In my new book on the Black Panther, I say this about Stan Lee and Marvel:
Growing up as a superhero-obsessed tyke in the 1970s, I saw the 1967 Spider-Man animated series (the one often called Spiderman, mistakenly without the hyphen between “Spider” and “Man”) and the Batman and Superman live-action series every weekday in second-run syndication and watched every version of The Superfriends every Saturday morning on ABC. I even devoured those gawd-awful Spider-Man live-action specials on CBS, as well as the two almost-as-bad Captain America and Dr. Strange movies that aired on that network. The fact that CBS aired quality live-action superhero shows like The Incredible Hulk and, in its second and third seasons, Wonder Woman (a refugee from ABC) almost made up for those terrible also-rans. And of course, I loved Superman: The Movie.
During that decade, I slowly discovered comicbooks. Marvel became my favorite. I think that was due to my all-time favorite characters, The Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer, with Captain America as a runner-up. (I count the FF as one character.) My fifth-grade teacher had a copy of Bring On The Bad Guys, the third volume of the Simon and Schuster trade paperbacks that reprinted early Marvel stories with writer Stan Lee’s introductions. That’s where I discovered the FF, The Surfer and Cap in separate epic tales.
I still remember my shock when I found out that my favorites had been animated! Hanna-Barbera decided to syndicate, as a weekday “wheel,” all its 1960s Saturday morning superhero-action fare. Hanna-Barbera’s World of Super-Adventure, as the syndication wheel called itself, became my all-time favorite animated series, right next to Marvel Men, the second-run syndication of the 1966 Marvel Superheroes animated show (happily, Cap was a feature), and Superheroes!, the syndicated daily run of the Filmation 1960s DC animated cartoons of the same time. The H-B series, I quickly found out, had a Fantastic Four cartoon! I sat in front of the television every weekday, waiting to see if The Fantastic Four would come on. I was often disappointed, but I learned about great Hanna-Barbara superheroes like Space Ghost, Birdman and other characters. When I saw the FF and my other all-time favorite character, The Silver Surfer, fight some giant named Galactus, in front of another giant named The Watcher, I lost my mind and became a one-person [San Diego Comic-Con] Hall H, a certified Marvel Zombie. I never looked back.
But there was more. A few years after that, into the ’80s, I enjoyed Stan’s narration of “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends,” Marvel and NBC’s answer to DC and ABC’s “Superfriends.”
And then there was that time in 1990, when, now the ripe old age of 22, I wrote a Star-Ledger feature on the first Todd McFarlane Spider-Man issue. I interviewed The Man himself on the phone. Being new to the pressures of daily journalism, I actually asked him to slow down while he was talking! He said directly that if I couldn’t keep up he wouldn’t continue the interview. That was GREAT training for me, for at the end of that conversation, I learned how to take notes over the phone. He sent me a form letter after the article appeared that of course I cherished.
I really, really, really wish he had stopped being in denial about standing idly by, playing innocent, while his cousin-in-law, Martin Goodman, cheated and reneged on Jack Kirby. I really wished he would have asked Jack to use the Silver Surfer, instead of taking it from him. Although I think many people forget that Stan was Jack (and Steve Ditko’s) boss, I think these questions are more than fair, and should not be shunted out of politeness.
Stan, along with Jack and Steve, were responsible for three out of every five of my childhood smiles. That is how I will always remember all three of them.
An American Odyssey: The Life and Work and Romare Bearden.
Mary Schmidt Campbell.
Oxford University Press, 464 pp. $34.95.
As the third decade of the 21st century swiftly approaches, it might be difficult for some fine artists under 35 to understand a time when the self(ie) was not unapologetically at the center of the artistic experience. The first biography of Bearden in almost 20 years, and clearly the fullest, Campbell–who knew the author, trading letters with him going back to the 1970s–has crafted a quality book about 20th- and 21st-century Black ritually- and visually-based aesthetics through American history’s prism. (The fact that, as Campbell writes, “Bearden seemed to delight in exploring the use of color” has a acute, and subtle, significance.) With a lack of dangerous 20th century socio-political action and adventure to reconstruct, Campbell, president of Spelman College and a former leader in the New York City artistic community, must go around and through the topic, briefly profiling the many artists in his orbit, such as Aaron Douglas, Charles Alston and Augusta Savage. She documents well, and with great care, his artists’ organizing efforts, his many important writings and his forgotten early-political cartoonist career. What was most important to this reviewer is her detailed, and thoughtful, placement of Bearden at the slow-but-perfect storm of the development of 20th century American media, technology, popular culture and racial struggle. Although Campbell’s theme of the Black American Odysseus is sound, this book is actually about how someone fed on the European art classics and the organic African-American experience (of Harlem and Pittsburgh) slowly realizes something when the latter becomes in vogue in the 1960s (perhaps not-so-coincidentally), allowing him to ultimately collage his being fully as both an artist and a Black man: that being and presenting one’s Black self in New York City, the then-new center of the art world in the center of the century, forever seeing and remembering, is more than profound enough.
So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized History of Battlestar Galactica.
Mark A. Altman & Edward Gross.
Tor Books. 718 pp., $27.99.
No, it wasn’t the record-breaking-rated, universally-loved show it is now seen as, almost ten years after it ended. No, it wasn’t unconditionally loved and cherished by its network–until the awards and critical acclaim came in, and the showrunners announced that the fourth season would be its last. From its beginnings 40 years ago as an often ill-fated attempt to bring the visual and spiritual power of Star Wars to ABC primetime screens every week, to its let’s-kill-every-rule-Star-Trek-ever-had-and-hold-up-a-mirror 21st century Sci-Fi (now SyFy) Channel revival during the post-911/War on Terror years, Battlestar Galactica was almost always an acquired taste, a pleasant, almost-mainstream discovery. But how powerful the concoction! Altman and Gross, who interview as many cast and crew members that a human mind can absorb on a given page, take us step by step through the mythology as it developed, the last three words being key; perhaps the biggest shock of the book–practically its thru line–is how much of the new version was editorially done on the fly, and how its showrunners, Ronald D. Moore and the series’ often-unsung hero, David Eick, trusted its writers to fly Galactica–a complex series about race/identity and its connection to current politics, ancient Earth history and world religion–to a powerful, albeit controversial to many, end. What a great way for Altman and Gross to end a trilogy (four books, technically) of fan-favorites–Star Trek, then Buffy/Angel, and now BSG. These kind of books, especially with its oral history formats, take the rabid deep into the rabbit(-ears) whole, allowing the reader to see into the experience, and stay there. For a BSG fan, this is essential, since the series presented much but purposely answered little.
Even putting on my media historian’s hat, it is difficult for me to explain how important The Voice was to American journalism.
Once upon a time (at least from the 1970s through the 1990s), it was the place for uncompromising political and cultural journalism. It was required reading for people who wanted to absorb (as a reader) or master (as a writer) the now-dying art of longform mass-media journalism.
The Voice was important to me because I read there important Black writers such as Thulani Davis, Lisa Jones, Greg Tate, Peter Noel and Joe Wood. (I never forgot Wood’s 5,000+ profile of Albert Murray in the paper’s famous annual Arts Supplement pullout.) The Voice essay that still shakes me to this day is Joan Morgan‘s “A Blackwoman’s Guide To The [Mike] Tyson Trial,” an article that introduced me to sexual harassment, misogyny and rape culture.
It was for people who wanted hardcore journalism. It showed me you didn’t have to be at The New York Times or The New Yorker to kick journalistic ass in New York! It made me want to be a real writer who wrote longform narrative journalism in nuance and detail. After I finish the book I’m writing, I’m going to do just that.
Yep, I watched Aretha ALL DAY Friday on the livestream. Even after-the-fact caught Meghan McCain’s tribute to her daddy yesterday.
Okay, I see most of the news coverage about Queen Ree-Ree is about how the bishop enjoyed himself a little too much with Ariana Grande, who, telling the truth, was wearing a little too little for church. 🙂 And no, Bill Clinton did not keep his eyes in his head, but, c’mon, everyone saw that coming. 🙂 ) But I had one question and three comments:
- Why didn’t Minister Louis Farrkahan speak, or get to speak, at the funeral? All the other dignities–former President Bill Clinton, Rev. Al Sharpton, Michael Eric Dyson, and Rev. Jesse Jackson–sat with him, and they all spoke. Also: I’m glad some people noticed what I did–that he was being constantly cropped out of the shots, both photo and live video. He sat up there a long time to get gipped like that in public, if that’s what indeed happened. Whether he got cut from the pulpit or not, at least it seemed that he was enjoying himself. [OCT. 22 UPDATE: Richard Prince tells me today he didn’t want to speak, but he wanted to show up to thank the Queen for what she did for him in 1972 (!)].
- I think I was in the kitchen when U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters gave the Wakandan salute. Just found out about that while researching this post.
- The MSM are focused on Dyson’s slamming of Trump. But I appreciated his shade on Obama. Without referring to him by name, Dyson said “some” (meaning you, Daddy-O) were too afraid to come and stand in front of the entire Black community –which, FOX News’ confusion be damned, includes Farrakhan! (Sharpton read a letter from 44.) I’m not the biggest Dyson fan by a looong shot, but I appreciated that!
- As far as John McCain is concerned, well……let’s just say that if Angela Davis–an American hero!–becomes an Ancestor before me, I look forward to hearing tributes to her courage from the Right, Center and Center-Left (liberals). 🙂