Tag Archives: history

Swamp Thing 3.30: And Another Thing

Marvel had the Glob, Skywald had the Heap, Warren Publications had Marvin the Dead-Thing. There was the Bog Beast at Atlas Comics and the Monster in the Muck at Charlton, while Gold Key Comics offered the Lurker in the Swamp, and the Beast of the Bayou.

As bizarre as it sounds, there was actually something of a vogue in early to mid ’70s funny-books for human corpses emerging from the murk, walking the earth shrouded in goo, and getting involved in other people’s problems. If these stories teach us anything, it’s that some things just refuse to die, especially the propensity for comic book writers to copy off each other.

Honestly, the fact that even one of these lunatic ’70s swamp monster characters managed to survive through the decades as the star of a superhero comic is hard to believe, and yet we find ourselves blessed with two of them: DC Comics’ Swamp Thing, and Marvel Comics’ Man-Thing. It just goes to show what you can achieve, when you put an infinite number of monkeys in charge of your pop culture.

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Swamp Thing 3.24: Shaggy Bog Stories

So Swamp Thing is running amuck, I think is where we left things, rearing up out of the mire from whence he came, and taking sides in local disputes. Bad men are shooting holes in the petroleum industry and ferociously hassling female G-men for school supplies, and now a big shaggy heap of vines, roots, mud and miscellaneous has decided to involve itself in the situation, through the medium of tearing the roof off cars, tossing white guys around and generally playing in traffic.

At this point, the audience is shifting in its seat, and asking, what the hell is this thing, and more importantly, why isn’t it flying an airplane?

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Swamp Thing 3.21: The Other It

Well, everything has to start somewhere, even muck-encrusted melanges of plant matter and human remains. If Swamp Thing teaches us anything, it’s that surprising things can crawl out of the murk when you least expect them, made out of an awful admixture of the living and the dead.

Stories are like that, too. An interesting idea can ooze around in the half-remembered fictional consciousness for decades, until it finds itself bidden back to the surface, clothed in new material and walking the Earth once more.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Swamp Thing wasn’t the first shaggy swampman in American literature to lurch out of the mire and look around for playmates. He wasn’t the second, either; it turns out, if you pick up a couple of rocks and look under them, there was a whole subgenre of mud-soaked monsters that populated much of the 1970s from pretty much every comic publisher there was.

Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, the Heap, the Glob, the Bog Beast, the Heap (a different one), the Lurker in the Swamp… Corpse after corpse, popping up out of the sludge to make friends, take revenge and generally make the world a stranger and a soggier place.

But the genuine original was called “It” — but not the Stephen King one. This is the other one.

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Swamp Thing 3.14: Mister A

So I believe that this is the moment in Swamp Thing — when the villain tears off his lookalike skinsuit made out of another person’s face, and it turns out to just be a different guy, who sits down quietly and introduces himself — that the real disappointment sets in, and you realize that this movie might not be the rocket sled to adventure that you were hoping for.

“You have heard of, but never seen me,” says the tired old man, settling himself in a chair with a sigh, “so I will introduce myself. My name is Arcane.” And that is literally the only thing that we ever know about him.

Is he a doctor, a dictator or a drug lord? Is he a cult leader? Is he a criminal? Why did they say he was dead? Why are there people who risk their lives for him? Does he have employees, or worshippers? I have dozens of questions about who this character is supposed to be, and none of them are answered in the film in any way. His name is Arcane. The end.

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Superman 1.83: Superman’s Pal

And we take you now to scenic Hoover Dam, where perpetual cub reporter Jimmy Olsen is taking photographs of Hoover Dam, which you’d figure has already been pretty comprehensively photographed. It’s not much of a scoop, for a young man trying to make his way in the photojournalism racket, but he got a free airplane ride, and it’s just nice to get out in the fresh air.

Storywise, there isn’t a lot of justification for depositing Jimmy on top of this particular explodable landmark, but this is the part of the movie where they want to get as many peril monkeys on the board as they can. We’ve also got Lois having a scenic conversation with a scenic Native American gentleman, en route to the explodable gas station.

The real question is why we even have a Jimmy Olsen in this movie in the first place, if he’s not going to be involved in the plot in any way. This question also applies to Superman II, Superman III, Supergirl and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. In fact, Jimmy Olsen is the only character to appear in all five of the Salkind Superman films, and he doesn’t have a single discernible plot point in any of them.

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Superman 1.79: K-Rock

“Wish I could explain my strange reaction to that meteor!” Clark Kent wonders aloud. “Why do I get weak every time I come within five feet of it? And Krypton… Why did I keep repeating that word, over and over again? Krypton… What has the word Krypton to do with me? Sounds familiar, but I… just can’t place it! I must find out, because unless I’m very much mistaken… Krypton is the key to this whole strange business!”

You see, back in the old days, little Kal-El didn’t arrive on the planet Earth with a crystal library full of ancient knowledge and a hologram of his dad to explain how to use it; the kid just crashed, and it was up to the passing motorists to figure everything out from scratch.

So in 1943, when the Adventures of Superman radio show decided that they wanted Superman to know where he came from, they invented a meteor and called it Kryptonite, and then they put it in a drawer and forgot about it for another two years.

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Superman 1.69: The Chief

“Now, look!” Perry shouts, slamming down a copy of somebody else’s newspaper on his desk. “The Post: It Flies!” He drops another: “The News: Look Ma, No Wires!” And another: The Times: Blue Bomb Buzzes Metropolis!” I don’t know how he has time to do all this extra reading; doesn’t he have a paper of his own to put out?

Then he picks up today’s Daily Planet, with the long-admired banner: Caped Wonder Stuns City. This headline is way better than the other three, so I’m not sure why he’s upset about it.

“We’re sitting on top of the story of the century here!” he barks. “I want the name of this flying whatchamacallit to go with the Daily Planet like bacon and eggs, franks and beans, death and taxes, politics and corruption!” And then he keeps on snapping at his terrified reporters, in a scene that’s supposed to be funny but isn’t, because Jackie Cooper is terrible.

Part of the problem here is that this isn’t really Perry’s job. In all of the previous versions of Superman, he hardly needs to ask; Superman stories just start piling up on the editor’s desk before he even knows that Superman exists.

Really, this behavior is more the purview of J. Jonah Jameson, the editor of the Daily Bugle, who’s always demanding that camera-clicker Peter Parker bring him more photos of Spider-Man. Those are the two heroes that get the most press coverage in comic books, Superman and Spider-Man, because they have secret identities that work for the paper.

I wonder what all the other superheroes do, when they want some earned media? I don’t think DC’s Metropolis is as chock full of caped wonders as Marvel’s New York City is, but still, there must be dozens of masked vigilantes who never make the front page at all. I guess it’s who you know.

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Superman 1.45: Hair Today

Rick didn’t say “Play it again, Sam,” and Kirk never said “Beam me up, Scotty.” Darth Vader said “No, I am your father,” and Brody said “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Do you feel lucky, punk? Houston, we have a problem. I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille. Top of the world, Ma! Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?

A lot of the phrases that we pick up from pop culture as famous movie quotes are actually slight misquotes, often making them a little shorter and simpler, because on the whole people are not that good at remembering dialogue. Exact wording fades quickly, and so do plot points and character relationships.

But we’re great at remembering a striking visual, and most of the things that we consider “iconic” are compelling images, like Claudette Colbert showing her legs in It Happened One Night, or Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs in Basic Instinct, or a steam vent blowing up Marilyn Monroe’s skirt to reveal her legs in The Seven Year Itch. A lot of them involve women’s legs, for some reason.

So when Superman: The Movie introduces the new version of Lex Luthor that we talked about yesterday, there are a lot of alterations to the comic book character that for the most part audiences don’t notice. The movie version of Luthor has sidekicks and a sense of humor, which has never really happened before, and he presents himself as an eccentric businessman, rather than a mad scientist — but for movie audiences, those are details that they don’t know about.

The one thing that people do notice is that Lex Luthor is supposed to be bald, because we remember interesting visuals. The details of his characterization don’t really stick in the mind, but even people who’ve never read a Superman comic in their life know that Luthor doesn’t have any hair.

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Superman 1.37: The Invention of Lois Lane

Okay, listen up, everybody, because we’ve got a lot to do today, and we don’t have time for side chatter.

We’ve reached the Metropolis section of Superman: The Movie, so that means we’ve got a live Lois Lane on our hands, and for the rest of this week, we’re going to drill down into who this captivating and terrifying woman is, how she works, and what we’re going to do about her.

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Superman 1.31: Metropolis Now

Metropolis, at last! After forty-seven minutes and six weeks of blog posts, we are finally making landfall on the scene of an actual Superman movie.

Metropolis is the big time, where an up-and-coming newshound and secret frequent flyer from the Midwest can find his true calling — scoops to break, women to fall helplessly in love with, and super-villains to discourage. Complex and thrilling, the City of Tomorrow has all of the promise, danger and heartbreak that a newbie superhero needs, to discover what he’s truly capable of. Also, it’s New York.

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