content by

Adam McGovern

Rewatching for the First Time: Targets

Targets (1968) is an artifact of its era in more ways than one. It ranks among legendary cult films, and is one of those flicks many people have heard about but, as time goes on, fewer and fewer have actually seen. I finally watched the film this year, and found that it closes a circle with many pop-culture tendencies that are predominant now, and many that have advanced way beyond its example.

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Things From Another World: The Outer Space Men Toys Beam into a New Century

The aliens landed in a New Jersey discount store when I was five years old—materializing on the shelves without even a flashing blue light. They had eerie, iridescent armor,  and were a sort of United Nations of the rest of the solar system—one being each for seven of our planetary neighbors. In their clone-like multitudes they waited in form-fitting plastic pods, glued to cardboard covered with pictures of their home planets and narratives of their lives before arriving on our world. And there was no way I wasn’t going to help them fan out through all of suburbia. Child turned against parent, and one by one The Outer Space Men colonized my playroom.

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Brain Power: What Makes A Superhero?

“All of this philosophical stuff makes my hair hurt,” remarked veteran superhero scribe and former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco; “That’s why I lost mine,” affirmed educator and comics scholar Geoff Klock. We all know baldness is the superpower of the smartest characters on both sides of comics’ crisp line between good and evil, from Charles Xavier to Lex Luthor, and serious study was the mark of a sincere love of this simple artform at the panel discussion “What is a Superhero?” at the Tribeca location of New York City’s influential cultural institution 92Y last week.

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Past Forward: Three Comics That Remember the Future Like It Was Yesterday

The future isn’t what it was supposed to be—but on comic books’ infinite tablet the present can be anything we feel like. Three new comics projects—one newly created yet a century old, one from a rich canon of vintage superheroes that has yet to be produced, and one that is the biggest news of what hasn’t happened yet—make the immediate future bright and give time new meaning.

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The End Keeps Starting Over: Dissident Timelines in Nowhere Men, Killjoys and East of West

Medical tests, favorite TV show finales, or the fate of the world—no one wants the future given away. It belongs to us. Until we know for sure what’s happening, we can direct which way it goes.

Three current comics triangulate our understanding of where we are based on the consequences of a future we never got, a present that might never have come, and the inevitable but illogical conclusion of the time we’re living now. Together they open a window on the next-next events we can’t look away from but don’t really wanna know.

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The Cosplay’s the Thing: Crystal Skillman’s GEEK! Premieres

These days, everyone wants to be a geek—or at least watch one on television. The ratings supremacy of The Big Bang Theory and the centrality of San Diego Comic-Con to the pop-culture calendar have put the kids who couldn’t get picked for baseball at the center of the field (did I say that right?), but in this form of celebrity to be special is still to be strange. It may “get better” after you’re clear of high-school bullies, but it doesn’t get any easier to be a geek as you make your way up-mainstream through life—and acclaimed indie playwright Crystal Skillman explores this in GEEK!, the new play from art-pulp troupe Vampire Cowboys.

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Rants Brew Over Reported John Stewart/Green Lantern Death

On Thursday, Bleeding Cool reported on the latest DC Comics defection of writer Joshua Hale Fialkov leaving two Green Lantern books before he started due to a surprise editorial plan to kill off John Stewart, one of the medium’s most definitive black characters.

Thanks to the immediate online reaction to the news, Bleeding Cool is now reporting that this plan has been scuttled. But why was it brought up in the first place?

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Scholar Uncovers the Fantastic Four’s Secret Identity Politics

To be a fan is to place oneself apart—or perhaps to be apart is to find a community of what enthuses you while the mainstream passes by. This is a model that forms a natural affinity between the outlying culture of comics and the outcast social status of queer identity. As both of those communities assume a central place in society while they retain their fringe perspective, it’s worth examining the unnoticed path they took and the widened futures it points to.

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The Best Comics You Didn’t Read in 2012

I know the old year is over and I have to accept it. But certain pop-culture concepts are timeless, and even consciously cross eras. Late in 2012 I surveyed some exceptional modern comics that would not continue past the new year; around the same time several period-piece or updated-classic comics were just getting to the end of their beginning, or being given promising new starts. These aren’t ones that got away, but we need to be thankful that they’re there.

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Rewatching for the First Time: The Ruling Class

The Ruling Class is one of those movies you hear of all your life without seeing, adding to its aura as something you can’t quite believe actually happened at all. A 1972 satire of British class-war and religious delusion, it’s the kind of movie that soon after couldn’t have been made, and only more recently could have been again, with the 2000s’ relaxed ideological restrictions and heightened command of post-reality.

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Ending Well: The Best Comics You Won’t See in 2013

It’s the special sorcery of serial fiction that it can make you look forward desperately to the very point at which there will nothing left of it. Having enjoyed successive cliffhangers, you’re happy to be taken just short of the last ledge, while the story leaps into history and you’re left with a lifetime memory.

In periodical fiction, there’s a lot a lot to be said for succeeding in finishing your story—we all have our fave TV dramas that were cancelled before their natural conclusion and comics suspended with years of tales left to tell.

So it was that 2012 offered more than its share of comic series with finales well worth there being literally nothing more to look forward to.

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Artificial Life Story: Age of the Android Reinvents the Past

The rivalry between master inventor Thomas Edison and visionary conceptual scientist Nikola Tesla runs through the Animal Engine Theater Company’s Age of the Android, and the mystery of what gears mesh or lock up in the clockwork of our lives, and what sparks of imagination leap free and which aspirations just fall into the void, are questions central to the play’s human drama.

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Rewatching for the First Time: Carnival of Souls

Some of the easiest cultural influences to trace are the hardest cultural artifacts to track down. I’d heard of Carnival of Souls most of my life, but didn’t see it until five days before Halloween, 2012. The first-time rewatch was staged in the fittingly phantasmal setting of the Lowe’s Jersey, a shadowy movie-cathedral from 1929 in somewhat better shape than the ghostly Victorian pavilion that Carnival’s heroine is drawn to. That once-merry shell is found in the middle of the Utah desert, and the movie had to cross a similar limbo to arrive in the graces of several generations of filmmakers and enthusiasts. 

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What We Don’t Know Now: Roadtripping Across Saucer Country with Paul Cornell

The bleak days of autumn are a time for both the wandering spirits of Halloween and related holidays, and the free-floating anxieties of election season. This vanishing-point of thrill and dread converges on the campaign trail and in Paul Cornell’s Saucer Country comic book from Vertigo (created with artist Ryan Kelly and in its first collection Nov. 21). A saga of modern UFO mythology and what it says about our minds, Saucer Country follows presidential candidate Arcadia Alvarado, who swears (in private) that she was abducted by aliens. It’s a charged campaign, where her own “alien” origins as a Hispanic American are at issue, and where distrust of government is embodied by a group of competing conspiracy theorists who either aim to undermine or aid her. It’s an epic of the elusive truths America envelops, and the enduring possibilities it represents. Soon after Cornell’s cross-country capsule had passed the half-year mark and a few days before America’s real-life election sent us down the next path of possible futures, I called him for a field report on what’s really going on in the metaphysical America….

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License to Teach: The Plaid Avenger

For the adrenaline-drunk super-professor known as The Plaid Avenger, knowledge is his power…though certainly not judgment, or moderation, or, y’know…power. Avatar of real-life Virginia Tech don John Boyer, the Avenger crosses the globe for a good cocktail and an empty thrill and leaves geographical literacy and political reasoning in his wake.

Created to convey a sense of global citizenship through humor and graphic immediacy, the star of illustrated textbooks, comics, and the blogozone infiltrates climate-change hotspots and spirit-squashing dictatorships clad in the garish prints and louder attitudes of a bygone kind of planet-trotting alpha-male secret agent, which throws into high contrast the need for more nuanced pursuit of a healthy world.

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