Monday, April 15, 2024

Between Books - True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee

Book cover for True Believer showing a profile of an older Stan Lee

I think it’s impossible for a biographer to not develop a bias. As you spend enough time with a figure, the time really needed to chronicle a life, you either come to put them on a pedestal or despise the thought of them. I think that Abraham Riesman came to despise Stan Lee while detailing the Marvel legend’s life. It could have been due to choosing a side in the Marvel creator wars, everyone needs to side with either Stan or Jack right? Or maybe the drama and messiness in the final decades of Lee’s life was too much. But it is clear in with commentary often found in the text, Riesman has little to no admiration for Lee.

True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman is an extremely depressing tale. The biography provides the major steps of the Marvel legend’s life from birth to death to legacy. The story, without summarizing every milestone, is one of creative frustration, professional duplicity, familial strife, and business criminal charge. Lee is portrayed as a man who was an excellent marketer with questionable creative skills. As a man who disliked confrontation, he failed to always share the full story and allowed myths to build up around himself. This trend also allowed unscrupulous people, including family, to surround him and take illegal actions often in his name through Stan Lee Media and POW!, which were both accused of several criminal financial offenses in Lee’s name. Finally, in his final years, Lee was a victim of elder abuse by business partners and his daughter who all saw him as a financial cash cow.

Let me start with Riesman’s writing. It is riveting, engaged, and brings a reader into the sad story. But Reisman also clearly as an anti-Stan bias. This leads to commentary within the text that takes the opportunity to tear down the Marvel editor even when it’s unneeded. There is definitely a view that says Stan Lee was all bad while others, like Jack Kirby, were all right. And while Kirby may have some of the higher road in this story, I think we cannot automatically argue that Lee brought little to Marvel’s greatest creations. I think the clear bias is what leads me at times to question all of the story as fact. For example, in Lee’s senior years, it comes off as Riesman wants Lee to be involved in the illegality done in Lee’s name versus what he claimed which was ignorance. It’s not impossible to believe that Lee has some level of confusion and deniability to these acts due to his age, financial pressures, and series of bad choices of those he put around himself. For me, I can see the Lee was bad story but I can also see the Lee was a senior citizen who made bad choices about those he trusted. Lee the marketer was a manipulator, and I can see Lee being manipulated.

I will also admit I have a bias too. I am generally pro-Lee thanks to early exposure to him in media like Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. I enjoyed his public persona. And I have come to believe that Lee and Kirby were better together than apart. This left me feeling combative at times to the author and definitely made me feel queasy.

Here is for me the real value of Riesman’s book. Stan Lee’s life was not as marvelous as we may want to believe. He was creatively frustrated. He produced less than he wanted to and never felt creatively accepted. While he was in a marriage full of love, it also created financial strains that would always put pressure upon him. Even more sad, his relationship with his own daughter was broken beyond repair. And while in his final years we saw the public smiling Stan at premieres and in videos, he was surrounded by people who really only wished to use his name for their own purposes. It is a life less excelsior than any of us would wish for another human.

True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman is not a happy book. Readers should be warned. It is well-written and interesting but is also clearly anti-Stan. The picture that the reader walks away from is sad, will make you question your heroes and mad about how we can treat each other. In the end, Stan Lee’s life was as real as those he attempted to create in the pages of his comic books. 


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Monday, April 8, 2024

Between Books - Disney Parks Presents Pirates of the Caribbean

Book cover to Disney Parks Presents Pirates of the Caribbean with cute pirates on a boat approaching a fort.

I like fun…you like fun. And pirates like to have fun! Shouldn’t kids have fun too?

Disney Parks Presents Pirates of the Caribbean with music by George Bruns, lyrics by Xavier Atencia, and illustrations by Mike Well walk young readers through the classic attraction. The images are homages to the Disneyland Park version, which made me miss it as it’s been years since I have ridden it. Wells’ images are paired with lyrics and lines from the slow-moving boat ride and are generally fun-natured. Overall, it’s a colorful fun romp through the ride.

Wells’ images highlight this book. They are fun and light-hearted. They also do a great job providing a tribute to the attraction. However, I do need to say I think Wells gave Carlos a glow-up! The mayor hasn’t looked so young with flowing hair for years. Also, pirates are stealing actual treasure from the housewives and not food!

I am outspoken! I prefer kids' attraction books that use the actual lines and lyrics. So no complaints here. Yes, it would be tough to create a kid's book that uses all the lines from the cocktail party that is Pirates! The ones here have been carefully chosen and do a great job preparing kids for what’s to come or what they remember from the classic.

I think the most difficult piece at the moment is this book, which provides a tribute to a past version of the attraction is out of print.  I personally could not recommend spending $40 plus on the secondary market to get a copy for a kid! 

Disney Parks Presents Pirates of the Caribbean is fun. And despite the fact I don’t know if I can even play the accompanying CD anywhere but in my car, reading through the book led to me singing the theme out loud! And that is nothing but winning. 


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Monday, April 1, 2024

Between Books - 3D Disneyland: Like You've Never Seen It Before

Book cover for 3D Disneyland  with the TWA Moonliner rocket in 1950's era Tomorrowland


Do kids use Viewfinder's anymore?  For me, growing up in the Midwest they were one of the few ways I could experience faraway places, like Disneyland!  Maybe I could immerse myself in animals long gone, like dinosaurs!  I loved my Viewfinder, and as an adult I recaptured a little of that magic recently.

3D Disneyland" Like You've Never Seen It Before by David A. Bossert shares the stereoscopic, 3D photography, of Disney animator Ted Kierscey.  The photos in Kierscey's personal collection cover two distinct time periods, 1955 to 1958 and 1980.  Additionally, there are some additional photos from Patrick Swinnea that cover more recent years.  The pages follow a simple pattern.  On the left side, the page is largely intentionally left white with a caption taking a small bit of space towards the bottom left of the page.  The right side is 3D photo centered and taking the majority of the page.  The photos, all of Disneyland, flow geographically from Main Street USA to Tomorrowland, with different eras mixed in with each other.  The book is all about the photos and displaying them for easy reading with the enclosed 3D glasses. 

Let's jump back to childhood.  About once a year, one of the local TV stations would have a older monster 3D movie promotion.  They would hand out 3D glasses through gas stations and spread the joy of 3D.  It may have been the poor definition of my TV, but it never worked.  So I was a little worried these fuzzy pics, pre-glasses, would fail for me.  This fear was not false.  The photos work great!  Yes, I had to ensure enough and proper lightening to get my best experience, but the glasses worked wonderfully.  The older photos may not have been as immersive as the newer ones.  But there are quite a few that I felt drew me in and took me to a place, just like the old Viewfinder.

3D Disneyland" Like You've Never Seen It Before by David A. Bossert showcases the stereoscopic photograph collection of Ted Kierscey.  It is a delight, and took me to a place that I love often in eras that I beyond my ability to travel in time in visit.  The read is all about images, and can be quick and breezy.  But I recommend a slow read, in the morning sun, with coffee so you may enjoy every moment and image!


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Monday, March 25, 2024

Oswald Opines - Star Wars: The Acolyte First Trailer


Post for Star Wars: the Acolyte showing a red lightsaber on a marble backround and the wors "In an Age of LIght A Darkness Rises"

Everyone gets an opinion right, and I find myself with mixed thoughts about Star Wars: The Acolyte.  While I don't want to be negative, I do feel a mix of emotions that makes we worry that this series against other Star Wars' offerings.



The good stuff!

  • We see red and blue/green lightsabers:  The trailer makes it clear that we are going to get some Jedi/Sith fighting action.  I really think visually that for non-super fans this is really appealing.  Lightsaber battles to me are an iconic image from my childhood, and I think that those who have not read 85 comics and watched 63 cartoons about the High Republic will consider this series despite not walking in with the backstory of Starlight Beacon.  
  • We see a respected action star:  I wasn't fully aware of Carrie-Ann Moss and her casting in the series.  I think this is a win.  Non-Star Wars fans will recognize her and have I think positive feelings about her and see Moss as a trusted action star.  She brings a level of extra validity to this series for me.  So a second win for this series is going to be action packed!
  • It's visual:  I think visuals are the best way to tell a Star Wars tale.  It really needs images to show off all the various species, backgrounds, ships, and whatever lightsaber variant is going to be unleashed.  And the trailer does show a Jedi who will have a very cool variant.   
  • Yoda!:  While we don't see him in the trailer, the books have established that Yoda is a respected Jedi Master during this timeframe!
  • I like Star Wars!:  Seriously, I want and like good new Star Wars. Who is that grown adult who watches Star Wars: The Bad Batch every week?  This guy!


The questionable thoughts!

  • Who cares about the High Republic?:  I know that Disney and LucasFilm have unleashed a massive publishing program, but I don't personally feel it has worked well.  I know that as a fan I've at times been interested in earlier Jedi and Sith, but maybe we've been told too much now.  The books have just not worked to sell this period.  I worry that despite this show being years after the books, that non-readers will feel intimidated since they are not aware of backstory that may not be needed.
  • Who's that?:  One of the Jedi featured in the trailer is Vernestra Rwoh.  This Jedi was introduced in books, books I've read.  But I failed to catch this in trailer glimpses.  And while I think Rwoh is interesting in the books, and maybe I can be intrigued what happened in the decades between books and live-action...I just didn't catch her presence or her very cool lightsaber!
  • Do I need to watch that?:  When watching Star Wars: Ahsoka a friend pointed out references to Star Wars: The Young Jedi Adventures.  Now I've not watched this truly kid directed program.  With this being the other show that exists for the High Republic, will some feel like they need to watch an entire cartoon series, for kids, to find this show accessible?

I worry.  I am the only one in the Between House that watched Star Wars: Andor, which is a great show all the way around!  And while Star Wars: The Mandalorian is a must watch under this roof, I've heard some grumbles about how complex the story is getting.  I've also heard this thought stated out loud about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the tapestry that is being woven there.  I'm pretty sure that nothing here will be needed for the future enjoyment of the Star Wars: The Mandalorian & Grogu saga, which is likely where many will put their Star Wars enjoyment at the moment. 

So, here's my newest crazy theory taught to me by James Bond!  I think that the Daniel Craig Bond movies are fine.  But the problem is to fully enjoy the last one, you need to know everything that came before from the first moment he joined the screen.  That's not James Bond.  Bond adventures work best when we get a brief moment of adventure to reintroduce Bond, we get a world-threatening villain, Bond gets his toys, Bond meets a girl, Bond gets captured, and Bond saves the world.  And then the next time we meet, none of that matters!  My hope for Star Wars: The Acolyte is a Bond story.  I want something that is action packed and maybe unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not all connected to the rest of the galaxy far far away! 

I'm not sure that Deadpool will be able to bail Disney out of audience loss if non-super fans are not willing to enjoy a regular Star Wars diet along with me!

Monday, March 18, 2024

Between Books - What Have We Here?


Book cover for What Have We Here? with Billy Dee Williams turning to make a blue cape flow up on his back.

I remember falling in love with history as a kid. It was a youth biography about Albert Einstein. It had me on the edge of what seemed like every word! It was the life of someone who was an academic and not as exciting as a biography of a suave debonair hero should be. I just got done reading Billy Dee Williams’ autobiography and I expected that sort of feeling again for someone who truly could be one of the coolest men in Hollywood. Oddly, I found myself thinking about my first biography read, and how I was left with very different feelings. 

What Have We Here?: Portraits of a Life by Billy Dee Williams tells the professional and personal life of the actor who is best known for his portrayal of Lando Calrissian. Born in 1930s New York, Williams was part of a close-knit family of loving parents who found the time in their busy schedules to expose their twin children to the world around them. Young Billy Dee found that he was attracted to artistic pursuits, painting and acting. Thinking that he was going to be a professional portrait painter, he entered art school and further refined his craft. But he could not escape the call of the theater, walking away from painting and taking roles in theater and eventually film and television. He officially made his mark in Hollywood with Lady Sings the Blues and Brian’s Song. His roles and his private life crafted the image of him as a romantic leading man, of any color. After the release of Star Wars, George Lucas was criticized for a lack of diversity, and he cast Williams as the Lando in The Empire Strikes Back. Despite taking on what some would see as a silly sci-fi role, Williams threw himself into creating a character, one who included many of the suave characteristics of the real-life Williams, and was a figure not just defined by race. This role propelled Williams from more than an actor well-known by African-American audiences but by the wider movie-going audience. This opened new roles, endorsements, and opportunities for Williams. It also, put greater scrutiny on his personal life including his wife, children, and girlfriends. He would also reconnect with painting. The autobiography reaches its end as Williams returns to Lando in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Williams does an excellent job of showing his love for his supportive parents, grandmother, sister, and children. These relationships are really the foundation of his life which he sees as well-lived. However, it’s also clear that many of his relationships, and thoughts, are somewhat atypical. For example, his third marriage would likely be defined as open and included a long period where spouses lived separately with Billy Dee living with another woman. This arrangement, and many of his relationships, make me feel like this lifestyle is less exciting than outsiders may believe.

Also a gentleman does not kiss and tell. Billy Dee’s life story is more romantic, dare I say erotic than I expected. I saw a public image that I assumed was more myth than reality. But in his own words, it’s reality. Yet in one sentence wrap up an entire romantic adventure, leaving you with a lot of questions. And I found myself not wanting more detail. But these stories tend to provide more essay than romantic fiction notes.

It is the Star Wars stories that bring in the readers. That was likely my favorite part due to my fandom. I would not say he provides any bombshells in this section. Carrie Fisher was funny and gorgeous! She does come off as the tough princess we want. And it is all about the cape! But these sections to me lack anything that will become clickbait headlines due to their new nature or scandal. 

Billy Dee Williams at the time the book was published is an older gentleman in his mid 80’s. He has lived a life. He was a young man who wanted to be a leading man, but being African-American faced challenges in casting and typecasting. While he does not deal with this issue to the detail he likely could have, he to me, is the archetype of the romantic dashing lead. But the fine gentleman in What Have We Here?: Portraits of a Life generally avoids scandal and perhaps tells a less exciting version of his life than the one he lived. There is so much that could be expanded on in his experiences and worldview that are not.  I sadly, I think that unless you are a big big big Star Wars fan you can likely skip past this title.


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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Between Books - The Orange Bird (Little Golden Book)


Book cover for The Orange Bird showing the Orange headed Orange Bird flying out of an orange tree.

Citrus Swirl or Dole Whip…make your choice! At least that’s how it always seems to me. I am a Dole Whip type of guy. But I understand the love of Citrus Swirl and how the Orange Bird creates nostalgia for this treat! And the Orange Bird makes a super cute lead for a Little Golden Book!

The Orange Bird written and illustrated by Jason Grandt and Scott Tilley gives the beloved Disney marketing creation of all things oranges a backstory. In Florida, one can find the beloved Sunshine Tree. where the farmer grows the juiciest oranges under the gaze of the Orange Bird. The Orange Bird is a quiet bird with the special ability to provide thought bubbles with images. The Orange Bird works and plays with the farm birds, but the farm cat Clementine wants to chase not play. Can Orange Bird be a superhero and save its friends?

The Orange Bird is cute with a simple story. We all know why a cat chases birds. I do go into these books wondering how one would use the book to connect a youngster to the parks, in this case, Walt Disney World. The opening pages and cute illustrations do a great job of preparing a kiddo to visit Florida. But beyond that, not so much. Kids will not meet Orange Bird in the park, and they won’t visit the Sunshine Tree or the farm. They will get to enjoy a Cirtus Swirl, but that’s about all.

The story itself has a lot of words. And they are big ones. So they may help a young reader to add words like “plump” to their vocabulary. But it also is not a book that an early reader will likely be able to manage on their own. It is a more complex book than I expected from a Little Golden Book. 

The Orange Bird written and illustrated by Jason Grandt and Scott Tilley is a cute little farm story. I did find myself, as a superhero fan, enjoying the twist of an ending. Though as a word of caution, the book has a heavier-than-expected vocabulary that may not be within reach for all early readers.


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Monday, February 26, 2024

Between Books - Jungle Cruise (a Little Golden Book)

Book cover for Jungle Cruise a little golden book showing an illustration of Skipper Albert guiding a family in a Jungle Cruise boat through a hippo pool.

I laugh at Jungle Cruise jokes, and so should you…and your kids!

Jungle Cruise a Little Golden Book by Brooke Vitale, illustrated by Paul Conrad and the Disney Storybook Art Team, and designed by Winnie Ho, is a delightful homage and tribute to the world-famous attraction. The book follows a family guided by Skipper Albert on the Amazon Belle through the jungle. Albert spiels as he passes familiar scenes. Conrad and the art team's images are fun and delightful original depictions of show scenes. The book is a true tribute to the ride, with even dock jokes provided to readers.

This book is a delight for Jungle Cruise fans. First and foremost, Vitale adapts traditional Jungle Cruise jokes to a younger audience, and most importantly, the essential jokes are there. And like any good skipper, Vitale makes sure to include the most essential jokes, like the Backside of Water! The team understood the assignment!

The ride featured here is clearly the Magic Kingdom, due to the inclusion of a temple. But the featured boat is Disneyland Park exclusive. In the end, the visuals are definitely Florida, but both coasts are included. Skipper Albert, that can't be important, right? It is if you listen to the radio broadcasts as you travel through the queue.

The book is a time capsule, as the scenes are kid-safe versions of the pre-2021 attraction. Alberta Falls and the Society of Adventurers and Explorers are not present in this edition. But I would argue this is just a good reason to update the Little Golden Book!

Jungle Cruise a Little Golden Book by Brooke Vitale and illustrated by Paul Conrad with the Disney Storybook Art Team, is a delight. When this grown adult says he laughs at Jungle Cruise jokes…well, I chuckled and smiled. I think this is a great introduction to the attraction for the youngster or a way to bring a favorite Disney experience home!


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