PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

The RFC Flashback: Episode 163

This week we go back to the warmth of July, 2012, for our sixth-anniversary episode of Radio Free Charleston. “Misfits of WV Shirt” collected some great music by Red Audio, Mother Blues and Tofujitsu, and combined it with some animation, plus location segments at a cool store that is sadly no longer with us.

This was a low-key show, considering that it was an anniversary episode, but we were a bit worn out after cranking out almost three hour’s worth of FestiVall coverage leading up to this, so we just took it easy. You can find the original production notes HERE.

Cheesy Toy Knockoffs Are Back

The PopCulteer
December 14, 2018

Last week your PopCulteer was in Chicago with his lovely wife, and as many couples do when on vacation, we took a day to visit Chinatown to look for cheesy knockoffs of toys.

Back in the 90s, when I was writing the “Facts on Figures” column for the late, lamented Toy Trader Magazine, I included as a regular feature the “Cheesy Knockoff of The Month.” This was in the early days of the internet, before a couple of hundred other people with the same idea started their own websites devoted to the topic, but I still get a huge kick out of cheesy knockoffs of popular toys, and once in a while I like to revisit my roots here in PopCult.

Last week we uncovered three remarkably cheesy knockoffs, one is a near-rip off of popular superhero toys, while the other two are essentially bootlegs of major properties, done up in a humourous (to me) fashion.

We hit eight or ten gift stores in Chinatown, but found two of these treasures in one, and the videogame-based toys in another.  We didn’t just go to Chinatown for the toys. We also went for the scenery, the atmosphere, the ice cream and the other scads of cool and inexpensive trinketry and jewelry that many of our friends and family will get for Christmas this year. Plus, as we discovered last time, almost every gift store takes their old stock, wraps it in Chinese-language newspapers, and sells it as “mystery boxes” for a buck or five. I’m a sucker for a surprise box, so we loaded up on those.

The cool part was that, as we discovered on our previous trip to Chicago, Chinatown is right on the Red line of the “L.” It was just a short walk from the station to the main drag, where all the cool gift stores are. We were also just a brisk walk from Chess Records and Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven, but we didn’t go back there this time, because it was very cold, and we were laden with cool, cheap stuff. If you’re headed to Chicago and have some free time, hop on the Red Line and get off at Cermak/Chinatown. There’s great food, shopping, and tons of cool stuff to do, all an easy walk from the station.

But now, we must look at the toys…

Well, everybody knows all about the world-famous “Universal Hero Super Force, don’t they?


I mean, these guys are so remarkable. Let’s address the technical details, which may not be obvious from this photo. The figures, which stand roughly six inches tall, sport a truly amazing TWO points of articulation! The arms swivel at the shoulders. Even the heads don’t turn on these guys. Made of rigid plastic, each figure comes with a Katana, which they can hold due to a strategically-placed peg in the palm of each hand. The swords have holes in their handles that fit the pegs, so there you go.

These are basically the Ninja figures that you can find at Dollar Tree, with different body colors and paint jobs. As you can probably tell, the designs on them sort of look like (left to right) Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man and Wolverine. I did say “sort of.” Every character has a ninja mask molded on, and the designs are not exactly slavishly accurate. At first I thought Spider-Man was Daredevil, but then I noticed that the thing painted on his chest is a spider (with yellow legs).

So the figures are crap of the highest order, but the real entertainment value comes when you flip over the box, and look at the line-up and names on the back. Note that this includes four additional figures that I didn’t see, and probably wouldn’t have picked up if I had, since the four additional figures also sport the same body mold (only three of them have added capes).


Is that amazing, or what? I mean, such a line-up of iconic heroes with such powerful names!

This set includes both “Universal Rocky” and “Universal Maham.” Who could look at that famous red-white-and-blue outfit and not think “Why that must be Universal Rocky?” And of course we have Universal Maham, because that’s such a common name. Actually, these are two of the three names on the box that don’t seem a little anti-masculine.

Note that Universal Maham is not pictured with his Katana sword, but rest assured that he does indeed come with one. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel he’d been cheated of his means of defense.

We’ll have to zoom in for a closer look at the other winners in this collection.

Man, you don’t want to mess with that guy. He’s a bad-ass. Nobody wants to cross Universal Nigel. Man, Nigel will MESS YOU UP!

As bad as Nigel is, stay far away from Universal Perry. he will do a number on you with that yellow sword he has attached to his hand with a peg.

Perry is in this set of figures, but Nigel, whom I’m guessing is a stand-in for Black Panther, is not. Like I said, there must be another set of four figures floating around out there in cheap-toyland. Or maybe there isn’t. Showing figures that were never produced would add to the mystique.

I’m leaving out the close-up of Universal Leslie (the Spider-Manish boy) and Universal Hubert because, with names like those, they were so manly that my photo of that part of the back of the box was too blurry.  It appears that Hubert is supposed to be Batman or Darth Vader or Dr. Doom or something.

Our last two figures are not in the set I picked up, and since three of those figures are shown with capes, they may have simply not made them because the capes cost a few pennies over their budget. Both of them have winged emblems with different symbols in them. Universal Tony has the letter “M,” which leads me to believe that they may have accidentally switched his name with “Universal Maham,” who is painted to look like Tony Stark’s alter ego.

As with Hubert, I have no idea who Rupert and Tony are supposed to be. They may just be generic knockoffs, or videogame characters or something from Anime or God knows what.

So that was fun, finding four cheap ninja figures repainted to somewhat resemble Marvel superheroes, with four additional figures shown on the box that may well not even exist, but from fun, we go to interesting, because when I got the next item, I had no idea what it was…


This caught my eye because the welding helmet looked like it might fit on a 1/6 cale action figure, and the rifle is also the right size, and what the hell is a frying pan doing in there?

Thanks to Eamon Hardiman, I now know that this is an unlicensed toy based on Player Unknown’s Battleground, which was apparently a big deal among videogamers back in 2017. I picked up (and probably paid too much for) this completely unlicensed set for customizing fodder, but left behind an entire box of smaller sets that included a non-gilded welder’s helmet and a sword. My defense on going for this set was that it was the last one, and the golden frying pan cracked me up.

That frying pan has “PUBG” stamped on it, which is the only thing close to an English-language logo anywhere on the front of the package. Since it’s packaged with the logo upside-down, I didn’t even catch that until I looked at the photo as I was writing this.

The real entertainment value of this item is on the back, which was even funnier before I found out about the game…


Having no clue about the game, which is apparently a first-person game where you’re dropped on an island and have to gather tools that you use to kill all the other players, I had no idea what the pictograph equation shown above meant. “Welder’s helmet plus frying pan equals chicken” was pretty hilarious to me. I later found out that those two tools are highly valued, and when you win, the game congratulates you with “Winner, winner, chicken dinner.”

I have to admit, I like it better as a non-sequitor.

However, there is more fun on the back of the package…


I’m not sure exactly which road is paved with “Intention Creation Happy Peer,” but I take comfort in knowing that iot’s out there.

Finally, we have the winner in the “slap as many trademark violations on one toys as is humanly possible” sweepstakes…


I know what you’re thinking. “What’s so remarkable about Superma’s car from the Cast Alloy Deformation Heroes line?”

I supposed we should start at the top with this, and work our way down. First we have a picture of DC Comics’ Supeman, next to the logo for Marvel’s Avengers: Battle For Earth, a videogame from six years ago. The word “Marvel” is omitted from the “Marvel Heroes” logo, and in case you aren’t a comics person, Superman and The Avengers are not published by the same company. Also, Superman doesn’t really need a car, but I digress.

We continue down the package to find a Transformer, the Superman “S” shield next to “Superma,” and in the upper right of the front panel of the box, the Batman vs. Superman logo. I didn’t open this thing until I was writing this, and discovered that the car does indeed transform–into a robot, not Superman–and comes with a sword and a ray gun to hold in its robot form. When I opened the package, behind the car, I discovered the interesting logo you see below…


So, we have elements of Captain America and Wonder Woman, set inside sort of smooshed squat Autobot symbol. The hits keep coming!

We’re already beyond a trifecta, and we haven’t looked at the back of the box yet…


Is that not just beautiful? It’s pure mash-up eye candy. I remember when Batman and Superman joined the Avengers with Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk and Spider-man, and then they all went out driving like they were The Fast and The Furious. I mean, that happened, right? Then they all transformed and had a giant robot hoedown! I’m pretty sure that happened.

That wraps up this week’s PopCulteer. Come back for our regular features. Sunday will probably include more video of cool stuff from Chicago. As always, we strive to bring you fresh content every day, even if it’s just half-assed.

Chicago’s Holiday Train

Your PopCulteer was in Chicago last week. It’s become a tradition to take a trip for my lovely wife’s birthday, and for the last three years we’ve gone back to one of our favorite cities, the place where we got married. Over the next few days I’ll be posting some video from our new adventures, but today we’re going to keep it short and sweet, just like this video I shot of the AllState CTA Holiday Train, which we managed to witness arriving at one of the elevated stations in The Loop.

We’d planned to catch it at Clark and Lake, but we sort of got turned around and wound up at Washington and Wells instead. Not knowing what to expect, I’m afraid I didn’t position myself to get a good shot of Santa, but the train itself is pretty darned impressive, and puts lots of smiles on lots of people’s faces, of all ages. You can see the big guy in the photo with this post, lifted from the CTA website.

The holiday train is a tradition in Chicago, and they even have holiday buses now that run all over the city, lit up and decorated to make people happy during the season. It’s a nice thing for them to do.

Anyway, this our video Christmas card, so enjoy. I’ve got more video to post over the next few days, so get ready for Mold-A-Rama, Swing Music and a visit to Tiki Terrace.

Photo Essay: The PopCult Christmas Trees

It’s been a while since we did this here in the blog, so let’s bring you a short photo essay on The PopCult Christmas Trees (and yes, that is plural, as you’ll see below).

To the right (or above, if you’ll reading this on your phone) you see the big tree, crammed full with cool pop culture ornaments. We’re going to zoom in for a few highlights, but Mrs. PopCulteer really outdid herself, and this only scratches the surface. My job was mainly getting the trees out of the attic and rounding up the decorations. Mel did all the hard work.

In the photos below you’ll see some of our ornaments based on things near and dear to our hearts, like Batman, The Beatles Yellow Submarine, GI Joe, Looney Tunes, The Walking Dead, Chicago, Pusheen and various other kittehs and robots and aliens.It may not be your traditional Christmas tree, but it’s definitely got our stamp on it. We like to pick up ornaments on our travels and then put them on the tree so we can remember how much fun we had together the previous year.

You can consider this our Christmas card to all of you, since we’re too lazy to send out real Christmas cards.

Because we had such a wealth of ornaments, we decided to pull one of the smaller trees out of the attic and set it up across the living room here at Stately Radio Free Charleston Manor. For this tree, because of it having weaker branches, it’s decorated entirely in lightweight ornaments, and tiny plush Pusheen figures. We’ll take a closer look at it at the end of our photo essay, but first, on to the big tree…

The (one true) Batmobile and GI Joe. Those gotta go on the tree.


The Chicago flag and Popeye, need to get those on there, too.


What’s Opera Doc and weird lightbulb cat. (made out of a bulb from the State Capitol chandelier, so Mel tells me)


I picked out this one.


Batman and Robin…and poop.
Pusheen and random kitteh. Mel lovs her some kittehs.
Lots of Yellow Submarine ornaments, and a stray Pusheen, for good measure.
Santa and The “L”


With a couple more Chicago ornaments (the Bean is a bit blurry), we’ll leave the big tree, and jump to the little one…


Meanwhile, across the room we find the smaller tree, covered in Pusheen.


These are the little plush Pusheen that you find in blind boxes. The one in the lower right with the tree cookie is this year’s “rare” one.
It’s sort of cool having a Pusheen tree. Maybe next year we can do an all-Batman tree.
Cute little buggers, ain’t they?


We’ll wrap this up with the angel Pusheen, near the top of the tree. Merry Christmas, everbody. We’ll have more holiday sutff in PopCult for the next several days.

As I’ve mentioned before, Tuesday is our most-listened-to day on The AIR and we really like to load it up with new episodes of our most popular shows.

However, this week your PopCulteer is still a bit hungover from The 2018 PopCult Gift Guide and then a week-long trip to Chicago for Mrs. PopCulteer’s birthday, so Tuesday we bring you one new episode of Radio Free Charleston and everything else is reruns You can tune in at The AIR website, or listen in on this hand-made, intricately-embroidered radio player…

The plan is to kick off next week with Christmas programming and new episodes of all of our shows, as a special gift for you. This week’s RFC is packed with brand-new music, and also has a sprinkling of terrific treats from our archives. Just check out this playlist…


Luna Park “Voices Carry”
Todd Burge “I’m Going Down”
Ann Magnuson “The Sun Don’t Care”
John Radcliff “End of The Road”
Poor Man’s Gravy “N.I.M.F.”
Speedsuit “The Dawn”
William Matheny “That’s How I Got To Memphis”
Jay Parade “Crying Over Spilled Coffee”
Karen Allen “Forgiveness”
Half Batch “Sweet Fire”
Creek Don’t Rise “Mobile Blues”
Mad Scientist Club “Roto Ruter”
Mind Garage “Reach Out”

The oldest track there is nearly fifty years old, and the newest, John Radcliff’s song, was just released last Sunday evening. It’s all great stuff, and shows how much fun you can have while you support the local scene.

Radio Free Charleston can be heard Tuesday at 10 AM and 10 PM, with replays Thursday at 2 PM, Friday at 8 PM and Saturday at 11 AM and Midnight, exclusively on The AIR.

The programming day on The AIR continues with classic episodes of our shows like The Swing Shift and Psychedelic Shack. Next week those will be brand-new.

Monday Morning Art: Mary Marvel


This week’s art is a digital doodle, a semi-abstract rendering of Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel’s super-powered sister. I’m a huge fan of Captain Marvel (don’t call him “Shazam”) and the entire Marvel Family, which includes Mary, Captain Marvel Jr, and ancilliary characters like Uncle Dudley and the Three Lt. Marvels.

Anyway, this is Mary Marvel, with a pose swiped from an old Vargas pin up. Click to see it bigger.

Meanwhile, over on The AIR, Marathon Monday features RFC International, the show where yours truly gets to play anything he wants, for 24 hours, from 7 AM Monday to 7 AM Tuesday. If you think this has anything to do with your PopCulteer’s vacation just wrapping up, then you’d be pretty close to the truth. I think I earned some R&R after spending all of November writing The 2018 PopCult Gift Guide. The plan is to have new radio shows on The AIR, and plenty of new content here in PopCult…starting tomorrow. I still need to rest a bit.  You can tune in on The AIR website, or on this rather ingenious embedded transistor radio thingy…

Sunday Evening Video: Random RFC Christmas

We have some random Radio Free Charleston Christmas episodes and holiday treats to share this week, and they’re being posted late due to wonderful misadventures that you will hear of later, so let’s jump into it as Santa revs up his hot rod sleigh and prepares to break and enter worldwide for a good cause…

Below is the Radio Free Charleston Christmas show for 2014. Hosted from Capitol Market we brought you holiday music sung by lovely female voices.

You will hear Melanie Larch accompanied by Mark Scarpelli, Marium Bria, Lady D-Doris Fields and The Laser Beams, plus we have an epic cartoon about the war on Christmas by Jacob Fertig.

But before we jump into the music we bring you some incomprehensible words from Santa Claus.

Next up let’s go back to 2015 for The RFC MINI SHOW number 75, a Christmas Special with more music from The Laser Beams…

Back in 2010 Radio Free Charleston went caroling with CYAC and the cast of MARY…

With this, we kick off the Christmas season here in PopCult. The 2018 PopCult Gift Guide is in the books, your PopCulteer is back from a fun trip to Chicago, and how about we make Christmas 2018 pretty darned wonderful, okay?

The RFC Flashback: Episode 160

This week we travel back to early June, 2012, for a special preview edition of Radio Free Charleston for FestivALL 2012. This bonus-length, forty-five minutes how includes music from John Lilly, Buddy Black, The Demon Beat, QiET, Sasha Colette, Comparsa and Brian Diller.

We also have a trailer for David Smith’s film, Ladybeard, and lots of footage from previous FestivALLs, including bellydancing and other cool stuff. Host segments were shot all over town, in places where FestivALL stuff would be happening later.  Of course, FestivALL is still going on, and is one of Charleston’s cool summer events.

Next week we’re going to skep a couple of shows ahead in our chronological presentation of Radio Free Charleston, because we ran our actual FestivALL shows in this space just a few months ago.


Credit Where Credit Is Due

The PopCulteer
December 7, 2018

Last month Stan Lee, the former publisher and life-long mascot of Marvel Comics passed away, and PopCult, being a pop culture blog, could not let that go without comment. He was the editor-in-chief, publisher, head cheerleader and mascot for Marvel Comics, and without him, we would not have Marvel as we know it today.

Stan Lee passed while I was in the middle of writing The 2018 PopCult Gift Guide, and with that taking up all my time, I didn’t have time to compose a proper obituary. In a way, that was a bit of a relief.

See, I can’t sit here and say that Stan Lee created the Marvel Universe. It would not have existed without him, but he was not the sole creator, and his role as a co-creator is probably not what many people seem to think it was.

I give him all the credit in the world for hiring top-notch talent like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, and helping them bring their work to the public. And I give him all the credit in the world for tirelessly promoting Marvel Comics and taking them from being a cheap publisher who hadn’t had a hit comic book in more than fifteen years to the number one comic book publisher in America.

Stan Lee did that. He sold the world on Marvel Comics, and without his salesmanship, we would not have the current crop of big-budget Marvel Movies. He was smart enough to hire people who could tell epic stories that touched the world.

But he didn’t create those characters, or write any stories on his own.

Stan invented “The Marvel Method.” Many people praise this as an innovative movement that gave the comic book artist greater control over the pace and action in the story, and allowed them way more creative freedom than if they worked from a full script.

With The Marvel Method, the artist would be given a short synopsis of what would happen in the story, and then tell that story in the agreed-upon number of pages. Then Stan Lee would handle the final dialogue.

However, this was not really a case of artistic freedom. Stan Lee worked for Magazine Management, a company owned by his aunt’s brother-in-law (there are many different descriptions of their relationship, but that seems the most accurate at the moment), Martin Goodman. When sales of the comics dropped, what was then called Atlas Comics had to tighten their belt. Page rates were cut to near the bottom in the industry, so when Lee wanted a raise, he had to come up with a creative way to get it.

Basically, Stan Lee laid off all of Atlas Comics’ freelance writers, and had the artists start working from his springboard ideas. The artist would do the bulk of the work, plotting and drawing the comics, and then Stan Lee would write the dialogue, which sometimes was not much different from what the artists had suggested in the margins. Lee would then take full credit as the writer, and keep the entire paycheck that would have earlier gone to a freelance writer. When Lee did not take the credit and pay, it went to his brother, Larry Leiber. An example of how this worked is the way that the monster story that introduced Groot was done. Lee gave his artist, Jack Kirby, the instruction “Wood alien, six pages.”  Lee knew that Kirby would run with that. Most of his ideas were more thought out, with a plot, but by that point the monster comics had become so formulaic that, with Kirby, he just had to tell him what kind of alien to use. Of course, Kirby didn’t get paid any more than if he’d been handed a full script.

Because he was essentially management, in a family-owned business, he could get away with that. The comic book market had dried up so much that artists were forced to work on those terms, or go without work…or work for Charlton Comics for even less money.

Stan Lee was not an artist. He did not draw comic books, ever. He held the title of art director, but that was probably more likely due to his family owning the business.

Lee was very smart to hire Jack Kirby at a point where Kirby had hit a professional low point. A dispute with an editor at DC Comics left Kirby looking for work to support his family. Despite not trusting Martin Goodman after Goodman had reneged on an agreement to share revenue with Kirby and Joe Simon from their creation, Captain America twenty years ealier, Kirby had no choice but to go to work forAtlas/Marvel, and with Stan Lee, whom he regarded as a bit of a pest.

Goodman told Lee to create a Super Hero Team, and Lee asked Kirby to do all the work. Kirby dusted off ideas that he’d devoloped for his DC Comics creation, The Challengers of The Unknown, gave them super powers and then Lee handled the dialogue, and that was what became The Fantastic Four.

With that being a good seller, Lee asked Kirby for other ideas. Kirby gave him the name for Spider-Man, and brought The Incredible Hulk, The X Men and several others to the table. Meanwhile, Steve Ditko developed Spider-Man into the hero we recognize, and other great talents like Don Heck, Gene Colan, Bill Everett, John Buscema and John Romita eventually came to Marvel. All of them did much of the writing for which Lee took sole credit.

Lee continued to take (or accept) credit for creating Marvel on his own as the media started paying attention and Lee became a popular speaker on college campuses. He even ran out and bought a toupee and grew facial hair to be more hip (that’s him with Jack Kirby in 1964 before Lee revamped his image seen above).

Eventually Ditko got sick of Lee taking all the credit in his ever-increasing public appearances, and left Spider-Man and his own creation, Doctor Strange, at the height of Marvel’s acension to prominance. Ditko actually preferred the low pay of Charlton to being robbed of his deserved credit as co-writer of the Spider-Man stories.

A few years after that, Kirby also left and went to Marvel’s chief competitor, DC Comics, to create The New Gods and The Fourth World saga, which is providing the foundation for many upcoming DC Universe movies. Coincidentally, around this time Lee pretty much stopped writing comics on a regular basis. Kirby skewered Lee in Mister Miracle as “Funky Flashman,” poking fun at his ever-present hairpiece and taking shots at Stan’s assistant, Roy Thomas. That type of payback does not happen without reason.

The Lee-Kirby partnership was not one of equal creators pitching in 50/50 on new characters. Kirby did most of the work. Lee handled the dialogue and most importantly sold the work to the public and created the illusion of a happy bullpen of comic book creators who all loved each other and were one big happy family.

Stan Lee’s legacy as a co-creator does not include much before or after his collaborations with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. His work before he teamed with Kirby on Fantastic Four was grossly unremarkable. After Kirby left, Lee basically quit writing comics.

His “creations” after this point included Disco Dazzler and Stripperella.

That’s why I call Stan Lee Marvel’s “mascot.” The man was a great editor. He had a real eye for talent. He knew how to pitch comics to the public. He was gregarious and friendly to fans who met him at conventions. The work he took credit for inspired many of the greatest writers in the history of comics. But after 1970, Stan Lee was more like Ronald McDonald than Walt Disney. His name was on every comic book, emblazoned with “Stan Lee Presents,” but it was increasingly clear that he wasn’t even reading them any more.

He was beloved by fans, and work that he was credited with inspired a whole generation of comics creators. But I can’t let his passing go by without mentioning that he also took credit for the work of others. Many of my friends on Facebook were posting tearful eulogies, then citing books that came out years after Stan Lee quit writing as their favorite work by him.

The last couple of years of Lee’s life were pretty miserable. He did not deserve that. His work as a publisher and editor brought joy to the lives of millions of people. While it is probably for the best that his suffering is over, it’s still a shame that he’s gone. The man was a grand ambassador for comics, even if he didn’t create quite as much as he allowed people to believe.

That’s why it’s a relief that I had to wait a few weeks to post this. I held my tongue when he died because it was “too soon” to point out that he didn’t create anything on his own, except for The Marvel Method of making the artist do more than half of the writer’s work.

This week PopCult’s sister radio station, The AIR, is presenting special marathons all week long, so that new listeners can hear our most popular programs and get caught up on just how cool they are. You can tune in at The Website, or listen right on this cool embedded player.

Today at 7 AM we play all ten (so far) episodes of Harrah’s Hard & Heavy, Lee Harrah’s guide to all things hard rock. At 5 PM listen to Lee as a guest on Six Degrees of Separation, as he discusses his career in the local music scene. Harrah’s Hard & Heavy can be heard every Friday night at 7 PM on The AIR.

Then at 7 PM, and continuing all night long, it’s time for PROG ROCK with Prognosis, bringing you episodes hosted by Herman Linte and yours truly.

Prognosis can be heard every Thursday at 3 PM, with replays Friday at 7 AM, Saturday at 8 AM, Tuesday at 8 PM and Wednesday at 10 PM, exclusively on The AIR.