Sunday, February 25, 2018

Jonny Quest - The 1980's!

The Jonny Quest show was a hit from the get-go, twenty-six rock-solid adventures which appeared on CBS, ABC, and NBC. The show ran for decades in various venues, always reminding its fans of its greatness and constantly finding new fans who were drawn in by the absolute cool of the show. That said, those twenty-six episodes are far fewer than is normally needed for a show to thrive in syndication typically (though in the modern era that's hardly a rule anymore). There was a perceived need to make more episodes to flesh out the total and so in the 1980's thirteen new Jonny Quest shows were fabricated for the fans. Woeful.

The shows have the Quest team largely unchanged (Dr. Benton Quest, Roger "Race" Bannon, Jonny Quest, Hadji and Bandit) and doing what they did before all those decades earlier. But so much else has changed that the magic is long gone alas. Gone are the sleek 60's designs, the beautiful flowing lines and nifty cool knobs and dials and in their place are the clunky lines and edges which look like everything used by the Quest team was designed by DeLorean but injected with steroids. Race looks more like a cheapskate Rambo than the cool collected super-spy he's supposed to be. Jonny looks younger and his voice makes him feel like a little kid as opposed to a young man on the edge of adolescence. Hadji uses magic of all kinds in every episode with a distinct Phoenix (Jean Grey) on the rise vibe. The labs are enormous sprawling spreads and the planes are not the nifty real-world machines we associate with the team, but fantasy gimmicks which couldn't fly for three seconds.

And the threats are pure fantasy and not all that much grounded in reality. A herd of robotic Arabian horsese leap across the desert in a wild fracas, where as in the early days one would have been quite sufficient. The single Reptilian lurks and attacks  early on but soon becomes jut part of an island filled with brightly colored mutant dinosaurs. The worst part of these latter Quest shows is the awful plotting which aimlessly has the Quest team wander around in a fury of activity waiting for the episode to end. Concepts are thrown in and thrown away before they can gain any traction and suspense is never considered. Villains cackle and want to rule the world but lack the kind of immediate motivations of greed or even comprehensible plans which make the vile enemies in the original series so memorable and compelling. Dr. Zin shows up three times in thirteen episodes as opposed to four times in twenty-six and looks okay but seems always over his head. (Note, he always takes a direct hand too, unlike his Fu-Manchu style remoteness in the original shows.) Jade does not show up once to hypnotize us with her charms...sigh.

But we do have Hardrock the Monolith Man. I can only assume this new member of the Quest team, a super-strong rock man from an ancient underworld civilization was an attempt to make them  more "super" and maybe add a toy to the potential line-up. As it turns out he does have some pretty good lines, but often he has nothing to do save jump in and save the team from its own brash behavior.  He adds little, but does give the Quests a way out of jams they are even more eager to blunder into. Jonny in particular seems less like the fundamentally good but overly brave boy we know and more of a foolhardy scamp who fails to see the danger which is obvious. It's all a game and he and Hadji rush into danger in ways which defy good sense, even that of foolish boys.

It's a shame and pity we couldn't have had better. But they did make two more "classic" Quest movies. More on those tomorrow.

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Jonny Quest - The 1960's!

Watching these 1960's Jonny Quest episodes again has made me fall in love with them all over again. The animation though somewhat limited relative to major motion pictures from Disney and elsewhere is still amazing given the budgets and timelines for television. The character designs by the late great Doug Wildey are the core of this serious attempt to bring to the small screen a series of high-octane adventures for the younger eye which still evoke the danger and intrigue found in the then highly popular Bond movies.

The balance the creators of the cartoon found between the advance of their narrative and their character moments is exquisite. While in some of the later efforts you might say the story suffers as we watch Jonny and Hadji lounge about, it's hardly a concern as there are just as many if not more episodes in which the hazards are revealed from nearly the first moment. The series is hurt from time to time by stereotypical presentations of indigenous peoples, such as Native American White Feather with his Tonto-esque broken English, but by and large the show avoids these pitfalls with sympathetic presentations of most folks.

Some things which chanced upon my mind as I watched these for the umpteenth time are that Dr. Benton Quest is impossibly smart, a polymath of the highest order who darts across the globe dabbling in disparate studies in physics, archeology, chemistry, metallurgy, botany, and on and on. He seems to be a one-man "Fabulous Five". That's fine with me, but I just never thought about it before. Also he's a bit of a bad parent, constantly putting his kid into all kinds of jeopardy, but then I guess the other option was to be an absent parent and that's hardly ideal either.

Another thing which I noticed more this time was the attention to the natural world. Usually I'm so swept up in the adventure these details sail right by me, but everywhere the Quest team goes, they usually find a moment or two to engage the local fauna. Whether it be a toucan, a porpoise, a polar bear, a panther, a sea turtle, a monkey, a gila monster, a jackrabbit, a mongoose, a skunk, there always seems to be a critter around to bring out the wonder of the boys. It's a nifty trope that the show does a great job of using but not overdoing. Bandit is a great creation, mostly just a realistic dog who borders on the edge of the anthropromorphic and occasionally crosses it.

The strength of any Hanna-Barbera production are the voices and Jonny Quest is no exception. Mike Road as Race Bannon is a standout, his virile baritone adding hefty machismo to a show already shimmering in testosterone. Tim Matheson as Jonny has a bright engaging manner and Danny Bravo as Hadji, though at times a bit forced, still sounds like a friendly bloke. Don Messick and John Stephenson taking turns as Doctor Quest offer up warm friendly manners which make the team seem credible. Other voices show up in the series such as Jesse White as the memorable Pasha Peddler, Vic Perrin as pernicious Doctor Zin, and Cathy Lewis as the exotic and alluring Jezebel Jade (as close as the show ever gets to actual sex). One voice I noticed this time which I've never taken note of before is the amazing Nestor Paiva as a range of Hispanic characters, some quite close to Paiva's screen personas.

The way this series holds up so long after its 1964 debut is stunning. It remains, not unlike the Bond movies which inspired it, at once a time capsule of a romantic era of adventure and a story so true to its mythic elements that it never loses its allure. Whenever you hear that amazing opening by composer Hoyt Curtin you are swept away into a super-science fantasy land of high adventure, moral courage and pure entertainment.

It would take decades before more Quest episodes were made. More on those tomorrow.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

The Gumby Movie!

The Gumby Movie is exactly what you expect, a ninety minute-long Gumby adventure.  Inside the giant Gumby head you will find a movie which this Gumby fan found entertaining and also a little time capsule of the late 80's and early 90's when this movie was developed and finally released to almost no acclaim.

The movie came out in 1995 after several years of trying to find a distributor and its life on VHS and DVD has been rather grim with only shortened versions being available in a limited way until now. The whole shebang can be got for relatively small money and for a Gumby fan that's nifty as can be. The story is a weird one (of course) as we begin in outer space where aliens enjoy vintage Gumby transmissions. Then a strange monolith becomes both a green and red monolith and both of those come to Earth where they transform into Pokey and Gumby (though that's more than a bit uncertain). Then we follow Gumby and his band the "Clayboys" as they try to use their rock and roll talents to help farmers who are suffering from debt to the unscrupulous Blockheads who run the local bank. Then we learn that Lowbelly (Gumby's dog) can cry tears which become pearls when he hears the music. When the Blockheads learn of this they kidnap the dog then everyone else eventually. To the rescue is a new character named Tara who becomes a love interest of sorts for Gumby.

If all that sounds bizarre, then you have gotten the proper sense of it. This movie tries to be perhaps too many things, but in a movie which first and foremost is a visual feast of stop-motion antics, that's a forgivable sin. We have echoes of Terminator as a robot Gumby pursues our heroes into a gaggle of books which call back many a Gumby adventure from years gone by. We even get a light-saber battle at one point. If anything the movie has too many characters to manage as many seem to have little to do most of the time. Prickle and Goo in particular seem to get short shrift as Gumby's pals in the band (FatBuckle, ThinBuckle, and NoBuckle) take up space. The Blockheads do get a good show though, as their schemes are front and center most of the time.

This one is for Gumby purists for certain. Everyone else will have to tread with caution. I liked it.  The packaging is clever, but like a lot of stuff in this vein, it will be difficult to store. That's a nice problem to have when it's all said and done though.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Coffee With Gumby!

Gumby has been on my mind a lot recently. Enjoyed the 50's and 60's adventures quite a lot. The animation is charming as it can be and the nostalgia for times gone by adds zest to the quaint storytelling. So I didn't surprise myself when I had to order Gumby Imagined, a coffee table book from Dynamite Entertainment.

Coffee-table books once were significant tomes which presented images which were fascinating and even at times rare. With the advent of the net the need for them has diminished mightily, but a lifelong denizen of the 20th century, I admit that sometimes I just need printed material in my lap to read. The screen is fine, but the page is often dandy.

Like Gumby himself, the idea of a book dedicated to his misadventures both before and behind the carefully arranged camera makes for fascinating entertainment. I never really get tired of hearing or reading about stop-motion techniques, the care and sheer force of will needed to make it work is by itself a saga. Modern movies and shows made by computers are wonderful to watch but any behind-the-scenes documentaries or such are often sheer boredom. The work is masterful, but watching it happen is not fun at all. Not so with Art Clokey's magnificent creation. Getting there is a lot of fun too.

Another trip to Gumbasia is scheduled for tomorrow.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Kirby One Hundred Koda!

DC Comics did a pretty decent job celebrating the contributions of the late great Jack "King" Kirby. They put out a number of very intriguing comics by a host of modern creators which picked up and played with the characters and concepts that Kirby created and developed in his three tenures at the company.

Among the many reprints of the King's work was the massive Jack Kirby The Fourth World Omnibus. I have not gotten this doorstopper tome yet, but I did get a glimpse of the actual book's wraparound cover which is beneath the slipcover image seen above.

This is the same wraparound image used on the first volume of the four volume reprint of the Fourth World saga which came out several years ago. It features the glowering face of the seriously intense Orion. It's among my favorite comic images of all time, let alone a Kirby image.

This time however there's a slight addition as Jack Kirby's cigar-chomping mug is set neatly inside the black sun emblem which decorates Orion's distinctive helmet. Clever little gimmick, even if it does undermine the strength of the image itself.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Don Martin Steps Out!

There's no doubt in my mind that the biggest artist news ever in the history of comic books was when Jack "King" Kirby left his creations at Marvel and turned his attentions to DC where he created the awesome Fourth World.

That's the winner, but second on my personal list is when longtime MAD artist Don Martin, often labeled the "Maddest Artist" of all left the magazine to take up residence at its number one competitor Cracked.

Don Martin's offerings were always the ones I checked out first in an issue of MAD when I'd get my grubby mitts on one. It went like this usually -- Don Martin pages, Al Jaffee fold-out (without folding), Sergio Aragones pages, then onto other things like Dave Berg, and the satires by Angelo Torres and Mort Drucker. But whatever was in the mag, it was always Martin first. Then he left and his last page was the one above in MAD #277 (see the cover below).

In a few months (newsstand time) Cracked bellowed its acquisition with the greatest of tease by showcasing the great Don Martin on the cover of Cracked #235, something relatively rare in his long MAD career.

The story of how Cracked got Martin can be found here (at least in part) in a column by then Cracked editor Mort Todd. The truth is usually more complicated than one person's perception of it, but this rendering of the tale seems straightforward enough. Like Jack Kirby before him, Martin left for a lot of reasons, but mostly I suspect it was because he felt disrespected by the folks who had been making some good profit off his work for many years. Pride of self can make men and women do a lot they'd prefer not to do.

I picked up the awesomely large two-volume Don Martin MAD collection several years ago. I found it so ridiculously cheap I could not resist despite its mammoth stature. I need to get it out and keep it handy for those moments I need a laugh or two. Don Martin was always great for that.

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Monday, February 19, 2018

A Day In The Anti-Life - Red Menace!

It's with no small amount of sadness that I truly think that when the history of the current day is at long last written with the clarity of hindsight, when the immediate urges of partisanship have dimmed, we will at long last admit that our current Commander-In-Chief is in all likelihood an "agent of influence" of Russian government. It's a startling truth to admit, that our highest office could be occupied by a man so completely corrupted by his own personal demons as well as decades of financial shenanigans which have almost certainly put him in a supine position relative to the government of the detestable Putin. And the comfort he gets from legions of Republicans in his endeavors is shocking. This is a crowd that mocked Obama when he (wrongly) dismissed candidate Mitt Romney's assertion that Russia was the key "geopolitical threat" for the U.S. But when the odious Trump fellow-travels, they stand by oddly mute.

I admit I cannot know the extent of Trump's willful culpability, but like his abundantly evident racism, his words and deeds support only one interpretation. There's no doubt, just from the evidence of the public record, that the President puts his own personal aspirations ahead of those of the country, and that those personal desires seem often if not always to coincide with the desires of Moscow. The Russians work to undermine the elections in the United States (as well as other democratic countries across the globe), taking full advantage of increased technical tools as well as lapses of patriotism in the country which has been replaced by fealty to party. And they were rather more successful than they ever imagined. Did the Russians elect Trump? No. Americans did that, as a country filled with folks who have grown increasingly afraid of those who are different from the mythical American (read "white") of times gone by. The panic brought on in some by the first black President yielded our first openly racist one (at least in modern times) as hostile response to relentless waves of demographic change, a howl of angry regret for a world which never was.

As a country the United States and its citizens were misled before, when after another foreign attack on our homeland, the leadership told us that Iraq was the culprit. We went to war to "defend" ourselves, and the lies which took us there were not uncovered for several years, though the awful truth dawned sooner. Much of the current chaos in the world at large was created in no small part due to this reckless incursion. Now we are again a nation under attack, but our Dotard-In-Chief chooses for whatever reasons to ignore that attack, and that lack of any response is our country being misled yet again. Once before we took action against an enemy who had not actually attacked us much to our regret, now we ignore one who has. Time will tell how much regret this lack of resolve by those who purport to lead us.

The "so-called" President's own intelligence officers (not just the lowly Democrats) say without hesitation that the Russians have injected themselves into our political discourse and possibly into our political processes themselves. We are a country which has recognized a threat to our core, but we are bereft of a leader who will admit the obvious and who has ignored legislative efforts to respond in any meaningful way to those efforts. Whether he ignores the threat from fear of of damaging his fragile ego or whether he ignores it from a lack of willingness to confront uncomfortable realities, there's no doubt that he does the bidding of a foreign power and operates in a way which will make our democracy weaker. Can Donald Trump bring down the United States? I still say that's a largely ludicrous notion, but I no longer can rule it out completely. The "menace" is very real and it is possibly "red" as well.

SPECIAL NOTE: I composed the diatribe above before the indictments released from Robert Mueller's team arrived on Friday which confirmed (for the gonzo-Trumpers only -- everyone else already knew) that the Russians did indeed interfere with our electoral processes. I've noticed since that news dropped that the deniers have  now shifted from the position of it didn't happen to of course it did and by the way it was all Obama's fault. Typical.

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