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!

“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!