Apr 242014
 

"Hammerman"This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is the short-lived TV series “Hammerman.” Airing on ABC during the 1991-92 TV season, the show was produced by DIC, and designed to cash in on the then-popularity of hip-hop star M.C. Hammer, similar to the Beatles and Jackson Five cartoons of the 60s/70s respectively.

The show’s premise was about a youth center worker named Stanley Burrell (MC Hammer’s real name), who inherited a pair of magical, talking shoes that, when worn, turned him into the singing, dancing superhero “Hammerman.” Stanley had inherited the shoes from “Gramps,” an elderly man who was the now-retired superhero “Soulman.” Hammerman’s adventures saw him engaged in fighting various threats to his hometown, such as the short-in-height French-accented rapping villain “Rapoleon.” The series had a “Fat Albert”-like pro-social theme, with the end of each episode featuring a live-action MC Hammer discussing the story’s lesson.

One episode I recall seeing (no episode title, sorry; info on the show’s hard to come by online) had Hammerman time-travel into the future…which happened to be the 2010s. Since the episode was about a kid wanting to drop out of high school, we saw his future self was ill-equipped to find work in his “Jetsons”-like future. Another episode saw Gramps briefly come out of retirement. Gramps/Soulman’s character and image was based on that of the late R&B legend James Brown.

The show ended up being poorly received, between the moralistic tone, being based on a music star whose fame was already starting to wane, and the extremely poor animation. It also didn’t help that it had stiff competition:

  • NBC: “Wish Kid“. Another show about a celebrity of the era, Macaulay Culkin (of the “Home Alone” movies fame) voiced a kid whose baseball glove could grant him a wish once a week.
  • Fox: “Little Shop.” A cartoon loosely based on the 1980s “Little Shop of Horrors” movie.
  • CBS: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” The still-highly-popular cartoon, and the opposing show most likely for “Hammerman”‘s quick demise.

By the spring, “Hammerman” was moved to the end of the Saturday morning schedule, where it probably got frequently pre-empted by ABC or local stations’ sports broadcasts, and/or saw viewers flip over to “Soul Train” (at least in my town). After this season, “Hammerman” was axed, and that was that. To date, it’s had a few VHS releases, but so far, no DVD releases. Even the equally short-lived “Wish Kid” got that.

Finally, here’s the opening theme.

Apr 222014
 

Showcase Presents Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo CrewHere’s what’s of interest from DC Comics for July. Full solicitations are available here.

Comics

  • Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet #2, on sale July 2, $3 (digital-first)
  • Batman ’66 #13, on sale July 23, $3 (digital-first)
  • Adventures of Superman #15, on sale July 30, $4 (digital-first)
  • DC Comics Presents: Batman Adventures #1, on sale July 30, $8
  • Scooby-Doo Team-Up #5, on sale July 2, $3 (digital-first)
  • Tiny Titans: Return to the Treehouse #2 (of 6), on sale July 2, $3

Trade paperbacks

  • Showcase Presents Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew, on sale Aug. 27, $20
  • Astro City: Victory (HC), on sale Sept. 17, $25

Comments

There’s a lot to be interested in this month from DC, as the comics section above shows. A lot, that is, assuming one sticks with the digital-first/non-New 52 titles.

“Adventures of Superman” will continue in print form for a short while yet, collecting the last few digital installments of the now-cancelled title.

“Scooby-Doo Team-Up” looks like it’s going to have the gang meet the rest of the DC Universe after all. I suppose that (and the previously-advertised Teen Titans meeting) answers my question of whether or not super-powered superheroes exist in Scooby’s world. Anyway, this issue sees Scooby, Shaggy and company team up with Wonder Woman! Daphne and Velma get singled out in particular in the solicitation (“Amazon training?”).

The most anticipated trade paperback in some time comes in August (not July), as we finally get that long-delayed “Showcase Presents” volume of Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew! The oversized Showcase volume will reprint the entire original series, as well as the three-issue “Oz-Wonderland War” miniseries. The late 2000s miniseries has already been collected in a trade paperback, which means the entirety of the Zoo Crew’s print run will finally be available in trade paperback form, even if mostly in black-and-white.

 

Apr 212014
 

Captain America: The Winter SoldierFor the third weekend in a row, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” rules the box office. The sequel took $25.6 million, and has earned $200.5 million to date. I’d expect all those who oppose Cap’s shield to yield at least until “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ opens in two weeks. Overseas, “Winter Soldier” has earned $385.1 million, for a global total of $585.6 million. I don’t know what its ultimate domestic total will be like, but its international total’s already surpassed “Man of Steel,” no doubt to DC/Warner Bros.’ chagrin. Though WB/DC might want to note that “Winter Soldier”‘s success shows one can make an exciting film starring a cheerful, optimistic hero, without sullying said hero’s positive aspects.

Meanwhile, “Rio 2″ came in third place (just narrowly behind #2, hardcore religious-appeasing film “Heaven is for Real”), earning $22.2 million, with a total domestic take so far of $75 million. Overseas, the film’s taken in an impressive $199.7 million, for a global total of $274.7 million. “Rio 3″ might seem likely at some future point.

The various new films opening finally saw “Muppets Most Wanted” and “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” exit the top ten, and thus my tracking of such. While “Peabody” seems to have done OK (a global take of $257.8 million), “Muppets” likely will be seen as disappointing (globally, it’s earned $63.1 million), despite not being a flop.

Finally, “Amazing Spider-Man 2″ has earned $47 million so far overseas. Box Office Mojo doesn’t have available the film’s production budget, but I’m sure it’ll do well internationally.

Apr 182014
 

HomeNews has broken this week about an upcoming DreamWorks Animation film, “Home.” Scheduled to be released this fall (on Thanksgiving weekend), the film’s plot, according to Indiewire:

When Earth is taken over by the overly-confident Boov, an alien race in search of a new place to call home, all humans are promptly relocated, while the Boov get busy efficiently reorganizing the planet. But when one resourceful girl, Tip, (Rihanna) manages to avoid capture, she finds herself the accidental accomplice of a banished Boov by the name of Oh (Jim Parsons). Equally stubborn and set in their ways, these two fugitives realize there’s a lot more at stake than intergalactic relations as they embark on the road trip of a lifetime. Good thing they have a flying car.

As noted, the film’s human star, Tip, is an African-American girl voiced by singer Rihanna. While other CGI animated films have had African-American supporting characters, such as Frozone in “The Incredibles,” as well as other minorities as stars (such as Russell in Pixar’s “Up”), this marks the first time I can recall that a major theatrical CGI animated film’s had an African-American star.

Of course, there’s various detractors online (and the usual trolls, etc.) trying to dismiss this casting relevance, most of them claiming along the lines of: “there was already a Black character starring in an animated film, ‘The Princess and the Frog’!” While true that film featured an African-American cast, the comments:

  • Assume that there’s not room for more than one film starring African-Americans. Which basically sounds like: “you already had your race star in a cartoon film five years ago, so quit complaining!”
  • Ignore that “Princess” was a 2D animated film, not a CGI one, which is what dominates theatrical animation these days. As much as I want to see more 2D films return to theaters, if CGI’s going to be dominant, then seeing more diverse characters in such films as stars (not just supporting cast) is important, too.
  • Assume the “default” stars should be Caucasian characters.

Either way, seeing more diversity in casting for animated films is important and relevant.

As for the film’s chances at the box office, being released stateside at Thanksgiving should help. In terms of quality, so far all we have to go on is the preview animated short released recently, “Almost Home,” starring the film’s aliens.

Apr 172014
 

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is a double one this week: Thunder and Lightning, a pair of superheroine sisters who’re the daughters of superhero Black Lightning.

Thunder

ThunderThunder (real name: Anissa Pierce) is the older of the Pierce siblings. Thunder possesses the ability of increasing her body’s mass while keeping her size the same, thus increasing her density. This allows her to become immovable and invulnerable, as well as generate shock waves by stomping her foot.

Anissa promised her father she’d wait until she finished college before taking up superheroics, which she did, becoming Thunder after graduation. As Thunder, Anissa had various superhero adventures, including joining the superhero team the Outsiders. There, she met fellow teammate Grace Choi, who becomes her close teammate and eventual lover.

Thunder first appeared in “Outsiders” (volume 3) #1 in August 2003. She was created by Judd Winick and Tom Raney.

Lightning

LightningLightning (real name: Jennifer Pierce) is the younger of the Pierce siblings. Like her father (and various other African-American superheroes), Lightning possesses the usual electrical-themed superpowers, including the ability to fly. After seeing Thunder’s more covert/less-than-mainstream superhero team (and the rough experiences she had there), Black Lightning decided his younger daughter needed a more formal training in her powers/becoming a superheroine, and had her join the Justice Society. There, Jennifer met and befriended fellow younger JSAers Stargirl, Cyclone, and Jakeem Thunder.

Lightning first appeared in the Elseworlds/possible-future set story of “Kingdom Come” in 1996, and was created by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. She entered mainstream present-day continuity in “Justice Society of America” (volume 3) #12 in March 2008.

For both Thunder and Lightning, the 2011 New 52 reboot saw their father Black Lightning reduced in age like everyone else (in the name of “younger and hipper”), thus preventing the superheroine sisters from existing. It remains to be seen if we’ll ever see the two again (and if so, in what form).

Outside of comics, the Pierce sisters and their father appeared in a pair of “DC Nation” shorts on Cartoon Network. Thunder was voiced by Cree Summer, Lightning by Masasa Moyo, and Black Lightning by Blair Underwood. Both shorts are available on YouTube: Short #1 / Short #2 In the shorts, Thunder and Lightning are cast as a teenager and a pre-teen (respectively), while Black Lightning seems fairly young looking. This would seem to disprove the need for the de-aging/rendered nonexistence of their New 52 counterparts.

Apr 162014
 

Teen Titans #1Other than Amazon’s purchase of Comixology, the biggest comics topic online in the past week’s been yet another embarrassing round of sexism by a vocal segment of comic fans.

To summarize: Janelle Asselin, a contributor to Comic Book Resources and comic creator, wrote a critique of the cover to the upcoming reboot/issue #1 of “Teen Titans.” (Yes, they just rebooted it for the “New 52″ three years ago, I know.) The cover in question is shown to the right. Along with the bad looking costumes (what’d they do with Raven?!), Wonder Girl came in for the most criticism. Wonder Girl’s traditionally a teenage girl—usually Donna Troy—with a teen-sized version of Wonder Woman’s powers. As Asselin notes, Wonder Girl looks rather artificially busty for an underage teenager, not to mention her costume’s design showing such off. Anyway, this criticism somehow attracted the attention not of the cover’s artist, but of another DC employee, Brett Booth, currently the artist on “The Flash.” Booth posted the following response to Asselin (after some Twitter debate) on Twitter (copied and pasted as-is):

I see, the only way I can refute your argument is to not use logic, biology, google and also I can’t have a penis. Sounds fair.

Things, well, went downhill from there. Besides further similar remarks from Booth, a sizable number of fans also posted various remarks slandering Asselin on Twitter, as well as nastier comments, including threats of rape. Asselin’s discussed and summarized all of this (with examples of various crass Twitter remarks) on her Tumblr blog.

While I’m not sure what else I can add that’s not already been stated more eloquently by others, including Asselin herself and The Outhousers, I thought drawing attention to this issue was important. Either way, stuff like this is part of the reason why many in the general public hold such a lukewarm view of superhero comics and its fans, per the still-prevalent stereotypes such as “Comic Book Guy” on “The Simpsons.” They do like superheroes (as last weekend’s “Winter Soldier” box office proves), and they like comics (webcomics, “Calvin and Hobbes,” “The Walking Dead,” etc.), but not the two together. Fans and creators sounding like, or not caring about sounding like, every negative comics fan stereotype (“Neanderthal 30-year-old losers living in their parents’ basements”) doesn’t help the medium of comics, nor the superhero comics genre.

Of course, as far as the general public’s concerned, the Teen Titans are these guys: Teen Titans (Cartoon Network) “Teen Titans Go,” the team’s current TV incarnation, got 1.5 million viewers on a March 26, 2014 telecast on Cartoon Network; meanwhile, the most recent “Titans” comic (“Teen Titans” #29) sold 25,969 copies. If anything, the Titans might want to try resembling their TV counterparts a bit more. (Well, the 2000s TV series version, not the slapstick “Go.”) For that matter, DC might want to avoid yet another round of controversy over a Titans comic’s #1.

Apr 142014
 

Adventures of Superman (digital)Yes, you read the subject line correctly: DC’s quietly announced that their digital-first weekly Superman anthology series “Adventures of Superman” has been canceled, as of today’s issue, issue #51. Its replacement? A new comic based on a video game, in this case “Infinite Crisis.”

For the past year, “Adventures” (along with the also-axed “Superman Family Adventures”) has been my favorite New 52-era Superman title. Avoiding or ignoring everything about the New 52, this series featured classic-style Superman stories, with most of the cast (Lois, Jimmy, etc.) in their familiar forms. The title made news this time a  year ago over its then-planned, then-dropped initial plan to use Orson Scott Card to write the first few issues.

Now, it’s been given the axe, with no indication if it’s due to low sales (gather it’s being outsold by the less-than-respectful-to-Supes “Injustice: Gods Among Us” title), or just to clear space for said video game tie-in. The cancellation also came with zero advance announcement or warning, despite a well publicized interview last week with Jerry Ordway and Steve Rude for issue #51 (now the final issue…no actual one-year anniversary for this title, apparently). I only learned about it this morning when buying the issue on Google Play, to find this in the issue description:

In the series’ final chapter, legends Jerry Ordway and Steve Rude tell the story of Superman’s first encounter with a hero from the future, OMAC: the One-Man Army Corps.

A few others on Twitter found out the same way. The cancellation was confirmed by the solicitation for “Infinite Crisis.”

With this title gone, that leaves the only DC material I’m regularly buying being “Scooby-Doo Team-Up” and “Batman ’66.” A bit more money on hand to try a few other companies’ titles, I suppose…

Apr 132014
 

Captain America: The Winter SoldierThis weekend saw much talk that new animated film “Rio 2″ (a sequel to 2011′s “Rio”) might come in first place at the box office. However, it seems that Cap’s mighty shield forced “Rio 2″ to yield, as “Winter Soldier” came in first place, earning $41.4 million (a drop of 56.4% from opening weekend). So far, the film’s earned $159 million domestically and $317.7 million foreign, for a global total to date of $476.7 million.

Meanwhile, “Rio 2″ opened domestically to $39 million. Overseas, the film’s earned $124.3 million, for a global total to date of $163.3 million. Not bad given it only cost $103 million to produce. Given the next animated film opening is June’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” it’ll have plenty of “family” space to itself until then.

Elsewhere in the box office standings, “Muppets Most Wanted” dropped to ninth place, earning $2.2 million for a total to date of $45.7 million. Added to its $14.8 million international take, it’s earned a total of $60.5 million. While it’s earned back its $50 million production cost globally, it’s still disappointing to see its low take.

Finally, “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” has dropped to tenth place, earning $1.8 million for a domestic total to date of $105.2 million, and $143.1 million internationally, for a global total of $248.3 million. “Peabody” is probably done after this weekend domestically, though it seems to still be drawing in an audience overseas (particularly China), so it should crack $250 million by next weekend. While it’s on the low end for a Dreamworks film, again it’s quite successful for an animated feature based on a TV cartoon, coming in second only to “The Simpsons Movie.” It’s also better domestically than recent films “Turbo” and “Rise of the Guardians,” and “Turbo” got its own Netflix animated series. Hopefully we’ll see an all-animated (not live-action/CGI) film based on “Rocky and Bullwinkle” themselves.

In other news, Forbes states “The Lego Movie” (still lingering in some theaters) has now overtaken “Despicable Me to become the all-time top-grossing non-sequel non-Pixar/Disney animated film domestically.

Next weekend sees a few new films open domestically, but overseas, the main film watched will be “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ opening Wednesday in the UK.

Apr 102014
 

ComixologyWhile there’d been rumors over the past few weeks, earlier today came the still-surprising news that the rumors were correct: Amazon will be purchasing Comixology, the dominant digital comics vendor. This allows Amazon to jump from being one of Comixology’s lesser competitors to one of the most prominent names in digital comics.

Although I’ve been lukewarm about Comixology in the past (particularly its near-monopoly position in the digital comics marketplace, as well as its heavily DRMed comics), I’ll give my thoughts below on the various pros and cons of all of this:

  • The biggest advantage for comic readers will be that Amazon buying Comixology makes it much less likely for one’s purchased books to vanish, a la JManga last year. Amazon’s one of the oldest and largest Internet companies out there, and its founding business (and still a major core business) is selling books, both the paper and the digital variety. Barring Comixology being sold off at a later point, the only way Comixology would go under at this point would be for either Amazon to shut it down (unlikely) or for Amazon itself to go under (extremely unlikely).
  • Hopefully Amazon’s infrastructure (if it’s being used at all for Comixology post-merger) will lead to a more robust app and store for Comixology, and avoid a repeat of incidents like last year’s 700 free Marvel comics promotion.
  • There’s no indication how integrated Comixology will be into Amazon proper. Maybe Amazon will stop selling Kindle comics and just point people to the Comixology store? Or fold Comixology more into Amazon’s site?
  • I assume pricewise, things will remain the same for Comixology’s books. I do assume there’ll be more attempts to cross-promote Amazon’s print comics and trade paperbacks, which’re much cheaper than their digital counterparts and what bookstores/comic shops can offer.
  • Given Amazon doesn’t have much concern about brick-and-mortar competitors in their other business areas (which they’ve successfully competed with or even dominated), they definitely won’t be nostalgic about any traditional comics shops that might get hurt by a more robust Comixology.
  • For creators, I doubt things will change much… I assume Comixology will still keep its hefty middleman cut, on top of what Apple/Google take (if bought through an app). There’s a reason Image and a few others have started selling comics on their own sites.
  • I also don’t expect Comixology’s obnoxiously heavy DRM to change any, either, as Amazon also employs similarly heavy-handed DRM on its Kindle comics. They won’t even load on my Kindle for Mac app…
  • Being available through a mainstream store like Amazon might give Comixology’s comics more visibility among the general public, though the prices of digital comics versus ordering print versions from Amazon might lessen Comixology’s appeal. Comixology’s sales might get more promotion through Amazon, however—say, a mention somewhere on Amazon’s main page?
  • Readers’ and publishers’ feelings (for good or bad) about Amazon might start to apply in the future toward Comixology, especially if there’s any major changes to how Comixology operates.

Overall, for now I assume things will operate the same as usual for Comixology, with all the pros and cons outlined above.

In spite of Comixology’s near monopoly on the digital comics landscape, there are more alternatives starting to emerge, mostly from other large digital companies. Among the bigger alternatives to emerge recently are Image selling DRM-free comics on their website, as well as DC selling single issues through Google Play.

Apr 102014
 

ReptilThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Reptil, a Marvel superhero character with the power to turn into various types of dinosaurs. Created for the 2009 animated series “The Superhero Squad Show,” Reptil also has appeared in Marvel’s comics, which gave him a more expanded backstory. Reptil’s first comics appearance was “Avengers: The Initiative Featuring Reptil” #1 in May 2009; he was created by Christos N. Gage and Steve Uy.

Reptil‘s real name is Humberto Lopez. Per his comics backstory, Humberto loved superheroes as a kid. He also was taught much about dinosaurs from his parents, who were both paleontologists. Accompanying them on a dig one day, the Lopezes found what looked like a fossilized amulet of some sort, which Humberto was allowed to keep. On a later expedition, Humberto’s parents both disappeared, and were declared dead, with Humberto sent to live with his grandfather. One day, Humberto was nearly trapped in a rockslide, which he ran from trying to escape, at which time the amulet he was carrying activated his powers.

Humberto soon signed up with a national superhero registry under the codename “Reptil” (during the events of “Avengers: The Initiative“), which resulted in a few adventures/some training. After this, Reptil wound up enrolled in the Avengers Academy, an Avengers-run training school for young superheroes. There, Reptil had more adventures; he also developed a leadership position among his peers, dealt with the loss of his parents, and learned more about controlling his powers. Said adventures included some time-travel related hijinks, such as Reptil inhabiting his future self’s body; this was followed up by a second incident where his future self inhabited his teenage self’s body. At some point, the fossil also became embedded in Reptil’s chest.

Outside of comics, Reptil’s main media appearance, and reason for his creation, was for “The Super Hero Squad Show.” There, Reptil had similar powers, and joined the Squad as its “rookie” member. In the series, he’s also trained by Wolverine in the use of his powers. Logan expressed occasional reluctance at being a mentor, but ultimately enjoyed tutoring Reptil anyway. One change from the comics was that Reptil’s amulet was revealed to be a fossilized piece of the Infinity Sword. Reptil gave up his amulet at the end of the first season, but discovered he still retained his powers. In the series, Reptil was voiced by Antony Del Rio.

Reptil’s powers consist of being able to turn parts of his body into any type of dinosaur. Eventually, further training, etc., resulted in Reptil being able to turn his entire body into a dinosaur, as well as other prehistoric creatures.