Glen Weldon

Glen Weldon is a regular panelist on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He also reviews books and movies for NPR.org and is a contributor to NPR's pop culture blog Monkey See, where he posts weekly about comics and comics culture.

Over the course of his career, he has spent time as a theater critic, a science writer, an oral historian, a writing teacher, a bookstore clerk, a PR flack, a seriously terrible marine biologist and a slightly better-than-average competitive swimmer.

Weldon is the author of Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, a cultural history of the iconic character. His fiction and criticism have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate, Story, McSweeney's, The Dallas Morning News, Washington City Paper and many other publications. He is the recipient of an NEA Arts Journalism Fellowship, a Ragdale Writing Fellowship and a PEW Fellowship in the Arts for Fiction.

Monkey See contributor/longtime nerd Glen Weldon recently attended San Diego Comic-Con. He kept a diary during one of the largest media events in the world.

Monkey See contributor/longtime nerd Glen Weldon is headed to San Diego Comic-Con. He's filing periodic updates from one of the largest media events in the world.

Special note: If you're at SDCC, there will be an unofficial Pop Culture Happy Hour meetup in the Marina Bar at the Marriott Marquis and Marina Friday at 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time. (Don't get excited, It'll just be Glen handing out PCHH pins.)

9:02 a.m. (all times PT): I am sitting in a boat between Goth Wonder Woman and an entertainment lawyer.

Monkey See contributor/longtime nerd Glen Weldon is headed to San Diego Comic-Con. He's filing periodic updates from one of the largest media events in the world.

I am a 45-year-old man standing in line for a toy Batmobile.

Ted is a theoretical physicist facing a slew of resolutely concrete problems. His son is racing headlong into puberty. His daughter's prodigious intellect causes her to stand out at school — the very last thing the girl wants. His elderly father-in-law isn't remembering much, these days, save for the fact that he hates Ted's guts. His wife is sick and getting sicker, just as his employer, a prominent think tank, threatens to fire him for lack of productivity. To keep his job, and its health care coverage, Ted needs an idea.

Dash Shaw is a graphic novelist and animator whose previous books, including Bottomless Belly Button and Bodyworld, seethe with dark, mischievous intent. He sets out to unsettle, using the unique tools the comics medium provides to expose discomfiting truths about relationships both familial and romantic. A proud experimentalist, Shaw often shuns tidy narrative conventions in favor of raw emotion.

It looks like a last-minute gift, like one of those tiny tomes that live near the register on the counter of your favorite bookstore, hoping to catch the attention (or at least the impulse) of shoppers in the check-out line. Given its digest-sized dimensions and jokey title, you'd be forgiven for assuming A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting is a hastily assembled collection of cornball homilies, like those miniature books about dads, grads and golf that double as greeting cards this time of year. But don't be fooled.

Israeli graphic novelist Rutu Modan's deceptively clear and simple line work — she can conjure a face in two dots and a single, expressive pen stroke — is a deliberate artistic choice. Narratively, Modan's work (including the acclaimed Exit Wounds and her Jamilti and Other Stories) lives in the realm of the indistinct, the undefined and the hotly disputed. In her books, conflicts between family members, lovers and nations all occur in the context of Jewish cultural history.

NPR has obtained [or invented, whatever] an excerpt of the draft script for Zack Snyder's much-rumored sequel to the hugely successful Man Of Steel. The script, which was found in a booth at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on La Cienega, suggests that the distinctive tone set by Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and adopted by Snyder's Man Of Steel will continue to inform the expanding cinematic universe of DC Comics characters.


JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE MOVIE

Screenplay by David S. Goyer

Take heart, ye spandex-haters: Zack Snyder's steroidal yet sensitive Man of Steel is not a superhero film.

Full disclosure: Over the past two years, this reviewer has spent a great deal of time thinking about superheroes in general and Superman in particular. Less than some, perhaps, but more — it's safe to say — than most of you reading these words, as you debate whether or not to duck out of the heat this weekend to take in Snyder's latest summertime smash-em-up.

Hey, Monkey See readers. It's me, your old pal Glen. Look, I know you haven't seen me around these parts very much over the last year or so, but ...

Mm? What's that?

Why, yes, I have "put on a few," as you say. How nice of you to notice. And just ... blurt out. Free as you please. Like that. Gosh I've missed us.

Matt Kindt is a storyteller so fully in control of his gifts that his graphic novels — 3 Story, Revolver and others — read like quietly compelling arguments for the comics medium's narrative potential.

In The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger married her gently wry sensibility to a classic science-fiction conceit, and the result became a literary sensation — as much a tried-and-true staple of book-club culture as cheap malbec.

This Saturday, May 4th, is Free Comic Book Day, the comics industry's annual attempt to sail out past the shallow, overfished shoals where Nerds Like Me lazily and inexpertly spawn, to instead cast their line into the colder, deeper waters where Normals Like You swim free, blissfully unconcerned about the myriad nettlesome continuity issues surrounding Supergirl's underpants.

In his slim but beguiling novel Equilateral, Ken Kalfus places us inside the heads of his characters with such deftness that the line between what is true and what they believe to be true fades to obscurity. It's no coincidence that the heads in question belong to scientists who pride themselves on their evidence-based worldview; Kalfus delights in having readers continually gauge and recalibrate the distance between the world and his characters' seemingly objective observations of it.

Ben Katchor's syndicated comic strips vary in subject — his Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer, for example, explores the surreal underside of our urban environment by documenting the inner lives of the spaces and storefronts we walk past every day, while The Cardboard Valise reads like a Fodor's guide to a country that exists only in Franz Kafka's dream journal.

OK, yes: To gay comics fans like me, DC Comics' decision to hire an anti-gay activist like Orson Scott Card to write Superman — an iconic character who exists to represent humanity's noblest ideals of justice and compassion — is deeply dispiriting.

Let's make this perfectly clear at the outset: I don't work for NPR, and what I'm about to say doesn't represent NPR. I'm but a lowly freelancer they're dumb enough to publish a bunch, and what I say now I say as me, which is to say:

1. An inveterate Superman nerd, and

2. A gay dude.

DC Comics has hired Orson Scott Card to write the first two issues of a new digital-first Superman comic. I won't be reading it.

Glen Weldon is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Monkey See.

Let's make this perfectly clear at the outset: I don't work for NPR, and what I'm about to say doesn't represent NPR. I'm but a lowly freelancer they're dumb enough to publish a bunch, and what I say now I say as me, which is to say:

1. An inveterate Superman nerd, and

2. A gay dude.

DC Comics has hired Orson Scott Card to write the first two issues of a new digital-first Superman comic. I won't be reading it.

Look, don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with the name "Bruce."

There are plenty of Bruces about, and good and strong and admirable Bruces they are, contributing to society in myriad ways.

You got your Springsteen, of course. Your Campbell. Your Vilanch. Your Dern. Your ... um, Boxleitner. Your Jenner and your ... Baumgartner, was it? Baumgartner.

Bruce: A perfectly fine name. Just not as common in the U.S. as it once was, is my point.

By the time cartoonist Derek Kirk Kim was 30 years old, his prodigious talents had already won him an Eisner award, an Ignatz award and a Harvey award, the top three honors of the comics field.

In 2012, several high-profile comics creators added landmark works to their already impressive legacies. With Building Stories, Chris Ware offered 14 volumes of comics, each with its own meticulous, anagrammatic take on despair, and stuffed them into a box.

Mike Mignola's occult adventure comics B.P.R.D. (that's short for Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) and Hellboy (about a demon who fights for the side of Good) combine furious action set pieces on a literally biblical scale with a wry and nuanced understanding of very human emotions. The novelist Christopher Golden has written many popular works of dark fantasy.

What happens to underground artists after they step, blinking, into the harsh, flat light of the upper world? If they are Robert and Aline Crumb, not a whole hell of a lot — at least, not in their approach to their art. As amply demonstrated in Drawn Together, which collects comics the two cartoonists have created together since the late '70s, their specific subjects may change, but how they go about depicting those subjects — their shared impulse for autobiographical, self-deprecating logorrhea — remains constant.

For the characters of Chris Ware's astonishingly ambitious comics project Building Stories, leading lives of quiet desperation is surprisingly noisy business. Plaintive, regretful and bitterly self-recriminating thoughts play on shuffle-repeat inside their heads, like a mordant Litany for the (I Wish I Were) Dead:

"Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the end of the world."

"At that point I was starting to get acquainted with the unfairness of life and learning it was better not to expect anything rather than set yourself up for disappointment."

Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue is an agreeable if ultimately frustrating shaggy-dog tale of a novel that slips its leash and lopes its discursive and distinctly unhurried way through the unkempt backyards of its characters' lives.

In a memorable (and much-parodied) 1983 television ad for a brand of instant, decaffeinated coffee, a gravel-voiced announcer asked: "What kind of people drink Sanka? People like Joe Zebrosky, underwater welder." The ad, one of a series featuring manly men in a variety of high-stakes professions, featured the aforementioned Zebrosky intoning: "Too much caffeine makes me tense. And down here, I can't afford that."

If only Nixon could go to China, only indie-comics master Jaime Hernandez could produce God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls, the brightest, purest, most quintessentially superheroic superhero yarn in years.

Seventy-three years after he first appeared, Batman is beginning again. That is to say, yet again. Still. Some more.

Back in 1939, readers of the very first Batman adventure in Detective Comics No. 27 weren't privy to his origin. For that, they had to wait six months for Detective No. 33 and the two-page, 12-panel story, "The Legend of the Batman — Who He Is And How He Came To Be!"

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