DID YOU READ

The Man of Steel or The Man of Spock?

The Man of Steel or The Man of Spock? (photo)

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Every couple of years, DC Comics refreshes their properties by updating and retelling their origins for modern audiences. In the 1980s, there was “The Man of Steel,” which re-envisioned Lex Luthor as a Gordon Gecko-ish corporate raider and Lois Lane as an independent woman with a tragic fashion sense. A few years ago, “The Man of Steel” was replaced by “Superman: Birthright,” which canonized elements of the “Smallville” television series. Just last year, “Birthright” was replaced by “Superman: Secret Origin,” a more timeless version with a distinctly old-fashioned feel. Its more timely and contemporary counterpart came out today in the form of a new graphic novel called “Superman: Earth One,” written by J. Michael Straczynski and illustrated by Shane Davis. Its major innovation? It seems to turn Superman into Mr. Spock from J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek.” To explain how, I’ll need to talk about the details of “Earth One”‘s plot, so please consider anything below the ad as potential spoiler territory.

One element that’s remained consistent through all the variations of Superman’s origin, from comics to radio to television to movies, is the destruction of his home planet Krypton by natural disaster. Essentially, Superman’s scientist father Jor-El is always like Al Gore: he predicts the disaster, but his warnings are met by skepticism. When he’s proven right, and the planet is destroyed, he saves his only son by sending him in a rocket ship to Earth.

Straczynski keeps most of the broad strokes, but adds one crucial distinction: in his telling, the planet doesn’t self-destruct, it’s destroyed by bitter aliens from Krypton’s sister planet Dheron. These Dheronians drill through Krypton’s surface and create an energy field in its core that destabilizes and then destroys the planet. The Dheronians had made a bargain with a shadowy figure to attain this technology; Superman’s escape from the planet as a baby broke that bargain. And so a group of Dheronians have scoured the galaxy for twenty years looking for him. “Earth One”‘s big climactic battle is between Superman and Tyrell, the evil leader of Dheronians, as the aliens launch their drills and try to destroy our planet the same way they destroyed Krypton. Superman boards a one man spaceship that he instinctively knows how to pilot and uses it to destroy the Dheronian mothership and deactivate their drills.

If you’ve seen Abrams’ “Star Trek,” the similarities should be obvious. Spock’s home planet, Vulcan, is destroyed by bitter aliens from the Vulcans’ sister race, the Romulans. These Romulans drill through Vulcan’s surface and create a black hole in its core that destabilizes and then destroys the planet. That act is the culmination of the Romulans’ lengthy hunt for Spock: they blame him for their planet’s earlier destruction, but he manages to elude them on a trip through time. And so a group of Romulans have scoured the galaxy for twenty years looking for him. “Star Trek”‘s big climactic battle is between Spock (and Captain Kirk) and Nero, the evil leader of the Romulans, as the aliens launch their drills and try to destroy our planet the same way they destroyed Vulcan. Spock boards a one man spaceship that he instinctively knows how to pilot and uses it to destroy the Romulan mothership and deactivate their drills.

“Superman: Year One” is a 125 page book. It must have taken months to write and draw. The project was announced on DC’s website in December of 2009 and who knows how long Straczynski was working on the story before then, probably long before “Star Trek”‘s release. So I’m going to give Straczynski the benefit of the doubt — as a prolific and successful writer of comics, film, and television, he’s certainly earned it — and chalk this up to an incredible coincidence. In any case, it’s far more interesting to consider what these two very similar reboots of two very different franchises say about how creators are updating decades old properities for modern audiences and tastes.

Both Superman and Mr. Spock are characters who are defined by their lack of outward definition, their blankness: Superman’s unflappable goodness and Spock’s cool, emotionless logic. These new interpretations give them both strong motivations for justice (or revenge, depending on how you see it), and reimagines them as far more aggressive, hot-tempered personalities. Apparently it’s not enough anymore for Superman or Spock to have been raised by kind, loving, and intelligent parents. In order to becomes heroes, they have to have been wronged in a significant way.

Are current audiences incapable of relating to heroes who are good simply for the sake of being good? Maybe. We live in cynical times, when we distrust our government and our leaders as a matter of course. Perhaps it’s only fitting that we would be skeptical of anyone whose motivations to do something are pure and selfless. To fight for truth, justice, and the American way, or to boldly go where no one’s gone before, you might need a little bit of a push.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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