Three Villainous Superman Analogues

Posted in Comic Books, Entertainment with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2010 by Brandon Melendez

Superman is the most powerful being in all of comic books. You may argue that this is a debatable topic but the end result is simple- Superman always wins. You nay-sayers may want to quote the one time he lost—The Death of Superman—but remember not only did he simultaneously defeat Doomsday, he also returned from the dead. So the collateral damage of that loss is negligible.

Superman is the symbol of American morality combined with a power-set that is simply impossible to comprehend: flight, invulnerability, ice breath, several enhanced visions (x-ray, telescopic, and heat varieties being the most common), super strength, super intellect…the list goes on ad infinitum.

This has often posed a problem for writers. How can you possibly have such a powerful character and keep him challenged? What villain could possibly give Superman—a mortal more powerful than gods (see Superman slugging Darkseid above) a run for his money? Certainly, Lex Luthor has to be given a certain amount of credit in this respect; he is and always will be Superman’s opposite number—but what I am referring to here is blow-for-blow battle. It is very difficult to keep a character interesting when he can literally swat all opposition away like flies if he so chooses.

In rectifying this problem there are generally two solutions writers have come up with over the years:

1)    Invent a character with almost no back-story with a mysterious and amazing level of strength

Or

2)    Have Superman fight some analogue of Superman.

Neither of these approaches has developed any truly challenging or long lasting adversity for the Man of Steel. To avoid going into the depressingly endless list of Superman rouges that either don’t fit these two solutions or fit the bill for solution one lets just say the cream of the crop is Mr. Mxyzptlk and “kltpzyxm” that whole discussion. (I will discuss Mr. Mxyzptlk one day: how awesome he is, how poorly he has been used, and how sad it is that I didn’t have to look up how to spell his name…but not this time around.)

As far as analogues of Superman go there are three of worthy note: Bizarro, General Zod, and The Cyborg Superman.

In order to explain these characters one has to choose their history well—as it is with all things DC Universe these characters may have origins that have changed drastically over the years, without explanation, and occasionally without reason.

The first I’ll discuss is Bizarro. Bizarro first appeared in an issue of Superboy during the 1950’s in which a scientist used a “duplicating ray” on Superboy. As all advanced technology was composed of rays and tubes in the 50’s this isn’t surprising. The character was devised to be a strange cross breed of Superboy and Frankenstein. He was later packaged and repackaged again during the Silver Age as being an “imperfect copy of Superman” eventually being reduced to his imperfect “Me no am Bizarro” style of speech. Besides having negative-Yoda syntax Bizarro also has “opposite” Superman powers…sorta. He has “freeze vision” instead of “heat vision” and “flame breath” instead of “freeze breath” or “super breath”. This is where Bizarro really starts to lose anything remotely resembling continuity. If he were to have reverse Superman powers the opposite of “flight” is “walking”, the opposite of “super hearing” is “deaf”, and the opposite of “invulnerability” is “weak as a kitten”. Also for some reason the kryptonite that effects Bizarro is blue even though the opposite color of green is red. Maybe this is where “imperfect” comes into play? So as to have the weight of “opposite” removed? There have been really great uses of Bizarro, I’m sure of it. The late 1990’s Superman show is one triumph, where as the Superfriends version is an utter fail. The best use of Bizarro in my opinion has always and will always be in the “Emperor Joker” storyline. While I will hopefully, one day, get to talking about this story in full I have to say it is one of my favorite Superman stories ever; the Joker has gained omnipotence by duping Mr. Mxyzptlk and runs amok with the entire universe. In the end though, Bizarro is a cheap laugh at best. Him is the best villain never. Or, I guess…well you get the drift—his usage is limited, his character development is impossible, and his backward “S” logo is…well that’s about all he’s got.

Next, let’s talk about General Zod. If you’ve ever seen Superman: The Movie and Superman 2 you know all about Zod and to KNEEL BEFORE ZOD. KNEEL BEFORE ZODGeneral Zod is a much better anti-Superman than Bizarro for a great variety or reasons. His characterization varies from being a Kryptonian Hitler to being a military leader concerned primarily with the protection of his people. At the end of the day both Superman and Dru-Zod (that’s his name by the way) are both holding an olive branch but while Superman will try to extend it, General Zod will use it as a switch and beat you into pudding. Most fans become familiar with General Zod, as I said before, from the start of Superman: The Movie. “You will bow down before me, Jor-El. I swear it,” these lines are burned in my mind more clearly than the pledge of allegiance, “No matter that it takes an eternity! You will bow down before me! First you! And then one day…YOUR HEIRS!” For me these are the most important lines Mario Puzo ever wrote and could have only been made better if Al Pacino were maniacally shouting them at Brando’s Jor-El. But I could also say that of the pledge of allegiance, or even the Mourner’s Kaddish—everything is better with Pacino maniacally shouting it…but I digress.

General Zod has been portrayed across several media besides the Superman movies. He has appeared in the novel “Last Days of Krypton” and, in some form, on “Smallville”. First and foremost Dru-Zod is a character from the early 1960’s and fell in and out of use. He was released from the Phantom Zone prison by Superboy but was quickly returned after he tried to…y’know…make everyone kneel before him. After the movies and DC entered the “Post-Crisis” era, Zod and his cohorts Ursa and Non were depicted as being from a pocket universe and Superman had to execute them using kryptonite which led to his vow “never to kill again” (except when he does so inadvertently, to protect his own life, or when killing sentient robots).

Recently, Zod was given quite an overhaul in the maxi series “World of New Krypton” in which 100,000 or so Kryptonians were found to be alive in the bottled city of Kandor. After all sorts of goings-on that kept them from living peacefully on Earth these Kryptonians decided to live on a planet they generated or garnered or whatever in a complete opposite orbit to Earth (see Marvel’s Counter-Earth of “Heroes Reborn” for another use of this concept). On “New Krypton” the surviving Kryptonians set up their society as it once was. Superman is drafted into the military guild and is forced to serve under its leader…that’s right Dru-Zod.

In this storyline General Zod was developed from being a one-dimensional character with meaningless and banal megalomania to being a complex and intelligent tactician with a paternal need to protect his people. This was one of the better Superman stories of the past twenty years—but only if you can cope with the fact that there are literally one hundred thousand supermen in it. The central characters are Zod and Superman as well as Superman’s aunt Alura, his cousin Supergirl, among other Kryptonians. I won’t spoil the story here but it is far more interesting to see Superman and Zod have character conflicts and not just super powered ones. By the end of the story you have a sense that Zod is not just Hitler with heat vision but a character with motivations, reason, and room to grow for future stories; but of course at the end of the day he is just an evil Superman…as evidenced as by his “evil twin” beard.

Then of course, there is the ever awesome if not poorly named “CyborgSuperman”. The Cyborg Superman is a big reason for why this article was written…but more about that later. His story starts in the early 1990’s as astronaut Hank Henshaw. Henshaw, his wife, and two compatriots go into space in a rocket ship and are effected by some kind of space radiation and start developing all sorts of abnormal side effects to that energy. If this story sounds familiar it should—its a heavy handed nod to the Fantastic Four. Except in this story things to horribly wrong. Their version of the Human Torch turns radioactive, loses his mind, and commits suicide in the sun. Their version of The Thing discorporates entirely. Henshaw’s wife phases out of this realm of reality and disappears. Henshaw’s body deteriorates and dies…but his mind lives on IN MACHINES!!! Somehow, Henshaw manages to blame the whole ordeal on Superman and vows revenge.

Some years pass and the Hank Henshaw character disappears into the open ended plot galaxy when he escapes into outerspace in some appropraited kryptonian technology. Superman dies in battle with Doomsday and four mysterious replacements show up after the funeral. One of these replacements is The Cyborg Superman who, unbeknownst to all, is actually the now villianous Hank Henshaw. Because of the kryptonian technology he adapted into his physiology all tests show that he is kryptonian. This leads to him being the “offically accepted” Superman for the United States Government.

Henshaw then calls in his alien force from Warworld with his lieutenant, Mongul, to destory Coast City. The Cyborg’s game is then relayed. He wants to tarnish Superman’s name and symbol forever and will kill all of Earth, and turn it into another Warworld at the same time. With millions dead under the banner of the House of El the other three Superman replacements along with the recently ressurrected (yet depowered) true Superman go to war with the Cyborg.

You would think this would be a set up for an amazing Superman villian for years to come but I have neglected to mention one little fact: Coast City was Green Lantern’s town. As a matter of fact the actions of Cyborg Superman in the Reign of the Supermen storyline leads to the fall of Hal Jordan. The Fall of Hal Jordan leads to the destruction of the Green Lantern Corps at the Hands of Hal Jordan, Jordan becoming possessed by the entity Parallex, attempting to destory all of time and rewrite it in his image (see Zero Hour: Crisis in Time), and the eventual undoing of all those things. Without Cyborg Superman the last sixteen years of Green Lantern stories would have NEVER happened while Superman stories would have by-and-large gone off without a hitch. This is what prompted me to write this article.

Cyborg Superman is barley worth mentioning in the Superman mythos outside of the ressurection of Superman. It is, however, arguable that until very recently with The Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night that Cyborg Superman had the more impact on the course of Green Lantern comics than any other villian. Even including the Sinestro Corps War because Henshaw was a member of the Sinestro Corps.

The success of this analogue of Superman in the arena of another superhero makes one wonder about the success of lesser chracters in Superman’s rogues gallery. Could it be that Atomic Skull is a great villian going up against unfair odds? How would he fair against Blue Beetle or even Green Arrow? Would Mr. Z or Shockwave give Firestorm a run for his money? Maybe Superman has a great rogues gallery that is just not great in comparison to the Pi-times-infinity of awesome that is Superman.

I have no doubt that most of them are not indeed great. Riot, for example, is Madrox the Multiple Man with a bad case of insomnia-induced-mania. He is defeated by sleep. I don’t even know why this character was created. It does however make you think twice about at least some of his villians. Perhaps against other heroes they may have had an impact, or at least a chance to be a quirky c-list favorite like the Mad Hatter.

At the end of the day Batman and Spider-Man have the best rogues gallery hands down— from classics like The Joker to The Green Goblin and The Penguin to Doctor Octopus along with The Riddler, The Kingpin, Bane, Venom, Hush, Sandman, Clayface and undeniably the likes Doctor Doom and Ras Al Ghul. You just can’t top them. (I don’t mention the X-Men because their foes aren’t rogues, they are most often political adversaries…its really a whole different thing with them.) By contrast Superman arguably has the worst; barring those mentioned here plus Lex Luthor, Metallo on a really good day, and Darkseid all of whom are easily derailed if not dispached—easily that is for a mortal that could smack the piss out of Zeus. But maybe they should have just stayed the fuck out of Metropolis and they would have been far more successful.

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The Boy Meets World Spin Off We Deserve

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 25, 2013 by Brandon Melendez

Nerd's Eye Boy mEets World Spin oFf

Detroit’s New Manager of Emergency Finances…..

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 3, 2013 by Brandon Melendez

nerd's eye view- detroit

I’d buy that for a dollar!

 

X Marks the Spot: Must Read X-Men Stories Part II

Posted in american studies, Cartoons, Comic Books with tags , , , , , , , on February 19, 2013 by Brandon Melendez

(This Post was originally featured at Eat Your Serial)

 

Feel like you’ve walked into the middle of a conversation? Check out the first part of X Marks the Spot!

Many people think that they know the X-Men from the movies and cartoons, but they really don’t. Any comic book fan I know gets supremely annoyed by people who have seen the X-Men movies (or any comic book movies really), and try to have a conversation with you as if they know as much from a few hours of poorly translated cinema as a lifetime fan would. But, getting that knowledge isn’t as daunting a task as one may think, nor does it take as much time as one might assume. The X-Men have one of the more intricate and complicated comic book histories, but their continuity can be accessed and understood fairly quickly at a novice level by reading a few landmark titles. Yesterday, in part one, we ran you from the late 70s up through the 1990s In part two of our X-Men hit list, we approach the must-read storylines of the early 21st Century.

New X-Men:

 

In Grant Morrison’s epic run on X-Men, many of the mainstay ideas surrounding the X-Men were dramatically altered or changed, and have mostly stuck since. This storyline hails the evolutionary leap mutants take toward becoming the dominant race on Earth, and introduces the concept of secondary mutations, such as Emma Frost’s diamond form and Beast’s cat-like appearance. It also saw the return of the Phoenix Force, the romantic relationship between Cyclops and White Queen, the first step toward Wolverine regaining his full memory, and, well…other things, but I’m trying to keep this relatively spoiler free. It also introduced fan favorite character Fantomex, and led to the revelation that the Weapon X program which gave Wolverine his unbreakable adamantium skeleton is actually pronounced “Weapon Ten.” Also in this story arc? Quentin Quire evolves into an idea, the “Magneto was Right” T-Shirt, Charles Xavier revealing to the world that he is a mutant, and Cassandra Nova (which doesn’t mean much to you now but will later). Honestly, there is a lot in this run that I haven’t mentioned, but that’s because I’m recommending Morrison’s entire run and not a particular storyarc because, as Morison fans know well, when he takes on a title he actually plans the whole thing from start to finish to be one massive storyline where the apple that fell from the tree in issue 1 has profound impact on the end of the story in issue 87. Also of note is the off-putting art of Frank Quietly and the truly awesome mod logo design that is the same right side up and upside down.

House of M (spoilers) and Decimation:

 

In another reality-bending storyline that emanated from the consequences of Avengers, Disassembled the Scarlet Witch changed the entire world in order to keep her children with the android Vision real. As it turned out, they weren’t. The Scarlet Witch, daughter of Magneto, simply granted everyone’s deepest desires on Earth. While this story was mainly an X-Men story, it touched the whole Marvel Universe, and we got to see great character aspects from across Marvel. Finding out that Spider-Man’s greatest wish was the Uncle Ben lived and he married Gwen Stacy while Harry married Mary Jane was a big one. Finding an over 100-year old Captain America painting in a Brooklyn Brownstone was another. Also, we get a Wolverine who has his full memory including being an Agent of Shield, and a Magneto who rules the Earth with his royal family in—you guessed it—The House of M. What’s so bad about that? Well, changing the course of history also keep people from being born, it stops the natural course of destiny, and most of all, heroes gotta stop Utopia. The most important impact of this story is that it reverses the effect from Morrison’s story with the Scarlet Witch uttering three words that have altered the course of X-Men comics for the better part of a decade: No. More. Mutants. Apparently, her reality-altering, magic, mutant powers can not only turn people in the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle as they disappear from existence, but they can also completely stop a race from being born. This left only 198 mutants left on Earth. Wanna know what happened next? Read it.

Messiah CompleX:

 

In this story arc, the first mutant baby since the decimation is born and the whole world is clamoring to get control over her. The X-Men, Mister Sinister, and umm…well…that’s actually a lot of people. Everyone wants to control this baby, especially since she comes with the prophecy that she will reignite the mutant race from the ashes, and also do a terrible, terrible thing. Through subterfuge, murder, espionage, conspiracy, and deception the child is set at the center of one of the most intense storylines in the X-Men mythos where character arcs are fulfilled in unexpected ways, and page after page pays off. It was accompanied with a backup feature that saw Beast traveling from scientist to scientist, friend and foe alike, in search for a way to jump-start the mutant genome in the face of certain extinction. How do they overcome it? What happens? Well, most of those questions are still being answered several years later. This is the one that’s going to bring you relatively up to speed on the mighty misadventures of Marvel’s Merry Mutants.

 

And there you have it. I know this list started off yesterday as an example of how easy it is to get integrated into a complicated continuity, but this is a simple list. You have to remember that you can probably blow these story arcs, once collected, in a sitting or two for about the same price as a reasonably priced hardcover novel (between $12.95-$24.99). Stories like Days of Future Past can actually be read in about 20 minutes—just because it isn’t long doesn’t mean it didn’t have impact. Now, I’m sure some of you hardcore fans out there are steaming, stomping on your hats and screaming for X-tinction Agenda, Fall of the Mutants, Mutant Massacre, God Loves Man Kills, The Twelve, X-ecutioner’s Song,  Phalanx Covenant, the Onslaught Saga, Utopia, Deadly Genesis, Deadly Reunion, War of Kings, Phoenix Endsong, or Joss Wheadon’s run on Astonishing X-Men, among many others. But, remember I’m talking about stories that will catch a neophyte reader up to the present. This isn’t a hit list of the greatest X-Men stories ever, hell there’s not a single story here of the Mojoverse. This list functions as a crash course in X-Men to get the reader conversational in the mythos. There’s always going to be more work to do. After over 20 years of reading comics, I could still learn more, but this lists, spanning the late 70s until just about now (relatively speaking), are just an appetizer. It isn’t hard to get into it, and you could blow through all these titles in the course of a week, or two, while riding the train to work. And believe you me; it’ll be well worth it.

X-Marks the Spot: Must Read X-Men Stories Part I

Posted in Cartoons, Comic Books, Entertainment with tags , , , , , , , on February 17, 2013 by Brandon Melendez

(This post was originally featured at Eat Your Serial)

 

There’s a lot of talk in the media about comic books, and a lot of snark going around about continuity. Many of you non-comic book types might be wondering what the hell continuity is. It’s a pretty simple concept, it simply means that the stories in a comic book universe count towards a single coherent (as it were) history. It is the element that makes comic book universes work and allows for long lasting, and meaningful, character developments and story arcs. Long time fans, especially hardcore ones, are typically sticklers for continuity. Often times, they can quote writers, artists, years, and issue numbers for particular points of contention when making arguments. Continuity is serious business for fans. Unfortunately, a strict adherence to it can be a turn off to newer fans who often feel that comics are a vast an impenetrable mythology that can be very expensive to break into. This is largely untrue, occasionally there are points to hop on that require little background information and ease the reader into the larger history. Although, more often than not, many of the vast histories found within comics can be eschewed in lieu of finding a few key storylines that give enough information to allow the reader to move on unimpeded.

No continuous comic book storylines are denser, more involved, or more convoluted and confusing than that of the X-Men. Essentially, X-Men has been running without a major reboot since the 1960s. As such, there are over 40 years of story to condense into a time frame somewhere in the area of 15 years “comic book time.” When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby initially started the X-Men series, the original team of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, and Iceman were approximately 15 to 16 years old. Cyclops, now essentially a leader of the mutant people, could reasonably be considered to be anywhere in his early to mid-thirties. As such, please take this short list of (mostly spoiler free) landmark X-Men storylines (all conveniently collected into trade books) as your guide to navigating the world of those who fight to protect the world that hates and fears them:

The Dark Phoenix Saga:

 

This is probably the first truly landmark story in the history of Marvel’s Merry Mutants. This story will familiarize you with a number of aspects and characters of the X-Men mythos that are invaluable in understanding any number of X-themed stories. Firstly, you’ll become familiar with the Sh’iar Empire and it’s host of characters, such as Majestrix Llandra, her brother the mad Emperor D’Ken, Guardian the leader of the Imperial Guard, and the M’Kraan Crystal. Additionally, you’ll find yourself getting a crash course in the Phoenix, the Phoenix force, Uatu the Watcher, the Blue Area of the Moon, The Hellfire Club (most notably the White Queen, Emma Frost) and a classic line up of X-Men. You’ll meet Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Beast, Storm, Dazzler, Shadowcat (then called Kitty Pryde and later Sprite). This story comes from a time when the team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne was king, and their stories could do no wrong. It’s not just a landmark X-Men story, but it’s a bona fide comic book landmark.

Days Of Future Past:

 

In this tale of time travel, psychic energy, genocide, and politics, you will find yourself introduced to a number of important ideas and concepts in the X-Men mythos. Firstly, lay your eyes on the horrible, horrible future in which the mutant hunting, giant, killer robots known as The Sentinels run the United States, and keep mutants in concentration and labor camps. The future is bleak and most of the Marvel Universe’s heroes—mutant and non-mutant alike—have been killed in battle and buried in a trophy cemetery that all mutants must cross to get to their labor assignments. Left to fight the good fight? Colossus, Shadowcat, Storm, Wolverine, and a few X-Men yet-to-be-born. You’ll be introduced to time travel, Senator Kelly, and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (as Freedom Force). You’ll also become familiar with the concept of a dangerous future where the X-Men have lost. This story has essentially informed the importance of Xavier’s Dream in every subsequent X-Men story. Ever.

Inferno:

 

Another classic from the team that could do no wrong, Inferno is a great follow up to the Dark Phoenix Saga as it deals with Cyclops coping with the (apparent) death of Jean Grey, and falling in love with a woman named Madelyn Pryor who bears an…ahem…uncanny…resemblance to his dearly departed, loved, and omnipotent girlfriend. In this story, you’ll become familiar with the X-Men’s relationship with the metaphysical, the realm known as Limbo, and its master Belasco, the mutant shaman/technology specialist, Forge, the Goblin Queen, as well as X-Men mainstay Rogue. Not the least of which you’ll come to know with the arch villain Mister Sinister, and his modus operandi to manipulate the Grey and Summers bloodlines to create a child who might one day become…well…you’ll have to read more to find out won’t you?

Mutant Genesis:

 

In this story, the reader is reintroduced to the character of Magneto in what would be the start of Jim Lee’s designs for the X-Men that defined the 90s (and the Fox cartoon). Also seen here is the bow out of Chris Claremont after a writing run that encompassed the 80s and touched both the 90s and 70s as well. You’ll meet Nick Fury, the Acolytes, and Asteroid M. You’ll find the feel of the 90s in the art of Lee and the sudden moral ambiguity to all actions. The world of the X-Men starts to feel a little less black and white in this story—it becomes defined less as a good versus evil dynamic and more of a contradicting philosophy dilemma. Mutant Genesis sets up Magneto as more of an anti-hero than a villain, and really adds a level of complexity to the dynamic that, though present in older stories, really resonates as Magneto’s charisma as a political leader shines.

Age of Apocalypse:

 

In this reality-bending full-line crossover story written and illustrated by a literal who’s who of comics, we find a world in which Charles Xavier died in the 1960s (aka 30 years ago from the perspective of the story) in a mutant battle including time-hopping, amnesiac X-Men. The battle awakens the world’s first mutant, known as Apocalypse, from his planning to take over the world in a most Darwinian fashion several decades earlier. As this occurs before the dawn of modern heroes, there is little opposition to the megalomaniac and he conquers the North American continent with eyes on the rest of the world. In this world, this alternate timeline, Magneto founds the X-Men in memory of his fallen friend Charles, and everything you thought you knew about the X-Men is turned on its head. This is another one of those X-Men stories that is touched upon forevermore and introduces alternate versions of characters that have taken on life unto themselves. These characters include Sabretooth, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Beast and Nate Grey, who is an alternate version of Cable, as well as original characters (mostly) Nocturn, Morph, and Xorn. The elements of this story are so distinctly dark and popular that they often appear in the mainstream universe either by parallel coincidence or via reality-jumping stories.

 

Well, that does it for today but, of course, that isn’t all. There’s plenty more baddassery to go around as the X-Men break into the 21st century and into today. Make sure you come back to Eat Your Serial tomorrow and check out part two of X Marks the spot!

Turtle Power: First Impressions of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show

Posted in 80s, Cartoons, Comic Books, Entertainment with tags , , , , , , on February 17, 2013 by Brandon Melendez

(This post originally featured at Eat Your Serial)

I’ve gotta admit, I’m a snob. My Ninja Turtles are the real Ninja Turtles and nothing is ever going to change that. The four colored amphibians of my youth are the end all and be all of Turtle canon. ‘Nuff said. Even as a kid, it kinda rubbed me the

wrong way that in the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, someone seemed to have skewed some of the facts about the Boys of Pizza. Particularly, the origin of Splinter…but that movie was pretty amazing overall and I just accepted that sometimes movies are going to get it wrong.

This was the way I lived my life (my life as a Turtles Fan that is), or at least it was until I was a teenager and I was able to get my hands on some of the original Mirage Studios stories that started the franchise. To my shock and surprise, that first printing of Ninja Turtles was almost exactly the bare bones story of the movie (softened somewhat to have less stabbing of the Shredder). So, shocked was I by this revelation that I started to reconsider all sorts of things in my life. I grew my hair out, picked up a guitar, and started writing songs to express the anguish in my heart.

Several years later, after I had time to heal, there was a cartoon out again called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which touted the Heroes on the Half-shell for a new generation. I was glad to accept this show fully into my heart. The designs were simplistic, yet meaner looking, and the Turtles actually had a bit more attitude, but April was more like her comics counterpart and Casey Jones played a large role in the show, which I really liked. The popularity of this show was followed by a movie that actually (somewhat) continued the narrative of the show and comics of my youth in the simplistically named TMNT. Though computer animated, the movie was action packed and fun. But, in the end, neither of these interpretations really captured the light-hearted ninja romps of my childhood.

When the second-generation TMNT show was wrapping up, the creators culminated the show with a crossover entitled “Turtles Forever” that served as a crossover between the 1 first-generation cartoon and the second. I have to admit that I was giddy and excited (even as a married man with a child on the way) to watch this movie when it came out as a Saturday morning special. It was done well, with due deference to the zany and outlandish campiness of my Turtles while also showing the softness of the new ones in respect to the source material, as the movie involved the Turtles of multiple dimensions joining forces to stop a common Super Shredder. It was fun.

Then, recently, some rumblings started coming of a new totally CGI Ninja Turtles cartoon around the same time as the now scrapped and back to square one Michael Bay movie was announced. With what we were all hearing about the Michael Bay joint, it was fair to assume that the planned cartoon on Nickleodeon was going to be just as misguided, and many of my fellows in the Cult of Splinter took an immediate adversarial perspective on it. We didn’t like the character designs, we didn’t like the theme music, and we didn’t like the original Raphael voicing Donatello. No sir, we didn’t like it.

But, I have to admit that after having just watched the first episode, it’s pretty good. I endorse it as a part of the legacy of the Turtles. It was a fun romp, full of referential Turtle humor that was respectful of the older generation and fully accessible to neophyte kids ready to cry for merch. It was well written, with action and humor, and good pacing for an hour-long pilot episode. Both my two-and-half-year-old son and me were engaged by this treat on a Saturday morning. The animation was actually good and the full CGI looks good. Everything was well done and enjoyable, from Splinter’s shadowy design, the Shredder’s voice (though while we’re on the subject, the original Raphael/Yakko Warner voicing Donatello is a little off-putting at first). There are infusions from the comics, the original and newer cartoon, and the movies—but only enough for familiar elements. This show seems to have an approach and spirit all its own. If you were wary of the show’s authenticity…well, it might still tank, but judging by the first episode, as a Turtle Head all my life, I endorse it. Give it a shot. If you love and understand the wide interpretations of Turtles throughout the franchise’s history, you’re bound to appreciate the show.

 

Turtle Power!

Nerd’s Eye Review: Superman Earth One, Volume Two

Posted in Cartoons, Comic Books, Entertainment, movies with tags , , , , on February 15, 2013 by Brandon Melendez

(This review was originally posted at Eat Your Serial)

I literally just put down the new graphic novel from DC Comics Earth 1 line and I have to say that I have been enjoying the three that have come out thus far. There is, obviously, Superman Earth 1 Volume 1 which has some general issues with its KISS-like super-baddie but overall between the two Superman tomes and the Batman one I think that DC has an interesting approach to the “Ultimate Marvel” revamp style. The thing that I really appreciate about the line is that it is released direct to graphic novel format—and hardcover at that—meaning that the stories themselves are not regularly serialized (which we like around here as a rule), but rather sporadically added to at a rate of about one a year so far.

Looking at Superman Earth 1 Volume 2 (warning spoilers be here), the story picks up at a point somewhat close to the end of the first volume but far enough away that the DC equivalent of Damage Inc. has come through town cleaning up the mess left behind by the comic cosmic Gene Simmons from the Rao System at the end of the last book. Clark Kent has found himself making a little bit of money as a bona fide reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper and moves up from living in a crappy room to living in a crappy apartment. The building has a cast of characters including a tattooed bombshell red head with a thang for Mr. Kent with the initials “LL”…though it isn’t Lana Lang as I thought she might be but rather Lisa Lasalle… and a 1995 era long haired junkie who sits on a stoop quote Bob Dylan. I’m not sure why writer J. Michael Straczyinski did that…but I’ll be honest he was never a favorite writer of mine and I’m not sure why he’s done lots of things though characters owning monogrammed towels displaying LL initials is a staple of Superman lore, so I can’t knock that generally.

Some things happen rather abruptly, at they are wont to do in JMS stories, and flippant comments are made by all the characters who are seemingly all very confident and have nothing in their hearts to question—except of course for Superman who traditionally should not. There are many things in this story that, traditionally speaking, Superman would not do. Having a rather complex fantasy about killing a head of state, or leading the rebels in that state to a cache of weapons to hold an “election”, or even saying “crap” and his vernacular speech in dealing with sentient Kryptonian tech seems a little off balance.

But remember, I said I enjoyed the story. The reason for this is because this is a place and a venue for some of these traditions to be loosened, shaken, or even eschewed. “Earth 1” is not “Earth Prime” where…well…even more extreme traditions are currently being balked with The New 52…but rather is a place where this kind of experimentation is not only allowable but also, in my opinion, permissible. For this reason the somewhat emo and whiney Superman who talks like a Buffy character with a splash of Bendis Spider-Man is a refreshing approach. The hardcore journalist buried under the businessman impetus of Perry White is spun well, and even a very confident and sans-bowtie Jimmy Olsen is nice to see. Lois is Lois…and while she has evolved beyond the damsel in distress looking to wed the Man of Steel that core piece of intrepid journalism and moxie is still apparent.

The art is also quite good in my opinion. It has a cartoony feel to it but is realistic and high quality enough that Shane Davis makes his own mark on the mythos while still evoking a sense of, what for me is classic, Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding style Superman feel. The costume design on Superman is far more appealing than Jim Lee’s high collared monstrosity evoking the sense of Shuster and Siegel’s circus strongman outfit, but having enough detailing and texture to look like it might be actual clothes (stopping just short of the X-Men movies biker leather gas station attendant suits). Overall he does a good job—even if his “energy absorbing pouches” on Parasite are distracting and disgusting. The renderings are really quite good.

At a little under 200 pages the story is a quick read—even for a graphic novel—and can at times be super preachy (pun intended) and heavy handed. However, looking at it through the prism of a novice, early 20s Superman I think JMS and Davis capture the spirit of the times and update the characters rigidity just enough to make him reasonably relatable. While some might say that it makes Big Blue come off dickish and snide at times (and ostensibly misses a huge character trait at the center of decades of precedent and development), we can all be that way and almost any incarnation of Superman would be glad to be related to by the humans he so admires and tries endlessly to protect and emulate. If you are prepared to leave some of your preconceptions at the door and be slightly preached to with a megaphone I suggest giving this book a try (provided of course you read Volume 1 First).

 

 

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Written by Brandon Melendez

A Nostalgic Review of the Toy Story Trillogy

Posted in Cartoons, Comic Books, Entertainment, learning, movies with tags , , , , , , , on February 13, 2013 by Brandon Melendez

(This post was originally featured at Eat Your Serial)

It’s hard to believe that the original Toy Story was released in theaters 17 years ago. I remember in my cynical old age of 11, I was curious to see what a fully computer animated movie would look like, but I also worried that the days of t

he hand-painted cell feature would soon be ended. I was right in many ways as the release of Toy Story had heralded the release of a slew of animated feature from everybody’s mother in varying degrees of computer animation…even anything approaching traditional cell animation these days is touched upon by computers (unless it’s some artsy-fartsy French cartoon about the never ending bloody nose). Of course, this is not all as bad as I thought and none of it is really to blame of Toy Story or the franchise that emanated from it. They are good movies and the vultures always circle around a good idea to peck it to death.

The thing about the Toy Story franchise that , as an adult, is amazing to me is the inherent sadness of the idea—a staple of Pixar features that hit its apex in the first few minutes of Up. The notion that these toys exist solely to provide happiness and support to a boy who will inevitably grow up, break them, forget them, move on and leave them behind has an ephemeral memory—a nostalgic twinge causing less than a moment’s pause on most occasions. These toys are well aware of the minute fate and treat it with the impending severity of a military operation despite the finite nature of their existence. The notion is touched upon in every installment of the fantastic series of movies. In Toy Story, Woody has to deal with the new toy on the block, Buzz Lightyear, knocking him from the utmost preferred spot in Andy Davis’s heart. In the second installment, Woody has to cope with the prospect of being outgrown and left behind after being partially broken, and in Toy Story 3 Andy is ready to move on to college and the whole crew has to cope with the prospect of living in the attic or becoming garbage. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty just in case someone out there has impossibly not seen all of these movies (like my wife impossibly has achieved).

My two-and-a-half-year-old son has recently become completely engrossed in the Toy Story movies and requests to watch them ad infinitum. Through the afternoons and nights, he chants “More Buzz! More Toy Story!”…regularly…even as I type this (which is why I said it’s high nigh impossible that my wife hasn’t seen them…I think she’s blocking it out using her Emma Frost-like telepathy). As an adult-child, I find myself invariably torn at the narrative of the story—I am now the parent of a child—children actually—who’s toys exist solely for their enjoyment and comfort. Toys that accompany them to bed, toys that escort them on excursions, toys that provide wondrous opportunities for faux social interaction and imaginative play—some toys that I saved for my kids to play with (that many swore I would never pass down! Fooey to you!). Watching the movies, I am torn between my relation to all the characters, human and toy.

This, of course, is due in no small part to the quality and standard set by the first—the movie that launched a billion dollars; produced by Pixar, funded by Disney, written by Joss Whedon (et. al.), and voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen (et. fantastic-al.). The bar was set high and, to this day, remains one of the highest regarded movie trilogies on Rotten Tomatoes—and, though a love a great many trilogies, I am inclined to agree. The series is remarkably consistent in its tone and humor and each is a well set up adventure-movie-providing its problems, conflicts, solutions, and developments naturally within the course of the plot and in the logical context of the setting (logical that is in the world of sentient toys). There are moments, especially written in to Toy Story 3, that bring elements from the first and second movies full circle in a way that is satisfying and rewarding; something rarely achieved in any movie let alone popcorn animated children’s features. As I am older and watch these flicks through the eyes of a child-now-grown-but-still-a-child, and through the eyes of a parent, I am appreciative of the magic that they bring to the minds of children as well as the, admittedly tear-welling, nostalgia of a kid who actually did save most of his toys to give to his son—and did—just to watch them be given a new life. If somehow you haven’t seen any of these movies, you are missing out on great stories full of laughter, friendship, and adventure. They are well written to such a degree that the man who wrote the first one was tapped to write and direct The Avengers, which is the current reigning top grossing film of all time, and the man who wrote the third was recently tapped to write the newest installment in the Star Wars franchise—you’ll never find a greater endorsement of popcorn entertainment. If you haven’t seen them all, you’re in for a great treat in watching a well-continued story that excellently fulfills all the promises of a trilogy.

 

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Written by: Brandon Melendez