Friday, May 21, 2010

Empire Strikes Back - 30 Year Anniversary

ChronSnob reminds me its been 30 years since the release of Empire Strikes Back.

Arguably the best of the 6 Star Wars movies and the best 2 hours or so of the infinite amount of Star Wars expanded universe stuff out there, the movie was released, apparently, shortly after I turned 5.

I do remember seeing this movie in the theater. I'd seen Star Wars at least twice prior, had the figures, the wall paper, the bed spread, the storybooks, etc... Star Wars was very much a part of my daily life. It was also the first movie I'd seen that was set up for a sequel, and on an oddly positive note for a movie where a hero had just been frozen and sold, another dismembered and where Billy Dee Williams had just lost his job.

It also featured Princess Leia at her most fetching in her snow bunny suit, trading barbs with Han Solo in the guts of a worm. If my expectations of how I might meet the right girl were a bit off, there's one more thing you can blame on Lucas.

Oh, to be trapped in the belly of a terrifying giant space worm with Princess Leia...

I am not as hard on Lucas for Return of the Jedi as my colleagues. As a 2nd grader, I really liked the Ewoks, but even then I knew that Empire was somehow the better movie, and certainly the one most concerned with character. Not to mention the set pieces were just cooler, from Hoth to Dagobah to Bespin. And somehow, at age 5, the lightsaber battle on the weather vane, Luke's rescue and the escape of our heroes seemed positively transcendent when I first saw the movie. It was one hell of a ride.

At this point, I have no idea how many dozen times I've seen Empire (as we cool kids called it), but like all of my generation, I raise a toast to the mightiest of all the Star Wars films, and to all the awesome toys it brought to my toybox when I was 5.

I totally had the probe droid playset with ion cannon, the wampa and my own tauntaun. The action figure of Leia never did her justice.

Weekly Watch Wind 05/21/2010

Superman: The Importance of Superman's Cape.

I had capes growing up. I confess I have a couple of capes now. I don't wear them, but I own them. Well... maybe I wear them sometimes.

Comics/ Comics Culture: There's a weekly installment at Robot 6 called "Send Us Your Shelf Porn" which fetishizes expansive comics collections. Some of these posts are lame, most are truly awesome. Including this week's installment. I often ponder sending in photos of The Fortress, but I think I would post them at this site, instead.

Television/ Dames: gives a twenty-five count rundown of the women of Lost. It's no secret I'm a Juliet man, so I found the list the most comprehensive and well-considered of its kind. Thanks to Nathan for the link.

Technology/ Comics: I like IDW as a publisher. They get interesting licenses. They produce good original content. They seem like a fair company. They are now making comics available for the Blackberry.

Look, even I think my Blackberry kind of sucks. I can barely tolerate playing "Brickbreaker" on the thing when I'm waiting in line. Nice thinking, but, no...

Funny: Your favorite movies in the style of Little Golden Books.

Music/ Videos: For Jamie. The top Blur music videos.

Television/ Why?: Someone has decided to remake Hawaii 5-0. I was never a big fan of the original, except for the theme song, so... yeah. I don't know. Look at it yourself. And on that Grace Park? Clean thoughts, chum.

Comics/ Manga: DC Comics, who gamely tried to bring European comics to America with their Humanoids project in the mid 00's, and who tried to publish Manga in the US under the CMX line has closed up shop on CMX.

A lot of manga fans are going to be outraged by this move, but one thing with DC: you know it was a hard dollars calculation. Obviously the numbers weren't there to support the imprint.

This will likely get me flamed by Manga fans but... when reading the material from illegal scans is part of the culture, there's no profitable business model. This shouldn't bother you if fans keep translating and posting, but its still illegal. We here at The Signal Watch are law abiding citizens.

I am sad the line didn't work out, but am I shocked? If DC didn't find itself a "Naruto" by this point, and Manga wasn't making inroads to better licensing opportunities the way their mainstream stable seems to be, I am not too surprised that they shuttered the thing.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Superman: Earth One

From time to time, folks will ask me what comics they should read in order to get to know Superman. That's a tough question as Superman has such a lengthy, undeniably contiguous history since the first issue of Action Comics, that despite the fact we all know about Superman, the origin stories are now mostly either outdated, out of continuity, tied to a continuity (see the recent "Secret Origins") or possibly a bit tough to crack.

In Summer 2010, DC will release an original graphic novel entitled "Superman: Earth One", written by J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by Shane Davis. The story supposes that Superman is appearing for the first time in the modern age, with much of his standard cast, the Daily Planet, etc... but everything else is new and fresh.

If you're curious about the early days of Superman (not Smallville, but SUPERMAN), this book may be your magic bullet. As a contained graphic novel, I sincerely hope that the book gets some traction in the book market. If nothing else, Superman's origin story is now a slice of Americana, but continually renewable.

This week Newsarama posted some pencils by artist Shane Davis, along with an interview. I like it. Lois, Jimmy, and Shane Davis's stellar linework on a very Routh-ish Superman.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Superman, Jimmy Olsen and Lady Gaga = Signal Watch

This cartoon was not inspired by this blog, but it was inspired by Jimmy Olsen, his signal watch, Superman and the Great Lady Gaga.

In the end, aren't we all a little inspired by Superman, Jimmy Olsen and Lady Gaga?

Click here.

Special thanks to Alan N. (who I believe is a Houston kid), for sending me this link!

Why I Think Superman is Cool - A Guest Post by CanadianSimon

Hey, Signal Corps! As I mentioned, I'm out of pocket for a few days. In the meantime, CanadianSimon has sent along a post. And its not just Superman related (always a plus), its also a very personal piece.

I haven't done too many Guest Posts, but if this works out (and I think Simon's post worked out very well), we could make this a recurring feature. Please comment, be nice, and I'll be back next week.

Without further ado, here's Simon's post:

It has been said that comics are one of the two forms of art created in America, the second being Jazz, but where did the idea for these costumed super heroes come from? Surely the idea for space aliens, magic wish fulfillment rings and scientists who transform into monsters must be original in nature. As we all know, there are no new ideas. Rather today's comic book super heroes have their roots firmly planted in the mythos of the past. In the case of Ryan's favourite hero, Superman, we will see that the inspiration for this character goes back well over 3000 years.

Anecdotally I think a lot of people associate Superman with Jesus Christ. Even the Wachoski brothers make allusions to this in the Matrix trilogy where Neo, played by Keaneau Reeves,the series Christ like figure is purposefully given a costume the ripples like Superman's cape in the second and third movies. While Neo, Superman and Christ are all messiah figures, Superman was not based on Christ.

You see messiah is a very old term which means anointed. Typically it is used to describe a leader anointed by God. I doubt that two young men of Jewish decent, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, intended for Superman to be a metaphor for Jesus. Instead they were thinking just a bit farther back in the old testament, or Torah, of Moses. Both Moses and Superman follow the Talmudic injunction where you shall do good for goods sake. Can you imagine a being of Superman's immense power? Why would he bother to help out us puny humans unless he was truly anointed by God.

If you remember the story of Moses the only way that his family thought he could be saved was by letting him be adopted. At the time the Pharaoh had instructed that male Hebrew children would be killed by drowning in the Nile. His family put him a basket a sailed him down the river Nile where he was found and adopted by the daughter of the Pharaoh. Moses went on to be a great leader of men.

This is very much like Superman's origin where Jor-el and Lara put him into a rocket ship and sent him to earth where he was adopted by the Kent's. Of course the destruction of Krypton basically wiped out the entire population of Krypton which is different than what was happening to Hebrew children during Moses time but it does mirror the sentiment that American Jews were feeling as the holocaust was happening in Europe. One might also point out the similarities of Superman's flight to Earth with that of Jewish children being sent away from Germany, Austria, Poland in the Kindertransport in the months leading up to World War II.

Additionally the name "Superman" or Übermensch was originally coined by Friedrich Nietzsche in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The Nazi party of Germany co-opted the term of Ubermensch during World War II. In turned this caused Jerry Siegel to create a villainous character modelled after the Nietzsche ideal man. Later Joe Shuster suggested creating a hero with the name of Superman partly to tweak the nose of the Nazis.

Adoption also plays a major part in Superman's story. He yearns to discover his true identity and to become connected to this world. No matter what he does he never truly fits in because he is an alien. In comics Superman is an alien from another planet but that is more of an allegory for the alienation that adopted children feel. As an adopted child I can sympathize with him on this point. I have the most wonderful adopted parents who rival Ma and Pa Kent for the amazing upbringing and opportunities they have given me. However, sometimes I wonder about the who, the what and the why of my birth parents so I identify strongly with Superman's search for identity. Note: I've never tried to find out or ask about my birth parents and I probably never will. I just don't need that information to be happy but the wondering is still there lurking waiting to jump out at me when I'm feeling scared or alone.

So while some people may think that Superman can be a lame character the core ideas put into this fictional creation are extremely strong. He was based on Moses. He was intended to be something for Jewish children to look up to. He was always supposed to be fighting the Nazi's even though the comic company would not let him do so until after America entered World War II. Finally he is a role model for adopted children everywhere.

That is why Superman is cool to me.

Thanks so much, Simon!

I sincerely appreciate Simon stepping in to help out, and I hope we can have other, similar fill-in columns in the future.

Simon doesn't just leave comments on strange Texan comic geeks' blogs. He's a writer, developer and consumer of coffee. You can read CanadianSimon's blog at

Monday, May 17, 2010

Low Content Week

Hey, Signal Corps!

The next week of my life is going to be fairly hectic. I'm not just suggesting I might not get the chance to post, I am roughly 100% positive our content output will drop to about 10% this week.

Unfortunately, I didn't make time to get some posts in queue for my week away.

We're still taking guest posts, so please feel free to send those our way.

Dames to Watch Out For: Ursa in Superman 1 and 2

Our lady of the hour, Ursa, as played by Sarah Douglas

Until very recently, the character or Ursa had never appeared in the Superman comics. If you were a kid and able to get to the movies around 1980, its likely you remember Ursa as the escaped Phantom Zone criminal, condemned to a living death for all eternity at the opening of Superman: The Movie, and who wreaked havoc on Earth in Superman II as the ruthless triggerman for the tyrannical General Zod.

Kryptonian technology is based almost entirely around hoola-hoops and klieg lights.

The character of Ursa from the film would most likely find her counterpart in Faora Hu-Ul, who did work a bit with General Zod and Jax-Ur in the comics. I kind of like when Faora appears in a back issue. She's one ruthless villain, and I imagine the DC writers (like creator Cary Bates) had fun getting to write the character.

In the first two Superman films, Ursa is played by the lovely Sarah Douglas. Douglas would go on to be featured in several projects such as Conan the Destroyer, Solarbabies, The Return of the Swamp Thing, and many TV shows. She has also loaned her voice to several superhero related animated projects, including the terrific 90's-era Superman cartoon, where she played Phantom Zone convict, Mala.

A totally different take on "She's the Sheriff"

It must have been a kick to play Zod, Ursa and Non on the sets of Superman 1 and 2 (although Jack O'Halloran who played Non clearly did not enjoy the shift when Donner was fired off Superman 2, and the producers hired Richard Lester to complete the movie). Ursa seems most taken with the newfound powers of the Phantom Zone criminals, openly delighted with the powers and the ability to raise all holy hell across North America, whether its arm-wrestling a local red neck through the table, or taking a badge off the chest of a trembling police officer and adding it to her own outfit.

Ursa reheats her letfovers from Popeyes Chicken. Always a favorite of Kryptonians.

My memories of seeing Superman: The Movie in the theater is primarily a hazy recollection of how excited I was after the movie, but I actually do remember seeing Superman II. It was unusual for a movie to feature a female villain who did much but tried to seduce a hero and/ or give the hero's love interest a hard time. True to form, during the climax, Ursa is assigned to Lois-wrangling duty (no mean feat), and is ultimately dispatched by Superman's girlfriend, who declares the mass-murderer of two planets a "pain in the neck".

While plainly evil and likely to snap your neck like a twig, one can't help but appreciate Ursa's moxie. She's clearly the stone-cold-killer of the triumvirate, and unlike Zod, seems more interested in small-scale havoc and terror than ruling anyone in particular. Yet, she makes a shiny black jumpsuit work, and she isn't afraid to throw a high kick in heels.


She's the one tossing manhole covers at Superman's breadbasket, blowing kisses that knock over cars, and calling "Sooper-Man!" before taking her best shot at The Man of Steel from her sneak attack location.

Following the events of Superman 2, her partnership with Zod a failure and her powers removed by the red radiation in the Fortress of Solitude, Ursa would join and ultimately front British-goth-punk outfit "The Banshees" under the name "Siouxsie Sioux".

Ursa considers killing every single person in the crowd for not showing her proper deference.

In 2006, former Richard Donner intern Geoff Johns took over as writer on the Superman comic "Action Comics", and wasted no time in bringing a version of Zod, Non and Ursa to the comics. The characters are based very closely upon the Superman 1 and 2 characters, with an expanded background and role in the comics.

No more shiny black jumpsuit for our space-crook

So we say huzzah for Sarah Douglas as Ursa. She set a new standard for ass-kicking villainy from here to Krypton.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A&W Rootbeer BBQ Sauce Taste Test: With 100% More PaulT!

Click over to Troubles McSteans for the 3rd in our series of soda-flavored taste tests!

This time, we involve PaulT and his partner in crime, The Lovely Erintm.

It's the last soda BBQ taste test, but thanks to Randy, we now have a new bacon-riffic taste test ahead of us.