Tag Archives: Marvel

Taking a Closer Look at an Awesome Bedroom, part 2: The Monster Squad Edition!

I had a crap ton of fun examining Sara’s room from Adventures in Babysitting a couple weeks ago, so I figured I’d take a second to take a closer look at another pop culture bedroom.  This time I decided to scope out Eugene’s room in one of my favorite flicks, 1987’s The Monster Squad!

monster squad poster

There really only one scene with the bedroom in the flick, the iconic beat where Eugene, scared out of his wits, begs his dad to come and get the monster out of his closet.  But in that minute or two of footage there are a ton of cool things in the background.  But let’s start with Eugene himself as he’s wearing some pretty darn bitchin’ PJ’s…

Monster Squad 1

1). Robotech Odyssey Pajamas

That’s right, Eugene is a fan of the 80s Carl Macek re-edit of the Macross Space (Soap) Opera.  Front and center on that rad nightshirt is none other than Rick Hunter, Roy Folker, and Captain Gloval.  But that’s not all the giant mech goodness in this room as we’ll see in a later screenshot.  So let’s take a closer look at Eugene’s room shall we…

Monster Squad 2 small

2). The Punisher Poster

3). Garbage Pail Kids Stickers

4). Godzilla Toy

5). My Pet Monster

6). Wolverine Poster

So, I think it can be firmly established that the set designer decided that Eugene was into comics, in particular some of the more violent vigilantes in the Marvel Universe!  There are also some GPK  stickers on the wall, though it’s kind of hard to make out which ones.  There are more GPK stickers on his closet door that I’ll run down in a bit.  Like Sara in Adventures in Babysitting, Eugene was a proud owner of a My Pet Monster too.  Let’s take a clearer peep at those Marvel posters…


It kind of cool to realize that Eugene was into the same characters that I was growing up, and I’m totally jealous of that Rick Leonardi Wolverine poster!  Anyway, what else is in his room?

Monster Squad 5 small

7). Dreadstar Poster

8). Comico Comics posters (Jonny Quest on top and a jam poster featuring Mage, Grendel, Jonny Quest and Robotech among other characters…)

9). Mickey & Minnie Mouse lamp

Continuing the comic book theme we can get a glimpse of some Comico branded posters on Eugene’s wall.  Not only was he reading Wolverine and the Punisher, but also potentially Matt Wagner’s Mage and Grendel as well!  Seriously it’s like that set designer was pulling inspiration from my very mind!  There are a couple of other posters in the room that I couldn’t peg (one to the left of and one below the Wolverine poster in the second screenshot), as well as a toy helicopter on his bureau underneath the Punisher poster.  Anyone out there have any guesses?  Here’s a better look at that Comico mash-up poster…


Okay, last but certainly not least, a better look at some of the Garbage Pail Kids on Eugene’s closet door…

Monster Squad 4

10). More GPKs.  Specifically Roy Bot, Apple Corey, Stoned Sean, and Warmin Norman from the 3rd series, Basket Casey, Larry Lips and Dana Druff from the 4th series.  The rest I can’t get a good enough look at…

So, anything I missed?

Other Awesome Bedrooms I’ve covered…

Sara’s Room from Adventures in Babysitting

Mikey’s room from the Goonies

David’s room from Flight of the Navigator

Robbie’s room from Poltergeist

Ben’s room from The Explorers

Pee Wee’s room from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Elliot’s room from E.T.

Fred Savage’s room from The Princess Bride

Josh’s room from Big

Man, I miss Steve Gerber…

I found some time this weekend and scanned another Thundarr the Barbarian article.  This one comes from an issue of Fantastic from 1980, though for the life of me I can’t remember which month.  It was written by Adam Eisenberg and makes a nice companion piece to the Fangoria/Buzz Dixon article I posted before, though it centers on more of the limitations and censorship the series had to overcome because of the imposed network standards and practices…

I know I tend to go on and on about this idea time and again, but I think it’s interesting to note just how important the 1980-1983 timeframe was for modern action animation.  In the piece Steve Gerber talks a little bit about the collective intentions to bring the “action” back to action/adventure cartoons while creating Thundarr with Joe Ruby (of Ruby Spears.)   First off, though he was already working in animation doing production design for Hanna Barbera, Jack Kirby was probably hot on Gerber and Ruby’s minds because of what he brought to the table for Marvel and DC comics.   I think it’s really cool to see an animation production team playing to the strengths of their contracted talent instead of trying to force them to bend in another direction, which doesn’t always bode well in network/studio environment.

At the same time, Gerber admits that even while shooting for the stars in terms of creating a thrilling action oriented cartoon they still had their hands tied to an extent where their barbarian hero couldn’t “…throw a punch or…even hit anybody.  He can do all kids of acrobatic things, but he can’t even trip anyone.”  This kind of over protective standards and practices is equal parts infuriating and incredibly flooring.  Whereas it’s frustrating to watch a cartoon that centers around a barbarian that you just know wants to knock the block off of every douche-bag wizard that he runs across (they are enslaving humanity you know), these limitations opened the door to exploring another heroic archetype, the strong non-violent hero (think He-Man.)  Though I know it’s really easy to bag on the He-Man ideal for being too goodie good and unrealistic, this kind of storytelling is not always about focusing on the visceral and gritty realism.  Sometimes it’s about fables and though I know this is obvious, morality.  This is what’s really cool about a great creative environment, that there is room to explore both paths (and more), so you can have something more fist in the face like G.I. Joe, something more moral like Masters of the Universe, and something inbetween like Thundarr.

So this short period in animation is so interesting to me because it marks the beginning of the end of 10 long years of anti-integrity self-imposed studio censorship…

Similarly Gerber and Ruby found themselves challenged by another aspect of depicting violence in cartoons in that they weren’t allowed to have any kind of traditional barbarian sword for the Thundarr character.  According to S&P there could be no sharp objects like knives or swords.  Though it could have hampered some of the design aesthetic on the show this limitation pushed them to create something interesting and new in Thundarr’s Sunsword.   Trying to sidestep riffing too much off of Star Wars the sword was designed to have a blade forged from a bolt of lightning.   Again, even though they were hampered by network S&P the crew ended up treating this as a chance to bring something relatively new to the table, or at least they used it as an opportunity to tie in a different set of influences than a barbarian fantasy cartoon would normally lean on.  It’s less Conan and more Norse god in look and design.  Again, this is certainly playing to the strengths of Jack Kirby who brought a taste of his work on characters such as Thor and the various 4th World creations for DC.


Here’s another Gerber quote from the article that I love…

“The big thing that we’ve had to overcome is that the censors tend to treat children as if they’re not just morons, but lunatics, potentially dangerous creatures.”


Essential DC Hostess Ads Vol. 2, Part 2: Cupcakes 1975-1980

So for the time being this post will finish off my collection of Hostess comic ads. Like I’ve mentioned before, I think there are still about 30 or 40 more ads that I haven’t been able to find yet, so that’ll probably be a project I work on over this coming year.  Right now though, lets take a look at the last 10 DC ads in what I like to call the Essential DC Hostess comic ads Vol. 3, Part 2: Cupcakes 1975-1980.

Shazam in the Cupcake Caper 1975

Wow, that is one straightforward Hostess ad.  Bam, cupcakes are missing.  Bam, Shazam restates the obvious.  Bam, he stops the brilliant Cupcake Caper. Bam.  BAM BAM BAM.  If nothing else, I’m beginning to find some possible context clues for why the last Shazam ad was written so (to me) oddly.  So does young Billy Batson work at the TV station?  If so that would go a long way to explaining why he was kidnapped in that ad.

Superman Saves the Earth 1976

Man I never realized that Superman sat in on such universe plotting council meetings.  Thank god he eats cupcakes and not Spam or the whole planet might have gone up in a puff of smoke that fateful day.  Also, I love how in comics alien worlds are often delineated by the lack of any sort of atmosphere, having only a vast blanket of stars in the sky.  As silly as it seems, it really is a nice artistic short cut.

Batman in the Muse 1977

Besides the fact that Batman and Robin are stepping out attending a concert in full bat-suit glory, I really dig this ad. In particular I love the switch that the Muse makes from internal monologue to exclaiming his love for Hostess cupcakes mid thought. I wonder when in ’77 this ad was written as there’s a nod to Elvis in it. Not a good year for the king.

Batman and Robin in Birds of a Feather 1977

You know, I would have loved to see this ad end with Batman and Robin watching as Pigeon Person’s plan crumbled when she realized that even an army of pigeons can’t pick up a mountain…

Batman in Sable Lady 1977

“That’s giving it to her on the old chinchilla…” Um, okay.  Holy inappropriate Batman!

Wonder Woman in the Maltese Cupcake 1977

I have absolutely no idea what just happened in that comic. Seriously.

Superman in the Big Fall 1978

Wow, that was total overkill Clark! You know, you could have just stopped the elevator from falling and gently let it come to rest at the bottom of the elevator shaft. There was no call in flying it out of a building, and in assuming that it would burst through the roof without hurting the occupants who were so blissfully unaware of the danger because they had their mouths full of chocolate-y goodness. Sheesh, that seems more in line for a Hulk Hostess ad…

Wonder Woman vs. the Cheetah 1978

Well that was kind of a mean trick to play on the cats. Lure your way in and then slap them around instead of the master. I guess it was bad form to have a cheesecake cat-fight in a 70s cupcake ad.

Batman in Someone is Kidnapping the Great Chefs of Gotham City 1979

…and this is why America doesn’t give in to terrorist’s ransom demands. I wonder if the networks would ever stoop to this level of advertising on TV. I’d love to see a series of 24 one-minute Hostess ads starring Jack Bauer. In the last minute it would be revealed that Twinkie the kid wasn’t a terrorist, he was honestly trying to transport three tons of Hostess products overseas in hopes of balancing the world economy or something. I’m going to get cracking on writing those so that I can pitch them if the writer’s strike continues. I’ll make a mint.

Wonder Woman and the Barron 1980

Wouldn’t this ad have been that much cooler if instead of a generic chocolate vampire wannabe called the Baron, Count Chocula was the villain? Man, new idea, advertisement crossovers, like the Secret Wars, but with cartoon advertising icons. Again, another idea that’ll make me rich…

Essential DC Hostess Ads Vol. 1, Part 2: Twinkies 1975-1979

I’m back with my second to last round of Hostess comic book ads from the 70s and 80s. I know that there are about 50 or so more ads than what I’ve been able to locate in my collection of ads, so sometime this year I think I’m going to have to do some serious $0.25 bin diving to find the rest. I thought I’d share my last round of DC comics Twinkie ads today…

Batman and the Mummy 1975

Well, I’ve actually been waiting for a while to get to this one. I believe this is one of the first (if not the first) Hostess comic ads back in ’75, and right from the get go these ads didn’t make much sense. Granted, this comic is relatively straight forward, but there are some crazy wow moments like when Robin pulled the Mummy Ray-Gun out from nowhere. Now what is the point of a mummy ray gun if it doesn’t have an effect on mummies? I suppose Bruce was just humoring Dick when he gave him that last Christmas. Anyway, this ad also features a little bit of a history lesson thanks to Robin’s exclamation of surprise in the first panel. Turns out (and I certainly had to look this up) that Cheops was a 26th century B.C. king of Egypt and builder of the pyramids. Nifty. The only other thing I’d like to point out (besides the Daring Duo’s amazing bolder moving strength) is that in this ad the Twinkie filling is referred to as ‘creamy’ instead of creamed. I wonder if there was a creamy vs. creamed lawsuit at some point?

Shazam fights the Minerva Menace 1975

I’m not all that familiar with Shazam, but he sure does seem to have a way with words. All he has to do to unravel all of that dastardly brainwashing is to tell those kids what’s what with a pointing finger for emphasis. I love the non sequitur plot point of the kidnapping of Billy Batson. I guess this is where my ignorance of Shazam really sets in. Is the whole Shazam thing secret? I’d assume no one (except maybe a dog or an uncle or butler) would know that Billy could turn into Shazam…

Aquaman Twinkies and Kelp 1976

Ha, he said Kelp twice. Seriously, sometimes I really wonder about the prowess of Aquaman. Again, I didn’t grow up on DC comics, but from what I’m gathering in these ads, and from his stand-alone cartoon, the guy is mostly harmless. He never seems to do any of the heavy lifting when it comes to fighting villains (he usually gets the creatures of the sea to do it for him), and in strips like this the writers make him out to be a sort of over reacting blowhard…

Batman Twinkieless Gotham City 1976

Man, the Penguin sure gave up that Twinkienapping caper pretty darn easily. I guess a little whining from a leisure-suited henchman can go a long way…

Wonder Woman Kookie La Moo on Broadway 1977

You know, I don’t know if I’d classify a 60 ft. tall blonde bombshell as grotesque. I thought it was kind of funny that the ad wasn’t copy edited as Steve Trevor is referred to by Giant Cooky as Steve Howard.

Green Lantern in Half the People Here 1977

Thank goodness Hal Jordan still had the ring on the right half of his body. Whew. I actually really like this ad, even for it’s zany half-witted plot.

Aquaman in That Dirty Beach 1977

Um, on the one hand I’m really glad to see Aquaman step up and sok a bad guy in the mouth once in awhile, but on the other I’m kind of lost in the horrible message of this ad. So let me get this straight, the answer to stop all the pollution humans are causing is to take a bribe of Twinkies? Right.

Superman in an Unbeatable Power 1978

Well now that wasn’t a great plan by Big Dome if it required him to keep his hands on the controls the whole time he had Superman trapped. It’s kind of hard to take over a planet when you’ve got to baby sit a powerless Superman. Sigh, I miss the Captain America Hostess ads, there was a lot more punching.

Aquaman and the Imperiled Sub 1978

Granted, I know it’s hard to get it across in a one-page strip, but that is one of the sorriest looking tidal waves ever. I think I’ve come across larger waves in the bathtub. Sigh, again, not one of the more exciting Aquaman strips.

Wonder Woman in Dilemma 1978

Superman in the Rescue 1979

I don’t have much to say for these last two though I love it in the last Superman strip where the writer thought it was pertinent to show the kids on the mountain watching the disaster unfold even though in the previous panel it was pointed out that the UFO and Superman were traveling at the speed of light. Those are some darn observant children.

Essential Marvel Hostess Ads Vol. 3, Part 2: Twinkies 1979-1981

Wow, I really have been lax around here for the past two months.  I’ll tell ya, the holidays really suck all my drive and energy, even when I’m not doing all that much. Anyway, it’s a new year, blah blah, and really want to get back to a more regular posting schedule, so I thought I’d dip back into the well a little and throw up some more Hostess comic book ads.  I have a handful of ads left (I don’t have a complete collection, but I do have another 25 or so left to get to) that I’m going to make my way through over the next week or so and then hopefully I’ll build up another modest head of steam to get me going on a more regular posting schedule.  I certainly have a backlog of stuff that I’d like to share, including getting back to the Galaxy High Cartoon Commentaries, getting started on the second year of the Peel Here column, as well as getting to some other material that I’ve been accumulating over the last year.

So with that said, lets dive back into the weird world of Hostess Comic ads with the last crop of Marvel ads from my collection.  These are all Twinkie-centric and span the years 1979-1981.

Spiderman meets June Jitsui 1979

I have a feeling that some days the writers at the Marvel Bullpen came into work and just didn’t have anything to contribute Hostess-gag-wise.  This is about as cut and dry as you get, villain intro, kick, kick, toss-a-Twinkie, gloat, and villain foiled.  I have to admit that I’m glad to see Spidey carrying a sack full of Twinkies instead of him producing them from some hidden spot on his suit, though I’m deducting creativity points since the sack isn’t made out of his webbing.

Spiderman in Hotshot on the Block 1979

All right this is a little more like it.  Granted, it’s about as thrill packed as the last strip, but at least there are a bunch of bad puns thrown about.  It’s kind of weird to hear Peter refer to himself not only as a swinger, but as a cookie too.  Well it was the 70s.  As far as dashing Hot Shot’s plan by burdening him with a package of Twinkies, well all I have to say is that I hope Mr. Hot Pants learned his lesson and in the future he’ll know that it’s perfectly fine villain etiquette to stuff the entire Twinkie package in one’s mouth, chewing it up, and pulling the plastic wrapper out later, so that you still pitch some fireballs at an silly hero that thought Twinkies could stop you from taking over the world.  I need to write a villain handbook or something…

Captain Marvel Defends the Earth 1980

Wow, I believe this ad wins the title of The Weirdest Cold War Strategy Metaphor Ever. Damnit, let those Kree bastards eat cake!

The Human Torch in a Hot Time in the Old Town 1980

This ad made me chuckle because for once the hero delivered on his pun-y plan. Johnny really does just use the Twinkies as a diversion as he ends up burning down Flame Thrower’s laboratory. Of course, I’m not sure exactly how burning down the lab stopped him considering he was just burning down the city in general, but I’ll let it slide. I guess I’m just extra glad it wasn’t a hollow pun.

Mr. Fantastic in the Power of Gold 1980

Wow, the writers of these ads really should have avoided trying to explain these strips with science. As golden as a Twinkie might appear, it’s just not gold. On the other hand, I’m so glad the there was a little social commentary thrown in with the crack about heroes not being able to afford gold in the 70s. I find it funny that Richards found it necessary to stockpile gold back in his heyday of hero-ing though; it really gives him a very Hugh Hefner-like quality. I wonder if he had a super stretchy velvety bath robe that he’d wear while counting his gold?

Spiderman in the Rescue 1980

Is it just me or does the pacing of this strip make it seem like that kid screwed up Spidey’s plan to stop those kidnappers with some sweet Twinkie action?

Spiderman in the Trap 1980

Holy crap, that is some Twinie throwing magic Peter just performed. I mean, if he couldn’t get out of that net, how in the hell did he manage to throw a package of Twinkies through it? I’m starting to think that he’s acting like a chump on purpose just so he can grease the squeaky wheels of injustice with creamed filling. What a sellout.

Captain Marvel in Flea Bargaining 1981

Flea Bargaining is one of those Hostess strips that almost defies description. It’s certainly makes me think that the writer really didn’t want to work on Hostess scripts anymore. This is also a great example of how weird it can be to merge established fictional characters with advertising campaigns. There’s no reason Captain Marvel shouldn’t just blast the giant flea into space or something, but I’d be willing to bet that there was a stipulation of not using violence in the strips (not to mention the idea of working in Hostess products to foil the exploits of the various evildoers.) I think my favorite part of this strip is in the second panel where an angry shop keep is more concerned with turning a profit (or at least getting in a little bargaining time) than helping to stop the giant flea market eating flea. It’s so out of place, yet it really helps to ham up the crazy flea market jokes. Weird.

The Human Torch in Hot Tempered Triumph! 1981

You know, stealing cold hard cash from orphans is one thing, but stealing their Twinkies, well that’s just plain evil. Evil I tells ya.

Iron Man in the Charge of the Rhinos! 1981

I wonder why the scribe of this comic was pushing Fission so hard? And why giant Rhinos? Granted rhinos are pretty tough, but it still seems like an engineering nightmare to have created them.

Cartoon Commentary! #14, Presto the giant killer…

So here we are at episode 13 of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. I just wanted to remind anyone who cares, that next week I’ll be switching to a different cartoon for a bit to take a rest of dragons and underpants. Hopefully the change will turn out all right, as it’s been kind of weird switching gears to another show, from action adventure to comedy, from a fantasy setting to science fiction. Maybe it was a bad idea, too drastic a change, but we’ll all soon see.

Episode thirteen, titled P-R-E-S-T-O Spells Disaster, originally aired on December 10th, 1983, and if you guessed the prolific Jeffrey Scott wrote it, then you’d be correct. This episode serves as the last for the first season, though I’m not sure exactly how these were produced or in what order. Scott was also responsible for writing two episodes that aired in the second season. So far, judging by the 7 episodes that he contributed so far, I’d have to say that Jeffrey Scott tends to fall back on a lot of tried and true story conventions, particularly plots from fairy tales in his scripts. There are a couple of exceptions, in particular the episode Servant of Evil, but for the most part it seems as if he was more comfortable placing the characters into comfortable situations to see how they would react. It reminds me of the work of a lot of sitcom writers in that you tend to see a lot of repeated plots (snowed in at a ski lodge or cabin, trapped in a store after hours, a recipe was mixed up and the wrong ingredients added, and in all cases hilarity ensues.) This seems like it would make sense as Scott has written a book on writing for animation. Stands to reason that he must have some sort of system in order to have dedicated an entire book to it.

This episode basically serves to highlight Presto as a character, in particular focusing on his self esteem issues by having his magic backfire in a much larger way than normal. While trying to escape an attack by a bunch of orcs, Presto casts a spell that whisks away the rest of the gang (sans Uni) to a castle in the sky, leaving him alone to try and find a way to get his friends back. The story ends up being a loose re-telling of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, only with a lot more dragons and a lot less golden chickens.

Hearkening back to the beginning of the series, the episode opens on the gang running away from a giant beast, though in this case it was a very odd in that they are running from a stegosaurus. Color me surprised, but apparently it’s not uncommon to find dinosaurs roaming around in the Dungeons and Dragons realms, which is a convention of fantasy that’s always sort of bugged me. It seems a lot of the time that fantasy worlds are more or less made up of a sort of mish-mash amalgamation of events and cultures of our own world, becoming fantasy by default because it technically never existed. Though I’m sure this is a perfectly viable definition of fantasy, I can’t help but have a much more traditional ideal stuck in my head, most of which is informed by Tolkien’s worlds. I guess I have a hard time defining what fantasy is for myself, not knowing whether to concentrate on themes, settings, or what. It’s like trying to fit Star Wars into a specific genre. Is it Sci-Fi (set in futuristic space) or fantasy (the hero’s quest, swords and sorcery), or honestly does it even matter? I guess stegosauruses in D&D just feel weird to me…

Though I think we’ve seen one before (in the Man-Thing episode I believe) we get another chance to see one of the higher-ranking orcs, probably a captain or something. I’ve always been fond of this sort of helmet design, what with the spread out bat/dragon wings (it’s one of the aspects that makes the Warduke character so appealing.)

The scene in which Presto mistakenly whisks away the gang with his magic hat is kind of weird when you consider how the episode plays out. In fact his magic hat is very odd to me. He never seems to have any control over what comes out, even if 99% of the time it’s helpful if not exactly in the way expected. They way the power is written it comes off very much like a Deux Ex Machina, or if I were to really stretch it, as a way for Dungeon Master to screw with the gang. In this episode DM pops up after Presto wigs out a bit and he sets Presto on a quest to find his friends, and like usual he very cryptically lays out how the rest of the episode will play out. Now is this because he has the power of premonition or is it all his doing? I mean it becomes very coincidental later when characters have exactly what Presto needs in order to find his friends, coincidental unless DM made it that way. Wow, I’m really reaching here.

After Presto sets off on his quest there is another oddly out of place editing wipe, this time a more traditional straight line across the screen wipe. I wonder if these are in past episodes and I didn’t notice them before? I mean I guess it’s not that weird, I mean look at Transformers for crying out loud, how crazy and obvious of a wipe is a giant Autobot symbol flipping to reveal a Decepticon symbol as the episode shifts focus to the enemy? I think I’ve just noticed them a lot more in the D&D cartoon because I’ve been trying to subconsciously pick out all of the Star Wars references (of which wipes are a possibility.)

The sequence where the gang finds themselves transported into a glass cage in the giants castle reminds me a lot of a similar sequence in the movie Time Bandits, where that group ends up on a giant’s ship (which is actually strapped to an even bigger giant’s head), and pretty soon afterward they also come across a ‘force field’ that is actually made of glass. It’s too bad Venger wasn’t in this episode, because then it would almost seem as if Time Bandits might have been a more direct influence, though it’s not out of the realm of possibilities…

Both in the glass age, and then after they get outside of it, the kids run into a very familiar creature (the prison guard beast from the Servant of Evil episode), who in this episode is identified as a slime beast named Willy. The giant decides to have some fun by watching his ‘pet’ chase after the gang, so he sets them all loose and waits for the slaughter.

The giant by the way (who might be voiced by Peter Cullen, but I’m not sure) has a very odd, almost New York-esque accent, which comes off very funny. The performance reminds me a lot of how Junior Gorg was played on Fraggle Rock, a very common theme in cartoon/muppet giants, very manic, almost friendly, but in the end sort of a bumbling evil.

In the scene where the gang is scrambling to get away from Willy, there’s a bit with Eric getting stuck under the door where his neck has a very weird animation line drawn in that closes off the two sides and makes him look very awkward…

On a completely unrelated note, I really like it in cartoons when the main characters are either very small or are shrunk to a tiny level because by default the backgrounds become a lot more detailed. In order to make the door look as big as it is for instance, the artists have added a lot of wood grain detail, and since it’s part of the background it’s got a nicer, more textured look to it. Same goes for the rock on the wall, you get to see all the little divots and cracks and stuff. It’s an effect I’ve noticed in a lot of Don Bluth’s work, in particular The Secret of Nimh and An American Tail (because the main characters are mice and rats in a human sized world.)

So another thing that I’ve begun to wonder about is the design work on all of the background characters that pop up in towns and such throughout the series. In this episode, when Presto stumbles upon a town trying to find three people that’ll help him find his friends, he runs into a weird, yet cute sasquatch looking guy, as well as some odd Star Wars cantina-like characters sitting around a pub. What I’m wondering is if the storyboard artists are contributing these designs or if the overseas animators are. A lot of these characters end up being really weird, and very un-fantasy (there goes my weird misconceptions again), take for instance the heavy set looking gentleman sitting closest to the foreground in the second picture below. He looks like a cross between ALF, Batman, and Norm from Cheers. Who comes up with these guys?

Eventually Presto finds the man/men he’s looking for (though he doesn’t realize it) in the form of a big three-headed, three-card Monte playing bruiser who really wants Uni in trade for some magic marbles (read magic beans.) In a silly twist Presto refuses to trade Uni for the marbles, and instead is forced to play a round of three-card Monte with roughly the same stakes of the trade.

This gag has been done so many times in movies, sitcoms and cartoons, that it has almost become the TV equivalent of the Aristocrats joke (made more public by the film of the same name.) How many different ways can the mark get screwed by entering into a game of three-card Monte? I don’t know, but add one more…

This is when the episode really kicks into Jack and the Beanstalk mode as Presto storms off after losing (and losing Uni to the Monte triplets no less.) All he has to show for his trouble is those three stupid magic marbles, so like any good Jack clone would, he chucks them in the dirt…

Of course a gigantomungus tree immediately starts to grow, which not only knocks off Presto’s hat in a moment of shock and awe, but also reveals the realm’s worst case of hat hair ever. It’s actually kind of funny how the animators drew his head sans hat. I wonder if this is one of those instances where the story boards weren’t explicit enough and the animators took a quick drawing too literally?

This is where the episode gets a little wiggy, if only because it would be hard to stick to the traditional telling of the beanstalk story considering Jack doesn’t get his cow (Uni) back. There’s a quick scene as Uni escapes the triplets, runs to Presto and both of them quickly run into a newly open door in the tree (which abruptly traps them inside.) Inside the trunk of the tree is a huge set of spiraling stairs that the duo decides to climb, urged on by a growl and a freakish face at the foot of the stairs…

What’s weird is that there is a creature in the tree (what will soon be revealed as a very large and angry dragon) so it’s kind of weird that Scott (or the storyboard artists) decided to add an odd layer of evil face-age to the tree’s interior. Honestly, I think the growling noise would have been sufficient.

While patiently waiting for my first dragon to pop up, I again was tricked into thinking I was going to have to settle for some dragon iconography in the form of a weird Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: Dragon Edition play set (that the giant forces Eric and Sheila to play on)…

…but again, I am rewarded with an actual dragon. A cute baby golden dragon to boot. There’s an interesting moment in the sequence (when Presto goes out on a limb, Looney Tunes style, to save the baby dragon), where Uni ends up taking Presto’s hat and manages to cast a much better, more accurate spell, even in muffled whiney Uni speak…

I think so far everyone who has used the hat besides Presto has done a better job, even the Lizard Men. What’s weird is that I believe this is a turning point for Presto and his hat. Later when he attempts a spell again he has much more confidence, and honestly the only thing I can trace it back to is him witnessing a baby unicorn out magician the group magician. I think this is a really odd way of trying to get Presto to believe in himself. In fact, logically I think it should have the opposite effect…

Anyway, after the baby dragon, we also get the mother, a nice large golden one. Not only that, but for once it’s a good dragon, though we really don’t find that out until the last few seconds of the show for what it’s worth. Honestly it was a nice curve ball in a realm filled with non-stop evil, cryptic mentors and a bunch of slave dwarves…

So a little bit later, after the group has been ‘saved’, and we’re to the part in the Beanstalk story where the gang has reached the ground and the giant is about to come down after them we get a really weird twist. Presto, now much more sure of himself and his abilities whips out one heck of a lumberjack spell, and zaps the living heck out of the tree…

…and oddly enough the giant as well.

The spell that Presto used was meant to shrink the giant, but from what I can gather it killed him, zapped him right out of existence, becoming nothing more than thin plume of smoke rising from what will seconds later become the new nest to a Golden dragon and her two pups.

I’m a little confused by the standards and practices department on the show now. Honestly, it’s not like the scene bothered me, it’s more of a weird double standard that seems to deem it okay to use magic from a hat to kill a lumbering giant, yet Hank (for the most part) can’t fire his bow at people in a threatening manner. Bobby can’t thump an orc over the head. Eric can’t…well, Eric is on defense, but you get the point. Even in the Garden of Zinn episode, the two shadow Stalkers are turned to lifeless rock by a secondary guest character, but Presto’s actions are a whole different ball game. I find it kind of odd.

On that note, I’m gonna officially take a break from D&D for a bit, but next time on Cartoon Commentary! I’m going to try and turn my microscope on a show that I’m pretty sure I caught every episode of when it originally aired, Galaxy High. To tide you over until then, here’s the theme song by Don Felder

Cartoon Commentary! #13, D&D in space, or more likely the other way around…

It’s funny how life gets in the way of website content updates. I was supposed (I say supposed, but that’s so self-imposed) to have this posted last week (as well as the 13th commentary on the D&D cartoon), but it had to wait until today. Hopefully I’ll have the next on up later, probably on Wednesday, and then it’s on to another show for awhile; something much, much different, say a comedy set in space for instance. Today though we’re going to keep trudging along with the dragons, fantasy, and underwear jokes. Wait, I think we are blissfully devoid of underwear in this episode…

The title of today’s show is The Lost Children, which originally aired on December 3rd, 1983, and was yet again written by Jeffrey Scott who took a stab at really pushing the envelope as far as some of the story elements go. I would have to call this the de facto Star Wars reference episode as we get everything from almost direct quotes, creature name dropping, similar plot points, and above all else a mixture of fantasy and science fiction.

The basic gist of this episode involves the gang, on instructions from a very oddly animated Dungeon Master (he appears very mischievous, almost evil at times), going on a quest to find a ship that can take them home. The key to finding the ship lies with a group of lost children, aliens from another world, who are also on a quest (to find their elder Alfor, who is being held prisoner by Venger.) Together they set out to free Alfor and, who they hope can use his spaceship to get everyone home.

Like I mentioned above, some of the sequences with DM at the beginning are weirdly animated, so much so that he also appears to be sort of villainous…

After the gang sets out to look for the lost children, they very quickly get their wish, though it takes them completely by surprise as the ‘children’ are a strange alien race that appears to be some sort of amalgamation between Willey Kit and Willey Kat from the Thundercats, and the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. At first I figured the kids were painted up in some sort of tribal war paint, but I believe that this might actually be their real skin…

So one of the interesting aspects of this episode is the mass amount of more modern technology that shows up, the first bit of which is a blowtorch used by a mystery prisoner of Venger. What struck me as kind of odd is the design of the device, which was very fantasy influenced (the tip of the torch is shaped like a dragon.) I’m wondering how much this was thought out in the script? We later learn that the mystery prisoner is Alfor, the elder of the lost children, so he’s obviously from another more technologically advanced planet and could very well have brought the device with him on his spaceship. Yet since it looks so fantasy oriented in it’s design, I’m wondering if it’s something Venger conjured up to assist his prisoner in fixing his ship. This question pops up again later as well…

Along with all of the weird technology in this episode, we also get a look at Castle de la Venger (mark IV.) His castle was shown again in the last episode, though I didn’t mention it because it was again one of the hanging stalactite abodes from before. Why he keeps castle hopping is beyond me, unless he really does like to spread himself out among the realm, maybe to keep all the indigenous people in line.

Another thing I noticed is that either Scott, the storyboard artists, or the animators decided to do the whole "see the footsteps of the invisible Sheila as she walks" gag when she decides to sneak into the castle by herself to free Alfor. I didn’t realize that they did this again in the series…

So getting back to the oddly advanced technology, Sheila stumbles upon a trap along one of the halls of Venger’s castle, a hanging cage that will fall down on top of you if you step through a laser tripwire. I mean, this is straight out of Mission Impossible or something (well maybe not the cage part), and it’s very out of place in the world of Dungeons and Dragons. Like the blowtorch, it begs the question of where it came from. Are these enhancements that Alfor has been forced to make on the castle, or is this simply the work of Venger? Personally I’d like to believe that Venger made Alfor install this stuff as it would really enrich the story and not come off as convenient writing.

Speaking of convenient scripting, when Sheila makes her way down to the dungeon to try and free Alfor (she has no idea what he looks like) she instead finds a guy who just happens to be Venger in disguise. How in the heck did he know to hide in the dungeon like that, or that she’d even come to the particular cell? It makes for a dynamic reveal (as most of Venger’s transformations do), but it really doesn’t make all that much sense…

Again, like in episode #8 (Servant of Evil), I though the obligatory dragon of the episode was going to have to be something that really stretched the concept of dragons in every episode, like the tip of the torch (or the prison gate locking mechanism in SoE), but again I wasn’t let down as a little while later we get a true dragon appearance. This one is pretty cool as it’s possibly another reference to the Lord of the Rings series (something we get surprising very little of in D&D) in the form of the steeds of some very Ring Wraith looking fellas.

Seriously, besides their one glowing yellow eye, they are very Ring Wraith-ish and very awesome looking minions of Venger. I don’t think we ever see them again in the series, which is sort of a shame as I’m insanely curious about their origins and I’d love to see a little more characteristics as they end up being dispatched in a very odd way (well actually in a very unseen way.)

Right about the time that the episode cuts for a commercial, the plot all of a sudden gets all wiggy. The Ring Wraith-like riders end up besting most of the kids, and it’s left up to Presto to literally pull something out of hit hat to save them all. Well, nothing comes out of his hat and then the episode fades to black to go to a commercial. This is very common in the series thus far, usually fading to black on a villain as they trudge towards the kids, and then as it fades back in it sort of backs up a couple seconds to pick up where the episode left off. In this episode though, the timeline jumps forward about ten minutes with the gang having defeated the riders, and are now posing as them (in the rider’s garb) to sort of Trojan Horse their way into Venger’s castle with Bobby and the Lost Children as prisoners. It’s a very Star Wars thing to do by the way, though it’s also a trick as old as time itself. There is pretty much no explanation as to what went down, only an off hand comment by Presto that he couldn’t believe that his hat saved everyone (or something to that effect.) Though it bugs me that there is a gaping plot hole like this, it’s also sort of a fun allusion to the way such cliffhangers were handled during the serialized movie shorts of the 30s and 40s. In a lot of those serials the hero would be in a very dire position as the episode ended, and then when it picked up next week the situation was re-written to be a little more in favor of the hero so that he could escape, triumph, etc. Probably not intentional in the D&D cartoon’s case, but I still found it a little neat.

Apparently, I opened my big mouth too soon as far as stating that the phase of having zombies pop up in the cartoon was over. There are just no more purple-ish zombies with white hair. In the next sequence as the gang smuggles themselves into the castle Presto mistakenly opens the wrong cell and a zombie-like creature jumps out and plays pro wrestler with him for a bit. There’s also a bit of anime-esque animation to the scene, what with the odd art on Presto’s teeth as he’s being lifted for the beat down.

The kids find the correct cell and release Alfor, who at first bore a striking resemblance to Ookla the Mok from the Thundarr the Barbarian cartoon…

…but upon closer inspection looks more like the lost older (more hairy) brother of Lion-O from the Thundercats. Eric also drops another Star Wars reference here, referring to Alfor as a wookie.

Alfor leads the kids to his ship, which turns out to be a spaceship with a design that reminds me of a cross between the H.G. Wells time machine and the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea sub from the Kirk Douglas Disney movie. It’s pretty snazzy in a 50s sci-fi sort of way, though very unrealistic as it has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese. I have to admit that I really like the whole romantic notion of space craft that have open canopies (or ones that lift up so that the crew can just jump out), it’s very much in line with the 60s Hanna Barbera adventure cartoon, or comic books from the same time.

There’s yet another Star Wars reference as Alfor explains to Eric that he needs to fix a bad motivator on his ship ("Hey Uncle, this one’s got a bad motivator…"). I’m not a technically inclined type of guy, but I’m pretty sure that this is just some weird techno babble from Star Wars.

Apparently it’s completely kosher to feature violence against the lizard men in the D&D cartoon (as far as standards and practices go) as this is the second episode to feature a direct energy bow bolt hit from Hank (there was one in the Servant of Evil episode as well.)

I wonder if this is sort of a double standard because there are obviously no real lizard men, they’re more like monsters and therefore it’s cool to have violence directed at them. It’s sort of like the robots on Samurai Jack, or how all of the blood and guts where allowed to be every color except red in Evil Dead 2 to avoid an X rating. I noticed a similar scene in the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’s Stardust, where a character had his throat slit yet the blood was blue…

One of the rumors that has followed the cancellation of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon around to this day is that it went off the air because of the supposed ‘demonic’ content or the evil connotations that the tabletop game has been accused of having. A scene that a lot of people point involves Alfor’s ship as they gang and the kids pile in to escape from Venger’s castle. There’s a set of engravings on the ship which could be mistaken for three sixes, the sign of the devil, but I think that this is really reaching…

As the ship takes off, there is an odd reference to a port hole in the room (one which Venger brings to life with two sets of chomping teeth) as a garbage masher, which again seems to be a reference to Star Wars if only because a ‘wookie’ is flying them out on a spaceship with a bad motivator, blah, blah, blah. Add to this the escape (in the garb of the enemy) from the dungeon (read detention level) and it makes one wonder is Scott was watching Star Wars as he wrote the script…

To top all of this off, Venger ends up blasting the ship out of the sky, which appears to crash in a huge ball of flames…

When in fact the ship just sort of crashes nose first into a nearby swamp (an Empire reference perhaps) and every one is fine and dandy. Well, fine and dandy health-wise. I’m sure they’re all depressed and pissed that their ticket home is lying damaged in the swamp…

All in all, I thought that this was a really odd direction to take the show in, especially in it’s first season, as the writers hadn’t really yet explored the full potential of the fantasy themes and environments. Nonetheless it’s an interesting addition to the cannon and continuity.

Next time on Cartoon Commentary we’ll look at the episode P-R-E-S-T-O Spells Disaster.

Cartoon Commentary! #12, So many editorial wipes…

This week I’m going to tackle the last three episodes of the 1st season of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon before moving on to a new show for a little bit. Today’s episode is titled The Box (a word that the movie Se7en has totally ruined for me as I find myself uncontrollably falling into the character that Brad Pitt plays, endlessly whining the phrase, "What’s in the box?"), which originally aired on November 26th, 1983 and was again written by Jeffrey Scott. It’s funny, though a couple other writers on the series ended up writing scenes where the kids almost get home, the two such scenes that Scott wrote both have the kids making it all the way back to their world, which I find both frustrating and amazingly interesting. In fact even though the series eventually ended with an episode that didn’t even address the plight of getting home, I’m glad the two which Scott wrote that tackled the subject weren’t at the end of the series because that would really have bugged me.

This episode follows the children on a quest to free a friend of Dungeon Master, Zandora, after they stumble upon a mystical box that belongs to her. After they free Zandora, she shows them the way home, though Venger is hot on their heels. Now back on earth, the gang has to make a hard choice about what they should do now that Venger is set to take over their home world as well as the D&D realm.

This episode opens with a very odd bit of background fun as Eric is washing his clothes after being sprayed by a creature with skunk like glands. It’s interesting to see his outfit separated out on the clothesline as you very rarely see cartoon characters out of ‘costume’ unless they have an alter ego or something. I mean when was the last time you saw the Sorceress in anything besides her multi-colored bird outfit? Of course, this is also another chance to see a D&D character in their underwear, which I swear is way too often for a cartoon that only lasted 27 episodes. There’s also a bit of a slight time warp in this scene as one second Eric is half naked and in a pond…

…and then he’s fully dressed and (I guess) aired out as no one brings up his stink again. The bit with the earthquake is kind of convenient, as the chasm that opens up just happens to be where a very mystical box is buried. Once again, I know it’s a cartoon and all, but this type of writing really hurts my head, and honestly it’s not relegated to the world of kid’s shows either. This sort of scripting is what ruined Spiderman 3 for me, as at practically every turn an amazingly coincidental event would occur, to a point where the plot became ludicrous. Anyway, that’s a bit off topic.

The box that is unearthed is called Zandora’s box, which is a play on Pandora’s box

Something odd that caught my eye in this episode are a couple of editing wipes that I hadn’t noticed in others. The first one is an iris wipe (an expanding circle which opens into a new scene) that happens as Eric stand dumfounded after Dungeon Master’s trademarked abrupt disappearance. Immediately after I saw this I couldn’t help but think of the original Star Wars flicks, as George Lucas is a notorious wipe enthusiast. Now that I’m thinking about it, placing a wipe like this in a cartoon is pretty counter-intuitive as wipes (I believe) are generally so stylistic as to draw the audience out of what they’re watching a little on purpose, sort of a nudge-nudge, wink-wink to reaffirm that what you’re watching is fiction. In an action cartoon, I’d think that the creators would want you immersed in the world as much as possible, trying to avoid anything that would break a suspension of disbelief.

After the gang sets off on their quest to free Zandora from her box, there’s a fun bit of character development as Eric is fed up with blindly following orders, and he sort of plants his foot, strikes a very heroic pose, and attempts to make his first coup…

As soon as some bullywogs show up though, he’s back to his cowardly self. It was funb to see a moment like this, which reminded me a lot of both Starscream from Transformers, and possibly Destro from G.I. Joe. When the bullywogs show they also bring either a commander or the king of the bullywogs with them as one is obviously in higher-ranking garb.

There’s also a nice moment with Venger in his castle dungeon, where he’s just frozen one of his minions in a block of ice, which is apparently THE villain thing to do in the realm. If I had a dime for every time someone is frozen solid into a block of ice in this series I’d have like $0.40 right now. Anyway, it’s kind of fun to see Venger venting over the disloyalty of a background character just sort of thrown in, instead of him writhing his hands in villainous glee over the next trap he’s laid out for the gang. He’s actually interrupted by Shadow Demon, and then is sort of reminded that he needs to get those kids. Refreshing to say the least.

Another nice bit of subtlety in this episode involves a map that Dungeon Master gave to the gang in order to find their way to the shadow of Skull Mountain (where they are supposed to open the box in order to free Zandora.) The group follows the map to what they think is Skull Mountain (which looks nothing like it did on the map), though it ends up being a trap set by Shadow Demon and Venger. What I find interesting is that later, after the gang finds the real Skull Mountain, it ends up looking exactly like is does on the map. This level of detail is awesome, and is a great example of what is missing from a lot of similar shows.

There’s a weird bit as the kids approach the fake mountain and are pushing the box into its shadow. As the kids get near the shadow, it’s moving very fast as if the planet were spinning much faster than normal, but as soon as the box is within the shadow, it stops. Just an odd bit of physics, which could have been animated in a reverse fashion with the kids moving and the shadow standing still (instead of both moving.)

The location design has been getting pretty weird in the last couple of episodes, branching out into almost Escher-like landscapes…

As the gang descends into box (into a trap) they end up falling through the checkerboard floor of the dimension they entered, which again illustrates and interesting bit of animation. As the gang falls, the animators (and possibly Jeffrey Scott or the production staff) made sure they all of the characters have their legs in position to cover they crotches. Now I may just be reading into this, but I think it could very well be to avoid any further panty shots. I’ll have to see if this continues along with the rest of the episodes. Also in this scene we get a chance to see Hank tolling up his energy bow once again, this time as a sort of grappling hook and rope. I honestly don’t think I would have been able to write such weird uses for a bow and arrow into the show had I been writing for the series. I think by this point I would have opted to have the bow replaced by something more utilitarian or something, but that’s just me…

As the kids find their footing in the weird environment, a giant wasp, yet another mainstay of the tabletop D&D game, very soon attacks them. I thought it was kind of weird that the wasp’s stinger appeared so tentacle-like or soft. I guess the producers wanted to shy away from implying the characters might be run through by a giant stinger at any moment.

After the kids make it out of the box to safety, there’s another fun editing wipe. This time the scene changes from Venger’s (who is angry) point of view to the kids, so there’s a variation on the iris wipe in the form of a burning hole through a map wipe. This time I didn’t care that it took me out of the show a bit as it was such a flamboyant editing decision, which instead of reminding of George Lucas, made me think of old westerns of all things (I’m sure there is a TV show or a commercial or something when there is like a hot branding iron which sets ablaze some piece of paper causing a wipe; actually I might be thinking of the opening to Bravestarr…)

Finally in the revel of how subtly detailed this episode can be, the kids make their way to the real Skull Mountain. Even for this though, the rest of the map doesn’t resemble the area at all (which is now subtly ironic.)

After the kids free Zandora from the box (who by the way looks suspiciously like Dungeon Master, which reinforced my conspiracy theory I’d been working on that all of these quests were just ways that Dungeon Master found to screw with the kids), she promptly shows them the way they can use the box to get back to their home world. This brings up a sad moment where Bobby once again has to face leaving Uni behind, though this time he seems to get over it a lot faster. Heck, maybe Uni was even getting on his nerves by this point…

I really liked the sequence where the kids get back home, as it echoes the opening credit sequence, reintroducing the roller coaster car and the wiggy portal. If and when kids did get home, I would hope that it resembled this moment.

In a very strange twist on the gang getting back home, Venger confronts Zandora, easily bests her, and then flies his nightmare steed right into the box, chasing after the gang (in a strange visual that Tim Burton would similarly use as his headless horsemen enters his weird bloody tree home.) This brings up a little bit of hypocrisy, which we’ll get to in a minute…

As the kids pull to a stop on the coaster, which has brought them back home, there is a slight change in the art style, almost as if another animation studio took over for a bit. The kids look a lot more cartoony and with a lot less detail, not to mention the opening of the D&D ride which looks drastically different than it does in the opening credits (not only that but the little trademark symbol that is on the ride marquee in the opening sequence is left off in this sequence…)

Anyway, back to the hypocrisy. So Venger has enter the gang’s world and he apparently is just as powerful, not suffering at all from leaving the realm (as we’re told in past episodes that this is the case, which is why Uni can’t cross over.) What’s weird though is that the kids are stripped of their powers, which in the end just comes off as a little bit unfair of Scott. In an episode with a good bit of subtlety and nice character moments, it kind of sucks that we also have to deal with such inevitable conventions like these. In fact, it’s these dichotomies that I think lead to wanting more out of cartoons, or any similar media like comic books. Kids grow up, become more aware of what’s possible and then they want to instill this in the media that they love. This is one reason why, I believe, that cartoons and comics have become more and more adult with each passing generation. Kids that don’t want to grow up, bring their arrested development issues into their work. Just a thought…

The kids, of course, forgo their homecoming to lead Venger back to their home world (as they’re afraid if they don’t, Venger will take over Earth). I found this a little weird as the ride ends up talking them right back to the realm (under who’s command?; the ride is closed after hours), and not only that but right back to where they escaped the realm (which is on a rock bridge in a valley.) Again, of course, as soon as both the gang and Venger is out of the box and it’s moved to safety, the rock bridge has to collapse, effectively stranding the kids back in the realm (as that was the only place the box could get the kids home from.)

Zandora does trick Venger back into the box though (by hiding the kids weapons in it and then moving the box), trapping him in another dimension. Another dimension that that just so happens to also contain Tiamat (who apparently dimension hops in her spare not-fighting-Venger time), an ending that was crying out for that silly want-waaaaa music queue…

At the very end of the episode we get another brief appearance by Dungeon Master who is reunited with his long lost friend (who looks so much like him.) I guess seeing them both on screen crushes my conspiracy theory, but it does bring up the idea of a race of small Yoda-like wizards wandering around the realm.

Next time we’ll take a look at the Episode titled The Lost Children in which we’ll get so many Star Wars references you’d think we were watching a really weird episode of Droids or something…

Cartoon Commentary! #11, The unintentional transformation episode…

I’ve been thinking a little more about the format of this column again, and I think I might take a break from Dungeons and Dragons after episode 13, which is the end of it’s first season as well as both the half-way point in the series and the point at which the writing shifts a little as Michael Reaves comes aboard to take over the heavy lifting for Jeffrey Scott (at least in terms of episode count.) I’m afraid that if I stick with just this show for another month and a half straight my commentary is going to get a little stale. So, I’m going to get through (at least) episode 10 this week, and then next week we’ll hit the last 3 shows before switching gears and talking a look at another show (I’m not sure which one that will be yet, but I’m thinking something else will a low episode count.) Anyway, on to today’s installment of Cartoon Commentary!…

Episode ten, titles The Garden of Zinn, originally aired on November 19th, 1983 and was again written by Jeffrey Scott. The writing in this episode is probably some of Scott’s weakest, relying heavily on clichés (in particular some very over done sitcom clichés), as well as a nauseatingly repetitive theme of secrets and transformation, which almost becomes absurd by the time the 22 minutes are up.

The episode opens with a small twist of convention, this time with a creature of the realm running from the gang instead of vice versa. It’s actually kind of interesting as the fracas involves the gang scrounging for food, a concept that is lost on most cartoons, and particularly in role playing games. I remember a few times when various game masters I’ve played with made things like eating, going to the bathroom and sleeping pretty big issues as they wanted to instill a sense of realism in the gaming environment, much in the vein of the various Sims games. I’m sure there are plenty of people on both sides of the fence on the concept of showing characters doing day to day things, but I’ve always been a fan of it, if only because it makes it all that much easier to suspend my disbelief of the world I’m being shown.

Of course, this scene also features the quickest appearance of our obligatory dragon, as the creature being chased appears to be a baby dragon (who acts strangely like a chicken.) The scene is also another example of madcap/Looney Tunes style humor, what with all of the fudging the bucket, head smacking, cloud-of-dust-raising hilarity that ensues. This is a style that comes and goes during the series, and to me it’s always out of place as the concept begs for a more serious tone. Sure it’s a cartoon aimed at kids, but that doesn’t mean the writers have to succumb to outright physical comedy, and again, this is just my opinion.

The sequence takes a turn for the more dramatic…well, it will, after a crazy sitcom convention, you know the one, where someone fishing has got a really big nibble and try as they might they can’t reel it in? Yup, that one. Well, the rest of the gang comes to the aid of Diana who is fishing, and together they manage to pull a huge Nessie-like creature out of the water. According to the DVD notes this is a dragon turtle, which because of the wording, gets a pass on the obligatory dragon thing.

In the scuffle with the creature, Bobby steps up to attack only to have his forearm scratched on one of the turtle’s fangs. This is the turn to the serious as the bite is more deadly than it at first seems…

Before we get to the ramifications of the turtle bite, I’d like to point out another crazy issue with one of the gang’s magical items, though for once it’s not Hank’s bow, but rather Diana’s staff. Her staff is already a little weird as it sort of has telescoping powers, as well as the ability to come to her hand (as seen in the first episode when she’s tricking Tiamat into a dungeon) much in the fashion of a Jedi willing their light sabers to their hand. Well, at one point the turtle grabs her up and is about to eat her whole like a Twinkie when she jams her staff in it’s mouth (ala Luke in the rancor pit in Jaba’s palace.) Just like the rancor, the dragon turtle chomps down on her staff, snapping it like a twig. After the monster is dispatched though, Diana, very off the cuff grabs the two broken pieces of her staff and just sort of puts them together, all good as new. You know, I would really have loved to have been in on the training sessions these kids must have gone through with Dungeon Master…

As Bobby falls ill from the turtle bite and the gang is lost with no ideas on how to help him, Dungeon Master makes his first appearance and surprisingly doesn’t really help the kids. Apparently his magic has no effect on natural occurrences, which seems like poppycock to me (effectively an excuse to have the kids go on a quest to help Bobby instead of DM just curing him.) It’s scenes like this that really make the character hard to peg in terms of his disposition and power. Is he strong enough to do things like cure Bobby and send the kids home? Is he just toying with the kids in an odd attempt to teach, or is he really so polar in what he’s capable of doing? I’m not sure and the writers never really give any concrete answers, again, a convention of writing for children’s television, but not one that I enjoy.

It’s as this point in the episode where the writing takes a distinct step towards becoming more of a fairy tale as the gang is pointed towards the Garden of Zinn in search of a yellow dragon (whose foot holds the curative powers that Bobby desperately needs.) The garden turns out to be the equivalent of your basic Disney magical kingdom

…complete with an evil queen bent of ruling the land.

The best part of this sequence is when the Shadow Stalker is introduced (there are actually two, but we don’t meet up with the second until the next sitcom cliché.) I really like the design and voice acting on the Stalker, the latter of which was done by Frank Welker  (who voices Uni) in a precursor to his voice work for Dr. Claw (from the Inspector Gadget cartoon.) I could so see the Stalker becoming the Boba Fett of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon (you know, how like in Empire and Jedi, even though he has a pretty small part, he’s considered one of the coolest characters; see also Wedge Antilles)

The gang, stumbling on their way to find the Garden of Zinn, run into a very unassuming character named Solars, who bears a passing resemblance to an aged aardvark. He has them bring Bobby to his little hut where he’ll try and help the gang. Now almost all of the Disney fairy tale conventions are set into place (the last of which we’ll get to in a bit after some more sitcom conventions.)

The gang splits up leaving Sheila, Bobby and Uni with Solars, while the rest go on to find the Garden of Zinn and a definite cure for the turtle bite. Along the way their road forks, and while questioning the path to take Dungeon Master shows up. Or does he? Hank and Eric are suspicious, so they try and test him, which pisses him off. All of a sudden another Dungeon Master appears (will the real DM please stand up), bringing us into one of the oldest gags in the business, "which one is the real one". Seriously though, I think this has been in every single sitcom and cartoon since the beginning of time, and at this point it’s almost a cliché of a cliché.

The two fight it out and it’s only then that gang realizes who the real DM is, as one of the two merely defended himself instead of attacking. This introduces the first of a million transformations in this episode, as the false DM is revealed to be none other than the Shadow Stalker.

Of course, just as the kids are off on their way again with the new advice from the real Dungeon Master, we’re introduced to another bit of trickery as DM turns out to be a second Stalker. You know, if Hank was so wise to spot the first false DM (by noticing that he wasn’t speaking in riddles), I’m surprised that he didn’t notice the second, as he doesn’t mysteriously disappear after doling out the riddles like he always does. Oh well. This Stalker also has a transformation sequence, though it’s utterly pointless, unless you consider hitting the audience over the head with the fact that he’s evil beyond his Jack Nicholson-like sneer after the kids leave is purposeful.

Once again the gang come to an impasse, and for whatever reason we’re sort of forced to relive the last sequence as both stalkers take turns showing up as DM again. There’s more transformations (we’re up to four now) and deceit, though luckily it ends in a rather neat bit with the gang getting pulled underground by a bunch of crazy vines.

In the sequence that takes place underground we’re introduced to a staple of the D&D gaming universe, a giant Purple Worm (I’m pretty sure it’s a purple worm as it meets the description almost to a T.) Once again Diana gets a chance to show off her prowess (she did land a dragon turtle while fishing after all) by literally (though not very forcefully) beating the worm into submission with her staff, basically horse-whispering it to a point where the kids end up riding it up out of the cavern, back into the topside world.

Getting back to the fairy tale aspects of this episode, after the kids successfully face off against the worm, Queen Zinn decides that Eric is the perfect choice to be her king, a idea that sounds great to him after she basically plops down a ransom and buys his love. I can sort of see why Mark Evanier detests the character and possibly regrets having to leave him in; he really is played off as the fall guy for hammering home morality to the kids, but not necessarily in the best way. I mean, it’s always him versus the group, and that dynamic gets old after awhile, as if the rest of the kids are fallible or something.

Another this that this screen grab illustrates is the art style in this episode.  All of the characters look a lot more realistic and I think it’s a bunch of small details like the lines drawn under Eric’s nose, little things like that. 

Anyway, the Queen then takes the kids to the ‘yellow dragon’, which just happens to be a plant and not a giant fire breathing lizard. Not only that, but in a weird coincidence, the yellow dragon just happens to share almost the exact same color scheme as Eric, the Queen’s new husband to be. Just thought that was weird.

Back over with Sheila, Bobby, Uni and Solars, there is another slight animation error, a paint mistake that has Bobby’s hair color matching Sheila’s. This was sort of a fun error though as they are brother and sister and it would make more sense that they both have red hair, especially since it’s rather rare and genetic.

So in the true wacky (though I have to admit that it’s actually played off sort of subtly in this cartoon) cliché spirit, Eric is getting married to Queen Zinn by a very stuffy priest, yet the rest of the story is pointing to the fact that this union is going to be disastrous so the rest of the characters have to race against time to break it up. Pretty much you get everything except for the Queen hurrying along the priest. There are also some interesting backgrounds in this scene with a whole bunch of miscellaneous characters attending the funeral including a tiny green blob with huge eyes (which might just be a turtle), some dwarves and gnomes, and even an orc or two. Sheesh, you think the orcs would have tipped of Eric to the situation…

What I find the most interesting about this episode though is that we get to witness two characters dying (at least I’m assuming they’re dead, what with the charred out husks of their bodies looking the way they did and all), which is the first time in the series that this happens (not including the golems as they aren’t really alive.) Hell, maybe the Shadow Stalkers aren’t alive, but either way it’s a pretty disturbing scene, and it’s pretty interesting that it made it into the show considering how much the writers and producers seemed to care about such content.

So even though the Shadow Stalkers wouldn’t be transforming into Dungeon Master anytime soon, that didn’t stop Scott from writing in a ton more transformation sequences. The next involves Solars and Sheila, who after saving the kids from the Stalkers and helping her and Bobby, Sheila gives him a big teary hug. Well, in perfect Disney fashion, the grateful tears of Sheila just happen to be the one thing that can transform Solars back into the King that he truly is (we get a very obvious hint about this earlier in the episode when Sheila finds his cloak, crown and scepter.)

Of course, this transformation sets into action another, and of course it’s Queen Zinn’s spell firing back upon her. So we’re up to six now.

When Eric realizes that his bride to be is no longer the Leia-golden-bikini-wearing looker that he thought she was, he high-tails it out of there, complete with an insane double take sound effect (you know, the one that sounds like insane stammering, something like, "eyeyaeyeyaeyeyaeye".)

Of course, this wouldn’t be a complete transformation episode without Eric changing his shape as well, I mean hell why not at this point right?…

He gets his unintentional wish to be transformed into a blue-faced baboon while grabbing Dungeon Master (who had finally popped up for real.) Then the whole episode ends in laughter, and yet I was just sort of sitting there thinking, "Hmmmm, that sure was a wacky episode. I think I’ll go shape-shift into someone who enjoyed this episode…"

Anyway, next time on Cartoon Commentary! we’ll take a look at the episode, The Box, and ask ourselves, "What is in said box?" 

Cartoon Commentary! #10, Something Skeletal This Way Comes…

I ended up doing a bit of unintentional research on Dungeons and Dragons this weekend as I visited with a friend who is currently trying to perfect a competition chili recipe. While he was tinkering in the kitchen he let me look through some of the older (1983) D&D game books, in particular the Monster Manuel, and I started taking some notes on creatures that I remembered popping up in the cartoon series.  So sometime soon I’m going to have to put together an addendum post talking about these creatures, in particular the Griffon/Sphinx/Manticore from a few episodes ago, which has finally been identified.

This week’s commentary covers episode #9 of the D&D cartoon, titled Quest of the Skeleton Warrior. It originally aired on November 12th, 1983, and was written by veteran comic book and animation writer Buzz Dixon who has worked on everything from Thundarr the Barbarian and G.I. Joe to My Little Pony and Jem. I believe he began his career at Filmation, and then ended up working with Steve Gerber (who remember, wrote episode #7 of the D&D cartoon) and Jack Kirby on Gerber’s Destroyer Duck, before going on to write or story edit for a lot of the more popular cartoons of the 80s. Currently Dixon is spearheading a Christian manga comics company called Realbuzz Studios with partner Marlon Schulman. Quest is the only episode Dixon wrote for the D&D cartoon, but it’s an arguable fan favorite as Buzz ended up pushing the comfort boundaries a little by introducing more magic, as well as a frightful character, Dekion, who takes the form of a skeleton warrior.

This episode, like the last one, opens not on the children, but instead on a meeting between Dekion and Venger atop a mountain overlooking what we will soon find out is the Lost Tower of the Celestial Knights. Dekion informs Venger that he’s located the Circle of Power (the first of many possible Lord of the Rings references in this episode), which will (like the children’s weapons) no doubt give Venger the edge he needs to finally have complete control over the realm. The mysterious skeleton warrior cannot enter the tower though, so Venger sets him on a quest to meet up with the gang, tricking them into fetching the Circle for him.

We meet up with the gang crossing a perilous chasm on a rickety rope bridge in a scene where the animation appears to be very ‘off model’. In particular, Uni is drawn with huge flaring nostrils and an oddly almost forked tongue. Bobby also has a very anime influenced appearance with huge eyes and a very unrealistic oval for a mouth. The animation is also very different for Dungeon Master, who appears to actually look like Yoda, even more so than usual. In addition to being off model, the art is also very loose and almost sloppy at times.

On the flip side, as the children run into Dekion for the first time there is a very effective sequence which, when slowed down reveals the anatomy of a cartoon lightning strike in a very drastic way…

In particular I love that third cel, the one that looks like a piece of Frank Miller artwork. This is the cel that makes the whole lightning strike dramatic and amazingly effective. Man, I love being able to freeze these cartoon and look at them cel by cel, it’s really one of the great advantages of DVD.

In the next sequence we have another full on attack made by Hank, who sends an energy bolt directly at Dekion, who manages to snatch it out of the air and destroy it in his fist. I’m not sure if this is a strength of the character, or a weird reinforcement of the ineffectiveness of Hank’s energy bow in general. It seems like it’s only destructive in certain circumstances, and most of the time end up being pretty harmless.

Another aspect of the show that I’ve begun to notice as I’ve re-watched the series is the apparent lack of swords. Only a handful of characters have them, and those that do don’t really wield them (well, Warduke freezes both a tree and Dungeon Master in the 5th episode, and a few of the orcs have them in the 7th episode, though they are very quickly dispatched.) This episode is no exception as Dekion, instead of drawing his sword against the gang, removes it from its scabbard and throws it at Bobby with the apparent force of his own will. It comes off as odd when you think about it, I mean, practically, you could just pull it out and swing, but then that’s where I believe the dreaded Standards and Practices department comes swooping in with notes about ‘imitatable actions’. For the most part, the kids all have items that really don’t fall into this category, but even the ones that do aren’t showcased in a manner that would be harmful if imitated (like Bobby slamming his club on the ground; and as for Hank’s energy bow, most kids would probably remove the string if they could and pretend to fire it, since that’s what Hank is basically doing.)

In this same sequence, there is a slight animation error. After Dekion shoots his sword at Bobby, Sheila grabs it to face off with him, and you can clearly see that there is another sword drawn into the Dekion animation. In the next close-up shot it’s gone again.

As the quintessential example of odd art (not to mention being off model) for this episode, I present you with Eric, he of the amazing rubberneck family (cousins to Stretch Armstrong)…

There’s also a very distinct difference in style between the middle two cels and the fourth one, which you can really in both the level of detail, thickness of the line art, and the shape of the eyes. This entire episode flips between styles like this, so much so that I’m wondering if maybe more than one production studio did the animation. Maybe there was an issue with the original artwork and some scenes had to be quickly redone or something, I’m not sure. Either way, that’s one heck of a neck, even for a cartoon. It’s practically as long as his head is tall.

After Dekion tricks the kids into going into the Lost Tower for him, we get a chance to see a lot of new creatures which haven’t been featured on the show before, the first of which is a quick bit involving gargoyles. I’m not sure if these were added with the knowledge of the creatures existing in the D&D game folklore, but I’m betting it’s a possibility seeing as how many other more specific creatures from D&D were worked into the show.

Before I began watching this series again for the first time in 20 odd years, I pretty much had only one vivid memory from the show, which involved a sequence with Hank running up a set of stairs that were crumbling and vanishing behind him as he went, revealing nothing but the empty void of starry space. I was so excited to see that sequence in this episode as it both brought on a flood of nostalgia and reassured me that I did remember the show and hadn’t suffered from the odd effect of years gone by (where people tend to miss remember things, combining memories and such.)

Basically, the Tower functions as a sort of playground for fear, and end up acting a lot like the holodeck in Star Trek the Next Generation, where the gang is split up and seem to be in their own frightening world. Dixon wrote some of these sequences better than others (in particular Sheila’s fear of abandonment; she ends up in a huge flat expanse by herself), though all of them ended up pretty interesting in a visual sense.

Presto and Eric end up together, seemingly teleported outside of the tower into a nearby forest, where in a very weird turn of events a white sheet floating by covers Eric for a second and when it’s removed he all of a sudden has taken on the appearance of a donkey. This certainly seems to be a theme, at least in the first season, I assume to focus on Eric’s apparent vanity (much like in the Beauty and the Bogbeast episode.)

Also, and not to beat the weird animated sexuality into the ground with this series (I do believe the last of this is in this episode), but Eric’s transformation seems to also have been a, shall we say phallic one. Look at that schnoz?!? I probably wouldn’t have felt that it was as phallic as it appears if it weren’t for that odd indented ridge running underneath it. Hey, maybe it’s just me…

Just after Eric’s donkey make-over, we get a chance to see yet another set of creatures from the D&D universe, though I’m not sure whether they’re Vampires or Wraiths. On the one hand, they’re humanoid (as D&D wraiths are not) so they might be vampires, yet they also sort of have no legs and appear to float about like a wraith. Heck they might even be spectres, who knows. Either way they’re pretty cool.

In addition to the above creatures, we also get another odd beast that might in fact be either more zombies or possibly something new (as they walk through mirrors and stuff.) Maybe these are wraiths. Wraiths or Zombies, you be the judge!

In the last bit (I think) of odd sexuality in the D&D cartoon series we have a weird scene with Bobby and Diana looking into a funhouse mirror where the reflection shows the two characters aged in two very drastic manners (Bobby getting much younger, whereas Diana is very old; a scene that is also very much a reflection of a similar sequence in the 1983 film Something Wicked This Way Comes, though probably note a direct reference as the animation must have been in production at the same time the movie was being made.) In the mirror image of Diana we get to see what looks very much like her exposed breast, though I believe it’s not really the case, just a little bit of drooping detail that could very easily be taken as a nipple. I don’t know, I can see it as plain as I’ve seen Jesus in the wood grain of doors or the Virgin Mary in the texture of a pancake, but this is also a tendency that humans tend to have, projecting their own thoughts onto an image making them think they’re seeing what they probably aren’t, but again, you be the judge…

I do have to mention that Diana, in her extremely aged form, bears a striking resemblance to what I believe a combination of the two main creatures from the Dark Crystal would look like combined (the Skeksis and the Mystics), though I do realize that the two are actually halves, being split when the dark crystal shard was removed (they were known as urSkeks which look more like the gelflings than Diana above, but oh well.)

In the next scene we get our first honest to goodness Lord of the Rings reference in the D&D cartoon series in the form of a Palantir (or seeing stone), which Hank finds at the (I assume) top of the tower (along with the Circle of Power, which could be a reference to the One Ring, but it’s a stretch.) It’s even covered with a sheet, much like the ones that are revealed in the LOTRs books.

It’s at this point that Hank realizes that the Tower is putting the kids through tests of fear (this entire sequence also reminds me a lot of the scene in the Empire Strikes Back on Dagobah when Luke enters the marsh cavern to face off with his minds eye of Darth Vader) and he begins calling out to the gang through the Palantir, letting them know not to be afraid. In the sequence with Presto and Eric there is an animation error as the two realize they don’t need to be afraid anymore. As they two come to this realization they are transported to where Hank is, and just as they begin to teleport there is a cel (which has painted teleportation effects on it) flipped so that it looks like the kids switch places for a second before ending up with Hank…

The final showdown between Dekion, Venger and the kids takes place on a flat hilltop that has a very familiar set of ruins on it (Stonehenge anyone?)

Also, as the kids are about to hand over the Circle of Power to Dekion, Dungeon Master interferes, acting out of character, yet strangely like an actual D&D Dungeon Master might as he warns them not to just hand it over. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s always odd when DM steps in and changes things like this (or mysteriously blasts Venger from the sky for instance.)

During the ensuing battle with Venger, there is a very short bit of animation (taking advantage of the DVD format again here) in which he begins to transform Hank into a skeletal creature much like Dekion. The change is very slight (you can barely see it, even in the screen shots) but it’s a very disturbing image that I’m sure frightened younger viewers back in the 80s. This was a very common sequence in media entertainment in the early 80s, what with the end sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the bathroom sequence in Poltergeist, and the water fountain sequence in Gremlins. Hey, wait a minute, they were all either produced or directed by Steven Spielberg!?! Holy crap, so he’s responsible for this onslaught of face melting in the 80s. Weird.

Again, the kids sacrifice a chance to get home for another character as they destroy the ring of…I mean the Circle of Power to free Dekion from Venger’s spell. There certainly a lot of transformation sequences in this cartoon series, at least six in these first nine episodes alone. I wonder is that’s a tendency in writing fantastical fiction or just a coincidence in this series?

After Venger is sucked through a tornado like portal, the now human Dekion summons his steed, a giant eagle (which could quite possibly be another LOTR reference considering there were possibly two others already in this episode.) Dekion makes a promise to return to the kids if and when he can find a way for them to get home, considering their last ticket was destroyed to ensure his return to human form.

All in all, Buzz Dixon, much like Steve Gerber, gave us a really memorable episode of D&D, one that was (or at least seemed) much more of the game’s world than we’d been seeing yet. I’m not sure if it was all of the side stories, but this episode just seemed a little more dynamic than the rest. Dixon also didn’t stoop to the obligatory dragon, and neither did the storyboard artists or animators, as there is nary a flying lizard in sight.

Next time on Cartoon Commentary!, episode #10, the Garden of Zinn, in which one of the characters actually gets hurt. Crazy!