Pop Culture Affidavit Presents: 80 Years of DC Comics, Part Six — Crime Drama

80 Years Episode 6 Website LogoMy look at non-superhero comics throughout DC’s 80-year history continues with the crime-drama genre and to represent that, I’ve chosen the 1988 miniseries Cinder and Ashe, which was written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (praise be his name). It’s a story about two private investigators looking for a missing girl and getting drawn into a political conspiracy that involves a man from their past they both thought dead.

This episode is part of the #ConwayXover, a crossover among several podcasts that will be celebrating the work of Gerry Conway as well as putting a spotlight on issues concerning creator equity in comics. Special thanks to Michael Bradley for inviting me on board!

You can download the episode via iTunes or listen here:  Pop Culture Affidavit Presents 80 Years of DC Comics Part Six

Fast Times that really weren’t

It here’s a Newton’s Law of Moviemaking, it has to be: “For every great movie, there is a much lesser sequel, spin-off, or knock-off.”  In the case of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it’s the second in the form of a blink-and-you’ll miss-it sitcom from 1986 called Fast Times.

Prior to my episode about the movie, I had only known of Fast Times as a piece of trivia that accompanied articles about the film or the television series’ stars (usually Courtney Thorne-Smith), and it never saw life in reruns or on video.  In fact, if not for the grace of YouTube, the seven-episode run of Fast Times would have remained that way, lost to television trivia history forever.  But as I wound up doing my research about the movie, I found the pilot episode (which has 23,000 views).

With Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli reprising their roles as Mr. Hand and Mr. Vargas, respectively, Fast Times attempted and failed to re-create the “slice of life in high school” the movie had given us in 1982.  I don’t know why the producers waited until 1986 to option this and put it on the air, but int he very least, it was at a time when teen flicks were big at the box office and shows like Fame had proven that you could take a teen movie and spin it off to a television show.

Our teen characters are the same as they were in the film but the actors are different, which makes sense considering that many of the stars of Fast Times at Ridgemont High were enjoying successful movie careers in 1986 (Judge Reinhold had already appeared in Beverly Hills Cop, Phoebe Cates had been in Gremlins, and Sean Penn had married Madonna) and were probably too old to play teenagers anymore (although that never stopped Gabrielle Cartheris).  Stacey (Jennifer Jason Leigh in the film) is played by a pre-Summer School Courtney Thorne-Smith, and Claudia Wells (who still had the smolder from her role as Jennifer in Back to the Future) stepped into Phoebe Cates’s role as Linda.  Brad was played by James Nardini; Rat, who is reduced to a couple of “walking through the mall” scenes is played by Wally Ward; Damone, who Robert Romanus embodied so well in the film, is played by Patrick Dempsey; and Dean Cameron (“Chainsaw” from Summer School) plays Jeff Spicoli.

The 26-minute pilot episode begins with a cold open shot from the point of view of Mr. Hand, who is making his way through the halls of the school and then walks into his class.  Spicoli skaeboards in to say he’s on time but is dismayed that someone is in his seat

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Mr. Hand then points out to Spicoli that his class was last period and Spicoli says, “That’s cool, you can just mark me early for tomorrow.”

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We then get a very late 1980s animated title sequence and a song by Oingo Boingo followed by an opening mall montage that should look familiar because it is recycled footage from the film (in fact it’s the opening of the film where “We Got the Beat” played over several mall scenes).  The movie footage is of such better quality that it seems completely out of place with everything else.

The episode, by the way, is directed by Amy Heckerling herself (who was also credited as a “supervising producer”), so I don’t know if she had a hand in this or was called in on a favor.  We pick up with our characters as we see Damone walking and talking with Rat and giving him typical Damone dating advice.

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They approach Stacy and Linda, who are cuddling puppies outside a pet store and flirt with them, although at one point Damone stops talking and starts staring at Stacy’s breasts.  Linda tells him that “They don’t speak English” and the girls walk off.

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We then switch to Cattle Burger, which is in the mall and which I guess was a way to have Stacy and Brad work in the same general area so that there could be interaction at times (All-American Burger in the film was a free-standing fast food joint away from the mall, where Stacy worked at Perry’s Pizza) and Brad wonders aloud if Linda would ever go out for him.  Brad’s boss (who is played by Paul Wilson, who would be a semi-regular on the later seasons of Cheers) reassures him that she definitely would and later on, we see him talking to Stacy about it in her room.

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School starts the next day (set to the same “Be Cruel to your School” song by Twisted Sister that was used in One Crazy Summer).  The teachers commiserate in the faculty lounge.  Leslie (Kit McDonough), who teaches a life skills class, seems to believe in Jeff Spicoli, which directly contrasts Mr. Hand’s assertions that Spicoli is a complete waste of space.  Hand bets Leslie that Spicoli won’t pull through on his presentation later in the week and it seems he may be right when Jeff bursts into the faculty lounge and says, “They didn’t move the bathroom in here.”

Brad, meanwhile, wants Stacy to work on Linda for him and Stacy does, telling Linda that Brad likes her.  Linda says she would  consider dating Brad but she is engaged to a guy in Chicago, after all.  But you can tell that she is more than just considering this when her face lights up at the thought of Brad liking her.

The Spicoli-Hand storyline gets the other majority of the plot, as there is a scene in the cafeteria (set to “Kids Wanna Rock” by Bryan Adams) that showcases his cafeteria food creation skills, and Hand is his usual stickler self, lecturing students on behavior and almost reveling in Spicoli’s inevitable failure.

In Home Ec (whose teacher is played by Twink Caplan, who is a regular in Heckerling’s films and most famously plays Miss Geist in Clueless), Linda agrees to a date as long as nobody knows about it.  Of course, as Brad walks through the mall later that day, he’s congratulated by everyone.

Leslie goes to the beach to talk to Spicoli, who is out surfing and asks if he’s ready for his presentation.  He gives some metaphor about waves but is all, “Sure.  But you can fail me if I suck.” She says she wants him to do a good job for her.

Linda wants to back out of the date, wondering what they’re going to do now that everyone knows, and Stacy says she’ll figure it out.  Figure it out, she does, taking Brad to the one event nobody at Ridgemont will be going to:

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They also head to Burger Chalet, where the guy working the drive-thru recognizes Brad and Linda simply has Brad take her home.  She expresses her frustration over everyone knowing about the date and even goes as far as to insult Brad’s cruising vessel.  When she tries to end the date there, Brad gets upset that she insulted the car and asks her to apologize, which she does and then spends a few minutes listening to Bryan Adams’ “Straight From the Heart” on the radio.  Does this lead to them kissing?  We’re not sure, because the screen fades to black.

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Back in school, Hand and Leslie wait for Spicoli, who shows up late and then gives a presentation about how teenage boys are scary, starring his younger brother Curtis (played by Jason Hervey).

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Spicoli aces the presentation, and even Mr. Hand has to admit that it was good, paying up on his bet.

Now, if there’s a spiritual successor to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it’s probably the Sara Jessica Parker sitcom Square Pegs (something that is worth its own episode) and not this.  Had this show not used the same characters as the film, it actually might have had more of a shot, but being such a fan of the film, it seems so lesser.  

I give Ray Walston credit for trying to reprise his role as Mr. Hand the way he does.  I can tell that on some level, he wants to give him a little more depth and make him a little less harsh than he was in the movie (where he was a one-note character), but he doesn’t have the same chemistry with Dean Cameron as he had with Sean Penn.  Then again, Dean Cameron–who is absolutely awesome a year later in Summer School–has incredibly big shoes to fill and does what he can with it, although sometimes it seems like he’s doing a bad impersonation.  Dempsey, on the other hand, doesn’t even attempt Robert Romanus’ Jersey accent and plays Damone the same way he would play Ronnie Miller at the height of his popularity in Can’t Buy Me Love.  I’ll give Claudia Wells credit, though.  She’s always been one of those gorgeous 1980s actresses you wish you could have seen more of (see also: Mia Sara, Amanda Peterson), and she makes Linda very likeable.

Brad and Stacy, though, are just badly mischaracterized.  I like Courtney Thorne-Smith, mind you, but Jennifer Jason Leigh portrayed Stacy in a way that embodied the “Fast Times” of the film’s title, and Thorne-Smith is just a little too innocent.  Plus, the two of them didn’t have a very close relationship in the film.  Yes, Brad picks up Stacy after the abortion, but as I mentioned in the podcast episode, that’s a big brother move.  Otherwise, they were always separate, intersecting when it was necessary, which is something that two siblings of those ages would definitely do (I speak from experience).  Brad hanging out in his little sister’s room asking her for flirting advice?  Sorry, no.

I said at the beginning of this post that Fast Times is a little piece of trivia associated with the movie and that’s pretty much accurate.  You’re not going to fall in love with this sitcom and wish it had a longer life.  It’s not horrible by any means; instead, it’s simply forgettable and you’re better off renting the film.

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 48: It’s Awesome, Totally Awesome!

Episode 48 Website CoverIt’s time for another look back at a classic teen movie and this time I’ve pulled out all the stops for one of the quintessential 1980s teen flicks, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  I’m joined by Todd Liebenow of The Forgotten Filmcast to talk about the film, and its influence.  We cover all the bases, including an iconic performance by Sean Penn and an iconic moment that comes courtesy of Phoebe Cates.

You can download the podcast via iTunes or listen directly here:  Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 48

You can find Todd’s blog and podcast here: Forgotten Films

And for your viewing pleasure, here’s the trailer to Fast Times at Ridgemont High:

Fast Times Poster

Support Wordplay 2015!

wordplay 2015Help me support the Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville-Albemarle by donating to my 2015 Wordplay team!

Wordplay is an annual trivia contest held in April at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville.  Teams of three compete to win prizes, but also as a way to fundraise for the Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville-Albemarle, an organization dedicated to providing education and literacy resources for those who are illiterate or English language learners.

My team and I, the Dominating Dragons of William Monroe HS, are looking to raise $500 and we need your help.  If you can give any amount, please click the link below to donate.  All donations are tax deductible and it helps out a very worthy cause.

DONATE TO WORDPLAY 2015!

80 Years of DC Comics, Part Three: Action-Adventure

80 Years Episode 3 Website LogoFor 77 years, DC Comics has been the home to Superheroes. But for 80 years, it has been the home to action-adventure. Join me as I take a look at action-adventure stories featuring Steve Conrad, Johnny Peril, King Faraday, Nemesis, and Dick Grayson in an episode that spans most of the company’s history.

You can download the episode via iTunes at Two True Freaks Presents: Pop Culture Affidavit or you can listen here:  Pop Culture Affidavit Presents: 80 Years of DC Comics, Part 3 — Action-Adventure

From Zero to Breakup

MORE THAN ZERO: ZERO MONTH 20 YEARS LATER

In 1994 DC Comics published Zero Hour, a five issue mini-series designed to not only serve as a major summer crossover but also fix some of the continuity problems that had plagued their universe after the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Some have suggested that Zero Hour caused more problems than it fixed but at the time it was the dawn of an exciting new era for DC.  To kick off this new age DC followed Zero Hour with Zero Month.  As the name suggests all of the main DC books were rolled back to zero though each one had a different approach to the idea  Some books featured a new origin.  Some contained tweaks to the existing origin.  Some contained brand new versions of old characters.  All of them served as a jumping on point for new and old readers alike. To celebrate this new era (or perhaps to bury it) some of us in the comic book blogging community have banded together from remote galaxies to discuss how the characters we cover were rebooted/revamped by looking at the solicitations of our character’s zero issues as well as delving into the Wizard Magazine Zero Hour Special, which was a magazine published around the time of Zero Hour to promote the series, what was coming next and the history of DC in general.

I have been struggling for days to figure out some sort of simile or metaphor to use as a way to represent what the post Zero Hour Titans books were like.  I figured it would be easy–I am, after all, a sports fan and have seen more than my fair share of lineup changes that were both beneficial and detrimental.  But for some reason, I keep coming back to the first two weeks of July 1996 and what amounted to the last gasp of a dying relationship.
Kate was … well, I can’t say that she was a nightmare or anything, but it was the first relationship that I had ever been in where things lasted longer than a couple of nights or a couple of weeks.  But by the time i was making my way through my freshman year of college, we both were slowly discovering that our high school romance wasn’t compatible to my being away at school.  We spent the summer breaking up, getting back together, and fighting for various reasons–I knew she was cheating on me, I was getting some, we had concert tickets–and I am sure that we would have been done way before I left for school in August had it not been for that week in July when my parents were away and we, for some reason, were getting along.  Of course, I would later find out it was because the guy she was hooking up with behind my back was also out of town, but ignorance proved to be bliss.
When Zero Hour hit, the Titans and Deathstroke were both at that point.  Deathstroke had been spinning its wheels with one-off action yarns after a very solid “World Tour” storyline in 1993 and the Titans was literally sputtering. W hole issues would go by where it seemed like nothing was happening, there didn’t seem to be any actual villains to fight (the Terrarizer, really?), the team never felt like an actual team, and with the exception of a couple of really good Rik Mays-pencilled issues, the art by Bill Jaaska was downright terrible.  Enter new editor Pat Garrahy, who was assigned, much like Jonathan Peterson four years earlier, to do something, anything to keep the titles afloat.  Zero Month, it was decided, was the perfect time to do that since Team Titans–the title I though twas the better of the three–had been cancelled, Nightwing was being given back to the Batman books, and the various other members of the group were sent packing in one way or another except for  Arsenal and Changeling, who had given the team to the U.S. government and were somehow going to find new members.
Unfortunately for the readers, the new direction chosen was more of a complete dismantling of both books rather than a refocus.  The solicits promised new and exciting things as Previews put a spotlight on the bold new direction that each book was taking:
ZM Solicits - Deathstroke #0 ZM Solicits - New Titans #0
The menaces that began to ravage characters in both books seemed to come out of nowhere.  Yes, ther ewas a lead-up to the Titans having an affiliation with the government, but the Deathstroke assassination plot and the Crimelord were simply dropped in, and by the time that Garrahy was let go from the title in late 1995/early 1996, the supporting cast of Deathstroke would be mostly killed off and Marv Wolfman would be given five issues to end his sixteen-year run on New Titans with at least some semblance of dignity.
I can’t tell if it is hindsight being 20/20 since I have read interviews about how displeased Wolfman was with his last year and a half on the title, but when I now read the features in the Wizard Zero Month special, I think I can already hear the disdain, or at least noncommittal:
Beyond Zero Hour New Titans Beyond Zero Hour Deathstroke
Take a look at the last lines of each of those features and you see what seem like non-comments or at least prefabricated talking points:
The book has gone under a lot of changes in the past few years, but all were evolutionary … heroes died, new heroes replaced them, tempers flared, and because they were young, mistakes were made.  That is the way life is.  But now we begin with a new group.  A revolution, so to speak.  New heroes, all with their own lives, hopes and desires.  This allows us to create a very different Titans book.
I think Slade’s ambiguous nature as well as not being sure what he’ll do next makes him someone you want to follow … His relationship with his ex-wife, his friends and co-workers is more than another ‘Man on a Mission’ comic.  He’s not out to stop the mob.  He’s not out to stop evil.  YOu hire Slade, he does his job.  Unofrtunately, his own life gets in the middle of things and mucks it all up.
I can’t remember if I found this all enticing, because prior to issue #0 of both titles, I was already a committed fan.  I will say that the idea of a new artist on Titans was enticing and the conspiracy plot in Deathstroke at least had me interested and the way a “Titans Universe” was being cobbled together using Green Lantern, Damage, and The Darkstars was a draw, especially since I was already reading those titles.  So I guess it worked on some level.
Unfortunately, the internal strife among the creators and editors contributed to the titles’ ultimate downfall.  In interviews, Wolfman had said how quite a number of the plots from issue #0 onward were not his own and dialogue was completely rewritten and he went as far as to threaten to quit if Garrahy was going to continue.  This new era lasted through a lengthy Deathstroke story involving the Crimelord, who was revealed to be Steve Dayton, and a Titans story where Raven was an evil soul-sucking dominatrix before everyone headed off to space in a forgettable four book crossover called “The Siege of the Zi Charam.”  At a DC office party late in 1995, Wolfman was given notice about the titles being cancelled and eventually negotiated to have Garrahy removed from the book and began “Meltdown,” a storyline that more or less restored all of the characters that he loved to write to some semblance of normal.
Kate and I had our Zero Month … well, Zero Week, where everything was great and we remembered what worked, but after a while, we were left to look at the mess that was being ignored and had to make a decision to clean things up or walk away.  One day, we decided it was over and haven’t spoken in nearly twenty years.  And this is where the simile kind of falls apart because I would be back with the Titans a year or so later with Dan Jurgens’ Teen Titans book and then would follow them through The Titans, Teen Titans (the Geoff Johns title), and Titans before finally ending my relationship with the book when the New 52 was announced.
But that’s another breakup story.

A big thanks to Michael Bailey and Jeffrey Taylor of From Crisis to Crisis for having me be part of this crossover.  Be sure to check out the links below to find out how other characters were treated during Zero Month.