Nerd Factor

Nerd Factor: Other Mike

Photo retrieved from https://whatculture.com/tv/9-most-memorable-alternate-universe-tv-episodes.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Science fiction and superhero fans live in fictional worlds that are awash with alternate realities. The concept is popular enough that it sustains one of the best superhero movies of the previous decade, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

     With Disney developing properties like Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and What If?, these alternate worlds appear to be a big part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it moves forward. Nerds are accustomed to encountering multi-dimensional versions of their favorite characters. I am always amazed at how quickly they adapt to this notion. I found dealing with something close to an alternate Mike Robinson somewhat complicated. 

     I was in graduate school in Indiana at the time. For many months, I had received late night calls asking for a particular woman. I cannot remember her name, but I do remember the anger of the man who was looking for her. I kept telling this guy that nobody at this number had that name. 

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You Might Really Be Dating a Superspy

Photo retrieved from http://www.007museum.com/.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies 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 superspy:

     If your true love seems to have an inordinately high number of tuxedos in their closet, then you might really be dating a superspy. 

     If your significant other has a lot of tape players, then they might just be into vintage audio or high-fidelity music. If a lot of those tape players self-destruct after a few minutes of playing, then you might really be dating a superspy.

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Nerd Factor: When Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield

How Avengers: Endgame Sets Up Captain America | The Mary Sue
Image from: https://www.themarysue.com/avengers-endgame-future-captain-america/

Dr. Mike Robinson~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     While tossing some snowballs around after our recent winter storm, I was reminded of one of the classic improvisations of childhood. Advancing down upon my position from the top of our neighbor’s hill that forms the beginning of our sledding run, my son deflected snowball after snowball with his plastic saucer sled. Like many anonymous Hydra goon before me, I too learned that there was little that could be done to stop this surrogate Captain America and his ersatz shield. 

     Unsurprisingly, we played superheroes quite a bit when I was a kid. We improvised a lot of that play as best we could. A friend’s saucer sled became Captain America’s shield. A wooden mallet I had made for some forgotten school project sometimes substituted for Thor’s hammer. One friend of mine was a lacrosse player. His helmet, shoulder pads, and gloves instantly made him Iron Man. 

     Never fear, this is just nostalgia not comparative childhood judgement. Imagination is imagination. I would never insist that we somehow had a better childhood than kids do today. Although there was something undeniably cool about those big old lacrosse gloves. Those things really did look like gauntlets could toss off a repulsor ray or too. Believe me, if we could have convinced our parents to buy us more authentic superhero gear, we would have begged and pleaded to get them. We just did not have many licensed products back then. 

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Nerd Factor: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Box Office Blues: Warner's “Wonder Woman 1984” Is Mostly a Bust in 2,200  Theaters After 5 Weeks in Release | Showbiz411
Image from https://www.tweaktown.com/news/76960/wb-fast-tracking-wonder-woman-3-after-ww84-success-on-hbo-max/index.html

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Wonder Woman 1984 was the greatest thing to happen in the coronavirus curtailed movie business in a while because people were finally able to see a big superhero action movie. Wonder Woman 1984 was also the worst thing to happen in the same context because the movie simultaneously debuted on a streaming service, circumventing and therefore imperiling the movie theater business as we have come to know it. 

     Anything new is always a mix of excitement and always danger. What struck me about the whole affair though was the ordinary context in which it occurred. I watched a revolutionary moment for film from the comfort of a recliner in my living room. 

     Oh sure, this was Christmas Day. Traditionally for my family, Christmas is a very busy holiday spent frantically opening gifts while trying to see everyone else’s reactions to the gifts you got them. This particular holiday was a bit different as we chose not to travel and to limit interactions. Still, sometime before lunch, we had come down from the rush of gifting and receiving and settled into the usual subdued pace of people who had just participated in a major athletic event or an artistic performance. A calm satisfaction of a job well done where everyone seemed to have walked away happy prevailed. 

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Nerd Factor: 24,000 Stories for Alex Trebek

Photo retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Culture/legendary-jeopardy-host-alex-trebek-dies/story?id=17967146.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Alex Trebek was the game show host’s game show host. Since 1984, the Jeopardy! host has been welcome in living rooms across the country five nights a week. When Trebek passed away due to pancreatic cancer this weekend, we lost a familiar friend.

     Even before Jeopardy!, Trebek’s career as a quiz master was remarkable. He hosted his first game show in 1966, the Canadian high school academic competition Reach for the Top. For every year after that, Trebek hosted at least one game show, an impressive accomplishment in the notoriously fickle business of television. Overall, he worked every year for 54 years. 

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Nerd Factor: Connery, Sean Connery

Sean Connery: A look at some of his career-defining roles - National |  Globalnews.ca
Image from https://globalnews.ca/news/7434727/sean-connery-movie-roles/

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     To understand the power of the late Sean Connery’s star persona, consider two roles. One made Connery a household name. The other was a role Connery never played. 

     The first role is, of course, James Bond. Basically, Sean Connery made James Bond into Sean Connery. The character of James Bond had existed before the movies. Ian Fleming’s spy novels were best sellers for about a decade before anyone saw Bond on film. 

     The story goes that before the movies came out, Fleming had imagined Bond as a very different person, more like actor David Niven. If you are unfamiliar with David Niven, look him up online. I will wait here while you do. 

     David Niven does not look like James Bond, does he? That is no slight. Niven was an outstanding actor, but we all have trouble picturing him as Bond. In fact, Niven did later play James Bond, in a somewhat strained parodic movie called Casino Royale that was released in 1967. The idea of Niven in that role was meant to be funny. 

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Nerd Factor: Ghost Bothering

Photo retrieved from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/226094843779571986/.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Lately I have been wondering: is it really possible to “hunt” a ghost?

     I am not thinking about the actual existence of ghosts. Personally, I am highly skeptical about the veracity of that particular paranormal phenomenon. But if ghosts do exist, can they be hunted?

     Oh sure, it is possible to imagine all sorts of fantastic technology that could be deployed to do this. I mean, we all saw Ghostbusters. Just wave a P.K.E. meter* or something like it around and a certain undetermined number of beeps later, ghosts are located.

     But is that actual hunting?

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Nerd Factor: Unhappy Travels

Photo retrieved from https://www.cnet.com/news/scare-yourself-silly-with-over-400-horror-movies-that-cost-5-each/.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Recently I saw a video that shared some advice for staying happy. Most of the suggestions were about what one would expect. Smile more. Get some regular exercise. Eat certain foods. One tip surprised me though. The advice was to plan a trip, even if you had no intention of taking it. I thought that was rather odd. Even without the context of the coronavirus, this is the season of scares. The horror genre, after all, tends to complicate travel. 

     First there is the matter of destination. If the horror genre has taught us anything, it is that places are not what they seem. By daylight, cabins in the woods seem like great places to drop out of the hustle and bustle of life, chances to get away from it all. Come nightfall, though, these tiny holiday structures quickly turn into bases that offer very few defenses from outside attacks and often house some pretty nasty surprises within their old wooden basements. 

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Nerd Factor: Muck Encrusted Mockeries of Men

Photo retrieved from https://bloody-disgusting.com/tv/3635805/swamp-thing-began-airing-cw-week-one-million-people-watched-premiere/.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     In 1971, Marvel Comics introduced us to Ted Sallis, a scientist who must inject himself with his own special biochemical formula to prevent it from falling into the hands of enemy spies. After an accident, Sallis falls into the swamp and emerges as a monster. Thus, Man-Thing was born. One month later, DC Comics introduced us to Alec Holland, a scientist who must inject himself with his own special biochemical formula in order to prevent it falling into the hands of criminals. After an accident, Holland falls into the swamp and emerges as a monster. Thus, Swamp Thing was born. 

     Those origins may, perhaps, sound rather similar to one another. 

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Nerd Factor: Can Superman Sneeze?

When Superman Gets Sick – The Zebra Pit
Image from Lois and Clark (1993-1998)

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

For some, the arrival of autumn brings the anticipation of crisp air, brightly colored foliage, and tasty foods. For others, the same time of year brings dread of another barrage of seasonal allergies and respiratory system illness. This latter group gains our sympathies and benefits from our medicine, but their endurance of the season is often treated as an individual matter. However, we must begin to consider this on a broader level because of the threat posed by one particular person, the Man of Steel. We must ask ourselves a terrifying question. Can Superman sneeze?

After exposure to the light of our yellow sun, Kryptonians manifest an astonishing variety of superpowers. Super-breath is often regarded as a lower-tier power, useful mostly for the extinguishing of fires or the clearing of poisonous gases. Weaponized though, it is fearsomely dangerous. In Superman II, the villainous General Zod, Ursa, and Non used this ability to devastate downtown Metropolis.

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Nerd factor: Sensational Casting

Tatiana Maslany to star in Marvel's She-Hulk Disney+ series | EW.com
Image from https://ew.com/tv/tatiana-maslany-marvel-she-hulk-disney-plus/

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Decades ago, when superhero properties were guaranteed to be neither all that plentiful nor particularly all that good, fans lived in fear of casting rumors and news. That decision to put the right actor in the right part would always tell you if the producers “got it” or not.  It was almost a relief if a good actor was named. 

We tend to forget, for example, that twelve years ago most of the world did not really know who Iron Man was. The selection of Robert Downey, Jr. to play the brash but troubled billionaire inventor in high tech armor was a signal to all the comic book readers that these new Marvel Studios movies were going to be in the right zone after all. 

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Nerd factor: My Version of 2020

Villains and Vigilantes (1986) comic books
Image from mycomicshop.com/search?TID=277381

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Several decades ago, I created a city set in the near future year of 2020. Time has now caught up to me. 

My nerd friends and I basically played two role-playing games throughout school and college. The first was, of course, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. We accumulated piles of rulebooks, guides, and monster manuals so that we could roll our dice and guide our characters on adventures written out in longhand in notebooks and mapped on graph paper. This system became world famous and is basically the conceptual architect of all the RPG tabletop and computer games that followed.

The second game was a lesser known but equally alliteratively titled game called Villains and Vigilantes. As the title suggests, this was about superheroes. Commercially speaking, the game never caught on quite the way that AD&D did. Of course, as a consolation, V&V got to avoid being blamed as a Satanic influence during some moral panics of the 1980s. As a game, V&V was a bit clunkier too, relying upon complex numerical formulas to generate some character traits. We loved it despite its flaws. Or maybe for them.

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Nerd factor: It’s just a phase

X-MEN: KITTY PRYDE Film in the Works
Image from https://www.aintitcool.com/node/79220

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     At first, the ability to pass through solid objects seems like an ideal superpower to have. No walls can hold a phaser. No ropes can bind them. And in the very physical career of superheroics, no blow can land upon them. However, there are many problems and potential dangers associated with intangibility. 

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Nerd Factor: Knew Mutants

Image from https://movieweb.com/

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     As hard as it is to believe now, a few decades back there was only one X-Men comic. Marvel’s team of “hated by the world they have sworn to protect” mutants had been lighting the superhero world on fire every month in Uncanny X-Men, but it took a lot time to start them as a franchise. Today, a Marvel character that even starts to get white hot gets their own series and probably a movie option with a rumored Disney+ series. Back then, the company was weirdly slow in spinning out even a new comic book series. 

     The first attempt to capture the glory was The New Mutants. In 1983, I got in a bit of trouble for enthusiastically reading the very first issue of their comic. Now, not quite forty years later, I find I cannot motivate myself to see their movie. 

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Nerd Factor: The Roaches of Tuckerman

Image taken from https://abancommercials.com/raid/its-good-be-tough-ant-battle-ad-commercial/14720/

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Thirty years ago this week, three college friends and I moved into an off-campus rental in a suburb. That house was an odd place and we would have many adventures and misadventures there. One of the earliest indicators that the house on Tuckerman Street would never be normal was our early encounter with the roaches. 

     Looking back, I am not exactly sure when we found that we had so many unexpected roommates. Obviously, it happened very early and I suspect that it was all part of the horrible first night at the house. Eric, a friend I had pretty much known forever, and I had arrived earlier in the day to start moving in. We had already discovered that the air conditioning at the home was not working properly. This was in Maryland in the late summer, so we had high temperatures and higher humidity; not exactly the ideal moving day. By the time Bruce got there, a friend whom I met in my freshman year when he sort of excavated a hole into my dorm room wall (a story for another time), those weather conditions had produced a raging thunderstorm. 

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