Monday, July 25, 2016

"Grape Ape?"

DC Comics has a line of comic books reinventing old Hanna-Barbera characters    out in shops right now: Scooby Apocalypse, Wacky Raceland, The Flintstones and Future Quest. The last book is a crossover series featuring the casts of Johnny Quest, The Herculoids, Birdman & The Galaxy Trio, Space Ghost, Frankenstein Jr. & The Impossibles..and is Mightor in there? If he's not, I'm sure he'll turn up. It's not entirely clear if all of these books are ongoing series. Future Quest alone feels like a maxi-series along the lines of Crisis On Infinite Earths.

What all these books have in common is that they ask us to take these cartoon characters a lot more seriously than we ever did before - although Scooby Apocalypse isn't far away from incarnations of Scooby-Doo cartoons where the "ghosts" were portrayed as real and not crooked realtors cosplaying as monsters. The likely inspiration for these makeovers was Archie Comics success with Life With Archie, Afterlife With Archie and the ultimate revamp of the line - with the exception of the digests - with the stock company characters redesigned for a more "realistic" look. None of these books are really for kids, although they'll likely be exposed to it ( the same way I saw parents take their kids to see Deadpool - "Rated 'R'? What's that?").

If this run is a hit, who's next? DC teased The Jetsons would be the next candidate...assuming someone at DC Comics is reading this, can I suggest you do something with The Great Grape Ape?

Why Grape Ape?..I used to believe that the cartoon characters who had become most-indicative of "Hanna-Barbera" - the ones that immediately come to mind among people under the age of 30 - were Scooby-Doo, Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, Yogi Bear and The Jetsons...and then the subject came up at work and my co-workers replied with "Grape Ape" and "Huckleberry Hound", so I bid that theory adieu.

"Grape Ape? Wow..they don't even show reruns of his cartoon on Boomerang."

"I know, I know...nobody believes it, but I love that character."

"Fair enough, fair enough. I like "Precious Pup" - people aren't even sure who THAT is! But they DO know Grape Ape."

I'm convinced the director of Scooby-Doo and The Monster of Mexico attempted a subliminal revival of Grape Ape by recasting him as a Chupacabra. There could be no other possible explanation for re-imagining a creature often described as vampiric, reptilian preying on goats in Puerto Rico as a burrowing simian preying on tourists in Mexico*. This Chupa was Grape Ape in all but name only.

I'm not saying a Grape Ape comic book should recast him as a Chupacabra..maybe he could be a genetically modified grape rescued by a lab animal (Beagly Beagle) and they go explore the world, on the lam, like The Zeta Project...or Kermit and Fozzie evading Doc Hopper in The Muppet Movie...but what could the villain want from Grape Ape?..maybe his bodily fluids make an excellent beverage? A key ingredient in Kopi Luwak is the excrement of a species of jungle cat; perhaps there's some delectable drink that can be mixed from Grape Ape's purple stuff?

Movin' right a-long, Grape Ape-Grape Ape, dugga-dunk, dugga-dunk...Movin' right a-long..

*still a mystery why THAT Scooby-Doo film relocated the Chupacabra "legend", to Mexico..Season 3 of "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" had an episode set in Puerto Rico ("Don't Go Near The Fortress of Fear!")...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The "New Look"- Era of "Ducktales" is Coming..

When the original Ducktales premiered on television in 1987, it's appearance was consistent with two other series produced by Walt Disney Television Animation that debuted the previous year: The Wuzzles and Disney's Adventures of The Gummi Bears.

With this in mind, it makes sense that the revival of Ducktales would look like other DisneyXD fare: the Mickey Mouse shorts, Wonder Over Yonder, Gravity Falls and Star vs. The Forces of Evil. It really does look like a crossover between the shows is not impossible..I can't help wondering what Launchpad McQuack and Darkwing Duck would look like in this "New Look" definitely looks like there's a humorous tone..I'm getting a Venture Brothers meets Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated vibe off this image that was revealed by E!Online.

And of course, early reaction from old-school Ducktales fans resembles Donald Duck's expression at the bottom of that teaser image..."What the doggone blazes is that?..Is Deputy Dawg gonna' show up?"

I'm looking forward to it. :)

Friday, July 15, 2016

"Adjust The Color On Your Batman Movie."

Emil Gustafsson Ryderup's unofficial remix of the upcoming animated Batman film, Batman: The Killing Joke on YouTube created a sensation last month. His intent was to incorporate colorist John Higgins effort on the original version of the film's source material: the 1988 graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. That version remained in print until 2008, when the hardcover anniversary edition was released. Artist Brian Bolland recolored the book with a more subdued color palette, eliminating Higgins' funky, psychedelic look.

Ryderup's trailer got positive feedback from viewers...possibly because it gives the film some visual oomph that's missing - it has the same, flat, generic anime look that's crept into all of DC Comics/Warner Home Video direct-to-dvd/Blu-ray releases since their Wonder Woman film. As of today, new images offered on Facebook seem to imply colors on the film were given a slight adjustment...or that could be photo-edit trickery. What remains is that it's faithful to the comic, with it's big draw being that the best actors ever cast as the voices of Batman and The Joker - Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, respectively - are reprising there roles, along with Tara Strong as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl...

..yeah, Batgirl...time to address the elephant in the room..

The comic book is what it is - lean and mean. I'm not going to defend it; I don't believe it's the best Batman comic ever, or best Joker story - I prefer Mad Love. It is the best of the dark Batman Moore wanted to top Frank Miller by penning a true tale of Batman failing, at the height of his mental and physical power; even Miller's recent Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade couldn't show a Batman at his peak - The Killing Joke shows that. It also shows Batgirl crippled and - strongly implied - raped. Lean, mean and nasty, this book was. And polarizing. To say it's the "Greatest Batman story of all time" seems really oddly put. It's the most chilling. It's a pure horror comic starring Batman and the Joker. Maybe that's why Higgins' colors seemed apropos; it really was like a 50's horror comic.

It's been reported that additional scenes have been added to the film adaptation to give it a feature-length running time. Does this mean we'll get a "love conquers all"-style epilogue chronicling Barbara's recovery from her paralysis? Or how about a definitive bit of fan wish-fulfillment by revealing that Batman snapped the Joker's neck in the final moments - not just simply a breaking of the 4th wall? The book has it's answer; the film may offer another. We'll have to see.

Perhaps in two years - when the "30th Anniversary Edition" of The Killing Joke is published (and they WILL do this - it's THE best-selling graphic novel of all time...right the moment), it will feature both
versions - either side-by-side or one following the other. It should also include "An Innocent Guy" - Bolland's unrelated short story that was published in the 20th Anniversary Edition - but also offer a version with John Higgins returning to add psychedelic coloring to that. Just for the completeness of it.

I hope that link works..if not, just pretend that's a popup add for free movie tickets or detergent or hamburgers..heh, heh, heh, heh, heh..

Monday, July 11, 2016

"Dark Night: A True Batman Story" by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso

Just when you think countless YouTube and podcast interviews gave the whole thing away, Dark Night: A True Batman Story still offers a lot of surprises. It's an excellent graphic novel, but whereas most of the reviews on the internet center around author Paul Dini's traumatic experience getting mugged that is the climax/catalyst of the book, I found what stayed with me was a lot of the rich details of other events described therein. The mugging itself is strong, brutal stuff (he almost died!), but there are other moments that have their own power:

+ You do get a sense that Paul regrets his doomed relationships with vacuous wannabe starlets. He would use his feint connection to Steven Spielberg  (Dini worked for Amblin on "Tiny Toon Adventures") as bait..and they would lead him on with their feminine wiles. Paul's adherence to the time period keeps him from elaborating on his happy marriage to actress/magician Misty Lee, but the reveals about his doomed relationships playing into his struggle with deep depression ( Emmy award statuettes never looked as creepy as they do in the scene depicted in the book ) imply that the mugging became a very sobering, karmic experience in his life, though I don't think he wants to attribute it as a good thing, just a trigger for change.

+ Paul's first collaboration with Bruce Timm was a failed revival of Beany and Cecil produced by John Kricfalusi of Ren and Stimpy fame. I found it cute that the show was a childhood favorite of his. It was the 50's Spongebob Squarepants, kind-of the precursor to Rocky and Bullwinkle in approach, though with jauntier designs...lots of Beatnik jokes.

+ The character of Ivan Ivorybill was clearly a proxy for Woody Woodpecker, which means Paul was offered a chance to work on a TV series revival for the FOX network. I recall it lasted a year, with Billy West as the voice of Woody. It was o.k., but I remember reviewers thought it was staid. It had nice animation, though. The scene Ivan in the hospital was sad. And powerful!

+ I remember that Tiny Toons videogame..and seeing photos of the bubble bath bottles with the plastic heads from the out-of-print book, Batman: Animated. It's all real stuff.

+ Batman does have a lazarus pit in the batcave! It happened in Devin Grayson & Paul Gulacy's Batman: Ra's Al Ghul mini-series from 2005. Batman built it to test if he had the only written copy of the chemical formula to create one.

+ The synopsis of the rejected idea for a Batman: The Animated Series episode where Batman would've encountered Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Death is very intriguing..and it reads like a backdoor pilot for a follow-up book that would tell the tale proper. Why not?

+ It's been pointed out elsewhere, but the depiction of Paul's therapist as a voluptuous vixen hints at his inspiration for Harley Quin's origin as the Joker's therapist. The character of Harley Quin appears briefly toward the end. I'm convinced the use of red and white in the cover design was meant to invoke Harley, since the advance copies that were used to promote the book featured a markedly different design...I don't hate the current look, but it reminds me of a Christmas card design. I prefer the one used for the advance copies.

+ The idea of having fictional characters act as avatars for the protagonist's thought processes was the main draw of the book when it was first announced, but it's not an original concept for a graphic novel. I also read a graphic novel about Agatha Christie's life that features her engaged in dialogues with her series characters. Compared to other scenes in Dark Night, this stuff was a little weak, but there is great moment where Dini seems to be challenging the idea of "Anyone can be Batman" for a moment. I do with other reviewers who have noted that Dini is the best at writing scenes featuring large groups of Batman villains and giving them equal time to shine.

+ Eduardo Risso wouldn't be my first choice for a special project like this ( I really wish this had been the last assignment done by the late Darwyn Cooke, as opposed to all those variant covers ), but Risso comes through with a career-defining effort that is fantastic. He showcases an impressive versatility, able to capture different moments with an array of illustration styles..I think people were expecting a journeyman effort and were genuinely taken aback by what Risso does here.

If you're a fan of Dini's comic book work, I would say this fits nicely on a shelf with Mad Love, Harley and Ivy: The Deluxe Edition and Tales of The Batman: Paul Dini. Oh, wait...that last one doesn't exist..yet. :)

Saturday, July 2, 2016

"Neat trick!" "Saw it in a Batman movie."

I was disappointed to learn that the expanded version of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice will only be available to own/view on Blu-Ray and Digital HD, whereas Standard DVDs will only feature the theatrical version. It makes sense that the PG-13 version is out there so that parents have an option..but it's still not highly regarded. Why not have both versions available on all formats? Or am I the only one who still doesn't own a Blu-Ray player? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? I'll move on, then..

Not owning the film means I can't get a closer look at a scene played in the trailer for the video: Clark Kent queries an old man about Batman...and this old guy punctuates his final word with a funny trick: he draws the Bat-emblem on a scratch-off ticket by scratching the surface with his thumbnail. My reaction was, "Hey! That's kind-of cool! I'll see if I can do that."

I used 3 tickets. Only one offered a prize. What was the prize? A free ticket. But that's not the fun part. The fun part was trying to scratch the Bat-emblem. On the 1st try, I realized I might've done it backwards. The 2nd try gave me the desired result. The 3rd try came about as an afterthought, because I recalled the image of the Bat-emblem was formed from a black surface, but that's where the ticket used in the film was essentially a cleverly designed prop. The surface of these tickets is usually a lighter color contrasting with the symbols printed in black. So I used a magic marker and drew a bat on the last ticket.

And I didn't use my thumbnail to scratch those tickets. That's actually pretty gross - those filings are worse than eraser marks: they stain the palms of your hands as you move your hand across the ticket surface. And when you use a coin to scratch, your fingers wind up smelling like the coin you've been holding (because the sweat & oils from our fingers collect the dirt & grime from the metal coin). I don't know if  "Lotto Scratch-off Ticket Art" is a pre-existing thing, but it exists now. Starting here? I do recall an artist drawing mini-paintings on those electronic subway fare "Metrocards" and trying to generate a trend a few years back..and Etch-a-Sketch "etchings".