Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods!

ZAP! POW! BAM! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950, an exhibition of rare artifacts and memorabilia on view through August 9 at the Skirball Cultural Center in LA, sounds pretty remarkable. (I first learned about it through the Bat-Blog, which also directed me to this slideshow of 20 images from the show on the LA Weekly site.) The show contains such treasures as the very first sketches of the Joker and Superman, as well as the writing desk where the latter character was born and a photo of the real-life model for Lois Lane. But here's the passage from LA Weekly's blog that made me envision Joker himself, Catwoman, or any of a legion of other villains from the '66 TV show scheming to break in:

The copy of Action Comics #1, the holy grail of comics, which contains the first appearance of Superman [, is one of] less than a hundred copies ... known to exist. The copy at the Skirball is on loan from an anonymous collector and is being shown under a plexiglass cover in the "Lights! Camera! Action!" sub-exhibit one room over from the main gallery.

Heavens to murgatroyd! Have the press and museum curators of the world learned nothing since that rash of burglaries at the Gotham Museum back in the day?! Why, they're exhibiting a chunk of kryptonite, all but asking for a skirmish between Superman and some archfiend!

The Skirball also promises "stations that allow children to dress up as Superheroes or transform themselves via a quick costume change in a telephone booth"--and I ask, yet again, why is it that kids get to have all the fun in this world? But there is a serious intent behind all the interactive bells and whistles, as discussed in the blog post quoted above:

We're kind of in need of superheroes lately. That need is one of the major overlaps between the "golden age" of comic books and the present time. Hence, the Skirball's argument goes, the current resurgence of comics. And because it's the Skirball, the other major point is the Jewish connection. Without having to Wikipedia it, did you know that Stan Lee (the genius behind Spider-Man and Marvel comics) was actually Stan Lieber? And that Superman was created by two 17-year-old Jewish boys? In fact, the entire superhero genre was created by young Jewish artists in the midst of the economic turmoil of the 1930s and 40s.

If you're unlikely to make it to the show in person, you might want to consider ordering the exhibition catalogue (pictured above) from the show's home base, the William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum in Atlanta. In addition to photos, it includes essays from Jerry Robinson, Jules Feiffer, and Michael Chabon. I'm not sure of the page count, but at $18.50, it might just be a steal.

Friday, February 20, 2009

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's ... Milkman!

"Steve [Beery] was dressed as Robin from the Batman comics, so the supervisor introduced himself by tossing out an effectively hokey line—'Hop on my back, Boy Wonder, and I’ll fly you to Gotham City.'"

So writes Armistead Maupin in the moving introduction to a new book about the late, great Harvey Milk, as excerpted in this TowleRoad blogpost.

In related developments, I'm a little surprised and very much disappointed that Gus Van Sant's extraordinary HM biopic hasn't yet met a bigger splash in the culture at large--I was fully expecting it to be as big a hit among hets and younguns as Brokeback Mountain before it, but that doesn't appear to be the case. (One of my thirtysomething coworkers the other day asked me, in all earnestness, "Why is that movie called 'Milk,' anyway?") My personal reaction to the film was closer to admiration than transformation; it didn't change my life, but only because my life was already changed--as in politicized--years ago. Even so, I think Milk is the most honest portrayal of activism I've ever seen, capturing both the tedium of day-to-day organizing (all those bulk mailings to stuff!) and the occasional hot sex one encounters along the way (all those bulk males to stuff!).

I know it's supposed to be Slumdog's year, but I'll have my fingers crossed for Van Sant, Sean Penn, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, and their very fine movie come Sunday night.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nice and Terrific: the Justice League of Also-Rans

In my (so far fruitless) quest to identify a handsome supporting cast member in this 1967 Dick Van Dyke/Barbara Feldon vehicle that happened to be on tonight, I turned up one Stephen Strimpell, star of the superhero sitcom Mr. Terrific, from the same year.

The name kinda sorta rang a bell, as did Captain Nice, the other major-network Bat-ripoff from the same tv season, but I'm pretty sure I never watched either one during their brief runs (which, as TV fate would have it, started and ended on the same day). Enter our modern day Library of Babel, YouTube ...

First, an excerpt from a Mr. T episode that actually aired:

Note the set that looks almost exactly like Commissioner Gordon's office, and the cast consisting entirely of sitcom staples from the era. Now, a glimpse at the unaired pilot, with Alan "WILLLburrrrr" Young replacing Strimpell in the title role:


(Want to see the other 2 parts? You can find them by clicking on the clip itself.) Meanwhile, here's a learned-looking comparison of the Terrific Two.

Speaking of comparisons, behold this representative episode of competitor Capt. Nice, from the pen of Buck Henry:

In both cases, we've got laugh tracks, unpleasant costumes, and pained humor. On top of that, they're both struggling to spoof something that was already a spoof, which never works too well. Small wonder both have been consigned to the dustbin of history--which is still fun to revisit from time to time.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A good omen?

Handstamp at an event I attended recently:

Actual bats--some stuffed, some live, none bloodsuckers--were involved. And I had a fine bat-time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Men in tights, then and now

Two video treats for you:

1. From TowleRoad, a music video by tights-clad Brit pop singer Will Young:

2. From BatBlog, a very brief early-80s interview with Adam West. (Note that nice shot of an ungloved Batman at the beginning.)

And, oh, what the hell, I'm feeling generous tonight, so here's a bonus #3:

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Master Wayne, would you like a manwich?

Thanks to BatBlog for the heads-up on this video that has been making the rounds:

I'm not a gamer, so I don't get most of the jokes, but that doesn't bother me. I'm mainly in it for the fratboy in the (slightly odd looking) batsuit. He may be the ultimate in batdickery, but I'd watch BATtlestar Galactica with him any day.