Archive for the ‘Comic Books’ Category

Free Comic Book Day 2014: Uncle Scrooge Review: Lucky Ducky

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
Waitaminit, a Don drawing "Don?" I think I just had an "Inception" moment...

Don Rosa, the creator of this issue, drawing Uncle Scrooge at MegaCon 2012. You can see some of his other Disney drawings on the wall behind him. Ain’t he just ducky?

Starting with this post, I plan on taking a comprehensive look at some of what, I think, are the more outstanding issues in my collection of free comics from this year’s Free Comic Book Day.  This is something I have wanted to write about since I started this blog, and I can’t wait to show you what each new issue has to offer. 

One of my favorite issues thus far has been the Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comic from Disney and Fantagraphics Books.  This crazy cartoonish comic features two spectacular stories by Don Rosa, a veteran Disney comics writer and artist.  He has been the premier chronicler of the Duckberg denizens’ adventures for over two decades.  Rosa also presents an essay in this issue in which he recounts how he got started in the comics world and explains some of the interesting details regarding the two featured stories. 

(One small correction before we move on: In my previous Free Comic Book Day post, I stated that this issue featured work from Carl Barks, the legendary creator of Scrooge McDuck.  Actually, it’s just Don Rosa for this issue; the last few years have featured Barks’ work exclusively for the Free Comic Book Day issues, so I guess I just had him on the brain.  Still, Rosa is commonly viewed by Disney comics fanatics as the heir apparent to Barks’ lofty throne and, in my opinion, he has done just as much if not more to make the ducks’ escapades some of the funniest, most exciting comics ever published, so we’re still in good hands here, folks.  I do, however, apologize for my slip up.)

The FCBD 2014 US&DD (Yes indeedy!) issue contains two fun Don Rosa tales from the 1990s, a time when Disney comics were not as widely circulated here in America as they were in other parts of the world (Italy, mostly), so for many readers, me included, this is the first time these stories have been widely available.  I can safely say that both of them have been well worth the wait.  The first story, “A Matter of Some Gravity,” involves Scrooge, Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey, and Louie attempting to prevent the evil Magica De Spell from stealing Scrooge’s lucky Number One Dime.  Magica casts a spell on Scrooge and Donald which inverts their personal senses of gravity.  They are forced to walk along walls and across ceilings, as well as desperately grab at any foothold they can find, as they chase Magica down.

This story is very entertaining to me, mostly from a visual standpoint.  Don Rosa employs a clever arrangement for the comic panels: the top half of each page presents events from a “normal” point of view, while the bottom half shows things from Scrooge and Donald’s “gravitationally challenged” (Don’s own words, couldn’t have said any better myself) perspective.  These clashing perspectives were fun for me to keep track of, and I enjoyed seeing how the ducks tackled seemingly simple tasks like negotiating a steep hill and riding a bus, made nearly impossible to complete when one’s perspective has been inverted.  I’ve encountered this same kind of fun in ’60s Superman comics in which science and conventional laws of physics seemed to run amok, and I think Rosa captures much of that whimsical spirit here as well.  I also feel that this story is a fantastic introduction to the Disney duck comics and a great imagination-sparker.

The next story in this issue is a Donald Duck yarn entitled “The Sign of the Triple Distelfink.”  While it was not as entertaining for me as “Gravity,” I think it still provides some fascinating food for thought.  The main character is not the Don himself, but rather his less famous, but no less iconic, comics-based cousin, Gladstone Gander.  According to Rosa’s essay, he wrote this tale for Gladstone’s 50th anniversary, and again, I think it serves as a wonderful intro to this great character.  The gander’s claim to fame is that he has outrageously good luck: he wins sweepstakes, gets out of tough scrapes through wildly improbable coincidences, and generally goes through life with little trouble, a trait that gets on Donald’s nerves.  However, in this story, Gladstone is faced with a day of outrageously bad luck.  It’s his birthday, you see, and every year on this special day, his normally good luck is reversed. 

Donald, Scrooge and various other members of the extended duck family throw a birthday party for Gladstone, but he doesn’t want to attend because he fears his bad luck might cause undue harm to his loved ones.  He spends the majority of the story trying to avoid the party by taking a train, boat, plane, and other methods of travel to escape, but his bad luck interferes every time.  The accidents that pile up and the other characters’ reactions to Gladstone’s bad luck are what made this story stand out to me.  The “bad luck” bits did get a bit predictable, but I thought the way things were resolved in the end was quite clever.  And don’t worry, Gladstone is back to having good luck by the end; no cooked goose tonight!

The Free Comic Book Day issue of Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck is one of my favorite issues from this year.  I think it contains a healthy dose of fun and some clever stories from a sound craftsman in Don Rosa.  Even better, there’s a promo in the front of the issue which states there is a new collection of some of Rosa’s other Disney work coming in July!  I can’t wait!

There’s more fun from FCBD 2014 on the way here at Kellog Thoughts!  I do not plan on covering every single issue I collected from this year’s festivities, but I do want to feature the comics which I think are simply outstanding, so stay tuned!  Leave your thoughts on this issue, Donald, Scrooge, Disney, and comics in the comments, and happy reading!

Free Comic Book Day 2014 Preview: Introducing Our Special Guest Panels

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
Talk about a fall from grace...

The price for these comics has dropped down to nothing at all!

On May 3, 2014, Free Comic Book Day 2014 will be upon us.  This is one of my favorite days of the year, the time when scores of comic book stores across the country give free specially published issues to any and all interested parties.  The comics created just for this day will serve as titilating tidbits of the wider world of comics just waiting out there for curious onlookers and cheap (in this case, free!) thrills for those already indoctrinated into the world of four-color funny papers.  As is my custom every year, I plan to visit a few of my favorite local comic book stores to see what they have to offer.  I’ve looked at the online list of this year’s comics and have chosen a few stand outs in my mind that I will be looking out for.  The 2014 field looks very promising to me, to say the least.  Here’s a few of my top picks.

Archie Digest #1

Archie is one of the very first comic book characters I ever encountered and grew to love reading about.  The adventures he, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and the rest of the residents of Riverdale have remained near and dear to me, and I am very interested in seeing what this over 180-page compilation of tales has in store for us all.  This little book will pack a lot of content and, even better, offer wholesome all-ages humor with a character who has delighted readers for nearly a century.  Definitely a good combination in my book!

DC Comics: The New 52: Future’s End

Why does this issue need two colons in its title?  I’m not sure either, but after reading the premise for this unusual offering from one of the oldest comic book publishers, I feel inclined to give it a look.  A few years ago, DC pulled the plug on its expansive comic book universe and started over from scratch.  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the DC superhero community embarked on more grand adventures, ready to tell new stories set much earlier in their careers.  They’ve been publishing new stories for a while now, but of course, a new menace will arise in this issue to threaten them all.  A slew of evil cyborgs will be unleashed in the DC Universe’s future, and it’s up to Terry McGinnis, the new Batman of this far-off time (and star of the Batman Beyond TV show and comics, both which I think are equally awesome), to stop them.  This issue is actually the starting point for a year-long weekly series in which the robots escape from the future and travel to DC’s present to mess with the lives of our favorite heroes.  Curiouser and curiouser…

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

Okay, kids, time for a pop quiz.  This consistently successful TV franchise based on popular Japanese superhero and monster shows has just celebrated a milestone 20th anniversary year.  What do you do to mark such a special occasion?  Apparently, the answer is to put out a new comic story featuring the first, and arguably the best, incarnation of this powerhouse property.  That’s right, the original Rangers are back in all their action-packed, acrobatic, multicolored spandex glory and ready to stop the radically rougish plans of those king and queen meanies Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa for the umpteenth time.  I’ve seen the preview art for this story, and I think it looks fantastic; true to the original show with faithful representations of these beloved characters.  As my Power Rangers-loving cousin (I probably ought to get an extra copy for him, too) would say, “It’s morphin’ time!”

Kaboom! Summer Blast

This is one of several anthology-type titles available for perusal on Free Comic Book Day, and the selection of stories and characters in it appeals greatly to my sensibilites.  A few Cartoon Network shows are represented in this collection: if you’re a fan of Adventure Time, Regular Show, or Steven Universe, then I think you’ll certainly love their being featured here.  Peanuts and Garfield are also on hand; Kaboom publishes comic book series based on both of these great newspaper comic strips, but I have yet to check them out for myself so this will be a good sampler for me.  An original character, Herobear, and a few other mystery stories round out the issue.  An ecclectic collection to be sure, but one, I feel, is worth seeking.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity

The Disney comics put out for FCBD every year are a frequent selection for me.  They typically contain reprints of classic comics from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s by the great Carl Barks, the “good duck artist.”  He created Scrooge McDuck and is someone I feel made Disney comic books so much fun for many generations of readers.  This year’s comic is no exception, featuring as its main tale an account of when Scrooge, Donald, and their nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie encounter the devious Magica De Spell and are struck with a gravity-altering spell.  I can’t wait to see how this one ends.  In addition, this issue has two unique covers; both variations on a gag involving Scrooge and his family walking across the cover to confront Magica.  I love looking at gimmicky covers like these.  Iwonder where the artist got the idea to draw something so amazing.

Buck Rogers

For the second year in a row, the greatest spaceman in comics, I believe (besides Flash Gordon), returns to FCBD with more crazy retr0-futuristic escapades.  I loved last year’s showcase of classic comic strips from the ’30s featuring Buck and his buddies and baddies, and this year will provide more of the same.  One thing in these strips I’m really curious about, however, is the stamp and coin-trading game presented in the last panel of each strip.  Each week, a series of stamps and coins featuring the strip’s characters would be available for readers to cut out from their newspapers.  You could trade them with your friends and check  their values each week.  Which combination of stamps and coins will prove the most profitable with this issue’s storylines?  There’s also a space rocket race between Earth and Mars as a last-panel feature in this issue as well; I think it is a really novel concept for a time when such technology was still in its infancy.  Cool beans, that’s all I’ve got to say!

Spongebob Freestyle Funnies

Yes, Spongebob Squarepants does have his own comic book, and this year, he’s a featured FCBD character!  This issue contains a number of wacky sea stories from the good people at United Plankton Pictures, the same production company that makes the Spongebob TV show.  It’s amazing to me that these TV guys could make such a high-quality comic, but from the scant few issues I’ve seen of the regular comic, they’ve succeeded numerous times!  Even better, most of the stories in this issue are written and illustrated by former contributors to Nickelodeon Magazine who worked with a variety of Nick shows and characters, Spongebob included.  The Nick Mag comics section was a favorite of mine when I was younger, and I’m super happy that it’s back in a new form, and on FCBD, no less!

Overstreet Comic Book Marketplace

FCBD is about more than just comics, you know!  It’s also a great place to release special mini-magazines about comic book collecting.  This special issue from the makers of the famous Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide contains info-packed articles about various notable anniversaries, including Batman’s 75th and the 20th of the comic book company Shi.  One other article caught my eye: an overview of comic book reboots (basically when a series starts over from issue 1) and the best ones to collect.  Outstanding stuff!

Bleeding Cool Magazine  (not my favorite title, but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess)

Bleeding Cool Magazine is another mini-mag like Comic Book Marketplace with more generic articles about collecting comics, but it does have an in-depth look at the Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie.  It also contains price guides of its own for various characters and notable titles.  I already own some price guides, but they’re a few years old.  I am curious to see if and how the prices of the comics in my collection have changed, so this one’s a must-have for me.

These are but a few of the many fantastic selections I’m interested in for Free Comic Book Day in 2014.  What do you think about this magical time?  If you’re planning on participating this year, which titles are you going to check out?  Let me know in the comments.  FCBD is a day that I always look forward to, and I think many families could have the same kind of fun that I have.  So, take your family and friends out to your local comic book stores on May 3 and see what you can find (and ask about special sales the store might have for the day; FCBD can result in some amazing bargains).  If you’re reading this after May 3, visit a comic book store anyway!  Sometimes they have left over issues they’d still like to give away, as well as some other freebies here and there.  Enjoy Free Comic Book Day everyone, and spread the word!

Random Top Five: Snoopy Personas

Thursday, November 7th, 2013
"Contact!" he shouts.

Here’s the World War I Flying Ace, looking proud on his Sopwith Camel featured on an emblem for the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron.

One of my favorite characters in all of popular culture is Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s beagle from the Peanuts franchise.  Ever since I first laid my eyes on him in a videotape recording of A Charlie Brown Christmas, I have grown to love Snoopy immensely and take great pleasure from seeing his antics.  I like the idea of a dog standing up on his hind legs, walking around, and hanging out with a little yellow bird.  The one aspect of Snoopy that I love the most, however, is that he has an overactive imagination.  Not content with being merely a dog, Snoopy has decided to fill the dull moments of his life with fantastic adventures in which he is the hero of epic stories, usually taking on some truly iconic identities in the process.  It is these alternate personas of his that stand out the most in my mind whenever I think of Snoopy.  Here is a small appreciation of five of Snoopy’s most famous personas and why I like them so much.

5. The World-Famous Novelist, a.k.a. The Literary Ace

“It was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly, a shot rang out!”  If you’re reading a Peanuts strip, chances are you will see these words hovering over Snoopy’s head while he is banging on the keys of a typewriter on top of his doghouse.  You will then have witnessed one of the most harrowing moments in all of literature: here is the World-Famous Novelist making another attempt at writing the Great American Novel.  It’s just unfortunate, though, that he is borrowing his opening line (the “dark and stormy” part, anyway) from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford, an 1830 work whose beginning sentence is apparently considered one of the world’s worst story starters.  Despite the continuous stream of rejection letters that arrive from various editors and publishers, Snoopy still persists in writing, always with that line as his lead-off hitter. 

I was inspired to become a writer partly because of Snoopy’s attempts to be a writer.  I admired how he never gave up on his dream despite everyone else telling him he should stop.  He kept on writing anyway just because he was that dedicated to his craft.  It just so happens that his work has been published at least one time, believe it or not, and I acquired a copy of it myself a couple of years ago.  The year 1971 saw the publication of It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, a book based on several different Novelist storylines and featured a special reprint of Snoopy’s written work.  I highly recommend hunting a copy down for yourself on Amazon, especially because of the beagle’s account of a surprisingly awesome pirate fight.

4. Legal Beagle

Snoopy has a secret second life separate from his regular existence as a dog and even from his other personas.  In this other life, he is one of the USA’s most elite trial lawyers.  Here is the world-famous lawyer, easily recognized by his bowler hat, bow tie, and carrying a briefcase filled with legal papers (and doughnuts and cookies).  This stalwart defender of truth and justice, sometimes seconded by loyal assistants Linus and Rerun Van Pelt, has had an ecclectic list of clients, including most notably Peter Rabbit (It turns out Mr. McGregor can be far more deadly with a lawsuit than he ever was with a shotgun and rabbit traps.) and the Knave of Hearts (who may have stolen some tarts, but the evidence seems to be circumstantial; it may be that Snoopy himself had a nibble of some of the tarts in question). 

I like this persona mostly because of the absurdity of Snoopy being a part of the legal world and all of the unusual situations that would bring about, and also because I have seen it more in the comics than in the TV specials which makes it stick out more in my mind.  I wonder what would happen if Snoopy went up against Phoenix Wright in a real “trial by fire?”

3. Beagle Scout

When Woodstock and his identical yellow bird friends want to go camping, hiking, sailing, or engaging in nearly any other outdoor activity they can think of, they know the beagle to call.  Snoopy is the loyal den dog to the Beagle Scouts, a group of young birds working to earn merit badges in a variety of disciplines.  Sometimes their excursions take them out onto the neighborhood golf course, marching through sand traps and around holes, frequently taking some treacherous hiking paths through the nearby woods.  There is plenty of risk of being hit with flying golf balls or being chased off the course by its owners or by Charlie Brown and the gang, but the experience of being outdoors is well worth the effort to Snoopy and his young scouts.  The rest of the time, they hike and set up camp through some beautiful countryside; how much of this is really part of the neighborhood or just part of Snoopy’s imagination, the world may never know.

The Beagle Scout persona is a Snoopy persona I can particularly admire because he and his bird friends get to walk through some exquisite outdoor settings.  Charles M. Schultz drew amazing depictions of lush forests, wide meadows, craggy mountain passes, sheer cliffs, calm rivers and streams, and other outdoor locales for the Beagle Scouts to explore, ones which remind me a lot of nearby parks and woods near my home.  They look well-suited for places to spread out one’s sleeping bag and stare up at the stars.  Snoopy is truly an appreciative outdoorsman (or is that outdoorsdog?).

2. Joe Cool

Snoopy’s salute to the BMOC (Big Man on Campus), Joe Cool is undoubtedly one of the hippest (in his own mind) personas the beagle has.  The sweater-wearing, sunglasses-sporting “student” is not as concerned with making good grades as he is with making a name for himself around Charlie Brown’s school, hanging around the water fountain and flirting with the girls.  Whether this approach makes Snoopy/Joe any more popular is up for debate; if You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown is any indication, he certainly isn’t popular with teachers and other faculty who do not want a beagle leaving pawprints all over the school. 

Personally, I think Joe Cool lives up to his name, if only in that he knows how to make a sweater with one’s name plastered on it look like the coolest sweater in the world.  This somehow, by extension, makes the wearer himself look cool, so maybe the beagle is on to something here.

1. World War I Flying Ace

Here is what is undoubtedly Snoopy’s most famous persona, immortalized through his show-stealing appearance in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Royal Guardsmen’s top musical hits “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and “Snoopy’s Christmas,” and even a couple of video games (a different Snoopy vs. The Red Baron and Snoopy Flying Ace).  The World War I Flying Ace is a living tribute to all of the men and women in the armed forces, a pilot who is still fighting the war even though it officially ended when Germany signed an armistice on November 11, 1918.  The Flying Ace climbs on his Sopwith Camel and flies once more into the wild grey yonder (it would’ve been blue if only all those guns stopped blasting ordnance for a second), searching for the “bloody” Red Baron.  Even though the Baron is credited with a long string of successful wins in dogfights, his winning streak of  “ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or more” pales in comparison to his legendary rivalry with that ace of aces, Snoopy.  Thank goodness it’s a relatively bloodless rivalry.  Every time they meet, the Baron just shoots a few holes through the doghouse and forces his opponent to make a rough landing, free to repair his “plane’s” smoking (?) fuselage while shaking his fist (It’s astonishing that dog is even capable of making a fist.  Cartoons, gotta love ’em.) and shouting, “Curse you, Red Baron!”  Snoopy and the Baron even seem to have come to an uneasy truce: every Christmas, they land their planes and share a cup of tea together, wish each other a Merry Christmas, then fly away until their next aerial clash. 

This part of the Flying Ace’s legend is one that I really like to reflect on.  How cool is it that even though they’re such fierce rivals usually intent on “rolling out the score,” Snoopy and the Baron have enough respect for each other to reenact the famous “Christmas truce” from the 1914 portion of the War to End All Wars every single year?  It makes me hope that others will be willing to take up the cause of “…bringing peace to all the world/And goodwill to me-e-e-en.”

I have read many times that Charles Schultz stated that people could interpret his work however they wanted; that all he was trying to do with Peanuts was to make people laugh once a day every day for fifty years.  Well, he certainly made this reader think a lot about life while he was laughing.  In regards to Snoopy, Schultz said that despite the character’s sensational popularity, he himself tried his darndest not to let the beagle completely hijack the strip.  However, I personally believe that Snoopy is the best part of Peanuts.  His boundless imagination and creative flights of fancy are a wonderful respite from the usual storylines of Charlie Brown’s hangups and everyone else’s insecurities.  Snoopy is almost never depressed; he is astoundingly happy all the time and completely engrossed in his fantastic adventures.  Even if the rest of Schultz’s Peanuts work is forgotten over time, I hope Snoopy will remain popular for a long time to come.  I think the world would just be a lot sadder without him.

What do you think of Snoopy and his numerous personas?  Which one is your favorite?  Make sure to fly over to the comments and leave your thoughts, and here’s to hoping you don’t have any “dark and stormy nights” anytime soon!

Pop Culture Haikus: Batman Arkham Origins Edition

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
I could've sworn I saw Superman wearing this one time...

The Batman logo: because even mysterious, shadowy vigilantes need an easily identifiable corporate symbol.

Batman Arkham Origins is the third in a series of highly successful video games starring one of the most famous comic book superheroes.  The game depicts a young Bruce Wayne only two years into his crime-fighting career.  Gotham City is celebrating Christmas Eve, but the Dark Knight will not be able to celebrate a “silent night” for very long.  Gang leader Black Mask has placed a fifty million dollar bounty on Batman’s head and eight of the world’s deadliest assasins have come to Gotham to try to collect.  Even worse, the corrupt Gotham City police, viewing Batman as a vigilante and threat to the common good, will not hesitate to fire upon the Caped Crusader.  I purchased a copy of the game recently and have had a lot of fun exploring the world of Batman’s early days.  So, once again, I feel it is appropriate to pay tribute to some of the game’s characters, settings, and important objects in the form of Japan’s signature “five, seven, five” poem style.  They are probably the closest thing Gotham is going to get to actual Christmas carols this holiday season, so feel free to hum along.

Batman

Gotham’s darkest knight/Young, inexperienced man/Must become fearsome.

Gotham City

The night rules this town./Crime and corruption touch all./Who turned out the lights?

Black Mask

Mob boss hides his face/Owns criminals and police/Yet he’s just human…

Enigma

Mysterious foe/Challenges Bat to find clues/He’ll be Riddler soon.

Penguin

Likes gangs and gambling/Dresses henchmen in parkas/Prefers small sardines.

Batwing

Batmobile as plane/Takes Bruce from point A to B/Without turbulence.

Final Offer

Penguin’s gambling sub/Home to secret “fight club” brawls/”Bird” keeps all the bets.

Batcave

Bats’ hero HQ/Not much to look at just yet/Still, home to cool bats.

Batmobile

Sits in cave corner/Just chassis, still being built/Can I drive it soon?

Blackgate Prison

Houses criminals/Just ordinary bad guys/Arkham holds supers.

Captain Jim Gordon

Commissioner?  No./Fights his own bosses a lot/May work with Bats soon…

Crime Scene Reconstruction

 Bruce scans clues, solves crimes/Digital recreations/Computer sees all.

Alfred

Batman’s only friend/Sidekick way before Robin/Lot funnier, too.

Bruce Wayne

Came back from exile/Has a small, slight social life/Keeps mostly to himself…

Batman Arkham Origins provides a great portrayal of a period in Batman’s history which, while explored almost to exhaustion in the comics, has not really been featured very prominently in other media.  I am looking forward to exploring every inch of this early version of Gotham City and seeing what other surprises await me.  If you’ve played through Arkham Origins, what do you think of the game?  Would you like to see more of this particular part of the Bat-mythos?  Let me know in the comments, and keep tuning in for more Pop Cultures Haikus and other cool stuff, same Bat-time, same Bat-blog!

Pop Culture Questions: Only the Lonely Edition

Friday, October 11th, 2013

question-mark-63979_150I had a sudden flash of inspiration this morning and for whatever reason I have a bunch of new Pop Culture Questions to ask (and answer, naturally).  I also have Roy Orbison’s song “Only the Lonely” stuck in my head at the moment because I was thinking about making this edition all about lonely or isolated characters.  But then again, a lot of these guys do make friends along the way, so maybe they aren’t really all that lonely after all.  Either way, I think they are all great characters and certainly deserving of a little attention, so here’s my two cents on them.

Will Bolt be all right after the events of Bolt?

 Disney’s Bolt tells the story of a dog who is the lead star in a hit TV show filmed in Los Angeles in which he is portrayed as a secret agent.  Bolt has been led to believe that his fictional secret agent life is real (the show’s director surmises that, “If the dog believes it, the audience believes it.”), which has in turn caused him to become intensely protective of his owner, Penny (played wonderfully by Miley Cyrus, years before that whole “twerking” thing got out of hand).  One day, the director decides to set up a “cliffhanger” to increase the show’s ratings, and so Penny is “kidnapped” right in front of Bolt’s eyes (in reality, she is just taken off the set and hidden away from Bolt).  The poor dog is heartbroken and determined to get his owner back, so he subsequently breaks out of his trailer, accidentally gets trapped in a shipping box bound for New York City, escapes his confinement, and goes on an epic cross-country journey to reunite with his owner.  By the end of the movie (kind of a spoiler here, but since it’s a Disney movie, I don’t think it should be much of a surprise), Bolt has reunited with Penny and they both (along with her mom and a few tagalong friends Bolt meets on his journey) retire from acting and move to a ranch house in Oklahoma, far from roving TV cameras and any hint of danger, where Bolt can live out the rest of his life as a normal fun-loving dog.

I love this ending, but I have two major problems with it.  One: Are Bolt and his family truly safe from the TV world?  Who’s to say there isn’t some TMZ-type gossip monger out there looking to do a “Where Are They Now?” segment on Bolt and they’re slowly narrowing down the spots he could be hding in?  I know from experience that once those cameras find him, they’ll just keep on coming and never, ever leave.  In this age of Google Earth and elaborate information sharing and social networking, the odds of Bolt and his family simply disappearing from public view are, in my view, slim to none.  Two: Is Bolt capable of thinking and behaving like a normal dog after all he has been through?  He’s a TV dog who, until just recently, thought he was an action hero.  He’s hard-wired to dodge bullets, subdue bad guys, and routinely perform extreme feats of derring-do.  And you expect me to think that Bolt is just going to forget about all this stuff and go back to fetching a ball and sitting, rolling over, and doing all the normal things other dogs do?  I can easily imagine Bolt one day snapping back into TV hero mode and nearly taking a bite out of the mailman who he perceives as an agent of the “green-eyed man.”  One thing’s for sure, though: he’s definitely going to be the most athletic, agile pet on the block.

Do Garfield’s Halloween plans for this year include crushing loneliness?

Whenever Halloween comes around, I always seem to recall a particular sequence of Garfield comic strips I first came across in one of the orange fat cat’s excellent reprint collections.  It first ran in newspapers from October 23-28, 1989 (check out all six strips in the sequence in this RetroJunk article) and is quite possibly the weirdest and most thought-provoking series of comic strips I have ever read.  Garfield wakes up one fine Monday inside an abandoned, boarded-up version of his house.  There isn’t any food in the house, and more disturbing, Jon and Odie are nowhere to be found.  Garfield looks around a bit and discovers that the house has been sold and that neither he nor his family have lived at the house in years.  By the end of the week, the feline has nearly succumbed to loneliness.  In desperation, Garfield admits that he needs Jon and Odie.  After he does this, things suddenly turn back to normal.  Jon and Odie are back and the house is just as it has always been.  Garfield embraces Jon and Odie and the week ends on a happy note.

These Garfield strips are very special to me.  They are rather insightful about the human condition and the need we all feel (or should feel, anyway, I think) to depend on and help others to survive.  As much as Garfield likes to belittle and tease Jon and Odie, he needs them in order to keep his sanity.  Without them, he is just a cranky cat with a knack for routinely eating every morsel of food near him.  Such a creature couldn’t possibly survive for long without a little help and love.  Good thing Jon and Odie have plenty of love to go around.  (By the way, the article mentions that the Garfield sequence bears a strong resemblance to the “Valse Triste” sequence from the Italian film Allegro non Troppo.  I really like this piece of animation with a ghostly cat wandering around an abandoned house; it makes a perfect companion to the comic strips, so check both of them out and tell me what you think of them.)

Does this Squidward “Alone” sequence from SpongeBob Squarepants truly stand alone as the greatest expression of loneliness in animation history?

Okay, deep breath here: the above clip from SpongeBob episode “SB129” features Squidward Tentacles standing in a white void (well, it’s not entirely white: there are a few colored squares off in one corner and an astonishingly weird series of sound effects filling the void slightly) and expressing satisfaction at finally getting away from the eternal (and yellow, porous, and spongy) bane of his existence.  After he says he is all “alone,” he shrinks down into nothingness while versions of the word “alone” in various fonts, sizes, and shapes pop onto the screen.  All of those “alones” shrink down and disappear, too.  I have seen this sequence literally tens of hundreds of times since it first aired in 2000, and I still can’t figure it out.  Is Squidward literally alone?  Is he just imagining the void and all those people saying “alone” over and over?  Where is this white void, exactly?  What time and space does it occupy?  According to the SpongeBob Wiki, it’s called “Nowhere.”  I don’t know about you, but I sure think this place certainly takes you somewhere all right.  Also, how would you know if you were in the middle of “Nowhere?”

How do you feel about loneliness?  Do you feel better alone or with company?  Do you like the Lone Ranger?  Fill the comment box below with your thoughts; sentences make it feel less lonely.

Random Top Five: My Favorite “Necessary Evil: Super Villains of DC Comics” Two-Page Origin Stories

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013
Talk about a fall from grace...

Lex Luthor opened a fun theme park ride? Truly a fiendish plot to destroy us all!

For a while now, I have been looking into the philosophical and cultural impact superheroes have had on the world.  This research has rekindled my interest in comics and led me to discover many amazing concepts, characters, creators, stories, and other great comics information.  One piece of comics-related business on my “cool radar” is the new documentary Necessary Evil: Super Villains of DC Comics set to be released on Blu-Ray later this month.  In it, DC Comics writers, editors, and other comics personalities will discuss some of the most iconic bad guys and gals in popular comics culture.  I recently finished the companion book that was released last month and was impressed by the roster of nasties collected therein as well as the stories explaining their origins and motivations.  I particularly liked the many two-page origin stories for some of the villains which concisely and creatively explained their long, complex histories in a small amount of space.  The following five villain origins blew me away the most.  If you manage to get your hands on a copy of the book, I highly recommend you give these parts a look first.

5. Gorilla Grodd

I became familiar with this “super-gorilla” from his time with the Legion of Doom on Challenge of the Superfriends.  I also came to know many other great comics villains through this show, especially episodes about some of their origins.  Through an expisode from “Legion of Doom”, I learned of Grodd’s origin and was  introduced to his birthplace, Gorilla City.  He was once an ordinary gorilla until a chance encounter with aliens who performed experiments on him gave him a highly advanced intelligence and the weird “force of mind” power to take over others’ brains and make them do his bidding.  Quite frankly, I thought he was an absurd character and easily the oddest member of the Legion.  Come on, he was a talking gorilla!  It was pretty hard for me to take that seriously as a young boy, but I later grew to love him because he was indeed so different, which made him somehow awesome in my view.   His two-page origin in the Necessary Evil book has a fantastic portrait of him and his jungle home in classic four-color goodness, but my favorite image in it is the opening panel of him just sitting and drinking tea in a purple armchair next to a roaring fireplace.  That drawing alone sums up a lot of how I feel about Grodd: he’s intelligent, slightly intimidating, and just plain weird all at the same time.  That may not be the most believeable premise I’ve ever heard of, but it certainly works well for a classic comic book villain.

4. The Riddler

Batman’s villains are among the most famous in comic books, and as you can imagine, they are heavily featured in Necessary EvilThe Joker and Clayface both star in long-form stories in the book while many of the other Bat-Baddies receive two-page origins.  A lot of these retellings seemed plain-Jane to me, but I did like how the Riddler origin turned out.  Edward Nashton cheated on a puzzle contest in elementary school and spent the rest of his life conning people with games and riddles.  He only went after Batman in an attempt to outwit the greatest detective in comics.  It was fun looking at how the Riddler’s look has changed over the years, from his green-and-purple question mark-filled long johns in the 1960s to his dapper green jacket, purple bowler hat, and question mark-topped cane in the 1990s and beyond.  I was also surprised to learn that the Riddler was recently a good guy, of sorts, in the comics, dispsensing clues to other criminals’ crimes to any interested parties for a small fee.  I was a little disappointed with this origin, though, because its writer forgot one thing: to include riddles!  I have one small question for that guy: If the Riddler asks a riddle and no one sees him ask it, did he ever ask it at all?  Something to think about…

3. The Scarecrow

Yes, another Batman villain has made my list, but this guy’s origin has once again been graced with some great art.  Dr. Jonathan Crane is a disgraced professor kicked out of his university for using his students as test subjects for his theories concerning fear.  In revenge, Crane takes on the disguise of the suitably scary Scarecrow and uses his nightmare-inducing fear gas to terrify his victims, including a certain bat-themed superhero.  The Scarecrow is one of those characters that just scares the living daylights out of me when I first look at him.  To me, he looks just like a gangly straw figure come to life and moving in a way that is not at all natural.  No wonder he’s been such a great villain since the ’40s!  He is truly the living personification of fear.

2. Lex Luthor

Naturally, Superman’s greatest archenemy gets the front spot of Necessary Evil.  His two-page origin tells the story of the rise of Metropolis and the legend of Superman from Lex’s perspective.  Luthor’s family was instrumental in funding many of the building and public works projects that helped make Metropolis the “City of Tomorrow,” but Lex only cared about himself.  He grew up to become a successful businessman and enterpeneur, and even the U.S. President at one point, but throughout, all that he could think about was his own bitter jealousy toward the more civic-minded and beloved Superman.  This mindset is reflected in the art for Lex’s origin story as Luthor is the center of the action yet everyone else looks to Superman, a subtle turn of events but profound in understanding Luthor’s motivations.  Incidentally, this origin is preceded in the book by an excellent story from the year 2000 in which Luthor goes over a local news puff piece concerning his run for the presidency.  It really opened my eyes to the cold feelings Luthor probably goes through all the time in the comics and almost made me feel sorry for the poor guy.  He is still jerk, of course, but it’s not like that worldview wasn’t formed without cause.

1. Bizarro

Me like Bizarro Superman’s origin story.  Whether he be evil “imperfect” clone of Superman or just from really freaking weird planet of Bizarros where everyone do opposite of normal Earth people (technically called Htrae, in case that make you lose sleep at night), me think Bizarro just plain fun character and probably great guy to hang out with, if only he could get past lousy mindset of doing everything the opposite way.  Naturally, Bizarro’s two-page origin in Necessary Evil actually run backward, with beginning appearing at bottom of page two (with villain of honor facing away from viewer) and end of story appearing at top of page one.  Sure, it confusing to follow, but if American fans of Japanese manga can learn how to read comics right to left, then surely we all can learn to read, talk, and think backwards like Bizarro do.  (By the way, me thought about writing this in more direct Bizarro-speak, but that hurt me brain too much.  Also, me tired of writing like scholarly Cookie Monster, so it okay if we stop now?)

What you think of villains in comics, TV, or elsewhere?  Anything you like/dislike about them?  Let me know in comments.  Also, try not to speak in Bizarro-speak too long, otherwise you get stuck doing it all day!

Pop Culture Haikus: “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

A haiku is a beautiful type of poem with a certain number of syllables for each of its three lines: five for the first line, seven for the second, and five again for the third.  I was inspired by last night’s premiere of the new Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. show (you can watch that episode here) to try my own hand at writing some haikus.  The following haikus are based on some of the characters and moments that stuck out to me the most from the first episode.  I think this show has a lot of neat ideas, and I cannot wait to see what else it has up its sleeve.

Agent Phil Coulson

He died but still lives/Still brings loners together/Same old tricks, “new” dog?

Rising Tide/Agent Skye

Crusading blogger/Spoke loudly against black suits/Now sleeping with enemy.

The Hooded Hero

Average worker/Not-so-average powers/That’s a bad mix, yes?

Agent Grant Ward

New kid on the block/Too serious in fun world/Loosen up, kiddo!

Agent Melinda May

Veteran spy girl/Played by one who voiced Mulan/She knows how to fight!

Agents Fitz and Simmons

Resident techies/Solving problems in nick of time/Good minds think alike.

Lola (Coulson’s Car)

Refurbished classic/Hidden features under wheels/Sounds just right for spies!

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Spies in heroes’ world/Movies part of TV now/Comics do no wrong!

I think I will post more haikus in the future if that is all right with everyone.  What do you guys think?  If you saw the first episode of S.H.I.E.L.D., what did you think of it?  How awesome is it that we now get to see Clark Gregg on ABC TV each week?  Leave your thoughts in the comments, and please watch S.H.I.E.L.D. in the coming weeks.  I think we’ve got a really special show on our hands here!

Rebuilding Riverdale In “Archie: Betty or Veronica?”

Friday, July 19th, 2013

One of the earliest comic books I can remember reading was an old dog-eared copy of something called Archie’s Jokes.  It was filled with page after page of short comic strip-type gags all centered around a group of small-town teenagers.  I had no idea who these kids were, and I didn’t think the gags were very funny, but for some inexplicable reason, I found myself strangely attracted to the title.  It struck just the right combination of hokey and homey that I never even knew I wanted.  After a few years, I discovered that Archie and his gang were also featured in many other comic books which I started collecting.  Once I got started all those years ago, I just could not stop.  I have amassed quite the collection now.  I’ve grown to love the small town of Riverdale and all of its inhabitants.  In fact, there’s a part of me that’s always wanted to live in that kind of town (well, I already live in a small town, but still, Riverdale is an idealized small town).  I now have my chance to do just that with the release of the new interactive iPad game “Archie: Betty or Veronica?”

The storyline behind the game borrows a lot from another game, “The Simpsons: Tapped Out,” which I did try out for a few days before I lost interest in it for many different reasons.  In both games, the small town at the center of the franchise (Riverdale for Archie, Springfield for The Simpsons) is devastated by a huge disaster (a tornado hits Springfield, but the source of Riverdale’s destruction has not yet  been revealed to me).  The town mayor, for some strange reason, doesn’t want to take responsibility for the cleanup effort and runs away, along with most of the rest of the town’s residents.  It’s up to the few remaining citizens to clean up the mess, rebuild all of the town’s structures, and bring everyone else back so life can go back to normal (or unusual depending on your point of view).

The primary task you carry out is to send Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Ms. Grundy, (the homeroom teacher), Mr. Weatherbee (the principal of Riverdale High), Pop Tate (the malt shop owner…say, how come Riverdale still has a malt shop in 2013?), and the other Riverdale citizens off to perform various tasks ranging from cleaning up trash to restoring buildings, along with a few oddball jobs for good measure such as getting Moose Mason (the muscular strong guy) to perform an eight-hour shift at the malt shop.  All of these tasks take various amounts of real-world time to complete, anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.  You can either wait for all of the timers to tick away on their own, or you can use the game’s “premium” currency, “kisses,” to “speed up” the timers and finish tasks immediately.  (You can also spend a few real-world dollars on kisses if you want to, but I don’t think I’ll be spending my hard-earned cash on this!)  I have spent the majority of my time with the game thus far simply waiting while doing more productive things including writing, visiting with family and friends, and, of course, reading Archie comics. 

The game helps immensely in this department with the inclusion of a “comic shop” which contains the short comic strips used to tell the game’s story as well as reproductions of the first appearances of Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the rest of the game’s characters.  I read some of these origin stories while I was waiting for one of the timers, and I found it fascinating to compare the early versions of these teenagers with their modern counterparts in the game.  They certainly have changed a lot over the years!

I like the graphic style the game uses to portray the characters and their town.  It looks very much like the Archie comics come to life, a touch I greatly appreciate.  The tasks are also fairly entertaining in their own way, considering they are mostly limited to just descriptions of what is going on.  I just think there’s a bit of charm to sending Archie and Betty off to have date number 157 at the malt shop (Only 157?  Surely you jest, game!).  There’s also a bit of strategy involved in determining which characters you want to do different tasks.  All of the characters are divided into different types (Moose is a jock, Betty’s an artist, Dilton’s a geek, etc.) and using certain types with particular tasks can slightly reduce the amount of time it takes to complete them.  So far, my experience with this system has been a bit limited, but hopefully as I unlock more characters, its nuances will become more apparent.

The only thing I don’t particularly care for about this game is the parts of the story where you need to make arbitrary choices between two different tasks offered to you by two different characters.  The title of the game, “Betty or Veronica,” also hints at one of these choices.  You have to first choose between restoring Betty’s house or Veronica’s mansion.  I don’t really see the point, considering I ended up doing both tasks in the end.  It’s not like there’s some tangible reward for picking one choice over the other.  They both ended up rewarding me with a relatively useless decoration for your town, and it doesn’t feel to me like they have much of an emotional or narrative impact on the overall story, so they end up feeling as meaningless as Archie’s inevitable choice of which girl he wants to spend the rest of his life with, a choice which he’ll most likely never be able to make (at least in the mainstream comics, anyway; there is a series called “Life with Archie” which looks into alternate universes in which he marries either Betty or Veronica, so if you want to explore those possibilities and are in the mood for some great, thought-provoking comics, I say go right ahead!).  Will the choices even matter in the end?  Only time will tell.

So far, my experience with “Archie: Betty or Veronica?” has been extremely similar to my time reading Archie’s Jokes.  The jokes the game has presented so far are a bit hokey to me, but together with the small-town atmosphere and the timeless characters, it becomes a satisfying blend of classic visuals with modern technology.  I want to see the quest to rebuild Riverdale to completion while also seeing what other characters or locations pop up along the way.  Just like Archie’s teenage life, every new day with this game brings some new discovery and there’s some decent variety.  The only thing this game’s missing is a cup of “Sugar Sugar,” but so far, so good.  It certainly does make my heart go “Bang Shang a Lang!”

Do you like Archie comics?  If so, who are your favorite Archie characters?  Any fond memories of reading Archie comics?  Let me know in the comments.

Random Top Five: Super-Things I Think Superman Could Team Up With

Monday, June 10th, 2013

The other day, I wrote a post about Superman which helped me to work out a lot of my thoughts on the Man of Steel.  While I was writing this, however, I kept thinking of the legion of “Super-Pets” which Clark Kent and company have been associated with in the past.  Superman has Krypto the Superdog, his cousin Supergirl has a cat named Streaky and a flying horse named Comet, and when Clark was still a boy, Superboy had a Kryptonian monkey named Beppo for a pet (still no word if the Monk of Might had any cousins named Harpo, Chico, or Zeppo).  I wonder if there are any other super-animals or other things Superman and his friends could rely on to watch over the world when they’re away in space, in some other time period, or caught up in some other strange nonsense.  There’s got to be plenty of other candidates for getting the superpower treatment lying around Metropolis.  Here’s a few ideas I came up with for alternative (and alliterative; using the same letter over and over gets you big points with the people) “Heroes of Tomorrow.”  I am writing this under the assumption that just about anything and anyone could become a superhero, and after some of the strange things I’ve read about in comics, I feel that just might be true.  Also, even though I can imagine that being born on Krypton or encountering red kryptonite or magic could account for most of their powers, I won’t go into these heroes’ possible origins.  I’m pretty sure DC Comics would just change those particular stories in one of its every-two-decades continuity rewrites, anyway. 

5. Rocky the Super-Rock

The world’s beaches contain a lot of sand and water, but since there’s already a Sandman and Hydro-Man in comic books already, why not come up with a hero that can represent all of the rocks on the beach as well, someone who doesn’t look as lumpy and misshapen as the Thing?  Rocky would have the requisite flying and super-strength that all “Supers” seem to have, but he would have the added advantage of being able to blend in with all of the other stones on the beach.  If criminals tried to make a getaway in a speedboat or try sailing away from the dock, Rocky would jump up into the air and fly straight for the boat, using his own body to knock out the bad guys or smash the boat to pieces.  He would surely keep lifeguards busy.

4. Carl the Super-Cardboard Cutout

It seems to me that Superman was always doing some kind of charitable work or autograph signing back in the early comic books.  Sometimes such events conflicted with his crime patrol, so he usually recruited a robot double from his Fortress of Solitude to fill in for him in one role while he concentrated on the other.  I imagine, though, that these robots might be less than reliable at times, such as if one of them was malfunctioning or following “evil” programming left behind by a nefarious hacker.  Who could Superman rely on, then, to “pinch hit” for him?  This is where Carl the Super-Cardboard Cutout could come in handy.  He serves the same stand-in purposes that Superman’s robots do, with the added advantage of being more portable.  I’m sure that most people wouldn’t notice Supe’s sudden slimming-down, and Lois Lane might be too infatuated with the Man of Steel to care either way.  Carl could also fit under the thin cracks of doors and windows of evildoers’ hideouts to sneak a peek into their schemes.  If Lex Luthor let a little fresh air in through his windows, Carl could easily eavesdrop!  Pun intended!!        

 3. Pam the Super-Pen

Besides his superpowers, the most important tool in Superman’s arsenal is the writing tools he uses to compose stories as a mild-mannered reporter.  I feel it would stand to reason, then, that one of these tools may serve as an extra set of eyes at the Daily Planet offices whenever Clark Kent feels a sudden urge to visit a phone booth (By the way, how come those are still in Metropolis?).  Pam could have a prime perch in the collection of writing utensils in the “I Heart News” mug in Clark’s cubicle, keeping track of the latest developments around the world as it comes into the newsroom and relaying the most urgent bits to Superman when he returns.  In addition, she could come in handy for righting the wrongs of daily office life such as loading more paper into printers so a steady supply is always on hand or instantly correcting mistakes in coworkers’ work while their backs are turned.  Not to mention that if Lois comes lurking around Clark’s desk area looking for proof of his super-identity, Pam could squirt her in the face with ink to distract her.  Of course, it might be hard for her to forget a flying pen, but who knows, she could just think it was just her overactive imagination…

2. Carla the Super-Claw Machine

Superman has been and, I feel, probably always will be associated with children.  It makes sense to me, then, that one of his super-helpers ought to be something children are attracted to as well.  How about a claw machine in one of the seedier “family eating” establishments?  Carla could be set up in a spot near the restaurant’s entrance where she can keep watch over all who come into and out of the building.  A discreet use of X-ray vision could serve as an effective deterrent against gun-toting robbers with intentions of commandeering the cash register.  If Carla was in the right position, she could also probably have a good look at the feed from the restaurant’s security camera network, effectively giving her the ability to safeguard the whole establishment.  Being a claw machine with shatterproof glass, Carla can’t just fly over to knock out the bad guys; instead, she has developed the power of mind control, subtly influencing bad guys to just give up and leave.  That way, the kids and parents in the restaurant can eat safely without undue worry.

1. Sammy the Super-Snail (or Atom Ant, if Supes pays the proper licensing fees)

Atom Ant was always an unusual hero to me.  He was absurdly small for a superhero, but somehow he had greatly enhanced strength (not too unusual for a creature known to naturally lift things hundreds of times its size, but I’m pretty sure most ants couldn’t effortlessly lift a Sherman tank), an internal “radar” instinct which seemed to cover entire the entire city in which he lived, and the ability to fly using “atomic power.”  Those powers could come in very handy if Superman could bring them to bear, but the question is if Atom Ant would be willing to play ball or if he would just ask for more money first (according to Wikipedia, he’s got a big movie deal coming up soon, so I could understand if he’s got a huge ego right now).  Supes doesn’t exactly carry money on him, so he might look for a cheaper method of getting a small bug-like creature on his team, perhaps one with a home base in the park in Metropolis’s center.  Chances are he might come across someone like Sammy the Super-Snail who has some useful powers in his own right.  For instance, Sammy can’t fly, but he has inherited Superman’s impressive leaping ability from the early days of Action Comics in the late 1930s, meaning he could easily leap tall soda cans in a single bound if the need should arise.  His super-vision isn’t up to snuff just yet, but he is quite knowledgeable about parental supervision, watching over his two young cousins Susie and Stuart every other weekend.  Most importantly, while he does not and probably never will have really fast moving ability, he does have hyper-spacial awareness, taking in details in a split-second and pointing out things most other creatures, even Superman himself, would never even notice.  Of course, if Supes is looking for a real burst of super-speed, he could call up the new DreamWorks movie hero Turbo the racing snail, but again, monetary concerns, people.

What do you think of these potential recruits for Clark Kent’s super-team?  Can you think of any other candidates for super-sidekick status?  Let me know in the comments.

Pop Culture Questions: Superman Edition (Still Alive at 75)

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

I haven’t done an edition of Pop Culture Questions in quite some time, but I bought a magazine this past week that gave me the inspiration to write another one today.  It was an issue of a teen gossip magazine, Life Story, dedicated to Superman on the eve of the release of the Man of Steel movie and coinciding with the comic book icon’s 75th anniversary.  The cover promised a comprehensive overview of Superman’s life in comics, television, movies, stage shows, and many other forms of media, and a quick skim through the magazine showed this to be true (There really was a stage play at one point, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman).  The magazine has also caused me to think of some puzzling questions regarding the Man of Tomorrow such as…

How come Superman is 75 years old, but still looks so gosh-darned young?

I am well aware that Superman’s character has been rebooted and revised countless times over the past three-quarters of a century.  I still feel, however, that it is strange to have a character at 75 years of age who rarely shows any signs of his long life.  By now, I’d expect Supes to have a bald spot in place of that wind-swept mane of black hair, a hunched back instead of a straight posture, or even him taking a crosstown bus to a crime or natural disaster instead of flying everywhere.  But instead, all I’ve seen for the majority of my life has been a young big blue Boy Scout in the prime of his life and health.  I have seen an old or aging Superman occasionally, but usually as the result of a strange spell cast by his enemy Mr. Mxyzptlk, and even then, that appearance only lasted for one story at a time.  Whatever magical fountain of youth Supes has been soaking in off-panel for all these years certainly must be working well for him.  I wonder where it’s located…probably some forgotten corner of Oz…

How come Clark Kent has the most effective disguise in the DC Universe?

For the longest time, I thought that Superman’s secret identity of Clark Kent was the most obvious secret in the history of comic books.  Beyond a change in costume and a more well-maintained head of hair, the only significant change between Superman and Clark is a pair of glasses.  (Of course, some might say Clark appears to be noticeably lacking in muscle tone, but I’ve noticed that in recent years, the Daily Planet‘s most famous reporter has looked better and better in this regard, so I tend to ignore that part these days.)  Yet, outside of a select few other heroes who know his true identity, no one can connect the two together.  I’ve come up with two conclusions: either Clark’s disguise is as effective as Boris and Natasha’s costumes on Rocky and Bullwinkle at fooling the general public, or everyone in Metropolis is deliberately ignoring the fact that two of its most famous citizens just so happen to have a very strong resemblance to one another.  Either way, I find both sets of circumstances very telling indeed of the collective sanity of the ordinary peoples of the comic book universes we enjoy so much.

How come Superman is sometimes called the “Man of Tomorrow?”

I appreciate the fact that Superman has acquired many colorful nicknames over the years, all of which tend to represent an aspect of his character.  “Man of Steel” for bending steel bars and being as strong and tough as that substance.  “Man of Might” for being, well, mighty and strong.  “Big Blue” for wearing a suit composed mostly of one particular primary color.  One nickname of Supes that I never could stand, though trust me, I’ve tried, is “Man of Tomorrow.”  I think it’s supposed to be a vague representation of the hope for a brighter future the people of the 1940s and early ’50s had in mind, but I think it looks oddly out of place today.  If I didn’t know any better, based on this nickname alone, I’d make the assumption that by this time tomorrow, we’d all be able to fly, shoot beams of heat vision out of our eyes, and dash off to rescue young female reporters from malfunctioning jet liners.  I think it’s time we found a better way to express hope than saying “Man of Tomorrow.”  How about “The Man We Could Be?”  Supes has always been an upstanding U.S. citizen, a practical paragon of virtue.  Why not use a nickname that reflects such lofty aspirations?  D.C. Comics, I’ll be awaiting my cut of the check.

Are there any questions about Superman or any other aspect of pop culture you’ve always wanted answered?  Let me know in the comments, and your query might become part of the next installment of “Pop Culture Questions.”  Up, up, and away!