“Go. Don’t be what they made you.”

It’s always tempting, when a creator reveals themselves to be a bit of a shit, to look back on their past work and say “ah, I never liked ’em anyway”. This was certainly the case with comic book creator Frank Miller, whose politics took a hard right turn after 9/11 resulting in such works as Holy Terror, initially intended as a Batman story for DC before they dropped it like a hot, extremely Islamaphobic potato. This in turn led to many comics fans deciding that Miller had never been that good or important a comics creator to begin with. And, frankly, that’s not entirely unwarranted. Dodgy politics aside, a lot of Miller’s back catalogue simply hasn’t aged that well. There were always dodgy undercurrents of racism and misogyny in Miller’s work (he wrote origin stories for Batman and Daredevil that both had scenes of the protagonist fighting prostitutes), and knowing the path he went down makes those elements a lot harder to overlook now. Also, whereas Alan Moore (Miller’s contemporary and the creator he is probably most often compared to) brought a real intellectual and emotional richness to the comics genre, Miller’s most successful works were often empty showcases of style over substance. Sin City and 300 are visually striking as all hell. But ultimately, they’re hollow, emotionally stunted things. That said, there is at least one work that I will defend as still holding up (mostly).

dark knight

There are female characters in this that AREN’T prostitutes! I swear ta God.

The Dark Knight Returns depicts an aged and embittered Bruce Wayne, coming out of retirement to fight the sky-rocketing crime and urban malaise that was such a feature of Reagan’s America. As he becomes increasingly violent and unhinged in his methods, the US Government sends in the only man they think can stop him:

darkknight

What gives the story its power is the incredible weight of the history of these characters and an overwhelming, almost crushing sense of despair. This, Miller, seems to be saying, is how your heroes will always end; either bitter fanatics who were unable to change, or corrupted, toothless stooges who sold out to a corrupt status quo. This is how the World’s Finest Team ends, two old men beating each other to death in an alley way. And it’s depressing, and it’s cruel but it also feels true. And the inescapable knowledge that all those decades upon decades of stories and triumphs and battles of these, THE two greatest superheroes, that it was all leading to this awful, final confrontation? That’s when the story stops being merely tragic and becomes proper, classical, Tragedy. It’s Twilight of the Gods. It’s Ragnarok. It’s epic as fuck.

And that’s why Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice is fucking terrible.

batman-v-superman-batman

Sorry, that’s one of VERY MANY reasons why that movie is terrible but I will never, for the life of me, understand why no one twigged that a fight between Batman and Superman means nothing if they don’t even know each other. That’s what gave the final confrontation in DKR its power. The weight of history. The tragedy of watching two men who once loved each other as brothers reduced to this brutal slugfest. All that goes out the window if they’ve just fucking met.

Sarcastic Map of Wartime Europe

“Uh Mouse, isn’t this supposed to be about Wolverine or something?”

I’m getting there. Okay, with DKR Frank Millar created (possibly?) and popularised (definitely) the stock superhero trope of the Last Story. The Last Story is a tale (almost always out of continuity), that shows you how a certain superhero ends. They are almost always set in a bleak future, and will usually depict the hero coming out of retirement for One Last Job. These stories often will try to serve as a capstone, and a summation of the meaning of that hero. When they work, they work because they are able to deliver the things that most superhero stories by their very nature can’t; climax. Conclusion. Finality. Stakes. Characters can finally die and be at peace without an inevitable resurrection on the horizon. Arcs can be concluded. The story can finally end (at least, in this one corner of continuity). Pretty much every major character you can think of by this point has had a Last Story; Superman, Spider-Man, Punisher and of course, Wolverine, who’s died more times than Kenny McCormack and so has had plenty of opportunity for “Last Stories”. One of these, Old Man Logan was a miniseries that released in 2009 and was written by Mark Millar.

frank miller

unlikely

This series sees an aged Wolverine having renounced violence and living in a dystopian future where the villains won and everything’s awful and the Hulk’s an incestous cannibal who fucked his own cousin and spawned a whole tribe of inbred hulk hillbillies and Jesus Christ we made Mark Millar one of the most successful comic writers of the aughts what the fuck were we thinking?

Anyway, apart from both featuring Old Men Named Logan there is actually very little connecting Old Man Logan and the movie that it nominally inspired (thank fuck). Logan arose out of a desire of Hugh Jackman and The Wolverine director James Mangold to do something radically different with the character and genre. That is, after all, the great strength of a Last Story. You get to take some risks.

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The Little Mermaid, The Series: Scuttle

Wha’ Happen’?

Oh Disney’s The Little Mermaid The Series, how could I ever have doubted ye? After the snore-fest of Metal Fish I was resigned to this retrospective ending in a disappointing (if thematically appropriate) damp squib. Oh Mouse of little faith. Strap in folks, we’re riding this train all the way to crazy town.

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The Little Mermaid, The Series: Metal Fish

Wha’ Happen’?

There’s an episode of Blackadder Goes Forth where Captain Edmund Blackadder is being courtmartialed for eating a carrier pigeon. He’s not worried, though, as he tells his jailer that he’s retained the services of Massingbird, the greatest lawyer of the age:

Jailer: I hear he’s a dab hand at the prosecution as well, sir.

Blackadder: Yes, well, look at Oscar Wilde.

Jailer: Ol’ butch Oscar.

Blackadder: Yep! Big, bearded, bonking, butch Oscar. The terror of the ladies. 114 illegitimate children, world heavyweight boxing champion and author of the best-selling pamphlet “Why I Like To Do It With Girls.” And Massingbird had him sent down for being a whoopsie.

That scene kept running through my mind as I watched Metal Fish with its depiction of Hans Christian Andersen as a flame haired, barrel-chested adventurer of the deepest depths of the sea and not, as he was in real life, a wee Danish pastry who spent much of his life in an undisclosed location hiding from his own erections. But I get ahead of myself.

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The Little Mermaid, the series: Wish Upon a Starfish

“Hey Mouse. I did you a solid with that Ursula episode, right? So how’s about you don’t rag on me quite so mercilessly from now on?”
“My my. Am I already at the part where I hallucinate that the series I’m reviewing is talking to me? How time flies.”
“C’mon Mouse. Isn’t there enough negativity in the world? Just give me a good review and I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Lie to my readers? Why that’s…I couldn’t possibly…NO! GET OUT! GET OUT OF HERE! LEAVE ME ALONE!”
“Suit yourself. It was only a suggestion.”

Wha’ Happen’?

Of all the nerve! I’m going to be absolutely brutal on this one. Wish Upon a Starfish begins with Sebastien looking for Ariel and telling her she’d better be studying for her “Crab Philosophy” test…okay, I already have a million and one questions here.

Ariel is receiving some kind of education? Sebastien is her tutor now (why am I not surprised)? But most importantly, which crab philosophers are on the curriculum? Crabistotle? Socrabstes? Crab Camus?

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk beside me because I walk sideways. Because I’m a crab.”

Anyway, Sebastien tells Ariel that there’s a storm going on overhead so she swims to the surface to see if she can get some of that sweet, sweet human swag. She finds a music box with a ballerina figurine (I would really have liked if this was the same music box we see in Part of Your World but alas) but Sebastien and Flounder yell at her to come back because the storm is dangerous. Somehow.

Oh no! They might…drown?

Well yes, actually. They get hit by a wave and we next see Ariel unconscious, washed up on a beach with Flounder beside her. And Flounder’s first words are “Ariel, are you okay?!”

Yeah dude. She is. Because she has LUNGS.

Like, sweet and all that he cares about her so much but sometimes it’s okay to prioritise your own needs, y’know?

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The Little Mermaid, the series: Against the Tide

Wha’ Happen’?

The episode begins with Ariel riding a sea horse throughout the entire ocean to wish every single sea creature a good morning and to continue her descent into self-parody. One creature who is not having a good morning however, is whatever the hell this thing is:

What? What!? WHAT?!!

So this…flipped bird from evolution itself is a Bad Luck Creature and none of the other sea creatures will have anything to do with it because it’s supposedly unlucky which, clearly from the fact that it’s living, it is. The creature, which we shall call Lucky, is very sad because all of the other ocean denizens shun it and call it names.

“FREAK!”

Ariel comes across this abomination and starts make cooing noises and oh God, you know what this means don’t you?

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The Little Mermaid, The Series: Save the Whale

Wha’ Happen’?

If my kids ever ask me about the nineties I’ll tell them of a wondrous time when the Soviet Union had collapsed, the Cold War was over and we were all free to focus on what was really important: dinosaurs and whales. Seriously, if it wasn’t big, extinct or going extinct it could get fucked. The mania of interest in dinosaurs obviously followed in the wake of Jurassic Park, whereas the world’s global bout of cetaphilia was a result of the movie Free Willy, a film about boys and whales and whales jumping over boys.

Not a great movie. Sorry.
“Between this and talking shit about Darkwing Duck, you are just asking to be killed by nineties kids at this point.”

This episode deals with Spot, a baby killer whale that Ariel adopted in the pilot for this series which I haven’t reviewed because Disney, in their infinite wisdom, decided to not put it on Disney plus. And this episode is a sequel to that one where Spot returns because Disney was decided in 1993 that having an episode about a killer whale trying to escape from a water park might be an easy sell.

Ahem.

Actually I can’t be sure of that. This episode aired in October 1993, a mere three months after Free Willy premiered which seems like an awfully quick turnaround. I mean, that would mean that this episode was just slapped together in ninety days and ohhhhhhhh I see…

And all the pieces fell into place.
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The Little Mermaid, The Series: Thinga-Ma-Jigger

Wha’ Happen’?

Ariel and Flounder are out minding their own damn business when a naval battle between some pirates and the Royal Navy breaks out overhead. During the battle, one of the pirates drops a boot and Ariel, little hoarder that she is, is fascinated by it and takes it back to Atlantica to show to her friends. Now, The Little Mermaid the film had a lean, tight little screenplay with very little fat which was to its credit. But it does mean that Ariel’s world is really under-populated. She has literally two friends in that movie (Sebastien is more of an authority figure), Flounder and Scuttle and she hasn’t actually met Scuttle yet. So the episode has to create some new fish friends for Ariel. Who are these fresh new additions to the rich Mermaid canon? Well, we get an unnamed posh lady fish who loves fashion dahling and an uninspired Woody Allen impression. God, uninspired Woody Allen impersonations used to be everywhere in cartoons and they were never a good sign. Foodfight! had one. That should teach you plenty. By a rather morbid coincidence this episode would have aired right around the time Dylan Farrow went public.

Probably why this guy isn’t on a lot of merch.
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The Little Mermaid, The Series: The Evil Manta

Wha’ Happen’?

Things get off to a bad start right away when The Little Mermaid the series violates the unwritten rule that all Disney series from the nineties have to have an absolute banger as a theme song. Instead, TLM has a wordless medley of the themes for Under the Sea and Part of Your World. Fantastic pieces of music no doubt, but it still feels more than a little lazy.

Anyway, remember the Under the Sea sequence from the original movie? Sure ya do. Well, it turns out that’s just how life is in Atlantica all the time, a never-ending calypso-infused bacchanal under the kindly patrician gaze of beloved despot King Triton. So Triton and Sebastien are taking a trip see the “turtle races” and Ariel and Flounder take the opportunity to go exploring. Near a sinister looking volcano they hear a weak, pathetic voice begging them for help and discover an unseen creature trapped in the volcano’s crater. Ariel wants to help but Flounder reminds her of the legend of a terrible monster that was trapped in a volcano (much like this one actually) by the ancient Atlanticans and that would certainly doom their entire civilization if it was ever freed. Ariel, naturally, tells Flounder not to be such a little bitch and frees the creature which turns out to be…the thing, the thing I just said.

I’m not even going to insult you by telling you who they got to voice him. You should be able to tell just by looking at him.
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The Little Mermaid The Series: Introduction

Look, in my time I’ve clapped back at people who disputed bad reviews I gave with the shop-worn riposte “well it wasn’t made for you!” but there does come a point where you have to admit that something just…wasn’t…made for you. Case in point, over the next few posts I’ll be reviewing a cartoon series made for nine year old girls in the early nineties. And it’s one thing to dunk on DarkWing Duck but beating up on a show made for little girls is cheap even for me. Fortunately, Unshaved Mouse inc. has a nine year old girl on staff and she kindly agreed to watch the series with me. And Mini Mouse peaced out after three episodes so I know it’s not just me. Actual transcript:

“Is this a new show?”
“Oh no, it’s almost as old as I am.”
“Oh, that’s why it’s so…”
“So what?”
“Nothin’.”

And look, I wanted to like this series. Hell, I have always wanted to like this series. I’ve mentioned before that The Little Mermaid was the first Disney movie I ever owned on VHS. I loved that film as much as it was safe for a seven year old boy in a rough North Dublin school to love that movie. And I remember being deeply bored by this series. In retrospect, I don’t know what I was thinking. Not because the series is good (oh no) but it is ABSOLUTELY BUCK WILD.

See this? This is from the episode where Ariel defeats a racism powered Ocean Satan with footwear. I made LITERALLY NONE OF THAT UP.

Buckle up, Mother-Guppies. We’re gettin’ weird.