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Comics in Public – This American Life


The media loves to say that comics have become mainstream, but it still surprises me when they show up in my everyday life.

17 hours is a long time to be awake everyday. To fill my time driving or at work, I listen to a lot of podcasts. A lot of these are comic-based, Comic Geek Speak, Word Balloon, 4th Letter’s 4cast, and IGN’s Comics Smash being some of my favorites. But, one of the internet’s best and most popular podcasts is This American Life.

For those of you who don’t know, each episode of This American Life features a variety of stories that share a certain theme. The themes range greatly, everything from the cruelty of children (episode 27) to true urban legends (406).

This week’s episode, entitled “Superpowers,” features stories about people and great abilities: those they would want, those they have, those others believe they have.

The episode has four parts, plus a prologue with Chris Ware:

Prologue – Chris Ware talks to host Ira Glass about how he thought about superheroes a lot as a kid. As he got older, they lost their shine to him. If you’ve read Jimmy Corrigan (another book that could be a They’re Gonna Kill Me for This), you’ve got an idea.

Act One: Invisible Man Vs. Hawkman – John Hodgman (PC from the Mac vs. PC commercials) asks people whether they would want flight or invisibility.

This is a common question and invisibility does sound awesome, but I’ll admit that I would only use it from scummy things like cheating in casinos or seeing people naked. The moralist in me says choose flight.

Act Two: Wonder Woman – A story about Zora, a self-made superhero. Imagine if you made a list of skills that a hero should have and spent your time learning them one by one. Zora did. Now what?

Zora’s a bounty hunter. Like Boba Fett. She sounds badass.

Act Three – The Green Team of Boy Millionaires, Beppo The Amazing Supermonkey from Planet Krypton, And The Man from Sram – What determines if a new superhero succeeds or fails with audiences?

This is the only story that actually focuses on comics and fictional heroes. Some heroes mentioned include Captain Marvel (not the one you’re thinking of … no, not that one either), 3-D Man, and Ant-Man, who, they admit always gets the short end of the stick. Prez, the first teenage president even gets a mention! I only know him from Sandman, but it was nice to have some familiarity.

Act Four: The Wonder Twins – A story focusing on Luther and Johnny Htoo, twelve-year-old twins, and those who believe they possess superpowers.

These two essential run a separatist army. They’re like Ms. Cleo, but with a religious bent. And she’s telling you she’s bulletproof. And she’s 12 years old. And there are two of her. Scary how some people can be so desperate to believe.

A good episode. If you’ve never heard TAL, this is a pretty good example. Highly recommended.

This American Life is free weekly and is available from their site or you can subscribe through iTunes.

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