Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Scientists announced that they discovered kryptonite!

A mineral found by geologists in Serbia shares virtually the same chemical composition as the fictional kryptonite from outer space, used by the superhero's nemesis Lex Luthor to weaken him in the film "Superman Returns."

{...} Stanley, who revealed the identity of the mysterious new mineral, discovered the match after searching the Internet for its chemical formula — sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide.

"I was amazed to discover that same scientific name written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luther from a museum in the film 'Superman Returns,'" he said.

But what about the "tar" in the artificial kryptonite in Superman III?

Of course, it isn't kryptonite unless it is green (or red, white, gold, or blue) and glows. More importantly, it can't be kryptonite unless it comes from Krypton.

The comic books were always a bit vague about what kryptonite really was. It usually came to earth looking like a chunk of rock but it could be melted and made into other objects like metal. It was treated as an element. Possibly, just as uranium will become plutonium when exposed to the right radiation, most other solids will become kryptonite when properly treated. Additional treatments cause it to change into red, white or gold varieties. Blue kryptonite is an imperfect copy of green and will kill Bizarros.

As you would expect from something glowing, kryptonite was radioactive although it did not bother terrestrial life (except for the white form which kills plants). It could be harnessed as a power source which Metallo did.

Originally the explosion of Krypton transformed all of the planet's fragments into kryptonite. The young Kal-el's spaceship opened a wormhole to Earth and a significant amount of kryptonite followed through this.

Besides killing Superman and powering cyborgs, kryptonite had one other interesting use - it was not affected by the heat of entering Earth's atmosphere. It might have made a good coating for the space shuttle except, as soon as someone did that the shuttle would have failed (with Lois aboard) and Superman would have to rescue a craft that could kill him.

Kryptonite could also protect an inhabitant of Daxam from lead poisoning. In the 30th century, Mon-el had to take kryptonite pills regularly to stay healthy.

Kryptonite could also impregnate a living being. One such was the Kryptonite Kid who could not only kill Superboy with a touch but could also transform anything he touched into kryptonite.

When Superman was re-created by John Byrne in the 1980s the source of kryptonite was changed around a bit. Centuries before terrorists had tried to destroy the planet. They were stopped but not before they started a process that converted much of the planet into kryptonite and caused it to explode.

Originally kryptonite could kill Superman but it did not remove his invulnerability. A kryptonite bullet would bounce off of him the same as a lead one. The revised Superman could be shot with a kryptonite bullet (probably because his impenetrable skin was replaced with a force field which failed in the presence of kryptonite). Also, long-term exposure to kryptonite turned out to be fatal to humans as Luther found out after wearing a kryptonite ring for years.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Robin Hood through the ages

I had the unusual experience of seeing three different interpretations of Robin Hood last week. That inspired me to give a quick overview of Robin Hood in movies and TV.

The character of Robin Hood has been popular for 700 years and has been through countless interpretations. One of his better appearances in literature was as a supporting character in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. This was cast as a Saxon/Norman fight.

There were several versions of Robin Hood in early cinema but the best one is Douglas Fairbank's version. I saw a screening of a shortened version of this with live accompaniment. It's over the top in many places but still a fun version. Fairbanks played Robin Hood as enjoying himself even as he fought evil and was Fairbank's most popular movie.

Errol Flynn played nearly the same character. Like Fairbanks, Flynn played a Robin Hood who enjoyed the fight. Again, this was one of Flynn's most popular movies.

There was a British TV series in the 1950s. It was strongly influenced by the Errol Flynn movie. I remember seeing it a few times but I don't remember any details.

In 1975, Mel Brooks did his first take on Robin Hood with the TV series When Things Were Rotten. It was amusing but was canceled after a few months.

In 1976, Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn played an aging Robin and Marian. Robin returned from crusade after King Richard's death to find that everything was back like it had been. Worse, Marian had taken the veil and was now a nun. Robin had to regroup his merry men and lead a new revolt.

There was a British series, Robin of Sherwood, in the 1980s. I only saw one episode which seemed ok. The series was available on one of the premium channels in the US and gathered a following.

Then came Kevin Costner's Prince of Thieves. Slow and dreary, it was poorly received. They didn't even put Robin Hood in green. For some reason they insisted that green hadn't been invented yet or some such excuse.

The only good thing to come out of Prince of Thieves was that it gave Mel Brooks an excuse to do the character again. This time he did a theatrical version - Robin Hood, Men in Tights. While not Brooks' best, it was still far better than the Costner's version.

This brings us to the present. The BBC has a new Robin Hood TV series. This has a rather grim Robin Hood who seems too young. His character's motivations is somewhere between noblesse oblige and Marxism. He's a bit of a wimp. He went to lengths to convince the Sheriff that he was capable of killing although I'm not sure that he's even wounded anyone yet. Marian has been reinvented. She is the daughter of the previous Sheriff. She disguises herself as the "Night Watchman" and does her own good deeds.

The costumes are wretched, far worse than any other version, even the Costner one with the scarves. The chain mail looks like molded vinyl and some costume pieces that Marian and Sir Guy wear could pass for modern fashion.

Clearly, the best interpretation of Robin Hood is the slightly over-the-top one. He needs to enjoy himself as do his companions. After all, they are "merry men" (but still butch).

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


A new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is out. That gives me a chance to examine their origins.

The Turtles have been through so many media it is hard to remember that they started as an independent comic.

A sidebar on independent comics - they started in the 1960s as "underground comics". These mainly featured drug and sex jokes and were sold through head shops. By the 1970s, some comic fans were beginning to publish out of their own pocket. Between falling costs for printing and the rise of comic book stores, these turned into a minor industry by the 1980s. Many titles had decent sales and a long run. The longest, Cerebus the Aardvark, is still running. To save printing costs, most of the independent comics were printed in black and white on cheaper grade paper.

This is where the Turtles began.

The Turtles were part joke, part homage, and part serious comic.

The joke came from the top selling comics at the time. These were dominated by the X-Men and its spin-offs. The top selling comic was Frank Miller's version of Daredevil. At the time, Daredevil was fighting a group of ninjas alongside Electra who was a ninja herself.

The joke was that a comic book featuring ninjas and teen-ager mutants would be an automatic best-seller.

The homage was a sly tie-in with Daredevil. Daredevil was blinded when he saved a man from being hit by a truck. Daredevil was struck in the face with a radioactive isotope that fell off of the truck. It seems that the isotope drained into the sewer where it mutated some turtles.

Daredevil's other senses were enhanced by the isotope and he learned how to handle this from a ninja called Stick. Later Daredevil and Stick fought a group of ninjas called the Hand.

The turtles learned ninjitsu from a rat named Splinter and later fought the Foot.

All of that was the draw, what sold the first issue. What kept people coming back was the storyline. It was intense. The original movie did a fairly good job of adapting the comic book but even that was toned down a bit.

The Turtles quickly became a sensation, setting sales records for independent comics. The first few issues were reprinted several times with total sales surpassing most mainstream comic books.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The FF at 45

Around 45 years ago a new comic book appeared on the stands. Labeled "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine" it featured a new superhero team, the Fantastic Four. The members weren't very original. Their powers (stretching, invisibility, fire, and a hideous monster) had all been used before. Still, there was something different about the team.

Not all of the original stories were gems. It took a couple of years for things to really gel. Some of the early villains weren't worth remembering and not all of the plots made sense. For example, a statue was brought to life and went on a rampage. The Torch burned it up, proving that it was still just plaster and wood. Eventually it turned out that the villain was a hypnotist who made people think that he had done these things. Which begged the question - if the statue never really came to life then how did the Torch burn it up some distance from where it was originally standing? For that matter, how did people in the street get hypnotized?

The interesting thing is that people wrote in and complained about this sort of goof. The creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, never made that sort of stupid mistake again.

Within a couple of years both Lee and Kirby had grown as story-tellers - an interesting feat since both had been in the industry for years. The stories became "cosmic", the characters came into focus. Kirby became a major influence on new artists.

The public reacted and sales went up. Who wanted to read about the Justice League fighting the Queen Bee when the Fantastic Four had to take back their headquarters from Doctor Doom without their powers? Who worried about a giant startfish when a giant in armor was planning to eat the planet?

Along the way they populated the Marvel Universe. The Kree, the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer and the Black Panther, even the golden guy who eventually was named Adam Warlock were all introduced in the pages of the Fantastic Four.

As the stories got beer, the audience got older. 45 years ago the average comic book reader was grade school age. Now he's college age.

While I wasn't there at the first issue, I was reading the FF partway through their second year. It's scary to think how long ago that was.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

How "Lost" is Juliet?

In last night's Lost, Kate was gassed by the Others. When she woke up, she was some distance away from their village and handcuffed to Juliet. After a long trip back they found the guys (Jack and Sayid) still sleeping from the gas.

So what's going on? Why send the girls off to the wilderness?

Plus, part way through we found out that Juliet had the key all the time.

This implies that she was somehow in on the whole thing. She wasn't just gassed and dumped like Kate. She may have helped them carry Kate out then locked on the cuffs herself.

Why? The obvious reason is to have a chance to bond with Kate or at least let her know that she eliminated herself from the running with Jake when she had sex with Sawyer. Jack certainly acted that way. He insisted that Juliet come with them and fell in beside her, ignoring Kate.

The guys were not a part of this so they were given a stronger or second dose of the gas. The were still out the next day, at least 12 hours after Kate woke up.

So the Others have a spy in the midst of the castaways. Again.

Other events - Hurley came pretty close to telling Sawyer that he was going to be voted off the island.

Hurley says that sawyer is the new leader (how will Jack react to that?) but Hurley seems to be the one who really runs things. He's the most organized. He's the one who gets the others to do stuff. He's the social director. But he doesn't like conflict so he sets others up as the official leader.

He's also able to con Sawyer. That's twice (the ping pong game was the first).

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Jesus in a Cape

Easter is almost here so I thought I would review Jesus figures in superhero comics. Usually these are tastefully done. The exception was National Lampoon's Son 'O God Comics. The premise was that this is how a comic book about a modern day incarnation of Jesus would be handled if it was published by Marvel Comics.

As a parody of Marvel, it was perfect. The art was by Neil Adams who had just done some memorable work at Marvel. The feature included a letters page with promos for future stories.

Meanwhile, over at the real Marvel, Jesus did make an occasional appearance. In the early 1970s, Satan appeared so often he counted as a supporting character. Writer Tony Isabella felt that there should be a counterweight to this. In one episode, Satan was about to collect Ghost Rider's soul when a bearded stranger intervened and saved him. The stranger's identity was never given and Isabella himself only referred to him as "JC" in private conversations.

More common was the Christ-like character. The Silver Surfer was often depicted this way, especially since his recurring enemy, Mephisto, was obviously a version of Satan. This was most pronounced when the Surfer met Dracula. At the time, Dracula was living in a de-consecrated church. He had married, his wife was pregnant, and he was gathering a cult. A portrait of Christ still hung in the church and the Surfer made his entrance by phasing right through it. Twice. Dracula survived, mainly because of the intervention of Dracula's wife.

In the same plotline Dracula fought a golden-skinned creature. Dracula kept calling him a demon but he was obviously an angel (in spandex). At the end of the issue, the angel died but his essence apparently went into Dracula's pregnant wife. When their child was born, it had golden skin. Unfortunately, the comic was canceled around then so the plot was never really resolved.

Then there was Adam Warlock. This character started as an artificial life form created by a trio of scientists. They referred to their creation as "Him". When we first saw Him, in a Lee/Kirby issue of the Fantastic Four, he was still developing in a cocoon. When he finally hatched he was a perfect being with blond hair, golden skin, and great but undefined powers. He left earth but later ran into Thor and his girl friend, Sif. Him decided that he liked Sif and Thor beat him up, forcing him back into his cocoon.

Enter the High Evolutionary, a Lee/Kirby creation from Thor. He was a scientist who came up with a way of speeding up evolution on mammals (or combining their DNA with human). His big failure was with the wolf. The result was an evil being known as the Man-Beast. Thor helped defeat the Man-Beast and the High Evolutionary left Earth. He showed up later in a Hulk comic and turned his machine on himself, making himself god-like.

All of these elements came together when the High Evolutionary decided to recreate Earth without original sin. As it turned out, Him happened to be nearby in his cocoon and stopped to watch.

Creating a second Earth on the far side of the Sun was enough to tax even the High Evolutionary. As he rested the Man-Beast took over the experiment and introduced sin to Counter Earth. He also arraigned it so that there was no religion and no super-powered beings.

The High Evolutionary was ready to destroy his creation but Him offered to go clean things up. He emerged from his cocoon, weaker than before. The High Evolutionary named him Adam Warlock and gave him a soul gem to help his mission.

Once on Counter Earth, Adam gathered a following. The strip was canceled after a few issues but
the plot was concluded in the Hulk. Hulk ended up on Counter Earth as one of Adam's disciples. Picking up the Christ references, Adam was arrested (it turned out that the Man-Beast was the President) and sentenced to die (on sort of a cross-shaped table). Hulk played Peter to Adam's Christ.

Adam reverted to his cocoon and emerged after three days. He turned the Man-Beast and his minions back into the animals they started as and left for the stars.

The least likely Christ figure in comics is the mad titan Thanos. Originally Thanos was a death-worshiper who hoped that by killing enough of the universe, Death herself would accept him as her paramour. Never the less, in one limited series, Thanos absorbed the "Heart of the universe", becoming all powerful. He discovered that there was a fundamental flaw in the universe caused by characters constantly being resurrected*. The flaw could be fixed but it required Thanos to destroy and recreate the universe with a stronger barrier between life and death. This process would destroy Thanos, meaning that he had to sacrifice himself for the universe. Of course, Thanos tended to cheat on things such as this and survived.

One other character deserves mention. Doctor Strange ran across someone named Sise-Neg traveling back in time and absorbing mystic energy as he went. He reasoned that by the time he got to the Big Bang, he would be all powerful and could recreate the universe any way he wanted. He got his wish but the wisdom that came with so much power told him that the universe was already perfect so he recreated it exactly as it had been. BTW, Sise-Neg is Genesis spelled backwards.

* Marvel characters resurrected so often that Peter David made a humorous point about this in an issue of the Hulk. Rick Jones's girlfriend, Marlo had been killed and he was trying to get someone to bring her back to life. When he asked Dr. Strange, he was told that death is normal and people don't come back. "What do you mean?" Rick asked. "I've come back from the dead. You've come back from the dead. Wong, have you been dead? See? People come back from the dead all the time." He was right of course and a few issues later he married the resurrected Marlo.