Friday, June 29, 2012

A track-by-track rundown of the current "New Cue Revue" playlist on A Fistful of Soundtracks

'Meesa planted seeds of humanity.'
Every Wednesday at 10am and 4pm and every Friday at 11am, A Fistful of Soundtracks streams the most recent additions to the station's "AFOS Prime" library for an hour-long block entitled "New Cue Revue." This is what the "New Cue Revue" playlist looked like back in November 2011. Here now is what's currently on the playlist.

1. Marc Streitenfeld, "A Planet" (from Prometheus)
Epic.


Diarrhea is like a sandstorm raging towards you.
2. Michael Giacchino, "Out for a Run" (from Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol)
Stormy.


I like how Robert Pattinson's first post-Twilight project was a Cronenberg film, because nothing screams tweener like the words 'Cronenberg film.'
3. Howard Shore & Metric, "Long to Live" (from Cosmopolis)
Haines-y.

4. Danny Elfman, "Main Titles" (from Men in Black 3)
Biker-y.


5. Sunitha Sarathy, Shankar Mahadevan, "Dushman Mera" ("My Enemy") (from Don 2)
Fiery.



Tuesday, June 26, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (06/26/2012): Motorcity, The Legend of Korra, Ultimate Spider-Man, The Avengers and Adventure Time

Chuck's other talent besides hacking is doing that creepy bulging-eyes trick like that lady in that oft-repeated clip on Talk Soup.
"Oh please, Mike, don't drag me to see The Expendables 2! Stallone's plastic surgery scares me!" (Photo source: wait, was that slutty?)
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/Boondocks/Venture Bros. comfort zone. I've never seen most of these shows before. Nine or 10 weeks ago, before I started "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," if I were asked if I watched The Legend of Korra, I would have said, "What's that? A reality show about Cat Cora?" The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

Two weeks ago, Disney XD accidentally leaked on iTunes a different Motorcity episode from the one that premiered that week ("Vendetta"). The channel corrected its mistake and immediately deleted from iTunes the incorrect episode, which I bought and before its removal, I had watched, thinking it was the episode that premiered on Disney XD the night before because DirecTV was temporarily inaccessible at my apartment that week. "Fearless" centers on the cowardice of Chuck, the conscience of the Burners team, as well as Mike's constantly whimpering hacker best friend, and I won't fully discuss "Fearless" until after Disney XD airs it, out of respect for the Disney/Titmouse show's staff, who have been reading this blog (thanks for the retweets!). Motorcity fans on Tumblr who caught "Fearless" on iTunes are also refraining from spoiling the episode for the same reason.

Disney XD is apparently airing episodes out of order on broadcast TV as well. Motorcity isn't a serialized show, but sometimes, the reshuffled episode order results in inconsistencies in character development like in the latest episode, "Blond Thunder." It was clearly produced before "Vendetta" because Mike is far less familiar with--and a little more irritated about--the quirks of the Duke of Detroit in "Blond Thunder" than in "Vendetta." Mike accidentally pisses off the Duke again, and this time, it's over car parts the Duke won't allow Mike to take from his junkyards without his permission.

The Duke can't stand another second of Chuck's mewling.
(Photo source: wait, was that slutty?)
Chuck makes a remark in front of the Duke where he obliquely refers to his own lousy driving--without spilling to the rest of the team that he doesn't know how to drive at all, which he's been trying to keep secret--and the remark gets misinterpreted by the vain Duke as an insult about him. Mike sticks up for his best friend when it appears as if the Duke is about to threaten the cowardly hacker and boasts that Chuck can outrace any of the Duke's limo drivers, and the dick-measuring contest between Mike and the Duke ends up becoming a best-of-three racing competition between Chuck and the Duke's drivers on the gangster's raceway.

If Chuck loses, Mike will hand over his cherished car Mutt to the Duke. If Chuck wins, the Burners get unlimited access to the Duke's junkyards. There's one problem: Chuck doesn't know how to drive, which he finally reveals to Mike, who promises to keep it a secret from the other Burners, and Chuck has only three days until the race to brush up on his driving.

Cars are outlawed in future Detroit, so Chuck's inability to drive is a common thing in the city, but he'd rather keep it a secret from his racer friends because he doesn't want to be ridiculed and ostracized by them, especially Texas, whom Chuck doesn't specifically mention. The jumpsuited and cocky Burner doesn't think much of Chuck, as we've seen in one of Texas' amusing fantasy sequences early in the show's run, and he'd probably want Chuck thrown off the team if he found out.

Texas' dislike of Chuck is understandable. He can be a grating character when his Cringer-from-He-Man-style mewling is turned up to 11 like in "Blond Thunder." At one point while training Chuck for the race, Mike asks him, "Is screaming really necessary?," and he responds with "It's my process!!" ("Fearless" also deals with Chuck's confidence issues but is a little more enjoyable than "Blond Thunder" because his whimpering is kept to a minimum, for reasons I can't wait to discuss when "Fearless" finally airs.)

After the Warriors-style hijinks of "The Duke of Detroit" and the intriguing pathos of "Vendetta," not much is at stake in "Blond Thunder," other than Mutt. But even when it's a low-stakes episode of Motorcity, the series never stops being visually inventive. "Blond Thunder" opens with a wonderful visual gag where a race that appears to be taking place on the Burners' test track turns out to be an R/C car race inside Jacob's kitchen. The competitions against the Duke's drivers may be a nightmare for Chuck, but for the rest of us, they're a stunningly animated feast for the eyes, like all the other action sequences on this show (they're not really as incomprehensible as some viewers have complained). Every cel on Motorcity is such a gorgeous work of art that I like to stare at one for a minute or two, via vidcap or freeze-frame. Let's do that now. I'll wait.

With legs like that, he's like Kid Rock meets Tommy Tune.
(Photo source: wait, was that slutty?)

That's not red spray paint. That's Lindsay Lohan's blood after she smashed up her car again.
(Photo source: Clarke Snyder)

Lens flares! Is J.J. Abrams on the set?
(Photo source: wait, was that slutty?)

***

I never understood why Racebending.com, a group of Asian American fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender that I first encountered face-to-face while attending a convention to take part in promoting the first Secret Identities graphic novel, was so protective of the original show during its protest of M. Night Shyamalan's much-maligned live-action adaptation and its whitewashed cast of heroes. The animated saga about superpowered martial arts dynamos who can control or "bend" either water, earth, fire, or air--the most powerful of these "benders" is known as the Avatar--always looked to me like another Firefly. In other words, it's another sci-fi or fantasy show set in an Asian milieu but with no major Asian characters, which makes about as much sense as Woody Allen's frequently black people-free vision of New York. So I never cared for the A:TLA franchise, which has been scoring huge ratings on Nickelodeon in its current incarnation, the sequel series The Legend of Korra.

Because of Korra's popularity, I've decided to cover its two-part season finale, "Skeletons in the Closet/Endgame," which meant I had to acquaint myself with the show. I went back and caught Korra's ninth and 10th episodes before viewing the finale and was surprised to discover that Dante Basco was voicing a descendant of a heroic character he played on A:TLA and a Korra character was named after Mako as a shout-out by creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko to the legendary actor, who worked on A:TLA before he died. So both A:TLA and Korra aren't completely colorless, although it's too bad the pro-bending athlete character who inherited Mako's name (and is voiced by Bud Bundy, of all people) is such an uninteresting douche. The title character (Janet Varney), a hotheaded and immature yet somehow still-likable heroine, deserves a better love interest.

'Makorra' is the resulting name of that lame shipper thing where they take couples' names and merge them. 'Makorra' sounds like a Les Nubians song.
(Photo source: lagunamov)
In Korra's least interesting storyline, Mako is dating Asami Sato (Seychelle Gabriel from Shyamalan's Last Airbender), a non-bender who's defied her anti-bender industrialist father (Daniel Dae Kim) and allied herself with benders like Mako and Korra, but the jock is really in love with Korra and doing a crappy job hiding his feelings for the current Avatar. A Motorcity fan on Tumblr praised the Disney/Titmouse cartoon (which also happens to have Korra voice director Andrea Romano on its crew) because "it’s an action/adventure series that does not go for cheap shipping drama. *coughcoughKorracoughcoughThundercatscoughcough*" The Korra/Mako/Asami triangle and the rushed last few minutes are the only flaws in an otherwise thrilling finale. "Skeletons in the Closet/Endgame" has Korra and Mako going after Amon (Steve Blum), the masked leader of the Equalists, a group of anti-bender extremists who are violently occupying Republic City, the home of Korra's airbending teacher Tenzin (J.K. Simmons, in a huge departure from his swastika days as Schillinger on Oz).

'I'm here to call attention to the real enemy: Facebook changing your default e-mails without your permission!'
One of the most enjoyable touches that DiMartino and Konietzko have added to Korra to distinguish it from A:TLA is the 1920s steampunk setting, which has resulted in rousing action sequences that pit the benders against machines, like the "Endgame" sequence in which Basco's General Iroh faces off against the Equalists' biplanes. Iroh's takedown of the pilots is badass even though it rehashes the old '80s G.I. Joe copout of showing defeated pilots parachuting to safety instead of falling or crashing to their deaths. (In the early '90s, Batman: The Animated Series temporarily carried on G.I. Joe's tradition of avoiding death with its scenes of thugs falling from Gotham City architecture and landing safely in the sea or on some sort of cushion, although by the time of B:TAS' "Off Balance" episode, the producers must have stopped caring about pleasing Fox's Standards & Practices and snuck in a terrorist double-suicide in "Off Balance.")

'Kiss my ass, Rufio.'

'I'ma fry that pilot's ass like lumpia.'

It's time to play the game that's sweeping the nation, Spot the G.I. Joe-Style Parachute!

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.'

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The 10 best subtitles Universal Music Group stupidly removed from The Roots' classic "What They Do" video

The honey dip on the left ain't hiding her butt cramp too well. In 1996, the rap-video-cliché-mocking "What They Do" video hipped me to both The Roots and its director Charles Stone III, who went on to direct Budweiser's "Wassup" ads from 1999 to 2002 (they were actually a remake of his short film "True") and movies like Drumline and Mr. 3000. When I'm depressed--which is all the time--the satirical "What They Do" video is something I put on if I need a few laughs.

Many go to YouTube to watch music videos. But if you want to watch the "What They Do" video, don't go to YouTube.

Black Thought, Questlove and the rest of the Roots crew jumped ship from Geffen Records to Def Jam in 2005 after many disagreements with the Universal Music Group-owned label. And how did Geffen/UMG show how much they adore The Roots? They removed from the cut of the "What They Do" video that's currently on the co-owned-by-UMG VEVO and YouTube all of its funny, industry-critiquing subtitles, which Stone once said were inspired by the subtitles in Madison Avenue copywriter Mark Fenske's beloved 1992 video for Van Halen's "Right Now" (a video Sammy Hagar hated, which says a lot about Hagar). Way to kill the whole point of the "What They Do" video.

Fortunately, as Grantland's Andy Greenwald pointed out today, someone on Vimeo preserved the original cut of Stone's video, although the video quality is a bit blurry for my tastes (I don't know what the term is for the opposite of HD--I'd call it VD).


The Roots - What They Do from Uzi on Vimeo.

I wouldn't be surprised if the fool who deleted the subtitles sees an Onion headline on Facebook and thinks it's real.

Wazzap.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (06/12/2012): Tron: Uprising, Motorcity, ThunderCats, Young Justice and Dan Vs.

Later that night, Mara cries alone in the apartment she shares with her 17 cats because she realizes the blue hair reminds dudes too much of their grandmothers.
She's got the body of a 21-year-old and the hair of a 71-year-old.
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.

It's been an interesting week for superhero cartoons. One show is being killed, while another is coming back. I can't say I'm a fan of either show, but the latter used to open each week with one of the best TV theme songs ever.

Nothing Marvel Animation does surprises me, including pulling the plug on The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, which is what the studio did last week (Australian viewers, for some odd reason, have been receiving the show's second-season episodes several weeks before we do, while Disney XD will begin burning off the rest of the season later this summer--on Wikipedia, its return date is listed as June 24). Earth's Mightiest Heroes isn't a perfect show like most Marvel fans make it out to be--animation-wise, it pales in comparison to much of the work of present-day DC Animation--but due to the solid work of story editor and frequent writer Christopher Yost, it's better-written than most Marvel cartoons.


I particularly like how there's constant turnover in the team like in the Avengers comics and many other superteam comics, as well as the way Earth's Mightiest Heroes approaches the team members as what I call "people first, heroes second." For instance, most of them, particularly Iron Man, are frequently seen unmasked or outside of their costumes, a departure from older superhero cartoons where the heroes rarely took off their suits, which always looked stupid. If Superman took a nap in the Hall of Justice on Superfriends (which was exactly how that Superfriends episode where Supes was transformed into a boy ended), he'd still be wearing his effing cape.

'Ha! With this shield in front of me, now no one will be able to shave off my douchey facial hair! Disappointed, Pepper?'
And before live-action Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon and Mark Ruffalo finally figured out how to make the usually one-note and boring Hulk an interesting and complex character (three words: "I'm always angry"), my favorite version of Hulk was Earth's Mightiest Heroes' reimagining of him as a more intelligent brute and less like a man-child who demolishes English as much as he demolishes brick walls (sorry, '70s Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno version, but you were better at depicting Dr. Banner than you were at depicting his green self, who, to borrow a favorite Hulk word, looks puny compared to the Yostverse Hulk). This take on Greenie, which is closer to how Peter David wrote him in the Incredible Hulk comic in the '90s, reminds me of the brooding and laconic version of Little John on BBC's Robin Hood. I wouldn't be surprised if Avengers Assemble, Marvel Animation's next (and reportedly Ultimate Spider-Man-style) incarnation of the Avengers characters, goes back to dumbing Hulk down.

Speaking of unsurprising things, the theme tunes that open Marvel cartoons are typically wack or drab, except for the late '60s Spider-Man theme, Rooney's Iron Man: Armored Adventures theme and some of Bad City's "Fight as One," the Earth's Mightiest Heroes theme, which is too watered-down-Linkin-Park-ish for my tastes, but I like how the first few lyrics in the first-season version of "Fight as One" correspond to each Avengers founding member without using their names ("Tormented and attacked" represents Hulk, while "Lost from when we wake" is about Captain America). A far better theme than "Fight as One" is the banger of a theme that opened DC's Teen Titans. Although I loved that Puffy AmiYumi theme and any episode that pitted the Titans against Malcolm McDowell's '60s-obsessed Mad Mod, I wasn't a fan of the show. But I'm glad it's coming back, even though it's in that cutesy chibi character design I don't usually care for. On some weeks, the chibi-style New Teen Titans shorts, which reunited the original show's voice actors, have been the highlight of Cartoon Network's "DC Nation" block (my favorite of these shorts is, of course, the one that brought back Mad Mod).


Cartoon Network announced last week that DC Animation will be expanding these New Teen Titans shorts into a half-hour Teen Titans Go! series that will air next year during "DC Nation." In terms of superhero comedies, I prefer New Teen Titans over the forced wackiness of the recently renewed Ultimate Spider-Man, although I'd rather see the return of The Justice Friends from Dexter's Laboratory.



***

It's like a Hype Williams video, except someone banned all the weed from the set.
Even though everyone in The Grid is as obese as an ironing board, I'm starting to warm up to Robert Valley's stylized Tron: Uprising character designs, which we see more of in the series' second episode as it introduces other characters besides the principals. (If you peep Valley's site, it's full of even more impressive artwork by the Gorillaz "Feel Good Inc." video animator, including previews of a comic of his that features ladies who are too hot for Disney XD.) But the only Tron: Uprising character whose design still doesn't look alright to me is the lead character Beck's. His Matt LeBlanc face doesn't match Elijah Wood's distinctively Elijah Wood-ian voice.

'How you doin'?' 'How you doin'?' 'How you doin'?' 'How you doin'?' 'How you doin'...'
(Photo source: Cartoon Brew)
In "The Renegade," Beck's heroism from the first episode has made enough noise in The Grid to cause gladiators to begin to murmur of a renegade who will save them and stand up against Clu the dictator and his henchman General Tesler (Lance Henriksen). Beck inadvertently ends up getting captured by one of Tesler's recognizer ships and is forced into the same kind of gladiatorial games he rescued his friends Mara (Mandy Moore) and Zed (Nate Corddry) from being shipped off to in "Beck's Beginning."

One of Beck's fellow prisoners is Cutler (Lance Reddick), a former soldier who fought in what was known as the ISO War (introduced in Tron: Legacy, ISOs are not "programs" like Beck and his friends but are human inhabitants of The Grid that their creator Kevin Flynn tried to protect from Clu, who slaughtered all of them for being human, except for Olivia Wilde's Quorra, the last surviving ISO). Beck plots to escape from the arena with Cutler, who believes the renegade is the presumed-dead Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) and is eager to fight beside him in the uprising he's started. The veteran isn't aware that the renegade is actually Beck, who's assuming Tron's mantle. Maybe Cutler should flee first to a barbershop in Argon City because his '90s flattop makes him look too much like Allen West.

For some reason, I keep expecting to see Cutler say that he's heard The Grid is full of Communists.

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.