Category: Featured

Brainiac On Banjo: It’s A Cruel World After All

Brainiac On Banjo: It’s A Cruel World After All

We’ll travel hand in hand across this wonderland. Strike up the marching band. ‘Cause nothing can stop us now! – “Nothing Can Stop Us Now” written by Christopher and Elyse Willis.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Be afraid of keeping your mind open. It might turn you gay.

I had spent over a half century loathing Walt Disney, and for very good reason. He was a horrible person. Walt was an anti-semitic fanatic of the extreme right wing as it was known at the time, a central figure in the America First movement that provided the platform adapted by our current infestation of MAGAts. He was so severely anti-union that he fired one of the greatest animators of the 20th century, Ub Iwerks, the man who created (or co-created; open mind, remember?) the mouse that started it all, M-I-C-K-E-Y. I could go on and on, but oddly that’s not my point today.

Disney eventually died, and his empire came under new management — in good part because some of his family members did not share his extreme world views. The company was lead, and once again is being lead, by a man of Hebrew heritage. That alone should have defrosted Walt’s corpse. Their attitudes evolved and, somehow, remarkably, they have become the poster mouse for the LGBTQIA+ movement. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: It’s A Cruel World After All”

With Further Ado #251: The Best Batman Story Ever…?

With Further Ado #251: The Best Batman Story Ever…?

I think I just read the best Batman story ever! Surprisingly, it didn’t even have Batman in it. It was in issue #3 of The Ambassadors. This comic is written by Mark Millar. Travis Charest illustrated it and it was just published by Image Comics.

Image described this “miniseries” series this way:

The most ambitious comic book of all time is finally here! Imagine that you could gift superpowers to six people. In a world of eight billion, who do you choose? Join six of the greatest artists in the industry for an enormous story about ordinary people from around the world explaining why it should be them.

That sums it all up pretty well. (Although is it the most ambitious of all time? I tend that to think that Don Simpson’s upcoming X-Amount of Comics: 1963 (WhenElse?!) Annual would get that appellation from me right about now.) In this series, a woman has created a way to bestow superpowers on people and has to choose the individuals who will receive them. Continue reading “With Further Ado #251: The Best Batman Story Ever…?”

Brainiac On Banjo: Five Comics Tropes I Want Back!

Brainiac On Banjo: Five Comics Tropes I Want Back!

Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails, let’s go backwards when forward fail, and movie stars you thought were alone then now are framed beside your bed — “Everything Old Is New Again,” written by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager

Every commercial storytelling medium that achieves any sort of longevity finds itself inventing recurring themes and concepts, often inadvertently. The kids today call them “tropes” but I’m old enough to remember when they were simply called “do that again so we can pay our bills.”

This is not to suggest comics have abandoned the trope motif. Nothing could be further from the truth — except Donald Trump. If we stopped using all the contemporary comics tropes we’d have nothing but panel borders and staples. But I miss the occasional use of a number of little used or ignored formats and concepts. I’m going to list a mere five; I’d do more if I had a functional attention-span and this wasn’t a holiday weekend.

5. Backgrounds

There was a time when most comics stories had backgrounds, unless they were inked by Vinnie Colletta. You know, stuff going on or simply being there to establish environment or allow for some foreshadowing. Some artists would drop “eyeball kicks” into their backgrounds to lighten the mood. Let us not forget that minimizing or not drawing backgrounds is a great way to pick up deadline time.

Now we have computers that deploy palettes that contain three million more colors than the naked eye can distinguish. We can go apeshit with our computers and the color artists have a lot more range and so it is intuited that the need for filling space with backgrounds isn’t necessary. Well, not to this guy. Let’s cut back on the cutting back on backgrounds. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: Five Comics Tropes I Want Back!”

With Further Ado #250: 250th Anniversaries

With Further Ado #250: 250th Anniversaries

Great bouncing Icebergs!*  It’s the 250th anniversary of this column.  That’s a lot of weekly columns.  And as is the case for so many of the things in the life of a geek culture enthusiast, I tend to translate and filter milestones through the lens of comic books.

For example, I can never go to a wedding and not imagine, albeit briefly, if a super-villain will interrupt the proceedings. That always happens to superheroes, doesn’t it?

Likewise, a 250th anniversary makes me think of how publishers typically celebrate the 250th issues of their comic series.

When John Byrne was writing and drawing the FF (it seems like just yesterday) , he celebrated The Fantastic Four’s 250th issue with guest stars from his past series, the cover proudly announced it was a “Special 250th Anniversary”. Other Marvel heroes like the X-Men, Captain America and Spidey dropped in to share the adventure.  Of course, some of them were Skrull imposters, but you get the idea.

Captain America #250 really “shouldn’t” count, as the numbering for this series switched over from a previous one, but in this issue John Byrne, along with writer pal Roger Stern (more on him later), crafted a very memorable tale.  It wasn’t so much an “all the toys in the toys box” type story, but rather a thoughtful proactive exploration of politics, the divisiveness of our society (probably even more relevant today) and the role of the individual.  This done-in-one story is often reprinted because it is so concise, impactful and well-crafted. Continue reading “With Further Ado #250: 250th Anniversaries”

Brainiac On Banjo: The Rasputin of TV Animation!

Brainiac On Banjo: The Rasputin of TV Animation!

“Now it’s been ten thousand years. Man has cried a billion tears for what he never knew. Now man’s reign is through, but through the eternal night the twinkling of starlight so very far away, maybe it’s only yesterday.” In The Year 2525, written by Rick Evans.

For a brief few years, Rasputin was a very powerful man in pre-Soviet Russia. He pretty much ran the joint during World War I and was perceived generally as a mystic and a healer; in fact, very little is known about his life. However, we do know a lot about his deaths. He made it through a near-fatal hemorrhage in his thigh and groin in 1912. Two years later, he survived being stabbed in the stomach.

In December of 1916, members of the Tsar’s inner circle decided he he had undue influence over the Tsar and was a good part of the reason the nation suffered from threats of revolution Thus, they decided to kill him. He was poisoned. Twice. That trick didn’t work either time. Then he was shot three times – once in the forehead, which has got to hurt — but he recovered from all that as well. Shot a fourth time, the conspirators dropped him off of the Petrovsky Bridge into the Malaya Nevka River. It took authorities two weeks to find his body, which had been trapped underneath the thick river ice. His boss abdicated less than three months later.

Fun fact: according to Wikipedia, Rasputin’s “daughter Matryona emigrated to France after the October Revolution and then to the United States. There, she worked as a dancer and then a lion tamer in a circus.” She died in a Los Angeles suburb in 1977.

Clearly Rasputin was a hard man to do away with and, remarkably, so is the animated television series Futurama. Happily, fate smiled on the better of the two.

If there’s an award for aggressive conflation, I hereby bestow said award upon myself.

Futurama, created and developed by Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, ran on the Fox network from 1999 to 2003. It returned as a series of four home video-first “movies” in 2007, was revived at Comedy Central between 2010 and 2013, and in July Hulu will begin airing 20 new episodes over two “seasons,” which, these days, could mean anything. Of course, everything — including the movies, each of which have been chopped up into four-parters — is in syndication and has and might still appear on more cable networks than Dick Cavett. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: The Rasputin of TV Animation!”

With Further Ado #249: Collab or Team-Up?

With Further Ado #249: Collab or Team-Up?

Collabs. All the cool kids in the business world, from tech start-up founders to crafter brewers, know all about “collabs”. (It took me a while to realize it’s short for “collaborations”.) These collabs are all about two companies (or individuals) partnering for a project, in order that they create something unique and memorable. Something that probably wouldn’t happen if each party had just worked on their own.

But comic people and geek culture know what these collabs really are.

They are Team-Ups!

I think my first “Team-Up” was issue #70 of The Brave and the Bold. This was the January 1967 issue; so, it was on sale during the height of the Batman ‘66 craze. There was one problem: it didn’t look like a pleasant collaboration to me. Two heroes, Batman and Hawkman (who was new to me back then) were beating the stuffing out of one another. In the background, a crashed Batmobile was still smoking. This was presumably the result of the Caped Crusader’s and the Winged Wonder’s fight. These two crimefighters were even pulling at each other’s masks, which must have been in direct conflict with some unwritten superhero code. Continue reading “With Further Ado #249: Collab or Team-Up?”

Brainiac On Banjo: A.I. Swiping Honored By Government!

Brainiac On Banjo: A.I. Swiping Honored By Government!

I’m a substitute for another guy. I look pretty tall but my heels are high. The simple things you see are all complicated. I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated. — Pete Townshend, “Substitute”

I’ve just done a couple of conventions over the past several weeks — C2E2 in Chicago and the always-fantastic Ithacon in – surprise! – Ithaca, New York. As always, I enjoyed pressing the flesh (in a neighborly way), signing a shitload of comics, including the ones I forgot I worked on, and talking with a lot of friends old and new. Even though my life has been one massive comic book convention that has lasted 54 years and counting, it’s a collegial environment chock full of swell folks.

Whereas I did not conduct a formal survey, it is safe to say the major topic of general conversation was “Artificial Intelligence.” No, not the type commonly used by our politicians in the southern states, nor the type often used in the corporate suites of many publishers. I’m referring to the computer devices that create imitations of the works of artists and writers all over this rapidly-boiling planet of ours. I suspect if some binary-workers created software that provided abortion care, our governments would be all over that as well, but ramming some people’s religious “values” such as matricide down the throats of those with differing religious values is a well-known diversion for our nation’s judicial systems. But, I think I digress… therefore I am. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: A.I. Swiping Honored By Government!”

With Further Ado #248: Ithaca College Guest Column Winner – A Look at Toxic Star Wars Fandom

With Further Ado #248: Ithaca College Guest Column Winner – A Look at Toxic Star Wars Fandom

It’s the big finish for that class I teach at Ithaca College that focuses on pop culture, running conventions and entrepreneurism.  Classes have ended and the final is this week.

Here’s our third and winning entry for this year’s column contest. Nina Singh is an impressive student, and a good writer too. I think her column will give you something to think about!

Congrats on a great year, Nina.

***

Star Wars Toxicity: A Look at Lizzo’s Backlash and Beyond

By: Nina Singh

Lizzo as Duchess Bombardier

It is a sad reality that many Star Wars fans have devolved into a toxic and intolerant community. This became apparent yet again when Lizzo, a popular musician and actress, appeared in an episode of The Mandalorian. The backlash against her casting is a prime example of how some fans have lost sight of what it means to be a true fan of the franchise.

For those who are unfamiliar with The Mandalorian, it is a popular Disney+ show set in the Star Wars universe. It follows the adventures of a bounty hunter named Din Djarin, who is also known as the Mandalorian. In one of the recent episodes, Lizzo made a brief appearance as Duchess Bombardier, one of the glamorous and wealthy rulers of Plazir-15, an independent planet. Continue reading “With Further Ado #248: Ithaca College Guest Column Winner – A Look at Toxic Star Wars Fandom”

Brainiac On Banjo: On Meat Mountain, We Have The Meats Alright!

Brainiac On Banjo: On Meat Mountain, We Have The Meats Alright!

Saw a big Brangus Steer standing right over there, so I rustled up a fire, cooked him medium rare. Barbecued his brisket, roasted his rump, fed my dog that ol’ Brangus Steer’s hump. — “Eat Steak,” Reverend Horton Heat (Jim Heath)

Do not read this right now if you’re about to have dinner. Or read it now if you want to go on a diet… for a few weeks.

Fast food has been part of our popular culture at least since 1955, when the first McDonald’s franchises started to appear. Chains such as White Castle, Burger King, and Jack-In-The-Box (what is in that secret sauce?) preceded the franchised golden arches, but it was McDonalds’ advertising and branding that turned fast food into a lifestyle.

I just read a piece about a sandwich they’ve been selling at Arby’s. Yup, I know. Arby’s. I probably lost you. That’s okay, and you’ll see why. I’m guessing you weren’t going to try this anyway.

Evidently, Arby’s has a “secret menu.” If I’m any example, they’ve been quite successful keeping it a secret. Anyway, on this secret menu there is a sandwich called Arby’s Meat Mountain. It contains 1.5 ounces of each of the following: roast turkey, ham, corned beef, brisket, steak, and roast beef, plus both cheddar cheese and Swiss cheese, two chicken tenders, and of course, 1.5 rashers of bacon. Their Mountain is covered by an additional starch vehicle, evidently because they couldn’t come up with an edible handle.

Hey, gotta love that health food, right? According to TheTakeOut.com, the Meat Mountain contains a mere 120 ingredients — all of the above succulent substances of gastronomical trauma plus sodium erythorbate, sodium diacetate, sodium lactate and other sodia (which, I infer, is the plural of sodium) to aggregate of 3,536 milligrams of salt, approximately two and one-half times the recommended daily limit. This is an amount sufficient to make the Morton salt girl lose her shit. I do not know the amount of cholesterol in this delivery system of death, but I suspect the number is in the range of the melting point of aluminum.

The most amazing thing about the Meat Mountain, other than how you actually eat the sucker and what happens a couple hours thereafter, is that this extravaganza is a mere 1,275 calories. That’s about the same as Arby’s King’s Hawaiian Sweet Heat Beef ‘N Brisket Meal… but at least you get a soda with that.

This sucker has been around since 2014 and, according to their website, remains available to this day. Don’t feel left out of the loop if all this comes as news to you: it’s only on their “secret menu.” This is a meal Tony Stark might feed to The Hulk as an act of desperation. At its time of introduction, the Meat Mountain cost ten bucks a pop.

Remember, you will not see this heavenly satellite of gristle and grease on the big-ass menu over their counter. You’ve got to ask for it by name and they’ll (allegedly) create it for you from scratch. That’s how this secret menu thing works.

For better and for worse, we live in the Days of The Internet so secret menu items are hardly a secret — they’re just not on their store menu or their website. I don’t have Arby’s app; it might be there. But if your looking for a bit of variety — assuming the Meat Mountain doesn’t offer enough — check this out. I admit those Onion Tanglers sounds interesting. Then again, do I really want to tangle with an onion?

Lots of chains have their own secret menus. I will never know what’s on the one at Denny’s as I am much more likely to die of starvation with $20.00 bills hanging out of my every pocket, my dead and molting body repurposed as a 200-pound external door stop. And, while I’m on the subject, no, I don’t want to know what’s on Hooter’s secret menu either. Let’s just assume it involves nipple tassels.

Arby’s slogan is “we have the meats.” Yup, and they put them all in their Meat Mountain sandwich. It’s perfect for people who have three hands, a bib, a forest of napkins, a strong colon and, perhaps, one of those bags you might find in an airplane setback pocket.

(A tip of the hat to The Florescent Leech and Eddie who provided this week’s secret message. And to Rev. Heat, because the writer always needs more barbecue.)

With Further Ado #247: Student Guest Column Contest – How Wine Lovers Geek Out

With Further Ado #247: Student Guest Column Contest – How Wine Lovers Geek Out

We’re right in the middle of an annual tradition that’s part of a class I teach at Ithaca College all about pop culture and running conventions.

Each year, I ask the students to submit a column on pop culture as if they were the author of this column. Our crack editorial staff has poured over the submissions and selected our winners.

Our first runner-up of this year’s column contest is Ellie Aliperti and her thoughts on Wine and wine lovers as a fandom.

Congrats to you, Ellie.

***
How Wine Lovers Geek Out
By Ellie Aliperti

There is a stigma around wine. It is often thought of as a sophisticated person’s drink, and to many, it may appear intimidating. I, however, happened to grow up in a family that owns a winery and with a father who makes wine. So, I know the story of wine before it’s poured into your glass at some fancy wine bar.

To me, it has always been a part of my life. While for some people wine can be intimidating or exclusionary, others (especially many in the food and beverage industry) really “geek out” on it! A wine geek can be best described as an individual with an eccentric devotion to alcoholic beverages created by fermented grapes. One should not confuse the Wine Geek with the Wine Snob (though there can be a crossover). Continue reading “With Further Ado #247: Student Guest Column Contest – How Wine Lovers Geek Out”