It’s Christmas Eve!
Hopefully, you’ve got all your presents acquired and wrapped by now. At least, I have. And so, there’s little to do but sit down, have a drink … and watch whatever Christmas Specials that are on TV. And, y’know, It’s a Wonderful Life is pretty great, but it doesn’t have a gorilla monster, either.
Which is why I just watched Justice League‘s Christmas episode, “Comfort and Joy.”
Justice League is the direct successor of Batman: The Animated Series (with a Superman show in there as well), which means it’s one of the better adaptations of the DC characters available. I haven’t even bothered watching the live action Justice League movie, but I can comfortably say the old Justice League cartoon was better. But I digress.
“Comfort and Joy” starts with some pretty standard superheroics– the Justice League puts together some big super-science gizmo to save a planet full of weirdo octopus aliens. As you do. The day is saved, at which point everybody decides to go off on Christmas break!
It’s worth noting that Batman and Wonder Woman never show up in this episode, which is understandable. Batman’s probably off chasing Calendar Man or some other holiday-themed Arkham inmate, while Wonder Woman doesn’t even celebrate Christmas to begin with, since she’s all about the Greek pantheon. Was there a Greek version of Saturnalia?
Aaaaanyway, “Comfort and Joy” alternates between three different storylines.
Flash (Wally West, I should note) gets the most traditional story– both as a crimmus story and a superhero one. He promises some orphans (it’s always orphans) he’s going to get them a DJ Rubberduck doll, the hottest present of the season. Thing is, it’s naturally sold out, so he’s got to run all the way to Japan (it’s good to be The Flash) to get the last one from the manufacturer. But on his way back to Central City, he runs into the Ultra Humanite (a mad scientist gorilla monster) wreaking havoc. DJ Rubberduck is broken in the fight– at which point Flash makes a heartfelt appeal to Ultra Humanite, who uses his mad scientist skills to repair and improve the doll so it recites classic literature instead of making fart noises. The orphans are enthralled, Ultra Humanite turns himself in, and Flash makes sure to give him an aluminum Christmas Tree for his jail cell. Aaaw.
Meanwhile, Superman takes Martian Manhunter back to Kansas to see Ma & Pa Kent for the holiday. The Kents are hilariously accepting of Superman’s weirdo martian friend, while Martian Manhunter just kind of lurks around and is awkward, because, y’know, they don’t have Christmas on Mars, except for that one MST3k episode.
Finally, Hawkgirl and Green Lantern decide to just screw around– they first get into a snowball fight (which may be Green Lantern’s most creative use of his power ring in the series), and then Hawkgirl drags Green Lantern off to some dive-ass space bar, where she pounds a couple of space-beers and picks a fight. That is literally all of it. It’s great.
Who’s the Scrooge? Ultra Humanite, maybe? Though he’s not rampaging against Christmas so much as crass consumerism and low culture in general, and even then he’s easily swayed by Flash, mostly ’cause he’s only in the episode for like eight minutes.
The great thing about “Comfort and Joy” is that it looks at Christmas from a more grown-up perspective. I mean, it’s easy enough to hack out a quick story in which Santa Claus gets kidnapped and the hero of the cartoon has to save him– though it’s also super easy to screw even that up. Looking at you, Sonic.
Instead, “Comfort and Joy” deals with more realistic crimmus issues. Finding the one rare toy for the holiday, or awkwardly visiting a friend’s family in lieu of your own celebration, or even just taking the couple days off to go get really, really hammered at your work’s Christmas party and maybe do something embarrassing with the co-worker you’ve been flirting with. Justice League offers a take on the holiday that’s full of heart without getting ridiculously saccharine.
Five out of Five Alien Space Beers.
So yeah! That’s it! Twelve days of random Christmas specials! It was a little tiring, but a fun little project to do. I … may or may not do it again next year, so we’ll see. But for now, I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Spiffy Solstice, Krazy Kwanzaa, or whatever other wintery holiday you like to celebrate!
As for me, I’m gonna take it easy for a bit– though I’ve got a couple of book reviews to hammer out before the end of the year, so stay tuned!
Man, last couple of entries have been pretty rough, haven’t they?
So! With this in mind, I figured I’d watch something, you know, watchable, which brings us to “A Pinky & The Brain Christmas.”
Pinky & The Brain was a pretty interesting cartoon– it started as a segment on Animaniacs, and then became popular enough not only to become its own show, but for awhile Pinky & The Brain was being shown in the evening like a real ‘grown up’ cartoon like, The Simpsons. All several years before Family Guy, I should note. Of course, at its heart, Pinky & The Brain is still a Looney Tunes cartoon at heart– so while it’s not as ‘adult’ as Family Guy or South Park might be, it’s still pretty damn smart. And, y’know, the Christmas special is no exception.
Pinky and The Brain, like many classic cartoon characters, have a singular goal. It’s just that in The Brain’s case, it’s world domination. And so, every episode, Brain hatches a new scheme to take over the world alongside the daffy-headed Pinky.
This time around, Brain has developed a doll capable of hypnotizing people– but the real key is getting the resources to build and distribute a billion of them. But then Brain has the brilliant realization of who can build a billion hypno-dolls: Santa Claus!
And so, Pinky & The Brain disguise themselves as elves to infiltrate the North Pole– there’s some slapstick business, but their plan succeeds anyway! But then, once Brain’s about to enthrall people the world over with his hypnotic message, he reads Pinky’s lost letter to Santa (which has been popping up over and over again over the course of the episode), in which Pinky asks Santa to give any presents he had for Pinky to The Brain instead, because Brain works so hard, and really wants what’s best for the world. And so, at the cusp of victory, Brain has a change of heart, and uses his hypnotic broadcaster to wish the world Merry Christmas before he destroys it. Aaaw.
To be honest, the plot to this episode is pretty straightforward– though it’s kind of fun seeing the “use Santa to conquer the world” plot from the perspective of the antagonists. I think the real thing at play here is the fact that “A Pinky & The Brain Christmas” is actually good, so there’s not really much to say about it. The plot’s straightforward, the physical comedy is fun, and there’s plenty of humor that’s bound to go over the heads of the average third grader, like references to The Donner Party, Bill Clinton, and a joke Freud and Jung. Cartoons make you smarter, kids!
Who’s the Scrooge? The Brain, I guess. It’s not that he hates Christmas, it’s just that he’s more than happy to use the season as an opportunity to conquer the world. Which makes sense, I mean– he’s a lab mouse, so it’s not like he’d have much attachment to the season. This said, his change of heart at the end has some genuine emotion behind it, thanks to a great musical score and Maurice LaMarche’s wonderful performance.
This is easily the best of the Christmas episodes I’ve watched so far– it operates completely within the scope of its show, and it’s got some wonderful holiday-themed gags to it. Honestly, this could easily be a solid Christmas classic if they showed it regularly. Or, y’know, you guys could just watch it on Hulu or whatever. Well worth your time.
Five out of Five Global Domination Schemes.
Here we go.
I never really got into He-Man as a kid, since GI Joe and Transformers had better toys and better cartoons (FITE ME, NERDS). I will admit I’ve seen the live action He-Man movie more than once, but that’s because I’m a fan of Canon Films & Dolph Lundgren, rather than the franchise as a whole.
This said, people have been snarking about The He-Man & She Ra Christmas Special ever since there was an internet. And, since I was a little bit behind on my Crimmus reviewing (I wanted to do the Lupin III Christmas episode but I can’t find it anywhere to stream), I figured I’d take the easy route and take a look at, The He-Man & She Ra Christmas Special (which is rather easy to find on YouTube). So here we go!
The first thing I should note is that this is a Christmas special, not a Christmas episode– which means it’s 44 minutes long, which means I can’t be arsed to give you a strict play by play of who’s shooting lasers at who in which scene. Still, I figure I’ll go over the highlights, starting with …
The episode starts with everyone getting together for Prince Adam (He-Man’s secret idenity) and Princess Adora’s (She-Ra’s secret identity) birthday party. All of She-Ra’s
action figures dolls friends are decorating, while He-Man’s friends … just sort of stand aroun. Gender roles are important, even on a weirdo space planet, you know.
Anyway, Adam & Man-At-Arms aren’t present for the decorating, because they’re off building a “Sky Spy” rocket somewhere. So Eternia has the technology for interstellar flight, but not pants. Got it. Orko, He-Man’s annoying wizard pal, decides it’s a good idea to get onboard this random spaceship, and, after getting chased by Skeletor, the spaceship (with Orko on it) gets zapped to Earth. Oops.
Orko meets some kids, who explain the Meaning of Christmas(tm). As you do.
Also of note is that the kids straight-up tell the Biblical story of Christmas– the scene fades out at the start, but then comes back in later to them telling Orko about how The Three Wise Men went to Bethlehem. Huh.
Meanwhile, all the weirdos on Eternia want Orko back for some reason, so She-Ra has to go get a Plot Device Crystal from someplace back on her planet, with the help of her inexplicably French mermaid
doll friend. It’s also worth noting that She-Ra and her friends are the ones who actually get shit done in this special– He-Man just sort of stands around and flexes in uncomfortably detailed animation.
So She-Ra and her Mermaid friend fight a “Beast Monster” (as if you couldn’t tell the writers were phoning it in), and She-Ra gets the crystal … only to be menaced by giant robots. Giant robots that transform, which makes them evil. So the writers couldn’t think up of a monster name, but they could throw shade at superior toylines. Got it.
One thing I will give this special is that it doesn’t skimp on the real reasons kids watched this show: monsters and robots and shit. It’s easy to get into the spirit of the season and talk about giving and stuff, but it’s gratifying to see this show’s got some ridiculous action to it. Not that He-Man’s allowed to punch anybody or even use his sword, but still. Though now I’m kind of thinking about the He-Man cartoon as sort of a transitory show between old action cartoons like Space Ghost and Herculoids, and the new wave of 80’s cartoons Sunbow put out. Or, y’know, I could do a queer reading of a kid’s cartoon from the 80’s, but making gay jokes about He-Man is shooting fish in a barrel. But I digress.
Anyway, Orko and the kids get teleported to Eternia, at which point the kids tell everyone ELSE about Christmas. Which is enough to get the attention of this Dormammu-looking robot ghost named Horde Prime, who is apparently Skeletor’s boss? He sends Skeletor and a pig-dude named Hordak to kidnap the children before they can spread Christianity holiday cheer all around.
The next fifteen minutes of the show consist of the kids getting kidnapped over and over again, with the evil bootleg Decepticons showing up for a bit, and after some sanitized violence, Skeletor winds up with the children (and a tiny robot dog, don’t ask), hiking through some snowy mountains.
This is the best part of the episode, as the kids pathologically tell Skeletor about Christmas. Skeletor, in turn, wants nothing to do with it. He does get some wonderfully cheesy lines in, however. For example:
Some Kid: Christmas is a time where everyone has fun!
Skeletor: You mean they get in fights?
Man, for a skull-wizard from another planet, Skeletor knows the holidays pretty damn well.
Anyway, Skeletor actually does good (even if he’s not happy about it) and saves the kids from being kidnapped by Hordak, and shoots down Horde Prime’s spaceship with his magic staff for good measure. You go, Skeletor.
The kids return to the castle, where all of He-Man & She-Ra’s mutant friends are having a party, and after some final “Merry Christmas!”’es, they head home. Honestly, I kind of want to see what an Eternian Christmas Party is like. Would French Mermaid chick hook up with Giant Hand Guy under the mistletoe? Would He-Man drink too much Eternian Eggnog and bust out the karaoke machine? Would She-Ra be the one who had to clean up after everybody? Seriously, there’s a ton of story potential here.
Who’s the Scrooge? Skeletor, naturally. In the span of like nine minutes he goes from ‘Nyah! Christmas is dumb!’ to ‘Nyah! I guess I will help you!’ Though to be fair, he also gets to screw up Hordak’s plans as well, which is a plus. Bickering villains always make for great entertainment.
The He Man & She-Ra Christmas Special is surreal and nonsensical and often terribly animated, which just means it’s exactly like an average episode of the normal cartoon. There’s a lot of dumb going on, but at the same time I have to give it points for the bit at the end with Skeletor.
Two and a half out of five pairs of furry underoos.
Lest I be accused (rightfully) of pro-Nintendo bias, let’s look at a Christmas special from the other side of the Console Wars!
The Super Mario Bros. Super Show was something I was tangentially aware of when it was first on the air in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but I never really made it a point to watch or obsess over it as I did with the likes of say, Transformers or TMNT. My grade-school friend Kenny, however, was another matter entirely. That kid was obsessed with all things Nintendo, and so, during first-grade recess or whatever, he would often insist on playing Mario Bros. Seeing as of how he was one of the few kids in class shorter than I was, that meant I got to be Luigi.
Thing was, he must have recorded every episode on a VCR or something, because Kenny always had to mimic the show exactly, to the point where he’d feed me my lines when I just wanted to pretend I was jumping on turtles or whatever. He must have memorized whole episodes, which strikes me as a bit impressive and also kind of a waste of youthful brainpower.
Funnily enough, I don’t think he ever memorized “Koopa Klaus,” the Super Mario Bros. Super Show Christmas special. Go figure.
The Super Mario Bros. Super Show starts with an absolutely amazing intro. Basically, it’s the 8 bit theme song from the games with a ridiculous rap track laid over it– nerdcore before nerdcore, man. Topping it all off is that, interspersed with clips from the show, there’s live action footage of Mario & Luigi’s live action actors (Capt. Lou Albano & Danny Wells respectively) kind of flail-dancing around. Seriously, check this shit out:
Anyway, after a short live-action intro, it’s time to watch the cartoon itself– though not before another go of the 8-bit rap within the first three minutes of hitting ‘play’ on Youtube. Nice.
The plot, as one would expect, is simple. King Koopa (not Bowser, mind you) hates Christmas ’cause he’s a villain, so he’s going to kidnap Santa Claus and bomb the shit out of the North Pole. Shock and awe, man.
Meanwhile, somewhere near the north pole, Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and Toad pop out of the snow in a straight-up Bugs Bunny burrow. Mario’s dressed for the beach, ’cause he thought they were going to Hawaii-land, but Toad says he made a left turn at
Albuquerque an iceberg, and here they are. But apparently they have Christmas in the Mushroom Kingdom, ’cause Toad figures they might as well visit Santa ’cause they’re so close …
Toad is the worst, by the way. But for whatever reason Princess Toadstool gives him a snowboard as a present anyway, which Toad absolutely loves– to the point where when King Koopa tries to kill them with bob-ombs, Toad is more concerned about the snowboard than his friends. What a dick.
Anyway, the quartet make it to the North Pole only to find it’s all been magically frozen solid, and Santa’s been kidnapped. Mario, being the hero he is, sets off to rescue Santa, resulting in a too long, too slowly paced chase sequence. Oh, and every couple of minutes Toad says something like “We have to save the presents! And Santa too I guess.” Because he is a greedy little shit.
Santa is saved, as you’d expect, but his North Pole HQ is still frozen! Toad laments, finally learning the True Meaning of Christmas(tm), and gives his snowboard to Santa so at least somebody can get a present. Santa says this is the most generous thing he’s ever seen (which honestly I think is a lie to humor the little fungus) but then the generous act fills Santa with warmth and magic or something and the ice all melts and Christmas is saved and he invites Mario & Co. to ride on the sleigh with him. The end.
OR IS IT?
Because, again, this show is bookended by live action segments, which mostly consist of Wells and Albano wearing silly outfits and shouting in terrible Italian accents in what looks like Sesame Street’s dingy basement. It’s wonderful. And apparently this one has a “don’t run away from home” message or something, which is mostly an excuse for a flashback sequence in which Wells and Albano wear shorts and little propeller beanies. Oh, and Albano still has a mustache as kid-Mario. This is wonderful.
And to wrap things up, the closing credits feature Lou Albano spasm-dancing and yelling “DO THE MARIO!” over and over again, because that is what 1989 was like.
Who’s the Scrooge? One would thing King Koopa was, with his Christmas hating and all. He even says “Bah Hum-Koop” which doesn’t work nearly as well as some writer thought it would.
However, it’s Toad who learns the Christmas lesson– this time about how Christmas is about giving, not receiving, etc. I suppose it’s a good lesson for kids to learn (even if it’s from a show that’s meant to sell them video games),
Rating: So yeah, even with my pro-Nintendo bias, this is easily better than “Sonic’s Christmas Blast.” Not that it’s a high bar to set, but still. Really, what pushes it over the top for me is the live action segments– they’ve got nothing to do with Christmas, but there’s a ramshackle charm to them. If nothing else, the actors are having a good time hamming it up, and that’s always fun to watch.
Two out of five NES cartridges.
I chose my side during the great Console Wars of the 90’s, and I still maintain the SNES is the greatest console ever created. This said, my friend had a Genesis, and I will admit I spent many an hour playing it over at his place (even if he made me play always play Tails, what the hell dude).
Of course, video games weren’t the only front of the console wars– there was also merchandising. Both Sega and Nintendo made cartoons of … varying quality, but Sega went a step further in that they had two Sonic cartoons on the air at the same time.
One of them, simply titled Sonic the Hedgehog, was actually, y’know, decent. It featured ongoing continuity, a large supporting cast of characters, and is likely responsible for at least 28% of the furry fanart on the internet right now. The other cartoon, The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog … wasn’t. Wasn’t good, that is. I’m sure there’s weirdo fanart about that show as well but I’m not about to start digging through deviantart to find out.
Guess which one had a Christmas special?
Oh, it gets better. As “Sonic’s Christmas Blast” was produced in 1996, three years after they wrapped up work on The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, just for a shameless tie-in for Sonic 3D Blast for the Genesis. Which, as far as I’m aware, had nothing to do with Christmas. Marketing, folks!
The very first thing I wrote in my notes was “Whyyyyyyyy.”
It goes downhill from there.
We start in a generic cartoon city, where everyone’s gathered to watch a big TV broadcast from the North Pole. Santa Claus pops up on screen and shocks everyone by announcing his retirement, and that he’s passing on his title to the eeeevil Dr. Robotnik. Who, to be fair, at least has the physique for it.
But! It soon turns out it’s not the real Santa who’s retiring– it’s just a robot duplicate that’s being filmed from Robotnik’s evil lair. And for some reason Robotnik’s main robot henchmen (a drill-dozer dude and a robot chicken) are dressed up like Team Rocket to cheer him on off camera. Which is impressive because this actually hit the airwaves a year before Pokemon did. Copyright lawyers, start your engines.
Meanwhile, Sonic is hanging out with his ostensible girlfriend, Princess Sally. Which is notable because Princess Sally is a major character from the other Sonic cartoon. You know, the good one. Not that she even gets any lines or anything, but still. Sonic promises he won’t get Sally anything for Christmas … at which point he immediately speeds off and tells his sidekick Tails he’s got to get Sally something for Christmas. Because apparently last year they made the same agreement and Sally gave Sonic some little ring with squiggly bits on it? This becomes important later.
My notes list that I first said “What the fuck?” at four minutes and fifty seconds into this cartoon. It’s when Sonic is talking to a random bird about how much he likes this ring. Not the power rings you actually collect in the video games, just … a ring.
Anyway, Sonic speeds off to the city, not to save them from Robotnik, but to get Sally some presents. Real heroic, dude. But there aren’t any presents to be had, because Robotnik has stolen them all. Like, as replacement-Santa, he’s apparently declared it to be reverse-Christmas where people give HIM presents, instead? Only he’s got an army of robots to shake everyone down, which makes me think he could’ve skipped the whole ‘impostor robot santa’ bit.
Robotnik’s two main henchbots (sadly no longer wearing the Team Rocket shirts) and Robo-Santa tangle with Sonic, only to get summarily trounced. Sonic tricks the location of the real Santa out of them, and he soon speeds off to rescue him from some north pole prison.
Upon being rescued, Santa laments that all is lost … until he sees Sonic’s squiggly-ring, which apparently has the same symbol written on some North Pole cave paintings? As whoever wears that ring apparently can unlock the real secrets of super speed, just after enduring some challenges? Which apparently include climbing a mountain, snowboarding down it, then para-sailing, and then riding on a BMX bike.
This is where I wrote “WHAT THE FUCK?” in all caps in my notes. Like, were the ancient North-Polians (North-Polish?) really into X-games stuff, or is Santa just making this up as he goes along? Or did the writers just not care?
I may never know the answers to these questions, and I am fine with that. With the power of even-speedier-ness unlocked, Sonic steals all the presents from Robotnik and presumably gives them to their true recipients. He also showers Sally with presents, because anti-consumerist messages are for suckers.
Sally still doesn’t get any lines.
Sonic immediately speeds back to the North Pole, where Santa says it may be time to actually retire, and so he passes the red hat onto Sonic. Who … accepts? And the episode ends with Sonic wishing everyone “An extremely merry Christmas, every year of your life.” Which … sounds a bit ominous, if you ask me.
Awful. I’m not even going to make up a pithy and thematic scale for it.
These twenty minutes are exactly the sort of cheap and shameless tie-in that Earthworm Jim was making fun of. The plot is nonsensical– which would have been forgivable if the jokes landed. Which they don’t. Honestly, Sonic’s Christmas Blast makes Have Yourself a Morlock Little Xmas look like Frank freakin’ Capra. And the funny thing is, Sega kept on trying to market itself towards older kids, with a heavy focus on X-TREEM ATTITUDE and whatever … which is promptly ignored by the sub-Hanna Barbera level of animation and comedy here.
Easily the worst thing I’ve watched for this … so far. There’s still a couple more days to go.
I’m gonna need another beer.
Batman + Christmas is a surprisingly good fit.
I mean, Gotham’s pretty much made of giant gothic-looking skyscrapers, so dumping a bunch of snow on everything makes it look even more interesting. And since every episode can’t be a Mr. Freeze episode, Christmas episodes are a no-brainer. Plus, the circus clown style of The Joker fits in really, really well with garish Christmas decorations. Tell me Elf on a Shelf isn’t a supervillain. Tim Burton realized this pretty early on with Batman Returns, and so Batman Christmas stories are pretty much A Thing now. I might wind up doing a couple of different Batman Crimmuses as things go on, but for now, let’s look at “Holiday Knights.”
This is from the New Batman Adventures, which is a continuation/season 3 to the classic Batman, the Animated Series. Which a lot of you probably know already, but it’s still worth noting for the difference in animation style and some new characters.
RECAP: This is actually an anthology episode, with three little short adventures set on Dec 22, Dec 24, and Dec 31st. No less than three different supervillain schemes in the span of a week, which is a really, really good reason to move to Metropolis.
Anyway, the first segment is easily the best. It’s two days before Christmas, and Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are laying low in some crummy hotel room. A hotel room that only has one bed, if you pay attention. Oh, and Harley’s hanging around in her underwear, so go ahead and draw your conclusions from there.
Harley’s bored, so Ivy decides to take her out on an eeeevil scheme. Which basically boils down to “smooch millionaire Bruce Wayne with hypnotic lipstick, and then make him buy us stuff.” Gotta say, as far as evil villain plots go, that one’s pretty great in its simplicity. Cue shopping montage.
Bruce fakes his own death via elevator shaft, giving him the chance to pull on the Batman tights and then it’s a simple matter for Batman and the girls to wail on each other a little bit before Batman drops a Christmas tree on them. The end.
Which brings us to the second segment. On December 24th, Christmas Eve, Barbara Gordon is doing some last minute shopping at some department store (maybe the same one Harley & Ivy just rampaged through two days earlier? I should’ve paid more attention). But, turns out, Detective Harvey Bullock & Detective Renee Montoya are in disguise as Santa and an Elf respectively, out to find whoever’s been robbing department stores this holiday.
I should take this moment to note that “Holiday Knights” is a good indicator that Bruce Timm, like many artists, is a huge perv. Not that I can blame him: if I could draw, I’d probably draw a lot of sexy ladies too. Things never get too ridiculously fetishy here, but “Holiday Knights” has a surprising amount of skin for a Saturday morning cartoon. I mean, there was the earlier segment, and in this one, Montoya’s elf costume is sorely lacking in pants, and we even get a glimpse of Barb’s bare shoulders as she’s changing into her Batgirl outfit. Scandalous. Though I suppose one could point to this as a sign of the New Batman Adventures being more “mature” or something, as characters are allowed to actually say “I killed that guy!” as opposed to “I destroyed that guy!” But I digress.
Anyway, there are some little kids stealing stuff all over the store– at which point the bunch of them all run to the center of the store and melt into each other like some kind of body-horror Voltron. And surprise! It’s Clayface. Why a giant shapechanging mud monster needs to steal diamonds and stereos, I couldn’t say. Maybe he’s just trying to keep his street cred with the other Gotham villains.
So yeah. Batgirl fights Clayface, stopping him with some help from Montoya and Bullock. Pretty straightforward little adventure without much to say about it otherwise.
The final segment is set on Dec 31st, in which Batman and Robin (Tim Drake, instead of Dick Grayson, for the record) foil The Joker’s scheme to kill a bunch of people during New Year’s Eve countdown. It’s another generic Batman adventure (though anything with Mark Hamill’s Joker is inherently entertaining). Though part of Joker’s scheme involves giving everyone in the NYE crowd Joker masks as a cover … which makes me wonder just how dumb Gothamites are. I mean, you’d think they’d have collective coulrophobia after all the times Joker tried to blow up the city, but I guess all the smart people already moved to Metropolis or Central City or wherever.
The best part of this segment is at the very end– after foiling Joker’s scheme, Batman meets up with Commissioner Gordon for a cup of coffee at some little diner. It’s a short bit, but a great juxtaposition of superheroics and everyday life, which is always fun.
Who’s the Scrooge? Again, nobody. Clayface is just sort of a generic bank robber, and Harley and Ivy really do get into the spirit of Christmas– at least the gleefully greedy side of it. And heck, Joker doesn’t even bother with a Christmas scheme, ’cause he already tried that back in like the second episode of the series.
Really, this is another one of those cases where it’s Christmas themed but perhaps not a Christmas story. Which is a surprisingly interesting distinction I’m finding in these holiday episodes. Even still, the old DCAU is almost always worth watching, so I’ll give it four out of five gift-wrapped batarangs.
Ever since the 70’s or so, pretty much anything with a hint of popularity has been adapted into a cartoon. More often than not, these cartoons are shameless cash-ins, and just as terrible as you’d expect. But sometimes, they make a shameless cash-in cartoon that’s far better than it has any right to be.
Case in point: Earthworm Jim.
Earthworm Jim (sometimes abbreviated into EWJ by the acronym happy), was a series developed by Playmates Toys, based on the designs of cartoonist & animator Doug Tenapel. The franchise actually started as a 16 bit video game, and spiraled out from there. Both the games and the TV show were full of surreal and anarchic humor that set them apart from their peers. The cartoon was one of my favorites as a kid, and it was a lot smarter than one would think. I mean, just in this episode alone, we get references to The Seventh Seal, Rush Limbaugh, Val Kilmer vs. Adam West (this was the mid 90’s, remember) and probably a bunch of other stuff I missed. Hell, this whole review could just be random quotes from the episode, and it’d be worth it.
What makes things even better is that Jim himself is voiced by Dan Castellaneta– you know, Homer Simpson. Only Castellaneta goes all out with the performance, putting all kinds of crazed enthusiasm into every line. Dude shoulda got an Emmy or something.
Sadly, the Earthworm Jim brand has long since petered out (the most recent installment being a HD remake of the game in 2009). This sort of forgotten franchise is exactly the sort of thing I like to goob about on this blog, and here we are! Which brings us to the final episode of Earthworm Jim‘s two-season run, “For Whom the Jingle Bell Tolls.”
We open with Jim decorating his ‘secret hideout’ (read suburban ranch house) with his sidekick, Peter Puppy. At which point they’re attacked by Queen Pulsating Bloated Festering Sweaty Pus-filled Malformed Slug-for-a-Butt (she’s right there on the SNES cover). That name should give you a pretty good idea of what this show’s like.
Anyway, Jim defeats Queen Slug-for-a-Butt in time for the opening credits, after which she rants to one of her henchmen about how she doesn’t understand what Christmas is. She eventually gets the idea to kidnap Santa and turn him into her evil henchman, and then there you go. Kidnapping and brainwashing ensues. And so, she plans to use Santa to implant mind-control microchips into all the houses in the world! Dun dun dunnnnnn.
Soon, Jim, Peter, and Jim’s girlfriend Princess What’s-her-Face (actual name) discover Santa’s in trouble, through a Mall Santa’s psychic connection to the Real Santa via fake beard. The three of them set out on the case, first heading to a bar full of abstract holiday incarnations– including Death, who’s mostly there so the show can make an Ingmar Bergman joke. After shaking a probably-drunk Rudolph down for information, Jim learns of Queen Slug-for-a-Butt’s evil plan!
And so, Jim and his friends ambush the evil Queen and her brainwashed Santa as they climb down some random chimney, and slapstick fighting ensues. Jim makes a heartfelt appeal to Santa to break the brainwashing, and it works! At which point Santa decides he’s gonna give Queen Slug-for-a-Butt some payback, and reveals his previous career as WOTAN, NORSE GOD OF JUDGEMENT!
Like I said, it’s that kind of show.
Slug butts are kicked, Christmas is saved, and Jim gets a pony for Christmas. The end.
Who’s the Scrooge? Queen Slug-for-a-Butt? I guess. Only she doesn’t “learn the meaning of Christmas” so much as “get beat up by a Norse God.” So, uh. yeah.
Rating: Funnily enough, this is the first cartoon I’ve watched this year where Santa shows up. Admittedly, most of what I’ve been watching thus far have been more ‘serious’ action cartoons, but still. And while nobody learns any lessons about Christmas (heck, somebody even makes a self-aware “this isn’t one of those plots where the bad guy kidnaps Santa, is it?”), it’s got enough gags about Christmas commercialism to make it stand out from “just another” Earthworm Jim episode.
Five out of Five recitations of The Litany Against Fear from Dune.
You guys, I just saw that space conflict movie. And I have OPINIONS (as does everyone else on the internets). I might write up an Unfair Compare feature on it, but that will have to wait, because it’s TIME FOR MORE CRIMMUS. MUTANT CRIMMUS.
If you were a nerdy kid growing up in the 90’s, X-men were a big deal.
Nowadays, it seems like every cartoon (or at least every cartoon anybody talks about) has an in-depth ongoing storyline. Steven Universe, the Avatar Shows, Adventure Time, Gravity Falls– it’s a long list. But that wasn’t always the case. X-Men wasn’t the first cartoon to feature serialized storytelling, but I’d say it was definitely one of the most influential. Gummi Bears may have done it first, but I guarantee the average 2nd grader would much rather pretend to be Wolverine than Grumpy Bear during recess.
I picked up the series on DVD awhile back, and it’s really surprising how well the first couple of seasons hold up. They balance the ‘supervillain of the week’ thing with some really neat ongoing storylines, featuring an entertaining bunch of mutants with inexplicably weird accents.
Thing is, “Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-Mas” is not from the first season. It’s the 57th episode, in the fourth season, coming hot on the heels after the big “Beyond Good & Evil” five-parter. I imagine, even with 30-some years of X-men comics to draw from the writers had to be scraping the bottom of the barrel by that point.
So naturally, somebody said “Let’s do a Christmas episode!”
We start with caroling at the X-mansion, featuring Cyclops being absolutely terrible at it, because he’s a huge dork and nobody likes him. At least Jubilee is excited for the holiday, mentioning this is her first Christmas with the X-men. Which means either …
A) This has been a hell of a year, with 56 episodes worth of fighting and death and ressurection behind them.
B) That this episode takes place sometime ambigously earlier in X-men continuity (which is a mess to begin with on account of all the time travel).
C) The writers just didn’t give a shit.
I’ll let all you Doylists and Watsonians duke it out over a 20 year old cartoon.
Meanwhile, everyone’s having a good time. Gambit and Jean spend the entire episode in the kitchen arguing over how to make Christmas Dinner, while Beast somehow manages to cause an explosion while making cranberry glaze.
Unsurprisingly, Wolverine is the odd man out, and he’s all bah-humbug because I guess they don’t have Christmas in Canada? Still, Jubilee talks him into going holiday shopping, which I guess Wolvie takes as an opportunity to get away from Cyclops’ awful singing.
And so, Jubilee, Wolverine, and Storm brave the mall on Christmas Eve, and somehow Wolverine manages not to fly into a berserker rage. Good on him. But their holiday expedition is ruined by the episode’s only action scene! Turns out, a couple of Morlocks (hobo-mutants who live in the sewers, for those not up to date on their X-men terminology) have stolen an ambulance, and drive the damn thing right into a skating rink. Storm stops it from landing on anybody, and then stops Wolverine from murderizing the Morlocks. Turns out, the Morlocks only stole the ambulance so they could get the medicine inside, because one of their own, Leech (Tiny Tim with scales, basically) is sick.
Storm agrees to help, and so the three of them head down into the sewers.
Once they’re down there, the characters kind of yell at each other for a bit. See, Storm is technically the leader of the Morlocks after beating up a punk-rock eyepatch chick named Callisto way back during the first season. Even the Christmas episode’s got continuity! Buuuuuut Storm just kind of peaced out right afterward, so Callisto’s justifiably ticked about that.
Anyway, Leech is too sick to be taken back to the X-mansion for treatment, and so the only way to save him is to give him a blood transfusion from Wolverine, so he can use his healing factor! Which … is how mutant medicine works, maybe? Wolverine is not too thrilled about this, going from “bah humbug” grumpy to “what the hell are you thinking?” grumpy. He even mentions he’s tried to do something similar twenty times before, and it only worked twice. As for the rest … well, this is a Saturday morning cartoon show from the 90’s, so the writers can’t out and out say “and the other eighteen died horribly.” Unfortunately, the intentional vagueness just sounds silly.
But Storm brow-beats Logan into helping out. While waiting on the procedure to finish, Jubilee hangs out with some little Morlock waif with anime eyes and learns the True Meaning of Christmas(tm) from a bunch of CHUDs that have nothing but each other. Aaaaw.
And because this is a Christmas Episode, the transfusion is a success! Storm proceeds to hand leadership of the Morlocks back to Callisto (I mean, Storm wasn’t really doing the job anyway). Then Rogue flies Beast over to the sewers so he can provide more medical care– at which point Jubilee decides to give all the presents and food she just bought to the Morlocks so they can have a proper sewer Christmas …
… while, back at the mansion, Jean and Gambit are still arguing about what to do with this giant dinner they made that nobody’s going to eat ’cause they’d rather stay with the Morlocks for the holiday. Man. It probably says something that most of the X-men would rather spend their Christmas in a moldy sewer than face Jean & Gambit’s cooking. I bet Rogue just wanted to avoid Gambit waving mistletoe around, because you know he would.
Who’s the Scrooge?
Wolverine, naturally. Though it’s kind of funny, as throughout the series, Wolverine could come off as less ‘grizzled veteran’ so much as ’emo teenager.’ Either interpretation fits in this episode. But his sidekick Jubilee manages to drag him into festivities pretty easily, so one might wonder how much of his grouchiness is just an act. ‘course, if I had to listen to Cyclops’ caroling, I’d probably be in a bad mood too.
“Xmas Marks the Spot” suffers from the fact that it’s trying to be dramatic. There’s a lot of crying and yelling– but not much in the way of whacky holiday adventure. I guess there’s the Jean vs. Gambit stuff as comedic filler, but this episode doesn’t nearly reach the levels of holiday themed mayhem that other Christmas episodes go for. Which generally fits the tone of X-Men— it wanted to be a “serious” cartoon … about dudes in yellow spandex with knife hands. Still, I at least had fun watching it in a “what the hell?” kind of way.
I’ll give it two out of five holiday themed ‘X-mas’ puns.
Did you know there was a Robocop cartoon?
Did you know there was more than one Robocop cartoon?
So yeah. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, there was a trend of making cheesy cartoons based on R-rated action movies. Rambo, Conan the Barbarian, and even The Toxic Avenger all got their own TV shows of varying quality. What gets me about Robocop: Alpha Commando is that it was made in 1998, over a decade after the original Robocop movie, and five years after the last flick in the series, Robocop 3. I wonder if some exec was just pushing to revive the brand, or if they just stumbled across the license and decided to crank out a generic action show about it.
Either way, I guess they figured you can’t spell “Christmas” without “cyberpunk dystopia,” which brings us to “Oh Tannenbaum, Whoa Tannenbaum.” I’m giving them points for that title right off the bat.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t watch Robocop: Alpha Commando when it first came out, so I’m not too familiar with the characters or the setting or all that. Though something tells me that’s not going to be much of a problem …
We open with Robocop and his partner (whose name I forget) stuck in holiday traffic. They get a call from dispatch talking about a disturbance at some mall, and off they go. Turns out, everyone’s trying to get their hands on the new Giggles the Elf doll, to the point of practically rioting over it. So, y’know, like actual Christmas. It should also be noted that cartoon-Detroit looks a lot more liveable than actual Detroit. I mean, it’s not even on fire.
Anyway, Robocop and Officer Whats-Her-Face get put on the case to see who’s inciting all this stuff … only to find out that the culprit is Giggles the Elf. Turns out, the toys are actually robots programmed to steal and incite mayhem. As you do. So naturally, Robocop shoots a bunch of robot elf toys in front of some children and makes them cry. The kids, that is, not the toys. This is … the barest nod towards the satirical tone of the Robocop movies? I may be a little overly generous here.
Meanwhile, back at the Robo-base playset, a big present shows up on the doorstep. Robocop’s nerdy tech assistant opens it up, and there’s a woman inside? Well then. Turns out, this is Dr. Charlotte Tannenbaum, a mad scientist villain from an earlier episode, maybe? I’m sure as hell not gonna watch 40-something episodes of the Robocop cartoon to find out.
Dr. Tannenbaum is kind of a fun character, in that she’s a woman who hits all the mad scientist beats (ranting, cackling, evil inventions, etc) without being reduced to a femme fatale in a too-tight catsuit. She does have the hots for Robocop’s tech support geek, though. I assume she’s only into the IT guy ’cause he’s like the only dude in future-Detroit who’s not a cyborg or a 40 year old man with a mohawk.
Anyway, Dr. Tannenbaum drugs IT-guy and drags him off to her evil warehouse lair, while Robocop and Officer I-wasn’t-in-the-movie’ fight some more holiday themed robots. Robocop even comments on this, describing himself sardonically as “Robocop: public destroyer of Christmas.” Dude is pretty sassy for a corporate cyborg.
Eventually, the good guys track Dr. Tannenbaum to her generic warehouse lair, where Dr. Tannenbaum rants about how she hates Christmas, because it’s not her fault she’s named after a Christmas Tree. She sends more robots after Robocop, who destroys them in short order, even using a flamethrower to melt an evil snowman. Brutal. Dr. Tannenbaum tries fleeing in a billboard robot, but then Robocop commandeers a giant Santa sleigh blimp thing to stop her, and eventually the IT nerd convinces Dr. Tannenbaum not to murder everyone. Then she gets arrested. The end.
So, that happened.
Who’s the Scrooge? Dr. Tannenbaum, obviously, for semi-justified reasons. Though her whole ‘ruin Christmas!’ plan is a bit convoluted … but then again, all the best mad scientist schemes are. Though honestly she should have just picked a single goal (“rob everybody,” or “ruin Christmas,” or “get laid,”) and stuck with that. Probably would have been more successful that way– but then again, this is a kids cartoon so the bad guys gotta lose by the end.
So yeah. This is one of those episodes that’s Christmas themed, but it doesn’t really have much in the way of a Christmas moral. Which is kind of entertaining in its own right, I admit. I can’t tell you how “Oh Tannenbaum, Whoa Tannenbaum” compares to the rest of the show, but honestly if you’re a little bored and/or under the influence on YouTube at some point, you could do worse than to watch Robocop murder elf-robots for twenty minutes or so.
Let’s say two out of five Primary Directives.
So, just moving down the checklist of franchises that shaped my childhood, it’s time to look at a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Christmas Special!
Surprisingly, the original TMNT cartoon never had a Christmas episode. At least, that’s what I’ve gathered from my preliminary research (read: google). However, there was a live action Christmas special, loosely based on the ‘Coming Out of Their Shells’ tour, which … um. Yeah.
I think I’ll save that one for later. Like “I hate myself and have stockpiled more booze” later. Instead, I went ahead and watched “The Christmas Aliens,” the 53rd episode of the 2003 TMNT reboot. TMNT is a fairly interesting franchise in that the reboots tend to get better over the years, rather than worse. Heck, even the second live-action TMNT movie reboot was leaps and bounds more watchable than the first one. I think part of it stems from the fact that the Ninja Turtles were so ridiculously over-marketed on the first go round that subsequent adaptations had to do more than just make the same pizza jokes. That, and the bar was probably set really low by stuff like the aforementioned Wrap Rap.
The 2003 series followed the old Mirage TMNT comics fairly closely, in that “The Christmas Aliens” draws a lot from an issue of the old TMNT comic by the same title. So let’s check it out!
It’s Christmas Eve, because holiday specials always take place on Christmas Eve. Michelangelo’s out in disguise, goofing off and having holiday fun. After surfing on a sled in a park, Mikey finds a stray kitten, who he adopts and names Klunk.
Cat tucked away in his jacket, Mikey swings by a toy store– only to find that some rocket-launcher wielding street punks are stealing a truckload of Li’l Orphan Alien dolls that were supposed to be donated to an orphanage. Being a good vigilante, Mikey spends the rest of the episode punching dudes and hanging off of a speeding truck and running from the cops.
Meanwhile, the rest of the turtles are hanging out in their surprisingly spacious sewer lair, getting ready for their own Christmas party. They even bring in guests– i.e. characters that have shown up in previous episodes. There’s April O’Neil & Casey Jones … and a couple of hobos that probably showed up in an earlier episode that I didn’t watch, and … uh, a superhero? I guess it goes to show this series knows what to do with continuity and stuff. And if those folks weren’t enough, a magic portal opens and Usagi Yojimbo (with friends!) shows up. Whaaat?
I mean, I’m not gonna look a gift rabbit in the mouth, but Usagi’s from furry-feudal Japan. Pretty sure Christmas wasn’t a thing there. Unless Stan Sakai did an issue where Usagi meets Jesuit missionaries or something (I’m envisioning them as like, badgers). Which I don’t think has happened but I could be super wrong here.
Anyway, everybody just sort of mills around and goofs off with some holiday hijinks (there’s an obligatory mistletoe gag between Casey & April), and wonders where the heck Mikey is. Finally, Mikey gets back home, at which point he suggests everyone go help him deliver the stolen toys to the orphanage. The end.
Who’s the Scrooge? Funnily enough, nobody. I mean, if you had to I guess you could say the street punk gangsters were ruining christmas, what, with the robbery from orphans and all. But even then they say they’re gonna sell the Li’l Orphan Alien dolls on the internet, so their motive’s completely financial and not ‘I hate Christmas!’ Even still, this episode captures the feeling of goofing off with your friends and family for the holiday, combined with the general weirdness of the TMNT universe. Definitely worth a watch for anybody who grew up loving ninja reptiles.
Rating: Five out of five slices of turkey and cranberry-topped holiday pizza.