Around the same time the X-Men cartoon debuted on Fox in late 1992, my older cousin Matthew began collecting Spider-Man comics and Marvel Universe trading cards. Truth be told, he might have been collecting them long before this but after being made aware of the Marvel Universe through X-Men: The Animated Series, I took notice of my cousin's collection. I distinctly remember a family get together at my late great grandmother's house in East Tennessee. I think most of the adults were playing volleyball. I was looking at a binder full of Matthew's Marvel Universe III trading cards.
There's going to be a whole other post about trading cards, the little pieces of pop art that I collected, traded, sold, reorganized and made like a mad man in my youth. But these cards introduced me to the wide world of Marvel. As a kid in 1992, Marvel had virtually no presence in mass media. Yeah, their comics were selling like hot cakes (half robotic hot cakes from the future...with big guns) but their presence was, well, non-existant on TV and especially in movies. I loved Batman from the Tim Burton movie that I was definitely too young to understand and the 1960s Adam West series shown on Nick @ Nite. And Superman, he sure didn't have any tv series or movies in 1992 but man, you can't escape Superman. He's the default superhero. He's who Gonzo turns into when he becomes a hero. Seeing a new whole world right in front of me, and a couple of the faces I recognized (Wolverine, Gambit), was fascinating.
From that point on, most of my interactions with my cousins hinged upon trading X-Men cards and playing X-Men. We would create characters, write comics, draw, etc. It was pretty creative. Unlike the G.I. Joe and Ninja Turtles crazes of our youth, this new craze was not defined by action figures. While I did own and play with the X-Men figures (I was 8), I don't recall loading them all up and taking them with me to East Tennessee every couple months like I did with my G.I. Joes. This had to have made my dad happy, who always wondered why I couldn't just play with Travis and Tyler's G.I. Joes. He just didn't understand that my characters had to meet theirs in a bloody battle (one instance left Dr. Mindbender broken in pieces to be buried). My other pair of cousins, while we rarely played with the figures together, did enjoy them as much as me. Whereas I had X-Men figures, Matthew and Andrew had Spider-Man figures and built many elaborate cardboard warehouses and headquarters for them. I always envied their craftsmanship and their constant presence of a playmate. But then again, I probably didn't need anyone in the way of my plastic storytelling.
One night, maybe Easter 1993 (most of my East Tennessee visits occurred around holidays), our X-Mania reached a zenith. It was the rare occassion that all five cousins got to spend the night at my grandparents' cabin (usually I'd spend a night with Travis and Tyler, the next night with Matthew and Andrew, and I wouldn't sleep any since I rarely slept well away from home). Anyway, all five of us decided to play X-Men at night and outside! This intense battle lasted until it was time for us to go inside. And what did we do? We played X-Men some more! In one of the closets that we called the Danger Room! Where we would beat each other up! Whoah! The grand plan for the evening, as I recall, was to sneak out of the cabin and go to our grandparents neighboring cabin that we had just replaced. I'm not sure if it had been sold at that point, but we all assumed we could find the keys and get in so we could have a night full of eating candy (yep, this was Easter) and reading comics. And this wasn't dangerous at all, since the cabin is seriously maybe 50 yards away from the current cabin, with nothing but a steep decline and incline between them.
This did not happen.
Me and Andrew, the two youngest cousins, got to sleep in the back bedroom and the other three were forced to sleep in the living room where my grandfather was still watching TV. I remember Andrew and me listening at our door to him yell at the other three, telling them to go to bed while he watched (probably) a gospel show on TNN (The Nashville Network). Andrew and I, though, did eat candy and read comics galore. This is why my copy of X-Men Adventures #4 has chocolate on the back of it.
A couple years later, the collectible card game Overpower hit Electronics Boutique and Toys 'R' Us stores across Tennessee, and the impact on our lives was felt for a year. The card game replaced the old trading cards and action figure play and extended my cousins' (mainly Matthew and Tyler) interest in comics for a little while longer. We would seriously play and trade everywhere, from my grandparents' van to Prospect Baptist Church. I never, ever, won a game but I did have fun.
Then something happened. I guess we all hit puberty, went to high school, I made friends at home to be nerdy with, and my family seemed to cut back on trips to East Tennessee. Much like the kids on the playground in the previous blog, I was left holding the comic book mania torch while the rest of my cousins moved on to other things. This turned out to be okay since I got all of Matthew's Amazing Spider-Man and various other Spidey comics out of it. In recent years, Matthew has come back to the nerd kingdom and I again have a family member to talk comics with. So I got all his old comics and an adult x-cousin to talk to.
I guess it all worked out.