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10 Great Comic Book Cliffhangers

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Super-hero comics have provided some brilliant cliffhangers over the decades. Choosing 10 of the best, most significant cliffhangers is a tough job, so let's narrow it down to the "Big Two" comic book companies, Marvel and DC Comics. Between them, they have provided some cliffhangers that not only brought us back for more, but have influenced comics, television, and the movies.

1. Crushed like a bug

The Amazing Spider-Man #38, 1966 #31-33, 1966

One of the super-heroes' worst enemies was the Comics Code Authority, the tough censorship body, which even frowned at cliffhangers because the villains were not brought to justice in the same comic where they committed their crimes! Marvel Comics' Spider-Man was one of the first comics to rebel against this, allowing villains to escape until the next issue. But even when he won, Spider-Man could still be left with a great cliffhanger. One of the most popular stories (recently voted the second most popular Spider-Man story ever, 46 years after it was published) finished with a doozy: With his Aunt May in hospital, dying of radiation poisoning (due to a blood transfusion he gave her), he tries to get the antidote, but is stopped by the villainous Dr. Octopus. Angrier than ever, Spider-Man destroys Dr. Octopus's lab. Though Dr. Octopus is defeated, tons of metallic debris falls on Spider-Man, leaving him trapped. As water starts to flood the structure, the serum remains just out of reach. (In the next issue, he frees himself and grabs the serum just in the nick of time.)

2. The coming of Galactus

The Fantastic Four #48, 1966

Afraid that the popularity of super-heroes would not last forever, Marvel editor Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby (who co-wrote The Fantastic Four) upped the ante by creating the ultimate super villain: Galactus, a godlike, 28-foot-high being who survived by consuming the energy from planets. In the first cliffhanger of this story, he announces that the Earth is doomed. The cliffhanger was powerful enough to change story structure in comics, so that countless stories have followed this formula, revealing the villain on the final page of the first issue... then finding a way to stop him over the next few issues. After Galactus, however, villains would rarely seem so threatening.

3. "Prepare for... my ultimate REVENGE!"

Captain America #115, 1969

This one wasn't quite so influential, but it's one of my favorite cliffhangers ever (so there). This comic ended with the hideous Red Skull using the magical Cosmic Cube to transform Captain America into the Red Skull, while the Skull himself transforms into Captain America. The Captain's girlfriend Sharon runs to the villain for protection, unaware that, deep down, he's a monstrous war criminal. The hero himself is stuck with a skull-like visage and a girlfriend who thinks he's an evil monster, but being an altruistic good guy, he's not just thinking of himself. "What will happen to her," he thinks, "and to all MANKIND... while the world's DEADLIEST MENACE can walk among men... as CAPTAIN AMERICA?!!" The idea would later be done in television and movies (like Face/Off), but perhaps the comics did it best.

4. "You're really a junkie?"

Green Lantern / Green Arrow #85, 1971

The Comics Code had decided that drugs were off-limits for comics – so much so that, when Marvel did an anti-drugs story in Spider-Man (at the request of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare), it wasn't given the stamp of approval. (That's another story that can be found here.) After this, the rule was relaxed. The idea of a super-hero who used drugs, however, was unthinkable... until Speedy, the Green Arrow's ward and young sidekick, confessed all to his anti-junkie guardian. Speedy's drug habit came as a shock not only to the Green Arrow, but to his readers as well. He was a respected sidekick, and a valued member of the Teen Titans. Writer Denny O'Neill, who based many powerful stories around Speedy's addiction, later worked for Marvel Comics – writing stories about Iron Man's alcoholism that, once again, did not trivialize the issue.

5. "Now it's MY turn!"

Uncanny X-Men, 1979

A classic cliffhanger leaves our hero in a terrible predicament, making us want to read the next issue for an answer to the question "How will he get out of this one?" Some cliffhangers, however, make us want to read on for other reasons. One of Marvel's best-remembered cliffhangers happened when the evil Hellfire Club ambushed the X-Men, pounding Wolverine under a building, and defeating everyone else one by one. In the last page, when all seemed lost, the savage (and basically invulnerable) Wolverine reappeared from the sewers. "Okay, suckers – you've taken yer BEST SHOT!" he says. "Now it's MY turn!" What did he do next? You would have to read the next comic to find out how he handled those creeps – and, of course, who could turn down such an offer? Soon, X-Men was America's top-selling comic book, and Wolverine was polled as Marvel's most popular character, the guy you can really depend on when the going gets tough. That cliffhanger was frequently imitated – on the comics and on TV. (Memorable example: The famous cliffhanger in Buffy, in which Giles appears as the last hope against the seemingly unstoppable Willow.)

6. The end of the universe

Crisis on Infinite Earths #4, 1985

DC Comics decided to reboot their whole universe (and improve their sales) in Crisis on Infinite Earths, a series in which the universe (in fact, several parallel universes) were being wiped out by a mysterious wave of anti-matter. The story was meant to last for 12 issues, but in the final pages of the fourth issue, the universe is clearly erased from existence. The final words: "To be continued --?" Of course, they were saved, and a new universe was forged from the wreckage. (This universe lasted until 2011, when the world was reset yet again. Once more, starting afresh was good for sales.)

7. "I did it 35 minutes ago."

Watchmen #11, 1987

Many consider Alan Moore's super-hero series Watchmen to be the greatest super-hero comic ever. It certainly ranks among the most intellectual, discussed in university courses and even appearing (as a graphic novel) among the New York Times bestsellers. Fittingly, the main "villain" (though it's too simple to call him that) was Ozymandias, a former super-hero. While he wasn't as strong as some others, he had a far more dangerous power: super-genius. In one issue, in his hideout in Antarctica, he revealed to some of his former allies that he had created an "alien being" that he planned to teleport into Manhattan, killing half of the city in the process. It was a classic situation: a bad guy gloating about his terrible plan to the heroes, so they have time to stop him. "When were you planning to do it?" asks Nite Owl. But that's where it gets interesting: "Do you seriously think I'd explain my MASTERSTROKE if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its OUTCOME?" says Ozymandias calmly. "I did it thirty-five minutes ago." In the next issue, half of New York was destroyed (a scene that was changed slightly for the film), and it was clear that Watchmen was not your average super-hero comic.

8. "Can he possibly be alive?"

Batman #427, 1988

DC Comics wasn't sure about Jason Todd, a.k.a. Robin. Since ha had become Batman's sidekick (to replace Dick Grayson, the original Robin), he had not been popular, so they tried something new: they left his fate to the readers. Writer Jim Starlin and artist Jim Aparo prepared two stories for publication – one in which he was killed by a bomb, one in which he survived – depending on the readers' votes. Result: he was killed. In 2005, the hit TV show Law & Order took DC's lead, using audience votes to determine the fate of child killer Nicole Wallace (Olivia D'Abo). Though she was a villain, the viewers spared her life. Robin, one of the good guys, was executed by comic book readers. Perhaps Batman fans are more bloodthirsty than Law & Order fans? Whatever the case, Robin returned to life years later (as super-heroes tend to do), so the readers' dastardly plot was foiled after all.

9. Clark Kent reveals his identity

Action Comics #662, 1991

One of the essential parts of the Superman legend is that few people know that he is Clark Kent – not even the woman he loves. Even 54 years later (in reality, not in the comic book world), with Lois Lane finally engaged to Clark, she was still unaware of his double life. On the final page of one comic, however, he revealed the truth to a startled Lois, leaving us to wonder "How will she take it?" She was surprisingly happy to find that her fiancé was actually Superman. Readers took slightly longer to get over their shock – and the proof that even Superman, after all these decades, can still try something new.

10. Unmasked

Thunderbolts #1, 1997

With other Marvel super-heroes presumed dead, the Thunderbolts were introduced as a new team to fill the gap. Soon they had their own comic, promoting them as "all-new heroes" and "the next Avengers." But at the end of the first issue, after a successful day's crime-fighting, their patriotic leader Citizen V revealed in the privacy of their HQ that he was actually Baron Zemo, a Nazi villain from the Captain America comics. His teammates were also revealed: members of the Masters of Evil, who had fought the Avengers on many occasions. Their plan: win everyone's trust (which they were already doing), then rule the world. It was considered one of the great twists in comics. Of course, the real heroes returned soon enough, and Zemo was defeated (though some of his pals liked playing hero so much that they changed sides).

*

Thanks to commenter Kendall for pointing out the error in the Master Planner Saga issue numbers! #38 was great, but it was no #33.

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Hot Pie From Game of Thrones Opened a Real-Life Bakery in London
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Deliveroo

Ben Hawkey is best known for playing Hot Pie, Arya Stark’s Direwolf bread-baking companion on Games of Thrones. The actor recently got the chance to demonstrate his baking skills in the real world with the opening of You Know Nothing John Dough, a pop-up London bakery inspired by the HBO series.

A venture between Hawkey and the UK-based food delivery service Deliveroo, You Know Nothing John Dough launched for Deliveroo members on July 17, to coincide with the series' seventh season premiere. The menu consisted entirely of Direwolf-shaped loaves made with whole wheat cornbread and orange zest. According to Digital Spy, the treats were meant to be eaten warm with soft butter.

Dire wolf loaves on a cookie sheet.
Deliveroo

"It's brilliant that we have been able to help Ben realize his dream of opening a real-world bakery, bringing a classic piece of on-screen cuisine to the real world," a spokesperson for Deliveroo told Digital Spy of the culinary collaboration.

Ben Hawkey holds tray of Dire Wolf bread.
Deliveroo

Fans snatched the treats up quickly, which was no surprise considering that they were selling for just £1 (about $1.30) a pop. That’s a bargain compared to some Game of Thrones-themed desserts. While the bakery was meant as a one-time tie-in to the new season premiere, don't be surprised to see it pop up again; you can keep an eye on its Deliveroo page here.

[h/t Digital Spy]

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© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
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10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite
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© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that last year Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. Here are 10 sweet facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. DEB IS BASED ON JERUSHA HESS.

Jared Hess’ wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.’” 

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. “The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me,” she told Rolling Stone. “Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before.”

2. NAPOLEON'S FAMOUS DANCE SCENE MANIFESTED FROM THE SHORT FILM.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.” 

Heder told The Huffington Post he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt “pressure” to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. FANS STILL FLOCK TO PRESTON, IDAHO TO TOUR THE MOVIE’S LOCATIONS.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. IDAHO ADOPTED A RESOLUTION COMMENDING THE FILMMAKERS.

Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. NAPOLEON WAS A DIFFERENT KIND OF NERD. 

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told The Huffington Post. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. THE TITLE SEQUENCE FEATURED SEVERAL DIFFERENT SETS OF HANDS.

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. THE MOVIE MESSED UP NETFLIX’S ALGORITHMS.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. NAPOLEON ACCIDENTLY GOT A BAD PERM.

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LAFAWNDUH’S REAL-LIFE FAMILY STARRED IN THE MOVIE.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A SHORT-LIVED ANIMATED SERIES ACTED AS A SEQUEL.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

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