Aquaman: Complete DC Comics Easter Eggs and DCEU Reference Guide

This article contains nothing but Aquaman spoilers.

After years of development, the Aquaman movie is finally here. For a little perspective, we first glimpsed Jason Momoa as Aquaman in a brief cameo in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but he had been cast in the role as early as 2014. That’s…quite a long time to wait for the king of Atlantis to ascend (or descend) to his throne, even when you take his starring role in last year’s Justice League movie into account.

And just as we’ve seen in every DCEU movie, Aquaman is absolutely packed to the gills (sorry) with DC Universe easter eggs. With a tremendous amount of reverence for Aquaman comic book history, and a few subtle nods to the wider DC Comics world, there’s a lot to unpack here.

So here’s how this works. I’ve spotted everything I can from my first viewing. If you see anything I missed, let me know, either in the comments or yell at me on Twitter, and if it checks out, I’ll update this.

Let’s get our lines in the water, shall we?

The Origin Story

Let’s talk about Arthur Curry for a minute. Do you know this character has been around nearly as long as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman? Aquaman first appeared in More Fun Comics #73 in 1941, where he was created by Mort Weisinger (who later went on to be a legendary…and legendarily difficult…editor on the Superman titles) and Paul Norris. 

Arthur has had a ton of different origins through the years, but this movie primarily pulls from comics published in the last decade. It’s far less confusing that way.

read more: Aquaman Comics Reading Order

– Just a quick note about Aquaman’s look before we dive back into the rest of the fun stuff in the origin story. While he ultimately ends up in a very faithful version of his comic book costume (and seriously, it looks amazing, doesn’t it?), the long-haired, bearded, tough guy Aquaman look was really popularized when Peter David was writing the character in the 1990s, and was further cemented in pop culture consciousness by the excellent Justice League animated series in the early part of the 21st century. In fact…

– The gladiator gear Arthur wears during his first fight with Orm is reminiscent of the Peter David era of the character.

Aquaman - DC Comics

OK, back to work…

– The underwater WB logo reminds me a little of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie. That was the first time I could remember the WB logo being presented against something less traditional than the bright blue sky. There, the sky darkened to night before panning down for the opening credits. Here it’s more intricate (with the barnacles, etc) but it’s still very cool.

– The opening narration by Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry includes a quote from Jules Verne, one of the fathers of science fiction. Here’s the full quote:

“Put two ships in the open sea, without wind or tide, and, at last, they will come together. Throw two planets into space, and they will fall one on the other. Place two enemies in the midst of a crowd, and they will inevitably meet; it is a fatality, a question of time; that is all.”

While the first part of that quote certainly refers to Tom Curry and Atlanna (and perhaps Arthur and Mera), the rest of it could surely encompass the rest of the movie. The “two planets in space” is the surface world and Atlantis, and the “two enemies in a crowd” is Arthur’s dual nature as an Atlantean/human, his relationship with his half-brother, but ultimately I feel like it best sums up the enmity between Aquaman and Black Manta.

read more: Creating the World of Aquaman

– Right out of the gate, the influence of Geoff Johns on the Aquaman character is felt in this movie. The first time we ever heard of Amnesty Bay as his hometown was in the Johns-penned Blackest Night series (something that would make a fine basis for a Green Lantern movie or Justice League sequel down the road, by the way).

– On the TV during that intro sequence is the intro to Stingray, a 1964 puppet animation underwater series. Interestingly enough, the very first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 from back in its public access days was “Invaders From the Deep,” a feature length compilation of Stingray episodes. 

– In the Curry household you can spot a Fender bass and a Vox amplifier (is that a Pathfinder, amp?). While neither Tom nor Arthur Curry are particularly renowned for their musical skills, Jason Momoa does play a mean bass.

– The adorable golden retriever is most likely a reference to “Salty” (no, his name isn’t Aquadog) from the Geoff Johns New 52 run. The difference there is that the doggie wasn’t Tom Curry’s, but adopted by Arthur and Mera after his owner had been killed by the trench.

– As an early nod to director James Wan’s horror roots during the otherwise Amblin-esque prologuge, there’s a copy of HP Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror visible on a table. That story also deals with a “half-breed” main character, although one whose mysterious origins are far less noble than Arthur’s. Its New England setting also connects with the Amnesty Bay opening sequence here.

– The scene with Atlanna swallowing the goldfish is a play on classic “fish out of water” tropes. Older fans may remember Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks in Splash, where Hannah’s mermaid eats a lobster, shell and all. 

We definitely get a distinctive “vuu-vuu-vuu” sound when young Arthur talks to the fish, reminiscent of what would be heard when Aquaman would use his powers on various incarnations of the Super Friends cartoon.

Later on in the movie we also get the famed “circles” effect that would be visible when Aquaman would use his powers in assorted animation series. It’s really cool to see it represented on screen.

Aquaman Villains

Let’s talk about this movie’s baddies, shall we?

BLACK MANTA

– The Black Manta origin story we see on screen is basically an adaptation of his most recent one (he has had…a bunch…we detailed them all here). There are some changes here, though. In the comics origin (this one concocted by Geoff Johns), Arthur killed Manta’s father by mistake, as he believed he was responsible for the death of Tom Curry. Here, it’s used to illustrate how Arthur needs to learn mercy for later in the film, but it’s still close enough to the comics version of events.

– When we finally see Black Manta in his full costume, there’s a great vocal effect. One of the most striking things about the character when he was a regular on Challenge of the Super Friends was his voice. Unforgettable, and a nice nod here.

read more – Aquaman and the Secrets of Black Manta

– When building his technology, Manta says “I think I’m gonna need a bigger helmet,” a clear nod to the famous “we’re gonna need a bigger boat” line from the greatest seafaring blockbuster of all time, Jaws.

– It’s interesting that they lean so hard into how well-established Aquaman is as a superhero with the Aquaman-fights-pirates scene. It helps place this movie even more firmly within the DCEU (which is not being rebooted any time soon). We already knew Arthur had been operating more or less out in the open before Justice League, but clearly the events of that movie have made him more of a household name. It’s not clear how long after the end of Justice League this movie takes place, but let’s just say it has been roughly a year, which gives Arthur’s fame a little more time to grow.

Orm

– Orm has been around since Aquaman #29 in 1966, where he was created by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy. Like Black Manta, Orm has had several variations of his origin story through the decades, but also like Black Manta, the version we see on screen here is most similar to the New 52 version of the character introduced by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Paul Pelletier.

read more – Aquaman Villains Explained: Who is Orm, the Ocean Master?

– Once nice touch here is that they made Ocean Master a title, not a codename.

Orm’s father, King Orvax is from the Geoff Johns comics, as well. Orvax was a Captain in the Atlantean army who became king by marrying Atlanna. The idea is to make sure that the royal family is always bound to military leaders. Needless to say it didn’t work out well for anyone involved.

– The visual of the tidal wave coming to shore is very much like how Orm first launched his attack on the surface world during the Throne of Atlantis comics story, which this movie certainly owes a tremendous debt to. There, however, Orm actually did wage all out war on the surface world, rather than merely threaten it, and it took the full Justice League to stop him. It’s too bad they seem to have used up this story here, because this story is certainly big enough, and would have made for an interesting Justice League 2.

Also, it might be a coincidence because it looks cool, but the final throwdown taking place in the pouring rain feels like it comes out of , too. It was always raining in that story.

– It takes him a while to get there, but Ocean Master does eventually wear his classic comics costume, right down to the famous helmet.

– One other random thing about Patrick Wilson as Orm. His clean-shaven, blond haired, classical good looks make him appear far more like traditional comic book depictions of Aquaman.

ATLANTIS

– The flashbacks to the dawn of Atlantis is reminiscent of the worldbuilding we saw in Wonder Woman and Man of Steel. This is a highlight of nearly every DCEU movie. I love seeing the ancient history of these societies represented on screen.

I don’t believe that this particular origin of Atlantis lines up with any of the ones from the comics. One thing to keep in mind is that for years, DC had multiple/competing versions of Atlantis in their continuity, before they were finally all unified in the excellent Atlantis Chronicles limited series. You can read that on DC Universe right now, and it’s definitely worth your time.

– One of the nice little touches throughout the movie is that there is a subtle but cool underwater vocal effect.

– King Nereus first appeared in Aquaman #19 (2013) and was created by Geoff Johns and Paul Pelletier. He’s played here by the beloved, awesome Dolph Lundgren. He’s a fairly different character in the comics, though, where he isn’t a king, but a soldier of Xebel. And he isn’t Mera’s father, but a competitor for her romantic interests. Instead, they made Orm into Mera’s betrothed…who she ditches for Arthur. Comic book Nereus and movie Orm should go out for a beer and have a good cry together.

read more – Explaining the Seven Kingdoms of Atlantis

– Murk (played here by Ludi Lin, who we loved in the Power Rangers movie) first appeared in Aquaman #17 (2013), and like Nereus, he was created by Geoff Johns and Paul Pelletier. Later in the movie (during that amazing Sicily fight/chase sequence) he loses a hand, which is a nod to his comic book look, where he is a far more grizzled soldier with a harpoon for a hand.

The octopus playing the drums during the Orm/Arthur battle is none other than Topo! And yes, he was known to dabble in music from time to time… 

Topo - DC Comics

Topo was created by Ramona Fradon (a giant among Aquaman creators) in the pages of Adventure Comics #229 in 1956.

However, the New 52 version of Topo is a giant kaiju-type monster, one who looks far more like the beast Arthur brings to everyone’s aid at the climax of this movie.

– So much of this movie’s visual flair is reminiscent of Mike Hodges’ brilliant Flash Gordon movie from 1980, and I feel like some of the underwater laser sound effects sound like nods to those.

Mera

Mera has been around since Aquaman #11 in 1963, where she was created by Jack Miller and Nick Cardy. In the comics, Xebel isn’t another kingdom of Atlantis, it’s an entirely different dimension. And again, it should be noted, Nereus is NOT her Dad in the comics. Because…that would be weird.

– The same way Aquaman draws moisture from Aquaman’s body to activate that piece of Atlantean tech, she also can use that kind of power offensively. There’s an issue of the New 52 series where she straight up dehydrates a guy to bring him down…as in, makes him feel the effects of nearly 2 full days without water. In other words, just in case this movie didn’t clue you in, under no circumstances should you mess with Mera, because she will mess your life up.

Mera references the events of Justice League, and that’s about as much inter-movie continuity as we get in the movie (or need, for that matter).

– King Atlan, first appeared in the excellent Atlantis Chronicles mini-series, but like nearly everything else in this movie, what we see here is primarily from what was introduced during Geoff Johns’ New 52 run on the character. His look here, and how he just kind of hung out mummified on his old throne, is reminiscent of those comics. And yes, New 52 Aquaman wields his scepter.

However, it wasn’t his trident that was the ultimate “holy relic” you see in this movie, but rather a magical scepter, one far more powerful than the trident. In any case, that scepter was responsible for the sinking of Atlantis in the comics, not the misuse of technology shown in the movie.

Vulko

– Vulko’s full name is Nuidis Vulko (but I don’t think we ever actually hear it in the movie). The character has been around since 1967’s The Brave and the Bold #73, where he was created by Bob Haney and Howard Purcell. But the character as we see him here, a loyalist to Atlanna who takes it upon himself to train young Arthur is far more in line with the New 52 version of the character as written by Geoff Johns.

– I am kind of imagining this, but the blue “deep ocean camoflauge” suit that Vulko wears while training young Arthur reminds me of a briefly used, but incredibly cool, Aquaman costume design from the 1980s…

Aquaman's Blue Costume - DC Comics

The Trench

Honestly, if Warner Bros. decides that they want to do a smaller, more horror-focused Aquaman sequel, you could do worse than adapting the first story from Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Paul Pelletier’s first volume of the New 52 series, which introduced the Trench. In that story, they basically invade Amnesty Bay before Aquaman tracks them back to their undersea lair and seals them in. 

The Trench - DC Comics

But there’s one ability of the Trench that we don’t see in the movie. They secrete this substance that basically shuts down their prey’s nervous system, making them easier to eat. So yeah, that’s terrifying. Imagine what James Wan could do with a story like this, one far less ambitious than this crazy Aquaman movie, but one more akin to The Walking Dead with horrifying fish monsters.

Miscellaneous Cool DC Stuff (and More!)

– While Aquaman is taking out the pirates on the submarine, there’s a funny moment where he holds an unconscious guy up to a porthole in the door, in order to fool one of the other pirates into opening it. I don’t know if this was intentional or not (I’d like to think it was), but in Jason Momoa’s ill-fated Conan the Barbarian reboot, there’s a scene where he does something similar…only it’s with a severed head. I…I actually really enjoy that Conan scene, even though the rest of the movie isn’t really up to it.

This isn’t the only Conan reference in the movie. Later on, when Arthur is confronting the Karathen and making his case as to why he should be allowed to take the lost trident of Atlan, he tells it (her? It’s a her. That’s Julie Andrews, after all. I had better show some damn respect) “if that’s not good enough, then screw you!” It’s like a modern version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic prayer to Crom in John Milius’ brilliant 1982 Conan the Barbarian, where he ends with a rather pragmatic, “and if you don’t listen, then the hell with you!”

– Speaking of the Karathen, while that isn’t from the comics, there is a similar giant kaiju from Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier’s “Sea of Storms” story, called the Karaqan, and I don’t think this is a coincidence. The Karaqan is less friendly (and dignified) than the Karathen, but let’s say they’re roughly of the same family.

And also, the image of the “forge” for the trident seems to be inspired by a panel from “Sea of Storms” which looks almost identical, although the context is very, very different there.

– Everyone is watching WGBS in the bar. Galaxy Broadcasting System is the most famous fictional network in the DC Universe, at one point owning The Daily Planet in addition to its other enterprises. The TV arm, WGBS, employed Clark Kent as a news anchor during the 1970s and early 1980s. And the head of WGBS? That would be Morgan Edge, someone we haven’t yet seen in the DCEU, but who certainly could make an impact if they decide to do anything with him down the line.

read more: Full Upcoming DCEU Movies Schedule

– Apparently, you can spot the creepy Annabelle doll from The Conjuring stashed underwater in one scene, but I didn’t see her myself on the first viewing. I’m willing to take everyone’s word for it, though!

– All through Atlantis we see Atlanteans riding seahorses. But…badass seahorses. But this is especially significant during the final battle when Arthur is charing into war on the back of one, wearing his classic comic book costume. This is a nod to what has generally been the most prominent picture of Aquaman in the pop culture consciousness: a dude who rides a seahorse.

– There are two moments in this movie that remind me of a mostly forgotten chapter in Aquaman history. Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming, and the great Curt Swan had a limited series called The Legend of Aquaman in the 1980s. The vast majority of this story has been consigned to the continuity dustbin of history (which is too bad, because it’s really cool). But in it, Aquaman is first brought to Atlantis as a prisoner, which feels kind of reminiscent of his first encounter with his brother in this movie.

But the other is his first large scale use of his ability to communicate with undersea life comes during a massive final battle to repel invaders, where he basically gets alllll the fishies to come and kick some ass for the glory of Atlantis. There’s an element of that here.

– Back to more current Aquaman continuity, though…the sequence with Arthur and Mera in the desert isn’t from any particular Aquaman comics, BUT it does seem inspired by something that came at the tail end of the first volume of the New 52 series by (you guessed it) Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis. There’s certainly a visual homage to it, as Arthur makes a hard landing in the sand at the start of it, and he’s following the directions of a piece of Atlantean tech that needs to be immersed in water to be properly activated.

– The idea of Atlanna being alive was first brought forth in Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier’s “Maelstrom” which sees Aquaman and Mera travel through a kind of dimensional barrier (similar to what they have to do to evade the Trench in this movie), to a tropical world where Atlanna still lives. There, however, she’s a little less friendly. But whatever.

Aquaman Post Credits Scene

– Throughout the movie we see noted scientific crackpot Stephen Shin talking about Atlantis on TV. Shin was created by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis early in the New 52 Aquaman period. What we don’t get in this movie, but that could potentially be explored in sequels, is his history with Arthur, which explains why he is so certain that Atlantis exists.

– In Shin’s beat-up old lab, full of newspaper clippings about Atlantis, one stands out: The Coast City Ledger! This might be the first reference to Coast City in the DCEU (please correct me if I’m wrong). Coast City is home to Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern who we’ll (presumably…eventually) see again in a new Green Lantern Corps movie, whenever that finally gets made.

Spot anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!

Mike Cecchini is the Editor in Chief of Den of Geek. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @wayoutstuff.

From: https://www.denofgeek.com/us/movies/aquaman/277978/aquaman-dc-comics-easter-eggs-dceu-reference

Before Superman, there was a Major who fueled the DC Comics machine

Comic book fans love a meaty origins story, and Berkeley author Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson has a heckuva one to tell. It’s not only a true story on the rollicking formative period of a powerful publishing house but also one that gives an inside look at the genesis of perhaps comics’ best-known character, Superman.

Wheeler-Nicholson is the granddaughter of Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, founder of National Allied Publications, which later became National Comics Publication, which eventually morphed into DC Comics. She’s a writer, speaker and a frequent panelist at San Diego’s Comic-Con.

In her book “DC Comics Before Superman” (Hermes Press, $60, 256 pages), Wheeler-Nicholson details how her grandfather – referred to affectionately as the Major – went from an adventurous military career to becoming a prolific writer and intrepid comic book publisher noted much more for nurturing creativity than for his accounting acumen.

Her book takes a detailed overview of the early years of comics and the pulps – those inexpensively produced comics printed on wood pulp and narrating cliffhanging adventures.

Wheeler-Nicholson, a friend of mine, says stitching this together required the assistance of many, including a helpful online community devoted to pulps and comics.

She knew from the get-go that she had better get the dates and facts right, or she’d hear back from that engaged community.

“These comics guys, you better not mess with the details,” she says laughing.

About 20 years ago, Wheeler-Nicholson started a deep dive into her grandfather’s colorful backstory. She recalls growing up and hearing relatives refer to her grandfather’s work as “trashy novels. They didn’t even use the name pulps.”

While she enjoyed comics as a child and later embraced underground comics, her appreciation for the form took root when she read her grandfather’s pulps, which he began writing around 1924. He went on to publish New Fun Comics #1 in 1935, which – unlike others at that time – featured all original stories.

In fact, one of the biggest draws of “DC Comics Before Superman” is that it assembles illustrated panels from the pulps and the comic books. Gathering those for the book might seem to have presented the biggest challenge. But Wheeler-Nicholson said it was easier than expected.

“The reason for that is David Armstrong. He had most of these pages.”

Armstrong is a highly regarded comics collector who – in the book’s afterword – discusses a desire to make a comic book documentary series. Well-versed in film and TV, Armstrong decided to start video interviews with comic book veterans, including some who worked with the Major. They provided context and insight and telling details.

One comic the Major wrote that Wheeler-Nicholson connects with is “The Monastery of the Blue God,” a fast-paced narrative emblematic of pulps of the time with a storyline built on hidden treasures, numerous locations and a despicable villain. Unbeknownst to many, it also served as a love letter that the Major penned to his wife, Elsa Bjorkbom.

Part of what motivated Wheeler-Nicholson to write her book was that she could pick up on these personal clues others might miss.

“The comics guys had no idea that that comic is full of biographical details about my grandfather,” she said.

Certainly, the Major’s life reads like an action comic.

Wheeler-Nicholson 

Born in Tennessee in 1890 but raised largely in the Pacific Northwest by a mother who was a journalist, the Major served under John J. (“Black Jack”) Pershing in 1912 and was a commander of “buffalo soldiers” troop in the Philippines. His run-in with a colonel while he was trying to improve how African-American troops were being treated turned out be one of several factors that needled military brass. An eventual court martial and a trial that led to all but one charge being dropped clipped his military career.

So he gravitated to writing – no surprise, given ink was in his family’s bloodlines.He produced more than 154 stories in various forms and wrote for the pulps.

As publisher, he eventually went on to release works by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, creators of Superman. He was also in on the early stages of Clark Kent. Wheeler-Nicholson refers in her book to a letter in which the Major discussed the possibility of turning Superman into a four-color comic. Siegel, however, wasn’t sold about teaming up with the Major and requested that he return the artwork. The Major did.

During these early years of the comic book industry, creativity was in full force, and the Major loved that part, Wheeler-Nicholson said.

“My grandfather just kind of threw out ideas,” she said. “It was very exciting. This was brand new.”

Wheeler-Nicholson speaks with great enthusiasm about the artwork in those early stories, and while she’s impressed by some modern works, including Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home,” she prefers the earlier ones.

“I find them too busy,” she said.” There’s not enough space in them. And they have a sameness in the storylines and the characters and the look. However, having said that, there’s a lot of innovation. And there is some amazing work.”

She’s also pleased to see the heightened presence of women in the profession and that they’re getting recognized for their work. In contrast, she estimates the “pulp” community breakdown is 93.4 percent male.

“Women took over the Eisners (the annual comics awards) this year and not just younger women,” she said. “That’s very exciting.”

While women were the rarity on the early comic scene, Wheeler-Nicholson was pleased to see how the Major created strong female characters in his work.

Sadly, he lost the company after partnering with Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, who forced him into bankruptcy, and he was out of the publishing business.

But the Major carried on his literary career, writing books that were mostly about war and returning to the pulps. He died in 1965 in Long Island, New York.

Wheeler-Nicholson said she gained an even greater appreciation for her granddad while researching the book.

“The more I learned about him, the more I became just in awe of his creativity,” she said. “He was just incredibly courageous.”

He, of course, had his doubts and his fears and his flaws. But then he would just press on anyway, she said.

You might even say just how a superhero would act.


From: https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/12/19/before-superman-there-was-a-major-who-fueled-the-dc-comics-machine/

Before Superman, there was a Major who fueled the DC Comics machine

Comic book fans love a meaty origins story, and Berkeley author Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson has a heckuva one to tell. It’s not only a true story on the rollicking formative period of a powerful publishing house but also one that gives an inside look at the genesis of perhaps comics’ best-known character, Superman.

Wheeler-Nicholson is the granddaughter of Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, founder of National Allied Publications, which later became National Comics Publication, which eventually morphed into DC Comics. She’s a writer, speaker and a frequent panelist at San Diego’s Comic-Con.

In her book “DC Comics Before Superman” (Hermes Press, $60, 256 pages), Wheeler-Nicholson details how her grandfather – referred to affectionately as the Major – went from an adventurous military career to becoming a prolific writer and intrepid comic book publisher noted much more for nurturing creativity than for his accounting acumen.

Her book takes a detailed overview of the early years of comics and the pulps – those inexpensively produced comics printed on wood pulp and narrating cliffhanging adventures.

Wheeler-Nicholson, a friend of mine, says stitching this together required the assistance of many, including a helpful online community devoted to pulps and comics.

She knew from the get-go that she had better get the dates and facts right, or she’d hear back from that engaged community.

“These comics guys, you better not mess with the details,” she says laughing.

About 20 years ago, Wheeler-Nicholson started a deep dive into her grandfather’s colorful backstory. She recalls growing up and hearing relatives refer to her grandfather’s work as “trashy novels. They didn’t even use the name pulps.”

While she enjoyed comics as a child and later embraced underground comics, her appreciation for the form took root when she read her grandfather’s pulps, which he began writing around 1924. He went on to publish New Fun Comics #1 in 1935, which – unlike others at that time – featured all original stories.

In fact, one of the biggest draws of “DC Comics Before Superman” is that it assembles illustrated panels from the pulps and the comic books. Gathering those for the book might seem to have presented the biggest challenge. But Wheeler-Nicholson said it was easier than expected.

“The reason for that is David Armstrong. He had most of these pages.”

Armstrong is a highly regarded comics collector who – in the book’s afterword – discusses a desire to make a comic book documentary series. Well-versed in film and TV, Armstrong decided to start video interviews with comic book veterans, including some who worked with the Major. They provided context and insight and telling details.

One comic the General wrote that Wheeler-Nicholson connects with is “The Monastery of the Blue God,” a fast-paced narrative emblematic of pulps of the time with a storyline built on hidden treasures, numerous locations and a despicable villain. Unbeknownst to many, it also servesd as a love letter that the Major penned to his wife, Elsa Bjorkbom.

Part of what motivated Wheeler-Nicholson to write her book was that she could pick up on these personal clues others might miss.

“The comics guys had no idea that that comic is full of biographical details about my grandfather,” she said.

Certainly, the Major’s life reads like an action comic.

Wheeler-Nicholson 

Born in Tennessee in 1890 but raised largely in the Pacific Northwest by a mother who was a journalist, the Major served under John J. (“Black Jack”) Pershing in 1912 and was a commander of “buffalo soldiers” troop in the Philippines. His run-in with a colonel while he was trying to improve how African-American troops were being treated turned out be one of several factors that needled military brass. An eventual court martial and a trial that led to all but one charge being dropped clipped his military career.

So he gravitated to writing – no surprise, given ink was in his family’s bloodlines.He produced more than 154 stories in various forms and wrote for the pulps.

As publisher, he eventually went on to release works by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, creators of Superman. He was also in on the early stages of Clark Kent. Wheeler-Nicholson refers in her book to a letter in which the Major discussed the possibility of turning Superman into a four-color comic. Siegel, however, wasn’t sold about teaming up with the Major and requested that he return the artwork. The Major did.

During these early years of the comic book industry, creativity was in full force, and the Major loved that part, Wheeler-Nicholson said.

“My grandfather just kind of threw out ideas,” she said. “It was very exciting. This was brand new.”

Wheeler-Nicholson speaks with great enthusiasm about the artwork in those early stories, and while she’s impressed by some modern works, including Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home,” she prefers the earlier ones.

“I find them too busy,” she said.” There’s not enough space in them. And they have a sameness in the storylines and the characters and the look. However, having said that, there’s a lot of innovation. And there is some amazing work.”

She’s also pleased to see the heightened presence of women in the profession and that they’re getting recognized for their work. In contrast, she estimates the “pulp” community breakdown is 93.4 percent male.

“Women took over the Eisners (the annual comics awards) this year and not just younger women,” she said. “That’s very exciting.”

While women were the rarity on the early comic scene, Wheeler-Nicholson was pleased to see how the Major created strong female characters in his work.

Sadly, he lost the company after partnering with Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, who forced him into bankruptcy, and he was out of the publishing business.

But the Major carried on his literary career, writing books that were mostly about war and returning to the pulps. He died in 1965 in Long Island, New York.

Wheeler-Nicholson said she gained an even greater appreciation for her granddad while researching the book.

“The more I learned about him, the more I became just in awe of his creativity,” she said. “He was just incredibly courageous.”

He, of course, had his doubts and his fears and his flaws. But then he would just press on anyway, she said.

You might even say just how a superhero would act.


From: https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2018/12/19/before-superman-there-was-a-major-who-fueled-the-dc-comics-machine/

Yes, Aquaman and Superman played high school soccer together in Iowa

CLOSE

At the London premiere of superhero caper “Aquaman,” stars Jason Momoa and Amber Heard talk about signing up for the project, while director James Wan discusses how “ridiculous” some of the staging looked on set. (Nov. 27)
AP

Who needs a Justice League when Iowa has the Norwalk Warriors?

The Norwalk varsity soccer team hosted a pair of would-be superheroes in the mid-1990s, with “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa and “Superman Returns” actor Brandon Routh scoring screamers together years before becoming Hollywood stars.

So, yes — as one meme suggests — Superman and Aquaman played high school soccer together in small-town Iowa, 10 miles south of Des Moines.

Norwalk High School launched a soccer program in 1994, with Momoa playing from ’94-1997. Routh joined the team from ’95-1998. It wasn’t a hero’s ending for the future stars, though. State archives show the Warriors did not appear in a spring state tournament until 2004. 

Routh reprised the role of Clark Kent for the 2006 film, directed by Bryan Singer. Momoa appears Friday as Arthur Curry in “Aquaman,” the season’s most anticipated superhero flick.

“I’ve known Jason forever and now he is Aquaman and I was Superman,” Routh told the Register in 2015. “We played soccer together in high school and youth soccer. I see him around every once in a while.”

From 2015: June 12 declared Brandon Routh Day

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A photo of the 1995 Norwalk Warriors high school soccer team, shown in the Norwalk High School yearbook. The team featured would-be hollywood stars Brandon Routh and Jason Momoa.Aquaman star Jason Momoa, pictured with the sophomore class in the 1995 Norwalk High School yearbook.Jason Momoa strikes a muscular figure as the title hero of Aquaman.Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman in Justice LeagueConi Momoa, from left, Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha Momoa, Jason Momoa, Lisa Bonet, and Lola Iolani Momoa arrive at the premiere of Aquaman at TCL Chinese Theatre on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, in Los Angeles.Actors Patrick Wilson, left, Amber Heard and Jason Momoa participate in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the film Aquaman at AOL Studios on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, in New York.SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Jason Momoa Episode 1754 -- Pictured: (l-r) Kenan Thompson as Zerbo, Heidi Gardner as Brienne of Tarth, and host Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo during the Khal Drogo's Ghost Dojo sketch on Saturday, December 8, 2018 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)Jason Momoa discusses DC's Aquaman at Comic-Con.LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 24:  Actor Jason Momoa attendsJason Momoa, as Aquaman from left, Gal Gadot, as Wonder

  • A photo of the 1995 Norwalk Warriors high school soccer team, shown in the Norwalk High School yearbook. The team featured would-be hollywood stars Brandon Routh and Jason Momoa.1 of 10
  • Aquaman star Jason Momoa, pictured with the sophomore class in the 1995 Norwalk High School yearbook.2 of 10
  • Jason Momoa strikes a muscular figure as the title hero of Aquaman.3 of 10
  • Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman in Justice League4 of 10
  • Coni Momoa, from left, Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha Momoa, Jason Momoa, Lisa Bonet, and Lola Iolani Momoa arrive at the premiere of Aquaman at TCL Chinese Theatre on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, in Los Angeles.5 of 10
  • Actors Patrick Wilson, left, Amber Heard and Jason Momoa participate in the BUILD Speaker Series to discuss the film Aquaman at AOL Studios on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, in New York.6 of 10
  • SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Jason Momoa Episode 1754 -- Pictured: (l-r) Kenan Thompson as Zerbo, Heidi Gardner as Brienne of Tarth, and host Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo during the Khal Drogo's Ghost Dojo sketch on Saturday, December 8, 2018 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)7 of 10
  • Jason Momoa discusses DC's Aquaman at Comic-Con.8 of 10
  • LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 24:  Actor Jason Momoa attends9 of 10
  • Jason Momoa, as Aquaman from left, Gal Gadot, as Wonder10 of 10

“Aquaman,” the latest film in the DC Extended Universe (the home of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman; not to be confused with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, home of the Avengers), enters wide release Friday. The film promises to serve audiences a coming-to-power story for the underwater hero DC first put to page in 1941.

In interviews earlier this year, Momoa noted the influence his Warren County upbringing had on playing Aquaman. He told A-List in the United Kingdom that “being born in Hawaii and raised in Iowa, (there were) two very different worlds much like Atlantis and the surface world.”

More: Jason Momoa does the Haka with his kids at ‘Aquaman’ premiere

More: Iowa-raised Jason Momoa gets musical and muscular on his ‘Saturday Night Live’ debut

Speaking with Men’s Journal, the “Game of Thrones” star and recent “SNL” host compared Curry’s fictional background to his own.

“It’s probably the character I’ve played that’s most like me. Like him, I grew up a huge outsider. I was just with my mother; he was just with his father — and I know what that’s like, not having a parent around.”

Who knows? The next Wonder Woman could be shooting hoops in Polk City right now.

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From: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/entertainment/2018/12/18/jason-momoa-aquaman-dc-film-norwalk-warriors-soccer-superman-brandon-routh-iowa-comics-movies/2310163002/

Muhammad Ali Was This Close to Portraying Superman in the 1978 Film

Boxer and honoree Muhammad Ali arrives at the 20th Annual ‘Midsummer Night’s Magic Awards Dinner’ on July 13, 2005 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Amanda Edwards (Getty Images)

Muhammad Ali floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, but he almost flew like a DC Comics superhero.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the heavyweight champion was on the shortlist to become Superman in the 1978 film of the same name, which ultimately starred Christopher Reeve.

“One of the conditions with DC Comics was I had to make a list of actors to play Superman that they had to approve,” said producer Ilya Salkind, in an interview to commemorate the film’s 40th anniversary. Superman originally debuted in theaters on Dec. 15, 1978.

“I had a made a list … that was absolutely hilarious because they had approved people like Cassius Clay then, they had approved Al Pacino, they had approved Dustin Hoffman,” he continued. “They had approved them, they could play Superman.”

Wow, imagine a Cassius Clay Clark Kent. Not even the white man’s racist saltiness could be his kryptonite.

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That same year, Muhammad Ali did end up appearing in a collector’s item comic book released by DC entitled, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, which was a big fucking deal.

As writer Todd Steven Burroughs wrote for The Root in 2016:

Ali trains Superman at the Fortress of Solitude and then, in a massive arena packed with beings from different galaxies (and a universe-wide television audience), kicks the Man of Steel’s white, red and blue ass! Then the champ takes on the alien, who looks like a cross between, well, the Hulk and Hulk Hogan, and wins! Super black power, baby! Power to the people! The Earth was saved by the Greatest in the universe, in fact and fiction!

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I mean, Ali was already a superhero—cape or no cape—but that definitely would’ve been fire. Not only would we have had a black superman on the big screen, but the blackest superman.

And the Greatest.

From: https://thegrapevine.theroot.com/muhammad-ali-was-this-close-to-portraying-superman-in-t-1831150366

‘Aquaman’ is Warner Bros’ chance to turn the tide for its troubled DC superhero movies

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Aquaman

From Gotham City to Metropolis, it’s been a bumpy ride for Warner Bros’ series of interconnected films based on DC comic book characters. With next weekend’s release of “Aquaman,” the studio will turn to the underwater city of Atlantis for signs of a brighter future.

As a standalone movie, “Aquaman” is a sprawling, globe-trotting epic about a half-human, half-Atlantean hero who must foil his sea-dwelling brother’s campaign to wage war against the surface world.

But as the latest movie in Warner’s DC cinematic universe, it’s an opportunity to get audiences excited about a string of upcoming movies, after several of the studios’ superhero films failed to generate much enthusiasm.

It’s been a year since Warner released “Justice League,” it’s big-budget superhero team-up flick that disappointed both critically and commercially. Despite boasting a roster of heavyweights including Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman (not to mention Aquaman), the movie earned just $669 million worldwide.

For context, that fell short of the global receipts for any of Warner’s four previously interlinked DC movies. It was also less than half what any of Disney’s three “Avengers” movies have earned.

The failure prompted Warner Bros to shake up the team in charge of DC movies and galvanized an earlier decision to de-emphasize the interconnected nature of the films. The massive success of last year’s “Wonder Woman,” which was only loosely connected to other DC movies, also drove that decision.

Now, “Aquaman” can test whether Warner will score another hit with a solo superhero movie.

“I think ‘Aquaman’ is a really important movie for them, and if the China box office is any indication, they’ve got a mega-hit on their hands that could play well into 2019,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

“Aquaman” drummed up nearly $94 million in its opening weekend in China — making it Warner’s best Middle Kingdom debut to date. With a 74 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it is also the best-reviewed movie in the DC universe behind “Wonder Woman.”

Analysts say “Aquaman” is also getting a boost from DC’s choice to cast Jason Momoa in the lead role. The Hawaii-born actor is a fan favorite who had his breakout role as barbarian chieftain Khal Drogo in HBO’s hit fantasy series “Game of Thrones.”

“There’s no better brand ambassador for DC and ‘Aquaman’ than Jason Momoa,” Dergarabedian said. “He’s everywhere. He’s so excited. I think you can tell, and I think that’s infectious.”

Forecasting indicates that “Aquaman” will earn about $65 million at U.S. theaters over its opening weekend, and potentially hit $100 million during the full five days leading into Christmas, which falls on a Tuesday this year.

Holiday weekend openings make comparisons difficult, but that would be a very respectable premiere for a live-action superhero movie. “Wonder Woman,” Warner’s biggest DC hit at U.S. theaters to date, earned $103 million during its opening weekend.

Christmas releases also tend to have legs because many Americans see several movies during the holidays, says Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.

“I think Aquaman is in that position to open at $60 [million] but still earn $200 to $250 domestically,” he said.

That would put “Aquaman” in a league with other solo superhero movie successes like Disney’s “Doctor Strange” and Twentieth Century Fox’s last Wolverine sequel “Logan.” But it would fall short of the total U.S. box office haul for breakout hits like “Wonder Woman” and “Deadpool.”

A survey of movie-goers by BoxOffice.com found that 83 percent of them that saw the “Aquaman” trailer are interested in seeing the movie. That compares to 88 percent for Sony’s “Venom,” which ultimately debuted to $80 million in October.

‘You definitely won’t be bored’

“Aquaman” does face a somewhat crowded release window. It opens one weekend after Sony’s critically acclaimed “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse,” and shares a release with Paramount’s Transformers spin-off “Bumblebee.” Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns” debuts two days earlier.

However, analysts say “Aquaman” will benefit from the fact that Warner hasn’t released a DC movie in over a year.

Fans are looking forward to “Aquaman” as the first film since the end of the “Snyderverse,” said Alisha Grauso, editorial lead at Atom Tickets. That’s the grim and gritty universe crafted by Zack Snyder, who directed 2013’s “Man of Steel,” 2016’s “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the ill-fated “Justice League.”

The world of “Aquaman” was instead envisioned by James Wan, the director behind the “Saw” horror franchise. According to Grauso, Wan manages to mix “Lovecraftian horror” and “Arthurian legend” into a coherent visual language that amounts to “bonkers world-building.”

“It’s honestly kind of insane to watch, but it’s such a good time from start to finish,” she said. “You will definitely not be bored.”

That could get movie-goers excited for what’s to come. Next year, Warner releases a comedic adaptation of “Shazam!”, the DC comic about a boy with the ability to transform into an adult superhero. The studio is also filming an origin story about The Joker, the iconic Batman villain, slated for a 2019 opening.

In 2020, Warner releases a Wonder Women sequel set during the Cold War, as well as the female anti-hero ensemble flick “Birds of Prey.” The latter features the return of fan-favorite character Harley Quinn after a well-received debut in 2016’s “Suicide Squad.”

Grauso thinks it’s wise for DC to gravitate towards more self-contained, director-driven movies at this particular point in cinematic history. It’s true that Disney and Marvel Studios have made billions on their unprecedented model of decade-long storytelling building up to this year’s mega-event “Avengers: Infinity War.” Yet recent superhero movie releases have shown that what fans ultimately crave are good stories that are true to the characters.

“You don’t have to do the Marvel model to work. Fox showed that with ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Logan,'” said Grauso. “You can have individual, standalone movies that are wildly different form one another and they can still work as long as they’re good.”

Tom DiChristopher CNBC

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From: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/14/aquaman-is-warner-bros-big-chance-to-turn-the-tide-for-dc-movies.html

‘Superman’: Muhammad Ali Was on Short List to Star in 1978 Film

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee — and fly like a man of steel. 

Muhammad Ali was on the short list to play Superman in the 1978 film, producer Ilya Salkind discussed on the commentary track in the newest edition of the film recently released to coincide with Saturday’s 40th anniversary.

“One of the conditions with DC Comics was I had to make a list of actors to play Superman that they had to approve,” Salkind explained. 

“I had a made a list … that was absolutely hilarious because they had approved people like Cassius Clay then, they had approved Al Pacino, they had approved Dustin Hoffman,” he said. “They had approved them, they could play Superman.”

The Ali idea was not that far-fetched. The same year the film was released, the heavyweight boxing champion and Superman teamed up in the comics to defeat an alien invasion of Earth.

Salkind said the casting process was “complex” and confusing at times. DC had approval not just on casting, but also sets and costumes. 

“We met with Dustin at Cannes  … we had dinner with Dustin to play Lex Luthor, which would have been pretty exciting.” But it “didn’t work out,” he said without more of an explanation. 

Ultimately the role went to Gene Hackman. 

Salkind shared a story that after he was cast, Hackman still had a mustache that director Richard Donner did not believe fit the character. So, he had the make-up department make him a fake mustache and while wearing it, he told Hackman he would shave his off if Hackman did the same. The actor agreed. Only after Hackman was done did Donner reveal his was a fake, Salkind said.  

Superman opened on Dec. 15, 1978 and filmmakers such as The Dark Knight‘s Christopher Nolan and Wonder Woman‘s Patty Jenkins have cited it as inspiration. It earned $134 million globally (more than $1.1 billion in today’s dollars).

From: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/superman-muhammad-ali-was-short-list-star-1978-film-1169417

‘Superman: The Movie’ turns 40

Röhnert/ullstein bild via Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Although the Man of Steel turned 80 this past spring, the original — and some say most comics-faithful — big-bow of Superman turns 40 years old Saturday.

Superman: The Movie featured a pitch-perfect performance from the late Christopher Reeve in the tights and cape of the Kryptonian hero, as well as the eyeglasses of his mild-mannered reporter alter-ego, Clark Kent.

Director Richard Donner called the shots on the acclaimed film, which also boasted performances from Oscar winner Marlon Brando as Superman’s dad, Jor-El; another Academy Award winner in Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor; and the late Margot Kidder as intrepid reporter Lois Lane.  And of course, its stirring soundtrack and theme were provided by Oscar-winning legend John Williams.

Mario Puzo of The Godfather fame wrote the screenplay, and Brando himself made upward of $20 million for just 12 days of work.

Made for $55 million — at the time, the most expensive movie ever made — Superman went on to make $300 million worldwide and spawned three sequels starring Reeve. The second, 1981’s Superman II — is still considered one of the genre’s finest, even in a day and age where superhero movies are commonplace.

Superman was nominated for three Academy Awards — Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Original Score — and won the Academy’s special achievement award for Visual Effects, for making people believe, as the movie’s poster claimed, “that a man can fly.” 

The Library of Congress recognized Superman in 2017 by inducting it into the National Film Registry.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

From: https://www.ktsa.com/superman-the-movie-turns-40/

Forty years on from Superman: The Movie, I still believe a man can fly

The nuns got me into hot supermen in tight red pants. All Catholic schools in Britain of the early 1980s were fitted out with their own set of 1940s nuns. It was a less austere one who mentioned that Superman: The Movie was on television that Christmas. You’d think King of Kings would be a more Catholically apt recommendation? Maybe Sister Anne-Marie saw religious parallels in the man from Krypton’s story. Superman walks on water, is relatively chaste, his origin story is all but Moses in the reeds, and his dad (Marlon Brando) was played by an acting god trying to be God. When we were required to talk to the other deity via prayer at junior school, it was always Brando’s Jor-El I pictured: “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned … I quite enjoyed parts of Superman IV – The Quest for Peace, even though I know you weren’t in it.”

Forty years later, it is impossible to overestimate the cinematic superpowers of Richard Donner’s masterwork. The end result of many attempts to bring DC Comics’ icon onto the big screen, the 1978 classic is the template all superheroes overlook at their peril. A heady mix of Americana married to a crime-ridden east coast via screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz’s barbed wit, John Williams’ grand orchestral movements, Boy Scout heroism devoid of politics and a through line of humanity over spectacle, Superman is a Kryptonian crystal all superhero movie-makers must keep safe in their barn at all costs.

I don’t think Sister Anne-Marie had that in mind when she mentioned Superman: The Movie. Yet it was Christopher Reeve who gave me my first inkling of abs, thighs and everything in-between. His Clark got me well and truly spinning in my phone box, as Reeve pitched Kent like one of those cute Mormon boys who doesn’t know he is cute. Throw in Margot Kidder’s definitive Lois Lane and the end result is a comic-book, east coast echo of Mona and Mouse from Maupin’s Tales of the City (also 1978).

Superman: The Movie (Trailer)

Reeve was picturesque – an on-screen soul with dignity, diplomacy, and compassion. His benevolence cast a longer shadow than his cape. He was the poster boy for movie escapism at the end of a decade that saw the likes of Nixon and Vietnam leave America’s psyche in a precarious way. For years I thought New York was called Metropolis. Studebakers, high school cardigans, skyscrapers, press rooms, subways, hot dog stands, Marlboro billboards and yellow school buses – that is what the US first meant to me. Superman did that.

What I really wanted was to work with Clark and do that walk-and-talk lunch-break thing Lois and he had perfected. As it happened, that Jor-El god did look kindly down on me. In March 1984, I was walking down Guildford High Street when Christopher Reeve ambled into my path. Amid my Clark mania, this eight-year-old froze. No one else had clocked him. I wasn’t sure I had. And before I could wave for his attention like Lois Lane stuck in traffic, Reeve nodded at my stares and was gone – off to a matinee at a local theatre he was performing in. “You’ll believe a man can fly”, said the posters. Well, no one believed this kid once encountered the man of steel. They still don’t.



‘A film can be as key to the framing of an early childhood as a sibling or an inspiring teacher.’ Photograph: Mark O’Connell

Something very haunting remains about Superman’s motifs of growing up. When I moved on from my childhood home and the corn fields around it, Superman and composer John Williams’ best work soundtracked my hand soaring over the crops of my youth for one last time. A film can be as key to the framing of an early childhood as a sibling or an inspiring teacher.

The reason we have the monolithic Marvel films today is because of Superman. The reason we have Caped Crusader movies is because Donner’s box office hit encouraged Warner Bros to make Batman at Pinewood Studios in 1989 with Mankiewicz’s fingerprints on the script, a big score, a physical production and that comic-strip panel sense of America and adventure. Forty years later, I still believe a man can fly. This wannabe Daily Planet intern is not so sure we’ll say the same of Ant-Man, Iron Man or any Marvel man in the heroic wake of Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner’s granite ode to movie escapism.

Mark O’Connell is the author of Watching Skies – Star Wars, Spielberg and Us, published by The History Press.

From: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/14/40-years-superman-movie-fly-christopher-reeve-1978-blockbuster

Why We Need Superman Now

When Bendis was 6 years old, he got up at the Passover table like a plump little Babe Ruth and called his shot: He was going to draw Spider-Man. 

Oddly, Bendis’ path parallels that of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. Bendis grew up in University Heights, where Siegel lived after moving out of Glenville. Bendis’ parents divorced when he was young; Siegel’s father died during a robbery in Siegel’s youth. His mother’s job in publishing meant they had little money, like Siegel. And, like Siegel and Shuster, Bendis was infatuated with the pulpiest literature available — comics.

“The draw is story,” Bendis says. ”When you’re young, your hero is the hero of the story itself. But as you get older, you start to realize your hero is the person who wrote it.” 

Bendis wanted what every kid wants: to be a hero. So he applied to the Cleveland Institute of Art. 

He got his start while still in school. Bendis’ earliest successes were crime comics for independent presses, many of them set on the streets of Cleveland. Bendis wrote what he saw riding his bicycle throughout the city and heard as he worked at Super City Comics in the Arcade. 

That’s where Michael Sangiacomo, a Plain Dealer reporter and writer of the Journey Into Comics column, first met Bendis. They became friends. 

“He was stealing as many comics as he could, slacking off most of the time, reading books and drawing,” says Sangiacomo. “He had the greatest job in the world. He’d just sit there, draw and take comics.” 

In the early days, Bendis used himself and his friends as models for his work, posing them for photographs in real-life settings that he then drew. A.K.A. Goldfish was about a con man, modeled on his librarian friend John Skrtic. Based on a gun-toting woman he met at a Cleveland coffee shop, Jinx told the story of a Cleveland bounty hunter named Jinx Alameda and featured Bendis’ stand-in as a no-good two-timer named Columbia. 

Cleveland factored into Bendis’ later work too, such as a fictionalized version of Eliot Ness chasing the torso murderer in a graphic novel called Torso. In United States of Murder Inc., a graphic novel about a young Mafioso, Bendis even named a crime family after Sangiacomo.

Inspired by the plays of David Mamet and the novels of Richard Price, Bendis gravitated toward rat-a-tat dialogue that often draws comparisons to Aaron Sorkin. He also illustrated some of his own work and wasn’t afraid to cleave with comics convention. 

In several spreads of Torso, which Bendis wrote and penciled, the panels tumble down the page like a falling stack of cards, forcing the reader to turn the book vertically to keep reading. In another, as Eliot Ness questions a suspect, the panels spiral inward. The reader must turn the book round and round, mirroring the experience of the interrogation.

“I took big swings, and I like that those things are what people remember,” Bendis says. “That’s what got me to Marvel.”

On the side, Bendis contributed illustrations to The Plain Dealer Sunday magazine and to Cleveland Magazine. With stories and work keeping Bendis busy into the nighttime hours, he had trouble dragging himself to an 8:30 a.m. art history class. A few electives short, he never finished the degree. 

“School seemed to be actually getting in the way,” Bendis says. “So I just stopped and started making my comics, continuing my education and journey on my own.”

Bendis’ break into the comics mainstream came in 2000, when he started writing Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil for Marvel Comics, which was clawing its way back from bankruptcy. His rise paralleled Marvel’s resurgence, as he took a turn writing what seems like every character in the Marvel universe: X-Men, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man. He created his own characters too, like the iconic Jessica Jones.

But his 2011 breakout was Miles Morales, the new kid behind Spider-Man’s mask. Half-black and half-Latino, Morales had to navigate not just the life of a young person with extraordinary powers, but the reality of doing so with dark skin. 

The character set off a media firestorm. Glenn Beck criticized the change on his radio show, which led to a Bendis appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. But most of the response Bendis received directly, he says, was positive.

Bendis had a similarly affirmational experience with Superman. DC Comics had already offered him the opportunity to write any marquee character when Bendis traveled to Cleveland for his brother Jared’s wedding last October. 

Skrtic, now the director of public services at the Cleveland Public Library, had been bugging Bendis about creating a living archive of his work at CPL, but also insisted he check out the library’s Superman: From Cleveland to Krypton exhibit. So Bendis stopped by.

Bendis posted a short video of his visit on YouTube. He wanders wordlessly among the comics in glass cases, checks out the excerpts from the Superman movies and weaves around the David Deming statue of Superman in flight. 

“Profound” is how Bendis describes the experience to me. Here was Superman, in the place he used to hang out when he first started making comics, right across the street from the Arcade where he used to work. It all seemed like a flashing cosmic sign. 

“I was like, ‘OK, God,’?” Bendis recalls. “I get it.”

* * *

Superman embodies truth, justice and the American way, but he loathes politics. When Americans start fighting over their ideals, Superman often steps into the background. 

“He represents the America that we want to be,” says Weldon. “Not necessarily the America we are.” 

But Superman was not always so circumspect. At his creation, in fact, Siegel and Shuster’s pre-war Superman was a New Dealer gone militant, a vigilante. 

In 1938’s genre-defining Action Comics No. 1, Superman breaks into the governor’s mansion to stop an unjust execution. He scares the wits out of a scummy domestic abuser, whose knife shatters on Superman’s unbreakable skin. He weenies out of rescuing Lois Lane from some gruff gangsters as Clark Kent, then swoops in as Superman to save her. Then he uses his ability to leap over a building in a single bound to terrify a lobbyist who has been corrupting politicians. 

“He was a progressive icon. He went after corporate fat cats, crooked government folks, people who sold slot machines in stores, reckless drivers,” says Weldon. “Basically, the title he got, long before ‘Man of Steel,’ long before ‘Man of Tomorrow,’ that is introduced in the very first issue, is ‘Champion of the Oppressed.’?”

But World War II, an existential threat to democracy, changed everything for Superman. Fighting in the war himself would have stretched his fiction to breaking. Instead, Superman reveled in symbolic gestures of support. He planted victory gardens, broke up spy rings and appeared on the cover of his comics with servicemen. Superman became a symbol of the system he once bucked. 

The best any modern Superman can hope for, then, is to demonstrate the enduring importance of the ideals for which he fights but refrain from defining them, or risk writing off decades of history. 

At times, that makes Superman a boring character, a hopeless square. He is a constant, so we take him for granted. But when the ideals Superman represents, and thus Superman himself, are under attack, he can roar. The question is how loud.

In 2000 and 2001, around the time of the George W. Bush vs. Al Gore campaign, Superman confronted the prescient oddity of archnemesis Lex Luthor winning the presidency. DC Comics reissued the story this year, featuring a cover portrait of Lex Luthor styled like Donald Trump on the The Art of the Deal. 

At Luthor’s inauguration, a super-villainous terrorist named Earthquake attacks. Superman swoops in to save President Luthor and defeat Earthquake, who burrows back into the ground, crying, “Fools! Fools!! I didn’t come to battle any of you! I came to destroy the man we all agree is evil!” 

But that would not be Superman’s way. 

Later, Superman and Batman team up to fight Luthor. “If I am guilty of one mistake, it was putting my faith in the American public not to vote for him. The world will never know how I struggled with the decision to stay out of the electoral process,” Superman muses. “Should I have gone on television and told the voters not to elect this man? And what then?” 

Telling Americans how to vote, how to define their ideals, would be antithetical to Superman’s code, even if he believes their choice was a mistake. This is Superman’s delicate balance: He must model good behavior, without making moral judgments.

Eventually, Superman and Batman use a kind of journalism to change public opinion: They broadcast Luthor’s my-evil-plan confession to televisions around the world during a very comic-y final battle. 

Turns out, Luthor had been conspiring with Darkseid all along. 

“I choose to fight for Truth, Justice and The American Way,” Superman thinks, as he punches Luthor into oblivion. “And for all its flaws, American democracy does work. That’s not just something I learned growing up on a farm in Kansas. That’s been my life.”

Batman and Superman effectively impeach Luthor with evidence of his misdeeds. But they intend to let the people decide the validity of Luthor’s presidency.

“The United States doesn’t need me to dictate, or worse, deprive her people of that most precious gift,” Superman thinks to himself. “The freedom of choice.”

As with every Superman writer, Bendis must wrestle with a character who lives such statements. Superman is not to be bent to anyone’s political ends. But, as Bendis writes him, Superman also won’t allow his ideals or his person to be abused. He is a reticent warrior, but a warrior nonetheless.

In Bendis’ Superman No. 1, Superman meets with the Martian Manhunter, J’Onn, for a conversation. J’Onn tells his Justice League teammate that it’s time he do more. Superman should step up as a world leader and speak a certain truth that the way the world works now, with wars and money and borders, is “garbage.” 

“Could it be that the only thing the world needs more than Superman is a Superman who is actively leading the world into its future?” J’Onn says. “A Superman who is ready to take this great civilization to the stars?”

Superman’s face softens into a half-smile: “Lead the world?”

“Take over all of it and set it toward a future in which hope isn’t just an ideal, but a—” says J’Onn.

Superman’s eyes narrow and flick suddenly to J’Onn’s face. His eyebrows furrow. He frowns angrily: “Take?”

Bendis has shown what would happen if Superman were to use his power to put his ideals into practice — corruption, dictatorship and, ultimately, fear. 

Superman uses his power sparingly, and only in service to the common good. He knows better than to use it to his own ends, even if he thinks them noble. Superman shows that truth, justice and the American way matter, but he would never try to reshape the world in their image. 

He sets a humble example. He waits for us to do it for him, if we so choose. 

Maybe that is brave. Maybe it is cowardly. But it is Superman’s way.

Writing that moment was special, Bendis says. “I got excited about it because it was one of the very first times where Superman himself was having the conversation for me,” Bendis says. “His morality was in the forefront of how I was reacting to the conversation, not mine.” 

Bendis arrived at a truth about Superman, the quiet radical. 

“Clark has a line in the sand,” Bendis says. “And that was it.”

From: https://clevelandmagazine.com/in-the-cle/the-read/articles/our-superman

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