Showcase Presents: Superman, Volume 4
Despite having an interest in the medium, I'm not a regular comic book reader. I didn't really grow up reading comic books, except every now and then. For instance, there was a collection at the library called Superman: From the 30s to the 70s that I checked out more than once as a kid. Maybe that book is the reason I have a certain soft spot for goofy Silver Age Superman stories, such as the ones from the early sixties that are collected in this volume.
I can't possibly talk about all the stories here. Some are really wacky- one that stands out is a story in which Superman is tortured and tormented in bizarre ways by a trio of freakish robots he built, though when I say it stands out, I'm not sure I necessarily mean it in a positive way; it has the feel of a crazy, nonsensical nightmare.
The more notable stories in here are mostly ones that I've read previously elsewhere: "Superman in Kandor," "The Showdown Between Superman and Luthor" and "Superman Under the Red Son," to name a few. That last one inspired one of the best episodes of the Justice League cartoon.
One of my favorites is the "Imaginary Story" of "Superman Red and Superman Blue." Because this book is printed in black and white, it makes it a bit harder to tell those two characters apart, but it's still interesting. While attempting to boost his intelligence with a kryptonite-powered machine he built, Superman accidentally splits himself into two super geniuses who work together to solve all the world's problems, mainly by constructing an anti-evil ray. This turns all the bad guys good, but also in hindsight feels uncomfortably like mind control. There's a panel in which Khruschev is seen ordering his troops to drop all the USSR's missiles into the ocean. But wait, isn't polluting the ocean still evil? And why isn't there a panel in which Kennedy is ordering American troops to do the same? You'd think that if everybody in the world is turned good, neither side would have any need for missiles. But, of course, like the art in this volume, things were seen as more black and white back during the Cold War: America was the good guy and the Commies were evil. Well, if certain things can be ignored, such as the moral implications of tampering with everyone's free will, the story works as a goofy but kind of charming potential final chapter in Superman's career.
There's another Imaginary Story in which Earth explodes and Lois Lane is sent to Krypton as a baby where she grows up to become "Supermaid" and has a career that parallels Superman's, including gaining a bald-headed female villain. Kal-El pines after Supermaid the way Lois pines after Superman in he real continuity, of course... except for one big difference: he wishes she were a normal girl and he was the one with superpowers so he could spurn her the way he imagines he's been spurned, even though I don't think Lois is even aware of his feelings for her in this story. Unfortunately, there was apparently some desire on the writer's part to reestablish the status quo by the end of the tale, so in the final page, earthite (this story's version of kyrptonite) permanently transfers Lois' powers into Kal-El, who then tauntingly chides her for her "petty feminine jealousy" of him as he flies off. I guess the writer forgot that the whole reason Lois' scientist father had given her superpowers in the first place was because without them, she couldn't survive in Krypton's increased gravity.
While this Silver Age stuff is outlandish and juvenile and occasionally sexist, it's unquestionably imaginative. After plowing through this 500 page volume, though, I do sort of yearn for some more sophisticated storytelling. I overindulged; I've got the first couple volumes in this series, and with those, I would read only one or two stories at a time over an extended period. In fact, I still don't think I've quite read either one in its entirety. But I read this one pretty much cover to cover in order to have something to add to the pathetically small list of books I've finished this year. I know these comics were mostly aimed at kids, but it does feel like they really underestimated the intelligence of their readership by writing such forced, clunky dialogue that had to spell out everything that was happening, even if the characters were just thinking about what was going on.
I'm gonna cite a story from the first volume which perfectly demonstrates what I'm talking about. In it, a couple con artists trick Clark Kent into thinking they're his real parents who have traveled forward in time to see him as an adult. There's a panel in which "Pa Kent" says to Clark, "Lois would make a fine wife for any man! Clark, why don't you ask her to marry you?" And then in a thought bubble, Clark is seen to be thinking, "Dad's getting across that they approve of Lois being my wife someday!" Um, duh-doy. And then in the next panel, Lois says that she wouldn't marry Clark because she's in love with Superman, to which Clark privately ruminates, "She doesn't know I'm Superman!" Totally superfluous text. And it just seems to get even worse in this fourth volume.
Well, I guess it's easy to look back at this stuff with the benefit of several decade's worth of evolution of the comics medium imagine what you'd do differently. These sort of stories are still fun to read, but could be written today with more intelligence. From what I can tell, the comic All Star Superman is a prime example of this- it takes some of the goofier aspects of Superman's history and translates them into something more modern and grandiose.
The Day Mars Invaded Earth
1950s B-movie about a scientist working on unmanned Mars expeditions who takes a break to visit his wife and two kids, who are staying and this really luxurious and picturesque mansion. The family start to encounter eerie duplicates of each other and themselves as they wander around the grounds. This almost has the feel of a creepy ghost story, but it's also kind of dull. Its one location is really beautiful, however; it looks like the sort of place I wouldn't mind touring. As several reviews on imdb stated, the shock ending is a real downer. Though just saying something like that is potentially enough to spoil the ending, I was still surprised by just what a dark turn the movie took right in the last minute.
The Age of Adaline
This is only the second thing I've ever seen Blake Lively in. If I hadn't looked at her filmography, I wouldn't have even known that I'd seen her in Green Lantern, but that's a pretty forgettable movie, so it's not her fault that she didn't leave much of an impression. In this movie, she is pretty convincing as a woman who has been alive for over a century.
I enjoy stories about immortals, such as Highlander or The Man From Earth or the regrettably canceled ABC series Forever. It's just a really fascinating concept to think about. It's probably part of the reason vampire stories are appealing. This movie had a distinct lack of sword fights and beheadings- I guess you could say it was more of a chick flick- but it was all right. While I mostly enjoy these types of stories, I do think that they often tend to focus too heavily on the drawbacks of prolonged longevity. I can't help feeling like this is just an attempt to make us all feel better about our own short lives and deteriorating bodies. When the human lifespan was much briefer, were early storytellers spinning yarns about what a nightmare it would be for someone to live to sixty? Maybe knowing that our existence is limited is what gives our lives meaning, or maybe saying crap like that is just is sour grapes. Okay, when the Earth dies and my still-living body is sent hurtling through the cosmos for eternity, then maybe immortality might not seem like such a hot idea, but I wouldn't mind a few extra decades or centuries.
The biggest bummer about not aging for Adaline is that she won't allow herself to fall in love because she can't settle down and grow old with someone. Yeah, because it's every guy's worst nightmare to have a wife who stays permanently young and attractive. On the other hand, maybe it's not much fun for the perpetually youthful person to watch the person they love get old and wrinkly, but come on- the guy she dumped is Harrison Ford; he still looks pretty damn good today- just ask Calista Flockhart. And I don't think Harrison Ford's character in this movie would have minded so much. Though he seems okay with the life he's led and the woman he did marry, he's clearly still haunted by the one that got away. Plus the movie doesn't really address how awkward it is that Adaline's fallen in love with the son of a guy she used to be with.
I'm sure I'm far from the first to point this out, but it's funny that this is the second time in a year that Ellen Burstyn has had a role in a movie in which she played the elderly daughter of a parent who has remained young while she's grown old.
Within the first minute of this latest adaptation of the classic fairy tale, I had to stop myself from groaning out loud in the theater at the twee sappiness of it all. I rolled my eyes throughout the film pretty much anytime someone emphasized the importance of kindness and courage, which is reiterated more times than I can keep track of. Yeah, maybe I'm not the target audience and maybe the story is a bit simplistic, I will say in the movie's defense that it's the best straightforward adaptation of the source material that I've seen, though, to be fair, I have only seen a small fraction of the dozens of film adaptations that exist.
It's definitely a huge improvement over the original 1950 Disney animated movie which relegates its titular character to the background as she's upstaged throughout the bulk of the running time by a bunch of ridiculous talking mice. Seriously, in the cartoon, the mice talk way more than the damn prince; he literally has like two or three lines in the entire movie. It wasn't really until The Little Mermaid that Disney finally figured out how to inject some personality into their princess characters. The AFI listed the 1950 Cinderella as the ninth greatest film in the animation genre, which I can only imagine was due to the nostalgia factor. imho, the cartoon really does not hold up terribly well.
I'm glad that Disney corrected the mistakes of the earlier movie and put Cinderella at the center of the film where she belongs, though maybe she was a little too good and pure to be believed or to even be that interesting. After watching her being horribly mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters throughout most of the movie, it was kind of disappointing that they didn't get more of a comeuppance than basically being forced to live with the knowledge that they're not as good as Cinderella. They say the best revenge is living well, but the vindictive side of me just kind of wanted a little bit more.
There's something to be said about simply doing a faithful, classic interpretation of the story without trying to put some kind of a modern twist on it or winking at the audience, so I'm giving it a pretty good star rating because of that. While I found it kind of ho-hum, I wouldn't mind calling this the most iconic, definitive film adaptation of the story out there... at least, out of the few that I've seen. However, my personal favorite by far is still Drew Barrymore's Ever After. I love that movie.
Mission Control Texas
German documentary that is ostensibly about the Austin, Texas based public access call-in show The Atheist Experience, but gives almost equal time to boring and disturbing footage of the various right wing Christian groups that surround them. I mostly like the show, but this documentary was painful to sit through. There's absolutely no narration or commentary of any kind; the footage is just supposed to speak for itself. It possibly would be more interesting to its intended German audience, who get to witness what a scary freak show the hardcore fundamentalist sections of America can be. Regular viewers of TAE probably wouldn't get that much out of it; like over 90% of the behind-the-scenes footage is just shots of episodes being filmed, so it's likely to be stuff they've seen already, just from a different angle. It would be more fun to to just watch old clips from the show on YouTube... but that's kind of how I feel about the show in general nowadays. They don't seem to get nearly as many interesting/entertaining calls as they used to. An unfortunate downside of the increased fame the internet has brought the show is that now the majority of callers are fans who just want to schmooze with the hosts or pranksters pretending to be religious.
This documentary came out eleven years ago, and I just got around to seeing it now. I saw the first Trekkies when it was originally in theaters, which I'm somewhat amazed to realize was eighteen years ago. I remember enjoying it, but so much time has passed, I can't really accurately say how this sequel compares to the original. I don't think I enjoyed it quite as much, but I guess one thing in its favor is that it apparently tries to focus a bit more on the positive sides of the fandom, though the zany segments do still seem to occupy the bulk of the running time. Something this movie spends some time addressing is the criticism that the first movie put too much emphasis on the "crazy" fringe elements of Trekkie culture, but that's not something that ever bothered me, to be honest. As Brannon Braga points out in an interview, if you tried to make a movie about the way the majority of the fans are, you'd have a pretty boring film.
I used to be far more embarrassed about my love of Star Trek. While I've never donned a Starfleet uniform, been to a convention or tried to learn Klingon, I still feared that I conformed too much to the negative Trekkie stereotype: lived with parents for too long, nonexistent sex life, etc.... all the stuff Shatner criticized in his infamous "Get a Life" SNL sketch. However, having seen these two documentaries and how extreme some of the diehard fans can be, I feel almost halfway normal.