I think The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars film. It’s hard to say, these movies need so much time and will be seen over and over again. I’m unwittingly comparing it in my head to my more recent viewings of the original trilogy and not the dazzling first ones but I have to trust it will hold up. The Last Jedi is ambitious, and thought-provoking and fun in a way that none of the “core” Star Wars filmsever have been. This is the kind of movie someone would make if they spent their childhood loving the material but realized as an adult that it depicted a world that would never function. Rian Johnson makes a more functional galaxy with more authentic characters and he’s made the best big-budget science fiction movie in some time.
It’s tough to write this review after having seen the battle lines being drawn across the Internet over the movie. People are polarized and it’s pushing opinions to the far reaches. I believe Kylo Ren is the most interesting character in all eight Star Wars movies but that might be an overreaction. I know that his internal struggle and strife is the only time the dark side has seemed like a real thing people would be interested in. This is a movie that took the laughably bad Anakin Skywalker arc from the prequel trilogy and made those feeling feel real. Here I can find the nuance and conflict that we had to paste on to the prequels with speculation and supplemental material but all here in one go. I would say that this is probably how people thought about Darth Vader after watching Empire Strikes Back but I’ve seen that movie, there are only a handful of meaningful head tilts signaling anything at all. For the first time I feel like I’m not being asked to fill in big gaps of narrative or run to read some tangential novel released years later.
I’ve heard people say that none of the characters changed or grew in this movie and I simply can’t agree with that at all. If after the events of this movie Poe isn’t doing some big time soul searching, this whole trilogy is a massive failure. Granted we don’t see him become less of a reckless hotshot but it’s certainly what I expect to happen. You can grow and change and not have it be immediately visible. Finn, the person who lived to be a soldier, starts to see the galaxy that isn’t in a state of constant war and starts to see the context. His relationship with Rose is engaging and exciting. I enjoy the look at military heroism and idealism as Rose moves from idolizing Finn for his supposed deeds in the first film and then seeing that he’s a flawed person and kind of lapping him by the end of the film. I need more of those characters pushing and pulling on each other. Maybe even smooching but I do not want to wade in to the intricacy of Star Wars shipping politics.
If we want to accept the premise that the entire Star Wars series is the story of the Skywalker family (and I’m not sure I do want that, but here we are) this was another smashing success for me. Mark Hamill has spent most of his career at this point as a voice actor, and it was so apparent in his performance here. There are lines and readings where you can still here the kid annoyed at his uncle because he wanted to go get power converters. But there’s also the person who has had to live the last thirty years in a galaxy that he didn’t change nearly as much as he thought he would. I wish we got a little more Leia but they didn’t know they weren’t going to get another chance with her. It’s a sad thing but it is what it is.
The Last Jedi has the inside track to become my favorite Star Wars movie because it is challenging. It takes a universe that, for all the turmoil depicted around the margins, has been a place of very safe storytelling and shakes it all the way up. It shows us not just the corrupt slug gangsters but the people in glittering casinos making money off of selling fighter ships. It’s willing to show us heroes getting old and instead of being cagey or clever like Obi-Wan or Yoda, becoming kind of hopeless and despondent. It gives us villains that are complicated and conflicted at moments before their sudden but inevitable betrayal. I’ve never felt this excited, this alive, after walking out of a Star Wars film in my lifetime as I did after The Last Jedi.
Before I jump into this week’s column, I wanted to touch on Iceman #1 since I’ve mentioned it so many times prior to its release last Wednesday. It was a solid first issue and I really love how Sina Grace handled the dynamic between Bobby Drake and his parents. Give it a shot if you haven’t already!
Moving on… There is currently a Kickstarter up for a superhero mockumentary, Zero Issue. It’s being run by the New York Picture Company – Matt Cullinan, Zach Bubolo, and Jim Fagan. They have a little over a week left and have nearly reached their goal.
I got the chance to chat with Matt, Zach and Jim about Zero Issue, what inspires them, and where they got the tuxedos they wear in their Kickstarter video!
Joe: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your short film project, Zero Issue, Matt, Zach, and Jim! To start things off, can each of you give me a one-sentence pitch for Zero Issue?
Matt: Sure! Zero Issue is a superhero mockumentary about a loser hero trying to make a name for himself, and when his plans fail he has to figure out what lengths he’ll go to achieve fame.
Jim: I think mine would be “take every crippling fear of failure you have, mix it with your love of comic books and comedy, and watch them make a beautiful baby.”
Zach: I like that. Mine is “imagine if The Office, Chronicle, Avengers, and Best in Show were mashed into one movie, and you’ve got Zero Issue”.
Joe: You all list a lot of inspirations for this story in the Kickstarter which are great. How did this idea come to be though? Did one of you share the begins of an idea with the others, did you all have a eureka moment watching a movie together, or was it something else entirely?
Matt: Development was actually a long process.
Jim: Yeah, we were doing a lot of pitch creation for other people and we felt “hey, we need to go back to doing our own thing again…” we all knew we wanted to make a short film, share our voice with new people, connect to new parts of the industry… we just had to figure out what we wanted to say.
Zach: To generate ideas we actually use this collaborative process called “Design Thinking” and after rounds of brainstorming, cutting up magazines, writing ideas on post-it notes, we had a eureka moment in this coffee shop in Queens.
Jim: We were talking about genres we loved (and maybe it helped we were in Spider-Man’s home neighborhood of Forest Hills and next to a comic book shop) and we said: “what would our version of a superhero movie be?”
Joe: This is a superhero mockumentary. How did you decide that this was the best way to approach this particularly story?
Jim: I love the genre – it’s the reason I work in film and TV – that kind of story is the kind I’ve always wanted to tell: unfiltered, raw access to your characters. It takes any subject matter and makes it feel real and insanely funny. As far as the three of us go, it helps we have a shared obsession with the IFC show “Documentary Now” – once we knew Dale’s story and the story of this Superhero Festival we started thinking about an episode of Doc Now that shows you a whole world of an Al Capone Festival in Iceland in 22 minutes. It’s a perfect fit.
Zach: We also loved Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows (about vampire roommates in Wellington, New Zealand). That proved you could make a hilarious and compelling sci-fi story as a mockumentary.
Matt: Plus, early in our careers, Jim and I cut our teeth making reality and non-fiction television so as a genre we had a lot of experience executing it for networks.
Joe: The main character, Dale Dinkle, has super powers and wants to be famous. Can you tell us a bit more about Dale? What kind of things can we expect from Dale over the course of the story?
Zach: Dale is a bit of all three of us – he has a little bit of talent, he was told he’s special his whole life, and now he’s a 30-something and decidedly not special. He is desperate, confused, and disappointed that he hasn’t made it to the big time.
Matt: His power is that he can move objects with his mind – which is cool – but he’s not super powerful. He can’t float the Golden Gate Bridge like Magneto.
Jim: His mind-moving power is probably like Yoda in Empire. He could move an X-wing, but it would take a lot of effort… and he doesn’t tap into that until he gets a little dark side in him.
Matt: Ohh, is that a tease?
Matt: Over the course of the story expect of lot of him scrambling in desperation to prove how special and important he is.
Joe: What other kinds of characters and super powers can we expect to see in Zero Issue?
Jim: Another hero we’re excited for is Sarah Smith. If Dale represents the 90’s era superhero movies with ill-fitting nylon suits, she’s the Netflix-Snapchat era hero. No costume, just a cool attitude, and deadly powers.
Zach: She’s like Jessica Jones, but with the power of Phoenix.
Matt: But she gives no fucks. Which is awesome. Another aspiring hero is Hoover, a teen with a lot of social-anxiety. We thought that kind of character would be an original addition to the superhero genre.
Zach: He can literally suck the life out of a room, like Rogue, but he doesn’t absorb any powers. And like Sarah, he’s scared to fully use his powers.
Jim: The Zero Issue Universe is how our brains feel when we think about all the characters from all the decades of comic books we love. It’s like when you’re a kid and you take out your action figures from 12 different sets – X-Men, HeMan, Batman – they don’t care they’re from different “worlds” they just wanna kick some ass. Only in our movie, they attend symposiums on getting a superhero talent agent.
Zach: There’s the leather clad, machine gun wielding Miss Mayhem and Sir Chaos from the 80s, there’s Lady Marvelous, who is an aging Golden-Age hero from the 50s, and Hercules, the original superhero, who is literally from 200 BC.
Joe: Switching gears for a minute, there are a lot of Kickstarters out there lately and people like knowing that they’re pledging to accomplished professionals, which you all are. Could you each name one or two professional projects you’ve worked on that you’re particularly proud of?
Jim: Yeah, and we think that’s something special we bring to the project. This isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve made shows for networks and brands – I’m particularly proud of my work running a show for ABC called People’s List and my work on PBS’ Danny Elfman’s Music From the Films of Tim Burton.
Matt: A lot of my work is in the documentary television space. I probably peaked when my childhood dreams came true and I worked with Mark Hamill on a piece called Raiders, Raptors, and Rebels: Behind the Magic of ILM. I also recently wrote and produced When We Rise: The People Behind the Story for ABC.
Zach: As an actor I loved working on the video game Grand Theft Auto V, and as a producer, I’m actually going to say that I loved our work on NYPC for Cooking for One with the Crying Chef.
Joe: Whenever comic book fans hear about someone doing a project about superheroes, they like to hear about the comic books that inspired them. What comics have you read over the years that gave you an appreciation for the superhero genre?
Zach: My dad was a comic book collector in the 80s, and he loved showing me the milestone issues of the comics he collected: like Silver Surfer #1 or when Spider-Man got the symbiote suit, or the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Eastman and Laird, or The Phantom. Recently, I’ve been really into Faith and the Ta-Nehisi Coates Black Panther series “A Nation Under Our Feet”.
Jim: I think my introduction was through Saturday morning cartoons. The X-Men show was pretty influential to me. Everyone hum the theme song to yourself, I’ll wait… good. And when the New 52 came out I was obsessed with the new spin on Aquaman. And in the past year or so, I’ve really liked the Star Wars comics, specifically the Darth Vader run.
Matt: Honestly, I feel like early on in life a lot of my exposure to the world of comics came through the world of video games. So X-Men was huge for me. I spent a lot of time playing those games on the Sega Genesis (shoutout to Nightcrawler). Even more than video games, movies have always been my gateway to comics: the Burton/Keaton Batman films, TMNT, and later Hellboy, Blade, and Spawn. And graphic novels. Oh, and Y: The Last Man. I’ll stop now.
Zach: Other non-comics, but books we love and that give us a deep appreciation of comic lore are Soon I Will Be Invincible and Grant Morrison’s Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human.
Joe: In the Kickstarter video you’re all wearing tuxedos. Did you rent them or do you own them?
Jim: Mine is my dad’s! It’s ill-fitting!
Matt: Yeah, I bought mine when I was a best man for a wedding. I give a helluva toast.
Zach: I ordered mine from Amazon. Only ninety dollars!
Jim: Less if you return it after!
Joe: Though the initial goal is to raise $30,000 you have a stretch goal of $100,000 to produce a full-length feature film instead and the script is already written. Can you tell us more about what we can expect in a feature film and why it’s so important that you make it to $100,000?
Matt: Yes, the dream is to make a feature. But to make a movie with lots of special effects and lots of locations, characters, and cool costumes you need a whole lot of cash.
Jim: The feature would focus not just on Dale but other aspiring heroes. In this short, we introduce you to Sarah and Hoover but in the feature, they take over a bit more. The short is Dale’s story, our story… the feature is a bit larger in terms of story. You would also see a lot more of the “normal,” the townsfolk, and how the divide between the two groups would become irreconcilable. Christopher Guest is a master of creating a movie with several leads that you’re all cheering for.
Matt: The short would be the first third of a larger story. We’d move past the point where our movie ends and follow these three characters as they develop beyond the competition and intersect when their powers have all matured.
Zach: We think the short is incredibly strong – we tell a compact story, with one lead and a huge supporting cast, in twenty-two minutes. It’s going to have everything you could want from a superhero story: powers, humor, characters you care about, and a climactic battle.
Joe: Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me about Zero Issue! Before we wrap this up, anything else you’d like to say about Zero Issue and where can people go to follow you on social media and follow Zero Issue and your future projects?
Zach: The best place for people to go right now is the Kickstarter page – no matter how much you give, whether it’s one dollar or one thousand, you’ll get on our mailing list and get all of our updates. Last week we released some insanely cool concept art early to our backers.
Matt: Plus you’ll be supporting the creation of a brand new superhero movie!
Jim: After the Kickstarter, the best place for all our news and updates is our Facebook page.
As we near the debut of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Sepia Tones my mind races towards those pure gems of the Dark Knight that already exist in the ether of Animatia. Animatia is, of course, the fictitious country where all cartoons come from. Paul Dini is the dictator there – as he should be – and he rules with a dynamically drawn fist. And here, on this wonderful island, sit the tomes that built a generation of Bat-fans. Some (me) would say these tomes were truly the best generation of adaptations and explorations of Batman. I’d like to pontificate, ruminate, and extrapolate to you those episodes of Batman: The Animated Series (and The New Batman Adventures) that truly defined a cartoon legacy.
1 and 2. Two-Face (Parts 1 and 2)
Of all the designs Bruce Timm would bring to light for the Dark Night, it was Two-Face who took the prize in my mind for the most striking. Up to that point I personally had no knowledge of Harvey Dent. Being introduced to him a mere five episodes earlier, I’d figured the Gotham DA to be the fastidious order in Bruce Wayne’s reenactment of Law & Order. With this chilling origin story though, Alan Burnett and Randy Rogel show a deeply scarred man come to terms with is inner demons made flesh. The fact that Batman was just a step or two behind the explosion that would lose him a great friend to villainy was the kind of mature punch I wasn’t expecting in a children’s program. Keep that in mind as we continue our journey.
Feat of Clay (Part 2)
Origin stories were B:TAS‘s most potent products of the series. While I could hit on so many points already listed with Two Face, here, it’s really the ending sequence of the second half of Clayface’s debut that earns it a spot on my all-time top ten. As Matt Hagen is confronted with a bank of TV’s mocking his present malleable form with the visage of a career’s worth of characters, he can no longer hold a single form. The muscle memory of his Clayface form jerks and contorts Hagen into a gloppy nightmare as a tenderized Batman seeks solace in the back of the bay. With no other option to stop the cacophony, Clayface electrocutes himself into unconsciousness – but not before he snarks to Batman that he would have killed for a death scene like the one he just performed. Natch.
Almost Got ‘Im
Quentin Tarantino, eat your heart out! The key line here “And then I threw a rock at ‘im!”… “It was a big rock.”
House and Garden
Simply put, if you don’t find yourself disturbed at Poison Ivy’s children mutating into plant monsters, then there’s just no hope for you. Again we’re presented with a concept no kids’ cartoon would touch prior, or frankly, afterwards. Was it all in service to megalomaniac super-villainy? Sure. But when you see the carefully placed seeds of doubt – that Ivy might have actually wanted normalcy at some point in her prior life – then you know that behind the ass-kickery is an artful commentary on the biological desire to procreate.
While Mark Hamill’s Joker is the Joker of pop culture (in my opinion), it was the creation of Harley Quinn that deserves the recognition on my list. Here, amidst some obviously campy comedy, comes a deeper heart and message. That the broken Dr. Quinzelle still lingers somewhere beneath the makeup and madness. And while Mad Love would likely steal a spot on anyone else’s list, it’s the quick decent into villainy here that earns the episode my love. Harley truly tried to reform. But the universe had other plans.
Mr. Freeze is forced to turn Walt Disney into an immortal life himself. OK, it’s not actually Disney, but… yeah. The final image of Grant Walker frozen on the ocean floor for eternity is frozen in my mind for the sheer ironic terror it invokes.
I think it should be clear: most of my favorite moments from the show all curtail towards the mature. Such is life. Here, Robin (Tim Drake, now), is duped into saving a little girl afraid of her evil father. The dad? Clayface. The daughter? Just an extension of malleable mud, played perfectly by the former actor. Robin? Never the same again.
Legends of the Dark Knight
Look, I know I put another anthology on this list, but c’mon. Dini and his crew were able to capture the essence of Frank Miller, Dick Sprang, and Bill Finger in 22 minutes. That’s not just a novel approach to presentation. That’s a master class in adaptation.
Perchance to Dream
Laren Bright, Michael Reaves, and Joe R. Lansdale deserve the highest kudos. We drop into the episode in medias res (yet another mature presentation choice, for kids cartoon show). Things feel off. Bruce Wayne’s life isn’t as it should be. He’s happily in a romantic relationship. But the words in the paper are illegible. Confused, he stares out to the skyline. And Batman swings past him. The tension reaches a boiling point. And then, Thomas Wayne gently offers his hand to his adult son, Bruce, in comfort. The needle scratches on the record of the young minds watching. The Mad Hatter has captured the actual Batman in a dream machine, whilst he pilfers and plunders Gotham City. Before the dream can end (with Bruce Wayne pitching himself into oblivion), the Hatter appears. “I was willing to give you any life you wanted… Just so you’d stay out of mine!” Consider my mind blown, and my heart stolen for an amazing moment captured in celluloid.
* Please note: I figured I should finally title my article with a super link-baity trap like this to lure the unsuspecting and angry public to my musings. Suffice to say the list above represents just my opinion. If you don’t share that opinion, clearly, you are wrong and you should feel ashamed that you’d dare disagree with me.
For the past week the pop culture world has engaged in a post game analysis of the under-performing Fantastic Four movie. Instead of offering further analysis, I think it’s time to provide insights into an instance where the Marvel’s first family had more creative and authentic success onscreen.
My friend Tom Tataranowicz is a talented animation professional and a longtime comics fan. I’ve gotten to know him as we’re working together, with a talented team, to create the new Captain Action animated series… But that’s another story for another day. Tom’s impressive resume includes his work on the 1990s Fantastic Four animated show and, understanding his passionate dedication to his craft, I wanted to get his perspective on that “fantastic” experience.
When he is presented with a project like the Fantastic Four, Tom explained his approach to me. “I’m not trying to reinvent it. That’s not my job. Fealty to the original source material is key. Otherwise, fans say, ‘Where’s the comic I like?’ And I have to agree with them. I need to bring the fans’ dreams to life.”
The Secret Origin
Tom recalled just how he got involved with this Fantastic Four animated series. He had been working on the Biker Mice From Mars animated series and was completing the last of 65 episodes. The organization was called New World Animation at the time, and then the Marvel Films animation division started.
Avi Arad had just made the first season of the Fantastic Four cartoon with another unit, but they weren’t as well received as they had hoped for. One thought was that there were just too many characters crammed in there, in an overly zealous effort to support toy sales.
As Biker Mice From Mars was ending and they liked what he had done with that series, they reached out to Tom to take over both the Fantastic Four and Iron Man shows.
“I proposed that ‘I’m going to revamp everything,’“ recalled Tom.
On the FF show, Tom was rather perplexed that the previous team had chosen not to follow the comic’s official canon, focusing instead on often not too good, original stories. So his idea was to adapt classic stories from the comic book. The overall arc of the season that Tom developed revolved around the Inhumans’ introduction and subsequent exile.
And he also felt that it was important to change the look of the look of the main characters as well. The first season was using a robin’s egg blue color for the FF costumes that mirrored the existing toy line. But Tom’s vision was to establish a more heroic look by adapting the darker, blue/black, John Byrne style costumes of the 1980s.
“So I mapped out the season’s storylines and arcs and pitched it to Avi Arad and Rick Ungar. They liked it. I pitched it to Stan Lee. He liked it. I pitched it to Toy Biz and they liked it,” said Tom.
A Blind Man Shall Lead Them
But the question for season 2 was… Where to start? Looking over those old comic book stories, it became apparent that it was difficult, if not almost impossible, to get adequate material from just one issue to be enough for one very good episode. It often required story lines from multiple issues. “One particular story I always liked was the two parter from issues #39 and #40, A Blind Man Shall Lead Them, with Daredevil. It was also a real fan favorite. Plus, I thought having Daredevil in there would be very cool. And then, of course, it had the exciting bonus of being a Dr. Doom story. A perfect second season opener. As Stan Lee was fond of saying – Excelsior!”
“With the second episode, we launched into the Inhumans saga. That was the season’s arc and it was kicked off by a three parter,” Tom explained. “My B storyline for that arc was Johnny meeting and subsequently searching for Crystal.”
In the first season, the previous team had already told the “ultimate” Silver Surfer/Dr. Doom story, Doomsday. Tom didn’t like the way it turned out. “For the second season finale, I – admittedly, somewhat arrogantly – decided to redo that story and do it right; to do it as it truly deserved,” said Tom. He used the “Garden of Eden” beginning from Silver Surfer #4 as a way to introduce the Surfer and dovetailed it into the threat of Dr. Doom stealing the Surfer’s powers.
“I wanted to treat the Fantastic Four as if the stakes were always really huge. The Kree, The Skrulls, the Inhumans – they were all part of this epic comic book saga”, said Tom. “I even went to some of the John Byrne stories – to mix things up as well as to help amplify on stories while still staying faithful to the comics,” recalls Tom. “For example, there was this one episode where the FF were going after Ego, and encountered Thor and Galactus. It was one of the best animated shows ever done at that the time. After it aired I got calls from friends, colleagues and other studios – people I didn’t even know – saying that was one helluva good-looking show,” mused Tom. “That high degree of artistic success was why the series’ cancellation proved to be so bittersweet.”
In the first season, each episode had a minute-long introduction from Stan Lee in his office. “Stan is a lively, very personable guy, but I didn’t particularly see the necessity of doing those things in the beginning. I would much have rather used the time for the stories. Well, that didn’t sit particularly well with Stan, and I have to admit I completely understood his position.” said Tom. As a compromise, Tom added 15-second introductions that validated Stan’s contributions and creativity and had him matted in against cool painted backgrounds from the show.
Back then, most series, especially animated ones, were not told in sequential continued story arcs. Stand alone episodes were simply the way it was. Because there was the season long Inhumans continuity, around the eleventh episode of the season, Tom developed a recap episode. He used the Impossible Man (with a stellar voice performance by Jess Harnell of Animaniacs) in which he and Johnny interacted to cleverly segue into clips of the season’s events that had earlier transpired. As the Impossible Man was a more cartoony character, the animating studio, PASI, really went for it and did a great job on this episode, even though there was only 5 or 6 minutes of new animation. “From there we went on to the freeing of the Inhumans and everyone was then up to speed and ready for it.”
For the second season, as Voice Director, Tom kept most of the original voice cast. Brian Austin Green had bowed out as Johnny Storm and was re-cast. But one character Tom really wanted to change was Doctor Doom. “The first actor was certainly good but I felt the character came across as a bit too much of a mustache twirler,” said Tom.
Victor Von Doom was from Latveria, which seemed to be one those Eastern European/Germanic countries. And the aristocrats from those countries were well educated, as if they went to Oxford and thus often spoke with an English accent, Tom reasoned. So he recast Doom with Simon Templeman, whose voice had that nobility and who laced his performance with a unique aspect of condescension and decadence. “He did a memorably great job,” remembered Tom.
With the Inhumans being new characters to the series and so integral to the season’s arc, Tom had a clean slate to cast whomever he thought best for any particular role. Mark Hamill, who impressed everyone with his animated Joker, was a natural for Maximus the Mad. Likewise Star Trek – The Next Generation’s Michael Dorn was the perfect voice for Gorgon. “Black Bolt was easy he was basically mute, so he didn’t need a voice,” joked Tom.
The young Inhuman love interest for the Human Torch, Crystal, was very important to the storyline and she needed to be fresh. She was young, but she wasn’t a kid; she needed to have a womanly quality. “Then I saw supermodel actress Kathy Ireland, on television. I liked the quality of her voice and thought she’d be good.” Even though she wasn’t primarily a vocal actress, Tom was impressed at how hard she worked and how seriously she took it. The results were terrific – the perfect, definitive Crystal. And it all also helped with publicity – as her casting became a story on Entertainment Tonight.
“I always liked casting against type,” explained Tom. “The Silver Surfer was tough. What does he sound like? Stentorian? No. Too easy and cliché an approach.” So, it took a couple of attempts with various actors, but finally Tom cast Eddie (Green Acres) Arnold’s son, Edward Albert, as he felt the philosophical sound to the actor’s voice ideally suited the Surfer’s musings.
Keeping it Fantastic
Tom and his talented crew worked hard to keep the show true to what it was. “To me, the Fantastic Four was the self-proclaimed crown jewel of the Marvel Universe,” remembers Tom. “Even though I may have personally liked Spider-Man more as a kid, the FF was always the big kahuna, with the biggest stakes.”
So for the new main title sequence, Tom wanted to showcase the FF’s rich history. And he would tell it through a great iteration of iconic Kirby covers: FF #1, the tiny FF in the gigantic Dr. Doom’s hand from FF Annual #2, “Beware The Hidden Land” from issue #47, the four panel split screen from a later issue, in which the FF were each individually fighting an android.
He also used this main title to showcase the history of the FF’s costumes. From issue #1 with no costumes, through the 60’s Kirby look, a nod to the Season #1 robin egg’s blue costumes and finally to the then ‘current costumes’ inspired by John Byrne.
Tom did what he always did when creating a main title. He’d listen to the new music provided by the composer, Will Anderson. He’d drive and drive in his car, just trying to viscerally imagine where and how he’d place which visual images that were conjured up by beats with the music.
For the new look of the show, everyone’s first knee jerk reaction was to “do Kirby.” But Tom took issue with that. A big Kirby fan, Tom’s point of view was that if you mimic Jack Kirby’s work, it would run the almost inevitable risk of looking bad. Kirby’s art worked so well because of the strength of his uniquely individual talent. Only Kirby could truly be Kirby and thus there was also a realistic danger that the overseas studio artist working on the show just wouldn’t understand Kirby’s Style. So Tom took another approach. He hired legendary artist John Buscema to redo the characters. He based the show upon John’s also iconic Marvel look and own tenure on FF after Kirby left. In addition, he was able to send the overseas Philippines studio, PASI, that did the actual animation, John Buscema’s book, How the Draw Comics the Marvel Way, as well as the accompanying video of the book to explain it visually. “Buscema was an illustrator. He drew realistically and the anatomy made sense. Especially to the Filipino artists who loved American comic art. Everybody was extremely happy with that approach,” recalls Tom.
Overall, Tom was very pleased with the show. Great stories. Terrific animation. Top notch voice acting. Unfortunately, the show didn’t earn the ratings needed to continue, and many believe that was because fans just thought it would be more of the same from the first season and never gave it a chance.
There were plans for a third season. Tom had developed the arc that focused on Sue’s pregnancy, Agatha Harkness and the birth of Franklin. But Tom wanted to start the season with the Invisible Woman running away with Namor, the Sub-Mariner. “There could be Sub-Mariner action figures, so the toy people liked that”, he explained.
During production, it was mandated that the Hulk guest star in an episode (and also in an episode of the companion series Iron Man), so the progression to the subsequent Hulk series made sense.
The Incredible Hulk series on UPN came next. “I had an overall plan of what I wanted to do with each new series – I wanted to do them (all the Marvel Series) so they all looked very different from one another. My idea was that each series would be unique. Here’s our Gene Colan show, here’s our John Byrne show, or our Ditko or McFarlane show. Like how it would be if you picked out one of the comics from the rack. Not cookie cutter” said Tom.
“As always, it was hard work, but it was gratifying,” said Tom. “I am very proud of what we accomplished. It was one of the few times in television that a studio had truly done right by a comic book.”
Blow out the torches and put the pitchforks back in the barn, kiddos. Any longtime fan of ole’ Marc Alan Fishman knows well that he isn’t much for the lightsabers and midichlorians. I’m not here necessarily to slight a multi-billion dollar franchise that helped spawn a legion of fanboys that in-turn became the heroes of my youth. Instead, I’m here to explain calmly and coolly why I’m skittish that the hype machine that will churn out the next Star Wars will not be the second coming all the wookies and rogues are awaiting with baited breath.
J.J. Isn’t the Messiah
J.J. Abrams is a talented director and writer. But he’s not a miracle worker. While his track record and profit margins have never been snickered at, I look over his IMDb resume and nothing strikes me. Yes, he created cult (and successfully syndicated) hits like Alias, Lost, and Fringe. Yes, he helmed Cloverfield – lauded for its original take on a typically tropey concept. And yes, he successfully brought the Enterprise into our modern cineplexes.
But I specifically look to his Star Trek movies when I attempt to envision an Abrams’ Star Wars joint. And it has me fretting for the future set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Abrams’ Trek was clean to the point of stringency. His lens-flared Apple-esque vision held with it no lasting memories beyond the tepid jokes. While he crammed every spare inch of celluloid with today’s troop of tasteful thespians, can anyone here denote a single performance that was anything more than brilliant pastiche? I love Simon Pegg. I tolerate Karl Urban. Hell, I’ve pined for Chris Pine. But cast as living ret-cons, they all floated on the “close by not quite” vibe for their namesake roles.
“You incredulous Dewback!”, you chortle, “J.J.’s Star Wars is using the original cast and veritable no-names for the new roles!” Too true. And if it’s one small saving grace as to why I think the new movie will be reasonably entertaining and not the new testament, it’s largely because I think Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher have plenty more to pump into their historic roles. But I digress.
J.J. Abrams has the chops to make a palatable port of the seminal series. But, to date, he’s done nothing that screams to me that he was/is/will be the end-all be-all director that will remove the taste of the prequels from my memory. Which leads me to reason two:
Episodes I, II, and III happened.
Preach to me all you want. Rebels, countless in-canon comics penned by incomparable scribes such as our very own John Ostrander, and a litany of extended universe novels may all showcase how amazing the Star Wars universe can be. But in all those aforementioned examples, the target market clearly was always the hardcore Star Wars fan. Not John Q. Averageguy.
The fact is this: Episodes I, II, and III did make it to movie theaters. And sure, they banked considerable cash. But find me someone who walked out of any of those flicks, declaring that they trumped the original trilogy in any way (and “CGI” sure as a Sarlacc don’t count) and you’ve found the village idiot. The prequels were bloated, underwritten, over-produced crap-fests that proved to an entire generation that George Lucas’s original vision had forever been tarnished by the very commercialization that originally made him his fortune. And I’m being nice – we know there’s plenty of people who didn’t walk out of Return of the Jedi singing ole’ Georgie’s praises. The fact remains: the prequels happened, and they’re not going away. Episode VII may end up amazing… but it’s still sitting on a foundation of midichlorians… and of wooden acting.
Hype is a dish best served virally.
I’m wracking my brain to find the last thing in this world that lived up the hype built up over countless marketing ploys. The Dark Knight comes to mind. That’s about it. The fact is Star Wars is a globally recognized juggernaut franchise. When it comes to hitting the multiplex, Lucas and Disney will spare no expense ensuring the world at large knows of the impending Episode VII. Count the coverage of the teaser trailer alone, and then multiply it exponentially as we march closer and closer to the midnight premiere.
Do you remember Episode I? The tent cities that dotted the movie theaters, coated in cosplayers? Do you remember the aisles of every toy store choked with every non-chaser action figure of every background character that would be in the upcoming film? Or how about the happy meal tie-ins. Or the Hostess snack-cake collectible mini-comics. Or the 7-11 collector cups. Or the Pizza Hut Jabba the Hut slice-n-dicer. OK, I made up a few of them, but don’t deny the past (and the inevitable): nothing will stop Mickey and George’s empire from marketing en masse come this December. Santa doesn’t stand a chance.
And if you think Episode VII will be that good enough to forget the sins of the past, and the sins to come… well, I’ll see you at the North Pole.
Let’s just get this out of the way now: Amongst we ComicMixers, the esteemed (and far prettier) Emily S. Whitten is a bigger and better fan of voice actors than I shall ever be. With that being said… aren’t voice actors amazing?
You see, in between bouts of crippling sinusitis and binge-watching Breaking Bad like I was addicted to meth, I opted to catch John DiMaggio’s documentaryI Know That Voice. A fantastic little flick dedicated in celebration of a continually (mostly) unsung hero of the animated world: the voice performer. With interviews from some – if not most – of the current tribe of working actors and actresses who lend their larynx to the cartoons of the day, I simply must recommend watching it yourself soon if you haven’t already.
But that recommendation is not my singular premise of the week, kiddos. For you see, it was that fine feature that finds me floundering on someone who I particularly find perhaps even more incredible than the aforementioned performers – Andrea Romano, voice director.
A quick scan of her Wikipedia bio proved to me why she’s such a favorite of mine – Batman aside, which we’ll get to soon enough. After three years serving in LaLa land, Andrea landed the voice director role for a little show by the name of Duck Tales. For those not in the know, the best I could say is this: Duck Tales still holds up today, and puts plenty of what passes as entertainment now to shame. If you think Adventure Time doesn’t owe a debt of gratitude to Duck Tales, then you probably think dub step is real music. But I digress.
Duck Tales aside from wondrous writing – some episodes were adapted from classic Carl Barks stories – became a staple to my generation due, in part, to the strong direction in the vocal booth. For someone to be able to help her cadre of pros (and yes, we know Disney don’t fudge ’round when it comes to a good voice… save for Mickey, ha Ha!) produce pathos, angst, fear, pride, and greed in between daring adventures and slapstick? Well, it helped a show about anthropomorphic ducks and dogs going on worldly (and time-travely) jaunts feel like a show that could care less it was about ducks and dogs.
To wax poetic about every line-item in her IMDb profile would be a waste. Suffice to say, Ms. Romano’s resume is the tops. But the devil is in the details, there. Because no matter what else she was help produce in her tenure, Andrea Romano’s magnum opus lay across her impermeable casting and direction of the animated Bruce Timm DCU.
Close your eyes. Imagine Batman and the Joker trading a bit of banter before a major battle. If you’re not hearing Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, I feel mildly sorry for you. Personal preferences aside, when Bruce Timm’s critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series debuted… it was not only the unmistakable visual identity of the show that captivated the world.
The casting was an unheard of coup. Legends of the stage and screen joined well-vetted voice-acting professionals to layer a soundscape that perfected the art of matching an animated presence to realistic voice. I take nothing away from other casts, and cartoons mind you. But I beg for someone to compare the sheer volume of wins Ms. Romano chalks in her column, if by the DCU alone.
Even when facing a recasting, like Superman (heard of him?), Andrea cemented her mettle with me. Tim Daly’s Superman, as originally cast, brought so much to the role. As cast and written, Daly was innocent, untested, strong, but jovial. But by the time we reached George Newbern’s brogue come Justice League: Unlimited, the character had changed. Andrea’s selection delivered one of the most potent speeches ever uttered over celluloid. When through gritted teeth we heard “I live in a world made of cardboard…” in the finale of the series (and the animated DCU-ala-Timm) we heard a Superman that shunted away from his once prentice prose… that was still wholly made of his former self.
Beyond the most recognizable faces she brilliantly cast, Andrea Romano even nailed the minor roles. Take the casting of B-movie mainstay Jeffery Combs as the kooky Question. As a Vic Sage fan since forever, I can’t get Combs’ odd gravelly whisper out of my mind’s ear when I read him. Or take perhaps the hilarious casting of Fred Savage and Jason Hervey as Hawk and Dove, respectively. A wink and a nod to those of us who once grew up with the Arnold brothers of Wonder Years fame, but correctly recast; with the more nasal Hervey cast as the lesser Dove to the now meatier range of Savage. Even when taken out of our times, Romano matched the bravado necessary for Sargent Rock himself with the Hunter, Fred Dryer. I could go on (like the perfectly cocky Tom Everett Scott as Booster Gold, ahem), but my point has been made. And damn it all, I haven’t even gotten to the villains!
As my son begins to gain interest in the animated adventures of his favorite heroes, I’ll be perplexed to find him a definitive Captain America, or Iron Man. Luckily for me, he knows Superman and Batman. So, for the while, I’m well covered.
BATMAN ASSAULT ON ARKHAM is the newest direct-to-DVDDC feature with a lot of familiar parts including Kevin Conroy reprising his Batman role, and telling us how he manages to always keep it fresh. Plus, comedian John Lehr goes from Geico caveman to western funny man in the Hulu series QUICK DRAW, and talks about how improv is a huge part of the show.