The Bookworm: Comic book battles and political wars

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Slugfest: Inside the Epic 50-Year Battle Between Marvel and DC”

By Reed Tucker

c. 2017, Da Capo Press

$27, $35 Canada, 286 pages

You know what your workplace needs? A superhero. 

Sure, a superhero! Someone who can leap tall problems in a single bound. An invincible mutant who can handle customers, recall conversations in great detail, dispense product in minutes, and stop time in the break room. Yep, for sure, that’s what your business needs, so read “Slugfest” by Reed Tucker.

A scene from the latest issue of Superman.
From Captain America's '40s debut, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

Our story begins in the 1950s in a conservative, button-down warren of offices. National Comics (later known as DC Comics) was the “undisputed leader in the spandex … genre,” secure in their ownership of the Superman strip. Across town, Marvel Comics was “just a ragged little shop with basically one employee” named Stan Lee. 

Comic books then were often considered fodder for juvenile delinquency and had, a few years prior, come under fire from a Senate subcommittee investigating the “medium’s evils.” The controversy had decimated the industry; many comic book publishers went out of business, but DC stood strong. Still, says Tucker, readers were becoming “bored” with what they had to offer.

It was the perfect time for a small upstart to get serious.

When Marvel’s founder told Lee that they needed something like DC’s new Justice League, Lee had a few ideas. He and artist Jack Kirby created a group of superheroes with human foibles and modern problems. That created a kinship with readers and a problem for DC. They couldn’t figure out why Marvel suddenly had better sell-through with distributors. 

“Slugfest: Inside the Epic 50-Year Battle Between Marvel and DC” by Reed Tucker.
“Slugfest: Inside the Epic 50-Year Battle Between Marvel and DC” author Reed Tucker

For the next several years, the two comic book giants battled like … well, like fighting superheroes. Employees were “poached,” coincidences that might not have been so coincidental stunned the industry, and new features were copied back-and-forth with impunity. There was a brief price war between the two publishers, and possibilities of illegalities. Even fans became deeply divided – until the unthinkable happened and, in 1976, with the utmost delicacy in negotiation, the two briefly became one.

Remember summer afternoons with a pile of comics and a cold drink by your elbow? It’s hard to believe that the focus of that childhood memory was big business then, and even bigger now. In “Slugfest,” you’ll be taken – pow! Bam! – back to see how.

Truly, this book speaks to the heart of everyone who spent (or spends) weeks in eager anticipation of the next comic book issue with the next exciting adventure, but the nostalgia inherent in the subject doesn’t minimize one thing: time and again, author Reed Tucker reminds his readers that comic books are a business. It’s difficult to imagine this pastime-slash-obsession being so cutthroat, but everything that keeps a business owner awake at night happened through the years in this industry. In telling it, though, Tucker keeps things on the lighter side. There’s a hint of amusement in this saga, as there should be, which makes it a fun read.

Former kids will want this book for the insight to what’s behind-the-scenes. Business folks will want it for a new look at what’s surprisingly an old industry. If both, you’ll love “Slugfest” faster than a speeding bullet.

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“What Happened”

By Hillary Rodham Clinton

c. 2017, Simon & Schuster

$30, $39.99 Canada; 495 pages

Your vote counts. That’s what you head to the polls hoping: that your single vote matters out of millions, and that you’ll have a hand in history. On that note, about last fall, Hillary Rodham Clinton has a few things to say, and in her new book “What Happened,” you’ll notice first that that title is not a question.

“What Happened” by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

You’ll also notice that Clinton is quick to say in her author’s note, that this book is based entirely on her point of view and her memories. 

To start, Clinton refuses to point fingers at anyone on her staff, and there’s no under-the-bus throwing. Later, she carefully, thoughtfully cites specifics on why she ran and lost, and she steadfastly claims responsibility for what happened and for decisions made – though she does lay blame on James Comey; the media, for skewing what was reported; and, of course, Donald Trump. She is, in fact, deeply concerned for the viciousness of this last campaign and its use of “lies” and misquoted half-thoughts, but she’s sorry-not-sorry for using the word “deplorables.” She admits regret over now-minor scandals and, as for emails, Clinton believes that, generations from now, people will be shocked that they were the number-one subject of campaign controversy.

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There is, in this book, a lot of unnecessary: readers will find pages of biography and personal stories that appeared in past books, either in hers or Bill’s. There are history lessons that really only boost her anecdotes, and could have been omitted; ditto for some things that seem overly-rehashed. Of course, as happens in many memoirs, names are dropped like moths beneath a bug zapper, which is more-or-less unimportant except to the people being named.

Hillary Clinton was at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair on Tuesday to sign her new book, "What Happened."

Conversely, readers hoping for a smidge of lightheartedness will find it here: on her post-election days, Clinton says that she practiced yoga and deep breathing but “I also drank my share of chardonnay.”  We are likewise treated to great behind-the-scenes peeks; for example, Clinton practiced for debates in such mocked-up detail that “Trump hardly said a thing in any of the three debates that I was hearing for the first time.”

Here, there’s a constant sense of awe and gratitude at her role in history, as well as backhanded relief at not winning, perceiving it as opportunity to spend time with her grandchildren. And yet – there’s a no-surprise tone of anger in this book, and lingering befuddlement over much of 2016’s political scene. Clinton says, “I’m doing okay,” but eagle-eyed readers may spot passages here that seem to belie that sentiment. Still, there’s plenty of sass left: Clinton persistently pokes sharply at the soft spots of her election opponent in many subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways ... 

Toward the end of “What Happened,” Clinton asks that we all be “kind,” but she also offers advice for Democrats who want to win in 2018 and 2020. And though this “doesn’t mean I’ll ever run for office again,” it doesn’t mean the opposite, either.

In other words, do read this book and don’t count her out yet.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.