Nerd Factor

Nerd Factor: Replace, Recast, or Reboot

By Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

The Definitive Story of How Marvel Studios Created the Marvel Cinematic  Universe | Marvel
https://www.marvel.com/articles/movies/marvel-studios-making-of-marvel-cinematic-universe

Time is an illusion, comic book time doubly so. In the stories of Marvel Universe, events flow at a strange pace in relation to our own world. For example, when I was starting my comics fandom, Spider-Man was about twice my age. In a few years, I will be twice his current age. That’s not a huge problem for comics. Oh, dedicated fans will spend a lot of time trying to figure out how all of those events fit into Spidey’s or some other character’s fictional life, but these superheroes are images on paper. They age at a rate their creators impose. The live-action Marvel stories face a greater challenge.

Since its official debut in 2008’s Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has more or less paralleled our own times. Narratives may get a little ahead of now or behind now, but except for some deliberate flashbacks, they mostly take place now. That’s an important choice because the actors playing the roles are going through real time.

This is not an argument about aging. If the functionally immortal characters like the new Eternals really catch on for a few decades, there may be some CGI tricks or narrative changes needed to preserve that idea. Some characters like Rocket and Groot or the Hulk do not have to age at all. Human actors may age as gracefully as they like. 

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Wakanda Forever, Arrakis Whatever

By Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Dune co-writer says the HBO Max movie will be set up for a sequel |  TechRadar
Dune Splash Screen. Image from https://www.techradar.com/news/dune-co-writer-wants-you-to-decide-if-itll-get-a-sequel

This column contains potential spoilers for the recent movie, Dune (2021). It may also contain spoilers for Black Panther (2018), but really, why haven’t you seen that yet?

Through one of those curious accidents of timing, I happened to watch Black Panther for my film class the day before the newest version of Dune debuted. For most of my life, I’ve been somewhat indifferent to the story of Dune. I never fell in love with the novel the way other people have. While beautiful at times, the 1984 film directed by David Lynch was achingly long. The most recent movie has left me feeling let down again. This time, however, the comparison has given me some insight into why. 

Both stories are of roughly the same time. Dune, the novel by Frank Herbert, arrived in 1965. The Black Panther, the very first black superhero, showed up a year later in Fantastic Four #52. The tales share a similar premise. The planet Arrakis is the source of the spice “mélange,” a mysterious substance upon which the entire economy of the future is dependent upon for space travel. The Panther’s native land of Wakanda is likewise dependent upon a unique material. Vibranium is an extraterrestrial metal with amazing properties that allows this African nation to enjoy considerable prosperity. 

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Nerd Factor: The Parking of the Cars

By Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Halloween Was Once So Dangerous That Some Cities Considered Banning It -  HISTORY
Vandalizing a tree. https://www.history.com/news/halloween-was-once-so-dangerous-that-some-cities-considered-banning-it

When I was a kid, the day before Halloween was a time of intense preparation at my home. My mother ensured that we had plenty of candy to give out. We always had the costume picked out and ready to go. Decorations were up too. What preoccupied us as the day neared were the defensive measures needed to protect our home from pranks. I don’t think we had a term for it, but in my childhood nostalgia, I often think of this as “the parking of the cars.” 

Where I grew up, pranking and vandalism got largely detached from the holiday of Halloween itself. I suppose that was a pragmatic choice. In the Cape, Halloween itself was about gathering as much candy as possible in strategically and intricately planned runs through the community. Perhaps those expeditions took precedence. Or maybe there were too many eyes out on the street during Halloween itself. 

I learned when I left home that some parts of the country do not have this tradition at all. In other places it is known as “Devil’s Night” or “Mischief Night.” In some areas, this night can have terrible consequences. Destructive arsons were a terrifying feature of Devil’s Night in Detroit, for example.

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Nerd Factor: Truth, Justice, and the American Way

By Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

DC Comics Drops "The American Way" from Superman's Motto After 83 Years for  More Globalist View
Old Catchphrase

Over the weekend, DC Comics announced a change to Superman’s mission statement. Instead of fighting the never-ending battle for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” the Man of Steel would instead be working for “Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow.” 

Superman is one of the best-known fictional creations in the world. For this reason, everyone, from the most ardent fan to the least interested person, has some idea of who they think Superman is and what they believe Superman ought to be. 

Given this perspective, it is possible for some to see this reconfiguration as a political statement and a dismissal of American values. On the next slow news day, pundits and talking heads on certain channels will decry this as the latest evidence that a liberal media elite hates the country. These commenters will yearn for a simpler time when Superman was not so controversial. 

Of course, that time never existed. 

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Nerd Factor: Vampire Diets

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Vampire Eating Meat Stock Photo - Download Image Now - iStock
The best Stock Image I have ever seen. Image from https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/vampire-eating-meat-gm184660146-17816443

I think it must be hard to be a vampire.  The supernatural powers are pretty cool. And while all the weaknesses are challenging to keep track of, that’s really just an organizational problem. Also, who wouldn’t enjoy living in a remote castle? Well not too remote. you’d want broadband and good wi-fi. I suspect the eating habits must be the real challenge. 

I don’t just mean the blood. I figure that every vampire just has to get over the blood, both in a moral and physical sense. I mean what’s a vampire going to do? Eat rats? Steal from the blood bank? I’m sure that’s fine for the brooding, anti-hero types, but it’s not going to keep the undead stamina up. Vampire feeding is no doubt very messy too. Still, that’s probably a lot like going to a barbeque. A bit of careful dining and some wet wipes should keep the face and clothes clean.

What I mean is that mealtimes must be challenging for vampires. In some ways vampires have access to the biggest menu imaginable. There are seven billion potential meals awaiting them on the planet. But for reasons of safety, a vampire must be a very careful eater. 

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Living the Scream Life

By Dr. Mike ~ UL Communications Professor

3 Things You Didn't Know about Black Panther's Ulysses Klaue (Klaw)
Ulysses Klaw from Marvel’s Black Panther. Image from https://www.entertainmentearth.com/news/black-panther-villain-ulysses-klaue/

Some superpowers are pure wish-fulfillment. Everyone dreams of flying. Other powers seem like extensions of ordinary life, magnifications of what ordinary humans can already do. Sonic powers are an excellent example of this. As such, they appear more manageable. However, a would-be superhero or even an aspiring supervillain should be careful what they wish for when it comes to sound. 

For some, sonic powers become persuasive amplifications of the human voice. Take, for example, The Voice. An old school villain of the original Ant-Man who has nothing to do with a musical talent show, the Voice had the somewhat unsurprising power to get people to do what he said. He spoke and they believed or obeyed. Ant-Man beat him by inducing a severe case of crippling laryngitis. Other villains do similar things through music. The Hypno Hustler, an occasional foe of Spider-Man, uses technologically souped up instruments to control minds through disco music.

The Voice and The Hypno Hustler are about as goofy as you think, minor annoyances who fortunately do not possess the cunning to capitalize on their domination powers. They are also unable to affect people who are deaf or people with earplugs. Additionally, this sort of power must be demoralizing. Surely, even The Voice must wonder if he’s ever had a genuine human interaction and not just something he made someone do. The Hustler must worry that it’s the machines and not the music that creates his audience.  

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Nerd Factor: PSA in the Brain

By Michael Robinson ~ PhD

Schoolhouse Rock' On Disney+: Still The Best Way To Teach Kids History
School House Rock Logo. Image from https://decider.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Schoohouse-Rock-.jpg?quality=80&strip=all&w=646&h=431&crop=1

Recently, I learned about an assignment in my son’s civics class. He must memorize the Preamble to the Constitution.  “I can’t say it,” I said, “I can only sing it.” In fact, the very second that he mentioned the subject, the song had popped unbidden into my head. It was another example of a highly successful earworm from the good people who made School House Rock! 

Back in my childhood, Saturday morning television belonged to kids. We could not wait to watch hours of cartoons and live-action shows. Peppered in among the programs were a number of public service announcements, small segments designed to help young people learn important information and demonstrate that the networks were not just money-grubbing entities trying to lure us to commercials for toys and cereal. I am always amazed at how deeply some of those items are buried in my brain. 

“The Preamble” is not one of School House Rock!’s best tunes. It eschews the more upbeat jazzy sounds of “Conjunction Junction” or manic frenzy of “Ready or Not Here I Come” in favor of a folksier solemnity. It works though. That thing is etched so deeply into my brain that I have to work hard not to sing the Preamble.

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Nerd Factor: Fantasy Island Gets Creepy

Michael Robinson ~ PhD

Image from: https://www.hulu.com/series/fantasy-island-fee4965d-96a7-42b9-9ed2-1acf20ef8aa1

Guests are once again going to Fantasy Island. The newest iteration of the popular franchise, which began in the 1970s and returned briefly in the late 1990s, continues a familiar format. Guests come to the Island with fantasies to fulfill but often leave having learned unexpected lessons along with way. 

In its current form, the Island, capitalized here because it is treated on the new show as having magical powers and undefined intentions all its own, is run by Elena Roarke and her new assistant Ruby. The location of the tropical paradise is not revealed. I’ve always suspected that it’s somewhere near the islands on Lost and Gilligan’s Island myself, part of some incredible archipelago. 

A recent episode raised some questions for me though. At first, “Twice in a Lifetime” seemed like a fairly standard installment of the series. A guest named Nisha sought to discover her life partner, choosing from a fun-loving but not so ambitious boyfriend (Josh) or the serious future doctor (Savin) with whom her parents were trying to arrange a marriage. A second plot unexpectedly involved Javier, the pilot who flies guests to the Island on his seaplane, spending personal time with Elena Roarke. More on that in a moment.

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Nerd Factor: Martial Arts Master

This column contains mild spoilers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The spoilers are mostly just things that were in or can be deduced from the movie’s various trailers, but be forewarned. 

By Michael Robinson ~ PhD

Who is Shang-Chi? | Entertainment News,The Indian Express
Shang-Chi and Shang-Chi. Image from https://indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/hollywood/who-is-shang-chi-7482965/

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the latest successful entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, Shang-Chi first appeared in Special Marvel Edition #15 in 1973. From his very first cover, Shang-Chi was billed as the “Master of Kung Fu.” His initial adventures centered around fighting his evil father, Fu Manchu, a sinister criminal mastermind with racist “yellow peril” overtones that Marvel had licensed after failing to obtain the rights to the popular television show, Kung Fu

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Nerd Factor: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Space Pioneer

A Shroud of Thoughts: You Only Live Many Times: James Bond's Archenemy--Ernst  Stavro Blofeld
Many Faces of Blofeld. Image From: http://mercurie.blogspot.com/2015/04/you-only-live-many-times-james-bonds.html

Supervillains fascinate me. I enjoy their variety and their machinations. Their monologuing thrills me. I love their origins and their motivations. I am particularly fascinated by those supervillains so dedicated to a theme that it actually interferes with their success, baddies like the Riddler whose compulsions force him to lure heroes to his every crime or like the Calendar Man who stick to a theme no matter the cost. 

There are other kinds of compulsions beyond just theme though. Another type of villain is so busy trying to do evil things that they fail to realize what they’ve really accomplished. The perfect example of this overachiever is James Bond’s archnemesis, Ernst Stravro Blofeld.

Blofeld is Number One, the leader of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). As the anagram so neatly outlines, SPECTRE is dedicated to the destabilization of world powers so that its members may assume control of the planet. Whether they are doing something relatively low level like breaking codes or something epically dangerous like seizing atomic devices, they are a truly ruthless bunch.

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Nerd Factor: Drop Into the Multiverse

By Michael Robinson ~ PhD

The Spider-Man No Way Home Trailer Can't Possibly Live Up to the Hype
Spiderman: No Way Home poster. From https://collider.com/spider-man-no-way-home-trailer-hype-explained/

Falling is just something Spider-Man does. It’s part of his job description really. When he’s not having his web line cut by a supervillain, he’s getting knocked off a Goblin glider or being thrown out of a helicopter. If he can’t shoot a web to a nearby building or catch a flagpole at the right moment, fear not. By this point in time, our hero is so used to this that he is adept at making web parachutes to save himself. Once he even made a hang glider out of his webbing. 

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Nerd Factor: Hulk Smashed

By Michael Robinson ~ PhD

Picture (above) of Hulk flexing as it is about to enter a battle. Photo retrieved from ap2hyc.com on Aug. 17, 2021.

Many activities pose a challenge for superheroes, particularly social drinking. The Human Torch needs to be careful because alcohol is flammable. The Flash metabolizes alcohol so quickly that it has no affect on him. Of course, any metahuman runs the risk of harming another should they become drunk. One particular superhero though runs into a surprising risk. 

When Dr. Robert Bruce Banner was exposed to a massive dose of gamma rays, his body was transformed dramatically. If certain conditions are met, then Banner becomes the Incredible Hulk. As we know, the Hulk has vast levels of strength, endurance, and invulnerability. However, there are some important questions about the Hulk that need to be considered. Can the Hulk become intoxicated? And what happens if a drunken Hulk turns back into Banner?

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Nerd Factor: Beware the Widow’s Bite

Black Widow (2021) - IMDb
Black Widow Theatrical Poster – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3480822/

By  Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Many theories have been offered to explain the relatively poor performance of Black Widow at the theaters this summer. 

The film had been delayed for a year as the world worked its way through COVID. Were audiences still shy about returning to the theater? Had the gap reduced some of the legendary MCU momentum? Eager and vaccinated, my family and I sat in an IMAX theater ready to return to big screen magic. But not everyone feels safe. 

The movie served as a flashback, centering on a character that we all saw die in Avengers: Endgame. Did audiences not wish to see a film that had low dramatic stakes? After all, it is kind of hard to worry about a character who technically cannot die. As much as I appreciate a good trip back in time, I felt that lack of danger for the main character. Still, I love the Black Widow. Besides, we almost always know the superhero is not going to die. 

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Nerd Factor: Grateful Nerd

Wanda and Vision from the Disney+ show, Wandavision. Photo retrieved from https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2020/12/the-biggest-nerdy-tv-shows-and-movies-coming-your-way-in-2021/.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     This year reminded me how happy and grateful I was to be a nerd. 

     Most of the time while writing this column, I avoided writing about the coronavirus. Oh, COVID-19 slipped into my thinking here and there. I did start the year talking about how some superhero masks gave a certain advantage against disease transmission. I did decide against seeing New Mutants in the theater, calculating that it was safer to stay at home. Overall, I just stayed away from the topic. 

     That felt like instinct, but in life that usually means my brain is doing some kind of math that I have not understood. Part of this stance was a concern about the seriousness of the topic. This column bounces between joyful celebration and snarky irreverence. Neither mode seemed quite right for so terrible a pandemic. Another, and certainly larger, part was the desire to avoid the topic. I wanted a distraction. I wanted an escape. 

     Thinking about those motivations caused my renewed appreciation for my nerdiness. I needed a lot of escapes this year. 

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Nerd Factor: The Five Stages of Flash Grief

A poster for the new season of CW’s “The Flash.” Photo retrieved from https://twitter.com/cw_theflash/status/1359200652895879177.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     In 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what we often refer to as the five stages of grief. These stages represented a process through which people coping with terminal illness or conditions progressed. Over time, the model has become a kind of common wisdom. Applied, or misapplied as critics argue, to a variety of experiences, the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, may serve as a way to organize experience. 

     Here, the five stages of grief will be used to organize a problem I have been having with The Flash, now in its seventh season on the CW network. So yeah, probably another misapplication of the theory. Still, it helps. 

     1. Denial – As another bit of common wisdom suggests, the first step to resolving a problem is admitting that there is a problem. For many years, I have been in complete denial about the decreasing quality of The Flash. While many of my readers have grown up in a time of abundant superhero stories, I grew up in an era of relative metahuman poverty. Oh sure, there were plenty of comic books, but I always felt like I had to support most movies, television shows, and games. If I did not, what would happen to the genre? 

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