Here in the glamorous Internet Age, anyone with a computer and a keyboard can instantly tell a waiting world why the comic book they just read rox/sux.
However, there was a time when the only place fans could publicly express their like (or dislike) of a story was on a comic book's letter page. Chosen by the title's editor (or, in some cases, the writer), a few lucky fans would get the opportunity to share their opinion with not only the creators, but a captive audience of fellow fans as well. In fact, some of the most prolific fans had letters printed almost every month in a variety of titles, becoming minor celebrities in their own right.
The rest of us could never hope to be a Dale L. Coe, Kent A. Phenis or the late, great T.M. Maple (a.k.a. Jim Burke) because...well...I guess we just didn't have much to say. Of course, that's never stopped us here in the 21st century blogosphere, but back when the lag time between writing the letter and its (highly unlikely) publication was at least four months, that pretty much let all the air out of our tires. That, and the fact that most of us didn't have the slightest idea of how to write a literate, entertaining letter.
Ah, but despite being only 13 years old, a story in Iron Man #132 (1980) inspired me to buck the odds and write my first letter to a comic book letters page. At the time, the Hulk was my favorite comic book character, and I was expecting my guy to turn Tony Stark into Scrap Iron Man. As it turned out, Iron Man turned the tables and defeated the Hulk by focusing all of his armor's power into a single punch, then promptly collapsing afterward.
Well, as you can imagine, I wasn't too happy about that...and sent a letter off to Printed Circuits, the official Iron Man letters page. As I mentioned before, the lag time between the issue number and its letter page commentary was at least four or five months, so, being a mercurial 13 year old boy, I most likely forgot all about my letter.
Flash forward a whopping six months later when, on a whim, I picked up Iron Man #138, cuz hey...a Dreadnought was on the cover! When I got to the letters page, you can imagine my utter flabbergastery when I saw my own name and address staring back at me. There it was! They published it! I was "in"! Like Ralphie in awe of his Red Ryder theme paper in A Christmas Story, I re-read my letter as if it were a blistering Wall Street Journal editorial, or the watertight closing argument of Perry Mason.
Here it is:
Obviously, my razor-sharp logic...backed up by devastating citations from other comics...must have silenced the Marvel Bullpen, right? Wrong! Iron Man writer David Michelinie himself jumped to the defense of his story...
Ouch! Even twenty-seven years later, that slap-down still hurts!
Seriously, it was a blast getting a letter printed...and it would happen one more time in a Superman letters page a few years later (I'll get to that another day). I have to admit, it does feel kinda cool having made it into a pre-internet letters page, back when it actually felt like an accomplishment having your opinion out there for all to see. For that matter, it'll be there for all time, printed in the back of an actual comic book...still floating around in collections around the world. It's only a molecule of "immortality", to be sure, but "Fanboy Valhalla" nonetheless.
Now, before I break out into the theme song from Fame, it sould be noted that my letters page debut was overshadowed somewhat by the appearance of a letters page Golden Boy, the aforementioned Dale L. Coe!
"For letters like yours, Dale? Definitely!"
See what I mean? Golden Boy.