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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.