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Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Spectacular Spider-Man

There have been many adaptations  of everyone’s favorite web-head, when I was a kid it was the 1967 Spider-Man series that had a couple season produced by Ralph Bakshi, and it still has one of the best theme songs that asked, “Can he swing from a thread?  Take a look overhead.”  Then the 70s gave us a live action series starring Nicholas Hammond but sadly the effects of the time and the  fairly low budget pretty much made this an impossible venture. After that several more animated attempts, some better than others.  Then enter Greg Weisman and Victor Cook who together developed I believe to be the most faithful adaptation to date.
Now I’m not saying this show was slavishly accurate to how the stories were depicted in the comics but these two managed to capture the pure joy of Spider-Man.  Sure Peter Parker (Josh Keaton) has his teen-age angst filled moments but when he puts on that costume to swing through the canyons of New York he explodes with the fun and excitement that one would hope to have if they were given the proportionate powers of a spider.
One can’t expect any producer to stick to the canon of a comic book character that has run several decades, in various titles, with countless changes to characters and origins.  So in 2008 The Spectacular Spider-Man aired with a slew of recognizable characters but with some nice tweeks to their origin to make them fit into this animated world.  Gwen Stacey (Lacey Chabert) is one of Pete’s best friends but who would really like to be more than that, Harry Osborn (James Arnold Taylor) is Peter’s other close friend and in a nod to the comics has a drug problem, but this time out it’s an Oscorp performance enhancing drug that turns him into the Green Goblin.
 Of course Venom, a fan favorite, has to make an appearance but now he’s not a disgraced journalist that wishes Peter harm, now Eddie Brock (Ben Diskin) is an almost older brother figure to Peter but who feels betrayed when Peter’s Spider-Man action cause problems for the people around him. 

Two other key villains in the series is of course Norman Osborn (Alan Rachins) who is secretly supplying the criminal underworld with Oscorp tech to create super villains such as the Sandman and Rhino.  The other major player is known as “The Big Man” who uses these created super villains to keep Spider-Man busy and away from his criminal enterprises.  The reveal as to whom “The Big Man” is for me the only disappointing element in the entire run of the series, and I’m betting it is a rights issue.  For any fan of the comic knows that a large shadowy figure that runs a criminal empire while keeping an honest business fa├žade is Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin, as Fox owns the rights to Daredevil and through him Kingpin, I’m guessing that’s why he doesn’t appear in this Sony series.  Who did they chose to replace him? *No Spoilers here go and watch it yourself* let’s just say he would really have a hard time pulling of the nice philanthropist act.
That this show got cancelled after just two seasons is a crime and that The Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes, my other favorite super-hero cartoon also got cancelled after two seasons I’m crying, “Conspiracy!”

So for those who loved it and for those that missed it during its original run, the complete series is now available on Blu-ray, and it simply looks gorgeous.

"Face it Tiger, you hit the jackpot."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Superfriends: The Power Pirate

Superfriends: The Power Pirate

In 1973 kids everywhere were overjoyed that their favorite superheroes were coming to Saturday morning cartoons, produced by the giants of televised animation Hanna-Barbera comic fans were finally able to see the likes of Batman and Superman battling the forces of evil…well to be honest they mainly inconvenienced the forces of evil and by evil I mean inept villains who should really concentrate on crimes along the lines of taking candy from babies, and it would be best if said babies were asleep.  The first season of Superfriends the DC heroes weren’t battling Lex Luthor or Sinestro but mainly villains that had some dangerous goal that the Justice League could somehow talk them down from.   Due to Standards and Practices at the time violence on television, particularly kid’s shows, was heavily monitored and things like people punching each other was not allowed.  As one must realize this kind of hampers characters like Batman who tend to rely on actually fighting his enemies.  To make the show more kid friendly three non-superhero characters were added; Marvin, Wendy and Wonder Dog.  This was a clear case of trying to bring in fans of the Scooby Gang.
 The first episode entitled The Power Pirate begins with an older gentleman skiing while, unknown to him, he is being followed by a UFO, he hits a rock and takes a nasty spill.  He asks help from a stranger who approaches him but that the stranger is a pointy-eared alien doesn’t seem to faze him at all is the real mystery here.  The alien then proceeds to zap him with a ray from a pendant hanging from his neck.
 Cut to Superman arm-wrestling with an opponent who we can’t see.  He calls for the rest of the Justice League to come to his aid.  Aquaman votes to not get involved because the combined mite of the JLA may not be able to handle Superman’s fantastic adversary (Aquaman showing his true colors right out of the gate).  Of course this is just the set-up for the lame reveal Superman is getting beaten by Marvin the teen-age idiot.The group finally decide to aid Superman and thus causes Marvin to make a break for it and he hovers in the air out of reach of the Superfriends.  It is never explained how this is possible, because even though Marvin is wearing a cape it is established throughout the series that he and Wendy are just two average teens.
  Suddenly the TroubAlert goes off and the team is informed of the latest danger.  The UFO from earlier is draining the power from a locomotive as it tries to climb a hill, it loses power and starts to roll back to where it will crash with a passenger train.  “I’ll get this one, friends.  Stopping trains is my speciality.” Superman responds and flies of to save the day.
Trivia Note: The train is trying to climb Donner Pass when it runs into trouble and must be saved by Superman, a few years later Richard Donner will make the best Superman movie to date.

The TroubAlert goes off again notifying the Superfriends that the ocean liner Queen Victoria is in danger as she has lost all power and is in rough seas.  This looks like a job for Aquaman. *snicker*  Batman offers to give Aquaman a ride to the coast in his Batmobile but Wonder Woman suggests that her “transparent plane”  would be faster.  Aquaman may be guardian of the world’s oceans that make up three quarters of the Earth’s surface but he still has to catch a ride to get there.  *sigh*

Super Power Note:  Wonder Woman’s transparent plane is thought powered.  Aquaman comments, “I still marvel at your transparent plane Wonder Woman, a robot plane that you fly by using your brain waves.”

 Aquaman dives out of Wonder Woman’s plane and fails almost immediately.  While swimming towards the Queen Victoria he is seized by a “renegade giant anemone.”  So the king of the sea then has to send out an urgent call to all octopi in the area.  After they rescue Aquaman enlists their help in saving the ship.  He also calls on a great whale because there is no problem that Aquaman cannot solve by calling a whale.  I’m pretty sure he calls them when he runs out of toilet paper or can’t find the TV remote.   It seems a “Power Pirate” has been victimizing British ships and he’d like the help of the Justice League.  Robin brings up that Superman just dealt with a train that lost its power Sir Cedric Cedric rules that out as probably a coincidence.
After saving the Queen Victoria the Superfriends are approached by Sir Cedric Cedric, Special Inspector, Scotland Yard.

Just as Batman begins to wonder if someone is trying to steal power the TroubAlert informs them that a dam has lost power and cannot close its flood gates.
         Superman gives Batman and Robin a lift.  Aquaman tags along because, why not.

Wonder Woman makes a temporary earthen dam that buys them time to split up and seal the three floodgates.   Wonder Woman fails but Superman and Aquaman close the gates while Batman saves Wonder Woman.

Back at the Hall of Justice the gang has come to the conclusion that a “Power Pirate” is responsible and is trying to create and energy shortage.  Batman declares that “We must drop our defense posture and take on a preventive one.”  No one bothers to tell Batman that those are one and the same.  Going on the offense is something the Superfriends just can’t do as that could lead to punching.
Upon seeing a UFO hovering over a power plant Wendy observes, “Hmm, that’s pretty far out.” Marvin asks what is “far out” Wendy says “Uh, oh nothing, Marvin.  Something puzzled me for a moment but I guess it’s not important.”  So while investigating a mysterious force that is somehow draining power Wendy doesn’t think a UFO is important.  She needs to go sit in the corner with Aquaman.

Wendy eventually earns some points by figuring out Sir Cedric Cedric might not be on the up and up and Batman confirms this with the use of the Bat Computer that a UFO has been seen at every instance of a power theft, but when checks the “Good Guys International File” to see if there is Sir Cedric Cedric of Scotland Yard.  Turns out there is.  “Holy wipeouts, Batman!”  But what’s this the computer then states that Sir Cedric Cedric is a patient at Central Valley Hospital in Ski Valley!

Super Power Note:  Batman is the world’s greatest detective but in the Superfriends he is relegated to being the guy in charge of turning on the Bat Computer.
Standard reversed Bat Symbol that plagues the series.

So the big twist at the end is that the aliens impersonated Sir Cedric Cedric to help cover-up their power stealing shenagins.   The ray the alien used on Sir Cedric Cedric scanned his mind so they could do a proper impersonation.  His newly created twin then carried Sir Cedric Cedric to the local hospital where Cedric then chocked the whole thing up to delirium due to the accident thus never mentioning the UFO incident to anyone.

 The gang race to the grand opening a nuclear reactor knowing that it is too good a target for the fake Sir Cedric Cedric to pass up and Wonder Woman wraps things up nicely. 
The alien reveals himself to be, “Anthro from the planet of Traum in a far distant galaxy.”  He was stealing Earth’s energies because his own people failed to heed the warnings of their conservationists and used up the energy resources of their planet.  Without the stolen energy his planet is doomed.  Superman comes up with a the solution by using his super powers to polish the surface moon of Traum to be as smooth as glass so that it becomes a reflective solar power plant.

There is the key problem with the first season of Superfriends; most of the villains turn out to be just misguided individuals who just need help.  All this is of course to make it easier for our heroes to avoid having to get physical with their opponents, and a nice way to throw in a preachy life lesson for the kiddies.
Who is driving?