Sunday, November 12, 2017

About That Blade Runner Sequel...

My blog posts wouldn't be lengthy if I could write about Blade Runner 2049 by writing, "I thought it was very good. It was better than the first one." But that's the short answer.
Publisher Random House does a clever thing with paperback editions of Philip K. Dick's Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep?: they offer an edition with the Blade Runner movie title and the true title in parentheses. For a long time, this edition's cover featured artwork patterned after the film adaptation, even a later edition with art by Star Wars poster artist Drew Stuzan, to coincide with the DVD release of the last and "official" re-release of the film. The joke here is that the book is...and I might be generous...30% of the movie. The film noir tropes and  atmosphere is nowhere to be found in the book; the Rick Deckard of the book is more like George Jetson than Philip Marlowe. And the cover has been revised to coincide with the release of the sequel...I don't like what they came up with. I would've preferred they used the movie poster, instead...or commission Struzan to whip up something. For my money, the best cover art I saw was a fanmade mockup I found online (see the second photo layout below) with Scrappy the robot owl (yes, his name is 'Scrappy' in the book) and the pyramid.
Apparently, it took a month for 2049 to break even, likely because they were so secretive about the plot that nobody could talk about it in interviews leading up to the release...that usually means it's a turkey, so that was a serious mistake. Who is Deckard's kid? That mystery could've been good-enough bait, since Ryan Gosling and Sylvia Hoeks seemed like red herrings for mostof the film. Ana de Armas' prominent presence on the movie poster seems like another red herring clue; it's only by watching the film that you learn she's not going to be Deckard's daughter...although I thought she was fantastic as Joi, Gosling's sentient hologram virtual assistant/girlfriend; Gosling and Armas have a nice chemistry that's more convincing than Harrison Ford and Sean Young in the original..there's more of a heart in this one...the fact that people debate online the nature Joi's extistince means that both actors deserve credit making believe in them as complete characters. Complete is a good word for this movie. The original always seemed improvised; this sequel has more focus on what it wants to do. Whereas it's much longer than the first, 2049 seems much simpler. I was more intrigued/interested in what was happening. I get that the original film is pretty iconic, but thestory of how it got made is more interesting than what they produced..And Rick Deckard is only interesting within that film..in my humble opinion..in that early scene where he's at the sushi bar.
The Replicants aren't robots/androids in the traditional sense; they're more like genetically modified organisms. These GMO-bots are flesh and blood, with internal organs and are man-made, yet they can be snobbish towards holograms (it's lightly hinted Joi might represent a potential evolution in a subset of artificial intelligence that hints at a class system among all forms of manufactured life...this, and a rebellion among Replicants against their manufacturer, the Wallace Corporation, seem like ideas for possible sequels).
So how was Harrison Ford in this? There's a reference to Ben Gunn from Treasure Island with 2049's take on Deckard. He's become this grumpy hermit, living in a deserted Las Vegas resort/hotel, keeping bees (perhaps a nod to Sherlock Holmes' retirement - becoming a beekeeper on a farm in English countryside). And he has a dog - possibly a replicant, since the future of Blade Runner is in a world where all animals are extinct and are either GMO replicants or nuts & bolts androids...that would include the bees. I kinda wish the Vegas had lasted longer, since there's a kind of peace to it. Does this sequel answer Blade Runner's oldest mystery? Well...this franchise isn't flexible enough to allow for the existence of cyborgs, or entertain the idea that Deckard is an older-model Replicant...one that probably has a lower threshold of endurance..he's just there, like an Easter Egg, really. An extended Easter Egg. Actually, Edward James Olmos' cameo was like a standard Easter Egg..he even does an origami sheep!
I imagine if this film had done better in the box office, we would've had another origami paper sculpture, but I'm trying to guess what it could be...a tortoise? A wolf (there's a recurring reference to 'Peter and The Wolf' whenever Joi makes her entrances and exits)? How about an owl?

Saturday, October 28, 2017

About That Wonder Woman Sequel...

Wonder Woman surprised everyone by being a good movie. Especially since it's a follow-up to a very polarizing movie - Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I liked both films, but a lot of people possibly prefer WW as a standalone, an eye in a tornado that is DC Films. What do I mean by that? It's the only one everyone likes in that stable. For now. Justice League is coming out soon.

Let's stay with Wonder Woman for this post. Development on the sequel is happening. Gal Godat is coming back to star, Partty Jenkins is coming back to direct. But what will the story be?...The wartime setting had been kicked around as a backdrop for the first film for decades - as far back as the 90's, when the short list of possible candidates for the lead included Sandra Bullock, Lucy Lawless and the fan-favorite choice, Catherine Zeta Jones. Now..just because this first movie was set in WWI doesn't mean Wonder Woman 2 should be set in WW2. I liked the rumor about a 2nd and 3rd film being set in different decades leading up to the present. Or they could rip-off the approach used by Marvel Studios' Captain America films by embedding the sequels deep into a bigger storyline that connected with other sequels. One thing for certain: forget about the comics. This Wonder Woman is purely a new incarnation created for the screen; they name-dropped a number of comic book creators in the credits, but they're just being polite. There are no good/great Wonder Woman stories from the comics. Similar deal with Marvel's Thor and Captain America; you could argue that Winter Soldier and Civil War are based on storylines from the books, but only loosely; I still believe the best Thor story was the one where Loki turned him into a frog...

And it's only in Thor: Ragnarok where it looks like the studio is embracing the character's Silver Age for the first time, after the very drab-looking Thor: The Dark World and a lightweight, derivative Thor, this is the first time we get the movie Thor wearing his Helmet, albeit a stylized version of it. This film looks good enough to copy..

Here's my idea: I don't know if Greek mythology has an equivalent of the Norse Ragnarok, but I think sticking Wonder Woman in a parallel to that would be really cool. Her rogues gallery has Circe and The Cheetah - 2 villains that counter nicely with Hela and Loki. I remember John Byrne had Etrigan the Demon guest-star in some issues from his tenure on the Wonder Woman comics, so with there's a good counterpart of the Hulk who Wonder Woman could fight and later team-up with. I keep hearing about a live-action Justice League Dark film in development, so having Etrigan appear with Wonder Woman...is really good for business. Plus, whoever is cast as Etrigan's human counterpart Jason Blood will get to have dialogue with Godat, to make up for the absense of Chris Pines' Steve Trevor, so it won't just seem like special effects, special effects, special effects. The only casting choice I have is Ana de Armas as The Cheetah; I'm not sure which take on the character they'll use, but she's Wonder Woman's most-popular adversary..kinda like an MMA fighter version of Catwoman. Ana de Armas is kinda the new flavor of the month on the heels of Blade Runner: 2049, so she'd be interesting...the way it might not to interesting to see someone more familiar in the part.

What's the plot? Whatever the basic plot of Thor: Ragnarok is. The Cheetah is impersonating Hippolyta so that Circe can takeover Paradise Island/Themyscira..which kinda reminds me of the island from Shakespeare's play The Tempest..so who says Zeus/Merlin/Shazzam/Prospero didn't camp there? Did I just link Zeus thematically with Merlin and Prospero and am I the first to have suggested this? That's a fun mystery/subplot that could link these disparate characters nicely. Why the heck not? Ares was shown to be alive and well - before Diana killed him, of course - why not reveal Zeus as Merlin/Shazzam/Prospero and Circe (Miranda) as his illegitimate daughter, intending to restore her birthright by conquering the Amazons?

So after all the bread and circuses of Diana beating Etrigan in an arena battle, the Cheetah is revealed as impersonating Hippolyta, so Circe drops in, then Diana & Etrigan team-up as they're chased, i.e., hunted throughout Themyscira by mind-controlled Amazons led by Circe and Cheetah...as both parties search for some big MacGuffin...a rock shaped like a thunderbolt, the "Orb of Bachfyre" - thesolution to where Hippolyta went...and it turns out to be...a Mother Box! Hippolyta was kidnapped by Granny Goodness to train an army of female furies to conquer New Genesis! Hippolyta gets swapped with Circe and Cheetah in the Boom tube and Granny Goodness enlists them as her new furies...because who cares about Lashina, Mad Harriet and Stompa?..although I can see Aubrey Plaza as Lashina or Mad Harriet...and so the film ends as the next step in the buildup to the ultimate confrontation with Darkseid and makes Wonder Woman's corner of the DCU more central to the film universe's shenanigans.

That's my idea...now I wonder what Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League are about..

Monday, August 14, 2017

Ducktales Day!

Short answer? It was good.

Long answer?

It turned out to be an excellent idea to broadcast the 2-part, one-hour pilot episode of the new Ducktales reboot series consecutively for 24 hours through all of Saturday, August 12. I questioned the decision when I first heard of it - why not air a marathon of the original 1980s Ducktales episodes for the remaining 23 hours, instead? Or just..ape Netflix's approach and spit out all the new episodes at once..or at the very least, how about five episodes? That would just add three more half-hours of programming to satisfy a lot of build-up...

Disney used to do that...in the late-80s thru early-90s, beginning with The New Adventures of Winnie The Pooh and continuing with the Disney Afternoon series, a "summer preview" of shows set to premiere in the Fall TV season on syndication would be broadcast on The Disney Channel as a privilege of sorts. And it was the first handful of episodes produced. Back in those days, that cable channel was regarded as a "premium cable channel", like HBO or Showtime, with shows and films broadcast with no commercial interruptions. I didn't get to check out The Disney Channel until it was downgraded to "family cable" bundles in the mid-90s, but the program format stayed the same...until around 1999/2000, when they began making room for commercial breaks..and that's when you realized the network wasn't going to be a good fit for programs like Avonlea. An acclaimed, period costume family drama series like that (it was the Downton Abbey of its day, in terms of popularity) airing on the Disney Channel would be unthinkable by the time you get to That's So Raven and Hannah Montana. But anyway, broadcasting this marathon turned out to be an excellent idea, for many reasons, chief among them was that you only needed to wait for the day it aired, not the time. You could watch it anytime.

I remember the original series was promoted in magazine ads and commercials, but you never saw Alan Young appear on Johnny Carson's show to talk about playing Scrooge McDuck the way David Tennant appeared on Stephen Colbert's show! The times have changed...although it's possible the ratings for the pilot on expanded cable channel DisneyXD might be similar to what the original series got in syndication, but then YouTube didn't exist in the 80s, and the grand gesture of DisneyXD offering a chance the view the pilot free and clear on their YouTube channel is a nice surprise, so if you haven't seen it, go see it. Then come back and read the rest of this post.

Aside from the new designs, the bigger distinction between old and new Ducktales is that a lot of the suspense came from the character relationships, with the big adventures being secondary. Donald and Scrooge had a falling out in the past and became estranged; it's hinted that the source of this tension is marked by the absence of Della Duck, Donald's sister and the mother of Huey, Dewey and Louie. This is a retcon, since the character was created to establish that Donald had nephews; we still don't know the name of HD&L's father; I like to joke that it's Howard from Marvel Comics' Howard The Duck, but that's kind-of nuts, even though he is an accuired Disney character, now. Besides, what was disclosed about the dad was that he was in the hospital - the victim of a cruel prank in which his sons planted a lit firecracker under his chair while he sat..presumably the kind of firecracker that sets off car alarms on July 4th..so, yeah, it makes sense to rewrite history by having the ducklings solve a mystery..of where Della went. And their dad,  _________ Duck..if they have time.

It's because Donald Duck is a main character in this new incarnation of the series  (in the original series, it was established that he joined the navy and left his nephews in Scrooge's care, though he did appear as a guest-star in occasional episodes) that the show will get to take advantage of a character dynamic that was only seen in the comic books and build off it...I never thought we'd ever get to see that play out on the TV. I'm not sure if they've reconciled the Carl Barks comic book Donald with the animated Huey, Dewey and Louie fully - there's that business with Donald slowly burning his hands to keep Dewey from getting hurt by the Atlantean death-trap, which means we might be getting a lot of scenes of Donald enduring a lot of bumps and bruises while the nephews consequently register as shallow & basic by comparison. A similar thing occurred in the series Quack Pack... We'll see.

I prefer Scrooge having a blue coat over red, but if they print a coloring book based on the new designs, you can bet I'll opt for blue crayons on that coat, so that's no big deal.

...they do look like they're ready for a team-up with Bullwinkle and Huckleberry Hound, don't they? If that gold dragon were painted green, I could've name-dropped Beany and Cecil, one of those shows that's considered a classic, but has the darndest trouble with being accessible on home video or TV reruns. I consider Ducktales a nice cartoon, a modern classic...and aside the final batch of episodes, is available to watch on home video and iTunes. And I'm going off on tangents again...well, we did get a cameo from Daisuke Jigen (albeit in canine form..I think..hard to tell) riding ontop of Lupin the 3rd's yellow Fiat automobile..have any of you seen The Castle of Cagliostro? That's an excellent anime film featuring those two characters, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, so that cartoon is not hard to find.

I enjoyed this new episode. I really did. I just wish I didn't have to wait another month to see more. If you were regarding it in terms of fidelity to the original series, I would say it really captured the ethos of the original. If it was junk, it would have been obvious, but no. When it was over, my conclusion was that this show was made with love and respect for what came before, but also marking some new territory. I believe it's something that is all the better for coming back now. The old show was good. The new show will also be good. That's Ducktales. Ducktales IS back.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bras In The Tardis?

The Doctors aren't all that different from one another. Put them in a situation and they'll say the same things. Have them confront evil and they'll want to stop it. Differences in methods, costumes and spunk among them are like shadings; if the actor got the shading wrong - like, for example, Colin Baker, though it turned out it wasn't his fault but the fault of a laidback producer and a script editor who wasn't good at editing scripts - then it feels like the show went way off the rails and the audience recoils. Regardless of who plays the Doctor, it should always feel like this was the same character William Hartnell played, because that's where the show's roots are planted - they've played off that ever since.

And another observation is that they all look like they could be related...if not direct descendants of Hartnell, then distant cousins of eachother. If you can find a black, hispanic or asian actor bearing a passing familial resemblance to those men, or a woman, and if they've got that distinctive spunk or chutzpah to them that reminds one of an outer space alien tourist in a blue box, wielding a vaguely phallic smartphone/flashlight/remote control resembling a vapor pen that it calls a "sonic screwdriver", then....

But then..who is The Doctor? I remember someone wrote on a message board long ago that the Doctor is "...a dodgy geezer in a stolen motor!" So how's that? Too simple? If Joseph Campbell were still alive (read The Power of Myth, it's a very good book, even though it doesn't talk about tricksters, per se, though the Green Knight in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight could count as one, and there's a retelling of that legend in the book), he'd identify the Doctor as the trickster hero of folklore - a character who just might happen to be heroic, but not in a basic, readily identifiable sense. The Coyote. Reynard the Fox. Anansi the spider. Hermes. Prometheus. Br'er Rabbit. Groucho Marx. The Spirit. Top Cat. Snoopy. Bugs Bunny. Among the major comic book superheroes, Spider-Man and The Flash sorta fit those roles, if you could see past their mopey personal lives, but then you also have Deadpool, Loki, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Mister Miracle, Bat-Mite, The Joker and Harley Quin - trickster villains, or trickster anti-heroes, in the case of all but The Joker, who's becoming too dark these days to root for out loud.

Tricksters are also identified as shape shifters. The Doctor's multiple regenerations certainly qualify as shape-shifting. And now the Doctor officially gets to shape-shift in the form of a human female, played by actress Jodie Whittaker, who appeared in Broadchurch, a series created by Chris Chibnall, who is replacing Steven Moffat as showrunner of Doctor Who. Jodie's first appearance was without dialogue in a teaser trailer that showed the Doctor walking through a forest on the way the Tardis, enshrouded in an overcoat and hoodie (the default wardrobe of predecessor Peter Capaldi's 12th Doctor), before stopping short and removing the hood to reveal the new female form..so very like a trickster. In classic folklore & mythology, there are only 3 females solidly identified as tricksters: Lillith, Kitsune and Isis. Isis was the good one...the original Wonder Woman of real-life mythology, who was a 70's Saturday Morning TV superhero, played by Joanna Cameron. Kitsune was a female fox that shapeshifted into human females.

So..where am I going with this? Just that we got a peek at the new Doctor acting the way the Doctor would act in a teaser trailer for a new series/season of Doctor Who. And so far, so good. My honest reaction was that she reminded me of J.K. Rowling with a shorter hairstyle. Obviously, there's going to be moments where her Doctor will reflect on having lived many lifetimes as a male Time Lord, even having been a father and grandfather early in life. But the Doctor as a character has never been distinctly sexual/sexually aggressive, always avuncular..and with Whittaker, perhaps, matronly. It's the companions, however, who sometimes get randy with advances & innuendo (River Song, Rose Tyler, Martha Jones) or became objectified by fans and the show's production team (Leela and Peri). Even though David Tennant and Matt Smith's looked like they could be happy to oblige, the Doctor is not Captain James T. Kirk..or Samantha Jones. The Tardis is not a makeout wagon. Doctor Who sorta leans over the fine line between a family-friendly program and adults-only but never really acted like there was no such line. If the 13th Doctor has a male companion that takes a fancy to her, it's been implied that it wouldn't be the first time a male made advances, but the first time it's happening with the Doctor as a woman. Remember, this is the same character..I imagine there would be a moment where she'd note this distinction, but then move on, because it's always the adventure that's been the Doctor's real romance. Love & marriage are things that are the sizzle, but not the steak.

And the Tardis would have ladies lingerie available, because the Doctor was never adverse to having female companions. Of all the reactions on social media, I thought that was the stupidest, but there were two that were interesting. First is the idea that young boys lose one fictional male role model...well, there are 12 canonical incarnations for them to look at, surely? Unless you're counting future generations...well, that's the power of TV reruns for you. Sherlock Holmes predates several generations of young people. Ditto Indiana Jones and Encyclopedia Brown  and Perry Mason and Columbo and Dick Tracy and John Steed and Hercule Poirot and Batman and Superman - all solid male characters created before I was born. And so were Doctors 1-4...and eventually Doctors 5-12, who will still exist for young children to discover.

And the other argument concerns if we'll see an improvement in the stories. Now we're getting somewhere. Doctor Who is more popular than it ever had been, globally, whereas in the past, it was just a pokey cult TV series that wasn't accessible everywhere. Now, it feels like all the stories Steven Moffat wanted to present had been told the way Steven Moffat wanted to present them. It was the same way with his predecessor, Russell T. Davies - fans of the series were getting emotionally exhausted with his spaceships-crashing-into-volcanoes approach to telling Doctor Who stories had run dry..and when he left, nobody was sure if there was anything new to say..not entirely "...on-it's-ass," creatively, but needing a new storytelling style in order to continue.

So...what is Chris Chibnall planning to do? That's the real suspense, here. His early scripts for Doctor Who were middle-of-the-road, journeyman stuff. Proof that he knew what the show was about, but not what it could be under his control...I'm eager to find out.

Who knows?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Froggy Went A-Discordin'...

"...because that's the way the boss would want it."

Steve Whitmire's debut as the voice and puppeteer behind Kermit the Frog was in an hour-long TV special, The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, which aired a few months after Jim Henson passed away and was obviously meant as a turning point to allow what had become a franchise to move forward, firstly by introducing a new Kermit. 27 years later, you could say that it has...and hasn't.

The story of how Whitmire became Kermit is, to me,  just as sketchy as the story of  how and why he was officially fired this past weekend by the Disney Company, which owns the Muppets. I always assumed that none of Henson's peers at the time - Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt (who was actually in ill health and passed away in 1992) - were keen on taking over as Kermit...and Steve Whitmire stepped forward. He always got the body language of the character right..but the voice and characterization veered more towards characters that Whitmire created and was adept at playing: Rizzo the Rat, Wembley Fraggle, Bean Bunny, Jake the polar bear. It certainly was necessary for him to reinvent Kermit a little to get a natural performance out of the puppet, so Kermit did become a slightly different character..maybe more neurotic, a little melancholy..kind of quiet...more of a milquetoast. I would say Jim was more adept at improv, which is why Kermit became a popular guest on TV talk shows...so, yeah, whenever you saw the Muppets appear on TV specials in the 1990s and 2000s, it was grounded in memories of the past. Whitmire's Kermit tended to just..run out of things to say that sounded like things Kermit might say.

And that's why I enjoyed the early episodes of The Muppets - the season-long sitcom that experimented with bringing the Muppets up to 2015 with all the necessary subtlety of a sledgehammer. The early showrunners aimed high and got burned when the ratings were lackluster and parents complained, perhaps expecting primetime episodes of Sesame Street and getting something edgier. For a few months, it felt like the Muppets were back...and then it was over.

My favorite characters of Steve's were Bean Bunny and Sprocket, the dog from Fraggle Rock. Rizzo was often paired with Dave Goelz's Gonzo, and that pairing made for a fun double act that made up for the absence of the Kermit & Piggy, Kermit & Fozzie scenes in most of the Muppet productions that followed. In fact, there's a lot more of Gonzo and Rizzo in later Muppet productions from the 90s. They've tried to recreate those routines recently, now with Eric Jacobson as Fozzie and Piggy. Jacobson's Miss Piggy sounds like it needs more practice, but his Fozzie Bear is perfect.

Reading between the lines, I say this shake-up happened because the Muppets were underperforming in comparison to the other Disney acquisitions - Lucasfilm, ABC, Marvel, Pixar - and a scapegoat needed to made. 27 years later and now you agree with the people online who thought his frog wasn't on-point with Henson's? Was it because he was the seasoned veteran among a bunch of newcomers and that respect allowed you to turn a blind eye to make any aboutface change..?

I do remember it being particularly odd that Kermit was relegated to an occasional supporting role in "Muppets Tonight" and was replaced with a character named Clifford as the show's emcee. That was the 90's incarnation of "The Muppet Show". It didn't work because it featured mostly new Muppet characters that had no built-in fanbase. Where's the figurehead? Was that an early indicator of a lack of confidence in Steve's Kermit? I could be wrong..but the statements made by Henson family members over the last few days imply a sense of relief after a long slow burn; Whitmire had long fallen out of favor with them..and they were happy to support their corporate parent company with the decision.

I need to rewatch Muppet's Most Wanted. I can't remember if the doppelganger frog, Constantine, played by Matt Vogel, did an approximation of Kermit's voice in any scenes, or was just with the Boris Badenov, "Moos end square-rel"-talk thoughout. Ah, the irony. Vogel is the new Kermit after playing an imposter Kermit. And his debut is coming soon on social media.

Confidentiality...I believe a lot of Kermit's best moments weren't really on The Muppet Show, because he was usually playing the straight man to the zanier characters, but on Sesame Street where he really shined, dressing up like Inspector Clouseau and buying "Kermit the Froog" t-shirts and having odd chats with Grover, who would call him "Froggy-Baby". Those segments used to be rerun on Sesame Street constantly up until the 2000s, when the Disney acquisition put a stop to it, but I wouldn't mind seeing some of that Kermit return.

It's not that easy, being a corporate mascot...ask the mouse.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Popeye Yam

In 2011, artist Tom Neely published the spoof Doppelganger, a mini-comic that aped the basic plot of an old Popeye comic published by Dell in which Popeye confronts a robot lookalike built by his old archfoe, The Sea Hag. Neely's effort was created to attract the attention of comic book archivist/publisher/historian Craig Yoe, who was editing a new series of Popeye comic books for IDW, hopefully getting an assignment to draw some "proper" Popeyes. I don't know if it worked out for him, because I didn't follow the newer material that came out, but Doppelganger is a neat little book - I remember writing about it in one of my "Best of The Year" posts, so yes, it's a keeper.

Cut to 2017. Craig Yoe is still editing Popeye comics for IDW, but it's strictly a monthly series reprinting issues of the old Dell Popeye comics, written and drawn by Bud Sagendorf. IDW has gotten really good at reprinting older comics from other publishers featuring licensed characters that are currently appearing under their label, usually as a spin-off series under the name "...Classics". It started with Transformers Classics, followed by Doctor Who Classics, G.I. Joe Classics...you get the idea. Iwouldn't be surprised if a Ducktales Classics in the horizon..deservedly so, in my humble opinion.

So..to my surprise a few months ago, the then-latest issue of Popeye Classics featured a reprint of the exact issue of Popeye that was Neely's inspiration for Doppelganger! You know what that means...I get to stare and compare!

I like Popeye, but I wouldn't know how Sagendorf's take on the character differs from E.C. Segar's comics, because I haven't read those. The comics are more interesting than the myriad cartoons that were cranked out and aired in TV reruns for many decades, where it was just...waiting for when Popeye eats the spinach and mops the floor with Bluto/Brutus or discipline those nephews that looked like him, but were clearly rip-offs of Huey, Dewey and Louie. And I didn't know Sweet Pea the baby could talk! And I don't mean thought balloon talk-speak, like Garfield or Marvin or Snoopy, but engage in dialogue! If there was more of this in the cartoons and less hackwork then Popeye would've probably not become obscure to the point where a movie studio would get cold feet about doing a CG cartoon movie about him!

One nifty thing about Doppelganger is the size of it allows me to bundle the book inside this issue of Popeye Classics as a bonus insert. They complement each other.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Adam West, The Fun Batman, R.I.P.

When asked which incarnation of Batman is my favorite...I usually answer with a composite that exists in my imagination: a Jim Aparo design, wearing a bright blue and grey batsuit, with Kevin Conroy's voice...driving the Batmobile from the 1989 movie. If that's too cerebral, I'll say either the 1989 Michael Keaton Batman or the Batman: The Animated Series Batman.

And if that question is followed-up with, "What'd you think of that old Batman TV show? The one with the 'Pow!' 'Bam!' 'Zowie!'?"

"Oh, do you mean the one with Adam West? That was fun. He fought the Joker in a surfing contest..."

THAT episode - "Surf's Up! The Joker's Under! " is considered a low point of the series, where it just surrenders to becoming the comedic spoof that it's detractors were accusing it of being - rather than the light-hearted Adeventure-Comedy-Mystery series it appeared to aspire to be early in it's first season - a 60's counterpart to 50's adventure shows like Zorro, The Lone Ranger and The Adventures of Superman...and yet, seeing Batman and The Joker appear in a sendup of 60's Beach Party movies neatly encapsulates the tone of the series in general: this is meant to be a fun Batman show. Adam West will forever be known as The "Fun Batman".

As an actor, Adam West's range went from "Bruce Wayne" to "Batman" and "Adam West" in between. That...halting...way..of speaking..isn't exclusive to the Caped Crusader. You can try digging deep into his pre-Batman work and come to the conclusion that Batman was a role Adam West was destined to play. He always looked more at-ease in the part than any of the other live-action Batman actors. You could argue he had it easier, since a purple leotard and cardboard mask doesn't weigh as much as the molded rubber suits worn by the film Bat-actors...but Adam also wore a utility belt that looked like it was manufactured by Fisher Price or Playskool...and wore a bat-emblem on his chest that looked like an iron-on transfer of the kind that came bundled with a sheet of stickers. He also couldn't be shown beating up villains without the use of psychedelic onomatopeia super-imposed over every punch: "BIFF!" "BAM!" "POW!" "KA-POW!" "OUCH!" "ZOWIE!"...as if perhaps constant exposure to doses of multi-colored gases from the Penguin's umbrellas, the Joker's squirting flowers, the ink in the Riddler's riddles or Catwoman's kitty litter was having an effect on Batman, Robin and Batgirl's senses; they could see the sounds made during their brawling!

And yet, his Bruce Wayne is actually still the best Bruce Wayne I've seen in live-action...there are a lot of episodes of that show that I found terribly boring, usually the ones that introduced new villains created for the series, like Lord Fogg (even West admitted in his memoirs to being puzzled as to why the show didn't introduce more villains from the comics - like Catman or Two-Face), but when it was good, it was really good and I was entertained. I remember watching reruns of the show for the first time in the late-Summer/Fall of 1989 - when it was brought back into circulation to capitalize on the new wave of "Batmania" after Tim Burton's Batman became a monster hit. By the time you get to the low-key Green Hornet crossover with Bruce Lee as Kato, it felt like the show had gotten stale...then Yvonne Craig pops up as Batgirl and injects a shot in the arm that helped the last season wrap up without a whimper and making you wonder what a 4th season would look like...on a different network..with just Batman & Batgirl..with Chief O'Hara and Robin written out..as per alleged network suggestions....

I think Adam West always felt slighted that he never got to appear in any of the modern films, not even in the kind of cameos that Stan Lee does for Marvel Studios films. On the other hand, his career comeback came from appearing in two cartoon series during the 90's: in "Beware The Grey Ghost", an episode of Batman: The Animated Series...and as himself in "Mr. Plow", an episode of The Simpsons. Next thing you know, he's getting work that winks back at his past credits, yet allows him to show off some comedic timing..he became cool. Then you see him doing guest-star spots in live-action 90's TV shows like Goosebumps, The Adventures of Pete and Pete and Politically Incorrect, or lending his voice to more cartoons like Johnny Bravo and Family Guy, playing a stylized, exaggerated caricature of himself..and suddenly he's cool enough as Adam West that he's won over a new generation that may not have even seen a single episode of his Batman but know him for playing "Mayor West" or just a Hollywood legend that makes appearances at conventions without having to wear a Batman costume...which he had to do during the 70s and 80s to stay afloat, financially.

I think his last role might be the sequel to the direct-to-video cartoon movie Batman: Return of The Caped Crusaders. That was a pastiche of the TV show, featuring his surviving co-stars Burt Ward and Julie Newmar. The sequel had cast William Shatner as the voice of Two-Face. I'm sure it'll be fun to hear Adam West as Batman for one last time.

Adam West, R.I.P.