Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Simpsons Get Lost – or Vice-Versa?

The survivors of a devastating crash turn up on a seemingly deserted tropical island. When rescue does not come, they form their own society with conflicts, power struggles, and violence galore. When food runs out, they partake of the meat of the indigenous wild boar population. At the drop of a hat, they will alternately work together or turn on one another. And, oh yes… There is an unseen monster in their midst!

Clearly, I’m describing the contemporary television series LOST… at least at the beginning; before it veered off into the wonders of time travel, weird science, alternate realities, and the ultimate battle between cosmic good and evil!

But, NO… I’m describing a 1998 episode of THE SIMPSONS!

(Pause for effect)

Yes, really!

The Season 9 episode “Das Bus” (aired February 15, 1998) was intended by its writers and producers to be a send up of “Lord of the Flies” – and it certainly was all that – but, in one of those amazing coincidences we love, it also presages LOST!

The children of Springfield, on their way to a Model UN conference, are washed up on a remote island when the elementary school bus drives off a (very tall and incongruously off-the-beaten-path bridge). Bus driver Otto is picked up by mercenary mariners and sold into sea-going slavery… but that’s another story never dealt with. Sucks to be Otto, dude!

The kids, Bart, Lisa, Milhouse, Martin, Nelson, Sherri and Terri, Ralph, Wendell (the sickly white kid), and Louis (the usually unidentified black kid), are the focus of our story.

After quickly dispensing with Bart’s “Gilligan’s Island-like dreams” of bamboo cars, coconut radios, and monkey butlers, the kids set to work on creating their society.

Remarkably, they not only parallel the basic setup of early LOST, they also settle into LOST’s CHARACTERIZATIONS… which, I remind you, did not make their pop-cultural debut until 2004!

Bart = Jack. Lisa = Kate. Milhouse = Hurley and Charlie. Nelson = Sawyer, Locke, and Sayid. Sherri and Terri = Shannon. Martin = Dr. Arzt. Those are the definitive ones.

We’ll give Michael to Louis by default. Wendell could be a complaining character like “Neil Fro-gurt” – though, hopefully, he never gets shot with a flaming arrow! And I suppose Ralph COULD have been Boone (…That is, if Boone were “special”).

If only Santa’s Little Helper had come along to simulate the role of Vincent (The Dog of Death).

I saw this episode when it originally aired and, of course, it meant nothing – beyond being a typically good episode of THE SIMPSONS. But now, as LOST winds down its sixth and final season, seeing this again has an entirely new meaning – one its staff could never have imagined!

On the episode commentary, even the participants are somewhat taken aback at the similarities to LOST that would manifest themselves six years later!

And, while the fate of the cast of LOST is still unknown at this writing, the Simpson Kids eventually DO get rescued… though it occurs off-camera – and is summed up in ONE FLIP LINE… read by the great James Earl Jones to close the episode.

What? You were expecting it to happen any other way? This is THE SIMPSONS, after all!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Truer Today Than Ever!

Here’s a little gem from THE SIMPSONS.

The following exchange took place in the NINTH SEASON (1997-1998) episode “The Last Temptation of Krust”(A Krusty-centric episode, natch!), as Marge is buying new shoes for the kids.

LISA: “Mom, these [shoes] are at least two sizes too big!”

MARGE: “Perfect! You’ll grow into them!”

BART: When?

MARGE: Oh, you’re both WAY OVERDUE for a spurt!”

An obvious laugh-out-loud (for me anyway) reference to their remaining unchanged since 1989!

Imagine how well that Season 9 joke would work today in Season 21!

And HERE’s a related gag that has the same effect!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Disney Comics Invade Prime Time TV!

I wouldn’t have even brought this up, if not for the unusual coincidence of ideas, images, or key scenes from Disney Comics (fittingly one from Floyd Gottfredson and one from Carl Barks) turning up on two radically different prime time television series, no more than three days apart. One on Thursday, April 22 – the other on Sunday, April 25.

I’m certain many of you recall the Phantom Blot’s death trap for Mickey Mouse, where a gun is aimed directly at Mickey – controlled by strings and a mechanism that will fire the gun if Mick moves a muscle. This, of course, is from Floyd Gottfredson’s 1939 newspaper comic strip epic that was titled “Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot” for its appearance in Dell comic books.

This past Thursday, on ABC’s FLASH FORWARD, FBI Agent Demitri Noh was in exactly the same fix as Mickey – staring at a complexly wired trigger mechanism set to kill Agent Noh, with the gun of Noh’s partner Agent Mark Benford! This masterpiece of the macabre was the demented product of the insane genius Dyson Frost, whose skills in the art of death-trapping clearly put the Blot’s to shame.

As great a character as Demitri is, he’s (pardon) “Noh” Mickey Mouse (Sorry!), and required the literally last minute heroics of Benford to survive the day on which the series’ “gimmick” (the titular “Flash Forwards”) indicated that Noh would be killed.

As has sometimes been the case with the Phantom Blot (and much more so with The Joker), Frost appears to have been killed for his transgressions – but I don’t believe that for a moment.

Oh, and I suppose there’s something fittingly cyclical about a Disney television series (billed each episode as “An ABC Studios Production”) showing some influence from an old Disney comic.

Sunday night on FOX, THE SIMPSONS commemorated the 40th anniversary of Earth Day with an episode where Homer converts his home to wind power – in the expected way and with the expected results.

…And he leads the usual cast of Springfieldians in the effort to assist Lisa in helping an incapacitated, beached whale (magnificently rendered by the Simpsons artists and animators – and all the more so when seen in HD!) return to the sea.

Less well-known than the Phantom Blot story, but something of an “End-of-Silver-Age-Classic” in its own right, is the Carl Barks-written (but not drawn) Junior Woodchucks tale “Whale of an Adventure” from 1970’s HUEY, DEWEY AND LOUIE JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS # 7. Released in July, 1970.

In it, the ‘Chucks, Chickadees, and Duckburg’s faithful battle Scrooge McDuck (with visions of whale oil and other byproducts in his avaricious eyes) over the whale and the freedom most of the characters feel it deserves.

Oddly, this SIMPSONS episode goes against type, by NOT casting Mister Burns in the “Scrooge Role” – and by making Homer unusually well intentioned all around.

Nevertheless, especially on the heels of the Phantom Blot parallel, thoughts of the Junior Woodchucks tale were inevitable.

Though I presently watch more prime time network TV than I have in many years (see THIS POST), my viewing is still on the relatively meager side by the standards of the “Average American”– but I was presently surprised to see (whether intentional or not – presumably not) these Disney comic concepts and images reflected back at me in prime time High Definition!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It was Twenty Years Ago Today…

…No, Sergeant Pepper didn’t teach the band to play.

Well, perhaps he did in 1947… But, in 1990, give or take a week or so, it was the beginning of a completely new era for those veterans of Dell and Gold Key Comics like myself – not to mention the young whippersnappers reared on the Gladstone Comics of the 1980s – it was the beginning of Disney Comics! And, since back then “New Comics Day” was on a THURSDAY, we might as well declare today the 20th anniversary of the event.
Admit it, my legions of TIAH Blog readers, aren’t you all feeling old right now!

After the unexpected success of the Disney comic books published by Gladstone (Series One – Series Two was another story entirely), the Walt Disney Company moved to bring its licensed comic book business in house, and do it themselves.

This resulted in a SINGLE DAY unlike any other that the readers and fans of Disney comic books had ever seen.

EIGHT NEW TITLES simultaneously released with more new (or at least new-to-the-United-States) material than had ever been seen in a single day!

…And, an equally unheard of diversity of content!

DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES # 1 Featuring “The Money Pit”, a new story by Don Rosa. William Van Horn would go on to do what is often considered his best work for this title.

UNCLE SCROOGE # 243 Continuing the numbering of Dell/GoldKey/Whitman and Gladstone issues with “Pie in the Sky”, a new story by William Van Horn.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES # 548 (Ditto on the numbering) with previously unseen tales of Donald Duck, Br’er Rabbit, Li’l Bad Wolf, and Grandma Duck.

Oddly, this would be the first issue of the title (which had run for just shy of 50 years at the time) to not include Mickey Mouse! Mickey would get his revenge twenty years later, however, when WDC&S # 703-705 (and counting) would feature ONLY Mickey and, in a back-of-the-book-filler role, his perennial foe Peg Leg/Black/Big Bad Pete!

GOOFY ADVENTURES # 1 ran stories of The Goof in various historical and media inspired roles, and would even revive Super Goof!

ROGER RABBIT # 1 would continue the hysterics-inclined hare’s tales from the hit movie. The first story would take place in the “real world”, with the backup (often the better of the two) occurring in Toontown.
The hugely successful Disney television properties were also represented by

DUCKTALES # 1 beginning the unwieldy and uneven seven-part serial “Scrooge’s Quest”. My nomination for the worst ending of a story in Disney comic book history! As I said back then in an unpublished Letter-of-Comment: "This was not Scrooge and Glomgold we were watching, but an inappropriately bad imitation of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck – doing their Duck Season /Wabbit Season Routine!” Read it for yourself, TIAH Blog-legionnaires, and see what I mean.

CHIP ‘N’ DALE RESCUE RANGERS # 1 offered part one of the television origin story “To the Rescue”.

And, best for last…MICKEY MOUSE ADVENTURES # 1. This was my absolute favorite of the new titles. Michael T. Gilbert and Stephen De Stefano gave us as close an approximation to the Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse as we’d ever seen in original American comic books. Why, even the titular villain, “The Phantom Gondolier”, looks somewhat like a character that could have been designed by Gottfredson!

After Gilbert, Lee Nordling would write the BEST Phantom Blot story of the modern age… and Marv Wolfman would step in and make up for the abomination of his “Scrooge’s Quest” in the DUCKTALES title and give us some great thrills with Mickey and Company – reviving Emil Eagle, now playing a lead villain role in “Disney’s Ultraheroes”!

After this initial outburst, the Disney Comics titles would be released Two-Per-Week, each Thursday.

All would be right with the world for the next 18 months but, then the cutbacks would come leaving us dissatisfied with much of what remained. MICKEY MOUSE ADVENTURES would be a victim of these cuts, and it would be a long time before we’d see really great new Mickey stories again.

But, somehow we survived… and moved into the eras of Gladstone Series Two, Gemstone, and now Boom Kids!
And even Mickey is flying higher than ever in a new thriller “Mickey Mouse and the World To Come” (beginning in the aforementioned WDC&S # 703) by the great new talent Andrea “Casty” Castellan – my candidate to someday be the “Next Floyd Gottfredson”!
Twenty Years… and what a ride it’s been!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Weirdest TV Promo Ever!

THE TWILIGHT ZONE: The Complete Definitive Collection is one great set of DVDs!

Not only are all five seasons presented uncut but each show ends with host and creator Rod Serling introducing next week’s episode (never seen in syndication to my knowledge) and either a PSA or a promo for another concurrent CBS TV series.

Such promos have included “Wanted Dead or Alive”, “The Danny Thomas Show”, “The Ed Sullivan Show” (narrated by Ed Sullivan himself) and “Gunsmoke”, similarly narrated by series star James Arness.

Fittingly, the “Gunsmoke” promo followed the Season 3 TZ episode “The Grave”, a journey into the Wild-Western-Weird that starred, among others, Lee Marvin, Strother Martin, Lee Van Cleef, and Stafford Repp (…sans his “Chief O’Hara” Irish accent).

Less fittingly – somewhat jarring, actually – was the narration provided by Mr. Arness for this promo:

This is James Arness. You know, it’s only a short hop from THE TWILIGHT ZONE to Dodge City and GUNSMOKE… Saturday nights over most of these stations!”

   I’ve watched a lot of TWILIGHT ZONE and a fair amount of GUNSMOKE over the years… and never once did I consider them separated by “only a short hop”!

Guess I must have missed the one where Marshall Dillon wishes the Bad Guy into the Cornfield!

You’re a BAD MAN! You’re a VERY BAD MAN!” (POOF!)
Hmmm… Could that be what happened to Dennis Weaver’s “Deputy Chester Goode”?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My Latest Donald Duck Comic Book Script

Everyone run out and get a copy of DONALD DUCK CLASSICS QUACK UP, published by Boom Kids! The latest in their fine series of hardcover volumes.

Boom! has done a very nice job with these. Great color and paper and there’s a nice little blue cloth bookmark attached, so that you can always keep your place among all the goodies you’ll find therein. They’ll look attractive on anyone’s bookshelf. Even the ones I’m not in! :-)

Amazon’s price of 16.50 is actually quite good, for a list of 25.00, and (if you order it in conjunction with something else to make 25.00) their “Super Saver” free shipping will make it even more worthwhile!

David Gerstein painstakingly translated (from the Italian) and I dialogued the 1966-era story Moldfinger – or The Spy Who Ducked-Out on Me” (My title, of course!). 1966 was my favorite year of all time for pop culture – and I loved the opportunity to work on something that originated from that year! I hope you’ll enjoy it. Do or don’t, there’s some great Carl Barks Duck stories in there that everyone will enjoy!


Still the “Best” Place to “Buy”

For the longest time, I’ve always preferred Best Buy to Circuit City… and this excerpt from a Yahoo Business link to an article from INC. expresses my thoughts more perfectly than I can.

It’s also why Best Buy is still standing tall while (Short) Circuit City is but a memory.

Truth be told, I don't think I ever bought anything from Circuit City anyway. On weekends, I would occasionally wander into the local branch, attracted like a moth to the bright wall of plasma TVs. When I actually needed a new TV, however, I found the Circuit City salesperson to be so aggressively unknowledgeable and remarkably useless that I fled to Best Buy, where I was helped by a cheerful, 20-year-old twerp who knew everything. I later learned that in 2007, Circuit City had fired the chain's 3,400 most experienced salespeople and replaced them with generic, untrained, near-minimum-wage workers.”

And, it’s TRUE, those “20-year-old twerps” have helped me with everything from my laptop and wireless router to my HD TV and Blu-ray DVD player – with great expertise.

Though, they all seem to get odd, puzzled looks when I ask them about DVDs of an older show like PERRY MASON.

Such is the trade-off, I suppose!

Baseball 2010: Yanks Take “Grander-series” from Sox!

The 2010 Major League Baseball season began in a good way, as the New York Yankees took 2 of 3 games from their arch rivals, the Boston Red Sox.

Newly acquired outfielder/slugger Curtis Granderson socked two homers (or, in Boston, would they be “hom-ahs”?) in those three games – including one last night that won the game for the Yankees in the 10th inning.

And, this was my first baseball series viewed in HD! HD was just MADE for sports! I look forward to a whole season of HD thrills from both the Yankees and the Mets.