Wednesday, November 7, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (11/07/2012): Transformers Prime, Tron: Uprising, Motorcity, Kaijudo and The Avengers

A shitty day for high-quality TV animation ended as an awesome one for the political landscape.
Farewell, the one-season wonder that is Motorcity! Screw you, Disney XD! (Photo source: Guts-N-Effort)
Every Wednesday 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.

Transformers Prime concludes its second season with a tense cliffhanger that raises the stakes and shakes up the show's premise of aliens getting comfy with their new home on Earth because now, thanks to an attack by Megatron's floating fortress, there's no longer a base for Team Prime to call home. At the end of "Darkest Hour," the Autobots and their young human cohorts are forced to split up to avoid getting captured by the Decepticons and are now on the run, which hints that season 3 will be more like The Hub's other '80s toy-based Hasbro Studios action cartoon, the now-defunct G.I. Joe: Renegades, which turned the Joes into A-Team-style fugitives.

A farewell to arm
The on-the-run arc looks like it'll be more engaging than the relic-hunting arc, which I found to be sometimes tedious. One thing this series is good at is conveying how dangerous it is for the kids to be involved in an intergalactic war, and the much-needed change in setting will hopefully emphasize that.

"What will [the kids] do? How will they cope? They can’t go back to school or have any semblance of a normal life; the Cons know who they are and where they live," wrote a Transformers Prime recapper on Toonzone. "Jack can’t even see his mother. Their entire world crumbled in one fell swoop and I doubt they can pick up the pieces so easily."

Optimus Prime appears to be dead after failing to escape the attack on the Autobot base. But there's no way this series is going to keep him dead permanently. His name is in the series title. Unless they replace Optimus with a new and younger Prime, they're going to have to change the series title to Transformers: Exodus or something equally portentous.


We know things won't end well for Tron on Tron: Uprising when this prequel show will reach its final episode because Tron: Legacy revealed that Clu (Fred Tatasciore) captured Tron and had him "repurposed" (his new evil identity after the brainwashing was Rinzler). In part 2 of "Scars," we get to see what repurposing looks like when the show flashes back to the first time Clu's forces captured Tron and threatened to repurpose him. But instead of erasing Tron's identity and memories because he finds the repurposing procedure to be "crude," Clu's henchman Dyson (John Glover) disfigured Tron's purdy face with a saw-like device (as payback for half of his own face getting sliced off by an unknown attacker's identity disc during an ISO riot that Tron was assigned to handle) and sent him away on a Recognizer ship to be executed.

Dyson contemplates an evil breakfast, followed by a few evil rounds of evil neon golf at the evil neon golf course.
Dyson doesn't know that Tron's life was saved by Cyrus (Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad), a guard on the Recognizer who secretly opposed Clu's regime and helped Tron to escape, so that's why Dyson and most of the programs in The Grid think Tron is dead. Cyrus' words of encouragement to Tron--he told him, "We can't let your revolution end before it has a chance to start, bitch!"--sound exactly like what Beck says to Tron to stop him from derezzing Dyson, and Beck's warning to Tron that killing Dyson will taint what he set out to accomplish causes Tron to change his mind and spare Dyson's life.

The flashback that introduces Cyrus lends credence to a theory I have about Beck. For a while, I thought he's actually a program created by either Kevin Flynn (Tatasciore) or Tron to take Tron's place in the revolution against Clu someday, just like how Justice League Unlimited's Amanda Waller had Bruce Wayne's DNA implanted into the father of Batman Beyond hero Terry McGinnis to ensure that Terry would grow up to succeed Bruce as Batman.

Cyrus' physical appearance closely resembles Beck's, and so does his voice, which is similar to Elijah Wood's (at first, I wasn't able to identify the actor who voiced Cyrus--for a while, I thought he was Adrian Pasdar, not Paul--because Disney XD does a wonderful job of squishing the credits so that you can't read them). Also, Cyrus' name is an extremely nerdy reference to the Cyrus-Beck line clipping algorithm. I now think Beck is a repurposed version of Cyrus. At some point in the time period between the year that "Scars" flashed back to and the first Tron: Uprising episode, someone must have used the repurposing tech to erase Cyrus' identity and memories and replace them with a different identity as the younger mechanic program Beck, perhaps to keep Cyrus safe and plant the seed for the revolution to re-emerge when the time is right. I know that's a batshit crazy theory, but the Tron franchise has come up with equally ridiculous ideas before, like the whole Rinzler/Tron thing that came out of nowhere in Tron: Legacy.

Like the humans outside The Grid, Tron looks like shit when he gets up out of bed in the morning.
Like I said last week, "Scars" is reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series' "Robin's Reckoning" two-parter. The differences in opinion between Beck and Tron about killing Dyson are exactly like the temporary discord between Batman and Robin over gangster Tony Zucco. Another resemblance to "Robin's Reckoning" is the fact that part 1 of "Scars" is a stronger half than part 2, just like what happened with "Robin's Reckoning," which was still a standout B:TAS story even though it sort of fell flat in part 2. Of course Tron would never derez Dyson--this is a Disney XD show, so the hero will never be allowed to do something so extreme--but I wanted Tron to remain off his rocker for a little while longer. Maybe it's because I've lately been watching a shitload of TNT's nonstop marathons of The Mentalist, where the revenge-driven title character gets to be crazy--all the time.


The trailer house that puts together AMC's "next week on Mad Men" promos came up with a brilliant strategy for its promo editors: if you're going to cull dialogue from next week's episode, pick out only the least interesting lines or edit those lines down so much--like down to just three or four words (and if it's just Don in the clip, even less than that)--that they make very little sense out of context. These cryptic, mostly announcer-less and unrevealing Mad Men promos have been known to annoy many viewers who are dying to know what will happen next week, but it's not surprising that they're so cryptic and so devoid of spoilers. Famously guarded and secretive Mad Men showrunner Matthew Weiner wouldn't want it any other way.

I wish more cable channel promo departments followed the AMC Mad Men promo model because otherwise, you wind up with mishaps like Disney XD carelessly spoiling the ending of Motorcity's "Like Father, Like Daughter" episode in its promos. It didn't ruin the enjoyment of the episode, but it took a lot of the surprise out of the ending.

The Burners are stunned to see for the first time a 'Deluxitram,' which sounds more like a diet pill than a mode of transportation.
The high-octane action sequences are what first drew me to Motorcity (before I found out that the show involved writers and animators from the Cartoon Network cult favorite Megas XLR, and then that's when I really became invested in the show). Like I said last week while discussing Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters' Locomotivator scenes, I'm a sucker for set pieces that involve speeding trains, and "Like Father, Like Daughter" contains a couple of enjoyable bits of caper action as the Burners attempt to steal a trove of vintage cars from a floating KaneCo freight train that the corporation refers to as a "Deluxitram."

Abraham Kane has been destroying cars as a way to deprive the people of both Detroit Deluxe and the underground Motorcity of their freedom, so to foil Kane's upcoming car-burning ceremony, the Burners formulate a plan to take as many cars as possible from KaneCo storage and give them back to the people, an idea Julie came up with. "They can't fight [Kane], they can't run from his bots, all because they don't have cars," says Julie to Mike.

The team's heist gets disrupted by Kane's new employee Red (Eric Ladin, a.k.a. Betty's brother William on Mad Men), a masked assassin who's returned for a rematch with Mike after first tussling with him in "Vendetta." But for the first time in the show's run, I was less interested in the action-y stuff in the A-story and more interested in the non-action-y material in the B-story, which has Julie spending a day with her dad Kane. It sounds like a dull B-story (or is this the A-story and not the B-story?), but Titmouse comes up with ways to keep us engaged in what could have been really talky and lifeless scenes, like the gorgeous Blade Runner Tyrell pyramid-style lighting during a scene inside a high-rise Detroit Deluxe restaurant.

Mike gets lifted, and not in a Harold and Kumar kind of way.
Julie, who's been spying on her dad, sits out the heist to keep an eye on Dad's current scheme and attempt to persuade him to be less of an autocratic asshole (in the guise of hanging out with Dad and playing a few rounds of futuristic racquetball with him, a scene that, as series creator Chris Prynoski rightly noted on Twitter, features some great voice work by Kate Micucci and Mark Hamill). Though she despises his ruthlessness, the idealistic Julie still cares about her dad and believes there's some good left in him. So when she overhears Dutch, Chuck and Texas fantasizing about tying up her dad and tearing him apart like a piñata (the recurring sight gags involving the Burners' delightfully twisted fantasies about doing bodily harm to Kane are how you know this show is a Titmouse joint, not a DIC joint or a Film Roman joint), it turns her stomach.

"I really hope the show explores more on [Kane and Julie's] dynamic, because it shows so many layers to both Kane and Julie's characters if they do what they do simply because they care," wrote a Motorcity fan named Laura on her Tumblr. "Julie isn't just with the Burners to save Motorcity, but to also save her father from his own self-destruction, while Kane wants what's best for Deluxe so badly that he considers Motorcity as collateral damage for his vision of a perfect utopian society."

When Kane tells Julie that he wants to protect this utopia at all costs, he never specifies what exactly he's trying to shelter Julie from, which leads to a theory I've been having about certain details about the Kane family that have been hidden from us, like Julie's mother. Why do neither Kane nor Julie ever mention her? Did something happen to her that's too painful for either of them to recall? And why does Kane hate cars so much and decry them as loud and obnoxious? Why's he so obsessed with Fahrenheit 451-ing them from society?

My theory is this: Kane is a widower who lost his wife in a car accident. The loss drove him insane and caused him to rid himself of whatever empathy Julie still thinks he's capable of. It explains his vague line to his idiot assistant Tooley about what happens when cars fall into the wrong hands, and it's why he's been purging cars--which used to be the soul of Motorcity--from both that city and Deluxe. (I'm not sure if Disney wants to go there with this show, even though the studio that killed Bambi's mom has dealt with death or the possibility of death before in another older-skewing action cartoon. Disney's Gargoyles massacred most of Goliath's clan in the very first episode and is best remembered for a Very Special Episode in which Goliath's fellow gargoyle Broadway accidentally wounded Detective Elisa Maza with a firearm he was stupidly playing around with.)

That as-yet-unspecified tragic loss must have also caused Kane to be obsessed with his own mortality and to go pick out his successor in case he croaks (or if any of the enemies he's made in his rise to power--like the mutated Terra Dwellers--succeeds in killing him). He wants Julie to take over the family business. When Kane first offers her the keys to the empire over dinner, which consists of gray Jell-O squares emblazoned with the KaneCo logo (according to Prynoski, the meal has been given the unappetizing name of "throat cubes"), Julie refuses to be Christie Hefner to Kane's Hef. But then in the ending spoiled by the Disney XD promo department, Jules changes her mind, takes what Tooley mispronounces as the "inish-utive" and accepts her dad's offer.

I love how Motorcity has chosen this spying-on-and-then-inheriting-the-evil-empire plot as the primary arc for Julie instead of sticking her with a storyline where she's pining for Mike or someone else. It's an interesting reversal where the romance storylines that often define girls on live-action or animated action shows (hence the Bechdel Test) are used on Motorcity to define Chuck, Dutch and Texas (who's often seen skirtchasing, but in this episode, Texas is all lovey-dovey not for the ladies but for the trove of vintage rides), while Julie ends up with the not-as-frothy storylines about legacy and power, which aren't often reserved for female characters on action cartoons.

So could Julie lose sight of the Burners' cause and get corrupted by her dad's way of doing business (kind of like what happened to Lauren Cohan's Vivian Volkoff on Chuck when she took over the evil organization run by Timothy Dalton's Alexei Volkoff) or will she stay focused and try to change KaneCo from within? And like what another hero was able to do with his dad towards the end of a certain other Mark Hamill project, will she be able to change Kane himself as well? I'm looking forward to how all this will turn out at the end of Motorcity's first and sadly, only season--as long as Disney XD doesn't spoil it in one of their godawful promos again.

Now if only some other network fucking saved it.
A tweet from Motorcity writer George Krstic about my discussion of both Motorcity and a certain other Mark Hamill project


The locomotive-shaped creature Locomotivator doesn't make a return trip in part 2 of Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters' mother issues-heavy "Heart of Darkness" episode like I wanted, but I like how things get bitchy between Empress Megaria (Rachel Robinson), her prisoner-turned-protégé Allie and evil Duelist Alakshmi Verma (Grey DeLisle) and then again in a later scene between Megaria and her old rival, the wise Duel Master Jaha (Dee Bradley Baker). The quips in this episode aren't quite as good as the brash--and, as GQ calls them, "neo-screwball"--one-liners Joss Whedon comes up with for his female combatants whenever they fight each other, but the presence of Cthulhu-esque Darkness Civilization creatures in these confrontations between Kaijudo's female characters makes up for the slightly leaden dialogue.

Goth Allie wants you to keep your goddamn hands off her all-My Chemical Romance iPod.
The other highlight of "Darkness of Heart, Part 2" is a juicy glimpse into Alakshmi's past in India, which Megaria attempts to re-create when she captures the aggressive and overly confident but frequently incompetent Duelist and assumes the form of her unsympathetic mother to mess with her mind. Mom is a Brahmin who apparently sold Alakshmi to the Choten (Oded Fehr) so that he would train her to defeat the Light Creature that destroyed their family's village (child slavery on a Hasbro Studios cartoon?--wow, I expected this two-parter about the Darkness Civilization to get dark but not that dark). This peek at Alakshmi's screwed-up past humanizes this villainous character and explains a lot about her eagerness to please the Choten, her bad temper and her prematurely gray hair.


The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes' "Live Kree or Die" episode reveals that Black Panther, who appeared to have perished while trying to protect Earth's sun from the Kree Empire in "Operation Galactic Storm," didn't die. T'Challa managed to slip through a Kree wormhole and sneak onto the Kree mothership on the other side of the wormhole. He stole a fighter craft from its hangar and flew down to the Kree homeworld Hala, which is pronounced "hey-la," so I stupidly couldn't stop singing "Hala, Hala, my boyfriend's back" in my brain during the episode.

Kree is a weird name for an alien warrior race. They must have been named after that great warrior Cree Summer, a.k.a. Freddie from A Different World, a.k.a. Elmyra, a.k.a. Penny from Inspector Gadget.
(Photo source: Marvel Animation Age)
Black Panther's teammates are in greater danger, due to the Kree armada's firepower splitting the Avengers' Quinjet apart into two pieces, which both crash into Hala. One half of the team ends up held captive by the Supreme Intelligence (David Kaye), the giant computer brain that rules the empire and intends to subject his human prisoners to grisly experiments, while the other half, which is reunited with T'Challa, must rescue their captured teammates.

Like the "Scars" two-parter over on Tron: Uprising, the "Operation Galactic Storm" arc is a strange instance where part 1 is more intriguing than part 2. Unless it's HAL, Colossus, HARDAC from Batman: The Animated Series or Femputer from Futurama, supercomputers don't make for exciting villains. This Kree computer brain is just a Rush Limbaugh-esque blob with neither emotions nor childlike traits, which had an odd effect of turning HAL into the most human character in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Aside from his plans to dissect his human specimens, the Supreme Intelligence isn't very menacing, despite the use of heavy shadows, which help make this episode look great visually. There's only one episode left of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and one thing I'll miss about the show is the striking way it was drawn and lit (the animation wasn't always the best though, but the show stepped its game up for "Live Kree or Die"). Even though he resented how Marvel treated him, the late Jack Kirby would have been gobsmacked by how impressive his characters looked in animated form on Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

Iron Man wonders if the conservative Captain America voted for Romney last night because he wants so badly to rub Romney's loss in his unfrozen face.

1 comment:

  1. 5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (11/07/2012) Transformers Prime, Tron: Uprising, Motorcity, Kaijudo and The Avengers
    Black Panther's teammates are in greater danger, due to the Kree
    armada's firepower splitting the Avengers' Quinjet apart into two
    pieces, which both crash into Hala.