It's the paper.
I'm talking about the cheap newsprint that most comics used to be printed on that delivers a smell that is intoxicating in its nostalgia. Modern comics may have better quality paper and printing techniques, but what they don't, and won't, have is the magical gift of memory that older comics have baked into their slowly eroding pages.
Like a favorite old song that suddenly comes on the radio and takes you back to a certain moment in your life, so too do old comics create personal time warps. Who doesn't have a comic book that brings back specific memories?
The other day, while on my eternal attempt to organize all my 'comics stuff' (as my kids call it), I stumbled across my complete run of Dazzler. As some folks may know, I have a rather irrational affection for Marvel's onetime disco queen. Anyway, I found myself staring at issue #3, which is actually the very first Dazzler comic I ever purchased. As soon as I took the comic out of the bag, I turned the pages and the smell of decaying newsprint transported me back to 1981... and the UtoteM store in Miami where I spotted it on the spinner rack.
Funny how that can happen. You could threaten me with bodily harm and I probably couldn't remember what I had for lunch a week ago but the day I bought this comic is ingrained in me, along with useless details like how I jaywalked across Sunset Drive at night to get to the store (I lived on the edge as a child).
As comics go, the premise was rather pedestrian and even silly: Dazzler, the roller skating singing mutant, was going toe-to-toe with Doctor Doom! What?!
Look, I was but a young lad who didn't any better. In those days, a good cover was enough to justify dropping my 40 cents on a comic. And that Brent Anderson cover, inked by Joe Sinnott, was a stunner. Dazzler stopping dead in her tracks in front of Doom. In comics, the cover is supposed to compel you, to demand, that you buy the book. The cover to that Dazzler issue did its job quite well.
Whenever people ask me why I have such affection for a second-tier character who hasn't really ever escaped her instantly-dated disco beginnings, I mention Dazzler #3. When I invariably get the eyerolls and the jokes — and over the years, I've caught endless amounts of grief from my friends for my Dazzler fandom — I point out that much like your favorite sports teams, you don't pick the comics you love. Sometimes, they pick you. At age nine, you don't really know any better, but a Dazzler fan I am.
In recent years, I've noticed the Dazzler bandwagon is growing. She's become a character with a fan base maybe big enough to have something to do with her making a cameo in the last X-Men movie, Dark Phoenix (2019).
For me though, she's always going to be the headliner of a random comic I purchased on a whim back in the days when life was simpler. That's the power contained within old, slowly decaying paper. The smell is a portal to the past, reminding you of a time in life when all you wanted, all that was needed, was a great story.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.