Three new cartoons debuted this past Friday night. They all have unrelated comic book series, so I’m going to utilize that tenuous connection and call this a Comic Book Wednesday entry!
I’ve been excited about GI Joe: Renegades, Transformers: Prime and Young Justice for months now. I was going to do a big intro, then I decided that each title had enough individual backstory to split them up. So all I’ll say here is that after the hype and previews and whatever else, my anticipation before actually watching the shows was like this:
Young Justice – Super-Stoked
GI Joe – Stoked
Transformers – Fairly Excited
I’ll get into why below. I’ll also end this article with how they actually panned out in relation to one another and a brief rant about some of the other cartoons on TV right now.
A few years ago the idea of this show probably wouldn’t have gotten much of a reaction out of me. After Batman: The Animated Series I sort of dropped out of DC animation. Batman Beyond didn’t do anything for me and I never really got into the Superman series. I liked what I saw of Justice League but couldn’t ever figure out exactly when it came on. Teen Titans was just too damned strange and looked like anime. And we all know how I feel about anime. The Batman had a cool, darker look to it but I hated that stupid looking Joker so much I skipped the whole series.
And then a couple of years ago I sat down and watched a marathon of Teen Titans on Cartoon Network. I’m still not crazy about all the little parts where their heads get huge and sweat droplets shoot out of their faces, but overall Titans was a great show. It had great characterizations and the multi-episode story arcs were very impressive for a series that trended somewhat younger than DC’s last offerings.
And then last year Amazon finally offered the Justice League collections for prices I considered reasonable. I bought them all and watched them over the course of a few days. Amazing. Maybe not quite as well-developed as Batman: TAS, but easily my favorite comic-based cartoon after that one.
Another key piece in DC’s animation credibility is their recent slew of straight-to-home-format offerings (we still need a phrase for that – or not; I guess Digital Download is going to be the norm soon enough that it will be a moot point…). Granted, they started things off with the weak Animatrix rip-off Gotham Knights, but everything since then has ranged from good (Superman/Batman) to outstanding (Wonder Woman).
So with all of that and the fact that Batman: The Brave and the Bold is one of the most astounding cartoons I have ever seen and even The Batman has grown on me (if you don’t like it, check out The Batman Versus Dracula – it will change your mind); I was totally stoked about Young Justice. It was pretty much guaranteed to be amazing. Also, Robin is Lil’ Troublemaker’s favorite superhero ever.
I was expecting great things when I sat down to watch the show.
I’m going to kick this off by saying that Robin’s voice isn’t right. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but right now I feel like he sounds too young, especially compared to Aqualad and Speedy. Speaking of voices, though, they nailed everybody else. If you’re not going to get Kevin Conroy for Batman, Bruce Greenwood is definitely your next best choice and Alan Tudyk as Green Arrow is awesome except for the fact that we probably won’t be seeing nearly enough of Green Arrow.
The animation is fantastic, even better than Justice League or Brave and the Bold. DC clearly has a very high bar set for this show.
Now they just need to work on the pacing. I fell asleep twice watching this. Granted, I had just worked twelve hours and spent another hour driving home; but I was fucking excited about this show. I found myself having trouble caring about what was going on, and I think I know why. There were two problems that I can identify easily:
- The kids were kind of douchy.
- I could be wrong, but the story seemed to not make any fucking sense.
To address the first issue, I can’t really accept that these kids thought they were going to walk right into the innermost chambers of the Hall of Justice and be full-fledged members of the fucking Justice League on their first visit. Especially Robin. He should know better. And Speedy was just a straight-up dick. And then at the end of the episode they’re all like, “No, fuck you. We’re gonna do what we want.” And Batman and Superman are all, “Okay, kids. I guess since you beat up some slime monsters you can get all motherfucking mouthy and we’ll buy you a base, too.”
I’m calling bullshit on that.
I’ll be honest and say that I need to watch the episode again before commenting too much on the story, but the reason I am comfortable criticizing it is that I should not have to watch the episode again to comment on the story. This isn’t a fucking David Lynch movie. This is cartoons. The whole thing seemed just a bit too convoluted to me; like the concept of, “You go, teens!” was more important than good storytelling and they had to fit certain elements in just to get an idea across rather than a narrative. Maybe that’s just a byproduct of it being a premiere episode, but Avengers didn’t have that problem. Of course, Avengers didn’t try to introduce 5,385 protagonists in its first 22 minutes, either.
The fact that GI Joe also fought slime monsters in their pilot might have me a wee bit confused about who did what and when.
GI Joe: Renegades
I am a huge fan of GI Joe and am predisposed to enjoy Joe-related things. But I do feel that I can discriminate when I need to.
The cartoons produced by DIC were aberrations.
GI Joe: Extreme was a horrible concept with horrible execution.
Sgt. Savage actually wasn’t a bad concept, for a Captain America ripoff. It was just bad timing.
All of those CGI cartoons were just embarrassing.
But then the live-action movie happened. A lot of people hated it, but I thought it perfectly captured the spirit of A Real American Hero (except for the American part, I guess). Between the success of the movie (it was a big hit) and the revitalization of GI Joe in the toy aisles thanks to Hasbro’s hugely successful 25th Anniversary line, it’s actually kind of surprising it has taken this long to get a new cartoon.
Shit. I just realized that statement doesn’t quite work. You see, we did get a new cartoon in the form of GI Joe: Resolute, a web series/TV movie/home release that came out last year. I thoroughly enjoyed it at the time and still do think it is an impressive work. But, with several more viewings, am inclined to agree with Gnoll that it’s just a bit too dark. And Cobra Commander should never say “crap”.
Apparently everybody agreed with Gnoll because no further Resolute projects were pursued.
And then Renegades was announced, and I have been all over the anticipation map with this one:
Announcement – FUCKING AWESOME!
Description of concept – Ugh – another continuity. Still, NEW JOE! AWESOME!
First character designs revealed – Huh. Well – huh.
Partial list of voice talent released – FUCKING AWESOME!
First stills released – Ugh.
COBRA Industries advertisement released – REALLY FUCKING AWESOME!
First clip released – Better than stills, but not exactly reassuring.
So I sat down only mildly excited about the show. I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to get past the character design. I was definitely more excited about the central idea of the show than when I first heard it. Having had the time to think about it, it makes sense to have a continuity separate from the comics and the movie franchise. While I love the strict adherence to continuity in (almost) all forms of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, it does limit the creators and the ability to expand on the concept.
GI Joe: Renegades offers a completely new take on the characters and situations we have seen before, and that is actually what makes it worthwhile.
The story is that COBRA is an international corporation that produces everything from sweaters to apple pie (seriously) and is beloved by your average American. COBRA also happens to be a terrorist organization determined to take over the world, but not a whole lot of people know about that part.
I’m not going to get too detailed because I think you should experience the story for yourself if you haven’t’ already, but things kick off when a few Army guys stumble into COBRA’s dirty little (well, HUGE) secret and get framed for terrorist acts as a result. It’s a great story and is handled incredibly well over the course of the two-part premiere.
The voice acting is top-notch, with Lee Majors as General Abernathy (Hawk) and a guy that sounds like a younger Duke as Duke. As a matter of fact, everybody sounds wonderful. There was not a single voice that bothered me, not even the particularly young voice of the newly-imagined Dr. Mindbender. Tunnel Rat is easily my favorite character on the show so far.
The animation is the only sticking point for me. I mean, it isn’t bad. The quality is very high and consistent. It’s a lot of fun to just sit and watch what’s happening on the screen and the producers haven’t gone the way of outlandish physics or anything. I’m just not crazy about the character designs. Having a bunch of soldiers running around in big raver pants seems a little goofy to me. Some of the characters are a bit oversimplified, as well. But you know what? Ask me again in a couple of months and I probably won’t even care. That’s how good the story and the voices are so far. I’m totally invested.
The Transformers have never been as high up in my dork priorities as Star Wars, GI Joe, Batman or pretty much any other comic property, He-Man, horror movies; you get the idea. I am, however, a properly aligned dude, so the concept of robots that change into tanks and dinosaurs and guns does generate a certain level of excitement.
I liked Transformers well enough when I was a kid, but the higher price point combined with the incompatible scale (I wasn’t one of those kids that could overlook the fact that Roadblock could have easily picked up Bumblebee and thrown him across the USS Flagg) made them toys that I had few of and only obtained as gifts or when I had money and there just wasn’t anything else available.
While I do enjoy the original cartoon, my favorite Transformers series is actually Beast Machines. It didn’t last very long and was followed up by Robots In Disguise, which gave us cool toys but an unwatchable cartoon. I think the next incarnation was the new Animated Series which basically did the same thing as RID, but more cartoony. This actually led to even cooler toys. I was amazed by the designs on those (I’m speaking like they’re in the past. You can still buy them right now.) and actually wouldn’t mind owning a few if I had the space to spare.
Which brings us to Prime. I honestly didn’t know a whole lot going in. The only concrete facts I had were that Frank Welker and Peter Cullen were reprising their roles as Megatron and Optimus and that The Rock was voicing Cliffjumper(!). And that it was going to be another CGI endeavor.
Well it turns out that the show is fucking awesome and is about Megatron using the Blood of Unicron to create an army of zombie Transformers to take over the world. Fucking-A yes, you read that right. And zombie Transformers are creepy as fuck.
As with any Transformers shows without “Beast” in the title, this one has kids in it. And they aren’t abrasive at all. I even liked the main one. The story of how they become involved in the whole giant robot conflict is nothing new, but is handled very well. I bought it enough to move on afterwards.
While this show has no concrete ties to the Bay movies, it does pick up in a situation very much like the end of the first movie. There are only six Autobots left on Earth (Prime, Ratchet [fantastically voiced by Jeffrey Combs], Cliffjumper,Bumblebee, the big guy from the cartoon and Arcee), they are under the watch of a secret branch of the US government and they keep a super-low profile. The Decepticons have just recently started to pop up again. Megatron is missing and Starscream is in charge. And Soundwave is awesome. He has my favorite new design on the show. Also, I’m glad they carried the big guy from the cartoon over because he was the best part of that one.
Like GI Joe, I don’t want to spoil anything because I really think you should experience it yourself. That’s how things begin and naturally the creators have suggested that more Transformers from both sides will be showing up as the series progresses.
The look of the show is very cool. The designs of the Transformers definitely leans toward the Bay versions, but not quite so full of wiring. As a matter of fact, Bumblebee looks almost identical and has the same lack of speech. Prime looks really cool until his mask slides away and we see his weird little mouth. Overall, though, I’m happy with the look of things.
The fights in Prime are great. When Arcee goes to town on a bunch of disposable Decepticon drones it feels like an action movie. She’s performing very specific attacks and kicks, not just the old “punch in face” battles we’re used to. Really, all of the animation is great. I had read some complaints about the backgrounds being drab, but man; they’re in the Midwest. Also, there’s this one flashback sequence about Cybertron that is anything but drab – it’s downright cinematic.
The Hub showed the first two parts of the five-part debut miniseries (how awesomely old-school is that !?!) Friday night and the whole five-parter runs tonight (Monday), so you will have watched it by now. I’m am very excited about this show and where we’re headed with it.
So, how did things shake out after I watched all of these new shows? Here you go:
Transformers: Prime – Best of the bunch, can’t wait for more!
GI Joe: Renegades – Very solid. I’m invested in the new take and fascinated to see where it goes.
Young Justice – I thought it was a little boring and just a tad obnoxious. The creators might be relying a little too much on the goodwill built up towards DC animation. I do, however, see a lot of potential here. It wasn’t bad by any stretch, but I think Young Justice had a very high bar set for it. The show might just take a little while to get there.
- Brave and the Bold seriously needs to cut the death shit out. I can’t even watch it with Lil’ Troublemaker anymore because he’s getting upset every fucking episode. I can already tell you I won’t be buying this season when it comes out. I am extremely disappointed that this incredibly fun show has gotten so unnecessarily dark (adverbs!).
- Avengers is outstanding. Every episode is a big adventure. It has replaced the above show as the big, fun series. I’ll end up laughing out loud at the Wasp at least a couple of times every episode. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
- The third season of Clone Wars finally had a great episode! Two, even! After two solid episodes that made for a weak season opener and then a string of just plain boring stories, we finally got some great action with Quinlan Vos and Obi-Wan; not to mention updates to the character designs that resulted in an Ahsoka Tano that is much easier to take seriously. I know I bagged on B&TB for featuring too many deaths, and here I am praising the murder-heavy Clone Wars, but the shows have totally different tones and the nature and magnitude of the deaths are very different. Death is part and parcel of the Star Wars saga and I know to screen episodes before watching them with my son. But the deaths in The Brave & The Bold are just out of place and worse, unnecessary. The creators of the show could be telling the same stories and achieving much better results without killing a superhero every time.
- Symbionic Titan just isn’t doing it for me. And yes, I’m fairly ashamed of that. Maybe I’ll get into at a later date. I couldn’t get into Titan Maximum, either. What are you gonna do?
- One final note: The Venture Bros. is still the very best show on television. The season finale was one of the nastiest things I've ever seen. Well, heard. I don't know how they got away with some of those.
Until next time, stay creepy