content by

Steven Padnick

How Daddy Issues Drive the Marvel Cinematic Universe

From the moment Tony Stark put on power armor to slug it out with Obadiah Stane for control of Arc Reactor technology, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been about a generational struggle against Bad Dads for the fate of the world.

Each movie is the story of men (mostly) realizing that they can no longer rely on their fathers (or uncles, or other surrogate father figures) to fix their problems for them, and now must use their own sense of morality and ethics to decide what to do with the great power they possess.

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Superhero Fun on a Shoestring Budget: Caper

What if Pepper Potts had designed the Iron Man suit, and Tony Stark had just stolen the credit? What if, after stealing the suit back, a penniless Pepper had to move into a crappy apartment with her friends Thor, Superman, and Wonder Woman? And what if, to pay the rent, and maybe a little bit for revenge, the super powered roommates decided to rob Tony for all he’s worth?

That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Caper, Geek and Sundry’s web series created by Amy Berg and Mike Sizemore. Berg was a writer on Eureka and Leverage, and tonally Caper feels like a mash-up of those two shows. It’s a light, poppy take on a sci fi world filled with complicated, diverse people, but built on an engine of righteous outrage that drives the Robin Hood antics of Leverage and, well, the entire superhero genre.

[Fightin' crime don't pay my bills…]

“And So the Legend Begins”—Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood

I wanted to like Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood so much more than I did.

There are so many elements of the movie that I think are really clever, especially how Scott uses actual historical events to create a new plot for the familiar characters. Gone are tropes like the archery contest, dueling Little John on a bridge, wooing Marian from afar, and a climactic jail break.

In their place is the story of Robin Longstride, an archer returning from the Crusades, who impersonates a dead knight in the hopes of a free trip to England and maybe a small payday. But Robin impersonates the wrong knight, Sir Robert of Loxley, bringing him face to face with the new King John. Things get more complicated when, taking a page from The Return of Martin Guerre, Loxley’s father convinces Robin to continue the charade so that Loxley’s widow, Marian, can retain her lands. Now Robin, a thief at heart, finds himself responsible for a town, and in conflict with the local tax collector, the Sheriff of Nottingham.

That sounds like a pretty good Robin Hood plot, yeah? Unfortunately, it’s only the B plot. Because the A plot is “The Shockingly Bloody History of the Magna Carta, Oh And Also There Is Robin Hood.”

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Series: Rewatching Robin Hood on

“Funny Guy! Fun-ny Guy!”—Robin Hood: Men in Tights

On top of being a brilliant parody of other Robin Hood movies, specifically skewering Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Mel Brooks’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights works pretty decently as a Robin Hood story on its own. The mugging for the camera, anachronisms, and meta-humor about being a Mel Brooks movie remove the story from the specific setting of late 12th century England and make it speak to the experience of its contemporary audience. And the meta-textual satire recalls the spirit of the festival plays which popularized and developed the Robin Hood myths, where Robin would directly encourage the audience to boo the Sheriff and help him hide.

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Series: Rewatching Robin Hood on

“It’s Dull, You Twit. It Will Hurt More!”—Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a terrible movie. Much, much worse than you remember.

Most of the fault lies at Kevin Costner’s feet (and we’ll get to his lackluster performance in a moment), but the whole production is a splotchy mess. It’s nonsensical when it’s not racist, and that’s only when it’s not dull as dishwater—which, granted, is most of the time. All of the actors (with one shining exception) are utterly without charm. There are far too many subplots that don’t go anywhere. And everything is performed with an early 90s earnestness that ends up being super dour.

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Series: Rewatching Robin Hood on

“Those Impudent Musical Peasants!”—Disney’s Robin Hood

Disney’s Robin Hood (1973) is the Robin Hood myth at its most mythic. It has the simplest plot (Robin robs and humiliates John so badly that eventually John throws all of Robin’s friends in jail, leading Robin and Little John to stage an epic jailbreak/heist). It’s divorced from historical context, indeed it is divorced from human characters entirely. The Disney version is Robin Hood as fairy tale: John is a lion who taxes his subjects simply because he loves money, and Robin Hood is a clever fox that robs and gives to the poor, because, well, because that’s what Robin Hood does.

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Series: Rewatching Robin Hood on

“Our Young Saxon Cockerel Here”—The Adventures of Robin Hood

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb saying 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood is the iconic version of the Robin Hood mythos. Even 75 years later, if you imagine Robin Hood in your head, you’re probably thinking of a tall, thin man with a goatee, wearing a felt, feathered cap, bright green doublet and tights, laughing haughtily at authority (Or you’re thinking of a fox wearing basically the same clothes, and we’ll get to him next).

And if you think of the archetypal Robin Hood adventures—the quarterstaff fight with Little John; the archery contest; the climactic sword fight on the castle stairs—they’re all in this movie. But for all that it set the ideal of what a Robin Hood story is, The Adventures of Robin Hood has some complicated nuances that really reflect its creation.

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Series: Rewatching Robin Hood on

Rewatching Robin Hood

There is no canonical Robin Hood story.

There’s no The Odyssey, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, or the Bible. There’s no one text we can go back to and say “This is who Robin Hood is and should be.”

The adventures of Robin Hood are a collection of stories dating back to at least the 1400s, drawn from ballads and plays and may fair games, and they vary wildly. The only constant is that Robin is a heroic outlaw with a band of merry men. Everything else changes from story to story.

[Robin Hood stories… are like snowflakes]

Series: Rewatching Robin Hood on

Nice Guys of OKOlympus: The Nerd God Hephaestus

Hephaestus, a.k.a. Vulcan, a.k.a. the god of the forge, is basically the nerd god. He’s the quiet, introverted one that spends most of his time in his garage, alone, playing with his toys, building machines and armor and jewelry. He believes in reason over all (there’s a reason Spock’s people are named after him). He’s overshadowed by his jock brother Ares, god of war. Notably, he’s the only Greek god who’s unattractive.

Often the myths present Hephaestus as an innocent victim who has done nothing to earn his ill treatment. But Hephaestus is also a classic “nice guy”: a self-centered, entitled, bitter schmuck who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else and then doesn’t understand why people don’t want his advice (see also: Nice Guys of OKCupid). The kind of guy who can’t understand why girls prefer “handsome jerks” like his brother to “nice guys” like him. Hephaestus, while demonstrating the good sides of being a nerd (he’s super good at making shit), also demonstrates a lot of nerdom’s fatal flaws.

[All he needs is a trilby]

Never Play Fizzbin with James T. Kirk

Captain Kirk is a magnificent lying bastard.

No disrespect. Being a bastard is possibly his greatest strength, the reason he and the crew of the starship Enterprise survive so many deadly encounters with hostile armies, planet-destroying artificial intelligences, and childlike gods. Where “Bones” McCoy has medical training and knock-out drugs, and Mr. Spock has super strength and super intelligence (and, like, the universe’s most effective shoulder massage), Kirk has to rely on his trickster wiles to bluff warlords, seduce alien women, and convince super-computers to self-destruct.

[Read more… except at night, when you want a queen or a four]

Series: Magnificent Bastards on


Superman is my favorite superhero, possibly my favorite fictional character. But when it comes down to it, my favorite moments in Superman stories rarely involve Superman directly, but instead are about the men, women, and children inspired by Superman to be brave and do the right thing, even at great personal cost. The little boy standing up to his abusive father in Action Comics #0. The population of Earth rising up to face Mageddon the Anti-Sun in JLA #41.

Which is why I love Bizarro so, so much. There are a few characters explicitly inspired to heroics by Superman (Supergirl, Superboy, Steel), but Bizarro is the only one who, by narrative conceit, can never live up to the ideal. Whatever his origin (and there’s been a few), Bizarro’s defining characteristic is that he’s “the imperfect clone of Superman.” He wants to be the hero but he always gets it wrong, often so badly he does the exact opposite of what Superman would do. He even speaks in opposites, replacing “hello” with “goodbye” and “hate” with “love.” This makes Bizarro an extremely versatile character.


Wonder Woman and the Truly New

In 2011, when DC Comics announced they were going to relaunch their entire line of superhero comics, I expressed cautious optimism that their books would be aimed at expanding their audience to the millions of people who love Superman and Batman in movies, cartoons, and video games, but who do not read comics. Freed from 70+ years of continuity, writers and artists could stretch both the characters and the genre in new directions, really experiment with what a superhero story could be. I was disappointed, to say the least.

[The superhero book you should be reading]

Consider the Spinach Can

Though E.C. Segar’s Popeye the Sailor Man is not as popular as he once was, there was a time the squinty-eyed sailor was an American icon on par with Mickey Mouse and Superman. The Fleischer Studio cartoons, which featured Popeye and the hulking Bluto battling it out over the stick-figured Olive Oyl, created the on-going one-on-one conflict plots that would dominate theatrical cartoons from Tom and Jerry to Looney Tunes. But perhaps Popeye’s greatest contribution to pop culture is his can of spinach, a story trope that would change the shape of cartoons, comics, and video games, in America and across the world.

The first thing to understand is just how popular Popeye really was, starting from his debut in Thimble Theater in 1929. By 1938, polls showed Popeye, not Mickey Mouse, was the most popular animated character in Hollywood. The Popeye cartoons and comics invented or popularized the words “wimp,” “jeep,” “goon,” and “doofus.” Spinach growers credited Popeye with a 33% increase in sales, and erected a statue of Popeye in tribute in 1937.

[The spinach can that changed the world]

Can We Stop Sorting Ourselves Into Hogwarts Houses?

Whether it’s through an online personality test, or conversations with friends, or simply in the privacy of their own head, it’s a question every Harry Potter fan has asked themselves: “Which house would I be sorted into?”

“Will I be put with the brainiacs of Ravenclaw? The heroes of Gryffindor? The villains of Slytherin? The… others of Hufflepuff?”

But, guys, it’s been fifteen years since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published. Can we finally admit that the Hogwarts Houses are terrible stand-ins for personality types?

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Series: YA on