Someone’s dead relatives just got a makeover. Artist Alex Gross takes discarded vintage photographs, paints on them and turns them into portraits of pop culture icons like Batman, Superman, Electra, Wonder Woman, Super Mario and Marge Simpson. These mixed media paintings raise questions about the relevance of history, family and memory in our neo-liberal consumerist world—where fictional characters have far more currency and longevity than familial ties or dead relatives.
The world that I live in is both spiritually profound and culturally vapid. It is extremely violent but can also be extremely beautiful. Globalization and technology are responsible for wonderfully positive changes in the world as well as terrible tragedy and homogeneity. This dichotomy fascinates me, and naturally influences much of my work.
I like Alex Gross’s paintings. I like his ideas. He is painting a narrative to our lives—and like all good art he is questioning our role within this story and the values we consider important in its telling. More of Alex Gross’ work can be seen here.
Back in the day, it wasn’t unusual to see a comic with Superman’s best buddy, red-headed reporter Jimmy Olsen, attempting to disguise himself in order to break a “big story” for the Daily Planet. And back in a special issue focused on the fictional cub reporter from 1966, Olsen decided to dress up in drag in order to get to the bottom of a jewel heist and becomes “Miss Jimmy Olsen.”
Intrepid reporter Jimmy Olsen going through his “disguise trunk” for his drag get-up.
In the special double issue (one of many times the fictional reporter would dress up like a woman), Olsen is illustrated going through his amusingly titled “disguise trunk” to find the perfect outfit to make his undercover masquerade complete. In order to get close to the criminals he suspects are responsible for the heist, he decides audition to become a member of a chorus girl line and gets the gig thanks to some strategic “padding,” and the fact that it turns out the the young Mr. Olsen had “nice legs.”
Cross dressing Jimmy (or “Julie Ogden” in the comic) catches the eye of bad-guy gangster, “Big Monte” who is instantly smitten with Jimmy/Julie, because of course he is. As the Some Like it Hot-ish storyline progresses, Olsen starts racking up pricey gifts from Big Monte like a fur coat, diamonds and fancy dinners. And, as it turns out, Big Monte isn’t the only red-blooded man who finds Jimmy Olsen’s drag persona appealing—every guy in the comic is trying to catcall their way inside Jimmy’s… dress. The strange story concludes with a cavalcade of weirdness involving a baseball bat-wielding chimpanzee, and that’s all I’m going to say about that as I don’t want to ruin this vintage piece of odd comic book history.
In 2002, Jeffrey Baldwin of Toronto died of starvation at the age of five after severe abuse at the hands of his grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman. The grandparents were convicted child abusers but Jeffrey and several siblings were still handed into their care by a children’s aid organization after concerns arose that the parents were abusing their children. Jeffrey and a sister were locked in a bathroom for days on end, where they were forced to live in their own filth. Court testimony revealed that Bottineay and Kidman were interested in custody of the two children for the government checks they would collect. Jeffrey died of starvation on November 30, 2002. Kidman and Bottineau, were convicted of second-degree murder in 2006.
According to Wikipedia, Jeffrey’s case led to significant changes in policy by children’s aid societies in the granting of custody of children to relatives.
In happier days, the boy was a Superman fan who was even photographed wearing the classic uniform. According to his father, Richard Baldwin, “He wanted to fly. ... He tried jumping off the chair. We had to make him stop. He dressed up [as Superman] for Halloween one year. … He was so excited. I have that picture at home hanging on my wall. He was our little man of steel.”
A Toronto resident named Todd Boyce was so moved by this story—revealed in a long delayed inquest into the death earlier this year—that he started an indiegogo crowdfunding project to create a statue for the poor boy. The project had an initial goal of $25,000 (Canadian dollars), but raised in excess of $36,000. Noted Ontario sculptor Ruth Abernethy has completed the sculpture but it is now at a foundry waiting to be cast into bronze. The sculpture features Baldwin wearing his favorite garment—a shirt with the famous Superman logo.
The City of Toronto sought assurances that the monument would not violate any copyright laws before granting Boyce’s request to have the monument placed in Greenwood Park, near where Jeffrey grew up.
DC’s senior vice-president of business and legal affairs, Amy Genkins, told Boyce in an email that “for a variety of legal reasons, we are not able to accede to the request, nor many other incredibly worthy projects that come to our attention.”
DC declined to comment.
Boyce feels that the Superman aspect was a crucial part of the bronze monument, which will include a bench: “I’m sort of empathetic to (DC’s) point of view on this, but I feel very strongly that the image of Jeffrey is so powerful. It’s the image of a vulnerable boy dressed up as the most invulnerable character in the universe. So I just feel like there’s something lost if we change it.”
Reluctantly, Boyce is going to have the “S” on the statue changed to a “J” for Jeffrey.
Yesterday on the “Walk of Fame” near the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd in Los Angeles, a man armed with an iron pipe was caught on video yelling “I love Jesus” as he smashed out the windows of a parked LAPD patrol car, before stealing the cops’ laptop! Then he just walked a few feet away and started using it!
Even better? A Darth Vader impersonator watched as a KTLA news crew captured the scene. Additionally, a man dressed as Superman remarked “I saw the whole thing. It’s not my job to jump in the middle.”
Only in LA, kids, only in LA…
[The video autoplays, so I’m tucking it after the jump.]
We all know that Superman generally battles evildoers in the fictional city of Metropolis. If you watched the disappointing, overcranked Man of Steel earlier this year, you remember that his nemesis was General Zod.
It’s a little weird to learn that not all of his enemies are make-believe. There was a time when the popular Kryptonian was deployed to sideline a very real threat in the United States: namely, the Ku Klux Klan.
Our story begins with an intrepid young folklorist and activist from Florida named Stetson Kennedy. He noticed that the Klan was experiencing a resurgence—as an example, a few weeks after V-J Day, the Klan burned a 300-foot cross on the face of Stone Mountain near Atlanta (!)—one Klansman later said that the gesture was intended “to let the n*ggers know the war is over and that the Klan is back on the market.”
The fiercely committed Kennedy decided to infiltrate the group and expose its secrets. He was quite successful in this—for example, he learned that when a traveling Klan member wanted to find other Klansmen in an unfamiliar part of the country, he would ask for a “Mr. Ayak”—“Ayak” standing for “Are You a Klansman?” The desired response was “Yes, and I also know a Mr. Akai”—“A Klansman Am I.”
When he took his information to the local authorities, he found, much to his surprise, little inclination to act on his findings: The Klan had become powerful enough that even the police were hesitant to take action against it.
Eventually he realized that he needed a different approach. In the 1940s, Superman was a radio sensation—children all over the country were following his exploits ravenously. Kennedy decided to approach the makers of the radio serial to see if they would be interested in an epic “Superman vs. the Klan” plotline. He learned that they were interested in such a thing.
Stetson Kennedy under cover
In a funny way, Kennedy’s needs and the needs of the Superman radio writers coincided. Superman had spent the war fighting the likes of Hitler and Hirohito, but in 1946 that was a dead letter, and they were on the lookout for fresh villains.
On June 10, 1946, a Superman plotline began bearing the title “Clan of the Fiery Cross.” The episodes were broadcast daily, so the 16th and final episode appeared on June 25. In the story, Jimmy Olsen is managing a baseball team, but when he replaces his top pitcher with a more talented newcomer, the sorehead kid who has lost his slot ends up in the clutches of the “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” who volunteer to intimidate the “insufficiently American” star pitcher with burning crosses and the like. Jimmy Olsen (of course) takes the issue to Clark Kent, and in short order the Man of Steel is taking on the men in white hoods.
Over the course of about two weeks, the shows exposed many of the KKK’s most guarded secrets, including code words and rituals. The Klan relied a great deal on an inscrutable air of menace and mystery, and the Superman serial stripped the Klan of that mystique utterly. Almost overnight, the Klan’s recruitment efforts began drying up completely.
How successful was Kennedy in his efforts to take down the Klan? In their 2005 hit book Freakonomics, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt called Kennedy “the greatest single contributor to the weakening of the Ku Klux Klan.”
All sixteen of the Klan-related episodes of the Superman radio serial are on YouTube, complete with innumerable advertisements for Kellogg’s PEP cereal—the first two are linked below, and you know how to find the others.
“Clan of the Fiery Cross,” episode 1 of 16 (June 10, 1946):
“Clan of the Fiery Cross,” episode 2 of 16 (June 11, 1946):
Even at their most reactionary, superhero comics are still sooooo gay!
Orson Scott Card is considered one of the greatest living science fiction writers, with his Enders Game series one of the most influential franchises in the genre.
He’s also a practicing Mormon, a crazypants homophobe, and a member of the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage!
So it’s kind of baffling that DC comics just hired him to write two issues of their brand new digital Superman comic.
Here are some of his interesting views on gay marriage:
Calling a homosexual contract “marriage” does not make it reproductively relevant and will not make it contribute in any meaningful way to the propagation of civilization.
In fact, it will do harm. Nowhere near as much harm as we have already done through divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing. But it’s another nail in the coffin. Maybe the last nail, precisely because it is the most obvious and outrageous attack on what is left of marriage in America.
Oh what the hell? Let’s throw in some crazy heteronormative, borderline eugenicist social Darwinist bullshit, for fun!
Monogamous marriage is by far the most effective foundation for a civilization. It provides most males an opportunity to mate (polygamous systems always result in surplus males that have no reproductive stake in society); it provides most females an opportunity to have a mate who is exclusively devoted to her. Those who are successful in mating are the ones who will have the strongest loyalty to the social order; so the system that provides reproductive success to the largest number is the system that will be most likely to keep a civilization alive.
Now it’s one thing to read a classic by an artist with bad ethics morals, or politics—we consume art all the time we know to be problematic, and we can still enjoy it without compromising our critical eye. It’s another thing entirely to hire a well-known bigot activist and expect his literary reputation to supplant his awful crusade.
In a 2008 editorial in the Desert News, Card threw this down:
How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.
Nice! Clearly comics have their own problematic histories, but do DC comics really think it’s a genre that can succeed in a homophobic context? Do they not have eyeballs or live in this century?
Terence Stamp and Michael Caine once shared an apartment in the early 1960s. Stamp was the star, with Billy Budd, Term of Trial and The Collector to his CV, while Caine was still on his way up. The turning point came when Stamp knock-backed the title role of Alfie, a role he had made his own on Broadway, but didn’t want to reprise on film. Caine spent a long night trying to change Stamp’s mind. He failed and the role was given to Caine.
Years later, Michael Caine wrote how he sometimes dreamt of that long night trying to convince Stamp to take the role, and “still wakes up sweating as I see Terence agreeing to accept my advice to take the role in Alfie.”
Stamp made Modesty Blasie instead, which on paper sounded fabulous - directed by Joseph Losey; starring Monica Vitti and Dirk Bogarde; adapted by poet and writer Evan Jones from the best-selling Peter O’Donell comic strip. Sadly, it flopped, and the blue-eyed, angelic Stamp was slowly eclipsed by his former room-mate, Caine.
Yet, Stamp was no longer interested in making films for the sake of making films. He was beginning to choose roles because he wanted to make them. He turned down an incredible amount of work, as he later explained in an interview with Valerie Singelton in 1978:
‘I didn’t accept a lot of work because I was of the opinion, if one wanted the long career, one should do good, interesting things. One shouldn’t do anything.
‘So, that was a kind of a political decision really, apart from the fact I enjoyed to do things that interested me. It didn’t interest me to play Tate and Lyle lorry drivers, you understand? I did that already. I didn’t want to do that in a movie. I wanted to play princes and counts, and intellectuals and things that I wasn’t, rather than something I was.’
After Modesty Blaise, Stamp opted to work with radical film-maker Ken Loach, on his first movie Poor Cow, which co-starred Carol White. The film was a surprise hit in America, largely down to Stamp’s casting. He then appeared in John Schlesinger’s Far From the Madding Crowd with Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Peter Finch. Yet, for all his success, there was something missing.
‘And this thing which came later was a feeling of an inner emptiness success didn’t fill. I had assumed that this inner poverty would be transformed when I became rich and famous. And it took me a few years of being rich and famous to understand that the inner void was very much there.
‘And, you know, if I couldn’t fill it with one Rolls-Royce, I couldn’t fill it with three.
‘I started traveling and looking at myself. Looking, thinking the answer was outside still in a form of, you know, I transfered from beautiful female companion, to highly, holy, spiritualized person. So I was kind of looking for that in truth - it was an inner odyssey that was going on.’
Stamp moved to Italy and then onto an ashram in India, where he found he could get ‘Groovy Kashmiri hash or groovy golden guru - you get what you’re looking for.’ Here he was “transformed from Terence Henry Stamp to swami Deva Veeten.”
The years passed and the roles had dried-up, until (as in all good tales) one day in 1977:
‘On this particular morning, as we enter, I am hailed by the concierge who showed me to my original room. Apparently he remembers me. “Mr. Terence”, he says in an accent worthy of Peter Sellers. “We have a cable for you”. He extricates the telegram from the depths of his nightstand and presents it to me. Dog-eared, with tickertape strips glued onto the square envelope and smeared with dust, I have no idea how long the urgent missive has been waiting. However, as it is dropped into my palm it has the psychic weight of the English breakfast I am about to order. I read the typed front piece and realize why. It is addressed to: Clarence Stamp, The Rough Diamond Hotel, Dune, India. It is a miracle that it is even in my hand. Goose pimples spread up my arm and I have a sense that my life is about to change. The telegram is from my long-suffering agent James Fraser, who came across me playing Iago at the Webber-Douglas Drama Academy in 1958 and, bless his heart, has represented me ever since. The telegram reads: ‘Would you be prepared to travel back to London to meet Richard Donner regarding a role in the Superman films 1 & 2. You have scenes with Marlon Brando. Could you stop over in Paris to talk to Peter Brook who is going to make a film of George Gurujieff’s Meetings With Remarkable Men. I read it again. Can hardly believe it, but yes, it’s there, in the palm of my hand. And yes, my life is about to change.’
After Superman, Stamp was cast as the Count in a London production of Dracula, (one of several productions about the great undead vampire that had appeared on both sides of the Atlantic). It was during this production that the following interview with the BBC took place, where Terence Stamp explained, to interviewer Valerie Singleton the attraction of Count Dracula.
‘I always think of evil and the Devil being terribly groovy - not unattractive at all, they have to be really interesting and really seductive because that’s the magnetism of evil, you know, it has to be outwardly beautiful and fetching.’
As if it wasn’t weird enough that Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” got to number 2 on the British charts in 1981, here’s a really strange dance routine by Zoo from Top Of The Pops to accompany the vocodered, beatless wonder. YouTube uploader Sambda says:
“A spectacularly bad dance routine. An extreme example of “Top Of The Pops” choreographer Flick Colby’s habit of taking all lyrics (including obvious allegories) at face value. So we have to have a judge, a mom-and-dad etc. I suspect the only reason Superman himself didn’t appear was down to a rights issue.”
I think he may be onto something. It’s also worth watching for Peter Powell’s bizarre chain-mail sweater at the start:
Laurie Anderson - “O Superman” Top Of The Pops 1981
It’s the Man of Steel versus the man known as “The Greatest of All Time” in this statue that features Superman taking on Muhammad Ali. Based on the Neil Adams cover art of the original 1978 tabloid version of the book All-New Collectors’ Edition: Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, this surprising scene of the two greats squaring off against one another is available in 3-D form for the first time. The release of this statue coincides with the reprinting of the story in two hardcover editions.