Challenge of the Superfriends, Volume 1 (Order it from Amazon!)
This show was a vital part of my youth, many CHUD.com readers youth’s, and probably the existence of recording industry sensation Musical Youth, a band that most likely enjoyed the adventures of Hawkman while wisely passing the Dutchie on the left hand side exclusively.
The SuperFriends are Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman… and a host of characters who don’t even deserve their own pamphlet, let alone a comic book. This collection of four color legends and heaps of racial stereotypes exist to battle the forces of evil in any way they can, usually by talking in a stoic voice and seeing the flaw in their master plan. Or by punching them in their goddamn face. That works too.
"Wonder Triplets powers activate! Form of… the most dumb thing ever."
Back in the late 70’s, kids were a far less discerning audience when it came to animated heroics. Things moved at a slower pace and whether the characters were faithful to their two-dimensional brethren was insignificant as long as there was lots of action and Superman and Batman got most of the dialogue.
In a way, Challenge of the SuperFriends is pure. It makes no sense, defies just about all the rules of the characters and science, and is about as thoughtfully planned as my trips to the mall… but it’s unpretentious and follows that great principle that the Godzilla sequels did: Show your main characters a lot and provide tons of skirmishes. As a result, heroes and villains are tossed at us at a breakneck pace and as long as we don’t question why Wonder Woman can fly, Green Lantern’s super power seems to be to get really tan at times, or that Batman is just about useless in space and totally not suited for team adventures in broad daylight… it’s all good clean fun.
But this show is silly. Just plain silly. That’s the magic of it, I guess.
Story Arcs of Record: The SuperFriends team up against Lex Luthor. The SuperFriends team up against Solomon Grundy. The SuperFriends team up against Black Manta. The SuperFriends team up against Mr. Freeze or Captain Cold or whatever that freak is. The SuperFriends team up against Gorilla Grodd. The SuperFriends team up against The Riddler. The SuperFriends team up against…
"Superman, may I suggest a name change? I checked the Library of Congress and am proud to say that no one has gotten the jump on the name Misshapen Headspace as of this morning."
Acting: The voice work is as generic and stiff as a Vivid Video stag’s pelvic region. Every character could be a television car salesman.
Craftsmanship: Watch the mouths. It’s the best thing ever. As Superman talks, his mouth will not only bounce around on his lower face but also change shape and perspective. The joys of hand-drawn animation is only matched by the hilariously benign and simplistic dialogue coming out of the shifting mandibles. It’s a riot. If there was ever a show to just drink vodka and watch all day, this is it. The craftsmanship is quite lousy, but it’s a beautiful lousy.
Entertainment Value: It’s extremely fun to watch this show even as it pulls your legs off at the knees and beats you with the dripping stump. This is a blast, one that offends your love of comic books, but a blast regardless. Oh, and the animated menu is awesome!
Robert Blake is Superman Reborn, coming to theaters next summer!
Special Features: Comic writers Geoff Johns and Mark Waid provide a pair of entertaining commentary tracks. They know the show is asswalk but also have the same nostalgic devotion to the show as I do. Of course, they know and care much more about the DC characters than I do so the tracks are both informative AND entertaining. There’s also a fun retrospective. All in all, this is better than we normally are given in our old television DVD goodness. Here’s the tally:
• Character Bios
Overall: 7.0 out of 10
V: The Complete Series (Order it from Amazon!)
Dave Davis gave V: The Final Battle a fun and informative review RIGHT HERE a couple of years ago and it appears that any residual nostalgic love for this show dried up and died with him because I HATED this television series. Seriously. It punched me in the coccyx 32 times a minute, and diminished my heart rate until I escaped the screening room and drank gas from my lawn mower and experienced some deep healing.
As trendsetting and fun as the original shows were, this ongoing series was an exercise in boredom and 80’s hair. Things I can get without the help of Marc Singer and Robert Englund, thank you.
"Wait… you mean me and Mikey Scans here will live forever in the eyes of sci-fi convention attendees? Sure we’ll do your television show!"
The gist of the ongoing series is that the "final" battle wasn’t all that final. When an attempt to kill the captive villain Diana instead frees her shapely reptilian ass, she is given a chance to attack Earthlings once more alongside her platonic lesbian associate Lydia. Their hair is big, their wear human skins like athletes wear Under Armour, and they fear red dust. Such is the life of an extraterrestrial assailant.
Thankfully, Michael Ironside and Marc Singer exist and enjoy long walks in the park, Amaretto Sours, and fighting alien invaders.
The main problem I had with the show was that the real meat of the V phenomenon was already chewed and shat out by the time this show found the airwaves. The big reveals featuring aliens, broken allegiances, and novelty of the first alien birth was in the rearview mirror and what remained was boring concentration camp scenes, attempts to show how life has changed with the Visitors in the picture, and different poses Mr. Singer could make while holding a laser pistol.
Folks, it just ain’t enough.
Nicky Katt, Xander Berkeley, Sybill Danning, and many others show their faces in cameos but it’s just not enough to save the show.
The East McBain, Alabama Psycho Wax Museum couldn’t get ANYTHING right…
Story Arcs of Record: The Visitors struggle to take over Earth. The humans struggle to defend the Earth. The Earth struggles to survive the career of Marc Singer. I struggle to stay awake as the 80’s infiltrates my face area.
Acting: Marc Singer is not an acting juggernaut. Thankfully, he has a chest chiseled out of titanium and nostrils that perform even when under duress. As a leading man, he doesn’t exactly draw you in, but the part in his hair does remind you of that guy at the Bullet Boys concert you went to. Robert Englund plays goofy aliens better than anyone. Michael Ironside is surprisingly good as a hero, though it’s hard to watch him in a film that doesn’t feature extensive vein displaying or battles on the surface of Mars. Otherwise, this is a good example of a genre show that tried to exist beyond its means, acting included.
Craftsmanship: Some of the vehicle designs are cool and I cannot get enough of the alien babies, but this is a show that shows its age in a big way. Even in the mid 80’s the concept carried the show when the budget failed. Either that or those were Jesus’ footprints I saw in the sand.
"So, what am I going to have to do to get a part in this Jeepers Creepers sequel, Mr. Singer?"
Entertainment Value: Good, nostalgic fun? No. The original series is a joy. The second series wasn’t bad either. This… is slower than snail shit and twice as boring.
Special Features: If you’ve come down with a bad case of being French or Spanish… you can still enjoy what seems like a million hours of V: The Complete Series. Here’s the tally:
Overall: 4.0 out of 10
Batman: The Animated Series – Volume One (Order it from Amazon!)
The popular opinion is that Batman: The Animated Series is the best incarnation of the hero thus available on screens and for the most part it’s correct. The television show represented the first fresh take on the character since Frank Miller’s ultra praised work in four colors. The easy answer to any questions having to do with Batman on film is "Well, the best Batman movie is Mask of the Phantasm", and the trickle-down effect coats this series, the Batman Beyond stuff, and any related spinoffs in a similar light.
For the most part, it is the correct assumption as far as I’m concerned but I also feel that there’s plenty of room for improvement in the show that made Bruce Timm and Paul Dini convention favorites.
I reviewed the first offering of this show way back in April of 2002 RIGHT HERE, a DVD that featured the first handful of episodes. It’s a stout beginning to a brand new era for the Batman, and considering when it first aired, it’s nothing short of transcendent. Being a comic reader, I’ve seen so many reboots and reinterpretations, regurgitations and rehashes of the character that nothing really impresses anymore. The recent "Hush" storyline in the comics was neat but nothing all that wondrous after several decades of Batman adulation. Even my beloved Loeb/Sale Batman runs seem a bit tired now. The actual meat of these stories is just not all that world-shattering.
Where the series excels is in tone and style. It’s what they DON’T do as much as what they do.
The make-up sessions seemed to take longer and longer each year, but Kirstie Alley’s eating habits weren’t enough to keep Some More Cheers off the air.
The series isn’t cheesy like the 60’s show and certain eras of the comic book. It’s darker and more angular, evoking an old-fashioned feel while delivering modern entertainment. As far as G-rated cartoon entertainment goes, it’s among the very best television has ever offered. As far as changing the way Batman storytelling is looked at, don’t believe the hype. This is beautiful stuff, but the real magic of it is how it took what already existed and had the balls to make it to television and screen.
Story Arcs of Record: The Joker wreaks havoc. Two-Face is created. Mr. Freeze is re-imagined as a much better character and becomes a first-tier Batman villain. Basically, what you’d expect from a Batman show.
Acting: Well, it’s all voice acting and it’s the early days. I don’t think Kevin Conroy really found the Batman character until later on. These early episodes seem awfully restrained. Some stuff doesn’t feel exactly on, but the ship rights itself pretty fast.
Philadelphia: The Animated Series… coming this winter to the WB!
Craftsmanship: This is the first Batman cartoon that you could pause, get a screen capture of, and actually have a piece of art in front of you just about any time you did it. The Art Deco look as filtered through the gothic haze serves this show very well and it’s angular and basic approach to characters and settings was a catalyst towards a simplified but no less amazing style still in use today. This is a very brave and artistic endeavor and though it’s rough around the edges (they switched animation houses a few times during the season), it is put together well. That said, the opening credits sequence is too long and is boring after the third time.
Entertainment Value: The show is almost always entertaining and fans of Batman or superhero/crime stuff should eat it right up.
"You may be proud of your ass, Assproudness… but you will not escape Arkham Asylum this time!"
Special Features: There’s a few things here, and that’s all I really expected. The commentary was informative though kind of dry. I expected a little more verve from Timm and Dini, but at the end of the day people don’t buy this for features but rather the proper release of a show they love. The features are meager but decent. Here’s the tally:
Overall: 8.0 out of 10
Wonder Woman, Season One (Order it from Amazon!)
Many first erections came into existence because of Lynda Carter and the 70’s Wonder Woman television show. For that reason alone it can’t be all bad. Anything that sends blood hurtling towards the pants cannot be all bad in some cosmic scheme. In fact, I was a big fan of Wonder Woman… and erections as I watched the show during its life or in syndication as a misspent youth. The tale of an Amazonian (she sold books online) heroine and her battles during WWII America, Wonder Woman eschewed the really cheesy Batman formula in favor of a marginally cheesy one that was bouyed more by the former Miss USA’s lithe form than any efforts to make invisible jets the next big craze in vehicular transportation. In fact, character of Wonder Woman was customized for television into being a sort of companion to The Bionic Woman but decked out in red, white, and blue and sporting a whip.
It also tried to maintain the pulpy feel of the comics of the Golden Age, and to some extent pulled it off.
The battle between Wonder Woman and S&M Carl was furious and featured fight choreography by Hollywood legend Hank Science!
Once the VERY 70’s theme song begins and various shots of the comic book character in action start to unfold, it’s apparent that this is not your father’s Wonder Woman. Except it is. This is your father’s Wonder Woman. He owns her. Once the comic characters morph into their real-life actorly counterparts, it’s apparent that this show is a product of a time gone by.
When it works, the show is just a patriotic bit of mindless entertainment. It’s our lady battling the forces of Nazism whether donning her signature outfit or incognito as a bookish (and far sexier) military officer. It’s a pretty sound formula. It just gets slapped in the face by lame special effects of both the visual and aural variety and the stiffest acting since Peter Graves last showed his granite face.
Thankfully, Lynda Carter prances about in skimpy clothes and reminds us why as children we enjoyed the circulatory benefits of Wonder Woman. Of course, as an adult we can see just how padded that bra was, just how weird the poofy bloomers that ladies wore back then were, and how few situations that tanned panty hose actually look good in.
Story Arcs of Record: Wonder Woman thwarts attempts to create a Master Race! Wonder Woman discovers her little sister is Debra Winger! Wonder Woman prevents cattle theft! Stiff soldiers help Wonder Woman defeat the Nazi menace! People act in front of projection screens. Badly!
"Relax Michael, I’ve found their cleverly hidden explosives!"
Acting: Lynda Carter didn’t win the Miss USA award for her acting. The period between Wonder Woman and Super Troopers has not been a robust one for the thespian. This is not a crackerjack ensemble like The West Wing. This is not a crackerjack ensemble like Punk’d.
Craftsmanship: This show was made under a different aesthetic than say… Birds of Prey. Wait, that show was a pile of hateful sand. It’s very straightforward and stiff but inoffensive. It was the late 70’s. What do you expect?
Entertainment Value: I had fun in short bursts. Ten minute bursts. Any more than that makes a man want to jump off of climbed mountains. It’s fun for a trip down memory lane, though.
What bothers you more: the fact she’s shouting her name through gritted teeth, the fact that she’s breaking the fourth wall by revealing her true identity, or that her costume was provided by Reynolds?
Special Features: Lynda Carter commentary! In it she explains how she got the role, what the show did for her career and why she enjoys visiting Myssyssyppy. There’s also a quick and fun little retrospective that entertains one at the same time that they thank their lucky stars that their claim to fame isn’t TV’s Wonder Woman. Here’s the tally:
Overall: 6.5 out of 10
G.I. Joe: Season One, Part Two (Order it from Amazon!)
I loved my GI Joe toys as much as any toys I’ve ever owned, including Richard Pryor. The sad thing is: I don’t even know where they went. I remember trading, burning, and abusing my Star Wars stuff. I remember tossing my M.A.S.K. stuff. I remember hoarding my Sectaurs stuff and then accidentally tossing the box in the trash. I remember being crestfallen when my giant Shogun Warriors and Godzilla figures disappeared during the move from New York to Atlanta. I have no idea where the GI Joe stuff went.
That show and those toys were just about the perfect thing for a kid of my age. There was action, intrigue, drama, and sometimes it all seemed a little deeper than other shows of that era. The combination of a great cartoon, great toys, and an amazing comic book (thank you Larry Hama) made GI Joe a force to be reckoned with.
As an adult, I almost feel like punching my inner child. This show is crap!
It wasn’t the beast’s claws and incredible crushing power that made Bobby and Franklin’s last moments so unbearable, but that the last thing they ever heard was crumpling steel and "Asmodeus wants a cracker, Asmodeus wants a cracker!" at 1,000,000 decibels.
Here’s the core of why GI Joe as distilled through my bizarre mindset:
The Snake-Eyes/Storm Shadow/Scarlett/Soft Master/Hard Master dynamic. The mystery of GI Joe‘s silent ninja was surprisingly enthralling. As was his relationship with Cobra’s white-clad villain. The romantic subplot with Scarlett was also cool and I think it was issues #26 and #27 of the comic that were so interesting as it dealt with the whole Ninja aspect of the characters.
Destro. Firefly. Major Bludd. The Baroness. These were cool villain characters. They were old-fashioned and capable in battle. They wore black and were easy to hate yet compelling to watch. Plus, the Destro action figure had a shiny metallic head that belied his silly exposed chest.
The Pit. Because of this show I secretly hoped every gas station was the home of a complex underground base. Living underground is something I really can get behind. Tornadoes can’t hurt you. It’s easy to keep cool. There’s only one direction thieves can attack from. You’re closer to China.
The Gung-Ho attitude. Duke was boring as all Hell, but a perfect epitome of jingoistic indulgence. Flint was tough and somehow made a beret cool, a feat that most others couldn’t dare to achieve. Ace was the grunt of the skies. Mutt and Junkyard Dog were the best man/dog tandem ever, including Jim Belushi and Gary the German Shepherd.
"Who dares disturb the wet dreams of Roland Emmerich?"
The television show is where it all went South, something this set showcases. Serpentor is lame, Tomax and Xamot are stupid, and Zartan and the Dreadnoks work best when used sparingly as a group of mercs playing the middle against the inside. Just like how the Transformers ran itself into the ground with Constructicons, Dinobots, and Beast Wars, GI Joe sunk under the weight of its burgeoning desire for more colorful toys..
Story Arcs of Record: Germ warfare, Baroness seizes the Conch Horn, once used by Ulysses (no, I’m not kidding). The Lady of the Lake gives Storm Shadow a sword (I can’t make this shit up!). The Joes battle the Egyptian God Osiris (whew!). Shipwreck goes into a coma for seven years, or does he? Does he bump into Steve Seagal why he’s in there?
By the way, this isn’t farfetched at all!
Acting: These folks knew their audience was a rabid group of kids and a few out of work child molesters boning up for data on ensnaring their quarry (just a guess). As a result, this doesn’t encourage Lee Strasberg to spin in his tomb in jealousy.
Craftsmanship: There’s no real artistic merit to be found. This is by-the-numbers animation and though it tells the story, it’s not Batman: The Animated Series. Also, did they have to have parachutes pop out every time a vehicle exploded? Did the guns have to fire lasers? Did Lady Jaye have to wear a bra?
Entertainment Value: It’s great. It’s shit, but a lot of fun to watch. That Destro is H.O.T. as they get! The theme song is among the best ever. Seriously. I love that deep-throated delivery and the little spoken word bridge that tells us why GI Joe exists to save us all. Brilliance.
Shipwreck loved meat, everyone knew it. Only then did they realize why he was known as "The Sirloin Casanova" by his close friends and relatives.
Special Features: The case folds open to reveal the discs. That’s about it, Ronnie. I secretly hoped for an in-depth interview with the real-life Destro about how the show changed his private life. Here’s the tally:
Overall: 5.0 out of 10
Millenium, Season One (Order it from Amazon!)
The X-Files is just as important as any other genre show that’s ever been launched. Even though it ran a few seasons too long and even though it ended with a whimper, it’s still a series that changed the business and delivered hours and hours of chills, thrills, laughs, and little gray men probing asses to their heart’s content.
There’s a revisionist vibe about the show, though. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer became the replacement for the show and took the rabid fan base and the good name of Chris Carter’s legendary show with it. It’s become too easy to bash the show. Millenium is Chris Carter’s other show that survived more than eleven minutes (Harsh Realm and The Lone Gunmen got massacred before having a chance to spread their wings) and it is darker than just about any television show I’ve ever seen. Disturbing even. If Carter had tried to launch such a maudlin show starring Lance Henriksen at any time other than the peak of their power, it’d never have happened.
As it stands it did, and this was my first experience with the show. Pretty damn cool. Also, since I experienced The Dead Zone before this, I didn’t realize how they often share a similar vibe and approach.
Generic Shawn had none of the answers and after seeing his pleasant but unremarkable visage in the mirror, he had even more questions.
This is a really solid show. The acting is well above average. The effects and mood is outstanding and the overall effort is in some ways richer than The X-Files. It does suffer from an almost total lack of personality and warmth, but it’s still a show that kind of fell between the cracks unfortunately.
Story Arcs of Record: Frank Black, when not leading The Pixies… has the gift of seeing through the eyes of murderers. Not really a psychic or an empath… but a law enforcement type contracted by a mysterious agency to solve horrendous killing sprees. He deals with a man who killers strippers, killers who travel around in a wheeled slaughterhouse, sexually abusive fathers, copycat killers, and other assorted people who frequently post on the IMDB message boards.
Acting: Lance Henriksen is a minor deity, and I think some people confuse his subtlety with complacency. He anchors the show really well and Frank Black is probably the role of his career. He’s surrounded by an able group of supporting cast members and the people he spars against are often quite chilling. This is a dark and cold show, but one gifted with some really solid performances.
The squint that caused a social uprising, changed the way men look at their relationship with bread, and killed 19 cartographers.
Craftsmanship: Top rate. Absolutely perfect, especially considering the fact that there’s not a lot of demand or marketability for a show like this. Millenium is equal to or better than The X-Files (especially the first couple of seasons) in that regard.
Entertainment Value: You won’t laugh a lot, but this is gritty and compelling and there is some really disturbing shit on display. If Seven were melded with The Dead Zone, you’d have this show. That’s pretty entertaining. Also, a fun drinking game would be one where you did a shot every time Lance’s face seemed to carry more lines than a relief map of Arizona. Your liver would implode so hard that it exploded.
Alzheimer’s had not been kind to Peter Criss…
Special Features: It’s pretty much like the other Chris Carter sets but I was hoping for some involvement from the weary visage of Lance Henriksen. I bet a commentary from him would have been special. He seems like a serious guy but also one who’s danced so well between A and B grade projects that he’d be a wealth of info. David Nutter’s a pretty solid track and though Carter’s flaky at times, he’s kind of an icon in the industry. Overall, this is a robust set of features for a show that never grabbed the Nielsen ratings by the uterus. Here’s the tally:
• Commentary by Chris Carter on the pilot
• Commentary by director David Nutter on "Gehenna"
• "Order in Chaos: Making Millennium Season One" documentary
• "Chasing the Dragon: A Conversation with the Academy Group"
• Creating the logo and title sequence
• Pilot TV spots
Overall: 8.0 out of 10
Project Greenlight: Season Two (Order it from Amazon!)
I loved the first season of this show with all my heart (read the review here) and was thrilled to get my appendages on an early copy of season two. The concept of Project: Greenlight magnificently straddles the accursed reality television world and the accursed and beloved film business and regardless of how the finished films turn out. Actually, I’d be shocked if a great film could be made under this formula. It seems that these shows thrive on the neurosis and mediocrity of the films being made.
Of course, The Battle of Shaker Heights (read Micah Robinson’s DVD review) is like Citizen Kane compared to the meager and saccharine Stolen Summer effort from the first season. We should have known. No filmmaking legend could ever be named Pete Jones. A sidekick to a 3rd rate superhero can be called Pete Jones. A moped repairman can be known as Pete Jones. Not a talented filmmaker.
"An early listen to Lopez’s demo sparked the decision to change the lyrics of Mylar Balloons Don’t Cost a Thing."
The second season unfolds in similar fashion to the first. The first episodes deal with a bunch of aspiring filmmakers whose scripts demo reels have gotten them to the point where they are in the running to make a film for Miramax Pictures with a producing team of Chris Moore, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Jeff Balis, among others. There we see people who are overconfident, weird, aggressive, or just plain naive present their ideas and case for getting the gig. Then, they are stomped away cordially, usually told that their work is great but that they aren’t winners until there are only a few people left. Instead of handing the burden to one writer/director, the second season features a director (in this case, a directing team) handling the script of a separate writer.
I’m not spoiling it when I say that the writer is a lady and her script The Battle of Shaker Heights is the one chosen to be directed by the young duo with a wicked sense of humor.
It’s really compelling stuff, especially if you harbor the wishes to one day make your own movie.
Story Arcs of Record: Efram Potelle is annoying. Kyle Rankin’s kind of a pushover. Jeff Balis… has he learned from his mistakes from last season? When will Chris Moore blow up? Will they secure the talent they want or will they have to scramble? How will the writer and directors get along? Is William Sadler REALLY the Demon Knight? These are questions we need answered.
Chris Moore pitches his next series Project: You Are Small Compared to Me.
Acting: It’s reality television, so of course they’re all hamming it up or acting all tough for the lens. In the finished film (also included), Shia Lebouf is quite good, though I’m not as sold on his sheer talent as everyone else. See, I’ve SEEN I, Robot.
Craftsmanship: It’s put together perfectly to make everything seem all dramatic and shit. That’s the goal, right? It’s well-made. It’s a documentary! The film is a lot better than the first in every way… except for the vital ‘Usage of Aidan Quinn’ meter.
Entertainment Value: The show is totally entertaining. The film is a moderately entertaining coming of age flick. Not much more. The show is the reason to stay tuned, though. The finished films have thus far been a ribbon on the package and little else.
"Good, no one noticed that I just swallowed Matt Damon."
Special Features: Loaded. Super-stacked. There’s even a commentary from the two guys who directed the film on the disc. This is how it SHOULD be done. Here’s the tally:
• Deleted Scenes w Optional Commentary by Directors
•Deleted Scenes from the Greenlight Episodes
• Filmmaker Bios
• Filmmaker Scenes
• "The Battle of Shaker Heights" special cut
• Gag Reel
• Feature Commentary
• "Jump-to-Scene" Feature
Overall: 9.0 out of 10
THE SHOWDOWN TALLY:
Best Show – Millenium, Season One
Best Acting – Millenium, Season One
Most Bang For Your Buck – Project Greenlight, #2
Coolest Show – Challenge of the SuperFriends #1
Best Packaging – Batman: The Animated Series #1
Most re-watchable – Millenium, Season One
Individual Awards & Jabs
Best Actor – Lance Henriksen – Millenium, Season One
Best Actress – Lynda Carter – Wonder Woman #1
Best Supporting Actor – Robin – Challenge of the SuperFriends #1
Best Supporting Actress – Scarlett – GI Joes #1.2