Inkblot's Feature -- They Might Be Giants

In the early '80s, John Linnell and John Flansburgh, former friends and songwriting pair from high school, discovered that they had both moved into the same apartment building in Brooklyn on the very same day. Deciding to continue their career and start their own band, the two named themselves after the title of a 1971 movie, and went on to become a Grammy-winning alternative rock band.

And as such, They Might Be Giants were born.

But enough about the band; this isn't a music-based blog, after all.

So why am I dedicating a blog entry to this band? Well, if you were to peruse their music videos, you'd see that majority of the videos are animated. Before the Gorillaz came up with the concept of combing animation with their music, TMBG released a number of cartoon-based music videos, and if one was to look through their website, you'd see a multitude of Flash-based videos for their more recent creations.

But how about some of their earlier stuff? Here's a quick look back at 6 of their videos and which show/site/station they were first featured.

**I'm going to go ahead and admit defeat on one thing here: I couldn't figure out how to post the videos directly into the blog, so underneath each photo I've uploaded, you'll find a link to the site that featured the video. Sorry for the inconvenience.**

--Istanbul (Not Constantinople), featured on Tiny Toon Adventures

This was actually my first introduction to the band. Featured on the show's first MTV-spoof episode, the video features Plucky and Hampton in Istanbul (although the geography is really incorrect) searching for a stolen statue for the Sultan/King/Unnamed Authority Figure. Now how many people knew that this song was a cover, and that the original version, first performed in 1953, was a slower-paced swing song?

--Particle Man, featured on Tiny Toon Adventures

TMBG got one more video in on the same episode of TTA; staring Plucky once again, the video pits him as a professional wrestler, out to take on the likes of Triangle Man, Universe Man, and Person Man!

--Experimental Film, featured on

This is a great video for anyone who has worked with student films; the video acts like a combination of a stereotypical bland black-&-white film and lively Flash animation. None of the video actually makes sense, but that's what's so fun about it. Secondary side note on why I love this video: while in college, I ran a TV show that featured student-based short films (usually coming from the Broadcast department), and ended up sitting through countless hours of blasé shorts coming from the inner angst of college students... trust me, Homestar Runner's take on the subject is actually way better than half the stuff I sat through!

--Dee Dee and Dexter, featured on Cartoon Network

This was one of a few videos TMBG created for the Cartoon Network (you know, when they actually played GOOD cartoons?!? I know, its hard to believe). The video recreates our star characters as anime stars, creating what could be mistaken for a new Japanese-based opening for the show. Thankfully, CN might have gone seriously downhill shortly after this video was made, but they never did anything like this.

--Doctor Worm, featured on KaBlam!

I almost didn't put this one on the list, since it's a combination of live-action and animation, but it's still a good video and the animation isn't too bad. A group of kids search for a new drummer for their band, only to continually run into a worm that wants to join up... yeah, sounds like something that would make more sense after about a fifth of Scotch. So while the lyrics don't make a lot of sense and the video is really out-there, the music is catchy, and the video does a pretty good job of blending both the live-action and the animation.

Did I miss your favorite TMBG animated video? Let me know what you think!

Guest Contribution -- "Superman: Doomsday" Review

Let's welcome our first guest contributer, Sean Comer, with the first part of his DC Animated Films reviews.

I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. I sometimes struggle capturing disappointment in words.

DC Studios’ animated “Superman: Doomsday” feels like a colossal letdown at nearly every turn. Saddest part? It didn’t have to be. It could’ve condensed and adapted the original saga and crafted an animated epic probably on par with the best in the “Spiderman,” “X-Men” or latter-day “Batman” sagas.

Instead, DC turned out its own rendition that shoehorns Lex Luthor unnecessarily into a dramatically inferior story and completely shuns the tension, drama and emotional content that made the original Life and Death of Superman arc one of the only Superman tales it’s possible for me to care less about on a good day.

In this full-length feature, Superman battles the destructive alien force Doomsday. Superman dies in battle. Superman returns to save Metropolis in the end, rocking a black suit and decent little mullet.

I hope you enjoyed that description. It’s the only significant similarities to the original story.

The new story is frankly unsatisfying enough. I can’t even call the pacing “wrong” necessarily, because I can’t compare this story’s pacing to the original arc’s. It just doesn’t translate. This pace feels more like director Bruce Timm was trying to hustle through three back-to-back-to-back episodes of the Kids WB animated series than trying to tell a flowing story over the course of 90 minutes.

The graphic novels combining the death and resurrection of Superman arcs take some patience. They form a graphic novel in every sense of that word. It is not for those of the tiny attention span. This film, on the other hand, lays everything out there as quickly and concisely as possible because the typical audience for DC Studios’ animated faire in all likelihood lacks the attention spans to stick with a developed, emotional story long enough to tell this tale proper.

Doomsday’s introduction was the first sign something truly was not right in Metropolis. A force this devastating deserved the treatment it got in the books: that of a destructive juggernaut’s methodical path of destruction on a collision course with a city he doesn’t realize belongs to possibly the only being that’s really his equal.

The original artists really gave Doomsday the “Cloverfield” treatment before “Cloverfield” was a glint in J.J. Abrams’ mad-genius eyes. I remember the scene where Doomsday takes a deer’s neck and snaps it effortlessly. I remember panels showing only Doomsday’s fists breaking first through his underground prison’s walls, then the soil into an unsuspecting world’s daylight.

Here, we get Doomsday’s full reveal right off the bat. Given Timm’s notorious mastery of shadowy, foreboding lighting and sometimes obscuring just enough of his characters, it doesn’t even feel like his handiwork. There’s no lurking, impending horror ready to destroy every living thing in its way. There’s no teasing an exciting, dramatic reveal here. He’s just suddenly . . . there.

And of course, behold the originality: who should be the one responsible for Doomsday’s freedom? Luthor. It’s actually a shame James Marsters’ fine performance had to be wasted on a character that only distracts me with my ever-present reminders that this particular take on the story feels forced by his mere presence. I could easily see some executive demanding Luthor’s presence for fear Doomsday wouldn’t be a recognizable enough character to push units.

And really, that’s a problem with which every writer to ever craft a Superman script struggles: they’re completely locked into the idea there can be no other master villain threatening Metropolis but Lex Luthor. Nevermind the fact Darkseid or Braniac could potentially drive equally, if not more interesting, stories. No, there will be Luthor.

And again, the Luthor character itself is actually OK. Luthor has always worked just fine in ways many villains can’t. He conquered, controlled and played puppet-master with the world through the insurmountable power of capitalism that toes the ethical/legal lines without quite stepping over.

Forget Clinton. Forget Obama. Forget even W. Bush. America elected Lex Luthor President! Here, when we first see him, he conspires to weaken a cancer drug, because he turns a bigger profit treating a lethal illness than curing it.

Seriously, can someone be jailed for not curing a disease? He doesn’t even want the heat at the Earth’s core so much to end reliance on non-renewable energy sources, but because it’s a massive bargaining chip.

But his presence in this story feels forced. Anyone who loved the original Doomsday saga knows Luthor wasn’t this directly involved. Hence, we wonder what he’s doing here.

The writers would’ve been better served challenging themselves by making a conscious effort to avoid Luthor. It would’ve squeezed and wrenched originality and new approaches from them. Call this a cop-out, but look what doing so did for “Batman Begins” by avoiding even referencing the Joker until the movie’s last moments.

We see the original saga’s emotional rollercoaster in fleeting glimpses. There are brief moments depicting Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White finding ways to move on without Clark/Superman. But there’s precious little time to appreciate it – given running-time constraints, one must assume – so the movie can jump into a revision of the original’s imposter-Superman plot device.

And here, the movie reveals its greatest flaw. To be perfectly honest, it’s a conundrum. A story this complex, which originally involved witnessing the DC Universe’s greatest heroes grieving the greatest of them all and coping with what seems to be an impossibility, warrants the running time “Superman Returns” got.

We even have to wonder: wouldn’t a story this grand have made that long a Superman movie as good as “The Dark Knight”? I believe it could’ve.

Along the way, in a moment that I believe insults the audience’s intelligence, we have to be shown Superman’s recovery in his Fortress of Solitude interspersed with (SPOILER) clone-Superman going on rampage.

Once again, a comparison: Superman’s triumphant return in print meant something special because we scarcely saw him up until that point. But just like the poor form in just throwing Doomsday in the audience’s face rather than establishing some foreboding tension, it makes the sequence when Superman returns to Metropolis much less impactful. It’s not an exclamation point anymore. He’s just . . . there again. Wow, he’s back, just like we’ve known through 15-20 minutes worth of cutaways he would be.

But again, it’s easy to forget: we’re dealing with a medium/style that caters to some of the shortest possible attention spans. Heaven forbid, someone employ some pacing and subtlety to actually make a climactic moment seem spontaneous and exciting, as if we’re actually absorbed in the story.

Timm’s feel for Superman worked magnificently on the initial incarnation of “Batman: The Animated Series”. He told his stories at a brisk little pace that kept the drama heightened, the plot advancing quickly and the characters – even the villains – emotionally relatable. And when Luthor explodes in rage because Superman’s death denied HIM the satisfaction he always wanted of emerging victorious over his greatest opponent, it is one of Marsters’ finest moments. This man needs to at least read for the role of Luthor, if he’s included in another live-action Superman (if THAT even ever happens).

Anne Heche also carries off just a fine a distraught, lost, balls-of-brass Lois Lane. Honestly, she’d have almost been preferable over Kate Bosworth.

Then again, you know who else would’ve been preferable over Kate Bosworth? Choose from Rosie O’Donnell, any actress in a Tyler Perry movie or Eddie Izzard in drag.

But what worked so well for Timm when crafting Batman amounts to a square peg in a round hole for his take on Superman. Batman was worldly, gritty and grim. This take on Superman should’ve been bigger than life, as big as the destructive force ultimately powerful enough to take the Man of Steel down with it. It should’ve been about shattering bright, vibrant Metropolis with the loss of its great protector.

Even Superman’s beaten-down body – not to mention the beating itself that he suffers at Doomsday’s hand – feels way, way too watered-down for something that ultimately appears to kill Superman. If you decide to watch this, follow it up with picking up the Death of Superman saga in its print form. Compare the images of a beaten Superman. Then comment and tell me which one felt more impactful.

Ugh. The animated medium should’ve been perfect for this. It had the limitless ceiling to achieve visuals no studio could in live action with guaranteeing bankruptcy at the hands of a movie that could never hope to make up its budget. Instead, writers eschewed the original visceral, emotionally involving story, rushed through a mediocre plot better suited to a trilogy of episodes of Superman’s most recent animated series and couldn’t even be bothered to include a sub-plot following Superman’s allies coming to grips with his loss.

This is truly a let-down in every sense. Even Superman’s character model makes him look a little like a chubby-cheeked schlub or washed-up college football player. Some decent voice-acting aside, it’s not worth the 90 minutes you’ll never get back.

The Ranting Inkblot -- Loaning DVDs

Let's just say this is more a need to get something off my chest than anything else.

It probably comes as no surprise to most of you that, being a big-time animation fanatic, most of my DVDs are cartoons. And yes, when I can afford it, I prefer to get the Special Edition DVDs, mostly because I love to watch the behind-the-scenes videos, listen to commentary, and learn more about the history of the cartoon I'm watching.

So my aunt and uncle adopted a young girl from China last year, and in an act of generosity, I offered to loan them my Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection (after all, what better to watch when learning English than a cartoon that doesn't rely on dialogue).

I didn't mind how long they had the DVD (they had it for close to a year), but I was happy to get it back today. After stopping by their house, I went out with a friend to the movies and went home to watch my newly reacquired DVDs... only to see that they looked like someone had played five rounds of frisbee with them! Scratches, fingerprints, the works.

I know I'm going to come off as pretty materialistic here, but I was near tears at the sight of this. I can't afford to buy DVDs right now, and one of my favorite collections (not to mention a set that I need to watch for an upcoming column) looked like someone had been using all five discs for hockey pucks!

So now after multiple applications of Brasso, I'm watching all 5 DVDs, one cartoon at a time, to see just how extensive the damage is. I'm about 2/3rds through the first disc, and there are already 2 shorts that I won't be seeing again.

So what's the point of me posting this? Well, my father always taught me that education comes at a price, no matter what. And I certainly got my education this time.

Lesson learned: when loaning DVDs, don't loan to families with 4-year old children.

Oh, and PS: Keep your eyes open for that upcoming column I mentioned!

Holiday Spectacular -- In Need of Nominations!

Hey everyone, and welcome back to From The Inkwell!

Halloween is over, and that means it's time for the Inkwell to get ready for its first ever Holiday Blog Spectacular!

Nice name, huh?

So here's what I need from you, my ever-faithful viewers: I want to do a countdown (or even a full-blown feature) on some of the all-time greatest Holiday animated specials ever released. The problem? There's way too many, and I honestly have no idea which one I want to choose, or what order to put them in!

And with that, I'm asking you guys to help me out by submitting your nominations for the Best Animated Holiday Specials!

Here are the rules:

(1) Feel free to nominate as many specials as you want, there is no limit. And anyone is welcome to submit a nomination (if I've tagged you, it's because I know you've read my column before), I'm not picky on where the ideas come from.

(2) These can be either holiday films, short films that TV stations only show around this time, or even holiday-themed episodes of regular TV shows.

(3) There is indeed a reason I'm using the term "holiday": while I'm sure most of the nominations will be for Christmas specials, if you know of a special for Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or Insert-Random-Winter-Holiday-Here, go ahead and submit it. I'm up for anything.

(4) Bare in mind that if you submit a lesser-known entry, I might ask for your assistance in tracking down a copy of it so I can include it.

(4) Consider this obvious, but I should probably put it down here for some poor simpleton who needs it: yes, these specials need to be ANIMATED! As in CARTOONS!

So that's it, I'm anxious to see what you guys come up with!