Tagged: superheroes

Dennis O’Neil: Iron Fist and the Costume Unseen

In peril, poor Polly Pearlwhite plunges from the pinnacle… And I, a superhero, really should fly up and save her and so I shall as soon as I change into my hero garb and… But what is this? I don’t seem to have worn the cape and tights under my Brooks Brothers suit and how could I forget such a thing? Well, come to think of it, I didn’t have my morning coffee and I’ve been Mr. Cottonbrain all day and… Never mind. Sorry, Polly.

So there I was – this is me taking now and not the fictitious person in the previous paragraph – and I’m about to reveal that early this morning, at about one, I finished watching the Iron Fist television serial and can report general satisfaction with it. But during the final minutes of superhero action I wondered if the film makers were going to give Mr. Fist a costume. He had one in the comic books where he first came to life and back when I was editing his monthly biography I regarded him as another one of Marvel Comics’s costumed dogooders, in the same area code as Moon Knight, Spider-Man, Daredevil, The Hulk, et cetera: not as popular as some of Marvel’s output, but clearly of the same ilk.

The show I was watching earlier today ended – mild spoiler-alert, one you needn’t pay much attention to – with Mr. Fist and a companion climbing to the top of a mountain and finding… not what they expected but rather things that must certainly have ruined their day and, not incidentally, provided a hook into another story. That, we will probably be seeing soon. Mr. Fist was wearing clothing appropriate to climbing snow-covered peaks, but it was just clothing, not a costume.

Marvel’s last adaptation of one of the company’s characters to television went costumeless too. This was Luke Cage, a.k.a. Power Man, who, in the comics I worked on, was Iron Fist’s partner. Coincidence? Probably. But might it not also be the harbinger of a trend?

The costume trope has been a part of the superhero narratives ever since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster introduced it with Superman in 1938. But they didn’t give us the first costumed hero. That honor goes to Lee Falk who began syndicating a newspaper strip titled The Phantom a couple of years before Superman appeared on the cover of Action Comics #1. The Phantom wore a skin-tight costume and a pair of holstered automatics. He lived and operated in the deep jungle, which makes the costume a bit puzzling: it doesn’t seem appropriate. But we won’t be foolish enough to quarrel with success.

Back to Mr. Fist. There’s no reason why action folk have to wear odd suits and a reason or two for them not to. The reasons usually provided are, well… as much excuses as reasons and I don’t completely buy them. It might be that they’ve outlived their time.

Certainly, Iron Fist did just fine in something he could have gotten at a mall.


Martha Thomases: The Superhero Lesson

Everything I need to know, I learned from superhero comics. Not just how to infer the meaning of words I don’t know from context (seeing bullets bounce off Superman while someone said he was “invulnerable”), but also how to be a citizen.

The superheroes I loved were, in large part, immigrants and refugees. Superman and Supergirl (refugees from Krypton), Wonder Woman (immigrant, at least in her initial stories), Martian Manhunter (immigrant, or maybe kidnapped slave), Adam Strange (immigrant to Rann), lots and lots of X-Men and Legion of Super-Hero members.

Immigrants and refugees were characters I admired. When I got old enough to study history, I learned that real-life immigrants and refugees were among the most admirable people ever to live in this country. I also learned that not everyone shared my perspective.

There is a long history of demonizing immigrants here. Over the centuries, people have whipped up hysteria over Italians, Irish, Greeks, Chinese, Jews from anywhere, Catholics from anywhere, even Native Americans – who aren’t even immigrants. We fear those who are different from us, and it prevents us from seeing what we have in common.

Many of the people who created my favorite characters were themselves immigrants or the children of immigrants, people who grew up in neighborhoods filled with people who identified themselves as hyphen-Americans. It’s not a surprise that these men (for the most part) created heroes who were outsiders.

Now our so-called “president” wants to restrict immigrants’ access to the American dream, to shut out refugees who face persecution and, sometimes, death if they return to their country of origin. This isn’t only immoral and un-American. It’s also bad for business.

And it’s bad for those of us who love to read, which I assume includes you, Constant Reader, if you’ve made it this far. Immigrants and refugees write some of our most important (and delightful!) books. We need more people with talent in this country whether they are LGBTQ or non-white or non-Christian or foreign-born or whatever.

And, by the way, my family has been in this country longer than our so-called “president’s” family, so if we’re sending anybody back somewhere, he has to go before I do.

Another thing I learned from comics is that change starts with me. No matter how super-powered a character might be, nothing would happen until he or she got involved. I’m delighted to say that comic book creators and cartoonists are putting this plot into our reality and standing up for immigrants and refugees, and those who protect them. According to this, several cartoonists are sending original artwork to people who donate to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Think about doing so, too, even if you don’t get any artwork. You might just get an artist.

Dennis O’Neil: Guns?

Six Gun HeroesSometimes I ask myself whacky questions. Like, do rhino teeth get filled? Are we just computer constructs inn some alien game and if so are there rules and how can I get a copy of them? Who cleaned up after Hannibal’s elephants? How did Noah keep all those animals in the ark from eating each other?

There’s been a lot of bangedy bang in the news lately and so what else is new and the answer is nothing, but this prompts another whacky question: why can’t somebody do something about the gun problem? Nothing draconian: despite the irresponsible claims of some political types, Mr. Obama doesn’t want to take your firearms away. If that was on the agenda, you’d think that the presidential minions would have at least begun the effort by now. Dude’s been in office more than seven years and so far he hasn’t confiscated so much as a cap pistol.

Making an effort to forbid guns to known criminals or mental patients would be a possible opener. So would a national registry of folks who want to buy guns. In other words, let’s clamp down on the gunnies as fiercely and mercilessly as we clamp down on those young snots who want drivers’ licenses!

But wait! Enough of this: we’re not in polemic mode today. What we are in is question asking mode – whacky questions – and so here’s another: if there were no firearms, if that ninth century Chinese alchemist had misplaced the recipe and hadn’t bothered to look for it, what kind of action stories would we be writing? I’m pretty sure that at least some of our stories would be of the action variety because that kind of stuff is packaged with our genes. I’m sorry, but a liking for action – oh, all right, a liking for violence – is part of our survival kit. Our mythologies are, from the very earliest recorded history until now, full of warfare and combat and those tales are the offspring of the impulses that gave our ancestors the gumption to lift weapons and protect the family and the tribe.

Gilgamesh, meet James Bond.

Occasionally, I’ve allowed myself to wonder if I could create a hero, a rip-snortin’ justice bringer (possibly wearing a costume) whose adventures did not include dealing with guns. As a science fiction or fantasy piece, sure, easy, no problem. But a story set in our time and world, or a close facsimile of our world – not so easy. Guns are all over the place, wielded by bad guys and good guys alike. What would our world be without them? Has the centrality of guns in our national narratives taught us that gunfire is what solves problems? No need to look any further than the nearest Glock, to deal with it, whatever it is, this time.

Oh yeah, did I mention that another shooting made the news today?

Dennis O’Neil: Crisis On Infinite Superheroes

Simpsons Huck Finn

Cozy down on your couch and wait for it: A Supergirl series coming soon – well, in the fall – to a television set near you. And a new superhero on The Flash and what looks like some supering up of already existing character or characters on Arrow and and and…

I’ll bet the corridors of the media giants in Hollywood and New York (and Chicago? London?) are absolutely buzz with plans and proposals for more stories about that congregation who wear peculiar costumes and bash. I think they call it extending the franchise, and it is nothing new. My current favorite example from antiquity is the King Arthur saga which was kind of inspired by rales of a fifth or sixth century British ruler who fought Saxon invaders. (Did he really exist? Was he compounded of several rulers? Let us shrug and get on with it.)

Anyway, it wasn’t until the twelfth century that Arthur’s tales began to be written down and circulated, though some stuff may have been forever lost in the long gap between inspiration and dissemination. There have been adaptations and additions and redaction ever since. Almost certainly, somewhere on this green planet, someone is even now working on an Arthur piece.

That’s my current favorite example of franchise fattening in Days of Yore, but there are others, including the Tom Sawyer books – Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective that your English teacher neglected to mention. Heck, even what is by many considered to be the best American novel ever, Huckleberry Finn, could be considered to be an early extension of the Sawyer franchise.

And here we jump over the rest of the Nineteenth Century and a big chunk of the Twentieth and look at comic books, which were in the franchise extending dodge from their earliest days. Like Tom and Huck, Superman and Batman were quite different, but in some ways similar. Superman is a big success and about a year later, voila – along comes Batman. Then the deluge. Dozens – hundreds? – of different-but-similars dotting the newsstands. And witch hunts followed by an implosion. Then, a revival, and here we are, watching superhero franchises being extended – not on cheap paper, but on highly sophisticated electronic delivery systems.

It’s about money, of course. I don’t know if the early King Arthur chroniclers were in it for the coins, but Mark Twain, hassled by money worries for much of his life, certainly had some financial motivation, and so has every professional storyteller since. There are downsides to this propagation of the superhero meme; attraction of creators who have no genuine liking for the material and hence to it badly and hence give others a bad rep; audience difficulty in telling one hero from the other; a dilution of what makes a character unique and interesting; and old-fashioned weariness with the genre.

But I’m of a mind to believe that none of the above guarantees inferior story quality. It’s the recipe, not the ingredients, that’s crucial.

After all, Huckleberry Finn is a pretty good read.


Mike Gold: We Can Be Heroes

Whenever some sports superstar gets caught doing something untoward, the media wrings its hands and repeatedly shouts “What type of role model is this? Think of the children! Think of the children!” Invariably, the sports superstar in question points out he’s not a role model, he’s a ball player, or whatever. Usually he’s not very far north of childhood himself.

Yet, almost by definition sports superstars are super-heroes. They are imbued “with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.” Michael Jordan, Bobby Hull, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Willie Shoemaker, Chris Evert… these folks aren’t simply super-heroes, they’re magicians.

When I was at the optimum time to adopt a personal hero, I chose Ernie Banks. Shortstop and later first-baseman for my Chicago Cubs, he joined the team after a stint in the armed forces and the Negro Leagues. He spent 19 seasons with the Cubs, which constituted his entire professional baseball career.

When the Cubs were at the bottom of the standings, which also was just about his entire career, Ernie not only stood out as among the very best, he virtually gleamed. Nobody seemed to enjoy playing baseball more than Ernie Banks. His trademark saying, “Let’s play two,” combined with his beatific look made you want to play as well.

Of course, had you been given the opportunity you would have been outclassed. Banks played in 14 All-Star Games. He was the National League most valuable player – twice. His lifetime stats: batting average .274, hits – 2,583, home runs – 512, runs batted in – 1,636. He made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his very first year of eligibility, with 84% of the vote. In 1999, Ernie Banks was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

Compared with the Cubs’ efficacy at the time, Ernie Banks was beyond belief. There wasn’t much of a team to help him.

When he hung up his mitt in 1971, Ernie started up a charity, became America’s first black Ford dealer, and worked at Chicago’s Bank of Ravenswood in public relations and new business development. It was in that capacity that I met my hero.

I was a co-founder of a youth social service program called The National Runaway Switchboard, and like all non-profits we applied for grants wherever we could. The Bank of Ravenswood was one of our many donors, and it was Ernie who handed us one of those huge photo-op checks. For all I cared, he could have handed me a bag of stale donuts. Meeting Ernie Banks was one of those genuine “hamina-hamina-hamina” moments.

Ernie was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, and, yes, that’s President Obama putting the medal around his neck in the picture at the top of this column.


Sometimes, nice guys finish first.

Ernie Banks died last Friday, at the age of 83. Thank you, Mr. Banks. Thank you for teaching this comic book editor what true heroes are all about.

Marc Alan Fishman: If I Could Be A Super-Hero…

… I’d probably opt to not.

It’s that rare question kids pose to one another in an effort to ensure they can field their own Justice League at a moment’s notice. Why else do many of us turn to comic book heroes as children if but to live vicariously through their adventures – and in turn relish in the delight of super-human abilities?

Prior to the race to space, pulp heroes were more often than not akin to modern-day Batmen minus all the swearing, gravel-voiced threats and plucky pre-pubescent sidekicks: human beings granted the time, energy, and personal wealth enough to be at peak physical and mental strength. Around the time we split the atom. science fiction boomed, and, Superman and the mighty demi-gods of the day were joined by sets of super-powered show-offs in sparkly suits. I’d like to think shortly after said boom, the schoolyard became a breeding ground for adolescent aspirations for astronomical abilities.

But then, we grow up. For some of us, we still cherish these previous flights of fancy. We chase windmills, and exorcise our personal demons (a great example by my compatriot, John Ostrander, wrote about last week). I’d like to think that every time I’ve put written word to page (as few as that’s been, all things considered), any character involved who happened to be beyond human has left me that opportunity to think of the world through eyes that can’t exist. And each time I’ve concluded the story, I’ve been thankful that I didn’t live in the world I’d created – even when it ended on the happiest of notes.

If I were to have a super power, I’m realistic about the end results. Super strength? Useful if I had to move furniture. Otherwise, it’s a burden. I imagine a life where I try not to decimate private property when my boss asks me to redesign the company holiday card for the third time, or to have to command the muscle control enough to ensure patting my son on the back doesn’t leave him a cripple. It exhausts me just thinking of it.

Perhaps telepathy? Certainly the lure to peer inside the minds of everyone I know would lead straight down a path of inconsolable anguish. For every fleeting thought about me I’d take as positive might then be trampled by a mental shudder when I lumber by. I need to lose a few pounds, and being forced to hear it idly from every passerby with a working brain would drive me up a mountain to never return again.

Super speed? Well, if it came with the metabolism, I’d sure love to be lithe. But if I didn’t immediately go public with a display of my powers in order to snag some celebrity endorsements? I’d run myself straight into the poorhouse trying to stay sated. Also? I hate running.

And flight? Well, I’m pretty sure Southwest Air would still be cheaper, and they give me a Diet Coke.

The reality of the world we live in – the one where innocent men can be murdered by those we pay to protect us, and walk away without punishment or remorse – is simply too real to handle the surreal. Ration and logic dictate that any person with a power comparable to those that exist in our funny books would be subject to no known amount of stress, guilt, and responsibility. Plus Heroes kinda showed us that most people would keep it a secret and end up serial killing time travelers who couldn’t hold our attention for more than 13 or 14 episodes. But I digress.

Uncle Ben’s wise-words for his young ward can’t hold any truer for our society. With great power comes great responsibility. Yet, those in this world with actual power, use it and abuse it without a second thought. Philanthropy walks hand-in-hand with lobbying, and self-interest. No good deed is done in our world without a litany of trolls ready to refute it.

Remember when we all dumped buckets of ice water on our heads in an attempt to raise some money and awareness for a terrible disease? Of course you do, because you live in California, and you saw folks wasting precious drops of water, and how dare they! The cynical response to every mitzvah (look it up, goyem) weakens our mutual calls for peace and prosperity. Every election is a slap in the face to the party that “loses.” Every man we’ve voted into office (even if he didn’t win the popular vote) is held to impossible standards and is eventually eviscerated by pundits and bloggers alike. No one can do right without immediately being told they are wrong.

And Rao help us… if a man stood above all others and used his powers for good – say curing the sick, feeding the hungry, and preaching that the world should spend more time loving, and less time killing – well, I get the feeling he’d end up on the cross for even attempting it.