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 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.

Apr 032014
 

Rick and Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in the WorldThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is “Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World.”

Rick & Steve” is an animated series about the misadventures of the show’s stars Rick and Steve, a gay thirtysomething couple, and their extremely dysfunctional group of friends. The series is set in the fictional town of “West Lahunga Beach” in California. (The town seems to resemble the most stereotypical aspects of various famous gay neighborhoods, including West Hollywood, California and San Francisco’s Castro.) As the bad-pun name of their town indicates, the show’s humor style is quite “blue,” with their world at large, as well as the show’s plots and characters, resembling an LGBT version of “South Park.”

The show’s stop-motion animation style was done to resembles Lego or Playmobil action figures. Wikipedia claims the former sued the show’s producers to drop the Lego aspects.

Rick is of Filipino descent (as is the show’s creator, Q. Allan Brocka), and shown as smarter than his husband, Steve; the series shows this is to the point Rick joined a gay version of the intellectual group Mensa. Supporting characters on the show include Rick and Steve’s friends Kirsten and Dana, a lesbian couple. Dana in particular resembles the “butch” stereotypes of lesbians. Another pair of friends of Rick and Steve are Chuck and Evan. Chuck is a 50-year-old HIV+ man in a wheelchair, while Evan is his vapid 19-year-old Latino boyfriend who spends his time at nightclubs.

Plotlines on the series included Rick and Steve dealing with their respective families (Rick’s mother is gay-friendly, Steve’s mother isn’t), Kirsten and Dana’s attempt at having a baby, and other misadventures that play up or ridicule various LGBT stereotypes.

“Rick & Steve” ran from 2007 to 2009, for a total of 14 episodes spread across two seasons. The show ran on Logo in the US (an LGBT-oriented cable channel) and Teletoon’s “Adult Swim”-like nighttime block in Canada.

Rick was voiced by actor Will Matthews, while Steve was voiced by Peter Paige, whose most prominent role was playing Emmett on Showtime’s LGBT series “Queer As Folk.” Kirsten and Dana were voiced by Emily Brooke Hands (season 1)/Jessica-Snow Wilson (season 2) and Taylor Dooley respectively. Chuck was voiced by actor Alan Cumming, while Evan was voiced by actor Wilson Cruz.

Mar 272014
 

Misty KnightThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Misty Knight, a detective and crime fighter who appears in various Marvel Comics. “Misty” (her real first name’s “Mercedes”) was first mentioned in “Marvel Premiere” #20 (January 1975), and first appeared in the following issue. She was created by Tony Isabella and Arvell Jones.

Misty’s backstory states she was an officer with the New York Police Department. One day, she was severely injured while preventing a bomb explosion, forcing an arm to become amputated. Refusing to take a desk job, however, Misty resigned from the force, and decided to open a private investigation agency with her friend, Colleen Wing (who Misty had befriended/saved during the above bomb incident). The new agency, “Nightwing Restorations Ltd.”, saw the duo investigate various missing persons cases and other crimes, with the two using their combined martial arts skills (earning them the nickname “Daughters of the Dragon”).

Misty also gained a bionic replacement arm built by Stark Industries, offering her limited super-strength (in that arm). Years later, the arm would be upgraded by Stark to perform other feats, including the ability to dissolve adamantium, Marvel’s fictional super-tough metal (what Wolverine’s claws are made from).

The “Daughters” soon met Luke Cage (a.k.a. “Power Man”) and Iron Fist. Misty and Iron Fist soon began dating extensively.

Like other Marvel characters, Misty’s been involved in Marvel’s multitude of crossovers, including “Civil War.” She’s also headed a later incarnation of Luke Cage’s team “Heroes For Hire.” ” Misty also was on the most recent (as of this writing) incarnation of the superhero team the Defenders.

Misty’s also made a few appearances outside of comics. Misty appeared in an episode of “Super Hero Squad,” where she was voiced by Tamera Mowry (Tamera from TV’s “Sister, Sister”). She’s also appeared in a few video games: a non-speaking cameo appearance in “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3″ (Iron Fist’s ending sequence), and in the MMO game “Marvel Heroes.” The latter sees Misty voiced by Cynthia Kae McWilliams, an actress who’s appeared on Fox’s “Prison Break” and BET’s “Real Husbands of Hollywood.”

Mar 202014
 

AsokThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Asok, a supporting character in Scott Adams’ newspaper comic strip “Dilbert.”

Asok was first introduced in 1996 as an intern for “Dilbert”‘s nameless corporation, providing the strip with material based on Asok being an idealistic intern thrust into “Dilbert”‘s completely dysfunctional, soul-crushing workplace. As such, Asok will sometimes have higher-minded/more idealistic expectations than Dilbert, Wally, and company. Asok also is shown being stuck in his position as an intern despite his qualifications (so the company can exploit his manpower/talents for intern-level pay). Despite being one of the strip’s more optimistic characters, Asok will also (like Dilbert and Alice) point out the flaws in the company, including the office’s Pointy-Haired Boss. Recently, Asok’s been shown receiving “mentoring” and advice from Wally, a coworker who does virtually nothing besides figure out how to slack off and drink coffee (Wally’s perpetually shown holding a coffee mug).

Early strips had a few jokes related to Asok having studied telekinesis at the Indian Institutes of Technology.

In the “Dilbert” TV series, Asok was voiced by Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants.

A February 2014 strip was done in response to a recent Indian Supreme Court ruling that upheld an anti-gay colonial-era law. In the strip, Dogbert and Asok break the fourth wall to state their annoyance at the ruling, plus declare that Asok’s officially gay.

 

Mar 132014
 

Bridget ClancyThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Bridget Clancy, a supporting character in Nightwing’s comic in the 1990s. Bridget first appeared in “Nightwing” (vol. 2) #2 in November 1996, and was created by Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel.

Clancy’s backstory states she was an orphan born in Hong Kong, but was adopted by an Irish couple and raised in Ireland, before eventually emigrating to the United States. Clancy (she preferred being called by her last name) described herself in one story as “me lookin’ like Kowloon and talkin’ like Londonderry.”

Clancy worked as a superintendant for an apartment building in Bludhaven, a city created for the “Nightwing” comic as a town near Gotham City with a supposedly worse crime rate. (Yeah, I know, “blood-haven”… yeesh. And worse crime than Gotham? Given modern stories beat to death the pessimistic idea that Gotham City is apparently the worst place on Earth, I’m not sure how Bludhaven could be worse… but I digress.)

Nightwing’s solo series started with Dick Grayson (the original Robin, now known as Nightwing) having moved to Bludhaven, finally giving the city an active superhero. Needing a place to live, Dick rented an apartment from Clancy, who took a liking to her new tenant. Humorously, Dick initially mistook Clancy as a Caucasian friend of hers, having initially only heard Clancy’s voice. Dick wasn’t the only super-type in Clancy’s apartment building: other tenants of hers included John Law (now-retired Golden Age hero the Tarantula), and an ex-Arkham Asylum inmate now reformed.

Clancy took pride in her building, and her tenants liked her in turn. At one point, she risked having her building foreclosed, which was fortunately avoided (thanks in part to secretive help from Dick).

Clancy and Dick felt some attraction to each other, and tried to date, but between Dick’s duties as Nightwing, his enrolling in Bludhaven’s police academy (from which he eventually graduated), and a growing attraction to Barbara Gordon, nothing could truly develop between the two. Clancy eventually decided to pursue her former goal of becoming a doctor. Enrolling in medical school (thanks to a scholarship assist from Wayne Industries), Clancy left Bludhaven, leaving her apartment building under someone else’s management. Sometime afterwards, Clancy’s old building was blown up by Batman’s old villain Blockbuster… and Bludhaven itself was eventually wiped off the map by the Metal Men’s old foe Chemo being dropped on the city.

As for Clancy, 2006′s “Nightwing” #118 has her and Dick meet again in New York City, where she’s studying psychology and happy to be pursuing her dream. From what I could find, she hasn’t appeared yet in the New 52 books, though I’d assume her history described above hasn’t changed.

Also from what I could find, Clancy hasn’t appeared yet in any Batman- or DC-related media, though if there’s any future Nightwing-centered media produced, I’d imagine they might be interested in using Clancy.

Mar 062014
 

Nelvana of the Northern LightsThis week’s entry is Canadian superheroine Nelvana of the Northern Lights. Nelvana is one of North American comics’ earliest superheroines, pre-dating Wonder Woman by several months. Nelvana debuted in “Triumph-Adventure Comics” #1 (August 1941), and was created by Adrian Dingle.

Nelvana was Canada’s first superheroine, and came about due to a World War II-era restriction in Canada on importing “luxury goods” from the United States, including comic books. Thus, a boom in Canadian-made comics came about, including home-grown superheroes. The stories were usually published in black-and-white with color covers, giving rise to the term “Canadian Whites.”

Nelvana’s backstory is that she’s a powerful Inuit demigoddess; her brother, Tanero, would often accompany her as a sidekick. Her parents were an unnamed mortal woman and Koliak the Mighty, King of the Northern Lights. When Koliak married Nelvana’s mother, the other gods disapproved, and cursed Koliak to be visible only as a spirit manifested in the form of the Northern Lights. However, Koliak decided to task his offspring with protecting the native peoples of northern Canada. Nelvana certainly lived up to that task—her first adventure saw her protect Inuit peoples from having their food supplies sabotaged by a villain’s efforts. Later adventures saw Nelvana visit an underground world hidden below the Arctic ice, travel to another dimension to fight an alien invasion, and, like every other hero in the 1940s, fight Nazis. (Her first adventure in-universe attracted Hitler’s attention!)

Oddly, Tanero was forbidden from being seen by White men (due apparently to the curse their father was under), so was forced to assume a disguise when venturing away from Inuit peoples. Said disguise was usually in the magically-transformed form of a Great Dane.

Nelvana’s powers were drawn from her Inuit demigod heritage and the Northern Lights itself, and included: telepathy; shape-shifting; becoming invisible; flight (at the speed of light); and the ability to melt metals. She also possessed a magic cape, which she’d use to magically disguise Tanero. Nelvana also seemed to be a friend to animals; she’s seen riding a polar bear in one story.

Later in her run, Nelvana gained a secret identity, that of “Alana North,” a Canadian secret agent.

After the end of World War II, American comics started to flow into Canada again. With the popularity of American comics, and presumably also the decline in superheroes’ popularity post-war, Nelvana saw her last adventure in 1947.

However, Nelvana remained in the memory of Canadian culture for decades afterwards. In 1971, animation studio Nelvana was founded, and was named after the superheroine. Writer John Byrne also introduced in Marvel Comics’ “Alpha Flight” the superheroine Snowbird; her parents were “Hodiak” and “Nelvanna of the Northern Lights” (note the spellings), as a tribute to the original Nelvana. Nelvana was also honored on a Canadian postage stamp in 1995.

In 2013, a Kickstarter campaign was successfully started to raise funds to reprint restored versions of Nelvana’s comic.

Feb 272014
 

"The Real Ghostbusters"This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is yet another 80s pop cultural item: the animated series “The Real Ghostbusters.” Running from 1986 to 1991 on ABC, the series was based on the popular 1984 movie “Ghostbusters” (and its 1989 sequel “Ghostbusters II”).

The series continues the adventures of the quartet of heroes (Egon, Ray, Peter, and Winston) from the original film, as each episode sees them deal with some particular supernatural threat. The writing of the series managed to be fairly strong for its time, which aided its success; J. Michael Straczynski of “Babylon 5″ fame served as story editor.

Since it was a TV series, there was also room to give more of a backstory for each of the characters, including African-American Ghostbuster Winston Zeddemore. As the series went on, we learn (among other things): Winston’s father runs a construction business; Winston enjoys reading mystery novels; and that Winston’s the reincarnation of an ancient African shaman (who’d fought an also-ancient evil spirit).

After the end of the series, Winston and the other Ghostbusters remained unseen for some years (merchandise aside), until 1997′s “Extreme Ghostbusters.” “Extreme Ghostbusters” ran for 40 episodes in syndication, and was meant as a “next generation”-style 90s update of the original series. In this series, we learn that the original Ghostbusters have all disbanded (since they ran out of ghosts to bust), and went their separate ways. When New York’s threatened by a new batch of supernatural spirits, Egon (now a college professor) assembles a new group of Ghostbusters, using the few students in his class (all resembling “next generation”-style analogues of the original cast): Kylie Griffin, a goth student interested in the supernatural; Eduardo Rivera, a cynical Latino student who only took Egon’s course for an “easy grade”; Roland Jackson, an African-American student who maintains/upgrades the Ghostbusters’ tech; and Garrett Miller, a disabled student (Garrett uses a wheelchair) who’s the resident jock and quite enthusiastic about ghostbusting (and sports). The series finale sees Winston, Ray, and Peter return for a reunion, which ends up in a Justice League/Justice Society-style team-up with the younger Ghostbusters for a mission.

Various parodies of “Ghostbusters” have made note of Winston being the only non-White cinematic Ghostbuster. For instance, 90s animated series “The Critic” saw Jay Sherman on board to write a sequel to his world’s version of “Ghostbusters” in the episode “L.A. Jay.” When Jay asks the casting staff who’s back from the original cast: “uh…the Black guy!” “But we only have him for two days…he’s also playing the Black guy in ‘Batman 3′.” Later, one of the directors Jay interviews (a Spike Lee parody) notes: “your first problem is you’ve got a White ghost! How come there’re never any Black ghosts?!” For the record, there’s Bill Cosby’s “Ghost Dad” movie some years back; also, Nickelodeon currently has a sitcom called “The Haunted Hathaways,” about a family of African-American ghosts sharing a house with a mortal family.

Winston’s animated self was originally voiced by Arsenio Hall. Live-action “Ghostbusters” actor Ernie Hudson had tried out for the part of his own character, but for some reason, the studio favored Arsenio. After a few seasons, Arsenio was replaced by Buster Jones (the voice of Black Vulcan in “Superfriends”) for the remainder of the series and in Winston’s cameo in “Extreme Ghostbusters.” Hudson, however, finally got to voice Winston in the 2009 video game “Ghostbusters: The Video Game.” Set some years after the events of “Ghostbusters II,” we learn that Winston definitely has a doctorate, like his fellow Ghostbusters, though it’s not clear when Winston earned it. (Quote from the game: “That’s Doctor Zeddemore to you!”)

Finally, here’s the opening credits to “The Real Ghostbusters.” If you’re wondering why the “Real” part of the show’s name: Filmation (the studio behind “Fat Albert“) had made an unrelated-to-the-movie series with the plain name “Ghostbusters,” to cash in on the movie’s success. (Filmation had also produced a live-action series titled “The Ghost Busters” in the 70s; the 80s series revived the same characters.) Thus, “The Real Ghostbusters” name is a jab at their one-time rival show.

Feb 202014
 

Mr. TThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is, like Jem last week, another 80s pop cultural icon, though one even more famous: Mr. T, the star of the 80s action TV show “The A-Team,” “Rocky III,” and, yes, a few cartoons. Mr. T (real name: Laurence Tureaud) and his tough guy image during the 80s became famous enough that he started to make appearances in the world of animation, often voicing animated versions of himself (or parodies of himself).

1983 saw the debut on NBC (home of “The A-Team”) of Mr. T’s own self-titled cartoon. In this Ruby-Spears produced series, Mr. T was the coach of a children’s gymnastics team, with the entire group getting involved in solving various mysteries each episode. Mr. T would demonstrate his toughness in the way, well, only an 80s cartoon could demonstrate: for instance, the title sequence shows him swinging an alligator over his head. Also being the 80s, the gang’s pet dog had a mohawk. Other voices included Phil LaMarr, later of “Static Shock” and “Justice League” (as John Stewart) fame. 30 episodes were produced, with the series airing through 1986. A DVD of the show’s first 13 episode season was released through the Warner Archive in 2011, but the rest of the show doesn’t seem to have been collected.

Mr. T also put in a cameo in 1983′s debut season of “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” appearing in the series’ very first episode, “The C Team.” In the episode, Mr. T helps the musical trio deal with a group of bullies. The Chipmunks’ show, like Mr. T’s, was also animated (at the time) by Ruby-Spears, and aired on NBC.

Years later, Mr. T voiced the occasionally appearing character “Mr. T-Rex” on the 90s series “Eek! and the Terrible Thunderlizards.” The Thunderlizards’ half of the show featured two bumbling cavemen and the also-bumbling (20th century-like) dinosaurs tasked by their government to eliminate the humans, before they can evolve and displace dinosaurs for global dominance. Mr. T-Rex (a Tyrannosaurus rex with gold chains and a mohawk) was an expert tracker and soldier tasked with helping the Thunderlizards carry out their task, though he wasn’t much more successful. (To a giant Venus flytrap: “You wanna play games with me, you photosynthesized fool?!”; to the Thunderlizards, after “disciplining” them: “Now fools, let’s go hunt some humans. I pity the humans!”)

Mr. T also has appeared as a cameo in Cartoon Network’s series “Johnny Bravo.” The episode “T is for Trouble” sees Mr. T try to teach self-defense to Johnny. This was in response to a letter Johnny sent as a child about a school bully picking on him; apparently Mr. T answered his letter a few decades late.

More recently, Mr. T voiced a police officer in the 2009 film “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” though its sequel saw Mr. T replaced by Terry Crews, an African-American football player-turned-actor.

Feb 132014
 

Jem and the HologramsThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is “Jem and the Holograms.” Airing in first-run syndication between 1985 and 1988, “Jem” featured the adventures of a rock group called the Holograms.

The overall set-up of the series: Jerrica Benton is the owner and manager of both Starlight Music and Starlight House (the latter a foster home for girls), both inherited from her deceased genius father. Her father also left Jerrica with his greatest invention, “Synergy,” a powerful audio-visual computer with holographic capabilities. Synergy’s verbally controlled or communicated with via the use of special “Jemstar” earrings Jerrica wears. Along with various holographic illusions, Synergy also allows Jerrica to create her “Jem” identity as a hologram projected over herself. As Jem, Jerrica serves as the lead singer for the Holograms. Episodes would often see the Holograms travel the world, giving concerts and having assorted adventures, similar to Josie and the Pussycats 15 years earlier.

Other members of the Holograms include:

  • Kimber Benton, Jerrica’s younger sister. Kimber is the main songwriter for the Holograms, and also performs various instruments.
  • Aja Leith, the band’s lead guitarist and back-up vocalist. An Asian-American woman who, along with the other Holograms, grew up at Starlight House.
  • Shana Elmsford, an African-American woman who plays the group’s bass guitar, synth drums, and backup vocals.
  • Carman “Raya” Alonso, a Mexican-American drummer and backup singer for the group.

The main nemesis/rival to the Holograms in the series is the fellow rock group “The Misfits,” who seem reasonably popular in their own right, but not as popular as the Holograms. Episodes often revolve around the Misfits’ glory-hound (or outright dangerous) tactics to gain fame at the expense of (and sometimes risk to) the Holograms. The Misfits often relied on the aid of their sleazy manager, Eric Raymond, the former co-owner of Starlight Music. The third season saw a second rival group, “The Stingers,” introduced.

“Jem” ran for three seasons with a total of 65 episodes. Each episode featured various song numbers, often in the form of a music video—per MTV’s raging success back when they actually played music videos. The usual tie-in toys, etc. were also released.

Since the series ended, however, there’s not been much sign of the Holograms, save in 80s nostalgia references. “Jem” aired for awhile on The Hub a few years ago—the first time it’d aired on TV in decades. (Wikipedia claims “Jem”‘s last TV broadcast before that was in 1993 on USA Network, by which time the show must’ve already seemed dated.) However, the entire series is now available on Netflix. “Jem” has also been recently released to DVD, both in a “complete series” format (with the usual extras, interviews, etc.) and as individual season sets.

On a final note, here’s the opening title for “Jem,” in all its 80s glory: