Saturday, August 16, 2008

Avatar: The Last Airbender: Greatest Cartoon of This Decade

(Warning: This should be obvious, but what the hell. This whole thing is looking at my opinion ONLY. I'm not considering anyone else's here, so if you wholly disagree, that's nice but remember this warning, lest I smite you.)

Occasionally I like to read reviews of shit to get a good laugh. Earlier this week, I saw a link on Newsarama that had a review of the last DVD Avatar: The Last Airbender, and out of curiosity, I had to check it out.

For those who don't know, Avatar can be summed up like so:

"Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them. But when the world needed him most, he vanished. 100 years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an Airbender named Aang. And although his Airbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he's ready to save anyone. But I believe, Aang can save the world."

Anything else you need, get from the Wiki page. (Or this Wikia, if you REALLY want to get into it.)

Like most things I get involved with on television, I was a late comer to this series. My best friend Jess, after getting hooked, wouldn't shut up about it (no offense meant ^^), and decided to send the entire thing (that had been released) to me one year for my birthday. At the time, I was pretty disenchanted with anything that wasn't old-school, as far as cartoons go, so I was pretty skeptical.

...But within a week, I'd watched 36 episodes and loved the entire thing. Avatar is a masterpiece of modern AMERICAN animation. Its important to say that because so many people try to write the series off as a "wannabe anime", when that's not only inaccurate, its damn near lying.

First off, its like saying we can't do "kung-fu movies" because kung-fu didn't come from America--that's stupid. As long as you aren't blatantly ripping off and do your best to give your creation a unique voice, its fine. Sure, its been influenced by anime, but what's wrong with that? You should take influences from as many sources as possible. And it does. In addition to drawing influence from anime, it draws from Chinese martial arts and philosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism, and a lot of other things that I would have to research to fully list, but you get my point.

But I digress. Like I said. Its a near-perfect masterpiece. The show proves itself equally capable of doing comedy (as displayed in The Ember Island Players and Nightmares and Daydreams) as it does dealing with emotionally resonant plots it has set up for itself as it displays the various countries dealing with the effects of a long-running war. As well, from Book Two's Tales of Ba Sing Se, which gives us a short story focusing on different main characters, to Book Three's two part Day of the Black Sun, the series writers prove themselves to be well able to do stories of any length without them feeling rushed or stretched out.

Saving only one part (that is, the eventual relationship between Katara and...well, I won't spoil for those who haven't seen the show, but I imagine there's a lack of development due to the fact that its meant to be a "kid's show"), the character development is superb, and gives actual meaning and purpose to the show having a continuing story. Too often, shows have character development in one episode that either does not carry over to the next or is entirely forgotten within three or four more episodes to settle back into whatever status quo the writers feel the most comfortable with.

And while the music isn't on the level of say, Cowboy Bebop, the Avatar's theme (just guessing at its name here) alone makes the show's musical score leaps and bounds above most series that have aired in the past few years.

Does all this (along with simply gorgeous animation) make Avatar the greatest (American) cartoon of the decade? Well...yes. Hands down, Avatar is the best animated series (in America) to come out of the 2000-2010 era, and I can safely say that without worrying about what's to come in 2009 and 2010.

...But does that really mean anything? I mean, there have been so few good cartoons to be produced this decade. For me, the list is limited to Justice League Unlimited (but not Justice League--thanks for the "tokens", DC), Xiaolin Showdown, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (stopping at Fast Forward), Lilo and Stitch, and Ben 10.

Five shows across ten years is almost shameful considering the heyday of the 90's when we were lucky enough to be given Batman and Superman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man and X-Men: The Animated Series, The Incredible Hulk (even though I really dislike the Hulk, watching this series now--its GOOD), Mighty Ducks, Exo Squad, Reboot Biker Mice from Mars, SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron, and Pirates of Dark Water. Twice as many shows across the same time period--a good show every year, even though they weren't really released like that. And that's not counting comedy cartoons, at which point the 90's shuts the game down with Darkwing Duck, Bonkers, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Freakazoid, Tiny Toons, Garfield and Friends, Doug, Road Rovers, Rugrats, and a whole host of other shows that if I got into we'd be here all day, whereas with the new millenia so far the only comedy I can stand are adult ones and that's a whole other column in itself.

What am I trying to say here? I don't know. I mean, Avatar is DEFINITELY a good show, but calling it "the greatest cartoon of this decade" doesn't really mean anything, 'cause having watched most of the series of this decade, its like being the tallest midget in shortsville. It might be true, but its not really something to cop to. (Granted, that's not entirely true, because even if it had been made in the 90's, Avatar would've stolen the top slot from all the contenders mentioned up above, even if B:TAS fans will argue against that until they die.) I think what I'm trying to say is that measuring this show's greatness by standing it up against other series of this era does it a disservice. If you have to do something to explain how good it is, be a little more creative about it, please folks?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Comic-Con 2008

Okay, this was supposed to be done two weeks ago, the last day of Comic-Con, but my computer froze up on me and I hadn't saved this so I lost it all. I was pretty annoyed (and sad) about it, so I didn't bother to rewrite it until just now. After all, I DO need my first entry for August.

Anyways. I'm not much for conventions, of any type. And I know, I know. I'm a huge nerd so naturally I'm supposed to be interested in that, but meh. I just can't muster the energy to care about them. The only thing that does matter are the announcements that come from comic conventions concerning future projects. Now that I care about. And seeing as how the San Diego Comic-Con is the biggest comic convention of the year, there was plenty of stuff announced for me to get excited about. Which leads me to the point of this list--the top ten things announce at the SDCC I'm most excited about.

1) New Krypton - In October, two of my absolute favorite writers team up to craft a nine part epic during which, after the aftermath of a battle with Brainiac, Superman suddenly finds 100,000 Kryptonians living on Earth with him. Even though it was officially announced just two weeks ago, I've known about this story for over a year and have been eagerly awaiting its start. After two decades of DC adamantly sticking to Superman being "the Only Kryptonian" (to the extent that both the origin for the 90's Superboy and Supergirl would make most non-comic fans heads explode), I think its absolutely brilliant that they're finally changing this and seeing what story ideas can come from Kal-El being one of many. (Superman, however, will still be one in a million.) Just the initial story will be interesting enough--how will they react when they learn that Earth isn't "New" Krypton? How many of them will discover their new powers and decide that they're gods? How many will look to Superman and become inspired? (Something that hasn't been seen yet.) I can't see this idea as anything but expanding the Superman mythology in a unique way that hasn't been done before. (At least, not like this.) Plus, it pushes the DCU towards that oh-so-wonderful DC One Million future that I love so much.

2) The Muppet Show - Yeah, I realize this show is supposed to be WELL before my time, but fuck that. I experienced older decades through television. (Which is good 'cause I'm not sure I could deal with being called "a Colored" if I had to experience it like normal people did.) And one of my favorite shows to watch as a child was the Muppet Show when it aired on the Disney Channel Sunday nights. I've always loved variety shows, and the sheer insanity of this particular program was quite captivating to my younger self. I'd still watch it now in fact, if Disney wasn't so stuck on marketing towards teenagers (which seems to only attract pre-teen viewers) and put on some of their classic programming. Still, if I can't have that, in its place I don't mind taking this comic, written by one of my favorite comic book scribes Mark Waid.

3) Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel - And now we start to pull from the perpetual well of "shit you don't know about me". Fact: I like history. This fact becomes doubly true (impossible, but go with it) when it becomes superhero history. Thanks to the magic of the sliding timescale, our main superheroes are forced to always live in the present, whenever that may be, so that leaves decades of history formerly filled to the brim with spandex-obsessed crimefighters empty and bereft. The result of this is usually a number of retcons that lead to new characters being put in the place of the originals. The Blue Marvel is one such new character. The idea is that he's a superhero that existed during the late 50's and early 60's. Basically Superman with a mask, he's well-loved by all, but is asked by President Kennedy to give up his life of heroing when the Civil Rights Movement begins. Why? Well...he's black. And realizing how the public at large might react if anyone ever discovered the Blue Marvel, a man of incalculable power (the writer explains that he's even stronger than Superman), is a man of color, Kennedy asks him to step down so as not to impede, or even stop entirely, the Civil Rights Movement. The story skips ahead to present-day then, as a villain that only the Blue Marvel has ever been able to stop, suddenly returns, trouncing the Avengers and forcing the Blue Marvel to come out of retirement. So. Let's recap. Historic setting? Check. Fun, if somewhat cliched set-up? Check. Very impressive superhero? Double check. Yup. All over this one.

4) War Machine - So at Marvel's Friday panel, it was announced that starting in December, War Machine would be getting his own book. Gotta be honest--I always loved War Machine's armor. Even moreso than Iron Man's. As a kid, I always loved superheroes who had like a literal ARMY'S worth of weapons no matter where they went (explaining my irrational love for the Centurions). And as an adult, not much has changed really(there's a joke somewhere in there...)...there's something about a superhero who has so many weapons there's no way he'd ever need them all unless he were in a situation where he had little chance of winning in the first place. And so, its for that reason, that despite the fact that I have no clue about the track record of the writer for this book, I'm still massively excited. Also doesn't hurt that James Rhodes is a cool character.

5) FarScape - Damn I loved this show. (I must have a thing for Muppets...) As a nerd, you have to like at least one sci-fi property or else you get your card revoked. Some people like Star Wars. Some people like Star Trek. Some people like Stargate. (...I did not realize until I started typing this just how many universes shoved "Star" in their names...) Me? I've always been a FarScape man (and Lexx, but that's besides the point). I'm not sure if its the exotic planets and races, the fun psuedoscience, or the fact that it has the most kick-ass hero of any sci-fi series ever in John Crichton. (If I had to guess though, it'd probably all of the above. ...And the incredibly hawt ladies that are part of the crew.) That it was canceled literally the same season I got into it was a crushing blow that I'm still a little irritated about. So, can you imagine my giddyness when I discovered that not only was a FarScape comic being released, but it was being written by the original creator of the show? (My memory's fuzzy, but I'm sure I had at least two fangasms.) And this series promises to be even better than the show, considering there were a number of plots they wanted to attempt during the show but were unable to due to budget constraints. But there's no script description to expensive to draw in comics...

6) War of Kings - Okay, so admittedly I don't like many sci-fi shows. ...That's 'cause they tend to suck though, not because I don't like space stories. To the contrary, I'm always searching for a new science fiction epic I can get involved in. Lately, I've been getting that fix from, surprisingly enough, Marvel, who has quite a large stable of space characters, worlds, and races to draw from. And they have managed to do a great job of fleshing these characters out with their recent crossover epics, Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest, stories in which Marvel's cosmic heroes are forced to repel powerful alien invasion forces. And War of Kings looks to continue that trend with War of Kings, as the Shi'ar Empire (if you know anything about the X-Men, you know who these guys are) clash against the Inhumans (which you have to be a geek to have even heard of), with the cosmic heroes like the Guardians of the Galaxy (think Justice League but they protect space instead of just one planet) and the Starjammers caught in the middle. Now if only I could get DC to do more projects like this....

7) Flash: Rebirth - ....Holy shit dude just look at that picture! Its fucking amazing! I mean, the lightning and the smoke and holy crap it just looks SO awesome!!!

....Right. Having gotten over my fangasm for the artwork (this is incredibly rare for me), I can hopefully express why I'm excited for this project with some sort of actual composure. So. For those who don't know (read: everyone not a nerd), the second Flash, Barry Allen, died about 20 years ago saving the universe during a story called Crisis on Infinite Earths. His sidekick, Wally West, would take over for him and hold the mantle for the next 20 years. (I'd like to say he held it alone, but he held it alongside the original Flash Jay Garrick, so that's just not true.) Now thankfully, because writers realized that comics are fiction and thus, you can do whatever the hell you want with them, they've decided to bring Barry Allen back to life and start him off in a new story written by one of my top 2 favorite writers, Geoff Johns, and drawn by probably my favorite artist, Ethan van Sciver (who did that kick-ass panel you see above this). The last time these two worked together on a "Rebirth" project, it lead to an absolutely stellar mini-series that put more life into DC's Green Lantern property than any other idea or series besides the reinvention of the character during the 50's, and what better character for lightning to strike twice with than the Flash?

Sadly, I know next to nothing about the story, but if I had to guess, he'll be working to build a mythology and lore for the character like he's already doing with Green Lantern, and will hopefully be doing soon with Superman.

8) Transformers - ....Is there ANY surprise I LOVE giant robots? There really should not be, at this point. And what's cooler than giant robots than transforming giant robots? Nothing, that's what. (But only when they transform into vehicles--that robots into animals thing was lame.) So obviously the Transformers universe has always been a favorite of mine. But never moreso than with their newest comic book series, which gives Transformers scribe and legend Simon Furman carte blanche to construct a TF universe using the G1 characters from the ground up however he likes. Four years ago, when IDW Publishing took over the property from the defunct Dreamwave, I wasn't sure how that would turn out, but now I see that my fears were misplaced. Simon crafts an excellent narrative here, using non-linear storytelling to create a brand-new universe that's amazing and exciting to read about--tales of pain, horror, hubris, pure evil and of course, even purer heroism. He reminds us that, at their base, the Transformers are both individual characters, and soldiers--that this is endless war between two factions and that even when one side has the most noble intentions, there are still casualties, and others who have nothing to do with the war that get dragged in, like in all wars. This little reimagining has quickly become one of my favorite comics to read...whenever they come out at least.

9) GI Joe - Okay, so as a kid I was always a bigger fan of Transformers than GI Joe (if you're wondering why, first smack yourself, then go back up and read the first couple sentences of my Transformers paragraph), but as I've grown up I realized something. There are a number of properties aimed at kids filled with great characters and fun ideas that, if refocused, reimagined and aimed for adults, could create some kick-ass stories. Transformers is one of them. GI Joe is another. (And Power Rangers is another still but we'll leave that for another time.) And that's exactly what's happening now that IDW Publishing now has control of THIS property too. The whole thing is being retold from the ground up, allowing the writer (GI Joe legend Larry Hama) to come up with his own ways to introduce characters instead of having to force them in anyway possible because of the toyline. Oh, and if you're wondering why I like GI Joe at all? Those kick-ass vehicles, duh!

10) Cinderella, from Fabletown, with Love - I realize it might seem kinda weird that I have a book called Cinderella on my list. But you see, this is Cinderella from Fables. Fables is a Vertigo comic story that uses the folktales and, well, fables of legend in a modern setting. I'll leave the details alone, save to say that the characters were forced out of their Homelands (read: the storybooks) and to our world (the Mundane World) by an enemy known only as the Adversary. Rather than expose themselves to us, the Fables created a exclusive community consisting only of themselves--a community which has remained a secret from its creation two centuries ago to present day.

In Fables, a lot of characters have been completely reimagined, like Cinderella. Once an annoying typical fairy tale heroine. Now, a bad-ass spy who makes 007 look like Agent 86. To say I'm excited to see a mini focused on her being a bad-ass is the understatement of the year.

Whoa, am I done already? And here I thought it would take me four hours instead of two. Oh well. Seeya next time. (Which will probably be in about 20 minutes...)