentic, I wondered if it was based on a real cover.
Sure enough, after doing some research, I learned that it was indeed an authentic Action Comics cover....Action Comics #188, to be precise...published in 1954. Somebody on director Brad Bird's Iron Giant staff had obviously done their homework, if not Brad "Incredibles" Bird himself (who's no slouch in the superhero knowledge category).
Well, considering I was both a die-hard Superman AND an Iron Giant fan, you can probably guess what came next. Yup. I had to own Action Comics #188, and that's all there was to it. In the age of eBay, it should have been a snap, right? Well, as I found out, it's a little trickier tracking down Golden Age era comics, especially with high-profile characters like Superman. I wasn't willing to pay the king's ransom some dealers wanted (especially those ridiculous plastic-slabbed "collector" copies), so it was a matter of finding the best condition book for the money I was willing to spend.
After a few months of patient persistence (not an easy trick in today's "I want it NOW" internet shopping world), I finally tracked down my copy (click the thumbnail for a detailed view of the actual comic book).
So, there you go. The bizarre obsessions and fixations that grip collectors like us can occasionally net you a little bit of magic, and a nifty little connection to a beloved film...transforming an obscure, nothing-special issue of Action Comics into "THE comic book" that inspired a noble robot.