Category: Cartoons

Cheap DVD's: The Real Ghostbusters, vol 1

So I happened to notice, the other day, that The Real Ghostbusters, vol 1 (affiliate link) was on sale at Amazon for $10.49.

You can also get the complete series for $123.99, which is a screamin' deal if you actually want the full run. But I remember that even at the age of 6 I wasn't too impressed by the season 3 rejiggering of the show, and there's not much sense paying extra for 43 episodes I don't want.

I've watched the first few episodes, and man, it mostly still holds up, but Slimer sure is annoying. To the point where I am beginning to understand why people actually hate this show.

I wouldn't go that far -- I quite like it in fact -- but I can understand it. Slimer is one of those obnoxious comic-relief mascot characters who constantly fucks everything up and yet you're supposed to like him anyway. (He makes me think of Red Foreman's line on That 70's Show: "Gilligan screwed it up. Why don't they just kill him?")

On the other hand, Frank Welker does a great voice for him (which he'd later reuse as Nibbler on Futurama).

Also: The first episode features a group of imposter Ghostbusters. Wonder if that's another deliberate knock against Filmation's Ghostbusters cartoon series, like the show's title, The Real Ghostbusters.

Some other initial thoughts:

  • Good: If you can get over the characters looking nothing like the live-action versions, the designs are pretty great; each one clearly distinct in shape and color. I noticed Dan Riba's name in the credits; he went on to be a prominent artist in DC's animated shows.
  • Good: Great cast, including Frank Welker as Slimer and Ray, Mo LaMarche doing an uncanny Harold Ramis, Arsenio Hall inexplicably getting the part of Winston despite Ernie Hudson auditioning for it, and Lorenzo Music as Garfield.
  • Good: The animation is better than the vast majority of the show's contemporaries...
  • Bad: ...most of the time, but it can get pretty inconsistent.
  • Bad: Slimer. Mostly.
  • Good: But not always. Sometimes Slimer is good, and again, Welker's voice is a delight.
  • Good: The writing. I haven't liked everything J Michael Straczynski has ever written, but this show is solid. It does a good job of expanding the universe from the movie and creating a satisfying world of supernatural weirdness.
  • Good: Thirty episodes for under eleven bucks!

Cheap DVD's: Earthworm Jim

I was perusing Amazon the other day and, under my recommendations, I noticed that it listed Earthworm Jim: The Complete Series (affiliate link). As EWJ is easily one of my two favorite 1990's animated video game adaptations to feature Kath Soucie as a redheaded princess and Jim Cummings as the bad guy, I went ahead and ordered it.

Initial Impressions

The Good:

  • Good animation
  • Great cast
  • Still funny
  • All 23 episodes for only eleven bucks
  • Way better quality than that torrent you grabbed a few years ago that somebody made from old VHS tapes

The Bad:

  • Totally barebones; no special features or even scene selection.
  • If you buy this, part of that money probably goes to Doug TenNapel.

Edna

There's no new Simpsons tonight, so, in honor of the late, great Marcia Wallace, might I recommend breaking out your DVD collection and watching one of these classic Edna Krabappel episodes:

Bart the Lover, Season 3

If there's a better Mrs. K episode, I can't think of one. This shows Edna at her most complex and human -- and Bart too, for that matter. Wallace won an Emmy for this one.

Bart Gets an F, Season 2

And speaking of emotions we don't often see from Bart, the climax of this one -- where he breaks down in tears on finding that he failed his test despite really trying his hardest this time -- shows us a seldom-seen side of both characters, without giving in too much to sentimentality. I love Mrs. K's attempt to comfort Bart -- "I would have thought you'd be used to it by now!" could so easily have come across as sarcastic, but Wallace chooses to read it as a gentle, tender statement. Now that's comedy.

The PTA Disbands, Season 6

So many classic moments in this episode purple monkey dishwasher. It's Simpsons at its satirical finest, highlighting the conflict between teachers and administration, the public's simultaneous desire for better schools and lower taxes, and the terrifying reality that if you pick up some random person off the street, they'll be a worse teacher than Miss Hoover or Mrs. Krabappel. And the resolution is so ludicrous that it can only serve to hang a lampshade on how intractable these issues really are.

Grade School Confidential, Season 8

Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and the baby looked at me.

The Ned-Liest Catch, Season 22

Say what you will about modern-era Simpsons, pairing off Ned with Edna was a rare and legitimately pleasant surprise. It's not the sort of thing I would ever have seen coming, but it makes its own unexpected kind of sense -- two characters who have seemingly nothing in common but their loneliness, but who complement each other so thoroughly and who can each stand to learn so much from the other. This episode highlights how difficult those differences can be, and they almost don't make it as a couple -- but, thanks to an Internet vote, they stay together.

Marvel's Statement of Purpose

I'm in the home stretch of Sean Howe's excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, and this quote from the beginning of chapter 17, I think, sums up what's wrong with the company in a nutshell:

The Los Angeles Times, CNN, and USA Today all chimed in about Liefeld, Lee, McFarlane, and the other renegade artists who were standing up to big business. In response, Marvel president Terry Stewart made a statement that "the importance of the creative people is still secondary to the (comic book) characters," a stance that hardly discouraged Marvel's new image as a corporate overlord.

(Brackets in original.)

Howe comes back to this point in chapter 19:

In June 1994, Frank Miller paid tribute to Jack Kirby, delivering a keynote speech at an industry seminar in Baltimore. [...]

Marvel Comics is trying to sell you all on the notion that characters are the only important component of its comics. As if nobody had to create these characters, as if the audience is so brain-dead they can't tell a good job from a bad one. You can almost forgive them this, since their characters aren't leaving in droves like the talent is. For me it's a bit of a relief to finally see the old "work-made-for-hire talent don't matter" mentality put to the test. We've all seen the results, and they don't even seem to be rearranging the deck chairs.

Creators who complained about defections to Image and other companies, he continued, were "like galley slaves complaining that the boat is leaking." The age of company-owned superhero universes -- the Jack Kirby age -- was over. "It's gone supernova and burned itself out, and begun a slow steady collapse into a black hole. We couldn't feed off the genius of Jack Kirby forever. The King is dead, and he has no successor. We will not see his like again. No single artist can replace him. No art form can be expected to be gifted with more than one talent as brilliant as his. It's a scary time because change is always scary. But all the pieces are in place for a new proud era, a new age of comics. Nothing's standing in our way, nothing too big and awful, nothing except some old bad habits and our own fears, and we won't let that stop us."

The crowd rose to its feet.

(Ellipsis mine.)

Miller was right in some ways and wrong in others.

The bottom fell out of the market soon after, for both Marvel and Image. Jim Lee is now one of the Editors in Chief at DC; McFarlane and Liefeld have become punchlines (and so, for that matter, has Miller). Post-bankruptcy Marvel has done a pretty damn good job feeding off the genius of Jack Kirby -- in films. As for the comics, well, they're selling decently enough but are, at this point, largely the R&D branch for upcoming Disney movies.

Marvel still believes the creative people are secondary (and that's giving them the benefit of the doubt). Marvel is wrong.

Yes, Iron Man is more popular now than he was during Jack Kirby or Don Heck's lifetime. That's not just because Iron Man's a great character -- though I happen to think he is --, it's because of Robert Downey Jr, and Jon Favreau, and Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges.

When you think the characters are primary and the creative people secondary, you get a film like Daredevil. Or, at best, Fantastic Four. Compare the numbers -- and you'll forgive me from switching over to DC for this, but they've got a much longer history of film franchises -- compare the numbers from Batman and Robin to the numbers from The Dark Knight, or the numbers from Superman Returns to the numbers from Man of Steel, and tell me that the characters are more important than the creative people.

And that, of course, is just looking at it from a mercenary standpoint -- because really, that's what Marvel as a company cares about. That's not even getting into quality. My unsurprising opinion is that you're a lot likelier to get a high-quality film or comic when you've got high-quality creative people working on it.

And Marvel's policy of treating its characters as primary and their creators as secondary has resulted in fewer and fewer original characters added to its stable. Sure, lots of creative people still love to play in Marvel's sandbox -- and then save their original ideas for creator-owned work.

Take a look at the characters who've starred in films or TV shows over the past couple of decades. Superman and Batman are from the 1930's. Green Arrow and Captain America are from the 1940's. The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Daredevil, and the Avengers are from the 1960's. The X-Men are also from the 1960's, though their most popular character, Wolverine, is from the 1970's. Blade, Ghost Rider, and Swamp Thing are from the 1970's too (and so is Howard the Duck, if you really want to bring that up). The New Teen Titans, Elektra, the Tick, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Mystery Men are from the 1980's. Static, Spawn, Hellboy, and the Men in Black are from the 1990's. The Walking Dead started in 2003, Kick-Ass in 2008.

It's not an exhaustive list (see Nat Gertler for that), but it's an eye-opening one. Marvel and DC have a strong library of characters -- from decades ago. Most of the successful new characters, though, are creator-owned.

But hey -- Disney's biggest franchises are already from the 1920's to the 1950's (and many of them are based on public-domain material that's a lot older than that). Disney doesn't need to create new product. When the copyrights to the first Mickey Mouse cartoons come close to expiring, Disney can bribe Congress to extend them. If Disney needs to add new material to its portfolio, it can buy a company like Pixar or Marvel.

And as Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm and, to a lesser extent, Viacom's purchase of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, shows, even the most successful creator-owners eventually want to retire and are willing to part with their works.

Star Wars -- hm. Maybe I have found an example where the characters are more important than the creator.

Course, that's just because he was ripping off Jack Kirby.

Hank is Dr. Venture's Greatest Triumph.

Spoilers for the Venture Bros. season finale follow.

I read the Zack Handlen's review of The Devil's Grip at AV Club, and these bits stuck out to me:

[...I]f part of this season has been seeing how Dean deals with the fall-out of learning his super science origins, just as important has been realizing that Hank’s goofy enthusiasm actually puts him far ahead of nearly everyone else on the show. In many ways, Dean’s mopiness and stress are easier to relate to, as they seem like the only sane response to the Venture-verse. [...] But sinking into despair, and dwelling on the inconvenience and humiliation, isn’t going to change things.

[...W]hile the Ventures and friends are holding a funeral for Dr. Entmann at the Venture compound, Dean finally breaks down and tells Hank that they’re both clones. To Dean, this knowledge is painful, confirming his deepest, darkest fears about his own validity and place in the world. To Hank: “That is awesome.” While it’s not always possible to find the bright side of things, Hank’s optimism is a healthy, even enlightened way to approach the world. For a long time, Hank Venture looked like the dumb part of the Venture equation, a nice kid whose failure to fully grasp what was happening around him kept him in a perpetual state of Pollyanna-ish bliss. But the truth is, he knows what’s going down, and while sometimes it upsets him, he’s still doing his best to have the time of his life.

This recalls last season, when Hank, hurt that his father was ignoring him to groom Dean as his successor, staged a phony kidnapping to ask him why.

Rusty, in a moment of candor, responded that Hank is too much like him -- he doesn't want the pressure of living in his father's shadow, isn't cut out for the lofty expectations everyone's set for him. Rusty has chosen to give Dean his burden -- and to spare Hank from it.

And we've seen that dynamic playing out. Dean has spent this season wracked with existential dread at finding out that he's literally not the person he thought he was. Hank, on the other hand, knows exactly who he is -- and so he's a clone besides? Well, how cool is that? As far as he's concerned, that makes him more unique, not less.

And Dean smiles.

Like Hatred's disarmingly perfect advice, earlier in the season, that he's the best Dean there is, only moreso, this was exactly what Dean needed to hear. And I'd like to think this is going to be the beginning of him coming out of his funk and becoming -- well, not the same old Dean we knew before, because that would be boring and that's not what this show is about. But to grow and change and maybe even someday become a well-adjusted adult.

Hank's already well on his way there. And he'll be there to help his brother along, because that's what brothers do.

The Venture Bros. is a show about failure. And Dr. Venture, more than anyone else, is a failure. His greatest joys come from willful ignorance and self-delusion.

But amid everything that's gone wrong in his life, he's raised a son who's turned out pretty well, and who's on his way to helping the other son turn out pretty well too.

Course, the fact that his greatest contribution to Hank's success was leaving him the fuck alone to figure out his own way carries its own little ironic sting. But even that took a kind of melancholy self-awareness that Doc shows only at his most vulnerable, a level of empathy he's never shown anyone else before or since, and, for once in Doc's life, was exactly the right choice.

Bender's Back, Baby!

"Guess this is your lucky day, Pimparoo."

That would have been my one-sentence reaction to the returning Futurama, but then the third act happened. (I haven't watched Fry and Leela's Big Fling yet, just 2-D Blacktop.)

There are a lot of great Futurama episodes. The best have an emotional core to them -- Jurassic Bark, Luck of the Fry-rish, Godfellas. Other great episodes experiment with the format of the show -- any of the Anthology episodes, for example. (Well, I wouldn't describe the Holiday Spectacular as great, but all the rest.) Some are deftly-written time-travel stories, like Time Keeps On Slippin', Roswell that Ends Well, The Why of Fry, Bender's Big Score, and The Late Philip J Fry. Some are biting political satire, like any episode with Nixon in it. And some of them do clever things with the medium of animation -- like Reincarnation. And this one.

The Professor's hypercube was a nice touch. The Mobius strip played with the concept a little more. But the actual segment where they're caught in the Second Dimension is fucking ingenious. The writing -- the Professor explaining how everything works here -- is brilliant, and the design is even better.

This is an episode that did immensely fucking clever things with science fiction and with animation. I've never seen anything quite like it -- the closest thing I can think of is Homer3, which played on the same premise in the opposite direction.

The show's had its ups and downs. But as this just-started thirteen-episode run is the last we'll be seeing of it for awhile, it's great seeing it fire on all creative cylinders and do shit that I've never seen it or any other show do.

Also: the latest issue of the comic is legitimately great too. Zoidberg becomes unstuck in time and has to prevent a catastrophe from happening while still trying to piece together just what exactly is going on.

The Zappas on Video Games

The benefits of being a pack rat:

Sharkey posted this on his blog in...according to the date stamp, November of 2002.

I remembered it a couple days ago and I thought, you know what? I bet I don't even have to dig through old hard drives to find it. I bet my obsessive process of backing up data and copying it over from old computer to new has survived two new computers, four different Linux distributions, and I don't even know how the hell many hard drives. (I am, after all, the guy who corrupted his hard drive when he installed Windows 98 and recovered the data in 2008.)

Anyhow, I was right. Sitting right here on my current computer, after all those moves.

(And then I get to thinking, "Wait...I've only gotten two new computers in the last decade?" But then I remember no, there's also the Mac Mini I used to have hooked up to my TV and now use as a backup server, the Win7 desktop I currently have hooked up to my TV, my laptop, my phone, my tablet, and assorted old towers that have managed to pile up in my office and get used occasionally for various purposes. Plus my wife's desktop and two laptops.)

You know, just the other day my coworkers were talking about Hoarders, and I commented that the nice thing about being a digital packrat is that the data I've been holding on to for decades doesn't take up a hell of a lot of space. My comic collection, on the other hand...

Anyhow, not the point. The point is, here's Innerview: The Zappas on Video Games, by Merl H Reagle, JoyStik, January 1983. Scanned by, and from the personal collection of, Scott Sharkey, and preserved through over a decade's worth of computer migrations by packrat Thaddeus R R Boyd.

Innerview, Page 1Innerview, Page 2

Interesting, but not altogether surprising, that games were already being scapegoated by politicians and the media for juvenile delinquency as far back as 1983.

I also love the story of Frank recording the noise in an airport arcade and then listening to it on the plane. I think he also tells the story in The Real Frank Zappa Book -- that or I've been misremembering where I read it for the past decade.

(Christ. An interview from 30 years ago which I've been copying from hard drive to hard drive for one-third of that time...)

Babysitting

Not much time to write this evening as my wife and I are taking care of our two-year-old nephew. So far we've made it through a Ninja Turtles (2012), a Yo Gabba Gabba (with Weird Al!) and a Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

That's after a trip to the comic shop -- I still haven't finished the comics I bought two weeks ago, but I had to grab the new Astro City.

Nephew made a beeline for the display case with the Batman figures in it. His favorite was the Aragonés one. He's got good taste.

Go Team Venture

I just watched the season premiere of The Venture Bros.

Not only was it worth the wait -- now that June is here, I'm glad it was delayed. Because not only was it worth it, now I've got something to watch as all my other shows are wrapping up their seasons.

Venture Bros. is certainly one of the smartest, and may indeed be the best show on television.

Mark my words: the show will have the legacy of a Buffy or an MST3K: a show that seems, deceptively, like it's just a novelty, but when you scratch the surface shows that it is deceptively intelligent and truly unique. A show that, on those strengths, attracts a cult following, and in the years to come gains recognition as a treasure and a high water mark of the medium.

A decade from now there'll be college courses taught on The Venture Bros. Hell, Todd Alcott's analyses are halfway there already.

I can't think of another show that's quite so fearless in constantly evolving and changing its status quo -- and in simultaneously painting its characters in an unflattering light. One or the other, sure -- but both?

Not bad for a show that, at first blush, looked like it was just a cute little Hardy Boys/Jonny Quest spoof.

And which is still that, too -- and does a fucking great job of it.

Go, Ken, Go! -- Part 1: Sonic Fandom ca. 1996

I'd like to talk about Archie v Penders, because it fascinates the hell out of me. In fact, I've got enough to say about it that I'll be on the subject for most of the week, if not longer.

But I should probably get some disclosure out of the way first.

First of all, my feelings on creators' rights are pretty well known.

And second, I corresponded with Ken Penders for years in the mid-1990's and he was pretty cool to me.

It may be hard to remember in these days where I can just get into a political debate with Ethan van Sciver or ask Kurt Busiek about his unpublished Final Fantasy comics, but it wasn't so long ago that most people didn't have the Internet and it wasn't common for fans to connect directly, personally, and regularly with comics creators.

The first cartoonist who I ever knew to directly engage his fans online was Ken Penders. (Not the first person, and not even the first person who worked on Sonic the Hedgehog at Archie -- that honor goes to editor Paul Castiglia, who likewise was a class act -- but the first person who was actually writing, drawing, and inking the things.)

In those days, the main place where I participated in Sonic fandom was on a mailing list run by Ron Bauerle. And when I say "mailing list" I mean something less sophisticated than an automated majordomo system; I mean people E-Mailed Ron and he forwarded those E-Mails to a list of addresses, manually, with some edits and comments of his own.

Ken was kind, engaged, patient, and forthcoming. He took the credit or blame for ideas that were his, and he was entirely candid about decisions that were forced on him by Archie or Sega.

I always liked the guy, though I grant I often had a funny way of showing it. I was thirteen, fourteen years old, and behaved about like you expect an angry, entitled, teenage member of comic book fandom to behave. And Ken was always patient and polite with me (and others), even when I didn't earn it.

In my defense, there were times when he actively and transparently trolled the fans. The biggest thing that ever happened on Ron's mailing list was when one day Ken posted -- in a fake casual, "oh by the way" manner -- that he'd just written a script where he killed off Princess Sally.

He may not have deserved all the vitriol he got for that -- but he did very clearly and deliberately invite it.

(And while I remember being nastier than I should have been, I won't recant the substance of my criticism of the story -- if possible, my disdain for the "women in refrigerators" and "revolving door of death" tropes has only deepened in the intervening years. It was a terrible idea, a terrible execution, and, all right, at least the "Director's Cut" reissue of #50 shows that editorial meddling made the comic even worse than if Ken had done it the way he wanted to.)

But again, I always liked Ken -- he was a nice, friendly, forthright guy, who made time for his fans. Even when I didn't like the comics he was writing or drawing, I still liked him.

And, nontrivially, I also think he's a big part of why Archie's Sonic comic is still out there.

The mid-1990's were a weird time for Sonic fandom. The cartoon had ended, and the games were going through what would become the longest dry spell in their history.

Nobody expected, fifteen and twenty years ago, that Sonic the Hedgehog would still be running in 2013, zooming toward issue #250. (And that fact is essential to understanding the current legal disputes. It looks to me like Archie got sloppy with its paperwork, precisely because this was a licensed comic that they didn't think would last. But more on that tomorrow.)

Indeed, Ken didn't tell us at the time, but there was every possibility that the book was going to end with #50. I mean, given that the story arc was called Endgame, that should have been obvious, in hindsight.

But Ken, more than anybody else, is the guy who kept the book afloat. He's the one who took the wheel in the teens (#16?) and decided the book should depart from the slapstick roots of the Scott Shaw/Mike Gallagher/Dave Manak era and generally start to look more like the Saturday morning cartoon. He wrote more complex, character-based stories. That's how the comic attracted an audience outside its 8-to-12-year-old target, how it managed to keep its 8-to-12-year-old target, and generally the reason there's still a Sonic comic at all. Ken believed in the book, he took it seriously, he made it the best he could. It wasn't always great -- in fact, there were times it was downright lousy. But a Ken Penders story was still usually better than anything printed in the first 15 issues.

And look, I quit reading Sonic comics ages ago. People say Ian Flynn is great and I take them at their word. I definitely acknowledge the possibility that he's writing better comics than Ken ever was. I don't know.

But I am pretty confident that Ian Potto would never have gotten a job writing Sonic the Hedgehog if not for Ken Penders. Firstly, because there wouldn't have been a Sonic comic if Ken hadn't shepherded it through some of its most turbulent years, and secondly, because it was guys like Ken, Paul, and Karl Bollers who interacted directly with the fandom and created an environment where fans like Flynn and Dawn Best could actually make the step to pro.

So anyhow, that's my bias in all this. I like Ken Penders as a dude. I like a lot of what he did when he wrote and drew Sonic and Knuckles. I don't like a lot of what he did, too -- and while a lot of that's down to editorial meddling by Archie and Sega, some of it is indeed down to decisions made by Ken himself.

But that's not why I think he's right and should win the case against Archie -- indeed, when he first announced he was pursuing legal remedies I thought he must be crazy, and said so, rather rudely.

But as the facts have come out, I've found myself believing Ken isn't just morally in the right, he's legally in the right.

And that doesn't have anything to do with whether I, or anyone else, actually like him, as a person or as a writer or as an artist.

That's a point Sonic fanboys just can't seem to grasp in this case: whether or not you personally like Ken Penders's Sonic and Knuckles comics is completely irrelevant to the merits of his legal case.