Sunday, April 29, 2012

Time Flies – Even When You’re NOT Having Fun!

Hard to believe it’s been over a year since THIS! 

…And nobody’s doing a damn thing to change it! 

The Horror! The Horror!

No, we don’t mean THIS GUY! 

Our good buddy Pete Fernbaugh details just how bad TV animation was during a sizable part of my lifetime!  HERE.

Pete “cleanses us” by the end of his SECOND POST – HERE, but not before he makes us suffer a bit more.

Check out this great series of posts from Pete’s always-interesting Blog. 

You (may) be glad you did!  …Shudder! 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

DVD Review: Batman the Brave and the Bold: Season Two Part One

Batman the Brave and the Bold: Season Two Part One

(Released August 16, 2011 by Warner Home Video) 

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Ya know what, folks, we’ve done this dance SO MANY times before, I’ll just LINK TO AN OLDER REVIEW to provide you with all the background stuff. 

It’s all the same.  What was bad remains bad, and what was good remains good.  Only the episodes change – and the episodes are wonderful, as always!   Three of them are downright spectacular! 

Let’s go! 

Featured Characters (In Order of Appearance): 

Batman, Blockbuster, Captain Marvel, Mongul II, Huntress, Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Plastic Man, Woozy Winks, The Joker, Catwoman, Jim Craddock/ Gentleman Ghost, Black Manta, Steppenwolf, The Shaggy Man, Ramona (Mrs. Plastic Man), Baby Plas, Kite-Man, Challengers of the Unknown, Starro, Evil Star, G’nort, Kilowog, The Guardians of the Universe, Enemy Ace, The Fisherman, Aquaman, Mera, Arthur Jr., The Penguin, Green Arrow (Silver Age, no beard), Clock King, Blue Beetle III (Jaime Reyes), Planet Master, The Top, Red Tornado, Dr. Polaris, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, The Atom, Sportsmaster, Detective Chimp, Falseface, Per Degaton, The Justice Society of America (Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick, Golden Age Hawkman, Golden Age Black Canary, Wildcat, Doctor Mid-Night, Hourman), Black Canary, Robin, Aqualad, Speedy, Ra’s Al Ghul, Talia, Ubu, Nightwing, Chemo, The Metal Men, Doc Magnus, The Riddler, Booster Gold and Skeets, Dr. Double X., Firestorm, The Faceless Hunter, Captain Marvel/Billy Batson, Dr. Sivana, Black Adam, the Wizard Shazam, Abra-Kadabra, Zatanna,  The Phantom Stranger, The Spectre, Lew Moxon, Joe Chill, Thomas and Martha Wayne, Achilles Milo, Gorilla Grodd, The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City, Monsieur Mallah, B’wana Beast, and Vixen!  (WHEW!)

Cameos: Archer, Felix Faust, Cluemaster, Fun-Haus, Bookworm, Mad-Hatter, The Cavalier, King Tut, Falseface, (…and, it would seem, Medulla and Oblongata from Freakazoid!), Weather Wizard, Calculator (voiced by Ethan Phillips “Nelix” from Star Trek Voyager), Zebra-Man, Mad Hatter, Shame, Mr. Freeze, Egghead, Killer Moth, The Brain, Copperhead, Catman, Calendar-Man, The Eraser, Crazy Quilt, Simon the Pieman (from the 1968 Flimation series - below), Mary Bromfield (the future Mary Marvel), Poison Ivy… Blink and you’ll miss a lot of ‘em! 
“Simon says: Try Pie!”

…Is this “DC Fanboy-Heaven”, or what? 

The Episodes:  (Rated by Number of Stars “*”)

Death Race to Oblivion!”:  ***

Teaser:  Batman and Captain Marvel vs. Blockbuster. 

Main Story:  From his “War-Moon” satellite, Mongul II terraforms a portion of the American desert into a vast and treacherous race course.  He then transports a number of heroes and villains (and their specialty vehicles – they ALL have one, you know!) to the site, and forces them to race – with the fate of the Earth in the hands of the winner!  Well, ya just don’t offer VILLAINS a deal like THAT, so Batman and his fellow heroes give it their all to win!  Participants include: Batman, Green Arrow, Huntress, Guy Gardner, Plastic Man, Woozy Winks, The Joker, Catwoman, Gentleman Ghost, Black Manta, and Steppenwolf. 

The action is very fast paced and exciting, in a NASCAR meets video games sort of way!  Indeed, as the various racers try to best the others, through means fair or foul, I’m reminded of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon WACKY RACES.  In that vein, at one point The Joker even provides his own NARRATION of the proceedings, as if he were voice actor Dave Willock describing the antics of Penelope Pitstop and Dick Dastardly! 

Among the other highlights: The Batman / Green Arrow rivalry, set up in previous episodes, figures nicely into the plot.  We have a great confrontation between Guy Gardner and The Joker!  I can’t recall that ever happening in the comics!  And Guy recalls one of his own most memorable moments as a member of the ‘80s Justice League, when he describes Batman taking down Mongul as follows:

One punch!  What a mook!”

Long Arm of the Law!”:  ***

Teaser:  Batman and Plastic Man attempt to sneak some captive scouts out of the clutches of many clones of The Shaggy Man.  Mum’s the word, until Plas (who has strained mightily to maintain audio silence, even when bitten by a possibly rabid raccoon) inadvertently utters a sound, and all heck breaks loose!

Main Story:   A rare instance of the “Teaser-guest” being the “Main Story-guest”, as Plastic Man is featured again.  Plas deputizes Woozy Winks and takes him on a tour of his secret crime-fighting lair, which is nothing more than his redressed garage.  Paralleling Batman’s arsenal of “Bat-objects” we find “The Plastic-Rang” (a box of toy boomerangs), “The Plastic Shield” (a plastic garbage can lid), and of course… Plastic Bags! 

GREAT LINE: As Woozy later takes Plas’s dog for a walk: “Ugh! I wish we had that Plastic Bag now!”

As Plas and Woozy goof around, Kite Man kidnaps and imperils Ramona (Mrs. Plastic Man) and Baby Plas as revenge for Eel O’Brien’s testimony against him.

Revenge of the Reach!”:  ***   Written by DC comic book writer J.M. DeMatteis. 

Teaser:  Batman and The Challengers of the Unknown investigate a meteor crashing onto an unknown island. As was typical for the Silver Age of comics, radiation from the space rock results in a giant spider and a pterodactyl (…I GET the spider, but what did the ‘dactyl mutate from?), which the heroes use to rout one another. 

Batman exits and the meteor opens up, loosing a horde of Starro clones (starfish-like, mind-sucking aliens) that possess the Challengers!  The ominous words “To Be Continued” flash upon the screen, as we fade-out to an act-break music crescendo very reminiscent to that of the underscore for the TV series LOST.  (…It seems something big is coming!)   

Main Story:  Blue Beetle is revealed to be a sleeper agent of a cosmic entity known as The Reach!  At least, the SCARAB that provides and controls Beetle’s armor and powers is responsible for the subversive treachery.  The Reach activates the sleepers and gathers them for an assault against the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians of the Universe.  Batman and the GLC rally Jaime Reyes to fight against… um, “the reach” of The Reach.  Guy Gardner, in top comic-book form, is featured in this one.

 Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure!”:  **** (and a few more “Special Vacation Stars”!)

Teaser:  In the midst of WW I, Batman (describing himself as “Someone who’s not supposed to be here!”) and Enemy Ace team up to destroy an alien’s hyper-atomic cannon (…if I may borrow that phrase from LOST IN SPACE) and rout the alien from the battlefields of Europe.  Gotta love Batman in a flying ace scarf! 

Main Story:  Aquaman is on a surface world-exploring vacation with his family – wife Mera and son Arthur, Jr. Problem is, he’s a HERO and just can’t suppress the urge to fight crime!  Bored with vacationing, he calls Batman, asking to assist, and is turned down.  As he traverses the country in a rented RV, he aids Green Arrow against Clock King, and Blue Beetle against Planet Master.  All while trying to keep the activities concealed from his disapproving family, to whom he has promised a real vacation. 

In fact, everywhere he goes he stumbles on some sort of “hero vs. villain action”, and is forced to ignore it for the sake of domestic harmony. In a rare occurrence, Batman finally needs a hand to escape The Penguin’s death trap.  The family relents and joins the fight. 

Aquaman’s family and Bats emerge victorious. And Mera and A.J. admit that the heroing was the best part of an otherwise mundane vacation.  This is the first episode in which Batman was NOT the main character!  And there could not have been a better choice to carry the load than B&B’s bombastically heroic version of Aquaman! 

GREAT BIT:  As Aquaman drives on in his RV, bored as all heck, he perks up at the sight of the villain “Sportsmaster” in a passing car… Until he gets a closer look to see the villain equally as bored – with his nagging wife and pouting daughter in the back of the car, chock full of travel folders and other such paraphernalia. 

(Sigh!) Looks like HE’S on vacation too!”

GREAT LINES (…Oh, there’s just one after another!):  When Aquaman first calls Batman and hears the sound of PUNCHES being thrown on the other end: Wait! You’re FIGHTING HENCHMEN, aren’t you!”

Aquaman describes his vacation, as only he can: I’m exploring that mysterious 30 % of the Earth’s surface not covered by water!”

Aquaman sheepishly tries to cover up his actions, after Mera sees one of his supposedly surreptitious sessions of super-heroing on a TV newscast in their motel:  That’s not ME, my dearThat’s, er… OCEAN GUY!  Similar color schemes!”  

Aquaman’s reaction to the unspeakably boring tourist attraction “The World’s Largest House of Sod” – still trying to make the best of it for the sake of his family: Just THINK of the HEROICS that went into packing THAT MUCH SOD!” 

Finally, Mera at last encourages Aquaman to join the battle to save Batman: Show him WHY you’re KING OF THE SEVEN SEAS!”

This unique take on the Aquaman family and the role of compulsive super-heroics in the DCU makes this one of the very best of the series – and one I can watch over and over!  Indeed, following my once-stated “favorites first” rule, this was the first episode I watched upon cracking-open the set!  

The Golden Age of Justice!”:  ***

Teaser:  In homage to the setup of a classic who-dunnit, Batman faces a series of suspects in a valuable artifact theft, locked inside an ornate Victorian drawing room, with his partner… Detective Chimp!  They play (please forgive me) “Good-Cop / Bat-Cop”, with the Chimp’s unrestrained methods of intimidation leading ALL the suspects to confess to many aspects of generally bad behavior – but not the theft itself.  BATMAN:  As you can see, my partner isn’t as PATIENT as I am!  I’m not sure how long I can restrain him!”  Finally, the thief is revealed to be… Falseface! 
Note: The Golden Age look of Batman!

Main Story:  In old time newsreel footage, the Justice Society of America (Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick, Golden Age Hawkman, Golden Age Black Canary, Wildcat, Doctor Mid-Night, Hourman) defeat would-be conqueror Per Degaton.  In modern times, Degaton is resurrected in his prime condition and the older JSA, along with Batman and the current Black Canary must defeat him.  Nice bit showing the death of the Golden Age Black Canary and Wildcat’s pledge to protect her daughter the current Black Canary.

It’s great to FINALLY see the JSA in animated form! 

Sidekicks Assemble!”:  ****

Teaser:  Robin, Aqualad, and Speedy, as youngsters, grumble to the JLA about not being let in on the action.  Batman puts them through a “Danger Room” simulation.

Main Story:  Now older teens, the trio are fed up and demand a mission of their own. Batman obliges, giving them a choice of two… a seemingly routine reconnaissance and one more fraught with danger.  Batman and Robin each try to figure out the mind game the other is playing in both the elder’s choice and younger’s selection of the mission.  The mission the teens end up on runs them smack into Ra’s Al Ghul, his daughter Talia, and his silent, muscular servant Ubu.  …Oh-boy! 

BEST LINE: Robin, after neutralizing Ubu: Sit, Ubu, Sit!” 

Oh, and at the end, Robin becomes Nightwing!  Yay! 

Clash of the Metal Men!”:  **

Teaser:  Aquaman returns home to Atlantis, after defeating some high-seas pirates with Batman, only to find that Mera, A.J. and all the subjects of his undersea kingdom have been possessed by the Starro clones introduced in “Revenge of the Reach!” Aquaman, meets Starro’s herald “The Faceless Hunter” and quickly falls to this Legion of Starro Zombies, as we fade out to the words “To Be Continued”.  …Can’t wait to see where THIS goes! 

Main Story:  Batman and the Metal Men team up to defeat Chemo.  Doc Magnus reveals that certain associates of his, partnered in an effort to make the world into a ‘50s-‘60s version of a futuristic paradise, were lost in a lab accident.  Not quite so, as the incident transformed them into “gaseous specters”, out for revenge on the Good Doc.  Too many “battle scenes based on elemental trickery” to suit me.  Your mileage may vary.  There ARE two highlights worth waiting for, though.  The “film” (shown on an old-time movie projector) of early Doc Magnus heralding his coming utopia, reminding one of the various “Dharma Initiative” films and TV recordings seen on LOST, but laced with postwar futuristic imagery – and Batman’s FINAL LINE of the episode!  Hint: It’s not WHAT he says, but HOW he says it!   

A Bat Divided!”:  ****

Teaser:  Batman is captured by The Riddler, and subject to a series of increasingly powerful electric shocks, every time Booster Gold fails to properly answer one of the Conundrum King’s riddles!    

Main Story:  A new version of the origin of Firestorm (Though, oddly, Jason Rusch combines with “his coach” Ronnie Raymond – who looks and acts more like jerky-jock “Steve Lombard”.  The same accident that creates Firestorm also SPLITS BATMAN IN THREE (!), dividing him into cool and calculating “Intellectual Batman”, angry and intense “Physical Batman” and would you believe “Slacker Batman”, who sits around munching on nachos! 

Diedrich Bader is magnificent at hitting the differences in vocal characterization, in voicing all three disparate variations of Batman.

BEST LINES: Slacker Batman (Logically explaining his unlikely existence): I’m what’s left without all that heavy personal baggage and science-nerd stuff!  Groovy!” 

Physical Batman (Angrily): He CANNOT be a part of me! Batman does NOT eat nachos!”

On a personal note, I have never liked the character of Firestorm.  To me, he was / is a bad ‘70s idea that did not improve with age or alternate incarnations.  The fact that I like this episode SOOO MUCH (“Dude!” as “Slacker Batman” might say!) is a testament to all involved! 

The Super Batman of Planet X!”:  ****  (Overflowing with Silver Age goodness, and deserves EXTRA stars for that!) 

Teaser:  Batman (in his guise of “Matches Malone”), with Doc Magnus and The Metal Men go on an interplanetary undercover sting to trap Kanjar-Ro and his hench-aliens. 

Main Story:  On another interplanetary mission, Batman’s craft is sucked into a wormhole, and he emerges on the world of “Zurr-En-Arrh”, an Earth-like (yet futuristic looking) planet which has its OWN indigenous Batman, who watches over the city of “Gothtroplois”. 

The city is menaced by “Rothul” (reverse-spelled tribute character to “guess-who”) attacking with the expected “giant robots”, and the events are reported on by red-headed “Vilsi Vaylar” (combo of Lois Lane and Vicki Vale). 

Suddenly developing super powers, due to an unusual element in the atmosphere, Earth’s Batman defeats Rothul, gains the admiration of Vilsi, and sparks jealousy in “Zurr-En-Arrh’s Batman” – who, in his secret identity, is the “Clark Kent” to Vilsi’s “Lois”.  There are also parallel-characters to Commissioner Gordon and Alfred – the latter being a servant-robot named “Alpha-Red”!

Things go swimmingly for “Super Batman” for a time… until Rothul figures out his weakness, a deadly, energy-sapping, shiny rock-like element he calls “quartz”! 

If you the Silver Age Geek that *I* am, this is one SPECTACULAR episode.  Chock full of everything that made DC Comics great, during their most imaginative period.  You could easily find this kind of stuff in Silver Age issues of THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD or WORLD’S FINEST.  ...Or, maybe the issue below!

AND, for extra added fun, the VOICES of “Zurr-En-Arrh Batman”, Vilsi, and Rothul are by DC Animated series veterans Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, and Clancy Brown, respectively.  Brown, in particular, really chews the scenery, as only he can. 

So, it is, simultaneously, one of the greatest Silver Age tributes you’ll ever see (From an actual comic, no less!) – and an equally great nod to the glories of DC / Warner Animation of the ‘90s!  Aw, let’s just call it one of the series’ best, and leave it at that! 

GOOD LINE:  Earth / Super Batman (To “Zurr-En-Arrh Batman”): I wouldn’t like it either if an alien with superpowers came to earth to do MY job!”

The Power of Shazam!”:  *** 

Teaser:  In the series’ most ominous teaser, we learn that Starro’s advance enforcer, The Faceless Hunter” has over the time-span of the last several episodes subdued and taken control of most of Earth’s heroes!  Batman does NOT appear in this teaser – for the first and only time in the series to date.  This notably advances the Starro subplot that was begun back in “Revenge of the Reach!

Main Story:  Evil Dr. Sivana conjures up Black Adam to overpower Captain Marvel and neutralize the Wizard Shazam.  Nice team-up of the “Big Bad Bat” and the “Big Red Cheese”.  And, we meet Mary Bromfield (the future Mary Marvel) at episode’s end.  I’m not the biggest fan of the Captain Marvel group of characters but, in my view, I don’t think they could be done better than they are done here!  Captain Marvel/Billy Batson, Black/Teth Adam, Sivana, Shazam – all exactly as I’d imagine them at their best.  Batman almost seems like an add-on.  For this story, perhaps he was. This episode will have you wondering why Captain Marvel never had a series of his own.  

Chill of the Night!”:  (…Zatanna, The Phantom Stranger, and The Spectre COMBINED couldn’t conjure up enough stars for this one!)

Teaser:  Batman and Zatanna, vs. Abra-Kadabra in the inevitable and enjoyable “duel of magic”. Those familiar with the character are aware that Zatanna executes her spells by SPEAKING THEM BACKWARDS.  Now, this works quite well in the COMICS, where you can stare at the balloons and READ them backwards (…or hold the book up to a MIRROR, or something), but HEARING SENTENCES SPOKEN BACKWARDS just doesn’t work for me. I never had a sense of what Zatanna was conjuring, until actually seeing the result.      

Main Story:  Simply the best episode of the entire series! 

Will those wacky supernatural beings ever cease toying with us mere mortals for their amusement!  The Phantom Stranger and The Spectre wager that if Batman were ever to come face to face with “Joe Chill”, the killer of his parents, would the Dark Knight act in the interests of “justice” or “vengeance”?

Go see this for yourself, and behold the wonders of writer Paul Dini!  And, enjoy Adam West and Julie Newmar in the role of Bruce’s parents Thomas and Martha Wayne – and BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES stars Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammil as The Phantom Stranger and The Spectre!  A treat for Bat-fans on SOOOO many levels!   

This also (…with all due respect to “Stranger ‘n’ Spectre”) um, “haunts” me as having been done somewhere in the comics – but, for the life of me, I cannot recall where.  Eerie, huh? 

Gorillas in Our Midst!”:  ****

Teaser:  At the sight of hordes of rats carrying jewels and other booty to a hideout, I thought we were in store for an appearance by The Ratcatcher.  But instead it’s Dr. Achilles Milo conducting genetic experiments with said rats.  He is foiled by Batman and The Spectre.

Batman leaves the villain tied-up and waiting for the police (as he is wont to do), but having just lived through “Chill of the Night!” (above)  he should know better than to trust The Spectre – who comes back to exact vengeance by transmuting Milo’s human body into a human-sized and shaped “living hunk of cheese”, and looses the hundreds of HUNGRY RATS upon him.  (EEESH!) 

As the rats begin their advance, and The Spectre leaves Milo to his food-like fate at the fade-out, I’ll confess to an initial bout of the chills (…Not “of the Night!”).  One of the best teasers of the series!   

Main Story:  Gorilla Grodd teams up with “The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City” (Yes, there REALLY WAS such a character!) and Doom Patrol Ape-foe Monsieur Mallah to assert the superiority of gorillas over man.  Batman has left Gotham in the (capable?) hands of B’wana Beast, while he attempts to infiltrate Grodd’s compound with the assistance of Detective Chimp. 

The presence of Detective Chimp elevates this from an initial rating of Two Stars to Three!  (Did I really just write that last sentence?)  Another star (bringing it up to FOUR) is added because of a great TEASER that I watched several times in succession, just to soak of all its (pardon) “awesomeness”! 

Overall:  Batman the Brave and the Bold: Season One Part Two 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.  And give it EXTRA POINTS, if you are a comic book enthusiast with any degree of historical perspective!   

With THREE of the series’ VERY BEST EPISODES (“Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure!”, “The Super-Batman of Planet X”, and “Chill of the Night!”) contained herein, and a high level of story quality in general, this is ONE GREAT SET… even with NO Bat-Mite appearances!  (Don’t worry, they’re coming!) 

Consider, also, that these “three-best episodes” are great for DIFFERING REASONS: Comedy, Silver-Age lore, and drama, respectively!  That’s great range in writing! 

It is unfortunate that the “Starro” arc begins in this set and concludes in the next one (to be reviewed soon), but that’s the way the episodes fell.      

As usual, 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!  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Be “Brave”! A “Bold” Review is coming!

My long delayed DVD review of BATMAN THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD Season Two Part One will be posted later this week! 

Please note:  It’s LONG DELAYED… and LONG PERIOD! 
So long, in fact, you may wish to start planning your vacation now - -just to read the darned thing. 

You KNOW how I love writing about this show! 

Awesome Sauce! 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Time to Retire It: “The Issue At Hand” APA and Fanzine Column. (1994-2012)

This past week, I submitted the final “print edition” of The Issue At Hand, an APA and Fanzine column I’ve produced since 1994 – and the basis for this Blog.

I’ve reached an “Official Count” of 100 installments – with an unofficial count that would be much higher – and that seemed like the perfect place to call it quits.   

For the last few years, most of the material seen in the “print edition” was culled from that prepared for this Blog, via the miracle of “Copy / Paste”.  And finally, the effort of actually printing copies, carrying them to the central mailer, etc. began to wear on me.

It is bittersweet to bring to a close the process that lead to this Blog – not to mention many friendships and acquaintances, and some wonderful years of writing. 

But all “things” come to an end.  …I’ll leave it to those who had read it, year after year, to decide if “The Issue At Hand” was a “good thing” or just a “thing”.  All I know is that I enjoyed doing it for the 18 years of its existence!   

For now, the Blog will suffice… Until the day (as some long time readers may remember) “Cerebro-TIAH” will activate – beaming my commentaries on Life, The Universe, Comics, and DVDs directly into your brains!

Now, THAT’LL be fun!