Monday, February 27, 2017

The Big O #3

Shares one thing with the Anime: Nothing makes any sense

"Chapter Two: Electric Bug"
Created – Hajime Yatate
Story & Art – Hitoshi Ariga
English Adaptation – Lance Caselman
Translator – Lillian Olsen
Touch-up & Lettering – Dan Nakrosis
Cover Design – Sean Lee
Cover Colorist – Paul Wilson
Grpahics & Design – Sean Lee
Editor – Jason Tompson
Editor-in-Chief – Hyoe Narita

I rarely get into anime shows.

Like almost never. My love of the genre begins and ends with Starblazers and we all know how long ago that came out. I've sat through first episodes of Trigun, Full Metal Alchemist, Samurai Champloo (almost got me!), Robotech and so many others. None of them "caught me".

Okay, maybe I do enjoy the silliness of a Pokemon episode now and again. Also perhaps for the sake of my son, I will sit through an episode of Naruto.

But love a series? Binge watch from beginning to end? That doesn't happen.

It almost did with The Big O. I mean, I tried to like it. I was there on October 13, 1999 when it made its debut and for some reason I felt a pull to watch it. I mean it's a show about a giant mecha and we all know I have a soft spot for giant robots. The show patterned much of its look off of the Bruce Timm Batman: The Animated Series, adopting a tech-noir kind of vibe, which I found even more appealing. Best of all the lead character, Roger Smith looked and sounded ultra cool, like a James Bond-for-hire.

And then I sat through about three episodes and realized the world the show took place in was just bat-sh*t crazy and I gave up on it.

Big O's setting is Paradigm City, a city where everyone has amnesia. No one can remember beyond forty years ago when something destroyed the world outside the city. Most of the city is covered by a huge dome and everything is controlled by the sort-of-evil Paradigm Corporation.

I know it is asking a lot for my animes to feature both giant, building destroying robo-battles AND believable worldscapes, but what can I say? I'm picky. A boy wants what a boy wants and I need my escapism anchored in some realism.  

And apart from all that we have to mention that The Big O sounds less like an anime and more like a porno. Let's get that out of the way right here. There has to be more than one little boy or girl's mom that took one look at packaging labeled "The Big O" and steered them clear of the property out of fear they would learn about sex from an undesirable source. I mean, how many of us haven't accidentally been watching Japanese cartoons and it unexpectedly turn from mech battles with guys in power suits to tentacle porn? More times than I can count for me.

I don't mind so much, but others might.

So kudos on totally making your product sound like adult entertainment, Sunrise. You might want to work on that next time.

Even in my depression over the name and setting, there still was a giant robot to love and some clever camera work that played off B:TAS as well as a suave super-spy type and his one-eyed butler working on the a confusing mystery with bullets and rocket launchers and androids.

Oh! (Big O!), and that theme song which is almost a direct lift of Queen's "Flash" main title. I mean compare them side-by-side if you don't believe me. Same shouting the title, same musical structure, same beat with alarm sounding behind it section, same everything…

What I'm saying is that it tricked me into liking it more than just a little.

Other people too, apparently, as the series was originally only slated for 13 episodes, but Sunrise was convinced to produce an additional 13 for American audience when it didn't catch fire in Japan. However the resolution to the mystery of everyone's amnesia was so lame that even Americans abandoned it. What we were left with was lots of style, little substance and a few good giant robot battles.

The comic book fared better than the anime, although I'm not quite sure how. There were two different series, actually. The first had no subtitle and the second being called The Big O: Lost Memory. The original books had eight volumes comprising of three to four issues each. It tapped out after 21 issues. The second series had two volumes and lasted for 8 issues.

The book in my clutches is issue three of the first series and it is a might slow for my tastes. We begin with Roger performing his task as a negotiator, working to get funds for a school that has been subject to Paradigm City's version of eminent domain. 

This gives some background into the cruel setting the people outside of Paradigm City have to deal with, a harsh world where the sun doesn't shine anymore. Inside the dome is a kind of industrial paradise. Roger is shown to be a caring young upstart who fights for the good of all people. This was pretty much the tone of the series as well. Even if the details of what Roger is fighting against were rather vague, you always felt he was in the right. 

The problem was the "everyone has amnesia" plotline they had going. Prolonging that mystery was an incredibly difficult thing for the writers and I don't feel that did so successfully. Take for instance this part about Sheila and her "memory." The young student begins by saying a picture of butterflies is full of "lies."

Sheila's being all superior, saying the sky wasn't ever that blue and that the girl got it all wrong, basically being a real dickish children's art critic. She points out the butterflies specifically, which will have bearing on things later claiming they don't look like this…

But instead look like this…

And she claims to have seen the actual bugs. Then suddenly the power goes out and Roger has to console the kids.

Which earns him an honorary title that I admit caused a grin.

I know exactly how that feels.

But all of this is really just a bit of ham-fisted foreshadowing as The Big O will be facing…well, that's getting a little ahead of myself. Sorry, but I'm impatient for the big robo battles.

Instead we have to deal with Roger's world's social structure and how people have forgotten everything.

And we find out the Sheila frequently visits Dr. Miller, a crazy mad scientist. Dr. Miller has a few of those bugs she has seen in a jar.

It works out that Dr. Miller is in the employ of the main villain of the series, Beck. Beck's motivations are shady and unknown, but Dr. Miller is clearly one of these mad scientists who is out to prove a theory without thought of the consequences to the rest of the world. And the method of proving that theory has something to do with Sheila's bug friends.

What is it with Japanese characters having hair the shape of cinnamon buns? That hairpiece looks like it came from the Kolache Factory. So odd.

And "breakfast bun-hair" Beck has plans for those bugs, which just so happen to siphon energy. His idea is to depower Big O, which is a "megadeus", and then destroy him. Also the term "megadeus" makes me think of taking a very large number two. 

But during dinner, Roger captures (in a very unlikely sequence that shows off more of this series style) one of the bugs that is draining his estate's power. Also we get to meet Roger's butler Norman, who is perhaps the best manservant this side of Alfred. Having been based on that template served the anime well. In fact the dynamic between the two, although stolen or lifted from B:TAS, was one of the strong points of the show. That and Roger always being as cool a cucumber as Bruce Wayne was. If you have to imitate something, I suppose they picked both the right source and did a good job evoking the same feeling.

While Roger and Norman ponder and research the bug's appearance, which happens to be of a techno-organic origin by the way...

We learn that Sheila let the little fellas loose ahead of Beck's schedule.

And as Sheila is shunned by her Uncle-Grampa-whoever, the military police try to maintain order and Roger goes on a bughunt in his car, Beck decides to use this opportunity to stop Big O once and for all. 

Which doesn't sit well with Dr. Miller.

But Beck goes mad with power.
Roger decides the massing bugs have formed something Big O can tackle. (and the entire sequence is kind of cool)

We get that long awaited series catchphrase and "It's showtime!"

And we end just shy of the massive battle I was hoping for all issue long with Big O shooting it from afar and the shadow bug thing hiding.

The last page is Roger coming across a glowing building, the mystery of which will have to wait until next issue.

I've begun rewatching these on youtube and they are better than I remember. If you set the bar of your expectations low enough for a coherent plot and just go with the style of the noir vibe it puts out, you'll find a lot to enjoy. Plus giant robot battles abound, and you know that makes SoC ecstatic.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Strange Team-Ups, Part V: The Ren & Stimpy Show #6

Bizarre mixups continue to trickle out of the Crapbox

"Clash of Titans: Break-Fast of Chumpions"
Writer – Dan Slott
Art – Mike Kazaleh
Letters – Brad K. Joyce
Colors – Ed Lazellari
Editor – Fabian Nicieza
America's 2nd Fav'rit Breakfast Treat! – Tom Defalco
May 1993

Texas heat and my poor organization skills must have allowed an Amazing Spider-Man comic and the Nickelodeon tie-in book for Ren & Stimpy to meld together.

And just like last week's Barack the Barbarian, this blending of two things that shouldn't work, kind of produces a decent story on both levels. Not great mind you, but decent.

My love for Ren & Stimpy might have something to do with my affection for this one. Also my love of a good Dan Slott scripted story, Slott being one of my favorite Spider-scribes. 

When I say that I love Ren & Stimpy, there is always a pesky asterisk that has to be added to that statement. The odd duck pairing was the brainchild of John Kricfalusi, a duo he created while studying at Sheridan College. He was signed to produce a series by Nickelodeon in 1989, one of the first three original series that network created (the other two being Rugrats and Doug.) Kricfalusi would only work on the show for the first two years, however, as tensions over his racy and violent episodes clashed with Nickelodeon's Standards and Practices section. Eventually the relationship between creator and network devolved to the level that Kricfalusi would only talk to them through his lawyer. Some of these tensions were ascribed to missed deadlines due to the approval process.

These first set of episodes are golden to me. They skirt the line of good taste in the BEST way possible. They are accessible to children yet are entertaining to adults as well. Kricfalusi produced an amazing, marvelous thing.

And then Nickelodeon pulled the plug on him. They ousted him as director, offered him a position as a consultant (which he refused) and gave creative control over to Bob Camp.

Camp's Ren & Stimpy wasn't the same. In the original, Ren always seemed our everyman, our hero. Even in the most bizarre situations, it was still easier to identify with the crazy, Mexican-accented Chihuahua than it was to find a commonality with Stimpy, the dim-witted cat who ate litter. Camp reversed these roles and made simpled-minded Stimpy the centerpiece. Gone were the more racy, Cheech & Chong type story-line vibes you got in the first year, replaced by endless goofy preachings from Stimpy.

The cardinal sin, however, was that the show wasn't funny anymore.

Something about holding back these characters after they had already infected us with their particular brand of SPACE! MADNESS! defeated the humor inherent in their adventures. It would struggle on for two more years before being retired. After a long hiatus, it was revived in an even more Adult version on Spike network in 2003, but by then the moment had passed and the new content went too far for all but the most die-hard fans. I hear tell they might have a short before the next SpongBob movie too, but that might just be rumor.

What we have here is Slott doing his best to put Spiderman into a Ren & Stimpy episode and not the other way around. So we begin with the duo eating breakfast when an emergency occurs…

…Which, of course, Stimpy summons…

…uh, what?

Yeah, so Spider-Man appears and his little pronouncement kicks things off to a great start. Powered Toast Man is mind controlled by this talking donut-thing. Spider-Man uses his webs to create web-based toast for the dog and cat and then vamooses. Which is where get the standard Ren & Stimpy trope of "oh, there is lots of evidence they are going to say one thing…"

"…when instead they say the opposite." 

Spiderman gets a call from headquarters (through his spare pair of Powered Toast Man underwear – don't ask!) only to find that trouble is brewing.

And here you have it: the formula for the rest of the issue. Every few panels will be some bread or breakfast related pun. If you enjoy puns (and I do, for the most part), you'll love this issue. If you find puns groan-tastic wastes of your time, you'll hate the issue. Like a breakfast cereal, all comes down to your personal taste.

And the art is pure Ren & Stimpy.

Oh, there is a few smatterings of other types of humor, like this self-referencing bit on the comics industry here.

Chuckle-worthy if you ask me. And I did smirk at P.T.M. using the underarm fart sound motion to fire croutons at Spidey. Silly stuff. And the issue is literally packed with this battle. It goes on for several pages, almost to the point of being too long.

We have Spider-Man get the upper hand.

Only to be trapped in Powered Toast Man's giant booger. Eww! 

Which leads to the "Spider-Man talks himself into not giving up montage."

And yes, I snickered a bit at this part. 

Slott's a good match for this material. Generally his writing is a bit humorous and here he dials that up to eleven. Either that or he just lets off the shackles that normally keeps him in check. Whatever the cause, the effect is some genuinely silly, funny moments that caused me to crack a smile.

What I thought would be a groan-filled issue has some cleverness to it. Most cartoon-to-comic transitions lack the finesse of the source material, but Slott seems right in the groove of Ren & Stimpy's madness.

Madness that includes dunking P.T.M. in milk so he's too soggy to fight…

…and then letting Spidey get a lead pipe to the head. OUCH! (Remember that bit about violence in R&S cartoons? Well, here you go…)

Which leads to a P.T.M. "Popeye" moment.

Again this is silly fluff that is well executed, given the art stylings of the cartoon. And Spidey gets to help foil the bad guy, so it's all good there too.

With the reappearance of the duo the book is named after we get one final joke setup…

To which P.T.M. punches him through a building.

There are also two short joke bits starring Spider-Man at the end that are just as silly as the story, the smaller of the two presented below.

So the issue fairs pretty well for having to give due to both of these characters. It is definitely more of a Spider-Man visits Ren & Stimpy Show rather than the other way around. But it is handled as competently as the What The… magazine stuff from the late 80's, so I rated it worth a pick up.