Tales of Suspended Animation
(This Stripped column originally appeared in the October 16-22, 1997, Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)
by Beth Hannan Rimmels
Hollywood has always raided the comic book genre for material, particularly for Saturday morning children’s programming. Most of us probably grew up on SuperFriends, whether the original airings, the repeats in syndication or the Cartoon Network’s rebroadcasts. Or remember the old Batman cartoons with Bat-Mite? Shudder.
My favorites were always the old ’60s Spiderman cartoons that were syndicated to death. Besides the cool theme song ("Spiderman, Spiderman, Friendly neighborhood Spiderman…"), the stories were much better than SuperFriends and the like. "Kid safe" didn’t equal "talk down to kids," which is why Marvel was the publisher to read under Stan Lee’s guidance.
I’d say Hollywood’s gotten smarter in how they handle kids’ shows, but as I don’t sniff glue, my brain cells are too intact to make that assumption. Rather, money talks: The old stuff (like SuperFriends) wasn’t working any more, so they tried something new (Batman: The Animated Series). That worked, so they’re doing more in that vein.
The smartest move was going back into production with Batman: The Animated Series. The one thing Hollywood still hasn’t figured out is that you need more episodes to syndicate dramatic animation. People don’t care if they see the "Mad Bomber What Bombs at Midnight" episode of Fox’s The Tick 25 times. They’ll still laugh the 25th time. But the 25th airing of "MacBeth" from Gargoyles starts to wear thin (Note to Michael Eisner: Get back into production with Gargoyles. It’s probably the best Disney animated series, but airing repeats within six weeks of its Saturday morning debut was idiocy).
Anyway, Batman’s been revamped slightly and paired with Superman for a Batman/Superman Hour. Batman: The Animated Series fans can relax. With Paul Dini still firmly in command, the stylistic changes were just enough to make it easy to tell the two series apart visually. The new version has a touch more color, but is still firmly planted in cartoon noir. The drawings are a little different, but nothing drastic. A few rub me, well, oddly rather than wrong. For instance, now the Joker has reverse eyes — black where they should be white with white pupils.
The biggest change is the backdrop. No longer set in "Year One" or "Two" like the original, Batman is now one of several crimefighters. Dick Grayson, having graduated from college, is now Nightwing. The new Robin is Tim Drake, but his animated origin is mixed with that of the comic book’s Robin II (Jason Todd) — Tim’s an orphaned street kid adopted by Bruce. Barbara Gordon fights crime more than occasionally as Batgirl. The vocal talent is the same so it’s more like catching up with old friends than watching a new show.
Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation is different. Not a cartoon, it’s a live-action series akin to the feature films. The special effects are decent, but it’s produced by Saban Entertainment, which has had a lot of practice doing the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
The other change is a new turtle, Mei Pieh Chi, dubbed "Venus De Millo" by the guys. She was the fifth turtle when the others were initially immersed in the radioactive ooze, but she floated away unseen by Splinter to be found by a Chinese mystic. When her mentor is killed by the Dragon Lord, she goes to Splinter to help defeat the Dragon Lord. OK, so it’s a gimmick to attract girls and sell more toys, but it works. Since she wasn’t raised around American pop culture like the boys, she’s much more in tune with what a student of the martial arts, including their mystical side, would be like. It’s a nice change of pace.
Sam & Max: Freelance Police is as gleefully demented as Steve Purcel’s comic book. The adventures of a dog that wears a suit and a rabbit, its humor is perfectly epitomized by a recent episode: TV dinners mixed with drippings from biological toxins, mutate and go on a rampage that is stopped by Sam eating it. The ensuing belch fixes the ozone layer. Gross humor and environmental awareness: How can you go wrong?
Column © 1997 Long Island Voice. Artwork © 1998 Acclaim.