Friday, February 26, 2010

Always Listen to Your Mother!

As I sit back and enjoy the final season of ABC TV’s LOST, I have my mother to thank for turning me on to this phenomenon. See THIS POST for the tale.

I approached LOST by getting the first three seasons on DVD at a Best Buy sale, and later returned for Season Four when it was released. Seasons Five and Six have come to me via TV, though I also have Season Five on DVD – and will get Season Six when it is released this coming August.

From there, DVD led me to HEROES and FRINGE.

But Mom began telling me about a series called FLASH FORWARD. It was on the same night as FRINGE, so I initially ignored it. But she persisted!

And so, when FLASH FORWARD was released on DVD February 23, I made a point to pick it up. Watched the first episode…
And, as with LOST, Mom was right again!

It’s the same type of “Big Incident Surrounded By Mystery” sci-fi adventure as is LOST. It has its own intriguing characters, whom I will soon get to know. And, as one eye-catching visual image in the first episode indicates,

Oh, and while we’re looking for things, watch for an uncredited and quite unexpected cameo by FAMILY GUY creator Seth MacFarlane, also in that first episode, playing it totally straight.

FLASH FORWARD has a fine pedigree, helmed by such individuals as David S. Goyer formerly of DC Comics and Brannon Braga formerly of STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION. I trust these talented gentlemen will take me on quite the ride!

And, all because I believe that you’re never too old to take advice from your mother!

Finally, one important reminder, please… As I as seeing FLASH FORWARD for the first time – No Spoilers! Thank you!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Happy (Parallel) Earth Day!

We’ve all heard of Earth Day, but TV and DVD enthusiasts might say that this week brought us “Parallel Earth Day”.
Sunday, February 21 saw the FOX TV repeat of FAMILY GUY’sThe Road to the Multiverse”, where Stewie and Brian tour multiple, parallel Earths – the many "turns of Terra" including Disney, The Flintstones, and one where the roles of dogs and humans are reversed.
This is one of the very best episodes of FAMILY GUY, delivering laugh after laugh in grand style – and the Disney style animation of FAMILY GUY characters was amazing!
Not to be outdone, DVD stepped up on Tuesday, February 23 with JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS. This made for DVD adventure takes DC Comics’ greatest heroes and places them in the sort of Parallel Earths adventure that has been a hallmark of DC Comics since the 1960s. In it, the Justice League meets their evil counterparts The Crime Syndicate. Superman and Ultraman, Batman and Owlman, etc. on Earth 3.

This, too, is the best of the Warner Bros. DC Comics made for DVD series. It will be reviewed on this Blog in the near future.
So, let’s compromise between last Sunday and Tuesday and call MONDAY, FEBRUARY 22 “Parallel Earth Day”!
…And let’s all hope we never find the Earth where I never started a Blog! How barren, lifeless, and unfulfilling THAT would be!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Edible Economic Indicator.

The economy must be improving.

No, this isn’t from the many experts on the subject, but a more personal observation.

One nice Saturday evening last April (2009), Esther and I (and some friends) enjoyed dinner at Ben Benson’s Steakhouse – an old-school, Manhattan fine dining establishment, where dinner for two runs us about 200.00.

The restaurant seemed about HALF-FULL at the time.

This past Saturday night (February 20, 2010) we did the same.

The restaurant was about 90 % capacity or greater, by my visual estimation.

I’d say that’s GOTTA mean SOMETHING GOOD! (…Even if it was just the food!)

Oh, and if you’re ever in Manhattan do give Ben Benson’s a try. It’s well worth the experience, even if you can only experience it once a year!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Old Simpsons Opening… Who WAS There?

On February 15, 2009, THE SIMPSONS began regular TV broadcasts of new episodes in High Definition. Happy 1st anniversary, HD Simpsons!

It brought about a long-overdue change in the opening title sequence of the show. It is now more elaborate and features more characters… MANY more characters! The vast majority of them appear to the naked eye as little more than a BLUR… if that!

In THIS POST, with the aid of single frame advance while viewing my Simpsons Season 20 DVD set, you can learn who we missed.

But, what about the OLD OPENING, that served us well for nearly 20 years?

Here’s the run-down on who you missed in the zip-pan for that sequence, taken in similar fashion from my Simpsons Season 12 DVD.

As we pan over, from left to right – to the Simpsons garage where Homer is nearly run over just before the “couch gag”, we see:

Mostly, there are lots of kids – the vast majority of whom were never named.

Beyond that, we had Milhouse, Nelson, Martin Prince menaced by Jimbo and Kearney (but missing Dolph), an older couple in front of a house (the Bouvier parents?), with Patty and Selma sunbathing (Yuck!) in front of that same house, Kent Brockman, Purple Girls Terri and Sherri, Grandpa Simpson, Jasper, and (for some reason) “The One-Armed Guy” at the Springfield Retirement Castle with other old folks, Cops Ed and Lou, Dr. Marvin Monroe consulting with Dr. Hibbard, Otto and the Springfield Elementary School Bus up on a jack with its hood open, more unidentified kids gathered around, one of Rod and Todd Flanders (and not the other) with Maude Flanders receiving Doves of Peace!

And now, as a famous radio commentator who was often satirized on FREAKAZOID! once said, you know the rest of the story…

Friday, February 12, 2010

It’s Snow Fun Shoveling!

As someone who has spent years shoveling snow for wives, girlfriends, and mothers, I can appreciate the gag Carl Barks offers us for the cover of WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES # 138 (March, 1952)!

As Donald and the rest of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic dig out, enjoy this treat – suitably wrinkled and worn to its age!

Monday, February 8, 2010

DVD Review: Batman the Brave and the Bold Volume Three

Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Three
(Released February 02, 2010 by Warner Home Video)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia.

Batman the Brave and the Bold on DVD has become one of the easiest products to review. That’s because little has changed over the three releases to date.

You can read most of the background and the specifics of Volume One HERE and Volume Two HERE.

Briefly, the animated TV series is based upon the notable comic book series from DC Comics called The Brave and the Bold. It was best known for its team-up stories that paired Batman with virtually ALL the heroes and villains of the DC Comics Universe.

The voice cast of Diedrich Bader as Batman, Dee Bradley Baker, Will Friedle, Tom Kenny, James Arnold Taylor, Corey Burton, Jeff Bennett, John DiMaggio and others are first rate, and superbly walk the delicate balance of adventure and surprisingly good humor that the series has become known for.

A particularly endearing quirk of the series is that the TEASER of most episodes tells a short and completely different story than the main body of the program. This way, you get even more DC Heroes and Villains per show.

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

Pretty much the SAME CONS and PROS you’ve seen before!


The Number of Episodes: Previous volumes offered only FOUR episodes, but this one offers FIVE! Probably for no other reason than, in original aired order, the set ends with a rare TWO-PARTER, and it would make no sense – even in sets produced as cheaply as these – to break up the final story of the set.

Combined with the previously released Volumes One and Two, we now have 13 episodes in total, comprising something resembling a typical single season for an animated program!

The Price: The MSRP is once again 14.98, but at least this is for FIVE episodes instead of FOUR. Diligent searchers, of course, can find it for less.

The Extra Features: Once again, there are NO extra features! A pity for a series with such a rich heritage!

Robo-Promos: Robo-Promos” is my term for advertisements that play automatically before you even reach the initial menu. Volume Two inflicted FOUR of these upon the viewer before “getting on with the show”, prompting me to add this new category to my CONS list. This was particularly annoying, given the small amount of actual program content that comprised the set, even though you can “zip” through them if you wish.

Warner, a studio that makes this too much of a standard practice, seems to have relented the onslaught a bit by limiting the “Robo-Promos” to TWO. The annoyance factor is also diminished because both promos are DC Comics-related. So, this is less of a CON than before… but still a CON.


Content Notes: In other reviews, I’ve complained about the total lack of CONTENT LISTINGS included as part of the packaging of a number of Warner Animation sets released over the past year. Those in my collection include Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection, Max Fleischer’s Superman, Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 1 AND Volume 2, and Ruby-Spears Superman.

But, all three volumes of Batman the Brave and the Bold list episode content on the outside backs of the packaging. With only FOUR OR FIVE EPISODES per set, this is hardly a Herculean effort… but, with 13 episodes spread over three sets, I’d say it is a very necessary effort just to keep the shows straight.

Characters and Settings: If there’s one thing you can count on from Batman the Brave and the Bold, it is new animated interpretations of “Characters-And-Settings-of DC Comics Lore”. Needless to say, we are not disappointed…

Featured Characters: Batman, Plastic Man, Elongated Man, Babyface, Aquaman, The Atom, Chemo, The Brain, Doctor Fate, Wotan, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Green Lantern G’nort, Sinestro, Despero, Mogo the living planet Green Lantern, The Guardians of the Universe, The Cavalier, Jonah Hex, Bronze Tiger, The Top, The Red Hood, Owlman and the Injustice Syndicate, Green Arrow (Silver Age, no beard), Blue Beetle III (Jaime Reyes), Red Tornado, and The Joker.

Green Lantern Corps Cameos: Kilowog, Tomar-Re, C’hp, Saalak, Arisia, Katma Tui, Boodika, Arisia, the “Diamond Green Lantern”, the “Robot Green Lantern”, the “Big Head Green Lantern”, Xax (the insect GL), and many other familiar faces and shapes from years of Green Lantern comics.

Villain Cameos: Black Manta, Gorilla Grodd, Gentleman Ghost, Dr. Polaris, and Clock King.

It’s Not TV: Viewers can enjoy Batman the Brave and the Bold with no “Network Identifying Bugs” in the corner of the screen, no pop up ads for other shows, and credits that you can “freeze-frame” and read. Viewers can hear the “extended version” of the show’s ending theme, which has probably NEVER played on TV because promos are always running over it! Indeed, one of the best reasons for collecting ANY contemporary TV show on DVD is that is has probably never been seen in this particular way ever before!

Image Quality: This is a new category for me, added mostly because I now have HD TV and a Blu-ray DVD player. Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Three is not offered as a Blu-ray release. However, the standard definition release is presented in wide-screen and, when upconverted by the Blu-ray player, the image is so rich and vividly colorful that it looks just as good as a Hi-Def broadcast of the show!

And, the ultimate “PRO” for Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Three…

The Episodes:

“Journey to the Center of the Bat!”:

Teaser: Plastic Man and Elongated Man argue over which of the two heroes with redundant powers Batman would prefer to work with!

An aside: This accurately reflects the “Real-World” situation between the characters over the years. The POPULARITY and USE of the characters of Plastic Man and Elongated Man, relative to one another in the pages of DC Comics, rose and fell and rose again over the years. In the ‘90s, Grant Morrison’s JLA put Plastic Man ahead for good, and in the 2000’s Elongated Man became a tragic figure that met an underserved fate.

Main Story: The colossal sentient toxic compound “Chemo” walks across the ocean bent on destruction. In combat, Batman takes a direct shot of Chemo’s poisons and, as Aquaman so delicately puts it “…is shipping some bilge!” The Atom is called in to help. He shrinks himself and Aquaman small enough to enter Batman’s bloodstream in an effort to destroy the toxins from within.

John DiMaggio’s heroically enthusiastic characterization of Aquaman is one of the highlights of the series, and the way he plays off the more businesslike Atom makes for great fun. Personally, I would have called this one “Bat-Tastic Journey”!

Another aside: To my knowledge, this is the first time Chemo has appeared outside of comic books and, therefore, his name has never been spoken aloud in any sort of “official” way. I’d always read it as “KEE-MO”, pronounced as in the word “chemotherapy”. Here, it is pronounced “KEMMO”, as in the word “chemistry”.

Thus, Chemo joins a list of comic book creations, that includes Sub-Mariner, Magica De Spell, Darkseid, Ra’s Al Ghul, and doubtless others, whose names have been read or pronounced in various and differing ways.

“The Eyes of Despero!”: Story by DC Comics writer J.M. De Matteis.

Teaser: Batman assists Doctor Fate battle Wotan at the Library of Infinity. The backgrounds for this short sequence are beautifully – and dizzyingly – designed in an M.C. Escher sort of way.

Main Story: Despero has conquered the Green Lantern Corps, save hot-headed Guy Gardner, dim-witted G’nort, and villain-to-be Sinestro who, for various reasons, were locked in cells at the time of the conflict. GL Hal Jordan’s Power Ring enlists Batman to help. Bats frees the trio of imprisoned GL’s and mounts an attack on Despero. Sinestro is still a member of the GL Corps at the time of this story, and not yet a full-fledged villain, but begins to betray his true motives.

Great scene: After conflict with Guy Gardner and frustration with G’nort, Bats declares that Sinestro is the only one he can trust!

Greater scene: Writer J.M. De Matteis recreates the “Batman takes-out Guy Gardner with ONE PUNCH” scene he had a hand in originally crafting, way back in 1987’s JUSTICE LEAGUE # 5!

“Return of the Fearsome Fangs!”:

Teaser: In the old west, Batman saves Jonah Hex from being “pulled apart” by four horses (one roped to each arm and leg) by a precursor to The Royal Flush Gang. This is a tribute of sorts to the famous comic book story “Ride, Bat-Hombre, Ride!” from BATMAN # 56 (December, 1949)

Main Story: The old Tibetan martial arts master, who was instrumental in young Bruce Wayne’s training, is killed (!) by three former students who have turned to the dark side. The trio, who have assumed the guise of their “spirit animalsFox, Shark, and Vulture – as Bruce assumed that of the Bat, are after an ancient totem that will transform them into powerful mystic manifestations of the creatures they represent.

In death, the master contacts Batman who, in turn, enlists the assistance of another former student, the man known as Bronze Tiger – who assumes the guise of a “tiger”, natch! This is a story of well-staged battles and beautifully rendered backgrounds. The opening scene, where a near-infinite number of arrows arc across the moonlit sky and rain down upon the Master is breathtaking! I was never a big fan of “martial arts” stories in the BATMAN comics, but I like this one – a lot!

“Deep Cover for Batman!”:

Teaser: A break with “tradition” has this teaser function as the start of the episode! The heroic Red Hood of a parallel but opposite Earth, tries to escape from Owlman and his Injustice Syndicate to “our” Earth. There, he hopes to enlist the aid of its heroes. Red Hood is overpowered, and Owlman uses RH’s “phase-oscillator” device to make the trip instead.

Main Story: In Part One of a rare two-part story, Owlman appears in the Batcave, Red Hood’s intended destination. He is dispatched by Batman and thrown into a cell. Batman makes the return trip to the other Earth costumed as Owlman (his opposite) and infiltrates the Injustice Syndicate. There, he finds evil opposites of Green Arrow, Blue Beetle, Red Tornado and other familiar faces, and a host of imprisoned heroes-who-look-like-our-villains, including the Red Hood.

An eventual free-for-all ensues, which becomes so delightfully confusing that Batman stops short of taking a punch at this Earth’s “good” Gorilla Grodd. The heroes prevail and the Red Hood is revealed as being a familiar face to Batman. (No Spoilers – but regular DC Comics readers will all know who!) Batman returns to his Earth, to another surprise – also not spoiled here.

This is a superb presentation of the parallel / infinite Earths concept that has been a cornerstone of DC Comics mythology for decades. The “overlapping Earths in sequence” image that punctuated the 1985 comic book epic CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS makes an appearance in this episode. Ironically, an ad for the upcoming DC / Warner direct-to-DVD production “Crisis on Two Worlds” appears on this disc as a Robo-Promo!

“Game Over for Owlman!”:

Teaser: Another break with “tradition” has this teaser function as recap of the previous episode.

Main Story: In order to defeat Olwman circumstances lead to an unthinkable alliance with… THE JOKER! This version is a wonderful recreation of Dick Sprang’s version of the character from the ‘40s/’50s, and is magnificently voiced by Jeff Bennett!

Among the other delights to be found in this episode are the Golden Age Batman costume (Spiky ears, no yellow oval), the Golden Age Batmobile (with Big Bat-Head as a front grille), the Silver Age Jokermobile, and various alternate versions of Batman seen over the years – Bat-Hulk (from 1966 The Brave and the Bold # 68 the first issue of the comic book title that I ever owned!), Bat-Hombre, Big Brained Batman, Red Rain (vampire) Batman, Captain Leatherwing, and an approximation of Batman One Million – and even three Batman/Joker flashback sequences lifted from the 1966 TV series! Have I piqued your interest yet?

How I wish I could spoil this one… but I won’t! You’ll have to see it for yourself. Suffice it to say that it is one of the finest examples of “Animated DC Comics storytelling” – and, that there is something in it to like (if not LOVE) for everyone! It is literally a DC Tour (de force) of the decades in forty-something minutes!

Overall: Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Three succeeds in its mission. By now, we know exactly what to expect – grand adventure, great fun and an outstanding cast of comic book characters – and it almost never lets us down! At its core are the lighter, but extremely imaginative, Silver Age DC comic books – but this clever series spreads its (Bat) wings over every point in time of the DC Comics Universe.

Despite the now-usual list of flaws, Batman the Brave and the Bold: Volume Three is highly recommended to fans and enthusiasts of Batman, DC Comics and the Warner Animated Series based upon them, the Silver and Bronze Ages of Comic Books in general. And give it EXTRA POINTS, if you are a comic book enthusiast with any degree of historical perspective!

In short, there is something in the series for “DC Geeks” of every stripe – from Gold and Silver Age onward! And, if your heart and mind belong to the DC comic books of the ‘60s thru ‘90s (as do mine), this is especially for you!
Though this may be Volume Three, if you’ve yet to begin viewing or collecting Batman the Brave and the Bold on DVD, this would be the ideal volume to start with – due to the extraordinary selection of episodes contained herein.

Wonder how many volumes of four or five episodes it’ll take to get to Bat-Mite and the Music Meister.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

New Simpsons Opening… Who’s There?

On February 15, 2009, THE SIMPSONS began regular TV broadcasts of new episodes in High Definition.

This led to the recent release of The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season – Blu-Ray Edition, the first Blu-Ray DVD release for that series. That set will be reviewed at this Blog in the near future.

It also brought about a change in the opening title sequence of the show. It is now more elaborate and features more characters… MANY more characters! The vast majority of them appear to the naked eye as little more than a BLUR… if that!

But, with the aid of single frame advance, while viewing my Simpsons Season 20 DVDs, I can now tell you just who - and what - we happen to be missing. At least I THINK I can…

As we pan over, from left to right – to the Simpsons garage where Homer is nearly run over just before the “couch gag”, we see:

The Duff Blimp, Mrs. Skinner, Principal Skinner, Superintendent Chalmers, Milhouse throwing ball to Nameless Black Kid, The Grave of Frank Grimes – with Ralph Wiggum playing with the sand of his plot, Groundskeeper Willie, The Pimpled Nerd Teen, Nameless White Kid, Mayor Quimby and Mistress, Martin Prince threatened by Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney, Fellow in Black Leotards, Patty and Selma Bouvier, Cletus and Brandine with their Pig, Captain McAllester catching Blinky the Fish, “El Barto” Graffiti, Stately Montgomery Burns Manor, Mister Burns and Smithers, Flying Saucer with Aliens Kang and Kodos, Twin Stacks of the Nuclear Power Plant, Kent Brockman with Cameraman, Purple Girls Sherri and Terri, Krusty the Klown, The Bee Man, Tony the Italian Chef, Fat Tony the Gangster with two of his Hoods, Cops Eddie and Lou – with outlaw Snake taking Lou’s gun, Springfield Elementary School Bus, Li’l Gil (sickly looking kid), Dr. Hibbard, Duffman, Bart’s Girlfriend, Mr. Teeny (Krusty’s monkey), Sideshow Mel, God, The Devil, Rod and Todd Flanders!

Whew! ‘Nuff seen!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Am I Blu?

I’m happy to say… YES I AM!

As noted earlier, this Blog has been dormant for all the usual reasons. Professional responsibilities, personal responsibilities, and, sometimes, just the need for more sleep!

But, there’s been one additional reason for my Blog-lessness…

For my birthday in January, my wonderful wife, Esther, gave me the gift of HD TV and Blu-ray DVD!

Just in time to enjoy the NY Jets THREE (yes, that’s “three”) playoff games! And so, we watched the Jets defeat Chad Ochocinco and the Cincinnati Bengals (They “86’ed” 85!) and Philip Rivers and the San Diego (“not so super”) Chargers – before the inevitable fall to the great Peyton Manning and the stampeding Indianapolis Colts – all in wide-screen, breathtaking high-definition!

A 37 inch set properly fit the space we have for the TV, and yes we’ve seen the wonders of going wider still – and some would make the classic argument that “size does matter” – but, from our previous perspective, 37 inches gets the job done!

Football was made to be seen this way, and we can’t wait for the upcoming baseball season. My favorite prime time series LOST, HEROES, and FRINGE are amazing as well! And I must admit that, when Esther watches THE BIGGEST LOSER, Hi-Def adds a frightening new dimension to what is already an abomination of a show!

Less than four weeks into this, I wonder how we ever did without it!

The Blu-ray DVD player is amazing in its own right. It “upconverts” Standard Definition DVDs to a greater level of visual clarity. An approximation of HD, if you will. Given my six years of accumulated SD DVDs, this was a very important selling point for me!

As of now, my only Blu-ray purchase has been THE SIMPSONS: THE COMPLETE TWENTIETH SEASON… and, as Simpsons fans know, only HALF of that season was produced in HD. But, that which IS produced for Blu-ray looks like “no Simpsons I’ve ever seen before!” It almost had ME sighing and drooling like Homer! (An aside: The HD episodes are heralded by the “New Opening” that shows EVERY CHARACTER in the extensive cast – if even as a blur. I’ll have more on that in future posts.)

It’s a beautiful thing when your expectations are exceeded, and the Blu-ray DVD player (when combined with the HD TV) did exactly that! All the older shows that I enjoy have also never looked better. Oddly, the quality starts out great, and increases by era.

Black and white era series like PERRY MASON, ZORRO, TWILIGHT ZONE, and THE OUTER LIMITS are clearer and crisper than ever.

Early color shows such as VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, LOST IN SPACE, ORIGINAL STAR TREK, and TIME TUNNEL reveal details and color saturations and variations never before seen. New wrinkles on Richard Basehart’s face, new details on STAR TREK’S “Gorn”, and beads of sweat on the brows of various characters that were unseen over dozens and dozens of previous viewings are now there for us to enjoy. …To the extent you CAN “enjoy” wrinkles and beads of sweat, that is!

Pushing ever forward, STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION becomes almost movie-like in its scope.

And even Standard Definition DVD versions of LOST blow me away! How much better must it be on Blu-ray, I wonder?

And so, I remain enraptured by my birthday gift – and by the wonderful woman who (…as Captain Picard would put it) “made it so”!