Epitosodes: Duck Dodgers

Duck Dodgers

By Magellan

The Episode

Season: 1
Episode: 9
Title: “The Green Loontern”

The Review

If I were to compose a list of my favorite television shows, it would have a healthy mix of Mad Men-style period dramas, quirky sitcoms from the 00s, and Warner Brothers cartoons like Animaniacs and Justice League that are smarter than they have any right to be. 2003’s Duck Dodgers covers all three. It follows the zany day-to-day adventures of a deeply sardonic and manipulative protagonist who must make his way through a highly stylized world that wants to do anything but accept him for who he is (Don Draper = DuckDodgers, see the connection?). Oh, also he’s an anthropomorphic duck who flies through space with his pig sidekick.

For those who don’t know, Duck Dodgers is based on a Merry Melodies cartoon from 1953 entitled “Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century” (watch it here, it’s delightful: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqAUiUDyFlY). Or, in a sentence, it’s Daffy Duck in space. That short film on its own is one of the more fun takes on Daffy that I’ve seen (matched perhaps by “Duck Amuck”), and Duck Dodgers runs with it. The show is wall-to-wall classic Looney Tunes-style slapstick and wordplay, along with biting science fiction parody.

The episode that I’ve chosen to focus on, “The Green Loontern,” is a bit of a special case. It deviates from the standard Duck Dodgersformula, telling a full-episode story rather than two ten-minute-long stories. It’s also much more iconic and memorable than most episodes, if only because of the DC Comics crossover. Now, I didn’t pick this episode to focus on because it’s the funniest (it isn’t) or because it’s the smartest (it isn’t) but because the way in which this episode shakes up the Dodgers status quo helps to elucidate just what makes that status quo so great.

First, let’s run down the plot. It starts off in typical Duck Dodgers fashion, with Dodgers leading the Cadet (aka Porky Pig in a space onesie) around town as he does errands. The brief minute or so that we see of this does a great job of establishing Duck Dodgers as an endearing jerk who just wants to make sure that the Cadet doesn’t put any of his things down on “the filthy sidewalk.” Eventually, Dodgers has to go pick up his dry-cleaning, which is when the story kicks into gear.

The cleaner’s seems to have had a mix-up, as Dodgers finds himself with a uniform much different and greener than his own. He tries the baggy number on, and finds that it magically fits his form when he dons the glowing ring that comes with it. Dodgers has now gained the powers of a Green Lantern, which leads to a delightful sequence as he tries out his newfound abilities around the city. Every line out his mouth in this sequence is pure gold (my favorites: “Time to mete out some sophomoric justice,” and “Whoa, check out the serious babe-age!”), and I could watch Daffy Duck fly around as a Green Lantern for hours.

“The Green Loontern” begins to lose me, however, when the crossover becomes more exaggerated. After Dodgers hangs the Cadet off a flagpole by his industrial-strength underpants, he’s whisked away to the Green Lantern base planet of Oa by a distress call. The planet is being ransacked by Sinestro (or, as Dodgers calls him, “Say-what-stro”) and an army of robots. The attack leaves three Lanterns and Dodgers to formulate a counter-attack and free the other members of the Corps. Although there are certainly some great moments of comedy thanks to how little Dodgers knows or cares about the Lanterns Corps. (take, for example, his version of the Green Lantern Oath:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfO5S1Iu_VU), the entire sequence on Oa, and the rest of the episode, smacks of tonal dissonance.

Maybe it’s unfair of me to criticize a children’s cartoon for mishandling its tone, but this particular cartoon is clever enough that I feel it’s warranted. My issue with the episode lies in the way it plays the classic straight-man/funny-man relationship. Normally, Dodgers has the Cadet or Marvin the Martian to act as his straight-men, characters who are, on some level, just as ridiculous as he is. The Cadet cleans up all of Dodger’s messes, but he does so while talking in that hilarious, stuttering, Porky Pig way. When Dodgers is forced to interact with and play off of characters that are more grounded in real-world reality and consequences, the formula begins to tear at the seams.

That’s not to say that superheroes are real, but they do care more about realism in terms of danger and consequence than cartoons. If Duck Dodgers were on any other mission, he could get blown up or disintegrated and stand up to do the next scene. In the world of the Green Lanterns, however, every threat has to be de-clawed in order for him to cope with them. The ray beams have to teleport people rather than injure them, the robots have to be given dopey personalities so that they can squabble about robot high school rivalries, and Sinestro has to be rendered no more intimidating than your corny uncle in a Sinestro costume. Mixing these two worlds has the doubly troublesome effect of cutting out the slapstick half of Dodger’s shtick, as well as neutering Sinestro and the Lantern Corps. in order for everything to mesh.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this episode quite a bit. Even though it was cheesy, I thought the Dodgers-Sinestro banter was hilarious. And, like I said, everything on Dodgers’s home world with the Lantern ring was classic in its charm and rapid-fire pace. All I’m trying to say is that there’s a lesson to learn here about blending worlds together and about adding well-known and specific rules to an otherwise zany and off-the-cuff cartoon universe. When you mix two properties together, you should think of it less as a liquid concoction and more as slicing two balls in half and sewing part of each together. No matter what you do, you’re losing fifty percent of what makes each universe special and compelling, so it’s vital that you pick two worlds that end up complementary. Some mash-ups are like a tennis ball and baseball, a sort of Frankenstein that you can get away with and still play either game passably well. This episode was more like a stitched together basketball and football. It’s amusing, and you can probably still have a lot of fun with it, but first you have to spend twenty minutes figuring out how to handle the damn thing.

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Slop On Pop: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 8: I Robot, You Jane

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Slop On Pop is a brand new column starting today on Pop Modern. It’s both a critique and celebration of all things dumb in pop culture. Bad episodes of TV shows, catastrophic films, a notorious issue of a beloved comic, or even just a trashy Flash game. It’s like a book club for things that suck! The host of the week picks the content, all three editors consume it, and each offers their unique take on what they thought of it. This week, we start off with a show-stopper, aka one of the most reviled episodes of one of the seminal television shows of the last few decades.

The Host: Allen

I’ve certainly had a strange time with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After starting Season One on a whim towards the end of last summer, I brought on Magellan to watch along with me a few episodes a week, and it’s been quite the rollercoaster. The peaks and valleys in quality make it such a joy to watch with someone else, and watching the characters evolve over each season has been fascinating. However, jumping back so many years to when “I Robot, You Jane” aired, I can’t help but catch all the elements that made the show gasping for air amongst the cheesy garbage surrounding them. None of this episode stands up to scrutiny; the technology is so outdated now, the villain doesn’t seem remotely threatening, and they wasted a chance to make Willow more likable, who comes off as ignorant and shallow than anything here, completely opposite of the strong character she grew into since then. But there’s a certain aesthetic that I love about these early seasons of the show. The poor audio quality makes it sound like it was recorded on a flip phone, every character has a classic outfit style (Buffy and her crazy sunglasses, Willow with the sneakers and skirts, Xander with the…poorly-fitting shirts, Giles with all that lovely argyle), and the villain couldn’t look any more fake. But an important part of selling viewers on a universe as layered as this one is making your characters easily identifiable, so that their out of character moments hit harder later. It almost feels like “I Robot, You Jane” would be a joke episode in later seasons, with characters being thrown across rooms and generic electricity bolts being used to kill people all over the place. Just a tighter script and less reliance on hyper-contemporary technology could have made this episode resonate even today. The best scenes of the episode have to be the Calendar/Giles banter that would define their characters later, the suicide note being written by the demon on the computer, and the ending shot. It’s a poignant, darkly comedic frame that encapsulates where the characters were mentally at the time, and where they were inevitably going to be for years to come.

James: 

What Went Wrong: This episode is really dated. The emphasis on the dangers of computer to social interaction feels like a reactionary movement to an event that happened more than two decades ago. It is hard to be frightened by the internet while using it so much. Lack of understanding breeds fear and this is exactly what is going on. The old and the young have their rousing disputes but come together in the end. The story is banal now, even if it wasn’t hen and makes the show feel dated. The dialogue feels uninformed and sloppy. Everything is dumbed down to the level that somebody in the nineties could understand, which is fine for everybody who happens to still live in the nineties (I’m looking at you Australia). My favorite quote has to be: “If you’re not jacked in you’re not alive.” The main thing that bothered me though was its complete and total lack of any appreciable menace. Sure the internet is evil, so what? The robot needed to be invented purely for some actual pressing threat. It’s easy to pontificate on the devastation of the crashing stock market, but the demon feels more like a vandal than a powerful corrupter.

What Went Right: The piece feels like it could have meant something once. Perhaps in days less jaded by widespread access to the internet, I would have been frightened by the portents of the lack of human connection. There are some truths in the episode still that the internet can be a very frightening place. And the monks provided really good backdrop for the Italy scene. I’m pretty sure that they were speaking Italian and everything. What we really saw was the introduction of a new character to foil the librarian. This teacher is young, tech savy, and sexual. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the introduction of a very major character,

Takeaway: This show is so nineties.  Really. I would watch another episode because I know that the show is better than this one (so I’ve been told). I wouldn’t recommend this particular episode to a friend, unless I didn’t like them all that much. Television shows are allowed to have their off-episodes, and not everything can be as great as The Cape. (Editors note: James has a weird obsession with the cancelled superhero drama, The Cape. Pay that no mind.)

Magellan: 

What Went Wrong: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for all the praise it gets for being one of the greatest cult TV shows of all time, it’s also the show that boasts the widest gulf in quality between its great episodes and its terrible ones. To give you a little background, Allen and I are about a year in to our first viewing of the entirety of Buffy and its spin-off show, Angel. We’ve spaced out and picked apart every episode one by one; there were times when we were over the moon with excitement, and other times when we were irrationally angry at what played out on screen. Whereas most episodes sit at one end of the spectrum, “I Robot, You Jane” bungees wildly between the two. Obviously, it’s at its worst when the 90’s teenagers try to talk about the Internet (insisting on saying things like “e-letter” and “I’m jacked in,” or Buffy saying that the demon is “in every computer connected to it via modem”) and when a demon builds himself a Power Ranger villain costume. On a more egregious level, the episode attempts to give Willow some genuine character development for the first time in the series, but squanders it on this waste of an episode premise, robbing Willow of any sort of meaningful romantic agency. Couple that with two scenes that use wacky electricity as a plot device and the one where Willow is talking and typing at the same time (also, why did the demon start using text-to-speech halfway through the episode?), and it all adds up to an intrinsically skippable monster-of-the-week outing. Even more than that, though, this is the Buffy universe’s first attempt to mix magic and technology, a theme which always fills me with rage at how consistently the writers mishandle it. Forget robots and “technopagans;” stick to vampires.
What Went Right: Now, there’s plenty to hate about this episode, but somehow I found myself thoroughly enjoying it. You can most likely chalk that up to nostalgia, since the youthful vigor and innocence of the first season is refreshing for someone currently slogging through the melodramatic swamp that is Season Six. I enjoyed a lot of the camp (the overwrought “She’s the Slayer” intro for instance), if only because I knew it was an artifact of the show’s naivety rather than its potential. On my first watch of this episode I felt similarly, though tinged with the desire to finally see the show get good. This time around I wasn’t occupied with that desire, so I could enjoy its merits a bit more. All of the actors are in top form here, delivering even the stupidest lines with aplomb. Xander and Buffy are quippy and fun, and it’s great to see them almost teaming up in the face of Willow’s newfound confidence. The episode introduces Jenny Calendar, the computer teacher who plays off Giles in a hilarious (if hamfisted) way. All of their exchanges are fantastic, and it’s no wonder that she came back for more later on in the series. Alyson Hannigan does what she can with this episode, but as I said the story mishandles Willow in an unfortunate way. The opening scene is also fairly impressive, and it’s the first time that the show experimented with historical flashbacks, a device that would be used again in the future, especially as we start to learn more and more about Angel.
Takeaway: This episode isn’t bad so much as it is difficult. Anyone unfamiliar with the show will think it’s the stupidest thing they’ve ever seen, so it’s definitely not a good entry point into the series (unless you think camp is the way to win a new fan over, though the pilot episode is plenty campy on its own). You may not even enjoy it the first time you watch it in sequence, but on a second viewing you’ll be able to appreciate that the episode means well (it approaches themes still relevant to our Internet society, albeit clumsily), and you’ll be able to marvel at how far the show and its characters have come.

 

     

Flix Fix: The Independent Movie Store

 

Film Title: Mr Nobody

By James

One day, I decided to be adventurous and trek into uncharted territory; I watched a Netflix movie without researching it. Granted, the movie in question had a 5 star suggestion for my tastes, but in principle, I was being very brave. As I sunk into my chair, I prepared myself for what was inevitably going to be a forgettable indie movie. From the cover, I could see that the film starred Jared Leto, and involved a cast of forgettables. Seeing as I had never heard of the film before the title seemed appropriate: Mr. Nobody. The movie focused on the importance of choice in the world, and the relevancy of any and every decision. The movie beautifully shot and thought out, making it a fantastic piece that I ended up loving.

Of my twenty favorite movies, fourteen of them are films that were produced by independent companies.  It’s not that big budget films can’t be amazing, and it’s not that every independent movie is amazing. Rather, the focus lies in the framing. Big budget films are a matter of probability. For every unexpected success in the box office, there are four flops. Most films made by companies like 20th Century Fox and Paramount are guaranteed cash cows. People joke that Hollywood hasn’t come up with anything profitable in years, but the fact is, movies are money. Even new movies are based on profitable old formulas to ensure that producers will make the allotted revenue. But, as this is a topic that my fellow collaborators have done already, I don’t want to drone on about the how and why of independent movies. Instead, I want to share my reasons for loving these fascinating, if slightly esoteric films.

People watch films for escapism. Films seek to offer us an opportunity to flee from the banalities of life, but how often do movies seek to change that banality within the larger context of our lives? The power within an independent film lies within the ability to change a person’s perspective. The movies that affect me the most always hit on one emotion: wonder. While joy, anger, and sorrow will last for the rest of the day, wonder will haunt me for months. After two months, I still feel that Mr. Nobody is hanging on the edge of my consciousness, subtly shaping the way I act. Mainstream films have realized the profit in other emotions, preying on romance, sorrow, and thrill, but rarely on wonder.

My love of independent films isn’t a sign of snobbery, but rather an appreciation of sincerity: sincerity of the thought that goes into movies, and sincerity of emotion within the script. The care and craft that goes into the best independent movies is extraordinary. And though the movie is created long before the viewer sees it, the decision to appreciate wonder belongs to the viewer alone.

Set on Shuffle: Jack White

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Prelude

Here we are, at it again with another installment of Set on Shuffle, our trifecta approach to music criticism. This time around, in belated honor of last month’s Lazaretto reminding everybody that Jack White is still one of the most important alt rock musicians in the game (even if he is just the one Stripe), we’ve decided to take a three-pronged approach to breaking down his music. We have a review from the White Stripes days, one from a side-project super-group (The Raconteurs), as well as White’s last solo release. Not to put too fine or cheesy a point on it, but join us as we take a look at Jack White’s full “spectrum.”

The Reviews

Allen

Album Title: Elephant by The White StripesImpression: What an interesting phenomenon, The White Stripes are. Jack White, known mostly for his abrasive attitude towards press and celebrities paired up with Meg White, the quiet, pensive type. After an entire decade of sadness and grunge, the 2000s came around to bring back positivity. And although Elephant isn’t a particularly uplifting album, it blends old and new styles in a refreshing way. The intentional lack of production value shows, but starting off with the legendary riff of “Seven Nation Army” pretty much guarantees you have a good album on your hands. It’s punchy, memorable, and incredibly dense. More than anything, Elephant is an album where Jack’s vocals ride passenger to instruments almost all the time. I kept getting an image of a young impressionable kid listening to this abum during songs like “Black Math” and “I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart.” Even Meg gets to take a crack at singing on “In The Cold, Cold Night”, and it’s one of the most jarring transitions of the entire album. Basically from “Ball and Biscuit” onward, every guitar solo is incredible, and then the whole thing ends with a weirdly placid three-way conversation between Jack, Meg, and Jack’s “new girlfriend” Holly, who may or may not actually have been his girlfriend at the time. It’s just really refreshing to listen to the point where rock music returned to its roots, and called back to the correct influences for melody and inspiration.

Favorite Track: “Hypnotize” wins out for this one, mainly because the guitar work is on another level. Contemporaries like The Arctic Monkeys had good reason to be inspired by tracks like this, and even though it’s very short, the fact that half of it is straight up shredding is so exemplary of The White Stripes “fuck your rules and structure” mentality.

Take-Away: The lyrics to all of Elephant paint a really vivid image, but nothing beats out the bass lines and solos on this album. They’re truly something to behold, and each one is uniquely memorable.

James

Album Title: Broken Boy Soldiers by The Raconteurs

Impression:  The first song, and probably the most famous Raconteurs song, is the little diddy “Steady as She Goes.” As I have alluded to before, I like rock-based punk songs with interesting transitions. The rhythmic intensity provides a good transition into the album, a great hook for what is a good album. The tone immediately starts to slow down, with a more balladesque song titled “Hands.” The song is energetic, albeit at a much slower pace than the opening. The album maintains an even keel for the most part, a mixture of energy, but at a much slower pace than the introductory song. The focus in these parts seems to be devoted to the production, with a very polished product. As the album nears its end, the songs start to slow down, draining the energy down till the final track “Blue Veins.” The album feels like it covers the life and death of a person, from the hectic aftermath of birth to the eventual fade-out into the grave.

Favorite Track: “Broken Boy Soldier” From the beginning, the song started off with a cool instrumental section. While the tempo kept with the theme of the album-steady with a beat- the vocals in this piece were highly stylized, giving everything a somewhat ethereal tone. The tune was very catchy, and tells a particular story, with some well-placed riffs in the middle of the song.

Take-Away: Throbbing. A weird choice of words, but this album throbs. The energy and the pacing contribute to the feeling, with huge power and a steady rhythm. The album does not want for finish, and brings together a production in a great, professional way.

Magellan

Album Title: Blunderbuss by Jack White

Impression: You’ll already know this if you read last week’s Three By Three on eponymous albums, but I’m going to say it again anyway: I’m a big White Stripes fan. Now, granted I came to them fairly late, to the point that I think they had already broken up by the time I first listened to White Blood Cells. That being said, I instantly fell in love with the band, so naturally I’ll gladly devour anything else Jack White chooses to do with at least half a smile on my face. This is especially true of Blunderbuss, his explosive solo premiere. And, I don’t mean explosive in a grungy, pounding, “Jimmy the Exploder” sort of way. I mean explosive in terms of the sheer breadth and depth of some of these songs. From the very first song (“Missing Pieces”) Jack White lets you know what he can do with layered sound and measured pace, creating music that is much more meditative than his earlier work, but no less powerful or expressive. He also follows that up with “Sixteen Saltines,” a show-don’t-tell way to remind you that he can still pump out that same high-octane shredding that you know and love. The album does take a bit of a dip in the middle (from “Love Interruption” through “Weep Themselves to Sleep”), if only because of the overall slower tempo. White reinvigorates the record with “I’m Shakin’,” a deceptively by-the-numbers blues tune that accentuates his ability to weave together traditional and modern aesthetics to create something truly fantastic. The album then winds down, finishing with the decent “Take Me With You When You Go.” In terms of final tracks it’s nothing to write home about, but it fits the album fairly well.

Favorite Track: “Freedom at 21” has to get my vote, if only because it displays the full range of what White is able to accomplish in this album. It weaves through layers of musical complexity, from the verse in which his vocals and the rhythm guitar are stereo-split, to the multi-instrumental crescendo that leads into a wicked guitar solo. I also like the falsetto thing he does, it’s a nice vocal touch that makes the song that much more quirky and interesting.

Take-Away: Give it a listen. Although not as charming or memorable as a given White Stripes album, there’s still plenty to love on this record. The guitar work alone is enough to keep you enthralled, and I would argue that this is a better entry-point into Jack White as a musician than Lazaretto.

Epilogue

There you have it, a colorful look at the three primary versions of Jack White that are out there to be consumed. If you have strong opinions about these reviews, or just want to let us know about your favorite tracks, go ahead and respond in the comments below. In the meantime, we’ll be in the garage blasting “Fell in Love With a Girl” on a loop.

Panel Discussion: Reading Between the Lies

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By Allen

I’ve been trying to branch out more with comics in the last few months now that I have a commute again, which has led to me reading a weird amalgamation of stories that I’ve meant to for years like The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, cult classics like Lone Wolf And Cub, and indie outings like the fantastic Alex And Ada. If there’s any quality that connects these disparate stories, it’s a disconnect between what is implied and what is in the panels.

The League of Extraordinary Gentleman  can best be described as Justice League starring characters from all across literature through the lens of Alan Moore. It’s easily his second most well-known work after Watchmen, and it shares his fondness for creating universes through implication of a broader world than what is seen. In Watchmen, every scene is filled with grunge and darkness that permeated late-80s postmodern art and media. Even when the story shows something like a dead dog or a man committing suicide with cyanide, the world around these scenes breathes with life and realism. This is much more apparent in League of Extraordinary Gentleman. At least in the first volume, it feels like almost half of the story is establishing shots and splash pages. And even though these scenes show the scale and scope of the novel’s many settings, they are drawn in such a way that each splash page tells a story. In one, the heroes sneak through a street of the homeless and ill, masking their faces so as to avoid detection. But what’s more interesting is what isn’t shown; the children of these homeless people, how they got there, and where our heroes came from. In this way, the establishing shots become about not what is, but what isn’t seen. These little details fill in the background of the world, and use a single page or two to tell an elegant, broad story.

If League tells its story through gaps and false framing of scenes, then Lone Wolf and Cub depicts the repetitiveness of violence exclusively using its context clues and the assumptions that the reader brings. The 1970s Japanese samurai story about a samurai assassin and his precocious baby son relies heavily on the classic “Exposition, fight scene, moral, repeat” formula for most of the early-goings. With every battle that Ogami Ittō gets into, the swipes and slashes of swords are represented by the same five or six frames of gore and mutilation. It’s a weirdly gruesome type of scene in a mostly slow, measured comic. However, since it’s almost the same series of frames every time, one would think the artist got lazy and didn’t want to draw new fights. However, this seemed to me like a deliberate choice. Even though the fighters and setting are always different, the battle itself is relatively the same. It’s the context from earlier scenes and past reader experience that envigorate these fights. When Ogami Ittō fights female samurai warriors, it looks the same as when he fights the bulky bodyguard character or vile bandits. However, when one realizes that these women are being treated as equals in Shogun-era Japan (at least in combat), the narrative is reframed to almost be about feminism and the way that these women use their weapons as much as their bodies to fight. And, like a good horror film, the implication of violence between frames is much more horrifying and brutal than what is ever shown.

There’s something almost false and deceiving about the way that comic book art is used to tell stories. Half a hand in one frame can represent an entire body, and word bubbles symbolize speech and action. But even the writing can hint at a greater world than what is shown in each panel. Alex and Ada, a new comic from the Luna Brothers (writer and artist combo that did indie horror masterpiece Girls) focuses on the relationship between 20-something Alex and his synthetic android Ada. For such a small-scale story, the implications of the universe around these characters is massive and detailed. The first example of this is a news report recounting a classic “supposedly subservient robots turn sentient and kill their masters” factory incident. The specific details of this story, like who created the androids and how they gained sentience are slowly explained to the reader and Alex through the story. As the world around him unravels, so does the pace of the story. Early issues spend a lot of time explaining this strange future, but as it grows more comfortable with its universe, Alex and Ada uses subtle, unspoken drama and pathos for world building. Nobody sits down and explains the virtual reality Internet that people browse;it is simply shown as is. This suggests that the world has been the way it is for years, and nobody within it needs to function as a reader stand-in.

Scott McCloud spends an entire chapter of his famous graphic art book Understanding Comics on the idea of storytelling happening off the panels. This is not only a well-known technique discussed in comics, but a staple of classic works in the medium. However, not many people view the panels themselves as a selectively permeable veil; See this, ignore this. Like a cell membrane, the art hides what needs to stay out, and shows what needs to be seen. But sometimes, it’s the stuff that doesn’t make it in that develops the world the best.