Category: TV Shows

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…)

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”

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.

With Further Ado #136: Look! Up in the Sky!

With Further Ado #136: Look! Up in the Sky!

As a kid in the mid-sixties, it was a big deal when there was going to be a new Superman show on TV.  Batmania had taken hold, and there was a ravenous hunger for more superhero stories. I loved the Justice League comic of the day, which had one dominant message for young readers – if you like Batman, he has a bunch of friends and you should buy their adventures too!

Filmation’s The New Adventures of Superman debuted on Saturday mornings, and it was a must-see. Never mind fellow-comic book alumni Casper on the opposite channel (although Secret Squirrel looked kinda cool). That was the show for me. Even though it was, in many ways, a retread of the old Superman radio show, we just knew these NEW adventures presented to best version of Superman ever! Continue reading “With Further Ado #136: Look! Up in the Sky!”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #069: Cobra Kai Has No Mercy… For My Love

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #069: Cobra Kai Has No Mercy… For My Love

I know I don’t write often much these days; the pandemic has a way of making me feel like time is both infinite and unending. Is that vague enough an excuse? Unlikely. But much like the fists flying in faces throughout Cobra Kai, the snake has awaken my desire to act once again here on Pop Culture Squad. Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #069: Cobra Kai Has No Mercy… For My Love”

Brainiac On Banjo #091: DC Universe … From Streaming To Sinking

Brainiac On Banjo #091: DC Universe … From Streaming To Sinking

As of this writing, which is 9 PM EDT Sunday July 12, the DC Universe streaming service is still alive. It’s home to some of the most entertaining superhero teevee programing around, in my opinion. I can’t speak for yours. But that thing coughing up blood all over your Wi-Fi is, sadly, the DC Universe streaming service. And it’s the fault of their own artistic success.

Aside from hospitals, the only place that has had a worse month than the DCU has been the White House. In fairly quick order, the service lost future first-run episodes of Stargirl to the CW, saw The Doom Patrol multicast on the pathetic HBO Max sinkhole, Harley Quinn also airing on Syfy and Canada’s Adult Swim, and is thought to be migrating to HBO Max as well. Titans remains, but might be severely undermined by DC’s new Gotham City Police show (not necessarily the final title) spinning out of The Batman movie the now filming in Europe.

Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #091: DC Universe … From Streaming To Sinking”

Brainiac On Banjo #089: Riddle Me This, Keaton!

Brainiac On Banjo #089: Riddle Me This, Keaton!

“I’ve seen the future and it will be / I’ve seen the future and it will be / BATMAN, BATMAN / I’ve seen the future and it will be / BATMAN / And where, and where … is the BATMAN?” – Batdance, written by Prince, 1989.

I enjoy going to comic book convention trivia panels when Mark Waid is on the dais. Not just because Mark knows almost everything, no matter how obscure, but because he is actually embarrassed that his knows minutiae as well as he knows trivia.

But this question might blow his brainpan right out his neck. Therefore, this Spoiler Warning is just for Mark Waid.

Question: Name all the different actors who have played the part of Bruce Wayne.

Follow-up questions: If he signs the new multi-picture deal, should Michael Keaton be counted twice? And will Bruce Wayne meet Adrian Toomes?  Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #089: Riddle Me This, Keaton!”