Friday, April 19, 2013

Supermarathon Update: The Fleischer Cartoons

On Wednesday night I watched some of the Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons from 1941 and 1942.

TitleRelease dateNote
Superman (a.k.a. The Mad Scientist)September 26, 1941The short film Superman is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
The Mechanical MonstersNovember 28, 1941The short film The Mechanical Monsters is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
Billion Dollar LimitedJanuary 9, 1942The short film Billion Dollar Limited is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
The Arctic GiantFebruary 27, 1942The short film The Arctic Giant is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
The BulleteersMarch 27, 1942The short film The Bulleteers is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
-lifted straight from Wikipedia

There's a lot more to go, and I'll watch a few more before I'm done with the Fleischer/ Famous Studios Superman cartoons.

If you're a Superman fan in any capacity, these early Superman cartoons are must viewing.  You have to remember these played in movie houses that might have seen Superman in a comic book, but had never really seen stuff quite like this animated - and it's so amazingly well crafted, it's hard to imagine something like this being made again even today.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

We saw Birdemic 2 in Austin (and it was awesome!)

This evening Jamie and I drove up to the Alamo LakeCreek to catch the second installment in your favorite franchise and mine, Birdemic II: The Resurrection.

Two feet inside the door of the theater I spied my favorite director, and...

you people have no idea how excited I was here

James Nguyen does not pass up the chance to get his picture taken with a good looking dame:

Jamie and The Master of the Romantic Thriller

The movie stars...  well, an absolutely startling amount of the cast from the first Birdemic film.  Kudos to Nguyen for getting the band back together.

I've seen Birdemic: Shock and Terror somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 times, I own the BluRay, and I bought Damien Carter's single "Hangin' Out With My Family" on iTunes.  I'm a fan.

On the Event of Superman's 75th Anniversary

Today is, reportedly, the 75th anniversary of the debut of Action Comics #1.  75 years ago, Superman appeared on the cover of a comic book and, within a couple of months, had already risen to pop-culture superstardom.  By World War II, he had become a staple of Americana and - while Superman didn't invent the idea of the costumed hero, the science-fiction hero, or the altruistic do-gooder, he managed to put a distinct stamp on all of those ideas in one place - and has been endlessly imitated ever since.

In his first issue, all we knew was that Superman was a refugee of a doomed planet who arrived here as a baby.  There was no Jonathan and Martha Kent.  No Jor-El or Lara.  No Daily Planet (Clark landed a job at the Daily Star working for "Editor", I believe).  Just Lois, Clark, Superman and a whole lot of action.  And, man, Lois is a tough dame in that first issue.  No wonder Superman fell hard for her.

There are too many good books out there that talk about Superman's origins as a product of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for me to try to recreate the story here.  But they were down on their luck 20-somethings (not the teen-agers that are described to have just had Superman pop into their heads one night) when they sold the property to a struggling publisher who was soon outmaneuvered by some smooth operators.  I don't want to dwell too much on the fate of Siegel and Shuster, that's been fought out in the courts for five decades.  But their creation was not just one of the moment, but one of the past, the present and a limitless future, the likes of which we'd only ever seen in a few American fictional characters, from Ichabod Crane to Huckleberry Finn.  And this one arrived in a splash of color, crude drawings and an insurmountable flash of power.

Superman is an amalgamation of a dozen or so pulp literature ideas, some stolen outright from big names like Doc Savage, some from lesser known sources like the novel Gladiator.  Many find biblical aspects in his origins or in the perceived saintly selflessness of his actions (an interesting idea given Superman's varying presentations over the years).

I would argue that most people* don't really know anything about Superman, but everyone believes they know all you need to know.  A lot of folks can dismiss what they don't know as unimportant, thanks to the character's comic book roots, while ignoring the fact that Superman has been a huge part of every major media revolution.  You see people ascribe characteristics and virtues to the character based on a glance and some half-remembered bits from a movie they haven't seen in decades.  Others demonize those same virtues as old fashioned or out of touch, without ever deconstructing what it means to declare a desire for a more just world, to protect those who can't protect themselves as irrelevant in the modern context.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Taking a night - blast in West, Texas

Man, this week.

As you may have heard, there has been an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, a town Texans are familiar with as its on the I-35 corridor between Austin and Dallas, and home to the locally famous Czech Stop (we have a long history of Czech communities in Texas).

As of now, reports are coming in that there are over one-hundred injured and possibly dozens dead.

Red Cross and emergency crews are headed to West from all over.  Twitter-pal Ruiz mentioned he knows his workplace sent crews to the scene.

This was a terrible accident, and not the insanity of the Boston bombings, but it's damaged a huge part of a town here in Texas.  Obviously.

We're going to take a pass on blogging further tonight.

Richard LeParmentier Merges with The Force

I don't attend many signings, but a few years back I had opportunity to meet actor Richard LeParmentier when he was in town and Austin Books and Comics held a "Star Wars Day" in his honor.

It was a total circus.  Turns out, people like Star Wars and getting to meet Admiral Motti.

Mr. LeParmentier was very gracious, and signed a photo of himself that I keep on my desk at work.

your blogger, sorely in need of a haircut, and Mr. LeParmentier
You can kind of see the picture in my hand there.  It's a picture of LeParmentier in his classic role as Admiral Motti in Episode IV who questions Vader's devotion to the force and gets force-choked until Grand Moff Tarkin puts a stop to it.

He even drew a square on the Death Star with an arrow and note that says "my office".  It cracks me up every time I look at it.

I keep the picture on my desk facing whomever sits across from me, but in the years since, not once has anyone gotten the subtext.  It's a disappointment.

As Mr. LeParmentier was so nice to me and is one of the few folks I've had opportunity to meet, I am even more saddened to hear of his passing.  I'm even more sad to hear that, reading this article, that he lived in here in Austin or his children reside here, according to the ABC article.  I had no idea.

Godspeed, sir.  It was a pleasure and honor to shake your hand.

Pat Summerall Merges with The Infinite


Pat Summerall, the calm voice of commentary on CBS and Fox football, has passed.

Summerall retired a few years ago (several years ago now, I guess), and he only popped up very occasionally.  But for folks my age, he and John Madden were a sort of omnipresent twosome on in the Fall, and a fixture of Thanksgiving games.  Really, John Madden is clearly legally insane, and it was always the calm voice of Summerall that made the games make any sense or have any cohesion.

He, Costas and Al Michaels have been some of my favorite sports broadcasters over the years and I'll miss him.

Summerall and Madden

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Planning The Super-Marathon - a list of things we'll be watching!

Leading up to the release of Warner Bros. Man of Steel, expect this blog to become all the more Super-Centric.

If I could watch all of the Harry Potter movies again before catching the final installment, and watch all the Avengers movies leading up to Whedon's Avengers, I think I owe it to myself, to you, and to the world to watch just a whole ton of Superman media leading up to the film's release.

I am going to go chronological, and if you want to play along at home, I'll try to keep you up to speed with what I'm watching.

Also, I am not averse to having screenings where folks can come over and join me if they're in the Austin area, but time is of the essence.  We can't really dilly-dally while you try to find a date that works for you.  We've got, like, 100 hours of media to watch before the movie kicks off.*

The Fleischer cartoons

I figure three or four ought to do it.  These cartoons are groundbreaking for the era and hold up remarkably well today.  Superman still can't fly in most of them, but he's a heck of a lot of fun as the squinty-eyed, devil-may-care action ace who is always two steps behind Lois's nose for news.

Superman (aka: The Mad Scientist)
The Mechanical Monsters
Terror on the Midway 
The Underground World

We'll see, I'll probably watch all of them peppered in with other items.

The Serials

Live action (except for flying scenes), these serials are good, clean fun with a very young Noel Neill and the affable Kirk Alyn playing a less lantern-jawed Superman.

At minimum, it seems necessary to catch the first two episodes
Superman Comes to Earth (in which his parents are Eben and Sarah, I believe)
Depths of the Earth

New Man of Steel Trailer Arrives

It seems that the DNA of Richard Donner's Superman is stronger than you'd think.  For a movie that was to be bringing a new Superman to the world, there's certainly no small amount of the epic, world spanning vision Donner's Superman brought to the screen for the first time.  Not to mention that it was really Donner and Co. who brought Zod to prominence (he'd not even been the primary Kryptonian villain in the comics, that was Jax-Ur).  And there's definitely no small amount of what I recall from the Johns/ Donner penned issues of Action Comics from 2006-ish to what I'm picking up to be the plot.

All that said, I'm pleased.  I may miss the red trunks, but I think Cavill seems to have this down.  The footage looks spectacular, and (sigh) Amy Adams seems to be a new twist on Lois Lane.

I've heard say folks suggest that Superman doesn't need his origin retold for a new Superman movie, and I tend to disagree.  The origin has to work for modern audiences, and, more than anything, I think kids need to see the origin in a language they work in already - these days, that's big, loud, epic movies.

Well, no joke, I'm in.  Still looking at this with one squinted, skeptical eye as I remember whose name is attached as director, but you never know.

Oh, and, by the way, if that's Hans Zimmer's score, I approve.

Monday, April 15, 2013

With Boston, With Us All

My former co-worker and pal, Octavio, ran in the Boston Marathon today.  It was how I found out anything was happening.  His message on facebook basically read "Not sure what happened at the finish line, but Johanna and I are okay."

And I am grateful that the first thing I knew about what was happening in Boston was that despite the fact that something clearly very bad had happened (and I understood the scale within a minute or two), the one person I knew who could have been right there was all right.

Like all of you, I spent the afternoon trying to work, but really checking news sites and social media, wincing a bit at the folks who clearly came on line to post and had no idea what was happening in the world as they did so.  It's a forgivable faux pas in 2013, and I'm not sure that the fact that we've seen it before makes me feel better.

I scrolled through quotes from Mr. Rogers and the other messages shared on Facebook over and over, or retweeted on the twitters until it became an echo chamber.  In any other case, it might be one of those things that drives you nuts, but here, today, it's psychic armor.

We're learning, too.

Folks out there in the social media reminded each other not to let the media's early reports rush us like cattle into those narrow chutes of narrative.  And somehow we agreed it was all right to not have answers immediately.

We're getting good at this, and I'm not sure that's ideal, but it's better than the talking heads and the pointing fingers (pointing the finger of blame for our karmic retribution seems remote and archaic).  Since we saw the Federal building smoldering in Oklahoma City, us Gen Xers have known the feeling in the pit of our stomachs that our parents knew from the assassinations and disasters we saw in movies and read about in class.  These days, all of us know how to brace ourselves as cable news goes berserk, the internet lights up and, in the first 24 hours, stories pretending to be facts get passed in front of us like a shell game.

We know the score.  Maybe not exactly when it happens in our doorway, but we know it when it when the push alerts come though, the emails arrive and that casual look at a headline stops us in our tracks.  

Whether for political reasons or otherwise, the cowardice and cruelty of the bombing is infused with the self-absorbed fantasies of the men who've flown planes into buildings, shot up elementary schools and movie theaters, delivered by someone believing themselves a protagonist in a delusional narrative who honestly believes that somehow the murder of innocent people fulfills some story in their head in which they are a hero.

It doesn't matter what the perpetrator believed they were achieving - they failed.  What I saw were police literally running into action, paramedics and doctors who signed up for the marathon who thought they might get case of dehydration during the race finding themselves in an unthinkable situation, demonstrating what it means to have decency and courage.  Athletes who went from running 26 miles to donate blood.  Bystanders leaping into action to assist the wounded.  People opening their homes to take in those who were stranded.

Tonight, baseball was played.  People carried on.  We might have a few months of some folks who have second thoughts about joining crowds in public, bags taken into a stadium might get a second look, or we might have a few new procedures for security to follow, but whatever they thought they were doing, the attacker gained nothing and just managed to show us, one more time, what people can be when times when times turn dark, no matter how abruptly.

Tonight, tomorrow, for as long as it takes, we're all with Boston, and for the good in us that I truly believe will always shine in these moments of darkness.

Taxman - not a superhero

Jamie does our taxes.  I have no idea how any of that works.  I suspect, however, if something goes wrong it shall be me and not she that winds up in the clink.  All the more reason to be nice to the wife.

In this day and age, I don't really know anyone who doesn't (a) file online (b) as soon as they have their paperwork together.  Maybe growing up with stories on the local and national news every April 15th of people sitting in line at the post office to get their taxes in taught my generation a lesson.

Still, it is that magical day here in the US, so if you haven't filed, it's probably time.

A Pretty Nice Birthday

It was a pretty decent birthday.

Friday evening, Jamie and I had dinner with KareBear and The Admiral before they head off for Kenya for over a week.  Once again, they're travelling with a Lutheran outreach group that assists with eye exams an giving out glasses to folks in need.

Dinner was nice, but we had an odd moment when, around when we were ordering, a pair of young women walked past the open window we were near, did a double take and came back.  Then they stood there sort of smiling at us, then took out their phone and took a picture.  As near as I can tell, they thought we were someone else, and, I think, someone famous.  It kind of had to be us they were looking at, because there wasn't anyone behind us.  I have no idea who they thought we were, but when they show the photos to their friends, they're going to feel real disappointed.

Saturday we had a few folks over for drinks.  Thanks, if you dropped by.

your birthday boy, and pal-Sherry back there
You can't really tell, but Jamie made a Superman "S" on the cake with frosting.  And, yes, I was wearing a tie. What am I, a farmer?  Try cleaning yourself up every once in a while.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Course Update: Week 2 of Gender Through Comics Books

Update on 09/30/2021 - It's been 8 years since this post, and I do not know why it's getting traction now.  For some reason, this post is getting a lot of hits all of a sudden. 

I will say the following - in re-reading my comments I made at the time, I don't necessarily agree with these points exactly the same way now as I saw the issues then.  I think I'm now much more able to just let a question hang, or a problem exist without a specific answer.  Sometimes the challenge is the thing.  I don't think I demand a different model now the way I did then, and am able to better just handle an open question.

Maybe it's growth or my eyes being slightly more open, or I'm older and have had the past 8 years to ponder these same questions a whole lot more as the world has allowed more voices.  

Academia and criticism are hard.  There's a reason not everyone gets to do it.  And the topics in the class were challenging in a very positive way.  I believe internalizing some of this course was very good for me, indeed.  The methods and whatnot are up for discussion or critique, and they should be.  But just know that it was a good experience and I'm glad I was asked to review my own thinking in many ways by the course.

Original Post:

With the navigation issues resolved, Week 2 of the course Gender Through Comic Books, was a lot easier to deal with (the navigation is still awful, but at least I've basically sorted it out).   Of the promised 3-5 hours, I probably spent 3-4 hours, including an hour of guest lecture by comics maestro Mark Waid.  I did bypass a lot of the reading as I've read Superman: Birthright numerous times in the past, and was able to focus mostly on course materials - so that saved a good hour.

As has often been my experience with a lot of course reading in theory classes, the full articles are going to start feeling repetitive.  We've been presented the premise, and everything else is going to be supporting evidence - and this is why I was not a good student as an undergrad or, especially, during my glorious short, flamed-out career of not finishing grad school.

In this course, the basic concept is that "sex" is a biological designation and "gender" is a construct of personal and cultural choices.  I believe this makes sense in context, and  the readings made the concept pretty clear in Week 1.  In Week 2, the one article we were asked to check out gave some more evidence.  That's cool.  But by the time we get to Week 3...

This week was a mix of reading Superman and putting some coin in Mark Waid's pocket by selling a lot of copies of Superman: Birthright.  The task was to consider the construction of gender as it's played out less by instinct and more as part of a perception of roles of male, female and otherwise and how that's demonstrated by reading Birthright as well as Action Comics #1, an issue of Superman from 1960, and consider the ways gender is portrayed across 75 years.