Thursday, December 31, 2015

Spectacular Spider-Man: "Shear Strength"

Premiered October 27, 2009.
Note:We recently reviewed "Reinforcement," the Christmas episode of this series.  The episode reviewed here is the follow-up to "Reinforcement."  This review contains more SPOILERS than usual.  I strongly recommend you watch "Reinforcement" before checking out this New Year's Eve episode.

It's New Year's Eve in the Big Apple.

The super-villains known as Electro (Crispin Freeman) and Vulture (Robert Englund) escaped police custody after Spider-Man (Josh Keaton) defeated them on Christmas Eve.  They are brought by the Tinkerer (Thom Adcox-Hernandez) to a lab where they will meet their mysterious new boss who calls himself the Master Planner.  The criminals are surprised to learn that the Planner is none other than Doctor Octopus (Peter MacNicol)!

With the help of the Tinkerer, Doc Ock has wired his brain to every computer in New York.
He uses this new power to create chaos in the city.  This makes traffic lights malfunction and creates  accidents.  Doctor Octopus also taps into the NYPD's communications and sends the police on wild goose chases all over town.

At the same time, Peter Parker is hanging out with his friends Gwen Stacy (Lacey Chabert) and Mary Jane Watson (Vanessa Marshall) at a Manhattan coffee shop.  Mary Jane, wanting to play match-maker for her friends, tries to get Gwen and Peter to join her in attending the New Year celebration in Times Square.  But Gwen is still not sure Peter is truly interested in her.  MJ informs Gwen that she's all he ever talks about.

Plans change when Gwen is zapped by Electro...

...and taken away by the Vulture to the Doc Ock's hideout.

Ock, using his "Master Planner" identity, contacts Gwen's father, New York police Captain George Stacy (Clancy Brown).  The villain tells Stacy that if he wants to see Gwen alive, he has to give Doctor Octopus Homeland Security codes that will give access to every computer in the country. Stacy reluctantly says he will comply with Doc Ock's demands.

Captain Stacy is forced to give in to Doc Ock's demands.
Peter is furious over this and puts on his Spider-Man suit to rescue Gwen.  Spidey catches Tinkerer, who tells him Gwen is being held in Doc Ock's underwater headquarters.

Spidey shakes down the Tinkerer for information.
Spidey finds Gwen, but if he wants to rescue her, he'll have to go through Doctor Octopus.

Their battle destroys Doc Ock's headquarters and Spidey ends up buried under tons of machinery.

Will Capt. Stacy give Master Planner the codes?  Will Doc Ock honor their agreement and release Gwen?  If not, can Spider-Man rescue Gwen?  Will Peter and Gwen share a New Year's kiss at midnight?

J.A. Morris says:

The holiday spirit isn't as strong in "Shear Strength" as it was in the previous episode, but it's adorned with some holiday trappings. Mary Jane says she'll be attending the Times Square's New Year celebration at the beginning, and it ends with characters watching the ball drop on TV.

Peter's Aunt May (Deborah Strang) counts down the last ten seconds before the New Year and two characters share a kiss (I won't say which characters) at midnight.  "Auld Lang Syne" is played over the closing credits instead of the usual theme music.  And Aunt May's house still has some Christmas decorations on the wall, so it still feels like the Holiday season.

The plot of "Shear Strength" is a loose adaptation of one of Spider-Man's greatest stories that was originally published in 1965.  So old school fans of the webhead will appreciate this episode.  We get lots of great fight scenes, plus some dramatic developments in Peter Parker's personal life.   I hated to reveal the true identity of the Master Planner, but Doctor Octopus reveals himself about two seconds into "Shear Strength." 

While Gwen's life and the fate of the world are at stake, there's also plenty of humor in "Shear Strength."  For example, check out Doc Ock's "Evil Genius" coffee mug!:

The voice cast of Spectacular Spider-Man was always good and this episode is no exception.  Josh Keaton was always great delivering Spidey's trademark sarcasm.  This episode he switches back and forth between smart alec and deadly serious, since Gwen's is endangered by his enemies.  Peter MacNicol (an actor best known for roles in Ally McBeal and Ghostbusters II) is also outstanding as Doctor Octopus.  MacNicol's Doc Ock is no cackling madman, he's a cold, calculating, brilliant criminal tactician.  

Doctor Octopus pins Spidey to the wall!
This is a good episode, but it works better if you think of it as a follow-up to "Reinforcement." Maybe watching both episodes back-to-back is the best way to enjoy them.

"Shear Strength" has been released several times on home video.  It's available on The Spectacular Spider-Man:The Complete Series blu ray set.  You can also find it on a standalone dvd called The Spectacular Spider-Man:Volume Five.

This is how the Times Square New Year's Eve celebration is depicted in this episode, Peter & Aunt May watch it on TV.
This is a good episode, but it works better if you think of it as a follow-up to "Reinforcement." Maybe watching both episodes back-to-back is the best way to enjoy them.

Peter gets a surprise midnight visitor on New Year's Eve.
Just like New Year's Eve is the less festive sister holiday to Christmas, "Shear Strength" is solid, but slightly less enjoyable than Spidey's Yultide outing.  

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 champagne flutes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Marvel Super Hero Adventures: "Frost Fight"

Premiered December 11, 2015

"Santa Claus is beloved, celebrated, songs are sung in his name.  Hmm…using him to dominate the very beings that adore him…well that is just too devious to resist."

The Avengers defeat Loki (Troy Baker) and his frost giant ally Ymir (Fred Tatasciore) in their latest attack on Earth.  But their victory isn't achieved without problems.  Reptil (Antony Del Rio), a teenaged Avenger-in-training, hasn't fully grasped the concept of teamwork.

Meanwhile, Ymir and Loki plot their next move.  Ymir suggests they steal the powers of Jolnir (Steve Blum), who is known on Earth as Santa Claus.

Jolnir has the ability to bend space and time, which is how Santa is able to deliver toys to children all over the world in just one night.

Loki falsely accuses Jolnir of multiple crimes and places a very high bounty on his head. 

In New York, the Avengers learn of this and decide they will journey to Alfheim, where Jolnir resides.  Team leader Captain America (Matthew Mercer) tells Reptil he isn't ready for a mission such as this.  Captain Marvel (Grey Griffin) thinks Cap is being a little hard on the kid.  Reptil begs Cap to change his mind, adding that he's a huge fan of Santa Claus.  Iron Man (Mick Wingert) vouches for Reptil (partially to get under Cap's skin) and Captain America changes his mind.

Hulk loves Christmas!
Hulk (Tatasciore again) and Thor (Travis Willingham) stay behind in case they need to fill in for Santa.  They visit a toy store and buy the store's entire inventory (charging it to Tony Stark).  The store manager is named Nick and bears as rather striking resemblance to Santa/Jolnir.

Nick is afraid of heights!
At the same time, elsewhere in the galaxy, Rocket Raccoon (Trevor Devall) and his friend Groot (Kevin Michael Richardson) are in need of quick money for spaceship repairs.

Rocket learns there's a bounty on Santa's head and decides to visit Alfheim to cash in.

The Avengers arrive safely in Alfheim where they encounter cranky warrior elves, a monster called the Eurokraken and of course, Loki and Ymir lying in wait for them.

Rocket and Groot arrive separately and have their own run-ins with zombie gingerbread men and Mrs. Claus (Jane Singer)!

Will Loki succeed in stealing Santa's powers and ruin Christmas for all time?  Can the Avengers, Rocket and Groot stop them and save the day?

J.A. Morris says:

We had no idea this brand new special existed when we began our "Christmas with the Superheroes" series.  What a pleasant surprise it turned out to be!

Loki and Ymir's scheme to take Santa's power and destroy Christmas puts them right up there with the Grinch and Mr. Potter in the Christmas Villains Hall Of Fame.

One of the best parts is Hulk, Thor and Nick's attempt to substitute for Santa.  Hulk talks about his love for Christmas and even performs "Deck The Halls" with modified lyrics. We also see touching moments where Captain Marvel, Reptil and Captain America tell stories about receiving presents from Santa in their youth.

Captain America remembers when Santa brought him a baseball bat.
Like many Christmas movies, Santa/Jolnir is shown to be more powerful when people say they believe in him.  Reptil is a character I hadn't seen before Frost Fight.  He ends up playing a crucial role, since he is closer to childhood than the other Avengers.

Of course it's not all Yuletide sentimentality.  We get several thrilling super-powered fight scenes where the heroes do battle with Asgardian gods, archer elves and even a dinosaur!

All of the voice actors do a great job in Frost Fight.  Fred Tatasciore is especially great doing double duty as Hulk and Ymir.

Nick confronts Loki.
Troy Baker manages to make a vile character such as Loki seem almost likeable, with a little bit of humor mixed into his evil monologues.   Kevin Michael Richardson, as Groot, only gets to say "I am Groot" over and over again.  But each time he manages to convey Groot's emotions and keeps the character interesting.

If I have any problems with Frost Fight, it's that some scenes feel like padding.  There's also a battle between the Avengers and the Eurokraken that's only shown in silhouette. This feels like it was done to save time and money on animation, and viewers are robbed of a good chance to see the Avengers in action.

Frost Fight is available for streaming on Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.

If you love the recent movies set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and enjoy Christmas programming, Frost Fight is a no-brainer.  This special is recommended, superhero fans won't be disappointed!

J.A. Morris' rating:


3 and a half candy canes.

RigbyMel says:

This Marvel adventure is a rollicking good time overall.     We've got a nefarious plot by the deliciously wicked Loki to steal Santa's powers.    We get Hulk singing -- and referencing A Christmas Story with his "fa ra ra ra ra"s.

Hulk explains Santa to Thor.
We also get to see the Avengers acting like a family that bickers and doesn't always see eye to eye -- a feature of most Avengers tales, but well played here.

Our heroes have to "hug it out" to avoid being blown away by Ymir's icy winds!
We get to see Rocket and Groot do battle with zombie gingerbread and then encounter Mrs. Claus.    Mrs. Claus causes Rocket to freak out when she takes his spaceship for a spin too -- which is pretty amusing.

We even get sweet holiday memories from some alongside a plot that hinges partly on Iron Man's LACK of belief in Santa and Reptil's youthful enthusiasm for Mr. Kringle.

Captain Marvel helps deliver presents.
It's also nice to see Captain Marvel show up in an animated Avengers adventure.   This is the first time I recall seeing her in the Marvel Animated Universe.   It would have been nice if she'd had a bit more to do in the episode, but it was still good that she was present.

We get an interesting take on Santa/Jolnir's origin in this episode -- apparently he is half elf and half frost giant!   I find it intriguing the way that the writers tied Jolnir into the world of Thor.   After all, here in Midgard, there are some that trace Santa's roots to Norse mythology and Odin, the white bearded ruler of the Nine Realms who travels through the sky on an eight-legged horse named Slepnir.  (Often on Yule -- Yule/Jolnir -- get it?)

So, Frost Fight appeals to the mythology geek as well as the superhero fan and Christmas afficianado in me, and I suspect, it will appeal to others.

Loki gets what he deserves for the holidays.
As J.A. Morris mentions above, there are some extra scenes (one involving dinosaur drool) that, while fun, feel like they are mainly there to pad out the running time and there are occasions where the animation is sometimes a bit constrained by budgetary concerns.   However, the main story is so much fun that it almost doesn't matter.

Frost Fight is lively and entertaining and well worth sharing with the superhero and holiday fans in your life.

RigbyMel's rating:


3 and a half candy canes.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Batman:The Animated Series: "Christmas With The Joker"

Premiered November 13, 1992.

"Live from Gotham City, the show that nobody wants to see, but everyone will watch.  Yes, it's Christmas with the Joker!"

On Christmas Eve, Gotham City seems peaceful.  That changes when the Joker (Mark Hamill) escapes from Arkham Asylum.

Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Robin (Loren Lester) search the city for their escaped foe.  Robin doubts Joker will strike on Christmas Eve.  He makes a deal with the Caped Crusader:If they don't find the Joker, they will return to Wayne Manor, have Christmas dinner, watch It's A Wonderful Life and worry about apprehending Joker when Christmas is over.  After searching Gotham and coming up empty, they return home.

There seems to be a lot of goodwill in the air.  Batman is suspicious of this. 
When the Dynamic Duo turns on their TV, they're greeted by the Joker, who has taken over the airwaves.  He's created a twisted version of a Christmas variety special titled Christmas With The Joker.  It's Joker's special way of  threatening Batman and Gotham City for the holidays.  Joker also has taken three of  Batman's friends hostage:Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings), reporter Summer Gleason (Mari Devon) and Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo).  The villain implies that the hostages will be killed if Batman can't rescue them by midnight.

The Clown Prince of Crime has a model of Gotham City and jokes about bombing sites on the model, starting with a railroad bridge.  Batman (correctly) suspects that Joker will detonate the real bridge just in time to blow up a train.

Batman rescues the train's engineer.
The heroes are able to intervene and save the people on the train.  However, they still need to find the Joker and stop him.

Will Batman and Robin find the Joker before midnight, save the hostages, and Christmas?

J.A. Morris says:

"Christmas With the Joker" is a great episode of one of the best animated series of the 1990s.

Bruce and Dick's conversation about watching It's A Wonderful Life is great all by itself.

The inmates of Arkham Asylum decorate their tree, Joker puts on the tree-topper.
Mark Hamill's voicing of the Joker is the real reason that "Christmas With The Joker" is great.  When Hamill was cast, he was known only for playing Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies.  He did a fantastic job with the Joker and is today known as the definitive voice of the character.

The Joker and his "elf" Laffy watch a live remote.
I found myself laughing at the Joker and almost rooting for him here, even as he commits multiple felonies.  That's a credit to Hamill's skills.  

Joker taunts Harvey Bullock.
The other actors do a fine job as well.  Lots of actors have voiced the animated Batman over the years and Kevin Conroy is among the best of them.  This episode shows why he played Batman for nearly fifteen years. 

"Christmas With The Joker" can be found on the Batman:The Animated Series, Volume One DVD set.  It's also available on a "standalone" DVD called Super Villains: The Jokers Last LaughThis episode also streams on Amazon and iTunes.  

The Batmobile drives past a Gotham City movie theater.  Look what's showing on Christmas Eve!
This episode is a great superhero Yuletide romp.  If I ran a network, "Christmas With The Joker" would air in prime time every holiday season just like Rudolph, Charlie Brown and the Grinch.  

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 candy canes!

RigbyMel says:

This is certainly an entertaining and action-packed episode of Batman: The Animated Series.  The whole of this animated series has a great film noir/expressionist look to it and this episode is no exception. 

Batman surveys the wreckage of the train crash.   It's good he and Robin saved everyone on board!
Mark Hamill's scene-stealing voicing of the Joker really makes this episode fun to watch. If I didn't already know that he voiced the character on the series,  I wouldn't know it was him, which is a credit to his voice acting.  

The Joker is quite dementedly gleeful with his holiday mayhem, beginning with his escape from Arkham Asylum via rocket powered Christmas tree!  (While singing a Batman-appropriate rendition of "Jingle Bells," no less!)   

"Jingle bells, Batman smells ..."
We see a tank with a Santa robot attached rampaging through Gotham.  Joker also makes use of a sleigh and an improvised "reindeer" in his pirate Christmas special.  

Festive mayhem in Gotham!
We also have all kinds of malicious toys that make appearances and add to the holiday atmosphere - giant toy soldiers,  Joker robots with machine guns, and toy airplanes that strafe the heroes, to name a few.   He even sports a Bing Crosby-esque holiday sweater! 

Note the Charlie Brown Christmas type tree on the left. 
You almost want to see what other felonious holiday mayhem he'll cook up!  (I do wonder how Joker had time to put together all of his elaborate sets and holiday pranks seeing as he's only just escaped from Arkham, though!)     

Of course,  we also see that Christmas is a time for less maniacal good cheer as well.  When Batman and Robin are out patrolling Gotham in the first part of the episode,  some situations that look like they could be bad things about to happen turn out to be people infused with Christmas spirit instead.   This comes as a relief to Robin and something of a disappointment to Batman, who is feeling a bit Scrooge-ish at the beginning of this episode.    

Batman and Robin's discussions about watching It's A Wonderful Life are quite amusing as well.   Batman has never seen it because he's turned off by the title and because he fears it will be "relentlessly cheerful" (like the Joker?).  But Bats seems to recover from his Scrooge-y attitude by the end of the adventure.  

Batman vs. Joker's toy planes.  As Robin says, they don't call him "Batman" for nothing! *rimshot*
I also quite enjoyed some of the meta commentary that goes on in this episode, such as when Joker hands us off to "our sponsors" at the point where the show would have gone to commercial when it originally aired.

Christmastime in Gotham City.
This is definitely a enjoyable addition to your holiday viewing.  

RigbyMel's rating:


3 and a half candy canes