Category: Columns

Brainiac On Banjo: Batman’s Gay Apocalypse

Brainiac On Banjo: Batman’s Gay Apocalypse

Who is the manliest man? (Batman!) With the buns of steel? (Batman!) Who could choke hold a bear? (Batman!) Who never skips leg-day? (Batman!) Who always pays their taxes (NOT Batman!) — “Who’s the (Bat)Man” (from The Lego Batman Movie) written by Neal Hefti, Jason Rabinowitz, Colton Fisher, Jaron Lamot, Mansa Makili, Brayden Deskins, and Barry Pointer.

In case it hadn’t occurred to you in this specific term, bigotry is ludicrous… among other things. There is no justification for this activity.

According to the Associated Press, the overseers of all things scholastic in a suburban Atlanta Georgia county had Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, over to speak to their students about legendary comics writer Bill Finger. However, they would not permit Nobleman to speak about Finger’s relationship with his gay son, Mark, who died thirty years ago from AIDS complications. According to Nobleman, that relationship was critical to defining Bill.

It was Mark Finger’s daughter Athena who, after being found by Nobleman, worked out a deal with DC Comics’ owner du jour in which her grandfather finally received due credit for his work in co-creating Batman a mere 76 years after the feature was first published. She is, to comics fans, a hero. There’s quite a story in that, and that story has been well-publicized. I should point out that Marc Tyler Nobelman also appears in the Bill Finger documentary Batman and Bill. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: Batman’s Gay Apocalypse”

With Further Ado #266: A Somber Gathering

With Further Ado #266: A Somber Gathering

We’ve been talking about comic conventions and fandoms lately. This is completely different but more similar than I ever expected.

This past weekend, my wife and I volunteered for a pop-up traveling exhibition, and I’m glad we did. I was surprised that it was – although so appropriately somber – like so many of the activities and gatherings we’ve been spotlighting in this column.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) manages The Wall That Heals and their national tour schedule for 2023. The Wall That Heals exhibit includes a three-quarter scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial along with a mobile Education Center. This is the 28th season of The Wall That Heals has been on the road, and last weekend it visited our town Auburn, located in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. Continue reading “With Further Ado #266: A Somber Gathering”

So Long, and Thanks for the Fish, Man #084: Punk You!

So Long, and Thanks for the Fish, Man #084: Punk You!

Run a search of my musings here at Pop Culture Squad — and I admit there’s not as many as there should be — and one name will pop up more than anyone else. Phil Brooks, AKA CM Punk. If you’re new to this site, or new to me? He’s a professional wrestler. My favorite professional wrestler. Well, perhaps I admit here now, dejected, my former favorite professional wrestler. Let’s not dilly dally around the obvious.

Of course, I should give the requisite mansplanation of Punk 101 here, to spare you from beleaguered googling. Here’s the skinny, as svelte as I can make it:

CM Punk was an “indie darling” garnering small-but-growing fame by way of very small wrestling promotions across the country from 1999-2005. Eventually, the indie scene faded and Punk made way to Stamford to be with the biggest pro wrestling, er, sports entertainment company there was (and is): WWE. Punk worked in the WWE until 2014. He won the World Heavyweight title in one of the most memorable storylines in modern pro wrestling history — all stemming from his infamous Pipe Bomb promo. And after getting burnt out on the road, and due largely to the way WWE was run… Punk quit cold turkey.

Over the next seven years Punk dabbled in everything his heart desired. He wrote comic books. He made a horror movie. He got his clock cleaned in UFC. Twice. And he landed a little role on Steven Amell’s Heels on Starz.

And then? Phil unretired. I was over-the-moon. I wrote about it at great length. Here, read about it if you want.

To sum that article up though? I’ve loved Punk since the Pipe Bomb promo. He broke rules I’d never seen broken. He wasn’t a roided-up mass monster like most of the WWE roster. He was different in a literal sea of sameness. And he could be a good guy without being the pandering robot John Cena chose to be. No offense to John, but c’mon… Punk never felt the need to have “the orange shirt era”. But I digress.  Continue reading “So Long, and Thanks for the Fish, Man #084: Punk You!”

Brainiac On Banjo: Important Advice For Freelancers

Brainiac On Banjo: Important Advice For Freelancers

Well, we know where we’re going but we don’t know where we’ve been, and we know what we’re knowing but we can’t say what we’ve seen — “Road To Nowhere,” written by Tina Weymouth, Chris Franz, David Byrne, and Jerry Harrison

The Ritz Brothers “Here Kitty Kitty”

Deadlines are a pain in the ass, but let’s face it: you became a freelancer because you were tired of holding down a real job. However, work is still work no matter what the clock thinks, and that realization puts you on the Road To Nowhere. You are going to have to up your “cover your ass” game, and I’m going to lose a few friends by letting a few cats out of the bag.

You can not succeed without knowing the rudiments of grammar school arithmetic. Yes, yes, I know. No math. That’s the main reason why you quit flipping burgers. Nonetheless, it is important to know how to do some simple addition and subtraction, the latter simply being adding in reverse. Here’s why: Let’s say your deadline is 11 AM Monday, and it is now 7 PM Sunday. You think it will take you about three hours to do your work. You’ve got dinner tonight, the latest issue of Hey Kids! Comics! to finish, and those teevee shows aren’t going to stream themselves. Then, it’s time for your late-night snack (you are a freelancer; act like one!), and then, you should get a little sleep. When do you start on your deadline?

Well, like everything else in life, that’s a trick question. Your deadline is 11 AM, it will take you three hours to do the job. You weren’t going to do it the night before; if you were, you would have started it back when you landed the gig. So you’re going to subtract three from eleven and start working at 8 AM.

Yeah, of course you are. Out of habit, you’re going to stay in bed until 9:30 or until your brain starts working. At some point, maybe around 10 AM, you’re going to remember you should wash the dishes. After all, everything in life is a choice.

Okay. Let’s say your editor actually gave you a real, honest deadline. I realize there’s only one editor in the history of deadlines who does this, and he’s the one writing these words right now. Silly me. “If you treat people honestly, they will be honest with you.” This is, give or take, the funniest thing I’ve ever said.

However, more frequently I’ve had to explain why they put the word “dead” in “deadline.” We’ll talk about the psychology of editing some other time; this piece is to offer advice to freelancers. So here’s some advice.

First, become an editor. Listen to the talents’ excuses for being late. They know what they’re doing, as they do this part for a living. Write down or memorize the best ones. Then, when you are freelancing and your editor wants to know if you are still among the living, use one of those excuses. Of course, you’ll need to remember which lines you’ve used on which editors — that is how lying works.

Second, just before your assigned deadline brays, put your smartphone in “silent mode” the way you’re supposed to when you’re at the movies or in Colorado attending the Beetlejuice musical. In fact, you might actually be at the movies — that’s a very handy source of motivation when it comes to blowing off deadlines.

Third, check out the weather conditions. If you are not in the same city as your editor, then you have been experiencing severe storms that have been knocking out power all over the county, and you don’t have a clue when the power company is going to fix the lines, and if your editor has a problem with that, ask them if they have a dial-up fax machine. It will help if you know they do not in advance.

Finally, if you are lucky — and, really, this is turning a pound of shit into a shit soufflé — your editor will be representing a corporation that owes you money. That isn’t hard at all; DC Comics has owed me $250.00 for a couple years now, and it’s worth more to me as leverage than its rapidly diminishing spending power. So when your editor is putting the arm on you, change the subject to “hey, I wish you were as diligent about paying me for my work as you are demanding that stuff!”

This can be great fun. If you get in first and your editor hasn’t read this piece (which is likely), you’ll be treated to a lot of amusingly defensive grunts and groans. Swiftly change the subject to the WGA strike — particularly if you’re working for DC (Warner Bros) or Marvel (Disney). Then, just as the topic devolves back to deadlines, seize the high ground and tell your editor you have got to get back to finishing your assignment.

You know. The assignment you have yet to start.

(With apologies to Chris Ryall, Jack C. Harris, Bob Harrison and all my other editors who did not know they were road-testing the details in this column.)

With Further Ado #265: A New Favorite – Ana Penyas

With Further Ado #265: A New Favorite – Ana Penyas

It’s a busy time of year for comic conventions. It looks like last weekend’s Baltimore Comic-Con was a roaring success; especially if your focus is on comics and comics creators. I’ve missed the last few years of this wonderful show, but I saw a lot of smiling faces on social media.

SPX, the Small Press Expo was held the same weekend in Rockville, Maryland at the Bethesda North Marriott. This show celebrates small press creators and entrepreneurs, and it looks to be a positive counterbalance to the “madness” of bigger, more traditional comic conventions.

At a show like this, I’d typically line up to meet a guy like Bill Griffith, the creator of Zippy the Pinhead. But I have a new favorite SPX guest this year: Ana Penyas.

Ana Penyas is from Spain. At Polytechnic University of Valencia she studied fine arts, Ana made headlines in 2018 when she received Spain’s National Comic Award. Her debut graphic novel was called Estamos Todas Bien,and her newest one is Todo Bajo El Sol. Her most recent project is contributing to the Fantagraphics anthology Illustrating Spain. Continue reading “With Further Ado #265: A New Favorite – Ana Penyas”

As Is — Woke, Woke, Woke, WOKE! Whatever…

As Is — Woke, Woke, Woke, WOKE! Whatever…

Lead Belly

You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons. — from Blazing Saddles, written by Andrew Bergman, Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Alan Uger, and Richard Pryor.

There are only two types of people who use and believe in the right-wing concept of “woke” — Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis (a.k.a. America’s most obnoxious bigot) and those who think DeSantis is right. None of them seem to agree on the actual meaning of the term, but they know that, generally, it means “anything that makes life uncomfortable for white American bigots.”

Of course, these fools also believe that Black Lives Matter and AntiFa are real organizations that issue orders to their troops, that communism and fascism are the same thing, and that Donald J. Trump is Jesus H. Christ resurrected. Continue reading “As Is — Woke, Woke, Woke, WOKE! Whatever…”

With Further Ado #264: Look. Up in the Sky. It’s Off-Model!

With Further Ado #264: Look. Up in the Sky. It’s Off-Model!

We went to the Great New York State Fair this weekend and enjoyed every minute of it. It was kind of like San Diego Comic Con without all the superheroes. Check that – there were plenty of superheroes there.

So many T-shirts, inflatables and toys all adorned with Batman, The Avengers, Captain America and Spider-Man characters and/or logos. Many licensed products were on sale and many unlicensed products were too.

The New York State Fair, like many state fairs, I suppose, had buildings with 4-H club raised animals, homemade jams, jellies and baked goods and more -all competing for Blue Ribbons. But make no mistake, the Midway is where the action is. And on this midway, the most impressive, scariest ride was the Superman ride.

It was more like an overwhelming torture robot that Lex Luthor would have invented.* This ride would propel attendees into the stratosphere, and then whip them around a few times and spin them upside down.

I skewered my courage up and went on of a few these rides with my daughter Tess, but for this one …I just shook my head. I sheepishly muttered, “No way” and added “You are on your own for this one, Tess.” I felt like the Last Son of Krypton would have been disappointed by my lack of courage. Continue reading “With Further Ado #264: Look. Up in the Sky. It’s Off-Model!”

Brainiac On Banjo: No… Doctor No

Brainiac On Banjo: No… Doctor No

Have no fear, look who’s here…James Bond…They’ve got us on the run…With guns…And knives…We’re fighting for our lives…Have no fear, Bond is here…He’s gonna to save the world at Casino Royale! – “Casino Royale” (1967) written by Burt Bacharach.

I’ve long had a curious relationship with Doctor No, and it started with a comic book whose publication was truly weird.

It started in early 1963 — January 31st, if you’re setting your WABAC machine. That was a Thursday, new comics day at my friendly neighborhood drug store, and DC Comics’ Showcase was one of my favorites. Not that it mattered: my 12 year-old paws would claw through each and every comic on the rack. At the time the Doctor No adaptation interrupted their Tommy Tomorrow try-out series which offered some great Lee Elias art and some rather thin writing from Arnold Drake. I wasn’t disappointed about the interruption, but I still have a fondness for that Elias work.

I had not heard of Doctor No, nor James Bond, nor Ian Fleming. I was curious as to why the story looked like it should have appeared in Classics Illustrated. DC’s comics had a house style — more of a house attitude — and this did not fit in. But I enjoyed the book and was disappointed Bond did not return in the following issue. Showcase was a try-out book that usually introduced new series in three-issue increments. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: No… Doctor No”

With Further Ado #263: Peek-a-Boo: It’s Veronica Lake

With Further Ado #263: Peek-a-Boo: It’s Veronica Lake

Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, DC and Marvel fans sure loved the superheroes of the 40s. We would enjoy the current issues of Justice League of America or The Avengers, but every now and again there was an adventure that was kind of like “looking over our shoulders” at the past. The JLA would routinely get together with their historical antecedents, the Justice Society of America and there were so many tales to be told and retold of Captain America’s WWII teams, the All-Winners Squad and the Invaders.

But there was one of those old heroes that I kind of liked and I wasn’t sure why. Liberty Belle was a DC heroine who fought golden age criminals and saboteurs, like all those women did – in high heels. Created by Don Cameron and Chuck Winter, Liberty Belle debuted in Boy Commandos #1 (from Winter of 1942).

It took me a while to realize her greatest superpower was that she was (essentially) the Hollywood star, Veronica Lake.

Veronica Lake grew up in Saranac Lake and originally went by the name Constance Keane. (That seems like a pretty cool name to me too.) Her Hollywood star burned brightly – but flamed out all too quickly. Lake was a quintessential femme fatale in film noir thrillers and even the Bewitched prototype in I Married a Witch. Continue reading “With Further Ado #263: Peek-a-Boo: It’s Veronica Lake”

Brainiac On Banjo: The Real Clown Prince of Crime!

Brainiac On Banjo: The Real Clown Prince of Crime!

Why do you want him? Why do you want him? Why do you want him? Why do you want him? — “Why Do You Want Him?,” written by Billie Joe Armstrong, John Kiffmeyer, and Mike Dirnt.

No doubt you’ve heard about this “internet” thing. It’s a place where we all go to show everybody else just how clever we are. For example, I’m doing that right now.

My guess is you have seen the Trump “Batman Villain” memes that have popped up all over the internet within minutes of the former Bastard-In-Chief getting fingerprinted and mug-shotted in a toilet of a Georgia jail a couple days ago. I understand the shock of this killed Harley Quinn, and that really sucks. But it’s understandable.

Legendary writer Mindy Newell and I got into a conversation about all this, and I took the position that The Joker is a better person than Trump and, for that matter, The Joker wears less makeup. Somehow that discussion boiled down to the best Trump meme would have him look like Davros, the classic Doctor Who villain who created the Daleks — and, to make a long story short, became one. I think he went to the Stanislavsky School of Villainy.

Be that as it may, the true winner of this debate is the rock group Green Day. They created, according to their Instagram post,

“the ultimate Nimrod shirt is available for 72 hours only. Limited edition shirt proceeds will be donated to T̶h̶e̶ ̶G̶i̶u̶l̶i̶a̶n̶i̶ ̶L̶e̶g̶a̶l̶ ̶D̶e̶f̶e̶n̶s̶e̶ ̶F̶u̶n̶d̶ @greatergoodmusiccharity, which brings food to those affected by the Maui wildfires.”

That meets my definition of humanity’s greatest ability, the know-how to be given shit and to turn it into a shit soufflé. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: The Real Clown Prince of Crime!”