Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars – “The Artificers of Aldebaran”

img_3687Episode Number:  10

Original Air Date:  November 10, 1991

Directed by:  Karen Peterson

Written by:  Christy Marx, Bridget McKenna

First Appearance:  Princess Felicia, High Artificer

Last week on Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars, we met the Corsair Canards and by doing so gained a little insight into Dead-Eye Duck’s past. This week, it’s all about Jenny and her home world of Aldebaran. We know it’s a world with a secret as Jenny has been forced to hide the extent of her powers from her comrades. Back in the episode “The Good, the Bad, and the Warty” we saw her telepathically confer with a character she referred to as Mother Aldebaran as she sought permission to use her powers in front of her friends to get them out of a potentially fatal situation. And even though not using her powers meant death, this superior did not really give her permission to go all out, but did suggest a maneuver she thought would go undetected that ended up working.

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This episode introduces Jenny’s apprentice, Princess Felicia.

In the comics, Dead-Eye refers to Jenny as a witch, though I don’t recall such terminology being utilized in this series. As far as we know, the Sisters of Aldebaran are a bunch of psychics – essentially a planet of Jean Greys. We’ll get more of an understanding in this episode on what goes on there, but there are still a lot of questions left unanswered. Interestingly, we don’t see a single male amongst their people so how they reproduce is a mystery (there is a shot of a female rocking a cradle so they do indeed reproduce somehow). It’s also a big planet, so maybe we just saw a tiny piece in which only females reside. I think it’s definitely safe to assume that only females possess these wondrous powers.

The episode begins with Jenny combating a droid of some kind. She’s jumping and flipping and doing all kinds of impressive things before destroying it with her powers. Nearby, Princess Felicia (presumably Margot Pinvidic. Cast info on this show isn’t great, but no women other than her appear in the credits so I’m left to assume she handles all of the female voices in this episode) is watching and is impressed with the abilities of Master Jenny. It seems Felicia is Jenny’s apprentice and Jenny has returned to give her some training as she nears an important milestone in her young life. It’s then we see the two turn to a training device that is apparently the source of their powers. It’s a little, greenish, ball of light that the two refer to as a Quark demon. Jenny releases it into the air and Felicia is supposed to try and corral it.

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It’s tea time with the High Artificer of Aldebaran.

Nearby, Bucky O’Hare and the others are enjoying tea with the High Artificer. She’s an older cat who is also the grandmother of Princess Felicia. She does not resemble the individual Jenny referred to as Mother Aldebaran back in episode 3, so either that’s a different character or they just decided to change the appearance of that character and give her a new name. As far as we’re lead to believe, the High Artificer is the one who runs the show.

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Willy encountering what powers Aldebaran sensors:  a Quark demon

The High Artificer thanks Bucky for bringing Jenny back to their world to train Felicia. Some interest in what they’re doing is expressed, but the High Artificer informs them she can’t reveal the nature of the training to outsiders. Willy is seated by what looks like a koi pond when the Quark demon comes over the wall and buzzes by his head. He’s startled, but the scientist within him is also really intrigued. It flies back over the wall to where Felicia’s training is taking place and Willy decides to investigate by scaling a nearby tree. When he reaches the apex he’s able to see Felicia using her powers to try and catch the little ball of light. It returns to Willy, causing him to fall from the tree over the wall.

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Felicia does not appear to be too impressed with Willy DuWitt.

Felicia is then able to snatch the Quark with her powers and return it to the containment vessel it came from while Jenny checks on Willy. He’s extremely apologetic, while Felicia seems accusatory towards him. Jenny vouches for Willy and thinks he meant no harm. Willy, perhaps not thinking things through, demonstrates he understands what he saw and realizes the little Quark is the source of their power and their Aldebaran sensors. Jenny tells Felicia she trusts him and that he won’t reveal their secrets. Felicia then receives some bad news from her master that she is not deemed ready to undertake her Soul Quest. With more practice though, Jenny is confident she’ll get there. Felicia is dismissive of her master’s concerns, and like most teenagers, is resistant to hearing any criticism.

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Electric Space Yam

Possibly nearby in space, a Toad ship has made an interesting discovery. A nearby nebula, that kind of looks like a giant space yam, contains an extraordinary amount of energy within it. Toadborg is in charge of this vessel, and he seems quite intrigued by this so-called Dark Heart Nebula. Whatever is in there is too much for their sensors to handle, but this just causes Toadborg to remember that Bucky O’Hare has an Aldebaran as part of his crew. Apparently, Aldebarans have a reputation for having incredibly powerful sensors, but due to their secrecy, this is obviously technology not available to the rest of the galaxy. Toadborg heads to his private chambers to search his memory banks for more info since he’s had a previous encounter with Jenny. Recalling his fights with her, he concludes he’ll need the aid of an Aldebaran to navigate this nebula.

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Teenagers…

With Felicia’s session complete, the High Artificer thanks Jenny for her help. She also thanks Bucky and the crew for taking the time to come out. As they leave, we pivot to Felicia. Dressed in a flight suit, she’s determined to undertake her quest whether or not Jenny thinks she’s ready. She hops into a sleek-looking spaceship and takes off, apparently unnoticed. This puts her in direct conflict with Toadborg’s ship. They’re in the area in search of an Aldebaran and it looks like they found one. They ensnare Felicia’s ship in a tractor beam and she immediately reaches out to her grandmother to inform her what happened. Her grandmother quickly reminds her of her obligation to protect their secrets by destroying all of the sensors in her ship. She does as she’s told as her ship is boarded by Storm Troopers.

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Mimi is back and as flirtatious as ever.

At a cafeteria (possibly on Genus, or just a random space station), the crew of the Righteous Indignation is getting some lunch. Bruiser wants banana everything and the writers apparently are still entertained by this bit. Jenny is back aboard the ship recalibrating the Aldebaran sensors on it and Bucky tells Willy no one is allowed onboard until she’s finished. Mimi LaFloo then pops in. She’s quite happy to see Bucky again and tells him she’s got something on her ship to show him as she pulls him away. Oh boy!

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Willy just can’t be defeated in a deabte, it would seem.

Willy and Blinky are outside the doors of the Righteous Indignation when Jenny is just about finishing up. Jenny receives word from the High Artificer about Felicia, and it falls on Jenny to attempt a rescue. Jenny makes the call to go alone, the problem is she’ll need to take Bucky’s ship. She orders Willy and Blinky off the ship, but Willy protests. While the two argue, Blinky appears to plant a device on the ship, likely some way to track it and Willy is able to convince Jenny to take him along since his door is on the ship.

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I’m tough on the show’s visuals at times, but this is a nice-looking still.

Aboard Toadborg’s ship, we get our required dose of Toad TV. It’s both a Charles Atlas parody and an Arnold Schwarzenegger one (Arnold Wartnegger). You know the one; a bully picks on a skinny kid at the beach. The twist with this one is that Wartnegger isn’t looking to pump you up, but just supply giant, bully-swatting, mallets. Surprisingly, we’re not experiencing Toad TV via Frix and Frax but actually via Felicia who is being tortured with it. She yawns indicating its effectiveness when an angry Toadborg barges in. He dismisses the tech administering the torture and then grabs Felicia and demands she take him into the Dark Heart Nebula.

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“Help me Obi…I mean Bucky…I mean just forget it. I’ll be back. Dinner’s in the fridge.”

At the space station, Bucky and Mimi are apparently done with their tryst and Blinky informs him what happened. Before she left, Jenny had Blinky record a message which he plays for Bucky. Mimi turns her nose up at “the cat” so apparently this rivalry is going to go both ways. Blinky tells Bucky about the tracking device, and he commends his android and declares they’re going after Jenny. As they all run down a corridor, Bucky stops in his tracks when he and the others realize they don’t have a ship. Mimi then strolls by and, somewhat reluctantly, tells them to come join her on her frigate.

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Toadborg is rather viscious in this episode and shrewd negotiator. He’s blossomed into a pretty fantastic villain.

Jenny and Willy then head out towards Felicia’s last known location and find Toadborg’s ship. Jenny, with Willy at Dead-Eye’s gunner position, demands the release of Felicia. Since the princess is onboard the ship, Toadborg knows she won’t actually fire upon him. They’re on video conference, and he demands she back off as he intends to have Felicia take him into the Dark Heart Nebula. When Felicia refers to Jenny as “Master,” Toadborg decides he’d rather have Jenny take him instead. For a brief moment, Toadborg gains eyeballs so we can see him “thinking” things through. Jenny agrees to take him as long as Felicia is unharmed. Toadborg tosses Felicia around, which really causes Jenny to get mad. He reminds her that he’s in control and dismisses her threats before terminating the transmission. That was actually a well-done and rather intense exchange.

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Toadborg needs Jenny to lead him through the nebula, or else he’d get lost forever. Felicia is his insurance that Jenny won’t betray him.

Jenny and Willy pilot the Toad Croaker into the nebula with Toadborg and Felicia following. Jenny tries to tell Toadborg this is a bad idea but he won’t hear it. As they enter the nebula they reach its center, a large grayish sphere. Toadborg can sense incredible power and is eager to taste it. Jenny tries to discourage him once more, but he tosses Felicia to shut her up. As Willy and Jenny fly off after Felicia, Toadborg shoots out this two-pronged device (insert robot penis joke here) that jabs into the gray sphere. As electricity courses through him, the sphere begins to move. It actually opens revealing that the outer layer we were looking at were actually giant bat-like wings. The sphere is a towering, naked, demon and it apparently does not like what Toadborg is doing to it. It swats the cyborg away, but it’s awake and angry and apparently not willing to go quietly.

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Now this is unexpected.

After securing Felicia, Jenny has Willy pilot the Croaker back towards this demonic being. She bombards it with her powers, but she’s going to need some help. She mentally reaches out to her Aldebaran sisters requesting they lend her their power. We get cuts of various cat-people in their day-to-day lives pausing to lend their aid to their sister. It’s very “Spirit Bomb” like. It’s not enough though, and Jenny continues to ask for more. Part of the problem seems to be one holdout:  Felicia.

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The ancient father of all demons does not go down without a fight.

Felicia gets knocked from the croaker as the ancient Quark tries to grab it. Jenny has to use her powers to keep it from crushing them while calling out to Felicia for help. When Jenny convinces the young princess to lend them her powers it’s suddenly enough and the demon goes to back to sleep. Felicia is astounded, yet confused, at what happened (aren’t we all?). Jenny tells her this is the lesson she must learn, that it’s the sum of the whole that can make a difference and sometimes it comes down to just one person making a choice. Felicia takes this in, then is instructed by Jenny to do what she came here for. Thousands of little Quark demons are flitting about and Felicia basically sucks some into the crystal on her tiara. This apparently ends her quest.

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And he’s back to sleep. No harm no foul, I guess.

The Screaming Mimi, with a new orange paint-job to make it resemble the other frigates in the United Animal Fleet, shows up and drives Toadborg’s ship away. Dead-Eye is shown behind the canon, only it looks like they forgot to actually illustrate canon controls. It would also seem Mimi doesn’t have a crew of her own if Bucky’s gunner is taking the lead. The Toad ship, under heavy fire, has a reading on Toadborg’s location and retreats to rescue its captain. Aboard the Toad ship, Toadborg has been collected. He awakens with no memory of what happened. When the navigator inquires about the nebula, Toadborg snaps and says his instruments must have been wrong about it. He orders him to fix them as he stumbles off to his private quarters, presumably. Jenny then returns to the Righteous Indignation as Bucky’s voice comes over her radio. He’s curt, and orders her to pilot the ship to Aldebaran while Willy assures Jenny it’s all right and that Bucky will understand why she took the ship.

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And it’s ceremony time, which means more Star Wars reminders.

On Aldebaran, a ceremony officially welcoming Princess Felicia into the sisterhood is underway. She’s awarded this title by her grandmother, while Jenny, Willy, and Bucky look on. Felicia turns to Willy to thank him and even gives him a little peck on the cheek. What’s with this kid and cats? With that concluded, Jenny then turns to Bucky to apologize for making off with his ship. He says nothing, causing her to ramble on and on. Eventually she implores him to say something and he responds with a simple “How about ‘Welcome back?'” Jenny happily embraces him and a wink from Bucky ushers us out of the episode.

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Cats really seem to love this kid.

Well, that was certainly a trip. I did not expect the source of Jenny’s powers to essentially be demonic in nature. It’s certainly imaginative, and I can see why they would want to keep that a secret. Jenny and Felicia have a solid dynamic and it’s hard not to get a Star Wars vibe from their training. The return of Toadborg is welcomed as well as he is probably my favorite antagonist at this point. This is the first episode to not feature the Air Marshall and just the second to not feature Komplex. Komplex was also missing from last week’s episode making me wish the order of episodes had been mixed up a bit. Komplex was partially taken down in “The Komplex Caper” but appeared to be back up and running in the following episode “The Search for Bruce.” Had that episode followed this one instead it would have been a nice piece of continuity to have Komplex out of action for two weeks. It’s not important in the grand scheme, but little touches like that are some of the things I appreciate most.

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Really the only blatant visual gaffe, though it’s a pretty big one with Dead-Eye firing invisible canons.

Thankfully, this episode is much improved in the animation department over last week’s episode. I was fearful the shoddy work found in “Corsair Canards” was a harbinger of things to come, but this is a nice rebound. There’s still some errors and ugly shots, but nothing on the level of the previous episode. Toadborg looks plenty menacing when he’s on-screen, so  perhaps it’s partly due to his presence that more resources were devoted to this one. He’s the most complex character model in the show, so it would make sense if more time was allocated to episodes he’s featured in, which is something I hadn’t considered previously. If that’s true well then that’s good news for us as the final three episodes all feature Toadborg in some capacity.

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This is the last appearance of Mimi in this show.

Since there are only three episodes left, it probably is not surprising then to hear that the Aldebaran characters won’t be seen again. This is also the final appearance of Mimi LaFloo, so whatever conflict she and Jenny seem to have with each other will remain unresolved. Jenny seemed to just not like how forward Mimi is with Bucky, possibly feeling she’s slept her way to the top. Mimi, for her part, seems to simply view Jenny as a threat. It’s rather sad that the two most prominent females on the show are played that way. I’m also still unclear if Jenny harbors feelings for Bucky or something. The two keep things professional, giving that embrace a little extra meaning at the end of the episode.

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Bucky getting cheeky with the camera.

Even with the weird demon thing, “The Artificers of Aldebaran” is a good episode of the show. I like seeing where Jenny came from, though their world could have been more interesting to look at. Felicia could have been a really annoying character, but instead she comes across as naive more than anything and perhaps a bit too confident in herself. And if my guess is correct and voice actress Margot Pinvidic did indeed perform all of the female voices in this episode, then major props go to her. She manages to come up with four mostly distinct voices for Jenny, Mimi, Felicia, and High Artificer so I wanted to give her a special acknowledgement. Hopefully the remaining three episodes are similar to this in quality. Next week’s episode, “The Warriors,” is one I have little recollection of outside of the debut of more new characters so I’m eager to check it out. See you then.

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The New Batman Adventures – “Sins of the Father”

sin of the father titleEpisode Number:  2 (87)

Original Air Date:  September 30, 1997

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Rich Fogel

First Appearance:  Tim Drake, Manny, Mo

Last week’s debut episode for The New Batman Adventures was an odd way to bring the caped crusader and his crime-fighting family back to the world of television. It was odd because it was an anthology-styled episode, something Batman: The Animated Series seldom dabbled in. Mostly though, it was weird because it contained a new Robin character without any setup for where this kid came from. Episode 2 will rectify that as this is the introduction of Tim Drake (Mathew Valencia) who will become this series’ version of Robin.

The episode is directed by Curt Geda and Rich Fogel, both new to these roles. For Fogel, this is his first contribtuon to Batman after working on Superman. He’ll work on Batman Beyond as well as other DC animated shows. For Geda, this is basically a promotion. After working on storyboards during the original run of the show he now finds himself in the director’s chair for the first time. Apparently, the company liked what he did because he’ll direct several more episodes in this series before moving on to Batman Beyond in the same role.

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Tim Drake is a kid that will go to great lengths for some donuts.

“Sins of the Father” is not a flashback episode, it just takes place before the events of “Holiday Knights” even though it came after that episode in both production order and air date order. We’ll come to learn that at some point between the end of BTAS and the beginning of this series that Dick Grayson had a falling out with Batman. That won’t be explored until a later episode, but the important thing to know is that the role of Robin is open for audition. This Robin is actually the third Robin to appear in the comic books in the regular timeline. To no one’s surprise, the animated series is skipping Jason Todd who is mostly known for being horribly murdered by The Joker. I know we talked about last week how this series is a bit more violent and willing to flaunt it when compared with BTAS, but it’s not violent enough to have Robin get beaten to death.

This version of Tim Drake isn’t a carbon-copy of the one from the comic book. He actually has an origin similar to Jason Todd which is a nice way to incorporate the spirit of that character into this series. Tim Drake differs from Dick Grayson’s presentation in the previous series largely by being a kid, essentially bringing Robin back to the character’s roots. Grayson’s Robin that we were introduced to was an adult student attending college. I don’t know if that decision was done to appease the censors as they could place an adult in greater danger than a child or if the writers and showrunners just preferred an adult Robin to a kid. Personally, I do prefer the adult version as I just find the notion that Batman would pal-around with a kid to be ludicrous. Tim Drake is going to have to prove his worth to me, and it doesn’t help that his origin is naturally going to be compared with “Robin’s Reckoning” which was one of the better episodes in the series.

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Tim is going to find himself in a lot of trouble in this episode.

The episode begins at night with a police officer chasing after…a donut thief. Hey, they can’t all be super villains. The thief is not a bald, fat, man with yellow skin, but a spry and acrobatic young man who this cop probably has no hope of catching. That must have been a good donut or a really expensive one though, because this cop isn’t giving up. As the kid bounds up a fire escape in impressive fashion he comes to a window that’s locked. The cop thinks he’s got him now, but the kid pulls out something the cop likely never expected:  a Batarang. He tosses the stylish shuriken with impressive precision taking out a nearby clothesline which binds the officer up aiding in the boy’s eventual escape.

Elsewhere, a pair of trouble-makers, Manny (Peter Jason) and Mo (Loren Lester), are banging on an apartment door demanding a fellow named Drake answer. When no one does they break the door down and enter the rather messy interior. No one is around, but they do spy a collage on the wall of various Batman stories from newspapers. Suddenly, the window opens and in comes our little donut thief. The thugs grab him and demands he tell them where his father is. The kid proves to be pretty resourceful once again using his ill-gotten donuts to momentarily blind the duo and remove himself from their clutches. He performs some Kevin McCallister styled antics to drop them and escape while the two actually open fire on the kid. When it looks like our young friend is home free, he bumps into some real trouble:  Two-Face.

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The new Batboat makes its debut in this one.

Two-Face (Richard Moll) and his goons take the kid down to the docks to see if they can get some information out of the kid about his old man. He’s tight-lipped, forcing Two-Face to have his men search his possessions. They find a letter addressed to him, Timmy, from his dad explaining he had to flee town for a bit and he left him a key, which Two-Face recognizes. Two-Face snatches the key, and satisfied, starts walking away. The guys ask him what to do with the kid, so Two-Face pulls out his trusty coin. The odds were not in Tim’s favor this day, for Two-Face orders them to kill him, once again driving home that this show is going to be more direct with its villains.

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He’s in no condition to drive.

Before Manny and Mo can do as their boss requested, a pair of Batarangs come sailing in knocking their guns from their hands. Batman takes on Two-Face’s thugs while Tim works on his own restraints. He’s able to wriggle his way out of them, but things aren’t going well for Batman. Distracted by the thugs, Two-Face is able to grab a crane hook and whack Batman with it sending him flying into a bunch of drums. As Batman lays there, some reddish liquid is pouring out and we’re about to find out it’s flammable. The bad guys open fire causing an actual fire to break out, and eventually explosions. Batman is hurt pretty bad, and he knows when he’s beat. Before things can get any worse he grabs Tim and spins off the dock to the waters below. There, a redesigned Batboat awaits them. It looks very similar to the Bat Ski Boat from Batman Returns only it possesses the submarine qualities of the previous Batboat. Inside the cabin, Tim frantically tries to get the thing started but is having no luck. Batman gestures to him to sit back and then commands the boat to head for home, and like a good little boat, it hears and obeys.

tim and costume

One had to assume this shot would appear in this episode. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

The pair arrive at the Batcave and Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) is there waiting. He’s a bit alarmed to see Tim with Batman, but at the same time you almost get a feeling like Alfred is used to this stuff. He naturally pays more attention to getting Batman out of the boat which allows Tim to roam around the Batcave. He stares in awe at the various tech and the Robin suit on display (which is an homage to the Jason Todd memorial in the comics) before he manages to find the exit. Able to wander around the mansion, Tim easily figures out the identity of Batman and even tries to pocket some choice items. Batgirl then drops in to scold him – nice timing Barbara.

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This episode contains out first look at the new design for Alfred. He appears to have aged quite a bit between shows.

Batgirl takes Tim back down to the Batcave to share his findings with Alfred and Batman. Tim swears their secret is safe with him, but Batman doesn’t seem concerned. He just wants to know what Two-Face wanted with Tim. Tim explains he didn’t want him, but his father, who used to work for Two-Face before skipping town. Batgirl appears sympathetic towards the kid, but he doesn’t apparently want it. He swears he can take care of himself and he demonstrates so with the same Batarang we saw earlier. He hands over the letter that Two-Face apparently let him keep and Batman is able to tell what kind of key it was wrapped around previously due to the imprint it left. It’s a locker key, and Batman thinks it belongs to a locker at Gotham Airport.

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Now that’s how you kick a guy.

Batman and Batgirl leave Tim with Alfred to go check out the airport. They arrive there too late though as Two-Face is already there retrieving a satchel from a specific locker. They flee at the sight of the Bat people and this new version of the Dynamic Duo chase after them, but following a thrilling chase involving a luggage carrier, are forced to return to the Batcave unsuccessful.

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Tim learns the truth about his dad.

Back at the Batcave, Batman is at his wonder computer with Batgirl trying to find a lead on Tim’s father. What he ends up finding out is that a “John Doe” was found recently and all signs point to it being the elder Drake. As Batgirl wonders how they treat this information in regards to Tim, he walks in and tells them he knows what it means for his dad to be branded a John Doe. He wipes a few tears away while still maintaining that he’s fine and can take of himself. This is where we get our first demonstration of the direction this show wants to take with its cast. Batgirl does the sensible thing and tries to comfort Tim while remaining hopeful about his father, while Batman coolly confirms his dad isn’t coming back.

Alfred interrupts the conversation to tell the others there’s something on television that will interest them. Apparently Two-Face is borrowing a play from Joker’s playbook by hijacking the Gotham airwaves with a threat for the city’s inhabitants. That key apparently gave him access to a deadly gas, and if Two-Face isn’t paid 22 million dollars by 2 AM he’ll release it in Gotham killing millions. Batman insists they have no time to waste, but before he can leave Tim chimes in with a suggestion on where Two-Face may be hiding out. Batman takes the info as he and Batgirl hop into the redesigned Batmobile. It looks more like a sports car now and bares little resemblance to the Burton films. It even dropped flame from the rear of the car, which as someone who loved this feature on the 60s show, I find this disappointing.

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The new Batmobile.

Tim, naturally, tries to go along with Batman and Batgirl, but Batman refuses to entertain the thought. As the Batmobile speeds away, Tim expresses his disappointment to Alfred who turns to regard the Robin costume on display and remarks how Batman and Master Dick used to clash. What the hell, Alfred? Are you trying to get the kid to rush off into harm’s way?

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Batgirl almost got an entire episode to be the lone sidekick. Time to share the spotlight, Babs.

Batman and Batgirl arrive at the location Tim gave them, the Janus Theater. Two-Face and his men are there waiting and it’s just about time to unleash the gas. As they put on their gas masks they hear a cry from outside. Two-Face tells his guys “They’re here,” as they ready for the arrival of Batman. Batman pops in from behind some crates and takes out one guy. As another tries to run Batgirl swoops in to prevent him.

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That’s one way to get around Gotham.

Outside the building, Tim is on his way dressed in the Robin costume. He rides atop a bus to get there and prepares to enter the building as the fighting rages on. As Batman and Batgirl tangle with Two-Face’s men, he’s able to activate a 3 minute timer on the bomb (that should have been a two-minute timer, I hope someone got fired for that blunder). He also whips out a Tommy gun and starts unloading on the vigilantes. Maybe the mask makes it hard to shoot because his aim is especially terrible. Robin then bursts in to try and turn the tides, but he’s actually not very good at this whole crime-fighting thing. He ends up getting grabbed by “Puke-Face,” who apparently doesn’t notice that this Robin is different from the past one, based on the comments he makes. Robin once again turns to his Batarang and uses it to cut some ropes on a grate or scaffolding above the bad dudes which falls onto Two-Face’s men. Two-Face himself avoids it, but he can’t avoid Batman who subdues him. Batgirl gets to the bomb and deactivates with a cool 2 seconds to spare. When Batgirl expresses a desire to head home, Tim pipes in that he’s looking forward to it too and searches for some praise, but Batman is not accommodating.

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Tim is going to need some practice.

At Wayne Manor, Tim is getting a lesson from the master himself. Bruce is wailing on Tim with what I’m told are pugli sticks. Basically, it looks like Joust from American Gladiators. As Bruce pummels the kid, he shouts out rules to Tim about what it will take to work with him. He comes across as strict and uncompromising, which I suppose he would have to be if he’s seriously considering letting a kid run around in tights fighting murderous bad guys. Dick Grayson (Loren Lester) pops in to offer his two cents and everyone acts surprised to see him, though Bruce is the only one who doesn’t smile.

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Robin will have to learn that praise is hard to come by.

The Bruce/Dick dynamic will have to wait for another day. “Sins of the Father” is a suitable introduction to the show’s take on Tim Drake. Like Dick, there is an element of tragedy to it, but since we never meet the elder Drake it’s not nearly as affecting as what we saw in “Robin’s Reckoning.” Tim does get to demonstrate his skill with a Batarang, but it will take more than that to pull-off the role of Robin. The episode doesn’t really attempt to convince the viewer he’s up to the task, as he’s basically a one-trick-pony right now. I guess we’re supposed to assume a little sparring with Bruce is all that’s needed.

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This is all the boy needs to take on psychos and homicidal maniacs.

The inclusion of Two-Face in Tim’s origin story feels like another nod to Jason Todd. Two-Face was part of his origin, and he was also part of Dick’s origin in Batman Forever. He’s a villain adept at creating Robins, apparently. Plus, he also created this version of Batgirl. He’s just a ruthless bad guy here ultimately just out for money. It’s a bit dry considering how conflicted he was last time we saw him in “Second Chance.” He’ll get some proper attention eventually, but this is a nondescript performance for the villain. His redesign is possibly the least severe of all of the villains. He’s allowed to keep his black and white suit and everything else is basically as it was, just with this new style incorporated. That means more straight lines and less detail on the facial features. The white portion of his hair is also spiky now as opposed to curly. There’s also a little piece of blue skin on his face that stretch to the “good side” under his bottom lip. This might be a statement that his bad side is winning or something. He doesn’t look better, but it’s so similar to his past appearance that there’s no reason to get up in arms over it.

new two-face

The new Two-Face is more or less the same as the old Two-Face.

This episode was our first look at the new Alfred, who like Commissioner Gordon, just basically looks older. I already mentioned I don’t much care for the new Batmobile, it’s just boring looking compared with prior ones. The new Batboat looks fine, though it doesn’t look like anything that could possibly function as a submarine. This was also our first look at Dick in this series, albeit it’s quite brief. He looks a little older, but that’s it. He does have long hair now, but you don’t really get a true sense of that from his brief appearance here.

“Sins of the Father” probably should have been the series premiere for The New Batman Adventures. I suppose it’s not really that big of a deal that it wasn’t. It brings Tim into the fold, though I don’t feel the connection with him I had for Barbara or Dick in the past. Of course, Dick wasn’t introduced in a grand way as that version of Batman and Robin essentially existed before the show began, but the flashback episode for his origin fleshed that out. Tim’s story looks fine on paper, but I just feel indifferent to him at this point. I mentioned I’m already predisposed to not like the Boy Wonder version of Robin so perhaps that’s part of the reason, but I mostly wish he wasn’t even part of the show. It’s only episode 2 so he still has time to prove his worth, I suppose.

 


Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars – “Corsair Canards”

img_3661Episode Number:  9

Original Air Date:  November 3, 1991

Directed by:  Karen Peterson

Written by:  Christy Marx

First Appearance:  Captain Lanelle, Redjack, Blackbeak, Grebb, Harman

Episode 9 introduces the viewer to Dead-Eye’s past:  The Corsair Canards. The Canards are a group of space pirates. They basically look like typical pirates and even pilot spaceships that look like a stereotypical pirate ship, masts and all which seems unnecessary for a spaceship. Interestingly, they all appear to be ducks and in particular the same species of four-armed duck that Dead-Eye belongs to. Are all ducks in the Aniverse pirates? It would seem so. Even though they’re thieving pirates, the Corsair Canards are potential allies for the United Animal Fleet against the Toads and that’s what’s going to draw them into our story.

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They should call this thing the SS Pirate Bait.

The episode opens on a luxury space cruiser. It’s either like a cruise liner in our world, or just an upscale restaurant. The only important thing about it is that it attracts wealthy patrons, so naturally it makes sense that it would be a target for pirates. The Corsair Canards do not disappoint and they hit it. Captain Lanelle (I assume she is voiced by Margot Pinvidic since she’s done all of the female voices up to this point) leads a band of armed and flamboyantly dressed pirates. Her eyes are drawn to a group off to the side and it’s pretty obvious one of the patrons is Bucky O’Hare in drag. When Bucky calls out to them to not hurt them, Lanelle informs us that the Corsair Canards never harm any of their victims unless they first try do them harm. How noble.

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Dressing in drag is something that comes natural to animated rabbits.

A crotchety old duck starts interjecting into the conversation, and it’s Dead-Eye in disguise. He soon goes on the offensive, knocking the guns away from one duck to rest in his own hands. Bucky then reveals himself and the rest of the crew appears, including Willy who pops out of a piano dual-wielding some red guns (notable because he’s only carried a water pistol thus far). Lanelle is surprised to see Bucky O’Hare, but he informs them they’re not here to arrest the pirates. They want the help of the pirates in dealing with the Toad menace, and in return, Bucky promises to get the UAF Security Council to forgive the transgressions of the pirates which gets Lanelle’s attention.

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Some new faces on the council, Grebb and Harman.

Bucky and the pirates head to Genus to see if he can make such a promise come true. The Secretary General from the earlier season episodes is no where to be found, in his place is Harman (Gary Chalk), a walrus who seems receptive to Bucky’s proposal. Someone who is not is Grebb (Scott McNeil, I think), a jackal who does not appear to have much confidence in Captain O’Hare and even less in the pirates. He’ll only go along with Bucky’s proposal if there is an amendment in the agreement with the Canards that allows them to back out should any of them return to their pirating ways. Harman is agreeable to that inclusion and the rest of the council is in agreement as well. For the pirates though, they’ve only agreed to propose it at their next clan meeting. In order to go along with it, they’ll need a majority of pirates to agree to it.

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It’s in this episode we learn Willy has a real thing for pirates.

Aboard the Righteous Indignation, Willy is cheerily chatting up Dead-Eye about pirates. It would seem he’s quite interested in the life of a pirate and he’s excited about seeing a real pirate meeting. Dead-Eye has to burst his bubble a bit to inform him they’re only heading to a pre-meeting gathering, and that from there only the pirates will be heading to the actual meeting which is held in secret. Willy’s a little disappointed, but he’s at least still looking forward to the initial gathering.

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Willy gets a taste of what real pirates drink. And I always thought they drank rum, what a fool I was.

That initial gathering is held on Rigel VII at what is basically a pirate dive bar. There Willy is introduced to the preferred drink of pirates, ground swamp grass served in swamp water. He’s not a fan. He also sees how the pirates like to play games of skill, which Dead-Eye informs him is their way of training their young. There’s even a little diaper-clad toddler duck running around to drive that point home. Willy then introduces Dead-Eye to a game he likes to play:  Frisbee. Of course, he just calls it a flying disc and demonstrates his considerable skill with the toy. When the toddler from before steps on a switch that activates a knife-toss game, Willy uses the disc to swat the flying knife away which was heading right for the kid. All of the pirates are impressed, especially Dead-Eye.

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Blackbeak, Captain Lanelle (who’s catching flies this whole scene, apparently), and Redjack.

During this scene we’re also introduced to Redjack. He’s a pirate after the heart of Captain Lanelle, but she’s got eyes for Dead-Eye. He needs a way to impress her, and by standing up to Dead-Eye he thinks he has a shot.

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It’s Redjack who views Dead-Eye as a rival. Dead-Eye though, doesn’t seem interested.

As the pirates get ready to depart, Dead-Eye huddles-up with a few others then returns from the huddle to tell Willy he’s been invited to attend thanks to demonstrating the wonders of his flying disc. Dead-Eye thinks they could use it as part of their arsenal and apparently he was able to convince the others as well. Willy is happy to tag-along, and all of the pirate ships head for the location. It’s basically a giant domed stadium in the middle of space, and there the deal extended by the UAF is shared with the gathering. Redjack emerges as a voice opposed to the deal citing they can’t abandon their pirating ways. Dead-Eye tries to reason with him, but he’s just doing what Redjack hoped he would. He challenges Dead-Eye to a duel. Should he win, the deal is rejected, if Dead-Eye wins then it’s accepted. Dead-Eye insists this isn’t the proper way to hash out such an important agreement, but Redjack won’t back down. Dead-Eye relents, and the other pirates immediately take cover while Willy protests. He thinks they’re going to duel to the death, but Lanelle tells him to not be so stupid – pirates would never intentionally harm one another. Instead, a robotic device emerges from the center of the arena. It’s got several appendages on it and they all fire skeet discs that Dead-Eye and Redjack are expected to shoot.

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I think this is my favorite Toad ship thus far.

Aboard a rather interesting looking Toad ship, the Air Marshall is seated on a bridge and entertaining another old friend – Al Negator. Al has information concerning the Corsair Canards and the courtship going on between the pirates and UAF. He also reveals he has a spy in the Security Council and Air Marshall is expected to promote him to Dictator of Genus once they take over the planet. Air Marshall is dismissive of the promise, but quite alarmed at the thought of the Corsair Canards joining up with the UAF. Al Negator assures him he has a way to make sure that doesn’t happen. Curiously, there’s no mention of payment by Al so what he’s gaining isn’t explicitly stated, but maybe at this point the writers felt we didn’t need to be reminded about Al’s motivation and we can just assume he’s being paid for information.

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Fake Dead-Eye in action. How a Toad is able to manage a four-armed costume is never explained.

The same luxury spaceship from earlier is then shown (it might even be a repeat shot) only this time it’s Harman and Grebb that’s aboard. They’re having dinner and Grebb is concerned because they’re in the same area of space where Bucky was able to lure out the Corsair Canards. Harman tries to assuage his concerns, but then he’s made to look like a fool when the ship is boarded by the Canards once again. Surprisingly, this band of pirates is being led by Dead-Eye, and he demands they hand over their valuables. Grebb and Harman are shocked and appalled by the presence of Dead-Eye, but do as he commands.

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Dogstar feeling a bit smug thanks to his fancy new duds.

Bucky and his crew are then called before the Security Council. Harman and Grebb inform Bucky of what happened, and he refuses to believe that Dead-Eye could have done that. He promises to investigate, but refuses to arrest his gunner. Grebb is angered by Bucky’s disobedience and summons Commander Dogstar. Dogstar has a slightly redesigned costume that seems rather regal, though it will be really inconsistent (more on that later) throughout the episode. It’s basically just more blue and looks less like a metal onesie. Dogstar agrees to the order, but informs Grebb he’ll be performing his duty under protest.

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Four-armed wrestling.

Bucky returns to the tavern where the pirates gathered and tries to get info out of the bartender concerning the location of the pirates. He literally says nothing and Jenny is forced to use her powers to contact Willy. She relays what has happened and implores Willy to return with Dead-Eye. As for him, he and Redjack tied the shooting game and were forced to arm wrestle, which they tied at that as well. Willy pulls Dead-Eye aside and tells him they need to get back, but Dead-Eye can’t forfeit his contest with Redjack because it’s too important. When he asks how he can get this over with quickly, Willy says he has an idea, only the pirates won’t accept a suggestion from an outside. Captain Lanelle, apparently eavesdropping, steps in to say they’ll accept a proposal from her and Willy tells her his idea.

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This shit is embarassing.

Lanelle says the next competition will utilize Willy’s flying disc. Dead-Eye and Redjack stand opposite her for a fairly long shot that’s notable because both Lanelle and Dead-Eye are horribly discolored with orange faces. This seems as good a time as any to say that this episode is a new low in terms of visuals. It looks like shit, to put it bluntly. Lots of discolored characters and ugly framing. Dogstar’s uniform will change practically from shot to shot when he’s around. It’s embarrassing.

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Frisbee making friends out of enemies.

The ducks agree to the duel of Frisbee. Blackbeak will hold a mug of swamp water in each hand and Redjack and Dead-Eye are charged with knocking one out of his hands. First one to do so wins. Both characters fail in their first attempt and Redjack fails his second as well, hitting Blackbeak by mistake which he does not enjoy. Dead-Eye’s second shot is the one that wins it, and Redjack concedes with no animosity towards him marking a rather abrupt turn. They then head back to the dive on Rigel VII. There they regroup with Bucky to find out what’s happened in their absence. Dogstar is there as well to make his arrest, but informs Bucky that if he has a plan to catch the real culprits he’ll go along with it in lieu of making an immediate arrest.

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What the heck is going on with Jenny in this shot?

Back aboard the apparent same luxury ship, everyone is back in their disguises waiting for another pirate attack. Sure enough, “Dead-Eye” shows up with his group of Corsair Canards to hit the same ship again (I’m getting some real Roberto from Futurama vibes from this crew). One of the pirates is drawn to a golden sculpture of a berserker baboon which he’s apparently frightened by. Dead-Eye assures him it’s just a statue and that there’s nothing to be afraid of. When he gives it a pat, it starts to crack and out comes Bruiser. He apprehends the fake pirates quite easily.

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And now Jenny again, in the correct costume this time.

We’re then shown Al Negator, who’s on a pirate ship waiting for the return of his pirates. When Dead-Eye pops in with the Canards it’s the real Dead-Eye, and Al is forced to put his hands up. He swats an offguard Dead-Eye with his tail and pulls his own gun on them, but Lanelle and the real Canards swing in like the dashing buccaneers they are to take him down. Back on the cruise ship, Bruiser rips the Dead-Eye costume apart to reveal a toad underneath, who is oddly dressed in a fine suit. The other pirates are toads as well, and the only thing remaining is to return to the council to share their findings. Before they do so though, Al Negator proposes they make a deal. In exchange for his freedom, he’ll tell Bucky about his spy on the council. Bucky agrees to a deal before hearing Al’s evidence, and once he does he reluctantly sticks to his word and let him go. It seems he could have just taken the info and kept Al Negator, but whatever. The others protest a bit, but when Bucky says he knows about a traitor they apparently shut up.

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Al Negator only looks out for one guy: Al Negator.

In front of the Security Council, Bucky shows off the toads they captured in order to clear the Corsair Canards and Dead-Eye. Grebb is practically angered by this development, but then shocked and afraid when he hears from Bucky there’s a spy among them. Bucky then commands his crew to capture the traitor, and we’re supposed to think he means Grebb, but it’s actually Harman who is trying to run away. He’s cornered, and then his head actually opens to reveal he’s an android being piloted by a small newt. The newt then takes off and he’s so fast that no one can get a hand on him. Redjack then pulls out his Frisbee, which Willy had gifted him after the competition had ended, and whips it at the fleeing newt knocking him out. Captain Lanelle is impressed, and she now apparently has the hots for Redjack. Willy apologizes to Dead-Eye for playing a role in him losing his girl, but he says she was never his girl. Plus he has no time for a lass. Lanelle then invites Willy to join the Corsair Canards. He’s tempted and turns to Dead-Eye for advice who simply reminds him that he voluntarily left the pirate life to join a higher cause with Bucky and his crew.

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Ever see a newt piloting a walrus?

Back aboard the Righteous Indignation, Bucky O’Hare enthusiastically informs the rest of the crew that it’s time to go croak some toads. Dead-Eye likes this, and Willy is shown right behind his gunner’s chair. You didn’t really think he would leave, right? They take off as the episode ends.

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Looks like Redjack got what he wanted out this one.

“Corsair Canards” is an interesting diversion episode. It gives us a peek at what Dead-Eye’s life was like before he joined up with Bucky O’Hare and it’s always nice to get a little back story on the normal characters. The whole pirate culture created by the show isn’t exactly inventive. It’s also careful to paint them in a more heroic light, as opposed to the classic pirates who rape and pillage. Obviously, Bucky can’t seek the help of murderers and it is interesting to see Bucky trying to recruit allies since the fleet he’s a part of is so woefully underfunded. The episode makes no attempt to fool the viewer into thinking Dead-Eye has flipped, given the arrangement of the scenes. It does use Grebb as a red-herring for the traitor, and in doing so it’s probably pretty successful with younger viewers. The newt reveal is fun and it makes me want to know more about the newt race in the Aniverse. Bucky letting Al Negator off the hook made little sense, but I guess someone felt it was important for Bucky to stay true to his word even when dealing with a criminal like Al. As for what he did with his freedom, we don’t know as this is his final appearance in the show.

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Willy and Dead-Eye bright eyed and ready to bond by killing some amphibians.

I alluded to it during the write-up, but this episode looks like trash. There are so many bad colorization parts and awkward pieces of animation. When the setting returns to the cruise ship for the final time, Jenny is even in the establishing shot even though she’s supposed to be in disguise and will be when next shown. There’s some real ugly images of Bucky where his face is scrunched and one instance of Lanelle speaking with some other pirates where her mouth is hanging open like she’s shocked for no reason. About the only positive I can give is that there are at least a lot of new character designs. The pirates, while cliché, look fine and interesting. I do like the newt and his Total Recall-like reveal. That’s about it though, and given how poor the previous episode looked, I’m a bit concerned it’s all downhill from here. Was the show already declared dead on arrival and the budget slashed during the latter stages of production? It’s also possible that more resources were simply devoted to the earlier episodes in hopes they’d hook viewers there and then coast. I’m hoping there is at least an uptick for the finale, but I’m not holding my breath either.

 


The New Batman Adventures – “Holiday Knights”

holiday knightsEpisode Number:  1 (86)

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1997

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  Robin (Tim Drake), Mo, Lar, Cur

After pausing for a week to discuss the 1998 film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero we have now finally arrived at The New Batman Adventures era of the show. This is essentially the start of a sequel series, but it’s been retconned over the years (or just simplified) as Season 3 of Batman: The Animated Series. The Blu Ray set released in 2018 simply refers to it as such and the intro for each episode is the Season One intro from the Fox Kids era. The show largely exists thanks to two new developments since the previous series ended in 1995:  the WB network, and Superman.

Warner Bros. and Fox had a nice relationship in the 1990s where WB created several shows that Fox aired as part of its Fox Kids lineup on weekday afternoons and Saturday morning. At some point, the executives at WB decided it would just make more sense for them to start their own network. On January 11, 1995 The WB was launched and alongside it came Kids’ WB. That block of programming would be occupied by cartoons primarily, most of which included characters WB owned. Gradually, as the license agreements with Fox expired the shows WB had created for that network migrated to its network.

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The New Batman Adventures placed greater emphasis on Batman’s supporting cast.

The network’s flagship action cartoon was Superman, or Superman: The Animated Series. It was decided that it would make a lot of sense for Superman to simply be partnered with Batman to form an hour programming block of DC’s hottest heroes. It would make sense for the two to cross paths, and so WB commissioned a new Batman series envisioned as a sequel to BTAS. Like the second season of that show, this one would focus on Batman and a supporting cast of heroes. Dick Grayson would return, but not as Robin but rather Nightwing. In his place was a new, much younger, Robin and Batgirl would be there as well. The show would need to be updated to match the style of Superman and to also make the show cheaper to produce. “Dark Deco” was now out, in its place was a modern Gotham with cell phones and (gasp!) color TV. Oddly, Gotham would also feature a red sky apparently to heighten the darkness of the show vs the much brighter Superman. There is a reduction of shadows as well making everything lighter in appearance. Perhaps something that disappoints only me is the dropping of title cards. I loved the title cards on BTAS and I was so bummed to see they weren’t continued here. It also makes each one of these posts a little less interesting to look at.

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A look at the various villains from the show, some old some new.

This new style meant character redesigns. Batman would ditch the blue of his prior costume opting for a strictly black and gray ensemble. His belt was also muted in tone and more utilitarian in appearance. Robin’s costume dropped the green and Batgirl ditched the gray as well. On the villain’s side things were a bit more extreme. We’ll mostly get to them as they show up. To highlight a few; Scarecrow received an entirely new look while Joker featured an aggressive redesign that removed the sclera of his eyes and the red of his lips. Some of these redesigns are quite interesting on their own, while some are just plain inferior to the previous look. The characters had to be simplified to reflect the shrinking budget, but some sacrifices just aren’t worth making.

Most of the creative staff was returned for the new series. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm served as executive producers alongside Alan Burnett. Dini and Timm would both contribute to multiple episodes as writer while Dan Riba returned to direct multiple episodes as well. Also returning was the majority of the voice cast from the prior series, with the only notable change being Tara Strong (then known as Tara Charendoff) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. A lot of new blood was also brought in, many of which would hang around the DC Animated Universe which was about to expand to include The Justice League and Teen Titans. This is basically the beginning of an expansive television universe by WB and DC which is basically the television equivalent of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m primarily only interested in Batman when it comes to DC, so don’t expect me to do this for the other shows. Hopefully no one is disappointed.

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New show, new logo.

The New Batman Adventures was released on DVD as Volume 4 of Batman: The Animated Series and is included in both the DVD and Blu Ray box set of the series as Season 3. For this feature, I considered simply sticking with the BTAS title, but decided this show was different enough to change it up. I’ll include both the episode number as it relates to this series as well as how it relates to the entire series. We’re also sticking with production order as opposed to air date order. The show was ordered as one season, but aired as two seasons of 13 and 11 episodes respectively concluding in January of 1999. At some point I’ll summarize my thoughts on the whole of Batman: The Animated Series, but since we’re getting started with The New Batman Adventures I’ll say upfront that I find this series to be inferior to its predecessor. It’s less unique looking and not as well written. The new villains introduced aren’t as memorable and we also lose a little bit of Batman by switching to an ensemble format. He’s made to be more grim, apparently to heighten how different he is from his younger companions, and as such loses some of his humanity in the process. He’s overall just less interesting as a character, and the focus on the others doesn’t really make up for that. It feels like a diservice to the excellent Kevin Conroy, who simply has less to work with in regards to Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Anyways, let’s finally start talking about this first episode, shall we? First airing just over 2 years after the conclusion of BTAS, “Holiday Knights” is a pretty bizarre way to kick-off this series. For one, it’s a Christmas/New Years episode that’s presented in anthology format with three separate mini stories starring different heroes and villains. It’s based on the Batman Adventures Holiday Special released in 1995 written by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Oddly, WB chose to air this as the premier as well in September rather than stashing it away until closer to Christmas like Fox did with “Christmas with the Joker,” the second episode from BTAS. Also complicating things, the new Robin (Mathew Valencia) debuts here even though the second episode is the one that details how he met Batman and came to assume this persona. Clayface is also the featured villain of the middle tale, but his actual return from the events of “Mudslide” is recounted in a later episode as well. This episode almost feels non-canon as a result, and it’s just overall a weird and confusing way to bring the series back.

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Ivy has apparently spent the past couple of years avoiding the sun.

The episode begins on December 22 and quickly reintroduces us to a pair of villains:  Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) and Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin). Harley largely looks the same as she did in the previous series, while Ivy has received a fairly dramatic makeover. Her hair is more stylized and her skin bone white. She displays what is basically the new female body-shape on the show:  short, pointed, with an oversized head. It’s a more “toon” presentation and is less realistic compared with BTAS. I personally don’t care for it, but it is what it is.

Harley is bored and not at all excited to be stuck in a slummy motel for the holidays. She bemoans their lack of a Christmas tree, which naturally sets Ivy off as she views them as a form of genocide against trees. Ivy insists she has a plan that will brighten up their holiday and urges her friend to trust in her. We’re then taken to a gathering of the wealthy at the Vreeland estate where we get our first look at the new Bruce Wayne. He dresses all in black now with a white shirt under his suit and red “power” tie. His hair is black as well and slicked back to give him a real douchey look befitting a billionaire playboy. He’s socializing with Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) who has returned to her red-haired look after a brief dabble with being a blonde and seems amused when a gaggle of women swarm Bruce. While Bruce is being pushed around by the ladies, one of them plants a kiss right on his lips. It’s Ivy, and as we learned way back in “Pretty Poison” getting a kiss from her is not something anyone should desire.

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Not the women Bruce was hoping to take home.

Bruce leaves the party and as he heads for his car he’s invited into a limo by a pair of women. Bruce finds himself unable to control his own body as he’s subjected to Ivy and Harley’s whims. They then use Bruce and his fabulous wealth to go on a shopping spree. A montage plays which feels fitting for a holiday special and is set to a saxophone rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The women seem to enjoy themselves while Bruce is helpless. As they force him to carry all of their purchases he begins to make some headway in fighting off the effects of the poison. The girls realize too late that he needs another dose, and as they approach to do so Bruce is able to back away falling into an open elevator shaft. The girls are indifferent to Bruce’s plight as they still have his credit cards and continue on with their evening. Meanwhile, the gloved hand of Batman reaches up from the depths of the elevator shaft.

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The Ivy and Harley montage is probably the best part of the whole episode.

Harley and Ivy make their escape in their stolen limo being driven by another brainwashed lackey, but soon enough the cloaked outline of Batman flashes behind them. Harley warns Ivy about who’s on their tail and Ivy makes some evasive maneuvers to avoid The Dark Knight which leads them to a toy store – how fitting. Batman enters and encounters all manners of toy-related traps:  wooden soldiers, giant boxing gloves, and Harley’s trusty mallet. The ladies lure Batman through their fun house leading up a tower of toys before they hastily attempt a retreat. As the duo turn to rub salt in his wounds, Batman fires his redesigned grappling hook (it makes a less satisfying hissing sound when fired and features an end that’s just a bladed Batman logo) to hook the base of a massive Christmas tree. He topples it landing right on the thieves putting a damper on their holiday, but returning to the Christmas tree gag with Harley who’s strangely comforted by its presence.

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Santa Bullock, ho, ho, ho.

Our second story takes place on Christmas Eve. Barbara is shopping at Mayfield’s Department Store for a gift for her father. As she’s paying for her gift, a crying child gets her attention and the clerk remarks it’s been like that all day. Not far from the checkout station is a department store Santa being played by none other than Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo). Apparently, Bullock isn’t the best Santa and tends to leave the kids who sit on his lap in tears. Serving alongside him as his elf is Officer Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmir) and the two are apparently on a stake-out which is why Bullock isn’t exactly into this whole Santa schtick. Bullock does at least find the Christmas spirit momentarily when a little girl sits on his lap asking to have her dad back for Christmas. Apparently, her dad is a crook Bullock just helped get put away. Not really knowing what else to do, he gives her some money. That should cheer her up.

Barbara is amused by Bullock’s turn as Kris Kringle and makes her way for the exit. Along the way she notices a child who appears to be shoplifting. The daughter of Gotham’s police commissioner can’t stand idly by as someone commits a crime, so she reaches out to grab him only she comes away with a handful of mud instead. Montoya then receives word to be on the lookout for a rabble of child thieves which fellow detectives are chasing through the store. They corner the kids, who then all merge into one being right before their very eyes.

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Batgirl showing off her new attire.

It’s Clayface (Ron Perlman), and he’s not the type of bandit to go quietly. He immediately begins trashing the place forcing Barbara to duck out and re-emerge as Batgirl. She takes the fight right to Clayface knocking him through an oversized window and onto a skating rink outside causing him to smash through the ice. Santa and his elf arrive to provide backup, though their guns do little to bother Clayface. Batgirl hollers at them to stop wasting their ammo and to aim for the Santa. Bullock at first confuses her command to mean him, but above Clayface is a giant, lighted, Santa and lights and Bullock and Montoya blast it down to land on top of Clayface. The frayed wires land in the water around Clayface electrocuting him and putting a stop to his rampage. Montoya then leaves Bullock to handle the clean-up.

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I don’t like this new Joker at all, but at least we still have Mark Hamill doing his voice.

Our final tale takes place on December 31 and involves The Joker (Mark Hamill). He’s sent out one of his famous broadcasts to the people of Gotham revealing his New Year’s resolution to not kill anyone in the new year. This means he needs to make up for it all tonight and send the current year out with a bang! A taping of this broadcast is being viewed by Batman and Robin in Commissioner Gordon’s office. It would seem Gordon stopped heading to the gym following the events of BTAS as he’s a lot smaller and older looking now than he was before. Gordon (Bob Hastings) informs Batman that they have a lead on Joker as a GothCorp scientist was murdered earlier in the day. The scientist specialized in sonics and had been working on a new weapon that could kill with sound. Batman deduces that Joker’s likely target will be The New Year’s Countdown in Gotham Square and it’s likely he’ll have this new weapon in hand.

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Joker’s party favors.

Joker is shown at Gotham Square with some of his finest: Mo, Lar, and Cur (all voiced by Ron Perlman and obvious reference to The Three Stooges). They’re rigging the sonic bomb to a massive bell. Apparently at midnight, the bell goes up to ring in the new year and when that happens the bomb will go off. And to make things harder on Batman, Joker has some “party favors” to distribute.

Batman and Robin head for the party and realize finding Joker will be a bit harder than expected. Joker has distributed his Joker masks to all of the party-goers making it hard to find the real Joker. Batman peers through some binoculars and spots a clown in a purple suit at a piano in the middle of the gathering onstage. He’s wearing ear muffs and so are the rather large men flanking him. Figuring that’s his man, Batman and Robin head for the stage and Batman dings Joker’s head with a Batarang knocking off his ear muffs. They then turn their attention to Joker’s goons, but find they’re pretty hard to deal with. Joker ends up grabbing the upper hand by smashing a bucket full of ice and champagne over the back of Batman’s skull.

joker champagne

This will be a short-lived victory for Joker.

Joker grabs the bottle of champagne to celebrate and apparently die with everyone else. As Joker gloats over Batman, The Dark Knight is able to snatch the bottle of champagne and sprays it all over the controls to the bell shortening out the killing device. As he does so, Joker tries to stop him and shoots at him and actually hits Batman in the right arm. As Batman lays on the ground, Joker laughs like only he can. As he does so the bell begins to fall, and it just so happens to land right on Joker who offers a well-timed “Ouch,” from beneath it to close out the scene.

bat gordon toast

We’re introduced to an annual tradition for Gordon and The Dark Knight.

With Joker’s plot foiled once again, Commissioner Gordon is shown entering a diner around 2 AM. The owner (Corey Burton) ushers everyone out and tells them he’s closing up as Gordon takes a seat at a booth. The man brings him a mug of coffee as well as a second mug and wonders aloud if Gordon’s buddy is coming. Gordon assures him he is, and Batman soon enters through a rear door. He sits down and the two indicate this is a yearly tradition of theirs. They speak only a few words before Gordon turns to request something from the kitchen to go. When he turns back he finds an empty booth and a couple of bucks left on the table to cover the tab. Remarking he’ll one day beat him to the check, Gordon collects himself and heads out into the night while Batman is seen swinging off into the red sky himself.

As I said, this is an odd way to begin the series. Three fragmented stories which lean heavily into comic relief that contain characters who will require a true introduction (or reintroduction) further down the road. It at least gets a lot of characters on-screen though giving us a peek at this new look. In general, I’m not much of a fan for how this series looks. It uses mostly straight lines in its characters and the women and children have huge heads. I mostly hate the new Joker as his face just lacks personality and is so bland and wooden to look at. The removal of his lips also just makes his mouth flaps look odder as he’s all teeth gnashing together. He looked so great in BTAS so it’s just really disappointing to see him reduced to this. This practically elderly looking Commissioner Gordon is also not a favorite of mine and Bullock looks like he’s gained about 50 pounds.

clayface hk

Clayface doesn’t come across looking so hot. Meanwhile, less censorship apparently extends to Montoya’s attire as well.

Not surprisingly, Clayface isn’t as well animated as he was before. He still contorts his body into weapons and other beings, but not a lot of resources are spent on the transitioning animation. He’s also far more stable looking than he was in “Mudslide” and has almost a rocky appearance compared with his old one. It should also be pointed out he was previosuly immune to elecrocution so either that was a goof by Dini or they intentionally took that immunity away from him. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but this is just a less interesting looking show. They wanted it to be in-line with Metropolis from Superman and it wouldn’t make sense to have Gotham look like it was trapped in the 1940s and Metropolis like something from the 90s.

harley and the tree

It’s nice to have a little Christas in June, right? Interestingly, the comic this episode is based on portrayed Harley as Jewish.

There is one advantage this show has over its predecessor and that appears to be with the level of violence on display. It’s blatantly discussed that Joker murdered someone and he has an apparent lust for carnage and mayhem that was more tip-toed around on Fox. Batman is also free to punch people while villains, and the police, are still able to wield realistic looking weapons. Warner must have desired a way to differentiate its network from Fox and upping the violence was apparently one such way.

As an episode, this is a pretty benign, disposable, piece of entertainment. And there is entertainment value for it largely as a comedic vehicle. I wish it had chosen to end on Batman and Gordon sipping coffee together rather than turn to the tired gag of Batman vanishing whenever someone turns their back on him. I think that would have been the way the old series would have ended this one with a somber, but also sweet, ending. I guess this is just one more way for this show to announce it’s here and it’s not the same one we’re used to. Since I am a bit of a Christmas cartoon junkie, I should add that as a Christmas episode this is also just all right. It doesn’t linger much on the holiday, but it also doesn’t beat anyone over the head with Christmas clichés. It’s probably a touch better than “Christmas with the Joker” actually though less memorable. I don’t think either makes a strong case to be included with annual Christmas viewings, but you could certainly do worse.


Ranking the Games of the Sega Genesis Mini

us genesis mini box

Commemorating 30 years of the Genesis, Mega Drive to you non-Yankees, in comes the Genesis Mini to go along with your other mini consoles.

Did you think the era of the mini console was over? You would be forgiven if you had. Last year’s Sony Playstation Classic arrived with a thud. Originally retailing for $100, you can probably score one now for less than half of that as they clogged shelves during the holiday season and failed to excite. And it wasn’t a surprise. Sony just didn’t have the software muscle to make the Playstation Classic a must-own console. It wasn’t for a lack of effort on Sony’s part. There was a clear desire to have this device harken back to the early days of the Playstation as a celebration of one of the most popular gaming devices of all time. The problem was it may have been too reverential for those early days as a lot of the software just hasn’t aged too well. And the games that had have been readily available for download or in compilation packages for years. Top it off with no dual shock and a hefty price tag just made the console undesirable. Maybe Sony still made money off of the machine, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn the electronics giant took a loss either.

bad genesis mini

Not to be confused with the awful other mini Genesis units out there.

If you thought that high profile failure would deter others from following suit, well then you would be wrong. Throwing their hats back into the ring is Sega, who has been licensing its old software and hardware for years as part of third-party plug-and-play devices of less than desirable quality. Even when the NES Classic was available, Sega had a Genesis Mini on store shelves that boasted wireless controllers and a port on the console for an actual Genesis cartridge. Everything about it though was clunky and pretty awful. Since it was licensed out, it likely cost Sega nothing aside from a hit to its brand reputation. Maybe Sega decided it needed to help that brand out while making another effort at tapping into that mini console nostalgia that has boosted Nintendo’s bottom line for a few years now.

To do so, Sega has sought the services of M2, the developer behind the Sega Ages compilations which have been universally praised for their emulation quality. Sega also is apparently handling the actual hardware in-house, and actual Genesis controllers will ship with the system this fall. This smells like an honest attempt at a quality device, the only question really is can Sega still manufacture and produce quality hardware? It’s not something the company has been involved with for decades now since the high profile failure that was the Dreamcast. Considering there isn’t much to these mini consoles, there probably should be some degree of confidence Sega can pull it off. By sticking with wired controllers there’s no worry about cheap, wireless, devices which plagued the prior models. And we already know the emulation end should come out quite well.

genesis mini tower

Sega is apparently going all-in on the nostalgia and even releasing a non-functioning Sega CD and 32X mini in case you want to remember this abomination.

What we also know is the price ($79.99, same as the SNES Classic) and contents of the package. The US version will include two classic 3-button controllers and 42 games. Yes, it would have been preferential to have the six-button controller, which will apparently be included with the Japanese version so perhaps there will be some six-button controllers for sale, but it’s not a deal-breaker since every game had to utilize the 3-button layout. Mostly though, look at that games total:  42! Where Nintendo seemed careful about what it included with the SNES Classic, likely wanting to adhere to placing a dollar value on each game, Sega has simply said “Screw that!” and put a vast collection of games on this set that well-represent what the Genesis was famous for. Sure, there are some notable omissions. Mortal Kombat was huge for the Genesis, so it’s surprising to see it excluded. Considering the game doesn’t possess the gameplay to match its visuals, it’s only a sentimental loss. An actual good game that is missing is Sonic the Hedgehog 3 + Sonic & Knuckles. It’s possible the lock-on function was difficult to duplicate, or maybe Sega just felt that would be too much Sonic. Otherwise, there aren’t a lot of obvious omissions. Sports were huge on the Genesis, but licensing for sports titles is likely far too complex and expensive. Likely, most of your personal omissions are a preference for one game in a series (Shining Force vs Shining Force II, for example) vs another.

I’ve taken the time to rank the games of the other high-profile mini consoles, only skipping SNK’s, so I feel an obligation to do the same for the Genesis. This is the only negative for me of Sega including 42 games as I have to rank them all! This is no easy feat, but I’ll do my best. Now, I have played every game on this list, but that doesn’t mean I am supremely familiar with all of them. I’ll try to convey my familiarity where I can, but this is also just one man’s opinion so take it for what it is.

First of all, there are actually 2 games I have not played and they are the two most recent revelations:  Tetris and Darius. The Genesis Tetris was somewhat infamously discontinued before it got going. It’s one of the most expensive carts to this day. It’s Tetris, so you probably have played it before on another platform. I’m sure it’s good. The other game I have not played is the arcade-only Darius. A fan version of this game showed up on the internet and it’s speculated the version here is the same. It’s an auto-scrolling shooter from Taito so if you like that stuff I suppose you’ll be excited to play it. As for the other 40 games, well let’s just get right down to it.

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Altered Beast is memorable and was an early success story, but it was never really a good game.

40.  Altered BeastAltered Beast is an arcade classic, and as an early Genesis title, it does have some fans. On the other hand, it’s an example of how porting from arcade to the Genesis wasn’t entirely smooth and that arcade perfect ports were still years away. The transforming beast gimmick is neat, but everything else is rather terrible. It’s playable, and as a kid I liked it enough, so if it’s your worst title then that’s not too bad.

39.  Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle – The mascot before Sonic, Alex Kidd is perhaps best forgotten, a super floaty platformer that is representative of a lot of the shovel-ware that would clog game systems during the era. There’s at least some skill to be formed while playing this one, hence why I put it ahead of the vanilla brawler, Altered Beast.

38. Virtua Fighter 2Virtua Fighter 2 is a late era representative of how porting from the arcade to the home was hard. This time, it’s because arcade hardware had more than lapped what was available for most gamers at home. If playing this title on the Saturn, then it’s pretty good. On the Genesis? Well, let’s just say it’s a shocker they even bothered.

37. Eternal Champions – Sega’s in-house fighting game entry, Eternal Champions was the straight to home fighting game that wanted to be violent and shocking. Instead, it’s just a one on one fighter with little charm that’s also some-what bogged down by overly complex mechanics. The fact that it was developed for the Genesis, and not the arcade, made it noteworthy at the time because that was practically unheard of for fighting games. It ended up being a harbinger of things to come as the arcades became more marginalized as the 90s wore on. Playable, but hardly memorable unless you really like the fatality-like Overkills.

36. Ecco the Dolphin – Pretty nice looking for a Genesis title and certainly unique given that you play as a dolphin and solve puzzles. It’s also one of the most boring titles I’ve ever played. Some people love it, and it was a huge seller, so maybe others will too.

35. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts – I’m on the record as just not being a fan of this franchise. This version is naturally superior to what was on the NES, so if you like that game then you’ll love this one. I personally just find this game difficult to a fault, where it only cares about being hard and not being entertaining. Such a slog.

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Space Harrier 2 is certainly a unique shooter that was far more impressive back when it came out than it is today.

34. Space Harrier 2 – A strange behind-the-back on-rails shooter. You can move your character all over the screen to avoid attacks. It gets pretty chaotic, but if you’re a fan of on-rails shooters it might offer a nice change of pace from the typical approach.

33. Golden Axe – A solid arcade port that’s still plenty playable, Golden Axe is far more enjoyable with two-players. I’m surprised Sega went with the original here, but there’s not a ton separating the games in this franchise so I suppose it matters little. It’s fine, but I’ve played Golden Axe so much that it’s hard to get excited about it.

32. Kid Chameleon – A platformer in which you play as what appears to be a 50’s greaser and collect power-ups that impart new abilities. It’s a neat concept and if you stick with it you may find it rewarding. I’ve personally just always hated the “feel” of this one as the character is really floaty and slippery.

31. Comix Zone – One of the coolest looking games on the Genesis, Comix Zone has a great concept. You play as a comic book artist who gets sucked into his own panels. It’s just so unbelievably hard that all enjoyment is ruined. I guess you could save-skum your way through it, but that’s hardly what I consider fun.

30. Light Crusaders – An isometric RPG, it’s actually one of many RPGs on the Genesis Mini. It’s crazy how many there are. Is this one the worst? Probably. I’ve never spent a ton of time with it though so maybe I’m selling it short. I’m not a fan of the perspective or the visuals, finding it frustrating. It does at times feel like a precursor to the much superior Diablo given the perspective and the fact that there’s just one, really long, dungeon in the game. It did receive quite a bit of praise when it was released in 1995 so maybe I should give it another shot?

beyond oasis

Visually, Beyond Oasis strikes me as Secret of Mana meets Dragon’s Lair.

29. Beyond Oasis – A top-down action RPG, this one reminds me of Secret of Mana. It has some distinctive visuals, but the animations can be a bit chunky. Not the greatest controls either as you’re most likely going to find little snakes you have to crouch to hit to be the biggest annoyance. It’s an interesting game, but it’s somewhat made worse for its RPG elements as dealing with NPCs just feels tedious and dry.

28. Super Fantasy Zone – a shooter, but one in which you have full control of the vehicle similar to TaleSpin on the NES. It’s a pleasing title to look at and an easy one to just pick up and play when you have a half hour to kill or something. I prefer this style to auto-scrolling, even if it’s still not the type of game I seek out. It was also never released on the Genesis in the US, but was released on the Virtual Console in 2008.

27. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse – Disney and Sega had a nice thing going for awhile. Castle of Illusion was among the first and an early entrant on the Genesis. It’s a rather benign platforming title that might be easier than you remember if you last played it as a little kid. That is unless your skills in 2D have diminished, then it might be harder than you remember.

26. Earthworm Jim – This game was inescapable when it came out as the marketing was obnoxious. It’s a flashy looking shooter/platform type that gets pretty hard pretty fast. I think it’s a bit style over substance, but it does have an addictive quality to it. I know it still  has a strong fanbase to this day, which is probably why the character is set to attempt a comeback on the Intellivision Amico.

25. Thunder Force III – This game is a totally serviceable shooter in the same vein as R-Type. Not my cup of tea, but plenty fine. This is the best game in the franchise as it switched to the horizontal format and even introduced some elements that would be considered forgiving, a rarity in this genre.

24. Wonderboy in Monster World – Yet another RPG, this one is a side-scrolling action one. It’s perfectly playable and even enjoyable still today. It’s also a little boring when it comes to the RPG elements which is probably why Wonderboy never took off like Zelda did. Either that or it was because his name is Wonderboy. I mostly rank it this high on the list because I find the aesthetics of the game quite charming.

dynamite headdy

Dynamite Headdy was a later arrival on the Genesis so it may have been overlooked by many.

23. Dynamite Headdy – There were so many mascot plaformer types in the 90s that it’s forgivable if you forgot about Dynamite Headdy. He’s basically a bug without a neck who can throw his head at enemies. Interesting concept, for sure, and a totally fine platforming title. Headdy handles well and the game is bright colorful, what more do you want?

22. Alisia Dragoon – It’s kind of like Castlevania with lightning bolts and dragons. Alisia Dragoon is a side scroller in which you have lightning powers and multiple dragon sidekicks to cycle through. Like Castlevania, there’s exploration elements and hidden places to find. It’s also pretty relentless about attacking from all sides making it imperative to use your powers judiciously so they have time to recharge and strike out in all directions. This is a game I’ll likely spend more time with should I get a Genesis Mini.

21. Sonic Spinball – It’s pinball, but with Sonic the Hedgehog instead of a ball. I’m actually not sure if this title is overrated or underrated. When it came out, a lot of people were a little irritated it wasn’t a proper new Sonic game, but it’s hard to deny it’s a rather fun experience. It won’t blow you away, but you’re unlikely to have a bad time at least.

20. Columns – A Sega classic, of sorts, Columns was the brick-falling game not named Tetris. It’s a match 3 type of puzzler and it’s fine. It won’t wow you, but it’s easy to get absorbed in. I’d much rather play this than something like Yoshi’s Cookie, though I’d prefer to play one other puzzler on this set over it.

19. Landstalkers – Another isometric action RPG, this one is just much more enjoyable than Light Crusader. It’s nicer on the eyes, and while the story isn’t anything special the world is far more interesting to explore. The perspective is still more annoying than fun, but this is a title in need of some added exposure so hopefully the Genesis Mini is a benefit for it.

monster world iv

Monster World IV features a colorful and cute design that I just find so charming.

18. Monster World IV – The last entrant in the Wonderboy series on the Genesis and a game previously unreleased on the console outside of Japan. It has been included on compilations in recent years, but this will be the first time US gamers will get to experience it on Sega hardware. It’s yet another side-scrolling RPG, but it has charm and looks great. A surprise, but worthy, inclusion for the Genesis Mini.

17. Mega Man:  The Wily Wars – This one is almost like cheating as it’s a compilation of the first three Mega Man titles ported to the Genesis with enhanced visuals. It should be awesome, but I’ve never liked how it feels compared with the NES games. It seems slower and more deliberate almost as if Capcom went too far in updating the visuals and instead negatively impacted the gameplay. Maybe that’s why it originally went unreleased, being only available on the Sega Channel. I’ll give it another shot, for sure, as it’s still Mega Man and those three games are classics in their own right.

16. World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck – I’m probably ranking this one too high, but it was a personal favorite of mine as a kid. It’s Castle of Illusion, but with two-players and much improved visuals. It’s a fun, breezy, platformer that should be beatable for even those who have let their skills diminish over the years. It just might take some practice.

sonic 1 main

Sonic’s gameplay is somewhat divisive, but what isn’t is the impact he had on Sega and video games as a whole in the 90s.

15. Sonic the Hedgehog – Sega’s first real answer to Mario, you either love it or you don’t. The game is a constant battle with the urge to travel at top speed, because once achieved, you open Sonic up to a world of hurt in the form of spike traps and death pits. It’s a game of trial and error, and had it not been a success back in the 90s we might not even be here having this conversation. Still very playable, just not the best Sonic title any longer.

14. Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition – It’s the arcade classic now on the Genesis. This is about as competent a fighter as you’re going to find, it’s just hard to get excited about playing it in 2019. The 3-button controller is not the ideal way to experience Street Fighter, but it’s competent at least. It’s still Street Fighter II though, which is a nice floor to have.

13. Road Rash II – The motorcycle racer that was a staple on the Genesis, until it wasn’t. This game was largely popular amongst my friends because you could attack other racers, but even absent that it was still a damn good time and a fun racer. I’m a bit surprised it’s the only racer on this set though, but I’m not sure Outrun has aged all that well and Virtua Racing is probably too hard to emulate.

12. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine – Another stacking puzzle game, this is just Puyo Puyo but with a Sonic skin. Specifically, it’s done in the style of the cartoon Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s the rare puzzler that’s better with two players. Probably the only puzzle game I prefer to it is Puzzle Fighter, which isn’t surprising since they’re pretty similar. Definitely check this one out if you never have.

11. Contra:  Hard Corps – The venerable Contra series on the Genesis. Some Contra fans cite this as their favorite entry in the series. I’m no Contra expert, so don’t ask me. It’s a fun and challenging shooter though. Too hard for me, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Have fun using save states on this one.

strider

Strider is Capcom’s forgotten hit franchise. Its visuals are a tad dated as this was an early Genesis title, but its gameplay is not.

10. Strider – This felt like Capcom’s answer to Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. Strider is a bit more vertical and the main character Hiryu has a lot of weapons at his disposal. Strider controls well and offers plenty of action, a good one to get lost in especially since the challenging difficulty will keep you busy.

9. Vectorman – Speaking of hard games, here’s another. Vectorman is a shooter/platformer with some gimmicky stuff as well as the titular character can change form. Visually distinctive, Vectorman is a game I enjoy despite the fact that I suck at it. Maybe I just need more practice. I’ll probably play this one a few times and struggle to make it to level 3.

8. Shinobi III – A challenging platformer, but one more deliberately paced. I’ve always preferred Shinobi to Ninja Gaiden or Strider because of that pacing. It’s easier to plot out an attack and feel out a boss fight. It’s also still hard, but often fair. Smart move by Sega to go with the third entry over the other two as this one has always felt like the most balanced entry in the series.

7. Phantasy Star IV – A more traditional JRPG, this series is basically Sega’s Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. I’m a bit surprised they opted to go with IV over the more popular II, but either one is fine. I wish it looked and sounded better, but it’s strangely addicting thanks to its combat system and I look forward to playing through it.

toejam_and_earl wiener

The only game brave enough to refer to its characters as wieners.

6. Toejam & Earl – Too high? Possibly. This game is just too weird not to love and represents the oddball nature of the Genesis so well. You practically have to play it with two players, but the journey to piece together the spaceship of a couple lost aliens is certainly memorable and humorous. This is also the rare game where the power-ups feel more like a curse as they make it so hard to control the characters. This is definitely the go-to game when a buddy stops over. Maybe now I can finally beat it?

5. Gunstar Heroes – A more forgiving run and gun game than Contra or SNK’s Metal Slug. It’s also faster and has its own distinct visual style. This is routinely cited by many as one of the best games on the Genesis so it was a must-include for Sega. It’s surprising that this series hasn’t been able to live on as a modern-looking version would be amazing. We’ll just have to settle for this release, I guess.

4. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – It’s like the first game, only everything is better. Maybe you want to say the soundtrack is better on the original – that’s fine. Every level here though is probably superior to every level in the first game. The inclusion of Tails technically makes it two-player, but no one has fun controlling Tails. He’s the original “give this guy to your little brother/sister” character as he can’t die and has no control over what is happening on screen. Which is why if I play any game with one of my kids it will be this one.

streets 2 uppercut

Arguably the best brawler ever created, it’s amazing that Streets of Rage 2 has maintained a stranglehold on that title for so many years.

3. Streets of Rage 2 – Considered by many to be the best brawler ever created. Even better than Final Fight or Double Dragon II. Streets of Rage 2 stretches the genre about as far as it can go. It has a surprisingly deep combat system and it looks great as well. So many games have attempted to rip it off, and none have come all that close.

2. Shining Force – If Phantasy Star was Sega’s answer to Dragon Quest, then Shining Force was its answer to Fire Emblem. Shining Force is a criminally under-appreciated strategy RPG. Maybe we just didn’t have the attention span for it back in the day, which explains why Nintendo never bothered with Fire Emblem until much later, but I never knew anyone who talked about this franchise. It’s great though, but I’m surprised Sega went with the original over the better sequel. It’s not a big deal though. If you don’t like this style of gameplay, then Shining Force won’t win you over. I’m a bit of a junkie for this stuff though, hence the placement here.

bloodlines 3

Bloodlines was sort of dismissed upon arrival, maybe due to Castlevania fatigue, but it’s one of the best games in the long-running franchise.

1. Castlevania:  Bloodlines – The secret best 16-bit Castlevania? A lot of praise gets tossed at Super Castlevania IV, but Bloodlines is the superior game. It returns the player’s sprite to a more diminutive size giving the game more space. It features tried and true Castlevania gameplay and a great soundtrack as well. Like a lot of games on this console, it wasn’t appreciated as much as it should have been at the time, but at least there’s time to rectify that. This is a fabulous game on the Genesis, and if you love Super Castlevania IV but haven’t played this one much or at all then now is as good a time as any to rectify that.

That’s my opinion of the Genesis Mini’s software. It’s a great collection of games and the sheer amount likely pushes this one ahead of the SNES Classic in terms of value. What remains to be seen is if Sega can deliver on the quality, and while I’m fairly confident the company can, it’s hardly a sure thing. Performing this exercise has, more or less, convinced me to get one myself. And thankfully, it looks like the Genesis Mini will be a lot easier to come by than either of Nintendo’s offerings initially were. And if you think we’re done with mini consoles, well you are mistaken. Konami just announced a TurboGrafx-16 Mini so there’s that to look forward to. And the specter of a Nintendo 64 Classic will continue to loom large over the market until it’s either released or we all collectively decide to believe Nintendo that it isn’t coming.


Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars – “The Search for Bruce”

img_3598Episode Number:  8

Original Air Date:  October 27, 1991

Directed by:  Karen Peterson

Written by:  Richard Merwin

First Appearance:  None

After several episodes that basically exist on their own, we have another episode that refers back to the events of the first one. This was an episode I was waiting for as a kid, though I obviously didn’t know if it would happen or not. Back in episode one, an attack by the Toads caused a malfunction with the proton accelerator of the Righteous Indignation. That malfunction claimed the life of chief engineer Bruce, who we would come to find out is the older brother of Bruiser who would join the crew in the next episode. Bruce’s demise was very much a cartoon one, where rather than actually die he was sucked into the photon accelerator itself. This had been telegraphed by Bruce mentioning the thing partially existed in another dimension. At the time, it was unknown what happened to him. Was he basically sucked into a black hole, which would kill him? Blinky remarked he had either gone off to another dimension or was indeed dead, but answers would have to wait.

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The band is back together in this one. Sort of.

The “death” of Bruce very much caught my attention as a young viewer. Prior to that event I had never seen a character die in a cartoon show. My only experience with death had been Bambi’s mother. Had I been a Transformers fan I probably would have seen the death of Optimus Prime in the Transformers movie, but for whatever reason that franchise never got its claws in me so I didn’t have that shared, traumatic, experience with many of my peers. Instead I had Bruce, and not being accustomed to seeing death in a show I held out hope he’d come back. Him being taken away like that added intrigue to the character. He didn’t really do much in that premiere episode so it wasn’t as if I had any attachment to him. Just the act of him being taken away was enough to create an attachment.

This episode is basically the return of Bruce, but in an unconventional sense. Still, considering this is the first time the baboon brothers will share screen time, this episode has the potential to be the most captivating one yet. This show hasn’t really played up the mushy stuff, as Dead-Eye would call it, and this is a chance to do so. How will Bruiser react to seeing his brother again? And what role will the Toads play in all of it?

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Bucky’s weird sideburns make drawing him at this angle pretty awkward.

The episode opens with the heroes in a familiar situation:  under heavy Toad pursuit. To try and shake the numerous Double Bubbles on their tail, Bucky pulls a Han Solo and steers the Righteous Indignation into an asteroid field. Dead-Eye then, laughing maniacally all the while, makes it tougher on their pursuers by blasting as many asteroids as he can sending debris flying past them. Numerous Toad Double Bubbles meet their end at the hands of the asteroid belt and interestingly not a single ejection is seen. Bucky’s fancy flying is taking a toll on the engines as Blinky gets knocked around, but they still have enough power for a hyper space jump. As they exit the asteroids and ready the warp drive, one of the Double Bubbles fires a tracking device. One of the claws rockets forward and is able to attach itself to the rear of the Righteous Indignation just before it enters hyper space.

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Someone needs to give Blinky a gun.

The crew gathers in the cockpit to celebrate another successful escape from Toad forces. All except Blinky, who is still down in the engine room. Suddenly, a trio of Storm Troopers materialize right inside in the engine room! Blinky tries to run, but ends up in the clutches of the trio as they bang his head against the floor. During which, he adds another new catchphrase to go along with “Calamity and woe,” and that’s “Misery and wretchedness.” He is able to alert the others via what is apparently an intercom system, but I think someone missed the note because it just looks like a wall. The others race down there and Bruiser is particularly agitated to find Toads beating up on his little buddy. The Storm Troopers do what Storm Troopers often do and attempt to flee in panic.

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The Toads actually have a plan for once.

As the Toads back off, they demonstrate what terrible shots they are by failing to hit Bruiser with their gun-fire. As Bruiser closes in, another Toad calls out from above to Bucky. Three more apparently appeared in the cockpit and they have Jenny. One tells Bucky to order Bruiser to back-off, which is when Bruce appears. He’s dressed in some new armor with a primitive do-it-yourself vibe. Most curious though is that he appears to be intangible, real ghost-like. Bucky and Dead-Eye can hardly believe their eyes, but Bruce speaks and tells him not to worry.

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The latest in Toad technology.

On a metallic-looking moon not unlike the Toad home world, a strange device is in operation. Toad scientists man the controls while worker toads turn a large device in the center of the room that is apparently generating the power. It’s a transport device, and four more Storm Troopers are being readied in it. Suddenly, Bruce appears and his mere presence causes the Toads present to recoil in fear. He orders the scientists to “rip out them wires,” and they do as they’re told, causing all of the Toad forces on the Righteous Indignation to vanish.

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Fancy seeing you here, Bruce.

Bucky and the others are left puzzled by what just happened, but right now they need to get working on repairs. Jenny calls Willy, and we’re spared a scene of her interrupting him doing something menial in his world. His door just appears immediately and he comes aboard to help out. Meanwhile, the Air Marshall drags some white-coated scientists back to the scene of the ghost baboon demanding they get back to work. Bruce appears and everyone panics once more, including the Air Marshall who hides under a command console. Komplex then appears on a giant monitor and zaps the Air Marshall’s hiding placing with an electric bolt. The Air Marshall stumbles out with tales of ghost baboons and Komplex responds that it’s aware of this supposed ghost before saying there may be a way to utilize this unexpected development to their advantage. Bruce is shown looking on.

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Air Marshall is often incompetent, but at least in this episode his scenes are genuinely amusing.

On the Righteous Indignation, everyone is working on repairs while Jenny pilots the ship. She radios down to Bucky that a priority message from an unknown sender is trying to contact them. He instructs her to accept and heads for a monitor. On the other end is Bruce, only he doesn’t look like a ghost this time. he provides instructions on where he can be found. Bruiser is naturally overjoyed to see his “brudder,” but before they can get too excited the ghost version of Bruce appears once again. He warns them not to follow the instructions they just got, but before he can say more he’s practically mauled by his excited little brother causing both of them to disappear. This just further confuses Bucky, and citing no other lead to go off of, he decides to head to the obvious trap the fake Bruce provided.

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Bucky seems to love traps.

They head for Quadrant 15, and wouldn’t you know, the Righteous Indignation winds up surrounded by Toads. Quadrant 15 happens to be where the moon containing this new Toad device, the matter transporter, is located and for some reason Bucky doesn’t find the giant structure protruding from it curious. On that very moon, the Air Marshall is returning back to the scene of the ghost baboon attack very nervously. There’s no one around and he yells out to any ghost baboons hiding in there that he has Bucky O’Hare in a trap and if he doesn’t want him destroyed he better stop haunting the machinery. Bruce then appears, causing the Air Marshall to freak out and hight-tail it out of there. As he spins and runs, he collides with Bruiser practically knocking himself out. Bruiser and Bruce then agree they need to go help Bucky and the others.

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This episode does drive home how overpowered the berserker baboons are. Bruce can’t even touch them, he’s a living hologram, but that will be enough to get them to flee.

On an airstrip, Bruce and Bruiser spy two patrolmen and a bunch of Double Bubbles. When the patrolmen see the two baboons, they drop their rifles (blue ones instead of the customary hot pink) and run. One trooper basically runs across a Double Bubble so either it was part of the background and they messed up or they actually overlapped the running Toad over the wrong cell when animating it. Anyway, Bruce and Bruiser hop into a Double Bubble and take off.

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Bruce at home on Baboon Heaven.

While traveling to the action, Bruiser asks Bruce where he’s been this whole time. Bruce then explains that the photon accelerator blasted him across the Aniverse to a strange planet he describes as Baboon Heaven. The area appears to be inhabited by small monkeys of normal monkey intelligence. There’s a village though, and Bruce settled there and started working on a matter transmitter of his own. While trying to get it working, the Toads built their own, and in a similar case to what happened with Willy’s photon accelerator the activation of the Toad one somehow interfered with Bruce’s. It warped him to their location, but in this weird ghost-like form. Bruce says he thinks he’s basically trapped between worlds, which only further enrages his little brother.

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They appear to be having some problems.

The two then come upon the Righteous Indignation which is being attacked by free-floating Storm Troopers in space suits. The matter transporter is apparently back up and running as more keep phasing in and out. Some try getting the jump on Bucky in the cockpit, but it doesn’t work too well. The Air Marshall is shown getting angry every time a Storm Trooper gets kicked back to them, and a Toad Tech says the machine is still a work-in-progress, not that Air Marshall cares.

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There’s a tag team you don’t want to mess with.

Bruiser and Bruce eject from the Double Bubble to go cause some trouble. Bruiser is actually armed this time, but Bruce advises that he not fire at the Righteous Indignation for obvious reasons. Bruce then goes around scaring toads, which is pretty effective, while Bruiser grabs and crushes them. He even squeezes the head of one hard enough to crack his space helmet.

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Even with the ability to appear wherever they want out of nothing, the Air Marshall’s forces still fail over and over.

With his forces driven back, the Air Marshall is shown once again to be quite irritated. Frix and Frax are able to get in some one-liners as the Air Marshall rants and raves about hating losing. Aboard the Righteous Indignation, Bruce directs Bucky to head for that moon as it’s where the matter transporter is operating from. He reasons they need to destroy it to put an end to this madness. Strangely, while they were fighting all around the ship itself no one noticed the tracking device which must be working in tandem with the matter transporter.

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That certainly looks inviting.

Bucky takes the ship down to the moon and the base on it is rather colossal. They land amid heavy fire from Storm Troopers and race inside the factory. There they encounter another old friend, the Void Droid, and the Toads have made one important upgrade. Willy’s water pistol no longer works, and while the others try to think of a way past this thing, Jenny goes off on her own. She drops through a grate in the floor and is able to run under the robot and emerge behind it. From there she jumps on it and uses her psychic powers to destroy it. No one else was able to see her do this and they just think the thing exploded or something.

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Jenny proving to be quite resourceful.

A discouraged Air Marshall is not happy to see the force heading for him on the monitors. Knowing that his Storm Troopers are useless thanks to the presence of the two baboons, he decides it’s time for him to go. As he hops onto the transporter, Frix and Frax go running after him. He tells them to back off as their last minute addition apparently will result in unexpected consequences, but they don’t care as the trio vanish.

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Air Marshall is always willing to run.

With the Void Droid destroyed, Bucky takes the baboons with him into the main room where the matter transporter is operating from. Bruce then instructs Bucky to destroy the matter transporter so that the Toads can no longer make use of it. As he prepares to do so, Bruiser interjects to lodge a protest. He’s apparently not as dim as he appears since he’s able to figure out on his own that it’s the Toad machine keeping Bruce there with him. He doesn’t want to see his brother fade away, but Bruce dismisses his concerns because they need to take it out. Bucky agrees, but before he can do anything stray enemy fire from the corridor hits a pipe above his head causing it to dislodge and come crashing down on Bucky.

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Bruce advising his brother to do the right thing.

With Bucky rendered unconscious, and Bruce intangible, it falls on Bruiser to do the right thing and destroy the matter transporter. He doesn’t want to do it, but relents when Bruce insists. He smashes the thing up quite well and Bruce lavishes praise upon his little brother for doing so. As the two do their little celebratory dance, Bruce starts to fade away. Before he disappears he tells his brother not to be sad and he’ll come back some day. Losing his brother for the second time goes over about as well with the berserker baboon as you would expect. An irate Bruiser stomps off into the corridor after the Storm Troopers firing at them and apparently gets ahold of them off-screen. Helmets and even one Toad jaw come comically flying into view as a now conscious Bucky and Jenny look on, not with a comical reaction, but a more sympathetic one.

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For someone advising another to not be sad, he sure looks sad.

Air Marshall, along with the duo of Frix and Frax, are on some mysterious planet all alone. The twins bemoan the absence of any kind of swamp nearby as the surface of this planet is nothing but red rock. Air Marshall stomps around in a rage that soon turns to tears. He pounds the ground and has himself a good cry. Maybe now he’ll be used to losing.

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Bruiser taking his anger out on some Storm Troopers. That’s either a head or a helmet with an eyeball left behind. No wonder why most of the carnage is off-screen.

Aboard the Righteous Indignation, a sullen Bruiser is seated beside Blinky. Blinky tries to cheer up the baboon with a video he was able to capture of Bruce’s goodbye to his brother. It does help some, and Bruiser thanks him while hoping his brother is okay. On the planet dubbed Baboon Heaven, Bruce is indeed fine as a little monkey brings him some more purple bananas. He insists they taste great despite the odd color and resumes work on his own matter transporter. He’s optimistic that he’ll one day have it working. Back on the Righteous Indignation, everyone resumes assuring Bruiser that everything will be okay. He’s receptive to their words while remarking his mother would be so proud of Bruce, and Bucky reminds him she’d think the same of him. Dead-Eye then chimes in from his guns in a defeated tone. He wants to know when they can cut out this mushy stuff and go back to croaking toads taking us out on a bit of a joke.

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Blinky managed to capture a Kodak moment for Bruiser.

“The Search for Bruce” is a satisfying follow-up to the very first episode. Bruce’s reappearance is a bit confusing, but a lot of the lore in this show is. It’s not too foreign a concept for kids raised on comic books though and it wasn’t surprising to find out that Bruce is indeed all right following the events of the first episode. I suppose the show leaves open though what did happen to him. After all, Bruce does refer to his new home as Baboon Heaven. Maybe he is dead and found a way to return to the world of the living briefly? I don’t think that’s the intent, but it is an interesting thing to ponder.

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Bruce, back to work with purple banana in hand.

Putting the focus of the episode on the relationship of the baboon brothers is fitting and the right choice. Perhaps fearing it would get too heavy, a lot of the sequences involving the Toads are played for laughs leading up to the climax. Both Bruiser and Bruce are voiced by Dale Wilson and they essentially sound the same. Their tendency to refer to each other simply as “brother” certainly conjured memories of 80s wrestling promos for me, particularly Hogan and the Macho Man. They both have a tendency to say “banana oil” when irritated by something, and they basically relate everything back to bananas. It gets a little annoying by the episode’s end.

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It’s rather sweet seeing everyone try to cheer up old Bruiser.

The emotional hook is handled pretty well. It’s assumed that something will happen to keep Bruce away in the end, and putting his dismissal in the hands of his brother works well to add drama to the scene. If Bucky did it then it would seem less heart-breaking. Bucky and Jenny looking on with sadness as Bruiser rampages is a simple way to convey the emotion of the scene, and the episode left enough time at the end to let it all sink in with the characters and the viewer. Dead-Eye’s closing remarks are basically an acknowledgement that shows with this target audience don’t often stick with the “mushy stuff” this long and is an appropriate way to try to sneak in a quick moment of levity to close things out.

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And lets not forget about what happened to these three. Maybe Komplex will leave them there awhile.

Visually, this episode is a disappointment. It almost seems like another team at AKOM worked on it because both Jenny and Dead-Eye sport different guns than we’re used to seeing. They’re very generic and plain looking. There’s also the color switch on the Toad weaponry from pink to blue. In general, the animation is also exceptionally poor. It’s very jittery and looks like they were trying to save money by reducing the amount of frames they typically illustrate. Some of the infiltration sequence is downright ugly as is Bruiser and Bruce’s attack on the Toads who were pestering the Righteous Indignation. There are some nice lighting effects with the teleportation animation and the matter transporter itself, but all in all this might be the worst looking episode so far. Hopefully it’s not indicative of what’s to come. There are some loose ends created by the plot too as they never address the Toad tracking device affixed to the Righteous Indignation nor is it explained how Komplex was able to create a “Bruce” for the fake video. There’s a lot to cram into this episode so I guess they just didn’t have the time for any of that, not that it’s an excuse.

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It was nice seeing these two get to pair-up. Had this show continued, I’m sure we would have seen more from Bruce.

“The Search for Bruce” is the most emotionally ambitious episode of the show thus far, and likely will remain that way given the subject matter. We won’t hear from Bruce again, which isn’t a surprise considering the short season. Had there been another season I’m guessing Bruce would have returned in some form. This episode is actually pretty well-written with Bucky getting some clever lines and good comedy writing with the Air Marshall. The emotional stuff is also handled well and I genuinely felt sympathy for Bruiser. It probably won’t make you cry or anything, but I found it actually more effective than the death of Morph from X-Men. If it weren’t for the mostly horrendous animation here, this might have been the best episode yet, but instead it may have to settle for second or third best when all is said and done.

 


The Chronological Donald Duck Volume 4

donald vol 4For the third year in a row, we’re marking the birthday of Donald Duck with a post about The Walt Disney Treasures releases baring his name. Today is Donald Duck’s 85h birthday dating back to June 9, 1934 when the theatrical short The Wise Little Hen was released to theaters. Donald may not be the star today that he was back in the 40s, but he’s still one of the most recognizable cartoon characters around the world and it’s hard to imagine that changing anytime soon.

On November 11, 2008 Disney released the final edition of The Chronological Donald Duck. Allegedly, the company was going to stop at Volume 3, but enough fans made their voices heard and Disney finished off the series in proper fashion. I’m not sure why Disney would have stopped before this. Certainly, the amount of cartoons remaining may have been less celebrated than those on Volumes 2 and 3, but there were still enough remaining that Disney should have basically felt obligated to finish. Then again, the company is somewhat famous for incomplete releases as they just now finished releasing all of the episodes to the show DuckTales.

Volume 4 of The Chronological Donald Duck was limited to 39,500 copies. The original pressing also contained an error with one short, Bee on Guard, in which about five seconds were missing. Disney issued replacement discs, which probably won’t help you out in 2019 if you go seeking a set on the after market. Over 39k being issued seems like a lot for what is probably a niche release, but it’s a small enough printing that this volume is hardest to acquire. It routinely sells for well over $100 and I wonder if some of its scarcity is due to Disney collectors buying them when they first came out with the intention of sitting on them. With Disney+ on the way this fall, maybe prices will start to come down if these shorts wind up there, but for now this set is all we have if we want to see late era Donald Duck from the 1950s.

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Donald was basically the only character at Disney still getting the short treatment, which included a poster for every release. If I were a rich man I’d be a collector of these posters. They’re beautiful.

If you’re a Donald Duck fan and you don’t already have this set, then you’re probably looking at those after market prices and wondering if you should bite the bullet and grab a set. I’ll do my best in this post to help you make an informed decision, though it should be said if you’re staring at an eBay listing for $250 then there is probably no way a collection of old cartoons could live up to that price point (unless you’re quite wealthy and that kind of price tag is meaningless to you). I’ll say upfront that if all four volumes were readily available at retail then this set would be the least desirable, though certainly still worth the MSRP.

The cartoons in Volume 4 span almost the entirety of the 1950s beginning in 1951 with Dude Duck. It also contains the educational Donald shorts from 1959 and 1961. In addition, there are also 10 Mickey Mouseworks shorts starring Donald Duck from 1999-2000 included as bonus features. They’re not as good as the classics, but still a welcomed edition. Some of the shorts on this set are quite popular and probably the most popular is Trick or Treat, the 1952 short featuring Donald playing a trick on his nephews at Halloween rather than treating which invokes the wrath of the witch Hazel (voiced by the legendary June Foray). There are also encounters with Chip and Dale to be found here, Donald’s best foils.

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Trick or Treat is probably the most famous short from this collection.

Chip and Dale do some heavy lifting, but they aren’t the only foils who show up. The set begins with Donald opposite a reluctant horse when he visits the Bar None Ranch (maybe that’s where Nickelodeon’s Hey Dude got the idea) in Dude Duck. Humphrey Bear makes his second ever appearance in the short Rugged Bear in which he hides from hunters in Donald’s cabin and disguises himself as a bear skin rug. It’s good fun to see Donald unwittingly interacting with a bear. Humphrey also returns in Grin and Bear It where he’s basically a precursor to Yogi Bear as he seeks to steal Donald’s food. He’ll make a few more appearances as well making the second disc feel like The Humphrey Disc. There’s also a one-off adversary in The Flying Squirrel in which Donald is victimized once more by a rodent, only now this one can fly! Louie the Mountain Lion also returns in Donald’s first exposure to CinemaScope in Grand Canyonscope. Obviously, the cartoon wanted to take advantage of the aspect ratio by setting it at the Grand Canyon, but it’s still a worthwhile short to take in, especially since it actually includes Donald Duck basically destroying a national treasure.

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Grand Canyonscope also featured a new widescreen intro for Donald.

In addition to the usual, there are also some experimental shorts on this set. Probably the most entertaining is Donald’s Diary in which a narration (performed by Leslie Denison) of Donald’s life via his diary accompanies the visuals of Donald falling in love with Daisy and then having his life ruined by her. It livens up the format, though some of the humor may be a bit outdated, I still had fun with it, nonetheless. And then there are the two How to Have An Accident shorts, one being set in the home and the other at work. They’re hosted by a character named Fate and they’re basically slapstick cautionary tales imparting some pretty basic advice. I’m surprised Donald was called on to star in these as it feels more like a Goofy concept, but Donald is pretty entertaining when he’s getting hurt. The second of these shorts, How to Have An Accident at Work, is confined to the Vault section due to an offensive Chinese impression, but by Volume 4 the disclaimers have grown less intrusive.

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No Hunting features a rather hard to miss cameo.

Speaking of the Vault, there are only four additional shorts deemed “worthy” of the section. Uncle Donald’s Ants landed in the section due to an insensitive portrayal of Indigenous Africans via some ant characters. A couple of others are apparently there due to violent imagery. The previously mentioned Rugged Bear is a vaulted cartoon probably due to some uncomfortable gunplay and Donald “mowing” Humphrey with a lawnmower. No Hunting features more gunplay, though it’s a short that’s mostly known for featuring a cameo by Bambi and his mother. Spare the Rod also contains some characters called Pygmy Cannibals that are certainly offensive by today’s standards though also commonplace in media from the era. I would say, in general, the vaulted cartoons on this set are the least offensive we’ve seen, but I also grew up seeing worse on television as a kid.

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Bugs Bunny wasn’t the only one doing drag in the 50s.

This set also includes Donald’s brief foray into the world of “edutainment.” Depending on your age, you may have even seen some of these in school, in particular Donald in Mathmagic Land. The other two are Donald and the Wheel and The Litterbug. None are particularly entertaining, but worth a watch for the hell of it, I suppose. I can’t really attest to the educational value of them, but I suppose you could do worse. Surprisingly, Disney elected not to include Scrooge McDuck and Money which I actually would have liked to have seen here for the simple reason it was Scrooge McDuck’s first appearance outside of the opening credits to The Mickey Mouse Club show.  Donald also had other educational cartoons not featured, but I can’t say it’s a great loss. Sure, as a completionist, I’d have liked to have seen Donald’s Fire Survival Plan and Steel and America, but I can’t honestly say I miss them.

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When Disney started making new shorts for television in the late 90s of course Donald got to star again!

Lastly, we have the 10 shorts from the Mickey Mouseworks line of the late 90s and 2000s. I do enjoy the fact that Disney tried to resurrect the cartoon short and these characters specifically, but there’s definitely something missing. They don’t look as good as the old cartoons, despite being more recent, though they’re hardly ugly or anything. The characters often look and animate just fine, it’s the backgrounds that tend to be sparse and flat. Still, I’m glad someone like Tony Anselmo got the chance to voice Donald in proper shorts after voicing the character for so long. Daisy and the nephews get to appear as well and there are a handful of good gags, and a lot of recycled material. They’re worth watching, even more so than the educational stuff, but you’ll likely prefer the older cartoons to these.

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The Mouseworks shorts look pretty good for what they were, late 90s television animation.

The Mouseworks cartoons comprise the bulk of the special features. Leonard Maltin and Jerry Beck provide audio commentary on two shorts and it’s another thing worth a listen at least once. There’s also a walkthrough hosted by Eric Goldberg of an unproduced Donald Duck storyboard from 1946 called Trouble Shooters and it actually looks like we missed out on a pretty good cartoon. Lastly, there’s a little feature on Donald Duck’s foray into the world of comics. It only really covers the comics of the era these shorts are from and into the 60s, so Don Rosa fans might be let down. It’s a suitable overview though.

It was at this point that Donald Duck was showing some age. In particular, the shorts starring Chip and Dale can get a bit too familiar. There are three shorts here in which the plot is basically Chip and Dale getting involved in some miniature hobby of Donald’s:  a small house and village in Out of Scale, a miniature airplane in Test Pilot Donald, and a miniature sailboat in Chips Ahoy. Individually, they’re all pretty good but if you’re binging these (and they were never created with that idea in mind, to be fair) then you may experience a feeling of diminishing returns. There also appears to be a desire to shake things up here and there. In Lucky Number, for instance, the nephews appear to be teenaged as they are able to drive a car. Then, of course, there was also gimmicky stuff like the Cinemascope debut and even a 3D cartoon, Working for Peanuts, which is understandably not presented in 3D on the set.

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Humphrey Bear and Donald are a somewhat forgotten, but quite entertaining, pairing.

Volume 4 of The Chronological Donald Duck is a good finale for the character. There are some great shorts on this set, some that should be celebrated more than they are, and they are definitely worth owning if you’re a fan of Donald Duck or a fan of animation in general. Sure, some of the gags presented here are a bit too familiar and may have been done better in a previous short, but they’re still entertaining. The quality in the production is also still there. These may not be the very best looking Donald or Disney shorts, but they still hold up as a wonderful example of the type of animation we’ve lost. I don’t know what a fair price is for this set and thankfully I’ve owned it long enough at this point that I can’t remember what I personally paid for it. I don’t think I’d ever pay upwards of $200 for it, but I’d probably pay half that and even a bit more because I’m such an enthusiastic fan of Donald Duck. If you’re more of a casual fan then feel free to ignore this set. Get Volume 2 which is the cheapest and if you really want more after watching all of the cartoons on that one then you’ll have a better idea of what you’re willing to pay. And like a lot of classic Disney shorts, if you really just want to watch them they’re not hard to find streaming for free online.

The Shorts

1951

  • Dude Duck
  • Corn Chips
  • Test Pilot Donald
  • Lucky Number
  • Out of Scale
  • Bee on Guard

1952

  • Donald Applecore
  • Let’s Stick Together
  • Trick or Treat

1953

  • Don’s Fountain of Youth
  • The New Neighbor
  • Working for Peanuts
  • Canvas Back Duck

1954

  • Donald’s Diary
  • Dragon Around
  • Grin and Bear It
  • The Flying Squirrel
  • Grand Canyonscope

1955

  • Bearly Asleep
  • Beezy Bear
  • Up a Tree

1956

  • Chips Ahoy
  • How to Have an Accident In the Home

1959

  • Donald in Mathmagic Land

1961

  • Donald and the Wheel
  • The Litterbug

The Vault

  • Uncle Donald’s Ants (1952)
  • Rugged Bear (1953)
  • Spare the Road (1954)
  • No Hunting (1955)
  • How to Have An Accident at Work (1959)

Mickey Mouseworks (1999-2000)

  • Bird Brained Donald
  • Donald and the Big Nut
  • Donald’s Charmed Date
  • Donald’s Dinner Date
  • Donald’s Failed Fourth
  • Donald’s Rocket Ruckus
  • Donald’s Shell Shots
  • Donald’s Valentine Dollar
  • Music Store Donald
  • Survival of the Woodchucks