Archive for the ‘Comic Books’ Category

“Superman Unbound”: A Classic Super-Tale

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Last week, I wrote about Iron Man 3, a superhero film which I thought was absolutely fantastic.  There’s another film coming up in June, Man of Steel, featuring a new version of Superman which I am gung-ho about seeing.  I’ve seen the first two Superman movies with Christopher Reeve in the title role, and if the new guy can perform as well as Reeve did, I think we might have a new hit franchise on our hands.  I sure hope this film is as good as Superman Unbound, a direct to video animated movie I purchased last week which I feel presented a great classic Superman story with a few new wrinkles tossed in to keep the character attuned to modern sensibilities.  It feels to me like the original superhero is making a big comeback, and this animated film certainly does seem big in my view, even if it is a bit on the short side (about seventy-five minutes to be precise).

Superman Unbound is a loose adaptation of a recent storyline from the Superman comics, but you don’t have to read the original story to understand what is going on; I didn’t even know it was based on a comic before I started watching, but now that I have, I think I’ll check out the comic version to see what’s different between both versions.  The basic story is a retelling of Superman’s first encounter with the evil alien android Brainiac.  It also concerns the “Man of Tomorrow” having to deal with two very important women in his life, one being well-known reporter Lois Lane and the other being his cousin from Krypton, Kara Zor-El, better known as Supergirl.  It’s a simple tale with fewer elements to it than Iron Man 3‘s story has, but it still delivers a big message in the end, is generally a great story, and finds a nearly perfect balance between serious and campy.

I was fascinated by the way the film’s producers took classic elements from past Superman stories and gave them slight tweaks to give them interesting updates.  For instance, the film’s version of Brainiac takes some cues from his classic appearance from the 1950s and ’60s with green skin and purple armor, but also has beefy-looking muscles popping out everywhere on his body, making him look, I feel, like a crazed space-faring bodybuilder, definitely the type of great menace I’d like to see Superman going up against.  Lois Lane has gone through some changes, too: she is not a “damsel in distress” but rather a self-confident, defiant person who is just as strong emotionally as Clark Kent’s super alter ego is physically.  Speaking of Clark Kent, he and Lois are actually dating at the beginning of this movie.  This stuck out to me immediately because I do not recall ever having seen Lois and Clark dating very often before, not even in the comics; they have had their fair share of candlelight dinners in the past, but I usually see a relationship at the beginning of a comic or movie where they are  just getting to know each other or at the end after they have gotten married.  The “in between” phase shown in this movie adds many interesting new dimensions to their relationship I would like to see more of in other Superman depictions.

Another classic element which plays a big role in Superman Unbound is the bottle city of Kandor, Krypton’s capital city in a bottle which was shrunk down by Brainiac and placed in a bottle on his ship before the planet exploded.  I thought it was a somewhat laughable concept in the comic books, but it is treated respectably in the movie.  At times, it even becomes a metaphor for how Superman treats Lois and Supergirl, keeping both of them in figurative “bottles” of his protection, even though they repeatedly prove they are capable of fending for themselves.  I thought this was an unorthodox parallel to draw; it didn’t actually come to me until after I heard the filmmakers talking about it on the movie’s audio commentary.  Once I started thinking about Lois and Supergirl’s situations in this way, though, I was glad they made the extra effort to utilize Kandor in a way beyond just being a weird sci-fi prop.  Incidentally, considering all of the “bottled up” stuff in this movie, I think it could have been called Superman Uncorked or UnbottledUnbound just sounds too generic to me.

Superman Unbound tells a fine tale of classically defined super-heroics and doesn’t overstay its welcome.  If you can’t make it out to the theaters to see Man of Steel or any other movies this summer, I’d highly recommend giving this one a try.  You can find Unbound on DVD and Blu-Ray for a pretty inexpensive price; I went for the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack for the ability to watch the movie two different ways. Both formats offer extra features including mini-documentaries on the history of Brainiac and Kandor which I feel are worth a look if you’re curious about seeing how those evolved through comics and TV appearances leading up to the Unbound movie.

Between this post and the Iron Man entry, I’ve definitely got superheroes on the brain!  Do you have any favorite superheroes?  Why do you like them?  Would you be interested in seeing them take part in new adventures?  Leave your super-thoughts in the comments below.  Up, up, and away!

Iron Man 3: Reflections on Robert and Tony

Monday, May 6th, 2013
"Yes, I am Iron Man. I am also IN FRONT OF Iron Man. Think about that now, huh?"

Robert Downey Jr. promoting the first “Iron Man” film in 2008. He subsequently suited up and flew away from the red carpet, screaming out the “Money” theme from “The Apprentice” as he flew away.

The title of the movie may have been Iron Man 3, but I came away from it feeling that it could have also been titled Tony Stark: The Movie.  I went with my parents to see the newest comic book movie blockbuster last Friday and was naturally blown away by the special effects, but more than anything else, I was fascinated by the evolution throughout the film of Robert Downey Jr.’s character, Tony Stark, as he reevaluated what he had done with his life.  I don’t usually see this kind of exploration in superhero movies, or in most movies I like to watch, but here it was truly something special.  I am not going to spoil anything too deep about the movie’s plot for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.  I just wanted to talk about an aspect of the movie I thought was worth bringing up if you want to go see it and one which I felt was simply outstanding when I reflected on it afterward.

Robert Downey Jr.’s fifth go-around as Tony Stark (fifth if, in addition to the Iron Man series, you count his cameo appearance in The Incredible Hulk and his co-starring role in Avengers) is once again a masterful performance which is stronger than just about any other performance in a superhero movie I’ve ever seen.  Robert and Tony have both been on the comeback trail for quite a while, and this film, in my view, represents both of their finest hours to date.  Robert’s performance has taken on an extra dimension; his character is no longer completely self-assured, but there’s still enough of his trademark confidence and swagger left over that it is still fascinating to me to see him in action.  Robert looks more comfortable in Tony’s shoes than he has ever been.  Tony says several times during the movie that it is virtually impossible to separate Tony Stark from the Iron Man identity; in the same light, I believe that it is clear that Robert and Tony are by now largely one and the same person.  I can’t really keep them separate in my mind.

I was glad to see a little teaser after the credits stating that Tony Stark (and Robert in the same role, I hope) will appear in future Marvel movies.  I think this is a great move considering that, in the comics, in addition to his association with Iron Man, Tony is just as well known for creating all sorts of fantastic high-tech stuff, particularly for SHIELD, the Avengers, and other big peacekeeping organizations.  I would like to see this role extend into the next set of Marvel movies, with Robert becoming across as a character between Howard Hughes and Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movies.  He could be an eccentric inventor who gets on everyone’s nerves a little bit but makes up for it with cool and practical technology.  This kind of role could keep Robert busy for years in a position similar to Dame Judy Dench as M in the James Bond movies.  In my opinion though, Tony Stark seems a lot more fun to hang out with than Dench’s M; what do you think?

To me, Iron Man 3 was more about Tony Stark than it was about Iron Man.  Tony was the one who had to solve the most problems and he did so admirably.  Sure, Iron Man’s battles were fun to look at and very impressive on screen, but I was more interested in Tony’s personal story.  I’d like to see where both Robert and Tony go from here; it should be an engaging ride.

I highly recommend you go to see Iron Man 3 in the theaters.  It’s a big, action-packed, hilarious romp and one of the best “feel good” movies I’ve seen since Christmas.  It is an excellent end to an endlessly entertaining superhero movie saga, and I am interested in seeing if anyone can top it.  If you go to see the film, be sure to come back here and leave your thoughts about it in the comments.  I felt very happy and satisfied after seeing this film, and I hope you will, too.

Flying High with “Iron Man 3” on the iPad

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Iron Man 3 is coming out in theaters this week, and with it has also come a brand new game for the iPad which I have been exploring for the past few days.  One thing I like about this game is that it is a variation on an “endless runner” in the tradition of other iPad games like Temple Run.  Normally, in these types of games, you basically run continously on an endless path and try your best to not run into or get hit by anything in your way.  The Iron Man 3 game puts a twist on that formula; instead of running, you fly through the sunny skies of Malibu and the concrete jungles of New York and blast away enemies with your repulsor rays in what I think might be the world’s most awesome shooting gallery.  I think it is a very good game with some nice graphical details, particularly the myriad suits of armor you can dress your virtual Robert Downey Jr. character in, but there are a few tiny problems which have dampened my experience a bit so far.

I do like how the game’s story starts where the Iron Man 3 movie ends, but there are no details given as to the movie’s ending (I think it’s safe to assume Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man survives).  Tony spends his days doing test flights around Malibu and New York with his army of armors and attempting to figure out the plans of the A.I.M. terrorist organization.  Each new day you play brings with it a new mission related to the story, usually detailing the involvement of a new boss character who has a vendetta against Tony.  At the beginning of a boss fight, the boss character and Tony (who doesn’t sound like Robert Downey Jr. at all, by the way, but the guy doing the voice does have nice, dulcet tones) engage in a brief dialogue exchange revealing the boss’s motivations and reasons for working alongside A.I.M.  After you beat the boss, they typically taunt Tony with some variation of, “I’ll get you next time,” then fly off to goodness knows where to show up again on another day.  Outside of these missions, you probably wouldn’t even know the game had a story, but it has kept me coming back to the game every day to see what happens next.  It’s a little corny, but I like to think of it like an old movie serial; you get just enough characterization and plot twists keep you coming back.   

As I mentioned above, the visual details in this game are top-notch.  The various Iron Man armors stand out the most to me, no doubt because they are the one thing I have been staring at the most.  The way that light reflects off of the armors and how every detail of each armor, from bolts to weapon attachments and even helmet shapes, stand out making them a pleasure to play with and ogle at in the main menu screens (when you start up a new game session, you can also examine each armor in considerable detail like you were in the showroom of a car dealership, a very classy feature in my view).  The Malibu environments you fly through, including beaches, busy city streets, Air Force bases, and car tunnels, are slightly less detailed but I think they are just varied enough that your eyes won’t get too bored.  The New York areas, which I just recently discovered after a plot twist in one of the main storyline missions, are a bit prettier and more varied with gleaming glass skyscrapers (some of which are on fire or falling to the ground due to missile attacks from the sky; I wonder if those missiles are the result of what happens in the movie?), underground subway tunnels, and harbors teeming with boats, crates, and construction.  The enemies you’re blasting away are somewhat plain-looking, mostly flying bullseyes and guys with jetpacks and bulky armor.  They are designed to only be on screen for only a few seconds, so I guess I can’t complain about them too much.  However, this same design treatment seems to have been given to the boss enemies, including famous villains from the Iron Man comics such as Russian Iron Man clone the Crimson Dynamo and giant-head-on-a-chair MODOK.  When I first saw these guys in the comics, they were huge and menacing, but in the game, they’re as small as the regular enemies and don’t really stand out too much visually.  Also, the boss fights seem, to me, much less epic than I feel they should be.  I hope more compelling bosses will be included in updates to the game in the future.    

The bosses are a cakewalk compared to the regular enemies.  Many of these guys carry huge lasers with them which are tough to dodge at times.  In addition, a lot of missiles show up in large groups with only a small hole in between to fit through.  I cannot tell you how many times my runs have ended due to my being too inundated with constant bombardments to move out of the way of one of these things.  I think I’m supposed to move out of their way and fire back, but that’s hard for me to do because I have to hold the iPad with one hand and move around the screen with the other.  I just can’t find the dexterity to move and fire at the same time.  If the game was a little more generous with the amount of time it takes for enemies to fire their shots, I could move out of the way a little better.  I wouldn’t mind this high difficulty at an arcade, but since I’m playing on a mobile device, it just makes the whole process of starting my run for a high score all over again just a smidge more irksome. 

One issue which I feel might become more irritating if it becomes prolonged is the game’s insistence on making you wait for things to happen.  A small portion of my time in the game so far has been watching timers count down while my armor’s health meter recharged for another run, an upgrade to the amount of my armor’s health or increased damage or special attacks took its time to be implemented, or waiting for a whole day to see the next part of the game’s main storyline.  These timers are generally short but can also be bypassed by paying a certain amount of in-game currency (which can be replenished by either picking up more of it in the game or spending some real-world money to increase your coffers).  As I have unlocked more armors and upgrades through regular play, I have noticed that the time for certain things to happen has gotten noticeably longer.  Early on, I could start another run right after I had finished my previous run, but now I have to wait a minute or two to start again.  In other “endless” games like Temple Run, you can play again automatically without any delay.  I could do this in Iron Man 3 as well by playing with a less powerful armor while my preferred one recharges, but I don’t really have much desire to do this because the game practically encourages you to use your most powerful armor to get the most distance, currency, enemy elimination rate, etc.  Patience isn’t typically a virtue valued in the “endless runner” genre, so I have little idea why it would suddenly be embraced in Iron Man 3.

Overall, I do have a few complaints about the Iron Man 3 game, but there are some things I do like which keep me coming back for more.  The story is serviceable, the voices of all the characters work well for a quick thrill, and going for all the new missions and upgrades is a compelling pastime to me.  Difficulty and underwhelming enemies aside, this game isn’t half bad in my eyes.  I definitely want to see more of what this game has to offer, even if I have to get hit by more of those darn missiles.

I’ve played a bit of the Price is Right Bingo game and it’s better than I thought it would be, but I want to hold off on the full review until after I’ve explored it some more; I’m still on the opening Cliff Hangers room and there’s still two rooms left to play for now, so I’ll catch up to you on that front.  I’m also looking forward to watching the Iron Man 3 movie this weekend, so I might post a review of that next week as well.  What do you guys think of my plans?  If you’ve played the Iron Man 3 game, what do you think of it so far?  Are you planning on watching Iron Man 3, and if so, what are you most looking forward to seeing in it (personally, I want to see how the movie treats long-time comics villain the Mandarin)?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

The Unreal World: Ideas for New (Fictional) Reality Shows

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
TV or not TV?  That is the question.

TV: all of reality on one screen.

I was watching a video the other day about long-running reality shows, and I kept thinking that I would like to see more variety in the types of subject matter covered by these shows.  Dating, dancing, and diving all have prominent places on the air, and people of all sizes, shapes, and stripes have been represented on many different shows.  However, I believe that there are still some subjects that haven’t been used yet which could make for some interesting television.  The following are some ideas for fictional reality shows I think could be very entertaining if given a chance.  If any television executives out there are interested in these formats, I want to let you know that I want consulting credit on the resulting shows if they are ever made.

Who Wants to Be a Super-Sidekick?

America has already seen one reality show based on superheroes, but I think it focused too much on the “main event” type of heroes and not enough on those who aspire to greatness, but are still learning the ropes.  The sidekicks of the world need a show of their own to show that they, too, could be the next Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, or even Barnacle Boy.  The contestants would be presented with challenges replicating such exciting duties as washing the hero’s car or fending off minions while the hero tackles the main bad guy.  Of course, the prize of becoming an official sidekick might seem like a boring dead-end job after a while, but who knows, the winner might become a famous hero one day!  Give or take thirty years of menial service…

The Amazing Trace

Art students attempt to make perfect copies of famous works of art on this show.  Using the techniques of famous painters and sculptors, the students improve their own art skills by learning about the skills of past artists.  A panel of art experts are then brought in to see if they can tell the difference between the students’ works and the genuine articles.  Grab your paintbrush and chiseling tools, you just might gain some pointers!

So You Think You Can Lance?

Down-on-their-luck jobless Americans get the ultimate opportunity: become members of “lance crews” for television’s largest ever jousting tournament.  Mounting noble steeds, these people will soon learn that life looks pretty scary when you’re facing the tip of a pointed spear.  King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table whittle down the jousters until only one person is left to be crowned “Ultimate Lancer” and win one hundred thousand dollars.  Who will walk away with the keys to this kingdom?   

Would you want to see any of these fictional shows become a reality?  What’s your favorite reality show?  Let me know in the comments.

Obscure Holidays Worth Celebrating

Friday, March 15th, 2013

I celebrate most of the major holidays with my family: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, etc.  However, there are some very obscure holidays you don’t really find on a calendar which I feel should be observed alongside their more famous brethren.  I smile a little bit when I realize one of these “holidays” is coming up or has passed without my realizing it.  Here’s a few of these lesser-known special days along with the dates on which they occur so you, too, can celebrate them the next time they roll around.

Pi Day (March 14)

This holiday gets its name due to the fact that it falls on the third month and its fourteenth day.  The first three digits of the extraordinarily long long number pi are 3.14.  There’s three things I think I would love to do on this day.  One: have a contest with someone to see who can correctly recite the most digits of pi in a row.  Two: learn how to make a pie and then eat three whole pieces of it for dessert with fourteen hundredths of a piece to be served with dinner.  Three: enjoy a My Little Pony mini-marathon on TV with Pinkie Pie as a featured character (or just watch this five-minute video of all of her best moments).

Star Wars Day (May 4)

This special day is based on a famous quote from the Star Wars movies, “May the Force be with you.”  Every year on May the fourth, the hearts of young Jedi Knight wannabes everywhere turn to memories of Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star, Han Solo resembling Indiana Jones in space, Darth Vader revealing to Luke who his true father is (spoiler alert!), and the “prequel” movies having some really cool/embarrassing moments (for me, that would be the podracing sequence in Episode I for the cool side and Jar Jar Binks casting the deciding vote in favor of  the Empire’s creation for the other).  This year, May 4 will be a Saturday, so I feel that might be a good opportunity to organize a little Star Wars viewing party with my family, even if we watch just the classic trilogy.  Who knows, maybe I might discover I have Force powers, which would make doing the household chores a heck of a lot easier!

Free Comic Book Day (May 4)

In addition to Star Wars Day, Saturday, May 4, plays host to another special occasion this year.  On the first Saturday in May every year, comic book stores throughout the country, as well as comic book fans in general, celebrate Free Comic Book Day.  This day is dedicated to promoting a love of comic books and literacy among kids and adults.  A whole host of comic book companies, including DC, Marvel, and Archie, publish special comic books and offer them free of charge to anyone who cares to visit a comic store that day.  It has been an annual tradition for me for the past few years to visit all the local comic book stores in my area and pick out a few free comics at each stop.  Most stores have limits on how many free comics you can get at that particular location, so I visit a few stores to get the best selection of titles.  I’ve noticed that more and more kids have been going to the stores on this day each year, so it’s definitely a special day I want to support.  Check out the link above for more information on Free Comic Book Day, and this link for info on the free comics being offered this year.

International Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19)

Ahoy, matey!  Have you ever wanted to have a day where you could only speak in pirate lingo?  Have you felt the inexplicable urge to bury a treasure chest in your backyard, then go on a long “sea voyage” to find it again?  Do you just want to have a parrot sit on your shoulder all day?  Then this holiday just might be for you!  Whether you aspire to be the next Blackbeard or Anne Bonny, whether you want to turn your house into a pirate ship or just wear a puffy shirt and shout “Argh” or “Shiver me timbers,” this day has something for all landlubbers young and old to enjoy.  There’s still plenty of time to plan out your pirate party, but if you’re looking for inspiration, this music video featuring the cast of LazyTown as pirates might float your boat.

What do you think of these holidays?  Would you want to celebrate any of them?  Do you have any other special obscure holidays you observe each year?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.  Now get out there and celebrate!

Rip Hunter: Time Master- A Look At the “Showcase” Issues

Friday, March 8th, 2013
Watching time pass by...

Time marches on. Can it truly have a master?

For a long time, the types of books I most often collected and read were black-and-white reprints of old comic books.  Marvel Comics’ Essential series introduced me to some of the most original and enduring characters and properties in American comic book history including Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, the Avengers, the X-Men, and a host of others.  Later on, I learned that DC Comics had started its own series of two-tone reprint books to counter Marvel’s Essential line, and I ended up buying a few.  The Showcase Presents volumes were a lot cheaper in price than the Essentials volumes, but they had just as much content, and after reading years of Marvel material, I found DC’s offerings to be refreshingly different and full of fun ideas.  Since then, I have purchased and read through many different series and encountered many different characters through the Showcase Presents line, some I found very interesting and some not so much.  Recently, I bought a Showcase Presents volume focusing on Rip Hunter, a time traveling character who I had read about online and whose adventures sounded very interesting to me.  I have read through the first four issues in the volume, but I can tell just from reading these few that Rip Hunter: Time Master is definitely not the kind of comic book I thought it was going to be.  To me, that is both a good thing and a bad thing.

The four adventures of Rip Hunter I have read thus far were originally published as part of a series called Showcase (which in turn inspired the name of the Showcase Presents line).  This series was a “tryout” title in which DC comics presented new characters from different teams of writers and artists every month.  If readers responded well to a particular character, DC would give him or her a new series to call their very own.  Some characters were featured in Showcase for two or more issues; Rip Hunter made four appearances, first in Showcase #20-21 in the summer of 1959 and then in #25-26 in the spring of 1960.  That’s a pretty big trial run for any character, but did Rip deserve so many appearances?  Of course, Rip did later receive his own series in 1961, so I guess readers must have liked him.  I’ve only read his Showcase stories, though, and based on those appearances alone, I find it very hard to believe he could sustain a series for very long without a drastic makeover.

The basic premise of Rip Hunter: Time Master is that Rip has managed to build the world’s first ever working time machine, a giant bubble-shaped capsule “creatively” named the Time Sphere.  Every issue, Rip takes his best friend and right-hand man Jeff Smith, his girlfriend Bonny Baxter, and her supremely annoying brother Corky Baxter on a time trip through the Time Sphere to different places in the past and future.  Something usually happens to the Sphere which prevents our heroes from leaving the time period until they have solved whatever troubles are negatively affecting the local populace that day.  Once any and all lingering issues have been resolved, the gang hops back into the Sphere and returns to the present to await the time they do it all again next issue.  It’s the same type of plot that a typical Doctor Who story employs, only, I feel,  in this case the whole experience is much less interesting to see in action, and even worse, the characters do not have any of the Doctor’s eccentricities or any real interesting locales to venture to.

The main problem with these Showcase issues for me is that even though writer Jack Miller and the artists he worked alongside (in this case, Ruben Moreira for #20, Mike Sekowsky and Joe Giella for #21, and the legendary Joe Kubert for #25-26) had some interesting ideas I would have liked to have seen a bit more fleshed out, the execution of those ideas is slightly flawed.  The characters look and sound incredibly generic with Rip Hunter being a big, strong, T-shirt and jeans-wearing boy scout whose main purpose in life is to provide historical information and almost instantly solve what would otherwise be insurmountable obstacles.  Jeff was pretty much the same as Rip only with even less personality (he’s not even in the third story at all, but I didn’t exactly miss him).   Bonny is a somewhat willing group member who helps out a little bit but otherwise stays on the sidelines delivering comments about what the others are doing, and Corky is an obnoxious little twerp who points out the most obvious details about each new location the gang visits.  Traveling with this bunch was fine in short bursts, but I wouldn’t want to hang out with them for long periods of time because their shtick gets old fast.  They made me long for other DC Comics heroes and teams who did the exact same stuff with more panache, particularly the Challengers of the Unknown who also have bland personalities but at least have mild bickering contests from time to time as well as the drawings of Jack “King” Kirby to liven things up.

The time travel theme is most prominent in the first story, “Prisoners of 100 Million B.C.,” as the gang travels to prehistoric times where they dodge some dinosaurs and stop some greedy crooks from leaving everybody stranded.  It’s not too original or clever and the characters’ personalities as I described above were a bit tiresome, but the dinosaurs are nicely rendered and it does tell a fairly competent, compact story of survival which shows the promise of what could have been an interesting gimmick had the creators stuck with it.  I highly recommend it for some simple fun.

In the second issue, “The Secret of the Lost Continent,” Rip and company warp to Greece to match wits against the ancient sorceress Circe, then travel to Atlantis to watch the entire population flee in spaceships as their home sinks into the sea.  The historical setting of Alexandria, Greece is prominently featured early on as our heroes help Alexander the Great to defeat an invading army, a sequence I had expected after reading the first issue.  Unfortunately, the rest of the plot deals more with magic and aliens than historical shenanigans.  These elements aren’t necessarily bad, but they do seem a bit jarring to me after having had a steady diet of semi-factual adventure for one-and-a-half issues.  Sorcery and spacecrafts are dime-a-dozen gimmicks which were pretty common in DC’s adventure comics of the time, to the point where if it wasn’t a highly elaborate mechanical trap set up by the issue’s villain, it was probably caused by magic or alien technology.  The idea of Atlantis being populated by aliens from another world is interesting to think about, but the designs of the city and its citizens aren’t too compelling.  Again, this comic works on a basic level for entertainment value, but the disparate elements sneaking in will cause the time travel idea to become almost an afterthought in the last two issues.

The third issue, “Captives of the Medieval Sorcerer,” is the only one of the Showcase stories which does not take place in a real location, at least not one you could find on a map.  Rip and his friends go to a kingdom called Ritannia to rescue someone who claims to be a friend of one of Rip’s scientist buddies, but they find out the man is really attempting to stage a double-cross between the king of Ritannia and the sorcerer Cholorus in order to take the royal throne and gain absolute power over the kingdom and its people.  I didn’t mind the story itself because I was interested in seeing how the villain in the story played all of the other characters against each other while he worked behind the scenes to get what he wanted.  The middle part where Rip’s group has to go through a huge valley full of unusual and deadly creatures was also fun because of the different monster designs and the ways that Rip exploited their features to escape the valley.  However, the medieval setting and character designs look very much like the nondescript medieval kingdoms and characters of other DC stories I’ve read, and I was disappointed to see that the story did not take place in a specific historical setting, a radical departure from what had come before.

The fourth and final Showcase story featuring Rip Hunter, “The Aliens from 2000 B.C.,” gets back to a historical setting, this time to Egypt where our gang discovers some extraterrestrials are being worshipped as gods by the locals.  This somehow escalates into a civil war where Rip teams up with an alien defector to protect the people from the malevolent otherworldly forces.  It was pretty cool to see the story’s take on ancient Egypt and Rip’s daring struggle with an Egyptian army using spears and mummy cases.  Unfortunately, that Egyptian setting is only evident in the first half of the story.  The second half with the alien civil war feels to me like it could have been in a completely different comic book, maybe DC’s Strange Adventures which specialized in alien invasion stories.  All of the different weapons firing off in the middle of the desert greatly strained my suspension of disbelief even more than it had been when I first learned the story would have “aliens in Egypt” as a theme.  The scene was wonderfully chaotic, but it just grated at my nerves to see yet another great deviation from what had been already established.

After looking back at the whole run of Showcase issues that Rip Hunter starred in, I do have to admit that I like the core concept of time travel and the different ideas they tried to make work.  The plots and settings were a bit hackneyed but worked well in a “forgettable Saturday morning cartoon” kind of way; they were not exactly Shakespearean, but they would definitely be worth the ten cent price they originally sold for.  The only part I couldn’t really stand were the characters who never really showed much personality.  They were like a group of Barbie and Ken dolls tasked with carrying out time travel missions.  Sure, they got the job done, but not with any particular pizazz.  And like I said before, I cannot stand Corky!  I’d take any other teenage sidekick in a heartbeat, whether it was Jimmy “Super Duper” Olson, Dick “Holy raging tempers, Batman!” Grayson, or even Snapper “I’ve got the same annoying personality, but I appear less often!” Carr from the Justice League of America comic which started around the same time.  Corky, pack up your things and go home in the Time Sphere… and never come back!

While Rip Hunter: Time Master disappointed me in a few ways, there’s enough good parts to it that I’d give the regular series a shot.  I’m glad I had a chance to look at these Showcase issues because it gave me a glimpse of what an ongoing series might be like.  There’s also a Showcase Presents: Showcase volume which came out recently which I’d like to get.  I think I could use it to create a new feature for this blog.  I could review each new character’s appearances in the Showcase comic and give my opinion on whether or not I’d want to see more of their adventures in an ongoing series.  Of course, as history has proven, a lot of characters did just that, but did they deserve their own titles?  I would like to answer that question myself.  What do you guys think?  Let me know in the comments.

Pop Culture Questions (and My Answers!) 3: Stopping Crazy Things

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
How did that other question mark turn upside-down anyway?

Some questions turn you upside-down and inside-out.

For those of you who were looking forward to another edition of Pop Culture Questions on Tuesday, I apologize.  Due to circumstances beyond my control (and also because I hadn’t really thought of any good questions yet, and also I was kinda tired), I decided to do a shorter post, the first ever Random Top Five list.  I’m feeling a bit more at the top of my game, now, though, so let’s get back to exploring the nooks and crannies of pop culture for new queries to consider.

How come no one trips on the moving sidewalks on The Jetsons?

The future world presented on The Jetsons is one of my favorite TV environments.  I love seeing all of those high-rise buildings and flying cars and imagining what it would be like to live there.  One part of the show I think I would absolutely hate, though, would be the “moving sidewalks,” those conveyor belts on the floor that the characters are always stepping onto to save time from walking everywhere.  George Jetson, his family, Mr. Spacely, and just about everyone else in the universe seems to manage just fine in handling these sidewalks, a phenomenon which I took for granted when I was younger but which greatly bugs me now. 

No one trips on the sidewalks and ends up having their feet crushed under a doorway or wall or wherever those sidewalks start or end.  The sidewalk never moves too fast and sends someone hurtling through a glass window and falling hundreds of feet to the planet below (if there even is a planet down there).  Every other machine seems to go haywire at least once an episode, but those moving sidewalks always work the way they’re supposed to.  Even during the closing credits when George gets caught on the treadmill (“Jane, stop this crazy thing!”), he just keeps going around and around, the forward momentum always carrying him but never throwing him off.  I would be terrified out of my mind if moving sidewalks became a common mode of transportation in real life; I have seen a few in action in various places, but I still feel uncomfortable about getting on one myself.  I feel a bit more comfortable with escalators and elevators, but not by much.

How come there are so many turtles and walking mushrooms in Super Mario Bros.?

My favorite enemies in the Mario series are none other than the first ones I ever saw, the turtles (Koopa Troopas) and walking mushrooms (Goombas).  I’m still curious, though, as to how their numbers became so big.  They seem to multiply like rabbits with each new game that comes out.  It’s come to the point that I’ve seen them start long Broadway-style chorus lines in my dreams.  What has caused this surge in their populations?  Sure, they are pretty cute, and I guess they’d have to be popular if they keep showing up.  Real turtles do produce a lot of baby turtles and you can find mushrooms just about everywhere.  But still, these guys show up everywhere in Mario’s universe, whether they’re in grasslands, underwater, in frigid snowscapes, and even in outer space.  To me, it can seem a bit like overkill at times.  I’d like to imagine that King Bowser has a section of his castle estate designed to be a huge breeding ground and training center just for Koopas and Goombas.  They are probably subjected to all sorts of rigorous tests to make sure they can survive in any type of environment, and luckily for Bowser, most of them do pass with flying colors.  It’s too bad Darth Vader never turned these guys into his stormtroopers; who, besides Italian plumbers, could possibly fight back against turtle shells flying right at their heads?                  

How come the song’s called “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”

I think love is one of the greatest things a person can experience in this world.  No wonder so many songs have been written about it!  Through these timeless tunes, we’ve learned that love “is a many-splendored thing,” “takes time,” is “hard to find,” “knows no season” or “clime”, and, in short, “does exactly what it wants to do.”  Obviously, love is very demanding, so maybe there’s a good point to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers’ age-old musical question, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”  Still, I feel there’s a negative tone to the question that Lymon and the Sour Bunch raised, because I’m sure most people don’t feel like fools when they fall in love with someone.  They probably think all is right with the world and that nothing could possibly go wrong.  Even though I do think that is a foolhardy way of thinking, that doesn’t make lovers fools.  Some pretty smart guys have fallen in love, too.  Just look at Peter Parker (you know, the Spider-Man guy) who has fallen in love with Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, Felicia Hardy, and a bunch of other girls over the years.  Of course, some of the girls he has gone out with later turned out to be bad eggs, but that doesn’t make him a fool.  I haven’t even fallen in love with anyone yet, but does that make me a fool?  Let’s just agree to disagree here, Frankie Lymon and the Funky Bunch: everyone, including fools, smart guys, and everyone in between, can fall in love.

So, did you love this question-and-answer session?  Did it help you to come out of your shell?  Did it move you like the sidewalks on The Jetsons would move you?  I wait with bated breath for your comments.

Pop Culture Captains: Leaders and Inspirations

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013
If you can find the captain's quarters, congratulations! You have X-ray vision!

A mighty ship, perfect for a captain.

I have noticed that pop culture has a lot of captains in it.  Most of them are capable leaders who inspire greatness in the people serving under them as well as in the people observing them on the other side of the screen or page.  Others seem to just enjoy the power that comes with their position, willing to abuse that power for their own benefit or amusement.  I have had the pleasure of encountering some unique and colorful captains in my time, some more competent than others, but all having something important to add to the fabric of pop culture.  Here’s a brief look at some of my favorite captains.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

My mom once told me that most nights when I was a baby I would cry for hours on end, but when the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme started playing on TV, I would immediately stop crying and then start crying again when the theme was over.  Later on in life I started watching the Star Trek: TNG complete series DVD collection my dad and I had given my mom for Christmas, and while I still loved the theme, there was something else about the show that stood out to me now.  It was the bald guy in the captain’s chair with the baritone voice, always telling his crew members to “Engage,” “Make it so,” and boldly go where no one (besides Kirk and his crew) had gone before.  He looked like a nice guy, someone who you could tell was a capable leader just by looking at him.   After seeing him in action for seven seasons and a few movies, I can safely say he definitely lived up to my first impressions.  I’d like to have a long chat with him about in living in outer space; of course, my beverage of choice for this conversation would be, “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” 

Cap’n Crunch, cereal mascot

This captain is, I feel, a bit less inspirational than Picard or Kirk, but he does serve an important purpose: making sure tasty cereal is part of your daily breakfast.  I always smile a little when I see the Cap’n’s big, wide grin on a cereal box; there’s just something about his face that makes the whole world seem brighter.  I’ve also noticed that he looks a little bit like the Quaker guy in the corner of the box: they both have white hair, wear blue hats, and sport smiles more innocent and sincere than the Cheshire Cat’s.  I don’t care if there’s more nutritional or better-tasting cereals on the supermarket shelf, because his smile always draws me in and makes me feel at home.

Captain Tenille, MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge

This captain does not belong to any particular navy, although he apparently does own a few ships.  In fact, his official role on this Japanese game show parody is “field marshal.”  Captain Tenille (known in Japan as General Tani; I’m still not sure why he went down in rank when the show was exported) is the guy the show’s producers turned to when they needed someone to shepherd contestants through the toughest obstacle course on television.  I think he does a decent job in this regard; he certainly does lead dozens of contestants to near-constant pain and  injury over the course of a half-hour.  However, Tenille does this with a certain degree of aloofness.  His signature taglines are “Let’s go!” at the start of the show and “Get it on!” at the beginning of each new set of obstacles, and he delivers these lines in a way that, to me, indicates he doesn’t really care what happens to the contestants just as long as he gets to continue enjoying the game.  He has been known to push contestants out onto the course in order to keep the show moving.  He has even manipulated the teams’ scores a few times to serve his own interests.  For instance, in an episode pitting Democrats against Republicans against Independents in which no one scored any points during the entire show, Tenille gave the GOP team a point at the end because that was the party he voted for during the election.  Yes, he’s a deplorable figure, but, in my opinion, he’s one of the most entertaining characters on the show, and a hard person not to like.

Captain Underpants, children’s book series star and superhero

As with Captain Tenille, this gentleman is a captain in name only, but I think he lives up to his moniker.  I have read his adventures for many years now, and I think he does look the part of an inspirational and heroic figure, despite the fact that most of the time he is wearing just some tighty-whitie briefs and a red cape (tastefully rendered by author and illustrator Dav Pilkey, no less).  He is also a very well-meaning hero, fighting for truth, justice, and improving readers’ literacy in the face of overwhelming odds.  When you’re going up against armies of talking toilets, aliens disguised as cafeteria ladies, and evil professors trying to give everyone in the world embarrassing names, you need all the courage and self-esteem you can get, so thank goodness Captain Underpants has that in spades.  Of course, his young sidekicks George Beard and Harold Hutchins take care of most of the day-saving while the Captain stands around giving speeches about never forgetting the power of underwear, but what’s wrong with that?  Don’t most great superheroes have young sidekicks for juvenile readers to look up to?  Think of Batman and Robin, Captain America and Bucky, Flash and Kid Flash, Superman and… wait a minute, Superboy was just Superman as a kid, wasn’t he?  Anyway, Captain Underpants provides hope for people everywhere that their kids will have fun while learning to read, and I think his stories are still just as fun to read  now as they were when I first discovered them.

These are the captains who have meant the most to me over the years.  Other captains came and went like Captain Kirk, Captain America, and Captain Nemo, but none of them had the staying power in my heart that the above captains possessed.  They helped me to sail to greater horizons (and in the cases of Captains Tenille and Underpants, great laughter), and they all left memorable imprints on me.  Do you have a favorite pop culture captain, and if you do, why do you like them?  Are there any other pop culture figures with military ranks you like?  Sail into the comments section and leave your answer at the docks.