My fantastic comic book relationship with Stan Lee

(Originally posted recently from my sci-fi/fantasy news site, strangerworlds.com)

Stan Lee, a brilliant creative genius whose heart and soul put into comic writing, editing, publishing ignited a new generation of comic books, inspiring beyond with no limits. His Marvel Comics brand became an essential modern myth to our culture, expanding beyond the printed page into every other medium possible. Though he passed away recently at age 95 after living a full and awesome life, his inspirations shall continue to awaken our inner superheroes.

Yet, there is something more to his work, in the ongoing limited series run that is my life. That is my connection to Stan the Man through the pages with his spirited philosophy on awakening the incredible, the uncanny, the fantastic to my yearning for some amazing fantasy. Such would inspire me to better create, adventure, embrace my geekish side, leading me to maintain my love for comic books for the decades ahead. And with all that, build a sense of duty toward helping many in need, especially when great power and privilege comes my way.

My first true exposure to Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics brand came at a turbulent time for me during age 9. I was in the middle of a difficult transition, moving to the big city of San Francisco from the suburban/rural life of Fresno, California. In that, I would also be reunited with my mother after separation for most of my early childhood, with a new stepdad I would hardly know at the time. I had already begun to miss my old friends and felt a bit overwhelmed by my new loud, confusing big city life.

Still feeling on page 1 of this new adventure, I would eventually visit my first comic book store, where my life would forever change. It was a small little store in the North Beach (aka Little Italy) area on Grant Street near the Coit Tower landmark. I think the store name was  “Best Comics” or something like that (not the nearby more famous, Comix and Comix, which I would discover later spend many afternoon school hours in). Within, I walked into the next giant splash page of my life, rich in detail and dramatics. Rows of comics books around me, with boxes of more below. Some stacks were stray, and come loose on counters.

There and everywhere inside, were some familiar friends from TV and toys. All with much more vivid color and detail, speaking in word balloons, in combat poses, expressing action. I saw the Amazing Spider-man, as known from my beat-up stuffed plush doll. I would see the X-Men, recognized from some comics in a waiting room at the last eye doctor visit. I saw the Iron Man, Thing, Captain America recognized..and more from a Marvel Super Heroes card game played often in the library of my early grade recess hours. So many familiar faces in colorful outfits; waiting for me to get to know them; take an adventure with any back home.

But, I had a little money to pick something. After some browsing, I gravitated to a spinning rack of paperback digest-sized comics. Such was not common for the comic book-sized format, but I wanted something with more pages, and easy to carry around. And eventually, I saw this small paperback book… Stan Lee presents The Incredible Hulk (#2).

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It was a 159-pages of full color, 1979 reprint stories of the older Tales to Astonish (mid-1960s, #85-99) stories of the continuous adventures of Bruce Banner, a scientist who would become the Hulk under very stressful circumstances. I knew the green goliath from TV live-action series, starring Lou Ferrigno. But here, he was different and greener with stories far beyond anything the TV show would offer, with more expression, more action, more Hulk! I would buy this with some pocket change, and then witness the pain and the power, the man-brute at his best!

Inside, the Hulk would prove himself as the strongest, against the US military, super-villains, aliens, the High Evolutionary, the Abomination, the Silver Surfer. Each chapter seemingly more excited than the last. Between the action, we got interesting internal struggles, especially within the Hulk and his other self, Bruce Banner. Both would conflict against each other as much as the outside world.  This drama is as exciting as the action itself was all written by Stan Lee himself, a name I would never forget.

Stan Lee, through passionate exposition and character building, would give me a message that would stick far beyond the printed pages. Inside, we have trapped within, some incredible greatness waiting to be released through some incredible circumstances. The greatness can be so outstanding and wonderful, that we struggle to recognize it when it’s upon our weaker selves. But in reaching that, we don’t want to look back, until the power becomes a troublesome burden. Then, yearns a return to innocence and normalcy until we need that power for greater responsibility.

That’s what I got out of this Hulk anyway. The difference in the Hulk from other super-types is that his heroism is more on a subconscious level. The Hulk would often find himself protecting the weak while crushing those stupid enough to try to exploit him. He is selfless, never looking to harm others. He would prefer to be left alone, and in that when there is no reason to fight, there is peace for the Hulk and Bruce Banner.

All that, presented by Stan Lee. A name I would first notice more in my next few rereadings of that awesome paperback.

His name would return again and again, in many more Marvel Comics I mostly gathered from cheap quarter bins, flea market finds, more bookstores. The later eighties and early nineties, I spent many hours growing up in the comic stores after school. There, always peeking into the comics of Marvel, and eventually other companies (DC, Gladstone, Mirage, Archie being my top favs).

But often coming back to Marvel, there would be new favorite stories from Stan Lee’s design stemming his creative work, and groundwork messages. The X-Men, heroes living a parallel of the fear and prejudice in today’s world. Spider-Man, a hero whose personal issues would be set aside to defend New York City. Daredevil, a hero for justice whose blindness is both his greatest curse and strength. The Fantastic Four, a family whose cosmic radiated superpowers would lead them into deeper explorations of the unknown. And, many more would follow.

Among them, my personal favorite, the Silver Surfer, after finding reprints of the earlier stories written by Stan Lee (#1-18, 1968-1970). This above all is Stan’s most philosophical, poetic storytelling of all. Every page full of Stan Lee’s presentation, dialogue, exposition of the lonely cosmic traveler in a constant struggle to understand the worlds around him, is awesome.

Over the years, the spirit of Stan Lee would carry on through countless cherished comic stories. Then beyond the cartoons and TV shows. Sometimes, Stan Lee would do some introductions or narration; bringing his passion for storytelling along. Eventually, would come to the movies, which he would have some hand in producing. And, there would be the cameos…always welcome to his fans.

And his presence would be felt at many conventions, often in person. I would attend a few of his panels, looking back to his past of promoting some collaboration on projects. I would even meet him, once by pure luck, while resting nearby his booth in the early 2000s at the San Diego Comic Con. He signed a Spider-Man collected stories paperback I happened to have in hand, and then we shook hands. “Excelsior!,” Stan Lee said with a blessing. That cherished memory, I would look back upon as the greatest echo of my comic book relationship with Stan, since seeing his name for the first time many years ago.

I still feel his work throughout my life, and sometimes it helps keeps the best parts of me going. I sometimes need the attitude of the Hulk on a bad day, the curiosity of the Silver Surfer in my travels, the energy of Spider-Man in keeping up with responsibilities, the leadership of Professor X for group organizing, the patriotic duty of Captain America when I join a protest. Stan Lee’s work continues to inspire me through the foundations of the fictional heroes he shared.

And much like the Marvel Comics that continue on through the comic stores and extended media, there never really is an end to it all. We carry on through reboots, cliffhangers, spinoffs. Though sometimes, we may not get some things right in interpretation.  And sometimes, there is are rediscovering of his lesser-known creations through better presentations, like the recent Black Panther and Ant-Man movies.  meanwhile, the presence of Stan Lee will carry on, reminding many of us of his original groundwork laid down for readers to grow from.

Thanks again Stan the Man, and Excelsior!

Reflecting on Star Trek: The Next Generation, 30th Anniversary…

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30 years ago on this day, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered with its two-part pilot episode, “Encounter At Farpoint.” And ever since, the show has had a profound effect on my journey through life.

I was lucky enough to catch it on its premiere night, not quite as eager in the beginning. But something drew me, being a mixed cast of characters on a big starship, seeking out new life, new civilizations, and boldly going…. On this new starship, the NCC-1701 Enterprise D, held an android seeking humanity in itself, a mighty alien warrior eager for new challenges, a blind engineer expanding his self in science and technological advancement, a ship doctor balancing her work with the challenges of single motherhood, a ship counselor with empathic abilities often not very helpful, a charming first officer, and a captain who seeks the peaceful, diplomatic, humanitarian solutions to every problem.

This would go on for seven years, and four movies. Star Trek: The Next Generation became a show I grew up with, identifying with much of the crew on their journeys and moral dilemmas. To me, the show was about finding self in seeing what’s out there. For the crew and the journey, establishing humanity’s place in the Alpha Quadrant as a member of the Federation; ever-exploring and spreading peace along the way while interacting with new alien species. Each crew member had an ongoing quest to reaffirm their place on the bridge as an individual and team. Through them as inspiration and admiration, I often dealt better with relatable challenges in school, social explorations, and direction in life.

So, I love Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here are my top five favorite episodes in no particular order:

  • Darmok – Picard is trapped on a planet with an alien with a very complex language system. The challenge puts Picard’s communication skills to a great test, with the solution being finding common ground and learning about each other.
  • Q Who – The omnipotent Q throws the Enterprise into a distant uncharted space, where they meet the Borg. The experience is a lesson in humility for humanity, with new and iconic challenges to come.
  • Yesterday’s Enterprise – An awesome episode with much of everything packed in; time travel, an alternate reality, epic ship on ship battles, revealing history connecting the classic series with the new, crew members put in new roles, moral dilemmas, high stakes.
  • Chain of Command Part II – a gut-wrenching episode where Picard is held prisoner and tortured, physically and mentally. The acting between Picard and his Cardassian captor is intense, with an unforgettable ending. How many lights are there?
  • “The Offspring” – Data creates an android daughter for him, in a continual effort to be “human.” This raises dilemmas and challenges on multiple levels, in a new role he must take on as a father and protector. A mix of emotions results with twists and turns, leaving me as a viewer feeling sad in the end for a fictional character whose existence didn’t last.

Overall, I love Star Trek: The Next Generation for what it was to myself, and what it gave to its growing audience – a vision of the future for a possible destiny in the stars, where the exploring and bonding with the universe and ourselves will never stop. With that, I best recall that epic last line of Captain Picard from its very first episode, that still remains a most important marker for us all…

– Orion T

Picture of Today 5/25/2017, “Don’t call me a mindless philosopher”

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40 years ago on this day, a cinematic vision appeared detailing interesting conflict in a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. That was the first the world would truly know of the STAR WARS!

You may have heard of it. If not, here is a trailer.

I would know of it a bit later in my childhood, initially through the first sequel. But its presence was clear, and ingrained into my constant pop-culture appreciation for all things that involved dueling space wizards, weird-looking spaceships, bizarre aliens with mundane lifestyles, and robots that beep or speak with English accents.

My favorite character in the original is C-3PO (See-Threepio), a humanoid shaped droid with fluency in over six-million languages yet still seems to know so little of the universe around him. He discovered much but with hesitation, guided by his beeping, short astromech droid companion. His journey is not center through the film, and not very useful. But his humorous observations and interactions give the story a much needed dimension from someone less familiar or interest with galactic conflicts and strange religions. He just tags along, and provides funny comments.

My favorite Threepio line of the 1977 classic:  “Don’t call me a mindless philosopher.you overweight glob of grease!.”

 – Orion T

Picture of Today 9/8/2016, Boldly Still Going..

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50 years ago on this day, a five-year mission began.

To explore strange new life and new civilizations, and you probably know as that message began the science fiction phenomenon, Star Trek. For decades, I have always been a Trekkie at heart, following all the series and all the movies with so much I wish I had the time to say about it all.

And here we are, looking back to the show that put forth some pretty crazy concepts back then (and through later reboots and spin-offs). Behold a crew exploring the final frontier, where all were welcome on a Federation spaceship with no boundaries on race, religion, gender, or non-threatening alien species

Much was already gained in that experience, centuries earlier. We have expedited the tech used in the show. I took the picture above with my phone, that can communicate at the touch of a button. We have computers that can respond to voice commands, give us endless amounts of information at any time, do video-conferences, and more. We have handheld devices that can detect heartbeats, sleep patterns, and give medical data on the fly. With simple instructions, we can produce objects through 3-D printers. Modern VR tech might as well be the earliest form of the holodeck. And if testing goes well, the NASA EM Drive will bring us much faster to the planet Mars. Who knows how far the tech will progress after that?

And, there is so much more to learn from the show about ourselves and the many interesting moral challenges we continue to face. Star Trek examines every facet of humanity to some extent, including religion, war, philosophy, politics. There are challenges to the open mind in many episodes, while there are breaks of fun and action-packed sequences.

Cheer’s to the five-year mission, that was originally televised for less than three, yet expanded and built upon itself for fifty and beyond. The legacy shall last for as long as humanity shall move, perhaps into that final frontier.

But for now, some of us have a railcar to catch. Here is are a couple more shots of the transport craft above, promoting the nearby Star Trek exhibit at the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum.

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– Orion T