New York Comic Con Day 1

This past weekend was the most fun I've had since I went to Disney World last summer. New York Comic Con came to the Javits Center, and I was there the whole weekend. Early Friday afternoon, my friends Andrew, Tim, and I arrived at the convention center, checked in, and waited in line for the 1:00 opening. When the giant metal doors swung open, we and thousands of our fellow geeks poured through and scattered across the Con floor. The Con is comprised of two sections: the main floor and the panels. The main floor is home to hundreds of booths for various comic book publishers, retailers, authors, and artists, as well as related media like science fiction print novels, movies and TV shows. The panels are on a lower floor where there are a dozen or so rooms big enough to fit several hundred people. On the same floor is the IGN Theater, which is where most screenings and larger panels take place, seats about 3,000 guests.

Andrew, Tim, and I are especially big fans of DC Comics, so we focused most of our time on the DC panels. Our first order of business was a panel entitled "Superman: Building a Better Tomorrow." The panelists included the editors, writers, and artists currently working on the various titles in the Superman family of comics. We were really excited because we had the chance to meet most of the panelists afterward. The next item on the agenda brought us back to the Con floor for an autograph signing by Geoff Johns, who writes Green Lantern, will be writing Superman Secret Origins this summer, and until January was writing Action Comics featuring Superman. He is my absolute favorite writer right now, so I had to take the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for the great work he does. I feel like he is one of the few writers who understands the character of Superman as well as Clark Kent. At that point our friend Vin joined us for the day. He's not a major comics fan, but he wanted to come along and see what the con was like.

At that point we walked the Con floor for a while, doing some shopping and taking in the sights and sounds from the booths. We met the artists from, who were offering free doodles to anyone who stopped by. We took advantage of that, of course. Next, we headed over to the autograph area where we met Peter Mayhew, better known to Star Wars fans as that lovable Wookiee, Chewbacca. It was really cool to meet him and I made sure to tell him how much I appreciated his work. I feel that he is underappreciated just because he didn't speak in the films and wore a costume that obscured his face.

Next, we went off to the Podcast Arena to meet Sean Whelan and Jim Segulin, the hosts of Raging Bullets: A DC Comics Fan Podcast. This is one of my favorite podcasts and I just wanted to quickly talk to the guys and tell them to keep up the good work. They were very friendly and seemed very glad to talk to a fan. At that point, we headed back to the panel area for the DC Nation panel. We sat in on the end of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold panel, which was especially cool because Phil Morris was there. Morris is best known for playing the roles of Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld and the Martian Manhunter on Smallville. We tried to meet him, but he was in a hurry to get to another panel so we didn't want to bother him. I did manage to snap a picture, though. Then began DC Nation. Many the major writers, artists, editors, and staff of DC Comics were present. They discussed everything happening in DC Comics, with a special focus on Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis. There was also an audience Q&A session, which was especially entertaining. At the end of that panel, we were excited to meet DC executive VP and editor Dan DiDio and renowned artist George Pérez. That ended Day 1.


Podcasts Own My Life

Wow. I have been -- to put it in my friend Andrew's words -- " a podcasting fiend" lately. Seriously. My name is Frank and I'm a castaholic. Listening to them, recording them, I just can't get enough. It's an exciting medium that I think has amazing potential.

For two and a half years now, I've run Frank's Music Free-For-All. About three weeks ago, I teamed up with my friends Tim, Ky, and Faith to create the Obiter Dictum podcast, a TV fan commentary show. And most recently, the aforementioned Andrew and I have started Echo Alert, a podcast devoted to the upcoming Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku series Dollhouse.

Today, I had the pleasure of sitting in on the Entertainment Overload podcast and the Geekland podcast at the gracious invitation of my Twitter friend Willie. Entertainment Overload is a podcast reviewing TV, movies, video games and other entertainment. We had a great time talking about this week's TV and movie highlights. Smallville, LOST, Scrubs, and Taken were among the many topics discussed. Check out the guys and listen.

Then, on Geekland, we talked comics. I really had a blast with this one, since comics have been a new passion for me. We covered Superman, Final Crisis, Spider-Man, Green Arrow/Black Canary, Trinity, and whole host of other titles and trade paperbacks that we all read in the past week. If you like comics, please listen to Geekland. I started listening a couple of weeks ago and I honestly think the guys have a great show here.

So that's what I've been up to lately. There should be a new ODTV and FMF out this week, and a new Echo Alert after next weekend. February 6-8 I will be at New York Comic Con with my friends Andrew, Tim, and Vin. It should be a good time. During and after the convention, I'll blog my reactions to the panels and other goings-on. We plan to attend the DC Comics panels as well as a few others, including the Dollhouse panel where show creator Joss Whedon and star Tahmoh Penikett will screen the first act of the show's first episode. So that should give us plenty to discuss on Echo Alert. See you in the podcastverse!


State of the Smallville Address, Part 2

So where do we go from here? Where will the second half of Season 8 lead us? Well, as someone who refuses to read anything even resembling a spoiler, I can't say for sure. I find that I just don't enjoy TV when I know what's going to happen. Half the fun is the element of surprise. So what I will share with you next are my theories and wishes for the remainder of Season 8.


At the end of "Legion," it wasn't clear whether or not Chloe's healing ability was back. Personally, I think it could be. It's possible that BrainIAC merely suppressed her ability rather than totally removing it. Now, since that lovable Interactive Construct has been removed, it's entirely possible that Chloe will once again find herself able to heal. Another valid argument states that BrainIAC sucked the healing ability out of Chloe during their face-off in "Arctic." I could really see this going either way, but for now, I'm going to say that her healing powers could very well have been restored.

Clark will battle Doomsday. I just hope it isn't a battle to the death. Clark ahs died several times already, including once this season. I would prefer to see an epic battle in the streets of Metropolis, similar to the one in The Death of Superman. How amazing would it be to see Doomsday beat Clark to a bloody pulp and then endanger one of his loved ones (preferably Lois), pushing Clark over the edge and giving him a second wind? Clark could begin pounding on Doomsday, burying him deep underground in an effort to prevent such a distaster from ever happening again. This would set things up perfectly for the future as laid out by DC Comics.

Also, Clark should continue his steady path towards Supermandom. The next step I think he needs to take is to acquire a pair of glasses, something that should have been done in Season 3 when he found himself temporary blinded after using his heat vision on a pair of green Kryptonite earrings. That would have been the perfect excuse for Clark to don spectacles, but alas, it was not meant to be. Yet. Now could be a good time for him to pick up a pair of bifocals to remove any suspicion that he might be Metropolis's "Red and Blue Blur."

Lois has been falling for Clark pretty hard. I think the romance has been progressing a little too fast. Erica Durance isn't supposed to appear in the next couple of episodes, so maybe things will cool off for a while. I am glad to see the most iconic romance in comic book history beginning to take shape. I just don't want them to actually be together until after the series has ended, or at the very end of the series at the earliest.

Jimmy, while injured and receiving care in Star City, will clearly turn out fine. The question looming in my mind is how the Olsen-Sullivan marriage will pan out. How is it that the Legion had heard of "even Jimmy Olsen," but had never heard of his wife Chloe? It seems a bit odd to me. That is a sign that the marriage may not last, whether it's due to irreconcilable differences or a death. As much as I hate to admit it, there is also the slight possibility that Geoff Johns may have written the show into a plot hole, but let's change the subject, shall we?

There has been some speculation that Davis Bloome is no more and Doomsday is here to stay. That seems silly. Why hire Sam Witwer and make him a season regular only to have him in a monster costume the entire second half of the season? Doesn't make sense. I think it's safe to say that we'll be seeing more of Davis in human form. After "Bride" and "Legion," he clearly knows what he's become. From this point on, we'll probably see him trying to deal with his other half. Will it be a situation where his good side tries to fight his bad side? If so, will the good side win for now? Or will they go a different route and show his good side succomb to the dark side, as with Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith? Perhaps Davis will be so distraught by some traumatic turn of events (like Chloe's rejection) that he will embrace evil as a means of revenge? We shall see. There are many different directions they can take this character and I'm eager to see where things end up.

Well, my distinguished readers, this is all I have to say about Smallville's Eighth Season for the moment. I'm sure there are a great many things that I have neglected to mention, but that is where you can step in. Discuss whatever I failed to mention in the comments below and perhaps I'll write a supplemental post. Let's talk Smallville!


State of the Smallville Address, Part 1


Madam and Messrs Show Runners, distinguished guests, and fellow fans: it is once again that time of year when we gather to discuss the state of Smallville. Yes, you guessed it: it's Winter Hiatus time.

So what happened this season? Well, we saw Clark return powerless from a Russian work camp to save Chloe from a LuthorCorp facility where she was held prisoner. After a fatal run-in with a drugged Green Arrow, Clark was revived by J'onn J'onzz, who sacrificed his powers to bring Clark back to life. Lex went missing, but his protégé Tess Mercer took over as acting CEO of the company and all its subsidiaries. She proved to be almost as bad as her mentor, gathering superpowered individuals including DC Comics villain Plastique in an effort to form a team to do her dirty work. Oliver Queen and his band of merry do-gooders temporarily parted ways to avoid detection after being identified by Lex's henchmen. Oliver stayed in Metropolis, however, and proved to be an invaluable help to Clark.

Clark began working across the desk from Lois at the Daily Planet as a copy boy so he could keep up on current events and rush off to save the day whenever it looked like a job for Superm-- err, I mean the "red and blue blur," the name the adoring public had given their anonymous hero. Meanwhile Davis Bloome, a charismatic paramedic, became friendly with Chloe and sparks began to fly. At the same time, though Chloe was planning a wedding with Jimmy Olsen while taking over the Isis Foundation where Lana had left off. Davis revealed to Chloe that he had been experiencing blackouts and that he kept finding himself at the scene of murders with no memory of how he had gotten there.

When Clark received the Kryptonian Crystal of Knowledge previously seen in Seasons 4 and 5, he found himself and Lois accidentally transported to the Phantom Zone, where they encountered Kara, who had been trapped there by BrainIAC in the Season 7 finale. She could have escaped, since the blood of the House of El runs through her veins, but she was afraid she might unleash Phantom Zone prisoners in the process, so she sacrificed her freedom for Earth's sake. However, when Clark let Lois come back to Earth, Zod's wife Faora possessed her body. Faora, as we learned, is actually Davis's mother. Davis is horrified by what he learns and doesn't know what to do. He discovers that, as Faora says, "That which kills you makes you stronger," when he notices that attempting to stab himself in the chest has no effect on him whatsoever. In fact, the knife shatters.

Finally, in "Abyss," my favorite episode of the season thus far, BrainIAC slowly began deleting Chloe's memories and leaving only those involving Davis. Clark, in a desperate attempt to save Chloe, rebuilt the Fortress of Solitude against her wishes and pleaded with Jor-El to restore all of her memories except for those related to the knowledge of his secret. He saw how keeping his secret affected her life and he decided that it would have been better for her had she never known. Jor-El remarked that Clark had grown up and commended him for finally acting maturely before he fulfilled his son's request. Chloe's memories were once again safe, but she had no recollection of Clark's alien heritage.

Then it finally came time for the wedding of Chloe and Jimmy. They had both the ceremony and reception in the Kent Barn. Oliver Queen was hot on the trail of Lex when he ran into Lana halfway around the world. She even returned to Smallville to help celebrate Sullivan-Olsen nuptials, much to the disappointment of Lois, who had secretly begun falling for Clark. Moments after Lana's arrival, the bloodbath began. DOOMSDAY was there! A giant monster covered in bony gray protrusions forced its way into the barn, fixing its bright red eyes on Chloe. It left a path of death and destruction in its wake, killing or injuring anyone who dared try and stop it. Jimmy sustained serious wounds in an attempt to defend his bride. By episode's end, Clark was leaving to find and rescue Chloe from the monster while Lois was to accompany Jimmy to Star City where he was to receive emergency medical treatment and Doomsday was seen bringing an unconscious Chloe to the Fortress of Solitude, where her eyes glazed over, indicating the presence of BrainIAC.

An exciting half-season to be sure! So much happened to our characters in just a few short months. This season has been the best since Season 3, in my opinion. While 5, 6, and 7 were great (note the omission of 4), Season 8 has been much more consistent on a level not seen since Season 3.

So that's what happened in the first half of Season 8. Tune in next time for spoiler-free look to the future


Stop blending Superman with Batman!

Recently, there has been a disturbing trend in the world of DC Comics: the powers that be are trying to turn Superman in Batman and vice versa. Allow me to explain myself. I am LOVING the New Krypton story currently going on in the Superman family of comics. I'm not currently reading Batman comics because, honestly, I'm on a college budget. I can only really afford to read the stuff I really love, and for me that's Superman. However, I do keep up on what's happening in Batman through other sources such as Wikipedia, IGN, Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, and other geektastic websites.

For those of you living under a rock, Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman recently disappeared from the Batman family of comics following a story called Batman R.I.P. Here's a summary of the ending as I understand it. Batman encountered one Dr. Hurt who claimed to actually be Dr. Thomas Wayne, Bruce's supposedly dead father. At the end of the issue, Batman and Dr. Hurt/Wayne disappear in a helicopter explosion, not to be seen again by anyone for the foreseeable future.

Okay, so they did a death of Batman story. That happens a lot these days. The only problem is what comes next. I read in last week's "DC Nation", a column in the back of DC comic books discussing upcoming projects in the DC Universe, that the Batman family of books is being canceled while they show the effects of Batman's death. This means Robin, Nightwing, Birds of Prey, Batman, and Detective Comics are all being shelved (for now). Also, they'll be doing a series called Battle for the Cowl, in which there will most likely be a fight to see who takes on the role of Batman in Bruce Wayne's absence.

The problem I have with this is that it's almost a direct copy of what happened in the aftermath of the 1992-93 Death of Superman story. After the Man of Steel's defeat at the hands of the monster Doomsday, there was a story entitled Funeral for a Friend. These showed the rest of the world - superheroes and mere mortals like - and their reactions to the death of the greatest hero they had ever known. Following this, no Superman titles were published for a couple of months. The idea behind that was to scare readers into thinking Superman really was dead for good and that he wouldn't be returning. After that came Reign of the Supermen, a time in which 4 imposters claimed to be the real Superman back from the dead, and the world (both in and out of the comics) was undecided as to which one was the true Metropolis Marvel. It turned out none of them were, and the original Superman finally re-appeared after several months off the scene.

So DC has run out of ideas for Batman. How long can you have a guy be "dark" (whatever that really means) and run around striking terror into the hearts of criminals while stopping the seemingly daily jailbreaks at Arkham Asylum? I guess they decided it was time for the Caped Crusader to die for a while so people would miss him and clamor for his return, just as they did with Superman some 15 or 16 years ago. Now I know it's not cool to like Superman right now, because as many a fanboy has told me, "Batman is dark!" but I don't really care. I'm a Superman fan through and through and I say this is desperation on DC's part. It's a shame to see them wasting the talent of a great writer like Grant Morrison on such a derivative story. He dies, his books get cancelled, everyone misses him, he comes back, sales go through the roof for a few months, and Dan DiDio laughs all the way to the bank.

This reminds me of a story from a few months back when it was announced that the Superman film franchise would get a reboot (I believe the exact word was "reintroduce") in the wake of The Dark Knight's rousing success. While I loved TDK, I was not pleased when I heard that Warner Bros. wanted to show the darker side of Superman. HUGE MISTAKE! Superman is NOT a dark character. Superman is a symbol of hope! He is supposed to be the beacon that we all want to follow. He has his faults, sure, but that's part of Clark Kent. Superman is as American as white picket fences and apple pie, to paraphrase Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner. You can't make him into a morally gray guy with cool cars and gadgets. That's Batman. It works for Batman. Doesn't work for Superman. They're different characters. They can complement each other when they're used together in a story, but you can't mix them together and see what you get. Am I alone on this? I can't be. Leave me a comment and let's discuss!

Let me end by quoting, from memory, mind you, the introduction to the 1950's Adventures of Superman TV series starring George Reeves. I think this sums up Superman's essence:

Faster than a speeding bullet!
More powerful than a locomotive!
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!
Look! Up in the sky!
It's a bird!
It's a plane!
Yes, it's Superman, strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men!
Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great Metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way!
Wow. That was such a huge part of my childhood that just typing it gave me chills. What say you? Don't be shy. Use the comment box!

< /rant>


Religious Themes in the Superman Films: An Essay

Here's an essay I just finished writing for my "Religions of the World" class. I think it's pretty good, and it's a topic I'm passionate about, so I hope you enjoy! Constructive criticism is always welcome.

Religious Themes in the Superman Films

In our increasingly secular society, there are many hidden morsels of religion scattered throughout popular culture and the entertainment industry. Many seemingly secular movies and television series have a hidden religious message that many viewers miss entirely. Perhaps the best example of a hidden message is found in the Superman film franchise. I refer especially to 1978’s Superman: The Movie directed by Richard Donner and starring Christopher Reeve, as well as 2006’s summer blockbuster Superman Returns directed by Bryan Singer and featuring Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel. Though there are some minor religious moments in the three other Superman films that were made in the 1980s (Superman II, Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace), I feel the aforementioned first and most recent installments of the series best display religious themes and motifs.

The character of Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 in June of 1938. Created by two Jewish young men (writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster), the concept of Superman had heavy Judeo-Christian implications from the very start. Superman: The Movie shows baby Kal-El from the planet Krypton being rocketed to Earth by his parents Jor-El and Lara as their sun goes supernova and their doomed home planet is destroyed. Little Kal-El lands on Earth three years later and is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent, an elderly couple who own a farm in Smallville, Kansas. They rename him Clark Kent and raise him as their own son, only to discover that he possesses “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.”

As he grows, Clark realizes he is different from other children. Indeed, he was told by his Kryptonian biological father Jor-El, “Though you’ve been raised as a human, you are not one of them.” Jonathan tells Clark that he must use his powers for good, and that he was sent to Earth for a higher purpose. Shortly after this, Jonathan dies of a heart attack. Clark finds a piece of Kryptonian crystal that joined him on his childhood odyssey across the galaxy and he feels that he is called to head toward the North Pole, so he tearfully bids his mother farewell and embarks on his journey. When he reaches the Arctic, he throws the crystal. When the crystal lands in the snow, it builds a giant fortress of ice and crystal. Here, he finds the pre-recorded voice and image of Jor-El. For twelve years, Clark trains and learns from his birth father’s wisdom. When he emerges, he is Superman, the caped defender of “Truth, Justice, and the American way.”

As the creation of two Jewish Americans, Superman is first and foremost a symbol of Judeo-Christian theology. First, let us examine the Jewish viewpoint. Kal-El’s journey resembles that of Moses in almost every way. A Hebrew slave woman placed her baby in a basket and floated him down the Nile in an effort to spare him from a life in bondage. The basket, bearing its precious cargo, found its way to the palace of the Pharaoh, where the princess found the child and raised him as her own, naming him Moses. This idea of a parent sending his or her child away for a chance at a better life is clearly mirrored in the first Superman film. When he reached maturity, Moses learned that he was actually Hebrew and was banished from Pharaoh’s palace. He wandered in the desert before speaking to God in the burning bush. Again, Superman borrows from this concept by having Kal-El travel to the Arctic and learning from his long-dead father’s pre-recorded messages. The parallels continue as Moses returns to Egypt to lead his Hebrew brothers and sisters out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Superman protects and defends all of mankind and strives to lead them to a happier existence, so he can definitely be seen as a modern Moses.

While Christians accept the story of Moses as part of the Bible, it can also be argued that Superman represents Jesus Christ. Just as Christians believe that God the Father sent Jesus Christ, His only son, to be the Savior of all mankind, so did Jor-El send his own firstborn to watch over and protect the people of Earth. Being a part of the Holy Trinity, Jesus was able to glorify God through many works and miracles that no one else could have possibly performed. Similarly, Superman’s powers allow him to perform feats that no human could ever dream of.

At one point in Superman Returns, the Last Son of Krypton is stabbed in the side with a large shard of Kryptonite, a radioactive rock from his home world that could kill him. This quick but powerful moment mirrors the piercing Christ’s side by a Roman centurion at the Crucifixion. Later, after Superman has been rushed to the hospital, a female nurse walks into his room only to find an empty bed, which is strikingly similar to Mary Magdalene discovering Jesus’ empty tomb at Easter.

In Superman III (made in 1983 and directed by Richard Lester), the title character underwent a strange process that physically split him into two people representing the two sides of his personality: an evil Superman and the mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent. The two beings fought each other in an epic battle, with the good side finally winning and absorbing the evil side to once again form a balanced, whole person. He did not allow evil to dominate him. This can be likened to incidents from the life of Christ. Because he was both divine and human, Jesus was subject to temptation, but always chose to serve his Heavenly Father. When he went into the desert for forty days, Satan tempted him with earthly pleasures. The night before he died, he wept in the garden of Gethsemane and asked that he could be spared the bloody fate that lay ahead of him. In both cases, he chose to do God’s will. Superman can be seen as Christ-like because like Jesus, he came to Earth with unlimited power and chose to use those abilities for good rather than evil.

Believers in Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, and to some extent, Jainism could identify with Superman on a more general level because of his strong sense of morality. In Superman II, when a busload of people is in peril, the Metropolis Marvel cries out in agony, pleading with the villains responsible to spare the innocent lives. This would certainly be seen as noble by a person of any religion. A Jainist might be impressed by his concern for life, as that is their primary concern. A Shintoist would also appreciate this because it echoes one of their faith’s ten main precepts: “Do not forget that the world is one great family.” Hindus, embracing many diverse beliefs and spirits, might consider Superman another one of many gods to be praised. The Man of Steel possesses many qualities which make him a model of goodness and morality that many religions and belief systems have in common. He is a symbol of unity.

In another sense, Superman can be seen as a kind of secular Messiah. He is symbolic of what one might call the “American Religion.” Superman is the living embodiment of a patriot. He fights crime and injustice on every level. This can mean saving a cat stuck in a tree (as in Superman: The Movie), ridding the planet of nuclear weapons (as in Sidney J. Furie’s 1987 feature Superman IV: The Quest for Peace), or defending Earth from an alien invasion (as in Superman II, directed by Richard Lester in 1980). He upholds the law almost to a fault. His commitment to his adopted country is undeniable. This is best evidenced near the end of Superman II when Superman places an American flag atop the White House after it has been badly damaged by three super-powered Kryptonian criminals. He apologizes to the U.S. President for having failed his country and promises to better defend her in the future. Even those who do not believe in any deity or subscribe to a particular organized religion can agree that Superman, being virtually indestructible and such a model citizen, is a kind of secular god; the ultimate role model.

Superman is seen by many as nothing more than a comic book character. In truth, he is a symbol of many varied religious beliefs. While the world around us is all but devoid of anything resembling spirituality, the Superman film series is a refreshing beacon of hidden religious meaning. People of all faith backgrounds – and even those of none whatsoever – can agree that Superman is an ideal example of human goodness. On a deeper lever, the stories told in the Superman movies closely parallel those of Moses and Jesus Christ. Both major plot points and minor details resemble moments from the lives of these two major biblical figures. In this sense, the Superman series is a Judeo-Christian allegory like no other. It uses man’s eternal fascination with the fantastic concept of human flight to tell a gripping and wondrous tale of good triumphing over evil. Perhaps Jor-El expressed Superman’s religious significance best when he said, “They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.”