Tuesday, June 5, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (06/05/2012): ThunderCats, Young Justice, Kaijudo, Adventure Time and Regular Show

'Would you be into a threesome with a yellow-bellied sapsucker?'
Each Tuesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated cable shows that are found outside my Adult Swim comfort zone.

In previous weeks, I've covered Cartoon Network's Green Lantern: The Animated Series, which just quietly ended its first season. The same week as the season finale, Green Lantern became the talk of the non-comics media and trended on Twitter because DC announced that it's reintroducing one of the Green Lanterns, the previously straight Alan Scott, as openly gay.

While I'm happy for GLBT comics readers because the not-diverse-enough world of superhero comics just got a skosh more diverse, DC and Marvel still have a lot more work to do in terms of diversity. And as Grantland's Alex Pappademas said, maybe DC is making too big of a deal over this. It's second-tier Green Lantern Alan Scott, who hasn't been a major DC character since the '50s, and he's not the first-ever gay superhero.

Topless Robot editor Rob Bricken called shenanigans on DC's announcement about its "major new iconic gay character," which he found to be exploitative. "Alan Scott is not that iconic. In fact, I don't think any non-comics fans even know who the fuck he is," grumbled the always squeaky-clean-sounding Bricken on his blog. "He's not even going to be part of the main DC universe. At least Marvel has Northstar's wedding taking place in the normal Marvel U."

DC's outing of Alan led to lots of quips on Twitter like "Can the Green Lantern please come and organize my closet and tell me which jeans I look fat in?" (Molly Ringwald) and "Hope the first issue of the gay Green Lantern comic has him dishing lots of catty remarks about the Green Lantern movie" (awesomely anti-conservative ex-MST3K joke writer Frank Conniff). I was going to tweet an ultra-nerdy quip like "DC's rebooted Green Lantern Alan is now gay. So when he goes on & on about Will, he means some fabulous dude he met at the gym."

But I wasn't in the mood to have my tweet appear in Twitter searches for "Green Lantern" alongside lame and hateful tweets from conservatives like "Thanks to our depraved society, the Green Lantern will now be known as the Pink Nightlight" from a "Pastor Greg Locke." If that's your idea of humor, stick to announcing bingo numbers, pastor.

Okay, so that guy can't spell 'ignorance,' but his new version of the Green Lantern speech is still fucking dope.
(Photo source: Robot 6)
While all this is going on, the "DC Nation" block is re-airing the entire first season of GL:TAS, starting with the "Beware My Power" premiere episode. I hadn't watched that installment since last year, so I forgot that during "Beware My Power," Hal Jordan, whom I referred to as a Rey Curtis-y space cop (a.k.a. bland and sanctimonious), was a little less Rey Curtis-y than I thought and willing to defy authority, particularly his fuddy-duddy Guardian superiors when they get too fuddy-duddy. The series opens with Hal fresh out of boot camp (his drill sergeant-turned-partner Kilowog frequently kids him about how he's such a naive poozer) and still adjusting to Green Lantern Corps procedure, a more interesting way to write Hal than having him easily get the hang of being a Lantern like in the live-action Ryan Reynolds flop.

I always liked how GL:TAS skipped the origin story--the least interesting kind of story in the superhero genre--and cut to the chase in "Beware My Power." It's something a lot more live-action superhero movies ought to do, and I'm glad Joss Whedon's The Avengers does what GL:TAS did and basically says, "Hey, origin story structure, fuck off into the night."


Jeffrey Combs, whose voice work I praised while briefly discussing his regular role on the currently-on-hiatus Transformers Prime, is unsurprisingly terrific during his guest shot as the tragic title character of "The Soul Sever," the last episode of Cartoon Network's ThunderCats reboot before its two-part season (or series) finale. I appreciate how the new ThunderCats is better animated and more sophisticated than the cheesy '80s Rankin-Bass version. But I'm neither a sword-and-sorcery guy nor a furry, so other than the two-part "Omens" premiere and an episode about rapidly aging woodland creatures that looked like a Studio Ghibli remake of the Doctor Who story "The Girl in the Fireplace," I haven't been watching ThunderCats, which is apparently on the bubble.

One change that makes this new version superior to the original is the reworking of lead hero Lion-O (former Batman Beyond star Will Friedle) into an insecure and hotheaded teen adjusting to his role as leader, a far cry from the totally confident preteen-in-a-man's-body who brings to mind Shazam, the DC Property Formerly Known as Captain Marvel. On the original show, Lion-O was a grown-up with a 12-year-old boy's mind because he spent all of his teens in suspended animation on a spaceship that fled from the planet Thundera to Third Earth.

The reimagining dispenses with Lion-O's strange origin and makes the character more relatable. He's also angstier. The series opened with Mumm-Ra (Robin Atkin Downes) murdering Lion-O's father and king Claudus (who, in a nice way of passing the baton, was played by Larry Kenney, the voice of Lion-O on the '80s show, as well as the father of State and Reno 911! alum Kerri Kenney-Silver). Mumm-Ra and his minions used advanced technology to destroy Thundera (now just a kingdom on Third Earth instead of another planet) and forced the Thunderian survivors into exile or, in the case of those who weren't as lucky as the escaped ThunderCats, slavery.

So Lion-O hates technology because of its role in obliterating his homeland. In "The Soul Sever," the Luddite becomes less resentful of technology and realizes it's "neither the disease nor the cure" as he attempts to recover the magical Book of Omens, which guides the ThunderCats on their mission to defeat Mumm-Ra and was stolen from them by Combs' mad scientist character, the show's shout-out to the actor's signature role in Re-Animator.

The Soul Sever is a robot scientist who once was flesh. An alien whose wife and children died from a plague, he made a Faustian bargain to resurrect them by allowing a Cybermen-like race known as the Necromechers to rebuild him as one of their own, with the hopes that the technology they utilized to make him immortal would do the same for this family. But when the Necromechers refused to grant the Soul Sever access to their tech because they thought his plans would have Frankenstein-ian consequences, the Soul Sever wiped out the Necromechers. After stealing their tech, the Soul Sever was able to recover his loved ones' floating souls but has been unsuccessful in putting their souls into robot bodies.

He's Darth Vader's manorexic cousin.
When he learns the Book of Omens carries the soul of Obi-Wan Jaga (Corey Burton), the Soul Sever believes the artifact can bring his family back to corporeal form. Lion-O, Panthro (Kevin Michael Richardson) and Tygra (Matthew Mercer), Lion-O's adopted older brother, end up as the scientist's unwilling guinea pigs for his flesh-to-metal experiment. With the help of a chittering mechanical bug sidekick named Flicker, Lion-O and Panthro are able to break out of their restraints. But they're too late to pull out Tygra, whose soul is transferred by the Soul Sever's Book of Omens-powered experiment into an out-of-control mecha monstrosity that, in a wild sequence reminiscent of Tetsuo's grisly climactic transformation in Akira, keeps growing and growing due to spare parts it affixes to its body.

'And I'll form the head!'
The mad scientist, who realizes the folly of his actions, must sacrifice his loved ones' souls to save himself, Lion-O and Panthro from Mecha Tygra and transfer Tygra's soul back to his normal body. It's rare to see kids' animation on TV tackle a downbeat ending like the one for the Soul Sever, his family and Flicker, which gives its life to activate the power surge that destroys Mecha Tygra (the pet euthanasia subject matter that Star Trek: The Animated Series' "Yesteryear" episode got away with on NBC back in 1973 comes to mind). But ThunderCats undercuts the ending with a final shot of Flicker coming back to life in the Soul Sever's hand, which indicates that if Flicker can Iron Giant its shattered little self back to power, then maybe the Soul Sever will be able to restore his family after all.

"The Soul Sever" may chicken out at the end, but Combs' gravitas, guided by beloved voice director Andrea Romano, redeems the episode. As a voice actor, Combs helped make the previously uninteresting and un-creepy Scarecrow a more formidable and creepy villain on Batman: The Animated Series and later stole scenes as the bubblegum pop music-loving weirdo The Question on Justice League Unlimited. The guy just can't do no wrong.


I remember writer Peter David best for his work on DC's Star Trek comics (a Len Wein-scripted 1987 issue that reunited the Enterprise-A crew with con man Harry Mudd from the '60s show was the first comic I ever bought at an actual comic shop). But superhero comics readers admire David most for his writing on The Incredible Hulk, X-Factor (the X-Men spinoff, not the wack singing contest show), Supergirl and the original Young Justice comic. David gets to revisit the Young Justice characters in "Bloodlines," the third episode he's written for the animated version. The best part of David's run on DC's Star Trek was the humor, and David's sense of humor is a highlight of "Bloodlines," an entertaining fish-out-of-water story about the unexpected arrival of Impulse (Jason Marsden), a speedster from the future who talks as if he has ADHD and who also happens to be Bart Allen, the grandson of Barry Allen (George Eads), the current incarnation of The Flash.

'Tell us something we don't know yet. Which nostril is this finger about to pick and fling a booger at you?'
"Tell us something we don't know yet. When do I become leader of the team? When do I join the Justice League? When do I get my own reality series?," inquires Beast Boy (Logan Grove) when he wants proof from Impulse that he's from the future. And I always get a kick out of how this TV-PG-rated cartoon sometimes toys with Cartoon Network's Standards & Practices department, like it does here when Impulse responds to Nightwing's old cop-show trick of getting his interviewee to verify his identity via a glass of water. "Oh, ah, you're trying to get a DNA sample. You need my spit," says Impulse. "Ha! That's such a Dick Grayson thing to do." The way Impulse puts emphasis on the name "Dick" makes his sentence sound as if it's going to be "That's such a dick move."

In "Bloodlines" (which also finds time to resolve the Roy Harper clone's search for the original Roy during its B-story), an adversary wreaks so much havoc on The Flash's home turf of Central City that it requires the attention of four generations of speedsters. Retired-from-superheroing Stanford student Wally West interrupts his regularly scheduled Asian fetish to suit up again as Kid Flash and keep an eye on Impulse as a favor to Nightwing. Another retired speedster, former Flash Jay Garrick (Geoff Pierson), runs the risk of his wife Joan's wrath because he snuck out of the quiet 70th wedding anniversary celebration Barry and his wife Iris (Young Justice writer Nicole Dubuc) threw for them and dusted off his old Mercury-style tin hat to assist the three younger Flashes on the decimated and scorched streets of Central City.

These three generations of speedsters have carved out great side careers as FTD florists.
The destruction-causing stranger in a containment suit known as Neutron (James Arnold Taylor) turns out not to be a new supervillain but a brainwashed human pawn in an alien conspiracy who's having trouble controlling his powers. The aliens who unleashed Neutron on Central City are the same aliens who have been experimenting on teen runaways to access their metagenes, the genes that determine which humans are metahumans (the DC universe's equivalent of Marvel's mutants). Neutron's hidden overseers, who abandon their failed experiment with Neutron and flee their hideout before the team of speedsters can find them, speak in Krolotean but are taller than the Krolotean invaders who previously appeared on Young Justice this season and were blown up by The Light in "Alienated." Is this a superior breed of Kroloteans that's in league with both The Light and this season's shadowy new nemesis The Partner?

Impulse knows more than he's been letting on. His time machine's arrival at Mount Justice at about the same time as Neutron's energy-wave attack on Central City is hardly coincidental. In the grim post-apocalyptic scenes that open and close "Bloodlines," an older, prison-garbed Neutron sees Bart off as he readies his time machine for its destination: 40 years before Mount Justice--and the world--were reduced to rubble. Bart's mission is/was to save Neutron's younger self from prison and prevent the world's destruction. We see that Bart's "hyperactive tourist from the future" persona is just an act--a costume like the ones donned by "half the meat at Comic-Con" (they're so quirky because they're actually from the future too, according to one of the funniest lines David gives to Impulse). We also see that Impulse's accomplishments in the past aren't enough to fix the timestream because aside from older Neutron's slight change in appearance, the post-apocalyptic world remains unchanged.

Three generations of heroes with fucked-up metabolisms unite in this episode.
Flash back, who's that? It's George Eads (Barry Allen Flash), Jason Spisak (Kid Flash) and Geoff Pierson (Jay Garrick Flash) at a recording session for "Bloodlines." (Photo source: Peter David)
I don't like that Young Justice is adding time travel as another spinning plate to the Ed Sullivan Show spinning plates act that this season has been basically shaping up to be because I'm so jaded from the aimless time-travel storytelling messes I was subjected to during Heroes. That live-action show soured the enjoyment I used to have for time-travel stories. But when time travel is placed into the hands of more capable writers like David and the Young Justice staffers, I doubt I'll find my not-so-TV-PG-rated self to be saying about the writing, "That's such a dick move."


Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters, which The Hub rolled out in a 90-minute sneak preview on May 5 before premiering it on June 2, is based on the Japanese trading card game Duel Masters. The words "based on a Japanese trading card game" usually put me to sleep. And after I caught the promos for Kaijudo, I wanted nothing to do with a cartoon that's made for an audience that's younger than the ones for Adventure Time and Ultimate Spider-Man.

But then early in "The Natural," the three-part Kaijudo series premiere, a bully insults the show's aspiring illustrator hero, middle-schooler Ray Pierce-Okamoto (Scott Wolf), and his biracial heritage, and the scene immediately grabbed my attention, which was turned away from the screen. "Half-Japanese, half-white boy's gonna half-ninja me? Do you have half a black belt? Hey, he's only half-good at math! Probably only uses one chopstick too!," the bully says.

Racially tinged bullying on a TV-Y7-rated cartoon? Wow. Sure, it's clunkily written racial bullying because in real life, racist bullies say far more vicious words than the ones that The Hub's Standards & Practices will only allow. But it's still surprising to see. The fact that a kids' cartoon was willing to acknowledge that the schoolyard isn't always sunshines and moonbeams for an Asian American kid quickly changed my tune about the show.

During another encounter with the same bully, Ray discovers that he has the ability to bring to life the monsters he's been drawing in his sketchbook and that these beasties didn't originate from his imagination. They're actual creatures from another dimension that are key figures in a secret feud between two factions of humans who call themselves "Duel Masters." One side wants to enslave the creatures and use them to conquer Earth, while the other wants to protect the beasties and keep our world out of trouble.

We'll return to Fat Albert and the Anime Kids after these messages.
Ray and his friends Allie (Kari Wahlgren) and Gabe (Phil LaMarr) are brought up to speed on Duel Master culture by enigmatic Master Chavez (Freddy Rodriguez from Six Feet Under and CHAOS, a short-lived espionage show that would have been even better as an animated spy comedy in the mold of Archer). The second part of the "Natural" three-parter, which I haven't seen yet, seems to be livelier than the first. Chavez begins training Ray in kaijudo, "the way of the strange beast," and the kid is introduced to the dragon/beast hybrid Tatsurion the Unchained (David Sobolov), the creature from the opening titles and promo art who will become Ray's sidekick in battle and receive the much more Twitter-friendly new name of "Bob."

"The Natural" was co-scripted by Henry Gilroy, who, in his most intriguing moments as a writer, brings into his animated work bits and pieces of the harsh real-life world outside of cartoonland, whether it's racism in "The Natural" or corporate wrongdoing on G.I. Joe: Renegades, where Gilroy and co-writer Marty Isenberg cleverly reimagined Cobra as a shady pharmaceutical company. Gilroy's writing and showrunning partner on Kaijudo is Spectacular Spider-Man and Young Justice veteran Andrew R. Robinson. If Robinson can bring to this show the same kind of world-building and character writing that The Spectacular Spider-Man and Young Justice excel at, then Kaijudo won't be just another drab game-based cartoon. For now, to echo that bully's line to Ray, I'm only half-interested.


Like ThunderCats' "Soul Sever" episode, "Goliad," Adventure Time's latest short, basically retells Frankenstein, but in the typically trippy and silly Adventure Time way. Concerned with her mortality ever since she was possessed a couple of seasons ago by the evil Lich, Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) makes use of her scientific expertise and builds a creature out of her own DNA (and of course, candy) to replace her as princess of the Candy Kingdom in case she kicks the bucket.

Maybe if Princess Bubblegum used a sugar substitute instead of actual sugar to create Goliad, her offspring wouldn't be such an evil 'C-word that will never be used on Adventure Time.'
(Photo source: Adventure Time Wiki)
Bubblegum's successor Goliad is a triple-eyed sphinx who speaks in a little British kid's benign voice (it's an actual kid's voice, and according to Adventure Time creative director Adam Muto, it was provided by the daughter of Black Books and IT Crowd creator Graham Linehan). She's also a demonic bastard with powers straight out of a '70s evil-kid horror flick, as Finn (Jeremy Shada) and Jake (John DiMaggio) discover while they teach her how to be a fair and kind ruler, which Jake botches in an amusing scene where unruly preschool kids start to work his last nerve and he hurls at them a bunch of goofy-sounding curse word substitutes. Between Goliad's powers and the Regular Show antagonists' tendency to unleash energy blasts during rampages that are reminiscent of Carrie and The Fury (as exemplified by the character voiced by special guest star Natasha Leggero in this week's Regular Show installment), it's clear that the Adventure Show and Regular Show writers love them some '70s horror.

Goliad can read minds and tries to take control of Finn's. Her evil magic gives the Adventure Time animators an opportunity to channel one of their influences, the Fleischer Brothers, and go all-out in terms of surreal and nightmarish imagery when Finn's mind comes up with bizarre ways to block her telepathy and Jake winds up being force-fed the citizens of the Candy Kingdom in the episode's most nightmarish bit.

'The role of Princess Bubblegum is now being played by Jan Smithers.'
Adventure Time has dropped two new shorts in a row where characters build creatures with disastrous results. While the Ice King (Tom Kenny), a selfish borderline-serial killer who does creepy things to Ooo's princesses, doesn't learn anything from his mistakes in "Princess Monster Wife" because he's a selfish borderline-serial killer who does creepy things to Ooo's princesses, the much kinder Bubblegum is able to see what she did wrong. She steps in and saves the day by using a strand of Finn's blond hair to create for Goliad a heroic sibling named Stormo, who's able to stop his sister from causing any more trouble by keeping her locked in eternal psychic battle.

Stormo's huge eyes will make him a great foil for equally big-eyed Krysten Ritter and Dreama Walker when he joins the cast of Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 next season.
(Photo source: My Heart Aflame)
Cartoon Network paired the premiere of "Goliad" with a rerun of "In Your Footsteps," a short from a few weeks ago in which a gentle bear befriends Finn and models himself after him. "In Your Footsteps," "Princess Monster Wife" and "Goliad" seem to indicate that there's a recurring theme of reproduction and procreation this season, which is pretty weighty material for a kids' cartoon loaded with fart jokes. As Finn ages (he was 12 when the show began and is now 14), is Adventure Time maturing along with him?


I'm jazzed to see that there's a cartoon like Regular Show that's as contemptuous of club culture as I am. Like How I Met Your Mother's standout "Okay Awesome" episode and my favorite scene in Knocked Up ("You're just some roided-out freak with a fucking clipboard!"), "Access Denied," Regular Show's latest short, points out how not-so-awesome club culture really is.

I don't miss Free Agents, but I miss seeing the Natasha Leggero character being such a hilarious douchebaguette to everyone else on the show.
(Photo source: Sean Szeles)
"Access Denied," which was written and storyboarded by Sean Szeles and Kat Morris, follows Mordecai (series creator J.G. Quintel) and Rigby (William Salyers) as they attempt to reach their destination, a birthday party for their coffee shop waitress friend Margaret (Janie Haddad), a red robin Mordecai has a crush on. But along the way, the tall blue jay and his raccoon pal are forced to put up with the slow-moving waiting lines, the preposterous reasons doormen come up with to drive out guests and the stuck-up atmosphere. The nightly scam that is bottle service is also referenced in "Access Denied," but because it's Cartoon Network and not Adult Swim time yet, booze is replaced by designer bottled water "infused with the laughter of babies."

My favorite gag in "Access Denied," which is loaded with guest stars from the L.A. comedy scene, is the disheveled man (Andy Daly) outside the club whose blazer sleeves are rolled up like he's a lousy '80s stand-up and who's been waiting in line for 11 years. My second favorite gag pokes fun at hipster fashions when a Lady Gaga/Madonna mash-up named Ladonna (Natasha Leggero) enters the club dressed in a skirt that looks like a trash bag stained with mustard, so Mordecai and Rigby take a cue from Ladonna and approach the doorman (Kyle Kinane) in stained trash bags. They're finally allowed into the club.

Mordecai made Margaret a birthday mixtape that turns out to be an actual cassette. Daddy, what's a cassette?
I wish my younger self had a cartoon like Regular Show that prepared me for the disappointments and inane aspects of clubbing. "Water infused with the laughter of babies" isn't all it's cracked up to be.

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