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, Well, Shane thinks it's radically cool, anyway. Maybe he's just a schlepper.


Clare2e said...

Okay, as soon as I read the post title, the song was playing in my head. Ditto for George of the Jungle. I know that theme songs might be seen as beyond the art somewhat, but those scores and incidental flourishes scuttle under the floorboards of my mind. We just watched the original Jazz Singer movie with an incidental theme that I learned growing up just from television shows referencing and riffing on it.

The theme was the same one played during The Christmas Story movie when Ralphie comes home blind from soap poisoning. That was what played when Jolson came home to find his mother distraught and father on his deathbed. It became the standard for a moment of high melodrama, and translates in my mind immediately.

Doesn't help my writing much, all this musical musing on my part, but like many kids, I also learned Yiddish slang from cartoons and old gangster movies. I absorbed it such that magillah (like the Gorilla) is part of my normal vocabulary. It would astound my old Jewish boss when all this stuff would slip out in casual conversation.

Thanks for the memories, Shane!

Shane Gericke said...

What a great way to put it, Clare, "scuttle under the floorboards of my mind." That's exactly it. I believe the music is just as important as the words and visuals in these shows; they are the unseen character that gives the shows lift and pizazz. And I can sing along with them! I talked more extensively about favorite TV show and commercial theme songs in an earlier blog post. I mean, who could forget, When you say Budweiser, you've said it all.

I'd forgotten about the magillah who's Magilla the Gorilla. That was a cool cartoon. Many of the writers of those early shows were Jewish, and I suspect they took great joy in slipping Yiddish in when they could. Cartoons were delightfully subversive sometimes, too, as in Underdog's "speed" pills. Or Beanie and Cecil's dialogue on "No Bikini Atoll," a sly reference to the United States using Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands for open-air atomic bomb testing in the 1950s. No Bikini Atoll indeed!

Thanks for writing.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Love the videos. Underdog was cute. And the Yiddish! I've learned some expressions from Jewish friends, like, shlep. Love it as a noun and a verb: shlepping. That may not be Kosher but I like it. Most people say slacked off, I say shlepped off.

Since my sound is back, I played the videos from your last post. You're right the Psycho shower scene would not have been the same without the music. And the Imperial March, always loved that.

Shane Gericke said...

Yeah, Terry, I love the Imperial March. It's SO stirring, and of course fit the Star Wars theme perfectly. As stand-along music it's tops, too; who says classical has to be boring?

Shane Gericke said...

I figure if bagels can conquer America, so can Yiddish. Terry :-) Thanks for writing.

Shane Gericke said...

Oh, also, there's a good web link to the Yiddish expressions used most commonly in America:

Find out today why your goniff lawyer is a putz ...

Terry Stonecrop said...

Lol! Shane. I know the word, putz, another great one. And thanks for the link. Fun stuff!

Jewish guys always call me a shiksa. They smile and say it sweetly, so I take it as a compliment. Though looking at your dictionary link, maybe I should rethink that response:)

I'm not sure what my goniff lawyer is, but I will find out:)

Shane Gericke said...

I'd take it as a compliment, Terry; it sounds in this case like they mean it that way. The meaning could go both ways, though, depending on the speaker's intent. If they mean it badly, then they are a putz, cause we think you're kewl.

Joshua Corin said...

I always wondered which shtetl had that jungle growing inside it...

Terry Stonecrop said...

Thanks for clearing up the shiksa for me, Shane. I feel better now.

You guys are kewl, too:)

Kelli Stanley said...

I love it, Shane! :) And The Pink Panther was kewl, too ... the original cool cat, perhaps, though maybe that honor should go to Top Cat! ;)