Marvel-ous stories

In response to comicbook snob John Podhoretz’s Spiderman 2 review, Dave Huber recalls how reading comicbooks turned him on to words and storytelling.

In the 1970s, Stan (Lee) was on the old “Mike Douglas Show” talking about the phenomenon known as Marvel Comics. Mike asked him at one point: “I was reading one of your comics the other day and I gotta tell ‘ya — some of the vocabulary had me scratching my head!” To which Stan replied, “I write my books on the college level. If a kid doesn’t know a word and has to look it up in the dictionary, what’s wrong with that?”

I know I had my dictionary handy when I was reading Marvel comics. And it came in handy. In 6th grade, I won a spelling bee by spelling the word “grotesque” correctly. I remembered it in an issue of The Incredible Hulk where the green giant battled “The Grotesque Glob.” Cool, huh?

. . . By reading Stan Lee as a kid, I became enamored with words and storytelling. I became an excellent speller. It also sparked my interest in reading things other than comicbooks, and as a result I now have shelves in my home teeming with books, with everything from science fiction to education to politics and history.

My parents wouldn’t let us read comicbooks when I was a kid. I think they thought comics were too violent. So we went to the drug store and read them in the store, feeling like hardened criminals. I never liked Superman. He had too many powers. And I had to identify with poor, perpetually duped Lois Lane.

By the way, I highly recommend Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which is about comicbook designers and their heroes.

About Joanne


  1. stolypin says:

    I second the recommendation about Kavalier & Clay. If anyone is interested Chabon has now published two books of comics (with explanatory text) of the comic book hero – The Escapist – that he created in the book Go to Amazon and search for Chabon and you will see them. I think they are worth a look over.

  2. Further, Chabon co-wrote the screenplay for “Spiderman 2”, now playing in a theater near you. . . .

  3. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Comic book movies are usually the best as action movies go. Comic book writers have more imagination than the people who spend $200 Million making a movie.

    As for Podhoretz, let him enjoy Shakespeare and James Joyce. In my distant youth I disliked such people, but they now have so little influence there is no need to.

  4. Those of us who are geeks of a certain age will remember a similar feature of Gary Gygax’s work with Dungeons & Dragons. He refused to talk down to us.

  5. Comic book heros also encourage good values. Spiderman values education, hard work, caring for others, etc. I approve of kids trying to emulate these values.

  6. Walter E. Wallis says:

    My English X class sometimes envied the English Z class, with their Classic Comics reading assignments.

  7. First, thanks to Joanne for linking to my story!

    One other benefit of reading Stan Lee was his great insults (usually villains to heroes). Insults like “Microcephalic dolt” and “Impudent clod.” It was great using them against other kids in school, where they’d be like, “Huh??” 🙂

  8. I heard Kavalier and Klay will be a movie, too. If it’s half as fun as Wonderboys (not about comics), then it should be great.

    And I second David Ross’ statement about Gygax. Those nerdy games gave me a good background on history, military history, mythology, vocabulary, statistics, indices, Latin, theology, politics, mathematics, probability, and the ability to tell various polearms apart. Plus I collected some cool dice.

  9. Bill Leonard says:

    Happily, I am old enough to remember comic books before the wrteched Comics Code era, which started circa 1954. Prior to that time the comics really were good, especially the EC titles — even if the content was a bit gamey from time to time.

    Then, enter the misanthropic Dr. Frederic Wertham and his Seduction of the Innocent, which made the case that sthe comics of the day were a pernicious, evil influence that led children to thoughts of (gasp!) sex and violence, and led them into juvenile delinquency. And then the Comics Cocd, and then decades of lackluster stuff.

    There’s a lesson there about the efforts of do-gooder dingbats everywhere, whether they want to censor comics, the internet, prevent crime by preventing the law-abiding from owning firearms, or whatever.

  10. dhanson says:

    I also grew up reading comics (mostly Marvel in the 60s and 70s). The comics led to other reading and to my life-long battle to keep up with my “must-read” pile of books. I have always loved to read and comics are one reason why.

    When my daughter was born, I wanted her to love to read too. My wife and I read to her a lot when she was little and she was always surrounded by books. I made sure that appropriate comics were available to her too. From the PowerPuff Girls to Archie to Carl Barks’ wonderful Uncle Scrooge stories, she had the chance to get lost in her own adventures. Later, other comics like Amelia Rules and Bone made it onto her reading list. (Marvel is fully committed to producing comics for 13 year old boys these days. Not a little girl’s cup of tea.)

    By the time my daughter finished fourth grade she was testing off the charts in reading comprehension. She was reading at the 12th grade, ninth month level, which was as high as the scale went.

    She loves to read, and comics remain part of her own personal “must-read” pile.

  11. dhanson says:

    And to add to Bill Leonard’s comments on Frederic Wertham and the Comics Code:

    As we all know, immediately after Dr. Wertham got his way and the Comics Code Authority was formed and those nasty old comics were tamed and toned down to pablum, juvenile deliquency in America vanished.

  12. J_Crater says:

    Without giving away too much, in the movie Spiderman 2, Peter (AKA Spiderman) Parker’s own aunt admits she threw away his collection of comics. Somethings are the same everywhere.

  13. Speaking of Spidey and the Comics Code, Stan Lee once decided to forego the code’s approval (early 70s, I believe) in a storyline about the perils of drug use. (It was Pete’s roommate, Harry Osborn, who was looped on LSD.) This tale would seem tame by today’s standards, but it was ahead of its time then. Another notch in Lee’s success as a storyteller.

    Also, Marvel recently decided to opt out of the Comics Code for good, instead using its own ratings system. It’s actually better than the “catch-all” code, and allows Marvel to market a “mature” line of comics (which would have been prevented under the code).

  14. Bill Leonard says:

    The point of Wertham and the Comics Code was to reduce everything to some innocuous level that could offend no one. He and his clacque succeeded for decades. As a practical matter, the Comics Code died in the late 60s/early 70s with the birth of underground comix and other developments.

    In fairness, some of the EC stuff was gratuitously violent and unbelieveably gross, especially for the time. In testifying before a congressional committee, and when questioned about some of the stuff he’d published, EC boss Harvey Gaines said it “helped fight communism” (this testimony was circa 1953.)