Tuesday, February 1, 2011

ZAP! POW! BAM!: It's Super!

Originating at The Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum in 2004, "ZAP! POW! BAM! The Golden Age of Comic Books" has triumphantly returned to Atlanta from travels around the world…ready for more, well-deserved, superhero worship.

The exhibit, I'm told, was the mastermind of the museum's Executive Director, Jane D. Leavey and some of her colleagues. On the grand opening of the exhibit's second run at The Breman, Jane welcomed visitors to the guest speaker presentation with the assistance of two Batmen (cape-wearing youngsters) who quite effectively entertained the audience without uttering a word.

The Opening Gala

Superhero Cinema
Superhero Cinema
Even in competition with the most beautiful day in Atlanta in many weeks, the opening gala was well attended. Visitors (members and guests) were scurrying around between the lobby, gift shop, permanent exhibits, the ZAP! POW! BAM! exhibit, and the auditorium where a speaker program was about to begin when I arrived.

The opening gala included the speaker program, refreshments following the program, the exhibit itself (and all of its elements), and social time with fellow museum visitors.

I arrived with only a few minutes before the 2:00 start time of the Mueller presentation, but I couldn't resist the urge to pop into the exhibit for a quick preview…I felt like such a kid. Satisfied, momentarily, with the tip of the iceberg, I waited to meander the exhibition in its entirety until after the speaker presentation.

Comic Book Art Display
Comic Book Art Display
I entered the auditorium and found a seat near the front close to the podium. As on previous occasions of visits to The Breman, other visitors introduced themselves and cordially engaged me in conversation. Every time I go, I'm made to feel like I've run into old friends.

The guest speaker was Emory University's professor of film studies, an illustrator, and an animation expert, Eddy Von Mueller…a scholarly, distinguished, yet rather hip gentleman.

Following an impressive introduction that included an even more impressive litany of the speakers accomplishments, Mr. Mueller took to the podium and proceeded to mesmerize the audience with his learned insights of how so many of the superheroes we admire, from yesteryear through today, were created by Jewish citizens—who constructed "secret identities" (a recurring theme in the presentation) for themselves, for the sake of their career success, as they did for their superhero creations.

Comic Book Artist Profile, Stan Lee
Comic Book Artist Profile
I will attempt to succinctly share the gist of what he revealed.

Mueller gave an eloquent and humorous dissertation on the historic rise of comic book fanfare, their role in society in the early years, and how that role—their stature in society—parleyed into a group of not-exactly-accepted American citizens, Jews, created an industry that would become a global sensation.

Superman (the second most recognized American in the world) was first introduced in 1938, on the brink of World War II. Anti-Semitism was rampant, so many Jews who immigrated to the United States, and many who were born here, changed their names so that they could get work to provide for their families.

Those who created comic book superheroes did as well and their comic book superheroes also took on "secret identities." This trend continued for many, many years and the sensation of comic book lore grew exponentially.

Comic Book Artifacts
Comic Book Artifacts
Finally, in 1976, the first superhero to come out of the proverbial closet and profess his Jewish faith was Thing, a member of The Fantastic Four.

Mueller also told us that a first edition of the 1938 Superman comic book, which originally cost 10 cents, sold at auction for $1,500,000. Now that's a serious collector!

On a side note, I had the exciting opportunity to see Christopher Reeve (the best-known Superman) when he was the Master of Ceremonies at the 1996 Paralympic Games here in Atlanta. And I got to actually meet Brandon Routh (the most recent movie Superman) at Dragon*Con 2010 here in Atlanta.

Comic Artist Studio
Comic Artist Studio
The final, and probably most important, point that Mueller made was that reading is extremely important to our society. Pointedly not giving investment advice, he made it known that he feels grievous when he hears of a comic book, or any book for that matter, that sits undisturbed, unread, never telling the story inside it dying to get out.

Read, people! Just saying.

Following the speaker presentation, visitors were treated to a virtual buffet of savory and sweet morsels and beverages. Many enjoyed the bounty of the grocery and bakery and the socializing, while others, including myself, couldn't wait any longer to get to the exhibit.

The Exhibit

For the record, the full name of the exhibition is "ZAP! POW! BAM! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950." And there's more in the exhibit than I have space and time to write about…but I'm certain it's an exhibit you'll be ecstatic to see in person.

Comic Book Artifacts
Comic Book Artifacts
The excitement on the faces of visitors walking into the exhibit was that of pure enthusiastic anticipation…and the expressions continued throughout the exhibit as author profiles, never-before-seen artifacts, and comic-making stations were discovered.

That same look was on the faces of silver-haired couples, toddlers, teens, and adults you would never had suspected would be so enthralled with an exhibition about a topic so far removed from Corporate America.

Welcoming visitors to the exhibit, in the galleries lobby, is a newsstand with stacks of newspapers bearing headlines of superhero activity such as "Hero Steps from Shadows, Delivers Criminal to Police."

When you walk into the ZAP! POW! BAM! gallery, the first thing you see is a life-size Superman, bursting through a brick wall…obviously to save the day.

If the first wall poster you read is titled "epilogue," turn around because you’re going the wrong way. Walk to the right of Superman and look for "prologue"…then you'll be on the path of righteousness, like any good superhero.

Graphic Novel Kiosk
Graphic Novel Kiosk
Throughout the gallery are reading kiosks with graphic novels, low enough for kids to stand and read and still high enough to read comfortably for those of us who left our adolescence in another decade.

Along the length of the first long wall of the gallery are displays of original comic book art, both covers and pages that depict the processes of creation and design. I've never seen comic art this rare or this big! Some of the artwork pieces are considerable larger than your standard comic book size…very cool, I think.

The Comic Studio
The Comic Studio
The kids are going to love the Comic Studio. With quite a few stations and instructive materials, kids can recreate a favorite superhero or create their own…all the creative materials are provided, as well as inspiration.

Immediately opposite the Comic Studio is a recreation of an actual comic artist studio, with a few impressive artifacts from well-known comic artists, including a typewriter used to create a popular comic book series.

There also are numerous museum cases throughout the gallery with rare comic book related artifacts, including pins, tin cars, cutouts, games, puzzles, and so much more.

The kids are going to love the Superhero costumes! Just for the youngsters, there's a wall of superhero costumes that they can wear for a photo opportunity, but please be sure to return the costumes to the "secret costume hooks" so other visitors may enjoy them as well.

Around every corner is a surprise…not unlike the turning of a page of a comic book. One of the…dare I say it…"most adorable" artifacts in the gallery is a miniature Batmobile…and visitors can sit in it (another excellent photo opportunity!).  Sorry grownups, but this sweet ride is restricted to visitors seven years old and younger, but you get to be the one who shares a really cool photo on your Facebook account!

Immediately across from the Batmobile is the Superhero Cinema, where superheroes come alive on the "big" screen. Several shows are playing so stay as long as you like, but no so long that you miss the rest of the exhibit before you have to run off to save the world.

Along the inner wall of the corridor outlining the gallery are sections highlighting the works of specific comic book character creators.

One of my personal favorites is Stan Lee, who you learn was born Stanley Martin Lieber, but succeeded despite feeling he too had to hide his identity—his cultural heritage—to be successful. Stan was a huge draw at last year's Dragon*Con in Atlanta and I loved his TV show "Who Wants to be a Superhero?"

While the exhibition seems like it's all fun and games, there is a "danger zone"…beware the Kryptonite, especially if you're from Krypton (Do you dare get too close?). If you're not sure what Kryptonite is, just keep an eye out for the glowing-green box.

Bidding visitors farewell is a superhero changing room—also known as a phone booth, complete with superhero costume.

Giving credit where credit is due, the ZAP! POW! BAM! exhibition is sponsored by Cartoon Network…how apropos, right?

When ZAP! POW! BAM! closes at The Breman after a second run (on Sunday, April 24, 2011), it will continue its worldly travels. Next stop: Scottsdale, Arizona.

Kids, of all ages, who are inspired by the exhibit enough to want to read a comic or two can fly, flash or teleport to Oxford Comics in Buckhead or any of the other numerous comic book stores in Atlanta. The also can look forward to Free Comic Book Day on May 7, 2011.

Upcoming Programs
Comic Book Race Cars
Comic Book Race Cars
Part of the ZAP! POW! BAM! exhibition is the ZAP! POW! BAM! Film Series. The series kicks off on Sunday, March 20, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. with The New Adventures of Wonder Woman starring Linda Carter, who I saw at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. not too long ago…she's amazing! And she demonstrated for the audience a Wonder Woman spin!

Wrapping up the film series will be Snow in August with guest speaker Rabbi Phil Kranz. Snow in August will be shown on Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 2:00 p.m.

The Bearing Witness Series program features a Holocaust survivor or a child of a Holocaust survivor in a speaker program on the first Sunday of each month. The next speaker, Henry Brinbrey of Germany, will present his story this Sunday, February 6, 2011 at 2:00 p.m.

The Return

Having been as many times as I have, will I return to The Breman? Actually, on the visit before this one, I purchased a membership. The experience so far has been very enriching, emotional at times, and worth every second I've spent there. I will be back for more of the Bearing Witness programs and definitely to see the Wonder Woman film feature...I mean, who doesn't enjoy Wonder Woman?

Touring ZAP! POW! BAM!

Date toured: Sunday, January 30, 2011
Hours: Monday-Thursday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Sunday 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.; Closed on Saturdays and most Jewish and Federal holidays.
Location: 1440 Spring Street (at 18th Street) (
directions and map)
Cost: Adults $12, Seniors $8, Students $6, Children (3-6) $4, Children (under 3) free
Parking: Free onsite parking
Website: http://www.thebreman.org/

Superhero Headlines
Superhero Headlines

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