And besides, what is Ricky supposed to get out of this incident? What lesson has he learned? What lasting advantage has been bestowed upon him?
The problem that Clark Kent, alias Superman, is supposedly trying to deal with is that young Ricky here is being bullied by his classmates. They don’t want him on their bowling team, for a very good reason: the kid has no skills, and brings nothing to the organization.
If the miraculous intervention on Ricky’s behalf makes it appear as if he has suddenly and temporarily acquired an inhumanly destructive right hook which blows bowling pins to fragments, then what? Even if this moment of triumph, which he did not earn and does not deserve, imbues him with masterful confidence heading into his next time at-bat, he still sucks at bowling and that deficit has not been corrected.
And as for the bullying, if you think that the only problem the other kids have with him is his bowling skills, then you need to take another close look at Ricky.
Continue reading Superman III 4.19: Still About Bowling
So let us speak of Lana Lang — once the Queen of the Prom, and now the leading lady in a movie that technically doesn’t need one.
She’s not Lois, we’ve covered that, and she’s not even really Lana, in the original sense of the word. This is a brand new Superman III original, constructed entirely out of the idea that somewhere in the world there must be a girl who likes Clark Kent.
And they’ve decided that she should be funny, which makes all the difference.
Continue reading Superman III 4.15: The Man Who Loved Mayonnaise
It’s tough being DC Films these days, for almost every possible reason. They’re standing in the shadow of the pop culture juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is still expanding like crazy, in both movies and TV. There’s a clear vision behind Marvel’s plans, extending further into the future with movies lined up for 2026 and beyond.
In comparison, DC has been falling backwards downstairs for the last ten years, insecure about what they’re making and who should be in charge. Warner Bros started DC Films in 2016 after everyone didn’t like Batman v Superman, putting Geoff Johns and Jon Berg in charge. Then everyone didn’t like Justice League in 2017, so Johns and Berg were ousted, and replaced by Walter Hamada.
After Aquaman was successful in 2018, Hamada announced that DC was going to focus on individual character stories instead of worrying about how they all connect. After a few more movies, they backtracked in 2021 and announced that the films were all interconnected again… and then they released The Batman, a very successful standalone film, so they have no idea what they’re trying to do.
By this point, DC’s fans are polarized into warring tribes, who are trying to push the company into making decisions based on how a particular hashtag is trending on Twitter on any given day. And now the company’s been bought by Discovery Inc., and their terrible new CEO has ousted Hamada, and is reportedly looking for “a Kevin Feige type” to give the films “a coherent creative and brand strategy”, which is probably not going to work, because how many Kevin Feiges can there be in the world?
Amid this turmoil and uncertainty, it’s only fitting that this weekend they put out a new film that isn’t very good, but is doing very well at the box office, just to complicate things even more.
Continue reading Black Adam 98.1: We’re the Justice Society
It’s your basic “boy-meets-girl, boy-becomes-cryptid” story, really. A woman walks into a laboratory, and the chemistry experiment begins.
As we’ve discussed, the three steps to getting the audience to like a character is to make a friend, make a joke and make something happen, and Dr. Alec Holland is about to do all three in record time. The appeal of Swamp Thing is half superhero-action and half romantic drama, so it’s only going to be effective if it can get us to believe in Cable and Alec as a couple, during the limited amount of time before he explodes.
So this meet-cute needs to be practically automatic, establishing that both parties are smart, funny and attractive, and getting them to challenge each other in sparky mini-clashes that are interesting to watch. The time-honored method is to get the characters to stick their hands in a murky water trough, looking for an imaginary animal.
Continue reading Swamp Thing 3.7: The Mysteries of Alessandro
As Alice Cable’s snub-nosed motorboat glides through the swamp towards her next assignment, two nearby water birds squeal and take flight, giving her a mild startle.
“Weird, isn’t it?” says her colleague. “Local fishermen say this place is haunted.” By birds?
Handing her new hostile work environment a desultory glower, Cable misquotes a movie. “I don’t know where we are, Toto,” she mutters, “but it sure isn’t Kansas.”
Her colleague leans forward. “What?”
“Nothing,” she says, and bats at a passing gnat. And that, strangely enough, is another step in Alice Cable’s full-on charm offensive, which takes up the first twelve minutes of the movie.
Continue reading Swamp Thing 3.5: Premium Cable
“Hmm, a primitive sort of lifeform,” Ursa muses, as she assesses the rattlesnake. Ursa’s just arrived on the planet, and she doesn’t know that you’re not supposed to pick up unfamiliar lifeforms. That snake probably had other things on its schedule for today.
Annoyed by the interruption, the snake strikes, burying its fangs in Ursa’s supposedly impenetrable skin. Wincing, she throws the reptile to the ground, and then sets it aflame with her magical heat vision.
“Did you see that?” she calls to her friends. “Did you see what I did? I have powers beyond reason here!”
Yeah, it’s called white privilege. A lot of us have it, unfortunately.
Continue reading Superman II 2.21: First Contact
So I think I’ve cracked blockbusters, is the headline for today.
This project is a history of superhero movies, and one of my goals is to figure out how superhero movies work and what they’re for, so that we can tell the difference between a good one and a bad one. And because the concept of “superhero movie” is actually a subset of the larger concept “blockbuster movie”, I’ve been looking outside the genre to see if I could pick up some helpful clues.
So far, I’ve talked about Quo Vadis, which was the first big silent spectacle film, and The Birth of a Nation, the first American blockbuster, which invented most of what we know as the language of cinema. Recently, I looked at Gone With the Wind, which is still the highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation, as well as Spider-Man: No Way Home, our latest and greatest, which is basically a two and a half hour whiteboard exercise on how to fix seven previous movies.
And today, to pull it all together: the 1975 sneak-attack spectacular Jaws, the first modern blockbuster that set the standard for how a summertime adventure story is supposed to make us feel.
Continue reading Superman 1.93: The Fish Movie
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.
Continue reading Superman 1.83: Superman’s Pal
“It is forbidden for you to interfere in human history,” Jor-El says, and to the limited extent that means anything, he’s sincere about it. In Superman: The Movie, we’re supposed to admire the crystal palaces of Krypton, but the point of the film is the development of Superman’s connection to everyday life on Earth. Sure, there’s a galaxy-spanning backstory in there, but ultimately, the thing that’s really important is Earth, and real people. And then there’s Eternals, the new Marvel Studios movie that has kind of a different take on that question.
In this blog, I’m telling the story of how blockbuster superhero movies developed into a dominant cultural force, starting in 1978 with Superman and moving on chronologically from there. So far, I’m about an hour into the first movie, and there’s a long way to go. But out in the real world, that history is still going on, so when a new movie is released, I take a look at what’s happening in popcorn world, and what it has to do with the movie I’m currently writing about. Last month, I wrote about the Spider-Man spinoff Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and this weekend, the latest movie is Marvel Studios’ Eternals.
Honestly, I can’t think of a movie more appropriate for this treatment, because Eternals asserts that all of history was influenced by a set of gorgeous extraterrestrial cover models, who are responsible for every good idea in human civilization, specifically including Superman. Apparently, I’ve been writing about these people all along.
Continue reading Eternals 92.1: The Adventures of Fancy People
The year was 1978. With a blockbuster Superman movie on the horizon, DC Comics editor Julie Schwarz said that he didn’t plan on changing anything in the Superman comics to tie in with the movie, because a) the books were already selling well, and b) the movie would bring in new readers.
Neither of those statements turned out to be true.
In reality, the sales of both Action Comics and Superman had been falling precipitously for over a decade. Between 1965 and 1975, Action Comics lost 56% of its sales — 525,000 copies a month to 231,000 — and Superman lost 64%, going from a healthy 824,000 copies a month to an anemic 296,000 in ten years.
In 1979, when Superman: The Movie was by far the #1 box office draw in the country, Action Comics sales actually dropped, from 184,000 in 1978 to 161,000 in 1979, and they kept on going down. Superman sales went up a little bit, from 223,000 to 246,000, but then they dropped all the way to 179,000 in 1980.
It’s now an accepted fact that successful superhero movies encourage people to watch more superhero movies, but they don’t do much for comics sales. Today, we’re going to take a look at a 1978 issue of Action Comics, and see if we can figure out why.
Continue reading Superman 1.34: Meanwhile, in the Comics