Here at DC Histories, we usually try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We generally discuss what worked and what didn’t. Not so this week. Today, we’re looking at some of the cookbooks that have been released using licenses from Marvel, DC, and Star Wars.
Superheroes and cooking don’t seem like a natural fit. When they do sync up together, it’s usually something like Superman wanting you to buy Walmart’s Extra Large Ultimate Meat Pizza. The same was true in 1977. Characters rarely jumped from comics pages to dinner plates. So when Stan Lee Presents The Mighty Marvel Superheroes’ Cookbook came out that year, it was a cookbook the likes of which no one had seen before.
The book featured no writing credit, but it was “created by” Gene Malis. Jody Cameron Malis, who also worked on other projects like The Dark Shadows Cookbook and The Newlywed Game Cookbook, created the recipes and Joe Giella handled all of the book’s art.
Between its cast of Marvel characters and big, colorful pages, it seems clear that this cookbook was aimed at kids. Taller and wider than a comic, this large paperback book offered a variety receipts for palates of all kinds. Though the headings, characters, and word balloons were huge on each page, the recipes themselves were tiny and cramped.
The recipes weren’t all that great. For example, squinting at the above page will reveal how the book instructed readers in the making of union rings. “Buy frozen packaged onion rings and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.” Now that’s the level of recipe you get when your main reason for buying the cookbook is to see Spider-Man, Thor, and Captain America strolling down the street playing drums and a fife.
Other pages made the reader wonder just who this book was really aimed at. Surely no kid, even one in 1977, was chomping at the bit to get a recipe for beef liver with rice even if both Iron Man and Stan Lee himself vouched for the dish.
My guess is that readers were more interested in seeing images of characters like Spider-Man wearing an old-timey chef’s hat, creating some sort of baked good while a fire rages behind him, and thinking in word balloons the size of your fist.
There was little rhyme or reason to the book’s images. Why did Thor, the Thing, Silver Surfer, Captain America, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, the Hulk, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Johnny Storm, Daredevil, Black Panther, and Namor all go fishing together? Because something needed to introduce the fish portion of the cookbook. Also, the world needed to see the Hulk hand-fish in the Atlantic.
DC waited four long years to respond to Marvel’s shot across their culinary bow. When they eventually countered, they did so with a book that was more coherent than Marvel’s entry in the cookbook arena. Just like their competitor’s book before it, their title was a mouthful. In 1981, DC Super Heroes Super Healthy Cookbook hit store shelves.
Credited to the writing of three people, Mark Saltzman, Judy Garlan, and Michele Grodner, the book was “based on an idea” by Jenette Kahn, the publisher of DC Comics. Original art by Ross Andru, Leo Duranona, and Dick Giordano was found inside the book’s page.
The idea of this cookbook was that these would be healthy recipes that kids could make themselves. Adults would help, of course, but kids could do the majority of the heavy lifting as they learned about nutrition, calories, and healthy snack options.
Unlike the paperback book that Marvel released, the DC book was hardcover, which made it more durable for kitchen use. It also was longer than it was tall, allowing for a different design to each page. While everything in the Marvel cookbook was drawn, the DC book was a mix of photographs of the food discussed and drawings of the various DC characters. For example, when Wonder Woman appeared on a page to discuss natural soda pop, it was a real bottle she was holding.
On non-recipe pages, all overtures towards verisimilitude were off. In a bid to make “open-face ugly-face sandwiches” a thing, Hal Jordan was shown fighting them off with a set of will-powered teeth. Kids were urged to become the “mastermind that is in control of these peanut butter fiends” by creating the sandwiches and then eating them. It was cute and may have added a bit of fun for a child who may have been a picky eater.
Many of the recipes called for fresh fruits and vegetables, which was nice to see in a cookbook aimed at children. It also touched on children’s moods, such as when Green Arrow was shown being a total selfish monster by eating some food right in front of Wonder Woman and not offering her any. This page did make me curious if the idea of calzones hadn’t hit mainstream culture in 1981, as that seems to be what Green Arrow has made here when he refers to his “secret pizza.”
Perhaps the best thing in the book is the recipe for a burger whose most defining feature is its cheese and ketchup combination which make up Superman’s famous S-shield.
Sadly, both the Marvel and DC cookbooks are decades out of print. When available, both fetch high prices in places like eBay and the Amazon Marketplace. I was only able to get my hands on copies of each of these through my library’s interlibrary loan system, which pulled copies of the books from libraries as far away as Alaska. If you’re interested, check to see if your local library can ship a copy in for you.
Plenty of other franchises have gone the cookbook route. From an official Game of Thrones cookbook to an unofficial Hunger Games cookbook, fans of genre fiction don’t have to look far to find something to inspire their meals. Even Star Wars got in on the act in 1998 when an official Star Wars Cookbook was published.
By the late 1990s, cookbook publishers had finally figured out that traditional bindings are terrible for cookbooks. In order to properly read a cookbook while preparing a meal, the book needs to lay flat so dirty fingers don’t have to smear foodstuffs over the pages while they’re being held open. Traditional bindings don’t allow for that unless you break the spine, and no one wants that. The Star Wars Cookbook got around that by having the book be spiral bound with a protective cardboard spine around the outside of it.
Also, instead of having live action photographs of, say, a Stormtrooper eating a dessert being presented, someone stumbled upon the brilliant idea of adding action figures to the pictures of the food. A plastic Tusken Raider adorned the potato snack named in his honor. A tiny Yoda used the Force to hold aloft a soda named after him. An immobile Chewbacca stood among a pile of Wookie Cookies. It worked wonderfully.
Two years later, a followup cookbook was published which featured the characters found in the recently released Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Thankfully, enough time had passed since 1999 that the writers and editors of this book knew that Jar Jar Binks wasn’t the breakout character that had been envisioned. He barely appears in the book, which is once again made up by posing action figures with the food. The book playfully used the franchise which drew people to the book to great effect.
The official Star Wars website even keeps some of these recipes on its website for free. Check out their “Activities” page and click “Cooking.” You’ll find a few things including a pigs-in-a-blanket style treat they call TIE Fighter Ties. Check it out to get a sense for these cookbooks.
Just last year, another Star Wars cookbook was released titled The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookie Pies, Clone Scones, and Other Galactic Goodies. Some editions even came with three small cookie cutters in the shape of R2D2, Yoda’s head, and Darth Vader’s head. This book reprints some of the recipes found in the first Star Wars Cookbook, but adds new recipes and even more great pictures of food and action figures.
Cookbooks tied to various intellectual properties have been a part of the culinary landscape for years. Whether you’re interesting in these titles just because of their ties to a story you enjoy or because you’re simply looking for some new meals to make with the kid in your life, it’s hard to go wrong with any of these titles. It’s just a shame that several of them are out of print. Here’s hoping that eventually changes.
Jeff Reid only made one recipe from any of these cookbooks but he had a blast reading through them. Be sure to read about Jeff by following him on Twitter.