Yes This Really Happened

Yes, This Really Happened: Steve Urkel Had a Demonic Ventriloquist Dummy Doppleganger that Massacred The Entire Winslow Family

Well, okay, that was a bit of a shameless clickbait-y headline. Of course, with the TGIF line-up long-runner and militantly G-rated show Family Matters, which was in many ways the Designing Women to Full House‘s Golden Girls, nothing really terrible happens to the Winslows. Still, they come weirdly close to being legit slasher movie kills, but…well, we’ll get to that.

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Maybe the episode itself acknowledges how much it’s not quite removed from a typical ’80s teenage massacre flick by giving the audience a content warning of sorts from Steve Urkel, who has by this point, the eighth season, long replaced the Winslows themselves as the star of the show. The following 20 minutes might be a little spooky, especially for those of you tuning in after Full House! In the show’s defense, though, if this seems quite lame, the much edgier (well, okay, at the time) Simpsons did the same thing for their Halloween episodes.

Despite Steve breaking the fourth wall to give a little warning to viewers, the Halloween special kicks off like many a Family Matters episode, with Steve using a new interest as a vehicle to irritate the Winslows. In this case, it’s a ventriloquist dummy that’s made to be a replica of him. Steve’s dreams of becoming a ventriloquist are dashed by the lukewarm response of the Winslows, who are probably wondering why a super-genius who can clone humans, cracked the secret of time travel, and developed exploding vegetables for the US military is bothering with an archaic type of showbiz.

Despite his genius, Steve just quickly wishes that his dummy could talk. His wish gets granted, but in the problematic form of apparent demonic possession.

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Okay, we don’t really know what happens to create “Stevil”, the sociopathic Steve ventriloquist doll, but that’s not important: it’s time for the Winslows to fall prey to the diabolical faux-Urkel! Laura is split into three parts and scattered across the Winslows’ kitchen cabinets, Harriet Winslow’s head ends up being the centerpiece of a giant jack-in-the-box, the two young Winslow kids are chased down by Stevil in a car while they’re trick-or-treating, and Eddie Winslow is dragged into a chimney, and, in a moment that probably did actually freak out some of the show’s kiddie audience, an unresponsive Carl is used as a human dummy by Stevil.

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I mean, don’t expect a genuine Child’s Play à la dead Winslows. Most are still talking and seem only mildly disturbed by their “deaths” (even if Carl never moves on his own and Eddie’s ultimate doom is never revealed). But honestly, Stevil is pretty explicit about wanting to rub out the Winslows because he despises them for being, essentially, a TGIF sitcom family (hey, Stevil, if that’s really your beef, want to stop by the Tanner household before you call it a night?) Also it doesn’t take much of an imaginative leap to suppose that, say, poor Harriet really has been decapitated, had her head hollowed out, and was turned into a novelty toy. Whoever wrote this episode wasn’t a stranger to horror movie death scenes, is all I’m saying.
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But don’t let me fool you into thinking this episode is more bizarre than even by the standards of the adventures of Steve Urkel. The events of the episode all turn out to be a dream, albeit with a “false awakening” during which Eddie tries to lobotomize Steve with an egg-beater. Also, as per TGIF policy, most of the jokes were probably ancient when they were first written down in papyrus (although I was legitimately impressed we did get this less than family-friendly remark from Eddie: “The only doll I want sitting on my lap can talk on her own!”), although as always it still managed to be a cut above the diabetes-causing sugar pap that was Full House. I will admit, though, the bit where Steve tries earnestly to seal his bedroom door with Scotch tape did get a real laugh out of me.

The best part, though, is that this episode got a sequel in the show’s ninth and final season, where Stevil returns alongside an evil ventriloquist dummy doppleganger of Carl, Carlsbad. Maybe we’ll get to that one next Halloween (which, at the rate I’ve been posting this year, will be two or there posts later).

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Yes This Really Happened

Yes, This Really Happened: X-Men/Star Trek

The point of Yes, This Really Happened is to highlight quirky, off-kilter episodes and installments of series that are likely to be obscure. That said, this is probably the most well-known, at least among people who (like me) grew up with the X-Men franchise in its glory days. Still, what better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek than to explore the Star Trek crossover that was totally inspired by storytelling, and not at all by cynical, opportunistic marketing?

(That was sarcasm, of course).

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Okay, okay, to be fair, every single franchise crossover is a marketing gimmick and none are easy to justify as honest explorations of fictional worlds. But even then there’s usually some kind of thematic connection or at least they share not only a genre but a nice little neighborhood in it (Aliens vs. Predator, Batman/Judge Dredd, Vampirella vs. Lady Death) or the jarring juxtaposition makes a great starting point for the whole affair (Archie Meets The Punisher, Archie Vs. The Predator, Archie…well, you get the idea). 1996’s Star Trek/X-Men, though? It’s neither natural enough to really scratch any kind of itch for fans, nor is it quite bizarre enough to even work as a novelty. It’s just…well, let me get the obvious joke out of my system; it’s just highly illogical. 

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I suppose you could say that there is a connection in that the X-Men had a lot of space adventures in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and that the X-Men’s dream of harmony between humans and mutants is like the Federation promoting peace and inclusion…no, still illogical.

Illogical from a storytelling perspective, that is. From the marketing POV, it all makes perfect sense. See, in 1996 X-Men was still Marvel’s #1 cash cow. Plus the company was still recklessly riding its speculator boom highs and was spending money like Scrooge McDuck. In the course of throwing its cash around, it had acquired the license to the entire Star Trek property (rather accidentally, since the rights to Deep Space Nine and Voyager were held by Malibu Comics, a company that Marvel bought just for their new technology in digital coloring). Once they had worked out with Paramount a deal to handle comics for all Star Trek series (again, this being a time when Deep Space Nine and Voyager were still on television, and the second Next Generation movie, First Contact, had just hit the theaters to critical and popular acclaim), Marvel decided to base an entire line around the various incarnations of Star Trek. What better way to kick things off by using the old cash cow to introduce the new one? (After all, it’s not like there’s any kind of overlap between superhero comic fans and Trekkies).

Well, at least with in-universe logic it’s easier to get the denizens of a superhero universe to meet Captain Kirk and his crew than, say, Frasier Crane and his family. The Enterprise is investigating an anomaly above the uninhabited planet Delta Vega, the very same planet where Kirk was forced to kill his crew member and personal friend Gary Mitchell after an encounter with an energy field increased Mitchell’s innate and weak psychic powers to a godlike level (in the original series’ very first aired episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”). Suddenly an unidentifiable ship appears through the anomaly and the crew of the Enterprise is only able to detect seven beings that are human but not quite before the ship is suddenly destroyed.

Unknown to Kirk and his crew, the seven humanoids on the ship, the X-Men (here Beast, Storm, Wolverine, Bishop, Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Gambit) managed to teleport off the ship and onto the Enterprise just in time. Of course, like most superheroes who aren’t Batman or trained by him, the X-Men just aren’t that good at subterfuge. Gambit’s need for medical attention as a result of being wounded in the ship explosion leads them to soliciting help from the Enterprise’s Dr. Leonard McCoy while Spock senses Jean using her telepathy and, looking for the source, has a violent run-in with Wolverine (Vulcan nerve pinch, meet healing factor!). Hostilities do not last long, and the X-Men explain that they come from an alternate reality, sent into the anomaly by Empress Lilandra of the interplanetary Shi’ar Empire. Ostensibly it was a routine mission to track Lilandra’s sister and one-time rival for the throne turned lackey, Deathbird, who defied orders to go into the anomaly with the superpowered Shi’ar Imperial Guard to hunt down a mysterious energy source. However, Captain Kirk and  X-Men discover the whole reason Lilandra involved the X-Men in the first place; an old enemy of the X-Men’s, Proteus, a body-jumping, reality-warping mutant, created the anomaly while searching the multiverse for an equal, and he found such an equal in the remains of Gary Mitchell…

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The one good thing I can say about this story is that the script by Scott Lobdell (who was the main X-Men scribe through much of the early and mid-’90s) does make reasonably good use of both franchise’s histories. There’s a few kinks here and there (even if Deathbird is supposed to be working for the Shi’ar Empire as she was after the events of the Avengers saga Operation: Galactic Storm [in case you’re wondering, nope, I didn’t have to look that up!], why is the Imperial Guard working for her, even when it’s clear that she’s not following Lilandra’s orders?). Still, the idea of Kirk having to face one of his biggest regrets when Proteus resurrects and merges with Gary Mitchell is a strong connection to the original series of Star Trek and gives the conclusion where Kirk and Jean telepathically face what’s left of Gary Mitchell inside Mitchell/Proteus’ mind a punch. The ties to X-Men are actually less strongdespite what you might expect, this is honestly much more of a Star Trek tale than an X-Men adventurebut Jean Grey’s comparison between Gary Mitchell and Dark Phoenix, another case of “going mad just from having the powers of a god”-itis, doesn’t at all feel forced or fall flat.

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Also it helps that the series doesn’t indulge in blatant fanservice as much as you might expect, beyond the Spock-Wolverine brawl which reads like a scene ripped from fan fiction or a really forced moment where Dr. McCoy says, “He’s dead, Jim.” Instead the character beats ring true if a little hollow for the most part, even concluding with the Enterprise crew cooking up their standard elaborate techno-babble-fueled engineering ploy with the help of the X-Men’s powers to close the anomaly. There’s not too much slouching in characterization either. The conventional wisdom on Scott Lobdell’s X-Men stories is that his strong point was in writing little character moments, and that somewhat holds true here, if for not much more than a delightful scene where Kirk hits on Jean Grey in a perfectly Kirkean way only to get politely shot down.

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Even so, this is still a story with fourteen characters (not counting the villains!) in only a 38-page saga (technically the issue is 67 pages, but the rest of it is taken up with pin-ups and promotions for Marvel’s new Star Trek series). Even a major franchise villain like Deathbird is introduced only to barely even serve as a plot device and yet another fountain of exposition. So there’s a lot of potential character material that’s left in the cargo bay. It’s probably understandable that Uhara, Chekov, and Sulu lose panel space to the Big Trio of Spock, Kirk, and McCoy, but there just isn’t enough time for both franchise’s stars to mesh together organically. Earlier I joked about one scene looking like something out of fan fiction, but honestly this is why crossover fan fiction can and, depending on the writer, does sometimes work better than the official thing. There’s infinite room for all those little character interaction gems that make such stories worthwhile for fans. What you instead get more of with X-Men/Star Trek is the most clunky exposition you can find anywhere in the Alpha Quadrant.

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Oh, and nerdy overthinking time, but…even if this is just an alternate universe to them, shouldn’t the X-Men be more curious about the fate of mutants, homo sapiens superior? Clearly mutants existed in this version of the Star Trek universe since Spock instantly recognizes both terms—and, to be fair, the episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before” does make it canon that a few humans are born with and can inherit low-level psychic abilities, although nothing nearly as awesome as being able to turn your skin to steel or grow deadly razor-sharp bones from your body. But at the same time the Enterprise’s scans don’t recognize mutants…so maybe Jean Grey’s initial concern that Gary Mitchell was killed just for being a mutant was valid in a way. Maybe, just maybe, because the Eugenics Wars in Star Trek Earth’s history showed the dangers of letting superpowered beings run loose, mutants were culled during or just after the wars except for harmless psychics…okay, sorry, we’re officially at the “Overthinking something Scott Lobdell probably threw together in a few hours” point. (Still, if you read the story my way, it does make Cyclops’ comments to Kirk about how the Federation’s future is like the one X-Men aspire toward cruelly—or beautifully—ironic!). 

Speaking of mutants being shoehorned into the Star Trek universe, it’s tough not to notice how out of place the X-Men look with their Olympian bodies next to the very average physiques of the Enterprise crew. Despite that, the art is decent, encompassing both the X-Men and Star Trek reasonably well. And at least it didn’t go the more awkward route of trying to have the Enterprise crew keep up with the X-Men by giving Scotty and Uhara the bodies of professional bodybuilders.

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To sum it all up, X-Men/Star Trek doesn’t at all transcend the usual issues with such official crossovers. Aside from the bits that look like they were chiseled out of a genuinely good follow-up to “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” X-Men/Star Trek is the comic book equivalent to fast food. You might find it tasty, but you probably won’t get any lasting impression. Unless seeing Spock give Wolverine the Vulcan nerve pinch in an official comic really is something you’ve been waiting your whole life for. In that case, have at it!

startrekxmenpinupEdit: And yes, I know there were two sequels, a comic Second Contact (the X-Men with the Next Generation crew) and a novel Planet X. Honestly a lot of what I said here could apply to Second Contact. As for Planet X, maybe I’ll cover it one of these days!

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Yes This Really Happened

Yes, This Really Happened: The Enterprise Became Sentient But Only Played Practical Jokes

The Internet is all excited about the trailer for a new Star Wars movie, so of course we have to talk about…Star Trek!

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First, some words about Star Trek: The Animated Series.  The animation does have that cheap look you’d expect from, well, pretty much anything by Filmationexpect to see that stock image of communications officer M’Ress over and over and over againbut the series is actually considered by even many diehard Trekkies to be a worthy successor to the original series. It’s even gotten the honor of being deemed canon by no one less than the god of the Trekkies, Gene Roddenberry. [Note: Friend of the blog Zaki Hasan has pointed out that Roddenberry revoked its canon status, and according to Wikipedia Roddenberry made the issue of canon…complicated.  But apparently Paramount officially considers the animated series canon, so there you go!]  But it’s not surprising considering that Roddenberry managed the neat trick of getting the entire original cast on board with it. Although perhaps that’s not too surprising, since they never did their lines together in a studio, but on tapes that they’d mail in. Anyway, the animated series certainly did have its goofy moments that wouldn’t be out of place for a cartoon of the ’70s, although really nothing egregious compared to live-action episode “Spock’s Brain.”

Case in point: today’s specimen…

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The Enterprise is flying near the Neutral Zone and, as you might expect, they get attacked by Romulans. (A big nit to pick is that apparently it ain’t no thing for the Romulans to just up and blatantly pursue and try to destroy a Federation starship with more or less no provocation. Were the Romulans that aggressive in the original series despite the whole Neutral Zone thing? Wait, please don’t answer that). Kirk has the Enterprise steered into an unidentifiable energy fieldcome on, Kirk, have you actually ever seen an episode of Star Trek?

Of absolutely course, the energy field screws up the Enterprise, but the symptoms don’t manifest until later as the entire crew are subjected to an escalating series of petty pranks; replicators shoot out piles of food and pies to the face; in a forest generated by the holodeck…sorry, it isn’t called that yet (and, yes, this episode is technically the first canonical appearance of a holodeck!)…Sulu, Bones, and Uhara get trapped in a forest pit trap; and, best of all, Kirk’s uniform comes out of the space-laundry like this.

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The best part of that? Spock responds with a cocked eyebrow and protests, “Vulcans do not laugh.”

Spock eventually deduces that the problem isn’t a crewmember with space madness, but that the energy cloud gave the Enterprise sentience, just somehow a sentience that’s only interested in playing practical jokes. Sadly the newly sentient Enterprise doesn’t really get to have much of a personality. The most dialogue it speaks (with the voice of Majel Barrett, natch) is when Kirk tries to give the computer a command and it exhorts him to say “please with sugar on.” Nor does the computer really go all HAL. It really just seems like the Enterprise is kind of a jerk with a sense of humor more juvenile than Adam Sandler’s most devout fan.

Luckily, its quirks come in handy when the Enterprise is attacked by the same Romulan ships again and it sends out a decoy Enterprise in the form of a…giant balloon replica that’s even bigger than the Enterprise itself. (Yes, I still stand by my statement that this is really no goofier than “Spock’s Brain”.)  This just pisses off the Romulans even more, but it gives Kirk enough time to trick the Enterprise into flying back into the same energy cloud, which…somehow returns the Enterprise to normal? (The Enterprise actually gives a rather poignant protest of “…not…fair”, which, like HAL’s rendition of “Bicycle Built For Two”, does call perhaps unintended attention to the brute fact that Kirk just lobotomized a newly emergent form of consciousness.) And the Romulan ships, which follow the Enterprise, get the exact same effect? Wait, how did the ship’s computer do stuff like put soot around Spock’s eye visor-dashboard…thing? And what the hell was up with that gigantic Enterprise balloon anyway?

It’s so obvious, but I have to say it.  Most illogical.

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At least I do wish this was a “Next Generation” episode where Picard would have dramatically philosophized and anguished over having to lobotomize the Enterprise. And Riker would have had heavily implied sex with M’Ress.

Well, be that as it may, this was fun, and like all animated series episodes it does feel pretty authentic, which was all the more impressive given that the cast did their voice work between gigs. As dated as the animation looks, it’s still proof that the caretakers of the Star Trek franchise really should look into doing an animated series again, if only so they can depict aliens without too many budget constraints. Okay, this one episode may not be the best that the two-year run of the animated series has to offer, but it did give us “KIRK IS A JERK.”

And, don’t forget, it’s all canon!

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Yes This Really Happened

Yes, This Really Happened: MacGyver Teamed Up with Merlin

Let’s face it, MacGyver is the Batman of network TV. After all, Batman may be a charter member of the Justice League, but MacGyver was in the 1988 incarnation of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

I’m not kidding.  Like Batman, MacGyver doesn’t use guns (except very early on…just like Batman!), relies on his wits and brawn, and has almost superhuman ingenuity.  What you might not know, however, is that, also like Batman, MacGyver had jaunts through time. He had been in the Old West not once, but twice, in “Serenity” and “MacGyver’s Women.” For our case study today, MacGyver goes back a tad further, to Camelot! mcgyver1 Pete, MaGyver’s boss, has arranged for him to meet a high-profile genealogist for research into his own family background.  The genealogist is only able to trace the MacGyver name back to the eighteenth century, but suspects that the MacGyvers might be an offshoot of an older family, the similarly named MacIvers, who can be traced all the way back to the seventh century to a man named “Ian MacIver.” MacGyver learns that Ian MacIver died in prison, wrongfully accused. If you”re familiar with early medieval history and this seems like an amazing amount of detail gleamed from the records typical of the time, well, you might as well conserve your “History Nitpicker” points now! MacGyver’s trip back to the past is very uncomfortable.

Outside the genealogist’s office, he saves a soon-to-be-married groom from a falling window box, but takes the “bullet” himself. Knocked unconscious, MacGyver somehow wakes up in Camelot.  I know what you’re thinking;  dammit, MacGyver writers, the Middle Ages does not equal King Arthur! But at least they did establish that this would be the seventh century, and most theories about a historical King Arthur do put him somewhen in the fifth and sixth centuries, so…close enough!

At least MacGyver seems to care about messing up history, sort of. His presence interrupts a joust between Galahad and another Knight of the Round Table, the legendary Duncan. MacGyver intervenes and volunteers to fight not just because he’s a nice guy, but also because, as he shouts, “You can’t kill Galahad!  It will screw up history!”  This is, MacGyver says, since Galahad is supposed to go search for the Holy Grail. And MacGyver should know, since, yes, he tried to find the Holy Grail himself!

Anyway, while everyone of course scoffs as MacGyver for refusing to use a real weapon, he still manages to dismount Duncan using a lasso. This kind of misses the whole point of the joust since it’s supposed to be a way to train knights for mounted combat, but jousts aren’t supposed to be happening this early in history anyway, and…wait, why are we worried about historical accuracy in an episode of “MacGyver” involving Arthurian myths again? What’s wrong with you people? macgyver2 To be honest, laughing about the bizarre and obvious historical inaccuracies is one of the few things interesting about the first part of this two-parter. The plot tries to set up a mystery when Merlin sees MacGyver as a rival and King Arthur, who happens to look like Pete, is poisoned, but Duncan is so assholish that it’s pretty clear he’s hiding…well, everything. But it is funny seeing Merlin being dickish to MacGyer. And you can’t blame Merlin, since MacGyver shows him up with a Swiss army knife and a lit match. Yes, this Merlin is no Sam Neill;  he’s not even the Merlin from Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders.

Things do pick up when Duncan dies (falling into a pit of lava, no less!) and Arthur sends Merlin and MacGyver to fight Morgan Le Fay (called Mograna here), who happens to have allegedly taken Ian MacGyver as her accomplice. Morgana Le Fay happens to have taken over Scotland (here called Caledonia), which is from Camelot just a short trek through a cave (although  to be fair one of the theories about the historical King Arthur is that he was a king or at least a warlord in Strathclyde, which is now part of southern Scotland, so…okay, I’ll stop putting way too much thought into this). Besides having enough lava for a Super Mario Bros. castle, the cave is also guarded by this fearsome hellhound. macgyver4 Funnily enough, everyone acknowledges it’s just a dog in a goofy mask, with even Morgana taking it off at one point and MacGyver being able to dispatch it with just a makeshift dog whistle. This leads me into the saving grace of this saga.  It’s strongly but still subtly implied that the tale’s sorcerers aren’t really magic-users as we might think, but just people with a basic understanding of engineering and science and a lot of ingenuity – like MacGyver himself. I might be off-base – the lack of magic just might have been caused by a lack of a special effects budget – but if I’m right that’s actually pretty clever.  But it doesn’t stop Merlin from bemoaning that he’s lost much of his magical ability, although he might not strictly be talking about magic when he complains,  “Things don’t work like they used to.  Sometimes not at all.” As much fun as the Merlin-MacGyver “rivalry” is, though, the real star is Morgana Le Fay, played by Robin Strasser, who made trash culture glory with her portrayal of Dr. Dorian Lord, one of the great alpha women of American daytime television. macgyver3 In true villain fashion, Morgana has two bungling henchmen (which I guess is explained by the fact that seventh century Scotland appears as sparsely populated as western Kansas) , and of course she punishes one of them for his failure by killing him using her dreaded new weapon:  gunpowder! Morgana hopes to conquer all of Britain and then all of western Europe (and maybe…the world!) using the new technology.  Basically, she wants to keep western Europe unified and prevent the so-called “Dark Ages.”  Who exactly are we supposed to be rooting for here?

Meanwhile MacGyver rescues Cecilia, Galahad’s fiancee who was being held prisoner by Morgana because…I don’t know, the plot said so.  Also he finds the dying Ian MacGyver, who directs him toward a hidden message etched on the cell wall that MacGyver uncovers using his own brand of sorcery that clears Ian’s name from ever being a willing accomplice of Morgana.  Morgana imprisons them, but they’re able to escape and blow up Morgana’s lab using the ol’ Ben Franklin kite trick and two extremely conveniently timed lightning bolts. But for me this is all just a set-up for what is, to me, a moment that became a classic the microsecond it was broadcast:  Morgana Le Fay dramatically screams “MACGYVER!!!!!” before blowing him away with a makeshift gun.

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Aah, that’s the kind of thing that makes it all worthwhile. As you might expect, MacGyver wakes up in the present and has a “You were there! And you were there! And you were there!” moment when he sees that the groom he rescued looks like Galahad, the bride-to-be looks like Cecilia, and the EMT tending to MacGyver’s head injury is Merlin, armed with the Swiss army knife MacGyver gave him.  I half-expected Morgana to show up as a bitter soon-to-be mother-in-law, but alas. As more proof, though, MacGyvver finds that he still has an amulet that King Arthur gave him. So there you go…concussions just make MacGyver travel through time.  Top that, Batman!

It’s the sort of saga that just wouldn’t get done today unless it was written with an insufferably self-aware postmodern, deconstructive, hyper-ironic sensibility (well, thanks in part to assholes like me). That’s a shame, because as goofy as it is, it is pretty fun, at least when they dispense with the predictable who-dunnit and get straight to a bickering MacGyver and Merlin stopping Morgan Le Fay from conquering Europe with gunpowder. You really have to be a snob with a heart of stone not to see the pure joy in a story that has King Arthur declare, “The magic of Merlin combined with the magic of MacGyver may be the force that is required to bring Morgana to her knees!”  It’s a thing of beauty.

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Yes This Really Happened

Yes, This Really Happened: The Ghostbusters vs. Cthulhu

It seems like something you’d skim off fanfiction.net on a lazy evening but, no, this was actually professionally produced as an episode of The Real Ghostbusters in 1987.

ghostbustersnecronomiconAnd, believe it or not, it’s pretty faithful to Lovecraft – more so than a Cthulhu plushie, in fact.

Okay, so the title of the episode is “The Collect Call of Cathulhu,” which I guess was spelled that way apparently because Lovecraftian orthography was too much for the show’s middle-school-aged target audience.  Otherwise, the Necronomicon makes its usual appearance as the plot McGuffin, Egon and Vankman make a trip to Miskatonic University, the Ghostbusters are threatened at one point by Shoggoths, and a cult appears chanting “Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” (although they incorrectly throw in a ” Iä!  Iä!”, which as everyone knows is properly reserved for Shub-Niggurath).

The episode begins when Miskatonic University, whose administrators have clearly learned nothing from the Wilbur Whateley incident, loans a copy of the Necronomicon to the New York Public Library.  The book is promptly stolen and the Ghostbusters get involved, especially because Egon and Ray are concerned that the book will be used in a ritual to summon Cthulhu on the night the “stars are right” for the first time in decades.  Of course, the always genre savvy Venkman stuns Ray by correctly guessing that the special, rare night will be very soon.

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(And, yes, this is one of the episodes where Venkman was voiced by Lorenzo Music, which naturally only gives rise to thoughts of a Garfield and Friends/Cthulhu Mythos crossover…).

Egon and Venkman team up with Alice Derelith, who is probably the smartest Lovecraft reference out of the whole episode.  This isn’t so much because she was named after Lovecraft’s “successor” August Derelith, but because she really does come across as the perfect Lovecraftian heroine – if Lovecraft was ever interested in writing women, which he wasn’t.  Still, she basically is a Lovecraftian hero in female form.  She wears gloves all the time as a result of an unspoken neurosis, is fairly uptight, and is completely oblivious to Venkman’s less than subtle flirtations as if the very concept of sexuality has never crossed her mind.  That’s Lovecraft all right.  The only thing missing is that she doesn’t go insane or think she might go insane or resigns herself to one day being murdered by cultists at the end.

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Like with so many Lovecraft homages, this story puts H.P. Lovecraft himself into the same reality as his creations.  It turns out that in the Real Ghostbusters universe Lovecraft “and other writers” made their careers out of creating stories based on what they knew about the Necronomicon.  I’m a sucker for that kind of thing, although my inner nitpicking nerd can’t help but wonder what the hell they would be thinking popularizing knowledge about a book that has the potential to destroy humanity ten times over. Anyway, this all leads to a cute scene where Ray leads the other Ghostbusters into a fact-finding expedition into the paperback and magazine collection of an old neighbor of his, and the method for stopping Cthulhu is found in an issue of Weird Tales.

It’s in the final act that the episode, which I actually enjoyed for being a pretty faithful G-rated intro into the Cthulhu Mythos, lost me.  Of course, the cultists successfully summon Cthulhu in Coney Island of all places, where he…starts wrecking up the place kaiju-style?  I know that they couldn’t show Cthulhu immediately driving the denizens of New York City insane in an orgy of bloodshed and despair, but he should have had more dignity than just trying to flatten an amusement park.

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He does shrug off the Ghostbusters’ proton beams like shots from water pistols.  However, inspired by the story “The Horror from the Depths” from Weird Tales, they defeat Cthulhu by electrifying a roller coaster he’s attacking to get at Venkman.  It’s implied that Cthulhu has just been banished, not destroyed, but nonetheless there’s no way this would have been an ending Lovecraft would have signed off on.  Then again, he’d probably be far more disgusted by the Hello Kitty/Cthulhu hybrid tote bags for sale.

Weirdly enough, there actually is an August Derelith and Mark Schorer story titled “The Horror from the Depths” which, according to John Harms’ and John Wisdom Gonce’s The Necronomicon Filesthis episode’s screenwriter Michael Reaves had not even known existed before writing “The Collect Call of Cathulhu.”  He simply made up a title that he thought sounded Lovecraftian.  Although the actual story does not have Cthulhu thwarted by an electrified roller coaster, or making an appearance at all, it still does have some coincidental similarities.  The story does like the episode have an appearance by the Spawn of Cthulhu and a climactic scene at the Chicago World’s Fair in lieu of Coney Island.  Perhaps writers are tapping into some dark arcane knowledge when they channel the Cthulhu Mythos.

If that’s the case, it’s a shame I long ago lost that paperback copy of the Necronomicon that I got in ninth grade!

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Comics, Yes This Really Happened

Yes, This Really Happened: Chaos! Comics Did A 9/11 Tribute Comic

My dear readers, I have failed you.

When I first (literally) stumbled across the fact that Chaos! Comics did a 9/11 tribute comic, I was thrilled, like a conquistador who accidentally discovered El Dorado.  But my initial excitement did not account for the fact that, well, riffing on a 9/11 tribute comic would be…difficult.  And that’s despite the fact that the cover itself pushes the laws of female human anatomy to the limits.

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Don’t get me wrong; it is amazing that this exists, although maybe not for the reasons you might assume.  Perhaps the first thing that will strike comics fans is that it’s actually written by Brian Augustyn of The Flash fame, who did a lot of work for Chaos! Comics in its last years.  The second thing is that this isn’t Chaos! in its wild, gory glory.  This is well after the flagship characters of Lady Death and Chastity have been toned down and made less…well, sociopath-y.  Lady Death isn’t even at this moment in continuity her normal white-skinned, ruling-Hell self, but was at the time a sword-wielding vigilante on the streets of New York (it’s…a long story, naturally).

Still, it’s not enough to riff on, despite my initial excitement.  Really, no matter who publishes it, 9/11 tributes – or tributes to any recent tragedy – are snark-proof.

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Its snark-immunity does not just derive from the fact that I’m an American and this is about the 9/11 attacks, although I have to admit that’s part of it.  No, it’s also that there really isn’t much to say, because frankly it takes conscious effort to botch these things.  Things like this are propaganda in the not-that-bad, pre-Goebbels sense, and as such there’s a definite, fairly simple way of doing them.  That’s not to say that they’re easy to write, per se, just that there’s a formula that’s carved in stone, and even more so than what you might expect in some genre fiction.  Start with some everyday characters right at the center of the tragedy, stir in some moral observations but do not under any circumstances make any references to politics, and show the main protagonists pitching in to help survivors without bringing in the baggage of their own personal stories, and voila, you have a tribute to a contemporary tragedy.

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Just as it’s very hard to screw up such a tribute, it’s also extremely difficult to make these types of stories great.  This is mostly for the same basic reason.  Genuinely the only way to make a 9/11 tribute really memorable for good or bad reasons is to break with the formula and bring in something that has the potential to offend a lot of people.  That’s not what Chaos! Comics’ Unity does, in spite of its publisher’s reputation.

I guess if you just automatically object to having characters like Bad Kitty running around the site of a national tragedy, you might find it offensive, but honestly is it really worse than having Spider-Man or Green Lantern at the site of 9/11?  Especially because here Bad Kitty, as well as Lady Death and Chastity, are portrayed as heroically as they are?  We exist in a pop culture-saturated world, and if you think there’s something wrong about having comic book superheroes meditate on the collapse of the twin towers, well, the argument was made and lost decades ago the second Donald Duck showed Americans what working for the Nazis was like.

Honestly, if you can get past the fact that both Chastity and Lady Death show up to 9/11 in respectable catsuits, the whole affair is (perhaps disappointingly) tasteful and even fairly well done in some respects.  Sure, like with most straightforward propaganda there’s plenty of cheese to be had, like Lady Death assuring the reader that the terrorists are in Hell while the victims are all in paradise, as well as this…

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…but there are a couple of nice touches as well.  The “ordinary person” character, an eastern European immigrant who wants to try to find her husband who was in one of the Towers for a job interview, isn’t overshadowed by the chestier heroines.  Also there’s a scene where a Sikh taxi driver tries to offer his help and ends up being attacked (and rescued by Lady Death, of course). Yes, it’s pretty – to quote TV Tropes – “anvilicious”, but it is an important point to make, especially considering the real life attacks on Sikhs and Muslims following the attacks. All in all, the comic really isn’t that bad for what it is, and on the whole isn’t much worse (or really better) than the Marvel and DC tributes.

For me at least, to get at the whole reason this comic is so noteworthy and strange is you’d have to know a little about Chaos!’s history.  See, in 1999 Chaos! rebooted its own continuity through a story called “Armageddon”, although essentially most of the characters retained their own personal histories and memories.  The reboot coincided with Lady Death becoming more of a traditional (if still hard-edged) heroine, so we get a Lady Death who empathizes with the lives lost and even holds up an American flag while giving an inspirational monologue.

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Although the world has been rebooted, she is for all intents and purposes the same character who turned a child abuse victim into an undead serial killer, Evil Ernie, and sent him on a mission to wipe out the entire human race.  In one Evil Ernie story, back way before the “gentler and softer” Chaos! Comics, this is what happens to New York:

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That’s just before we learn that for half a year Evil Ernie has been single-handedly killing everyone in Manhattan who survived the satellite he sent crashing into the city.  Oh, and he’s the protagonist of his series.  Old school Chaos! did not screw around.  And, of course, Lady Death is all but directly responsible.  That’s why I was more than a little amused to see this comic, although I guess it would have been much worse if we’d seen Ernie and his zombie friends rescue 9/11 survivors.

Still, if you’re a scholar of Chaos! Comics like I am, it’s the weirdness of Doctor Doom and Magneto rescuing 9/11 survivors in Marvel’s own 9/11 tribute, but times at least 7,500.

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Yes This Really Happened

Yes, This Really Happened: The Decepticons Discover Atlantis, The Autobots Blow It Up (Kind Of)

Recently a friend of mine argued that while Hollywood has been getting dumber in its insane quest for the PG-13 audience, especially when it comes to making horror for the barely teen crowd, television cartoons marketed mostly toward kids have been getting smarter.  At least they’ve been taking on more of the tropes that we take for granted with more adult-targeted programming, little things like multi-episode story arcs, character development, and having more than just one core group of antagonists.  Probably the quintessential example of this is something along the lines of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but you also saw it with the recent remakes of a lot of ’80s and ’90s fare, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Transformers, and even freaking He-Man.   As hard as it may be to believe for people whose cultural awareness doesn’t stretch back to the ’80s, there was a time when these things were quite foreign to the Saturday morning ghetto.  You could rely on the same small band of villains showing up week after week.  Maybe a secondary antagonist for the designated villains and the heroes to team up against might pop up for an episode, but they definitely wouldn’t be sticking around in the heroes’ otherwise tiny rogues gallery.  Story arcs?  Well, in my day we had two-part episodes, and the show’s status quo might change in the next season, but you’d have to watch the special movie released in theaters or on VHS to see why.  Does that count?  As for character development and character arcs…well, no.

It was, depending on your point of view, a more innocent or a more primitive time.  Personally I think that era had its pluses, especially when it led to gloriously surreal things like this episode.

Like pretty much every Transformers episode from the early seasons, it’s all about the Decepticons trying to dig up lots of energy, usually by means of blowing things up.  This time Soundwave happens to discover massive amounts of energy being harnessed and processed at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.    Before you think there might actually be a fantastic, thinly-veiled Namor the Sub-Mariner versus the Transformers crossover there, it turns out it’s not really Atlantis, but “Sublantica,” which is populated by ugly amphibian people only the most devout of Furries could find attractive.  Oh, and they’re telepathic too.  In another unexpected plot twist, the sound of their telepathy is just their normal voices given the Alvin the Chipmunk-treatment.

Sorry ladies and gay gents, this ain’t no Namor.

Lost civilizations in ’80s children’s cartoons came in only two styles:  Complete Innocents Free from the Corruption of Modern Human Civilization, and Total Assholes.  N’rgil, the king of Sublantica, at least completely fits the latter category.  He really wants to conquer the  surface world, but he can’t because…to be honest, I watched the scene three times, and there’s only a throwaway line about how Sublantica and its people have to stay rooted because of their energy resources.  It doesn’t make any sense, and you can practically hear the overworked screenwriter rolling their eyes and saying, “Screw it, they’re just there because they’re there.”

Anyway, even though the Decepticons are completely unaffected by the physics of being underwater…

The Decepticons are so evil they break every law of hydrophysics.

…Sublantican technology beats them to a standstill of sorts.  Megatron and N’rgil form an uneasy alliance;  in exchange for the Decepticons’ help in harvesting energy from the ocean floor (which frees N’rgil up to lead his armies to the surface because the screenwriter needs to get to the bar in time for happy hour), N’rgil will launch an invasion of Washington DC.  Of course, Starscream, since he knows a thing or two about betrayal, correctly suspects that N’rgil has been scheming against the Decepticons from the beginning.  However, Starscream, still being Starscream, isn’t really able to change anything.  It’s the eternal fate of characters like Starscream to, even when they’re actually right, always be wrong, if that makes sense.

Naturally, the Autobots get involved when the Decepticons’ energy producing methods place Sublantica on the map.  A team of Autobots trace the energy signatures straight to Sublantica.  True, the Autobots also have the power to act as if they’re not submerged in seventeen quadrillion gallons of water, but it’s the second act, so not only are the Autobots and their human pet…I mean, ally, Spike are defeated and driven off, but Wheeljack is captured and subjected to experiments by the Sublanticans.   This in of itself could lead to some really dark turns, but as it is it just means N’rgil is now armed with a weapon that can stun Transformers.  With that, we go from an underwater adventure story to the Decepticons and the Sublanticans flat-out invading DC, as we see with a couple of quick scenes showing terrified civilians.

That woman’s massive hat remains my favorite thing about this episode. Hopefully it comes back in a future episode as a Transformer.

Now probably in one of today’s series this would have been at least the set-up for the next episode, or the beginning of a story arc about N’rgil and the Sublanteans and the implications of them having the ability to paralyze Transformers with a subplot about the Autobots  or Spike meeting more benevolent representatives of Sublantean civilization.  Not here!  The Decepticons and Sublanteans take DC in just a few rushed scenes, capped off with this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, if a 200-ton robot that can miraculously turn into a gun an average human can hold shouldn’t be our lord and master, who should?

The Autobots really don’t make a good showing against the invaders of DC, although to their credit they do advise each other not to destroy any history, which lets them show more courtesy than their Michael Bay counterparts.  Still, all of the Autobots are taken out by N’rgil’s anti-Transformer device, forcing the Autobots to call in the reserves:  Grimlock and the Dinobots.  You might remember Grimlock from the movie as the one who gets to delight the kids by making the immortal battle-cry, “Me Grimlock kick butt!”  In the show, he was a bit of a jerk, constantly telling Optimus Prime he was too much of a wimp to lead the Autobots.  In my generation’s terms, it’s like some guy telling Santa Claus, Jesus Christ, and your granddad that they’re all stupid pricks.

 

In the end, the assholes (the Dinobots) save the day by (somewhat accidentally) destroying N’rgil’s device.  N’rgil and the Decepticons retreat back to Sublantica, where N’rgil, proving to be the ultimate sore loser, vows to destroy Sublantica by blowing up its energy reserves (…somehow) rather than see it conquered by the Transformers.  Although the Autobots figure out what N’rgil is up to, they fail spectacularly to stop him.  Luckily, we the audience never got to see any Sublanticans other than N’rgil and some of his soldiers, so nobody (not even the characters for the most part) gets bummed that an entire species and civilization was just blown up.

Optimus Prime is especially bummed because this is the fourth legendary isolated civilization he personally saw violently destroyed since coming to Earth.

And all this, folks, happened in a less than thirty minute episode.  That’s how it’s done;  just stuff as many ideas as you can into an half-hour all while laughing in the face of reality and sanity.

 

 

 

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