Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Favorite Movies: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

As a long-time fan of old cartoons, especially the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies and the like, you can imagine how I felt when I first heard the news that Disney/Touchstone was coming out with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and that it would feature all sorts of cartoon characters appearing on the same screen together! Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse sharing screen time? Daffy and Donald Duck having a piano duel? It was a no-brainer that I'd go to see this movie when it came out.

Initially, I didn't even care about what the story was going to be like, or even who Roger Rabbit was. Oh, I'd heard about the source material, Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, and even knew that the original book dealt with comic strip characters, and not cartoons. I got more interested as I saw some previews for the movie, as well as some of the other promotional features that were done to promote the movie.

I have to say, I fell in love with this movie from the first frames, with the Maroon Cartoon opening with Roger and Baby Herman, in the pseudo-Looney Tunes style. It was obvious that I was in for a treat, and I was not disappointed.

In case you're one of the few people underprivileged enough to have ever seen this movie, the basic conceit of it is that cartoons aren't actually drawn on cels and shot frame by frame, but rather the cartoon characters, or "Toons," live in a part of Hollywood called Toon Town, and they all work for various studios, being filmed live. All the gag items are the product of Marvin Acme, and include all the standard toon gags familiar to all of us.

Anyway, the initial cartoon gets interrupted when a refrigerator lands on poor Roger Rabbit, and he's supposed to react by seeing stars, but instead he's got little birdies circling his noggin. Certainly Roger's heart is in the right place, he just can't seem to perform on cue with some of the effects. Baby Herman (who's actually a much more mature person than he appears on screen) leaves the set in a huff, and things go on from there.

It's a murder mystery, with Roger set up as the fall guy for the murder of Marvin Acme. Roger's the chief suspect because his wife, Jessica Rabbit (who's not a rabbit, but rather probably the sexiest toon babe ever brought to the screen, even moreso than the legendary Red Hot Riding Hood) has been literally playing pat-a-cake with Marvin, and Marvin was killed in a way that would suggest a toon has done the crime.

Maroon Studios hires Eddie Valiant, a down on his luck private detective, to look into the matter. Eddie hates working with toons. He and his brother used to work almost exclusively for toons, but since a toon killed his brother, Eddie's taken to the bottle and doesn't want to be near them. You can imagine how he feels when he's stuck with Roger, who tries desperately to get Eddie to laugh!

Roger's being pursued by Judge Doom, who has figured out the one way to kill a Toon -- dip! It's basically a very powerful paint solvent, and can kill a Toon almost instantly. Judge Doom is determined to arrest and execute Roger for his crime, but there's more to him than meets the eye!

We also meet Eddie's girlfriend, Dolores, who works at a gin joint. Initially, she's jealous of Jessica, who appears to be trying to put the moves on Eddie (who was completely unprepared for her), but Dolores has nothing to worry about.

The plot takes several twists and turns, and there are cameos galore of characters from Warner Brothers, Disney, MGM, Fleischer and others (no Popeye, but Betty Boop is there, as is Koko the Clown). Even the Harveytoons jack-in-the-box makes an appearance towards the end (but not so Casper)! Just about every classic cartoon gag is fit in there one way or another.

Along with the murder mystery, the movie's also very much about Eddie's finding his way back to the person he used to be, and of all the characters, he's the only one who really experiences real growth as a character.

The special effects for the movie were miles ahead of anything that had ever been done before in the realm of combining live action and animated characters. Certainly the work could be done better (or at least, more easily today), but at the time, it was state of the art, and it still holds up very well (later movies like this, such as Space Jam or Looney Tunes Back in Action, don't look quite as good).

The movie did very well financially, and inspired a new wave of interest in old-school animation. It's easy to see how WFRR? led to the later Spielberg-produced Tiny Toon Adventures and even more so the later Animaniacs. In the years since, there's been a lot of talk about doing a sequel or prequel, but concepts have been thought up and discarded over and over again. Several Roger Rabbit shorts were produced, however, being featured with other Disney/Touchstone movies, and there was even a short-lived Roger Rabbit comic book, teaming Roger with a different human detective, as they couldn't use Eddie Valiant in the comic book. I bought every issue of the comic, and was sad to see it go away.

It's sad that the only way to see the movie these days is on the small screen, because I think it looked amazing on the big screen!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sci-Fi Magazine Cover Gallery!

Time for another gallery of vintage sci-fi magazine covers!
This one certainly recalls some later Atom covers, doesn't it?

Apparently, in the future most women will shop for clothes from the Phantom Lady collection!

Speaking of the Atom, that is the same Ray Palmer that the Silver Age Atom's secret identity was named after!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Comic Reading Library: Funnyman #1!

Here's one I'll bet a lot of you have heard of but never read... created by Siegel and Shuster, they might have hoped they'd have another Superman on their hands, but it definitely didn't work out that way!

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Characters: Nightstar!

A 1991 drawing by me of Nightstar... trying to figure out the
foreshortening, I didn't quite pull it off. I also made her way too
curvy, as you'll see from the following drawings!
So let me get this out of the way right away: My Nightstar character was in no way influenced or inspired by the character of the same name that appeared in Kingdom Come. My Nightstar was created probably around 1980 or so, and if she has any visual influence at all, it would've been the female Moonstone as deliniated by Sal Buscema in a few issues of The Incredible Hulk. Okay then?

Nightstar is one of my more powerful characters, and the first of the female superheroes I came up with back in the day. Here's her origin: Tamara James had long been interested in the stars, and this was recognized early on. One of her uncles once gave her a necklace with a star charm on it, calling her his little "nightstar," because she kept staying up late watching the stars through her telescope. When she graduated from high school, she made astronomy her choice of study in college, and graduated near the top of her class. From there, she was hired to be on the staff of the LIGO Hanford Observatory, not too far south from Tacoma, Washington, where she continued to study astronomical phenomena.

Her life was forever changed one dark night, during the annual meteor showers. She was on-duty during the showers, and saw one meteor enter the atmosphere and touch down not too far away from the observatory. Having the opportunity to study a meteor more or less intact was too much to resist, and she proceeded to the impact site.

Fortunately for her, she was the first on the scene. The meteor had struck an uninhabited area, not quite burying itself in the ground. Approaching it with a Geiger counter, Tamara doesn't detect any radiation, but the meteor glows with an eerie light. Throwing caution to the wind, she touches the meteor, and its glow surrounds her, causing her to pass out.

When she revives, she finds herself looked over by two men, who it's clear intend to take advantage of her. Reacting instinctively, she lashes out with energy blasts from her hands, and flies up into the sky. This, of course, scares the crap out of her, but she still manages to land on the ground safely. The meteor no longer glows, and her attackers are out cold, so she decides to take the meteor (which, to her surprise, she's able to carry quite easily) to her vehicle to bring it back to the observatory for further study.

An earlier drawing of Nightstar by me, this one has her too
skinny. I was trying to take a lesson from how Jan Duursema
drew her, but went astray. Still, I like this better than the
later one seen above!
The following day, she goes to her mentor, a retired astronomer who had been her supervisor her first few years at LIGO, and tells him what happened the night before, demonstrating her newly discovered power of flight. It's obvious that whatever kind of energy the meteor contained has been transferred to her, and she wants to figure out what effect it's had on her. Fortunately, her mentor's grandchildren are comic book fans, and together they go through various superpowers to see what has manifested in her. It takes some trial and error, but eventually the two discover that she has, along with flight and enhanced strength, she can also cast a variety of energy beams, can create a breathable atmosphere immediately around her (in the form of a sphere, with herself at the center of it), and can generate a forcefield. A further discovery is that she has the ability to create what she calls a "nova blast," which sends energy streaming out from her in the form of an explosion, the effect lessening as it gets further from her (a power she vows to hold off on using if at all possible). Taking inspiration from the comic books, as well as her childhood nickname, Tamara decides to take on the costumed identity of Nightstar. Later, she discovers she can also instantly change her regular street clothes into her costume, although she's not certain just how she's able to do that.

She considers her powers to be loosely categorized as the powers of stars and planets, in that she flies by controlling the effect gravity has on her, for example (a later ability is to effect changes on how gravity affects others, making them able to fly as well or rooting them in place). How this energy caused all this remains unknown, although her mentor believes that she was meant to have the powers, and that they were sent to Earth for her by some force unknown.

After operating solo for some time, Nightstar eventually learns of the formation of the Guardians of Justice, based out of Seattle, and decides to apply to join the team. As noted in the NuClone entry, her initial efforts don't work out quite so well, but she learns from that experience that it's best to go into combat with a plan of attack, rather than throwing everything at a target and hoping something works. She's welcomed onto the team, and as she works with the Guardians, Nightstar actively seeks to recruit other women superheroes.

Jan really nailed the character here... she got the costume perfectly, I couldn't
have asked for a better drawing of Nightstar... and she got the energy effect right,
to boot! 
As Tamara, she tends to look the part of an astronomer; she wears glasses, and keeps her hair tied in a bun. She dresses rather conservatively, as she wants to be taken seriously by others in her profession. As Nightstar, she finds a freedom in her new identity, rather like how Peter Parker enjoys being Spider-Man. She doesn't really joke around that much as Nightstar, but neither is she completely serious. At first, she finds LaserAvenger fascinating (probably due to the fact that both of them have advanced degrees in the sciences), but ultimately decides that while there is mutual respect and affection, it's best that they remain friends.

It comes as a great surprise to her when Nightfighter joins the Guardians that she finds herself attracted to him -- one of the most powerful of the team interested in a member with no powers at all! It seems opposites attract, and while he is also attracted to her, neither of them do anything about it (although it seems obvious to most of the rest of the team that there's a spark there) for some time. It's after the space mission discussed in the LaserAvenger entry that the two decide to admit their feelings for each other, although there are bumps in the road as Nightfighter wonders why someone with Nightstar's powers could treat him as an equal, but learns that she does have a lot of respect for him (this is especially made obvious when Nightstar temporarily loses her powers, and she works with Nightfighter on training in non-powered combat... after her powers return, she still spends time training with Nightfighter so she's not completely reliant on her powers).

In a possible future, Nightfighter and Nightstar have two children who continue the heroic tradition started by their parents, although it's their son who has powers, while the daughter is a non-powered crimefighter.