The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Gargoyles Vs Batman the Animated Series

This is a post that I have had requested for a long time now. Frankly, I was very reluctant to write this one. I still am. With each key I press, I am tempted to just hit back and cancel the entry entirely. But, that would be the easy way out. People wanted to know why I like "Gargoyles" better than "Batman the Animated Series" so, I'm going to say why.

I suppose I will preface this by saying what this entry is not. It is not an argument about the superiority of one show, and the inferiority of the other. Objectively, both of these shows were the pinnacle of action drama animation in the 90's. Maybe still today. As a critic, I cannot weigh one against the other because they were both at the top of their game. They were certainly better than anything the rest of the competition was throwing out there at the time, especially Marvel.

Now, when I say "Gargoyles," it should go without saying that I mean the first sixty-five episodes and not the terrible "Goliath Chronicles." And when I say "Batman the Animated Series" I mean only "Batman the Animated Series" and not the disappointing "New Batman Adventures." No, I mean the classics. So, I think I'll break this up into a few distinct categories.

And one more caveat, yes I know that without "Batman the Animated Series," we likely wouldn't have gotten "Gargoyles." The success of "Batman" made Disney confident enough to try an action drama. I am grateful we have both shows and love them both. But that doesn't mean I can't like the one that came next better.

Please keep in mind, this one is entirely subjective, and not meant to be a critical swipe at any show. I know I write a lot of critical swipes, but this one isn't in the same category. In other words, this is the opposite of my "Terminator vs T2" post.

Voice Acting

I would say both shows are dead even here. Jamie Thomason and Andrea Romano are both star voice directors, and deserve all the praise they get. I think Romano gets more praise than Thomason, but many of Jamie's projects have not quite made the splash that Andrea's have.

I would say that Kevin Conroy as Batman and Keith David as Goliath are equally iconic at this point. Both are breathtaking performances that deserve even more accolades than they have been given. Likewise Marina Sirtis as Demona is every bit the revelation that Mark Hamill's Joker was. Both were known for playing goody two-shoes in the two biggest sci-fi institutions in pop culture... and it was fun to hear just how evil they could get.

Everyone was well cast in both shows, I cannot think of a single misfire off the top of my head. Both shows had David Warner turn in marvelous performances. Both shows made sure that their characters sounded like real people instead of cartoon characters.

I think this category is an honorable draw.

The Score

I love the music in both shows. Shirley Walker and Carl Johnson are geniuses. Both soundtracks are very distinctive and fit the mood of their shows so well. But, I'm going to give Batman the edge on this one. This has nothing to do with the quality so much as Warner Bros ponied up the dough to have each episode individually scored and "Gargoyles" did not have that luxury. Batman wins.

Art & Animation

At their best, both of these shows are gorgeous to look at. The character models, the colors, the way the mood comes off in just the art. Breathtaking.

I love Batman's art deco look, I love how the darkness reflects the nightmarish metropolis that is Gotham City. But I also love the colors in Goliath's Manhattan. While there is darkness and evil in his Manhattan, there is also beauty and hope.

The character models on both shows are also more streamlined than, let's say X-Men where all those animators had to keep drawing Wolverine's body hair over and over again. Both "Gargoyles" and "Batman" allowed for fluid movement and animation. They understood what action shows of the 80's clearly did not. They were both great. But, personal preferences come in and I think the character models on "Gargoyles" were a little easier on the eyes.

How about the animation itself, well both shows looked bad when animated by their worst studios. That being said, the best animated episodes of "Gargoyles" looked better than the best animated episodes of "Batman." Of course, the worst animated episodes of "Gargoyles" also looked worse than the worst animated episodes of "Batman". But, still, watch any episode animated by Walt Disney Television Japan, they were just gorgeous... just a couple of steps away from a feature film.

It's close, but I'm giving the point to "Gargoyles."

Writing & Storytelling

Quality wise, I'd say the writing skills on both shows were pretty dead even. Not surprising as they both had Michael Reaves and Brynne Chandler on their writing staffs. I cannot think of a single thing wrong with the writing on either show. Neither talked down to their audience. Both took their audiences seriously and made sure they could be something that both kids and adults could and would get something out of.

I think "Batman" had a few more clunkers than "Gargoyles." I don't even need to mention "I've Got Batman In My Basement," "The Terrible Trio," "Prophesy of Doom" or, well... thank god, Alan Burnett came on board. Not that "Gargoyles" didn't have episodes I didn't care for. I still don't care for "Mark of the Panther," "New Olympians" or "Bushido" all that much (although the latter did give us Yama in "Bad Guys").

Now we come to storytelling, and this one boils down to one thing. Do you prefer serialized storytelling, or stand alones?

Batman was written so that each episode would be a twenty minute movie. It begins, it middles, it ends. It tells one single story within it's time frame and then it moves on. Aside from villain first appearances, you can pretty much watch any episode in any order and not miss a thing. It also helps that most of these mini-movies were pretty damn good.

"Gargoyles" on the other hand was weaving a tapestry and creating a myth. You had to stick with it, or else you would be lost. The plot developed and unfolded throughout each episode, and characters developed, grew and changed. It was very rich, and very deep, and everything mattered and was of consequence. Batman's method is much more casual viewer friendly, and much more easily accessible. But I won't lie, my preference in storytelling styles has always been towards serialized mythologies. It requires more of a viewer investment, but I get way, way more out of it.

The characters in "Batman" are, unfortunately, products more than characters. DC and Warner Bros has a vested interest in not pushing them too far out of their box, Joker is never going to stop being the Joker. Talia is never going to make a permanent choice between her father and her beloved. Catwoman and Batman will always have the same relationship. Even Harley Quinn will never come out of her "Mistah J" shaped box. Harvey Dent will never be cured. The cast of "Gargoyles" on the other hand were always developing, alliances shifted, friends became enemies, enemies became allies... and I think that's so much more real.

"Gargoyles" wins this category.

Overall

I'm still tempted to just delete this entry, but I came this far.

Which is more impressive? Adapting decades and decades of comic book stories with the benefit of hindsight or creating a new and original universe from scratch? Well... I'd say both are pretty close. Again, look at Marvel's animation output of the 90's and you can see they were just throwing stuff at the screen without examining what worked and didn't work about them.

Which show is better? I don't know. But I like "Gargoyles" better, for all the reasons stated above... and many, much more personal reasons. I'm friends with Greg Weisman, I've compared bling and smoked Cuban cigars with Keith David, I've dined with Marina Sirtis, and I (along with several others) share a tattoo with Thom Adcox.

I think both shows have their legacies, although Batman has cast a much, much, much larger shadow... especially animation wise. I think "Gargoyles" shadow was cast on bringing overriding mythologies and character development to the world of animation. I also tend to think that if "Gargoyles" got half the corporate support from Disney that Warner Bros gave Batman, we would have seen the same kind of legacy with all the sequels and spin-offs and direct to videos. Either way, the world of TV animation is much richer for having both in them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Terminator vs T2



I watched "The Terminator" last night. It has to have been many years since I last saw this, and I'm going to say something which I know will provoke a reaction, but I have always felt this way, and more so after last night. Anyone who thinks "Terminator 2" is better is wrong. This isn't even one being slightly better than the other, this is a HUGE drop in quality. Huge!

"The Terminator" has the superior script, the superior story. Sarah Connor is the superior protagonist. John Connor works better as an idea than as a character. We got to see her grow from this waitress into the mother of humanity's savior.

The imagery, the characters, the way they deliver the exposition, the love story, the score, the performances, the animatronics, the guerrilla filmmaking that was involved. Cameron was very passionate about this film and it shows.

The second movie, good god, the second movie is a train wreck. Oh, and before I proceed further, if you are going to comment with "well, at least it's better than T3 or Salvation" don't comment at all. "It could have been worse" is not any kind of defense. Think about this argument for a moment, it's like saying one should be grateful for the stench of a garbage dump because the stench of a septic tank is even worse.

The second one is a cartoon. It's an R-rated kids' movie. And I think that's part of why so many people of a certain age prefer it. The dreaded nostalgia goggles. For an entire generation, it's one of the very first R-rated movies they saw. And it's an R-rated toy commercial! That's exactly what it is, an R-rated toy commercial.

Now, I've heard it before "John Connor is supposed to be annoying, he's a teenager." Yes, but is this a story that really needs to be seen? Did we need to see Darth Vader as a nine year old kid? John Connor works best as an idea, not an on screen character.

The T-1000, I don't care if it redefined special effects and was a technical achievement, it was no where near as frightening a villain as the cold, merciless, emotionless cyborg from the first movie. Not even close. It felt more like your standard movie psycho, and I know it was mimicking emotions and not actually feeling them, but a more powerful robot and a better special effect don't make for a better storytelling device. Everything about the original was better.

The one liners... oh god, don't get me started on "No problemo, " "Hasta la vista, baby" and all that other crap. Making the Terminator a hero is about as asinine as making the Alien a hero. Or making the Predator a hero.

Finally, and the second movie took all the rules set up in the first movie about time travel and threw them straight out the window. The first movie was a clear example of closed loop time travel, you cannot change history. You can only fulfill it. Reese goes back in time and fathers John Connor with Sarah Connor because he always did and always will. We even see the picture he had of her before he traveled through time get taken at the very end of the movie. The second movie decides all on its own that you can change history, that history is mutable... which is a complete changing of the rules as previously established. First of all, Skynet was already defeated and sent one and only one Terminator through before it's defeat... so where did the second one come from? Not to mention the end of T2 where they managed to prevent Skynet from being created in the first place. Prevented Judgement Day... though according to T3 logic, Judgement Day was only delayed... but you know what, either way it's still changing the rules. It's a colossal cheat.

"The Terminator" is a great movie that never needed a sequel, and we'd have been better off without a sequel. The second is a drop in quality so drastic that I'm going to make this analogy and I am going to mean it. "The Terminator" is "The Empire Strikes Back" and T2 is "The Phantom Menace." The sequel was an R-rated toy commercial, nothing more.

EDIT: As my friend, Rob pointed out elsewhere: Another way Cameron breaks his own rules is that in the first movie, the android can go back in time because it's covered by organic tissue. There's nothing organic about the T-1000.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How To Talk to a Decepticon Revisionist (If You Must)





Myth: The Decepticons are justified in attacking Earth because humans are lesser beings and the Decepticons need resources.

Fact: If this is true, then you think that white people were justified in taking their big ships over to Africa and enslaving the darker-skinned inhabitants.

Myth: The Decepticons are all loyal comrades to each other.

Fact: -Starscream tried to overthrow Megatron many times, and failed.
-Shockwave overthrew Megatron and succeeded.
-Shockwave and Scorponok fought a Decepticon civil war for leadership.
-Swindle sold off his comrades for spare parts.
-Cyclonus thought the non-Unicronian Decepticons made "excellent gun fodder."

Myth: Decepticons are oppressed by the Autobots.

Fact: When you behave like asshole imperialists with god complexes, don't be surprised when the rest of the world doesn't want you to have a military again. I'm looking at you, Germany!

Myth: G1 Megatron gave two shits about his troops.

Fact: "Warriors are expendable, the important thing is that I get what I deserve!" -Megatron,, "The Immobilizer."

Or

"A warrior doesn't need a head, just a good, strong body." from "War Dawn."

Myth: G1 Megatron was a competant tactician!

Fact: BWAHAHAHAHAHHA!!!! Oh wait, you're serious. Permit me to laugh harder.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How To Talk to a Demona Revisionist (If You Must)

Author's Note: I haven't watched much in the way of movies or TV lately, and haven't much to blog about. This entry is definitely filler. But I wanted to post something, and this is a topic near and dear to me.


Myth: Demona is a well intentioned extremist. She has very good reasons to want to destroy humanity!

Fact: Demona is not trying to destroy humanity just because she wants to save her kind. That's the cover story and what she's convinced herself. But really, humanity is her scapegoat. She knows, deep inside, she fucked up. But she won't ever admit it.

"What have I... what have they done to you."

Myth: Demona isn't power hungry!

Fact: Actually, she is. We have seen this played out a few times. For one thing, even back in 984, she was encouraging Goliath to take control of the clan from Hudson (very Lady Macbeth). She also learned sorcery because it was a key to power.

And, of course, what she said to her younger self in "Vows" "Rule the gargoyles, rule the world." and in "Hunter's Moon:" "I will take my rightful place."

Make no mistake, when humanity is gone, she wants to be on top of the pecking order.

Myth: But what about Angela? That's proof Demona is a loving teddy bear!

Fact: Yes, she does love Angela. But does she respect Angela? I think the answer is definitely no. If anything, Angela's existence is going to be Demona's new justification for all her actions. Her new excuse. Remember, the next time they saw each other in "Hunter's Moon," she was going to commit mass genocide and she cited Angela as one of her motivations.

"The spell will protect me, my daughter and my kind from the plague."

Notice how she still put herself first.

Myth: She lives in a beautiful home called Destine Manor.

Fact: There is no Destine Manor. I don't know where that name came from, but it crops up a lot, and it's definitely not canon. And it's most definitely not a manor. It's a townhouse in Gramercy Park. Not an estate!

Myth: Demona's pissed off because she's horny.

Fact: This justification is beyond brain dead.

Myth: You're just locked into a two-dimensional view of things? Why can't a hug from Angela, or interacting with humans change her?

Fact: Re-read all of the above. She is a very three dimensional character, and that's why I love her. But her shade of gray is very, very dark.

Myth: But she is an anti-villain! Maybe even an anti-hero, not a true villain!

Fact: Demona is actually not an example of the anti-villain trope, but a big point is made about how she thinks she's a clear-cut well-intentioned extremist, when she isn't. It's like we've got this rather juvenile concept, that just because a character doesn't sit atop a throne of skulls or occasionally shows genuine human emotion now and then they can't be "really bad." The truth of the matter is that Hitler really did love kids.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Unfortunate Implications in the Knights of Justice


I hate this cartoon. I hated it when it originally aired and I was a kid. It was just terribly lame. But tonight, while bored, my brother and I discovered that this was on Netflix and watched the two-part pilot. It was even worse than I remembered it. I could go on about the characters all shooting missiles at each other, dragons popping out of shields, and outright saying that football players are better than knights, and the outright racism. If I ever do a full review, and I have something different planned for this one, I'll get into all of these things. But for now, I want to talk about what struck me the most.

Okay, the premise is that Morgana le Fay imprisoned the real King Arthur and his knights somewhere, and she and her army of warlords are rampaging across the kingdom, laying siege to Camelot, and they kidnap Guinevere. So Merlin reaches into the future and abducts a team of football players and they become the new King Arthur and knights of the Round Table. Their first mission is to rescue Guinevere from Morgana's dungeons. Okay, so this football player, a guy from Connecticut (cute, very cute) with a crew cut named Arthur King (lame!) is supposedly the spitting image of King Arthur, and the rest of them all look like the knights. Even though they have two black guys and one Asian guy.

So, Merlin shows them a magical image of Guinevere to inspire them, and he shows it like he's an Amsterdam pimp modeling his prostitutes. I thought I was seeing things, but as the show progressed it got creepier and creepier. So they rescue Guinevere, and she thinks the guy is her husband and writes off his changed behavior as the result of his war experiences.... he's partying like a 20th century jock!

Merlin then trots out what he calls "cheerleaders" for the other knights, one for each. Again, like a pimp! And it becomes very clear that this fake Arthur is going to go have sex with Guinevere, even though he's not her husband, he knows he's not her husband, and he knows she has no clue. Her actual husband is imprisoned somewhere.

Ahem, rape by deception is still rape. Now, I can sort of buy this from Merlin, he did help Uther Pendragon rape Duke Gorlois of Cornwall's wife, Igraine, in order to sire Arthur in the first place. But, here's the thing, Uther is not the hero of the story. This show is telling kids to look up to an athlete who rapes a woman. Seriously, that's what this show is doing!



This raises another question. One of these knights, named Lance, looks like Sir Lancelot too, and for all intents and purposes is Sir Lancelot. Is he boning Guinevere too? He certainly leered at her in these two episodes enough... but then, all the "knights" did. So Guinevere is married to King Arthur, cheating on him with Lancelot, being raped by Arthur King, and cheating on Arthur King while she is being raped by Lance.

You know. For kids!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man Trailer


Hmmm…. maybe I am going to be sold on this one.

It’s nice to see Gwen Stacy in this. Let’s be honest, Gwen was in all three Raimi movies. They just gave her red hair and slapped the name Mary Jane Watson on her. Then MJ showed up for a little bit in the third movie, but with her hair bleached.

Spider-Man is actually funny. Grant he mumbles a lot, but I like this guy better than Maguire already. Toby can act, but he had maybe a little more charisma than Hayden Christensen.

Lizard is looking better. Not a fan of the design. But better. I still wish he had the lab coat and a snout.

I am sure that, if George Stacy survives this movie, he’ll become Spidey’s supporter among the police.

Am I in love with what I’m seeing? No. I still don’t like the costume. But while the Raimi trilogy had a more faithful costume, they took a lot more liberty with the characters. This is taking a lot more liberties with costumes and look, but seems to be a lot more faithful to the characters. And that always wins with me.

If they introduce MJ, and at some point either in this movie or the next, they will…. I am expecting that classic introduction.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Call Me An Enthusiast

Because I cannot wait to purchase this once it hits this side of the Pacific.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Hell?

Wow, they managed to make a trailer for "The Phantom Menace" that's even worse than the movie itself.



How do you do that? How!

Now, I know some of you Lucas Apologists reading this will say "Star Wars" was always for children, and fair point. But the prequels are among the worst cases of dumbing down a product for the youth that I have ever seen. "Batman the Animated Series" and "Gargoyles" didn't dumb themselves down for anyone. And, once upon a time, neither did Star Wars.







Now that's podracing!

Yipee!

Meesa sorry!