Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero

Batman_&_Mr._Freeze_SubZeroOriginal Release Date:  March 17, 1998

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Boyd Kirkland and Randy Rogel

Animation:  Dong Yang Animation Co., Koko Enterprises Co., LTD.

Running Time:  67 minutes

I feel like we can’t move onto The New Batman Adventures without first talking about Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero. This direct to video feature is essentially the true finale to the original run of Batman:  The Animated Series. It’s existence can be owed to the fact that Warner Bros. wanted to do a tie-in film with the upcoming feature film Batman and Robin which featured Mr. Freeze as the main antagonist. This was supposed to be released alongside that, but since that film was so poorly received it was held back until March of 1998. This complicates things as by that time The New Batman Adventures was airing on Kids WB and had even aired a Mr. Freeze episode that follows the events of this story. It was released to video, which in 1998 meant VHS, and also aired on Kids WB. I could only find one release date listed online so I’m not sure when the television premiere took place (it could have been the same day), but that’s how I first saw this one.

freeze and bears

Mr. Freeze has returned, and he brought polar bears this time.

Mr. Freeze was first introduced to the animated viewing audience via “Heart of Ice” which first aired in 1992 as part of the show’s first season. It was so successful at rebooting the previously campy Mr. Freeze into an A-tier villain that the writers were reluctant to return to the character out of fear that whatever they came up with couldn’t possibly match “Heart of Ice.” Eventually, they relented and Mr. Freeze appeared in the penultimate episode “Deep Freeze” in which he partnered with Walt Disney Grant Walker in an evil scheme, but eventually turned and become a reluctant hero in the end. The episode basically proved what the staff feared initially as it wasn’t nearly as good or on par with “Heart of Ice.” It’s not a bad episode, but hardly a highpoint for the series. As a result, SubZero feels like a second attempt at capturing the magic once again and perhaps the lengthened running time will help tell a worthy story.

For the film, most of the principal players from BTAS were able to return. In the director’s chair is Boyd Kirkland who directed many episodes in the series as well as the show’s other feature, Mask of the Phantasm. Kirkland also co-wrote the film with Randy Rogel, another individual who had several writing credits in the main series. The voice cast was also largely returned for this one including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Loren Lester as Robin, and Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze. The only notable change is Mary Kay Bergman taking over the role of Barbara Gordon for Melissa Gilbert. This would be Bergman’s only performance as Gordon as she would be voiced by Tara Strong in The New Batman Adventures. The other notable absences are Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, who were credited with this new version of Freeze. They were likely busy working on Superman and The New Batman Adventures during the development of the picture. Also missing is composer Shirley Walker who was replaced by Michael McCuistion, who had previously worked on some episodes of the show. He would go on to score 3 episodes of The New Batman Adventures as well as several more for other DC animated productions. Walker would also contribute to the sequel series.

gordons and dick

Barbara has a new voice actress, Mary Kay Bergman, and a new beau.

The film basically picks up where the series ended. Victor Fries has made a home for himself in the arctic alongside his still in stasis wife, Nora. He’s acquired a pair of polar bear companions as well as a twelve-year-old Inuit orphan named Koonak (Rahi Azizi). When an expedition by a US submarine disturbs their home and destroys the containment unit keeping Nora alive, Fries is forced to once again don his Mr. Freeze persona.

Nora cannot survive for long outside her containment unit which brings Freeze back to Gotham and in contact with an old colleague, a cryogenics expert by the name of Gregory Belson (George Dzundza). Belson just so happens to be in great financial distress as he tried to game the system with some insider trading in the futures market that didn’t pan out. He’s desperate for cash, and Freeze has access to a gold ore vein in the arctic. He needs Belson’s help to perform an operation for the only hope Nora has at survival is via an organ transplant. Unfortunately, she also has a rare blood type and no organs are available and are unlikely to become available in time, so they’ll need to harvest them from a living donor.

nora fries opening

Once again, it’s the welfare of Nora that motivates Freeze.

That’s where Barbara Gordon comes in. She’s the unlucky one who matches Nora’s rare blood type and is also of similar build. Mr. Freeze abducts her from a club while she is on a date with her new boyfriend:  Dick Grayson. It would seem Barbara got over her Bat-crush and settled on the Boy Wonder, though the film makes it seem like everyone is still keeping each other in the dark regarding alter-egos. Freeze, along with his two polar bear companions, takes Barbara to an abandoned offshore oil platform where the surgery will be performed against her will.

Most of the film involves the setup before transitioning to a focus on Batman and Robin’s detective work which will eventually force a showdown with Mr. Freeze. At a mere 67 minutes, the mystery of where Freeze took Gordon and what he wants with her isn’t lingered on for too long and there’s plenty of time saved for the climax on the oil rigging. It’s paced well and the movie moves along without feeling rushed. If anything is sacrificed, it’s the final confrontation at the end. Batman and Freeze really don’t have much of a confrontation, as circumstances force them to contend with a burning platform. It’s a similar setup to the episode “Deep Freeze” in that regard, but with smaller, more obvious, stakes.

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Batman and Robin have some detective work ahead of them, but at least Robin’s gloves are now the proper shade of green.

The film in large part feels like a referendum on “Deep Freeze.” If you recall, in that episode Freeze learns his wife is still alive and then immediately agrees to help a wealthy man destroy the planet to revive her. It was a pretty outlandish setup which is why Batman was able to convince Mr. Freeze to not go along with Walker’s plan. In this film, Nora’s life is on a timer and in order to save her Freeze merely has to sacrifice one woman he doesn’t even care about. While it would have been interesting to see how he would have responded had someone been able to reason with him that Nora would never want an innocent to die so she could live, that’s never broached and it’s conceivable to think Freeze would not be swayed. He’d likely rather Nora live and despise him than for her to die. Freeze’s desperation causes him to act impulsively throughout the picture, and his relationship with Belson gives him a plausible reason to return to Gotham in an effort to save his wife knowing it will likely put him in the crosshairs of The Batman.

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Belson is pretty much a slime ball.

In many ways, it’s Dr. Belson that ends up being the film’s ultimate villain. He’s described by others as a jerk and he’s essentially a criminal for engaging in insider trading. Had he been successful with his futures play he might have been caught. When Freeze first approaches him for aid the film teases he won’t go along with murder, but he’s mostly feigning his apprehension and just uses it to leverage more money out of his old colleague.

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Barbara may spend most of the film kidnapped, but she never stops fighting.

Barbara Gordon’s kidnapping may be the main plot device that gets this film rolling, but she’s hardly playing the role of damsel in distress. Her kidnapping is voluntary, as she doesn’t want Mr. Freeze to harm any of the patrons of the club she’s abducted from, especially Dick. She also tries to escape her confines more than once and realizes she has a sympathetic ear in Koonak. It would have been disappointing if the woman who is Batgirl just sat around and waited for Batman and Robin to save her, but Rogel and Kirkland know what they’re doing.

The film is visually quite nice and a noticeable cut above the television series. Dong Yang Animation, which animated most of season 2 and some of season 1, did the traditional spots with Koko Enterprises doing the CG. The colors are an obvious upgrade as Robin’s costume actually features two shades of green instead of that odd blue. The scenes on the flaming oil platform are especially spectacular and it’s obvious more care was put into this project as a whole. I also really like a spot at the beginning of the film where Fries emerges from the arctic waters. His body is coated in a thin layer of ice which cracks and breaks apart as he moves. The CG is used probably more often than I would like. It’s dated, but not woefully so. It’s a touch distracting in some of the chase sequences and with the Batwing, but it looks nice at the film’s onset with Fries swimming in the arctic amongst a swarm of CG salmon. The only real disappointment I have with the look of the picture is that it’s presented in 4:3 instead of 16:9. I assume that’s the aspect ratio it was created for since it was going to be broadcast on television, and since this was before the proliferation of 16:9 television sets, there was basically no need to develop for that if it was only ever going to be viewed on a TV set.

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I hope you didn’t get too attached to Koonak, because he’s not coming back.

This film is the final presentation of Batman and the other denizens of Gotham in this art style. For some characters, like Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon), this is their final appearance all together. Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) also has a cameo, but as a blonde now instead of her traditional red hair. It’s also the last appearance of Nora Fries and the only appearance for Koonak. I definitely miss this art style and the change for The New Batman Adventures is what kept me from getting into that series initially. When this surfaced on television it was like going back to an old friend.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is a worthy follow-up to “Heart of Ice.” Even with the benefit of triple the minutes, it’s still not quite as captivating as that episode and I think that’s largely due to the surprise that initial episode had going for it. This film at least takes the character of Mr. Freeze and gives him a reason to act like a villain once more. It’s surprising that Paul Dini and Bruce Timm weren’t involved, but maybe turning to the duo of Kirkland and Rogel meant the pressure of doing something worthwhile with the character was largely removed freeing them to explore him unencumbered. For both, this was their last contribution to Batman: The Animated Series and it’s a worthy note to go out on. Had this been a theatrically released venture we’d probably unfairly compare it with Mask of the Phantasm where it would come up short, but for a direct-to-video venture this is more than acceptable.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was originally released on VHS, but has since been released on DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s also streaming, if that’s your preference. The best way to view it, for my money, is via the Batman:  The Animated Series Blu-Ray set which includes this film as well as Mask of the Phantasm in one package alongside the entire television series.

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Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! or Baby’s First Pokémon

lets go pikachu boxI was four years old when I got my first video game. Like probably many individuals my age, that game was Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Prior to that, I do not know where my exposure to video games came from. Most likely it was via television commercials and older cousins, though i have no specific memories. I certainly was a consumer of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, but that arrived a year later. No matter, I was more or less hooked when I got my first game, and while games had a lot to compete with in my early years, eventually it became my number one hobby by the time I was 9 or 10.

This past April, my own son turned 4. It felt like a good time to properly introduce the boy to video games. Unlike me, he’s grown up with video games in his house since day one. Despite my rarely playing them when he’s awake, he’s still seen them and has always wanted to play them as well. And he has. Mostly he just plays Disney Infinity where he can run around in the Toy Box mode and is free to swap characters in and out. On occasion he also plays classic games as I’ve steered him towards old Sesame Street titles on the NES since they’re easy for him to understand and he learns something too. Sometimes he’ll want something else and he’ll struggle to make it more than a few screens in something like Rescue Rangers or The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, but he still insists he’s having fun and rarely wants to put the controller down.

lets go versions

Pokémon Let’s Go is available in four versions: Let’s Go, Pikachu!, Let’s Go, Eevee!, and versions of each that come with the Pokéball Plus controller.

Seeing his enthusiasm for video games made me want to find something he could play and succeed at. I also wanted it to be a shared experience as I’m not ready for him to go close himself off to the world and get lost in a video game. That’s how Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! ended up on my radar. My son had already been exposed to Pokémon at a young age. He knew who Pikachu was and had messed around on my Pokémon Go! app. I had no reservations about the material, but just needed to make sure it was a game we could enjoy together. After doing some research, I was convinced the title would work and for his fourth birthday my son got his very first video game.

My experience with Pokémon goes all the way back to 1998 when the original Red and Blue titles made their way to US shores. They were the games that finally convinced me to pick up a GameBoy and I ended up with both versions of the title, beating both more than once. It was a fun, addicting, light role-playing-game and I stuck with the franchise into the Gold and Silver era, but after that I was mostly done. I checked out Pokémon Pearl for the DS, but never finished it. After a few years on the market, I eventually grabbed Pokémon Y to see how the franchise had changed over the years and mostly enjoyed it. And I was a day one downloader of the Go! app and I still play it today. I was pretty confident I could navigate my son though Let’s Go, Pikachu! which is basically a remake of the original games with some of the elements from Pokémon Go! integrated.

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My son could probably play with virtual Pikachu for hours if I let him.

I opted to get the version of Let’s Go, Pikachu! that comes bundled with a Pokéball Plus controller, figuring my son would get a kick out of it. Getting it up and running was a tad tricky. Like most games now, Let’s Go, Pikachu! does not come with formal instructions and you basically have to wing it. This caused confusion when I initially booted it up with Pro controller in hand. The game won’t even recognize a Pro controller though because it wants you to play with just a single Joycon. After messing around, I figured that out and was taken to the controller select screen. It displays both Joycons, a docked Switch, and the Pokéball controller and you have to press a button on the controller you wish to use. I always go with the Right Joycon because it has a Home button on it. Had Game Freak just included a little message that said “Pro controller not supported” when I tried to use it that would have saved me some time.

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The Pokémon now appear on the screen. It’s a beautiful thing.

From there, I was further confused at how I could bring my son into the fold. I could not find options for 2 player, and when I would activate the Pokéball accessory it would de-activate my Joycon. Frustrated, I started the game and we went through all of the usual junk until you get to actually play. I don’t know how we ended up figuring it out, but in order to play with a second player they need to activate a controller while playing just by pressing a button, or in the case of the Pokéball, by shaking it. Then a second player, a gender-swapped version of the character you created, appears. When you encounter a wild Pokémon, two Pokéballs will appear and you can both throw to your heart’s content. In battle, the second player will deploy the Pokémon in the second position on your party screen effectively giving you two actions to your enemy’s one.

After finally figuring all of that out, things were mostly smooth. Let’s Go, Pikachu! is a 3D game that seems to share assets with Pokémon Go! It’s very much presented like modern Pokémon titles with the only differences being in how you interact with wild Pokémon. They now appear on the screen and you’re free to engage them or try to avoid them as you please removing random encounters. This has apparently been a controversial move in the Pokémon community as some prioritize the excitement of what wild Pokémon has been encountered. Personally, I never want to play another Pokémon title with random encounters again. Good riddance!

catching clefairy

Catching is just like in Go! only now you physically “throw” the ball. Landing the ball within the shrinking ring will earn you a bonus.

When you do come into contact with a wild Pokémon, you no longer battle them. This is where the Go! influence comes in as you now just throw Pokéballs until the creature is caught. And since this is Nintendo Switch, you literally make a throwing motion with the controller in hand to throw balls. It works fine, though I find the Pokéball Plus to be a tad more accurate. The rings from Go! are present as are the various items that can make catching a Pokémon easier. What’s gone is the curveball, but replacing it is the dual ball. My son and I didn’t even catch onto this until way late into our adventure, but if both players simultaneously hit a Pokémon with a ball then a special animation plays where the balls essentially combine into one. This makes the throw more likely to be successful and also adds extra experience to the encounter. That’s right. Catching Pokémon is now your primary method of accumulating experience so your Pokémon level-up and become stronger. Thankfully, since you’ll be catching a lot of Pokémon there is no longer a computer storage system. You simply possess a box that can store your extra Pokémon and you can access it at anytime.

Charizard battle

Battles are largely unchanged. Each Pokémon is limited to four moves and each can only be used a set amount of times before needing to be recharged with an item or at a Pokécenter. Only difference from the classic games is that everything is now animated.

Battles are still largely the same as before, though they do take on greater importance now that you literally have to keep catching ’em all if you want your Pokémon to get stronger. Battles allow you to earn experience, but also money. And you’ll need a lot of money so you can continue to buy more Pokéballs. The only wrinkle with battling is the inclusion of the second player that I mentioned earlier. This allows you to attack enemies 2 on 1. It does forfeit the free substitution between matches that you would normally get, but that’s a small price to pay. Strangely, on the rare occasion you find yourself in a 2 on 2 battle the second controller will be disabled and Player 1 will control both battlers. That was frustrating for my son. Ultimately though, because of the 2 on 1 nature 99% of the encounters in the game are much easier to breeze through, but that isn’t the only thing making Let’s Go, Pikachu! an easy experience.

surfing pikachu

Pikachu now learns all of the HMs for you. Here’s surfing Pikachu!

Game Freak has finally done away with those annoying Hidden Machines. Instead, Pikachu (or Eevee if you got the other version of the game) learns Secret Techniques that function the same way. Yes, even Fly which causes Pikachu to pull out a bunch of balloons to fly around with. These moves only work on the field of play and not in battle so they don’t affect Pikachu’s move set at all. No longer do you need to drag around a Pokémon just for HM access.

In addition to those techniques, your Pikachu will also have the option to learn new moves from a move tutor throughout the game. These moves really help to make Pikachu a well-rounded attacker, and frankly, he’s way over-powered. One of these moves is Zippy Zap, which is basically an electrified Quick Attack that always scores a critical hit. He’ll also be able to learn Splishy Splash, an electrified water attack so ground enemies are no longer an issue. He also now learns Double Kick just thru his basic leveling-up which is quite useful at parts. He can even learn an electric flying move too, though I opted to not add that. Basically, there was rarely a reason to pull Pikachu from battle and only the compulsion to mix things up provoked me and my son to do so.

metatron

A new Pokémon was created for this game, but you’ll need to catch him in Pokémon Go! if you want to use him in this game and complete your Pokédex.

The game is largely a remake of the originals, but there are some twists. The bicycle and fishing rod are gone and instead replaced with Pokémon actions. Pikachu can learn a Surf maneuver and when surfing you’ll encounter the many water Pokémon out in the wild. You can also ride on certain Pokémon to increase your movement speed on the field of play. And once you beat the Elite Four, you can even fly freely on the back of a Charizard or Dragonite. The Safari Zone is also no more and has been replaced by the Go Park, a place where you can import Pokémon from Pokémon Go! This is very useful for filling out the Pokédex as there are still Pokémon unique to each version of the game and some evolutions that still require trading (which you can bypass in Go!). There’s also a new Pokémon that can only be found in Pokémon Go! and it and its evolution can be transferred to Let’s Go, Pikachu!

flying charizard

No bike? No problem.

This is a solid Pokémon experience for me, but what about the boy I bought it for? Turns out, it’s pretty fantastic to him. He loves catching Pokémon, so much so that battles get boring fast for him. It’s a bit of a problem at times because there are points where you need to battle, especially since the kid flies through Pokéballs since he wants to catch everything he sees. He knows it’s a necessary evil though and trudges through the battles like a good soldier. It also stunk for him when we had to traverse water as that’s only one-player, but at least that didn’t take up vast sections of the game. I could even hand him the controller to catch anything I encountered too. He’s not great at moving the player in the field, but at least he mostly never had to since his job was to catch Pokémon. The other difficult part with a young kid playing is he has no interest in talking to non-player characters. This is a bit of a problem because you need to talk to everyone in this game because some give you important special moves and some might even give you a free Pokémon. His unwillingness to talk to people caused me to miss a few things that we eventually had to backtrack for. And any “dungeon” that didn’t contain wild Pokémon for him to catch was a real drag.

mega venusaur

In addition to the original 151 Pokémon, Mega Evolutions have also been added.

Shortcomings aside, the game largely did what I wanted it to do. It gave me something I could play with my son and we were both able to enjoy it. I’m not sure what we’re going to do now as we have already defeated the Elite Four and even captured Mewtwo. There’s still some slots on the Pokédex to fill out, but I wonder when my son will become bored with catching the same old Pokémon. There is some additional post game content, but it’s mostly battling related which isn’t very interesting for him, but we’ll see. We also have yet to utilize the external functions of the Pokéball controller. Like a Tamagotchi, you can load a Pokémon onto it and carry it around with you. It will earn experience and I think you can press a button on the ball to hear the critter chirp or something. The noises the Pokémon make are still the same as they were over 20 years ago, save for Pikachu and Eevee who have vocalizations from the anime. Nostalgia is nice, but it would have been neat if they went through and did the same for all of the Pokémon. And for that matter, how about some spoken dialog instead of text? I got sick of reading it aloud to my son and he seemed to as well.

Nonetheless, the game has been a big enough hit in my house to make my son a full-fledged Pokémaniac. He’s now watched all of season one of the anime on Netflix and loves watching YouTube videos on the subject. He’ll often tell anyone within earshot random Pokémon facts (“Hey mama! Did you know Haunter evolves into Gengar?!”) and I rarely see him without his Charmander plush. My daughter, who is only 2, has some-what embraced it as well. She loves Pikachu, and after we took the both of them to see Detective Pikachu in theaters (her first movie in a theater) she’s become a Psyduck fan as well. Eventually, I envision the two of them playing this game or a similar one together. In my dreams they’re enjoying themselves, though in reality there will probably be lots of fighting and arguing. That’s an issue for another day, for now, I’ve got a son who’s crazy about Pokémon and just beat his first video game (with some help from dad) which puts him way ahead of where I was at his age. Hopefully, a sequel is on the way that we can enjoy together in a similar manner. If it rights some of the few wrongs present here, then all the better.


Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars – “The Komplex Caper”

img_3558Episode Number:  7

Original Air Date:  October 20, 1991

Directed by:  Karen Peterson

Written by:  Doug Moench

First Appearance:  Rumble Bee, Digger McSquint, Pitstop Pete

For the second consecutive week, Komplex gets top-billing by being included in the episode title. Surprisingly, they didn’t stick with the “K” theme and call it The Komplex Kaper, but I guess once was enough. This is an episode I had almost no memory of going into it. Once I started watching it things started to come back, but for one reason or another it was not a memorable episode for me. That had me a bit a worried, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this episode isn’t bad. It’s not threatening “Home, Swampy, Home” as my favorite thus far, but it’s nowhere near as bad as “On the Blink,” which itself wasn’t without its charms.

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If Boss Fight Studio is looking for a variant of its Storm Trooper figure, here’s a goofy one.

This episode opens with Dead-Eye out scouting in the Toad Croaker. He happens upon a Toad Cruiser which has just launched a satellite of some kind. The hatch of the Cruiser conveniently opens and Dead-Eye sneaks aboard. There he finds a lone Toad pilot referred to as the Toad Master Spy. He mostly resembles a Storm Trooper, but his suit is less detailed and he has these weird little antennae on his helmet, plus what appears to be a nose. He sees the abandoned Croaker just floating around his ship which he regards as curious, until Dead-Eye blasts a hole through his door. Dead-Eye radios to Bucky and informs him of what he found and asks what to do. Bucky, in an irritated voice, tells him to tie him up and bring him aboard. When Dead-Eye asks “With what?” Bucky instructs him to improvise.

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I bet no one is surprised they made a tongue-tied joke here.

Aboard the Righteous Indignation, Bucky heads down below to interrogate Dead-Eye’s prisoner. He finds one toad with his tongue wrapped around his entire body and a proud duck. Bucky commends Dead-Eye for his resourcefulness, but seeing as how the toad needs his tongue to speak, he instructs the excitable gunner to untie him. The toad then struggles to get his tongue back into his mouth and complains it’s too limp to utilize. Bucky bangs it around some to wake it up (why do I suddenly hear the sound of Beavis and Butt-Head’s laughter in my head right now?), and AKOM apparently got sick of animating the thing because it just magically returns to the toad’s mouth. Bucky then tries to interrogate him, but he’s not talking. Enter Bruiser, which gets the toad’s tongue working just fine. He says Komplex sent him to position and shield a satellite, but he doesn’t know anything else. Bucky then instructs Bruiser to toss the prisoner in the brig while he ponders what this could mean.

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Air Marshall is receiving a temporary promotion which will all but surely remain temporary.

Komplex is then briefly shown discussing this new scheme with the Air Marshall. Air Marshall is being charged with defending Komplex, a task usually reserved for Toadborg but he’s busy with something else. On Earth, Willy is messing around with his computer and the photon accelerator. It’s causing interference on his computer, and eventually it picks up Komplex’s signal. Willy overhears a plan to utilize a satellite to broadcast Toad TV to the rest of the Aniverse which will drain the brain waves of the mammals watching and render them obedient to Komplex. Toadborg is also shown on a sound stage dressing toad actors as mammals in preparation for the first broadcast.

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Toadborg has a future in directing.

Willy, realizing he stumbled onto something important, activates his photon accelerator to return to the Aniverse. He starts informing Bucky and the others about what he learned, but he doesn’t get very far before the Toad satellite starts broadcasting its first transmission. The various monitors on the ship display some monster movie, the effects of which seem to hypnotize the members of the crew. All except Willy (and possibly Blinky, who doesn’t say anything but also doesn’t appear to be affected) are essentially paralyzed and we see shots of other random mammal households under the same spell. A green energy is being sucked out of the viewers and floating to the television suggesting this is some kind of brain drain. Willy deactivates the monitors on the ship breaking the spell. Jenny thanks him for saving their lives and Bucky starts formulating a plan.

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The brain suck in action. Throughout, AKOM is inconsistent where Blinky is concerned. In some shots he’s being affected, in some he’s not. As an android, I’d assume he has no brain waves.

The Indefatigable is summoned and Dogstar soon shows up with his new crew. Their names won’t be given, but in addition to Dogstar and Wolf we have Rumble Bee, Pitstop Pete, and Digger McSquint. Dogstar is displayed as being especially bumbling so he hasn’t gotten any smarter since we last saw him. He goes along with Bucky’s advice to shut down their ship’s video monitors so at least he’s smart enough to take orders when necessary. Bucky has a pretty radical idea to infiltrate Komplex and take this thing down at the source, and the only way to do that is to attack the Toad home world.

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Some new faces aboard the Indefatigable. Pitstop Pete and Rumble Bee presently enduring a rather boring heroic tale from their commander.

Bucky has Dead-Eye take him there via the Toad Croaker which is disguised as a meteor. It will fall to Dogstar to keep the Toads occupied outside the planet while the Righteous Indignation returns to deal with that stray satellite. Wolf launches in their own version of a Toad Croaker while Bucky makes his way to the surface armed with his trusty sidearm and some special crystal Jenny gave him in case he gets in trouble. He also has a handy jetpack on his space suit that helps him get around. A Toad gunner is shown at a console and he regards the Croaker disguised as a meteor as unimportant. The Air Marshall shows up and almost succeeds in fouling Bucky’s plan by ordering the gunner to blast the meteor in order to remain sharp. Before he can do so, the Indefatigable appears drawing their attention away from Bucky, as planned.

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Air Marshall doing his best to remain vigilante.

Seeing the Indefatigable in its orbit, Komplex orders the Toad fleet to attack. What appear to be hundreds of Double Bubbles come streaming out of the Toad planet. In the first few episodes, such odds were made to seem insurmountable for one frigate, but apparently Dogstar’s crew will do just fine. We get to see his guys get in position and Rumble Bee, being an android, basically extends his “stinger” and plugs into their ship’s M.A.S.E.R. canon while Pete mans what looks like a missile launcher.

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Rumble Bee plugs himself into the Indefatigable’s canon.

Bucky makes his way through the Toad planet undetected. He even remarks it’s rather boring, which is the cue for many laser turrets to activate and train their sights on Bucky. He dodges and shoots a few before reaching a deep chasm. At the bottom is something that resembles the Void Droid from episode 3. Bucky also encounters several more robots designed to destroy sentient beings, and Bucky being a sentient being, is soon targeted. These things look like smaller versions of that same Void Droid and also remind me of the mousers from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Lucky for Bucky, they aren’t as indestructible as the Void Droid and he’s able to blast them

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A close call for Captain O’Hare.

It’s at this point that Komplex becomes aware of Bucky’s presence and we see the program is capable of panic. Komplex recalls all of the troops and orders them to defend Komplex at all costs. This even causes the many Double Bubbles fighting with Dogstar and his crew to turn around. Wolf requests updated instructions from Dogstar and he’s obviously irritated with his slow-thinking commander. Dogstar then instructs him to use their tails as fuses and light ’em up! Very poetic.

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Willy’s stupid gun

Meanwhile, the Righteous Indignation has found the shield around that satellite to be impregnable. To no one’s surprise, Willy is able to come up with a solution because his brain essentially possesses magic powers, it would seem. The writers usually come up with some jargon to explain Willy’s plan, but this time they don’t bother. He whips up a little gun that somewhat resembles a video camera. Dead-Eye pilots the Croaker and Willy out to take a shot at the satellite, and what do you know, Willy’s weapon works. With the shield down they now just need confirmation from Bucky that they’re okay to blow it up.

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This is apparently worse than the robots.

And as for Bucky, well he’s run into some trouble. He ended up in a hallway composed of giant video monitors and Komplex has switched them all on. They’re apparently not broadcasting the mammal-centric programming affecting the rest of the Aniverse though and it just looks like Toad TV. Apparently, regular old Toad TV has a paralyzing effect on mammals. We’ve seen Bucky and the others recoil with disgust when presented with Toad TV, but nothing like this. Bucky falls to his knees clutching his head apparently incapable of doing much else. He then pulls out that crystal Jenny gave him, which floats into the air and sends out a laser blast in all directions destroying all of the monitors and freeing Bucky from their paralyzing effects.

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What better way to house a bunch of brain waves than a big old brain itself?

In the inner sanctum of Komplex, Toadborg activates the final component of this brain drain device. A literal brain rises from a center console. It’s in a glass bubble and is very reminiscent of Mother Brain from the Metroid series (though not the version of the character from Captain N, thankfully) of video games. All of the brain waves being collected by the satellite are being consolidated here. Once that task is completed they’ll be scrambled and transmitted back to the source which will render the viewer obedient to Komplex, but it’s still roughly 5 minutes away from completion. Bucky then bursts in, and Komplex orders Toadborg to destroy him before he stops the brain drain. Toadborg has a rifle this time, but hitting Bucky proves challenging. Similar to episode 3, Bucky is able to insult Toadborg which appears to enrage him and makes him sloppy. He vaults over the cybernetic toad to rest atop the giant brain and Toadborg cooperates by continuously firing at Bucky. His sloppy shooting causes him to strike the brain and explosions happen.

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Komplex is in quite a panic during the final act.

We then cut to the satellite, which has now reversed its brain suck maneuver and is sending the waves back to their source. A montage of mammals around the Aniverse is shown as they all come to their senses. The writers even slip in a political joke when one mole remarks he feels like he was just subjected to 9 months of Quail speeches, which I can only assume was a jab at the current sitting Vice President of the United States, at the time. Bucky then contacts the Righteous Indignation and orders the destruction of that satellite, and Dead-Eye is happy to oblige. A series of explosions at the Toad planet thrust Bucky back into space where Wolf is ready to scoop him up. He radios back to the Indefatigable to report that Bucky has been secured and their mission a success.

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Wolf with the save!

Back aboard the Righteous Indignation the crew is shown celebrating. Bruiser seems particularly excited while Bucky is a bit sullen that he couldn’t take down Komplex once and for all. He’s reminded they’ll have other chances, while Bruiser is just happy to have television back. When he goes to flip on the tube, Bucky whips out his pistol and blasts it. It would seem he’s not quite ready for TV yet. A simple order would have probably been more economical though. Back at the inner sanctum of Komplex, Toadborg is shown angrily barking orders at other toads. They need to make emergency repairs to get Komplex back on-line and he suggests they’re at least a week away from achieving their goal. The camera then pans to Frix and Frax who realize they’ll be without Toad TV for at least a week and they begin to weep like children.

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The reaction of Frix and Frax when faced with the prospect of no Toad TV for a week.

“The Komplex Caper” isn’t what I expected given the title, but I suppose it’s still a caper since the Toads were stealing something after all. It just wasn’t something tangible as they were stealing the brain waves of the mammal population. It’s a bit “out there” as a plot device, but it wasn’t a surprise to see Toad TV integrated into a plot in a major way. I still don’t really get how Toad TV works – is it paralyzing to mammals? It seems kind of stupid, but I guess with a kid’s show you’re always looking for non-violent ways for the villains to inflict harm and distress on the protagonists. It was fun to see the fight be taken to the Toad home world for the first time, though it was improbably easy for Bucky to infiltrate it. We also saw Toadborg fail once again. I can’t say I’m happy to see his apparent weakness is a short temper, because it is rather lame, but when you create a villain that’s indestructible you have to find a weakness some where.

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I very much enjoyed watching Wolf get annoyed with Dogstar.

They may not have played a huge role in the episode, but it was nice to see Dogstar given a proper crew. Up until now he’s only had Wolf at his side and he briefly had some generic looking dog character when they arrested Tinker back in episode 2. The newcomers all have interesting designs. Their designs were so interesting that Pitstop Pete and Rumble Bee were both supposed to be in Hasbro’s series 2 of action figures, but that wasn’t to be. I’d still like to see a Rumble Bee at some point as he’s just unique looking so hopefully Boss Fight Studio’s current line of figures lasts long enough for that to happen. Considering they have yet to unveil a Blinky or Willy (and maybe they’d want to do a Dogstar first as well) I’d guess he’s still pretty far away.

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This episode is at least unique for giving us a look inside Komplex.

This episode is pretty entertaining. Even though it requires a real suspension of disbelief, watching Bucky infiltrate the Toad home world is pretty cool and it’s something I wouldn’t have expected to happen yet in the series. We are at the midpoint though, so maybe this was as good a time as any to go ahead and take the fight to the Toads head-on. There’s some solid humor here too. The sequence at the episode’s start with Dead-Eye and the Toad pilot is perhaps the best piece of humor the show has provided us so far while it was also funny to see Wolf’s interactions with Dogstar. Dogstar annoys me and it’s nice to see he apparently annoys Wolf as well. This episode also makes it seem like Komplex will be out of commission for at least a little while. That’s not the case though as we’ll be hearing from Komplex again quite soon. Komplex isn’t featured in every episode, so I don’t know why they didn’t position one of those episodes to follow this one, but oh well. Opportunity wasted. Toadborg did say Komplex would only be down for a week which is convenient for a weekly TV show. After three episodes though that are very stand-alone in nature, next week’s will bring us a direct call-back to the very first episode of the series with “The Search for Bruce.” See you in a week!


Batman: The Animated Series – “Batgirl Returns”

batgirl returns cardEpisode Number:  85

Original Air Date:  November 12, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Michael Reaves and Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  None

We have reached the end of the series. Episode 85 is the last produced episode of Batman:  The Animated Series, though it aired as the 8th episode of the third season. It’s not surprising then that this wasn’t aired as the series finale since it’s missing a pretty important ingredient:  Batman. Yes, that’s right. For the first time in this show Batman is going to sit on the sidelines. There have been episodes with smaller doses of Batman in the past, but none where he was absent. Bruce Wayne has a brief appearance to explain his absence, but that’s it. There is some screen time for Batman, but it’s right at the beginning and is part of a dream sequence, so technically he’s in it, but technically he’s not at the same time.

This last episode of production season two brings us another fairly major return, and it’s Batgirl. We last saw Batgirl in the two-parter “Shadow of the Bat” in which she helped to clear her father, Commissioner Gordon, of criminal charges. She’s kept quiet since as Barbara returned to her life as a college student. The ending of the episode made me wonder if Bruce and Dick knew who was under the cowl of Batgirl, and if they did, they sure don’t act like it here. In fairness, Bruce doesn’t get to react much to her presence, but Robin will. It seems hard to believe that Batman, who is pretty damn good at this sort of thing, couldn’t figure out who Batgirl is. On the other hand, we’ve seen a lot of Robin in this season and he hasn’t always looked too sharp so I am able to at least go along with him not knowing, and Bruce is under no obligation to share. I am not at all surprised we’re getting another Batgirl episode as her first appearance was well received, as far as I know. It’s just a little surprising it was reserved for the last episode in the production schedule.

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It makes sense that she wouldn’t be into Robin.

The episode begins in a darkened museum. Someone has their eyes set on stealing a jade cat statue, but Batman is there to stop them. He’s soon struck with a laser of some kind, and we see it’s being fired by The Penguin! Batman is pressed up against a wall as a playing card comes flying in. In comes Joker followed by Two-Face. Given the events of past episodes, it seems odd for these three to be working together again, but when you have a common foe I guess it’s easy to look past old grudges. When all hope appears lost, help arrives. It’s Batgirl! She drives the crooks away and races over to check on Batman. He’s injured as she helps him up. He says her name, but appears too groggy to say much more. Their eyes meet as their capes billow in the wind. From afar, we see their silhouettes in the moonlight as they lean in for a kiss.

The sound of Dick calling her name wakes Barbra Gordon (Melissa Gilbert) from her dream. She’s surrounded by textbooks and homework and looking a little annoyed that her lovely dream was interrupted like that. She heads over to the window, and surprisingly Dick is right outside it. The way his shouts sounded seemed to indicate that Barbara’s dorm was not at ground level, but his head is literally less than a foot below her window. She yells to him as well, which makes me think when these lines were recorded the direction was that they were yelling to each from a much higher vantage point for Barbara, making this scene rather awkward. Dick just wants to know if Barbara is willing to take a pizza break, but she says she can’t as she needs to ace these midterms or her dad will lock her up. Dick doesn’t put up a fight and leaves her to her studying mercifully putting an end to this exchange. As she heads back for her books, the newspaper is delivered and slid under her door. The front page is covering the theft of the jade cat statue, which seems to give Barbara an idea.

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Time to tango.

The university museum has been broken into by none other than Catwoman (Adrienee Barbeau). However, it appears she’s the second person to enter as the lock on the skylight was melted away. She drops inside to inspect the case where the cat statue once stood and is surprised to be met by Batgirl. Batgirl accuses Catwoman of returning to the scene of the crime, but Catwoman is quick to point out the methods utilized by the actual thief before demonstrating how she would have done it with her claws. The two exchange silly superhero banter with Batgirl insisting she tell her tale to the police (she’s so like Batman). Robin drops in to interrupt the two, and Catwoman uses the distraction to her advantage and escapes. As Robin grabs Batgirl to help him chase after Catwoman, he ignores her protests.

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Batgirl is going to need some convincing.

On the rooftop, Catwoman uses a bola to entangle Robin and make her ultimate escape. Batgirl, knowing she didn’t steal the statue, lets her flee while Robin sarcastically remarks how much help she ended up being. She tries to tell him what she knows, but Robin isn’t listening. He tells her to stay out of his way and leaves. Some men…

The next day, as Barbara appears to be leaving the campus gym, she spies a cat-shaped card on a bulletin board addressed to “The Winged Mouse.” She reads it and finds an address and instructions to meet there tonight. Barbara does as she’s told, and that night Batgirl heads to the spot to find Catwoman waiting for her. Catwoman remarks she was impressed the prior night with Batgirl and proposes a team-up to find the real thief. Batgirl appears hesitant, but then naively agrees on the condition that if it turns out Catwoman is up to no good that she’ll turn herself in. Catwoman agrees, and the two shake hands forming their partnership.

At the Batcave, Robin is shown talking on the phone. He’s speaking with Bruce who is in France for an important meeting that he can’t bail on. He cautions Robin when dealing with Selina Kyle as she likes to play games. After their conversation ends, he openly remarks that he hopes Batgirl isn’t in over her head.

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They’re basically the only two major female characters in this show so of course they have to team up.

Catwoman leads Batgirl to a dive bar called The Stacked Deck. Batgirl is disgusted to be there declaring it the sleaziest bar in Gotham, which is why Catwoman says they’re going to check it out. If anyone knows anything about that stolen statue, they’ll likely be in here. The two stroll in and the gathering of basically all men turn to admire the women. Catwoman narrows her focus on a guy who looks like a stereotypical scientist and begins interrogating him. This guys goes by the name of The Chemist (Scott Valentine), and Catwoman thinks he would know where the acid used in the robbery came from. He lists off a couple of possible locations in a hushed voice, one of which being the chemical plant that gave birth to The Joker, before making a run for it. The bar then erupts in violence forcing Batgirl and Catwoman to battle their way outside.

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If Hugo Strange combined with Professor Farnsworth you would end up with The Chemist.

Once there, Catwoman commandeers a motorcycle (really guys, why leave your keys in the ignition at a bar where criminals frequent?) and Batgirl jumps on the back of it. The two speed away just as the cops show up. One squad car goes after them and Catwoman leads them on a chase onto a freeway that’s still under construction. Conveniently, the overpass is complete except for a six-foot gap that the bike can easily clear, but a police car cannot.

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I’m legitimately surprised they were able to do this scene without helmets.

Catwoman declares she has a good idea who is behind the robbery and takes Batgirl to an old abandoned factory. Batgirl recognizes it as a building once belonging to Roland Daggett and it’s the same building where Clayface was born. Catwoman confirms this while also adding it’s the same place where a virus was developed that nearly killed her (“Cat Scratch Fever”). The two head inside and Catwoman easily locates the jade cat statue. Too easily, as soon a flood light clicks on and the two find themselves staring down the gun of Roland Daggett (Ed Asner) himself, along with some of his men.

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Nice of Daggett to save his first appearance of season two for the final episode.

Apparently not willing to risk getting shot, Catwoman and Batgirl are then shown with their hands bound and Daggett’s men around them. They’re on a catwalk which is running over some imposing looking vats of green, bubbly, acid. Daggett explains his legal fees relating to his last encounter with Batman have bankrupt him. He needs money from the sale of this cat statue to start life, and business, somewhere else and stealing it provided the perfect cover since everyone in Gotham would assume Catwoman was behind it. Batgirl then notices Catwoman is keeping them talking because she’s using one of her claws to cut through her restraints. Batgirl does the same and tries to guess at the death trap awaiting them. Daggett corrects her though:  there’s no trap, he’s just going to have his men shoot them. Before they can react, Robin swings in to take out some of Daggett’s goons. Catwoman then frees herself and goes after another while Batgirl is forced to fight with just her legs. Catwoman even tosses a man over the railing, but he lands on a pipe running over the acid bath, sparing himself a rather nasty end. Batgirl winds up in a precarious position when it looks like one of the crooks is going to toss her overboard, but Robin makes the save by cutting her restraints with a batarang which is enough for Batgirl. As the two congratulate each other, they realize Daggett and Catwoman are missing.

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It’s a bit annoying how often Batgirl needs saving, hopefully she improves for the next series.

Daggett, with the jade cat statue in hand, is shown running across a darkened catwalk. Catwoman calls out to him, and he spins and fires at shadows not realizing the voice came from above. She uses her whip to disarm Daggett before dropping in on him. She retrieves the cat statue and while regarding it Daggett finds a metal hook lying around and tries to take her out. She easily avoids the old man and lets him tumble over the railing catching his foot in a chain. As he dangles over the acid, Catwoman seems content to let him fall as payback for the whole virus thing. Batgirl arrives and uses the classic super hero line of “You’re just as bad as him if you let him go,” and Catwoman basically laughs her off and lets go. Batgirl makes the save by grabbing the chain, but is having a hard time hauling Daggett up which allows Catwoman to flee once again. Robin then shows up and the two pull Daggett to safety.

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Yeah, he’s not getting away from her.

On the rooftop, Catwoman swings from building to building with the aid of her whip, but soon finds Batgirl on her tail. Batgirl uses a bola of her own to catch the cat burglar, and the two then have a little chat. Catwoman confesses that it was always her intention to steal the statue, causing Batgirl to remind her of their deal. Catwoman proposes the two team-up, but Batgirl is sticking with the law. The police arrive on the scene and Catwoman surprisingly agrees to the terms of the deal as she lets the arriving officers place her in handcuffs. While they lead her away she tells them Batgirl is innocent, which is apparently good enough for them.

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Robin with the premature celebration.

Batgirl and Robin observe as the two officers place Catwoman in their squad car. They take off while the two basically have a moment to congratulate each other again. As they watch the car speed away, it begins to swerve. Soon the doors open and both cops are tossed. They run over to help the officers, who rise to their feet and realize their guns are missing. Catwoman then yells from the car that she agreed she’d let the police take her, but she never said how far. As she takes off, Robin starts to go after her, but Batgirl grabs him by the cape insisting there will be another time. She must have been really certain there was going to be a season three!

And that’s how the series comes to an end, with Batgirl and Catwoman having a cheeky little romp through Gotham. Catwoman, due to her playful nature, is as good a villain as any for this type of story. She’s returned to her life of crime following the events of “Catwalk” (which would awkwardly air after this episode) so no explanation is needed for her ulterior motives. It’s interesting that this was the first chance for her to interact with Robin as one could see her using her feminine charms on him, but they have few interactions. The episode also serves as a curtain call for Roland Daggett, a pretty big player in season one who will never be seen again. I guess the in-universe explanation would be that since he’s no longer wealthy he couldn’t afford a good attorney to keep him out of prison this time.

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Batgirl may still be new at all of this, but she’s definitely got the poses figured out.

This is another directorial effort from Dan Riba, who was given an expanded role back when Dick Sebast left the show. Unlike the directors for the past two episodes, Riba will stay on for the next iteration of Batman. Joining him will be Dong Yang Animation which will animate all of the episodes of The New Batman Adventures save for five. This isn’t their best work as some of the animation seems a bit stiff. Perhaps it’s due to animating the more slight female characters as opposed to Batman. This is the final appearance of Melissa Gilbert as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. She’ll be replaced by Mary Kay Bergman in Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero and then by Tara Strong in The New Batman Adventures. This is also Dick Grayson’s last appearance as Robin in an episode of the show, though he’ll be in the upcoming movie.

As a series finale, “Batgirl Returns” is miscast, but it’s not a bad episode by any means. This is a fun, entertaining, reintroduction for Batgirl. She’s painfully naive throughout, but since she’s new at this I suppose I can overlook it. Robin and the police both overlooking Catwoman and her ability to escape are less forgivable as this episode really puts an exclamation point on how inept the Gotham PD is. And Robin, for that matter.

Even if the series finale isn’t what one would have expected, it doesn’t diminish what Batman:  The Animated Series meant for children’s cartoons and Batman as a whole. It’s the show that helped re-legitimize the character for a new generation which had grown up on reruns of the 1960s show. The show arguably gave us the best Batman (Kevin Conroy), the best Joker (Mark Hamill), and absolutely the best Mr. Freeze and Two-Face. When I decided to revisit the show in this format as a celebration of the show’s 25th anniversary there was some skepticism on my part. I didn’t think the show would hold up as well as it did. I knew “Heart of Ice” and other select episodes would be great still, but I was surprised to find that most of the episodes I didn’t remember fondly I ended up having a more positive reaction to this time around. There’s still a few duds, but by and large the show is very consistent and very entertaining. It gives me hope for The New Batman Adventures as I don’t have great memories of that show so I’m hoping I’ll like it more now than I have in the past. One thing I do know though is that it isn’t as good as the original two seasons. This is still my favorite portrayal of Batman, and I doubt that will ever change.


Toy Collecting While Adulting

neca 2019 sdccLast Thursday was World Turtle Day, or something like that. I thought about looking up the reason why that is, but I decided I’d prefer not to know. Instead I get to just associate it with The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as NECA, the toy company that has become a favorite of TMNT fans worldwide. And that’s because it has become a bit of an annual tradition with NECA as it looks to that day on the calendar to announce its latest TMNT themed collectibles due to arrive for San Diego Comic Con in the summer. It’s an exciting time as a turtle toy collector, but this year there was some dread on my part.

For the past several years, NECA has really been killing it with its TMNT products. It started way back in 2008 when the company released its set of turtles based on their original appearance in the pages of Mirage Comics. Licensing issues with Nickelodeon and Playmates, the holders of the master toy license since the 1980s, prevented NECA from really going too much further with the line. A loophole, or just a voluntary opening on the part of Nick and Playmates, allowed NECA to return to the license as convention exclusives. NECA could create figures based on the brand and sell them at San Diego Comic Con and only there (eventually, it opened up to include NECA’s webstore as well). And I believe they also had to be a part of a set and not an individual release.

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One of NECA’s earlier SDCC sets – arcade game Shredder and Foot Soldiers.

Nickelodeon and Playmates would not allow NECA to create figures based on the original cartoon series, so the company had to get a bit more resourceful. Its first solution was to make figures based on the video games complete with “digitized” paint. They also supplemented the original Mirage line with a set featuring Shredder and the Foot Clan. Eventually, likely due to the success of these products, the license started to loosen with its restrictions. NECA was allowed to create quarter-scale versions of 90s movie turtles and sell them at retail. These super-sized action figures are lovingly detailed and some of the best toys I’ve had the pleasure of owning. The license then loosened further to allow NECA to release a set of turtles and villains based on the 1987 mini series for sale at SDCC in 2017. Then last year the company followed with a set of scaled-down movie figures, but more importantly, they came with an announcement.

leo vs shredder two pack

NECA has finally received the go-ahead to distribute to retail. These Target Two-Packs have been in constant demand since release.

Last year was the final year for NECA and its TMNT product being locked into the convention exclusive category. NECA was finally granted the ability to head to retail with only minimal restrictions. The movie turtles could be sold individually, and NECA partnered with Gamestop to sell them in their stores and on their website. They were a huge success as they sold out quickly. Restocks have disappeared just as fast and hopefully the supply will keep rolling in. NECA also was able to partner with Target for its figures based on the 87 cartoon. These figures had to be sold as two-packs and retail for $50. They also could not be stocked in the toy section, but rather electronics (basically, where Target keeps its vast assortment of Funko merchandise). These figures have been just as hard to find as the movie figures, and it sounds like they’re here to stay as NECA showed off a Bebop and Rocksteady tentatively scheduled for release this fall.

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And look who is coming this fall!

Now, I’ve been fortunate in that I was able to secure the SDCC sets each of the past two years so I haven’t had to hunt for the figures at retail. NECA launched an ambassador program last fall in which fans are asked to photograph Target’s NECA section each week and send it in. I’m a local ambassador and have yet to see these TMNT figures in person in my store. Either the store never got them or they sold out so fast that I never came across them (I have seen them once in a different Target). I won’t be so lucky in the fall when the new figures drop and will be in the thick of things as I hunt for these sought after toys.

This year though brings another SDCC exclusive from NECA and it’s basically what most fans thought it would be. Earlier this year, NECA released a quarter-scale version of the Foot Soldier from the 1990 movie with Shredder to follow in May. I have longed for a movie accurate Shredder ever since I was a kid and the upcoming figure (who may be shipping now) looks beautiful. I’ve had him on pre-order since they went up and have been very much looking forward to adding him to my collection. As expected though, the convention exclusive this year is a complement to last year’s set in that it contains scaled-down versions of Shredder, the Foot, and introduces a brand new sculpt:  Splinter. The photos NECA released look fantastic and the set is virtually guaranteed to please.

neca shredder q scale

NECA’s take on Shredder from the 1990 film looks incredible.

So what’s the problem? Well, money for one. The quarter-scale Shredder retails for about $125.00 which is no small number when you’re talking about a toy. As an owner of the four turtles who were released at a similar price point, I can say it’s worth it based on their level of quality. The SDCC set will retail for $120, and if these figures receive single-card releases down the line they’ll likely run $25 a piece. The set comes with some extras and will likely have some kind of specialty packaging to justify the added cost. For me though, it caused me to reevaluate if I need two Shredders – a quarter-scale and a 7″ version. Had NECA not gone this route for the convention exclusive then I could have pushed it out of my mind and perhaps gone ahead with a less than responsible solution, but my sensible side has been crowing quite loudly.

2019 has gotten off to an expensive start for me. We had a family vacation over a year in the making in January to Disney World. It was an awesome experience, but then I got to come home to all kinds of fun literally on my first day back. We had some scary trees in the yard that needed to be taken down. Then both vehicles required over a grand a piece in maintenance and repairs for unexpected, non-crash related reasons. And then to top it off, a series of unexpected medical bills resulting from a hand injury I suffered which necessitated surgery (and will require additional surgery next month). That part of life has been no fun, and as a family of four in which I am the sole financial provider, it has caused me to reevaluate my spending habits.

neca SDCC shredder splinter

As awesome as the quarter-scale Shredder looks, it’s hard to choose over this equally incredible looking set.

Which brings me back to Shredder. I hated to do it, but I felt it was the responsible thing to make a choice. Having both seemed like a luxury I couldn’t do right now. Summer is coming, the kids have birthdays, they need new clothes, my son will be starting school in the fall. I’ve already cut way back on my discretionary spending, I haven’t bought a video game in over a year, and I’ve been forced to limit my toy hobby as a result. All self-imposed, but what feels like the right thing to do. I decided I can still collect NECA TMNT and Boss Fight Studio’s Bucky O’Hare line, but all others are being phased out for now. And if I have to make a choice between quarter-scale Shredder and the upcoming set, well, it wasn’t much of a contest.

I cancelled that pre-order. The quarter-scale Shredder looks amazing and I already regret my decision, but the SDCC set will feature four figures that will be much easier to find shelf space for compared with one figure who takes up a lot of real estate. I’m sure NECA expected some of this as toy collectors do typically favor the smaller scale figures over the large ones. Some collectors I know just collect the quarter-scale just to support the line in hopes it will lead to 7″ versions. Being an adult sucks. If given the choice, I would have been a kid forever. “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid…” was like my motto as a child. There are perks to adulthood of course (beer), and I wouldn’t trade being a dad for anything, but man being a kid without responsibility was pretty great.

This doesn’t mean I’ll never return to old shell-head. Maybe things open up later this year, or maybe Santa Claus can bail me out. For now, it means I’ll be there when pre-orders open up for the SDCC sets hoping to score one somewhat secure in knowing if I don’t get lucky this year well these figures will likely show up eventually at retail. That childhood dream of a movie accurate Shredder is very much alive. This post isn’t intended as a pity party, just musings on what it means to be an adult with an expensive hobby. Toy collecting is fun and something I’ll likely never give up, but I have to limit myself, even when I don’t want to.


Lego 10766 – Woody and RC (Toy Story 4)

img_4030There’s a new Pixar movie incoming next month, which also means lots of new merch! Especially when the movie is none other than Toy Story 4 as what movie franchise could possibly lend itself better to toys than one about actual toys? Toy Story 4 is a merchandising juggernaut for Disney and a cash cow at the box office as well. That’s pretty much why it still exists as Pixar never intended to even do Toy Story 2. Normally, cash grabs can seem cynical, but in the case of Toy Story I think all can agree that the franchise’s continued existence is very much a good thing as it has yet to deliver a dud. Toy Story 4 could obviously change that, but for now that feels unlikely.

Lego is back to supplement the film with construction sets based on the property. This isn’t new, but what is new is that we now have some pre-existing mini figures in need of some company. Prior Toy Story sets put out by Lego went with customized mini figures that prioritized likeness over the traditional mini figure aesthetic. With Lego’s first wave of Disney themed mini figures a few years ago, the company created a Buzz Lightyear that is basically a traditional mini figure but with some accessories. The line also included an alien which was more like the old Toy Story mini figures in which Lego went with a custom headsculpt. Those two guys seemed lonely on my shelf, so I was happy to check out the latest sets to see what I could do for them.

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Woody together with his former adversary turned best friend.

And the one that jumped out at me is Lego 10766 – Woody and RC. This is essentially a remake of an old set, 7590, which featured Woody, Buzz, and RC plus the giant rocket from the climax of the original Toy Story. I don’t know why they’re doing a scene from the first film in promotion of the fourth, but I’m not complaining. This set is simpler and includes Woody as a more traditional mini figure, RC, and some in-scale army men. For the low price of 10 dollars, it felt like a no brainer when I saw it at the store as I could easily pair it with the Buzz I already have.

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Woody is the driver here.

Woody is a pretty straight-forward mini figure. His hat and hair are attached to his head. They’re likely separate pieces and could be separated by someone with some degree of determination, but I am not that person. All of his costume details are printed on and there’s no holster or anything additional. The little army men are just small, all green, pieces. They’re a cute touch, even if they’re not exceptional. There are also some cones to put together and an assortment of boxes with colored lids. It would have been nice if instead of boxes Lego had just included traditional alphabet building blocks, but that would require some custom printing and Lego obviously wanted to target a smaller price point for this one.

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The cockpit only has room for one.

RC is the main attraction. His build is quick and simple, but also quite clean and functional. His decals and eyes are printed pieces so no stickers to screw around with. You could probably build him just by looking at a picture, but there are of course instructions included. He also features a little remote control that Woody can hold and it’s also a simple construction, but one that captures the likeness quite well. Woody can fit in the driver’s seat area easily and I so far have elected to position Buzz on the tail piece. There’s nothing for him to click onto though. This RC is not as robust as the older one, but it works. About the only complaint I could levy is that the front bumper could have been done in a more inventive manner and the rear wheels should be larger than the front. He sits a bit too flat compared with the source material.

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Where Woody and company can expect to live out their days. It beats an attic.

A quick and simple post for a quick and simple Lego set. This one does its job and I’m happy to position Woody, RC, Buzz and the Alien together amongst my other Disney collectibles. And while I’d love to add Jessie or Rex, I don’t see myself shelling out for additional Toy Story 4 sets. I prefer this aesthetic for the figures compared with the older ones, and it’s nice to see a relatively cheap, licensed, set from Lego. I don’t think I need any additional Toy Story characters (technically, I don’t need any at all), but maybe I’ll change my mind after seeing Toy Story 4.


Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars – “Kreation Konspiracy”

img_3530Episode Number:  6

Original Air Date:  October 13, 1991

Directed by:  Karen Peterson

Written by:  Martin Pasko

Frist Appearance:  Dexter, Major Bottlenose, Dr. Hopkins, Dr. Wartimer, Dr. Croakley

If you couldn’t tell based on the name of the episode and its liberal use of the letter ‘K,’ episode 6 is going to deal with Komplex to some degree. It provides a little extra backstory on how Komplex came to be. This is another largely stand-alone episode, but it’s at least going to introduce some new characters that probably would have reappeared in season 2 had there been one. It feels a little more important than last week’s episode, which is welcomed.

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A hidden base in a pile of crap, plus spies. This is actually going to be a fun one.

The episode opens with Dead-Eye bemoaning that Bucky has taken them all to the planet Sludge. Sludge is appropriately named because it’s a heavily polluted, mucky, pile of crap. It’s undesirable, which is why the mammals of S.P.A.C.E. (Sentient Protoplasm Against Colonial Encroachment) have hidden a secret base there. From this base, they’re able to spy on Toad activity and intercept top-secret transmissions. They apparently have something for Bucky, and as the Righteous Indignation lands to go check it out a trio of cloaked individuals watch from the junk heaps of Sludge. What little skin of theirs is visible is green, so I think we know what that means.

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Even the characters in the show are surprised to find an octopus.

Inside a bubble dome, Bucky, Jenny, and Dead-Eye greet Dexter (Scott McNeil basically just doing his Dead-Eye voice without the pirate stuff), a large octopus who works under Major Bottlenose. Dead-Eye seems surprised to see that Dexter is an octopus, causing Bucky to remark “We all gotta be something.” Very true, Bucky. As those three dive into a pool of water to follow Dexter to Bottlenose, Blinky and Bruiser are tasked with looking after the ship.

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It would have been pretty funny if Major Bottlenose turned out to be something other than a dolphin, but I guess the writers weren’t feeling cheeky.

The base is hidden underwater, so Bucky and the others have to wear oxygen tanks and helmets. Jenny especially does not seem to enjoy the placement of this base, but she goes through it while insisting to Bucky that she actually likes water, though unconvincingly. They eventually meet up with Major Bottlenose who has a video he’d like to show them (apparently, S.P.A.C.E. has perfected underwater computers). At first, it looks like any old broadcast of Toad TV, this time with a 21 Jump Street parody called 21 Hop Street, which disgusts Bucky. Bottlenose then tells them it contains a secret message when played backwards. Doing so reveals the visage of Komplex, and he details the location of a weapon called the matter-transmuter. It’s a special ray gun that can turn non-living matter into any other type of matter. He wants his toad forces to recover it from the planet Toxus 3 where it’s believed to be lying in wait. Bucky knows how destructive such a device could be in the hands of the Toads and vows to recover it.

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“Get lost, Blinky. I got something I need to take care of.”

At the ship, Bruiser has run out of bananas, but has the problem of still being hungry. Blinky has also run out of places to store the banana peels (good thing they landed on Sludge where they can probably just dump them). Blinky decides to head to a nearby outdoor market to purchase more bananas while Bruiser stays behind to watch the ship. He’s happy to do so as he whips out a baboon magazine that appears to feature a nude centerfold. Alone time on the Righteous Indignation is probably hard to come by and it looks like Bruiser is ready to take advantage.

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Blinky, you were only supposed to bring back bananas!

At the market, Blinky finds a merchant selling brown bananas. Reasoning that a brown banana is better than no banana, he makes the purchase and heads back to the ship. Meanwhile, those three toads from earlier are watching and following him. When he returns to the bubble dome and radios to Bruiser to let him in, the three toads slip in behind him. Bruiser opens the door to the ship and sees the three coming up on Blinky’s rear and they’re armed. He calls out to his little buddy and runs out to help him. Meanwhile, one of the toads uses a gun on Blinky that coats his arm in ice. The other two approach Bruiser, and fighting their fear of baboons, they drop to one knee and fire the same ice weapon at him hitting him in the leg. Bruiser is able to get a mitt on one and his hood flies off to reveal he’s indeed a toad, an old-looking one at that. They succeed in freezing Bruiser’s arm and head and decide they don’t need the ship, just the android, as Blinky is turned into an ice cube. Bruiser, his head inside a block of ice, collapses and passes out.

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Well that’s a handy little weapon.

Jenny, Dead-Eye, and Bucky find Bruiser and thaw him out, apparently before he lost anymore brain cells. He wakes and is discouraged to see that the toads got away, but worried that Blinky apparently disappeared with them. They had back to the ship knowing they need to find Blinky, but also knowing they have to get that matter-transmuter before the Toads can. Bucky contacts Dexter and asks him to keep an eye out for Blinky via their scanners. It’s really all they can do for Blinky at this point.

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Must be a retirement ship.

Aboard another ship, Blinky meets his captors. The three elderly toads explain they need him and for the second consecutive episode Blinky finds himself strapped to a chair. He can tell they’re toads, but he mentions there’s something different about them compared with other toads. They don’t elaborate much, only to tell him he’s needed to be their navigation computer. They want to get to Genus where they apparently have some business of some kind.

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“Bruiser! How many times do I have to tell you; use the latrine!”

The Righteous Indignation heads for Toxus 3 to retrieve the matter-transmuter and find the Toads there to do the same. When Bucky tries to engage them the engines overheat and the Righteous Indignation is essentially crippled. What do you do when your ship doesn’t work? You call Willy, who was preparing to head to the movies with his folks to see something about Woodstock. He wasn’t looking forward to it and is happy to tell his parents to go without him as he heads back to the Aniverse. There he sees Bruiser first who basically can’t even tell him what happened to Blinky as he seems like he’s about to cry. It’s sweet. Willy ends up finding the engines clogged with some gunk, and Bucky reasons it’s probably from the polluted air of Sludge. Willy clears it out, but it’s too late to stop the Toads from getting what they came for.

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That Air Marshall needs to smile more.

Toad Air Marshall interrupts his lazy subordinates, Frix and Frax, who are once again watching Toad TV. He’s rather proud of himself for recovering the matter-transmuter and theorizes he has a new medal to look forward to. Komplex interrupts him to basically put him in his place. Komplex hasn’t forgotten the Air Marshall’s many failures up to this point, and is particularly irritated that Bucky O’Hare nearly foiled its plans again. Komplex, unlike many of its minions, is smart enough to know that the mammals deciphered their code in order to find out what they were doing. Komplex has a new plan though, one that it hopes will finally rid it of those meddlesome mammals.

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Komplex needs a dentist.

With the matter-transmuter in Toad hands and no leads on Blinky, Bucky looks to Dexter and Major Bottlenose for help. It just so happens that they’ve uncovered a new transmission from Komplex in the same manner as the one that lead them to the matter-transmuter. This one is Komplex confirming the existence of three toad scientists thought to be dead. They’re the ones who created Komplex, and when Komplex first took over the Toad home world it had the first Storm Troopers imprison these three on a slave ship. For some reason, Komplex didn’t have them killed and instead sent them into deep space frozen in a state of suspended animation where they were supposed to live out the rest of their lives. Komplex says that didn’t happen and they crashed near Toxus 2 and could very well be alive aboard their ship. The Toads are to recover them and bring them to Komplex.

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For some reason this really freaked me out as a kid so it’s an image that’s stayed with me.

This being their only lead, Bucky takes the crew to Toxus 2 where a slave ship is discovered just floating in space. The Indefatigable arrives soon after and Dogstar radios to Bucky that they’ll be providing backup. Bucky is happy to have the help as he and Willy take the Toad Croaker over to investigate and find three partially frozen beings onboard. Bucky, who seemed skeptical about this from the start, is puzzled how they’re frozen while the interior of the ship remains warm. Willy inspects the bodies and notices one isn’t cold, and then is alarmed when the arm falls off. They’re dummies, and so are Bucky and Willy. It’s a Toad trap, and as Bucky and Willy rocket away on the Croaker the Indefatigable morphs into a Toad cruiser.

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The Air Marshall and his new toy.

Apparently, the Air Marshall does a great Dogstar impersonation as we see him at the controls of the matter-transmuter demonstrating his apparent talent. The device had been used to disguise their ship, and now it’s being used against our heroes. The Air Marshall first sets his sights on the Righteous Indignation changing its engines into a giant anchor and the tower into a big jester head or something. The anchor causes the ship to plummet through space (which makes zero sense) and the new piece on top of the ship apparently knocked out the power to Dead-Eye’s guns. He then turns his attention towards Bucky and Willy. Bucky is able to dodge the first few shots from the Air Marshall, but eventually the Croaker is hit and converted into a giant glob of glue. Like the ship, Bucky and Willy just start falling and the goo adheres to the side of the Righteous Indignation.

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Notice how Blinky had to be configured to function as a navigation computer.

Blinky has led the three elderly toads here and they have an apparent score to settle with Komplex. They reveal their origin to Blinky, and since they have no love for Komplex, they seem content to let Blinky do what he must to save his friends. He sets the cruiser they’re in on a collision course with the Air Marshall’s cruiser. The shields on the Toad Slave Ship they’re in prevents the Air Marshall from using the matter-transmuter on it. Seeing no alternative, he bails as the ships collide. The resulting collision blows a hole in the Air Marshall’s cruiser and the matter-transmuter gets sucked out. It collides with Willy and Bucky, but Blinky is there to make the save. Apparently, his arms extend really, really, far and he grabs onto the matter-transmuter and hauls it into the ship along with Bucky and Willy.

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Blinky is really making up for screwing up the ship in the last episode.

With the matter-transmuter now in the hands of the mammals, Willy looks to figure out how it works. Meanwhile, Toad Double Bubbles are on the attack and Willy has to react fast. He undoes the damage to the Righteous Indignation, which helps calm a rather distraught Blinky, and allows Dead-Eye to return to doing what he enjoys most. It’s still a tall task to ask of the mighty gunner, and Willy turns the matter-transmuter on the uninhabited Toxus 2 converting the entire planet into a giant Berserker Baboon, the sight of which causes the Toads to flee in terror. It makes no sense since this space baboon appears to now be alive, but this episode especially is not concerned about pesky “rules.” This stunt apparently overheated the matter-transmuter as well and it explodes, but the heroes escape any harm. Willy seems disappointed, but Bucky is happy it will no longer be in Toad hands.

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Nothing like a giant baboon to scare away some toads. So, is this thing alive now? Is there just a colossal, planet-sized, baboon roaming space now?

The crew heads to Genus where everyone is shown getting a bite to eat at a restaurant. Bucky and the others are seated with the three toad scientists who devour green hamburgers. Bucky is interested in learning from them and asks what’s the secret to destroying Komplex? The three scientists look at him as if he has two heads before asking him if there was a simple way to destroy him don’t you think they would have done it already? Bucky and the others can’t even attempt to hide their disappointment.

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Sorry guys, there’s no secret to taking out Komplex.

“Komplex Konspiracy” is actually a pretty fun little episode. It’s not directly tied in with anything else, but at least the heroes are actively working towards ending the Toad threat. They get a lead on a potential way to do it learning a little more about Komplex in the process, but we obviously can’t have the ultimate evil on the show destroyed so soon. I also like seeing the ingenuity of the mammals in concealing a secret base on a junky world underwater and it’s equally neat to see Komplex beat them at their own game. The trap they lay for Bucky is actually a pretty good one and the only thing they didn’t count on was the actual scientists (Dr. Hopkins, Wartimer, and Croakley) being there to toss a wrench in things. And of course the Air Marshall’s incompetence played a role as well.

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We learn in this episode that, like most cats, Jenny is no fan of water.

In terms of character progression, we got a little more out of Blinky’s personality. It was entertaining to watch him fret at finding places to store Bruiser’s banana peels and the logic he displays in his various tasks was pretty amusing and at times cute. The episode also doubles-down on the Bruiser and Blinky dynamic, which is sweet, and the little joke at Jenny’s expense with the water also produced a smile on my face. This episode isn’t heavy on humor, but it manages to be effective without the usual amount of cheese found in children’s cartoons. The fake-out ending was also pretty well done, the only thing I didn’t like about it being that it’s really rushed. This show has pacing issues, and it’s a shame it didn’t have just five additional seconds to linger on the shocked faces of the crew when the scientists explain there’s no secret way to destroy Komplex.

Major Bottlenose and Dexter are interesting additions as well. Bottlenose may be a mammal, but he’s the first aquatic mammal we’ve seen. It’s also amusing to see the reaction of Dead-Eye to the non-mammal Dexter, who also possesses a dry sense of humor. I just wish this show had one or two more voice actors as Scott McNeil has way too many roles. He’s a good voice actor, but he can only do so much.

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The matter-transmuter turned out to be an interesting plot device, but damn did it lead to some weird choices in animation.

Visually, this episode is actually one of the better ones so far. I think that has more to do with the setting than anything. There’s a lot of stationary scenes and space travel, which makes things easier to animate. The underwater sequence also actually helps since characters often look floaty and weightless. Sludge is appropriately gross and the ice gun the scientists utilize is a nice touch. The only negative is the weird physics (or maybe I should say lack of physics) at play during the climax. There was even a sequence during a Toad TV demonstration of the matter-transmuter where characters are seen parachuting out of a destroyed space ship. The show plays fast and loose with the laws of space, but this is the most loose it’s been so far.

All in all, this is a rather serviceable episode. If it had a touch more importance and set up another story then that would have helped elevate it, but as a stand-alone episode this is fine. It’s definitely good to see as after last week’s episode I was fearful we were in for a really bad slide until the finale. Hopefully the momentum carries into next week’s episode, “The Komplex Caper.”