The Sunday Magazine: The Other Wild Poodle, Henry

Never let it be said I don’t respond to my readers. I received a half-dozen e-mails asking about the other poodle inhabiting Poodlesville; Henry. They wanted to know his story. This week I will give Henry some equal time.

We adopted Henry in 2013. We have been a two-poodle house for a long time. After our oldest dog had passed away Mrs. C began to reach out to rescue organizations for a new poodle. Relatively quickly she was offered Henry. She took our other poodle up to see if they would be a fit. They walked towards each other on a leash. Shared poodle business cards by sniffing each other. When they both got into the universal crouch of “let’s play!” Mrs. C knew we had a match.

Almost all rescue poodles have some kind of adversity. It requires patience to overcome this. Henry surprisingly carried none of this. Despite having overcome two different tragic situations. The first was his initial owner, when he was a puppy, smacked him so hard on the right side of his head it caused his right eyeball to come apart inside; blinding him on that side. Thankfully the rescue organization stepped in and removed Henry from this abuse. His second owner was a young woman who loved him. Unfortunately, she had an eating disorder leading to a fatal stroke. When she was found, days after dying, Henry was curled up next to her body. He was extremely dehydrated which has caused some kidney issues we keep a close watch on.

Henry is the most loving rescue poodle we have adopted. The poodle who stayed next to his owner after death is a snuggle bug. He likes curling up next to Mrs. C, me, or Jackson. It’s almost unnatural for me to be sitting on the sofa without the weight of his curled-up body next to my leg. A lot of evenings it is Henry on one side and Jackson on the other. Mrs. C calls it the “man couch” when this happens.

The other position Henry holds in our house is the Minister of Toys. We have toys all over the house. Jackson will pick up a toy and race around with it. Once Jackson has tired of whichever toy he has been playing with, Henry will amble over pick it up and move it to whatever he considers to be the correct place.

In the past our older poodles have jealously guarded their places. Often barking at the younger ones to let them know this is my spot. Henry has never been that way. When he first joined the household, he slowly won over the older poodle Rocco. After only a few months they would sleep next to each other with nary a growl. Once Henry became the older poodle the chain was broken. He loves sleeping with Jackson. They can be found with one of them resting their head upon the other most nights.

Every time I look at Henry, with his ruptured eye looking back, I marvel at the ability he has to forget the abuse of the past. He just wants to be loved. It may have taken three tries, but he has found a place where he gets as much as he wants.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Jackson Year 2

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As someone who writes a blog and puts their words out there you have a question which is hard to answer. Is anyone reading? I have all manner of metric measuring tools which give me the answer in graphs and percentages. I’ve realized over this past year that fundamental question carries a deeper corollary. Does anybody care? The best analytic site can’t give me any insight into that. My best way of measuring that is a single sentence added to the end of a lot of the e-mail I’ve received this year. It goes like this, “Give Jackson a scratch for me?” Or “How’s Jackson?”

I introduced our black standard poodle, Jackson, here in this column a year ago. We adopted Jackson on January 2, 2017, what is called “Gotcha Day”, from a rescue dog organization. As I recounted in last year’s column much of the first year was convincing Jackson I wasn’t the scariest thing in the world. By the end of his first year that was mostly accomplished. It taught me patience and love can cure a lot of ills.

Henry (l.) and Jackson

The first year was giving Jackson the socialization he was denied for his first year of life before we adopted him. He came to trust his new pack members; me, Mrs. C, and our other older rescue poodle Henry. By the end of that year within the confines of Poodlesville he was a happy confident young canine.

One of the things that was left to do was take him out into the rest of the world outside of home. I knew he was going to go back to being scared. I just thought it was important to start giving him the chance to learn there weren’t dragons on the other side of the fence.

What this has meant is four or five days a week I put Jackson on a leash and take him on a walk. We are lucky to have many options within a short drive of home to walk him. To start I just took him to the wide common park in the center of town for a few laps around it.

Our first excursion was one of half curiosity half fright. Every noise and other person we walked past glued him to my thigh; making sure I was between him and the perceived threat. The tail was tucked the entire time we took that first walk. The worst moment came when we walked by the flagpoles and the wind made them clank against the lanyards. I thought Jackson was going to jump in my arms.

Jackson taking a nap on his favorite pillow…..me

Ove a few weeks things got better. The tail began to move upward. The sniffing began. He jumped up excitedly when I picked up the leash. He even cried at me one day when I drove by the park to use the bank drive-thru. He got very used to the commons. Except for Halloween. Our town has a scarecrow contest where various organizations put up scarecrows. As they went up Jackson noted them but seemed to ignore them. Until the one which was made from a posable skeleton reaching out towards the path was installed. Every time we got to that corner of the common Jackson would drop his tail and keep an eye on it until we passed. At which point the tail began to wag again.

Because of the scarecrows it seemed time to expand our horizons. I began taking him to a park which had a wooded trail. The trail remains a sensorial overload for him which vacillates between momentary fright and poodle inquisitiveness. He still isn’t fond of the way a dog in one of the houses barks at him.

One day we got to the park and the trail was closed while they did some repair work on it. There was still a large soccer field to walk around and I thought we could do that. What made this interesting was there was a team practicing on the field which was taking a break. I came upon one of the young men playing as we turned a corner. Jackson hugged in close to me. The boy asked if he could pet him. I told him to be cautious and bend down to Jackson’s level. He did everything correct in approaching an unfamiliar dog. Jackson was soon getting his ears scratched by a stranger. Unbeknownst to him was a few teammates had come looking for their missing man. As they approached, they began to scratch Jackson all over his back. Jackson’s eyes opened as soon as he felt the first unfamiliar hand. Then as soon as he was receiving an all over scratch his eyes closed in pleasure and the tail wagged.

Like my readers when we walk past the boys practicing they ask, “How’s Jackson?” My answer is to all who ask, “He’s doing great!”

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Star Trek Discovery

Sometimes you just have to give in and enjoy something for what it is. Somewhere while watching season 1 of Star Trek Discovery I quit questioning all the retroactive continuity that was making me annoyed. Once I did that, I realized this new series was like all of the Star Trek novels I read after the original series left the air in 1969; a way of keeping the spirit alive.

Star Trek Discovery takes place about ten years prior to the original 1966-1969 tv series. It dives right into the problem I have with prequels as it gleefully throws away any previous history in favor of a new version. Over the first few episodes I kept talking back to my television screen which went like this, “Oh c’mon! Somebody would have mentioned this before.” Somewhere in episode 6 or 7 where we were facing new versions of Spock’s father Sarek and original series villain Harry Mudd I stopped caring and just let it go. I put myself in the mindset that this isn’t part of the real Star Trek universe but some alternate version.

One of the reasons I was willing to do this was the crew of Discovery. I stayed with Star Trek Voyager long after the stories dropped in writing quality because of the crew. Discovery, I believe, will have the same effect. It has an advantage of having shorter seasons of 15 episodes. Also, the writing team has seemingly a big board of everything mentioned in the original series and pulls two or three things down and adds them to every episode.

They made a very odd choice to spend the first two episodes on another starship setting up the main character Michael Burnham played by Sonequa Martin-Green. She is a human who was raised by Spock’s parents. Don’t ask more than that because her existence makes no sense. Her actions in the first two episodes are even more illogical. They are meant to put her in a situation where she is looking for redemption when she is added to the crew of Discovery in episode 3. From there as the crew gets to know Burnham and we as an audience get to know the crew things improve.

Like all series these days there is an overarching conspiracy theory plotline. What makes this fun, instead of dreary, is the writers take it to one of the more fun places in Star Trek history setting many of the later season episodes there. Taken as a whole, episodes ten through thirteen are where Discovery takes off. Again as long as you don’t spend too much time thinking about what we know from previous iterations. I was looking forward to the next episode as each one ended.

The resolution of that plot brought season 1 to a two-episode finale that was enjoyable. It ended with a call back to the original series as the Enterprise was hovering in front of Discovery as the season ended. Which is an example of the not quite fan fiction quality of Discovery. There were times it felt like the writers had started with a premise found on a fan forum somewhere.

The second season of Discovery begins in a couple weeks. I’ll be watching. With my mindset perfectly adjusted to enjoy the silly ride.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: My Favorite Non-Perfume Things of 2018

After all that writing about perfume it is time to list off my favorite non-perfume things of 2018. One thing I realized as I considered my choices was 2018 was a year where I turned to things to help give me a break from the stresses of day-to-day life. Perfume is a large part of that so are the things here.

Favorite Movie: Black Panther– As the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was heading towards the conclusion of its first 10-year story with the release of the Avengers films; there was a legitimate doubt. Who would become the anchor for the next ten years? When I walked out of the theatre in March of this year director Ryan Coogler had shown me the cornerstone to the future of the MCU. That it is going to be coming from the fictional African nation of Wakanda is another piece of creativity. If Chadwick Boseman can embrace being Black Panther the way Robert Downey Jr. did Iron Man, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Favorite TV Show: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina– It was at New York Comic-Con a few years ago when I met this guy sitting behind a table as I was waiting in line to do something else. His name was Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and he was selling a horror twist on the Archie Comics universe called “Afterlife with Archie”. When I sat down to read it later, I was hooked on his vision. The film noir part has made it on to the TV show “Riverdale”. With The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, he has found a place to show the horror part. Having it on Netflix allows for it to be just enough graphic to power the chills. Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa’s love of classic horror is scattered throughout in ways big and small. The second half of the season returns in April; you’ll find me on the couch binging my way through.  

Favorite album: Hell-On by Neko Case– There is a section of my iTunes playlist called “Strong Women”. There are only a few curated choices I add to that. One of the charter members of the list is Neko Case. Her 2006 album “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” is one of the best albums of the 21st century. She released her last solo album in 2013. In the meantime she continued her time recording as part of the group The New Pornographers and as part of a trio with k.d.lang and Laura Viers. At the end of the summer Hell-On was released. It seems like a much more collaborative album than in the past. What remains are Ms. Case’s distinctive vocals and lyrics. More than enough to add a few tracks to the playlist.

Favorite Single: Nobody by Mitski– I spend a lot of time channel hopping on my satellite radio. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I stumbled into this singer doing an a cappella version of her single. I had not heard of Mitski or her music. When I pulled into the driveway, I downloaded her album “Be The Cowboy” and put the song I heard, “Nobody”, into my personal heavy rotation. Mitski’s ability to wring different emotion and intonation from the three syllables of the word “nobody” in the chorus is amazing. It has been firmly lodged in my brain for the last month.

Favorite Comic Book: Rogue and Gambit– Superhero comic books are like television shows in that they want to create couples who love each other but they don’t want them to be happy in the long run. Even so there are usually small periods of time where they give them a kind of happy ending. This five-issue series, by Kelly Thompson and Pere Perez, does that for two of the longest running X-Men characters; Rogue and Gambit. That the happiness of the ending has, so far, carried over to the main story in the X-Men is all the better. Although I fear 2019 will find some way to derail that. For now, I’m just going to enjoy seeing these two beloved characters allowed to be in love.

Favorite Novel: An Easy Death by Charlaine HarrisCharlaine Harris knows how to create woman characters who kick ass. In this first novel of a new series Lizbeth “Gunnie” Rose lives in an America which fell apart after FDR was assassinated. She exists in a twisted version of the American West as a bodyguard. Who hires her and what happens sets up another satisfying world of urban fantasy. The next book is due in 2019 if its as good it might be on this list a year from now.

That puts a final bow on 2018. To everyone who enjoys this column thanks for reading all year.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Mary Poppins Returns

I am not sure if it was the first movie I went to see in a theatre. It certainly was one of the first movies I ever was taken to see. For my birthday in 1964 my mother took me to the Coral Theatre on Ponce de Leon Boulevard in Coral Gables. The Coral was a movie palace with a wrap around marquee. On that day in big red letters the title of the movie we were going to see was spelled out; Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins was a movie I have seen throughout my life. It has always been a favorite. Even though it was highly fictionalized I found the 2013 movie “Saving Mr. Banks” about the making of Mary Poppins also entertaining. As I was learning to read, the Mary Poppins books were what I shared with my grandmother as after-dinner story time. I knew I had an affection for the material. As the promotional push for the new movie “Mary Poppins Returns” began I realized how much the “practically perfect nanny” meant to me. I became more excited to spend a couple of hours with the new version.

The basic story of Mary Poppins Returns still revolves around the Banks children at 17 Cherry Tree Lane in London. As the movie opens the two children from the original movie have grown up. Jack has just lost his wife becoming a single father to his three children. Jane is a single woman who retains her mother’s desire to fight for the rights of those who need it. When the children bring Mary Poppins home to her now grown-up charges, she says she has returned to take care of the Banks children. When the actual children say, “Us?” her reply of “Yes you, too.” sets the tone.

Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack

This is a beautifully done movie with respect for the artists who worked on the original movie. It shows in the main credits. One of the great Disney artists of the 1960’s Peter Ellenshaw painted many of the matte backgrounds for the movie. As the opening credits roll, with a true orchestral overture, some recently discovered work by Mr. Ellenshaw from Mary Poppins is blended with new art inspired by those paintings. It is a subtle way of taking us back to a different kind of movie. This kind of care is shot throughout the movie. If you loved the original there are many callbacks.

Most importantly the two leads of Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack the Lamplighter are perfect. Ms. Blunt captures the heart of Mary Poppins as she takes the next generation of Banks children on adventures. Mr. Miranda is along for the ride as the willing accomplice. The movie has another live-action and animation set piece which is done in the same style of hand-drawn animation as it was in Mary Poppins. From the moment the animated flowers started to swirl on screen I think my smile could not have been wider.

Mary Poppins Returns is an old-fashioned movie musical with a happy ending. It reminded me of the way movies have always been able to elevate my mood. I glided out of the theatre humming the tunes all the way home.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: German Christmas Cookies

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Like a lot of people, I’ve done that mail-in DNA test which tells you about your genetic heritage. Unlike the commercials which show you people finding out surprising things; I was not surprised. On my mother’s side of the family we have had a long-time genealogy which allowed me to go all the way back to a family of Pilgrims named the Lamplighters. The DNA test confirmed that to the tune of 63%.

Most of the rest of my heritage is Germanic. This time it wasn’t a meticulously researched family tree which made me know this. It was the baking my Grandmother did when she visited at the Holidays. I called my Grandmother; GaGa. It was confusing enough that when I first heard the phrase “going gaga” I thought that meant acting like an old person. She was the original Lady GaGa to me and I still giggle inwardly when I see the singer performing.

There is a grand tradition of spiced cookies and pastries attached to German Christmas traditions. GaGa would take over our kitchen and bake them all. While not precisely gingerbread I think my life-long love of gingerbread sprung from these Holiday treats.

Pfeffernusse

One of my favorites were the little powdered cookies called Pfeffernusse. GaGa gave me some of my only German heritage lessons by teaching me how to pronounce the treat. It isn’t “feffer-noose” it is “feffer-news-ah”. Those who want to skip the pronunciation thing altogether can just call then German Gingerbread or German Spice Cookies.

GaGa’s secret ingredient was a spice mixture she brought with her in a clear jar. It was her special mixture of cinnamon, clove, ginger and other things. It is that piece of the recipe I have never been able to replicate. When I make pfeffernusse they are fine but not great. GaGa’s pfeffernusse were great.

Zimsterne

At least pfeffernusse I can try and make. It was the other cookie which is my favorite called Zimtsterne.

What sets these apart is they are flour-less cookies. The replacement is ground almonds until it reaches the consistency of flour. This was one of my favorite parts of helping GaGa bake; pulverizing the almonds. She would put them in a clean towel and use a baking pin to bash them at first into little pieces. Then I could join in standing on a step-stool so I could roll the pin back and forth. GaGa would sift the mixture saving the bigger pieces. Then she would add her spice mixture. After she would make the dough and roll it out, I took the star-shaped cookie cutter and went to work. As I cut them GaGa glazed them. The cookies had to sit overnight before baking. The next morning, they would bake while we ate breakfast.

I can make Pfeffernusse but I’ve never really given Zimtsterne a try because of the almond part of it. I do search them out and there is a good German bakery where I always get some every Holiday season. It reminds me of GaGa and my German heritage.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Merry X-Men Holiday Special

This has been a solid week of opening my imaginary Marvel Advent calendar. Tuesday was the latest trailer for March’s “Captain Marvel” movie. Seeing her in all her badass mohawk goddess glory was awesome. Friday saw the release of the trailer for “Avengers: Endgame”. As Cap shed a tear for the loss of his friends I was shattered. The other thing I received this week was one of this year’s two Holiday comic books from Marvel, “The Merry X-Men Holiday Special”.

Every year the two big comic book companies DC and Marvel release Holiday special issues. Most of the time they are single one-shots with a silly shoe-horned intersection of holidays and Heroes (or Villains). Even so they can be memorable enough to rise above it all. One from DC was in the 1994 Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1. The story “The Harley and The Ivy” is about Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy drugging Bruce Wayne with poisoned lipstick which allowed them to force him to take them on a shopping spree for gifts. The art, by Ronnie Del Carmen, would portend the jump to the animated series three years later virtually unchanged.

You’ve probably seen ads for the movie “Once Upon a Deadpool” where the PG-13 cut of “Deadpool 2” gets a new framing device around the Holidays. In the 2008 Marvel Holiday Special Deadpool took on Santa Claus to change his rich client’s name from the Naughty to the Nice list. Santa catches him at it and they fight it out with an interruption from the Abominable Snowman. Santa eventually pays Deadpool a price which cannot be matched to turn the tables on his client.

I think you can tell I usually enjoy these efforts. For this year’s “The Merry X-Men Holiday Special” I was interested for two reasons. One, was that it was laid out like an Advent calendar with each day represented by a one-page story written and drawn by different teams. The second reason was the return of the man who made the X-Men great, writer Chris Claremont. There were also some pages by celebrities which showed that they shouldn’t quit their day jobs. The exception to that was hip-hop artist Jean Grae who wrote a funny Jean Grey and Deadpool which I would be happy to see expanded in next year’s Holiday special.

The best work was done by the regular writers of the X-Men books. As a pet owner watching the happy couple of Rogue and Gambit trying to give medicine to their cat was great. The return of Wolverine from the dead with “#hotclaws” gets a smirky send-up.

We get to Mr. Claremont’s entry which is an inner dialogue of Kate Pryde as she lights a menorah in the remains of the mutant land of Genosha. She decides that the way to make a change for mutantkind is to become President. It is a fascinating thought from one of the originators of the X-Men.

This is a fun issue of X-Men for any comic book fan you have on your holiday shopping list even if they haven’t been reading the regular books.

Disclosure: I purchased my issue of all comics described within.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Carol of the Bells

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Sometimes it seems like the readers of this regular Sunday column have as many questions as the ones from my regular perfume writing. Every year I take this time to write about my favorite Holiday things. For the first four years I have really enjoyed telling the stories of some of my favorite rock and roll Christmas songs. After last year’s column on the song “A Merry Jingle” by The Greedies I received two e-mails asking what my favorite traditional Holiday song was. I not only have one, but it is top of my personal Christmas countdown by a mile. It also has an interesting story and I thought for this Holiday Season I’d tell the story of how the song “Carol of the Bells” came to be.

This is a Christmas song which a lot of people don’t know the actual name of. I’ve heard it called “Sweet Silver Bells” or “Ring, Christmas Bells” or even “Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas”.

“Carol of the Bells” began its life in 1914 as a very different choral piece based on a slightly different time of year. It was a piece commissioned by the Ukrainian Republic Choir conductor, Alexander Koshetz. The song composer, Mykola Leontovych, wrote was called “Schedryk”. It roughly translates to “Little Swallow” and tells the story of the bird entering a house as the harbinger of the spring to come. The four-note pattern which repeats throughout the song comes from Ukrainian folk music. It was part of the Christian celebration of New Year and would fall out of favor as Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union.

It would be almost twenty years later when Peter J. Wilhousky would provide English lyrics to the same melody from Mr. Leontovych. The reason was Mr. Wilhousky wanted to premiere it as part of the NBC Radio Network’s symphony orchestra Holiday Program. He came by the lyrics because the melody reminded him of hand bells. After its radio premiere the song became a staple of the Christmas music rotation.

One reason I like the song as much as I do is how resilient it is to different interpretations. I have included three of them here. Up top is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir giving you the straight choir version. In the middle is a version for drumline as the percussion part of the orchestra gets to shine. The last version is the one most have come to know; the synth-rock version by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I like all of them and more. I counted on my Mega-Holiday playlist and I have fifteen versions of Carol of the Bells. More than any other.

There you have it “Carol of the Bells” is a song that began as a little sparrow in Ukraine to become a Christmas classic in the US. Along with being my favorite traditional Christmas song.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Gremlins

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, I begin to queue up my favorite Christmas movies. Like everyone else I’ll watch the classics sometime over the next month. I also have a list of some different Christmas movies which are less about the spirit of the season. These are darker fables with a bit more bite to the moral of the story. One of these which I break out early in the season every year is the 1984 film “Gremlins”.

Gremlins was directed by Joe Dante. Mr. Dante had been known for low-budget horror films “Piranhas” and “The Howling” before producer Steven Spielberg asked him to direct the comedy horror script written by Chris Columbus. It was released in the summer of ’84 on the same weekend “Ghostbusters” premiered. Both movies would show there was an appetite for some funny to go with your scares. Gremlins would be the fourth highest grossing film of the year; two slots below Ghostbusters. Even though Gremlins was a summer movie in regard to its release date the story itself takes place on Christmas in the small town of Kingston Falls.

The story is a simple one; that a father who has been too busy promoting his inventions away from home wants to give his son a fantastic present. The father steals a one of a kind creature called a Mogwai from a shop in Chinatown named Gizmo. When he presents it to his son, Billy, he repeats the three rules you know will be broken over the next thirty minutes. Don’t get the Mogwai wet. Do not expose it to bright light. Do not feed it after midnight. The last rule is the funniest. Isn’t it always after midnight? On a snowy Christmas Eve the rules are broken unleashing the violent versions of the cute Gizmo led by Stripe. The rest of the movie is Billy trying to find a way to rid the town of the pests while they spread out around town wreaking havoc.

What makes it a Christmas movie is the monologue from Billy’s girlfriend Kate which happens towards the end of the movie. It is a macabre story of how her father died on Christmas Eve which is why she hates Christmas. That she will be part of the team which solves Kingston Fall’s Gremlin problem is a perfect Seasonal moral.

While there are truly scary moments. The scene where Billy’s mother defends her kitchen from one of the gremlins is a classic as her weapons are all the things you find in a typical kitchen. There is a wink here to a woman defending “her” turf. It is the comedic elements overlaid atop that which makes Gremlins such a favorite for me.

Once the Gremlins get out of hand, we see jokes all around in the way they are dressed. From a set of Christmas Carolers to a group of card players all cheating. There are sight gags everywhere to be seen and giggled at.

If you need something that will give you a different Holiday charm, put a shot of brandy in the egg nog, queue up Gremlins, and settle back for a new Christmas addition to your movie list.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Stan Lee

There is a saying that says, “you should never meet your childhood heroes.” The idea behind that is that what you perceived with childlike affection will wither in the sunlight of maturity. There are many people who I would put on a list of childhood heroes which upon learning more about their life some of the adulation wore off. Near the top would be Stan Lee the man who created the Marvel superhero universe. He just passed away earlier this week and it has taken me a few days to process my feelings about my childhood hero.

I’ll start with the childhood hero part. My father read comic books and his favorites were the DC heroes of Batman and Superman. As his son I read them, but I wasn’t as excited about them. On my sixth birthday I was given my first allowance; $2.00. I had looked at the rotating wire rack of comic books before and was curious about this “Spider-Man”. The issue that was on sale was #29 where Spider-Man battles with The Scorpion. Right there on the splash page were the names of two men who would influence my entire life through their creation; Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. They created Spider-Man and they created an entirely different style of storytelling. Their characters lived in the world I lived in. They had some of the same day-to-day problems I had. They just had to use their special powers for good. The credo given to Peter Parker by his Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Is true whether it comes from a radioactive spider or something lest fantastical. This is what created my enduring love for stories told in comic book format.

Over time as I became more immersed in the comic book community, I began to hear that Mr. Lee was not the one responsible for the creation of the Marvel Universe. It was the artists; Steve Ditko on Spider-Man and Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four who were the real creative minds and Mr. Lee was taking undue credit. In these pre-Internet days it was through going to comic book conventions that I would interact with the people who made my favorite comic books. It was also in those days when I could sit down with them and have them tell me their story of working in the comics. At least from the artists point of view Mr. Lee took more credit than he should have. It led to times when Mr. Ditko and Mr. Kirby would stop working for Marvel only to return. What I was able to piece together as a reader was that Mr. Lee did provide something special to the story he was taking credit for. When Mr. Ditko or Mr. Kirby were on their own the art was still vibrant, but the story was less so. What I believe now is the Marvel Universe needed all three of them to come to life.

Back to the childhood hero part. As a kid there were things I liked others tried to make me feel bad for. That I had stacks of comics in my bedroom was pointed out in a derisive way many times by my friends and family. I was asked constantly, “when are you going to stop reading those funny books?” The answer is not yet. One of the things which made me even more attached to them was a column that was in every month’s issues of Marvel comics called “Stan’s Soapbox”. In a little yellow box Mr. Lee told me I was part of a large community of people who read comic books. He called me “true believer” and he encouraged me in his signature of “Excelsior!”. Even though I was the only one of my friends who read comic books; once a month I was told I was not alone. It is a powerful thing. It was the community of the Internet decades before it existed. Mr. Lee used his monthly Soapbox to speak out about things like racism. The column below came out in December of 1968. Mr. Lee created a Marvel community which stood for something more than just selling funny books.

For the final phase of my remembrance it was the joy that was evident in his cameos in the movies which make up the Marvel cinematic universe. If there was a Marvel logo which preceded the movie you knew that somewhere in the movie Mr. Lee would show up with a one-liner. I guess we have director Bryan Singer who cast him as a by-stander on the beach in the first X-Men movie to thank for that. I remember being in the theater and giggling delightedly. I still giggle whenever he shows up. Although when I see his final cameo sometime next year, I think it will be a more wistful smile which greets that one.

Thank you, Stan for a lifetime of stories.

Mark Behnke