"I always had a repulsive sort of need to be something more than human. I felt very very puny as a human. I thought. 'Fuck that. I want to be a Superman.'" -- David Bowie
In part one we looked at David Bowie's seminal creation Ziggy Stardust and the history behind it. Or at least the history as it's known.
We saw how Ziggy- and indeed, Glam itself- traced directly back to a short-lived project called The Hype, which featured Bowie and Spiders from Mars guitarist Mick Ronson, as well as Bowie producer Tony Visconti on bass.
The Hype's conceit was that they were superheroes-turned-rock stars, and each musician took on a separate identity.
Bowie appeared all in silver, going so far as to dye his hair silver. That's an important clue in parsing out the mysteries behind Ziggy and in many important ways, behind Bowie's later career and his esoteric ambitions as well.
We also saw how Bowie credited 50s rock star-turned-acid casualty Vince Taylor as inspiration for Ziggy, largely due to his rather LSD-typical messianic delusions. Bowie would embroider Taylor's story over different interviews, adding bits about UFOs and Atlantis, but never with much enthusiasm. So I think we can leave Taylor's influence at "rock star turned messiah turned burn-out."
But there are several missing pieces to the Ziggy puzzle, pieces which Bowie never bothered to fill in, preferring to maintain an air of mystery around his creation.
Or is it that he didn't quite want to own up to exactly where he was really was pilfering his ideas from in the self-serious 70s? He had an reputation to maintain, after all. Being a rock star was louche enough in the circles he longed to travel in.
So let's read Bowie's explanation of the Ziggy concept, relayed to William S. Burroughs in Rolling Stone, again:
Ziggy is advised in a dream by the Infinites to write the coming of a starman, so he writes "Starman," which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately. The starmen that he is talking about are called the Infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers.
Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don't have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by black-hole jumping. Their whole life is traveling from universe to universe.
Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starman. He takes himself up to incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist on our world.What does that all sound like to you? I'll tell you what it sounds like to me: a Silver Age Marvel Comic ("the Infinites?"). It sounds one hell of a lot like a Silver Age Marvel Comic. Oh, like something written by Roy Thomas, say.
Like a Marvel Comic about an extraterrestrial savior who travels through an anti-matter dimension and merges with an aspiring folk-rocker in order to save the world from destruction, granting that singer amazing alien powers in the bargain.
But do such comics actually exist? And did they exist prior to the creation of Ziggy Stardust?
Oh yes, they did indeed.
A brief bit of background. Well, as brief as I can make it.
Whereas Superman was an alien, Captain Marvel gained his powers from a pantheon of ancient gods and heroes, Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.
Hence the magickal incantation, "Shazam!"
DC Comics, or National Comics as they were known then, didn't appreciate the competition and took Fawcett to court. The basis for their suit was that Captain Marvel's powers and appearance were too similar to Superman's. But it was falling sales that did Captain Marvel in. Fawcett cut their losses and dumped the Captain and his cohort in the early 50s.
Which is to say, Bowie's Golden Age of Comics.
In any event the name fell out of copyright and in steps Marvel Comics, who snap up the copyright and create their own Captain Marvel. The first incarnation of the character was a dud, but he got a makeover with issue #17 (released July 1969) and became a definitive character of the Bronze Age of Comics.
Starman, waiting in the sky
Marvel's Captain Marvel was an alien, part of a race known as the Kree (connected to Jack Kirby's pre-Chariots of the Gods ancient astronaut cosmology) and had been exiled to the Negative Zone, the anti-matter universe introduced in Fantastic Four #51 (1966).
Through a convoluted sequence of events he becomes linked to Rick Jones, Marvel's all-purpose sidekick (he was formerly teamed with the Hulk and then Captain America) and whenever peril draws near, the two change places in the Negative Zone via the Nega-bands, which are essentially magical gold bracelets.
Note Captain Marvel's mask shape and Marvelman's gold disc
And what's more, an epic storyline ("The Kree-Skrull War") featuring Captain Marvel and Rick Jones and a host of superbeings and aliens-- one of Marvel's most important multi-story arcs and the biggest event in comics fandom at the time-- wrapped itself up in a comic that hit the stands in December 1971, just as David and Angela Bowie were rolling into Manhattan for an extended stopover to promote the newly-released Hunky Dory.
And, oh yeah, from 1967 to 1973, Captain Marvel had silver hair.
Now, let's take a look at "Starman." The one and only single off Ziggy Stardust during its initial release, Bowie's first hit in three years, written and recorded late in the process (early '72). The turning point in Bowie's career when he performed it on his star-making turn on Top of the Pops.
With gold bracelets.
Let's look at those lyrics again for a moment:
Then the loud sound did seem to fade /Came back like a slow voice on a wave of phase /That weren't no D.J. that was hazy cosmic jive/There's a starman waiting in the sky /He'd like to come and meet us /But he thinks he'd blow our mindsAnd let's look at Captain Marvel #17…
In this story Rick Jones is lured into a cave filled with alien artifacts by the "Supreme Intelligence" of the alien Kree. The lure is an image of his friend Captain America, who then does a "fade-out" on Rick.
And what appears, literally on a wave of phase?
What message does Bowie's Starman bring?
He told me/Let the children lose it/Let the children use it/Let all the children boogie...What does Rick Jones decide to do immediately after channeling (see issue #18) this alien starman?
Yeah, I think we'd better dig into Bowie's Ziggy rap to William S. Burroughs again.
"Ziggy is advised in a dream by the Infinites to write the coming of a starman, so he writes "Starman," which is the first news of hope that the people have heard."We saw how in Captain Marvel #17 how Rick Jones is lured through hallucinations (rather than a dream) instilled by the "Supreme Intelligence" to channel the alien Captain Marvel. Immediately after, he decides to become a rock star.
"So they latch onto it immediately. The starmen that he is talking about are called the Infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth."Captain Marvel is trying to come save the earth but is trapped in the Negative Zone.
And here's where we get our smoking gun.
"They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village."From Captain Marvel #20, released March 1970 (the same month as The Hype's debut): Here we see Rick Jones, playing his music where?
"They just happened to stumble into our universe by black-hole jumping. Their whole life is traveling from universe to universe."
After Rick's gig he is contacted by Captain Marvel, who is trapped in another universe and wants to come to ours. Next?
"Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starman. He takes himself up to incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples."
Rick Jones, musical novice, takes his disciples to incredible spiritual heights, apparently with the cosmic power still remaining in his body. Moving on...
"When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist on our world."
Do I need to remind you Bowie's real surname was Jones?
Oh, I know what you're thinking. This is all crazytalk.
I mean, why would a comic book about a young rock singer channeling the power of a alien superman possibly appeal to David Bowie, right? Especially a young rock singer surnamed Jones? I mean, it's preposterous!
And anyway there's no possible connection between Bowie and Captain Marvel or else someone would have discovered it already. This is all blue-sky conjecture.
I mean, where's the connection between David Bowie and comic book superheroes, anyway?
In 1975, the then-wife of rockstar David Bowie, Angela, got the television rights for Black Widow and Daredevil from Stan Lee in hopes of using it as a star-vehicle for Angela’s own on-screen ambitions. Angela Bowie enlisted actor Ben Carruthers (The Dirty Dozen, Shadows) to play Daredevil, and the duo did several black-and-white stills dressed up in their parts.
Bowie enlisted her husband’s Ziggy Stardust era costume designer Natasha Kornikoff to design the outfits, adding face paint to Daredevil’s ensemble but leaving Black Widow’s look relatively untouched.Oh. That connection.
Angela, in her own words:
“I’ve always been a Marvel fan. As a kid I would pick up a two-foot stack of comics and read them in the back of my dad’s car on long journeys across the States. That’s how I used to make friends – I’d meet up with other kids and we’d swap comics.
I loved the outrageous costumes but I also loved the stories. What adults don’t always understand is that to a kid, a comic book is like a movie. My Marvel comics took my imagination to other places – other galaxies."Other galaxies. You don't say.
One thing people may not realize is how influential Angela was in Bowie's glam phase, and how involved she was in the design and concept of his Ziggy-era stage presentations.
"David and I both thought that rock music was boring, so we started talking about how we could make it more interesting. We said, ‘Look, you don’t have to wear denims and a beer-stained T-shirt and just bang out your hit singles. If you’ve got good music, let’s make it look good, too. Let’s give it colour and light – let’s make it theatrical.’ So that’s what we did, and people called it glam rock."
"Then I found myself back in the US promoting David’s live show. I was having a meeting about doing a cartoon version of Ziggy Stardust and I got invited to lunch with Marvel comics legend Stan Lee – the guy who helped create all those great characters like Spider-Man and Iron Man.
“We got talking about one of the female Marvel characters, Black Widow. Everybody round the table started getting really excited about it, and suddenly there I was paying Stan Lee one dollar for the movie rights.Back in London I set to work with Natasha Korniloff, who designed some of the costumes for Ziggy Stardust, and the photographer Terry O’Neill.
With Terry’s help, I pushed and pushed the project, but what I didn’t realise in all my youthful enthusiasm was that the special-effects business wasn’t quite advanced enough to make the film that I wanted to make….But I’m still a Marvel fan and I’ve seen all the films. "Well.
Not such a crazy theory after all, don't you think?
But hold on tight, because the story is about to get a lot weirder.
TO BE CONTINUED
Sync Log: This story went up 45 mins before I posted here.