Superman: Radio Shack Shill

Bloggified by Jake on Friday, March 10, 2006

Up top, let me just say this was much harder to write than I thought it would be. As with any computer-based story from the 1980's, this comic is ripe with images that are comical today for the simple fact they weren't comical then. For example, a cassette deck connected to a computer or that BASIC program every kid in elementary school at that time learned, allowing his computer to fill the screen by repeatedly printing: "I AM YOUR COMPUTER!"

I've tried my best to get away from just making jokes of "Ha ha, computers were slower back then! The 80's were crap!" I'm sure I would have similar problems were I to come across a comic in which Superman has to solve a Rubik's Cube to save Pat Benatar from an army of Wacky Wallwalkers wearing parachute pants.

With that said, I return you to regular programming.

Ah, computers. What the hell ever happened to those crazy machines? There was quite a trend toward those things in the 1980's but I haven't heard much of them ever since. I guess after that Terminator movie with the bodybuilder guy from Austria, people got a little nervous and they went the way of parachute pants and Rubik's Cubes.

Fortunately, for those of us who want to tell our kids about those bygone days, we can always turn to Superman in The Computers that Saved Metropolis: Starring the TRS-80 Computer Whiz Kids for evidence that once upon a time it was actually predicted computers might play a daily role in all our lives--


--and the best part is thanks to the good people at Radio Shack, it didn't cost a dime to do so.

SiTCtSM:StTRS-80WK tells the exciting story of the day Superman went to give a guest lecture in an elementary school. Of course, being Superman, he can't just walk in the front door.You may be curious what's in those black cases, but as Superman assures the kids in the classroom, it would be hard for you to believe without five or six pages of blather taken directly from a Radio Shack marketing statement "some background information first.""Grrr! Anything but information about computers! Why are you wasting our time, Superman! We all know computers are never going to have any effect on our lives! They are only for the super rich and astronauts! This is another of those comics where every statement is followed by an exclamation point!

That kid is Alec, the skeptic who thinks learning about computers might be boring. Boy oh boy, is he ever proven wrong when Superman starts telling the kids about 1945, because if there's one way to keep an smartass ten-year-old occupied it's by telling him stories about before TV was invented. Perhaps there's a nice yarn about a zeppelin you could spin, Superman. Even writer Cary Bates knows this is boring because he ends nearly half the sentences in periods instead of exclamation points.

The history lesson was all to set up the idea that computers are behemoths that weigh thirty tons, are housed in 50' x 30' rooms, and require a punchcard system to input data. Once the kids are suitably convinced they will never see a computer in their lifetime, they get a lesson in the word of possibilities presented by microprocessors.User manuals?!? Hot diggity damn! Soon we'll all be performing calculations like there's no tomorrow! Why hasn't anyone ever thought of such a machine before? Some kind of a calcula...tion-tor?

In case you're wondering where Superman got that little tidbit about the price comparison with the good camera, perhaps he was reading the ads from earlier in the comic.Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn't have the common courtesy to let Supeman explain BASIC programming to the kids before suffering a crisis of some sort, so Superman has to fly off while the kids rely on the user manuals. A tornado is tearing through downtown Metropolis, but its no match for a Superman.Crisis averted, Superman returns to the thilling setting of a classroom full of children inputing sample problems from their user's manuals.

I've never really liked the superintelligence power for Superman. I'm willing to accept that the yellow rays of the sun somehow make him stronger and able to fly and give his eyes the ability to melt steel while also being extra sensative to a wider spectrum of light, but saying his brain also developed to make him the smartest person on Earth was a little much for me. However, Superman's superbrain is a crucial part of this story, as it becomes the yardstick against which the TRS-80 is measured.I've already said I take umbrage with Superman being supersmart, but I have further issues with the idea that after you type in a four-line program you can think as fast as Superman. I bet that girl could tie the Flash in a mile sprint if he spotted her the first 5,279 feet too.

Seeing that a stupid girl can be as smart as Superman with a TRS-80, Alec figures a boy can be even smarter... if you "just give [him] a little while to enter the program!" Superman waits patiently, resisting the urge to use his heat vision to boil the little shit's brain inside his skull, but when it's time to hit the RUN button, Superman's brain goes caca, prompting Alec to become even less likeable.This is why I would make a lousy Superman. In this situation, I would politely inform the kid that while he may have successfully pressed a button faster than I could calculate a circle's circumference, I could fuck his mother at any time of day or night and even if his father knew when I was going to do it, there's nothing he, the police, or any force on Earth could do to stop me. I also would point out that if I spit gently in his direction, he would have a hold in his face the size of a saucepan.

Worse, I would then spit in his face and go fuck his mother.

Instead, Superman stands in shame and gets a dressing down by "Smart Alec." We learn, however, that the reason Superman's brain is on the fritz is a result of the tornado. Major Disaster explains that he seeded the tornado with microscopic Kryptonite crystals, which Supes inhaled when he took in the air for his superbreath. These crystals were specially synthesized "not to weaken his super-powers... No, that would be far to simple and obvious!"

Instead, they're fucking with the part of Superman's brain that does geometry.With Superman unable to fly or properly use his other superpowers, Major Disaster comes on TV and explains there will be three disasters, none of which Superman will be able to stop, thus ushering in the reign of Major Disaster.

Huh? The theory is if some kind of tragic disaster befalls Metropolis and Superman doesn't stop it, everyone will just blindly follow the leadership of the guy responsible for the disaster? No wonder we haven't found Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. He's been joint mayor of New York and Washington, DC for the last five years.

His superbrain unable to do the complex mathematics necessary to carry out his job, Superman concludes he could use a computer to help him, but Disaster also crippled every computer within a few hundred miles... except two. Unable to fly to the school, he has to resort to another means of conveyance.This is the second time Superman refers to the teacher by her first name--earlier he corrects himself--implying a more personal than professional relationship. At least that's what I thought until I realized her name is Margaret Wilson and the only way Superman could be interested would be if her name was Largaret Lilson.

After crashing through the floor, he explains he was "forced to take and underground route for safety's sake" because he "can't risk making too many flying entrances." What he doesn't explain though is why if he's afraid of the effects the inaccuracy of his superpowers could have while flying, he opted for the means of getting from here to there that would bring him in closest contact to gas lines, sewer mains, and power lines. I was thinking of walking, but to each his own, huh, Supes?

Superman explains the situation and tells the kids they'll have to man the computers and talk to him through radio headsets. He'll feed them information from the scenes of the disasters, they'll punch it into the computers, and the resulting calculations will tell Superman how to save the day.

Shall we run through a list of better plans?

A. Call Green Lantern
B. Call Captain Marvel
C. Call Martian Manhunter
D. Call Wonder Woman
E. Call Power Girl
F. Call Aquaman
G. Call Dr. Fate
H. Call Blue Beetle
I. Call Lex Luthor
(Do you think Luthor's going to stand by and let Major Disaster be the one that finally takes down Superman?)
J. Call some actual professional computer programmers and have them run the computers instead of putting thousands of lives in the hands of the kids who 23 hours earlier thought having the computer tell them "I AM YOUR NEW TRS-80 MICROCOMPUTER" was "far out" and that pressing "RUN" made them smarter than Superman.

Flying in the face of common sense, the kids settle into their seats and Superman takes off for the first disaster, a plane that's been struck by lightning. It should be noted Superman has no trouble flying now, though he stops when he gets to the plane unsure of what to do.First off, how is it Superman's supervision and other superinformation-gathering senses are working just fine? If that's the case, what's stopping him from being able to save the plane? When someone throws you a baseball, your brain automatically calculates the parabolic curve of the ball and moves your hand to the space the ball will eventually occupy, allowing you to catch it. It's a mostly natural instinct and if it's beyond your ability, odds are measuring the ball's velocity, mass, exact angle of it descent, and the speed of any prevailing headwinds is probably likewise beyond your abilities.

Second, what are the kids going to do if their answers don't match? Press "RUN" again?

Third, if that plane has a forward velocity of 505 miles an hour at a 44 degree downward angle, it is heading for the ground at about 22,000 feet per second. Forget acceleration due to gravity and assume the plane is presently at an altitude of 35,000 feet (even though it was already plummetting toward Earth before Superman even left the school). This is how this scene should play out:

Superman: All right, team, here goes! According to my--(Transmission drowned out by sound of exploding fuel tanks, twisting metal, and screams of dying passengers.)

If the plane is merely falling from about 40,000 feet and that speed of 505 miles an hour is entirely parallel to the ground, the passengers have about 50 seconds before they crash. In which case it would play out more like:

Superman: All right, team, here goes! According to my super-vision...

20 LET A=44
30 LET S=505
40 LET F=S*5280/3600
60 LET H=63

(Transmission drowned out by sound of exploding fuel tanks, twisting metal, and screams of dying passengers.)

Not to mention that since Radio Shack probably didn't include a "How to calculate the proper intercept course for a crashing jetliner" program in the user's manual, those kids are going to be clueless what to do with all Superman's information.

The next disaster is a flood caused by a rupture in the Metropolis Resevoir.It seems to me the solution would just entail shooting heat vision at the water until it evaporates. Why does he need an exact time frame? If he left a few hundred gallons over the area of a few city blocks, is that going to affect anyone?

The final disaster is a leak at the nuclear power plant north of the city. The kids calculate a way for him to spiral around the radioactive gas and funnel it into space. I won the both the city and state science competitions when I was in seventh grade and I have no idea how I'd begin to calculate this now with Excel, much less when I was 10 and writing BASIC on an Apple II.

After venting the gases, Superman goes after Major Disaster and reveals the Krytonite crystals' effect has worn off. How convenient. I suspect the crystals affected Superman for all of about fifteen minutes, but he saw an opportunity to let the kids feel useful and rolled with it. I mean, this is the guy who's hung out with Jimmy Olsen for more than half a century so we know that's his M.O. "Uh-oh, I can't possibly save this plane without the help of my friends Shanna and Alec!" I bet he let them beat him at touch football too by falling down a lot and saying things like, "Whoa, what a great juke move! I totally thought you were going to your right!"

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