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'Fantastic Four' to the Rescue? : Troubled Stockton Seeks Some Comic Book Relief

January 23, 1986|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

STOCKTON, Calif. — The previous mayor was sacked last year by the City Council for allegedly falsifying travel records.

A blue-eyed councilman with white parents won a seat in a predominantly black district after claiming to be black.

The grand jury recently made allegations of poor management at the sewer plant.

All of that convinced Joe Field, 29, radio station KJOY ad salesman and comic book aficionado, that Stockton desperately needs a better image. "I have found the way to do it," he told the council. "Pass a resolution urging Marvel Comics to recognize Stockton as the mythical Central City, Calif., in its Fantastic Four comic book."

The City Council did it. The resolution was signed by Mayor Barbara Fass and City Manager Ed Griffith, then was dispatched to Marvel Comics in New York City.

Petitions Signed

Petitions signed by 374 Stockton residents were left at Al Greco's comic book store to be relayed to the publisher.

"It's a wonderful idea," said Fass, 45, who confessed to never having heard of the Fantastic Four (Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and The Thing).

But the mayor is a patsy for comics. She has "Crock" and "Doonesbury" strips tacked to her office door.

"Maybe Fantastic Four readers will want to see Stockton after reading about it in the magazine," she said. "Maybe we will get a comic book convention here."

"It will put Stockton on the map in a fun and positive way," said Field, for 20 years a Fantastic Four fan. The magazine has a monthly circulation of 300,000.

Stockton was founded by bearded Capt. Charles Weber, in his own right a great prototype for a comic book character. Weber fired a cannon from the roof of his home every time a ship arrived in Stockton.

Colorful History

During the 1880s, when Stockton was widely known as Mudville, its baseball team was the inspiration for the poem "Casey at the Bat." But more recently, Stockton has become better known for its political shenanigans.

Last Aug. 1, for example, Mayor Randall Ronk, 29, was expelled from office after he was impeached by the City Council on seven counts of falsifying $2,912 in travel vouchers.

He appealed to the state Supreme Court, but the court refused to consider his appeal. So, he ran again for mayor three months later and was defeated by Fass.

Then there was Ralph Stebbins, 41, the blue-eyed gardener whose parents are white and who campaigned as a black to defeat incumbent City Councilman Ralph White in March, 1984.

White spearheaded a recall election against Stebbins. But the voters rejected recalling Stebbins in May, 1984. White tried again. In December, 1984, the voters recalled Stebbins and elected White.

Last month, the City Council briefly pursued impeachment proceedings against White based on allegations of voter fraud in one of the recall elections. But the impeachment effort was dropped after three of the council members said they couldn't give White a fair trial.

Then, along came Field and his comic book proposition. Townspeople in this city of 175,000 seem generally supportive. "Our radio station has been flooded with favorable response," noted KJOY disk jockey Jerry Fuentes, 28, like his colleague, an admitted comic book addict.

The Stockton Record ran a lead editorial that read in part: "Faster than a speeding bullet and almost as fast as Captain Marvel could say 'Shazam,' the City Council is putting Stockton on the map. And we here at the Daily Planet applaud the action.

"Joe Field wants Stockton to be known as the home of The Thing, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and Mr. Fantastic. Will it succeed? Only the Shadow knows . . . . "

Stan Lee, 62, the Los Angeles-based co-creator and publisher of the 25-year-old comic book, is in Los Angeles working on a Marvel Comics movie. He said:

"I will gladly sign that petition myself. I couldn't agree more with renaming Central City to Stockton. We pride ourselves on making our comics as true to life as possible, even though the lead characters are super-heroes.

"We don't have our characters driving whiz-bang cars. We have them in Chevy Corvettes. We use real names. It's a great idea. I see no reason not to change it."

But Lee has been out of touch with his home office a few weeks.

Field learned in talking to the editors of the Fantastic Four comic book by phone the other day that a tentative plot line for the magazine's 25th anniversary issue calls for Central City, Calif., to be removed from the face of the Earth.

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