Friday, March 12, 2010
"Speed of lightning, ball of thunder ..."
By Titanium (aka, Shane)
My very first superheroes were the Metal Men.
They hailed from the 1960s comic books of the same name. I used to read them huddled in my tiny bedroom closet with a flashlight, cause comics came alive when surrounded by pitch darkness.
They were a buncha shapeshifting robot-men forged from metal--according to Wikipedia, the team consisted of field leader Gold, strong man Iron, slow-witted and loyal Lead, self-doubting and insecure Tin, hot-headed Mercury, and Platinum, or Tina, who thought she was a real woman rather than a robot and was, in a Pygmalion twist, in love with fictional (and the only human on the team) Metal Men "creator" Doc Magnus. (Big surprise there, huh? Many women in the 1960s weren't allowed their independence, for real or in most entertainments, including comics.) The Metal (Wo)Men wore their chemical names on their tights--how nerdy-cool is that?--and ran around the universe kicking ass to solve the latest Crisis That Could Doom Humanity. What's not to like? I did, and I read every installment as if it were gold. (So to speak.) The Metal Men could have remained my favorite superheroes of all time ...
Then we got a television.
And I met Underdog.
"Speed of lightning, ball of thunder, fighting all who rob and plunder, Underdog, ohhhhhh, Underdog ... Underdog!"
Undie was a cartoon dog of mixed parentage--i.e., an all-American mutt--who wore a red-white-and-blue cape and tights with a U on the chest. He flew around fighting bad guys as if a canine Superman. (And if a viewer was too dense to get the joke, Undie dashed into phone booths to change when he heard the call to action.) He fought villians like King Kup, ruler of the Flying Sorcerers, who needed a baking slave because his own cakes were so bad, and therefore sets his eyes on Earth and TV personality Sweet Polly Purebred, who is Underdog's gal pal:
OK, so the writing wasn't exactly Playhouse 90. Or even Captain Kangaroo. But there was that great theme song, which was even better than Mighty Mouse's:
And when he got tired, Underdog popped a big-ass "super energy pill" he kept hidden inside his ring. Talk about your sly drug references!
Another cartoon superhero I liked was George of the Jungle. A takeoff on the Tarzan shows, it had one of the hippest theme songs ever, with that monkey jumping on the kettle drums. Particularly cool was the dropping of Yiddish phrases throughout. I didn't catch them at the time, but as an adult, I think it's hilarious:
"... and away he'll schlep on his elephant Shep ..."
For the uninitated, schlep is Yiddish for a boring or stupid person, though these days, it means more of a loping along clumsily, as in, "Oy, Herman, schlep your tired self over to the store for lox." In another episode, the bad guy is named Nudnick (Yiddish for a pest or boring, annoying person). The hidden-in-plain-view language makes cartoons fun to watch when you're grown-up enough to figure out the jokes!
Superheroes today just aren't as cool as these guys. They don't wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Or their names on their chests.
Shane Gericke's newest thriller, TORN APART, launches worldwide July 6. Please visit him at his radically cool new website, www.ShaneGericke.com. Well, Shane thinks it's radically cool, anyway. Maybe he's just a schlepper.