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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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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.