Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Nerd Wrangles

This week, the internet is ablaze with all sorts of news out of the San Diego Comic-Con.

We aren’t there. We haven’t been for over a decade, because it just got too big and loud for a couple of old fogeys like Julie and me. And that was when it was only the size of a continent. We have found that we don’t miss it; we are much more about the smaller shows (as recounted here.)

What we do miss are the old CBR Mission Beach barbecues.

Our own Jim MacQuarrie, and his lovely wife Terri, began a Saturday night tradition of hosting a barbecue at Mission Beach, safely away from the convention craziness. (In particular, we were avoiding the Masquerade competition, because back in the late 1990s that was when you stood the most chance of getting trampled by some guy on stilts dressed as Optimus Prime. Today, of course, that hazard is now present for all four days of the show and likely Preview Night as well.)

For us San Diego was as much or more about reconnecting with friends we’d never get to see otherwise as it was the actual convention, and though our old friend Kurt has upheld this tradition somewhat with the CBR Northwest Dinner every year at ECCC, it’s just not the same.

Part of it’s just that we’re all older now. A lot of us have turned pro– Jim’s at Disney, Chris has a number of freelance credits, Kurt’s new book is rolling out at SDCC right now, and even I’ve made it into print a few times. So we are a little more jaded these days.

But back in the day we were all just a bunch or dorks getting our nerd on. What I remember the most fondly about the Mission Beach gatherings are the post-dinner arguments around the campfire about various bits of nerdlore.

Now, this is a time-honored tradition that goes back to my childhood. (Apparently it goes back to a lot of my generation’s childhoods, as you can see here.)

I’ve written up a couple of them at the old stand (here is my favorite of those) and I still get the giggles sometimes, remembering the fierce passion we brought to the discussion about these things. Admittedly, sometimes this was fueled by beer consumption, but a lot of us didn’t drink: Richard was stone-cold sober the night he was bellowing, “It’s totally logical for him to turn into a feathered bear!”

This was, by the way, something to do with Proty and the Legion of Super-Pets.

This sort of thing would go on for HOURS.

A great many of these, we never did manage to resolve. So, in a fit of nostalgia, I thought I’d share a few of them here. Maybe the Junk Shop group mind will succeed where we failed.

Here’s one we never nailed down. Superhero disguises and costume changes.

It has long been accepted as superhero canon that most costumed crimefighters wear their outfits under their civilian clothing.

Except…. how does that work? Superman and the Flash, sure, they can move at superhuman speed and their civilian outfits are super-compressed, safely stored in a pocket or ring or somewhere to be expanded later. Even Spider-Man has “spider-speed.” But what about Batman? Daredevil? Iron Fist? The non-powered crowd?

Batman, especially– the cape and cowl is BULKY. So’s the Utility Belt. Depending on who’s drawing it, it goes from difficult (Carmine Infantino) to logistically impossible (Kelley Jones.)

The TV show tried to get around it with the Batpoles, but the more you examine that particular solution, the worse it gets. We used to argue about this when I was a kid.

The “instant costume change lever” was even more problematic than the discarded Batmobile chutes. Especially since you apparently could negate it with the flip of a switch, so it wasn’t a case of an intervening locker-room sort of platform between the Wayne Manor study and the Batcave. It was INSTANT, and you could turn it on and off.

So what was the deal there? JLA transporter tech? But that never really got nailed down either, as during the time of the show, the League was still operating out of the cave sanctuary in Happy Harbor. Well, yeah, but should the TV show be held to that standard?

And so on.

It gets worse when you count the number of non-powered heroes who wore really bulky shit under their masks. Like how Matt Murdock never takes off his glasses.


Even worse is when Batman has the full cape and cowl on UNDER another disguise.

Rip off the rubber mask and… whoa, those bat-ears are at least four inches high. Also, it sure is obliging of the armed bad guys to wait for him to get shucked of the rest of the outfit. “Maybe they think he’s going to take it ALL off and they think he’s hot,” was one suggestion, but it did not survive the group’s rigid analysis of Batman’s history.

“He’s going to beat the shit out of them! He’s clearly a threat! It’s not seductive!”

“How do you know? They might be into that shit. Hurt me, Batman.”

“Every time? Come on!”

And so on.

Another one we never figured out was the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Specifically, their frankly insane membership policy. Night Girl’s relegated to the subs…

…despite her Kryptonian-level strength, and the simple solution of teaming her with the darkness-projecting Shadow Lass– a solution which is canon, by the way…

…but Matter-Eater Lad is in? Seriously?

“So who did HE sleep with?” led to one of the most obscene discussions of superpowered sex I’ve ever heard. I will not attempt to reproduce it here so don’t ask.

For that matter, how fucked-up is the Legion’s initiation-test process?

Just mildly weird or seriously weird?

We never resolved that one either.

We were mostly comics folks, of course, but the discussions ranged all over the nerd landscape. One we went back and forth on is why are the officers of the Starship Enterprise, representing a Federation where technology has made Earth a utopia, so hell-bent against anyone else having life-improving computer tech?

Over and over, Kirk and Spock and the rest of the crew destroyed computers that served entire planetary populations, then just shrugged and left. The natives would figure it out.

Prime Directive? Fuck that noise. When it’s a planetary government run by supercomputer, you kill it with fire.

The fact of the matter is that on the original series, the Prime Directive of non-interference only gets brought up right before it’s about to be broken. But that’s far from the only thing we could never arrive at a satisfactory solution to. Another one is why, in this perfect future free of primitive prejudices, is Dr. McCoy allowed to be such a bigoted asshole? Especially to Vulcans?

This was actually addressed once, in the episode “All Our Yesterdays.”

… but only on a personal level. It’s not against Starfleet policy. Moreover, the fact that Spock finally unloads on McCoy for being a dick to him all the time about his racial characteristics is presented as indicating it’s a problem with Spock. “I work at a corporation right here in the screwed-up 20th century and I have to go to a bunch of goddam sensitivity trainings. Where’s the HR writeup on fucking McCoy?”

This led to a lot of entertaining speculation on what dragging McCoy to a mandated sensitivity training would look like, but we never did actually figure it out.

I could go on. But the real question is why we never can figure out how to gather the old gang in one place these days. That’s the one I want an answer to.

Back next week with something cool.

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      1. Edo Bosnar

        Yeah, that was just a bit before my time; I only started reading comics sometime in 1975, and the first issue of Legion I ever picked up – near as I can tell – was in 1976, and even then I only occasionally got them. I only became a regular Legion reader in 1978/79, just before Superboy was dropped from the title. And the DC digests usually reprinted stories from the ’50s and ’60s…

  1. Terence Stewart

    Leaving aside that Shadow Lass wasn’t around when Night Girl applied for membership, didn’t the Legion think she might come in useful when fighting in space?

    More useful than ” I’ll just take a quick nap” Dream Girl.

  2. Not just space. Her power’s nullified by sunlight, not light (some of the Bronze Age stories got that wrong), so she’s also effective in doors, underground, etc.

    I loved the Proty story, if only for the sequence where he bluffs the Legion with a doomsday device that doesn’t actually do anything.

        1. No, the Phantom Cats were the pets of Phantom Zone villains. The Space Cat Patrol showed up when some space pirates battling the Space Canine Patrol Agency forced Krypto to take them to a world with no super-powered dogs. He dropped them off to face Power Puss, Atomic Tom and Crab Tabby.

  3. Hey…don’t put down my boy Matter-Eater Lad! That guy can eat and digest anything, including poison. That means super-strong teeth, super-powerful jaws, and super-tough stomach acid…and he does it all at super-speed. I mean, so fast that he can eat out an escape tunnel before he’s caught, or eat his way through a door before a bunch of other Legionnaires can stop him. Sure, the name is incurably silly, and often is the character, but in real life it’d be at least as useful as a lot of his colleagues.

    I’m actually in the middle of writing a blogpost about this very topic…trying to argue against his inclusion in everyone’s list of useless super-heroes.

    On the other hand, the Legion initiation process, especially in those early days, is indeed completely screwy.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    Greg Hyland’s Lethargic Lad solved the costume change lever conundrum, as we saw how Larry Ladhands, who inherited the technology from Mr. West, used it to switch into his Lethargic Lad gear. It involved expandable robot arms and flipping people around; but, it worked.

    As a kid, seeing the movie, I thought I saw a ledge on the side of the shaft that housed the Batpoles. I got it in my head that they stopped off there, where there was a changing room with their costumes, then hopped back on. I even had an image in my head of it, before rewatching the film, many years later, seeing no such scene.

    The Legion initiation made total sense; they’re teenagers and it’s a hazing ritual. I was a midshipman, we know about this kind of stuff (I was NROTC, not Academy, though, so we didn’t get the institutionalized BS that they do). Every midshipman, on their first training cruise gets the “Mail Buoy Watch,” told to watch for the “Sea Bat,” gets sent to engineering for a “bucket of steam,” or “relative bearing grease.” Then, there is the notorious Shellback initiation (when a ship crosses the Equator). Just read Sam Glanzman’s A Sailor’s Story, to see what that one was like, during WW2. It was toned down (slightly) in my day, though there had been a death during one, just before we got underway for South America, with two other ships, headed for our own crossing.

  5. jccalhoun

    I always assumed the BatPole clothes changer was a Jetsons-style thing that changed their clothes for them.

    Regarding secret identities, Far From Home got me thinking about it: Maybe it is time to get rid of that “if people know who I am they will go after my family” thing. After all, it isn’t common for criminals to target police officers’ families.

    If I was a high school kid that got super-powers, I would say “screw high school” and totally go Booster Gold and get tons of sponsorships and endorsement deals.

  6. Edo Bosnar

    Another topic of geek debate (or nerd wrangles) that seems to pop up constantly on any comics-related blog, forum, etc. is the old question of ‘why is such-and-such a superhero, but another such-and-such isn’t?’ Or, e.g., if Batman’s a superhero, shouldn’t Zorro/James Bond/Modesty Blaise (I could go on forever) be considered one as well?
    I was in fact reminded of this one just this morning over at the Classic Comics Forum, where post that starts with a list of Golden Age super-heroines transitions to this topic five comments in. You can basically watch the debate unfold in real time.

    1. Alaric

      I think it’s a continuum. It’s not that some characters are superheroes and others aren’t so much as that different characters fall on different points between “full superhero” and “not a superhero at all”. Various factors- powers, costumes, code names, saving the world regularly, starring in stories in the superhero genre (defined separately), etc. can influence where a character lies on the plot. Years ago, I had worked out a system for determining this (yes, I’m that much of a nerd/geek/whatever), but I eventually realized it didn’t work as well as I wanted it to, and I haven’t come up with anything to replace it with. Still, I think I was, in a very general sense, on the right track. (It’s annoying how I never get around to posting here on the topics I really have a lot to say about, because I can’t figure out how to say what I want to say without writing my own full article… Like, I have a lot to say about the “Missing the Point” thing, but I’ll probably never get around to it. That happens to me constantly here.)

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