Category: TV

Brainiac On Banjo: Truth, Justice, and All That Jazz

“Faster than an airplane, more powerful than a locomotive, impervious to bullets. ‘Up in the sky – look!’ ‘It’s a giant bird.’ ‘It’s a plane.’ ‘It’s Superman!’ And now, Superman – a being no larger than an ordinary man but possessed of powers and abilities never before realized on Earth: Able to leap into the air an eighth of a mile at a single bound, hurtle a 20-story building with ease, race a high-powered bullet to its target, lift tremendous weights and rend solid steel in his bare hands as though it were paper. Superman – a strange visitor from a distant planet: champion of the oppressed, physical marvel extraordinary who has sworn to devote his existence on Earth to helping those in need.” – written by Allen Ducovny and Robert Joffe Maxwell for the original Superman radio pilot, 1939.

The above proclamation was not original to the Superman comic books or the newspaper comic strip. It was streamlined, and the phrase “Truth, Justice and the American Way” was dramatically appended to the opening as President Roosevelt had started making his plans to dive head-first into World War II. It was also used in the opening to the Fleisher/Paramount Superman cartoons, and later the syndicated 1950s Superman television series.

“Truth, Justice and the American Way” is not in the U.S. constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, or as far as I can tell, the bible of any “major” religion. It is and always has been a marketing slogan, not unlike Fisk Tires’ “Time To Re-Tire.”

Why should he? Superman, long acknowledged to be a world citizen, is not a native born American and never had been. He has acknowledged that being an alien he could not lawfully become president. If he wanted to cheat, he probably could have pulled off running as “Clark Kent” (not his real name), as long as nobody demanded to see his birth certificate. With a raised seal, of course.

Superman is an illegal alien. A dreamer who landed without government permission or knowledge in Kansas U.S.A. without any parents and was seized by a then-elderly heterosexual white married couple. We assume somewhere along the line “Clark Kent” probably forged those credentials he would need to go to school, get a driver’s license and a passport, get married, and so on.

So, of course, this native Kryptonian dropping the “American Way” tagline drove the Rabid Right completely around the bend. Because, you know, he’s posed with the American flag and stuff.

The new phrase, “Truth, Justice and A Better Tomorrow,” would sound great opening a network newscast, unless that network isn’t Fox, Newsmax, OAN or their fellow reality-challenged microcephalic internet rackets. The Rabid Right lost their collective mind. Again.

As I said in this space last week, I enjoy watching the Rabid Right lose its shit. They’re almost as fantastic at that as they are lying through their teeth and causing widespread death. First Superman Son of Superman is revealed to be bisexual, and now, about a week later, he’s an optimistic citizen of the multiverse who is absolutely not working to further any American interests per se. So if the entire idea is to keep the Right reflexively flinching, then right on, DC Comics!

(Mike Gold and Bob Harrison will be representing Pop Culture Squad at this weekend’s the Baltimore Comic-Con, October 22 through 24, at — of all places — the Baltimore Convention Center, the one in Maryland. Evidently, Mister Gold will be on separate panels about First Comics and Hawkman, both hosted by Mister Harrison. We smell a fix…)

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #076: “I’m Back.”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #076: “I’m Back.”

“August 13, 2005, I left professional wrestling. August 20th, 2021… I’M BACK.”

Buckle up. I’m not holding back the words this week, kiddos.

When the rumor mill said Phil Brooks, known as CM Punk, was coming to All Elite Wrestling… I snickered. You see, 7 years ago, Punk went to his best friend’s apartment and recorded a scathing indictment of sports entertainment. Over the course of his tenure at WWE, under Vince McMahon, Punk was ground into a nub of a human. His body? Broken down. By several infections treated by a blitzkrieg of Z-packs (Azithromycin) which shredded his insides. His mind? Mush. Fighting the powers that be for everything he earned as one of the top performers of the company. Never given anything without heavy-handed control by the writers’ room and ineffective bookers. His spirit? On life-support. Forced to endure idiocy like being literally fired on his wedding day, needing to sue the WWE and lose a best friend over it, as well watching part-timers be brought in to spike ratings and take championships needlessly. This was CM Punk 7 years ago. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #076: “I’m Back.””

With Further Ado #159: Summer Beach Reading …with the Saint

With Further Ado #159: Summer Beach Reading …with the Saint

Oftentimes when we think about characters like Batman, James Bond or Harry Potter, we imagine they will go on and on ad infinitum. Despite the overwhelming merchandising juggernauts that these properties have become, that’s not really the case.

Take Leslie Charteris’ The Saint. This character, a devil-may-care adventurer, debuted in a story called Meet the Tiger in 1928. He then went on to a long career of battling bad guys in more novels, magazines, radio shows, TV shows, movies and even comics.

But I feel if I offered $100 to the first of my college students who could tell me (without looking it up on the web) who the character the Saint is – I’d still have that C-note!

I was introduced to The Saint through the long-running  60sTV show. This was, in some ways, a multi-season audition for the star, Roger Moore, for his subsequent role as James Bond.  Moore was charming, focused and fun – just right for the part.

The series focused on light mysteries and adventures  in glamorous cities all around the world.  The Saint would usually romance a different co-star each week. And one of the cleverest bits of the show was a recurring gag right before the opening theme song. Invariably, some random character would recognize the ‘famous Simon Templar, aka The Saint” and call him out.  (Simon Templar was kind of famous in the world he inhabited.) An animated halo would magically appear over  Moore’s head and then he’d notice the animation, look up at it and shrug in resignation. He was definitely in on the joke. It was all very meta before meta was a thing.

And I have another thought for this week.  I think it’s always great to read a mystery or two during the summertime. On the beach, if possible. And I want to make it easy for you all to do just that.

So, this week I’m featuring the Saint + a mystery story. The following pages are from an old issue of Life Magazine* that present a comic (but with photos instead of illustrations) of a Saint mystery adventure.

For this drama, The Saint is played by the author Leslie Charteris. It’s set in the glamorous setting of Palm Springs. And it’s a “fair play mystery”, so see if you can figure out who the villain is before The Saint does!

*thanks to Professor Laurence Maslon for the heads up!

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #075: Better Late Than Never — HBO’s Barry

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #075: Better Late Than Never — HBO’s Barry

In “Better Late Than Never”, join Marc Alan Fishman as he trips sideways into streaming his way through a series and comes back to his column here on Pop Culture Squad to talk about its greatness as if the series just came out.

Shortly after meeting our titular Cleveland-based assassin Barry Berkman in writer/star Bill Hader’s Barry, he sits, staring into the middle-distance — his face blank, but the body language and minimally adorned apartment he calls home clearly shows us a man 7 feet below ground in exhausting depression. A jump cut later, Barry collects a crappy sedan below a staggeringly cyan blue sky of Los Angeles. Another job — to assist the Chechen Mob — has Berkman out West. By the end of the pilot, Barry completes his initial hit, not without complications; Chief among them his sudden fascination with potentially becoming an actor and abandoning his hitman profession. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #075: Better Late Than Never — HBO’s Barry”

Brainiac On Banjo: Del Close! Holy Shit!!!

Back in the day I was involved in producing a comic book called Wasteland. This effort led to the one question I have been asked most often in comics, particularly by my fellow field laborers. That question is “how the hell did you get DC Comics to publish that book?”

I was surrounded by a lot of talent who are as incredibly gifted as they are unique. This is a matter of fact: they unleashed some truly brilliant, emotionally terrorizing stuff. Artists William Messner-Loebs, Ty Templeton, Don Simpson, David Lloyd, George Freeman, Tom Artis and Tim Dzon, Lovern Kindzierski, Timothy Truman, William Wray, Michael Davis, Rick Magyar, Tom Ziuko, Joe Orlando, Tony Salmons. Writers John Ostrander and Del Close. Associate editors Robert Greenberger and Brian Augustyn. And a cast of dozens.

Working with these folks was an absolute honor and a joy.

Now, there’s a documentary about Wasteland called “For Madmen Only: The Stories of Del Close,” directed by Heather Ross and written by Heather and Adam Samuel Goldman. No kidding. It’s got an iMBD page to prove it.

The whole idea of using Wasteland as the basis for doing a documentary about Del is, if you’ll forgive me, dazzling. Hey, it wasn’t my idea; I’m just in it. Heather’s the one who pulled it off and it took her years to do so. That requires a lot of energy with an attention span to match. Del’s been subject of several biographies that are quite good – in fact, Howard Johnson’s is quite great – but revealing the marrow of that man to a 2021 audience is no easy trick. His days as a performer, a Shakespearean actor, a teacher and a director are well noted, particularly his long association with Second City, the iO (a.k.a. improvOlympics), the Upright Citizens Brigade and Saturday Night Live.

I’ve long felt my pals in sweet home Chicago should build a statue of him and place it in Lincoln Park, close to Second City. Those of us who appreciate the history of American comedy would enjoy it, of course, and I think Del would appreciate his providing a place for the pigeons.

In order to have a documentary, you probably should have interviews with some of the people involved with Del (you’ll see just how they are involved in the documentary) and among those in For Madmen Only are Bob Odenkirk, Patton Oswalt, Adam McKay, Tim Meadows, Charna Halpern, Howard Johnson, Susan Messing, Alan Meyerson, Jason Sudeikis, Dave Thomas, Michaela Watkins, George Wendt, as well as John and myself. There are flashback scenes where Josh Fadem plays John, James Urbaniak plays Del, and Matt Walsh plays me. There’s a ton of real Del Close footage, as is only fitting as his name is there in the title, and much of that feature some of the other well-known legends that Del worked with, trained, and/or got into trouble with.

Holy shit. I just broke my own world’s record for name-dropping.

To be serious for the moment – don’t worry, it’s a one-time thing – this is an honor that shakes me to my very bones. Wasteland was, and still is, the most fun I’ve had in comics with my clothes on. I think we all knew we were walking a tightrope when we did the series, but I doubt many of us realized we’d finish falling up!

Plus… please allow me one more snatch of egoboo. Having Matt Walsh play me, for crying out loud, is mind-bogglingly amazing.

At the top of this piece I said I’ve been asked about how I got DC Comics to publish Wasteland. Well, it just so happens that this very Sunday, July 25th, at the San Diego Comic Con – which is once again on You Tube this year because of the Plague – I’m on a panel where I reveal exactly that. It airs starting at 10 AM west coast time, which, for those of you who can’t work a slide rule, is 1 PM eastern time and 2:30 PM Newfoundland time. Hey, you never know. The You Tube link ishttps://bit.ly/3xTQHqj; the long link is https://youtu.be/7Xddm_N-djo.

OK.

We’re ready for our close-up, Heather!

 

Lego Masters Season 2: Mid-Season Review

Lego Masters Season 2: Mid-Season Review

I am so excited to say that Lego Masters is back with Season Two. The first episode launched on June 1, 2021, and new episodes debut of Fox on Tuesday nights at 9 PM. There are twelve new teams, but I’m happy to see Will Arnett is back as host with his same funny schtick, and thankfully,  Brick Masters Jamie Berard and Amy Corbett have also returned.

The prize is the same as last season, $10,000 and the “Lego Master” trophy.

The teams are:

    1. Zack and Wayne – Brothers from California.
    2. Zach and Tim – Son-Father from Michigan
    3. Mark and Steven – Brothers from Georgia
    4. Syreeta and Randall – Friends from Illinois
    5. Natalie and Michelle – Friends from Oklahoma and Arizona
    6. Paras and Moto – Friends from Massachusetts and Colorado
    7. Maria and Philip – Married couple from Michigan
    8. Susan and Jen – Friends from Utah
    9. Jack and Dawn – Siblings from Ohio and Michigan
    10. Dave and Richard – Friends from Illinois and New York
    11. Caleb and Jacob – Brothers from Wisconsin
    12. Bryan and Lauren – Siblings from California

The show grabs you from the first episode, and I find that I cannot wait until next week.

Once again, the contestants are friendly with each other, but each team wants to win. The builds are bigger and more challenging then Season One. It is hard to pick a favorite because they are all so great at building and you hate to see any team leave at the end of each episode.

Episode 1

The first episode, each team had to build an eye-catching float in the first-ever LEGO Day Parade. The prize for the winner of this challenge was the “Gold Brick”. The team that wins the “Gold Brick” can use it only once, to be safe from elimination. The team that won, you know once you saw the final build, they were going to win it. Each “float” was amazing and fun to look at.

Episode 2

The second episode, each team had to build their own slow-motion hero shot. They picked their own mini figure at random and build something to explode behind them. The teams have to use one of four blasting substances: Glitter, slime, water or dust, and the mini figure CAN NOT be blown/knocked off, when the explosion happens.

Once again, this episode, didn’t not disappoint. Each team’s blast, was as amazing as the one before. I do not envy the Brick Masters job to pick the team that has to go home.

When a team leaves the stage, everyone hugs the team and the team leaves their personal mini-figure at the entrances to the stage. My heart was saddened every time a team leaves, but the show must go on.

Episode 3

Continue reading “Lego Masters Season 2: Mid-Season Review”

Brainiac On Banjo: No Lunch For Batman

Brainiac On Banjo: No Lunch For Batman

“Down on me, down on me; looks like everybody in this whole round world, they’re down on me.” Janis Joplin, Down On Me, 1967

Many years ago, the late and truly great Dennis O’Neil said that neither Bruce Wayne nor Batman had a sex life; he/they sublimated all such compulsions, folding them into the mission. Denny said that in the office that we shared, and, damn, it made sense to me. In fact, it explained a lot about the guy.

Mind you, as the writer or editor of a great, great many top-rank Batman stories over the course of five decades, I believe Denny knew more about what made Batman tick than Bruce Wayne ever could. However, this particular observation was not canonical. Bruce even fostered a son with his frenemy Talia al Ghul, and that child became the latest Robin — as of this writing, of course.

Let us now flash forward to the late summer of 2018 and the release of DC’s Black Label adults-only series, Batman – Damned. Created by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo, the story ran three issues. It was the first volume that upset some people, as it had the briefest glimpse of a small part of Bruce’s penis. To be fair, it really wasn’t enough to be perceived as salacious by anybody but the most pathetically repressed — not unlike Janet Jackson’s nipple which evidently blinded tens of thousands of small children who were watching the Super Bowl but were thinking of dinner.

Oh, yes: it also bothered the bean counters at DC/Warner Bros/WarnerMedia/AT&T/Lucky Charms or whatever the hell they were calling themselves that week. Bean counters are the most paranoid people in the media businesses; it’s in their job description. People made such a big deal of it that the Batwang was, well, overly circumcised in the digital editions and in later reprintings. The parent companies were so offended that the whole thing had an impact on several careers. The whole thing had a short shelf-life as the object of snickering jokes on late-night television.

O.K. So “Adults Only” in DCland doesn’t include, you know, adult stuff. Lesson learned. And lesson repeated this month.

For over a year, WarnerMedia (now called Warner Bros. Discovery, at least as of this writing) has had this very expensive streaming service called HBO Max. It’s got a lot of original material, and much of it is generated by DC comics properties. These shows are not G rated, nor are they PG. Sometimes there’s a fine line between R and X ratings, and a lot of HBO Max’s DC stuff inhabits that zip code. This pace was set in the first episode of their first series, Titans, where Dick Grayson (a.k.a. Robin the First) shouts “Fuck Batman!” Holy Wertham, Batfans! WTF??

Titans survived and the third season goes up in August. Their second show, The Doom Patrol, has had actual on-screen sex, with naughty bits and more about Brendon Fraser than you might want to know. Their other Batman related show, the adults-only animated series Harley Quinn, is the most adults-only of the bunch, and the third season is now in production. But at least one scene won’t be completed — the one where Batman has oral sex with Catwoman. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: No Lunch For Batman”

Brainiac On Banjo: Publish and Perish?

Brainiac On Banjo: Publish and Perish?

“I need you, but I hate to see you this way / If I were Superman then we’d fly away / I’d really like to change the world / And save it from the mess it’s in / I’m too weak, I’m so thin / I’d like to fly but I can’t even swim” — Ray Davies, (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman, 1979.

You might have heard the news. It’s been bombarding El Casa de Oro all week, and it’s been blitzing the interwebs to the point where I’m thinking of upgrading my dial-up. But just in case you’ve been away chasing after the Perseverance Rover, I’ll make my journalism teachers happy.

This past weekend, AT&T sold control and most of their ownership of their WarnerMedia division to Discovery Networks, owners of the many, many Discovery “cable” channels, HGTV, the Food Network, TLC, ID, Animal Planet, the Magnolia Network, and the Discovery+ streaming operation. They call this stuff “reality programming” but, as we all know, reality is in the mind of the beholder. As far as I’m concerned, that million-dollar vaccine lottery is the only reality show.

AT&T had only recently bought what they now call WarnerMedia — Warner Bros, CNN, HBO, Cinemax, the Cartoon Network, TCM, TBS, TNT, and a bunch of other stuff. If you can read the six-point type, you’ll discover they own some publishing as well, such as whatever is left of Mad Magazine and the meandering DC comics. Ma Bell went into so much debt to do this deal that, upon reading the report, King Midas reflexively picked his nose.

After acquiring that Denali of debt load, AT&T came down with a severe case of buyer’s remorse. I’m sure the stay-home-or-die principle that governed most thinking humans these past fourteen months did not help one bit, but it wasn’t a very good deal in the first place. After all, what does AT&T know about running the Home Insurance Building of media (sorry; “I.P.”) companies? Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: Publish and Perish?”

With Further Ado #144: Guest Column First Runner-Up – Insecure Made Me Confident

With Further Ado #144: Guest Column First Runner-Up – Insecure Made Me Confident

As we bring you some of the highlights of the writing assignments from my Ithaca College Promoting and Managing ITHACON class, this week is the first runner-up by Maya Lewis.

Maya’s column spoke to us from the a very emotional and introspective place. Some of the things that good media can do is promote introspection and inspiration. Maya found that in the HBO show Insecure. The way that she relates to the show and how it has affected her are what we are looking to promote here at Pop Culture Squad.

Insecure Made Me Confident

by Maya Lewis

Growing up, my mother was always against me watching copious amounts of television, to the point where she had me convinced that if I watched too much TV, I would lose brain cells. And I believed her, that was until I got older.

I started to find a comfort and joy from bingeing shows and fell in love with the feeling of immersing myself into the lives of different characters and their storylines, both emotionally and mentally. It was both therapeutic and freeing, and nothing compared to the feeling I felt, when I was able to recognize parts of myself within certain characters, allowing me to form a deeper connection with both them and the show itself. Unfortunately, this feeling did not occur often, as I rarely encountered shows that starred young black women as leads, who did not play into stereotypical tropes. However, this feeling changed during the summer of 2017 when I discovered Insecure, which is a comedy-drama television series set in Los Angeles and stars Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji, who plays her best friend, Molly. The show is centered around these two women, who are both in their late 20s, navigating through different aspects of their lives. Continue reading “With Further Ado #144: Guest Column First Runner-Up – Insecure Made Me Confident”

Snarky Six: Gorilla My Dreams

Snarky Six: Gorilla My Dreams

With Kong v Godzilla lighting up movie theaters real and virtual, it’s time to revisit that wonderful phenomenon, our gorilla-laden comic books.

The big apes have been a cultural force since staples started to bend and popcorn started to pop. I’m sure there have been thousands of doctoral theses written explaining why people are so attracted to our simian brethren, but I am certain about one thing: in the 1950s and 1960s, when you slapped a gorilla on the cover, you sold comic books.

By the time the Comics Code came into being, publishers were trying to cater to their horror-story-loving audience by deploying these colossus of sinew and fur as the Big Bad. Fine. But, just as those horror comics before them, things started to get kind of weird – particularly at DC Comics, and then, particularly when editor Julius Schwartz was involved. Here are six stunning examples of the form, each completely lacking in the type of realism that readers of the time demanded.

6. Tomahawk. As we began to realize the whole cowboys-and-Indians thing was exploitative, inaccurate and bigoted, Tomahawk — one of DC’s longer-lasting features — switched from chasing native Americans to protecting America from the evil British. It’s nice to see that by this time Tomahawk and his Rangers opened their ranks to the people they conquered. Obviously, when you’re taking on a gorilla so huge King Kong would cross his legs in shame you need all the help you can get.

5. Strange Adventures. I haven’t counted, but it’s possible that this particular s-f title had more gorilla covers than the Planet of the Apes. This one is my favorite, as it explains exactly why reading is, indeed, fundamental. I should point out that the covers to this Julie Schwartz title were by and large quite compelling. So compelling, in fact, that the actual stories rarely matched their impact.

4. Judge Dredd. The big ape thing was not just an American thing, to be sure, but in the world of Judge Dredd having a big ape Judge was just another day in Mega-City One. In fact, I’d say it was about as surprising as the sun coming up. Note that this guy is called “Judge Heston,” in tribute to the astronaut who inspired one of Jack Kirby’s best covers. Take a closer look and you will see the name “Heston” was engraved on the badge by, evidently, someone who’s penmanship was lacking in an opposable thumb. Evidently, Judge Heston had a thing for doing Batman-like poses.

3. Bizarro Titano. If all you know of Bizarro is the current not-well-defined Solomon Grundy pastiche, you’re missing out on “Tales of the Bizarro World,” one of the most unusual, bizarre, and clever volumes in the greater Superboy oeuvre. The original Bizarro was manufactured by a malfunctioning duplicator ray that was shined upon the Boy of Steel. Bizarro wasn’t an ape, but he sold comics during the JFK administration as though he was. Before long, there were Bizarros made of all the members of the Superman family and many of the members of the DCU at the time… not to mention a Bizarro Marilyn Monroe hanging out with a Bizarro-President Kennedy. God, those were good times. It wasn’t too long before Superman’s simian foe Titano got his own Bizarro doppelgänger. Fair is fair. Which leads me to…

2. The Real Titano. Talk about upping the ante: Not only was Titano a truly great ape, but he had Kryptonite rays beaming out of his eyes. This made Superman’s day all the more difficult. Like the original Superboy Bizarro story, Titano’s initial appearance ended quite nicely and in a laudable, humane fashion. But, as noted above, later somebody found that Bizarro duplicator ray. I loved this story, and I even remember where I was when I first read it

1. Grodd. There’s no contest (in my feeble brain, at least) that Gorilla Grodd is the most impressive ape in all comics gorilladom. He is one of the most evil of all the DC villains. He’s got one of the best backstories in all bad guy history, and his world (Gorilla City; I would have given it a more impressive name) is fully developed, fascinating, and fodder for many a good subsequent story. Grodd looked great in The Flash comics, and he looks even better on The Flash television series. In fact, he’s one of the three reasons I still watch that show. I don’t think he’s in next year’s movie (the one with several Batmans), but I’d hardly be surprised if he shows up. Just as long as you’re not sitting behind him at the theater.

Honorable Mention. There were plenty of gorilla covers in the pulp days. This particular one deserves notice because the name of the magazine is Zeppelin Stories and, therefore, the stories therein are built around zeppelins. Those things were to biplanes what King Kong is to Detective Chimp. So, yeah, that’s a gorilla hanging from the ladder hanging from the gasbag, which is why the story is called… “The Gorilla of the Gas Bags.”

I swear, if there’s just one more comic book in me and I can find the right publisher, it will have an absolute killer gorilla cover.

Thanks to my pal Marc Alan Fishman for unknowingly yielding me his snark space.