Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Hello Everyone:

Your Truly is back in the blogosphere today and would like to thank The Candidate Forum for filling in. Blogger needed a day off after a very stressful week. At least tomorrow is the day before Thanksgiving Day and Blogger has plans for some fun. Speaking of fun, shall we pay a visit to the Marvel Universe?

The D.C. Universe has Gotham as a stand-in for Chicago, the Marvel Universe makes New York City the backdrop for Spider-Man and Daredevil. Who do Spider-Man and Daredevil have in common? The late great Stan Lee.  Stan Lee passed away last Monday, at the age of 95, created a vision of New York City that was chaotic, sprawling, and dark. In the opening scene of Daredevil #4 (1964), he wrote,

New York City is a large city...and, in such a vast sprawling metropolis you'll find all kinds of characters and kooks!  (city lab.com; Nov. 13, 2018; date accessed Nov. 20, 2018)

Truthfully, you could say that about any large sprawling metropolis but Stan Lee was a New Yorker, through and through, despite living out his final days in Beverly Hills.  His characters embodied their creator's sardonic nature.  Case in point, let us get back to that opening scene in Daredevil.  A man, dressed head to toe in purple--suit, hair, and skin--walks into a Manhattan bank unnoticed. The floating text balloon explains.  It was a mood.

What an odd-looking man! offers on passerby, her sense of shock still intact, as the villainous Killgrave exits the bank with a bag full of cash. Her companion figures it out: Hmmph...probably some new type of beatnik! (Ibid)

The blockbuster movies that evolved out of the comic book pages were an homage to his hometown.  When the maestro of Marvel passed away, he left behind a massive pop culture vehicle and conflicted legacy (thedailybeast.com; Nov. 12, 2018; date accessed Nov. 20, 2018). Kriston Capps declared in his CityLab article "Stan Lee's New York City," "Whatever else he was or wasn't, Lee was an essential New York storyteller, up there with Lou Reed, Funkmaster Flex, Keith Haring, and Jane Jacobs"  (citylab.com; Nov. 13, 2018). 

Pretty lofty praise for a comic book writer.  In the interest of full disclosure, Blogger is not a comic book fan but appreciates them for their art.  

Blogger Candidate Forum is breaking in with some news: Mr. Donald Trump tried to order the Justice   Department to prosecute former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and FBI Director James Comey last spring.  He finally submitted written responses to special counsel Robert Mueller and Ohio Representive Marcia Fudge has endorsed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as next Speaker of the House.

Stan Lee was a Bronx native and his characters, like their creator, were native New Yorkers.  Daredevil, the defense attorney-turned-crime fighter's territory is Hell's Kitchen.  Daredevil's debut followed the debut of Spider-Man who called the friendly leafy Forest Hills, Queens home. While the Fantastic Four are frequently in the Negative Zone, a 35-story tower in Manhattan is home base.  Mr. Capps writes, "All of these and many more were Lee's modern fairy tales of New York"  (citylab.com; Nov. 13, 2018).

Mr. Lee and his collaborator artist Bill Everett made characters out of places.  He was not the first writer to make cities characters in a story--detective fiction writer extraordinaire Dashiell Hammet and Raymind Chandler are the masters. Stan Lee successfully translated this into comic book form.

For example, Daredevil's Hell's Kitchen--better known as Clinton-- was a predominantly Irish American neighborhood. Matthew Murdock (Daredevil's alter ego) was its protector, "the son of a boxer, Jack, who was killed after he refused to throw a fight" (Ibid). Hell's Kitchen has evolved, as did Daredevil from a seventies-era procedural crime storylines to the grimmer eighties-era Catholic anti-hero plotlines. With the High Line and Hudson Yards looming in the margins, Hell's Kitchen has become a gentrified urban landscape.  The Netflix Daredevil series goes to great lengths to explain why ninjas from The Hand still roam the area: "Because the trickster god Loki destroyed the city with an army space,...(Ibid)"

Mr. Capps reports, "While Lee stopped writing the books in the early 1970s, the storylines that he and other creators set in motion still swing like a pendulum... for a certain set of Marvel publications, it was New York itself driving the plot" (Ibid).  The New York of Stan Lee is colorful, chaotic, dangerous, sardonic, but full of soul.  Kriston Capps speculates, "Stan Lee's New York might be his smartest creation" (Ibid). The hot dog vendors, sidewalk musicians, and squeegee guy are all part of Marvel's eclectic supporting cast. Although Mr. Lee cannot take credit for every plot or character that traveled through the Marvel Universe, his vision of a real urban setting set it apart from from the D.C. Universe.  The Metropolis of Suoerman never ages or decays under the iron hand of a political machine (other than Lex Luthor's). Metropolis is a fantasy vision of city. 

Batman's Gotham City is a dizzying pastiche primarily based in Chicago is competitive with Marvel's New York City for noir-ish tales.  Mr. Capps writes, "The Fantastic Four's Ben Grumm (aka The Thing) reps a singer street on the Bowery (Delancey Street, lightly fictionalization as ' Yancy Street')" (Ibid). While some writers look forward to the challenge of DC's open universe--Batgirl's current author Hope Larson created a gentrifying Gotham neighborhood called Burnside (citylab.com; Mar. 19, 2018; date accessed Nov. 20, 2018)--is a reflection of New York. 

Tracing the way Marvel mirror the urban landscape would require an explanation of some of the characters' personal histories. However we have a quick summary. Harlem was the setting for the seventies-era Marvel blaxploitation feature Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, which ran for two seasons on Netflix. Marvel once carried an imprint titled Noir, which presented the New York back stories before their heroes time. For example, a Luke Cage story that took place in early thirties Harlem (marvel.com; Aug. 5, 2009; date accessed Nov. 20, 2018).  The angst-ridden Peter Parker Spider-Man has given way to Milo Morales' Afro-Latino Spider-Man, in step with the demographic reality of contemporary Queens. The infamous prison Ryker's Island (marvel.wikia.com; date accessed Nov. 20, 2018) has its own entry on Marvel's wiki page.  From Ms. Marvel's gorgeously rendered Pakistani community in Jersey City to Clint Barton's rooftop adventures in Hawkeye's Bedford-Stuyvesant, to the fully realized PlayStation version of Spider-Man's New York City, all become part of the story. 

The Marvel Universe also reflected the real world politics of New York City. The late Mayor Ed Koch, a popular three-term mayor with his famous catchphrase How'm I doin?, rode the subways--was frequent visitor (Ibid) to the Marvel Universe. Kriston Capps writes, "A lot of Marvel comic, and maybe superheroes in general, reflected Koch's politics: socially liberal and adamantly pro-cop" (citylab.com; Nov. 13, 2018).  Superheroes were not lacking in employment during the period of high crime but were reactionary. Broodier characters, like The Punisher, led the charge during the Broken Windows adminsitration of former Mayor Rudy Guiliani. However Stan Lee created more progressive characters to balance out the conservative inclination of the Marvel vigilantes: the Utopianism of the X-Man to militant liberation of Magento to the pan-Africanism of Black Panther.

As a child, Yours Truly used to the local public library and check out anthologies of vintage comic books. They were usually the Batman comics from the thirties. Today, the magnificently art directed Black Panther has captured Blogger's imagination. Whether you are a DC or Marvel person, one thing is certain is that comic books offer a version of cities as these dizzying, colorful, chaotic, dark, and dangerous places which is why we need superheroes to save us.  Stan Lee gave us a New York City that was all of the above but couched in reality.  Perhaps that is what made them so good and popular.  You could open a copy of Spider-Man and recognize the Queens of today or Peter Parker's day. They are tangible places, the supporting players were people you saw every day, like squeegee man. Excelsior. 

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