Tuesday, May 22, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (05/22/2012): Green Lantern, Young Justice, Ultimate Spider-Man, The Avengers and Motorcity

Not since Grimlock have I seen someone who's so in love with referring to himself in the third person.
Each Tuesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I review five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone and are aired on kids' networks where I have to sit through many of the most obnoxious commercials known to man because my DVR remote control is broken and will never be fixed. I think some of those kids' TV commercials have been used to extract information from Gitmo inmates.

I recently saw someone compare the sleek and nicely lit CG visuals on Bruce Timm's Green Lantern: The Animated Series to The Incredibles, so since then, I've thought, "Hal does look a little Mr. Incredible-ish when he runs," which isn't a bad thing. If you're going to crib a thing or two from an animated feature film, crib from one of the best. And like Brad Bird's movie, GL:TAS isn't afraid to make its main character lose badly once in a while.

In "Invasion," the last GL:TAS episode before the season finale, Hal (Josh Keaton), Kilowog (Kevin Michael Richardson), Razer (Jason Spisak) and Aya (Grey DeLisle), the Interceptor's AI, attempt to complete their mission to destroy the ancient Lighthouse, an automated space station that allows ships to travel through the asteroid belt separating the Forgotten Zone from the sector of space where Oa, the homeworld of the Guardians, the Green Lantern Corps' superiors, is located. If evil Red Lantern leader Atrocitus (Jonathan Adams) gets his hands on the Lighthouse before the Green Lanterns do, he'll use the station to teleport more of his Red Lantern fleet from the Forgotten Zone into Oan space to attack the Guardians.

Hal realizes parallel-parking a spaceship is as tedious as parallel-parking a regular car.
Meanwhile, "Invasion" catches up with Saint Walker (Phil Morris, a.k.a. Jackie Chiles from Seinfeld), an idealistic hermit on the sentient planet Mogo (also Richardson) whom viewers first met in GL:TAS' "Lost Planet" episode when he declined the green power ring that Mogo accepted to become the only Green Lantern Corps member that's an actual planet. Before "Lost Planet," the Red Lanterns destroyed Walker's homeworld, and Walker found refuge on Mogo. "Invasion" gets very Ten Commandments-ish as Walker, who's turned to Mogo as if he were God and asked him for help in figuring out his destiny during the Red Lantern invasion, scales a mountain that Mogo repeatedly tells him to climb to get his answer.

After a few complications, the Interceptor crew succeeds in destroying the Lighthouse, but their triumph becomes a short-lived one when Hal, Kilowog and Razer board Atrocitus' suddenly immobile ship to arrest him and his cohorts, and the trio walks into a trap. The Red Lanterns have evacuated their ship and rigged it to self-destruct with the Green Lanterns inside. Atrocitus seizes the Interceptor, has Aya reprogrammed to do his bidding and tears open a wormhole in space that's big enough to allow more of his forces to pass through to invade Oa.

Razer, who gets the episode's best line earlier when he uses one of those fake curse words so many of these sci-fi shows are fond of ("I hate to be the glurg in the punch bowl, but it seems we weren't the only ones to make it through"), uses his red power ring to shield Hal, Kilowog and himself from the blast. Hal is up glurg's creek without a paddle and in a rare moment, is unsure what his next move should be. He doesn't know that hope lies elsewhere on a mountaintop on Mogo, where a blue lantern materializes in front of Walker and presents the alien with a blue power ring.

Who would win in a battle? Mogo, Unicron or equally planet-sized Mario Batali?
"Invasion" is fun if you like seeing the heroes experience one setback after another but is otherwise kind of dull, mostly due to the scenes between Walker and Mogo, which feel like they're straight out of a Christian sci-fi flick. However, that willingness to make the Green Lanterns sometimes fail at the end of an episode illuminates a major difference between this current era of DC Animation and the godawful limited-animation days of Superfriends, when the heroes triumphed over evil every single time, which is fine for kids and the conservative audience that makes all those interchangeable CBS procedurals such ratings hits and is afraid of change, but it's yawnsville for those of us viewers who prefer a tad more variety in the storytelling.


In spite of how much DC Animation productions have raised the bar for kids' animation, these shows are still kind of skittish in the way they handle some of their edgier storylines. Several weeks ago--or rather, late last season--the TV-PG-rated Young Justice did what was basically a drug addiction arc when Superboy got addicted to "shields," steroid-like patches that suppress his human DNA and amplify his Kryptonian powers and were supplied to him by one of his two daddies, Lex Luthor. So when the recently rebranded Young Justice: Invasion does another addiction storyline with the mental and physical decline of the clone known as Red Arrow (Crispin Freeman), whose comics counterpart was once addicted to smack, and the storyline contains all the elements of an addiction arc, from the intervention staged by the Roy Harper clone's friends to his unkempt and emaciated state (or rather, what passes for emaciated in the non-Timm DC Animated Universe), why does the show chicken out and explain that his decline isn't due to heroin addiction and is merely exhaustion from his intense search for the original Roy?

And then when it's later revealed in this week's Greg Weisman-scripted "Salvage" episode that Roy and Cheshire (Kelly Hu), the assassin sister of Artemis (Stephanie Lemelin), became a couple during the five-year interim between seasons and Cheshire had Roy's baby, why does the show chicken out again and sneak in the rather unconvincing detail that Roy and Cheshire were married before she got pregnant? Are Cartoon Network censors really that uptight about characters on their shows having kids out of wedlock?

Artemis uses food to seduce Wally. I didn't know Artemis is a chubby chaser who likes to fatten up her fuckbuddies.
These censors also have terrible eyesight because a couple of minutes before the revelation about Roy and Cheshire, "Salvage" shows the retired Artemis--who's still dating another fellow retired superhero, Wally "Kid Flash" West (Jason Spisak)--prancing around in just a Stanford University T-shirt, which hints that Artemis banged Wally before he went off to Roy's intervention. I like seeing how amazed and shocked some Young Justice viewers are about the sight of pantsless and post-coital Artemis on a Saturday morning cartoon. This actually isn't the first time a DC Animation project has featured a scene with pantsless female characters to hint that they just got laid.

'Lesbians! Lesbians!'--Sherman Klump's brother
Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn--sans clown makeup and pants--in Batman: The Animated Series' classic "Harley and Ivy" episode (Photo source: World's Finest Online)
That's why Christian Bale's Batman sounds so pissed off all the time. His animated counterpart got laid, while he hasn't.
Post-coital Bruce Wayne and Andrea Beaumont in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
I love DC Animation.

But too bad those strange moments where "Salvage" chickens out over addiction and pre-marital sex are really distracting and clunkily written because "Salvage" is an otherwise solid (although extremely exposition-heavy) Young Justice episode with some interesting character growth for Superboy, who's basically this team's Wolverine. Like everyone's favorite Canuck with anger management issues, Conner Kent is an antisocial bad boy whose heart of gold shows up in bits and pieces, whether it's during a romantic relationship with a redhead whose powers are becoming increasingly dangerous or during a mission with a younger sidekick he wants little to do with.

In "Salvage," Superboy uses a stakeout as an excuse to get out of having to see another minute of his ex-girlfriend Miss Martian PDAing with Lagoon Boy at Mount Justice. When alien tech falls into the hands of members of the goofily named criminal organization Intergang, Superboy takes Young Justice rookie Blue Beetle (Eric Lopez) along with him to follow Intergang, which is using said tech to re-animate Appellaxian--or as Blue Beetle calls this alien race, "apple-laxative"--husks that are on display in a Hall of Justice museum exhibit.

It's an interesting half-hour to be Latino because of both this huge showcase for Jaime Reyes--although this Young Justice version of Blue is kind of a dweeb--and this week's "DC Nation Superhero Short," a two-parter that's a dead-on parody of the mainstream's corny co-opting of breakdancing culture in the '80s, particularly DC's own embarrassing creation of breakdancing Latino superhero Vibe. God, the "DC Nation" shorts are so much more entertaining than the DVD featurette-style filler that Disney XD stuffs into its "Marvel Universe" block.

In 1985, Teen Titans artist George Pérez told Heidi MacDonald that he was annoyed by Vibe and DC's decision to make this Latino character a breaker. "It's like if there were only one black character in all of comics, are you going to make him... A tap dancer, a shoeshine boy? Particularly when you're picking a stereotype that's also a fad," Pérez said. "You're taking a chance that this guy is going to become very passe, his costume becomes passe because it's a breakdance costume, the minute the fad fades."

"Curse your dopeness, Vibe!"

Back to the apple-laxative. Why would a superhero team publicly display remnants of bodies of alien adversaries from a past battle? Just because they're husks doesn't mean they're safe (it's creepy too--it's like that disturbing-looking Body Worlds exhibit from Germany, but without dead Chinese guys). There's always the possibility that someone like an Intergang member with sophisticated tech will try to reactivate those husks from the outside. Hello, Justice League!

Superboy is annoyed by Blue's naivete ("You freshmen never do the homework!") and bizarre alien tech-controlled behavior, but this more seasoned Superboy is a little more patient with his sidekick. The Superboy of five years ago would have beat the shit out of Blue in the middle of their mission. In another intriguing character touch, Superboy feels sympathy for the Appellaxian golem that's been formed by Intergang's merging of the husks they re-animated. Blue tells Conner that the golem is in pain and wants to die. "I can relate," mutters Conner.

Superboy has had suicidal tendencies? Damn. If Young Justice decides to delve into his suicidal tendencies a little more, the show better not botch the issue of suicide like it just did with addiction and superhero/supervillain sex.


I'm not familiar with writer/artist Walter Simonson's work on the Mighty Thor comic, which both Ultimate Spider-Man's "Field Trip" episode and The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes' "The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill" episode pay tribute to this week, but never once during these fan service-heavy episodes did I--a viewer who's not a Thor fan--feel alienated or bored. However, in an odd turn of events, the Spidey half of the Disney XD "Marvel Universe" block is more interesting than the Avengers half this week.

"Field Trip" guest-stars Thor (Travis Willingham), who, because of the mischief of his half-brother/nemesis Loki (Troy Baker), spends most of the episode as a frog, or rather, the Simonson fan favorite "Throg." Meanwhile, "The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill" pairs up the God of Thunder (voiced here by Rick D. Wasserman), who's been busy protecting his homeworld of Asgard on his show this season, with another Simonson fan favorite, the Korbinite warrior Beta Ray Bill (Steven Blum).

Throg won't rest until he gets enough flies for dinner.
As I noted last week, Ultimate Spider-Man is getting mixed reactions from older viewers who are still into Spidey comics. Aren't those guys aware that Paul Dini and Man of Action didn't intend to make this show for viewers who can shave, hence the cutaway gags and Looney Tunes slapstick? Yet Jay Ward cartoons--as well as Dini's prior work on Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited--never felt as juvenile as Ultimate Spider-Man often does. Those cartoons still hold up, even when you're an adult, because they were made for everybody, not just kids.

Luckily, "Field Trip," written by Man of Action and Eugene Son, finds a few other things to appease viewers who don't find Throg and his housefly-catching antics to be as riotously funny as kids probably do. Unlike the last two Ultimate Spider-Man episodes, "Field Trip" is heavy on the interaction between the inexperienced Spidey and his equally inexperienced S.H.I.E.L.D. trainee teammates, easily the best thing about this animated Ultimate Spider-Man other than the animation. The episode cleverly uses the Asgard backdrop to explore their characters a little more, particularly when Eitri, the dwarf king who forged Thor's hammer Mjolnir, supplies the trainees with special weapons to help them overcome their weaknesses for their showdown with Loki, but he doesn't give Spidey a weapon. Eitri points out to Spidey that he already has a weapon: his words, which he uses to mock or irritate his enemies, and--like with anyone who's a comedian--they're his way of dealing with the harsh realities of the world.

I appreciate how Ultimate Spider-Man remembers that Spidey is a wisecracker--a side of the character that's always been de-emphasized in the live-action versions of Spidey, even as far back as that wack '70s CBS TV-movie--but I'm annoyed by how Peter's delivery while he breaks the fourth wall like Zack on Saved by the Bell often resembles the smug and cocky Zack's asides to the audience. The humble and slightly more self-deprecating voice that I imagined Spidey to be speaking in whenever I would read Brian Michael Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man comic isn't the same voice that's been given to Spidey on this show. I keep expecting Peter to spit game at Tiffani-Amber Thiessen while a studio audience full of kids with too much sugar in their veins goes "Wooooooo!"


Over on The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Thor is anxious to visit Earth again and get some more alone time with paramedic Jane Foster (how in the hell is he immune to the charms of his fellow Asgardian warrior Lady Sif?). He also discovers that his sentient hammer, which previously couldn't be lifted by anyone else, has allowed itself to be wielded by another being besides himself, and that other dude's a mortal.

'Do thou not like this body, Thor?'
The horse-faced Beta Ray Bill is a warrior who's been tasked with protecting his people, the Korbinites, from the forces of Surtur, the fire demon who destroyed their homeworld and caused them to seek refuge (and go into cryogenic hibernation) on the Skuttlebutt, a warship piloted by Bill. When Bill picks up Mjolnir and attacks Thor with it, the God of Thunder is, of course, not a happy camper.

But when Bill and Thor realize they're after the same enemy, they put aside their differences (Bill is even given his own Mjolnir-style hammer, the Stormbreaker), although they become allies more quickly than I would have liked. Then again, Bill and Thor have only less than 20 minutes to stop Surtur and his fire demons, like how currently over on the big screen, Thor, Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Dr. Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff have only about a couple of hours to deal with their issues with each other before fighting Loki's Chitauri forces.

I'm looking forward to SpaceX's next innovation in space flight, the chariot from Ben-Hur.
There's not much character depth in the serviceable and lavishly drawn "Ballad of Beta Ray Bill" like there was in last week's "Who Do You Trust?" This is an episode strictly for fans of the Simonson era of The Mighty Thor and hammer-clanging noises.


In a recent MTV Geek interview that interestingly noted that Motorcity takes place about 150 years from now (the show has never really been specific about how far in the future it takes place), series creator Chris Prynoski told the site that the character on the show he identifies with the most is dimwitted, "gun-chuk"-wielding mechanic Texas. "I think he's one that we could definitely write a million stories about him," Prynoski said. "We could write every episode about him--he's a super-easy character to write for."

This super-easy character to write for is the focus of "Texas-ify It!," this week's Motorcity episode, which involves Texas' wish to be taken more seriously by his friends. On the show last week, we saw Texas' ego and overactive imagination test the patience of his fellow Burners Julie and Dutch. This week, it's Burners leader Mike's turn to be pissed off by Texas.

The Burners discover they're not the only team of rebels in Motorcity that's fighting sinister Detroit Deluxe gazillionaire Abraham Kane when they run into the Terra Dwellers, a pack of environmentalist activists clad in futuristic Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome-style tribal gear and gas masks. Led by Kaia ('70s SNL cast member and Groundlings co-founder Laraine Newman), the Terra Dwellers are protesting Kane's use of their Terra Village section of Motorcity as a KaneCo toxic waste dump. Throughout "Texas-ify It!," I kept thinking of the New Orleans toxic landfill that the Vietnamese community in post-Katrina Orleans fought against and were able to shut down. When has an animated action show ever made me think of that? Motorcity is definitely the first.

This 'New 52' version of Poison Ivy sucks donkey balls.
Texas takes a liking to the Terra Dwellers because unlike the Burners, they don't object to his rash and extremist ideas of storming the KaneCo Tower gates with sweet Muay Thai kicks or seizing Kane's toxo tanks and weaponizing them to use them against Kane. But when Mike suspects that the Terra Dwellers were trying to get him killed while bringing him along on a forest trip to collect spores, and then Chuck learns that Kaia's plans to attack KaneCo's waste processing facility with mutated plants will endanger the lives of innocent Detroit Deluxe citizens, the Burners want nothing to do with these eco-terrorists. Kaia's team is also hiding a grisly secret that nearly pushes this Y7-rated cartoon into Y8-rated territory, or whatever the hell they call it because I never cared for these stupid TV ratings for parents.

The chopsockiest member of the Burners clashes with Mike over the tactics of his new Terra Dweller admirers and thinks Mike's jealous of the attention he's getting from them. Texas ditches the Burners to join the Terra Dwellers in their attack on the facility, but when their Texas-ified plans get out of hand, we discover that even boneheaded Texas has a conscience too.

I've compared Texas to Woody Boyd, Hilary Banks, Dwight Schrute and The Todd from Scrubs. He also might be the best Will Ferrell character Ferrell never played (he's voiced on Motorcity by Animaniacs veteran Jess Harnell, who seems to have modeled Texas' voice after Patrick Warburton). Texas' crazy fantasy life and obsession with martial arts bring to mind Ferrell's character from Step Brothers.

Ferrell once said he's fascinated by "the macho American male or the overly confident person, because it’s usually a reflection of feeling bad about yourself and overcompensating." Texas would fit right in with Ferrell's long line of overly confident boobs, from Ron Burgundy to George W. Bush. Now we just need to know what Texas is overcompensating for. And if Motorcity continues to be the surprisingly well-written and highly entertaining cartoon it's been in its first four weeks, maybe we'll even find out soon. Texaaas!

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