What I'm Watching: Invincible

I'd read a couple years of Invincible when it came out, and some of Robert Kirkman's other comics (The Walking Dead, Tech Jacket, etc); he was throwing things at the wall until one stuck. And now Kirkman's adapted this into an animated series (it would be insane to do live-action), and like TWD taken it mostly down the comic's plot, but there are some differences already; I hope it doesn't become a walking dead series like TWD, 'zon's already renewed it for S2 & S3.

Invincible takes a very slightly variant Superman (no laser eyes or X-ray vision or blowing ice breath), gives him a happy family with a teenage son (voiced by Steven Yeun, Glenn from TWD) just getting his powers, a Justice League (including blatant Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Martian Manhunter ripoffs) he's not exactly part of, a secret agency that monitors superheroes. That all ends abruptly, and very bloodily.

The fight scenes in this are fantastic, very fast-moving, active camera for the most part, and incredibly violent. More violent than you think. You're going to see a lot of internal organs, and often just red everywhere. Superheroes and the things they fight are massive natural disasters that kill thousands or millions of people, up close, and failure is always an option. If that's a problem for you, don't watch this, it only gets more so later.

The character designs are nice and distinctive, the writing and voice acting for everyone… varies from ones they obviously cared about, to wannabes. With some weirdly over-cast, over-written NPCs like the simple tailor (not Garak, but Mark Hamill).

Superman's an equally terrible problem in DC, and the Zak Snyder movies address it, but there's always been at least one villain/hero/President (Lex Luthor) who recognized that and had the tools to fight the alien. There were constraints on his powers. There's no such constraints on Omni-Man, as you soon learn. And there won't be any limits on Invincible, either, when they face him or alternate versions of him.

I know it's a trope, but the inability of anyone to recognize superheroes is incredibly dumb; Invincible, Rexplode, and Eve at least wear trivial little masks, but Omni-Man's face is fully exposed, there's no reason anyone wouldn't instantly recognize him in person or, say, on the dust cover photos in his books. So when characters figure out who Invincible is, it's less "wow they're smart/genre aware/know him really well", and more "how did you not see that 4 episodes ago?!"

There's also a lot of monologue speechifyin', often from trivial NPCs you'll never see again, and I could not care less. The teen romance drama is tedious, but that's sort of plot-related so I can ignore it. Often a good 25% of each episode is fat that could be cut.

The Mars storyline is nonsense, even for superhero space adventures; in the show it's less than 2 weeks there and back. In reality, it takes 9 months to reach Mars, 9 months back, because that's how Hohmann Transfer Orbits work. If Earth was shown having a fancy fusion drive torch, sure, weeks there and back. But they have a long-haul orbit cycler, which you may remember from The Martian (book, not the silly movie).

The college sidequest (that turns out to be more relevant later) has a Justin Roiland cameo. You know, when you see missing posters in a horror or superhero world (same thing), you should pay attention because something bad is happening.

The comic relief is generally good. The Beta Ray Bill stand-in (Seth Rogen) who checks up on Earth, and the Hellboy detective rip-off (Clancy "The Kurgan" Brown!) are amusing. They got Kevin Michael Richardson to play the Mauler clones and Monster Girl's monster voice, and he's funny, but they really should've got Armie Hammer, who played the Winklevii in The Social Network.

It's not the most creative show ever, just Kirkman shitposting on 50 years of DC plot holes, but it's fun enough, if you're into kinda grimdark fun at the expense of people who wear spandex to fly around and punch each other. Vastly, vastly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, vastly better than the live-action misadaptation of The Boys (the comic is still my favorite superhero thing ever, read it all!).

★★★★☆

What I'm Watching: Infinity Train

Short Youtube/Adult Swim pieces are now on HoboMax, so I've binged the entire run in the last week.

In Season 1, a teen girl Tulip wants to go to game dev camp; briefly we see the screen and game, a PyGame starter project, on the blandest fake-Windows XP screen possible, but that's probably how the Kids Today™ start in games, instead of typing in Super Star Trek. Disappointed by divorced parents, she runs away, hops on a train… and is in a magic train, hurtling through a wasteland pocket universe. Her entire purpose is to get back home, get to game dev camp, and she's as rational and proactive as a teen can be; a little robotic sometimes.

Every "car" of the Infinity Train is a separate puzzle or weird environment. You find the door, do something to get it open, cross a catwalk to the next car. Sometimes there's ways to go up and around, sometimes not. Passengers get a glowing number on their hand, like Logan's Run in reverse, roughly according to how fucked up they are, and it goes down as they "learn lessons". They pick up native "denizen" friends and enemies along the way. When the number hits 0, they get to leave. Sometimes.

S1's companions are hilarious without being annoying, One-One is a ball robot very very similar to Wheatley from Portal 2, with two personalities. Atticus is king of the talking corgis (and is Ernie Hudson!). A high note is The Cat (Kate Mulgrew), your treacherous fixer frenemy type; a white Persian cat. Aside from eyerolling at teen angst sometimes (I went thru worse parental problems, and I'm… a giant mess. Hm. Where's my Infinity Train?!), this is a great story.


S2 has continuity! A denizen MT follows in Tulip's footsteps, with a new passenger and denizen friend. Since MT is punk and actually does things, I like this the most; there's real moral choices, chances of failure, recurring antagonists, and there's actual horrible or good consequences. You could quite happily stop here.

S3 unfortunately follows a racist cult dirtbag, the enabler leader of said cult, a small child, and a denizen tuba gorilla. I loathe both of these protagonists, and children crying annoy me. The tuba gorilla is OK, but we don't really get any detail on her sad backstory. Even a racist's comeuppance doesn't make it better. They never show back up, so we don't know what progress is being made.

S4 brings in two asian kids from BC trying to start a chiptune/rock band, namedropping YMO as an influence, tho later performances are more like Anamanaguchi. One is the good obedient kid, the other's a rocker with no discipline, they get pulled in and scored together (mostly). The problem is the denizen is a magic flying desk bell who waffles between flirty and almost interesting, and the most annoying fake personality like a Melissa McCarthy (but it's Minty Lewis, from The Regular Show), and antagonists are very weird and whiny for no reason, no real lessons are learned. There's a couple fun short songs, I like little chip synths.

The first two seasons deal a lot with the infrastructure of the train, who's running things, and what it's for. This is awesome, right up my wheelhouse. S3 & S4 mostly annoyed me, and do almost nothing with the management of the train; we get some of it to the middle-end of S3.

★★★★★ S1
★★★★☆ S2
★★☆☆☆ S3 — only gets that high because of Amelia
★★★☆☆ S4

They're still trying to get more seasons made, and maybe movies and comics (which I think would fit the story better? And allow them to go more adult, which this is clearly trying to do but being kiddified a bit), so go give HBO Max some viewership.

What I'm Watching: Three Korean Zombies Edition

  • Seoul Station: Animated prequel to Train to Busan. Hye-sun, a young woman of negotiable affections and her douchebag boyfriend/wannabe-pimp, and a hobo and his mysteriously dying "bro", cross paths at Seoul's main subway station just as the zombie plague starts. It is successful at getting me to care about the girl, and to a lesser extent the men around her; one character flip didn't surprise me much but it needed a little more evidence.

Animation's kind of stiff, low FPS, but detailed, very much not in the style of most anime. What it most reminds me of are the Long Tomorrow and B-52 segments of Heavy Metal; I think it's not actually rotoscoped, but looks a lot like it. Despite being animated, with "unlimited special effects budget" as it were, there's not a lot of sets, not a lot of speaking parts, not a lot of flashy action pieces, it could've all been filmed practically for less money.

I'm a little put out by the cell phone vamping. Girl turns off her iPhone. Then it's out of reach. Then they're in a tunnel. Then coverage just stops because… it's plot convenient. And the other side just sits there shouting her name into it, instead of doing anything. It's a good way to pad out 30 extra minutes of "tension" that wouldn't exist if people just calmly (under zombie attack, yes) left messages for each other while travelling towards a common point.

It is very Korean, where the government is not on the side of the people, it's in self-preservation mode and has been putting down anti-government riots since the war. An American version of this (suppose Fear the Walking Dead was animated and wasn't absolute trash) would make different stupid mistakes; just as many dead civilians but less heartless bureaucracy. A Japanese version would be briefly hilarious, and then everyone would die because they were too polite to break skulls. The Chinese version would probably drop fuel-air bombs on the area.

★★★½☆

  • RV: Resurrected Victim: A prosecutor comes over to his crazy sister's house, and finds his dead (murdered by a mugger) mother there watching TV. A pastor (ugh, Korean christians; worse than zombies, and they're all thru this film) barges in and falls to his knees calling out to Jesus, quoting his "resurrection" fairy tale, singing and praying like the crazy people they are. She goes all zombie on them, as anyone would. Then we get an official briefing/infodump about resurrections, because apparently the writer hasn't heard of "show, don't tell".

It feels like a TV series, several episodes spliced together into a "movie". Or a fever-dream scenario by a Call of Cthulhu referee. Coincidence or fate brings everyone who needs to be in a scene together, but the B-team and C-team investigators just get forgotten for long stretches of the film, then show up again to tag along a couple scenes behind the prosecutor.

"The fact that RVs always appear in the rain is related to the fact that 80% of the human body is H2O.
And the iron content in their blood is more than ten times higher than that of normal humans.
When the vengeance is enacted, all these seem to be related to the strong magnetic field that is formed."
—inexplicably bad English-speaking… Italian? gentleman with a priest sidekick, possibly in the wrong movie.

The mystery being solved is fine, and eventually all the plots are tied together, if not at all satisfactorily at the end, with a preachy speech. The "RVs" do almost nothing, the entire plot could be a non-supernatural drama, or have hallucinations or visions of ghosts, with minimal changes and far less of a wasted premise.

★★★☆☆

  • Stranger: I'm only a few episodes into this series, about a prosecutor (again?!) who feels no emotions (a philosophical zombie!) after a childhood surgery. He solves crimes, fights corruption in his bureau, tries to pass as a person but doesn't really succeed. The sympathetic woman cop Han (Doona Bae, most recently from Kingdom and Sense8) and his rival prosecutor are well-played. There's an overall season plot, and not much episodic plot, which makes it hard to decide where to stop, doesn't give a clear delineation between episodes, and I can't binge more than a couple hours of Korean TV at a time, so it's taking a while to get thru.

But so far, I like everything about this, good investigation, forensics, office treachery that isn't mysterious figures in the dark but rather just awful coworkers. Best of all, a protagonist who's proactive, isn't all weepy and stupid, has his own secrets but isn't a villain. Han is also really adorable, she tries to be a supercop (a coworker calls her "Angelina Jolie", but really she's more Michelle Yeoh ) but also takes in strays and is surprisingly good for a police force not exactly known for that.

★★★★½

What I'm Watching: Harley Quinn

HoboMax delivers a mostly-adult-oriented cartoon about recently-separted-from-Mistah-J Harlequinn/Harley Quinn.

Voice-actor is Kaley Cuoco (the annoying chick from the more annoying Big Bang Laugh Track Show), who is better than I expected, but doesn't really hit the shrill Joisey girl accent I expect; Poison Ivy, her slightly but not too overtly lesbian (well, you'd think, but they do throw in lines about Kite Man) roommate is the surprisingly competent Lake Bell (who has been acting for 20 years but her IMDB page is just a list of trash roles; did you see Surface? Be glad if you didn't.); Alan Tudyk does the Joker, which he's not really fit for, I miss Mark Hammill as the Joker, but he also does Clayface, which really fits his over-the-top thespian tone just like Mr Nobody in Doom Patrol.

"You helped me. I can be around people now. You know, I mean, I hate it, but I can do it without vomiting."

Some of it's well-written, there's a lot of snarky lines, and the plots and tone are similar to the '90s Tick cartoons. But I do find it odd and annoying that A) There's 3 main writers, all of them dudes, B) The art is very male-gazey/Striperella, which hey, I like cartoon porn as much as anyone but it's not a good way to build Harley up as a self-respecting villain. In fact, of the 30 names listed for writing on all 15 episodes, 7 are women, all with 4 eps or less to their names. And it shows over and over again. When they try to "talk about women", it's slightly better than the Rick & Morty Bechdel Test gag, but only very slightly.

"This guy's such a douche."
"I'm sorry, but none of the charming supervillains with great personalities were holding seminars today."

Occasionally manages some social commentary, but at the same time exactly reinforces the stereotypes it's gossiping about.

"I had to make my own [crew] by believing in stupid little things like Mark. No offense, Mark."

SIGH. The curse of the generic name.

Well, I'm rarely bored by it, and I do laugh.

★★★½☆

What I'm Watching: Adventure Time: Distant Lands: BMO

Available on the HoboMax.

BMO, especially delusional BMO being a hero, is generally my favorite character of AT, even tho I skip all those awful Grables eps. So I was looking forward to this. Not happy about the result.

No way to talk about this without spoilers:












BMO and their potatoes are going to Mars. But then they're redirected to an ancient space station made of little environment pods, like blown-up Xandar (in the comics, not the boring planet in the Guardians movies), or Robert Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky, and BMO sets off to save everyone!

Unfortunately everyone in the station sucks. The bunny kid sidekick is useless, spineless, and nigh-treacherous (but too spineless to be an effective traitor), the repair drone is just a follower, the adults are all villains or parasites who should be broken down for scrap. The character designs, other than a few sight gag characters in street scenes, are very plain, either blobs, the laziest-drawn humanoid bunnies ever, or a few alien/elf hybrids. Literally the only sympathetic characters in the entire show, besides BMO, are two thieving bugs, and a scrap robot (voiced by Simone Giertz! So there's like one good thing about this!)

There's an amazing environment, a setup perfect for a long series, which is wasted on a very stupid plot and a trite non-Adventure Time ending. Brute force or reason shouldn't get you out of trouble in AT, only insanity, lateral thinking, or coincidence should. Pen Ward hasn't written or directed since S8, everyone still involved is like 3rd-hand hires from when it was good, so tone drifting towards Hollywood garbage writing is inevitable, but tragic.

Well. That was, I guess not surprising after S10, but disappointing. Will any further eps be better?

★★☆☆☆

What I'm Watching: Adventure Time

HoboMax has Adventure Time, and soon to have some spinoff specials "Distant Lands", so I watched seasons 8-10 which I hadn't previously seen, and I'm now rewatching 6-7 which I apparently don't remember at all. Who needs linear time?

  • Season 8: Mostly episodic, often great adventure episodes. This is what I liked the show for originally. "I Am a Sword" seems to be adventure, but then introduces a real tragedy, which turns into the Fern sub-plot for the next 2 seasons. "Preboot" and "Reboot" activate Susan's origin story, and "The Invitation" starts a very long 8-part story about the last of the Humans; individual parts of this were good, but continuity is annoying in a show like this. 11-minute episodes are perfect for delivering the science-fantasy parody, 2-parters are a little long, 8 is (if you'll forgive the '80s sitcom reference) enough.

  • Season 9: Immediately starts with another 8-part quest about elemental (Candy, Slime, Ice, Fire) corruption. While I like Ice King/Simon and Weird Lady/Betty in small doses, an entire series about two amnesiac obsessives is excruciating. Since all the elemental princesses and inhabitants are reduced to insanity, there's really only Jake & Finn to have any sane dialog, and Jake's just a dog. The last few eps resolve Finn & his weird grass clone.

  • Season 10: Almost all of these were terrible. "The First Investigation" was good, a nice self-contained story. "Jake the Starchild" and "Temple of Mars" are decent science-fantasy stories, but almost not Adventure Time. "Gumbaldia" and "Come Along With Me" (44-minute finale story) set up a final Ooo War between PBub and her insane Uncle/offspring, and halfway delivers on it. But then they ran out of plot, and were unwilling to go all the way and let the Candy Kingdoms nuke each other, so just added a new dumb monster for them to half-ass their way out of. BMO at the end of time with an almost empty world was interesting, and they failed utterly to deliver on it.

I loved classic Adventure Time, but the writers really got wound up too much in continuity and making sense of a senseless idea later on. It's Thundarr on E, Mad Max with candy characters. That's fun. A little "oh living in this vale of tears is kinda hard yo" goes a very long ways. Long plots ruin it.

★★★★★ for the single adventures, ★★★★☆ for the first serial, ★★★☆☆ for the second serial, ★★☆☆☆ for the finale.

The Far Side: Cow Tools as a Web Service

Remember back in the 1980s (technically, 1979-1995), for those of you alive then, The Far Side was the best comic in newspapers. Uh, see, they printed blogs and Florida Man stories on paper… Uh, cut down the Amazon rain forest and pulped the wood, rolled it into sheets, dyed it white, and put ink on it. Well, not everyone had computers, OK? No, their phones didn't have displays, either. Sometimes didn't even have buttons, just a rotary dial you kids can't operate. I'm getting off topic.

So. After 25 years of fucking around, Gary's finally got someone to make him a website and publish his comics, a few every day. Here's the thing: It sucks. There's no RSS feed. Little indiction of when a comic was first printed; the year is shown in copyright, but some were probably held over months or years from when first copyrighted to when they were printed. And most ridiculously, it hammers the Disqus server, which I have blocked by both /etc/hosts and Ghostery, so the page just fills up the console complaining, and eventually crashes; happily Safari sandboxes pages now, but in the old days this would've crashed the browser. The page source is 2000 lines, and a bunch of loaded libraries, most of which are there for loading & showing ads. I don't see ads, because they're all loaded at runtime and I block everything, but I assume it's just a wall of popups and autoplay video for the handful of suckers who don't have blockers yet.

Oh, and there's an attempt to stop people from right-clicking & saving images, but you can just drag the image out in Safari, or screenshot it on any computer. Idiots who don't understand how computers work shouldn't try making "security" choices like that.

The whole thing competently written would just be an RSS feed in the header, a banner, a single on-server static image ad, a cartoon, and forward/back buttons. Less than 20 lines, take a programmer an afternoon to write it including a script to generate each day's cartoon and update the RSS XML file.

So now it sits in my "daily bookmarks folder" which I don't hit every day, of shitty sites I have to open manually, look at, then close because they're garbage sites written by garbage people.

Cartoons

BoJack Horseman is a deep, well-written work about self-sabotage and depression. It might be the best show ever made for getting people into some kind of therapy or self-improvement; or at least to stop downing a fifth of Jack every day. But it's miserable, incredibly unpleasant to watch sometimes, and I'll almost certainly never rewatch it, with the exception of a few non-depressing episodes ("Fish Out of Water", for instance).

Rick & Morty is exactly what I want from a cartoon: A bunch of science and fart jokes with parodies of Doc Brown & Marty McFly, with an unhealthy dose of cosmic nihilism, and I can watch it anytime I need a laugh or cry at the futility of life. "Nobody belongs anywhere, nobody exists on purpose, everybody's going to die. Come watch TV?"

The Simpsons hasn't been funny past season 2 other than some Treehouse eps and guest-artist couch gags, and the characters are the blandest stereotypes possible. It's extruded cartoon product. I have no subscription that would let me watch it, and I don't care, but I do see clips and even complete episodes sometimes on the Youtubes or such. It's Seinfeld without the observational "humor" or asshole New Yorkers, it's every awful sitcom with a whiny family, just flavorless pablum. It'll probably outlive us all. The Terminators will sit around after exterminating Humanity and watch their new Simpsons episodes, chuckle robotically, and complain that earlier seasons were better.

Groening's (well, to the extent he's involved; producer & they imitate his old style?) medieval fantasy cartoon Disenchantment is equally dire, which is ridiculous since they've taken a genre where there's unlimited possibilities, and made it into a Simpsons style sitcom. I'm dis-enchanted.

Archer, man, I miss Archer. Seasons 1-4 were fun but standard Adult Swim-type nonsense. Season 5 Archer Vice was the peak, with the coke smuggling, Smokey & the Bandit, Pam's habit. Season 6 was dull, trying to recapture 1-4 but you can't go backwards. Season 7 Hollywood was great, film noir done by lunatics; it reminds me excessively of every time I've run or played in a modern/espionage RPG. I've only seen the first eps of S8-10 in this "dreamland" saga where Sterling's in a coma fantasizing, and they sure didn't persuade me to find some way to watch it. S11's supposed to be back to "reality"? Dunno.

Is there anything good I'm missing?

What I'm Watching: Green Eggs & Ham

"I'm not great with kids."
"Ha! Oh, you're not so great with adults, either. Or Chickeraffes. Or really anyone."
—Guy Am-I & Sam I-Am

Yes, the Netflix cartoon of the Dr Seuss book. And this time, it's properly animated, and not infested with Mike Myers.

The book was just a short journey into madness with Sam-I-Am inexplicably tormenting Guy-Am-I who gets run over or flees into cars, trains, darkness, rain, boats… until he gives in and eats the green eggs and ham.

The show turns them into characters and a plot. Sam I-Am is either a sad delusional lonely little man, or an elite ninja animal liberator who frees the Chickeraffe, which is a giant terror-bird that can be squished down to fit in a briefcase. Guy Am-I (Michael Douglas) is a pathetic inventor whose inventions all explode. Pursued by Bad Guys (they have a card) old-timer Snerz (Eddie Izzard) and rookie Glutz, they keep running into single mom Michellee (Diane Keaton playing very very dull and safe) and bored kid EB.

Each episode is more or less a page from the book. "Would you, could you, on a train?" So there's a long train journey and every sight gag they can extract from it. I'm especially impressed by the miniature train car. "With a fox?" And the Fox (Tracy Morgan) is insane, one of the better characters and subplots. "With a mouse?" And there's a mouse in their prison cell who sings Les Mouserables and then it turns into the Shawshank Redemption. Most of the references are pretty good; subtle but on point.

The one part where the show falls down is "Boss", who's ordered this caper, trying to impress his "Cronies". They're all boring and loathesome, and utterly disconnected from the main plot. Delete Boss, make the Bad Guys have some motivation of their own, and this would be a better show. If I'm annoyed by him, I bet kids watching this have a screaming tantrum every time Boss appears.

The green eggs and ham do look tasty, but full of cholesterol. Michellee's tofu version might be safer.

★★★★☆