Sometimes, I agonize over what I’m going to blog about. I mean I’ve been on a roll talking about various aspects of the act of creation, what works, what doesn’t and occasionally launching series and taking forever to follow up. But then I wise up and remember that if you’re reading my blog, you’re actually interested (for reasons I cannot fathom) in my thoughts about things outside of nuts and bolts writing stuff.
And also, it is my blog and I really can talk about whatever I feel like here as long as it isn’t excessively stupid or way out of left field.
In the spirit of that, this week I’m going to talk about one of my favorite things: pop culture. But not from a nuts and bolts perspective, but from the perspective of a man who feels that some gems are being overlooked when they really shouldn’t be.
That’s why I’m inviting you to pull up your computer chair, sit back and relax while I bring you the Word of the Nerd Prophet and ask that you give a look or a read to…
If you were a friend of mine in March of 2003, you heard that phrase come out of my mouth so often that you might have thought that was a pokemon and that was my name. And that was just from watching the trailer. This trailer:
Penned by one of my writing heroes, John Rogers, oh he of Leverage and Jackie Chan Adventures fame, original writer of the Jamie Reyes Blue Beetle series, and of Catwoman infamy, The Core, on its surface, looks like yet another painfully stupid disaster movie like Dante’s Peak, or 2012.
But it isn’t. It so isn’t and if you watch that trailer a bit more carefully, you’ll realize that beneath all the disaster candy of lighting exploding things and bodies hitting the floor, you’re actually watching a pulp 1950’s science hero flick; one that is fully aware of itself and is having fun with it.
Much like the better received Armageddon, most of the movie is not about the disaster and the boring ass, misplaced human drama bits I’ve talked about before. Nope, we spend most of our time in this movie either training with, or going on an adventure with Our Heroes on their way to kick the planet’s core in the face until it starts turning again.
Not only that, it’s it’s funny! There’s a geek hacker named Rat who drops genuinely amusing lines in ever scene he’s in; there’s a stuck up blowhard who gets one of the absolute best lines you will ever hear in a disaster movie, and like I said, the movie is completely aware of itself from start to finish.
The problem is that the marketing department didn’t get anything this movie was saying and billed it as Yet Another Disaster Movie. That, and they obviously tacked on a few scenes to make the Big Dumb Fun adventure movie have some of that pointless human drama. And since the premise is… insane in any other context but science heroes, it looked like a Sy-Fy original movie had somehow snuck off it’s shitty cable schedule and onto the big screen.
Almost everyone who came to watch it came for the wrong reasons and the people that would have enjoyed it (who weren’t me, to dragged to go see it by me—I went twice, then bought the DVD). The result was people bitching about the bad science and ‘unobtainium‘. And if you follow that link, you’ll know that that means people were complaining that a joke wasn’t serious.
If you go into it with the right mindset, knowing what the creators are actually trying to give you though, The Core is not only good entertainment, but a very good movie and it deserves better than what it got.
The Green Hornet movie’s largest detractors don’t have the excuses those of The Core do. The trailer shows you exactly where you’re getting: a modern superhero comedy like Mystery Men, only tied to a well known commodity, Green Hornet. Check this out:
There’s guns blazing, car chases, and in the middle of it all, Britt Reid and Kato sing Gangster’s Paradise. This movie could not have been more clear in its lack of seriousness if it cast Seth Rogen as the main character—oh wait, that’s exactly what they did!
It’s entirely possible that someone from the future will read this article one day and won’t understand what about the man who won and 2025 Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Tony in the remake of the Sopranos movie being cast in it makes a movie not serious, so let me explain:
At the time of this writing, Seth Rogen is the go-to guy for playing the cornball man child in comedies. In fact, I’m not normally a fan of him playing that character, but it works here. It works so awesomely because he is so childishly excited about living the life of a superhero.
But no, Green Hornet got unceremoniously dumped into theaters in January, the month that Hollywood puts movies into when they expect them to fail so hard that they crater (Like, say, Avatar, which only made all the money instead of all the money ever) and was met by an audience of confused souls who couldn’t figure out if the movie was trying to be serious or not.
Allow me to lift the mists of ambiguity: This is a movie where a regular mob boss loses his marbles over not being considered scary and spends the entire movie styling himself into an incredibly hammy supervillain as part of his midlife crisis.
Are there a few dark parts? Yeah, but this is not Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy here. Things get dark and gritty mostly for Rogen’s Brit Reid to blunder into, through or over in an amazing whirlwind of comic buffoonery or for Jay Chou to unleash his badass on.
Let’s be completely honest here: there aren’t that many good superhero comedies out there. There’s the aforementioned Mystery Men, Sky High, the just as under-appreciated as Green Hornet My Super Ex-Girlfriend, and… this. That’s it as far as I know. Sure Superhero Movie and Super Capers are listed as comedies, but they are to comedy what itching powder laced with kryptonite down his trunks is to Superman.
Good superhero comedy, especially live action superhero comedy is hard to find in film (Web comics are another matter), so if you like superheroes (and I’m forced to assume you do since you’re here and all), you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
And here is the part of our program where I share some niche knowledge about my areas of interest that sounds pretty goddamn weird to people not in the know. But I brought myself to this point, so let’s dive in here:
There is a whole genre in Japanese popular culture that, at its core involves a single guy (or a small number of single guys) living with a larger number of single women, most of whom are presented as possible romantic interests. Usually, the arrangement brings no end of trouble to the guy or guys in question.
This genre is commonly known as ‘Harem Genre‘. And because Japanese pop culture once met the concept of not bleeding genres into one another, then promptly punched it in the face, Harem stories are often overlaid on other stories.
Probably the most famous of these is Tenchi Muyo! (The exclamation point is actually part of the title), the tale of a young man living at home with his father and grandfather until a parade of pretty women burst into his life and embroiled him in an interstellar war.
If you need a bit more convincing as to how weird and cool harem series can get, there’s also Saber Marionette J, a story set in a world with no women, where all men are clones and have to make due with either each other or advance fembots for companionship/war machines. One lucky dude gets saddled with three such ‘marionettes’ who are not just sapient, but capable of learning and growing emotionally. They also wreak havoc on his life and embroil him in an intercontinental war.
The Harem Genre tends to make people uncomfortable because there’s plenty of unfortunate implications, frequent fanservice, and it is biased toward male fantasy (thought the excellent Ouran High School Host Club is a great example of a gender-reversed version that is one of my favorite anime.)
Which brings us to Love Hina. Until he created Mahou Sensei Negima (A series that pretended to be a harem manga before dramatically revealing that it was actually a fantasy action-adventure romp), Love Hina was the big hit of mangaka Ken Akamatsu, a man who does not shy away from pouring on the fan service—no matter how inappropriate.
Combine harem genre with the Fanservice King and that’s got squick written all over it. And while Love Hina actually was a major hit unlike my previous two entries, today it is largely relegated to the status of ‘guilty pleasure’ and something people don’t talk about that much.
And that’s a shame, because Love Hina is less a standard harem story and more a parody or even a deconstruction.
You see, whereas in a normal harem story, the guy is an inexplicable chick magnet with the ladies fighting it out over him, Keitaro is in the exact opposite situation. At the start of the story, every single one of the girls is either afraid of him or hate him with a violent passion that can (and does) shatter stone.
He has to work, actually work to even become friends with most of them and up until the final chapters, even some of those relationships are grudging at best. Plus, there’s the interesting quirk here where Keitaro grows and develops very slowly as a character, but he is a catalyst for the character development of everyone he meets.
In short, Love Hina is more than just a harem story. It is a very interesting play on the genre and features a lot of great, fun characters. Even if you don’t like harem stories, it’s worth giving a chance. Available in anime and manga flavors for your pleasure.
The mid-to- late eighties and early nineties were a boom for esoteric concepts and characters. There were robots in disguise, a barbarian in a fur speedo, an turtles who were teenagers, mutants and occasionally ninjas. Comics and cartoons in there era were all predicated on the idea that ‘crazy enough to work’ was all you needed.
And that was abso-goddamn-lutely true.
Into this fertile ground for ideas strode Ben Edlund and his creation, the absurdist comic The Tick.
Considering that this is a medium where The Doom Patrol and Animal Man run wild and free and the one thing not scrapped from Grant Morrison’s New X-men run was sapient yeast, the fact that The Tick is labeled absurdist should tell you something.
The comic focuses on (who else?) The Tick, a super-strong, infinitely durable blue guy with antennae on his head and absolutely no other relation in any way, shape or form to a Tick. Is outlook can best be described as exuberant ignorance, and in the spirit of Justice (which he has a very tenuous grasp of), he barrels from adventure to adventure with all the grace and tact of a bull getting thrown down a greased hill toward a vegan bonfire cookout.
Here’s a clip from the 90’s animated series:
Everything I said about superhero comedy applies to The Tick when making a case for why the show(s) AND comic are well worth your time. While animated and comic book superhero comedy is much more prolific than Film, the former is still pretty rare and in comics, it tends to suffer from short runs and the standard premise creep inherent to shared universes.
One might wonder why I’m including a franchise that had not one but two television series on a list of under-appreciated works. The key is that I’m talking under-appreciated, not unappreciated. The Tick fared better than a lot of properties, it’s true, but in roughly the same timespan, the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles have had multiple feature films, three TV shows and their comic series is still going strong.
As much as I love Donny, Leo, Mikey and Raph, I feel like The Tick, his shlubby sidekick Arthur, and his gloriously bizarre supporting cast deserve a bigger piece of the pie that those turtles are hogging.
But at least The Tick got a fair shake, unlike…
The 10th Kingdom
You may not remember it (or you may not have gotten American television during the time), but in the late nineties and early 2000’s the Special Miniseries Event was a big thing on American television. Major networks, NBC and ABC actually duked it out to have the best miniseries on TV during that time, and the result was the advent of some very solid fantasy stories told in a scope that you won’t get in film and on a budget regular television won’t allow.
These miniseries were a precursor to the modern short-run, high budget shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Legend of the Seeker. My last year of high school and college years were marked by high quality ‘events’ such as Arabian Nights, Gulliver’s Travels, and of course, the gem of them all, The 10th Kingdom.
That’s an Emmy-winning opening sequence, btw.
The story is surprisingly rich for what is essentially a made for TV movie; the Evil Queen escapes from imprisonment and switches the body of her dog with that of the Prince, who promptly escapes (as a dog) through a portal into the real world, New York (because everything happens in New York). He finds his way to Our Protagonist, Virginia and her shiftless father, but is pursued by a trio of bumbling and hilarious troll siblings and Wolf, a wolf-in-man’s-clothing with all the tics you would expect of a wolf from a fairy tale.
What unfolds from there is an epic and highly comedic quest with non-stop playful digs at fantasy tropes, an incredibly cute and funny romance plot, and a surprisingly satisfying dramatic angle.
I can’t under-emphasize just how ambitious this series was. First, it was an original story (albeit based on fairytales) in a time when these things were strip mining every fantasy and sci-fi property in the public domain. Not only that, but it was absolutely stuffed with big name stars of the era, most important being Ed O’Neill (Al Bundy from Married… With Children, the best sitcom of all time) and the incomparable Camryn Manheim.
It also featured the criminally under-utilized to this day, Scott Cohen, and the lovely, funny and Alyssa Milano-esque (Considering how I feel about Alyssa Milano and her body of work, this is the highest praise I can heap on an actress without comparing her to Dame Judi Dench) Kimberly Williams.
NBC put $44 million into the series and it shows, standing up even today in terms of cinematography and special effects. Compare the effects used here with modern series like Lost Girl or Supernatural. Not only that, but it got great reviews and even that Emmy.
Sadly, no one watched it and the theorized sequel is and will likely always be just a theory. The good thing is, NBC promoted the absolute hell out of it and you can easily find DvDs today.
What urks me the most here isn’t that the series didn’t make it farther. As I said it was ambitious and stupid expensive, so I’ll take my ten official hours of fractured fairy tale goodness when I can get it, thank you.
No, the thing that gets me is that there doesn’t seem to be much of a fandom for it. A quick mosey over to Fanfiction.net shows that there at only 311 stories for it. 311. After thirteen years. For reference, Early Edition a show that I loved, but which I’m pretty sure is only remembered by me, myself and I, has 341 and freaking AIR WOLF has 366!
What the hell, internet? I thought I knew you. This is a fantasy series with shipping and an open-ended ending and you can’t do better than that? Hang your head in shame. Bad geeks.
My takeaway from this is that people are still largely unaware of the series and that’s a shame. Well, I’m doing my part. Now you know it’s out there. If you don’t check anything else on this list out, you owe it to yourself as a nerd to take a look at this because it is magnificent.
In fact, here’s the first episode. God bless YouTube:
Want to add your own overlooked gems? Post them here in the comments, or on the forum.
For tidbits about what Vaal’s got on tap, you can follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni. You can also buy Descendants Book 2: The Descendants vs. Project Tome and his other books on Amazon.com.