Summer 80 – Dork Phoenix

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Picture this: A plane full of boys scouts, geeks & goobers takes off, and the moment the wheels are up the D&D books come out. As the flight makes its parabolic arc from central PA to Colorado, they attempt to play a game of Dungeons & Dragons across the seats. Several times die rolls go awry and the dice go bouncing down the aisle to the back of the plane where a bemused stewardess returns them. It is the summer of 1980 and I am flying out to Philmont Scout Ranch for a week in the wilderness with several dozen like-minded teens.

Even though we are headed for northern New Mexico, we fly into Denver at the start of our adventure. Our ad hoc scout troop, assembled from across the Keystone Area Council, boards a bus for the long trek south. Along the way we stop at the Flying W Ranch and go to a Pueblo Indian ceremony, all in an effort by someone to create the most ‘western’ experience possible. But little of it makes an impression on us for this was the summer of The Uncanny X-MEN and the Dark Phoenix Saga, arguably one of the greatest run of issues ever in comic book history.

I started out the trip with a short stack of comic books in my backpack and we passed them back and forth on the bus as we drove into the New Mexican desert, guys almost fighting over who got them next. It wasn’t just that we were that geeky, but that the story was that good.

Because this epic tale — which was to cement the future success of both the X-Men and Marvel Comics in general — was coming to a climax right in the middle of my trip west, I was always unsure if I’d find the next edition. I would run into every 7-11 we stopped near, desperately and excitedly spinning the rack of comic books to find the newest release. That summer was the high point of my interest in comic books, and over the six weeks of my vacation, seeking out the latest issue became one of the best treasure hunts I would ever experience.

By the end of our trip, I had accumulated a carton full of new and used titles. As exciting as the daily hunt was, it didn’t compare to Mile High Comics. On the outskirts of Denver, Mile High was THE biggest comic book store in the world at the time, a veritable Mecca for fan boys and collectors. Long before the direct market was invented, their advertisements for back issues were in every single comic book published at the time, and if they didn’t have it, nobody did. As my family pulled into Denver (I having now made a complete loop around the Rocky Mountains since arriving a month earlier), I convinced my dad to take us to the store. Like Mecca, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I don’t remember how much of an advance he gave me on my allowance, but I know I spent it all.

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