Friday, July 20, 2012

Silver Dollars - Ducktales at 25

Ever since Disney was quick to note that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the mega-hit Ducktales TV series, it's still unclear how they plan to celebrate...complete the DVD box sets with a Volume 4? Announce new episodes in production? Have Selena Gomez, Debby Ryan and Brenda Song jump out of a cake in bikinis at Disney World?

I was watching Marilu Henner in an interview, recently. She was promoting Unforgettable, which starred Poppey Montgomery and aired on CBS. It's been cancelled, but it was inspired by Henner's ability to recall her whole life with no gaps - she remembers what happened on any date and time of her life in the past and present.

So.. in honor of Ducktales 25th anniversary, I thought I would try to recall the first week that it aired on television and my reactions/comments. It's all so very potted...

September 1987 - Friday: "The Treasure of The Golden Suns" premieres in prime-time as a 2-hour film. I had no idea. The ad in TV Guide for that week was not specific - it just had an image of Scrooge and Huey, Dewey & Louie hiding in a bush, with some new character (Launchpad McQuack) hovering above in a neat little helicopter offering a rope ladder. A large spear is resting on a palm tree behind Scrooge and the boys - presumably the ducks are fleeing from a jungle ambush (does this remind me of Raiders of The Lost Ark? No, it reminds me of Sport Goofy: Soccermania, a TV special that had aired on NBC months before and featured Scrooge, Huey, Dewey & Louie - I had been watching it over and over in the VCR since then).
Bullet points from that time:
1. Donald's cameo: "Why isn't he in this more? he wasn't in Soccermania, either."), Donald's re-appearance in the third act ("This is great! Maybe he'll be in more episodes."), then the realization that this is really about Scrooge, who used to be Ebenezer Scrooge, but is now Scrooge McDuck. (I had not read the comic books). "Scrooge does a lot of cool things."
2. The Beagle boys are redesigned with individual personalities, but still play the same role as stooge-villains, like they did in Soccermania. I love that chase through the candy factory.
3. New characters: Glomgold ("Looks like an evil uncle of Scrooge's"), Gyro ("Interesting"), Launchpad ("Funny guy, kind of like Indiana Jones. It sounds like they'll announce his arrival when he shows up.") Mrs. Beakley and Webby ("Characters for the girls watching. Mrs. Beakley must know Donald if she can tell the nephews apart. Webby looks like Daisy Duck in Disney Babies."), El Capitain ("He's awesome! He must be coming back again! He's the biggest bad guy here!").
4. The City of Gold (viewed in silence with total awe...there were no cartoons on television at the time offering visuals like that. If you were not interested, you must have been some form of deadwood, really).
5. The announcement at the end that this was the start of a new series airing on weekday afternoons, starting Monday: ( "Mom! I need ten blank videotapes to record this!")

Final Thought: Without next week's TV Guide, I had no idea there would be more. During the weekend I suddenly lost interest in Thundercats, Voltron, Transformers, The Smurfs, Yogi's Treasure Hunt and any other series I had been watching...for a while, anyway. ;)

September 1987 - The Following Monday: "Send In The Clones" airs. Magica DeSpell makes her entrance and is just one more great reason to keep watching - they didn't drop the ball after the premiere, though it seems like it won't all be about lost treasures and stuff. We get to see the nephews room (actually, the design of the attic was cooler - says me in the present-day). We get more of the Beagle Boys. Act 3 is great. My Mom "gets" the Webra Walters/Barbara Walters joke and o.k.'s me putting off homework for a half-hour so I can watch this show - it has proven that it is not childish junk.

Tuesday: "Sphinx For The Memories"
Donald's back as special guest-star. This is really his episode. Since it became clear that Scrooge is the star, then in retrospect I think that if they had Scrooge tag-along with Donald, then things wouldn't seem so disconnected after the crazy pace of yesterday's episode (I'm translating my past-thoughts using my present-day brain).

Wednesday: "Armstrong"
As I had observed earlier, Launchpad appears in this episode with an introduction, as we watch him put out a forest fire. Later, he gets to do some awesome Talespin-ish flying with his biplane, The Joyrider. But the character who owns this episode (aside from a neat bit where Scrooge uses gold nuggets to play Checkers) is Armstrong the robot. The design is very much like Barks, or psuedo-Barks, with the light bulb nose and square jaw. You've got to wonder what set the 'bot off and made him go Dalek Emperor/Cybermen on everybody - perhaps it wasn't the toy robot but the fact that Scrooge was using him as cheap labor. "When do I get my hot cocoa break. you old tightwad? I must take over the world so that I can make time to have my own breaks - ha,ha,ha...ha,ha,ha...mek,mek." And Gyro didn't learn...the GICU2 from SuperDucktales is Armstrong 2.0. Armstrong's antics anticipate Gizmoduck's gizmos and gadgets, so you got to wonder, why didn't they expect him to get out of control, too?

Thursday: "Magica's Shadow War"
There was something of a "13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo"-ring to this one, but I like these characters, better. Magica owns this episode, plus Scrooge gets a good moment when he breaks down the door and wears the moose head. (Years later, I learned that the writers for this episode had originally conceived it as an episode of "The Real Ghostbusters" but then tailored it for Ducktales, instead. It works very well. Does this mean the money bin was supposed to be the GB's firehouse?)

Friday: "Master of The Djinni"
Glomgold's back - Scrooge should really think hard about posing with treasure maps in a photo op. After meeting the Genie and race down the mountain, the pace slows down too much. I don't think it recovers, but Shewebbazad is very cute. It's still worth watching for Act One, anyway.

The Following Monday: "Hotel Strangeduck"
This is more like Monday's episode - fast paced and wild. I'd rank this one very high on the Top 10. Is Ludwig Von Strangeduck related to Ludwig Von Drake? Fredericka Von Strangeduck (along with Webra Walters) continued to pop-up here and there in cameos, or at least their character designs did, even in a few Darkwing Duck episodes.

What an uneven, yet delightful week and a half that was! A wacky witch, a crazy robot, mummies, a haunted hotel, a clone saga, a shadow war, invisible men, hot furry lady ducks..a distillation of things we now use to describe the series to people under 20 who are occupied with the adventures of talking kitchen sponges...and there was more, much more! I hadn't even discovered the comics, yet!

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's Been A Pleasure - Part 2

More of my guilty pleasures in pop culture! Let's begin!

1. Trail of The Pink Panther - okay. Imagine you're an executive at MGM. You had just green-lit another sequel to The Pink Panther because, aside from James Bond, Scooby Doo, The Muppets and Star Wars, the 70's were quite shit. Also, the Panther films are making lots of money. You've managed to talk Peter Sellers into doing another Panther by letting him plot and co-write the script. The new film, Romance of The Pink Panther, will be directed by Sidney Poitier - wait, the script's not done yet and he bowed out - okay, Clive Donner will direct it. The plot? Clouseau falls in love with a beautiful woman who is an ardent fan and a jewel thief. The film is likely going to be the series finale. Two drafts of the script are completed. Blake Edwards is not involved in this one.
Then...Peter Sellers dies. What to do? Edwards, for many reasons, is approached with "saving" the project by re-casting Clouseau, perhaps with Dudley Moore. Moore isn't quite interested. Edwards instead hatches a new idea, a new, cheaper continuation of the series with a new character - Clifton Sleigh - introduced with a "tribute" of sorts to Sellers as a transition film, using deleted scenes from two of the recent sequels and borrowing key plot elements from the aborted Romance script. But the budget is slashed, and the money that would have gone to buying scenes owned by another company (ITC, for Return of The Pink Panther) is gone, so Blake has to settle for adding previously seen "flashbacks" in the film's 2nd half. Stunt doubles for Sellers are used to give the "new" Clouseau scenes a narrative and ... it almost works. I enjoy this film for what it is - it's a YouTube mash up before there was YouTube, really. You get a lot of scenes of Clouseau engaged in mundane activity - bringing home groceries, filling his pipe with tobacco and setting off the sprinklers in his office, setting his car on fire - and Henry Mancini's music for the title sequence has neat variations on the familiar theme. Also, we get hints of continuity - the events of the first film are addressed in a way that has had fans on the Internet offering explanations for years and years. One explanation offered for why Cato is ordered to attack Clouseau often is because Clouseau has become paranoid after the woman he was married to for 20 years turns out to have been the lover of the thief he had been trying to catch for just as long.

2. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane - Andrew Dice Clay - remember him? Oh! This comedy/mystery, set in the music business, involves a pirate CD operation run by Wayne Newton, who murders his co-conspirators - Gilbert Gottfried, Priscilla Presley, Vince Neil - then chases after a private eye that had been hired to find the owner of a CD-Rom (one of 3) that holds copies of all the evidence. I just gave away the plot..oh!  Never mind, this film, based on a little-known DC Comic from the late-80s, is a nostalgia trip through early-1990s pop culture noise and funk. Clay's career was at it's peek around this time, but he's never nearly as offensive as people want him to be. There's much worse.

3. Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Biography - I am not a fan of this series, but this book is irresistible. A collection of miscellaneous old photos, bogus newspaper clippings and doctored scrapbook-like items are cobbled together into a bogus autobiography that puts the spotlight on the elusive (and very distracting) narrator of A Series of Unfortunate Events. I thought it was more entertaining than the main series, which I found lacking in suspense or much in the way of a good cast of characters that would keep the interest up for as long as it went. It seems to have faded away once the Harry Potter series ended, as though it were just a stop-gap for people craving something else to read between HP installments. This biography of the digressing author is better.

4.  Dr. Sax by Jack Kerouac - I'm inclined to agree with Truman Capote when he commented on the Beat Generation/movement of literature from the late 50's-early 60's this way: "None of them can write - not even Mr. Kerouac - that stuff is not writing, it's typing." But it is possible to have mixed feelings about it - sometimes, my own writing reads like it when I'm not paying attention. Dr. Sax is Kerouac's possible account of his childhood in Lowell, Massachusetts and his own guilty pleasure - reading pulp fiction magazines, especially The Shadow. Dr. Sax is The Shadow in all but name only, the Lamont Cranston of young Jack's daydreams, whipping up potions and creeping around Kerouac's home town in preparation for the big confrontation with The Great World Snake, a Midgard Serpent-like creature promising destruction. Dr. Sax is Jack's imaginary friend; by the time the book ends, Sax has removed his costume and stands revealed as Kerouac himself as an adult, forced to face the world without herb potions or cloaks or floppy hats. Talk about deconstruction of a comic book hero - I'd say this is where it all starts. It's fitting that Alan Moore would eventually get around to writing him in one of his stories (he appears in the Kerouac-ish "The Crazy Wide Forever" pastiche in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier).

5. Never Say Never Again - fans of Sean Connery's 007 count it, fans of EON Productions do not, yet through a curious chain of events, the distribution rights for the movie belong to MGM and it airs alongside the other Bond films in annual marathon cycles on cable television. This film is a remake of Thunderball, even though it looks cheaper in places and Klaus Maria Brandauer is too "real world" for a Bond villain. But Max Von Sydow is perfect as Blofeld, Barbara Carrera is awesome as Fatima Blush and Connery is in fine form in his last appearance as Bond. Also, I thought the film had a better pace and a stronger mix of suspense and humor than Thunderball, which I thought slowed to a crawl after the pre-title sequence. If it weren't for Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Vulpe, I'd probably not have the DVD at home.

Don't tune out now, rehab fans! The best is yet to come!

To be continued...

Friday, July 6, 2012

Moore Hot Dogs!

"Page 36/TRUMP 8 Panel 2. The Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.E) was a major victory for the Smurfs over the forces of Gargamel, and prevented him from conquering Oz and Wonderland."
- Jess Nevins, Annotations to The Black Dossier

There you have it. Solid evidence that Jess Nevins has gone mad from making sense out of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. For the past decade, Jess has become the universal translator for every minute reference hidden in the panels and text of each installment of the series, and that reference/footnote in particular makes no sense whatsoever, yet it's on his webpage!

Anyway, I have to say I fell back in love with the League after a trial separation. When I picked up that premiere issue of the series back in the Fall of 1998, I really thought Sherlock Holmes was going to be in it. They have Mycroft in it, Professor Moriarty, Colonel Moran and a reenactment of the showdown in "The Final Problem"...there's even a couple of references to Mina Murray visiting Sherlock during his retirement, when he became a beekeeper (there are also hints that she might have found him very interesting or very dull, depending on what the postcards offered in The Black Dossier would have you believe - I suspect it's the former). Aside from these... bon-bonbonbons, I've seen little else.

There is proof that I'm not the only fan who was starving for some Sherlock-schlock - for a time, Moore had to answer over and over that Captain Nemo was NOT Sherlock Holmes in disguise. I didn't even think of that one! Anyway, something about volume 2 of the series - the second arc, which adapted H.G. Well's War of The Worlds within the context of the LOEG (or LXG, if you saw the movie with Sean Connery - Alan didn't, so be of good cheer if you didn't either) - it featured a made-up almanac that mapped-out the shape of the LOEG/LXG universe, even featuring nods to things that Alan and Kevin might never get around to, like Doctor Dolittle's post office, a young Auric Goldfinger searching for the lost city of El Dorado, The Hardy Boys, Zorro, Conan and Pogo - stuff like that. It also featured key continuity points, like introducing Orlando, Raffles and the Frankenstein monster as the royal consort to the queen of Toyland...stuff , like Mina and Allan Quatermain visiting the ruins of Dracula's castle and stuff  like Allan's rejuvenation in  Uganda. It bugged me that that was stuffed in that stuffy almanac. Obviously, they're being careful not to trip over copyright, but it made me feel as though the main arc of each mini-series was lacking...or just wasn't my cup of tea...or maybe I was just still stinging from not seeing Sherlock play a bigger role in it...or all of the above.

Of course, that's the genesis of that "Sherlock Edition" I posted a few weeks back. I had put together a reading list of pastiches - some good, some not so good, all worth a glance - offering a parallel timeline that explains his absence. I recall Roger Ebert, in his review of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, remarking that Holmes was too quirky to mix well with James Bond-style shenanigans, but that never stopped anyone before... proper spy/sci-fi stories with Holmes would be things like "The Lion's Mane", "The Devil's Foot" and "His Last Bow" - all written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of course. It's tempting to imagine the LXG/LOEG Sherlock sitting in a corner, playing his violin/puffing on his pipe/shooting up coke/leering at Irene Adler photos/whatever, playing armchair sleuth while Allan, Nemo and Mina do all the legwork, because he would feel his dignity compromised by engaging directly in that sort of thing, following them discreetly in disguise as nondescript beggars, crippled limping booksellers, clergymen, old dowagers, etc... just in case they need someone to bail them out - they usually did. Or imagine an ancient octogenarian Sherlock, kept alive through some deus ex machina (royal bee jelly?) to join a new incarnation of the league in the upcoming 2011 installment - yes, the opening of the next big arc is set to take place in 2011.

So I delayed from getting the Black Dossier, a compilation/sourcebook of sorts, often mistaken as volume 3, because it does feature a new adventure as a wraparound (not unlike those Looney Tunes movies from the 1980s that mixed old and new footage), but got it anyway when the price was right. It was a discounted hardcover copy, still in it's shrinkwrap, with the variant "Mina in bed" cover. I didn't know if I would like it - it's considered the one that draws the line - the one where fans either got off the train or stayed on for the rest of the ride. I liked it. I still have problems with Moore's prose work - it's so exact in it's execution that it's not engaging to people who are not fans of the various writing styles he's approximating. But I don't hate any of it. I realize I won't be buying a copy of Fanny Hill or P.G. Wodehouse's books any time soon, but I doubt John Cleland ever imagined Fanny being chased by a giant erect penis while running inside a giant vagina (you really have to read this thing to believe it - you can understand why DC Comics was increasingly unnerved by it and eventually turned chicken), nor do I think James Bond was the nasty guy Moore believes he was, or whom Ian Fleming meant for him to be, or that Jack Kerouac meant for Dr. Sax to be the grandson of Fu Manchu and Dean Moriarty the Professor's descendant (but then again, who can tell when reading Beat "literature"?). I'm not too crazy about the Golliwog (I don't really understand a word he says), but I like Orlando and have taken a liking to Mina and Allan - Next to Batgirl and Spider-Woman, Mina Murray is in my top 5 of cool female comic book characters. That fact that we have seen her nude often is merely coincidental.

 I'm surprised he didn't add Paddington Bear into the soup. He's been around since the late 50's. The dolls/toyline, by the way, were launched by the parents of Jeremy Clarkson! I'm surprised there wasn't a Top Gear reference in the current Century:2009 (more on that below).

I was patient when it came to following Century, the recent 3-part arc that launched Moore's new publishing relationship with Top Shelf (it happens that LOEG is the only property from the ABC lineup that Moore and O'Neill owned and can take anywhere - due to the contract signed in negotiations for the LXG feature film - it's much more clear than the contract they signed for the Watchmen comic book, obviously; this is what the outcome should have been for that property). Timing is everything. It took about four years for this arc to end - my interest came back when it was announced that the final chapter would be set in 2009. So I got the first two installments a few months ago and brought part 3 last week.

I was not disappointed. The 2009 chapter is, in my opinion, the best installment of the series. You may not have read it yet and heard all the hype (that Moore and O'Neil skewer J.K Rowling) but the big shock is...they really don't. The Harry Potter books are high-profile, but part of an even larger target - the lack of originality and banality in pop culture. Watered-down remakes, revamps, adaptations, ripoffs, retreads...this one seems a bit more personal than what came before - certainly not a book you would have ever seen with the DC logo, or their front, the ABC star that was used for all of Moore's comics. I'm not going to give away a thing, here - if you're not buying any comics this year, reconsider and check this one out and only this one.  Yes, you'll still need Jess Nivens' annotations to help spot all the in-jokes and nods, but they're not as myopic or obscure as before. The thesis here is that our fiction parallels fact - the ups and downs, everything.

One last thing - upon reading this comic (and the issues before it, including The Black Dossier), one can't  help but notice that Moore and O'Neill are offering something new to mainstream comics - No, not the fact that their stories have influenced the last decade of superhero team comic books, but something that is very obvious and yet, not so obvious...weiners. Graphic depictions and usage of  the devil's trumpet. Usually, superhero comics focus on "Good Girl Art"/cheesecake/Boobs, but here in the LOEG, you'll probably see more raw sausage (in their natural casings) then in Magic Mike (according to Sara Underwood, this film about male strippers only offers a glimpse of one "dawg" - in a pump...I have no interest whatsoever in confirming this). Aside from the Gargantua and Pantagruel sex scene/chase I described above, most of the weenies are of average size - thankfully none were shown in the 3D sections offered in the Dossier -  we would've sued for damages to our eyes.

I see Joey Chestnut won the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest again this year...