Archive for the ‘Random Top Five’ Category

Random Top Five: Attempts at Explaining What Is Funny Through the Cartoon “What Is Funny?”

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014
Of course, another way to word this question could be, "Funny, what is?"

I’ve been turning this question over in my head…

Back in the late 1990s, Nickelodeon had a neat cartoon show called Oh Yeah! Cartoons that I loved to watch.  It was an ambitious project in which a large group of animation directors and other personalities, young and old, worked on a series of almost one hundred shorts featuring a wide variety of new characters (fifty-four characters all told; for some strange reason, I want to see all of these guys in a group shot on a T-shirt).  These shorts acted as what is known in the television industry as “backdoor pilots,” meaning that any shorts that got a particularly great reaction from Nick’s executives or the viewing audience (maybe even both if the short was really good) could be turned into a new cartoon series for Nick.  This was how we got such shows as The Fairly OddparentsChalkZone, and My Life As a Teenage Robot (the original short was called My Neighbor Was a Teenage Robot; not much of a difference, I’d say).

All of these cartoons are quite memorable to me, but there is one particular short that stuck in my mind long after I first viewed it.  The short What Is Funny?, directed by Will Burnett and Vincent Waller, features a dog named Slap T. Pooch (Anyone wanna bet the T stands for “The?”) who is always asking the question posed in the short’s title while being caught in increasingly bizarre and presumably funny circumstances.  There’s all kinds of humor demonstrated in this cartoon, and in a neat way, it has made me think deeply about what I find funny and why certain things make me laugh.  I’ve wanted to talk about this kind of thing for a long time, and I feel that now is a good opportunity to do so.  The following are five observations I have made regarding What is Funny (Mind if I not use the question mark for the rest of this blog post?  Thanks, it saves me a lot of headache!), what I find funny about it, and why.

1. Funny is simple yet full of detail.

The premise of What is Funny is pretty bare-bones (pun unintended, all apologies to Slap the dog).  Slap wants to find out what funny is and is willing to go to any absurd length to get a good answer (and in just under seven minutes, no less!).  This premise probably sounds very mundane on paper, but that’s the beauty of it in my view.  A lot of cartoons have amazingly simplistic plots: Elmer Fudd, a hunter wants to blast Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to smithereens (I wefuse to type that as “smitherweeens,” bwast it!).  Wile E. Coyote wants to catch the Road Runner.  SpongeBob Squarepants just wants to work at his dream job and enjoy life in his off time. 

What makes these premises funny is that the way they are achieved is so gosh-darned strange.  Elmer has to deal with a Brookwyn-accented wabbit and a screwball duck who compwains of “pronoun trouble.”  (See what I did there?  I’ll stop now for sanity’s sake.)  The coyote, instead of using his own natural reflexes, relies almost entirely on mail-order products to get his fast-moving dinner (not that he ever gets it, mind you).  SpongeBob works as a fry cook, but he flips his patties in a colorful underwater cartoon fun-land, and the rest of his adventures are certainly not boring by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s the same with What is Funny.  Slap’s exploration of humor is bizarre and takes a lot of unexpected turns.  The question may be simple, but the details encountered in answering that question give this cartoon a strange life of its own that I find fun to explore.

2. Funny could be gross (especially if you’re on Nick in the ’90s.)

One of the first things in What is Funny that had me chuckling was Slap contorting his face into various unexpected shapes, some of which looked really strange (the bit where he had his lips wrapped around his whole head with just his teeth showing and he was singing “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” was a laugh riot for me).  This kind of sophmoric “gross-out” humor was quite common in Nickelodeon cartoons during the ’90s, so I wasn’t too surprised when I found it here as well.  Not to mention that Vincent Waller, the director and one of the co-creators of this short, was also a prominent member of the creative team behind Ren and Stimpy, the unofficial king of gross during Nick’s early days; go figure.  To viewers who prefer more sophisticated humor, such visual (and visceral!) material is likely excruciating to take in (or block out). 

Personally, I like this sort of stuff.  I grew up watching it a lot on Nick and Cartoon Network, of course,  but characters squirming and stretching around in bizarre bits of anatomical madness is something that just appeals to me on a base level.  It seems to me that it has always been a part of cartoon culture, too; Daffy Duck was moving his body in all sorts of weird ways from the first moment he “Woo-hoo”ed onto the silver screen, and his signature squirms in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery remain among some of my favorite cartoon visuals.  That traditon is alive and well in What is Funny, and you can still see it in plenty of cartoons today.  Good enough in my book!

3. Funny can be hazardous to one’s health (namely the cartoon star’s health), but it doesn’t seem to leave any lingering effects.

Daffy Duck gets his bill blown off numerous times during Rabbit Fire, but he just puts it back on and continues arguing with Bugs.  The dog in Tex Avery’s Bad Luck Blackie suffers all sorts of physical calamities after the black cat crosses his path, but he recovers by the time the screen fades out then back in for the next gag.  In What is Funny, Slap is grabbed by an eagle and dropped into a wooden tub full of “deadly” stockbrokers (they do work with bulls and bears after all) and suckerfish, which apparently change into thumbtacks and squirrels on Slap’s command (only in a cartoon, I guess).  Even though Slap clearly has a pained expression on his face and says he doesn’t find these objects particularly humorous, the results did elicit laughter from me.

Of course, pain is no laughing matter in real life, so why does it draw guffaws in cartoon form?  I think it’s because the pain in cartoons is usually of the exaggerated kind.  Rarely does one suffer real pain in such obviously outlandish ways.  Besides, it doesn’t seem to affect cartoon characters very much; all that happens is the camera fades away and then comes back to find the characters have fully recovered with no apparent scarring.  There’s also a handful of instances where characters have literally shrugged off the results of their pain and stripped away all the bandages and boo-boos, returning to their usual healthy selves faster than one can say “fountain of youth.”  It seems to me that pain has no real consequences in the cartoon universe other than drawing laughter out of the huge vacuum between fictional injuries and real life.

4. Funny likes terrible puns.  ‘Nuff said.

Come on, what else could I possibly say about a bunch of talking gingerbread men calling themselves “tough cookies?”  That’s just clever right there.  Not since Mr. Peabody has there been such a perfect use of lousy wordplay to great humorous effect.  That’s not just funny, that’s funtastic.

5. Funny never has to explain itself.

Okay, I know this last point probably doesn’t make much sense given the title of this blog post, but there is an element of What is Funny that works in just this way.  Throughout the short, a farmer, a chicken, and a pig keep popping into frame and singing “What is funny?” over and over.  Why they are doing this is never really explained.  It’s just a strange funny thing that is endlessly repeated to the weirdest cartoon music I have ever heard (though it is sort of awesome to me that it sounds almost like the X-Files theme).  There is one thing about it that kind of makes sense in retrospect (the TV Tropes website refers to this type of retroactive realization as “Fridge Logic“; the more you know).  At some point between the second-to-last and final appearances of this strange “Greek chorus,” the pig is turned into bacon and package-wrapped, yet still has a recognizable face and is still singing.  It’s pretty senseless, but I still think it’s neat.

What do you think is funny?  If you watched the What is Funny cartoon yourself, what did you find funny about it and why?  Do you think Slap T. Pooch could have been successful in his own series?  Let me know in the comments, and keep on laughing!  (Oh yeah, one more thing…  Oh Yeah! Cartoons had one of the best theme songs I’ve ever heard.  I thought it was a bit strange that it was always played over the closing credits rather than at the show’s beginning, but it was still one of the most memorable parts of the show for me.  Give it a listen (as well as this longer version) and tell me if it made you go “Oh Yeah” or “Oh No.”)

Random Top Five: Shows That I Think Need to Be On the WWE Network

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaStarting on February 24 at 11:05 P.M., WWE (a.k.a. “The Artist Formerly Known As World Wrestling Entertainment”) will begin broadcasting a new Internet-based television network.  The WWE Network looks promising to me, with a wealth of shows that I am genuinely excited about watching.  From the blow-by-blow account of the epic battles between WWE and WCW that constitute The Monday Night War  to the novelty of a group of wrestling legends living together in a luxurious home on Legends House and even the untold possibilities offered by the prospect of live Super Bowl-esque pre- and post-shows for Monday Night Raw and Friday Night SmackDown, the WWE Network will have a lot of great stuff to offer 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The WWE Network will also have a Netflix-like archive with over 100,000 hours of content, just in case there’s nothing on the main channel that looks good at the moment.  I like the idea of being able to go into wrestling’s past and digging up old shows and pay-per-views to pass the time with, and there are already some shows that I have made a mental note to definitely check out.  Still, there are some shows that I would really like to see that haven’t yet been announced.  My personal vision of what the Network could be has about as good a chance of coming to fruition as Gorgeous George’s ghost has of winning this year’s Royal Rumble.  I can still dream, though, so here’s my wish list of shows which I hope the Network might show one day, whether on the main channel or stored in the archive (but preferably the archive; I don’t have as much time these days to veg out on the couch, so the archive part of the Network is the one I’d probably count on the most for my entertainment).

5. Global Wrestling Federation

WWE recently put out a DVD in which they discussed the content they have in their tape library (which will be heavily drawn from in order to program the Network).  They then showed a graphic of the logos for all of the different wrestling companies and other sources of material in the archive.  At the bottom of that pile of logos were three peculiar initials: GWF.  I had heard of those initials before, but I couldn’t remember what they stood for, so I looked them up on Wikipedia and found they belonged to a short-lived company called the Global Wrestling Federation.  As I read through the description, I couldn’t believe how awesomely weird  the GWF’s product sounded on paper.  Some of the storylines they presented sound incredible to me.  What would you say about a “bungee” match in which the loser is attached to a bungee cord and “launched” all the way to the moon?  How about one of the show’s announcers getting amnesia and believing he’s Elvis Presley (I guess Jerry Lawler’s not the only “King” in wrestling!)?  They even had a storyline in which a psychiatrist evaluated the wrestlers’ mental health (not the kind of “wrestling psychology” I’m used to, but I’ll take it for what it’s worth)!  I sincerely hope some GWF content is included in the WWE Network’s archive so I can watch it at a time that’s convenient to me and see how well these strange storylines hold up today.  Those 2 A.M. ESPN Classic reruns just simply aren’t an option!

4. WWE Saturday Morning Slam

This show actually ended in 2013, but I think there could still be a place for it, or at least a show like it, on the WWE Network.  It was a half-hour show targeted at kids who watched the CW’s Saturday morning cartoon lineup (It shared space on the schedule with the Justice League, Spider-Man, and the Power Rangers; not too shabby!).  Wrestling moves aimed at the neck weren’t allowed to be shown on camera, so the in-ring action tended to skew more toward comedy routines, but that just made the show cooler to watch in my view.  After all, it’s not every day you get to see Santino Marella square off against Heath Slater in an air-guitar contest!  The show ran for only one season on the CW with no indication if it was ever coming back.  I’d like to see a second season with more sensational silliness.  It would definitely bring some of the fun back to wrestling, something I believe it sorely needs these days.

3. WWF(E) LiveWire

During the announcement of the WWE Network, it was stated that it would soon feature a live in-studio broadcast as part of its programming.  I’ve heard rumors that it might be similar to ESPN’s SportsCenter in that they would cover the events of WWE programming and possibly other sports and pop culture topics of the day (which sounds more like ESPN2’s SportsNation, but enough of my kibitzing).  Personally, I think WWE had a show like that already which would be a good example for the new show to follow.  It was called WWF LiveWire.  Back in the days when “the ‘E” still had an F as part of its initials, WWF LiveWire was a live studio show where viewers could make a phone call and talk to their favorite WWF wrestlers.  A show of this nature could be a good way to get viewers more invested in the network, and the myriad methods of communication available to most people today could lead to a wider variety of conversation pieces.  You could still have phone calls, but also e-mails, Twitter posts, Facebook messages, Skype video chats, and all types of other ways to facilitate interaction.  A show like this could be the most well-connected show around.

2. WWF Wrestling Challenge 

A few years back, I was a loyal subscriber to WWE’s old video archive service on-line.  One of my favorite features of this archive was its collection of episodes of WWF Wrestling Challenge.  Each episode was mainly comprised of “squash matches” in which the big boys of the WWF routinely beat various no-name wrestlers as well as a mixture of promotional interviews and recaps of current storylines.  For some strange reason, I found this show incredibly entertaining.  The wrestlers all had colorful personalities which grabbed my attention very quickly, and the witty banter between the show’s commentators, Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, was even better than the matches themselves most of the time.  This was popcorn TV at its finest, and I regret to say that there isn’t really a show like this in WWE’s current TV output.  Sure, Main Event and Superstars come close in terms of format, but my overall opinion of these shows is that they are a little underwhelming.  If the WWE looked back on its rich, colorful history, particularly this show, and applied what worked back then to today’s product, I am sure the shows would be much more exciting.  It would certainly make the Network a lot more fun!

1. Tuesday Night Titans

Now here’s a real gem of a show that needs a reboot, stat!  Before Ted Turner founded Turner Network Television in 1988, this original TNT was blowing viewers’ minds in 1984 and ’85.  Vince McMahon made for a surprisingly witty Johnny Carson wannabe as he made light conversation with all of the movers and shakers in the wrestling world.  This show was full of memorable moments such as the Iron Shiek showing off his pet camel, Hulk Hogan getting his famous “24 inch pythons” (his arms folks, not actual snakes) measured by female wrestler Wendi Richter, and Rowdy Roddy Piper starring in a supremely corny rendition of the Christmas Carol story.  Tuesday Night Titans was the place where the WWF’s stars could unwind in between slugfests and have a grand old time.  I wonder if the talk show format could still work in 2014, in an age where the wrestlers’ personal lives are well-known and broadcast on all different forms of social media.  Maybe there’s some sides of them that have never been shown for whatever reason, and a show like TNT could help them to kickstart their careers in a bold new direction.  The WWE has a new network to fill with lots of original programming; I think a revival of TNT could fit in very nicely in the new program lineup.

The WWE Network will be starting up very soon, and I am looking forward to see what the future holds for it.  WWE has a TV lineage dating back almost a century, and in all that time, it has produced a lot of good television, so I have high hopes that the Network will be a great addition to that legacy.  

If you’re a wrestling fan, are you looking forward to the Network and would you consider subscribing to it?  If you’re still hesitant, is there anything WWE could do in terms of programming that might make you change your mind?  Let me know in the comments, and please give this thing a chance.  It could turn out to be something really special if we support it in the right way!

Random Top Five: Snoopy Personas

Thursday, November 7th, 2013
"Contact!" he shouts.

Here’s the World War I Flying Ace, looking proud on his Sopwith Camel featured on an emblem for the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron.

One of my favorite characters in all of popular culture is Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s beagle from the Peanuts franchise.  Ever since I first laid my eyes on him in a videotape recording of A Charlie Brown Christmas, I have grown to love Snoopy immensely and take great pleasure from seeing his antics.  I like the idea of a dog standing up on his hind legs, walking around, and hanging out with a little yellow bird.  The one aspect of Snoopy that I love the most, however, is that he has an overactive imagination.  Not content with being merely a dog, Snoopy has decided to fill the dull moments of his life with fantastic adventures in which he is the hero of epic stories, usually taking on some truly iconic identities in the process.  It is these alternate personas of his that stand out the most in my mind whenever I think of Snoopy.  Here is a small appreciation of five of Snoopy’s most famous personas and why I like them so much.

5. The World-Famous Novelist, a.k.a. The Literary Ace

“It was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly, a shot rang out!”  If you’re reading a Peanuts strip, chances are you will see these words hovering over Snoopy’s head while he is banging on the keys of a typewriter on top of his doghouse.  You will then have witnessed one of the most harrowing moments in all of literature: here is the World-Famous Novelist making another attempt at writing the Great American Novel.  It’s just unfortunate, though, that he is borrowing his opening line (the “dark and stormy” part, anyway) from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford, an 1830 work whose beginning sentence is apparently considered one of the world’s worst story starters.  Despite the continuous stream of rejection letters that arrive from various editors and publishers, Snoopy still persists in writing, always with that line as his lead-off hitter. 

I was inspired to become a writer partly because of Snoopy’s attempts to be a writer.  I admired how he never gave up on his dream despite everyone else telling him he should stop.  He kept on writing anyway just because he was that dedicated to his craft.  It just so happens that his work has been published at least one time, believe it or not, and I acquired a copy of it myself a couple of years ago.  The year 1971 saw the publication of It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, a book based on several different Novelist storylines and featured a special reprint of Snoopy’s written work.  I highly recommend hunting a copy down for yourself on Amazon, especially because of the beagle’s account of a surprisingly awesome pirate fight.

4. Legal Beagle

Snoopy has a secret second life separate from his regular existence as a dog and even from his other personas.  In this other life, he is one of the USA’s most elite trial lawyers.  Here is the world-famous lawyer, easily recognized by his bowler hat, bow tie, and carrying a briefcase filled with legal papers (and doughnuts and cookies).  This stalwart defender of truth and justice, sometimes seconded by loyal assistants Linus and Rerun Van Pelt, has had an ecclectic list of clients, including most notably Peter Rabbit (It turns out Mr. McGregor can be far more deadly with a lawsuit than he ever was with a shotgun and rabbit traps.) and the Knave of Hearts (who may have stolen some tarts, but the evidence seems to be circumstantial; it may be that Snoopy himself had a nibble of some of the tarts in question). 

I like this persona mostly because of the absurdity of Snoopy being a part of the legal world and all of the unusual situations that would bring about, and also because I have seen it more in the comics than in the TV specials which makes it stick out more in my mind.  I wonder what would happen if Snoopy went up against Phoenix Wright in a real “trial by fire?”

3. Beagle Scout

When Woodstock and his identical yellow bird friends want to go camping, hiking, sailing, or engaging in nearly any other outdoor activity they can think of, they know the beagle to call.  Snoopy is the loyal den dog to the Beagle Scouts, a group of young birds working to earn merit badges in a variety of disciplines.  Sometimes their excursions take them out onto the neighborhood golf course, marching through sand traps and around holes, frequently taking some treacherous hiking paths through the nearby woods.  There is plenty of risk of being hit with flying golf balls or being chased off the course by its owners or by Charlie Brown and the gang, but the experience of being outdoors is well worth the effort to Snoopy and his young scouts.  The rest of the time, they hike and set up camp through some beautiful countryside; how much of this is really part of the neighborhood or just part of Snoopy’s imagination, the world may never know.

The Beagle Scout persona is a Snoopy persona I can particularly admire because he and his bird friends get to walk through some exquisite outdoor settings.  Charles M. Schultz drew amazing depictions of lush forests, wide meadows, craggy mountain passes, sheer cliffs, calm rivers and streams, and other outdoor locales for the Beagle Scouts to explore, ones which remind me a lot of nearby parks and woods near my home.  They look well-suited for places to spread out one’s sleeping bag and stare up at the stars.  Snoopy is truly an appreciative outdoorsman (or is that outdoorsdog?).

2. Joe Cool

Snoopy’s salute to the BMOC (Big Man on Campus), Joe Cool is undoubtedly one of the hippest (in his own mind) personas the beagle has.  The sweater-wearing, sunglasses-sporting “student” is not as concerned with making good grades as he is with making a name for himself around Charlie Brown’s school, hanging around the water fountain and flirting with the girls.  Whether this approach makes Snoopy/Joe any more popular is up for debate; if You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown is any indication, he certainly isn’t popular with teachers and other faculty who do not want a beagle leaving pawprints all over the school. 

Personally, I think Joe Cool lives up to his name, if only in that he knows how to make a sweater with one’s name plastered on it look like the coolest sweater in the world.  This somehow, by extension, makes the wearer himself look cool, so maybe the beagle is on to something here.

1. World War I Flying Ace

Here is what is undoubtedly Snoopy’s most famous persona, immortalized through his show-stealing appearance in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Royal Guardsmen’s top musical hits “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and “Snoopy’s Christmas,” and even a couple of video games (a different Snoopy vs. The Red Baron and Snoopy Flying Ace).  The World War I Flying Ace is a living tribute to all of the men and women in the armed forces, a pilot who is still fighting the war even though it officially ended when Germany signed an armistice on November 11, 1918.  The Flying Ace climbs on his Sopwith Camel and flies once more into the wild grey yonder (it would’ve been blue if only all those guns stopped blasting ordnance for a second), searching for the “bloody” Red Baron.  Even though the Baron is credited with a long string of successful wins in dogfights, his winning streak of  “ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or more” pales in comparison to his legendary rivalry with that ace of aces, Snoopy.  Thank goodness it’s a relatively bloodless rivalry.  Every time they meet, the Baron just shoots a few holes through the doghouse and forces his opponent to make a rough landing, free to repair his “plane’s” smoking (?) fuselage while shaking his fist (It’s astonishing that dog is even capable of making a fist.  Cartoons, gotta love ’em.) and shouting, “Curse you, Red Baron!”  Snoopy and the Baron even seem to have come to an uneasy truce: every Christmas, they land their planes and share a cup of tea together, wish each other a Merry Christmas, then fly away until their next aerial clash. 

This part of the Flying Ace’s legend is one that I really like to reflect on.  How cool is it that even though they’re such fierce rivals usually intent on “rolling out the score,” Snoopy and the Baron have enough respect for each other to reenact the famous “Christmas truce” from the 1914 portion of the War to End All Wars every single year?  It makes me hope that others will be willing to take up the cause of “…bringing peace to all the world/And goodwill to me-e-e-en.”

I have read many times that Charles Schultz stated that people could interpret his work however they wanted; that all he was trying to do with Peanuts was to make people laugh once a day every day for fifty years.  Well, he certainly made this reader think a lot about life while he was laughing.  In regards to Snoopy, Schultz said that despite the character’s sensational popularity, he himself tried his darndest not to let the beagle completely hijack the strip.  However, I personally believe that Snoopy is the best part of Peanuts.  His boundless imagination and creative flights of fancy are a wonderful respite from the usual storylines of Charlie Brown’s hangups and everyone else’s insecurities.  Snoopy is almost never depressed; he is astoundingly happy all the time and completely engrossed in his fantastic adventures.  Even if the rest of Schultz’s Peanuts work is forgotten over time, I hope Snoopy will remain popular for a long time to come.  I think the world would just be a lot sadder without him.

What do you think of Snoopy and his numerous personas?  Which one is your favorite?  Make sure to fly over to the comments and leave your thoughts, and here’s to hoping you don’t have any “dark and stormy nights” anytime soon!

Random Top Five: My Favorite Halloween Costumes

Thursday, October 31st, 2013
Pumpkin Witch Husband says hi, too.

Pumpkin Witch Bride wishes you a hauntingly happy Halloween!

The Halloween season is upon us once again, and with it will come a collection of kids in creepy, kooky, altogether ooky costumes to my family’s front door for Halloween candy.  I love seeing the continuous parade of different costumes and designs, taking note of which classic monsters I see and which new characters in pop culture have been transformed into costumes.  Here are some of my favorite Halloween costumes that I watch out for every year; I wonder how many of them will show up on my doorstep tonight?

5. Vampire

A formal ensemble, a toothy grin, a telltale widow’s peak: all of these are the classic signs of a vampire showing up at your door.  I remember going as the close cousin of Grandpa Munster once myself for Halloween, complete with a cape, a widow’s peak, and a set of fake fangs that made it hard for me to talk but certainly helped me to look the part.  It was one of my favorite costumes and I am glad it still seems to be popular among today’s kids.  I am not sure what it is about a formally dressed blood-sucker that appeals to people, but at least it teaches kids the value of a good outfit for a black-tie dinner.

4. Princess

 A majority of the little girls that stop by for candy every year are often dressed as princesses, queens, or other royalty.  It is a credit to their parents, guardians, and friends that their crowns don’t go to their heads and they gain a kingdom-sized ego.  A lot of the princesses I see on Halloween are dressed in a multitude of colors, not just pink.  I’ve seen princess costumes decked out in blue, green, red, purple, aquamarine, neon yellow, mint green, and many other colors.  Truly a rainbow of royalty!  I wonder if I’ll see anyone dressed as princesses from TV and movies tonight.  I always see a few Disney princesses here and there, but will Disney’s newest and youngest, Sofia the First, be represented?  How about a few My Little Pony princesses like Celestia, Luna, Cadence, or even Twilight Sparkle?  Whether two legs or four, there’s going to be princesses for sure!

3. Frankenstein

For the record, I am referring to Frankenstein’s monster, not Dr. Frankenstein himself; I don’t really like the idea of a scientist who decides to “play God” and reanimate the dead.  Regardless of my feelings for the man who created him, I think the monster himself is A-OK.  I love the look the Frankenstein monster was given: the green skin, the rectangular cranium, the neck bolts, the simple brown coat and pants, the plain black overshoes.  It’s a clean, uncluttered design that screams “instant icon.”   I think it looks great as a Halloween costume, a statue, a hood ornament, or even an airbrushed T-shirt drawing.  Boris Karloff made it menacing yet sympathetic, while Herman Munster made it unusual yet ordinary and genial.  Both emotional extremes suit the design just fine in my opinion, and it is definitely one that brings a smile to my face.  Just keep me away from the Bride of Frankenstein, though: I just keep picturing the rats and other vermin that must infest that tall hairdo of hers, so gross!

2. Mummy

It’s a dead guy wrapped in a whole hospital supply closet’s worth of gauze returned to life and shuffling around, scaring the populace with every step.  For some strange reason, though, I don’t find the sight of this creature as terrifying as I used to.  It probably started with that cute little-girl mummy in that one Scooby-Doo movie, or maybe with the notion that in The Scorpion King, the guy who will eventually become the star of The Mummy Returns is played by Dwayne Johnson, one of humanity’s living definitions of the word “cool.”  It could have been that one attempt I made to dress up as a mummy with a bunch of toilet paper wrapped around myself (it kept falling off because I didn’t want to use tape).  Somehow or other, I’m just not scared of mummies anymore.  A while back, I watched The Mummy’s Curse, the final appearance of Lon Chaney Jr. as the original movie mummy, Kharis.  I expected to be scared out of my wits by the mummy’s shuffle-step, but I instead became endlessly fascinated by the way he gave Mr. Spock a run for his pointy-eared money by successfully applying the Vulcan nerve pinch to all his victims roughly two decades before the heyday of Star Trek.  He could give most professional wrestlers a lesson or two as well in the intimidation department.  I guess I just like mummies a lot more these days than I am scared of them, and what’s wrong with that?

1. Ghost

Whether or not you believe they actually exist (TV says “yes,” my beliefs say “no,” the ghosts themselves would probably say “maybe” if they had mouths and vocal cords), you can’t help but smile at the sight of a kid with a plain white sheet draped over their heads with a couple of big eye holes cut out.  Even though I’ve rarely ever seen anyone at my front door dressed in this exact costume,  it is a design which I still like seeing every year in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  Mr. Brown’s ghost design is a little different from all the other ghosts in that special.  His ghost costume has more cut-out eyes than a potato and his line, “I had a little trouble with the scissors,” is such an understated and hilarious line that I break out into a huge grin every time I hear it.  It is for that very line that I think of the ghost as my Halloween costume of choice.

What’s your favorite Halloween costume?  What was the best costume you ever wore?  Do you think today’s costumes are better or worse than the costumes of the past?  Let me know in the comments, and have a happy and safe Halloween!

Random Top Five: My Favorite “Necessary Evil: Super Villains of DC Comics” Two-Page Origin Stories

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013
Talk about a fall from grace...

Lex Luthor opened a fun theme park ride? Truly a fiendish plot to destroy us all!

For a while now, I have been looking into the philosophical and cultural impact superheroes have had on the world.  This research has rekindled my interest in comics and led me to discover many amazing concepts, characters, creators, stories, and other great comics information.  One piece of comics-related business on my “cool radar” is the new documentary Necessary Evil: Super Villains of DC Comics set to be released on Blu-Ray later this month.  In it, DC Comics writers, editors, and other comics personalities will discuss some of the most iconic bad guys and gals in popular comics culture.  I recently finished the companion book that was released last month and was impressed by the roster of nasties collected therein as well as the stories explaining their origins and motivations.  I particularly liked the many two-page origin stories for some of the villains which concisely and creatively explained their long, complex histories in a small amount of space.  The following five villain origins blew me away the most.  If you manage to get your hands on a copy of the book, I highly recommend you give these parts a look first.

5. Gorilla Grodd

I became familiar with this “super-gorilla” from his time with the Legion of Doom on Challenge of the Superfriends.  I also came to know many other great comics villains through this show, especially episodes about some of their origins.  Through an expisode from “Legion of Doom”, I learned of Grodd’s origin and was  introduced to his birthplace, Gorilla City.  He was once an ordinary gorilla until a chance encounter with aliens who performed experiments on him gave him a highly advanced intelligence and the weird “force of mind” power to take over others’ brains and make them do his bidding.  Quite frankly, I thought he was an absurd character and easily the oddest member of the Legion.  Come on, he was a talking gorilla!  It was pretty hard for me to take that seriously as a young boy, but I later grew to love him because he was indeed so different, which made him somehow awesome in my view.   His two-page origin in the Necessary Evil book has a fantastic portrait of him and his jungle home in classic four-color goodness, but my favorite image in it is the opening panel of him just sitting and drinking tea in a purple armchair next to a roaring fireplace.  That drawing alone sums up a lot of how I feel about Grodd: he’s intelligent, slightly intimidating, and just plain weird all at the same time.  That may not be the most believeable premise I’ve ever heard of, but it certainly works well for a classic comic book villain.

4. The Riddler

Batman’s villains are among the most famous in comic books, and as you can imagine, they are heavily featured in Necessary EvilThe Joker and Clayface both star in long-form stories in the book while many of the other Bat-Baddies receive two-page origins.  A lot of these retellings seemed plain-Jane to me, but I did like how the Riddler origin turned out.  Edward Nashton cheated on a puzzle contest in elementary school and spent the rest of his life conning people with games and riddles.  He only went after Batman in an attempt to outwit the greatest detective in comics.  It was fun looking at how the Riddler’s look has changed over the years, from his green-and-purple question mark-filled long johns in the 1960s to his dapper green jacket, purple bowler hat, and question mark-topped cane in the 1990s and beyond.  I was also surprised to learn that the Riddler was recently a good guy, of sorts, in the comics, dispsensing clues to other criminals’ crimes to any interested parties for a small fee.  I was a little disappointed with this origin, though, because its writer forgot one thing: to include riddles!  I have one small question for that guy: If the Riddler asks a riddle and no one sees him ask it, did he ever ask it at all?  Something to think about…

3. The Scarecrow

Yes, another Batman villain has made my list, but this guy’s origin has once again been graced with some great art.  Dr. Jonathan Crane is a disgraced professor kicked out of his university for using his students as test subjects for his theories concerning fear.  In revenge, Crane takes on the disguise of the suitably scary Scarecrow and uses his nightmare-inducing fear gas to terrify his victims, including a certain bat-themed superhero.  The Scarecrow is one of those characters that just scares the living daylights out of me when I first look at him.  To me, he looks just like a gangly straw figure come to life and moving in a way that is not at all natural.  No wonder he’s been such a great villain since the ’40s!  He is truly the living personification of fear.

2. Lex Luthor

Naturally, Superman’s greatest archenemy gets the front spot of Necessary Evil.  His two-page origin tells the story of the rise of Metropolis and the legend of Superman from Lex’s perspective.  Luthor’s family was instrumental in funding many of the building and public works projects that helped make Metropolis the “City of Tomorrow,” but Lex only cared about himself.  He grew up to become a successful businessman and enterpeneur, and even the U.S. President at one point, but throughout, all that he could think about was his own bitter jealousy toward the more civic-minded and beloved Superman.  This mindset is reflected in the art for Lex’s origin story as Luthor is the center of the action yet everyone else looks to Superman, a subtle turn of events but profound in understanding Luthor’s motivations.  Incidentally, this origin is preceded in the book by an excellent story from the year 2000 in which Luthor goes over a local news puff piece concerning his run for the presidency.  It really opened my eyes to the cold feelings Luthor probably goes through all the time in the comics and almost made me feel sorry for the poor guy.  He is still jerk, of course, but it’s not like that worldview wasn’t formed without cause.

1. Bizarro

Me like Bizarro Superman’s origin story.  Whether he be evil “imperfect” clone of Superman or just from really freaking weird planet of Bizarros where everyone do opposite of normal Earth people (technically called Htrae, in case that make you lose sleep at night), me think Bizarro just plain fun character and probably great guy to hang out with, if only he could get past lousy mindset of doing everything the opposite way.  Naturally, Bizarro’s two-page origin in Necessary Evil actually run backward, with beginning appearing at bottom of page two (with villain of honor facing away from viewer) and end of story appearing at top of page one.  Sure, it confusing to follow, but if American fans of Japanese manga can learn how to read comics right to left, then surely we all can learn to read, talk, and think backwards like Bizarro do.  (By the way, me thought about writing this in more direct Bizarro-speak, but that hurt me brain too much.  Also, me tired of writing like scholarly Cookie Monster, so it okay if we stop now?)

What you think of villains in comics, TV, or elsewhere?  Anything you like/dislike about them?  Let me know in comments.  Also, try not to speak in Bizarro-speak too long, otherwise you get stuck doing it all day!

Random Top Five: Super-Things I Think Superman Could Team Up With

Monday, June 10th, 2013

The other day, I wrote a post about Superman which helped me to work out a lot of my thoughts on the Man of Steel.  While I was writing this, however, I kept thinking of the legion of “Super-Pets” which Clark Kent and company have been associated with in the past.  Superman has Krypto the Superdog, his cousin Supergirl has a cat named Streaky and a flying horse named Comet, and when Clark was still a boy, Superboy had a Kryptonian monkey named Beppo for a pet (still no word if the Monk of Might had any cousins named Harpo, Chico, or Zeppo).  I wonder if there are any other super-animals or other things Superman and his friends could rely on to watch over the world when they’re away in space, in some other time period, or caught up in some other strange nonsense.  There’s got to be plenty of other candidates for getting the superpower treatment lying around Metropolis.  Here’s a few ideas I came up with for alternative (and alliterative; using the same letter over and over gets you big points with the people) “Heroes of Tomorrow.”  I am writing this under the assumption that just about anything and anyone could become a superhero, and after some of the strange things I’ve read about in comics, I feel that just might be true.  Also, even though I can imagine that being born on Krypton or encountering red kryptonite or magic could account for most of their powers, I won’t go into these heroes’ possible origins.  I’m pretty sure DC Comics would just change those particular stories in one of its every-two-decades continuity rewrites, anyway. 

5. Rocky the Super-Rock

The world’s beaches contain a lot of sand and water, but since there’s already a Sandman and Hydro-Man in comic books already, why not come up with a hero that can represent all of the rocks on the beach as well, someone who doesn’t look as lumpy and misshapen as the Thing?  Rocky would have the requisite flying and super-strength that all “Supers” seem to have, but he would have the added advantage of being able to blend in with all of the other stones on the beach.  If criminals tried to make a getaway in a speedboat or try sailing away from the dock, Rocky would jump up into the air and fly straight for the boat, using his own body to knock out the bad guys or smash the boat to pieces.  He would surely keep lifeguards busy.

4. Carl the Super-Cardboard Cutout

It seems to me that Superman was always doing some kind of charitable work or autograph signing back in the early comic books.  Sometimes such events conflicted with his crime patrol, so he usually recruited a robot double from his Fortress of Solitude to fill in for him in one role while he concentrated on the other.  I imagine, though, that these robots might be less than reliable at times, such as if one of them was malfunctioning or following “evil” programming left behind by a nefarious hacker.  Who could Superman rely on, then, to “pinch hit” for him?  This is where Carl the Super-Cardboard Cutout could come in handy.  He serves the same stand-in purposes that Superman’s robots do, with the added advantage of being more portable.  I’m sure that most people wouldn’t notice Supe’s sudden slimming-down, and Lois Lane might be too infatuated with the Man of Steel to care either way.  Carl could also fit under the thin cracks of doors and windows of evildoers’ hideouts to sneak a peek into their schemes.  If Lex Luthor let a little fresh air in through his windows, Carl could easily eavesdrop!  Pun intended!!        

 3. Pam the Super-Pen

Besides his superpowers, the most important tool in Superman’s arsenal is the writing tools he uses to compose stories as a mild-mannered reporter.  I feel it would stand to reason, then, that one of these tools may serve as an extra set of eyes at the Daily Planet offices whenever Clark Kent feels a sudden urge to visit a phone booth (By the way, how come those are still in Metropolis?).  Pam could have a prime perch in the collection of writing utensils in the “I Heart News” mug in Clark’s cubicle, keeping track of the latest developments around the world as it comes into the newsroom and relaying the most urgent bits to Superman when he returns.  In addition, she could come in handy for righting the wrongs of daily office life such as loading more paper into printers so a steady supply is always on hand or instantly correcting mistakes in coworkers’ work while their backs are turned.  Not to mention that if Lois comes lurking around Clark’s desk area looking for proof of his super-identity, Pam could squirt her in the face with ink to distract her.  Of course, it might be hard for her to forget a flying pen, but who knows, she could just think it was just her overactive imagination…

2. Carla the Super-Claw Machine

Superman has been and, I feel, probably always will be associated with children.  It makes sense to me, then, that one of his super-helpers ought to be something children are attracted to as well.  How about a claw machine in one of the seedier “family eating” establishments?  Carla could be set up in a spot near the restaurant’s entrance where she can keep watch over all who come into and out of the building.  A discreet use of X-ray vision could serve as an effective deterrent against gun-toting robbers with intentions of commandeering the cash register.  If Carla was in the right position, she could also probably have a good look at the feed from the restaurant’s security camera network, effectively giving her the ability to safeguard the whole establishment.  Being a claw machine with shatterproof glass, Carla can’t just fly over to knock out the bad guys; instead, she has developed the power of mind control, subtly influencing bad guys to just give up and leave.  That way, the kids and parents in the restaurant can eat safely without undue worry.

1. Sammy the Super-Snail (or Atom Ant, if Supes pays the proper licensing fees)

Atom Ant was always an unusual hero to me.  He was absurdly small for a superhero, but somehow he had greatly enhanced strength (not too unusual for a creature known to naturally lift things hundreds of times its size, but I’m pretty sure most ants couldn’t effortlessly lift a Sherman tank), an internal “radar” instinct which seemed to cover entire the entire city in which he lived, and the ability to fly using “atomic power.”  Those powers could come in very handy if Superman could bring them to bear, but the question is if Atom Ant would be willing to play ball or if he would just ask for more money first (according to Wikipedia, he’s got a big movie deal coming up soon, so I could understand if he’s got a huge ego right now).  Supes doesn’t exactly carry money on him, so he might look for a cheaper method of getting a small bug-like creature on his team, perhaps one with a home base in the park in Metropolis’s center.  Chances are he might come across someone like Sammy the Super-Snail who has some useful powers in his own right.  For instance, Sammy can’t fly, but he has inherited Superman’s impressive leaping ability from the early days of Action Comics in the late 1930s, meaning he could easily leap tall soda cans in a single bound if the need should arise.  His super-vision isn’t up to snuff just yet, but he is quite knowledgeable about parental supervision, watching over his two young cousins Susie and Stuart every other weekend.  Most importantly, while he does not and probably never will have really fast moving ability, he does have hyper-spacial awareness, taking in details in a split-second and pointing out things most other creatures, even Superman himself, would never even notice.  Of course, if Supes is looking for a real burst of super-speed, he could call up the new DreamWorks movie hero Turbo the racing snail, but again, monetary concerns, people.

What do you think of these potential recruits for Clark Kent’s super-team?  Can you think of any other candidates for super-sidekick status?  Let me know in the comments.

Random Top Five: Favorite Lines From Disney’s “Bolt”

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

I caught the last few minutes of the Disney movie Bolt the other night and, having nothing better to do at that particular moment, I decided to watch the heck out of those last few minutes.  This film about a talking TV dog named Bolt, a cynical cat named Mittens, a Bolt-obsessed hamster named Rhino, and their cross-country mission to reunite Bolt with his owner, Penny, has become one of my favorite movies of all time, and my mom really likes it, too.  If I see it playing on TV, I’ll tell my mom about it and we’ll watch it for a few minutes.  It certainly helps that the movie is full of clever and funny dialogue that I often find myself quoting when I am bored.  Here’s five of my favorite lines from Bolt that I’m sure might get stuck in your head as well.  If you want some more great lines to pull out of your pocket anytime, check out Bolt‘s WikiQuotes page.

5.  “This greatly irks me, I am irked!”  (Dr. Calico)

At the beginning of the movie, the viewer is treated to an “episode” of the TV show Bolt stars in.  The plot basically involves Penny’s father being kidnapped by the evil Dr. Calico and Bolt and Penny racing off to save him.  When Calico receives the news of Bolt and Penny’s actions from one of his henchmen, he says the quoted line above.  For some strange reason, my mom and I find this line incredibly funny, even though the movie acts like it’s no big deal.  I think our appeal for this line stems from the fact that Calico says “irk” twice, which is thoroughly unnecessary and absurd.  I view it in the same manner as the classic Monty Python sketch where everyone in a restaurant keeps repeating the word “Spam” in conversation.  It’s unusual to hear the same word repeated multiple times in a row, so I definitely notice it when it does happen, and considering the movie has been very serious in tone up to this point, this line turns on the funny faucet full blast for me every single time.

4.  “I know this dog…no, no, I don’t know.  I thought I knew.”  (Pigeons)

When Bolt begins his journey to find Penny, he is still trying to figure where to go and why none of the superpowers he believes himself to have are working.  Seeking help, he tries talking to a group of pigeons.  The birds, although well-meaning, do not provide much assistance.  In fact, they struggle to even remember Bolt at all, even though they appear to be familiar with him in some way as the above quote alludes to.  Throughout the scene in which the pigeons appear, a series of buses drive by, each having a billboard for Bolt’s TV show on its side with the dog’s likeness prominently featured.  The pigeons fail to notice these, even as it seems they are just about to have a moment of recognition.  These pigeons are some of the funniest characters in the movie, and they turn into a running gag as the movie plays; no matter how many clues are around them, the pigeons don’t ever recognize him.  This is some great, simple stuff that is just plain funny.  What more can I say?

3.  “Now I’m concerned on a number of levels.”  (Mittens)

Mittens is a black-and-white stray cat who joins Bolt early in his trek across the United States.  She tries her hardest to make Bolt reconcile his superpower delusions with reality, often to little avail.  Her attempts in doing so are further fouled up with the addition of Rhino, a hamster who watches Bolt’s show religiously and has become an unabashed fanboy for his favorite hero.  When Bolt and Rhino first meet each other, they become fast friends, formulating plots to get back at Dr. Calico (at this point in the film, both the dog and the hamster think Penny has been kidnapped by the show’s main villain).  Mittens, the most sane member of the main cast at the moment, expresses her unspoken thoughts about the mental state of the group with the above quote.  It’s a blunt statement and based mostly on first impressions, but I appreciate its “in-your-face” nature and how it showcases Mittens’s personality so effectively.  She does become a much nicer, more forgiving character as time goes on, but I think this is my favorite moment with her.

2. “What?  What is this red liquid coming from my paw?””  (Bolt)

As I mentioned earlier, Bolt’s perception of reality is greatly flawed throughout most of the film.  He has existed in a “bubble” for most of his life, never venturing outside of his TV show’s fictional world.  Therefore, it comes to him as a great shock when, after making a reckless jump off a moving truck, he experiences great pain.  More evidence of his mortality emerges when one of his paws apparently starts bleeding (it’s hard to tell since the movie never actually shows the bleeding paw, or any blood for that matter).  This is a great surprise to him, causing him to deliver the above line.  It’s not the line itself that makes me like it so much.  It’s the way that Bolt’s voice actor, John Travolta, delivers the line that makes it a winner for me.  Travolta’s voice registers surprise and a bit of wooziness due to Bolt’s slow recovery from the fall he just took.  He sounds adorably dopey for the few seconds he says this line, in a rare moment of quiet between a big stunt and further plot development.  It’s one of those “blink-and-you’ll miss it” moments you only get in animated films, and one that always gives me a little smile whenever I see it.

1. “Ring, Ring.  Who is it?  DESTINY?!  I’ve been expecting your call.”  (Rhino)

Rhino, the hamster, is my favorite character in Bolt, hands down.  The things he says throughout the film are some of the funniest, wittiest, and most memorable lines I can ever remember hearing for the first time and instantly liking.  There’s a handful of lines from him I could have put in this spot (his “Let it begin!  Let it BEGIN!” is one I’m particularly partial to), but if I wanted to sum his character up with one line, this one would be it.  He takes the mission of saving Penny quite seriously and fancies himself as a secret agent of sorts, the kind you might find most often in the movies.  Naturally, this role entails delivering cheesy dialogue on occasion, something this line does very well.  It’s funny, serious, somewhat cliched, and amusingly original, all at the same time.  Definitely a line worth keeping on hand in my view.

Have you ever found yourself quoting your favorite movie or TV show?  What are your favorite lines and why?  Leave your lines and your stories in the comments.

Random Top Five: Obscure “Starcade” Games I Think Would Be Fun to Play

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
Not bad for a TV screen and a wooden box.

Life’s all fun and games!

One of my favorite game shows of all time is Starcade, a show from the early 1980s in which kids played new arcade games in order to win such prizes as their very own arcade machine, a personal robot, a jukebox, and in a rare case, vacations to Hawaii with a large supply of quarters to spend in arcades in that state.  I became familiar with this show through frequent reruns on the G4 cable network and was entranced by some of the more unusual games featured on the show.  Tucked in between Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were some unique games which I think I would greatly enjoy playing if I were to come across them in a real arcade.  The following is a catalog of five of those games as well as links to videos of the games in action.  If you’re interested in learning more about the Starcade show itself, I highly recommend checking out the official website set up by JM Productions, the company responsible for making the show; it contains a lot of cool stuff including complete episodes, videos and trivia of all of the games featured on the show, and music from those games, the show itself, and some of JM’s other shows.

5. Pooyan

One fine day in a nondescript virtual forest somewhere in the arcade, Mama Pig’s little piglets were kidnapped by a band of wolves.  Apparently the wolves decided to celebrate by freefalling from the top of a tree with balloons attached to their backs (Why balloons instead of parachutes?  Oh well, that’s video game logic for ya!).  Unbeknownst to them, Mama Pig will soon be taking revenge on them by firing darts at their balloons from the safety of an elevator controlled by some of her liberated children.  You, the player, must move the elevator up and down and fire darts at the wolves while avoiding the pinecones (or are they acorns?  Oranges?  They definitely look like circular objects, at least!) the wolves throw back.  It seemed to me that Pooyan was the game I saw being played most often on Starcade, as it was picked by one of the contestants in just about every single show in which it was one of the featured games.  I have wondered what made it so popular.  Is it because it was a horizontal shooter in an era when vertical shooters like Space Invaders and Galaga were still considered the norm?  Is is because the characters could quite possibly be the cutest-looking video game characters ever?  Whatever it’s appeal was, the Starcaders flocked to it like groupies at a rock concert.  I’d like to experience that phenomenon firsthand and see what all the fuss was about.

4. Pengo (not to be confused with the animated penguin character Pingu)

As announcer Kevin McMahan states at the start of the video I linked to above, “Pengo is a penguin.”  He is trapped in a maze of ice blocks with the Snowbees, round Q-bert imposters, chasing him down.  They are trying to stop him from completing his mission of lining up three specially marked ice blocks in a row for big points.  Fortunately, Pengo can fight back by sliding ice blocks across the playing field and over the Snowbees to make them vanish for a few seconds.  He can also destroy ice blocks to create new paths through the maze and to get rid of places where the Snowbees can regenerate.  Like Pooyan, I think this game has some very cute characters and provides a nice twist on an established arcade game genre, in this case maze games like Pac-Man and its ilk.  I also find it interesting that it seems to be a variation of an old Japanese game called Sokoban in which you push crates around a warehouse (ice blocks around an ice field?  Pretty much the same thing to me.).  I feel this game would appeal greatly to Pac-Man fans who want to see a different kind of maze game, and I think it’s a very “cool” game concept (come on, the pun was right there!).  (Incidentally, I love the background music this game has.  It sounds like a classical piece to me, but I’m not sure which one it is.  The Wikipedia page doesn’t seem to have the answer I’m looking for.  Does anyone else know?)

3. Popeye

Before Nintendo hit the big time with Donkey Kong, a game about an average man trying to rescue his girlfriend from a big hulking brute, they tried their luck in arcades with a game focused on, get this, an average man trying to rescue his girlfriend from a big hulking brute.  In this case, Popeye is attempting to beat the stuffing out of Bluto in order to rescue Olive Oyl, just like in all of his classic cartoons.  Popeye doesn’t have much of a fighting chance against the much stronger Bluto in his normal state, but luckily, the game makers have provided a few cans of spinach for the sailor to gulp down.  Naturally, eating one of these gives Popeye tremendous strength so he can knock Bluto’s block off and send him down into the water below the playing field.  In addition, Popeye can grab hearts and notes of love that Olive sends down from above for extra points.  I’m surprised that I haven’t seen this game outside of Starcade as it looks like a solidly built basic aracde game that could’ve been a big hit.  I’ve heard that Nintendo had a bit of trouble with King Features over the license to use the Popeye characters.  The game did get a release on the Japanese Nintendo Famicom (the original version of the NES) and Namco made a new game based on it for mobile phones in 2008, so at least some people are still able to play it in some form.  I’d still like to play the original arcade version, though.  It’s an interesting footnote in video game history, and I would be interested in playing it myself to see if it’s just as fun as Donkey Kong.

2. Cliffhanger (not to be confused with that Price is Right game with the mountain climber; that one’s spelled “Cliffhangers” with an added “s,” but I do think that yodeling music is very catchy!)

I think this game is probably the most unusual one on this list because it’s not really much of a game at all.  It’s actually an interactive version of a classic Japanese animated movie!  Actually, there’s two movies featured in the game: according to this Wikipedia page, the bulk of the game is based on Castle of Cagliostro with a small bit extracted from Mystery of Mamo.  In any case, the player is tasked with guiding the dapper chap Cliff in an attempt to rescue his girlfriend Clarissa from the clutches of the fiendish Count Draco.  You don’t control Cliff or his friends directly, though: instead you move a joystick around and tap a button to play the next section of the movie.  This game was one of many such “interactive movie” games including Dragon’s LairSpace Ace, and Mach 3.  I’ve played all of those other games except Mach 3, and I think this type of game is very fun, if a bit limited.  I’d like to seek the Cliffhanger game out and play through it to complete my quest through all of this genre’s most notable games.  I wonder if such a bizarre source of footage would indeed make for compelling game play.

1. Super Pac-Man

 Since Starcade did focus on the world of arcade games, of course Pac-Man would be a fixture on the show.  In addition to Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, there was also a trio of unusual spin-off titles.  Pac-Man Plus was a souped-up version of the original game in which all of the characters moved faster and Pac-Man could consume a soda can which made all of the ghosts invisible (a bad thing if you hadn’t eaten a power pellet yet; those ghosts could pop out of nowhere Alien-style and get you when you least expected it!).  Professor Pac-Man wasn’t a maze game at all but rather a math quiz game with a graduation cap-wearing Pac-Man as the quizmaster.  The spin-off game I would most like to play, though, is Super Pac-Man.  In this game, Pac-Man is still playing “chase or be chased” with the ghosts and can still swallow power pellets to turn his enemies blue and then chomp them away for a time.  However, the familiar small dots have been replaced with more nutritious-looking apples for Pac-Man to consume.  Also, there’s a bunch of doors which block off certain sections of the maze.  Thankfully, someone apparently keeps dropping keys into the maze; whenever Pac-Man swallows one, he turns into Super Pac-Man and grows to ten times his regular size.  In this huge form, the ghosts can’t harm him and he can unlock the doors.  Even though the style of game play is, for all intents and purposes, fairly typical for a Pac-Man game, the small differences in this game is what I like.  It adds a couple of new wrinkles to the usual Pac-Man strategy: Do you want to unlock this new portion of the maze and give the ghosts more space to roam?  Which power-up do you want more at the moment: the key for the Super Pac-Man form or the old power pellet to get rid of your ghostly adversaries?  I’m not sure what my strategy would be, but I would like to play this game to find out.  Not to mention Pac-Man is just plain fun in any form, so ten times the size could surely equal ten times the fun!

There were a lot of neat games featured on Starcade that I liked to see or was interested in.  Would you like to hear more about them or about the show itself?  Are there any arcade games you really enjoyed or still enjoy?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.  And until next time, in the words of host Geoff Edwards, “May all your troubles get zapped!”

Random Top Five: My Favorite Fives

Thursday, March 14th, 2013
One, two, three, four...guess what's next?

Coming in at Number Five!

Five is a number that is less than six, more than four, and number one in my heart.  The number five also turns up a lot in popular culture.  I wonder why that is.  I want to find out someday, but until that day comes, here are five of my favorite fives.

5. Subway’s “Five,  five dollar,  five dollar foot-long” jingle

I haven’t taken advantage of the deals being advertised in the Subway commercials featuring this jingle, but I do find the tune itself to be very catchy.  It’s got a simple thumping rhythm that makes me feel like I belong to something bigger.  Not bigger in a religious sense, mind you, just bigger in the sense that the jingle is welcoming me in.  It’s still “…g-g-going strong” for me!

4. The five starting members of the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

Whenever I think of this exciting action show that I loved watching during the ’90s (even though I didn’t really understand what was going on), I tend to think of the five “teenagers with attitude” who were first selected to be on the team.  Jason, Kimberley, Zack, Trini, and Billy were a diverse group who always tried to do the right thing and made kicking alien butt in multicolored superhero costumes look very, very fun.  Tommy joined later as the Green Ranger, but I always viewed him as a side character whereas the other five kids were on the show all the time.  Ironically, Tommy is one of the few Power Rangers characters to have continued to make appearances in the franchise much later than his heyday and modern groups of Rangers have initially had as few as three members, but I feel those original five Rangers formed the blueprint for the team’s balance and will continue to inspire new groups well into the future.  Whatever happens to the Rangers next, I’m sure it will always be “Morphin’ Time!”

3. Counting by fives with Schoolhouse Rock’s “Ready or Not, Here I Come”

The video accompanying this song features a group of kids playing hide-and-seek in a field of rolling hills, grass, and trees while practicing counting by fives all the way up to one hundred.  I can’t really remember much about the song itself beyond the numbers being delivered very fast.  The video doesn’t have too many standout moments for me either beyond the setting and the kids recalling the numbers using their fingers.  I do find myself singing the “counting by fives” part for no particular reason sometimes, however, so I guess it must have worked its way into the deep recesses of my mind somehow.

2. Numbuh Five from Cartoon Network’s Codename: Kids Next Door

The Kids Next Door are a group of kids who carry out secret-agent/commando missions to stop the fiendish plots of evil adults.  All of the members are very cool in their own ways, but in my view, Numbuh Five, Abigail Lincoln, was practically the definition of “cool.”  She always looked confident whenever she headed into battle, and her signature red hat and blue coat made her seem, to me,  able to handle the pressure, even if she may have actually felt scared or uncertain.  The other KND members often experienced embarrassing moments, but at least Abby was able to keep a level head most of the time.

1. Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5”

Some might call this song annoying (it ended up in AOL’s Top 100 Worst Songs list at #95), but it’s one of my favorite songs to listen to.  Whenever it comes on the radio, I turn the volume up and enjoy the awesome audio samples of brass bands which back up Lou’s vocals.  I’ve never been too crazy about the lyrics but I do feel they go perfectly with the music, making it sound like a lost Roaring Twenties jazz love song that somehow time traveled to 1999.  My favorite part comes when Lou calls for, “The trumpet!”  Some awesome horns are played in that section, probably the reason I love this song so much.  Incidentally, there’s a version of the song that played on Radio Disney back in the day where all of the girls’ names are replaced by Disney characters like Mickey, Donald, and Goofy.  I’ve listened to both and I prefer the original version (I don’t know why), but either way, the brass band still sounds good to me.

Do you have any favorite fives?  Give me your five cents’ worth of thoughts in the comments.

Random Top Five: The Stuff of Nightmares (and Worries)

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Not-so-pretty pictures.

Welcome to my nightmares…

Last night, I went through a grueling battle with a nightmare, dealt with nagging worries, and laughed about a funny recurring dream.  It has become a tradition for me to sometimes toss and turn in frustration at night because I can’t help but think of all of the problems I will have to tackle in the future.  They play out in front of me like a TV “funniest home videos” show full of my most nagging worries, some hopes and aspirations, and sometimes things I liked during the day.  Most of the time, I tend to be annoyed with being reminded of my worries, but sometimes reflecting on them helps me to figure out how to make them go away and think of better things.  The following is a laundry list of fears and concerns which weighed heavily on my mind last night, as well as one “funny” dream which distracted me from these worries for a bit.  These visions tend to stay with me during the day, too, but I find them a bit irksome when they interrupt my sleep at night, so I’m thinking about how I felt when I originally saw them to best present them to you. 

5. Job interview prep

For quite some time, I have been reading books and studying YouTube videos regarding how to prepare for job interviews and how to handle some of the trickier questions that may come my way during an interview.  To be quite honest, I can’t imagine what a job interview might be like considering I’ve never participated in one and because of what I’ve done with my life so far, but if it can lead me to better opportunities, then I’m willing to learn.  I have figured out that the best things I can do during an interview are:  to give honest answers; to talk about experiences which are relevant to the job, the employer, and their expectations; and to make sure all of my answers can be given in sixty seconds or less so as not to waste the interviewer’s time with long, boring speeches or irrelevant information.  All of the tips I have received have been very helpful, but there is one thing which bugs me about the materials I have studied so far, an important detail which my nightmares rudely reminded me of.  Most of the examples of good answers given in the materials reflect people with a moderate to large level of formal work experience.  Beyond one small section for recent college graduates in one book that I read, there wasn’t a lot I saw which reflected anything in particular that I have experienced.  In my nightmare, I saw myself in a formal job interview in which the interviewer kept asking me for examples of workplace experience which I simply did not possess.  All the questions he asked were straight from the books, but I had no suitable answers to give him.  Some other guy got the job while I was back out on the streets, looking for another interview to start the humiliation all over again.  After the nightmare ended, I thought about what experiences I might use to prove my points in job interviews.  I figured I have about five or six really significant or useful examples I could bring up and reduce to sixty-second anecdotes, but I don’t have a clue as to what context to put them in or how to introduce them when the time comes to do so.  I hope to figure these details out soon because in the world of job interviews, you only get one shot at a good first impression, and I want my first swing to lead to a home run!

4. The sleeping bugs in my bedroom walls

Last fall, an army of hornets built a nest inside the walls and window of  my bedroom.  I didn’t really notice them until a few of them started flying around my room.  My family and I killed any hornets we saw for the next couple of days until the infestation grew so bad that we had to call in an exterminator to get rid of them.  Even though he was successful in killing most of the invaders, there were still plenty left over that had largely taken over my room.  In addition, the exterminator had used a foul-smelling substance which was too overpowering for me to sleep comfortably in the room, so I was forced to sleep in other areas of the house for the next few weeks.  When cold weather came and the bugs went into hibernation, I went back in and have stayed ever since.  I worried last night about what will happen when spring comes and the bugs wake up.  I keep thinking I’m hearing the hornets buzzing about inside my room’s walls, and I’ve had enough of this silly fear.  If they do end up taking over again, we will have to call another exterminator to handle them.  I sure hope we can get rid of the bugs permanently, but hopefully next time, a method we use to kill the buggers won’t force me out as well.

3. Mom’s car breaking down

A common theme of recent trips in my mom’s van has been the vehicle threatening to shut down completely once we get underway from our home.  Last Saturday in the middle of our trip, the car began to slow down and rattle.  This has been extremely disconcerting to my mom to say the least; without that car working right and if no one can give us a lift, we just aren’t going anywhere.  We’re taking the car up to a local repair shop to have it looked at for the umpteenth time in the past few weeks.  Last night, I thought about what we would do for transportation if the car is still acting like this.  My dad is out of town, and we need that car working or else we’ll be confined to the house.  Here’s hoping it gets repaired quickly and permanently! Come on car, I’ve got things to do!

2. High school math

I’m taking some elective classes at a local community college over the next few months.  I’m not trying to get another degree for the time being (That’s one struggle I’ve already fought and won!), but I would like to broaden my insights into certain fields of expertise, so I am looking forward to these classes with great expectation.  I still have recurring nightmares, though, about one of my old college classes in a subject I have always had a hard time with.  Last night, I kept imagining I would have to solve algebra problems in one of my new classes, even though I know the subjects of the classes don’t directly involve math.  I have never really understood algebra very well.  I did very well with it when it was introduced to me in middle school, but somewhere around the use of multiple integers or quadratic equations (I’m not sure which, but it did involve a lot of numbers to keep track of), I found myself unable to keep up with what the math courses were teaching me.  This went on all through my high school years and right into college, where I did well with every other course except advanced algebra.  It’s one of the few academic courses that I had a hard time understanding.  To me, it’s as hard to wrap my brain around as the “Potent Potables” category on Jeopardy.  I won’t let my fear of algebra run my life, though; I’ve been doing pretty well without it so far.

1. My mom’s head on an octopus body

For some strange reason, I’ve had a recurring dream for many years, and sure enough, I had it again last night.  In it, I am at some sort of party at the old house of one of my aunts.  I am very young in the dream, probably six or seven.  I am standing on top of the central staircase looking down in the direction of the living room; I can barely reach the railing to support myself.  Some people are talking in that room, but I can’t make out what they’re saying.  My mom pokes her head out of the room and looks up at me, saying, “Wait there, Ben.  I’ll come up and help you get down the stairs.”  (The central staircase in the house was very steep, and whenever we visited, my mom often helped me to go up the stairs to get to my cousins’ rooms and down again when it was time to go home.)  Mom turns to go up the stairs, but for some reason, her head is on a giant purple octopus body with tentacles flapping everywhere.  Knowing this isn’t how my mom usually looks, I end up screaming, and then I wake up and realize I’ve been having the same stupid, funny dream again.  I don’t mind having this dream as much as my more frequent “worry” visions because it reminds me of a more innocent and fun time in my life.  I actually want to have more dreams like it to make my nights happier.  Dad as Barney the dinosaur riding a jet ski through flaming hoops, anyone?   

I have grown sick of turning my worries into nightmares, but I can’t seem to get rid of them.  I can accept them for what they are, though.  They are just worries, and they have no meaning whatsoever with how my life is now.  They are not rational and I will not let them rule me.  Do you have any nightmares of your own, any from when you were young?  Have you ever had a funny dream which cheered you up or made you laugh?  What do you think they mean?  Let me know in the comments.