Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"The Alternate Duckiverse" (alt. title: "Is St. Canard In Callisota?")

Darkwing Duck is 25 years old. No news yet about an animated revival of the Disney TV series, but there is an ongoing comic book series published by Joe Books that's available at your (hopefully) better-than-average comic shop currently on it's 4th issue.

Series creator Tad Stones was interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter about the milestone and dropped what's been reffered to on social media as a "bombshell": he never really saw Darkwing Duck as a direct spin-off of Ducktales and believed both shows took place in separate universes.

It always seemed like a natural assumption that Ducktales and Darkwing Duck were linked together, first because the latter program featured Launchpad McQuack and Fenton Crackshell/Gizmoduck, two major Ducktales supporting characters who were introduced in said series. A later episode of Darkwing Duck ("In Like Blunt") featured the major Ducktales villains - Flintheart Glomgold, Magica de Spell and the Beagle Boys - in non-speaking cameos. And while Scrooge McDuck and Huey, Dewey & Louie Duck remained offscreen, there was an infamous "Welcome To Duckburg" billboard with Scrooge's face appearing in the episode, "Tiff of The Titans". More-obvious examples of Disney TV shows that likely took place in separate universes, yet featured anthropomorphic talking ducks in the main cast were Bonkers, Quack Pack, The Mighty Ducks and House of Mouse. Those three series depict their lead characters inhabiting worlds that include cartoon humans, yet neither would mix well, unless you add a conceit that one or the other is a fictional series of cartoons being "filmed" within the world of another series, and the protagonists are ret-conned as actors, which is what House of Mouse does.

What supports Stones' logic is that both shows featured stylistic differences that set eachother apart..and I don't mean drawing style. Darkwing was a sendup of genre cliches featuring spies and superheroes. It also featured a lot of broad slapstick and cartoon violence in the vein of Tom & Jerry and the Looney Tunes shorts. Characters were often acutely self-aware and would break the fourth wall, knowing they were in a cartoon. Ducktales was a more conventional adventure-comedy series. Whenever there was any broad slapstick, it stayed firmly in relation to how things would happen in the real world, not cartoon physics. There were exceptions, but Darkwing would often survive a barrage of explosives and heavy metal objects and would shake it off; Scrooge suffered head trauma/amnesia after getting hit on the head with a skateboard in one episode. For Darkwing Duck to get amnesia, it would probably happen with twelve pianos falling on his head. You see what I mean?

The only way to reconcile this revelation with what's already established and all in the past is that a different version Scrooge McDuck and the Ducktales cast of characters exists within Darkwing Duck's..cartoonier universe. That's all. Not knock-offs, just apropos of Darkwing. By the same token, we can assume a different version of Darkwing Duck and his cast of characters exists apropos of the Ducktales universe as well.

And what if they crossover? Which universe does the episode take place in? Well, if it's a self-contained one-shot story, it's set within the context of the respective series. If Darkwing appears in the new Ducktales episodes premiering on DisneyXD in 2017, it'll be within the context established by that series. Same deal if Disney ever thought of a "The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones"-esque TV movie featuring these characters.

And if they really want to run wild...there's the cake gate. It was established in Darkwing Duck that portals/wormholes to parallel universes exist disguised as giant decorative cakes. There could be a cake to the Ducktales universe, a cake for the Super Goof universe, a cake to the Double-O-Duck universe*, a cake to the Carl Barks comic book Durkburg, a cake to the DC Comics universe, a cake to a mashup universe, a cake to the real world and the Disney Parks..and even a cake where Darkwing and Scrooge accompany Sorra instead of Donald and Goofy in Kingdom's a piece of cake.

Happy Anniversary, Darkwing Duck. :)

*Double-O-Duck was the original incarnation/concept for Darkwing Duck in it's early stages of development..I'm actually surprised that the team got as far as creating a press-kit for the character before revamping it into the character/series that we're familiar with today.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

See The Movie..Or Read The Book: "Ghostbusters"

Maybe I should've just seen the lady Ghostbusters movie..I wound up reading 3 books: the junior novelization, the standard novelization..and, perhaps better than either of those - a facsimile of Ghosts From Our Past, the guidebook serving as the catalyst for much of the film's plot.

The only disadvantage to opting out of seeing the film is that I can't say anything about the cast or choices regarding direction, production values and special effects. What I can observe is how earnest the story is. Erin and Abby's friendship is central to everything that happens...but it reminds me of the stuff with the baby in Ghostbusters 2 - actually, it's not as bad, but you can't have a proper screwball comedy romp when you try to add greater meaning to the shenanigans. Erin and Abby's dilemma belongs in a very different comedy, yet I'm aware that without it, this whole thing might resemble a remake of Pixels.

In the junior novel, Erin comes off particularly bipolar - she's looking for any chance to bail one moment, licking radioactive ghost traps the next. The junior novel, I'll bet, resembles the final cut of the film. Nancy Holder, who wrote the adult novel, goes to great lengths to flesh out Erin and Abby's backstory with lots of flashbacks to their salad days as teenagers and college students, eventually chronicling the disintegration of their friendship. That leaves little time for Holder to devote much to fleshing out the best characters: Kevin the receptionist and Jillian Holtzman. Midway into the final 3rd of the novel, she gives Holtzman and Patty Tolan a precious moment to talk about themselves, in a scene reminiscent of a moment between Dan Ackroyd and Ernie Hudson driving across the Brooklyn Bridge in the original film. For the sake of a sequel centering around Holtzman at least, I wish the film was successful enough for the studio to make one.

Other hints of the author taking creative license include an attempt to explain lame gags - the same Chinese food deliveryman, the dangerous radioactive device that gets handed like paperweight, Jennifer Lynch and the Mayor's obsession with keeping up appearances, Erin a popular target for getting slimed/puked on..

Oddly, Holder and Andrew Shaffer - the writer of the Ghosts From Our Past facsimile - invent contradictory accounts of the ghost Erin encountered as a child. Shaffer's account is more farcical and set around Halloween; Holder's account offers background on the old woman ghost and why she would want to haunt Erin. Shaffer and Holder also can't agree on how many hard copies of Ghosts From Our Past were self-published by Erin and Abby before Abby ultimately made it available on Kindle: Holder limits it to two copies, Shaffer implies far more, but never gives an exact number; just enough copies for other characters - debunker Martin Heiss in particular - to discover. These examples of discontinuity are not exclusive to these two; Ozzy Osbourne's cameo has a completely different line of dialogue in the junior novel and in Holder's novel! I prefer "I can't follow THAT!" (junior) to "SHARON!! I'm having another flashback!" (Holder novelization), but in this case, I'll bet the latter is in the final cut.

The guidebook is hilarious...though I wonder why they could make room for John Belushi and Chuthulu, but have no room for likely-to-have-been-seen-and-documented-before Ghostbusters rogues like Slimer, Viggo the Carpathian (whether you like him or not), Gozer the Gozerian, Vince Klortho and Zuul. Why not? This shit had rules? Nerds.

Hands down, the best passage in the guidebook was an Epitaph purportedly from Kevin, still completely at sea, trying to write abouta guidebook he opted out of reading...and trying to see if he can see the movie, instead...

...writing-wise, I think Kevin's my intellectual opposite/counterpart in the fictional world...

At the end of the day, I thought it was all okay...kind-of middle-of-the-road, story-wise. It's a story built on the outline of a plot I've seen before, so the interesting stuff was all the character could fashion a plot around this team never encountering any ghosts at all and still be entertaining...but that's not Ghostbusters...the appeal of this franchise is the blue collar approach to encountering the paranormal - like bug exterminators! It's a deceptively simple dynamic..but they got it half-right! It could've been much worse..

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Mary Jane Watson: What Do WE Know?

If you're regarding the recent reveal that actress Zendaya Coleman had been cast as Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man: Homecoming (or Michelle Jane Watson, but still "M.J." regardless) in terms of fidelity to the source material, then it probably is disappointing that Hollywood is still adverse to gingers..but Zendaya is an actress and glamorous model..and the Mary Jane Watson of the comics is an actress and glamorous model...she's as good a choice (perhaps a better casting choice) than the 2 actresses who preceded her (Kirsten Dunst and Shailene Woodley). And there's another thing to consider:

"Face it tiger, you hit the jackpot!" kind of a ridiculously corny thing a woman could say. The only actresses who could get away with saying that line just right - in all sincerity, without a trace of sarcasm or saccharine schmaltz - are Karen Gillan and Ellie Kemper, and they're not teenagers. Megan Fox could do it, because we've seen her play the M.J. all of you detractors think you want to see 4 Michael Bay movies (yes, I'm counting the TMNT movies). And I don't know if Bella Thorne could've delivered that line, either.

Past Spider-Man films tended to downplay M.J.'s personality to match the performance of their Spider-Man/Peter Parker. Dunst's M.J. could be noncommittal and fickle. Leaked dialogue for Woodley's deleted scenes appeared to portray Mary Jane as pragmatic and less of a party girl than the M.J. from Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.'s stories. In other words, she might've been characterized as having more in common with Peter, socially.

There's a superficial take on Mary Jane..and a more complex one. The superficial M.J. is...Megan Fox in a Transformers movie. I'm not going to waste words - if you want to see quintessential M.J. Watson, watch Megan Fox in the first 2 Transformers movies. That's Mary Jane in all but name only...yet lacking complexity.

The complex Mary Jane Watson is the one who became Peter's confidant..and eventually, his wife. She's the one who became the love of his life..first by staying by his side to help him with his grief after Gwen died. We haven't seen that M.J. depicted on film at all...maybe we will see Zendaya bring out that aspect of the character. That would be awesome.