I’m not sure what initially (please forgive the pun) drew me to comics and superheroes. The genre was not nearly as popular then as it is now so it wasn’t a social thing. I liked the art…but there was something about the idea of making people safe and avenging wrongs that really appealed to me. Having endured varying degrees of pain at the hands of others I liked the idea of someone preventing that sort of thing.
My cousin Gary introduced me to comics in the early sixties but the hook was set during the summer of 1964 not too long after the Good Friday earthquake. I can trace my interest to three specific issues:
- Detective Comics # 327 “ The Mystery of The Menacing Mask”
- World’s Finest #142 “The Composite Superman”
- Justice League of America “29 “Crisis on Earth-Three.”
My buddies and I had a great time reading comics as well as trying to draw them and make the uniforms but it all came to a screeching halt at the end of the summer when my dad’s employment required a moved down to the Kenai Peninsula where we settled on a 5 acre ranch miles from any other kids.
It wasn’t just the distance either. Living in Spenard meant that the roads were regularly plowed, which (when you considered the streets in the Tip-Top trailer court) meant there were a lot of places to play in the winter time. In Sterling nothing other than the road in front of our place was plowed, and as kicking your way through endless drifts of snow was not very conducive to effective crime fighting winter was spent making my equipment.
I had been a Batman fan before the TV series so it was no surprise that I wanted a utility belt. I managed to get an old cartridge belt which resisted every effort with paint or fabric dye so I set it aside and started on Batarangs. The first one was carefully carved out of balsa in a proper airfoil profile, but that profile and the light weight made the ‘rang flutter like a maple leaf seed pod every time I tried to throw it. I also had very little faith in its ability to support my weight in the event I was able to somehow get it hooked on the roof with 550 cord attached.
Enter Batarang 2.0. After I managed to hack the Batarang shape out of some ¼” plywood scrap I was still unsure of its strength so I attached a grappling hook along the center. It was a great grappling hook – a U-shaped piece of metal with 4″ arms that spanned a three inch gap and even had a hole drilled in one of the arms sized perfectly for tying 550 cord. Unfortunately I didn’t realize it was a magnet – and a particularly strong one to boot. Strong enough to pop out of my hand and scratch the paint on the refrigerator as I was carrying Batarang 2.0 through the kitchen.
The atypical flower drawing that appeared taped over the scratch was a real hit with my mom…which was much, much nicer than the “real hit” I would have gotten had she seen the scratch before the flower appeared.
Exit Batarang 2.0.
Continuing with the non-powered hero theme I tried making Captain America’s shield – which worked quite nicely. I found an extra trash can lid and using small nuts, bolts and lock-washers I attached a handle made from a strap of rubber cut from a discarded inner tube. The elastic strap held the shield on my arm nicely and the shield was extremely accurate when thrown, even when making a deflection shot, which I learned to my dismay when knocking my sister over while leading her with my throw as she ran across the yard.
Exit Captain America’s shield.
As Marvel comics were the exclusive domain of my buddies’ big brothers, I was slow to pick up on Spiderman. However, given Marvel’s skyrocketing popularity it was inevitable that I’d soon “Make Mine Marvel” and I got in a good start on a Spiderman outfit with a red ski mask I’d gotten the winter before. Even better: medical emergencies forced the prior owners of the ranch to move out rather precipitously and in the rush they left a treasure trove of cool “stuff”, including some fishing nets which were soon to become Spiderman’s web.
I spent an afternoon designing and modifying the nets into a hemisphere of mesh that would instantly immobilize my foe – which I knew would work because I drew a picture of it working. Now I needed to test it.
(At this point you’re wondering how kids living out in a 17 year old forest-fire burn could come up with anything remotely like the urban environment Batman and Spiderman worked in. We lucked out – the original homesteaders made several sheds and outbuildings, all with flat roofs in order to speed construction and conserve wood. Add to that the several stacks of crates, lumber and “sh-tuff” that Dad constantly collected and you got a sprawling multi-level play area that stood in quite well for Whatever City)
I planned my test well. I climbed up on the top of the front shed and laid out my net so it was ready to throw. I cannily lured a sister into going into the shed by way of the door just below me.
“Hey – there’s some Trix just inside the shed!”
You have to understand that with my mom’s passion – nay mania for proper nutrition there was a better chance of heroin showing up on our property than Trix so my sister made a beeline for the shed. As I heard her enter the door I threw the net over the edge then dropped back down giggling, waiting for my sister to thrash about in frustration at being immobilized by my net-web… just like the guy in the diagram was thrashing.
Where’s the cereal? Did you eat it all? I’m telling?
IT DIDN’T WORK! The net had stayed in place for all of 7 seconds before it fell off my sister of its own accord. I knew there had to be a way to make this net-web work so I went back to the drawing board.
(Actually it was a kid-record cover drawing board but let’s not get too technical)
Enter Spiderman Net-Web 2.0. I had found an old chain in a pile of sh-tuff in the shed and laboriously stitched the chain around the net-hemisphere from my first attempt. At this point caution should have kicked in because it was not a watch chain or a tie-up-the-Chihuahua chain I was using – it was logging chain with three inch links. It would be more a matter of me dragging the chain to the edge of the roof than it was of deftly tossing it, but feeling much smarter than a fifth-grader I set up the same testing procedure:
- Hide on the shed roof
- Lure the sister-now-designated super villain into shed with promises of Trix
- Trap herwith the net and watch her thrash about in frustration at being immobilized by my net-web just like the guy in my diagram was thrashing.
Except this time there was a thud. Followed by a bellow that did not sound like a fifth grader crying.
I’d hit her – on the head. I thought for a minute about what my options were as a responsible older brother, then immediately ran to the back of the shed, down the piled crates and on out into the brush on the back end of the ranch. In my flight I had the presence of mind to ditch my red-ski mask, thereby rendering me indistinguishable from the hundreds of other chunky thirteen year olds in the area, but other than that I drew a blank for an escape plan so I found a small tree just out of sight of the house to hide behind and wait for my impending doom.
They say when death is eminent your life passes before your eyes; at thirteen I had so little to see that I had to ask for a re-run. I thought again about an escape plan and again came up dry. I heard the station wagon rattle back from Mom’s grocery run over at the Wildwood AFS commissary and flinched; waiting for that terrifying cry “DAVID RALPH DEITRICK!” but it never came. Finally ravenous hunger forced me back to the house ( it had been two whole hours since lunch) so I trudged back up to the house to face the music, my death or (gasp) two hours weeding the garden.
I walked in the back door to be met by my mom’s glare. I flinched, waiting for sentence to be carried out. “Where were you? I needed help unloading the car. No “Batman” for two weeks”
As she left the kitchen I slumped in the middle of the kitchen, amazed at my continued existence in this mortal sphere. I started to snicker until I idly started looking around at the debris left from unloading the groceries. My sister (who until recently was a super-villain) was at the end of the table, grinning wickedly at me. Instead of picking at the remains of the usual grocery-day treats like yogurt or bran muffins she was slurping up the contents of the only two boxes of Trix from the package of individual serving cartons of cereal that Mom had inexplicably bought this time at the store.
My first lesson on how karma can be so incredibly cruel…