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.

It's not about the numbering.

You'll be hearing a lot this week about the publishing milestone DC Comics' Action Comics has achieved, with the publication of issue #1000, on shelves (physical and digital) today. And I don't mean to dismiss that achievement, believe me. It's 2018, and periodical publishing is a lot like the Man of Steel in the penultimate panel of 1992's "Death of Superman" storyline: Beaten to a bloody pulp and hovering at death's door.

Call them the Mighty Marvel Movie MacGuffins. They're the glittery objects that drove the plots of several individual Marvel movies and that collectively shaped the direction the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe has been heading (almost) since its inception.

They are the Infinity Stones — immensely powerful gems that contain and channel elemental forces of the universe. They're what the villains crave and what the heroes protect. They can be used to destroy or create.

Mmmmmostly that first thing.

"I'm — I'm literally vibrating with excitement."

That's it — that's when we knew. We had barely even introduced this week's fourth chair — charming host of NPR's Bullseye and podcast network mogul Jesse Thorn — when he volunteered how excited he was to discuss the venerable and venerated PBS staple Antiques Roadshow. If you know and love Jesse's smooth, sardonic persona from his show or his podcasts, you'll probably enjoy hearing him wax fanboy-passionate about objects that have a story — and about this very odd, and oddly appealing show.

The original Lost in Space, which ran on network television from 1965 to 1968, began as a straightforward, if high-concept, adventure show: A colony spaceship carrying a nuclear family, a dashing pilot and a sniveling doctor got stranded on a remote planet. They had adventures while wearing v-neck sweaters over their turtlenecks, presumably because Irwin Allen, who produced the show, imagined that the future would be a chilly place. Or maybe he got a deal on velour, who knows.

When the guy with a wicker bucket on his head (who only talks through androgynous android-clones in Tom Selleck mustaches and Beatle wigs) is the least weird thing about your show, that show can safely be called ... distinctive.

Welcome to season two of Legion, FX's not-your-daddy's-mutant-superhero-series, helmed once again by Noah Hawley, between gigs running FX's other stylish, genre-inflected offering, Fargo.

The FX series The Americans has never been a ratings juggernaut, but over the course of five seasons it has earned the unstinting devotion of fans and critics. That's at least partly attributable to its willingness to put its characters, and its audience, through something that's become a hallmark of the era of "Prestige Television": Change.

There will be grunts.

Grunts of recognition, that is. If you watch Steven Spielberg's solidly built sci-fi phantasmagoria Ready Player One in a crowded theater, there will be grunts aplenty, so prepare yourself for them.

You can't, you won't — but try.

For the first hour or so of HBO's two-night documentary event, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, you'd be forgiven for assuming the key word in that title is Diaries. In a brief opening, Shandling himself, who died almost exactly two years ago now, shows the diaries he kept all his life to the camera, and reads a particularly banal passage.

He grins. Or maybe he winces. It's a little of both, really. And there it is: That pained smile was the patch of comedy real-estate Shandling staked out for himself, and still owns.

(THE FILM CRITIC steps to the podium.)

CRITIC: Good evening. Thank you all for coming. I'll read a brief statement, and then I'll be happy to take your questions.

(He removes a piece of paper from his jacket pocket, unfolds it, and begins to read.)

The process of coming to terms with one's sexuality varies widely, depending on the individual — it can be scary, invigorating, heartbreaking, life-affirming; usually it's some complex combination of those feelings and more. What does not vary in the process of coming out is the fact that it is a process. It has a timeline, and not necessarily a smooth one. It's marked by fits and starts, denials and avowals, fraught conversations in somebody's car, the fear of rejection and, hopefully, the relief of acceptance.

Which is probably why we keep making movies about it.

"I'm just like you," says gay 17-year-old Simon Spier (straight 22-year-old Nick Robinson), by way of introduction. We assume, at first, that he's just getting his Ferris Bueller on and introducing himself to the audience, but it turns out he's instead replying, via pseudonymous e-mail account, to an anonymous blog post written by one of his schoolmates. A correspondence ensues between their respective, most secret selves, as both Simon and the young man he calls "Blue" are still in the closet.

Why are you reading this?

That's a serious question; I'm sincerely curious: Why are you sitting there, right now, reading a review of the movie Death Wish?

For my part, I can tell you that the reason I'm writing this review is because it's my job — but you? What's your excuse?

I mean: It's Death Wish.

You will either go to see it, because it's Death Wish, or you very, very won't, because it's Death Wish.

'Game Night' Is Winning

Feb 22, 2018

Restraint seems an odd word to apply to a film this crowded with car chases, gunplay, sneering bad guys, panicky good guys and one gleefully gruesome instance of ad-hoc, back-alley, gunshot-wound surgery.

And yet, here we are.

Another season of the darkly brilliant series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has come to an end, and now, as has happened twice before, it falls to me the doughty task of sorting its original songs — 25 of them, this year — into a clear-eyed, dispassionate, purely objective, precision-engineered ranking that gleams with the cold light of surgic

In 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — two Jewish kids from Cleveland who were reading the alarming news coming out of Europe — created precisely the hero necessary to put things right: an impossibly strong and nigh-invulnerable paragon of virtue and butt-kicking they called Superman. He could have ended Hitler's advance with a snap of his fingers — and he definitely would have, if only he weren't a creature of pure fantasy.

Just over a year ago, Netflix announced that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the Bravo network phenomenon of a makeover show that launched in 2003 before fizzling out in 2007, was coming back.

Reaction to this news varied. Some welcomed the idea. Some didn't. And some self-appointed know-it-alls who didn't want to see the show come back went so far as to offer unsolicited advice.

I fell in love this week. Happens more often than you might think.

But the fact that it's happened before, and will happen again, doesn't mean this latest infatuation is any less passionate, abiding, head-over-heels, birds-suddenly-appear, stars-fall-down-from-the-sky resolute.

My husband's cool with it. He always is; we have an understanding. Also the object of my love is a podcast. Probably should have mentioned that at the top.

In the not-so-wee, not-so-small hours of the morning Tuesday — 8:30-ish a.m. Eastern Time — a superhero film earned itself an Oscar nomination.

That wasn't so unusual, really. The superhero film genre has been with us for almost 40 years now — dating from that momentous December 1978 day when Superman: The Movie busted its very first blocks — and superhero movies have racked up lots of nominations, and a few wins, over that time.

... For visual effects.

For sound editing and/or mixing (LOTS of those).

For hair and makeup.

It's easiest to say what The Awl and The Hairpin were by describing what they weren't.

They weren't places you went for lazy listicles and clickbait quizzes — Which Character From 'The Greatest Showman' Are You?

You didn't go there to get yet another hot take on whatever it was that everyone on social media was buzzing about that day.

They didn't do takes — hot or cold. They weren't reactive.

The promotional campaign for American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, which premieres Wednesday, January 17, on FX, is all gowns and glamour: The camera lingers over a head of Medusa, the designer's internationally recognized logo. We see flashbulbs, red carpets, bold prints, glasses of champagne.

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If they are to successfully make the jump to light speed, Star Wars movies require a precisely calibrated fuel mixture: one-third epic space battles, one-third narrow escapes and duly buckled swashes, one-third hooded beardy dudes standing around looking pained while solemnly intoning the cheesiest hokum about Darkness and Light as if it's Hamlet's Yorick speech (which in a way, it is).

The idea is so good, so simple, that it seems inevitable.

After all, superhero comics love teams of angsty teens. They love juicy villains. So when, in 2003, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Adrian Alphona created the comic Runaways, starring a group of angsty teens who discover, to their horror, that their parents are secretly super-villains, you could practically hear the sound of thousands of comics readers slapping their heads. ("Why didn't I think of that?")

This article discusses plot details of Search Party's first season.

Search Party isn't for everyone.

But of course, nothing worthwhile is.

To determine if it's your kind of thing, here's a litmus test (which seems only fitting, given the series' blithely acidic sense of humor).

On Monday, Amazon Studios announced it had acquired the rights to bring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings to television. The ink's still wet on the contract, so details are sketchy.

We know only that it will be an ongoing, multi-season series that will "bring to the screen previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien's original writings," according to the press release — and that it will be set before the Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of Tolkien's main LoTR saga.

We're scattered to the winds this week, so we thought we'd dig one of our favorite episodes from last year out of the vault — the one in which we took a first look at two then-new broadcast television shows that continue to impress: This is Us on NBC, and Speechless on ABC.

Several of us are on vacation this week, so here's one of our favorite — heretofore unheard — segments from last year's Pop Culture Happy tour of the West Coast.

Specifically: The great and good Audie Cornish joined us last October for a show at Seattle's Neptune Theatre, in which we answered listener questions and offered up some pop culture advice on the following topics:

  • Do I need to adjust my ratio of reading articles/listening to podcasts about a given piece of culture vs. personally experiencing that piece of culture?

This article discusses several plot elements of the original Twin Peaks television series, the 2016 book The Secret History of Twin Peaks, as well as this summer's Showtime mini-series, Twin Peaks: The Return.

Twin Peaks — the show and the cultural phenomenon around it — began life as the co-creation of two starkly different men: filmmaker David Lynch and writer Mark Frost.

Let's begin with a sweeping, simplistic and grossly unfair generalization: David Lynch is an artist. Mark Frost is a storyteller.

The television police procedural is a genre, and like any genre, it makes an implicit contract with its audience.

Chiefly, that contract is about plot. Here's what you'll get, it says. Each episode, a crime will be committed, investigated with a certain amount of technical detail, and ultimately solved. That's it. We may introduce some embellishments — a chewy performance here, an out-of-left-field twist there, or maybe a tiny amount of character development — but week in and week out, we'll stick to the parameters.

There is a moment about fifteen minutes into the premiere of the eight-episode Netflix series American Vandal when I knew it had its hooks in me.

It's a scene in which two student documentary filmmakers — Peter (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam (Griffin Gluck) — are examining evidence.

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