Nerd Factor

Nerd Factor: If Adventure Has A Name, It Must Always Be Indiana Jones!

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Born of a collaboration between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the franchise has run on the lifeblood of grand adventure and great nostalgia for a bygone age when such adventures seemed somehow more possible. This summer, the fifth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise will hit the big screen. The question is will Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny be the last installment? 

According to series star Harrison Ford, it will definitely be the last time we see him as Indy on the big screen and perhaps the last time we’ll see the character of Indiana Jones up there as well. Ford is probably right about that first part. He is 80 after all it takes a long, long time for the movie making constellations to align just right to produce an Indiana Jones film. I hope Ford is wrong about the second.

There comes a point in every franchise where actors must move on and new actors take over their parts. We live in a world of multiple James Bonds and Batman. Some franchises even bake this into their DNA, such as the way regeneration works on Doctor Who to give us at least fourteen different actors in the main role. 

As fans, we can argue and debate who was best as their character. I’m an unapologetic “Bond is Sean Connery” fan and if I’m forced to pick a Batman and a Doctor, I’ll go with Michael Keaton and David Tennant. But hey, I still love Roger Moore, Adam West, and Tom Baker too. That’s the fun of franchises. 

Ford and Jones seem a bit more connected somehow. It’s hard to imagine someone else as Indiana Jones. That is why I’ve always been boggled by the thought that the creators originally wanted Tom Selleck in the part. Nothing against Tom, but I’m glad it did not work out for him. 

As hard as it would be to recast Indiana Jones, I do not want this franchise to end with this film for reasons beyond just my own fandom. I think these movies play an important cultural role. This is because Indiana Jones is at his best when he is punching Nazis. 

The best films in the series, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), feature Nazis as the primary antagonists. When Indiana Jones takes on the Third Reich, he reminds us of important American cultural values. Freedom beats out fascism. We are reinvested in some ideas that are important to us. 

Other franchises are just not touching these ideas. Even Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) pulled back from this a bit, having the WWII era Red Skull be more Hydra than Nazi. I get it. Disney does not want to engage the PR difficulties that come with onscreen swastikas and toys in Nazi uniforms. But particularly in this day and age, where fascist ideas are on the rise, we need someone to beat that foe. 

Ford may not be able to continue, but we will still need Indiana Jones there defeating the Nazis. We will always need that. 

Nerd Factor: Super-Leaping

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Image from 

As famous openings tell us, Superman has a triumvirate of powers. The Man of Steel is “Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” We know that’s not all Superman does, but it’s enough of a quick summary to make us happy before someone starts shouting all that “Look, up in the sky!” stuff. 

Superman debuted 85 years ago this month. While we love the guy, I think it’s safe to say that we’re not impressed with his super-leaping anymore.  Superman can fly. 

In fact, the reason that Superman got the ability to fly was that animators for his early 1940s cartoons got frustrated when they had to draw all that bounding around. Things would be a lot easier for them if Superman could just fly, they said. The convenience of flight was approved and worked into the comic stories too. 

As a result, we tend to think of super-leaping as more of an Incredible Hulk thing now. That fact illustrates a big problem with the ability. After all, it’s not the super-leaping really. It’s the super-landing. What goes up must come down, but when you fly, you can at least control that process. No flight means that the whole power is really a super-leap of faith. 


Nerd Factor: Goodbye Star Trek: The Next Generation?

Dr Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

For the past nine weeks, the third season of Paramount+’s Star Trek: Picard has told such amazing stories that I had not realized something. I knew that the show only had ten total episodes and I’ve been wondering how they will wrap up this amazing plot that has, among other things, reunited the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I got so excited though that I hadn’t thought about it—this is the end. 

Back in 1987, I watched “Encounter at Farpoint,” the pilot episode of Next Gen in the dorms. It was a Monday night and I was in my dorm room. I could not get enough people excited about the new program that they would allow me to take over control of the dorm lounge television. I probably watched on my lawn chair, a little way to stretch out before my small color television. 

And I loved it! 

After all, new episodes were unusual things. The last new live-action episode aired in 1968 when I was just a baby. The last cartoon episode aired in 1974 when I was just a kid. Sure, there had been four motion pictures up to that point, but everything on television was re-runs, re-runs, and more reruns. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love those old shows, but this was new Trek—new cast, new characters, new Enterprise. 


Nerd Factor: How Do Mandalorians Go on a Date?

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Photo taken from

Every science fiction franchise has its warrior group. Every warrior group has its fascinating warrior qualities, both biological and cultural. Farscape’s Luxans have a peculiar biological quirk. Their blood can become toxic to them, so any injury must be drained until the blood runs clear. Star Trek’s Klingons live in an honor bound society so tightly wound in debts and offenses that I’ve often thought the entire society would self-destruct if just the right Klingon was killed (a kind of Klingon equivalent to Archduke Franz Ferdinand). 

Star Wars’ Mandalorians are yet another warrior group with a tight honor rule system. As the eponymous Disney+ show has revealed, some Mandalorians follow “The Way,” an orthodox code of behavior. One of the more important tenets of this code is that no Mandalorian may remove their helmet in front of another living being. Any Mandalorian seen without their helmet is no longer considered a true Mandalorian (until they go through a rather elaborate redemption ritual). So, for example, when it’s time to eat, the Mandalorians have to move away from each other, finding isolated spots to remove their headgear and chow down. There are no Mandalorian cafeterias. 


Nerd Factor: The Crowd

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

I don’t like crowds.

I’m not claustrophobic. I’m not agoraphobic. I’m not some other kind of phobic that has to do with crowds. I would just prefer not to be in a big crowd. 

Wow, did I find myself in the midst of one this weekend though. 

Thanks to a very generous gift from my wife, my family was attending Galaxy Con in Richmond. We went a little nuts with fan glee, shelling down cash for photo opportunities with Daredevil co-stars Charlie Cox and Vince D’Onofrio and with Doctor Who’s former Tenth and current Fourteenth Doctor, David Tennant. 

Prior to the start of the event, we were given two times to show up. They were exactly an hour apart. We were a little worried about that going in, but hey, it’s not like we were trying to cross the entirety of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (something I’ve done *shudder*twice in my life). These photo shows were in the same building in the same room. 

And that was the origin of the problem. 

The exhibition room was a massive space, a continuum that started with spaces for retailers and then gradually gave way to spaces for creators and celebrities to meet their fans. The photo area was next to that, thus allowing the biggest celebrities to move over easily from a meeting area to the photo space. 

Someone had set down tape lines on the floor, marking out lanes. This suggested some pre-planning. The brief fit of organization did not last though, because no one had thought to control the lanes of access to those lines. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


Nerd Factor: Date a Supervillain

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

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

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.


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. 


Nerd Factor: Lo, the Sub-Mariner!

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

While we are all anxious to see how the Marvel Cinematic Universe will go about choosing a new Black Panther (or Panthers because there can be more than one), the upcoming film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will also bring one of the very first Marvel heroes to the big screen—Namor, the Sub-Mariner!

Namor first appeared in the very first superhero comic published by Timely Comics, the company that would become Marvel Comics. Published in 1939, Marvel Comics #1 (August 1939) was an anthology book that introduced some characters who would go on to be legends. By order of appearance, Namor was technically the third hero introduced after the Human Torch (not the one you know from the movies) and the Angel (definitely not the one you know from the X-Men). 

From the very outset, Namor acted with very different motivations. He sought revenge against the surface world that had wronged his submerged civilization. In his debut story, he killed some divers and then set about on more attacks on the world above. 

Even though there was something regal about him, it was hard to see Namor in a purely heroic mold. Later, he attempted to destroy New York City in an epic battle that pitted him against the Human Torch in the crossover fight that would later come to define Marvel’s shared universe. Eventually, Namor realized that the fascist threat was a greater menace, joining in the Nazi punching escapades of heroes like the Human Torch and, of course, Captain America. His super-strength, his ability to breathe underwater, and his uncanny ability to fly using wings on his ankles made Namor into a potent force for good. 


Nerd Factor: What? What?? What???

By. Michael Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Ncuti Gatwa – image from

SPOILER WARNING: This article gives away information from Doctor Who “The Power of the Doctor”

Last week, I wrote a column about regeneration in Doctor Who. This important device has allowed the series to continue since 1963 by using science fiction ideas to allow new actors to inhabit the role. This past Sunday, I anticipated a traditional regeneration story, with Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor passing away in epic fashion and being replaced by Ncuti Gatwa’s Fourteenth Doctor.

Wow, did that not happen! Instead, we got one of the great surprises in the history of popular culture. 

The episode was full of great moments for fans. We got three sinister foes– the Master, the Daleks, and the Cyberman—working together to destroy the Doctor. Also, two traveling companions of the Doctor from the classic era of the series returned in important roles. I have always liked Tegan, who traveled mostly with the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) from 1981-1984. And I was thrilled to have Ace back. One of my all-time favorites, Ace traveled with the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) on television from 1987-1989. There were also a number of cameos by former Doctors and companions. 

All of that gave the episode a nostalgic and celebratory feel in anticipation of the show moving into its 60th anniversary in 2023. If that were all that happened in “The Power of the Doctor,” the episode would have been a great finale for an incarnation of the character.

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