One of the nice perks of being a pro is that the companies send you complimentary copies when they publish your work. Recently, Marvel published another volume of Star Wars Legends that included some of my Star Wars work originally published by Dark Horse. Although no longer considered “canon,” they’re still in print which is cool by me and gives me an excuse to leaf through them and talk a little about the thinking behind them.
This particular volume is dubbed “The Clone Wars – Volume 1” and has work by several different creators in addition to myself and my artist and collaborator, Jan Duursema. Our editor, Randy Stradley, came up with a thought around the time Episode II came out – having started the Clone Wars at the end of Episode II, George Lucas was going to skip to the end of the Clone Wars at the start of Episode III. Randy proposed to Lucas Film Licensing that we do the Clone Wars in the comics since Uncle George wasn’t going to go there. This, of course, was a long time before there was any talk of doing an Animated Series of the Clone Wars.
Jan and I at the time were the regular team on Star Wars Republic but we left shortly to do a continuing series of oversized bimonthlies under the heading Star Wars: Jedi. Each issue would focus on a given Jedi from the films. We did four of them before going back to the monthly book. While we enjoyed the extra pages of the Jedi series, we liked weaving our storylines in and out with each other and the monthlies provided a better platform for doing that.
We focused a lot on the character of Quinlan Vos, who we had created for our first SW story. Quin was not your usual Jedi – he had been given amnesia, he had troubles with the Dark Side, and could be something of an anti-hero which we would explore even further with Cade Skywalker when we did Star Wars: Legacy. With Quin, we could explore some of the same territory that Anakin Skywalker covered without being tied to one outcome. Everyone knew Anakin fell to the dark side and became Darth Vader but Quin’s fate was undetermined.
I had fun with lots of little touches that show in this volume – I named a character after a good friend, I had prisoners being pressed into service on an impossible mission a la Suicide Squad, and I created a Jedi based on Sean Connery. We called him Shon Kon Ray and he lasted all of one page in Jedi: Shaak Ti before getting blowed up real good. The fans are a sharp bunch and spotted the Connery allusion and, strangely enough, I got a lot of mail and email and chatter lamenting his coming and going so quickly. There was a lot of potential in him, I’ll admit, but that underscored the reality of war, even one as unreal as the Clone Wars. Characters/people that you liked, even if meeting them only briefly, suddenly died.
That also underscores one of the questions and themes that ran through almost all of the stories that Jan and I did in this volume. Are the Jedi on the wrong side in this war? It’s a given that the Republic is corrupt. The Jedi themselves are meant to be peacekeepers and in the Clone wars they are dragooned into being generals. They are supposed to revere life above all and yet they send soldiers to their deaths. War being war, innocents suffer and there is a lot of destruction. In every story, someone who is a Jedi wonders what the Order is doing.
In the Mace Windu story, Samuel L. Jackson. . .err, Mace Windu. . . rationalizes that the Jedi support the principles on which the Republic was formed and not what it’s become. But that is debatable and, in the Count Dooku issue, the Count challenges the notion. Dooku, of course, is a Sith and the Sith are playing both sides against one another in order to weaken and destroy the Jedi. The Republic ultimately votes to transform itself into an Empire and a Sith becomes the Emperor.
When you get right down to it, it’s all rather dark and I found the stories in this volume perhaps more suited for this age than the one in which it was written. I claim no foresight; it was simply a question I felt worth exploring. Can you be a hero if you fight for something that is wrong?
Details about upcoming DLC for the already hotly awaited LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens will make fans of the franchise’s various animated series very happy. Lego announced that available DLC character packs will include characters from Star Wars: Rebels and Clone Wars, as well as characters from the upcoming series Lego Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures, premiering June 20th on Disney XD.
The new Star Wars game takes a page from the LEGO Marvel’s Avengers game by offering a season pass packed tighter than a smuggler’s storage bay, offering extra levels for the main characters of the game, as well as sets of characters from other trilogies and the animated series.
The Season Pass features three brand new Level Packs that extend the LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens adventure with exciting new content not seen in the movie. Each add-on pack will allow players to experience key events from the film in different ways, including Poe Dameron’s journey back to the Resistance base after crash landing on Jakku, the assault on Maz Kanata’s castle through the eyes of Kylo Ren and the collapse of Starkiller Base from the perspective of two Resistance pilots. The Season Pass will also include five (5) Character Packs featuring well-known Star Wars heroes, villains and Droids.
The LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Season Pass will be available for $9.99 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Steam (Windows PC). Players can also purchase each DLC Pack individually for $2.99 each. As an added bonus, Season Pass holders will gain exclusive access to TheJedi Character Pack, which will be available at launch on June 28, 2016.
The level packs are:
Poe’s Quest for Survival Level Pack
A whole new adventure following Poe Dameron’s journey back to the Resistance base. After his daring escape from the First Order that left him stranded on Jakku, Poe must search for BB-8 and locate a ship to escape the desert planet in an effort to find his way home.
After crash landing on the surface of Starkiller Base, join the battle from the perspective of two Resistance pilots. With the help of a loyal astromech droid, outmaneuver the First Order to escape the planet before it explodes.
In addition, people who buy the Deluxe edition of the game will receive early access to a sixth character featuring characters from The Empire Strikes Back, better known as “that really old movie on the snow planetwith the walking thingies” by a young super-hero from Queens (who, coincidentally, also got his own free DLC pack for Marvel’s Avengers this week).
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be released on June 28, 2016. For the timing and release of all other DLC content, keep an eye on the LEGO Star Wars: The Force AwakensTwitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channels for details.
New Girl On The Block. Samantha Bee has launched her new weekly news round-up show, Full Frontal. Two episodes have aired so far and, IMO, both were killer. I always loved Samantha Bee on The Daily Show – she was a great combination of fearless and shameless, and she carries that over to her new show. The writing is sharp and the delivery dead on. I loved the segment she did last week on the so-called constitutional crisis arising from the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and how it really isn’t a crisis; it’s the Republican leadership in the Senate refusing to do their job. Check it out.
I love Noah Trevor, Larry Wilmore, John Oliver, and Bill Mahar but, right now, I love Samantha the most. All hail Queen Bee!
Commercials. I usually skip most TV commercials. Not all. And some I actually enjoy for one reason or another. Some I hate with a passion. Some are so stupid that I remember the product’s name just to make sure I never buy that product.
There’s one for a car insurance company that has me diving for the mute button every time I see it. A young woman comes on and talks about her car that she named “Brad.” They did everything together, she says, which gives a new meaning to the word “auto-eroticism.” (Maybe that’s just me and my filthy mind.) She totals it and moans that nothing can replace “Brad” – until the insurance company calls and she goes into her “happy dance.”
This woman is psychotic. She’s off her meds and somebody needs to get her back on them – stat!
Who is this commercial being aimed at? I take it for granted that it’s not me (I’m too old to be the target audience for any commercial except for ads for walk-in tubs) but who do the advertisers expect to reach? Shouldn’t the ad make you identify with whoever is making the pitch? Who ldoud identify with Little Miss Psychotic?
There’s lots of commercials like that out there. Why? To me, they just seem that the ad agency folks got high and then proposed anything that made them giggle – and they sold it!
Beats the hell out of me.
Credit Where Credit Is Due: I recently picked up a Star Wars novel – Dark Disciple by Christie Golden – because it featured a character created by Jan Duursema and myself for the comics. The character is Quinlan Vos. The book is well written – Ms. Golden is no stranger to novels, especially franchise books – and I’m okay that the characterization of Quin doesn’t really match up with what we did. The story was adapted from some scripts for the Star Wars Clone Wars animated series and Quin was an alternate universe version. Oh, he shared some looks and traits with the original version but in many respect he was a very different character.
Look, I can deal with that. I knew from Day One that whatever we created belonged lock, stock, and dreadlocks to Lucas Film Licensing and, now, to Disney. I do wonder why you use an existing character from another medium and then change him so much. However, that’s their prerogative. So be it.
My complaint, however, is that there are two sets of acknowledgements at the beginning of the book, one from the author and another from one of the co-writer of the animated episodes who also happens to be George Lucas’ daughter. Nowhere in either of them are Jan and I acknowledged or thanked. Really? I understand that I own no part of Quin. Unlike Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad, I don’t get any money when Quin is used elsewhere. That was the deal from the start. However, if you’re thanking folks who made it possible – why not the two who originated him?
Boy Toys, Girl Toys: Martha Thomases wrote a really good column this week about how the Big Two comic book companies, movie execs, and toy companies have problems with gender assignments for their products. This product is for boys and that product is for girls because the products has either a penis or a vagina and that’s all there is to it.
I remember reading how Daisy Ridley’s character Rey who (spoiler alert) is the central character in The Force Awakens is absent from figure sets (they’re “action figures” you know, not “dolls”) and from the new Star Wars The Force Awakens Monopoly set. The justification given by Hasbro is that they didn’t want to “give away” a major plot point which featuring Rey might have done.
I’m calling bullshit on this one. There’s no concern that featuring any of the other new characters like Finn or Poe might reveal a plot point. In the action figure set of six, they include an unnamed storm trooper with the new characters. Rey is conspicuous by her absence.
Isn’t the real concern that the boys literally won’t buy a Rey figure? And that girls don’t buy that kind of stuff because, you know, they want pink toy oven sets? They aren’t really into that boy stuff. Except that, as Martha points out, they are and Hasbro’s decision is just another example of hide-bound old boy thinking. You’d think that the outcry would make these execs’ faces blush pink with embarrassment.
Well, actually, he’s a lot of animals. From Perry the Platypus on Phineas and Ferb to Appa and Momo on Avatar: The Last Airbender, voice actor Dee Bradley Baker is the man behind a whole slew of animal and creature sounds you might not even guess could come from a human being. Of course, he also voices awesome speaking characters, such as all of the clones on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Klaus the German fish on American Dad! And then there are all of those video games he’s provided voices or sounds for, like the Halo series, Portal 2, Gears of War 1 – 3, Diablo III, Left 4 Dead 2, the Ben 10 video games, and several Marvel and DC games, including Batman: Arkham City. In fact, if you look over his ridiculously long IMDB page (329 titles!) I think you’ll find that even if you are not a heavy consumer of entertainment, you’ve heard Dee’s voice somewhere and probably didn’t even know it. And that’s the way he likes it.
I had a chance to sit down with Dee at the San Diego Comic-Con and talk about his amazing talents, examples of which you can listen to here, and his experiences as a voice actor (and for those who are interested in getting into voice acting, I recommend Dee’s site, I Want to Be a Voice Actor, as a great resource). It was an awesome interview, which you can watch in its entirety here. Or, read on for the transcript!
You’ve worked on a number of things that are being featured here at SDCC, so please tell me about those.
My first day was a panel for I Know That Voice, which the great John DiMaggio, the voice of Bender and a ton of other voices, is overseeing; and it basically chronicles the history of voice acting and who’s working in voice acting right now – most all of the A-listers – and it also speaks a lot about Comic-Con as well. He just kind of assembled some Avengers of Voice Acting on that panel, and we had a really fun panel. I also did one for Phineas and Ferb, and that went beautifully. I’m Perry the Platypus on Phineas and Ferb (demonstrates Perry). That’s a great and creative show; and I really love that show as a dad, because that’s one you can watch over and over and over again, which is what kids like to do; so that was spectacular. Yesterday we had a big panel in the gigantic hall for American Dad!, which was also a lot of fun. (In character) I’m Klaus the fish on American Dad! And I am in a little bowl.
And what was it that Rob Paulsen said about that voice on the I Know That Voice panel?
It just makes him happy. It makes him happy to hear me speak with a German accent. Or to speak in German, which I will do for him.
It was funny to see the reactions on that panel when you started doing Klaus. I think everybody loves that.
Yes; well, I have a real fondness for the German language. I speak it, and I spent a year in school there, and I studied German writers and philosophers. And it’s just kind of a forgotten language in this country basically since the 20th century, and it’s a fun little thing to pop out and show everyone.
With the German language thing; when you go in and a director says they’re looking for a German voice do you ever do German and they say, “that’s too authentic, we want something hammy”?
No; if they want me to dial down the accent, I’ll do that; but I’ve never gotten that request. I understand what you’re asking; but actually, for me, it usually works out – what’s sometimes difficult for me is if I go in to do a dog or a cat, and they want something that doesn’t sound like a dog or a cat. They want something that’s goofy; or that’s more human. So I have to make myself bend away from something that’s authentic into something that expresses it with the tone that they want.
When you’re doing that process, do you just sit there and try a bunch of noises?
Can you give an example?
Well, if you want, like, a dog bark (demonstrates different dog barks) you can humanize it. You can make it more Scooby, or more like a dog. And then you can dial in whether it’s small or big or whatever. But it’s a little different for every show, and that’s kind of what I do as a voice actor.
That’s great. Now you mentioned philosophy – did you study philosophy?
Yes, I was a philosophy major in college, with practically a minor in German.
So how did you go from philosophy and German to voice acting?
Both coexisted fine, really. I’ve done performing all of my life, and had a lot of fun doing everything from plays and operas and stand-up and children’s theater and improv, to singing telegrams, summer stock, Shakespeare-
Singing telegrams, really? Where do you even find that job?
Oh, just look in the Yellow Pages! Or whatever exists now. You can get money to do a live singing telegram.
Did you have to dance, too?
Well, it depends on the character. On what they want the character to do. Whether it’s like a nerd strip-a-gram, or…there are just various characters that they hand you, with this horrible script, and then you have to walk into a situation where either they’re delighted or they’re just completely mortified, and it’s really uncomfortable. And then you have to try to get them to pay you your money, because the company that hires you is not going to help you with that. It’s actually a fairly unpleasant job for me to do. So I didn’t do that for very long; but I did it for a while. But you know, it’s either that, or work in an office; and I don’t want to work in an office. So – I like performing, and I’m happy to try something stupid in front of people. I always have been, and that’s how I earn my living; is basically that.
And you’re fantastic at it, so that’s great! Now, I looked at your IMDB page. With voice actors, it’s impossible to even remotely cover everything, because you all are so versatile, and you do everything.
Yeah, a lot of us are very versatile, and do a lot of different kinds of voices; we do impressions; you know, I specialize in sounds; some are women who do little boy voices; some are known for the sexy; some are known for the powerful, or the evil, or the big; or maybe they can do them all. So yeah, a lot of us have a lot of different shows that we do. That’s how you earn a living as a voice actor, is to do a lot of shows; as opposed to on-camera, where you’re pretty much just doing one show at a time.
And as I was looking through your IMDB, I never actually got down to the bottom of your very first gig. I was scrolling, and I was like, “I’m never going to get there,” so I’ll just ask: what was your first gig, and also, what was your first experience performing in front of people, like as a child or whatever.
My first performing-in-front-of-people experience was I think in first grade, when they asked me to present flowers at the University of Northern Colorado homecoming queen beauty pageant, and I had to present flowers to the gal who was one of the homecoming queen candidates at the university. My second performance was the lead as Oliver in the play Oliver at my school, which was a K through 12 school in Greeley, Colorado, and that was my first really acting/performing gig, was starring in Oliver. I was in second grade, so about eight years old. My first professional gig, being paid, would be performing Oliver, again, at the Chuckwagon Dinner Playhouse in Greeley, Colorado. They paid me something like thirteen bucks a night to be Oliver. I was probably ten or eleven. I did Oliver in Greeley three times! I did it once at my school, once at the university, which was not paid, and then once for the Chuckwagon Dinner Playhouse, which was paid. And that was my first paying gig.
But when I was a kid, you know, I did ventriloquism; I did plays; they’d bring me over as the boy soprano at the university for Bernstein’s Mass or various productions. That was not paid; that was just for fun. That’s how I came to become enamored of acting and performing, was just doing it for fun.
So what was your first voice acting gig that was professional?
My first paid voice acting gig was doing a non-union commercial in Colorado Springs for Mexicana Airlines, in a horrible Spanish accent. That was my first voiceover gig, if I remember correctly. It was terrible. It was truly terrible, but I got paid to do not-my-voice in a commercial.
And it’s all experience, whether you’re paid or not. That’s the best teacher; that’s what you want. You need experience. Not necessarily classroom study, although that can be a very good thing. But you’ve got to get in front of an audience, and you’ve got to convince people to give you money to do what you like to do.
Now you were saying that you’re known for creatures, which I of course knew and appreciate-
(Dee does animal noises!)
So can I ask you, how do you do…
(Dee does crickets!)
…that. How do you do the crickets? I love the crickets!
(Demonstrating) The crickets are done with the back of the tongue against the soft palate, like you’re gargling; it’s very relaxed back there. You can do it other ways too, actually. You can do it in the front of the mouth. But I do it in the back of the mouth; and then while I’m whistling, I dial in the uvula; and then I whistle with an inhale, which is a higher whistle for me; and then I just do it in reverse. So that’s what you do. But you can do that! You can practice that and you can do that. I’ve shown people how to do it.
I believe you! And I love the crickets.
Everybody loves the crickets. Except for a writer. A writer doesn’t like the crickets. Because you insert the crickets when there’s a pause or when the joke falls flat. So writers don’t like the crickets; that’s one thing I’ve learned.
That makes sense. Now you do tons and tons of creatures. Have you had any particular ones that have been really difficult to come up with, or that really stressed your voice?
Well roaring and screaming like you often do in video games can be really taxing on the voice. But I try to do it in a way that doesn’t tear up my voice. That’s done by relying on – not the voice. By relying on the throat. (demonstrates) Like that – where I’m using not just my voice but other things to make the sound or the effort. It also helps too to use it on an inhale sometimes, because that can get you a lot of sound but is not as hard on the voice. It’s taxing on the voice, but not terribly so.
When you do that in public and people smile like I’m smiling now, do you get a big kick out of that?
I don’t do it in public, and when I do they don’t smile! Well, they do here! It’s gotta be set up right, otherwise, there’s something wrong. There’s something obviously wrong, and they don’t smile.
Well, I was going to ask, also, because a lot of voice actors are known for the voices that they do, what is it like being the creature guy; being a voice actor who’s most known for animal and creature sounds?
I love that. I’m happy not to be known for anything. I don’t need to be known at all; it’s not really on my agenda. It doesn’t serve my life to be known; other than professionally, in professional circles, for people to know that I do creature and animal sounds. But that’s part of the appeal of a voice acting career, is that you’re not saddled with fame. You can live a relatively normal life and have normal relationships, and have to deal with your own human limitations in a more immediate way than you do in the sort of mediated, buffered world that a famous person has to cope with. So that’s part of why I like voice acting and was drawn to it, is that in particular.
Has that changed any for you since YouTube and having voice actors at cons and things are more prevalent now?
I can still go shopping at a grocery store and nobody knows who the heck I am, so no. But! There are a couple more people at a convention that recognize me; that’s fine. But for the most part, they don’t. And that’s okay.
Okay; now with The Clone Wars, you were saying the other day that it’s strange for you to be doing a normal voice. Can you talk about that experience?
Yes, well, when you’re establishing your career in whatever you’re doing, you kind of start with your default strength, and that for me tended to be more (in character) wacky or comedic character roles, that were more broad or cartoony. And I still have that in my wheelhouse. But when I auditioned for and got on Clone Wars, (in character) it is a straight-ahead soldier; I mean that is a normal human being that is as straight-ahead as you can imagine. There’s nothing bizarre or strange about a clone. They are a soldier, and a human, and that is what is interesting about them.
And so I would never have cast myself in doing that kind of a role at that time. That was kind of a mental limitation I had imposed upon myself, just because of what I’d been doing and what worked. But that kind of opened up for me the realization that I can do normal! That I can do normal and variations of normal; and the acting challenge of applying the gradation of character to the clones really opened up my mind in terms of what I can do and how I look at what I can do. So from that, I will occasionally get a villain character. For instance, Tarrlok, in Legend of Korra. (in character) Tarrlok, he speaks mostly as I do. But he is a character who is duplicitous, and you’re not always sure what he’s going to do; if he’s friendly, or if he’s evil…or what’s up with him. And that was another just straight-ahead character; who was kind of unsavory in a lot of ways. But again, I got to do that. Or Ra’s al Ghul in the Batman: Arkham City video game. I mean, that’s a straight-ahead villain. That’s a heavy. And I booked that, whereas I think a decade ago or so, I don’t think I would have even auditioned for it. No one would have thought to, and I wouldn’t have thought to. I would have said, “Nah, that’s not really what I do.”
You’ve worked a lot in both video games and animation. What’s the difference in experiences there? Do you prefer one?
I like video games in general because I think it’s not just an art form, but an evolution in how humans communicate, and what they do. I don’t think normal society really understands that. The sort of established, grown-up society; I don’t think they understand the profundity of what that means in terms of connecting with millions of other people in different countries and doing something together. Like, with World of Warcraft, or on Xbox or something like that, you’re literally playing against the rest of the planet, or you’re playing with them, as you play against them. It’s competitive but at the same time it’s cooperative. And I don’t know what else we’re doing as nations and countries that is like that. I think it’s a really positive and necessary thing, that has the potential to lead to kind of benevolent connections among societies; that we need, as the world seems to be falling apart. I think it’s a thing that brings large groups of people together, who don’t even necessarily speak the same language. And that’s something; that’s unique.
It also brings in a lot of different art forms in addition to writing and acting. It also puts music into the ear of young people who probably aren’t getting that; because arts and other essential education in this country are being cut, because education is not a priority in this country, sadly. Tragically. And so I like that it brings music into the mind and into the ear; as many of the projects that we have here at Comic-Con do. Whether it’s the X-Men feature film, or a Halo game, the music that you’re hearing, this sort of nineteenth century programmatic music, is really marvelous. It’s a marvelous form of expression. We should know it and appreciate it and cultivate that in our world, I think.
I agree. Now speaking of the con again, were you also doing Wolves?
Yes, I did! I was doing wolf sounds for Wolves. I don’t know what I am allowed to tell about it, but it’s David Hayter’s project, and he’s got a great werewolf-type project, and they brought me in to do some wolves. (demonstrates)
That’s fantastic. Are there any other new projects we should be keeping an eye out for?
I wish there were more that I could talk about. I continue to do a lot of stuff for Disney, and for Phineas and Ferb, and Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and lots of shows that kids really like. For Jake and the Never Land Pirates, I’m the Croc, and – I’m pretty much the animals in that; whether it’s a bee or a plant or a lizard or a bug or whatever it is, they call me in to do that.
What does it make you feel like if you’re watching a show that you’ve done, and there are people talking, and you are all of the background noises or whatever?
I like that. I mean, it’s fun! It’s fun to be in there, and I like it best if people don’t realize that that’s what that is; that there is a human doing that. The goal would be for it to sound natural and seamless and invisible, sort of like a special effect. You don’t want an audience member to think about a special effect. You want them to experience the scene more accurately to what your vision is as a creator. And that’s what I want to be as a voice actor who adds the weird or the animal or the alien, is to make it feel like this is an organic part of what the story is. Not, “Oh, who’s that guy, doing that sound?” That’s what I don’t want.
I think you succeed very well, because I would never know.
• • • • •
Dee is a such pleasure to talk with, and I had a fantastic time interviewing him! And, of course, I asked Dee to do a shout-out for ComicMix, which he was kind enough to do. Don’t miss it at the end of the video!
And until next time, Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis Goes Super Nigga!
Yup. I said it. I’ll say it again. Star Wars? It sucks. Of course I should clarify: I respectthe Intellectual Property. I admire George Lucas for spinning a billion dollar franchise out of a single movie – appropriated from so many better films, novels, and concepts. And hell, I own a fair share of Star Wars merchandise (a run of John Ostrander’s Way Better Than Anything On Film comics, a lightsaber, and a handful of vintage videogames). But this past weekend, whilst looking for something to keep on in the background of yet-another drawing marathon, my dial ended up on Episodes I, II, and III.
Given that I recall astutely not liking them in theater, on DVD, or rebroadcast in any incarnation, I’ll freely admit I let them play because I was jonesing for a one-sided fight. And you, my dear readers (who I can plainly see unlocking the safety on your blasters under the table, and preparing to force-pull the ceiling down on top of my head…) get to listen to me rant a wee-bit.
First off, let me parry the obvious incoming attack. Episodes I, II, and III are canon. One is simply not allowed to pretend they didn’t happen. Midichlorians? Happened. Anakin acting like a whiny bitch? Happened. Padme acting worse than a CGI droid? Happened. And no amount of jamming ones fingers in their ears and screaming will make them disappear. Therein lies why I am so adamant at being so blunt in my opinion. By their very nature, this new trilogy drags down the series for me. I think I might be safe to say for many others… this may also be the case.
No matter how good the Clone Wars cartoon may have been… when it ends, you still end up with Episode III. Yes, John Ostrander and a plethora of other amazing writers have contributed to beautifully written comics, novels, and other in-canon fiction. Either way? Episode I, and II are there in living-breathing-CGI. Jar Jar exists, and no comic, video game, or brilliant fanzine will remove him from my mind.
Let me also sidestep your obvious escalation attempt. What about The Matrix, Star Trek, or any number of other brilliant-at-one-point-but-obviously-tainted-by-my-asshat-logic franchises? Perhaps I’m just being a dick, but somehow? I forgive them both. For what it’s worth… the least successful jaunts in each of those large franchises had a given quality to them that still made their respective parent properties still feel valuable. Sure Neo is Jesus, but at least he’s a badass Jesus, right?
The key to my argument comes from Lucas’ own love of technology. In every aspect, those episodes embody what can be so wrong with modern movies and our culture. Lucas opted to slight the artisans who once took his black and white screenplay and made a visceral universe in lieu of videogame artists. Not to slight those who make pixel-art mind you… but even with all the advances of computer-aided movie-making, there’s nary a person I know who doesn’t look at the The Phantom Menace, The Clone Wars, or Revenge of the Sith and not make a fleeting comment on how “it looks like a video game” in a very negative way. Combine with with absolutely wooden performances (from Oscar nominated actors and actresses mind you!), and the new trilogy clearly chose spectacle over heart.
The best examples of Star Wars all share a commonality; they present the fantastic grounded in very human emotions. Lightsabers are cool. X-Wings are too. But find me one person (over the age of 13, to be fair) who prefers Yoda backflipping like a crack-addled spider-monkey to the soul-filled voice and puppet work of Frank Oz? I’ll gladly argue them into submission. The crapulence of I, II, and III degrade IV, V, and VI in ways I wish weren’t true. As I said: you can’t ‘unmake’ them, and therefore everything they set up feels tainted to me.
The fact that they were the product of Lucas, and his team of yes-man make it feel all the worse. It wasn’t as if he’d handed the reigns to a new writer and director, wiped his hands of it, and shrugged off three profitable but largely uncelebrated films. Here, he presented what set up an amazing series of adventures, and pulled back the veil of mystery to uncover a story so dull, it actually weakened existing canon! How I wish I could fear Darth Vader, but now all I see is a whiny douche who had sand in his boots.
Well, they say time heals all wounds. So now, we sit at the event horizon. J.J. Abrams has been given the keys to the castle. While some find his new take on Trek to be more boom-boom than think-bam… it may very well be what Star Wars needs to really move on. A mix of practical effects and CGI (perhaps light on the lens-flares, mmm kay?), blended with original and new casts that take time to put themselves into their roles, and a story that dares to challenge its audience with more than trade politics and council debates could very well be the blaster-shot in the pants the franchise needs to be back on top. For the sake of all who are presently seething at me? I sure hope so.
May the force be with you… ‘cause it certainly ain’t with me.
We’ve talked about being disrespectful of the dead because you don’t like their creative work. Now let’s talk about being disrespectful to the living.
As has been reported elsewhere, some pages from Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man #700 have been leaked to the Internet prior to its December 26 (tomorrow!) release date, including the big conclusion to the current plotline that fans have been speculating about. Despite this being its own unfortunate situation (of spoiling a story conclusion Slott has spent a slew of issues building up), that’s not what I want to focus on.
As it turns out, the spoilered ending appears to drastically change the status quo of the Spider-Man story. This is not the first time that’s happened in comics or anything (not even the first time in Spider-Man, as I’m sure we all remember (hello, Clone Saga and One More Day!). But this particular change, which Slott knew would bring controversy, has drawn a huge amount of venom, and all of it is being heaped on Slott’s head – in many cases, in the form of death threats.
Death threats. Against a writer of fiction. About a fictional character. Whom he has been writing to great acclaim for quite a while now. People, I think we need to step back and think about our priorities and our behavior for a minute, here.
I can understand disliking the work of a writer who takes on an already beloved character and then does something unexpected with him or her (hello, certain Deadpool writers). I can also understand liking a writer’s work but not liking the turns they decide to have a story take. I can even understand taking to the Internet to discuss your unhappiness with the whole situation. What I can’t understand is threatening to physically harm someone because they wrote some words (or drew some pictures) you didn’t like. That is just not okay, and even if the people making the threats are being facetious (and some of them may not be, which is scary), that sort of behavior encourages an acceptance of a casual attitude towards violence, that, especially with the recent tragedies this year, should certainly be discouraged.
Look, I love comics just as much as anyone out there. I get invested in the characters and the stories too. I might get upset, or even stop reading a series, because they’ve changed the direction and I don’t like the result. And that’s A-OK. As readers, it is our prerogative to stop reading a comic if we no longer enjoy it, and it’s also one good way to show our dislike of the current direction of a story, since the companies pay attention to sales data. And as readers, it’s also fine to express our unhappiness in public forums, and can even influence further changes in direction, as these companies also tend to take note of the aggregate level of satisfaction we the readers are expressing about story direction. We are actually lucky in that way; it’s a pretty special thing to know that our opinions on a work of fiction might actually mean something to the future of that fiction. So hooray for us, consumers of a medium that, uniquely, tends to listen to its consumers sometimes and adjust its story accordingly. That’s cool.
What’s not cool is forgetting that this is a creative medium and a fictional world, produced by real people without whom it would not exist and who deserve our consideration as fellow human beings. What’s also not cool is getting so involved in hatred for a storyline that you forget what comics are – a series of stories that, by their very nature, must change and adjust with the times, and to keep the series from stagnating; a fate which to my view would be worse than a change in the status quo. The plots of ongoing comics will inevitably include some crazy stories like the Punisher turning into Frankenstein, or people making a literal deal with the devil (or demon) which makes them forget they were married and brings other people back to life. That’s actually part of the fun and wonder that is encompassed by the medium – that writers can do that kind of stuff (whether it turns out well or not) and then do something else, and then something else – and the story keeps changing, even when the fundamentals (generally) remain the same.
In this instance, I doubt the current turn of events will remain in place forever… and even if it did, well; would it really be so bad? Maybe it would. Maybe it wouldn’t. We don’t know, because the rest of this story hasn’t been written yet. It may turn out to be an amazing story. And if it doesn’t; well, then in time, it may be replaced by something better. Either way, it’s kind of how comics work, and it’s not worth threatening to harm a real, living, breathing person.
Slott has said that he’s taking the threats to his person seriously, and I’m glad. But I’m sad for the fact that he has to do that. Imagine living in that situation for a minute – being a known entity, with your picture out there for all to see, and knowing that more than one stranger out there has expressed the desire to hurt you, and could possibly do so. That’s a terrible and undeserved thing for someone to have to deal with. He shouldn’t have to be worrying about that, especially in the midst of what is probably some well-deserved time off for the winter holidays.
I didn’t realize when I started writing this piece that it would happen to fall on Christmas, but I find it apropos at a time when we are supposed to be experiencing the joy of the holidays and expressing goodwill towards our fellow people, to be posting this request to comic fans at large, and particularly to those who have been taking their fandom much too seriously lately:
Let’s keep remembering, as a community, that comics are a wonderful thing, created by wonderful people, and that those people deserve our respect and consideration as fellow human beings.
Oh, and one more thing: let’s remember that real people are more important than fiction. And not threaten to harm them, because that is terrible.
And now, all that remains as the year draws to a close is to wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas! Or a Happy Hanukkah! Or a happy holiday of whatever sort you may celebrate!
And until next time, be kind to each other, and Servo Lectio!
Friends, we are at the dawn of a new and great age. The mighty Marvel Universe and the dynamic DC Nation each will have a block of programming on cable television. On Saturday mornings. Set those DVR’s to stun, kiddos.
Sure, both the House of Mouse and the Brothers of Warner have each ventured into the cartoon cavalcade before, and they were glorious times indeed. As I recall at their heyday, Spider-Man and the X-Men were in full force. Batman’s animated adventures become a power hour with the addition of Superman. And throughout the late 90s and early aughts we’d be privy to all sorts of spin-offs, short lived series, and some toons we may all wish had never seen the light of day. Don’t fret… I’ll have a whole column to dedicate to them soon enough.
The DC Nation block leads off with Green Lantern’s new CG series. Kids ken to the Clone Wars will find fast friends in Kilowog and Hal Jordan as they romp around space helping protect innocents from the wrath of the deadly red lanterns. Following the emerald knights is Young Justice – the continuing tale of a modified DCnU with a team of sidekicks turned proto-titans.
On the Marvel side of the coin, we’ll get the new Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon and the continuing saga of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes with … well… The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Both blocks will feature fanboy-service by way of interstitial shorts, special segments, and probably a few bonus promotions. DC Nation shows on Cartoon Network, and Marvel Universe will show up on Disney XD. Thus far, DC is ahead of the curve with their block of programming having debuted two weeks ago. Marvel is launching in early April. I can safely report that DC came out of the gate very strong.
I admit I was very nervous about the Green Lantern series when the trailer debuted back in the summer. The Bruce Timm-meets-Clone Wars styling didn’t immediately strike me as being indicative of the quality of previous animated incarnations of DC property. But, like the true emerald enthusiast that I am, I gave the pilot a shot. I was quite impressed. While the character models are a bit too stylized for my personal taste, the writing is high quality. Hal comes across bountifully cocky. Kilowog as the buddy in this buddy-cop-cartoon works surprisingly well. The Red Lanterns are even given a bit of depth out of the gate, quelling most of my fears by the end of the first episode. If there’s any complaint I have thus far, is my fear of the series not exploring the true expanse of cosmic characters. and focusing too much on the Red Lanterns. Simply put, by the end of the season I want Larfleeze, damnit.
Young Justice has been a quietly rising star in DC’s animated belt. The “made cool for the preteen crowd” style keeps me coming back to soak up the fresh redesigns. And their treatment of Aqualad has done more for the character than Geoff Johns did in all of Brightest Day. While their treatment of Conner Kent is a skosh too angsty for my taste… they balance it out superbly with Wally West. The show has taken some time to get its sea legs firmly planted, but a slow burn of serialization paid off at the tail of their first season. Not every story they’ve done has been a complete winner, but the action sequences and cameos from adult league members has always kept things moving. Suffice to say, have it anchor the DC Nation shows their commitment to find new life after the Bruce Timm era-of-awesome.
Over at Marvel, I have to say I’ve never been this excited for a block of their programming. In the mid-nineties, they produced an Iron Man / Fantastic Four block that started strong and staggered stupendously. Their Spider-Man cartoons have always been solid. The X-Men cartoon tackled an amazing amount of comic milestones, but ended sloppily. With their Avengers cartoon though, they have achieved something I honestly did not think I’d see: a comic-inspired take on their quintessential team, done in a manner that is both accessible to new fans and a wink and nudge to their old base. With top-notch voice acting and a fearless plummet into a cadre of villains, the series has been nothing short of brilliant. Every team member has been given time to shine. Suffice to say it not only tows the line for Mickey… it makes me forgive them for releasing the Avengers cartoon from 1999. Wait. Scratch that. Nothing will make me forgive them for that. Seriously? Ant-Man as team leader!? But I digress…
Last, but not least, is ole’ Web Head. Ultimate Spider-Man appears to take its cue from the Brian Michael Bendis penned series, with a bit of a comedic bend to it. With a supporting “and his amazing friends” cast including Nova, Power Man, Iron Fist, and White Tiger… who among serious comic fans are salivating just a little bit? I suggest you check out the trailer, and get ready for the return to quality toonage from our pals over on the Disney float.
So as I’d said before… make sure to have those DVR’s at the ready. And for all you evil pirates, make sure the Torrent Bay is loaded. It’s a good day to be a comic book fan, cartoon lovers… Hop aboard the bandwagon before it takes off without you.
Star Wars Character Encyclopedia By Simon Beecroft 208 pages, DK Publishing, $16.99
The Star Wars Universe spans thousands of years and multiple galaxies, telling the eternal story of good versus evil time and again. The saga has expanded to such a degree that you really cannot tell the players apart without a scorecard. For those who dislike clicking their way through a dizzying array of droids, Jedi and colorful aliens, there are now a series of guidebooks to help you. Last year there was DK Publishing’s The Star Wars: Clone Wars CharacterEncyclopedia or their Complete Visual Dictionary or even the incredibly useful Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle.
DK Publishing knows how to recycle information in all manner of sizes and shapes, synthesizing the data in new ways for its eager audience of readers of all ages. Editor Simon Beecroft has honed those skills as an author, having previously written Inside the Worlds of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones among other titles. He’s back with this breezy look at George Lucas’ sprawling universe in the Star Wars Character Encyclopedia.
Despite telling us the comic books, RPGs, and novels are part of the greater canon, this book only focused on characters from the six feature films and the CGI-animated Clone Wars television series. Also, given the trim size of 7.25” x 9.25”, DK’s designers had to rein in their normal frenetic design. While that can be seen as a plus, the smaller size also means the amount of detail provided for each character is little more than can be found on a trading card.
You read a page and know from repeated viewings of the movies that there are vital details missing. The Obi-Wan Kenobi page, for example, ignores his guidance and counsel provided to Luke Skywalker after his corporeal form was struck down by Darth Vader. Anakin Skywalker’s page ignores the term “midichlorian” and omits his transition to the dreaded Sith lord. Similarly, Vader’s page refers to him as being Luke’s dad but his given name is missing. I guess there’s only so much information you can give when you present each character with equal weight despite having much more to say about Luke, Leia, Han and Darth Vader than you have to a Hoth Rebel Trooper, a Rancor, Coleman Trebor, or a Colo Claw Fish. Popular players, such as Wedge Antilles, don’t even get a page but is crammed into a page about the X-Wing pilots. From what I can tell, the facts here are only what has been presented on screen, nothing new is provided.
Beecroft writes in a clear, alert style that is easily comprehensible for those only casually familiar with these people and does a nice job condensing things down to their basics. But Star Wars fandom tends to prefer depth and detail so may come away from this disappointed.
As a result, the book feels incredibly lightweight and incomplete so despite DK proclaiming this a must-have book for all ages, this is more a primer for younger readers less familiar with the mythos. If you want a true encyclopedia, DelRey’s more authoritative three-volume offering is for you.
What do you get when you take one of those live action and cartoon hybrids and take out all the live action? You get Tron: Uprising.
Hot on the heels of the mild success of Tron: Legacy, screenwriters Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis told Box Office Magazine they’ve written a ten-part animated miniseries for television, and they’ve got franchise star Bruce Boxleitner to lend his voice.
They’ve also secured the services of Elijah Wood, Linda Moore, Lance Henriksen, and good ol’ Pee-Wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens.
The miniseries will be set between the two movies, which should be no problem as there was a 28-year gap between the releases. Lots of little details that, sadly, niggled few if anyone, will be revealed.
Why do I get a Clone Wars vibe off of this?
While no broadcast or cable network has been announced, one assumes it will be carried by one of Disney’s many channels (ABC, ABC Family, Disney, ToonDisney; probably not ESPN El Ocho) or, if it really sucks, go direct to the Internets.
A long time, in a galaxy far far away… Or perhaps on Cartoon Network on the weekends or coming soon to your gaming PC… Star Wars hit the 2010 San Diego Comic Con in full force (get it?!). Those fans who dig on the cloney goodness of the computer animated series got some sneaky peaks of the new season and how the series is evolving the mythos at the Clone Wars panel. More than likely, those SAME fans who also enjoy a good nightly WoW raid party were privy to a sneaky peak as well at BioWare’s upcoming Star Wars themed MMO, ‘The Old Republic”. While the former takes place between some of the films in the series, the later actually predates EVERYTHING we’re familiar with (including BioWare’s genre-influencing RPG “Knights of the Old Republic” from a few years ago). In case you’re amongst the fans who enjoy the “prequel” universe, but didn’t get a chance to enjoy the panels… we’ve got you covered. We’re like Yoda in your backpack, whisperin’ to you the secrets of the Force. Oh what’s that? Not familiar with Yoda when he was a just a tangible puppet, only when he was shiny and could do flippy flips? Look it up, kiddo. Look it up. But enjoy these videos first!