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.

On Wednesday night, the film Star Trek: Beyond held its red-carpet premiere at San Diego Comic-Con. They went all out – a live orchestra, fireworks, a laser show. Conan O'Brien hosted the gig. NPR's Nina Gregory reported on it for Morning Edition yesterday.

Full disclosure, here at the start: I don't know Pokemon.

That's not technically true; here's a list of everything I knew about Pokemon before playing the new smartphone app, Pokemon GO (this knowledge absorbed solely through cultural osmosis, given the phenomenon's ubiquity).

1. Pikachu is a kind (species?) of Pokemon. It is an "electric-type" Pokemon. It is yellow. It has a cutesy voice. Said voice is profoundly annoying.

2. Squirtle is another kind of Pokemon, a "water-type" Pokemon. It, as one might imagine, squirts.

Her name is Riri Williams. She reverse-engineered her own version of the Iron Man battlesuit in her MIT dorm room, got kicked out, and struck out on her own to do the superhero thing. Clumsily at first, but she's learning fast. So fast she's impressing Tony Stark, who's questioning his status as the Marvel Universe's go-to, super-powered Campbell's soup can. Readers first met her in the March issue of Invincible Iron Man.

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Last Friday, six members of the "vertical dance troupe" BANDALOOP marked the grand opening of a new 17-story building in Boston's Seaport District by suspending themselves from wires and dancing against its side.

Actually "dancing" doesn't quite cover it.

The performance is beautiful: they weave, undulate and soar with a muscular grace.

The mechanics of DC Comics' latest relaunch of its superhero line — precisely which books are returning to their original numbering, and the fact that several titles will now be published twice monthly, etc. — have engendered much discussion among retailers and collectors.

But let's talk big picture.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that superhero universes periodically reshuffle their narrative decks. The in-story explanations differ in often tortuous ways, but the only true driver is sales. Or, rather, a lack of them.

Tonight the game show To Tell the Truth returns to television on ABC, hosted by Black-ish star Anthony Anderson. It's proven a surprisingly scrappy, long-lived, battle-scarred veteran of show: since its first run on CBS from 1956 to 1968, there have been three different syndicated versions of TTtT, plus a brief one-year run on NBC (1990-91).

My wife's the reason anything gets done

She nudges me towards promise, by degrees

She is the perfect symphony of one

Our son is her most beautiful reprise

We chase the melodies that seem to find us

Until they're finished songs, and start to play

When senseless acts of tragedy remind us

That nothing here is promised, not one day

This show is proof that history remembers

Free Comic Book Day

Free Comic Book Day, the comics industry's yearly attempt to bring new readers into the fold, is 15 years old. It's a peevish teen that smells of Speed Stick and Clearasil and a practiced, performative surliness. It demands that you drop it off a block away from school.

For the past eight years, I've written a preview of the comics on offer on Free Comic Book Day for NPR. So I'm kind of like Free Comic Book Day's annoying third-grade little brother, always chasing after him and telling everyone how cool he is.

Yesterday the Library of Congress named graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang as its fifth National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Here's why that matters.

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.

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.

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.

If the teenage girl from Milledgeville, Ga. (known to her classmates as Mary O'Connor) had her druthers, she would have grown up to become a successful cartoonist and painter. It wasn't such a far-fetched idea; after all, the gag cartoons O'Connor contributed to her high school and college publications between 1942 and 1945 — both pen-and-ink drawings and linoleum cuts — won her considerable local and statewide acclaim.

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!"