Brainiac On Banjo: Remember Nostalgia?

“Summer has come and passed. The innocent can never last. Wake me up when September ends.” From Wake Me Up When September Ends, written by Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt.

I remember nostalgia before it became an excuse to “fix” things. Whereas this applies to most aspects of modern-day life, it is a particularly dangerous weapon in the hands of comics people.

First, some background. Originally, the term “nostalgia” referred to a disease. According to The Atlantic magazine in 2013:

“These were some of the treatments proposed for nostalgia during the 17th to 19th centuries, when it was considered a psychopathological disorder – rather than a blanket term for fondness for anything that existed more than thirty minutes ago … Swiss physician Johannes Hofer coined the term in his 1688 medical dissertation, from the Greek nostos, or homecoming, and algos, or pain. The disease was similar to paranoia, except the sufferer was manic with longing, not perceived persecution, and similar to melancholy, except specific to an object or place.”

I first heard about the nostalgia disease a very long time ago. At that time, this diagnosis made complete sense to me. Sadly, it still does.

This brings me to the subject of Mystery In Space #75. This truly historic (by the standards of the medium back then) single issue went on sale March 6, 1962, which means I was 11 years old at the time. In other words, I was the exact age DC Comics was targeting. They figured out I was about two years away from the habit-destroying affects of puberty. If you want to quibble about “historic,” DC did a facsimile edition reprint in 2020; of course, the original cost 12 cents and the reprint $3.99, which is almost four times the rate of inflation. I think it’s safe to say the intended audience was significantly older than in 1962, the field fraught with victims of nostalgia.

You will please note the cover of that issue. It says “Mystery In Space,” and the phrases “Adam Strange” and the title “The Planet That Came to a Standstill!” Below all that, at the very bottom of the cover in the smallest type on the page is a very subtle head’s-up: “Featuring a SUPER-GUEST appearance by the Justice League of America!”

The Justice League Of America is not shown on that cover in any way. Neither Superman, Batman, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, The Martian Manhunter, nor Wonder Woman were shown at the point of sale. They even ignored mascot Snapper Carr, for crying out loud.

Then again, the names of those who created the story — Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino, and Murphy Anderson — were nowhere to be found on the house ad, the cover, or the non-existent interior credits listing.

To tell you the truth (tempered by editor Julius Schwartz’s recollections), the entire story was inspired by a mistake in an earlier issue of Justice League. The team was sitting around their nifty table tossing out suggestions for new members. Adam Strange’s name was brought forward. Not a single JLAer stood up and said “Who the hell is that?” At that point in DC’s continuity, such as it was, no member of the Justice League had ever met Adam Strange. Quite frankly, the idea of recruiting a guy who’s only unique ability was to disappear so that he might see his squeeze on another planet was a bit of a reach.

Just imagine if that story had been published today. First, it would be a 12 issue miniseries. Second, it would probably be a “Black Label” event; that audience of 11 year-olds couldn’t afford it so why orient it towards them? There would be multiple printings each with their own covers. There would be so many variant covers that DC later would collect them into an even more expensive hardcover edition. “Adam Strange” would be in, at best, the same sized type as the JLA. “Mystery in Space” would be nowhere to be found.

The reader reaction to simply stumbling across this issue, discovering it was the most astonishing crossover in comics to date (crossovers were a very big deal back then) and only paying $1.25 — in 2024 dollars — is incomprehensible.

But things were different in 1962. Nobody predicted the popularity of “event comics” back then, but they knew from good stories. Editors and publishers were under the strange illusion that good stories sold comic books.

Those of us geriatric fanboys who wistfully recall such subtle thrills are victims of nostalgia, defining that term in the manner used by Doctor Hofer. Clearly, that dude was right on the money!