Tuesday, June 19, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (06/19/2012): Motorcity, ThunderCats, Dan Vs., Kaijudo and Ultimate Spider-Man

'Hey, the Robot from Fox NFL Broadcasts, what's your fucking deal?'
The helmeted villain with no name attempts to trim Mike's bangs.
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. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

Motorcity introduces yet another adversary for the Burners during another solid episode of this finely crafted cartoon, "Vendetta." This time, it's a nameless, red muscle car-driving warrior (Eric Ladin, just recently killed off on The Killing) in a spiked helmet who looks like a rejected Tron: Uprising baddie and is referred to in the end credits only as "Red"--although this mystery man's beef is mainly with Burners leader Mike Chilton. On the one-year anniversary of the day Mike severed ties with Abraham Kane, Red emerges from out of nowhere to take revenge on Mike and eliminate him.

Like another gazillionaire, Mark Cuban, Abraham Kane apparently doesn't give a fuck about walking around in tight-fitting shirts that he's about 15 years too old to be wearing.
In juicy flashbacks that finally explain what Mike did when he was a KaneCo employee, we learn that he was a cadet in Kane's army of soldiers known as the Ultra Elites. The fact that a businessman assembled an army to guard him and do his dirty work shows how psychotic this particular businessman is.

At the height of Donald Trump's still-continuing racist nonsense about President Obama, Lewis Black did a hilarious Daily Show "Back in Black" segment where he joked that he wants Trump to be the next president because America needs to be run by someone as insane as Muammar Gaddafi and Kim Jong Il. Kane is like a mash-up of Trump's Third World dictator-style craziness and Steve Jobs' technological genius, his dickish treatment of his Apple colleagues and his love of the color white--in the wardrobe and burly body of a douchey gym manager.

Mike was one of Kane's most obedient cadets, and on the day the sinister Detroit Deluxe developer promoted him to lieutenant, he gave Mike his first mission to supervise: the demolition of a Motorcity tenement building. But when Mike discovered that Kane lied to him about the building being abandoned--it was actually still full of tenants inside--he realized Kane's evilness and walked away from his job. Mike was able to save the tenants' lives, but he wasn't able to save their home from the wrecking ball.

'I'm gonna shove this stick up your ass and turn you into a Popsicle.'--Mike Chilton's original line, banned by Disney XD
One of the residents who ended up homeless also happened to be Red, who blames Mike for the loss of his home. As a reminder to Mike of what he failed to save, Red has his armor emblazoned with the dual-triangle insignia that KaneCo marked on the building for demolition. "Vendetta" never really divulges Red's identity (Kane calls him "son" when he presents him with a job offer in the final scene, so I initially thought Red is Kane's son--and therefore, the brother of Burners member Julie--while another theory I had was that he's Mike's blond-haired cadet friend from the flashbacks, but his voice isn't the same as Red's).

Mike asks his new (and rather standoffish) underworld ally, the Duke of Detroit (Dee Snider), if he knows the whereabouts of Racer X. The Duke has no idea who this mystery man is either, but he's a little more helpful when it comes to the Burners' other current predicament, Kane's robomites, tiny robots that feed on metal and quickly multiply. Julie's father made cars illegal in both Detroit Deluxe and Motorcity, and now he's invented robomites to infest Motorcity and deprive the Burners of their cherished rides, as well as destroy the plumbing and housing in the subterranean city.

The Duke, who's worried that the mites will munch on the cars in his mansion and junkyards, supplies the Burners with a surplus of iron in the form of an inexplicably gigantic cube, which the team uses to lure the wafer-sized bots away from the Ambassador Bridge, old Detroit's biggest hunk of iron, and other parts of Motorcity. The Burners spray the block of iron with a corrosive oxidizing agent to poison the mites, which frighten the hell out of the Burners' squeaking robot assistant Roth, even though Roth is made mostly of polymer (copped from KaneCo robot parts by Burners tinkerer Dutch) rather than metal. But the mites are nowhere as frightening as the snack baked by older Burners member Jacob to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Mike's conversion to heroism: okra-mayonnaise muffins.

Texas has become Motorcity's breakout character because of his dumb-jock dialogue (he even refers to himself in the third person like many sports celebrities do), but he isn't always this Keanu-esque Asian jock whose solution for everything is sweet Muay Thai kicks, and he can be quite perceptive when his ego isn't in the way. In this episode, Texas gets to act as a voice of reason when Mike expresses to him his guilt over not having been more aware of Kane's evilness when he worked for him. He tells Mike that his late realization about his tyranny is understandable because a master manipulator like Kane makes it difficult for people to see his true agenda, and then he says, "You've got to stop thinking about what you didn't do and start thinking about what you're doing to save people now."

Texas speechifies it.

And then...

...he Texas-ifies it.
(Photo source: Latia I. Am)
No one in cartoon voice acting does rage quite like Mark Hamill, and while he's terrific as Kane (he was downright menacing when Kane shook Julie around like a rag doll and barked at her in the "Battle for Motorcity" premiere episode), the character has tended to be a one-note villain who does nothing but sneer and rant and lash out at his underlings. (I bet Motorcity creator Chris Prynoski gave Kane's dumbass underling the name Tooley as a shout-out to both Harley Quinn from Hamill's Batman: The Animated Series days and the distinctive way Hamill would put the accent on "Har-LEEEY!!!" whenever The Joker would bark at her. I've noticed Hamill, who's been reunited with his Batman voice director Andrea Romano on this show, does that same accent thing when he yells "Too-LEEEY!!!")

But in the flashbacks in "Vendetta," Hamill gets to tone Kane down a bit and show a more subtle and fatherly side to him, which illustrates Texas' later point about Kane being such an effective enemy because of how he lured to his side good people like Mike, Jacob and the R&D scientist from "Power Trip." I also like how in the flashbacks, "Vendetta" writer John O'Bryan doesn't hold back in turning Kane into the cruelest Disney villain since Scar from The Lion King. Ordering the demolition of a tenement building with residents still inside and without even letting them know that they should evacuate? Wow, that's as vile as an okra-mayonnaise muffin.


Revenge is also on the mind of Pumyra (Pamela Adlon), who actually died during Mumm-Ra's destruction of Thundera and has been working for the ThunderCats' nemesis ever since he called on the Ancient Spirits to resurrect her, as the conclusion of ThunderCats' two-part "What Lies Above" finale reveals. She wants Lion-O to suffer for not saving her and has been spying on the ThunderCats for Mumm-Ra.

The Tech Stone, which the ThunderCats tried and failed to borrow from the bird people to defeat Mumm-Ra, winds up in the hands of their nemesis, thanks to the efforts of Pumyra, who's also Mumm-Ra's lover. Thanks a lot, ThunderCats, for putting in my head the disgusting (and most likely Frank Ocean-soundtracked) picture of what Pumyra does with her extremely elderly sugar daddy when they're not plotting to conquer Third Earth.

'Jaga told me he once passed a kidney stone that big.'
Is this really the series finale of the new ThunderCats? Judging from a poorly selling new ThunderCats toy line and the fact that Cartoon Network hasn't made a renewal announcement yet, I'm going to assume the ThunderCats are headed for the big litter box in the sky.

While I wasn't as captivated by this ThunderCats revival as I am by Motorcity, I liked how the showrunners took all the cheesy and dated elements of the original cartoon (the lousy animation, the constantly recycled score music, the bland characters, the grating Snarf) and improved upon them (Snarf doesn't talk in this version) or completely got rid of them. (A newcomer whose work is worth following because of his contributions to ThunderCats is series composer Kevin Kliesch, who wrote a new epic score for each episode--that's been Warner Bros. Animation's musical modus operandi for its shows ever since Tiny Toon Adventures.)

That 'Sight Beyond Sight' app on the Sword of Omens is full of shit because it didn't warn Lion-O about cancellation.
(Photo source: Murtha Reviews)
The series may not end with the ThunderCats triumphing over Mumm-Ra, but it finds closure in Lion-O's season-long goal for the once-hated cats to win the respect of the other animal peoples on Third Earth. WilyKit and WilyKat manage to persuade every single creature Lion-O helped and befriended in the past season to join the ThunderCats in their battle against Mumm-Ra. Kit and Kat utter the incantation "Rankin-Bass!" (I didn't watch the entire series, so I don't know if this shout-out to the producers of the original ThunderCats has been a frequent incantation of theirs), and each of the creatures emerges from Kit and Kat's magic bag to provide backup. The episode's final shot is of the ThunderCats surrounded by their new allies and ready for battle, not knowing that Cartoon Network will kill them all before Mumm-Ra can.


Parodies of composer Gerald Fried's Star Trek fight music never get old. Dan Vs. is the latest show to use Star Trek fight music as a gag, even though it's not the actual '60s cue but a soundalike cue written by Dan Vs. composer Patrick Griffin. Instead of Spock fighting his best friend Kirk to the death because of a complicated Vulcan wedding ritual, it's Dan (Curtis Armstrong) battling his best friend Chris (Dave Foley) for ownership of a prized ray gun prop from their favorite movie Space Monkeys from Planet Space.

The other highlight of the "Dan vs. Chris" episode is something that appeals more to '80s kids like me than to the kids in The Hub's audience: the presence of Family Ties stars Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter, who reprise their Dan Vs. roles as Don and Elise Sr., the wealthy parents of Chris' spy wife Elise Jr. (Paget Brewster). Don and Elise Sr. despise their son-in-law, so Dan joins forces with them to send his friend-turned-enemy Chris away to a Siberian labor camp.

The brilliant idea of casting Gross and Baxter as married schemers who aren't really all that different from Dan--except they're far better than Dan at hiding their crazy side--came from former Dan Vs. co-executive producer Jay Fukuto, who worked with Gross and Baxter on Family Ties. I like how Gross jumps at every chance to piss all over his squeaky-clean Steven Keaton image, whether it's playing nasty perps in women-in-peril TV-movies and on Law & Order spinoffs or voicing twisted dads like Don or that Batman: The Animated Series criminal who went insane from the chemicals that powered a suit of invisibility he stole.

Because Dan Vs. always ends with the scheme-of-the-week backfiring on Dan, he's the one who winds up in Siberia, where the guards force him to build ball bearings, which is how I would describe what watching Disney's Old Dogs on cable was like.


I've noticed that the Motorcity, ThunderCats and Dan Vs. episodes that aired during Father's Day week all happened to center on father figures, whether they're surrogate fathers (Kane), disgusting sugar daddies (Mumm-Ra) or devious dads who devise elaborate schemes to protect their daughters (Don). Ray (Scott Wolf), the middle-schooler hero of The Hub's Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters, doesn't have such a person in his life. His father died years ago, and he's still grieving his death. I wouldn't be surprised if it later turns out that Ray's dad led a secret life as a Duel Master, a warrior who's able to summon and communicate with monsters and other slightly more benign creatures from a parallel dimension, and that the reason for Ray's newfound prowess as a Duel Master is because he inherited his dad's skills.

Stop! In the name of glove!
The conclusion of "The Natural," Kaijudo's three-part series premiere, puts the newbie Duelist and his loyal but much less skilled-at-dueling friends Allie (Kari Wahlgren) and Gabe (Phil LaMarr) to the test when they battle a temple student (Jason Marsden) who betrays the Order of the Kaijudo Duel Masters and attempts to steal tablets from the temple's library for the Choten (Oded Fehr), an evil ex-Duel Master. The tablets summon creatures that the Choten wants to add to his army of monsters, which he enslaves and mistreats to make them more hostile and bloodthirsty.

The order opposes the abusive treatment of these creatures, yet it's still kind of a stuffy order because it also frowns upon its members treating their creatures like pets and touching them (I'm assuming this is because a few Duelists lost some hands or limbs while handling their creatures). Of course, Ray and Allie frequently violate this no-touching rule because unlike the older Duelists, they're not so fearful of the creatures, and their lack of fear makes these beasties comfortable to be around Ray and Allie.

One such creature is Tatsurion the Unchained (David Sobolov), who's so well-animated by South Korea's MOI studio of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Young Justice fame that I had flashbacks to the animation for the boar gods in Princess Mononoke. He's an irritable dragon/beast hybrid who can speak and develops a great working chemistry with Ray during battle ("I must say, little one, you have a warrior's spirit for one so small and weak and lacking claws or horns or fangs or any weapons at all really"). Ray and Tatsurion are, of course, a comically mismatched duo. Tatsurion frequently misunderstands Ray's suggestion to him that he bob and weave to make it difficult for his enemy to strike him ("'Bob and weave' is not my name!"), and his confusion over the phrase ends up becoming his new nickname Bob.

So that makes them Bob and Ray. Get it?

Do... the... Slow... Talkers... of... America... prefer... slow... food?
I don't think Kaijudo showrunners Henry Gilroy and Andrew R. Robinson intended their names to be a reference to the comedy duo, but if this is indeed a tip of the hat to the comedy nerds in the audience, then Kaijudo just went from being a mildly interesting game-based cartoon (this kind of cartoon, particularly the gazillion incarnations of Pokémon, usually makes my eyes sleepy) to a series worth tuning in for each week.

Speaking of Bob and Ray and creatures:

For a while, I had no idea LaMarr, the ex-MADtv regular/Chris Rock impersonator who plays the bookwormy Gabe, also voices Carny, the racist white bully who hurls at the biracial Ray cruel taunts like "You know what I like about you, mutt? When I sock you, it's like beating up two people at the same time!" That's how skilled LaMarr--who's been a black kid (Static), a black man (Green Lantern), Jamaican (Futurama's Hermes), Asian (Samurai Jack), white (Gambit), Atlantean (Aquaman) and a computer (JARVIS)--is at changing up his voice.

Now much more assertive than he was when he last encountered Carny because of his experiences with Bob and his dueling mentor--and new father figure--Chavez (Freddy Rodriguez), Ray responds to Carny's above joke with "You're right, Carny. I'm Japanese and I'm white and I'm here. And you are gonna have to live with it because I'm not going anywhere." Ray's words finally drive Carny away.

I'm glad Kaijudo, which addresses the timely issue of bullying without getting preachy about it, was made now instead of back in the '80s, before Batman: The Animated Series arrived and helped kill off preachy cartoons with its terse dialogue, which must have influenced showrunners in animation to step their writing game up and quit awkwardly inserting PSAs. If that scene were written in the '80s, Ray would have summoned a second monster: Soapbox the Unsubtle.


I don't understand why Disney XD chose to debut on Father's Day Ultimate Spider-Man's "Freaky" episode--which guest-stars the most overexposed Canadian besides Justin Bieber, Wolverine (Steve Blum)--when there was a more suitable upcoming episode about Venom/Harry Osborn (Matt Lanter) and his shady, Venom symbiote-inventing father Norman (Steven Weber), but whatever.

Here we see a Wolverine cosplayer attempting to talk Edward Furlong out of committing career suicide.
I may be sick of Wolverine, but I'm glad Blum got to reprise his Wolverine and the X-Men role as the clawed Canuck because the recent Guinness World Record holder (as gaming's most prolific voice actor) is hilarious during scenes where Spidey, who swapped bodies with Wolverine because of a spell that was cast by their foe Mesmero (Dwight Schultz), panics over his new and much burlier body. The sight of the 100-years-plus-old Wolverine whining and shrieking like an awkward teen who can't understand why he's suddenly sprouting wood in the middle of AP History is one of the best gags in "Freaky." The episode title refers to, of course, the twice-remade Freaky Friday from Marvel's corporate sibling Disney. So does that mean the uptight Spidey is Barbara Harris, while the gruff Wolverine is scruffy tomboy Jodie Foster?

"Freaky" was scripted by Brian Michael Bendis, the writer behind the celebrated Ultimate Spider-Man comic that gave this cartoon its title and Peter's horrible Bud Bundy hairdo. (The Spidey/Wolverine body swap is lifted from an Ultimate Spider-Man comic storyline I'm not familiar with. "Jump the Shark" was the title Bendis gave to the storyline.) Why does Bendis have Logan become so weirded out by Peter's spider-sense? Logan possesses similar animal senses--one of his most memorable catchphrases on the '90s X-Men cartoon was "I can smell 'im"--so shouldn't he be used to that kind of power?

Ultimate Spider-Man isn't my cup of tea, but I appreciate that it isn't similar in tone and format to the last Spidey cartoon, the much more beloved Spectacular Spider-Man, and is trying for something more comedic rather than dour, even if like in parts of "Freaky," it doesn't always fire on all cylinders and can be about as funny as those godawful "Marvel Mash-Up" segments where '80s Marvel cartoons get redubbed. Uh, that's not a mash-up, "Marvel Mash-Up" production company. A mash-up is something Party Ben posts on his SoundCloud. What you're doing is something that was known in the '60s as What's Up, Tiger Lily?

1 comment:

  1. Phil Lamar is brilliant! He's even funnier on camera.
    - Maurice Mitchell
    The Geek Twins | Film Sketchr
    @thegeektwins | @mauricem1972