Spider-Man

It was to my great delight to find out last week that Spider-Man No Way Home won the Kid’s Choice Award for best live-action movie.  As I wrote several weeks back the latest Spider-Man film should have received an Oscar nod for best picture.  But Hollywood, as we saw at the Academy Awards Ceremony, is not only full of snobs but a bad indicator of a good movie.  Kid’s on the other hand see the truth, sometimes to the dismay of adults as in The Emperor’s New Clothes.  They live more” in the moment” than most adults do and therefore can see more than most adults can see.  If a kid says something is good or bad, it’s best to pay attention.

Stan Lee got his start in comics while still a teenager.  He went to work for Timely Comics as a writer somewhere in the late thirties or very early 40s.  Lee worked for Timely for 20 years until that fateful day when his boss asked him to come up with a Superhero team comic book to go head to head with DC’s Justice League of America.  Lee teamed up with Jack Kirby and The Fantastic Four was born.  The Marvel Legends began.

What many people don’t realize is that Lee was ready to give up working in comics just before that fateful day.  He had enough writing thinly veiled comics that copied whatever was popular at the time.  In other words, if Zorro was popular, Lee would write a Zorro-type character and sell it.  Anything for the company to make a quick buck.  Really The Fantastic Four was a to be a copy of The Justice League, except for the fact that The Fantastic Four acted like a team only when they had to, they were no Justice League.  The League had honor and high moral standards.  Heck, they were indeed super friends.  The Fantastic Four could just barely tolerate each other.  They brought true human problems and emotions, including resentment and despair,  into comic books and the industry was changed.

But I digress.  As stated Lee was ready to quit comics.  He had begun to talk with his wife about leaving the industry and beginning work on what he hoped would be the great American novel.  His wife convinced him to give comics one last chance and in that last chance, The Fantastic Four was born.  Lee took every bit of the creative talent he had in writing the story of the Fantastic Four.  Maybe he figured this was his last shot so he’d go out in a blaze of artistic glory.  Instead of going out Lee began to soar to heights of popularity and stayed there until the day he passed away.

After The Fantastic Four Stan and Jack created the Incredible Hulk which, believe it or not, did not sell well at the beginning.  The Hulk, also, wasn’t green when he first made his debut, he was grey.  But things did turn around.  Grey turned to green and we have the Hulk that we all know and love today.

Lee came into his third inning.  He was up to bat.  Would he strike out or would he hit a home run?  OK, enough with the sports metaphors.  Amazing Adult Fantasy had reached its fourteenth issue and it was not doing well.  Adult: would mean that a bit of sleaze was probably in this magazine but Stan Lee himself tells us that the comice book was a collection of fantasy monster stories usually about five pages long.  The stories were written by him and illustrated by Steve Ditko.  The magazine was about to be canceled after the publication of its fifteenth issue and Lee decided to experiment. 

Stan Lee was a big reader of the Pulp Magazines that were published in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  Many germs of comic book characters that would come later can be found in these ten-cent novels in a magazine.  The pulps’ main characters included The Shadow, Doc Savage, and one that Lee particularly liked The Spider.  The Spider was just an ordinary guy who was an expert marksman.  He disguised himself with fangs and a hunched back.  His true Identity was Richard Wentworth the last in the line of a wealthy family.  He began his career after saving a college friend from criminals.  Lee liked the name The Spider but he had other ideas than a man who was good with a gun.  Lee was about to break more comic book rules.

Teenagers were not the main character in almost any comic book.  There are a few notable exceptions.  Superboy, stories of Superman when he was a boy and then a teenager.  Captain Marvel Jr and Mary Marvel were both teenagers when they got their powers but unlike Billy Batson when he became Captain Marvel by shouting SHAZAM turned into an adult Mary and Junior stayed teenagers.  The last is Kid Eternity a teenager who was murdered but is granted the ability to come back and fight crime by being able to call up all the heroes from the past.  Aside from these most teenagers were sidekicks to other Superheroes.  Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl all fall into this category.  Even Johnny Storm, The Human Torch of the Fantastic Four was not on his own though eventually, he would gain his own solo stories.

Lee decided to take a chance and make his next superhero a teenager with all the problems that come with being a teenage boy.  He kept the name Spider but dropped the marksman and gave the young man the abilities of a Spider.  With those thoughts in mind, Spider-Man was born.

Lee didn’t have much hope for his new character.  He didn’t start him off in his own magazine as he did with The Fantastic Four and The Hulk.  He starred him in the last issue of Amazing Adult Fantasy only now the word adult was dropped from the title and Spider-Man made his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy number 15 in August of 1962. Lee’s first two creations were illustrated by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko was the artist for Amazing Fantasy and Lee stuck with him for his new creation.

Not many people need to be told the origin story of Spider-Man.  A teenager, Peter Parker, who is a bookworm and a student of science is shunned by his peers.  On attending a demonstration of radioactivity, a spider who has absorbed some of the radiation during the experiment, bites Peter giving him the abilities and proportionate strength of a spider.  Peter, after learning of his new abilities decides to cash in on them and make himself rich with his new talents.  He hopes to be able to help his elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben who had raised him.  He designs a costume for himself to conceal his identity, web-shooters to gain another spider ability and begins to make TV appearances.  He also becomes arrogant and a bit self-centered.  When a thief runs by him in the hallway of the TV studio Peter lets him go and tells the police that it is their job to catch crooks, not his.  On his way home that night there are police cars at his home.  His Uncle Ben has been killed by a thief he found in the house.  The police tell Peter that they have the killer trapped in an old warehouse.  Peter immediately dons his costume and goes after the killer himself.  Peter does nab the guy but on catching him realizes it is the same crook he let run by him in the studio.  His guilt overwhelms him as he feels responsible for his Uncles death.  He remembers something his Uncle Ben once told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” 

Stan Lee says in the book, The Origins of Marvel Comics, with the publication of Amazing Fantasy number 15 and the story of Spider-Man out of his system, Lee went back to working on his new superstars.  Lee essentially forgot all about Spider-Man.  It would be months before it was realized that Amazing Fantasy #15 was a best seller and the reason had to be Spider-Man.  There was a swift meeting held and The Amazing Spider-Man comic magazine number 1 made its debut in an issue dated March of 1963.

Spider-Man has entertained us now for 60 years.  He has starred in several different Marvel Magazine titles and is probably one of the most iconic heroes of all time.  Spider-Man is to Marvel what Superman is to DC, their most recognized character and almost a symbol of the company itself.  Spider-Man like Superman has appeared in almost every form of entertainment.  In television shows, both live-action and animated, and movies also both live-action and animated, novels based on the character, a newspaper strip, and a Broadway musical, the only thing Spider-Man did not get is a radio show.  Spider-Man was born a bit too late for that.

Spider-Man broke down all kinds of barriers in his 60 years and continues to do so.  The comic book character took on many of the social issues of the 60s and 70s and made an impact.  I well remember being affected by Peter’s best friend Harry Osborne having a drug addiction.  It helped keep me on the straight and narrow.  There were also gut-wrenching stories like the death of Peter’s first true love Gwen Stacy at the hands of The Green Goblin.  There were also some joyful tales including Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson an event that took place in the comic book, the newspaper strip, and at a live ball game in NYC.

Spider-Man continues to entertain us today.  His movie adventures are now reaching millions of people and his comic books are still enjoyed.  As I stated at the beginning of this blog, it did my heart good to see Spider-Man No Way Home win The Kid’s Choice Award for the best live-action movie.  I hope that the film will pick up more honors in the months ahead.  It’s also my hope that The Academy of Motion Pictures begins to see that movies based on comic books or children’s literature or animated films all have artistic value and should be placed in the best films category.  To me leaving these movies out, movies that the people love is a disgrace.  A movie does not have to be filled with sex, over-the-top violence, and foul language to be a good film.  It has to have a solid story well-formed characters and great acting.  The Marvel movies have all of that.  DC we are waiting for you to catch up.

The Bat-Man

It was late in 1938 when the powers that be realized they had a hit with Superman.  Action Comics number one had hit the newsstands in April that year.  Superman was the flagship hero and was on the cover. The sales of the original book went through the roof but no one knew why.  It took a few months before they learned it was all about Superman.

What was next was the need for another costumed hero.  The management went to artist/writer Bob Kane and asked him to develop a costumed hero for their Detective Comics magazine which had already been around for a while.  They didn’t want another Superman.  They wanted a costumed detective.  Bob was approached on Friday afternoon and he promised a new hero by Monday morning and he did it, but not alone.

To me, Bob Kane was one the shrewdest and one of the most evil men in comics.  He was shrewd in the fact that before he signed anything away that he created he got lawyers involved so he owned a piece of the property.  Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster did not do that and signed Superman away for one hundred and thirty dollars.  For many years they lived at almost a poverty level while their creation was making millions.  Kane was evil in that he didn’t give the same advantage to those who helped him create his work and so for years all the credit and all the accolades and all the money went to Kane.

Kane left the office of National Periodical Publications and went home to brainstorm.  He came up with a character in red tights, a mask, like the one Robin would eventually wear, blond hair, and stiff wings.  He brought his sketch to his buddy Bill Finger and told Bill the name of the character was The Bat-Man.  Bill did not like the look of the character at all. He changed the costume color to black and gray.  He got rid of the mask and suggested a cowl with bat ears.  The stiff wings were replaced by a billowing cape and the symbol of a bat was drawn on the chest.  The Bat-Man was born.

Kane took the new sketches to the editor, Vin Sullivan, and they were approved.  Now Kane had to write a story.  He went back to Bill Finger and made a deal with him to ghostwrite Bat-Man and receive none of the credit. Kane agreed to pay Finger out of the money he was making.  Finger agreed to this, much to his regret in later years. 

Bill Finger was the mind behind most of the things we love about Batman today.  Beyond the stories, he originated to the utility belt, The Batcave, Robin, The Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler.  All without receiving any credit.

It wasn’t until the first comic book convention in 1965 that the truth slowly began to leak out.  Bill was invited to speak and the session was recorded.  He told his story and a fanzine article was written.  When Kane got wind of the story he publicly denounced Bill Finger and continued to take all the credit for himself.

Bill gave some other interviews and tried to get his rights to the character.  This became more and more painful as 1966 rolled around and Batman became a TV sensation.  Bill would only see his name associated with the character once.  He co-wrote one episode of the television series.  He asked his co-writer if his name could go on top in the credits.  In his lifetime it would be the only time he ever saw it.

Bill Finger died a pauper with eviction notices taped to the door of His apartment in January of 1974.  He was 59 years old,  A son, who none knew he had, cremated his father and brought his ashes to the northern Pacific Coast.  His son drew a bat symbol on the sand and scattered the ashes over the symbol.  He watched while the ocean carried his father away.

The years would go by in the 1940s and other artists and writers would leave their mark on The Bat-Man.  Jerry Robinson would make the first new contributions by eliminating both the hyphen and the “the’.  The Bat-Man became Batman.

Not many years ago a young writer named Marc Tyler Nobleman came across the story of Bill Finger.  Marc had previously written a book on Superman’s creators and wanted to do the same for Batman.  He assumed the story was about Bob Kane but Marc unearthed the material about Bill Finger and with that he began a crusade to win Bill the credit he deserved.

After months of research and detective work, Marc was able to locate the granddaughter of Bill Finger.  They worked together by bringing the problem to the fans thru Comic-Con panels and interviews.  The wheels of justice turn slowly but they do turn and Athena, Bill’s Granddaughter met with her lawyer and the powers that be at Warner Brothers the parent company of DC comics an agreement was reached and starting with the film Superman Batman The Dawn of Justice Bill Finger was listed as co-creator of Batman.  His name would be on all future Batman projects including the comics and films.

For more information on this amazing journey to justice please see the film Batman and Bill which is a Hulu original.

Not much more needs to be said about Batman.  Everyone knows that one night while coming home from the movies Thomas, Martha, and young Bruce Wayne are stopped by a thief.  The thief takes Thomas’s wallet and Martha’s pearls and then kills them in front of Bruce.  Not long after Bruce makes a vow to avenge his parents by warring on all criminals.  He trains for years to become both physically and mentally perfect as a human being can.  Late one night he feels he is ready and as he thinks of what symbol would strike terror in the hearts of criminals a bat crashes through the window and Bruce decides.  With the money left to him by his parents Bruce is more than wealthy enough to collect all the things, he would need to set out on his mission, and thus Batman was born.

At the moment, in theaters, there is a new movie titled The Batman.  This would be number ten in the big-screen adaptations that began in the mid-sixties with the release of the Batman movie that was based on the popular TV show.  Before that, there were two serial films of Batman in the 1940s.  This latest film stars Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman and I honestly cannot recommend it.

First, the film is dark.  Not in the story but in lighting.  Even the daytime scenes are filmed on cloudy days so light just doesn’t penetrate.  I found some of the scenes hard to see and at two hours and fifty-five minutes the darkness became tedious.  I found myself looking at my phone for the time more than I should have.  In fact, in a Batman movie, I shouldn’t have felt the need to look at all.

Second, they messed with Bruce’s family.  Making his mother Martha a mental case and to cover that up Thomas goes to the mob for help.  Thomas Wayne in comic books would never do that.  This leads to Thomas feeling he needs to turn himself in which leads to the mob killing Thomas and Martha Wayne instead of a random shooting.  It’s the randomness of his parents’ death that is at the heart of Batman.

Third, they messed with the Riddler’s real name.  Since the beginning when Bill Finger created The Riddler his real name was Edward Nigma or E Nigma and enigma is a puzzle and Edward was obsessed with riddles and puzzles leading him to be so compulsive that he had to leave a riddle before he committed a crime.  The new movie changes his name to Nash or Norton.  Sort of destroying a major part of the character.

I was very disappointed in this film.  We are going to see four more DC character movies during the rest of this year.   The Flash, Batgirl, a direct to HBOMAX a live-action film, Black Adam and Aquaman.  I hope Warner Brothers does a better job on these though I have my doubts.

Why Culture POPS for Me

I have been in love with pop culture for as long back as I can remember.  I guess that it started with the Batman TV series which began its run in 1966.  Even before that, I loved Lucy and Jack Benny.  I grew up watching cartoons that are now forgotten Beanie and Cecil, Tobar the 8th Man, Rocket Robin Hood, and Marine Boy.  All of these fascinated me and I continually wanted more.

After a certain age, I became a walking TV guide.  I knew everything that was on and whether it was worth watching or not.  In the first grade, I fell in love with comic books, and many nights my collection of comics sat next to me in my corner of the sofa while I watched TV.

My mother loved musicals and so I was thrust into the worlds of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loew and many others.  While reading comics I found that the characters would quote old movies or books and so slowly I began to watch old films as they showed up in the TV listings.  This was years before you could record or stream anything so if it was on that was the only chance to watch it.

I also began to read.  My mother read to me as a child.  Before bed, she read me all kinds of things until I was old enough to read for myself.  As I stated before comic book characters would quote books and I wanted to know what the quotes meant and where they came from.  I developed an early interest in Shakespeare, Greek myth, and Arthurian Legends.

I was reading well above my grade level even though you couldn’t tell that from my grades.  I began to blossom as a student when the emphasis was changed from grammar to reading classic literature.  It was then I could shine.

I don’t know what draws me to pop culture, both past, and present.  I  have written on it extensively.  Book reviews, movie reviews, and history.  In fact a couple of years ago I wrote a fascinating story about a forgotten show called The Goldbergs.  Not the new one but the show that was on the airwaves from 1929 until the 1950s.  The show was a radio show, a tv show, a play, a movie, and a musical.  And every script was written by the same woman Gertrude Berg.  She was pretty interesting too.  You can read her story here, https://pcmworldnews.com/news/2021/01/the-goldbergs-debuts-on-television-january-1949-2/.

I like to list all I could about my love of pop culture.  If you walked into my apartment you would be greeted by a bookshelf filled with books on show business of one kind or another.  The shelf is decorated with pop culture icons of the Golden age and the present age action figure of Green Lantern and The Flash.  Going further in you would find sculptures of the main characters from Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows.  Looking up you’d find peaking out of teacup Jacque and Gus the two mice from Disney’s animated Cinderella.  In my office, there is a replica of Sleeping Beauty Castle from Disneyland and it is surrounded by every character you could ever hope to meet in that place.  Even on my desk, staring at me is a small animatronic Yoda that talks when I push a button.  A small Starship Enterprise also sits on my desk right next to a Tardis from Doctor Who.  On my walls are movie posters, an authentic replica of Bilbo’s and Frodo’s sword sting along with a map of Middle Earth.  In the hallway, one wall is devoted to a map of The Magic Kingdom and the other is displayed all of the celebrity autographed photos I have collected over the years.

I have a Mickey Mouse wall clock, a Superman wall clock and on other shelves, I have a set of action figures that are the great authors including Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens.  In my bedroom, there is a collection of 7-inch vinyl figures that depict most of the Justice League of America.

And that is truly only a partial run down.  Most of this stuff will mean little to those I leave behind but it does give great joy to me.  I think that is what pop culture is.  Pop culture is a bringer of joy.

Most of pop culture starts with a story.  The Greek and Norse myths as well as Arthurian legends are all stories most of which were handed down verbally until someone decided to write them down.  We wouldn’t have Grimms Fairy Tales if the two brothers didn’t travel extensively in Germany collecting the folk tales that were there.  In many ways that is the whole of pop culture.  It is the handing down of stories from one generation to the next.

The first question I have about my definition is what about music or poetry?  They are part of pop culture too.  In many ways, songs and poems and paintings and sculptures all tell stories or they are part of a story.  So they fit in the definition.

That brings me back to us.  What draws us to the movies, to TV shows and novels, and all the rest?  What draws us to stories?

The answer is simple.  We are also all stories.  Every event in our lives is a story and every moment of our lives makes up our story which is intermingled with all the other stories of the people we know.  Whether they are family or friends or even enemies we are part of their stories and they are a part of ours.

Then there is the big story.  Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage and we are but players on it.”  Shakespeare was absolutely correct.  We are all part of the biggest story ever written and it begins; “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

That statement is the beginning of all the great stories that ever happened or that ever will happen.  In some sense, it is a myth but unlike the myths of the Greeks or the Norsemen, this myth is true.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe in the big bang theory or not God,  in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth.

What does this mean for us?  It means that we are part of God’s story that we were meant to be here and that all of our lives have meaning even if we don’t see it.  It is for this reason that we go-to stories.  That we go to pop culture.  We go to these to find the meaning to our own lives and that meaning is in those stories.  I didn’t realize that The Lord of the Rings could speak to addicts until I did some digging and found that Frodo and Gollum’s passion for the ring ate away at their wills until it possessed them the way an addiction possess the addict.  Scrooge’s adventures with the three ghosts of Christmas is a mini version of therapy where you look at the past and the present to try and change the future.  The Wind in the Willows teaches us the need for solid friendships and The Secret Garden is a story that makes it clear that hard work, a solid spiritual life, and good eating cab restore health to both mind and body.

I could go on and on.  Batman is an example of the unlimited potential in every human being. Superman says it best in his slogan he is the embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way even if the American way is under scrutiny at this moment.  Our stories, our myths, our pop culture is what makes us who we are and helps us find who we can be.

CS Lewis was an unbeliever until one fateful day he was having a discussion with his friend JRR Tolkien and another and in that discussion, Tolkien pointed out that Lewis loved the old stories the myths of the ancients but he said that The Gospel was a myth too.  Only it was the one true myth.  The one true story, the one true part of pop culture or any culture that makes sense of all the rest.

If you don’t know who CS Lewis is…well, that’s another story.

Magic

Magic!  What an amazing word and there is so much meaning in those five simple letters.  There is the “magic” in a child’s eyes when they spy the gifts under the tree at Christmas.  There is the “magic” that a stage magician conjures up by diverting us and seemingly makes impossible things happen.  There is the scary “magic” that real witches perform or at least claim to perform by casting spells and make potions and charms.  Then there is the fictional “magic”, the magic of The Lord of the Rings, Bewitched, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series, this is the magic I’m going to focus on today.  This is my own history of magic.

I guess my first exposure to fictional magic would have been the television show Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York as well as the amazing Agnes Morehead.  The premise of the series was that a mortal Darin Stevens marries a witch a fact that he is unaware of until after the marriage takes place.  When he finds out he forbids her to use her powers in the house and of course this is impossible especially with his wife’s family of witches and warlocks always at hand.  This show was cute and funny and stayed on the air for several years even after having the original Darin replaced by another actor.

The next bit of magic would have been when I was introduced to the classic film The Wizard of Oz.  The Wizard of Oz is based on the children’s book written by L Frank Baum and published on March 17, 1900.  It quick became a childhood classic and Baum would go on to write fourteen more Oz books.  These could have made a great movie series but for some reason MGM, the studio that produced the original film, made the adventures of Dorothy trying to find her way home. A dream, so no future films could be done.

There seems to be certain films everyone is afraid to touch because they are perfect the way they are.  The Sound of Music, Funny Girl, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz are four of those.  People have tried to do sequels to Oz, but they all pale in comparison the original movie which was almost flowless in its making.

The Wizard of Oz in the 60s became a yearly treat that families would gather around their television sets to watch around the Easter holiday.  My family was no exception and I remember being little and hiding behind my father whenever The Wicked Witch of The West would make her appearance.  There wasn’t a lot of magic actually done in The Wizard of Oz.  Dorothy gest to Oz by tornado.  She walks to The Emerald City and meets non-human creatures and talking animals but the only magic that is actually performed is Glinda magically having the Ruby Slippers appear on Dorothy’s feet, The Wicked Witch conjuring the poppy field and Glinda creating the snow that destroys the poppies effects.  Of course, Glinda makes her appearances in a magic bubble and The Wicked Witch rides a broom stick but that’s about it.  To compare the two there was more magic in a half hour of Bewitched than there was in the full-length movie of The Wizard of Oz.

But Oz was magical in an of itself.  A talking Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion as well as talking apple trees and colors that were brighter and more beautiful than in our own gray world made this movie a delight for our senses.  And at the end of the 1930s when America was just coming out of the depression but was on the brink of another world war, that kind of beauty and unreality was much needed by children and adults.

My next stop in my magical tour must be Neverland.  I was introduced to Peter Pan fairly young.  My mother was a big fan of musicals and when Peter Pan starring Mary Martin was aired on television in the early 60s it was a family event.

Peter Pan began as a nonmusical stage play by JM Barrie.  Mr. Barrie based his play on his relationship with three young boys and the games they would play.  Peter Pan opened in 1904 and did very well.  Mr. Barrie was already a celebrated playwright, but Peter Pan elevated him to an immortal status and is the only thing still remembered today.  Peter became so famous that Barrie, told everyone to watch Kensington Gardens for a surprise on a certain date and when London woke up that morning there was the magnificent statue of Peter in the gardens.

It was in 1911 that Barrie published the novel that told the story of his play for all the world.  He titled the novel Peter Pan and Wendy, and it is still enjoyed by people today.

Peter Pan is a difficult role, and it was decided early on that a child could not handle the work in a full length play so a woman has been traditionally cast as Peter.  In recent times in cartoons and films as well as some stage production this has changed but more often than not Peter is still played by a woman.

Peter Pan has very little magic.  In fact, the only magic we see is Peter teaching the children to fly.  We know there are fairies as Tinker Bell is a main character in the play and we know that is by thinking good thoughts and the use of fairy dust that we can learn to fly.  Bu that is the extent of the observable magic in the play.

Let’s talk about flying.  When Barrie first opened his play in 1904 Peter had only one requirement to fly.  You had to think good thoughts.  Many children left the theater with that idea in their heads and soon found themselves jumping off roofs and out of windows thinking they would fly.  This of course caused some injuries but as far as I know no life was lost.  On learning this Barrie modified his play to add fairy dust to the flying equation and the attempts ceased.  I believed a similar situation occurred in 1964 when Disney released Mary Poppins and Mary seemed to fly by umbrella to the front door of the Bank’s home.  I know my friends and I spent some time jumping from steps with an umbrella in hand, but we never got air born.

Neverland is a magic place.  It is inhabited by fairies, and mermaids.  We know from the play that it is Spring, summer, Winter and Fall all at the same time on different parts of the island.  Peter describes it as crammed with hardly any room between one adventure and another.  And of course, if you go there as a child, you never grow up.  There is magic in the very soil of Neverland.

I was transported as a child to Neverland in my dreams.  Not long after seeing the Mary Martin TV special I brought to see the Disney version of the classic story.  The problem with Disney and Miss Martin’s work is that they watered the story down quite a lot.  They took out the scary stuff and so missed some of the best parts.  In time I grew to love the book that Barrie wrote mush more than the film versions.  To this day no one has written Peter the way Barrie did.  I would love to see new stage production that left it all intact.

The fantasy that taught me how to think would begin and end with The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  The Phantom Tollbooth is about a bored little boy whose name is Milo.  Milo has no interest in anything until one day a mysterious box appears in his room.  The box contains a life size toy toll booth which Milo proceeds to put together.  When it’s completed Milo gets into his toy electric car and drives thru into The Land Beyond.  

Milo’s adventures in the Lands Beyond are filled with strange creatures that are magical in some ways but they only way to deal with them is to think.  There is the land of the doldrums where you get very sleepy, and can get yourself killed if you don’t wake up and begin to think your way out by reciting poetry and equations as well as using your imagination.  Milo is saved from The Doldrums by Tok a watchdog.  This is a large dog that has a clock built into his side and he guards time he especially is after those who waste time.

Milo is told the story of the Lands Beyond and knows that there are problems there that could be solved if the Princesses Rhyme and Reason could be rescued from the castle in the clouds which must be gotten to through by way of The Mountains of Ignorance. This stuff is great.  He must first get permission to save them from the warring kings of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis the kingdoms or Words and Numbers.  The kings hate each other even though they are brothers because they each believe that their own kingdom is better than the other.  In other words, words are better than numbers and numbers are better than words.

Milo has many adventures in The Lands Beyond and meets many strange creatures including a Spelling Bee and a Humbug but he eventually reaches the princesses and rescues them through the power of thinking.  When he returns home, he has a new lease on life and is no longer bored as there is always something new to learn.  This is a lesson many adults could use right now.

As I grew up so did my magic stories.  First there was my comic book heroes.  Doctor Strange from Marvel Comics and Doctor Fate from DC.  Doctor Fate came first and made his first appearance in the early 1940s in the pages of More Fun Comics.  He is Kent Nelson who, as a boy, finds The Helmet of Nabu an ancient Egyptian wizard, when he puts the helmet on, he becomes Doctor fate with all kinds of magic abilities.  Doctor Fate would fade away with the rest of the comic book heroes in the early 1950s as discussed in earlier blogs.  He would return the 1960s in the pages on The Justice League of America when DC Comics rebirths The Justice Society in the pages of that magazine.  He would eventually get his own title for a short while but for the most part remain a supporting character in the comic book universe.  With the popularity of the television series Stargirl and the reemergence of The Justice Society Doctor Fate may soon make a return.

Doctor Strange made his first appearance in Strange Tales and remains a favorite character of mine to this day.  Steven Strange is a surgeon, skilled and vain about those skills.  He cares only for money and little for the actual people he treats. An accident renders his hands useless and in seeking a cure he becomes a penniless derelict.  His search continues, however, and he makes it to Tibet where he hears of a man known as The Ancient One who may be able to help him.  He seeks The Ancient One out and finds him only discover that it is sorcery that the Ancient One believes can cure Strange.  Strange, being a man of science, rejects this and decides to leave only to discover that the Ancient One’s disciple Murdo is going to kill The Ancient One.  Strange attempts to warn the old man only to be stopped by a spell put on him by Murdo.  The Ancient One saves both Himself and Strange and Strange becomes the new disciple.  After years of training Doctor Strange become The Master of the Mystic Arts and a main player in the Marvel Comics and Cinematic Universe.

My journey in fictional magic continued.  The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magic Kingdom of Landover, The Belgariad and The Harry Potter books all added to my magical fun and adventure.

Why does magic entice all of us so much?  Why does the idea of conjuring strike our imaginations so hard?  I think the answer lies in what CS Lewis once said.  Lewis, the author of the Narnia books said “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  And we were made for another world.  When God created us in The Garden of Eden, he created us in a perfect world and was grooming us to be like him.  He wasn’t looking for slaves or he wouldn’t have given us the ability to choose.  But the ability to choose comes with consequences.  Adam and Eve were told they could do whatever they wanted except to eat from the fruit of one tree.  They couldn’t accept that one rule and so were banished from a perfect world into this one.  And here we remain as Lewis calls us, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.

But God left in us a desire for our true home.  He gave us glimpses of that home in our imaginations and in the many books of fantasy that have been written.  Whether you are a fan of The Shire or Shangri La, or Neverland or Oz all of those places are glimpses of Eden our true home and the place we all long for.

The thing is we have another act of God where in we can begin to get Eden back.  God sent his son Jesus to pay for the sins of Adam and all the rest of us.  Jesus’ death on the cross and his ultimate resurrection pave the way to the real place of magic known as Eden or Heaven.  To return to that place God asks only one thing from us and that is to believe that Jesus died and was resurrected for us.  That’s it.  This is what Tolkien called “the one true myth.” No great acts of heroism or penance are required just belief that in the work God has done.  Will our lives change after that?  Yes, they will but the change will come not as an act of payment but as an act of gratitude that comes from believing in this amazing gift.  It would be the same way you would act toward the person who showed up at your door with the keys to a brand-new house or a car.  Just handed those keys to you and said enjoy it.  We would go out of our way to show our gratitude.  This is why our lives change when we understand what God has done for us.

I will continue to enjoy the fantasy worlds that are so much a part of my life.  These worlds have added color and excitement and mystery to this existence, but they have also been a pointer.  Little by little they pointed me back to Eden and to God.

Change

I have, mostly been writing about things and people that are dear to my heart.  This time around I’m going to make a turn and write about something most people are uncomfortable with and that is change.

Before we begin, I want to be perfectly clear that every change has the opportunity to be good.  If it’s an unwanted change we can learn from it if it’s a positive change we can delight in it but we all will react to change in one form or another.  Now to be frank I don’t like change.  Almost every change in my life had come with some sort of negative aspect that I wasn’t anticipating and so I get thrown or depressed.  This has been a life long struggle but it is one I eventually conquer.

Change has been happening to my body over the last twelve or thirteen years.  It began with my legs.  I realized I had no feeling from my knees to my toes and was diagnosed with neuropathy a condition mostly found in diabetics of which I was not one.  Then both of my feet became full of arthritis and my knees followed with the same thing.  To date walking is very difficult and standing for long periods of time impossible.  It became clear that I could not work and had to drop out of the work force.

I miss working.  Working gave me purpose and a sense of meaning to my life.  Since I worked in the health field, I also felt a sense of accomplishment as I helped others become well or deal with their illnesses.  For a brief period of time, I worked in a nursing home as an assistant activities director and that job gave me great joy as I could see the good, I was doing and could use the skills I had as an actor and director. 

We are all given a number of gifts when we come into this world.  I can picture God in heaven designing each and every one of us and pouring into us from his vast store house of gifts the things we will love and the things we will be passionate about.  For me he decided on English and music, writing, and acting, directing and creating.  He gave me the heart of an artist and the temperament of one too.

I remember my experience of directing different shows but most especially the ones I did for the church.  I could literally feel God’s pleasure in me as I did my best with what he gave me for him.  Those weren’t only good times they were amazing times.

Of course, it didn’t last, a monkey wrench got thrown into the works and everything came apart.  That was the best time of my life and it seems to be over now, but I also feel like there is more in store hopefully sooner than later.

Change

Our whole lives from the moment we are born until the day we die is about change.  You can resist it all you want but it’s going to happen.  In fact, it’s safe to say that if you are not actively changing you may well be actively dying.  Because change is life.  It challenges us, it makes us learn, it forces us to find courage, it builds bridges between people and sometimes it takes down bridges and pulls people apart.  This can be good or bad.  Some people need to leave our lives.  It’s best for them and for us.  Sometimes it’s hard to let go when a dear friend needs to leave to follow his or her passion or dream but it’s exciting too, knowing that the friend is going somewhere to be the best they can be.

Sometimes people leave us and it is not in our will or good.  A dear friend and you have words and the link that has been between you is suddenly gone and you mourn that person as though they were dead, but they’re not.  They have left your life and sometimes you don’t understand at all what has happened.

Then there is the hardest leaving of all death.  I have been present at the death of many people.  Most of them because of my job.  Some of my family.  Those were hard times.  My mother’s death was the worst.  You only have one mother and when she dies it feels like all the love in the world has gone with her.  No one loves you like your mom.  No one can love you like your mom.  Eve may have been taken out of Adam but everyone else since has been taken out of Eve or out of woman.  Every birth is a miracle and every woman who has given birth knows this.

I lived with my folks for a long time.  When I got really sick I became crotchety and obnoxious. I made it a point to stay out of the way of everyone so as not do or say the wrong thing.  My mother would boldly walk in where no one else would come.  She’d feel my head and make sure I had what I needed.  My mood would not interrupt her mission.  Not long after she died, I got very sick and our dog, Lucky, came into my room jumped up on my bed and put his nose to my forehead.  He then went down and snuggled at my feet.  I felt mom was there telling me she hadn’t really left me and when I was in trouble, she would still be with me. 

Change

About two and a half months ago I knew I had to do something to make my life have some sort of purpose.  I had toyed on and off with blogs, but it never seemed to be able to stick.  This time I was bound to make it work. 

I like to write.  I started keeping a journal at a very young age because of the TV show The Waltons.  I idolized John-Boy and saw in him the person I wanted to be so I began to write.  First a journal, occasionally short stories and eventually one full length play that was performed.  Writing can be the most difficult thing to start but once you get going who knows where you’ll end up.  JRR Tolkien started by giving us a children’s book in The Hobbit but ended leaving us with a fantasy masterpiece in The Lord of the Rings.  The Lord of the Rings was crowned the most important book of the 20th century by two different polls. 

This blog has become my work.  A goal set weekly to keep me from doing nothing.  It exercises my mind and my imagination, and it is my hope that it entertains and maybe educates my readers.  It may not be deep but is real and it is honest.

Change

As the last few years have gone by I have gotten weaker in my legs.  Walking has become harder, and I am now using a cane and may have to go to a walker.  Things that used to be a joy to do are now chores because they all involve pain.

For instance, I used to love to go grocery shopping.  I loved finding the sales and looking for the best of the meat.  Finding the fresh produce was fun and when the seasonal stuff came out just the smell of a grocery store would excite me.  In April several of the metatarsal bones at the top of my foot fractured.  It took twelve weeks for them to heal but because of the arthritis the pain and the swelling won’t go away.  I am in pain with almost every step and walking around a supermarket can be agony.  Yes I can get groceries delivered but that’s not as much fun and you don’t know what you’re getting.  You must hope that the person choosing for you thinks like you do.  It doesn’t always work out that way.

Change

My weight is now out of control and I understand mentally that I must change my ways.  Back in my twenties and thirties my weight was easy to control.  I didn’t drive and public transportation, though close to where I lived, wasn’t exactly near, so I walked about a mile or so a day.  More so if SEPTA went on strike, and they did like clockwork.  After I began to drive, in my thirties, weight started to add up on me.  I would lose it and then gain more.  This has become an unhealthy pattern, and something must be done and only I can do it.  No one can lose weight for you.

I have investigated bariatric surgery where they sew up your stomach.  I know people that have done this, and it has worked well for them.  But there are a lot of things that can go wrong after surgery.  I went through the initial interviews where everything was explained out and I got terrified.  I’m going to have to lose weight the old-fashioned way taking it off pound by pound until it’s gone.  My mother, God rest her soul, did it that way and there is no reason thst I can’t.  And I really want to do it, after all, you don’t see any fat old people and I’d like to live at least a few more years.

Change

This weekend DC comics announced that my favorite character, Superman, would have a new motto.  After 80 years of “Truth, Justice, and The American Way,” It would now be “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow.”  I didn’t want to hear that.  I liked the old motto; it was a comfort to me.  It held dear the things that I held dear.  Why change it?  As a Christian I would have preferred a change that said, “Truth Justice and Mercy,” because that seems to me to be the message that the God of the Old and New Testaments is all about.  It would have reflected the core of my own beliefs.  I thought the new motto sounded very Disney.  After all you can’t go into a Disney Park and not be made very aware of what the world should be like and as much as Walt was an entertainer, he was also a futurist hoping to design and be part of all the latest in technology.  The song It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow rings throughout Magic Kingdom.  But where does Superman fit into tomorrow.  I think Superman is a bringer of light to a dark world.  He brings hope.  He makes every kid who feels like he’s Clark Kent know that there is something special about him.  That underneath he can be Superman.  I think Superman brings hope in hope can come a better tomorrow.

Change

Recently I found out that I would have to move.  The reasons don’t matter but moving is a monumental task and even more so now.

Five years ago, when I last moved, I could do so much more for myself than I can now.  I could gather boxes and load up and drive car loads full of them to where I was going.  I may be remembering wrong, but I think I moved all of my books and the shelves that come apart all by myself leaving not a lot for the movers to do.   Now I can’t even get the boxes.  Having to use a cane makes carrying stuff difficult, even empty boxes and I don’t do well on my feet because of the issues with my legs.  I’m going to need a lot of help with just the move.

Looking for an apartment has been no joy either.  Because I am disabled finding a building I can get into has been almost impossible.  Every place seems to have steps.  I did see one place where it looked really easy to get into, but the building was run down and dirty, it didn’t look like a very nice place to live so I passed on that.  There are a lot of second floor apartments with beautiful space but nothing with an elevator, so it won’t work.  They say moving in one of the top stressors of life and I believe it is, but it’s compounded by so little choice of where I can live.

Change

Change, we all go through it and ultimately it is good for us.  Change stretches our minds and our bodies.  We find we can learn, and we can adapt if we allow change to have its way.  We bend but we don’t break.  Change can even be fun.  Moving is tough and there is a lot I am not looking forward to, but I enjoy sorting through my belongings and thinning things out.  I like to organize and pack.  When the mover do come they will find me more than ready and the day will go smoothly.  Even losing weight can be fun as I find new foods to enjoy as I give up the stuff that does me no good.

I stated earlier in this missive that change is a part of life and if we aren’t actively changing we are actively dying.  And what is death if not change.  It is the change we have no control over and it is the change most people fear more than any other.  To end this I quote from from the Broadway musical Mame “LIVE LIVE LIVE, Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Or is it  CHANGE CHANGE CHANGE, Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.  To live is to change.

Superheroes

Superman, batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Ironman. Marvel Girl, all of these bring up thoughts of adventure and selfless heroism.  I was born in a time when superheroes were on the outskirts of accepted entertainment for young minds.  Under McCarthyism and with the influence of the book Seduction of the Innocent they had gained a bad reputation after only really being around for 33 years.  However not long before I was born the comic book superhero would enjoy the beginning of a renaissance that still contuse today.

I wish I had a time machine and could travel back to New York City in the year 1938.  The world was still in the throes of the Great Depression but with Roosevelt in The White House people were beginning to hope better days were ahead.  These were the days when newspapers and magazines were sold on newsstands on the streets.  Big boxes made of plywood which opened up with racks of colorful  magazine covers or the black and white print of newspapers.  One day in April a new magazine would appear on these racks.  It had a man dressed in red and blue wearing a cape and he lifted a car above his head seeming to shake the occupants out of it.  This was Action Comics number one dated June of 1938, but to give the magazine a long shelf life the magazine was released three months earlier than its cover date a practice still used by comic books today, the man in the colorful clothes was Superman.

Superman was the granddaddy of all the superheroes that would follow.  He is the standard that all superheroes are still measured by. Superman is timeless and remain popular throughout some of this world’s toughest times.  He survived The Great Depression, The McCarthy era, social reform, and every other fad that society could throw.  Superman adapted and grew.

Today’s Superman looks much like the original figure from 1938 but he has changed.  Originally Superman could jump an 8th of a mile or has a high as a building but he could not fly.  He had great speed, was invulnerable, but things like X-Ray Vision, Heat Vision, super breath and remaining in outer space in just his uniform were years in the distance.

Superman was a hero for the people.  Stopping corrupt politicians, catching murderers and stopping executions of the wrong man were more of his everyday work.  His alter ego Clark Kent has also changed over the years.  In the 30s and well into the 80s Clark Kent was a klutz, sometimes afraid of his own shadow and always involved in a three-way relationship between himself, Lois Lane and Superman.  After the yearlong event Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Clark changed.  The glasses were still there but he was no longer the weakling that everyone could walk upon.  He would reveal his identity to Lois Lane and the two would marry. 

Superman is as relevant today as he was in 1938.  He has changed with the times and in those times a lot has happened.  Women’s Liberation, Racial Equality, Equality for all people regardless of skin color, gender, or sexual preference.  Superman has met each of these challenges in one form or the other not though super heroics, but by treating every individual he meets as an equal.  Worthy of respect just for being human.  We could all learn a lot from Superman.

Batman, however, is not Superman.  Batman created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger is totally human.  He has no super powers.  He has trained his body to perfection and honed his mind in the same way.  He is an expert at hand-to-hand combat and with simple weapons.  Like Superman Batman has a no kill creed.  He brings criminals to justice.

Batman is a story of tragedy.  Superman a story of hope.  Superman is sent from his dying planet to earth to be raised by Kansas farmers.  Superman grew up with good moral teaching and with two loving parents.  Batman saw his parents gunned down and was raised by the family butler.  His mind is always set on his mission that no one will go through what he went through.  In his original origin story young Bruce Wayne vows by candlelight to avenge his parents death by warring on all criminals.

Batman is a study in psychology.  What do you do when tragedy strikes?  How do you react to it?  Batman goes to the extremes.  His parents left him wealthy, he can afford to do as he wishes so he studies and grows strong to begin his war on evil.  But it leaves him a half person.  Batman in many ways cannot really love because he has left no room for it in his obsession.  He likes other people but in today’s comic stories he seems more interested in how an individual can help his cause than about the individual themselves.  This is why there have been four Robins each leaving Batman in one way or another to find their own way and not be caught up in the obsession.

Superman and Batman were created in the late 1930s.  Now we jump up 20 odd years to the early 60s.  Comics lost favor with the public in the 1950s and almost all the heroes hung up their capes and masks.  But in the late 1950s DC Comics made the decision to resurrect their comic book heroes.  But they would do it in a whole new way.  Gone were the original Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman and born were the new versions, streamlined with new origins that had a healthy dose of science fiction too add to the colorful heroes.

Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were the only three heroes to survive the 50s but soon they banded together with the new heroes and formed The Justice League of America.  The JLA became a very popular title and came to the attention of the editors of Timely Comics soon to become Marvel and one editor told a young Stan lee to come up with a team of heroes that would rival the JLA.  Lee was about ready to leave the comics business, but he took on this assignment and created The Fantastic Four and new era in comics began.

With the publication of The Fantastic Four comic book heroes began to grow up.  The Fantastic Four argued with each other, had obvious character flaws, and sometimes split up.  Sarcasm and anger were a part of every issue and the heroes seemed more human.  This new way or writing superheroes would spawn The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Spiderman.

Spiderman made his appearance in August of 1962 in the last issue of Amazing Fantasy.  He was the collaboration of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and became an immediate success.  Young angst laden Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider which give him the powers and strength of the arachnid.  It doesn’t however remove the social problems of a teen age boy and Peter finds it hard to be Peter made fun of by his classmates and Spiderman who is praised by the same people.  He is hurting and lonely and yet he always stays in the fight.  Tempted to give up by never giving in.

Superheroes are our modern mythology.  They are the Hercules, Ulysses, and Perseus of the 20th and 21st century.  We need fictional heroes.  They are important and they serve the function of passing on moral values.  They do this is a way that entertains and enlightens us without whacking us over the head.

Superman is embodiment of all things good.  He provides hope in a world that has gone very dark.  His primary-colored costume of red. Blue and yellow are a joyful expression of heroics and of light over coming darkness.

Batman is different.  Batman does not inspire hope of goodness as much as he shows the potential of every individual.  He takes it to the extreme, but he is the lesson of us becoming anything we want to be if we work hard enough to pursue it. 

Spiderman, in his origin tale allows the man who would ultimately kill his beloved Uncle Ben to get away.  When he learns that because of his in-action tragedy struck he comes to the understanding that with great power comes great responsibility.  Spiderman goes on to become a hero and that’s great but the lesson he leaves behind is that we need to hold those in power over us to that same thought.  From the President of the United States to your boss the power they hold is a responsibility and the responsibility is to do good with what you are given.  To not serve yourself but to serve others.

To not serve yourself but to serve others is the message of all good superhero stories.  We are put on this earth for only a brief period of time, and it is what we do for others that makes us human and what makes life worth living.  The more you reach out a hand to those in need, the more you will become aware of a sense of self satisfaction.

We are about to enter the holiday season.  Now more than ever the words of Charles Dickens ring down through the years that “Want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices.”  Do you have an abundance? Share something with those in need.  Go into your closet and give away the clothes you haven’t worn in a year.  Go through your house and whatever you don’t need give away.  There are a lot of people hurting in the world if you and I can gather the resources that we have at our disposal and choose to help those who are in need we will be superheroes.