Wednesday, July 31, 2013


So,  I hope y'all are already dialed into The Doubleclicks. This geekcore sister act has been pulling some buzz lately for the wonderful Nothing to Prove video, the in-your-face response to the "fake geek girl" issue. But as the hipsters say, I was into them way before they were popular. Their latest album, Laser and Feelings, was on my get-list as soon as it was announced - and it did not disappoint. As well as continuing to wave the geek flag high with clever and enjoyable songs, Angela and Aubrey are both demonstrating growth and development as musicians.

I bought the super-fun-size album package (or something), so in addition to the digital download, I got a physical CD -- and the cool Special Prize. Here it is in action:


(Oh, and if you're wondering about the velociraptor - check this out and all will be made clear.)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Holy synthesis, Batman!

So, I saw this thing today, from Mashable via Geeks are Sexy:

It was coincidental, in that I had been thinking of a few things recently and this pulled them all together.

There's been all this buzz about the next Superman movie being a Superman & Batman movie and that its vibe is going to be the Superman vs Batman deal from Dark Knight Returns.

There's been buzz and gossip about the Wonder Woman movie, which I guess has been put on "pause" once again, because nobody in Hollywood can figure out how to make a movie about such a "tricky" character. (Lots of good chatter about this on Twitter.)

This stuff got me to thinking about Matt Wagner's Trinity, and how much I liked it, and how cool it would be to see a movie version of it. (Oh, and if anyone needs to know how to make the invisible jet awesome, just read this.)

And Trinity always puts me in mind of Calamity Jon's model for these three Ur-superheroes: that the characters are as iconic as they are because each one represents a different tradition of adventure that fed into the superhero genre: Wonder Woman from myth and fantasy, Superman from science fiction, and Batman from swashbucklers and the pulps.

What Jon's model makes obvious is that while myth and sci-fi both routinely present heroes and/or villains with (innate or manufactured) powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, pulp heroes were exciting precisely because of their vulnerability and more realistic power levels. Which meant that Batman's idiom, while as strong of pedigree as the other two, did not give him the raw power to stand next to Superman or Wonder Woman in most adventures or conflicts. So while he captured the same level of popularity, combining the narrative streams was problematical.

This didn't stop World's Finest from pairing Superman and Batman for many years, or Justice League of America showing all three heroes together. But in these stories, Batman was more detective and escape artist than powerhouse, and his contribution in most stories came from his wits and his will. It was his savvy, his cleverness, and his resolute badassery that gave him the right to stand alongside aliens and demigods.

But somewhere along the line, the current that gave us that awesome curbside beatdown in DKR starting building strength. It was no longer enough for Batman just to be smart and tough; he had to be the master strategist and perfect warrior, with a plan for every contingency and a device for every situation. He had to be unbeatable, not just by thugs and gangsters and deranged clowns, but by anyone, super-powered or not. And this current swept us along as we watched bat-gear, which had already proliferated in numerous goofy ways, become more and more militarized and weaponized and science-fictional, and saw Bruce Wayne transform from the orphaned son of a moderately wealthy physician into the heir to a vast industrial empire and a fortune that made him one of the world's richest men, in order to explain how he can afford all of that gear.

At some point, Batman left his domain as the avatar of the pulp adventurer in the prime superhero trinity and edged over into same sci-fi circle as Superman. An article I read recently[wish I had the citation] asserted that contrary to popular belief, Batman does indeed have a superpower: that superpower is money. Money for vehicles, money for exoskeletons, money for bodysuits, money for less-than-lethal firearms, money for all the stuff that can make him the guy who can take down anyone.

Until we get to where we are now, when half the time Batman seems like a stealth Iron Man rather than a caped crusader. Don't think so? Just look at the 2013 half of the image above and tell me it ain't the truth.

As all of this was swirling in my head, the classic yellow-oval Batman on the "1939" side of the image put me in mind of an exchange I had with Marc Burkhardt some time back, as we were marveling at a story in which Batman improvised his way out of a combat situation by throwing a car battery at the bad guy. We both expressed a desire to see a stripped-down Batman, a smart detective and tenacious fighter, a shadowy street-level hero.

I dunno. I imagine I'm going to have to wait quite a while.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Didn't make the cut

So, as I was pawing through my comics looking for JLA #200, which I never found, I decided to take the opportunity to organize a bit and weed out some stuff that I didn't want. Here's what's headed for the half-price bookstore (and you'll see some of them came form there):

I love me some Paul Chadwick but this was a little too weird for me.

I liked the concept of this but thought the execution was pretty pedestrian.

This never grabbed me at all, and I gave it three tries.

Extremely disappointing.

Okay, but I can;t imagine re-reading it.

This came on a good recommendation, and there is much to love about it. In the end, it was a little too self-conscious, and I quickly grew tired of the OMG-he-is-so-cool Shade.

Still holding on to Lady Cop.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dude, the obscure

So, the search that generated that pile of pre-internet artifacts that comprised yesterday's post also turned up another document. Here it is in all its cryptic glory, a list scrawled on the back of a rejected print run of a real estate flyer I had created for a client:

What the heck is this? It took me a while to remember, and Googling didn't help much. I got one clue from a discussion board and it came back to me.

These are all characters listed in the "Minor Superheroes" section of The Encyclopedia of Superheroes by Jeff Rovin, published in 1985 by Facts on File. (I still have my first edition copy.) More specifically, they are all characters listed as appearing in Doctor Peculiar #1, a one-issue-wonder published by Madison Comics in 1984. (That issue must have been among the last additions to the book!) Talk about obscure.

Once I had pieced this together, I recalled how the list came to be: While browsing the encyclopedia, I noticed that a few entries referred back to this comic, and then I read through each of the more than 300 two- or three-line entries in the chapter, in order, and made a manual record of all of the ones that listed DP1 as their first appearance. Must have been a  slow day. I have no idea why I did this, other than idle curiosity and mild obsessive-compulsive behavior. I guess if there had been an internet, I would have looked them all up, but as it was, I just wrote the list and kept it for 28 years.

But now there is an internet! But bloody hell- there's still precious little information! My Google searches are mostly dead ends, and even the Grand Comics Database does not have the issue listed. Fortunately, Mile High Comics has actually a copy for sale, and they even have a cover shot:

It's a bit disappointing, actually. Dr. P looks like a typical generic eighties superhero. (You can tell it's not the nineties yet since he doesn't have any pouches and/or spikes and/or a leather jacket.) I was hoping for a group shot of all the heroes together, or at least one of those old 80 pg. Giant multi-panel covers highlighting a few of them.

Still, I think I'll fork over a few bucks for a crappy copy. maybe there's a group shot inside, or a party scene of something, and I can finally see what The Sow - heroine of southern Maryland looks like. Heck, these guys might even be in the public domain...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Objets anciens

So, while conducting a search through the actual paper files that still take up some space in my home office for a thing that I didn't find, I selected a few other ancient artifacts that I came across from the pre-internet era to present to you now. These document how we did things Back in the Day.


Back in the pre-internet days, ideas still spread from person to person within a culture through units (memes) that carried cultural ideas, symbols, or practices. We just had to photocopy them and pass them along in person. You knew something had gone viral if the person you handed it to had seen it already.

Quotations, inspirational and/or clever

If you came across a quote you liked, you didn't share it on Facebook or cut-and-paste it into your email signature. You cut-and-taped it to an index card. And then you looked at it once in a while, when you came across it in a desk drawer.

Movie images

If you liked a movie and wanted an image from it, you tracked down a store that sold old lobby cards or promotional stills and you bought one of them. You didn't install it as your desktop wallpaper, but you might put it in a plastic sleeve for protection and thumbtack it to a wall.

Comics Archives

There were none, unless you cut them out of the newspaper and kept them in a folder or envelopes.

Celebrity Pictures

If you were a young man in 1973 who watched Diana, the one-season sitcom staring Diana Rigg, even though it was incredibly derivative of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, down to the opening credits and the side-by-side desks in the office set and Richard B. Shull taking the Gavin McLeod role, just because it was Diana Rigg and you had been crushing on her since reruns of The Avengers -- anyway, if you were that young man and you wanted some photos of Ms. Rigg for keepsakes, you couldn't just download them, no. You had to cut them out of the Sunday magazine section and stick them onto self-adhesive polaroid photo backing sheets, that's what you had to do.

Scripts and dialogue

And if you wanted the some script pages, perhaps Abbot & Costello's entire "Who's on First" routine, you wouldn't just fire up a search engine with some well-chosen keywords. You would wait until The Naughty Nineties came on television again, and then tape the routine with a cassette recorder, and then painstakingly transcribe it onto Eaton's Corrasable Bond paper using a manual typewriter that you got with S&H green stamps. And you might even decorate that transcript with a little doodle of the comedians.

Yep, that's how it was, boys and girls. How did we ever survive into the information age?

Now get off my lawn and go play where you live.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades

So, anyone who plays D&D with me will confirm that I am all about the minis. Not in the I-have-talent, I-like-to-paint-tiny-things, doesn't-this-look-awesome sense, heaven knows, but in the if-the-party-is-being-attacked-by-bears-I'd-like-some-bears-on-the-board-please way. In the I've-got-like-400-pre-painted-minis way. Yeah, it's a little crazy.

one box of many

I guess my theory goes like this: the minis have two purposes: to arbitrate combat and to add to the texture of the game. It is in the second purpose that that an extensive collection of minis comes in handy. Any sort of tokens can be laid on a grid to establish how far apart or close together two characters are; helping to establish the mood and atmosphere is where a large collection of minis comes in. When the DM reaches behind the screen and lays out the monster that has surprised the party, that the players can immediately see that it is an owlbear or a cyclops or an ettin actually adds to the flow of the story-telling, which is the most important part of the game.

Since it is impossible to have every mini for every situation, it becomes more important to not be wrong than to be right. That is, you might not have the exact mini, but have one that's close enough that it doesn't actually pull players out of the moment. For example, using a giant snake in place of a giant bear makes it hard to keep the scene straight in a player's mind; using a badger instead of a boar is less jarring. It may not be perfect, but close can be pretty good. Look at how this works.

Here's a scene that would be pretty typical of a game I run. Let's say a party of three, a male half-orc rogue, a female human cleric, and a female dwarf fighter are entering a confrontation with three gnolls and a wolf.  It might look something like this:

It's not perfect, but it's close. Some details are off, and the gnolls may actually have falchions instead of spears, but nothing is going to take a player out of the instance.

But, obviously, it is only possible to get this right most of the time if you have a large collection of minis (or if you buy new specific minis for every campaign, ultimately winding up with a large collection). Compare that to this, an all too common situation:

Well, maybe I've never actually seen someone use railroad workers for gnolls, but you get the point. You would keep wanting the cleric to talk like Wesley Snipes, or getting confused and thinking the gnolls are attacking with shovels. The minis just aren't close enough to the characters to keep from distracting from the storytelling rather than adding to it. Way too easy to happen - unless you have a crazy supply of minis.

And if you have no minis at all, you wind up with this:

And nobody wants that.

But it's a Sisyphean task: no matter how many minis a DM collects, there's always going to be a scenario for which there is nothing close in the collection. Which leads me to my alternate plan:

This approach certainly meets the objective of clarifying spatial relationships to administer combat, and while it may not add to the texture of the game it will not detract from it either. The minis here are presentational, not representational. With just a few variables - perhaps color, size, and height - you could establish a collection of generic minis to stage any encounter with clarity and without distraction. In fact, the argument could be made that this technique would actually aid the storytelling element of the game, since the only representation of the different characters would remain in the players' imaginations, without any outside influences at all.


Don't be surprised if you see a big lot of minis for sale on eBay sometime soon.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Martian Meshugenah

So, today I was paid a surprise visit by that raconteur, bon vivant, and all-around man-around-town, Jim Wilson, proprietor of Let's Not Talk About Movies, that premiere movie review blog. He was on his way to the twentieth anniversary reunion for Bill Nye the Science Guy, for which he was the sound designer back in the day (not incidentally winning an Emmy for his efforts). A chance to see Yojimbo is always a Good Thing, and in this particular instance, I came away with material gain as well: once again, in what is becoming somewhat of a tradition, my great and good friend gifted me with a Martian Manhunter action figure. To wit, The New 52 version.

Here it is, all nice and pristine in the box:

And here it is a few minutes after Jim left, reduced from M/NM to CR/AP:

So let's see: The blue color scheme is now kinda purple, and he's a little more olive green; I can live with that. He's got pants; I liked the faux-Barsoomian near-nakedness, but okay. His cape melds into a tunic-collared shoulder-pad/pectoral-shawl thingie; I'm not really sure how that would work. I love the breechclout, although he really doesn't need it now that he has pants. The symbol is still there, and half of the classic cape harness, so we'll call that good. But here's the rub:

Is everyone in the DCnU this cranky all the time? To quote the comics reporter: "sometimes I look at silver age superheroes and wonder why they look so different and then I realize it’s just that they don’t look like assholes." In any case, the new figure will grace the Martian Men's Room with the rest of them.

In other Martian news, Yojimbo's visit was such a surprise that I completely forgot that I had a Martian for him:

Yojimbo is something of a Chuck Jones expert as well as a big fan, so when I came across this Marvin the Martian a few weeks back I couldn't help but pick it up for him, planning to give it to him the next time we met up. I wish I had remembered that today.

So, Jim, I leave you with this snippet of dialogue for which I am sure you need no citation:
[Presenting a gift-wrapped dynamite stick to Martian Commander X-2]
Porky Pig: Happy b-b-birthday, you thing from another world, you.
Marvin Martian: Ooh, thank you! 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hi-yo, Pewter!

So, I am hearing terrible things about the new Lone Ranger movie, and to ensure that it displaces John Carter in everyone's mind as their first association with the phrase massive Disney bomb, I am going to talk about even though I haven't seen it.

I hear the plot involves railroads. Do you think it has a scene like this?

Nah, probably not. But I hear Johnny Depp plays Tonto. Do you think there's a scene like this?

Nah, probably not. He wouldn't talk like that. Maybe there's a scene like this:

Nah. That would mean Johnny Depp wasn't talking at all, and I can't imagine that. I hear that the Lone Ranger is portrayed in this movie as an amateurish greenhorn and that Tonto is the competent one. Maybe there's a scene like this:

Nah, probably not.
All images from The Lone Ranger #80, Dell Comics, February 1955


Seriously, I've got no issues with updating the style and sensibilities of the Lone Ranger as long as you keep to to his core qualities: total commitment, quiet competence, and constant courage. The details don't matter as much. And as for Tonto, as much as I liked the Jay Silverheels image consistent with the one shown here, I have always thought he should have a mask, too. Then both he and the Ranger could have alter egos and/or other identities, but when they went to work, the masks would come on. And if it were up to me, I'd do the research and give Tonto a backstory and tribal association that let him wear one of those horned buffalo headdresses that some Plains Indians wore. Because those are badass, and a scary, stealthy Tonto would carry the conceit that the Ranger and Tonto are like Superman and Batman - the West's Finest.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Six of one: Gender-swapped teams

A couple years back, a group of world-class cosplayers went to San Diego as The Gender-Swapped Justice League and created a bit of a storm. Now, there can certainly be political motivations behind gender-bending and cross-dressing in the superhero world; projects like The Hawkeye Initiative are a great way to point out the objectification of women in current superhero comics. Today, though, I just want to look at these from a design perspective; switching sexes gives us an opportunity to view familiar costumes with new eyes.

Most of the costumes in the real-life version stuck pretty close to the originals, with just a nod to the gender-swap. I thought Superwoman here captured the essence of the character better than anyone since Chris Reeve.

In the wake of the real-life event, a Parsons student created this illustrated rendition. Vixen (Reynard?) comes off a lot better, as does Wonder Man, with magic comic-book fabric. Interesting that the artist did a little race-switching to match the traditional, non-gender-swapped characters. Oh, and Huntress (Hunter?) and Green Arrow are missing.

Now here's an all-imagination gender-swapped Justice League. Superwoman's cape and emblem look cool, but I am not sure what's up with the petal-skirt; on the other hand, Wonder Man has no skirt, and I liked the look of the Roman pteruges that the real-life character had. Batwoman looks too Batman Beyond, but I really like the track-star Flash. And when did it become convention that all female Martians have red hair? By StockmanArt at deviantArt.

The same artist gave the treatment to The Avengers as well. None of these really work for me, except for Ant-Woman and The Wasp. Cap hardly looks different, Thor is bit too shiny (but there's the pteruges!), Spider-Woman's pony tail looks odd, Hulk looks like She-Hulk on steroids... maybe it's just me.

Young Justice gets the treatment: This illustration is less developed, more a preliminary sketch. A couple of these are funny: gender-swapping Arrowette and Martian Maid is just irony. I like the girl Robin a lot. By another dA, orangyorange.

And here's everyone's favorite mutants. I think this rendition best captures the spirit of the characters: Bobbi's exuberance, McCoy's thoughtfulness,  Scotty's determination - and I just love the way Marvel Boy is posing! The costumes themselves seem to be pretty sweet modifications of the Neal Adams era outfits - I'm not sure about that long skirt on Professor X, but maybe it's just the way she is sitting. This is from Snareser on Project: Rooftop.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wonder Wife Wednesday: Poetry Corner

So, among all her other talents, Wonder Wife is an occasionally-published poet. We have sometimes called her the Blood, Birds, and Buddha poet, since so much of her writing and art is woman-centered and uses a lot of specific imagery. Here's one that's online in the Licton Springs Review.

She's on a bit of a sabbatical this summer from her healing practice and has been exploring how she is going to integrate her creative pursuits into the rest of her enterprises. The other night, she asked me for a poem prompt, just so she could stretch some creative muscles. I wanted to give her something that would bridge our chosen genres, so I said Supergirl.

Turns out Wonder Wife knew nothing about Supergirl, so I had to explain the story - the real one, of course - about how Kara Zor-El was in Argo City when Krypton exploded, and the whole city floated off in one piece, and how Kara floated through space for a while until she, too, was sent to Earth in a rocket. I showed her the cover of Action Comics #252 and explained how Superman stuck her in an orphanage to protect his secret identity. She asked me how old Supergirl was; I said she was about fourteen or so. Wonder Wife seemed taken by the idea of this young girl growing up on a tiny fragment of an exploded planet.

A little while later she sent me this:

had no sex education like I did –
no old textbook diagrams of fallopian tubes,
or tampons dipped in blue-tinted water
to see them puff and float like sacred specimens.  
Instead, Argo drifted in space, detached
from its Kryptonian world, a chunk of planet
to fend for itself, just as Super Girl did,
ripening without notice, alone to witness
her first drops of woman blood
staining her muslin dress, wondering  
if this was the end, a disease just as cruel
as Krypton’s demise… 
… but then she saw a similar stain
on her girlfriend’s dress, and then another
and another, and she knew that something
miraculous had happened – like Krypton,
she had the power to bleed and survive.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Words to live by

So, I was cleaning up some files and I came across this:

IIRC, I found this card the day I moved into the deans' hallway and stuck it in my desk drawer. When I moved back to a faculty office, I threw it in a file. I don't find it terribly eloquent, but it's a nice enough sentiment. Actually, it reminded me of this, which I happened to come across online when I was looking for something else recently:

The values in the quotation from the Dalai Lama and those expressed in the Doc Savage Oath seem pretty compatible to me. I just can't imagine the Dalai Lama riding on the running board of a roadster firing mercy bullets at fleeing gangsters...

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Wonder Wife Wednesday - special holiday edition!

It's Independence in the USA, and what better way to celebrate than with the star-spangled shield-slinger! Or as Wonder Wife would call him, Go-America Guy...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


So, I already weighed in on Man of Steel, as have so many others. Despite what seems to be a lot of hedging and qualifying going on in the reviews, I guess it's making a good deal of money, and will go down in the win column for Team DC. Now that this re-boot has been deemed successful, eyes are looking forward to the playing out of the DC universe film franchise, eventually leading up to a Justice League movie. And that train of though ultimately leads to a comparison with Marvel's Hulk-Iron Man-Thor-Captain America-Avengers movie-to-movie build-up and whether DC can emulate Marvel's triumphs.

Pursuing this comparison, Jim McLauchlin, in a guest post at CBR, writes that "the world that the Marvel Comics character films take place in is an ultimately optimistic one, and the world that the DC Comics character films take place in is ultimately bleak." He offers some evidence for this from Man of Steel and The Avengers, and further says "The effort to make all the Marvel movies take place in a world that you want to be a part of is a very conscious one" and wonders whether DC's choice of  a "dangerous, edgy, gritty world" was made in a bid to corner the youth market, thinking that's what they want. He concludes that this is a wrong-headed strategy, as his experience with youth tells him that they are used to a malleable (his word) world in which they expect to have some control and get what they want, and will want to see movies set in that same kind of world because it is the world they would prefer to live in.

I have a lot of responses this argument; while it sounds pat on a first read, the situation is much more complex.

First of all, thinking that the youth market can be appealed to with things that are dangerous, gritty, and edgy is not  an egregious error, if indeed it is an error at all. Video games like Fallout, Bioshock and Grand Theft Auto (based on what I have read and had reported to me - I am not a gamer) seem to evoke this sensibility, as do any number of gorenography and revenge porn movies. The era of the grim antihero does not seem to be waning much, and even the new Wolverine movie seems to be playing up the darkness and Logan's monstrousness.

That said, Marvel as the bright, optimistic universe and DC as the bleak, dour universe does seem to be an odd reversal of roles. Marvel's rise to popularity was based at least in part on its subversion of the "optimistic" superhero standards set by DC: not all their heroes were successful and squared-away; not all the conflicts with super-villains ended in unqualified successes; and not all the endings were happy. It was this "realism" - this grittiness, if you will - that distinguished Marvel books from the often still-juvenile DC books (at least until the Bronze Age of Comics was well underway).

But maybe it is a case of that was then and this is now, and the question is not whether the viewer wants to live in the world they see but whether they can relate to living in the world they see. In the sixties, the boundless optimism of DC comics was becoming out of place in a world where the youth were beginning to feel disaffected and disenfranchised more and more; as the counter-culture grew, so did the desire to have comic book heroes who were every bit as challenged and alienated as the reader. Hence the rise of Marvel heroes in the comics. Now, youth feel not so much disaffected as they do entitled - everyone expects to be rich and happy and satisfied - to get what they want. So Marvel gives them Tony Stark, who proves you can be rich and witty and sexy and a hero and a genius all at once. I get that.

But it doesn't explain why so much grim 'n' gritty does still sell.

The problematic nature of so many responses to Man of Steel is not just that its world is too bleak; it's that Superman's world in particular is not supposed to be so bleak. Maybe the Marvel heroes are malleable enough to transition from the darlings of the disaffected to the millennial mainstream - they were never quite as radically different as we all like to think, anyway. Superman, though, is another story: he's not just a comic book hero, he is a cultural institution. Re-interpreting him doesn't just play with the rules of fiction, it messes with expectations and symbolism that have seeped into our society as a whole. None of characters featured in The Avengers has anywhere near the cultural weight that Superman does, certainly not Iron Man, and not even the Hulk or Captain America. That weighty mythology is out of alignment with the world presented in Man of Steel, and that alone makes it a bad choice for the film.

As I said, the movie seems to be doing pretty well, so we'll see whether DC's choice in this direction is ultimately a profitable one. Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy was about as dark as it comes, and the second two films are in the top ten for movie box office take. We can presume Batman will be rebooted as well, but into the world in which Man of Steel was set, so we can expect that darkness to remain. And as other characters are added in, we will see how the setting develops.

It seems to me that having a dark universe may not be a bad business decision for DC movies; it just may be a bad artistic decision.

I have been waiting for a couple of years to use this Squirrel Girl clip...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Six of one: Intertextuality

So, I was thinking about how what we know of other texts (in the widest sense of the word) can affect our apprehension of another work. A conclusion in this vein about Watchmen is what drove my essay in Minutes to Midnight; maybe it's just some sort of grad school PTSD that keeps it coming to mind.

Now mind you, I am not talking about having to have experienced previous episodes of a continued or serial narrative in order to understand the plot; that's just common sensical. Nor am I talking about having to know the subject of a parody or satire in order to understand the point being made - how without knowing anything about Justin Bieber, any parody you see is just a weird boy singer.

I am talking about how, in a subtle or nuanced way, the narrative presumes of its audience a certain body of knowledge or - and perhaps this is most important - a pre-existing relationship to that information in order to be successful. Beyond that, this intertextuality is not merely content-based, but is also positioned in a meta-context, combining the audience awareness of the work as a text in and of itself and in relationship to other texts. The question that always comes to my mind is whether the intertextuality is critical to understanding the work at hand or just adds another layer to the appreciation of the piece.

Anyway, here are six circumstances that came to mind:

Adventures in Babysitting: In this overlooked gem of an eighties movie, Elisabeth Shue herds her adolescent charges through a screwball series of escapades and exploits in the course of one Chicago night. One of the kids in her care is a young girl who idolizes Thor - specifically, the Marvel comics version of Thor, not just the traditional Norse god. As well as being a sort of running joke through the movie, her devotion to Thor becomes a crucial plot point late in the movie when the group encounters someone with a strong physical resemblance to the superhero. Now, when I saw this, the different resonances that resulted from choosing the Thor character as the girls' idol were clear to me, only because I have sufficient knowledge of and familiarity with that character, his history, and his cachet. Viewers without that knowledge or familiarity would not have the same responses. Really, though, I'm not sure this intertextuality approaches the critical stage; I think that viewers unfamiliar with Marvel-Thor would just hand-wave most of the references away, and that the film-makers could even have replaced Thor with a generic superhero without too much loss of signal.

A Murder Mystery Whose Name I Can't Remember: You'll have to bear with me on this one; my copy of the book was lost in the Great Paperback Purge of 1988 and my google-fu was weak, so I am working from memory.

I recall reading a mystery novel in which the protagonist was a computer systems expert called to do some work in a planned community. The development, a brainchild of an eccentric genius who lived on the top of the hill, is almost fully automated - it is protected by a computer security system, the houses are prefabricated and networked, the streets have heating elements to melt ice, and so on. The genius is obsessed with efficiency and effective design and renowned for cutting edge innovation in engineering, had developed a modular construction system, and drives around in a three-wheeled car. He turned out to be the bad guy.

Yes, the villain is Buckminster Fuller, even though he was named something else and there was a substitute word for "dymaxion."

Even in my callow youth I can remember thinking that that characterization was all that distinguished this book from the rest of the hackneyed detective stories that made up much of my reading at the time. Was the intertextuality critical? Probably not - the trope of the mad scientist is so common that most readers probably didn't notice. But it does elevate the story; at least, it's what's kept it in my memory for 30 years or so.

Samurai: Heaven and Earth: In this rollicking graphic novel (which I reviewed in detail back in the day), a samurai adventures his way from medieval Japan to medieval France and there encounters four swordsmen, brothers-at-arms, members of the king's guards, who get involved with court intrigues and dashing swordplay. Yes, they are clearly the Three Musketeers and D'Artagnan. Samurai versus the Three Musketeers! Of course - who could resist the high concept? The creators certainly want us to know what was happening - it adds so much geek prestige to the tale, a cachet that the creators and intended audience would both value. Is a prior reading of The Three Musketeers or even passing knowledge of the characters critical? Maybe not. But samurai versus generic French soldiers is definitely a weaker story, without either geek cred or some universal trope to stand on.

Death of a Doxy: When I was in high school, I devoured Bantam paperback versions of the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout as fast as I did their Doc Savage books. Wolfe's genius and Archie Goodwin's cleverness were captivating, and over the years they gathered a wonderful supporting cast in the household (Fritz and Theodore) on the police (Inspector Cramer, Sgt. Stebbins, and Lt. Rowcliff), and among their associates and aides (Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, Orrie Cather, Lon Cohen and Lily Rowan). I liked the Wolfe stories for the detailed looks into different worlds and fields, for their wisecracking dialogue, and for the mysteries as well, although like any such series it might have suffered a little from formula. And like most series of this kind, I started with some book right in the middle of its over 60-year history and filled in as I came across them, and it didn't really mater much which order I read them in. Except for one.

Well over 30 years into the series, Stout threw a curve ball. In Death of a Doxy, the otherwise routine murder mystery turns out to have as its culprit one of the supporting characters. It is a shocker. And only if the reader has read a sufficient number of the stories and developed a sense of Wolfe's world and some expectations about does the emotional weight hit home. If, by chance, this were the first Wolfe mystery someone were to read, none of that impact would be there. In this case, the intertextuality is critical.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (Episode 57): Avatar was a 61-episode series that chronicled the adventures of a group of young people out to save the world - a different world than ours. This episode involves the protagonists, undercover in hostile territory, watching a play based on their exploits; the play recaps the major events of the series from the perspective of an outside observer and not necessarily a sympathetic one. The viewer doesn't have to have seen the rest of the series to understand the play; in fact, it functions much like a traditional clip show, recounting plot points and critical moments and bringing the audience up to speed. What is lost on the new or casual viewer, however, is all of the meta-contextual content that the in-story performance allows the creators to play with.

The production that the characters see both portrays and comments on not just the foregoing story but also the behind-the-scenes story of the show's production and its fan community. Audience reactions evoke fan response to unpopular previous episodes; costume designs for the "actors" play on variant or unused designs for the real characters; ambiguous plot threads are foregrounded; throwaway bits that had garnered followings are highlighted. Perhaps this episode was in the nature of a love letter from the creators to their fanbase, coming as late as it did in the series; in any case, a degree of intertextuality is necessary to appreciate it on all the levels it was written.

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?: Few would argue with me if I asserted that this was one of the finest Superman stories written, if not the best ever. Alan Moore's script and Curt Swan's art about the last days of the quintessential comic book hero deliver powerful images and events that I am not ashamed to say bring tears to my eyes even on multiple re-readings; I doubt I am alone in that response.

But I wonder how many people would argue with me if I said that the story, as good as it is, would not possibly have the same impact on a casual fan as it does on someone who has read hundreds of Superman comics over years and years. In this case, both a body of knowledge about Superman - his supporting cast, his enemies, his powers, his milieu - as well as a pre-existing relationship to that information, not just objective understanding, are absolutely necessary for this story to work. I might be back to the same argument I made about Watchmen, but if this were the first Superman story you ever read, it would not have anywhere near the emotional impact is does on long-time fans.

In some ways this seems like I am stating the obvious - it's a coda, so of course it requires knowledge of the foregoing episodes. "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" wouldn't make sense to anyone who hasn't seen M*A*S*H; what of it? Isn't this just that common sensical bit about having to have experienced previous episodes of a continued or serial narrative in order to understand the plot? Well, yes, fair enough, on one level. But on another level, this story does two things that increase the critical nature of the intertextuality.

The first is that the reader does not just have to have an understanding of the content to get the plot; she needs to know the role and weight of all the characters and story elements to really understand the structure of the narrative. It's not just a familiarity with personality traits, or powers, or even relationships between the characters; it's a sense of where each character fits in the overall Superman mythology, and what aspect of that mythology they represent, that really lets the reader connect to the unfolding story.

And that's the second thing the story does: it boldly seeks close the myth, to put an ending to the never-ending battle, and not just in-story. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? was published right before Superman's first-ever complete re-boot. This story was not only a coda to an almost fifty-year adventure story, it was the end of a real-world era as well. Only those with an abiding connection not just to the character himself, but also to his place as a figure in the broad culture, would feel all the resonance of this narrative; it reached back to those hundreds of other stories not just for prior plot points but also for their place as shared texts in a community whose time had come to an end and whose place was being taken. It is for Superman Comics as well as Superman that the story makes us weep.

If the intertextuality exists.

And if I'm not full of beans.