Nerd Factor: The Night Gwen Stacy Died

Dr Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Fifty years ago, on March 13, 1973, Amazing Spider-Man #121 hit the newsstands and comic book spinner racks. After “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” nothing would ever quite be the same for superheroes again.

The cover of ASM #121 pitches this story as crucial. Comic book covers were then, and will certainly always be, devices of pure hype. Designed to encourage the potential buyer to pluck the comic off the shelf, the promotional images and blurbs on the cover pit a fan’s wide-eyed wonder against that fan’s weary cynicism. Aware that comic covers of the past had tricked readers into believing all sorts of things, this cover reassures us that this story is “Not a trick! Not an imaginary tale—but the most startlingly unexpected turning point in this web slinger’s entire life!” 

We view Spider-Man from behind as he swings towards a series of headshots of his supporting cast. “Someone close to me is about to die!” he shouts. Spidey had the best developed supporting cast in comics and they narratively spun through his life like a finely tuned soap opera engine. So naturally a reader would worry who was about to go. Could it be kindly Aunt May, who was always near death anyway? Or Peter Parker’s aggressive boss, J. Jonah Jameson? By the end of the story, readers would know that Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy was the victim. 

The story began melodramatically enough with Peter’s best friend Harry Osborn relapsing into drug addiction, moved along with Harry’s father Norman Osborn becoming the Green Goblin in a reaction to that (and other stressors), and concluded with one of the most harrowing splash pages of all time. The final image of Spider-Man swearing revenge upon the Goblin seared its way into popular culture. 


Cocaine Bear: Too Much Cocaine, Not Enough Bear

Rylee McDonal ~ Copy Editor

The highly anticipated movie, Cocaine Bear, has recently been released, and is nothing to scoff at.

The movie is based on an event where park rangers found a dead bear in the woods, later learning that it overdosed on cocaine that had been dropped by former narcotics officer, Andrew Thornton. The bear was then stuffed and placed in a mall in Lexington, Kentucky.

While the movie may have been inspired by true events, the producers utilize their creative license by turning the bear into a drug fueled mass murderer searching for more cocaine.


Nerd Factor: The Remainder of Us  

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Spoiler Warning: This article contains plot details for The Last of Us.

I’m having a lot of trouble with The Last of Us. The HBO Max series inspired by a popular video game franchise appears to be exciting for many viewers. It’s not doing much for me. 

I really wanted to like this show. While I have not played the game, I am a fan of post-apocalyptic scenarios in general and zombie stories in particular. There is a puzzle to the walking dead and their close kin that I enjoy. Most monsters are a tough problem to solve. As a good friend of mine once pointed out, in a zombie scenario, we would probably all be lunch. Still, it’s fun to think about how one might survive. 

Of course, the creatures in this series are not exactly zombies in the typical sense. The “infected” in this case are humans overrun with a particularly aggressive mutant strain of fungus. This infection drives its victims to attack humans, thus transmitting the contamination into a new host. Since the infected are fungal in nature, they exhibit blooms, creating interesting new visuals.  

One of the major problems with this series is that the monsters are hardly in it. After a powerful, compelling, and certainly expensive pilot episode, the infected have been few and far between. For long stretches of episodes, they simply do not show up. This tamps down the zombie action in this zombie show. This is why I’ve started referring to the program as The Slowest of Us, The Last Few Minutes of Us, and most recently, 48 Minutes Later

Now, zombie shows… sorry, I mean infected human shows… do not have to have non-stop zombie action. The Walking Dead found plenty of ways to occupy itself with human interaction at times too. There is a lot of interpersonal conflict inherent in survival scenarios. At times, the many characters on The Walking Dead seemed to be eating at each other more than zombies were trying to eat on them. 


Lynchburg students gear up for midterms 

Izzie Kirkwood ~ Intern 

Photo retrieved from www.shutterstock.com

As spring break approaches for students at the University of Lynchburg, many people are beginning to study for their midterm exams that will take place in just a few short weeks. 

To prepare for these exams, students are starting to pick up many different strategies, tips and tricks to help them study. 

Khyrstian Powell, a senior, has more semester-long projects to work on instead of traditional exams. 

Many students, including Powell, become distracted easily when attempting to study. Powell resists this by studying with her peers in order to keep her focused. 

“I thrive on social pressure,” she said. “My friends can sit with me and do nothing, but when they know I’m not doing anything they can help me out.”


Spoiler-Free Ant-Man Review: Is it Worth the Watch?

Ali Morrison ~ Assistant News Editor

Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania officially came into theaters on Thursday, February 16th, and will continue to be shown in movie theaters around the world. 

While there is not nearly as much hype for this movie as there was for Spiderman No Way Home or for the newest Dr. Strange, Ant-Man’s franchise is quite important to a multitude of series and movies. With this spoiler-free review, you can decide whether Ant-Man is worth your time or not. 

To start, the soundtrack and the graphics are middle of the road at best. The soundtrack is exactly what you expect. 

It’s not a legendary music playlist like Guardians of the Galaxy, but the music in and of itself is generally good. For the most part, the graphics are good. There were some moments that were a little much, as in it almost looked like a video game instead of a real life movie. Despite this, the graphics do not distract from the plot of the movie. 

In terms of casting, there are no big surprise cameos that have importance in the Ant-Man series. No Matt Murdocks in this one, sorry. There are a couple of celebrity cameos that get a few “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd, but no big surprises on the casting front. 


Sins of Sinister: Year 10

Rylee McDonal ~ Copy Editor

Storm and the Brotherhood of Mutants Issue 1

The Sins of Sinister event has come out with its first two issues: Storm and The Brotherhood of Mutants and Nightcralwers.

These first two issues take place ten years after Sinister takes control of the world, and focuses on two different groups of mutants.

Storm and The Brotherhood of Mutants focuses on Storm and the only group of mutants left to fight against Sinister.

The beginning of the issue recaps the downfall of Mars and the deaths of most of Storm’s most powerful allies.

Storm now wears an outfit inspired by Magneto and is accompanied by mutants new and old in her fight against Sinister.

Tricked by Mystique, Storm and her brotherhood take the fight to one of Sinisters labs, looking for a way to rewrite the past ten years.


Best Comic Book Couples

Rylee McDonal ~ Copy Editor

As we continue to celebrate love day, Feb. 14, I thought we would take a look at some beloved comic book couples.

Cyclops and Jean Grey:

X-Men #30 1994 Cyclops and Jean Grey get married.

Long-term couple, Scott Summer and Jean Grey were on the original line up of the X-Men. 

While they have at times had a rocky relationship, they always manage to find their way back to each other.

The two are so fated to be together that they have a number of offspring and family spread across the multiverse.


Nerd Factor: Helmets, Helmets, Helmets

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

From its very first moments, the Star Wars Saga made its preoccupation with helmets absolutely clear. Chronologically speaking, the first few moments of Star Wars (1977) are nothing but helmets. 

After an opening narrative crawl and a spectacular special effects sequence of an Imperial Star Destroyer chasing down a Rebel Blockade Runner, we basically watch a bunch of guys in helmets deal with other guys in helmets. Oh sure, C-3PO and R2-D2 are scurrying around delivering a bit of exposition, but it’s mainly rebels in helmets taking up a position to deal with intruders boarding the ship. Since we can see the worry on their faces, we empathize with them, even though we are not sure who any of them are. 

Then, in a scene that will be imitated like crazy throughout science fiction films and shows for decades, a locked door is broken through to reveal a set of new guys in helmets! The Stormtroopers arrive for the first time on screen, guns blazing (and actually hitting a few of their targets). They must be evil because they wear full helmets with built in scowls. 


Five Romantic Valentine’s Day Dates That Won’t Break the Bank

Ali Morrison ~ Assistant News Editor

Valentine’s Day is already coming upon us, but restaurants and gifts are so expensive. If money is what you’re tight on, but love is not, then check out this list of inexpensive date ideas for your loved one!

  1. Blind Date With A Book– The English Honor Society here at Lynchburg is hosting Blind Date With A Book on Monday, February 13th from 11-2 in Drysdale. In this event, you and possibly your date, can bring a book and get a surprise book! You will not see the cover of the book, but merely read a description of the contents. This can be a creative date for Valentine’s Day, especially if you and your partner are big readers. Merely come by the booth, pick out your books, and curl up with your partner and read together. 

Movies to Watch for Black History Month

Rylee McDonal ~ Copy Editor

This Black History Month, the Critograph celebrates our favorite films that celebrate Black excellence and the generational struggles. Some of our favorites include:

Hidden Figures:

Hidden Figures which is based on the true story of a group of black women working for NASA as mathematicians. The women are played by Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae.

The women were essential in the launch that sent John Glenn into orbit, while also battling racism and sexism within the workplace. 

Hidden Figures shines the spotlight on Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson for their contributions to math and science, and should be essential for your watch list.


Nerd Factor: Date a Supervillain

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Spider-Man’s Relationship With Black Cat Has Always Been Complicated. Retrieved from CBR.com

Ultimately, the only sane choice for a superhero to make is to date a supervillain.

When you become a superhero, you rarely get training. Most of the important lessons come in the field. Sure, there are organizations that will teach an up and coming superhero. The Avengers could provide outstanding training in your power and teamwork, for example.  Join the X-Men and you will get all of that plus a classic liberal arts education at Xavier’s School. What no organization seems to teach about though is one of the most important superhero topics of all—love. 

Superheroics is a public career.  There are many opportunities to meet potential partners. You may find yourself rescuing people. You will certainly fight crime alongside law enforcement personnel. You will encounter interesting and intelligent people in careers such as science and journalism. Finally, you will even meet some intriguing supervillains. 

Additionally, you will also have your own private life. Your secret identity will bring you the same options for meeting potential romantic partners, thus doubling the opportunities. 


Nerd Factor: Kaleidoscopic

Dr Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Kaleidoscope series music  poster via Spotify

Kaleidoscope is a Netflix series with a different approach. When the viewer first starts the program, Netflix purportedly randomizes the order in which the seven middle episodes of the series are shown. An interesting narrative experiment, Kaleidoscope left me nostalgic for the way television used to be watched. 

The various episodes of the series are named for different colors. Everyone starts with “Black,” a short introduction to the process of the series, and ends with “White.” Just for the record, my viewing order was “Yellow,” “Green,” “Blue,” “Orange,” “Violet,” “Red,” and “Pink.” 

Kaleidoscope is a heist narrative. The events of the series circle around a complicated criminal score that, like all great heist stories before it, hinges on detailed planning and clockwork organization. The opening graphic of each story tells the viewer when the story is set in relation to the heist itself. I want to be particularly careful about spoilers here, but basically episodes set before and after the heist give the viewer glimpses into the origins and motivations of the characters whose lives are woven together over time. The time-jumping effect generates a powerful curiosity in the viewer to see what actually goes down during the robbery itself, keeping the viewer bouncing between asking “how is this going to happen?” and “how did this happen?”. 


Nerd Factor: The Voice of Batman

Dr Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

On November 10th, Kevin Conroy passed away after a fight with intestinal cancer. You may not recognize Conroy’s name or his image, but you have heard his voice. For the past three decades, Conroy was the main voice actor to play Batman. To me, Conroy will always be the voice of Batman. 

No disrespect is intended to the many other fine performers who have been a live-action or animated version of Batman. Adam West’s distinctive style, for example, was a key component to the campy success of the 1960s Batman television series. Other actors such as Will Arnett and Diedrich Bader have excellent Batman voices. Michael Keaton has a very serious style. And, of course, Christian Bale has that raspy Bat-voice that was always a bit off to my ears but still fun to imitate. 

Conroy became the Batman voice thanks to his work on Batman: The Animated Series. The series debuted in 1992 and it had kids rushing home from school to catch the next exciting episode (me too, but at the time this kid was in grad school). The show was visually moody and film noirish. It had clever plots and great action. Best of all, it did not talk down to its audience. Every episode was a mini-movie of sorts. 

Conroy’s portrayal of Batman was the glue that held all of this together. His Batman had the deep and serious tones needed to intimidate Gotham City’s criminal element into surrender. Yet, he could also deliver a clever deadpan joke or remark. At times, his Batman could shift from stern leader to a caring, almost parental figure to those in his charge.


Wakanda Forever: The Perfect Tribute

Rylee McDonal ~ Copy Editor

The newest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was recently released and was dedicated to the late Chadwick Boseman.

Wakanda Forever was a long awaited sequel to the Black Panther movie from 2018 and had many fans concerned.

With the unexpected passing of Boseman, who played the original Black Panther, many fans of the Marvel movies were wondering how they would continue with the storyline.

What was proven with this movie was that Boseman’s legacy, while difficult to live up to, will never die.

With many of the original actors returning, there were also many new faces that made their premier along with brand new and beloved characters from the comics. 

The movie itself takes place a year after the death of T’challa, who died from an unnamed disease.

While Wakanda has continued to prosper, there are still countries around the world that fear their power,

This does not change when the villain, Namor, played by Tenoch Huerta, attacks a rig searching for vibranium with others from his kingdom. 

Namor has been an on-again-off-again hero and villain in the comics, and was the first mutant to be introduced into the comics, as well, was the second mutant to be introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Nerd Factor: The New Black Panther

Dr Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Marvel Studios’ decision not to recast another actor into the role of T’Challa in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was the right one. Chadwick Boseman left an indelible mark on the character and the franchise. Boseman would be difficult for anyone to follow in the role and any attempt to do so would seem like an insult to our memories of Boseman. 

Commercial pressures mean that popular culture must move on though. While we speculate about who the new Black Panther, or Black Panthers, will be, this decision highlights the difference between the way time moves in the Marvel Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

In comic books, time has always been a strange thing. Take, for example, Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man. When Peter first appeared, he was fifteen. This year marked the 60th anniversary of his debut. If comic book time matched real time, Spidey would be 75. He would be well passed retirement age, but knowing him he would probably still be in constant trouble. 

Yet, comic book Spider-Man has aged. When I was born, Peter Parker was already an undergraduate. When I graduated college, Peter was in graduate school. I passed him, getting my graduate degrees before he did. That’s not bragging. I had a lot less supervillains to fight. But now, I’m in my mid-fifties and Peter is in his late twenties. In roughly a half-century, Peter has aged about thirteen years. 

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