Nerd Factor

Nerd Factor: Goodbye Doctor, Hello Doctor?

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Dr. Michael Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

When it became clear to the producers of Doctor Who that their star actor was too physically ill to continue playing the role, they embarked on a creative plan to save their popular show. Reasoning that the Doctor was not actually a human, the producers decided that their main character could fall into a kind of emergency restorative state and then emerge with an entirely different physical appearance and some personality differences. And so, after a challenging battle against the Cybermen at the end of part four of “The Tenth Planet (1966),” actor William Hartnell gave the role over to Patrick Troughton. 

The process, eventually called “regeneration,” became a regular feature that allowed Doctor Who to survive from 1963 until today. The various incarnations of the Doctor are typically numbered in an ordinal fashion (there have been some unnumbered Doctors too). Hartnell was the First Doctor. The current Doctor, portrayed by Jodie Whittaker, is the Thirteenth Doctor, although not for much longer. Airing on Sunday night on BBC America, “The Power of the Doctor” will bring her time to an end. 

Within the narrative of the show itself, regeneration stories are often sources of heightened drama. The Doctor leads an extraordinarily dangerous life battling against evil throughout time and space. The story that often takes a particular challenge, forcing the Doctor to endure great physical harm and/or make considerable sacrifices to save the day. The Thirteenth Doctor had an amazing run. The first female incarnation of the character in the show’s history, this Doctor brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm back to the series. She also demonstrated a powerful commitment to her traveling companions, which she calls “her Fam” (short for family). There is also some unresolved romantic tension between this Doctor and her traveling companion, Yaz. Normally I am not much for romance subplots, but I really buy into it on this show. I really do not want to see heartbreak here, but I do not know how it can be avoided. 

Outside the narrative, the process of regeneration is always fascinating to me. Regenerations are not surprises. The hunt for a new actor to play the Doctor is an involved and much hyped affair, involving fan speculation, producer teases, and even pub wagering before the big announcement. We have known since May 8th that Ncuti Gatwa will become the Fourteenth Doctor. Gatwa will be the first person of color in the role as well as the fourth Scottish actor to play the part (so President Morrison-Shetlar, I hope you will be watching!). 

What is so exciting about these moments for me though is that beyond the identity of the actor, the fans have no idea what the new Doctor will be like. Something very old is about to become new again, but the exact details elude us. The time the details are being kept particularly close to the vest. Producer Russell T. Davies, who in 2005 brought the show into the modern era of television, is coming back to the series he loves but he is not telling us much. 

All we know right now is that there will be three specials in 2023 (which will also mark the 60th anniversary year of the program). We know that David Tennant and Catherine Tate will be returning in one of those stories as the very popular Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble. We know that Neil Patrick Harris will be a villain in that story. It is such a wonderful mystery and I cannot wait to see what happens next!

Nerd Factor: To Boldly Go Where No Show Had Gone Before

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Thirty-five years ago, Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted. Arriving on Sept. 28, 1987, the series ushered in an entirely new era of Trek. In retrospect, it is also amazing that this new era happened at all. Today, Star Trek is a true popular culture franchise, spinning out in a variety of media. Back in ’87 though, Trek was pretty much running on old school Enterprise energy. 

The original television series was a fan favorite but also a commercial disaster. NBC had canceled the show in 1968. A fan campaign saved it for a third season, but then NBC killed it for good in 1969. Spinning out into syndicated reruns, the series was finally able to flourish as a phenomenon. That did not prompt much of a return to television though, leading only to the two season Saturday morning Star Trek cartoon (1973-1974). 

The franchise got a boost when Star Wars ignited an era of blockbuster science fiction films. Trek went to the big screen. By 1987 though, there had only been four of these movies. And every last one of these series centered on the original starship Enterprise and its crew. 

As the name implies, Next Generation was an attempt to put someone else in the captain’s chair. Captain Kirk was gone. Captain Jean-Luc Picard arrived. In hindsight this might seem odd, but the question was serious. Could the Trek formula work with a new cast?


Nerd Factor: Men’s and Women’s Sexy Costume Catalog Superhero Holiday Article for Men and for Women

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Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Halloween has been slowly changing over the past few decades from a holiday largely for children into an event celebrated by the entire family. There was always money to be had in costume manufacturing, but as adults have begun to participate more, new products have arrived to meet their needs.

At the same time, the superhero genre has exploded from nerd culture into the mainstream. No one should be surprised that a genre that thrives on costumed identities would be a source of Halloween fun. Every year though, I find myself amused by the lengths some costume makers will go to avoid paying licensing fees. 

On one popular website, shoppers can filter their choices into male and female superhero costumes. There are 197 of the former and 190 of the latter. So, congratulations to the females for achieving some kind of equality. 

Each of those categories are subdivided into “sexy.” There are 79 sexy costumes for women. There are 2 for men. One is Wolverine and the other we’ll discuss in a moment. Perhaps that disparity is a marketing consideration. Maybe men do not search for costumes looking to be “sexy.” It’s probably old-fashioned sexism though.


Nerd Factor: Build High for Heroism

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

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I like to look at really expensive residence ads. Like everyone, I guess I’m a bit of a lottery-win dreamer. I also like to do this from time to time because it really confuses the heck out of my advertising algorithms. 

Recently I was looking at an ad for 217 W. 57th St. Penthouse, a new $250 million residence in New York City. To some seriously epic sounding music, the video ad for this place argues that this is the “highest residence in the world.” As one might expect for a quarter-billion bucks, the domicile has a number of bedrooms, all sorts of amenities, and its own ballroom. 

Do you know what’s missing? A place to put your flying car, supercomputer, and space jet. As an old school comics fan, I can’t help myself. I see every skyscraper as a potential superhero headquarters. 

Back in the day, there were basically two terrestrial choices for an urban super team looking to centralize. Superheroes built up or superheroes built down. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes had Avengers Mansion, a swanky residence donated to the team by gazillionaire Tony Stark (back when people did not know he was Iron Man). There was something undeniably cool about the fact that a person could just be walking down the sidewalk, turn through a gate and go up to the Avenger’s front door (after being secretly scanned by security devices, of course). In order to make all of this work, the Avengers dug down into the solid bedrock of Manhattan Island to store all of their equipment and vehicles.


Nerd Factor: The Buzz About Buzz

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communications Studies Professor

Recently I watched this summer’s Pixar blockbuster that wasn’t a blockbuster, Lightyear. I found myself enjoying a film on a streaming platform that a few months earlier just did not generate much excitement in the theaters. I started to wonder, would Lightyear be a much stronger film if it wasn’t about Buzz Lightyear? And if so, then why was Buzz Lightyear in Lightyear?

Lightyear rolls out as a strange subspecies of prequel. Offering itself up as a curious kind of origin story, the film does not explore Buzz Lightyear’s life before he met Woody and the rest of the Toy Story gang. After all, how could it? Buzz’s realization that he is a toy is at the comedic heart of the original Toy Story (1995). We can’t have Buzz learn that he is a toy only to somehow have him forget that he is a toy to then learn he is a toy again later. 

While we know that there are hundreds of Buzz Lightyear toys out there in the Toy Story universe, we also cannot follow a different Buzz because we know that the “real” Buzz Lightyear is the one owned by the young boy Andy. We may have learned to accept that Buzz moved on to be Bonnie’s toy later, but Buzz’s individuality, his essence as a character, comes from Andy’s name scrawled on the bottom of his boot. 

Leaving aside that paradoxically inspiring yet somehow also soul-crushing existential theory about identity, we must consider that any attempt to expand Buzz Lightyear’s story backwards in time cannot comfortably work within the continuity established by Toy Story. 


Nerd Factor: Batgirl Interrupted

by Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communications Study Professor

In this modern era of superhero movie dominance, the recent decision to shelve the completed $90 million Batgirl movie prophesies dark times to come at HBO Max. 

As a character, Batgirl has long faced an uphill struggle. The first version of the character was created mostly to be a romantic foil for Robin the Boy Wonder, someone to keep the youthful sidekick busy while her mentor Batwoman tried to lure Batman into matrimony. 

The best-known version of the character arrived in comics and on television in the same year. Barbara Gordon was introduced as a way to improve ratings when the show’s popularity waned. While that Batgirl could not save the series, she became a mainstay in the DC Comics universe for about two decades until a violent attack by the Joker left Gordon paralyzed. Since then, a few other characters have claimed the role and Gordon herself recovered and resumed her crime fighting. 

Old school superhero fans have a curious attitude about the media. We hold comic books as sacred, the original texts that gave us our beloved heroes. Comic books are where superheroes are at their best However, we also love to see those characters make it to the screens of other media. Film looms particularly large in this way, the size of the audiences and the screen itself gives everything that big movie feel. Aside from an unimpressive performance by Alicia Silverstone in the painful Batman & Robin movie, Batgirl has not appeared in any other big screen Batman adventure. That is why the prospect of a Batgirl movie was so exciting. Even though this particular project was actually going to run exclusively on HBO Max, it felt big in a big screen way. 


Nerd Factor: We Think You May Find Our Spider-Man Just a Bit Different

By Dr. Michael Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Amazing Fantasy #15

Except for its cover story, Amazing Fantasy #15 was a routine comic filled with conventional twist-ending sci-fi stories. An elderly man’s commitment to ringing the town bell is rewarded during a disaster. A fleeing criminal makes the mistake of trusting a talking mummy in a museum. An ordinary family couple turns out to be Martians hiding out amongst humanity. 

Spider-Man was something new. When that wall-crawling “long underwear type” first hit the stands on August 1, 1962, he changed everything. 

You know the origin story by now because of the fairly faithful movie adaptations. A young orphan named Peter Parker lives with his kindly Uncle Ben and Aunt May. The older couple dote upon and encourage the boy as much as their modest means allow. Yet for all his academic acumen, Peter is lonely, unable to fit in with the cruel bullies and popular snobs of his high school. 


Nerd Factor: Neal Adams Was There

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communications Study Professor

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. 


Nerd Factor: Weather or Not

Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

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).


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. 


Nerd Factor: We Loved Lucy

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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.  


Nerd Factor: The Sound of One Hand Slapping


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


Nerd Factor: Phases of the Moon Knight

Dr. Mike ~ U.L Communication Studies Professor

Moon Knight Promo 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.


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:


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
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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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