The movie that had the biggest impact on young, tow-headed me was of course Superman: The Movie, but they’ve talked about it before, and, as some of you may know, I’ve also talked about it before.
On other podcasts.
Like, a lot.
So I chose another, much cheesier movie that occupies a special place in my heart, and pants: 1981’s Clash of the Titans.
You can listen to the WBP episode to hear the hugely funny Cameron Esposito, Rhea Butcher and Ricky Carmona talk to me about this flick, but I wanted to use this space to provide a visual companion to one aspect of it I didn’t get around to discussing.
I speak, of course, of the film’s true and egregiously uncredited star. I refer to its white-hot emotional center, its lynchpin, its charismatic heart.
I speak, as you have likely guessed, of Harry Hamlin’s right nipple.
I call it Gary.
Early on in the film, Hamlin’s Perseus prances around in a loincloth. Both nipples are offered up to the audience’s lascivious gaze, as is only meet.
But once the plot kicks in, he must put aside his Blue-Lagoon chic and find him some more sensible adventurin’ couture. In this case, a plain toga:
Huh. That’s odd. Y’all have seen togas in swords-and-sandals epics before, right? They don’t … fit like that. They generally cover the whole torso, or most of it. But not here.
No: here, the fabric drops waaayy down below the pec, exposing his right nipple to the elements, and our ogles. This is ancient Joppa-by-way-of-Studio 54.
But wait .. he’s getting a costume change, dressing himself for his wedding. Surely he’ll … Ah.
… I see. Hello again, Gary. Good to see you. You’re looking well.
By this time in the film — about halfway through — I always find myself (me! a middle-aged gay dude who has put in his time and earned the RIGHT to perv!) incongruously thinking, “Dude. Harry. Do me a favor? Put that thing away. Seriously. I’m worried you’re gonna snag it on something. Just like maybe slap a sticker on it. Or, you got some masking tape and a coaster? Maybe that.”)
But no, Gary hangs out, balefully staring at us throughout the rest of the film, earning himself more screen time that Burgess Meredith, Laurence Olivier and fucking Bubo combined. He hangs in there all the way to the movie’s joyous, moistened end:
Now, I was a 12-year-old kid when I saw this in theaters. Lascivious thoughts didn’t occur to me — at least, not consciously. (At the time I’d taken to hanging out with the hottest kid in school while telling myself, and others, that the guy in question “has just got this CHARISMA, you know? You just wanna be around him. Hang out. Be his pal.”) (It would be years before I was able to acknowledge that there’d been other things I wanted to do with him, in addition to the above. Most of which involved our swimsuit areas.)
Regardless. This is OLD SKOOL Clash of the Titans, and it was a Movie That Made Me.
I leave you with this shot of Laurence Olivier’s Zeus, impatiently waiting for the shrooms to kick in at the Pink Floyd Laser Spectacular in the Anaheim House of Blues.
What I love about it is how it’s engineered to help you discover new books, by placing them all on a vast virtual table and letting your tastes and interests guide you as you filter through over 200 titles. Romance alongside poetry alongside science fiction alongside “literary” fiction alongside biography alongside comics.
Because a good book is a good book.
I contributed reviews, mostly of comics. Would have loved to have contributed more, always, but my book’s deadline is not as far away as I’d like to be. I’m happy that the new comics I’ve loved the most this year won’t be relegated to another “Best Comics” list, which many, many people in the NPR demo would blithely ignore.
If even one self-avowed non-comics person idly clicks on a review of Dash Shaw’s New School or Isabel Greenberg’s Encyclopedia of Early Earth because they’re among the books tagged as “Seriously Great Writing” (which they are) that’s one person who just might get blown away by a medium they’ve rejected. Because a good book …
Well. You know.
Here are the names of the people on the NPR Books and NewsApps teams who worked very, very hard on this. They are good eggs. The best of eggs.
Al Plastino, who died yesterday, was one of the most prolific and influential Superman artists in history. During his tenure in the 40s and 50s, he drew a clean-cut Man of Steel who looked a lot like the G.I.s who’d recently returned home to start families, don gray flannel suits, and like Ike.
Joe Shuster’s laughing-daredevil Superman had greeted the world with a grin so wide it squinted his eyes. Plastino drew Superman with a clear-eyed, baby-blue gaze of concern for us, his charges. He was America’s Dad.
Plastino drew the story that introduced Superman’s cousin Supergirl, and was a regular artist on lots of Superboy tales as well, so he drew his fair share of Krypto stories.
In Adventure #247, he introduced the Legion of Super-Heroes. (The issue’s iconic cover was drawn by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye.)
He designed the rocketship-tail Legion HQ, and introduced many of the the retro-future trappings that make these classic Legion tales so charming.
He also drew one of my personal favorite panels, in which Superboy, thinking he’s just been rejected for membership, goes all “CHOKE! SOB!” because 1958.
(Turns out, of course, that the Legion was just hazing him, because dicks.)
In Action #285 (February 1962), he presents his cousin Supergirl to the world. JFK greets her warmly. (“I know you’ll use your super-powers not only to fight crime, but to preserve peace in our troubled world!”)
In Action #309 (February 1964) — the issue that was still on many newsstand shelves when Kennedy was killed on November 22, 1963 — Superman got him self in a tight spot. A live television show honoring the Man of Steel requires Superman and Clark Kent to share the stage at the same time. The Man of Tomorrow appeals to the leader of the free world for help, and POTUS agrees to don a rubber Clark Kent mask and glasses to pass himself off as Superman’s alter ego.
"I knew I wasn’t risking my secret identity with you!” a beaming Superman confides. “After all, if I can’t trust the President of the United States, who can I trust?” 1963, ladies and gentlemen.
Kennedy was originally scheduled to make a third appearance just two months later in Superman #168 (April 1964), in a story promoting the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Yet in the wake of the assassination, the story was pulled and replaced with another “Luthor, Hero of Lexo” story.
The letters page scheduled for that issue was pulled as well and replaced with an In Memoriam by editor Mort Weisinger, which featured a clipping from the New York Times about the planned story.
Later, President Lyndon Johnson contacted the DC offices and urged that the story see print; the Kennedy family concurred. Lacking Curt Swan’s original art, however — which had, in fact, been donated to the Kennedy estate — Al Plastino stepped in to redraw the story. The Kennedy tale, looking a good deal more rushed and crudely drawn than Plastino’s coolly controlled norm, finally appeared as the lead story of Superman #170 (July 1964). DC felt it best not to picture Kennedy on the issue’s cover, opting instead to feature an Imaginary Story that explored what would happen if Luthor were Superman’s father.
— Adapted from Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, Chapter 6: “Not a Dream! Not a Hoax! Not an Imaginary Story!”, pp.132-3.
Here’s an awesome piece that Jordan Morris wrote for Bullseye. He’s been hosting, and he’s really been kicking ass.
The Outshot: Superman For All Seasons
Growing up, I never got what people liked about Superman. I was into the high drama of the Uncanny X-men. I loved the heavy metal style of Spawn. But Superman? Superman was just… boring. He’s unconditionally virtuous. He always does the right thing. He’s Ned Flanders with heat vision.
But these days I feel differently. The story that changed my tune was Superman for All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.
Superman stories tend to drop the blue guy into genre pieces. He’s a sci-fi hero. He’s a detective. Sometimes he’s meet cute-ing in a romantic comedy. Superman for All Seasons is different. It’s a simple coming of age story. Our hero grows up in Smallville, feeling different. Then he moves to the big city to try and make a name for himself. Simple.
Ach… okay… there’s also a nuclear submarine, and flying robots and a villainess in a bustier who has a poison gun… it’s still a comic book. But relatively speaking? Simple. Classic.
The art style owes a lot to Norman Rockwell. He’s even thanked at the top of the book. And they’re not using Rockwell for ironic effect. It’s not David Lynch, exposing the darkness behind America’s white picket fences. They’re using the Rockwell style to tell a story that’s beautiful and emotional… and… I mean this in the best possible way… All American.
There’s one panel that made me get Superman in an instant, after a lifetime of trying to figure out what the big deal was. A tornado hits Smallville. Superman saves the day. Ma and Pa Kent are singing his praises and he says to them… “I could have done more.” That’s what makes Superman interesting. He always thinks “I could have done more.”
Really, don’t we all think that? Like, a lot? We’ve all got some kind of powers - time, money, skills - and I really think most of us try and use them for good. But no matter how much we’re doing, there’s always a voice telling us we should be volunteering, spending more time with our families, writing that screenplay, picking up that musical instrument we haven’t touched since high school.
It’s not really a book for younger kids. It’s light on action and it maybe gets a little corny… several scenes literally take place in a malt shop. But its perfect for someone just finishing high school, or maybe about to leave for college or starting a job.
It drives home a wonderful point. We can behave virtuously. We can succeed. But we still might feel a little sad. And that’s okay.
That feeling of wanting to do more is part of what makes a hero.
Paul F. Tompkins' new show on Fusion is pretty great if you haven't seen it yet or got around to getting Fusion on your TV.
Basically, Tompkins discusses big time issues with puppets (i.e. immigration reform with an alien puppet) and there are a few clips of it to watch at Fusion.net that you should absolutely watch right now.
Yerd Nerp is the sensational character find of 2013. Mark my words. MARK THEM.
"In an essay written for the girlie magazine Knight later collected in his 1971 book All the Myriad Ways, science fiction writer Larry Niven humorously and graphically tackled a question that had been asked only privately, sniggeringly, in the backs of school buses and the occasional punchy/tipsy/raunchy editorial meeting: What about sex?
What would happen if invulnerable, super-strong Superman ever did get his super-freak on with the very human, and thus comparatively fragile, Lois Lane? The answer, as far as Niven was concerned, was so obvious he made it the title of his essay on the topic: ‘Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex.’
The essay details Niven’s (remarkably thorough) theories about the problematic nature of Krypto-terrestrial coitus, the difficulties of artificial Super-insemination (‘We may reasonably assume that kryptonian sperm … are capable of translight velocities.’) and possible solutions (expose the sperm to gold kryptonite!) and ponders whether, if the fetus uses X-ray vision, it would render Lois sterile. The ultimate answer to the question of super-fetus gestation — having Superman carry the fetus inside his own invulnerable abdomen — is presented as a QED.
The gag, of course, is the deadpan, painstaking manner with which Niven lays out his thought process. This is where you end up if you take this stuff too seriously, he seems to say: killer sperm from outer space.
Looking back on Niven’s comic essay today, it’s impossible to see it as anything but a chilling harbinger of the high-level, weapons-grade nerdery that will seize comics in the decades that followed. All too soon, legions of fans and creators would adopt Niven’s let’s-pin-this-to-the-specimen-board approach and proceed to leach humor and whimsy and good old-fashioned, Beppo the Super-Monkey-level goofiness out of superhero comics, leaving in their place a punishing, joyless, nihilistic grittiness.”
— From Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, Chapter 7 “Kryptonite Nevermore! Briefly! (1970-1977), pp. 153-4.
Rob Kelly asked me to contribute an essay to the new anthology, Hey Kids, Comics! True-Life Tales from the Spinner Rack.
Just got my copy; I’m in there alongside other, better, smarter writers who’ve created many of the stories I grew up on — Bob Greenberger, Sholly Fisch, Steve Skeates, JM DeMatteis, Steve Englehart, Paul Kupperberg, Javier Hernandez — as well as other writers and critics I read online every day. Tremendously flattering.
Reading different people’s first brush with comics is interesting, as these widely varied individual experiences turn out to have a hell of a lot in common: the grubby magazine shop, the screech of the spinner rack itself, the early preference for DC’s Manichean worldview that gives way to an appreciation of Marvel’s hormonal melodrama.
Think about picking it up, if any of the above sounds remotely interesting.
After the jump, a brief excerpt from my essay, “Of Sand, Sea-Nettles and Surplus Furniture: My Secret Origin.”
I figured that was it. It was, after all, just one joke — a weirdly specific one, granted, with its “(Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome +Lovecraft + Whatever Meager Scraps of 11th Grade Civics Class I Could Scrape from my Hippocampus) = KOMEDY JOKE” structure — but still, it was just the one joke, over and over.
That’s more or less what I told people who asked if I’d dust it off last December, when a federal budget shortfall or whatever threatened. There just wasn’t any juice left in it.
But then last week, another government shutdown threatened. And I found myself in a dayjob SEO meeting, a thing that leaches light and hope and joy from the world. In desperation, I got on my old dead horse and beat it so hard it turned to glue.
But I did want to challenge myself. I also wanted to cop to the fact that I was shamelessly milking the original. So I decided to make the #duringthegovernmentshutdown hashtag even stupidly longer, and test drove a few options in my head:
(No, I did NOT consider #duringthegovernmentshutdown2electricboogaloo, thank you VERY much, Mr. Hacky McHackery of Hacktown, Hacksylvania.)
Settled on #duringthegovernment2piginthecity. Because it was the shortest. And because Babe 2 is hell of a lot of fun.
I’d effectively chopped my available space for japery down to 90 or so characters. It was not easy. The tone of the dumb thing depends in part on archaic words and syntax, which are not ideally suited to Twitter. Over and over again, I had to completely rephrase the joke, or lose it entirely. In more than a few cases, I made compromises that still rankle.
Losing definite articles, for example: “The Were-Hares take Warren Buffet’s corpse …”, is, I avow, an objectively and implicitly funnier phrasing than “Were-hares take Warren Buffet’s corpse….” Can’t tell you why. Just is.
I started it up again on Thursday the 26th, thinking the shutdown would be averted and I could stop when a compromise was reached in a day or two, as in 2011.
But the bastards blew it up. So I kept going.
I resolved to stop once the actual shutdown occurred at 12:01 a.m. on October 1st. Because once basic, vital services stop reaching the people that need them, the whole notion of shutdown gets a lot less funny.
I should have started later. Really thought they’d compromise, and I wouldn’t have to keep it going for FIVE DAMN DAYS.
Easily the most RT’d/Fav’d one was the zombie/Bikeshare one, followed by the cupcake one. I came VERY close to deleted each one before Tweeting it, figuring they were both tired references (zombies? cupcakes? still?).
SO, THIS IS ALL JUST RIPPING OFF WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE, RIGHT?
Lookit: I love Welcome to Night Vale. I have proselytized for Welcome to Night Vale. The writing on that show is crystalline, perfect. But, you know, they didn’t patent the Lovecraft joke. Nor did I, back in 2011. So back off, sonny. Next question.
ANY YOU’RE PARTICULARLY PROUD OF?
"Proud" is the wrong word to use when the subject is dumb Twitter jokes. But the Tarot one, I sort of like. Air & Space. Merpeople. Patrick Leahy. The cabs vs. Uber one is funny to me, and me only, and allowed me to make a Mister T reference, because as seen above, I got my finger on the pulse of the today’s hip, happening youth.
ANY YOU’D TAKE BACK?
I didn’t love going back to the White House organic garden twice. I really did try not to cover the exact same ground as before. For example, I consciously avoided use of the word “fleshpit,” though I love it a lot and it’s ideally suited to this endeavor, because I’d used it back in 2011.
Here they are, after the jump, in their dumb entirety: five days’ worth of my sweaty attempts at mirth, in the order I Tweeted them. If you followed my feed during all this, thank you. You are good people. If you unfollowed, know that I get it. And that you can come back now, because normal service (fish puns and dad jokes and shameless promotion of my book, SUPERMAN: THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY, which I wrote, which is a book you should totally buy) has returned.