What Do LeBron James and DC Comics Have in Common?

Jake Negovan

Writer Jake Negovan finds parallels between the NBA's biggest star and one of pop culture's progenitors: the comics.

I’m an NBA fan and a comic book nerd. It’s rare that the two worlds intersect (outside of Shaquille O’Neal’s Superman fetish). Recent news in both comics and basketball created an intersection that I think could be helpful to the NBA’s biggest star, LeBron James.

James took his talents to South Beach last summer to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat. The team-up immediately created a juggernaut of premiere talent with its sights on the NBA title. Basketball pundits questioned the likelihood of a Frankenstein-like construct capturing the championship without spending a season or two acclimating itself to all of its new components, but at the heart of those doubts was a fear that the Heat could win it all right away. Like a mutant superhero, adding LeBron’s power to Wade’s athletic grace and Bosh’s height had created an immediate contender. The whispers of a championship were immediate.

The team-up also made the Miami Heat the most vilified and loathed team in basketball. James and his friends were accused of taking shortcuts, plotting conspiracies and demonstrating premature arrogance. Fans looked at the Miami Heat as conceited bullies with no respect for the other teams or for the game itself. LeBron James spent the season as the focal point for this stream of criticism. When the Heat made it all the way to the NBA Finals and then subsequently lost to the Dallas Mavericks, the blame hung on LeBron James.

After eight years of recognition as the most talented player in the game, he is now being examined only for his flaws and short-comings. LeBron defers too much. LeBron can’t take over games. LeBron has no low-post game. LeBron can’t close. LeBron will never be a champion. LeBron is no Michael Jordan.

LeBron is kind of like comic books.

Even though our movie screens are crowded these days with super-powered people in impractical costumes, comic books themselves aren’t doing so well. There are vocal supporters of comics who can speak about the tremendous talents who write and illustrate them these days, but there are many other people ready to point out the short-comings of the format. They are expensive. They’re hard to find. The specialty shops that carry them are unwelcoming. Comics are immature, or too mature, or convoluted, or simple-minded, or nerdy.

Like the criticisms of LeBron James, all of the criticisms of comic books are true. Sometimes. Other times, comics (and Lebron) are truly amazing. The trick is convincing people to pay more attention to the good parts than the bad.

LeBron, I’d like you to meet DC Comics.

DC is one of the two major publishers of comic books in the United States (along with Marvel). Most people are familiar with DC even if they don’t realize it. For several generations they’ve published the adventures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and many, many others. Obviously, DC has an interest in preventing comic books from going the way of the drive-in movie. They made a bold move earlier this month by announcing all of the comics they publish, some of which extend all the way back to the late 1930s, will be starting over this September. All of them. Superman. Batman. Jonah Hex. Everybody gets a fresh start. It’s like a group of editors at DC sat around at lunch one day being sad about Arrested Development’s cancellation and realized that their comics were also self-referential and continuity dependent.

Why are they doing this? For attention, mostly. The announcement brought a lot of media coverage, and the hope is to turn it all into increased sales. By starting over, DC is trying to make their most famous properties appeal to a broader audience by dumping 70 years of baggage and declaring that everything old is new again. They are accentuating the positives and asking you to overlook the historical hiccups that seem silly or incongruent. Readers can also jump in now and not be concerned that they’ll misunderstand a reference to a story that happened in 1972.

DC refers to this move as a “relaunch,” and that’s what LeBron needs to do with his ever-precious brand. Relaunch LeBron James to let the world know he’s not about what came before, only what happens from this point forward. Just like DC’s superheroes, nobody is going to pretend that the things that came before didn’t happen. Nobody who saw those things is going to have them wiped from their memory. And the long-time fans who have loved every highlight and accomplishment all along can still savor those moments. But now is now, and the past won’t be an anchor or a measuring stick. LeBron could send the signal that if you never liked him before, if you liked him but came to hate him, or if you’re ready for him to finally live up to expectations, he’s ready to try again with everyone.

How would LeBron pull off such a move? Let me tell it straight to LeBron.

“Lebron, for starters, never again talk about your brand. Stop it. Don’t talk about hanging out with Warren Buffet or the things he’s said. Don’t talk about being the first billionaire athlete. And don’t ever, ever talk about your talents or where you’re taking them.”

“You don’t need to go into a personality coma like Gilbert Arenas tried to do, but you need to relax the notion that you’re a business man and just let us see you as man with a cool job.”

“No more fireworks. No more celebrating after wins until you win it all.”

“Bring back the chalk toss. People like it.”

“Here are some good words you should use: try, work, effort, teammates, help, thanks, appreciated, and dedication. Here are some words that you should avoid: LeBron James, selfish, Jordan, legacy, friends, me, my, myself, destiny, dominate, best, leader, take over, pressure, and villain. They just won’t help you.”

“Play the game when you’re on the court and play it well. Don’t decide that you’re going to be a passer or a scorer, do both. Don’t defer if another player has it going, be the ‘two’ in a one-two punch.”

“Make sure that for each three-pointer you attempt, you’ve twice driven into the lane.”

“Support and respect your coach.”

“I’m telling you these things because I like you. I believe you can be a champion, but I don’t want to hear anymore that you believe it, too. Don’t talk about it, just do it (to borrow your sponsor’s words). Let your game talk, because everybody wants to listen to that.”

Superman gets a fresh start in September. If a lockout is avoided and he gives his legacy a little thought, LeBron could relaunch in training camp at the same time.

Right along with the rest of the superheroes.

Jake Negovan is a freelance writer with works previously published at and the San Antonio Current, among other spots. His work can be found at

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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