Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Night in the Sanctorum!"
A SuperHero Squad review
- A "Magic of Video" post.

A Review and commentary of Super Hero Squad animated series
episode # 09

"Night In The Sanctorum!"

SuperHero Squad "# 09" production card

which is an homage to the cover of Strange Tales # 150
cover art by the late, great Bill Everett

After what, to me seemed like a weak first showing, Doctor Strange made his second appearance in the SUPERHERO SQUAD animated series this week.

On Wednesday, October 21st 2009, Strange was featured in the episode; "Night in the Sanctorum!"

For a Doctor Strange appearance, it was a definite step up in the right direction.

All told, I found this episode to treat Doctor Strange very well.
Very well indeed!

In fact, this episode might treat Strange far better than just about ANY prior TV appearance (also including that made-for-DVD cartoon)!

However, as with any of my so-called "reviews", you don't have to take my word for it.
Either before or after reading my take on it, feel free to watch the episode [HERE].

After the events of his previous appearance - episode 05 "Enter: Dormammu!" (a review of which can be found [HERE]), he has regained his mind and mystic might to be a competent and powerful sorcerer.

While Doctor Strange was only in the second half of the episode, he still put in a good solid 10 minutes of screen time - cumulative time between himself and the Sanctum Sanctorum.

To break the story down quickly; the Squaddies are in the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier until it is forced to crash due to unforeseen circumstances (namely, a spell by the ENCHANTRESS).
Now with no place to spend the night, the team is forced to go hopping from one hero's HQ to another - looking for lodging, all to less than ideal circumstances.

First, Iron Man posits that they spend the night at Stark Industries. However, it is beset by technical problems that cause the auto-defense systems to attack the Squad.

Next, the SHS are all crammed into the back of the PUNISHER's battle van, which is far from ideal since Punisher is crazy and, in a blatant display of one problem that I am having with the SUPERHERO SQUAD show, is an ADULT-themed character, behaving in a more menacing manner than the rest of the cute and cuddly "Squaddies". I'll give more on these observations after the Doctor Strange related portion of my review.

The team next tries to bunk with junior team-member-in-training "Reptil" (an hispanic teenaged? - youth) in his bedroom at his parent's house. A Hulk-sized case of clogging up the toilet and bunk-bed disaster causes the heroes to be cast into the night by Reptil's parents.

It is then that the group walks the streets and, thanks to the Hulk, come upon the... "wait for it"...


The home of (as Hulk exclaims) "Magic man", Dr. Strange!

None of the Squaddies are thrilled at the prospect of spending the night there, Thor letting loose a cry of "Odin wept!" at the thought of sleeping in such a creepy domicile.

There aren't any mystic wards cast upon the Sanctum in this episode so it is plainly visible and Hulk is able to simply walk, crashing through the doors into the Sanctum.

For some unspoken reason, Wong, Strange's manservant, is not present this episode.
The heroes are soon greeted by Doctor Strange who welcomes them to his humble home, knowing (far more than the Squaddies do) the magical nature of the events that brought them to his door.

"Welcome to my humble home!"
(an inside joke, sorry.)

Despite Iron Man's hopes that they won't be welcome, Strange insists that they spend the night.

While the episide is called "NIGHT at the Sanctorum", it should really be titled "Just a few minutes in the Sanctorum" because the Squad do not stay too long in the Sanctorum.

With the assorted bumps and boos of ghostly goings on, (mostly coming from rejects of Scooby-Doo and Real Ghostbusters,) the Squaddies are unable to rest.

Wolverine: "My real name is 'Scrappy Doo'!"
Ghost: "AAAGH!!! NOOOOoooo!!!"

Meanwhile the Hulk, fulfills his contractual potty joke quotient, by opening doors looking for "the can" (or a "magic can" - seemingly one that can accept his waste without breaking like Reptil's).

This is one of those "magic eye" things, right?
If you squint you can see the crappy writing.

Thor, looking for a midnight snack sets free Strange's old nemesis, Baron Mordo (who was held prisoner in a soda can?!?) and the two have a quick scuffle.

I will get my revenge on Dr. Strange!
But FIRST, I will KILL my AGENT!

Mordo's being imprisoned in a fizzy can of soda causes him to burp and belch magical bubbles of destruction (thus enabling more burp jokes and violence all at the same time).

Damn you, Willy Wonka!

This "battle" causes wreckage upon the Sanctum, thus waking Dr. Strange, who casts Mordo back into his carbonated prison .

Agamotto avatar slippers?

"Eff You, Mordo!"If there can be victory in defeat, Mordo wins because he gets out of this horrid guest appearance.

(At least in his all-too brief, and all-too disappointing appearance, Mordo gets to call on SHUMA GORATH for a cool name-drop! We can only hope that Shuma will appear in some future episode 0- especially since the villainous HQ of Dr. Doom bears a passing resemblance to the dark elder god. - for a pic see this post [HERE]).

With the destruction of his kitchen, Strange rescinds his offer to host the Squad for the night, casting them out.

Don't let the magic door magically hit you on your way out!

Once out of doors, the Squad are beset by Enchantress and her legion of flying explosive-fruit-tossing moneys.
Iron Man and the Squad make short work of them, however the Enchantress soon turns the tide by attacking and rendering helpless most the more powerful heroes (Surfer, Thor, Iron Man as well as Falcon).

Girlz rule. Boyz drool.
Soon, her spells are dissipated by a counter-spell from Doctor Strange and the two are locked in mystic battle!


The magical war between them is fairly straightforward multicolored blasts.

Nothing imaginative or interesting, but still fairly nicely orchestrated, as the energies released from their battle obviously stagger the surrounding heroes.

Rightly so, Enchantress is slightly more powerful than Strange and it is only with the distraction of the Squad that Strange can land the blast that ends the battle.

Behold my mighty balls of ... power!

Behold! My twin orbs of ... power (Yeah, let's go with "power")!

As is the case of late, after the battle, Strange is spent and passes out. It is only the quick action of Thor swooping down to rescue him that seemingly saves the weakened sorcerer.

"I never used to collapse... Now, it seems it's ALL I do..."
A comic quote that seems to embody Strange's abilities the past several years.

Strange soon regains his strength, and invoking the powers of the shades of the Seraphim and the omnipotent Oshtur to cast one final spell that defeats Enchantress.



And so, the day is saved!

Strange and his posse.

The heroes, unfortunately, still need to find a place to sleep for the night.
Without giving away the ending, let's just say, it's for the birds.


Now for thoughts on the episode and the show as a whole.

As I wrote at the START of this post, all told, I found this episode to treat Doctor Strange very well.
Very well indeed!

In fact, this episode might treat Strange far better than just about ANY prior TV appearance (also including that made-for-DVD cartoon)!

However, that in itself does not give the show a free pass.

For as much as I want to like this show, I simply find myself staring blankly at the screen for nearly 30 minutes with only one or two grins passing my countenance during each episode.

I believe that, with this episode, I have been able to put my finger on what has made the SUPERHERO SQUAD so frustratingly unappealing to me: it suffers from “multiple personality disorder”.
At first I thought it just didn't know whether it wanted to cater to kids or to it's adult comic fan-base, but looking a little deeper, I have found three distinctive "voices" that are obvious within the show.

1) With its constant barrage of flatulence and belching humor (or what the producers might think is humor) and pie-in-the-face slapstick type gags - the show seems, on the surface, to be aimed at young kids.

2) Yet, with some more adult double-entendre' humor (although, they're not even veiled well enough to be called "double" entendre' - more accurately just straight-up "entendre") the show is also trying to give something to adult males (not even adult females, since it might seem that the producers have come to the foregone conclusion that adult women - even mothers who want to watch along with their kids, just won't be watching this show).

3) And then, with the steep curve of in-comic references and character name-dropping - there also seems to be the aim at the mixed demographic of "man-child" comic fans.
I tried watching this episode from a purely "no prior knowledge of the Marvel Universe" mindset, and I would be lost, or at least confused, at various points if I were truly thus.

Mordo's half-assed appearance (trapped in a soda can, and only able to burp magic bubbles for 2 minutes before being so easily dispatched to the soda can prison once again) would baffle any viewer who didn't know who Mordo was.
Hell, I know Mordo and that horrid excuse for Mordo was no Mordo!
(I immediately had this thought: "Sir, I served with Baron Mordo, I knew Baron Mordo, Baron Mordo was a friend of mine. Sir, you are no Baron Mordo!")

While each of those aspects (or "voices") aren't given equal footing, and so, not truly tripling the problematic nature outright, this episode shines a bright light on each of those three natures of the show, exposing the seams in the tapestry, where other, more adept cartoons have been able to merge them flawlessly. *
*(footnote to this point can be found at the END of this post - so as to avoid interjecting too much of a side-thought into the heart of this review)

Cases in point:

1) For instance, each episode of the SHS has untold fart, belch, and vomit jokes.
These are usually perpetrated by HULK and THOR, both of whom are shown with varying degrees of "less than average" intelligence. So, the dumb humor is present.
Hulk having a 20 second belching solo of "Mary had a little lamb" seemed to be present for no other reason than filler and something to fill the episode's burp quotient. The rest of the time he is a bumbling oaf, and/or talking about needing to go to "the can". His input in the show usually falls within that parameter - burping and bumbling - usually numerous times for each. Thor fares little better, although the angle of the humor against him seems to be more preoccupied with the "Thor is an air-headed girlie-man" aspect of the golden-blonde-haired godling.

2) Iron Man has several instances wherein he lets the "Tony Stark" persona out in his dialogue.
In this - and other episodes - he comments on the good looking nature of some of the villainous female characters - Enchantress in this episode. He tries coming on to her and trying to sway her to the side of good over dinner. Admirable goal - sleezy method. While the Squaddies are looking to find a place to spend the night (after their Helicarrier HQ is destroyed) Stark is looking through his phone list of heroes and comes across She-Hulk's name. He thinks to himself "Nah... well.. maybe if it were just ME." - thusly giving a nudge and wink to the adult males in the audience.

Also, it might just be me, but the Enchantress seemed to be drawn in a slightly different style than the rest of the characters. Just enough to look a little... dare I say... "sexy". While all the other characters are very cartoony, with bold, thick lines, Enchantress was rendered far less blocky, with finer features.

As for female characters on the show, there aren't many, and the few that are more frequently present; MS. MARVEL and WASP, possess less than aspiring natures.
In the SHS world, Ms. Marvel seems to be the head of the S.H.I.E.L.D agency. While her holding a position of great power is a positive merit, the fact that she is portrayed as a screaming, annoying shrew is less than ideal.
WASP is very much like the origins of her comic book incarnation; brave and determined, but vain and concerned with her clothes.

Also, since these two heroines are only shown to be present part-time in the show, giving the male heroes the bulk of screen time, mothers looking for positive female characters in the show won't really find them here (at least not yet. Maybe in time).

My previously mentioned observation of the Punisher, behaving in a paranoid, violent, menacing and maniacal manner, also delineates the schism of just towards whom this show is being geared.

3) Comic book character name dropping and inferences are aplenty.
Many in this episode are just casually tossed out there - for the comic geek fans to catch and the others who aren't "in the know" will scratch their heads at the reference.
Among them this episode are:
- Texas Twister (with a pin-up on young Reptyl's bedroom wall along many other heroes, some of whom aren't mentioned but still are unknown to viewers - such as Kitty Pryde and Lockheed, Colossus, Storm, Hawkeye, Nick (black version) Fury and Iron Fist)
- The Inhumans
- She-Hulk
- Brother Voodoo (a bonus for fans of this blog, but kids at home will have no idea)

And, as I mentioned earlier, the entire Baron Mordo appearance boggled the mind.


Also, While it is certainly not "wrong" to do so, the lines between them seem obvious, there are characters for each level of viewer:

HULK and THOR seems aimed squarely at the youngest viewers.

A youthful new character called "Reptil", an hispanic teenager with the pterodactyl-like abilities, is present as a positive role model for young (as well as minority) viewers.

Silver Surfer seems to actually surf above all the demographics with his "beach-zen" attitude and laid-back perceptions to his newly adoptive homeworld.
He is a character for any and all ages.
Unfortunately, for anyone but the youngest viewer, the constant utterance of "whoa, cooosmic" quickly wears thin.

Falcon and Iron Man are the quick quipping, double-entendre' dropping, adult-aimed characters that keep the show hopping along. Not all of their antics are spot on all the time, but for the most part, these two are the "buddy-cop team" for the show. Iron Man, especially, as the team leader, has it together.

Oddly, Wolverine, who is ubiquitous in all stages of Marvel's mass media has almost no personality at all. Sure, he's the "angry guy", but aside from that, I get no bead on him.
He's window-dressing - up for grabs by any and all viewers.

The Villains, almost as a whole, seem to be played for laughs. Each one more juvenile than the last. And almost all of them with the most annoying voices ever beset upon human ears.
Perhaps it is a conscious effort to make the villains as unpleasant as possible, subliminally instilling a distaste for "evil" into the subconscious minds of children watching.
I honestly don't know.

All I can say is that the cumulative effect of all of these factors is driving this viewer from the show.

I'll record any episodes that feature Dr. Strange (and possibly a few other characters that I have interest in) and watch them later.

If pressed, I wouldn't recommend the show to anyone, however.

I'd rather hand them one of the "Essential" volumes and happily tell them to read the good stories that made these characters great.


* Just to illuminate a point I'll post this footnote.

Anyone who has ever watched an old "Bugs Bunny" (or any of the "Loony Tunes" / "Merry Melodies") cartoons that were produced in the 1940's, there is something for everyone.
Kids watching the shows didn't get the adult humor. It didn't even hit their radar - subtly sailing far over their heads. Adults watching the shows were able to treat their inner-child with the same rakes-to-the-face as the kiddies, but there were layers of adult references and subjects that lay at different levels below the surface.
And better yet, kids who watched the shows and then, years later, watched them again as adults were suddenly shown the panoply of genius that was infused into each animated work.

The same can not be said for many of the cartoons of the same characters from the 1980's onward
(be it Warner Bros or other studio). Sure, there were some good ones, like Animaniacs - and Duck Dodgers was a treat, but for the most part, most cartoons these past few decades have been shallow fluff, lacking in their creative depths.

This is the problem with this SUPERHERO SQUAD.
It may be unfair to lay such a burden at the feet on but one of many such cartoons that are produced today, but when some series can get it SO right (Spongebob Squarepants to name but one), it only makes it more obvious when something that should, by all rights be wonderful, falls far afield from that perfection.

Truthfully, I'd like to blame it on the "marketing" aspects of today's cartoons.
They are mostly 22 minute commercials for some toy, card game or ancillary product - and not the product themselves.
However, there have ben some "marketing tool toons" that HAVE gone the extra yard and
became a product! Transformers (nearly ANY generation of that franchise) is one of the better examples.

Still, I come not to lay all the medium's problems at the feet of this one program.
When many of the same people are working on many of the same problematic series' and properties, it is hard to see the forest for the trees.


Anonymous said...

great post

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