Nerd Factor

Nerd Factor: Neal Adams Was There

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communications Study Professor

https://www.republicworld.com/entertainment-news/hollywood-news/legendary-comic-artist-neal-adams-who-drew-superhero-characters-like-batman-dies-at-80-articleshow.html

Over the weekend, we lost one of the truly great figures in comics art when Neal Adams passed away at the age of 90. Adams was a titan of the industry. His bold artistic style literally broke the comics page, moving out from the common practice of rectilinear panels with wild abandon. Pulse pounding action sequences on Adam’s pages were spaced around diagonal lines and sometimes the figures of characters themselves. Adams was also a master of expression. You always knew exactly what his heroes and villains were thinking by the looks on their faces. 

There is a tendency among longtime fans to be a bit insufferable about the impact of older comics. I would never want to be one of those “the book is better” types. However, if you really love superhero movies, tv shows, and games, I want to share with you how much Neal Adams contributed to what you love. 

Good X-Men stories: Given the popularity of the X-Men today, many people don’t realize just how miserable X-Men comics were back in the old days. It was a rare miss for the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby duo. Eventually the comic would be converted to reprints. For a few glorious issues though, writer Roy Thomas and Neal Adams showed the true action and drama potential of these characters in Uncanny X-Men #56-63 (1969). While this burst wasn’t enough to stave off the reprint area, I am convinced that these glorious issues showed the power of this concept (particularly in some stories involving the Sentinels) that other creators wanted to bring them back. 

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Nerd Factor: Weather or Not

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

https://www.marvel.com/comics/discover/1194/storm

An old saying goes– everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Unless you live in the Marvel Universe. There, some superheroes like Thor and Storm can and often do control atmospheric conditions. It must be strange to live in a world where weather control exists. 

Unsurprisingly, weather is usually a weapon for Thor. As the Norse God of Thunder, Thor will summon down lightning and let loose terrible storms to smite his enemies. Thor prefers clonking his foes with his mighty hammer Mjolnir. The thunder and lightning arrive when Thor faces a particularly dangerous opponent that provokes his anger or frustration. These downbursts pummel monsters and drive down armies.

While not quite as powerful as Thor, Storm has a greater range of weather control. All forms of weather are hers to manipulate. Storm will often use thunderstorms in battle too, but she can also create blizzards to freeze her foes or fog to obscure the movements of her X-Men teammates. While technically not a god in the sense that Thor is, Storm was regarded as a goddess in her younger days. Storm’s powers are directly linked to her emotions. A bad mood could unintentionally lead to a thunderstorm. A good mood could mean a beautiful day. For many years in the X-Men comics, the need for Storm to control her moods frustrated her. This was also a thematic representation of her move from Africa to the United States. Storm often longed to return to the free spirit days of her time living in Kenya (these days she is Queen of Mars, but that’s a different story altogether).

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Nerd Factor: Punching Hitler Right in the Mouth

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

The cover to Captain America #1 is one of my all-time favorite comic book covers. Released a few days before Christmas in 1940, the cover depicts the debut of our most patriotic hero. This image is a particularly fine example of the dynamic artwork of Cap’s co-creator, Jack Kirby. You can almost hear the savage blow that the good Captain delivered right to Hitler’s face, knocking the despot back and sending his red tie flying. His Nazi underlings look on, shocked and afraid, trying and failing to stop Captain America. 

The cover is important because Captain America has gone on to be one of our most prominent superheroes. Although his costume is a bit different here—the abdominal stripes are a bit narrower, the head covering is more like a helmet than a mask, and the shield is more angular—visually this is pretty much the Cap we know today, athletic, action-oriented, and wearing his patriotism. 

As I have gotten older, I have come to love this cover for other reasons. I am always impressed by how early Captain America is laying into the Nazis here. It was 1940. America would not formerly go to war until a year later. Cap was leading the way. Writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby were both Jewish. They knew what was going on in the world. They knew what this country should be doing and whom we should be fighting. 

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Nerd Factor: We Loved Lucy

Image from https://www.tvinsider.com/show/i-love-lucy/

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

With two recent movies out about their careers, the fictionalized Being the Ricardos (2021) and the documentary Lucy and Desi (2021), Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are receiving a long overdue retrospective. Both films deal with their most famous show, I Love Lucy, and such issues as the couple’s battle with the rabid witch hunt that was House Un-American Activities Committee, the challenges they faced as an interracial couple, and the inevitable demise. 

Amidst all the necessary coverage of the drama in their lives, there is also a much-needed lauding of the powerhouse couple’s  impact on the emerging television business. As the creators behind Desilu Productions, Ball and Arnaz ran the most powerful independent television studio in the business. That studio gave us shows like Mission Impossible, Mannix, and, oh, a little thing called Star Trek. Additionally, they had production deals with comedian and producer Danny Thomas, his show and another little thing called The Andy Griffith Show filmed on the Desilu lot.  

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Nerd Factor: The Sound of One Hand Slapping

waboosh https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-03-27/photos-will-smiths-swing-at-chris-rock-sends-2022-oscars-off-the-rails

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communications Studies Professor

Comedy is dangerous. 

I tell that to my classes whenever the topic comes up. Comedy is, hands down, the most dangerous genre there is, even more than horror. Comedy is dangerous for the comedian and comedy is dangerous for the audience. 

Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony offered the perfect example of this when Will Smith struck Chris Rock on stage after Rock made a joke about Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. 

Both men made terrible mistakes. In doing so, both men may have harmed their careers. Time will tell. 

However, they certainly harmed comedy. 

Smith failed when he resorted to violence. The temptation here is to see Smith’s actions as a defense of his wife’s honor. However, someone as immensely talented in wordcraft and comedy as Will Smith had many other options available to him. The simple fact of the matter is that Smith could have killed or seriously injured Rock. Go back and look at the side view of the picture. This was a powerful strike. Any violent blow to the head has the possibility of serious short- and long-term health repercussions, something Smith should have known since he actually starred in a movie called, of all things, Concussion

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Nerd Factor: Phases of the Moon Knight

Dr. Mike ~ U.L Communication Studies Professor

Moon Knight Promo Image – https://screenrant.com/moon-knight-poster-costume-design-oscar-isaac-details-image/

When I was younger, superhero movies and television shows were very risky propositions. Fans could find their favorite characters significantly altered by movie writers and TV producers before they reached the screens. For that reason, there was always a certain anxiety that came with the arrival of a new project. 

In modern times, that trepidation has been replaced with a giddy anticipation. Characters may be changed, but they are largely still in the spirit that made them so exciting to the fan in the first place. Sure, problems still occur. But when they do, it’s more a matter of narrative tone or performance rather than overall concept. The essence of the superhero was there. 

So, when Marvel talked of making an Ant-Man movie or DC started talking about Shazam, I was reasonably sure we’d get a new take on a favorite character. 

Yet sometimes a character comes along that really makes me wonder what version of the character we will get. Moon Knight is the perfect example. 

I love Moon Knight. I did not read many of his comics when they were first being published, but I became a great fan of the character later when I binged some collections of stories. When the Marvel Netflix series started up, I was constantly saying “Y’know who they should do next? Moon Knight!” So, I’ve been waiting for Moon Knight for a while now.

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The Batman: What to Watch Out For

The Batman Logo

Back in 1989, when the Tim Burton directed Batman debuted, the Caped Crusader was risky business. Most of America still thought of Batman as the delightfully campy character played by Adam West in the ABC television series (1966-1969). The success of the 1989 film established the darker version of the character that only comic book fans had really known up to that point. Including the 1989 film, audiences have been treated to ten live-action film appearances for Batman, some animated films, and a host of television and video game appearances. We live in a new Golden Age of Batman and we are quite used to the vagaries of changes in the franchise. 

With the newest film, The Batman, about to debut, the Nerd Factor advises these things to watch out for:

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Nerd Factor: What, Me Jurassic Worry?

By Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Where Did the Dinosaur-Killing Impactor Come From? - The New York Times
The best image in the universe – from: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/15/science/dinosaur-extinction-kt-comet-asteroid.html

At the end of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the dinosaurs were finally set loose into the world. That was the moment we had been waiting decades to see. Unfortunately, giving the dinos the freedom to roam also exposes a problem at the core of the franchise. The denizens of Jurassic Park are not quite the threat that we expected. 

In several movies and on a few other projects, we have been told time and again that dinosaurs are dangerous. We certainly know that at an individual level, dinosaurs are terrifying. Many people have been eaten after all. However, we are also told, usually by Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm, that dinosaurs pose an existential threat to our species. Through the hubris of careless scientific endeavor, humans have returned an awesome natural power to the playing field of survival. We face competitors that we may not be equipped to deal with. 

Except that we are equipped to deal with them. After all, we have things like M-1 Abrams tanks and Apache attack helicopters. Dinosaurs simply lack the numbers of the other extinction level threats introduced by science fiction. Dinosaurs cannot reproduce as quickly as zombies nor do they arrive en masse as a horde of alien invaders. Simply put, in the battle of dinosaurs vs. humans, the dinosaurs are outgunned and outnumbered. 

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Nerd Factor: What is the Book of Boba Fett?

This column contains spoilers for Disney+ series The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.

Everything We Know About The Book of Boba Fett << Rotten Tomatoes – Movie  and TV News
Image from: https://editorial.rottentomatoes.com/article/everything-we-know-about-the-book-of-boba-fett/

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

For many years, streaming services have been breaking down how we traditionally view television programming. Gone are the days of appointment television, when everyone was compelled (or at least felt compelled) to be watching a specific show at a specific time. While many shows still drop an episode per week, streaming technology also gives power to the binge viewer. The classic idea of a television season is changing. The Book of Boba Fett is breaking up how we think of an actual series. 

Boba Fett is a fascinating example of a cult character in popular culture. For decades, the allure of the original Star Wars trilogy’s dangerous bounty hunter was largely based around mystery. His reputation came from only a few minutes of screen time. He was a compelling figure because we knew so little about him. Yes, there was that cartoon that introduced the character for The Star Wars Holiday Special, but fans were often unsure how official that was in terms of series canon. Really, we just knew him as the guy who captured Han Solo but who also died an ignominious death in the Sarlacc pit on Tatooine

Later, Boba Fett’s story became a backstory. Great efforts were made to fill in his past. Some of this was done in novels and comic books that are no longer considered official history. The character was seen as a child in the Star Wars prequel trilogies, various cartoon spin-offs, and video games. 

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Nerd Factor: You Might Really Be Dating a Superhero

Relationship Roundup: Clark Kent and Lois Lane | DC
Cute. Image from https://www.dccomics.com/blog/2018/03/27/relationship-roundup-clark-kent-and-lois-lane

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communications Study Professor

Trust is an important thing in any relationship. However, some careers require some partners to be less than straightforward about their professional lives. Because the Nerd Factor cares deeply about your emotional well-being, here are some tips for telling if you might really be dating a superhero:

If your sweetheart wears a lot of undergarments in the middle of the summer, you might really be dating a superhero.

If your bae seems to be on a first name basis with an inordinately high number of Avengers, you might really be dating a superhero.

If your true love gets a lot of shade thrown at them, you might be dating a jerk. If your true love gets a lot of things thrown at them, particularly things about the size of a car, then you might really be dating a superhero.

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Nerd Factor: Maus Ban

Holocaust book Maus hits bestseller list after Tennessee school board ban |  Holocaust | The Guardian
Maus covers image from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/31/holocaust-novel-maus-bestseller-after-tennessee-school-ban

By Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Recently, the McMinn County School Board in Tennessee unanimously banned the novel Maus. For the unfamiliar, Maus is a depiction of the horrors of the Holocaust as recounted to the writer/artist Art Spiegelman by his father. The story is told in a comic book format with the visual device that the Jews are depicted as mice and the Nazis as cats. Unsurprisingly for its subject matter, the story is a harrowing read. So, of course, in making its decision, the McMinn board focused on nudity. 

As a species, sensors tend to be a dull lot. Most live in a world without context. They fret and clutch their pearls over imagined effects upon imagined audiences. In this particular case, a scene in which Spiegelman’s father discovers his wife dead by suicide in a bath tub is one main source of vexation for the censors. The lifeless character is shown nude in the tub, as one might expect a lifeless body in a tub to be. 

The absurdity of the complaint is fascinating. My initial thought upon hearing this was Maus gets censored while the pants-less Winnie-the-Pooh remains free to terrorize the citizens of McMinn County! You’re next, Bugs Bunny, you serial exhibitionist! And hey Donald Duck, buy a clue from your pal Mickey and put on some pants, you freak! Once these degenerate cartoons are rounded up, McMinn County can then get on the important work of putting little outfits on real animals in public parks. Tiny pants are expensive, please contribute what you can on their Go Fund Me page to help the cause.

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Nerd Factor: How Does Spider-Man Move a Sofa?

Spider-Man: Far From Home – the extended version... | BitFeed.co
J. Jonah Jameson reveals the truth. Image from https://www.bitfeed.co/page/spider-man-far-from-home-the-extended-version-of-the-scene-post-credits

This article contains mild spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home, but I think you probably know this about the movie by now. If not, I am seriously impressed by your spoiler dodging skills. 

By Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Moving a sofa is one of life’s special problems. While you can shove one around your house solo, getting a sofa to another location or up a set of stairs requires the assistance of others. 

On the surface, this seems like an easy problem for a superhero to solve. A fantastic set of abilities should allow one to easily move heavy furniture. If you can punch it out with Thanos, you can surely move your latest purchase from Ikea. 

The problem here though is one of secret identities. Everyone knows Tony Stark is Iron Man. So there’s nothing particularly weird about Tony Stark showing up at a furniture store, signing for the item, and then flying away with it. Things are harder for Spidey because nobody knows that he and Peter Parker are one and the same. I mean, that’s what Spider-Man: No Way Home is all about, limiting that knowledge. 

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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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