What I Didn’t Know About Wildcat’s Origin Story

I’m a comic nerd. Have been all my life. Being a superhero fan, I feel lucky to have been a kid during the 70s and 80s when comics were arguably the best they’ve ever been (go on, argue with me about it). Not only were Marvel and DC producing monumental new books at that time, but both publishers delighted readers (while saving some bucks) by reprinting material from as far back as the 1930s — what’s known as the Golden Age of comics — too. In addition to comics, I’ve always liked history, Old Time Radio, and old pulp action heroes, so this was great for me.

Wildcat was a character from that Golden Age. An old-fashioned kind of vigilante, he didn’t have any true super powers. I thought he had a pretty cool costume, though. Ted Grant, his alter ego, had been a championship boxer, so he was a pretty tough guy. For whatever reason, Grant decided to put on a costume and fight crime. It was a thing some tough guys did in those days. He called himself Wildcat and wore a solid black cat suit, complete with cat mask.

That might sound a little silly to you, but if you can believe it, a similar non-powered fella had turned hero wearing, of all things, a suit that made him look like a bat, and that character’s books sold incredibly well. For 75 years.

Wildcat’s popularity never came close to Batman’s, but DC Comics did bring him into the modern age, along with the rest of the Justice Society of America, in the 1960s. He was featured not only in reprints, but also in new stories. He was even shown to have trained Batman and other crime fighters. DC had a whole multiple earth scenario that explained where the Golden Age heroes came from. If you watch The Flash, you’ve seen a little of that. And if you watch Arrow, you’ve seen Wildcat. A version of him, anyway.

For decades, Wildcat has been portrayed as kind of a lunk. Undoubtedly a hero, full of heart, but more a jock than a thinker. Not simple-minded like Johnny Thunder, a more humorous character, but not as bright as the rest of the Justice Society, being mostly scientists, doctors, and industrialists in their secret identities.

I recently lucked into a copy of The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told at The Last Word which includes Wildcat’s first appearance and origin story. Written by Bill Finger, who happened to also co-create Batman and the original Green Lantern, among others, the story is classic pulp, full of tragedy and heroic determination. As superhero origins go, it’s really good. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, but was bowled over by a revelation early in the story.

On page two, in only three panels, my perception of this character was totally changed.

Ted Grant not only went to college, he went Ivy League.

So it looks like the ol’ pugilist grew up somewhat privileged, and not only went to college, but Yale of all places. To top it off, he didn’t want to be a professional boxer. HE WANTED TO BE A DOCTOR.

I know this is just a comic book story, and I’m sure it lacks some impact if you haven’t read the treatment of the character for decades, but it got me thinking. Have you ever thought you had someone pegged, then found out something about them that changed your view of them?

Most of us are probably guilty of categorizing acquaintances and coworkers in simple terms. It’s unfortunate that we make assumptions about people based on limited information. We might encounter one side of a person, or deal with them in only one kind of situation. I understand why we make the judgments we do, but it’s kind of a shame we can’t read everyone’s origin story.

You’ve probably heard some version of “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” I do believe that’s true. In our day to day dealings, we rarely know where folks are coming from or what they’ve been through. I’d like to say it doesn’t matter, but being the social creatures we are, knowledge and understanding do affect our relationships. Even and especially our briefest and most casual.

I happened to be studying marketing recently (I don’t only read comics), and a message I encountered with repetition is that no matter what you’ve done, no matter how good you are or what you’re capable of, if people don’t know about it, you’ll not make as much of a difference as you should. That it’s up to you to “market” yourself so your accomplishments and experience don’t go unnoticed. Well, if we’re wise enough to understand that, can we be wise enough to flip it around and understand that there are folks out there doing incredible things who AREN’T good at marketing themselves? What might we be missing? If I’m smart enough to know I need to put myself out there, I hope I’m smart enough to know to look deeper at who people are, what they’ve been through, and what they’ve done.

You certainly don’t need to know everyone’s background in order to be friendly or have a good relationship. Rapport is built in the present as easily as on similar past experiences. I do hope, though, I’ll be careful to consider there’s more to the people I meet than the impressions I interpret.



My Recent Geeky Activities

I tried to credit these cosplayers. Anyone know who they are?
I tried to credit these cosplayers. Anyone know who they are?
Here’s an attempt at a quick blog post. One of the reasons I don’t manage to get more stuff on here is I take too long to compose and then edit posts. That is apparently contrary to what the medium expects, but I have believed whatever goes up stays around the webverse forever. I want all my posts to be brilliant, to be a reflection of talent worthy of reading. But then I take so long, I don’t finish articles, so there’s nothing to read, and it doesn’t matter anyway.

So, that was an already long introduction for what I announced as a quick topic.

Lately I’ve been re-embracing my nerdism. Been catching up on Doctor Who after decades of disinterest. Not every episode is great, but that 50th Anniversary thing was terrific. I stayed up til 3 in the morning Christmas Eve watching old Christmas episodes, and I understand this year’s was very good. Planning to watch it in a few hours.

I’ve been reading a lot more comics lately than I have in the last few years too. I had to give up comic collecting years back mainly due to the expense, but I gave myself a Christmas gift of a Marvel Unlimited subscription, so I’m catching up on a lot of things I’ve missed. Thanks to Adam Warrock I’ve been reading Avengers Arena. He tweeted the title was one of the best he’d read recently, and while it has its merits, I’m not sure I’m a fan. I am intrigued, though, and definitely want to see how things end up. Because I wasn’t familiar with all the characters in the book, I went back to check out the different Runaways miniseries, and I am so glad I did. I’m in the middle of the second run now. What an enjoyable surprise! The first miniseries, from 2003, was fun, with likeable characters (and some despicable ones, too) and some nice story twists. While there is danger and darkness to the story, Brian K. Vaughan masterfully balances that with humor and a light tone. It’s really exactly the way I like my comics.

Thanks to Netflix, I also watched most of the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes second season. Pretty good translations of some of the stories from the printed comics in that season. The kid in me loved seeing all the guest characters and recognizing storylines.

Last to mention, I have somehow become a huge cosplay fan. I am blown away by what people are doing these days, making amazing costumes. From what I can tell, Atlanta is the cosplay capital of the world, but closer to home we have some fantastic artists. If you’re into it at all, you should see what DJ Spider and Contagious Costuming have done. I’m not sure if I’ll ever dive in to dressing up myself, but I have started a list of costume possibilities already. Who knows?

Mom, Me, and Stan Lee

This would have made a nice Mothers Day post, but today is when it comes to my mind.

Like a lot of things I’ve stumbled into in my life , I never really knew how to be a good parent (see name of blog).  Oh, I had a grasp on some basics, and certainly leaned heavily on what psychology I’d learned, but, honestly, I never felt completely comfortable in my readiness to be a dad.  I love my kids immensely, though, and I totally loved the times we had together.  I tried hard, like I guess most of us do, to do the right things to make sure they were happy.

My own parents were my models, of course.  Mom especially, since Dad was gone a lot.   She made sure my sisters and I had tons of good and interesting experiences which filled our days as kids and provided possibilities for our futures.  I did Cub Scouts, my sisters played softball and went to Brownie camp; we took lots of trips to libraries, went swimming at the awesome pools on the  army bases, visited zoos and gardens.  What meant the most to me, though, and was therefore what I wanted to do most with my children, was the participation in all sorts of cultural experiences:  plays, movies, symphonic concerts, events at the library, museums, and bookstores.

If you’re thinking that makes me sound like such a nerd, wait until you read this next bit.

The greatest single event Mom took me to, the one that stands out as a testament of her motherly love, was taking me to hear and meet Stan Lee.  In the nearly unimaginable chance you don’t know, Stan Lee was the chief editor for Marvel Comics.  He co-created The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, X-Men, and a ton of other superheroes.  For a young comic book nerd like me, I couldn’t imagine a bigger celebrity.

Stan Lee was speaking at one of the nearby colleges (at this time I can’t remember which), and Mom found out about it somehow.  I was probably 9 or 10 years old.  I’d never been to hear an author speak, but I was more than excited about the chance to actually see Stan “the Man” Lee!  I remember sitting in the auditorium enthralled, clutching  my well-read copy of Origins of Marvel Comics in my lap.  I even worked up the courage to ask some question (I’ve completely forgotten what it might have been) during the Q & A, and afterward joined the multitude in the autograph line.  Stan signed my Origins; I had it open to the page next to the reprint of Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man’s first appearance.  Stan asked me why this page, and I recall letting him know Spider-Man was my favorite of his characters.  What a great day.

I think about that experience frequently.  Not only was it a terrific opportunity for me, meeting a personal hero, but I’ve always appreciated it for the gift it was from my mom.  If she hadn’t told me, after already making plans, I probably never would have known Stan Lee had ever come to town, and would have lived a perfectly good life anyway.  She could have done all sorts of other, more self-satisfying things that day.  Even then I thought Mom was making some kind of sacrifice sitting through hours of what for her, I imagined, must have been sort of uninteresting jabbering about kidstuff.

Thanks, Mom.

So I wonder now if my kids have any event similar to this, on which they look back and think, “wow, that was really cool.”  I sure hope so.

Stan Lee signed my copy of Origins of Marvel Comics!