Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Western Wednesday: Jonah Hex and Jeff Lemire



Jeff Lemire's the artist on next week's Jonah Hex #69. It's written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and features Hex facing off against his own dad.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mysta faces the Revolt on Planet Xanthia



In this story from Planet Comics #59, an exile of the planet Xanthia returns to take over his homeworld and the Safety Council sends military support to the planet's government. Director Garro again decides to lead the intervention himself, perhaps as a result of his success putting down last issue's prison escape. Is he getting a taste for adventuring?

Naturally he takes along his top aide, Mysta, in her "disguise" as a Safety Technician. This is the first time I noticed the full title of Safety Technician and it can be read a couple of different ways. Without the modifier (and recalling that the Safety Council used to be called the Science Council), I've always read the Technician title as referring to some kind of low-level scientific specialist. So a Safety Technician would be someone like that who just so happens to work for the Safety Council.

On the other hand, maybe Safety describes the type of technical expertise she has. In other words, she's skilled and trained in the technicalities of keeping people safe. If this is the case, it goes a long way towards explaining why she's asked to advise and gets brought along on so many missions. It's a much cooler job.

It would also mean that changing the name of the Science Council to Safety Council was more than just propaganda, but actually indicates a change in function, settling a question I had a while ago.

We also get to see Bron again in this issue as well as the Saturn-shaped UFO from a few issues ago. Bron's apparently having an okay day, because he's not all resentful of Mysta's extended undercover mission like he's recently been. But he is getting a little jumpy at being all alone on the Moon with no one but Mysta's cold and impersonal robot for company.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)



I’ve been claiming for years that Escape from the Planet of the Apes was the last PotA movie I saw as a kid, but now that I’ve “re-watched” it, I’m not so sure it was. I had a vivid memory of Zira and Cornelius’ talking to human scientists through bars of a cage and there’s plenty of that in the movie, but man, I had zero recollection of the actual plot or tone of the film. Maybe I caught it on TV as a child and only saw part of it. More likely, I’m probably confusing it with the fourth film, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. I didn’t think I’d seen Conquest, but I just watched the trailer for it and it has that sense of seriousness and rising dread that I thought I remembered from Escape. And since Roddy McDowell also plays the main character in Conquest, maybe it’s that character that I’m remembering talking to the scientists and Zira wasn’t actually there. I’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

Part of the problem is that I’ve read summaries for all five films, so my childhood memories are mixing in weird ways with what I think I know of the stories. For example, I was very surprised at how Zira and Cornelius escaped the end of the world in Beneath. I remembered that their coming back in time to the 1970s was an accident, but it wasn’t actually as unplanned as I’d thought. I knew that they narrowly escaped the destruction of the planet and were thrown back in time, but it was my cynicism about the studios’ desire to keep the franchise going that led me to believe the explanation would be sloppy and nonsensical. I’d come up with the image of a shockwave from the planet’s destruction that created a timewarp that somehow affected only the popular chimpanzee couple. That’s ridiculous, but no less so than other explanations I’ve seen for getting out of cliffhangers.

All that’s to say that Escape is a much, much better film than I remembered or expected. It opens with a shot of the beach that’s very reminiscent of the end of Planet of the Apes or the beginning of Beneath the Planet of the Apes until a couple of helicopters cross the sky and you realize that you’re not in that world anymore.

The helicopters are investigating a spacecraft that’s splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near the California shore. It’s immediately recognizable as the same type that both Taylor and Brent used, but when the military arrives to open the capsule, three chimpanzees emerge: Zira, Cornelius (played again by Roddy McDowell, who sat out Beneath), and a new character, Dr. Milo. It’s not until that point that the title of the movie appropriately appears, accompanied by some kicky, groovy music like you’d expect from a Flint movie or a Peter Sellers comedy.



That’s the first clue that Escape is going in a different direction from the first two films. Not a completely different direction, as we’ll see, but the first half of the film is much lighter in tone as the humans try to figure out what to make of these talking primates. There’s a Star Trek IV-ness in its dropping familiar sci-fi characters into a contemporary setting and just admitting that that’s a goofy premise that the movie wants to have fun with for a while. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Once the apes are taken into custody (and we get to see a very young M Emmet Walsh playing a military aide), we learn that Dr. Milo is the one responsible for the apes’ trip through time. During the events of the first two movies, Milo had not only discovered the location of Taylor’s sunken spaceship, but had successfully raised it to the surface and repaired it. When the gorillas went to war on the Forbidden Zone, Milo knew that no good would come of it and arranged to be off-planet with his friends Zira and Cornelius during the invasion. No one attempts to explain the wormhole that sent the ship back through time (was it a result of the Earth’s destruction or just a random event?) and that’s fine. There’s no need to over-think it.



There is a bit of a speed bump in the story’s logic though when the movie insists on supporting Beneath’s assertion that people in the ‘70s would be aware that something went wrong with Taylor’s mission. And not only his, but Brent’s too. I’ve already talked about why that’s impossible, so I won’t harp on it, but it’s still irritating.

The apes are first taken to the LA Zoo and – at Milo’s recommendation – try not to let anyone know that they can talk. They’re studied by a pair of scientists named Lewis Dixon and Stephanie Branton and are able to keep quiet for a while. But even though Dixon and Branton are kind to them, Zira becomes impatient at the undignified experiments she’s asked to perform and voices her objection.

I haven’t said enough about Kim Hunter’s portrayal of Zira in all three of these movies. I doubt I was the only kid who fell in love with that ape. Zira’s written as outspoken and uppity, but Hunter also gives her humor and grace and you can’t help but cheer for her. Roddy McDowell’s Cornelius is just as likable and I enjoy both characters even more together than I would if they were by themselves. My fondness for Zira increases because Cornelius likes her so much. And vice versa.



Unfortunately, having fulfilled his function in getting our heroes to the ‘70s, Dr. Milo is killed when he gets too close to a primitive gorilla at the zoo. That leaves Zira and Cornelius to face the humans alone, but there doesn’t seem to be a problem at first. They have to appear before a Presidential committee that’s formed to learn about them, but they do well and win over the news media that’s covering the event. As a result, they become national celebrities and get to have fun montages in which they shop for mod clothes, move into a fancy hotel, and comment on human society.

Lurking around during all of this is the President’s Science Advisor Dr. Otto Hasslein, played by Eric Braeden. Braeden is of course famous for playing the sinister Victor Newman on The Young and the Restless, so as soon as I recognized him I immediately suspected him of evil motives. Realizing that wasn’t quite fair – this being a completely different character and all – I gave him the benefit of the doubt. But I wasn’t at all surprised to have my early suspicions confirmed that Dr. Hasslein wasn’t to be trusted.

There are some holes in Zira and Cornelius’ story of where they came from and Hasslein wants to poke around in them. It’s a fair suspicion because the chimps haven’t been entirely honest with the humans. They’ve even lied and said they didn’t know Taylor because they knew that would lead to questions about Taylor’s treatment and eventual death. Revealing how Taylor died would also lead to disclosure about the Earth’s destruction and the apes aren’t sure how the humans would respond to that.



They’re right to be careful. One night when Cornelius isn’t around, Hasslein gets Zira drunk and she spills the whole story. Hasslein freaks out; mostly because Zira is pregnant (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome wasn’t identified and named until two years after Escape came out, so we can maybe cut Hasslein some slack for not being on the cutting edge of that research). Hasslein fears that Zira’s baby will mate with primitive apes to create the race of intelligent primates that will eventually take over the world and cause its destruction. He recommends to the Presidential Commission that Zira’s child be aborted and that Zira and Cornelius be spayed and neutered.

The movie gets a lot darker from here on, but it’s very centered on Zira and Cornelius’ plight and doesn’t make any new social commentary like the two previous films did. Lots of comparisons are made about animal experimentation in the ‘70s and during the apes’ time, but there’s no judgment on it. Everyone – human and ape alike – accepts it as a reasonable tool in the pursuit of knowledge. There’s not even a theme about xenophobia. Zira and Cornelius are welcomed and encouraged to stay and live out their lives. Hasslein’s plan is horrific and something to be avoided, but it doesn’t involve actually killing the heroes.

The only unique social observation I pulled from the movie was a clarification of something the apes kept saying in the first two films: “ape does not kill ape.” I stupidly missed the significance of that until Escape smacked me over the head with it and pointed out that this is a crucial difference between apes and humans. Apes don’t kill their own kind. Humans – as Taylor so frequently pointed out – do. This goes back to my observation during Beneath that the apes created their culture as a direct response to humans’; trying to improve on it and create a utopian society. Their success was limited, but they had at least prevented war within their own species. Sometimes I just need things spelled out for me.



While being questioned by the military, Cornelius reveals the history of the apes’ rise to power. He tells about a plague that killed off the world’s cats and dogs and how humans – desperate for new pets – began to bring primates into their homes. Because the apes were so much smarter and dexterous than the previous pets, humans began using them as servants too. Slaves, really. And this continued until the apes evolved and one of them said, “No.” From that point, the revolution was on.

There are some problems with this story. Chiefly, it’s unclear how Cornelius could possibly know it. Humanity’s one-time dominance over the apes was a strictly guarded secret of orangutan leadership in the first two films. There are a couple of possible explanations though. First of all, During Planet of the Apes, Dr. Zaius holds a post in his office over Cornelius’ head if Cornelius and Zira get back in line with the orangutans. I don’t recall if that’s followed up on in Beneath, but it’s possible that Cornelius did go to work for/with Zaius and had access to some secrets. I can’t really see Zaius’ voluntarily sharing that information with Cornelius, but the chimp could have discovered it or sought it out on his own.

That doesn’t solve the whole problem though, because Cornelius also tells the humans that the anniversary of the first ape’s speaking is a major celebration in ape culture. That simply can’t be true. Cornelius has to be lying.



There could be a couple of reasons for him to lie. Maybe he has no clue how apes took over from men, but knows that the humans won’t be satisfied with that answer, so he makes one up. Or maybe he really does know some of the story, but embellishes it to include an annual celebration. The first explanation seems more likely. I can understand why he’d make up the whole story, but I have a hard time figuring out why adding details like an anniversary would benefit him.

I’m a little reluctant to let the whole “No” story go, but that’s just because I like it. Even though it contradicts the history of the apes’ rise in the next two films, there’s an easy reconciliation for that inconsistency. Hasslein explains it earlier in the film when he’s describing the concept of time travel to the President. He illustrates it as a multi-lane highway with each lane going to a different future. If you stay in your lane, you’re destined towards a particular outcome, but you can change that by changing lanes. Hasslein’s goal is to change humanity’s lane by aborting Zira’s child, but what he may not realize is that the world has already switched lanes simply by Zira and Cornelius’ coming back to the past. The future that Cornelius described isn’t unchangeable.

What’s sad is that Hasslein should know this. He should be working with Zira and Cornelius to set up a situation in which apes and humans live in equality. But he gives into fear instead.



I like all that, but it still doesn’t explain Cornelius’ comment about the No Anniversary. The only explanation that makes sense is that Cornelius is making it all up. I’ll miss the alternative timelimes theory, but it’s much simpler for this story to see time as a self-correcting phenomenon in which Zira and Cornelius were always the catalyst for the apes’ uprising.

With the help of Drs. Dixon and Branton, Zira and Cornelius eventually escape military custody, but a man is killed accidentally in the process, upping the tension on both sides of the chase. Dixon takes the apes to a friend of his, Señor Armando (Ricardo Montalban), who runs a traveling circus that’s currently performing near LA. Zira gives birth there (they name the baby Milo after their deceased friend) and Armando plans to take the primate family with him when he finishes in California and moves the show to its winter headquarters in Florida. There, the apes will be able to escape into the Everglades and start their own secret colony.

It’s a good plan, but it’s complicated when Hasslein figures out that he should be searching small zoos and circuses that might conceal the apes. Dixon learns about Hasslein’s idea and lets Cornelius know of a shipyard where he, Zira, and Milo can lie low for a week until the search moves on. After that, they can rejoin Armando for the trip east.



This too is a good plan, but Zira mucks it up by dropping her carpet bag along the way. She brought it from the future and has been carrying it the entire movie, so when someone finds it, they know to call the police. That leads Hasslein to the general area of the shipyard where he spots Cornelius’ returning to a ship after a food run. There’s a dramatic chase around the ship, a shootout (Dixon had supplied Cornelius with a gun), and – sadly – no survivors. Hasslein’s firing his pistol into the blanket covering the baby chimp is especially appalling, but effective. I don’t excuse any part of Hasslein’s actions, but he’s an effective villain because he truly believes he’s doing the right thing for humanity. In his mind, he’s the hero.

Fortunately, the movie doesn’t end there. Back at the circus, Armando talks to the baby of one of his own chimps, revealing that this child is actually Milo. Zira switched her child with that of the other chimpanzee. The film fades to black as Baby Milo calls for his mama with an all too human voice.

It’s a disturbing moment, realizing what Zira did. She switched her child with a primitive one, knowing that she was going into danger and that the baby with her might not survive. Though the movie keeps this as a surprise until the end, it actually does show the moment leading up to the switch. Zira asks Armando if she can say goodbye to the other chimp family and as she sits alone with the animals in their cage, she exchanges meaningful looks with the other mother. The film doesn’t spell out what’s being communicated or how much the primitive mother understands, but there’s a way of reading it in which the primitive chimp gives her baby freely to Zira. Does she somehow understand that Milo’s survival is important to the future of all apekind? I don’t know how that would be possible, but I much prefer it to the alternative that Zira simply, selfishly stole the other child.



Then again, the primitive mom would know that Milo’s not her son and – if he’d been forced on her against her will – likely wouldn’t want anything to do with him. Is it telling that Milo’s not housed with any other apes when Armando talks to him at the end of the movie? Maybe he has been rejected. Unfortunately, the explanation that makes the most sense is that Zira stole the primitive baby; probably hoping to return him, but still…she obviously knew there was a chance of tragedy and wanted to make sure her child was safe. I’m actually not judging her. It makes me wonder what I would do in a similar situation. Would I sacrifice someone else’s child to save my own? It’s a horrible choice to have to make and I like that the film doesn’t offer a judgment about it. It just throws it out there and makes me wrestle with it.

Maybe Conquest will reveal more.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Peter Falk (1927-2011)



Aw, crap.

100 Things I Love About TV

It's taken me a while, but I've finally compiled a list a la Siskoid's.



1. Andy Griffith and Don Knotts: Greatest Comedy Team of All Time
2. Falling in love with Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best (then realizing she’d also dated Andy Taylor).
3. The comfort of watching any family in a ‘60s sitcom (eg Hazel, My Three Sons, etc.)
4. The opening credits to I Dream of Jeannie.
5. Fred Sanford vs. Aunt Esther.
6. Vincent Price’s terrorizing the Brady boys in Hawaii.
7. The “Ring My Bell” skit on The Carol Burnett Show.
8. The Ministry of Silly Walks.
9. The Fonz.
10. Alex P Keaton



11. Bill Cosby’s finally getting the perfect showcase for his comedy in The Cosby Show.
12. Bob Newhart doing anything.
13. Lilith on Cheers.
14. “This is the theme to Garry’s show, the theme to Garry’s show. Garry called me up and asked if I would write his theme song.”
15. David Schwimmer’s complete willingness to make a jackass of himself on Friends. And Ross isn't even my favorite character from that show.
16. “Chicken pot, chicken pot, chicken pot pie!”
17. “No, Matthew. I can definitively state that I am not Doobie Keebler.”
18. Anthony Clark as Boyd Pritchett in Boston Common.
19. Mr. Frickin’ Bean.
20. “Yo-Yo Ma!” “Boutros Boutros-Ghali!”



21. Lt. Jim Dangle.
22. JD and Turk’s bromance.
23. The Legen - wait for it - dary Barney Stinson.
24. Jim’s pranks on Dwight.
25. Knock knock. “Penny.” Knock knock. “Penny.” Knock knock. “Penny.”
26. Watching the credits of The Love Boat to see who the guest-stars were.
27. Noel Crane’s crush on Felicity Porter.
28. Lorelai and Rory Gilmore.
29. That Sandra Oh makes me cry every time her character does.
30. The design of the submarine in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.



31. Ron Ely’s intelligent Tarzan.
32. That the most faithful adaptation of Tarzan ever was a Filmation cartoon.
33. The world-building in Land of the Lost.
34. “Daniel Boone was a man. He was a biiiiig man!”
35. “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, there was never a leatherneck braver; a Daring Dragoon is he. He’ll halt the bold advance of Napoleon’s attack! There ain’t a French or pirate rogue who don’t…know Jack!”
36. The inventive abandon of Brisco County, Jr.
37. Learning about history from Young Indiana Jones.
38. Adam West’s deadpan.
39. Luke Skywalker as the Joker.
40. The whole DC Timmiverse.



41. The theme to Legion of Super Heroes.
42. The theme to Teen Titans.
43. The General Lee’s jumping creeks and blowing that horn.
44. Boy George’s guest-starring on The A-Team.
45. Adam Ant’s guest-starring on The Equalizer.
46. Noel Crane’s becoming the badass Cool Breeze on The Unit.
47. Jack Bristow’s brutally relentless protection of his daughter in Alias.
48. The DVD cover for Season One of Nikita.
49. The theme to Mission: Impossible.
50. The theme to Hawaii Five-0.



51. Alfred Hitchcock’s opening and closing comments on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
52. The theme to Perry Mason.
53. Robert Ironside’s fighting crime from a wheelchair.
54. The Barnaby Jones announcer. “Tonight’s episode: ‘To Catch a Dead Man’!”
55. Feeling smugly alternative because I liked Jaclyn Smith better than Farrah Fawcett.
56. Columbo’s turning around at the door and saying, “Oh, just one more thing…”
57. How Magnum PI was totally an homage to film noir.
58. Lee Horseley as both Archie Goodwin on Nero Wolfe and the titular Matt Houston.
59. The way Avery Brooks pronounced “Spenser” in Spenser: For Hire.
60. Rick and AJ Simon. But mainly Rick.



61. Shawn Spencer’s love of The Mentalist.
62. Patrick Jane’s smirk.
63. Daphne and Fred’s relationship in Scooby Doo: Mystery, Inc.
64. That Friday the 13th: The Series was way better than the movies it got its name from.
65. Mulder and Scully’s calling each other by their last names.
66. John Astin as Gomez Addams.
67. Just knowing that Dark Shadows existed.
68. Getting arsonphobia from an episode of Ghost Story. I eventually grew out of it, but that’s some powerful TV. I was freaked out by campfires and birthday candles for a couple of years.
69. The very idea that Aaron Spelling did a show based on Vampire: The Masquerade.
70. Sun and Jin. Also Sawyer.



71. Elizabeth Montgomery’s twinkle.
72. Everything about Lynda Carter.
73. Xena’s battle cry.
74. “Oh, Mighty Isis!”
75. The animal-appliances in The Flintstones.
76. Teen Pebbles.
77. Sid and Marty Krofft’s costumes.
78. Mr. Hooper’s having to constantly correct Big Bird’s pronunciation of his name.
79. “It’s The Muppet Show, everybody! Yaaaaay!”
80. “Of course you realize: this means war.”



81. The sound the Six Million Dollar Man made when he used his powers.
82. The heartbreak of Jamie Sommers’ amnesia.
83. David Banner walking down the road to that piano tune at the end of every episode of The Incredible Hulk.
84. Being introduced to “Land of a Thousand Dances” by Misfits of Science.
85. George Reeves’ Clark Kent. An unconvincing disguise, but a hero in his own right.
86. Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane.
87. Smallville’s using Remy Zero’s “Save Me” as it’s theme song.
88. Roswell’s using Dido’s “Here With Me” as it’s theme song.
89. Seeing Mystery Science Theatre live at Minneapolis’ Uptown Theater in 1992.
90. The vehicles of Ark II (including the jet pack).



91. “Five hundred years into the future she will enter a world where machines rule the earth. Mankind has been driven underground.”
92. Tom Baker’s running around the universe offering everyone Jelly Babies.
93. The Clone Wars’ heroic rescue of the entire Star Wars franchise.
94. Hawk from Buck Rogers.
95. Original Cylons
96. Kirk’s libido.
97. Picard’s voice.
98. Worf’s scowl.
99. The concept of Star Trek: Enterprise.
100. “Our love for him now ain’t hard to explain. The Hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mysta: Escape from Paladnor



In Planet Comics #58, the prison-planet of Paladnor - an institution that Mysta created to rehabilitate abusers of scientific knowledge - is wracked by earthquakes and volcanic explosions that threaten to destroy the entire world. Director Garro of the Science Council coordinates a massive rescue of the prisoners, but is the disaster a natural event or an escape attempt by a criminal mastermind?

Garro comes across at first as hopelessly bureaucratic. Informed of the disaster by guardships orbiting Paladnor, Garro's initial reaction is that sending aid is "a tough order to fill," but that the Science Council will do it's best. "Take care of your end and I'll get the ball rolling here," he orders his men who are already on the scene. That sounds like a diplomatic way of saying, "Do what you can, but don't hold your breath about getting any help."

Surprisingly, Garro comes through and is quickly on the planet to coordinate the evacuation. And fortunately, he's also brought along his favorite science technician, who - unknown to him - is actually Mysta. I'll leave it to you to discover what happens.

What I'm most interested in is figuring out why Mysta's still undercover in the Science Council. There have been some hints in the last couple of stories that she may be attracted to Garro, but there's none of that in this one. Her feelings about Garro throughout have vacillated between jealous attraction and scorn at his stupidity. She's on the disdainful side this time and it makes me realize that perhaps she simply doesn't know how she feels about him.

And what about Bron? He's not mentioned in this story, but Mysta was getting almost swoony about him before she met Garro. Makes me wonder if her attraction to Garro isn't a deliberate distraction from Bron. Perhaps her feelings for Bron have frightened her to the point that she needs to get away for a while. Garro's a handsome dude, so perhaps she's torn between being physically attracted to him and being repulsed by his incompetence. Although, if Garro continues performing like he does in this adventure, she may not have as much of a conflict to resolve.

Bad news for all you Brysta 'shippers, but Mystarro folks shouldn't get too comfortable either. If Mysta's reaction to Bron is any indication, she may run out on Garro too if things get heavy.

When you click through to read the whole story (you will, right?), be sure to read Sleestak's thoughts on Mysta's job as Technician. I hadn't put it together as well as he did, but the title obviously has a different function in the Science Council's culture than we're used to and Sleestak's figured it all out.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

You can’t talk about Beneath the Planet of the Apes without discussing how it ends, so…

MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW



I was a kid the last time I saw the second Planet of the Apes movie and all I remembered of it was the very end. And hating it. I mean, why would you create a world as cool as this just to blow it up? Re-watching it this past week, I realized that there’s a lot more to the movie than just that, but I’m still kind of miffed at them.

The movie starts exactly where Planet of the Apes left off, even replaying the last few minutes of the first film. Taylor (Charlton Heston) argues with Dr. Zaius, takes off into the Forbidden Zone, discovers the Statue of Liberty, and pounds the beach with his fists while damning you all to hell. The real movie then begins with Taylor’s getting control of himself and setting off deeper into the Forbidden Zone on horseback with Nova.




Friday, June 17, 2011

The Adventures of Aquaman (1968-1970)

I finished watching the entire series of Filmation’s The Adventures of Aquaman a while ago, but I’ve struggled with figuring out what to say about it. In every way that counts, it’s exactly like the Aquaman comics from the same time period: full of fantastic ideas that are only sketched out in a very broad, general way.

Some of that’s the result of the format. The episodes were originally created for The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure (1967-68), which also featured Superman cartoons as well as a segment that rotated through other DC heroes like the JLA, Teen Titans, and some of their individual members. Because of this, each story is only about six to seven minutes long, so that’s not a lot of time to develop anything.

The typical episode involves Aquaman and Aqualad’s foiling a villain-of-the-week’s attempt to conquer Atlantis. Some of the villains do recur, so there’s a bit of continuity, but for the most part there’s a steady stream of new threats each episode. That’s not a flaw. It’s actually where the fantastic ideas come in. Writers Bob Haney and George Kashdan (who were also writing many of DC’s comics at the same time) came up with countless bad guys to throw at the Sea King, most of whom were pretty cool: whether supervillains, aliens, or another undersea race.

What’s lacking is things like motivation for the bad guys or any sense that Aquaman’s undersea realm is a cohesive world. The villains never explain why they want to invade Atlantis, we’re just to take it for granted that they do. That also contributes to the lack of structure around the world-building. There actually are some crossovers and team ups between bad guys, so it’s not that. It’s just that all the characters are sketched out so one-dimensionally that nothing feels real.

Bob Haney’s involvement in the show brings to mind his comment about the comics he wrote. “The PR research that [DC] had done showed[…]the average reader was a 12-year-old boy living in Dayton, Ohio. Who was not that sophisticated. So a lot of my stuff I wrote in the ‘60s was aimed at him. Generic little boy. It was simple stuff. It was not sophisticated.” I imagine the same approach applied to his and the other writers’ work on the Aquaman cartoon. It’s not that they couldn’t have made it good. It’s just that they didn’t have to.

The result is a show that’s fun to watch, but only in small doses. I started out trying to watch it in two-hour chunks, but that ends up being like sixteen stories back-to-back. I couldn’t do it. It was just too repetitive. Eventually, I ended up just watching one story before another movie or TV show and made it sort of the cartoon short before the feature. It worked out better that way and was a lot more fun, but it’s probably going to eliminate any repeat viewings.

I’m glad I did it though. If nothing else, it made me appreciate some truly great cartoons like Thundarr the Barbarian. But that’s a post for another day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Western Wednesday: Deadlands



The first of several Deadlands one-shot comics hits shops today. Thanks to its creative mixture of Westerns and Horror (resulting in awesome monsters like man-eating tumbleweeds and ghostly hangmen) as well as Steampunk, Deadlands was one one of my Top Five role-playing games back when I used to play. One of my criteria for an excellent RPG was an extremely developed world to play in and Deadlands had that in spades with its wide swaths of Indian-controlled territory, outlaw settlements (based on real, Western towns), and a maze of pirate-filled waterways where California used to be. There's a ton of story potential there for some truly awesome comics.

Ron Marz is editing the series of one-shots and has hired creators like Steve Ellis, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Bart Sears, Steve Niles, and Francesco Francavilla to contribute. I lamented on Robot 6 that I wished it was an actual series with characters I could get to know instead of a series of one-shots, but C Edward Sellner, Creative Director for the studio that's producing the book assured me that they're "just warming up with these first one-shots, to introduce the world and the property to the comics fans. We have plans a’plenty for more Deadlands goodness, including more traditional mini-series and if sales warrant, even a monthly dose with an ongoing character you’ll meet in these first one shots." Sounds good to me.

According to the press release: "The first book out of the gate is Deadlands: The Devil's Six Gun by the Harvey award-winning team of David Gallaher and Steve Ellis. In classic Faustian tradition, a weapons maker comes to America to pursue the American dream in the former colonies. Instead, he becomes immersed in plots and manipulations to gain unearthly power through the supernatural Ghost Rock. His goal? To make a gun that can kill anything, including the powerful Hellstromme! Its a journey that will cost him everything he loves, including his soul!

"Deadlands (APR110410), the first 32 page full color one shot in this series of weird westerns, will be available in stores June 15, 2011 for $2.99."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mysta vs. the Changeling Mutants



In Planet Comics #57, Mysta faces a plot to destroy the Earth using shape-changing mutants. Actually, the mutants are just used to steal the device that's going to be used to blow up the planet and they're not very good at it. They steal the device all right, but they're barely serviceable as morphs and Mysta's on to them before you can say, "Arrgh! Aaaa!" In fact, even incompetent old Science Council Director Garro knows the mutants are coming and has taken action to prevent it. (The action fails, but still...)

There's an interesting bit at the beginning where Garro announces that he'll be supervising the inspection of all ships from Outer Void Z, the area of space that produces the changeling mutants. You'd think he has better things to do as head of Earth's governing body, but perhaps "supervision" doesn't mean he's personally supervising each and every inspection. Hopefully he's not that much of a mico-manager and is just overseeing the entire process. Maybe the inspection we see him conduct is just a random audit.

Nah. He's a dork.

Be sure to read Sleestak's take on the story in the link above. Where I automatically read nefarious motives into the mutants' leader and saw Earth as merely defending itself against invasion, there's an alternate reading in which Earth is an economic aggressor and Outer Void Z is simply retaliating. As Sleestak explains so well, that interpretation casts a dark shadow over Mysta's resolution to the conflict.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Planet of the Apes (1968)



With Rise of the Planet of the Apes coming out in August, I figured it’s finally time to dive in and do the massive Planet of the Apes marathon I’ve been itching for these last few years. Not just the five films, but the live-action series and the cartoon as well.

It’s difficult to say something new about the original film. As awesomely cheesy as its concept is, it still holds up as a serious masterpiece of science fiction. Or social science fiction anyway, if you want to be specific. Yes, Charlton Heston overacts the hell out of this movie, but it’s got a really smart script that raises a lot of questions without feeding the audience all the answers.

Take Heston’s misanthropic Taylor for instance. He’s a man of contradictions. He signed up for a dangerous, life-changing space mission simply to get away from other people, but when forced into the role of the last member of his race (as he defines it anyway), he becomes proudly defensive of his humanity. He also casts lots of justifiable judgment on our willingness to cheat and wage war on each other, but none on the decision by his mission’s planners to send a lone female astronaut to act as “Eve” on a long journey with three male team-members.



He’s not the only contradiction. It’s challenging to watch the film through 21st-century eyes and keep track of which social issues the film actively comments on and which ones it’s blinded to. Gender equality obviously isn’t something it’s thinking about, for instance. But it has plenty to say about race, represented by the apes’ caste system with the orangutans’ superiority over the chimpanzees and warrior-class gorillas. Even in this conversation though, the film is inconsistent. In Taylor’s world, races are equal enough that having a black scientist on the crew isn’t remarkable. He’s just a member of the team. On the other hand, he’s the next astronaut to die after the woman, leaving only the two white guys left to face the apes.

One of the film’s biggest themes is the conflict between Faith and Science, but it’s here that I appreciate the (clearly intentional) ambiguity in the way the film approaches it. I almost wrote “perceived conflict,” because as one of the characters points out in the film, there doesn’t have to be a disagreement between the two values. Both seek Truth and it’s not necessary to discard Faith when Science comes up with a surprising revelation. The two aren’t mutually exclusive propositions, because they seek the Truth about two entirely different things. Or should.

But there is of course a conflict between them when advocates of either don’t understand the questions that their preferred system is equipped to answer. Faith isn’t about learning the origins of things any more than Science is equipped to determine humanity’s purpose. Because of this, they approach their quests for Truth in entirely different ways. Faith operates from a position of presupposed knowledge: “I accept this to be true, so all new information must agree with it or be rejected.” Science – good Science anyway – continually questions itself and its assumptions. If new information conflicts with old, the old is called into question.



Planet of the Apes illustrates this difference clearly. The orangutans and chimpanzees have each chosen a preference and are trying to reconcile it with the other option. The orangutans are their culture’s defenders of Faith, but in the name of Science. The chimpanzees represent pure Science, but one that hasn’t completely disregarded Faith. Each group manipulates its second choice as needed to protect the integrity of its first choice.

In discussing this, Planet of the Apes chooses a side (Drs. Zira and Cornelius, the chimpanzees are right), but it’s impressive how sympathetically the movie allows the losing side to be. After a mockery of a trial in which Faith has to literally shout down Science in order to win its argument, the movie offers further conversations between Taylor, the symbol of doubt for everything the apes believe and Dr. Zaius, Faith’s most steadfast defender in ape culture. And while the film never suggests that the audience should agree with Zaius, it presents him sympathetically. He’s wrong and makes bad choices, but he knows that he’s wrong and he knows that they’re bad choices. He struggles with it and the internal battle turns him into more than a one-dimensional villain.

It’s also because of this that Planet of the Apes avoids speaking in absolutes. It finds value in both Faith and Science. The only thing that has no value is ignorance, especially willful ignorance. That’s what Zaius truly represents.



That’s also the message behind the film’s other social issues like racism and violence and taking advantage of your neighbor. The apes believe they’ve rejected human thinking and culture (though they don’t think of it in those terms) in order to create a perfect society, but they’ve actually inherited a lot of their ideas from humanity. It takes a human’s showing up to make them realize this, but they choose to ignore him and remain ignorant. Zaius certainly chooses that. Zira and Cornelius’ decision isn’t as clear, but Zira’s nephew Lucius has seen the truth and wants to do something about it.

There’s an interesting correlation between this theme about ignorance and the movie itself. The apes are as unaware of the damaging aspects of their culture as the film seems to be of the way it treats its female and black characters. In that sense, I suppose that modern audiences are the Taylor to the film’s apes, showing up from another time to point out the movie’s blind spots.

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