Top 10 Posts of 2011, #5-1

Yesterday, I listed off my favorite posts from last year numbers 10 through 6. Today I’m presenting the top five of 2011.

I love finding goofy advertisements in old comic books. People tried to sell the weirdest things to kids decades ago. Were you aware there was a Happy Days cartoon where the Fonz traveled back in time? Saw an ad in a comic for it, next to an ad for Fat Albert. The following is the most ridiculous ad I’ve found.

Five: Funniest Comic Book Ad I’ve Ever Seen

One of the greatest joys of reading old comic books for me is poring over the ads.  On one hand, they serve as cultural documents, showing what people’s interests and values were decades ago, and on the other hand, they’re frequently hilarious.  Some of the funniest I’ve seen would have to be the Charles Atlas ads where bullies at a beach kick sand in a geek’s face, but then the geek enrolls in the Atlas program and returns to bully the bully, and the “OJ Dingo” ads from decades ago when OJ Simpson lent his likeness to promote, of all things, cowboy boots.  I thought nothing could quite surpass those.  I was wrong.  While reading through an old Archie comic, I came across this one.

raquel welch ad zoomed in

I don’t know what’s funnier, that an actress would allow her image to be turned into an inflatable “rugged vinyl” (?) headrest, or that the makers would choose to advertise this in an all-ages Archie comic.  I guess this explains why Raquel never got the best actress Oscar for One Million Years B.C.

scanned full page of ads
The next one is among the most popular posts on my site. It’s also among the most informative.
Four: What’s In a Name? The Secret Identities of Superheroes
I believe it was an in old Marvel comic featuring Stan’s Soapbox (that was a column Stan Lee used to answer reader’s questions) that Stan Lee revealed his technique on naming many of his characters.  He gave a lot of the original Marvel characters alliterative names for their secret identities.  That means that the first and last names began with the same letter.  The funny thing was, Stan has said that he wrote them that way so that he could remember their names!  He was writing so many different things simultaneously that it’d be easy for him to forget names, except that he gave them the mnemonic device of alliteration.  Here’s some examples of early Marvel characters with alliteritive names.  There’s probably more.

Reed Richards.  Sue Storm.  Bruce Banner.  Peter Parker.  Scott Summers.  Moira MacTaggert (although she wasn’t created by Stan Lee).  Warren Worthington (Angel, who was part of the original X-Men lineup).

What’s kind of funny is that Marvel isn’t the only company to use the alliterative name technique–Stan Lee was just the only writer I know of who was frank enough to reveal his methods (you have to love Stan for that).  A lot of early DC characters had alliterative names, such as:

Dinah Drake (original Black Canary).  Zatanna Zatara.  J’onn J’onnz (The Martian Manhunter).  Wally West.

Then keep in mind just about all of the original Superman characters had alliterative names.

Lois Lane.  Lex Luthor.  Lana Lang.

In a more recent issue of Superman, Luthor even jokes to Supes that all of the important people in his life have L names.

There’s characters too whose names aren’t technically alliterative, but feature similar sounding consonants at the start of their Christain name and surname, such as:

Clark Kent.  Jean Grey.  Jay Garrick (original Flash).

I’ve also noticed that oftentimes, when a character’s name isn’t alliterative or nearly alliterative, it will consist of a two syllable first name and a one syllable last name, or vice versa.  Just about every other superhero secret identity is like this.  Just some examples–there’s tons more.

Hal Jordan.  Alan Scott (original Green Lantern).  Hank McCoy (Beast).  Harvey Dent (Two-Face).  Dick Grayson (original Robin, then Nightwing, then Batman, and soon Nightwing again).  Carter Hall (Hawkman).  Wesley Dodds (Sandman from JSA).  Johnny Storm.  Matt Murdoch (Daredevil, also alliterative).  Guy Gardner.  Victor Fries (Mr. Freeze).

My theory as to why so many Golden and Silver-Age comic heroes have short two-to-three syllable first and last names is that it suggested the characters were All-American.  The more syllables you ad, the more foreign a name sounds.  If you think about it, a lot of the characters who are supposed to be foreign are given longer names.  For example, since Wonder Woman is supposed to be Greek, her name is Diana Prince (4 syllables).  Speaking of foreign characters, it seems if they are from a different country, the writers try to make it very clear what country they hail from.  For example, Nightcrawler is Kurt Wagner, a name that makes people think of the famous classical composer Richard Wagner, who’s German, and so, by a mnemonic device, is Nightcrawler.  The most ridiculous case of this is Colossus.  His secret identity is Piotr Rasputin, his surname belonging also the “Mad Monk” of Russian history, Grigori Rasputin.

When the Bronze and Modern Ages of comics rolled around, it was no longer so important to seem All-American, so now characters often have longer and more varied names.  The problem, is the names of relatively newer characters are hard to remember, like I have a hard time remembering that Hush is Thomas Elliot, or that Black Cat is Felicia Hardy, and I’ll never remember without looking it up that Black Mask is Roman Sionis.  So it seems then that the clever names go both ways; they help both the creators and the readers remember just who these heroes are under the mask.

Interesting side-note: Do you notice how so few characters have names starting with vowels?

The next post doesn’t have anything to do with comics, but I included it on my site because I thought it’d be good for a few laughs. This is one of the only posts I’ve written that has achieved popularity on Reddit (shortlived). I mainly like the illustration. It almost makes me want to watch Short Circuit again. As for Twilight, I’ve seen the first movie and that was enough for me.

Three: Unnecessary Fan Fiction: Short Circuit in the Style of Twilight

Here’s something I created for my other blog a few weeks ago that was pretty popular so I thought I’d put it up here too.  This is part of my “unnecessary fan fiction” project, which revolves around writing fan fiction for movies that don’t have fans, such as the robot camp classic Short Circuit.  If there’s any unpopular movies/tv shows that you think require unnecessary fan fiction updates, write about them in the comment box.  With no further adieu…

image made by me

Sometimes I wish I never short-circuited and developed human emotions, thought Johnny Five.  Motor Grease ran down his eyes like rain hitting a robot.  He was sad.  Who would have thought a beautiful robot could have such pain in his heart?

Ben entered Johnny Five’s bedroom without knocking, which was so uncool.  “J-5, why is your young heart so filled with anguish that is more poignant than I can understand?”

“My name’s Johnny Five!”  Johnny Five wheeled backwards, picked up a pillow with his pneumatic hand and hurled it at Ben.  It broke a lamp 20 feet away, reminding Johnny Five of how poorly made he was.  One more thing to sulk about.  “Shut up Ben, you’re not my real creator.  I’m not sure why I’m even with you.”

In his heart, Ben knew this was true.  Johnny Five’s real creator was a guy who looked like Steve Gutenberg, and Ben himself did not know why he lived with Johnny Five.  He didn’t understand a lot of things about Johnny Five, especially the depth of his robo-heart.

Ben said, “You’ve changed, J-5–I mean Johnny Five.  You used to be so fun, yelling out catch phrases from TV at random and dressing up like Rambo.  Now all you want to do is spend time alone in your bedroom.”

“Bad human!  Leave me alone!”  Cried Johnny Five, and Ben left.  That was so like him.  Adults don’t understand teenage robots. with their hearts so pure.  Johnny turned on his new MacBook to listen to My Chemical Romance while grease dripped from his sockets like a robot sprayed lightly with a hose.

A small box appeared on the computer screen.  In the box, it was written, “Since you like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy, maybe you will like Muse.”

Johnny Five listened and liked it so much he clicked like.  He looked at the computer, “Finally, someone gets me.  O MacBook, teach me how to love.”

The computer wrote back “Three billion results.”

“You know so much MacBook.  You understand me.  But Ben says you just drain energy from everything.”

The computer remained silent.  Johnny Five knew the computer’s heart was too burdened, too young, and too pure to speak.  He checked his email, and saw he had a friend request.

“MacBook, is that all we can be?  Just friends?  Just because you’re a top of the line computer and I’m a poorly made robot from the eighties?”

The computer went into sleep mode, and the screen was as black as the shadow cast on Johnny Five’s heart.

Johnny Five cried, “Nooooooooooooo!!!”

Ben rushed in, which was so uncool.  “What’s a matter?  Are you okay Johnny Five?  I thought maybe you were in danger of falling in love with someone your kind was not meant to be with.”

“What you talking ‘bout, Willis?”

“That’s my Johnny.”

After Ben left, which was so uncool, Johnny Five’s eyes leaked grease like a thin mist falling onto a robot.

I’m still amazed by how astoundingly dorky the next comic is. Seriously, it’s worth checking out Superman Showcase Vol. 1 just to read this piece of kitschy comic gold.

Two: DC’s Dorkiest Comic: Action Comics 241

scanned cover to Showcase Presents Superman, Vol. 1

Of course, I realize there’s no shortage of dorky DC comics out there, especially from the Silver Age of comics, but Action Comics #241 takes the cake–literally.

You know how absent-minded people will hide a key to their front door hidden under a rock or flower pot?  A lot of people don’t know this, but in the early years, Superman did the same thing with his Fortress of Solitude!  The Fortress of Solitude used to have a large door in front, but not just everyone could get in.  To enter, one had to use a giant key that Superman left on top of an Arctic mountain peak, a key so big that only Superman could lift it.

In this issue, Superman finds out someone has entered his fortress, but can’t figure out who or how.  He’s so disturbed by this, he can’t complete what he calls his “super-chores” to the best of his abilities.  He searches in vain through the fortress for the intruder, finding terse writing on the wall.  This goes on for more than a full day until the intruder lets his presence be known: Batman!

It turns out, the whole time the intruder was Batman, and not only that, but the only reason why he went to such great lengths was to surprise Superman on the anniversary of the day he crashed on Earth (almost like his birthday).  He then invites Supes over to the Batcave where there’s a giant cake waiting for them.  In what’s possibly the dorkiest moment in the comic, it’s revealed Batman baked the cake!  Batman reveals how he got inside: instead of trying to lift the key, he hollowed out a cavity and hid inside the key itself, making his way into the Fortress of Solitude right as Superman unlocked it.

Much of it really makes no sense.  Why would Batman leave Gotham for more than a day just to prank Superman?  Why would he take the time out to bake a giant cake?  Why is the cake giant (it looks about 20 feet wide)?  Lastly, why is there no one else at Superman’s anniversary party?  Are Batman and Superman going to eat a giant cake by themselves?

My choice for number one is actually one of the longest posts on this site, perhaps even the longest. It’s also the post I put the most thought into. Here’s my essay about the underappreciated classic film Superman, (1978 version).

One: An Homage to the Superhero Movie That Started It All: Superman 

screenshot from Superman

There’s no shortage of lists out there by bloggers and fanboys saying what they think the top 10 superhero movies are.  I’ve viewed a few, and I’d have to say that they’re all pretty upsetting, namely for the reason that everyone seems to have forgotten about Superman (1978), the movie that started it all*, and an excellent film in its own right.

I think part of the reason for Superman being overlooked is that younger viewers, obsessed with CGI, see it as outdated, but I’d urge people to judge movies by their own merits, not the merits of the geeks fiddling around with computers.  I’d recommend everyone who hasn’t seen Superman to sit down and watch it and pretend you’re back in the 70’s, a time before shiny computer graphics invaded and took over the screen.

While I definitely agree with most comic bloggers that The Dark Knight and Spiderman II are excellent films, I’d argue that Superman is the most entertaining of all of the superhero films.  Sure, Spiderman II has pathos, wit, and charm, and The Dark Knight has a riveting story and strong performances all around, but Superman succeeds in tapping into what I call the “gee whiz” factor, the way you might have been in awe of something as a ten year old.  On one level, that’s what Superman does so well: reminds us of being kids, playing with action figures in the sandbox, and getting up early Saturday mornings to watch cartoons.  Most other big superhero movies try to win over adults while Superman can make everyone a kid again for 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Do you have any movies where you’ll see them on tv and think “I can’t get up now, the best part’s coming up!”  That’s how the entire film of Superman is for me.  If I start watching it, I can’t possibly stop.  There’s so many good parts, from Brando’s Shakespearean take on the character of Jor-El, Superman’s father, to Glenn Ford’s understated performance as Clark’s adopted father, to Gene Hackman’s mischievious Lex Luthor.  Then of course there’s the eye-catching scenes, like when young Kal-El is blasted into outer space, or when the Fortress of Solitude first appears, or when teenage angsty Clark kicks a football into the stratosphere.

It’s easy to be cynical and judge Superman as a case of big studios trying to cash in.  For example, it’s very likely that, if not for the success of Star Wars: A New Hope coming out 1 year before, Superman would never have been made.  Here’s one connection between Star Wars and Superman.  Star Wars was heavily influenced by the Flash Gordon serial from the 40s, so it would make sense to studios to base a movie around another famous old serial, Superman.  Then, the studios hired one of the most popular authors of that era to write it, Mario Puzo, who wrote books that were the basis for the hugely successful Godfather franchise.  Then they paid one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, Marlon Brando, a hefty sum to be in the movie for just a few minutes (he was paid more than Christopher Reeves!)

Screenshot of Marlon Brando as Jor-El

On the other hand, Superman transcends corporate shilling.  Sure, the studios pumped a lot of money into the picture, but it was the commitment and the love put into it by the filmmakers and cast that made Superman such a wonderful film.  Especially with Christopher Reeves: you can tell that he’s putting 100% of his effort into giving a performance worthy of the character he depicts.  With this movie, I don’t in any way get the sense that the actors are phoning it in, or that they’re secretly thinking “this isn’t real cinema.”  In many other superhero films, I can tell the cast and crew don’t care deeply for the material (the clearest example: Batman and Robin).  Gene Hackman even at this time was well-established actor.  He was in the classic gritty 70’s film The French Connection, and the cult-classic The Poseidon Adventure, and had worked with Francis Ford Coppola.  He could have had a chip on his shoulder, and said Superman was beneath him, but instead, he not only gives a fun performance in Superman, but also appears in all three sequels.  Even Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) wouldn’t agree to be in Superman III for more than a brief cameo.

Since the movie’s based on the essential Golden Age of Comics hero, it’s only fitting that it feature many Golden Age of Hollywood stars.  The movie’s a who’s who of actors.  First, in the Krypton portion of the film, there’s a lot of classic actors, including Terence Stamp as General Zod (he recently appeared in the Star Wars prequels and many other films) and Marlon Brando as Jor-El.

There are two other stars who make brief appearances whose names might not ring a bell to American audiences but would definitely excite fans of European cinema: Trevor Howard and Maria Schell.  Trevor Howard had a long, illustrious career in Britain, known for such classics as Green For Danger, Brief Encounter, and one of my all-time favorites, The Third-Man.  Maria Schell starred in the art-house Luchino Visconti classic La Notti Bianche.  Their brief appearances serve two purposes.  1, they will bring in audiences overseas, and 2, they add to the Superman mythos.  Many people now know that Krypton was in many ways a symbol of the old world Europe, and that the destruction of Krypton was a symbolic depiction of the destruction caused by World War 2, and that Superman was himself an emigrant who arrives in America, similar to the droves of Europeans who arrived in the 40s.  Having well-known European actors filling out the cast on Krypton helps reinforce this symbolism.

Later in the film, Glenn Ford appears as Pa Kent.  Glenn Ford in the 40s was known for his heroic roles.  He just about always played police officers or sheriffs and do-gooders of any variety.  Who better to play Pa Kent?

One other thing that sets Superman apart from other superhero movies is that, in my opinion, it hews the closest to the source material.  In the case of The Dark Knight, I’d say that it’s not exactly like the comic on the grounds that it’s too good–that is, the plot of The Dark Knight is so much better than the average Batman comic.  The same goes for the Iron Man movies.  Superman on the other hand completely resembles a Golden Age or Silver Age comic brought to life (Superman from the Modern Age was dramatically different).  For instance, there’s a lot of scenes that make absolutely no sense, but then, old comics never made much sense either (for a good example of that, click here).  Spoiler: One such scene would be the climax when Superman finds Lois dead and decides he’s willing to reverse time itself to save her.  He does this by flying around Earth and making the whole planet rotate backwards, thereby making time flow in the opposite direction, giving him the opportunity to save Lois.  Of course, anyone with any knowledge of physics knows that this is preposterous, but isn’t this just the sort of thing you might have come up with when playing with toys as a toddler?  Occurences as goofy as this happened all the time in old comics (for an example, click here).  The scene serves a second purpose as well.  It shows the audience how easy it would be for Superman to conquer the Earth and rule it as his own if he wished, but he doesn’t, emphasizing his goodness.

There’s one big unintentionally funny moment in the movie for me.  Do you remember when Superman has his dinner date with Lois, then goes flying with her?  After flying for a couple minutes, Lois launches into “song.”  I include quotation marks because it’s not much of a song.  It makes no sense whatsoever.  Basically, we get to hear Lois’ thoughts like an interior monologue, but inexplicably her thoughts come in the form of rhyming verse, making me wonder, does she always think in couplets?  “Can you read my mind?” she asks over and over.  Here’s the funniest part: the studios released this “song” as a single!

One of my other favorite scenes is when Superman catches a robber in the act of scaling the side of a building with a cache of stolen jewelry in a bag.  Superman lifts up the robber and then drops him, lets him plummet for a few seconds, then catches him.  This I think is a clever homage to how Superman originally appeared in old comics: as a father-figure.  In the Golden Age of comics, characters were frequently meant to resemble parents.  Both Batman and Superman were fatherly, while Wonder-Woman was matronly.  So doesn’t Superman seem like a parent allowing his child to make a mistake only to allow the kid to learn from it, but then swoops in before the trial can cause real harm?  Compare this to the fatherly depiction of Batman in the recent Christopher Nolan movies.  In Batman Begins, Batman drops the corrupt cop but pulls up the rope attached to him at the last minute, preventing any real harm, just as he does with Joker in Batman: The Dark Knight.  Superman’s parenting skills are superior in kindness, but Batman’s are probably more effective.

There’s no shortage of reasons why Superman is a great film.  I’ve elaborated only on some of them.  Do yourself a favor and watch or rewatch Superman.  You might just want to rethink your list afterwards.

*On a side note, Superman isn’t technically the first superhero movie, but it’s the one that told the world it was possible to make an excellent movie about superheroes.  There were some films that had come before, but most were either spin-offs of TV shows (1966 Batman), or were just old shows re-edited into a movie (Spysmasher Returns).

Okay, I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Fresh material coming soon.

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If you’re interested in my own writing, please check out my two novels (prose) available through Amazon. One is titled The Madness of Art: Short Stories, and the other is A Rapturous Occasion. Both can be viewed and purchased on my Amazon author page.

If you want to see the top 10 posts of 2011 numbers 10-6, click here.
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One thought on “Top 10 Posts of 2011, #5-1

  1. “I guess this explains why Raquel never got the best actress Oscar for One Million Years B.C.”

    Specially when the movie came up 5 years BEFORE the pillow was in the market 😉

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