On Wednesday morning, President Barack Obama announced his nominee for the Supreme Court: Merrick Garland, a federal judge originally from Chicago ... who also happens to be a comic-book fan, according to the President. In his speech, President Obama mentioned that, to pay his way through Harvard, Garland had to sell his comic-book collection. “It’s tough. Been there,” the president sympathized, having identified himself as a comic-book fan in the past.
But now that we know that he had a collection, a more important question arises: What was in it?
Sadly, it’s a question to which we may never know the answer, but that’s never stopped a good nerd like me from wildly speculating about it. We can look at the trends and key moments in comics from the years Chief Judge Garland was in high school (when, for simplicity’s sake, I shall assume his collection was amassed) to take some guesses at what the possible Supreme Court Justice may have been reading. It’s a question we’re asking for fun, but it may just provide a unique look at what stories and heroes may have helped shaped his imagination — and sense of justice — at a young age.
TALES OF SUSPENSE VOL. 1 #63
(1965, by Stan Lee and Don Heck)
As a future judge, it’s not a huge leap to guess that Merrick Garland might have been a Captain America fan as a kid. If he was, he wouldn’t have missed this issue, which re-told Captain America’s origin to Silver Age audiences for the first time since the Avengers had defrosted him.
METAMORPHO VOL. 1 #1
(1965, by Bob Haney and Ramona Fradon)
If Judge Garland liked his comics a bit on the weird side, Metamorpho might have been more his speed. A grotesque superhero who can transmute himself into anything on the periodic table, the classic character got his own series in August of 1965, following his introduction in The Brave and the Bold a few months earlier.
FANTASTIC FOUR VOL. 1 #49
(1966, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four was the driving creative force of the Marvel Universe — and arguably all of comic books — for most of the 1960s, and Judge Garland would have been just the right age to catch the series when it was in its prime. The most beloved arc of the series “The Galactus Trilogy,” spanned issues #48-50 of the series and introduced the planet-eater and his herald the Silver Surfer for the first time.
FANTASTIC FOUR VOL. 1 #52
(1966, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)
If he was reading Fantastic Four, he’s probably looking forward to Captain America: Civil War, which introduces Black Panther to the MCU. The first black superhero in comics, Black Panther made his first appearance in Fantastic Four #52, a bold move that probably wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by a teenager who grew up in Chicago during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
TEEN TITANS VOL. 1 #1
(1966, by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy)
What teenager of '60s could have resisted a team of superheroes that were just like them? After teaming-up in issues of The Brave and the Bold and Showcase, sidekicks Wonder Girl, Aqualad, Kid Flash and Robin were given their own series Teen Titans, which quickly became an iconic part of the DC Universe.
BATMAN VOL. 1 #181
(1966, by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff)
Bruce Wayne probably isn’t the type of hero anyone would want a judge to look up to, but if Garland was following the dark knight’s adventures at the time, he would have been introduced to several exciting new villains plaguing Gotham City. Poison Ivy took her spot among the best immediately by taking out who she perceived to be the three best female criminals in the city: Dragon Fly, Silken Spider, and Tiger Moth. Considering I don’t know who any of them are, I’d say her plan worked.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN VOL. 1 #50
(1967, by Stan Lee and John Romita)
“With great power there must also come great responsibility” is a lesson all elected officials should take to heart, so we can only hope Judge Garland read some Spider-Man comics growing up. One of the most well-known stories in Spidey’s history is “Spider-Man No More!” from Amazing Spider-Man #50, when Peter Parker’s faith in that virtue is tested and he briefly gives up being Spider-Man.
SUPERMAN VOL. 1 #199
(1967, by Jim Shooter and Curt Swan)
Politicians are no strangers to high-stakes races — and neither are superheroes. The one that started it all was the infamous race around the world between Superman and the Flash for the title of “The Fastest Man Alive.” We’ll leave it to the courts to decide if being Kryptonian should be a disqualification.
BATMAN VOL. 1 #189
(1967, by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff)
A good judge knows how to put his or her personal fears aside and address problems rationally and unemotionally. This is a value Judge Garland may have learned alongside Batman and Robin as the dynamic duo battled the fear-inducing devices of the Scarecrow, making his first appearance since 1943.
GHOST RIDER VOL. 1 #1
(1967, by Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas and Dick Ayers)
If Garland was more a fan of westerns, he may have been inclined to pick up the first issue of Ghost Rider — just not the fiery-skulled Ghost Rider you’re thinking of. Marvel’s first character going by that name was a vigilante in the Wild West who dressed in all white and rode a ghostly white horse, based on a nearly identical character from the late '40s whose rights had lapsed.
NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD VOL. 1 #1
(1968, by Jim Steranko)
There were few artists in the late 1960s that would go on to be more influential than Jim Steranko, the escape artist-turned-musician-turned-artist who is most well-known for his work on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Steranko’s covers on the series are particularly iconic for their use of surrealist art techniques that were new to the medium. He’s returned to Marvel recently for a series of covers celebrating another character he was known for drawing, Captain America.
CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 1 #100
(1968, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)
Despite the triple digits, Captain America #100 was actually the first issue of a stand-alone series, continuing the numbering from Tales of Suspense, which he’d shared with Iron Man. This would have been the first time a Captain America series was on the stands since Garland was two years old, so if he was a fan of the character, he almost certainly had a copy in his collection.
IRON MAN VOL. 1 #1
(1968, by Archie Goodwin and Gene Colan)
The other half of the Tales of Suspense split, the “Golden Avenger” got his own book for the very first time in the humbly-titled The Invicible Iron Man. A politically astute student would have found a lot to dig into in the character’s '60s appearances, which dealt with Cold War themes in addition to his origin’s ties to the Vietnam War.
DOCTOR STRANGE VOL. 1 #169
(1968, by Roy Thomas and Dan Adkins)
In yet another new title created out of a broken up anthology, the Sorcerer Supreme was granted his own book after sharing Strange Tales with Nick Fury, and began by re-telling the Doctor’s origin. The re-telling took the full issue, a much-expanded version of the original story from Strange Tales #115, which told the whole origin in only seven pages.
HOUSE OF MYSTERY VOL. 1 #179
(1969, by E. Nelson Bridwell, Marv Wolfman, Howie Post, Jerry Grandenetti, Bernie Wrightson and Neal Adams)
Another genre that might have piqued the interest of a young Merrick Garland is horror, and if he was reading horror in the late '60s, he was almost certainly reading DC’s weird anthology House of Mystery. Having recently returned to its supernatural horror roots under the direction of EC Comics horror veteran Joe Orlando, the series made its first of many marks on comics history in issue #179, when it publishing the first work of legendary artist Bernie Wrightson — most well-known for his illustrated version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
ADVENTURE COMICS VOL. 1 #381
(1969, by Cary Bates and Win Mortimer)
Girl power was making waves at DC at the time, with Batgirl being introduced in Detective Comics #359 in 1967, followed a couple years later by Supergirl getting her first series when she took over the lead of Adventure Comics with issue #381. Her run lasted until #424, followed by her own self-titled series in 1972. Hopefully, the powerful women the judge was exposed to in comic books had a positive effect on his view of women going forward
CONAN THE BARBARIAN VOL. 1 #1
(1970, by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith)
One experience Judge Garland may have shared with President Obama is picking up the first issue of Conan the Barbarian — a character that the President has admitted a fondness for during his comic book-reading days. The leader of the free world’s fandom even led to a parody comic called Barack the Barbarian. Conan arrived toward the end of Garland’s possible collecting career, but it’s possible a familiarity with the character didn’t hurt his chances at nomination.
DETECTIVE COMICS VOL. 1 #400
(1970, Frank Robbins, Dennis O’Neil, Neal Adams, and Gil Kane)
One of the biggest releases of the year Garland went off to Harvard was Detective Comics #400, which was celebrating a landmark issue by debuting a frightening new rogue for Gotham’s gallery: Man-Bat. The issue featured a lead story with artwork by iconic Batman artist Neal Adams — who is still redefining DC’s heroes 46 years later.
GREEN LANTERN VOL. 2 #76
(1970, by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams)
Just as Judge Garland’s time as a comics fan was ending, so, too, was the era of comics known as the Silver Age, which was marked by a renaissance of the superhero genre and a boom in sales. One of the stories that comic historians consider as a possible beginning of the subsequent Bronze Age was the Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up story that featured Oliver Queen teaching Hal Jordan about the plight of the common American that he had been ignoring as he flew high above them. Judge Garland may have missed out on this story, but perhaps it would be a good place to start again and see what he’s missed.