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Before the Avengers arrive, See Cinderella.

I’ve wanted to write a post after seeing Cinderella. I was so afraid it would be another Maleficent. But, Rebecca Reynolds, writing for the Rabbit Room has said it more clearly and in a more moving way than I could ever write it down. Check out her post. Now! Quickly before we lose hope again!

 

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God “doesn’t dress like that”.

I promise this is my last post on the Avengers.They are, after all, representative of my generations “video” games. We called them comic books.

One small note. I saw “The Avengers” Saturday morning at 1025 AM in a packed theater with my daughter, Casey. There are so many small and wonderful moments in the movie but the one stand out to me took place on a jet. Ironman has just jumped out of the back of this jet to go on his own head to head with two “gods”, Thor and his evil brother, Loki. Captain America, wonderfully out of time, out of sync, and “old fashioned” shrugs into a parachute to go after Ironman and the pilot says:

“Sir, you can’t handle two ‘gods’.” (Or something to that effect.)

To which Captain America replies.

“There is only one God and he doesn’t dress like that.”

I cheered. Go Steve Rogers!

So, how did I get involved with comic books? Here is my story. And, it alls starts with a small town, Saline, Louisiana, the watermelon capital of the world.

A small town. Main Street. On one side the Grocer. On the other side the Cafe. Next to the Grocer, the Hardware Store. Next to the Cafe, the Post Office. And, next to the Post Office, the Drug Store. Baber’s Drug Store. Inside, the air was warm and redolent with the odd mixture of vanilla soda and sulfur. The classic granite counter with the huge mirror behind it sat just to the right. In the back, the pharmacy. It wouldn’t be much compared to today’s pharmacy. Small and intimate with only a few over the counter medications and a few drugs used by the town’s 525 residents.

I spent many a hot, summer day on Main Street in Saline, Louisiana. The Calico Cafe had been through so many permutations, no one could remember the name of the cafe just a few months before. In the summer of 1966, it was a red checkered tablecloth cafe with burgers and hot dogs and apple pie. Enloe’s Grocery was stacked floor to ceiling with stale sundries. In the butcher’s refrigerated meat counter, greenish slabs of beef drew the occasional fly.

The hardware store was more of a museum. Upright radios from the forties still carried sales tickets. Phonographs from the fifties shown with a sheen of newness. The most demanded items were farm related as this town was the heart of watermelon production in Louisiana. But, Baber’s Drugs was about to forever alter my future.

I liked Batman and Superman and Green Lantern. I had read some of DC comics since I was ten. I had one dollar in allowance and my father and mother had come back to their home town for the weekend from the big city of Shreveport. We stayed in my grandparent’s huge, hulking, sagging house. It was gray with nondescript peeling pain and sagging steps. The inside was dank and smelled of old sweat and dirt. The Formica floors were worn through to the wooden floors and each room reached twenty feet into the air with a long, dangling bare bulb as the only light. My Granddaddy had enclosed the back porch to make another bedroom and this is where I stayed. My bed was old and lumpy with a moldy, stale set of sheets and a quilt. There was one window and I would open the window and lay across the bed with my face pressed to the screen to catch a cool breeze. My grandparents had no air conditioning and only one fan in the entire three bedroom house.

I would look out through that rusted screen through the dangling Wisteria vines at the street that ran along the side of the house. I was bored. It was a short five block walk to downtown. Yeah, we called it downtown. Saline wasn’t much but it was a town. I would wander around the grocery gagging at the rotting meat in the cooler. Once I had eaten a burger at the Calico Cafe and found a pebble in the meat. The hardware store had nothing to interest a young boy. So, I ended up in Baber’s Drug Store.

The soda fountain had long ago been disconnected from water and drains. It was more show than substance. Mr. Baber and a few of his friend sat around a card table playing 42 with stained white dominoes. I wandered around the shelves filled with soap and shampoo and women’s stuff and combs and aspirin. I was bored some more. Until I spotted the comic book rack. It was about four by four feet and sat at angle. I studied the selections. The only DC Comics were comics I already had. What was left? Archie? No thanks! Marvel Comics? What was Marvel Comics?

I picked up a copy of a comic with the title “Fantastic Four”. The cover was intriguing with three blue clad heroes and one man that looked like he was made out of red, crumbled bricks. I remember opening the comic and reading some of the words. This comic was VERY different from DC Comics. I felt like I was intruding on some story that was far too adult for me. The characters, the dialogue, the drawing was, well, advanced. But, I was fascinated. I studied the rest of the comics. Some guy named Spider-Man. Some character called Iron Man. A green guy called the Hulk. And, a group of heroes called the Avengers. Each comic was 12 cents. That meant I could buy 8 comics and still have enough for tax.

I put the Fantastic Four back and just stood there. What was I going to do? These comics were too mature for me; too dark; too edgy. But, I was eleven now. I had hair growing in my armpits, and, well, elsewhere. I had grown a couple of inches just in the last two months. I was growing up. I was becoming a teenager. Maybe it was time to put Batman and Superman aside and try something more, well, advanced. I took out my dollar and studied it. It was my only money for a whole week. If I spent it now, I would get nothing for another week.

I chose 8 comics and plopped the dollar on the counter. Mr. Baber gave me two cents back. I hurried back down the street toward my grandparents’ house. The sky was dark and dusky and a humid window was blowing the fine sandy soil of Saline down the street. I ran as the first drops of rain hit my face and made it into the house just as the bottom fell out.

I stretched out across my bed, face pressed into the cool rain filled air from the window and I shuffled through the comics. First, I read the Fantastic Four comic. Instantly, I was mesmerized; transported across time and space to a magical realm. My face grew warm and my heart quickened at the story of Ben Grimm, the Thing, allowing his blind girlfriend to enter a shattered laboratory where something had formed in the midst of an experiment gone wrong. I gasped as she found the man at the center of the story, now transformed into a super being of terrible ego and energy. I turned the pages faster as she reached out and touched the man’s face. Anyone else would have been blinded. And, then the story ended. To Be Continued . . .

 Oh my soul! I was hooked. I read through the Spider-Man. The poor teenage boy had such, the only word I can think of now, angst. Hated by the police. Hated by his enemies. Misunderstood by his girlfriend. Was this what I had to look forward to as a teenager? Turns out that comic was eerily prophetic. Only, I never developed Spidey powers. But the rest of Peter Parker’s troubled life was mirrored by own (except for the police). I went through all of the comics. The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, Daredevil, X-Men, and finally, the Avengers.

I spent hours on that bed, the rain filled air cool on my face transported to the inner reaches of my imagination. The innocent, fun filled stories of DC Comics disappeared from my memory. This is where I wanted to be from now on. These were my kind of heroes; flawed, imperfect, but striving to always do what was right and what was good. I became a fanatic for Marvel Comics and collected them for the next 7 years. I spent every spare cent on comics and when my allowance was doubled to two dollars, I was able to expand my Marvel universe.

Now, I am seeing my dreams and my imaginations brought to life. When I sat through the first Spiderman, I had tears on my face. I loved Daredevil in spite of the critics’ harsh words and really loved the Fantastic Four. The critics panned it as too campy. But, comics are campy. How many of us talk our way through conflict with corny sarcastic remarks and sounds like “thwipp” or “katanyow”? And, when I heard Ironman was coming to the theaters followed by my all time favorite, Captain America I saw my boyhood dreams come true.

And now, I get to stretch out on that bed again, face pressed into the cool outside world of imagination and watch as the “Avengers Assemble” cry brings all of my heroes together. You can keep your Man of Steel. You can go brood over that depressing Dark Knight. You can throw yellow paint on Green Lantern. My heroes have arrived and I can’t wait to join the ranks of the Avengers and see real super heroes in action.

How I Became Captain America

This is how I became Captain America.

 

It was late on a Tuesday and I was slaving over the latest Mother’s Day gift I had produced in my long life of eleven years. At our Cub Scout meeting, we were making trays for our dear mothers to serve us food and drinks on. Mr. Talbert had cut out round wooden slabs with white Formica on them and our job was to staple rope around the edge and make two rope handles at opposite sides.

My handles were slightly off center and every time my mother would load up the tray and pick it up, one side would tip downward and glasses of lemonade would fall to the floor. Jelly glasses of lemonade. We drank out of glasses from jelly jars.

My mother was the original master of recycling. She would take everyone’s drink left at the end of a meal and pour ice and all into a large glass and then DRINK it!!!! The original Suicide drink!

Back to the tray. I was upset. I was chagrined. I was ashamed. My mother’s gift was useless. In a temper tantrum I jerked all the rope off around the edge and jerked off the handles and then threw the thing across the front yard. Amazingly, it sailed through the air like a giant, fat Frisbee, bounced off of a tree and imbedded itself edge down into the dirt.

I gasped. I raised an eyebrow. I chuckled. I had a shield! Just like my hero, Captain America. I ran into the house and dug through a drawer until I found the black, red, and blue Magic Markers. Now, I was a student of math so I wanted my concentric circles to be perfect and my star to be just right. So, I took out my compass and some string and a ruler and I marked off the rings and drew the star on the slick white surface of the shield. Then, I colored in the red rings and the blue background for the white star. I cut some leather straps from an old belt and made myself a handle on the back.

I stood proudly in front of my mirror in my room and grinned. I was Captain America holding up the shield that would protect me from all the evildoers in the world.

Fast forward to 2005. I was working on the script for my play “The Homecoming Tree”. It is the story of a group of people living in a boarding house in Shreveport, Louisiana at the beginning of World War II. The main character was a thirteen year old boy who was fascinated with beating the Nazis. I had interviewed my parents and my late brother extensively in the preceding few years about life in 1941. When I asked my brother who his heroes were he said, “The Shadow, Captain Midnight, and, of course, Captain America.”

Captain America? In 1942? I did some research. As anyone who has seen the movie is aware, Captain America had his start as a comic book during World War II. It was shocking to realize that my brother and I had shared this connection I was never aware of. He passed away in 2008 but he had the opportunity to see “The Homecoming Tree”. My mother passed away in 2004, but not only did my father get to see the play, he sang “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Hanging Somewhere”, a 1941 song that I recorded and played as part of our radio music playing the background during the play.

I gave my main character a love for Captain America. I got Randle Milliken, the actor playing the young boy to make his own uniform. Guess what he did? He found an old serving tray made out of plastic very similar to my tray and put the star and the stripes on it. Only, he didn’t make the lines perfect as I did. He even found some old red gloves and when he came out onto the stage the first night of performance as “Captain America” I was back in my front yard wrapped in heat and humidity, shield up to ward off the bullets of my enemies, sweat soaking my blue tee shirt as I fought off the evil drones of death and destruction.

So, this weekend, I cannot wait to see “The Avengers”. The original Avengers were my heroes way back in the 1960’s when I discovered comic books and I cannot wait to hear those words: “Avengers Assemble!” and see Captain America once again stand up for what is right! I’ll see you there!

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