Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Gorillaz Picking on Gleeks

I admit it.  I'm a Gleek.

Full disclosure.  I'm still working my way through the first season of Glee (with the help of Netflix).  I've still got one more disc left to go to finish out the year, and then I'll be able to catch up with Season Two via Hulu.  My wife and I may be latecomers to the fad, but once we finally saw an episode, we were hooked.  I expect that anyone who's ever struggled with issues of identify and acceptance (and I expect that's anyone) can find something to identify with in this show.

One aspect (of many) that we enjoy about Glee is the variety of music used for the show.  It's not all show tunes, but neither is it all pop music (although these are certainly the two most common genres used), and the music has spanned the past several decades, so it's not just stuff that teens and college students enjoy, but includes music for us "older folks," as well.

As with any show that uses music originally created by other people (which means, for Glee, practically all of it), Glee has to get permission from the rights-holders of the original music to use it.  The producers have expressed surprise that so many artists have granted such permission (in fact, Madonna granted them the rights to her entire catalog for the Madonna-based episode they did last year!), but it shouldn't surprise anyone that a few artists have refused to grant it.

One of those holdouts, apparently, is the "virtual band," Gorillaz.  Lead singer Damon Albarn has apparently gone public about this position despite the fact that the folks at Glee haven't even asked for such permission yet:
[N]ot that they've asked us because they haven't, and now they definitely won't.
I'm not sure I understand the point of this "pre-emptive strike."  If you don't want the show to do your stuff, then don't let them, but no need to bother the rest of the world (which predominately likes the show) about it.

And the Glee-griping doesn't stop there.  Albarn also throws in his two cents at the news that Glee covers have now hit the record for the most appearances on Billboard's Top 100 chart for non-solo acts (a record previously held by the Beatles):
"Those songs won't last like the Beatles by any stretch of their imagination," he says. "They'll be forgotten in a few years' time."
I'm sure he's correct, but so what?  Glee has been created for an entirely different purpose than a pop group.  They don't exist to create music.  Rather, they use existing music as a vehicle to tell a story.  If the music wasn't already known, or already popular, Glee's use of it would be meaningless.  Glee couldn't exist without "real" musicians doing their thing, and I think that pretty much everyone involved is fully aware of that fact.

It seems to be an unfortunate fact of life that stirring up controversy is better publicity than just doing what you do, and doing it well.  Glee knows this fact, and I don't think I'm surprising anyone who's watched it when I acknowledge that the show's not for everyone.  I'm sure the "Religious Right" (for example) is furious that it's doing so well.

Gorillaz has obviously figured this out, as well.  I know I'd never heard of them before reading this article.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Freeway (and the Throttlebots)

From 1984 to 1986, the Mini Vehicles line of Transformers served the Transformers line well, offering children fully transformable toys at a low price range.  But by 1987, Hasbro had run through the molds they had inherited from the Japanese Micro Change line, having already retooled many of those molds for the 1986 line.  It was time to try something new, attempting to meet the demand for toys at (about) the same price while recognizing the added expense of paying for new designs and rising prices for raw materials.  The Throttlebots were the first attempt at such new toys for this price point.

Like the Mini Vehicles before them, the Throttlebots were all Autobots (perhaps the team name "Throttlebots" was a clue).  Besides their comparatively small size, the Throttlebots also shared a gimmick: pull-back motors that (like the Mini-Spies that came a couple of years before) allowed them to race for a short distance across a table or the floor.  No doubt the added action feature was an attraction to many children.

The play feature probably also served, at least for a while, to make up for the comparably limited robot modes.  All Throttlebots had exactly the same transformation.  Pull the shell of the car up, push the wheels forward, pull the back of the car down to reveal the head, and swing the side panels out for the arms.  Even for toys of this era, this was sub-par for articulation (that is, there was none!).  But at least the pull-back motor still worked, even in this mode (the Mini-Spies couldn't do that!).

Ultimately, the simplistic (and similar) toys made most of the Throttlebot characters (including Freeway, who's managed to go unnamed through this entire blog entry up until now) pretty forgettable as distinct entities.  In fact, the artists had a tendency to forget who was who pretty often, and seeing panels of miscolored and/or misnamed Throttlebots was not uncommon.  One notable exception to this was Goldbug, who was created to be a new version of the popular character, Bumblebee.  Since Mini Vehicles were no longer being made, Bumblebee's original toy could no longer be sold.  Someone at Hasbro must have really liked him, because the effort to keep the character around in this way was unprecedented for the Transformers line (some wise-aleck's going to tell me that Rodimus Prime/Hot Rod did this first, but I see that as an entirely different phenomenon, so there!).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Remembering the Quantum Leap Comic Book

Fans of Science Fiction over a certain age will remember a television show called Quantum LeapQuantum Leap was a time travel adventure featuring Scott Bakula (later to star as the captain on Star Trek: Enterprise) and Dean Stockwell (a veteran actor who has been in the business since he was a child in the 1940's, but probably most well-known today for the updated Battlestar Galactica).  Bakula played Sam Becket (not the poet!), a super-genius who invented a means of time travel within the span of one's own lifetime (in Becket's case, that meant that periods from 1953 to the then-present were considered fair game), while Stockwell played Al, who remained in Sam's original time but could communicate with Sam through holographic brainwave transmissions. The basic idea was that Sam would trade bodies with someone in the past, living their life for a while.  Sam would "leap" out of that time (and trade places with yet another person) after having changed history for the better.

The show lasted for five seasons on NBC, and a handful of episodes are available for viewing on Hulu.  I invite readers to go check it out, but I'm not looking to talk about the television series itself.  Like many popular television shows, original Quantum Leap stories were also created for other media.  There was a series of paperback books, for example, that ran for several years.  For right now, however, I want to talk about the Quantum Leap comic book.

Published by the now-defunct Innovation Corporation, Quantum Leap was fairly ambitious for a comic book of its time (the early 1990s).  Nearly all of the covers featured fully-painted artwork, a laborious feat that even today tends to be reserved only for special issues.  The stories attempted to play with the fact that Al (being a hologram) couldn't directly interact with (most of) his surroundings in the past, and considered some fairly deep social and philosophical issues that rivaled those posed by the show itself.

Following a convention set by the television show, each story would end with Sam leaping out of one person and directly into the next, creating a teaser for the next story.  While this admittedly made it difficult to reconcile the continuity of the comic with that set by the show, it preserved the feel of the show quite nicely, to say nothing of giving readers a reason to want to pick up the next issue!

That's not to say that that comic was without its faults.  Like many television tie-in media, the tie-in sometimes did things with their story that simply didn't jive with the way the world worked on the original.  For example, the comic book authors were inconsistent about following the rules of time travel as established by the television series.  Put simply, Sam was put in a particular time and place "to put right what once went wrong."  That means that when Al would tell Sam about how history unfolded, Sam was always there to change something.  Yet, in several instances in the comic book, Sam was there to ensure that something would stay the same.  For example, in issue four, Sam becomes a game show contestant during the time of the 1950's quiz show scandals.  Sam is there to make sure that the right contestant wins the show, so that an important $25,000 would be donated to MIT, enabling research to take place that would mean that the hologram portion of the Quantum Leap Project would exist.  If history doesn't unfold correctly, Al can't help Sam through his missions.  But, according to the way time travel works on the show, Sam shouldn't have been there in the first place!  Sam never changes anything to unfold differently than it did without him (or, if the guy who Sam took the place of never won, Quantum Leap as we know it could never have existed).

One noteworthy exception to this takes place in issue 12.  Sam leaps into an old hermit who runs a gas station in the middle of the desert, presumably because it allowed the hermit to avoid dealing with people most of the time.  When an unknown actress drives by, Sam gives her directions (with the help of Al) and gas, and she goes on her way.  It turns out, the guy that Sam leaped into wasn't just a hermit who avoided talking to people, but he couldn't even read, and didn't have any maps.  He could never have given the directions the actress needed to avoid dying lost and alone out in the desert.  Just before Sam leaps out, he learns the actress's name: Norma Jean Baker (aka Marilyn Monroe).

Unfortunately, this high point was immediately followed by a sign of the comic's imminent demise.  The teaser at the end of this issue promised to have Sam leap into person dying of a heart attack (we are told in the letter column that Sam is to assume the role of "Ziggy," the computer that Al uses to tell Sam how history worked out the first time, and to extrapolate what Sam is most likely supposed to change).  This story was never told.  There was one more new story to come out, but this one featured Sam switching places with a telepathic alien!  While this was indeed an interesting story, and certainly beyond the scope of the television show's budget, it just wasn't the same.  That story, also, promised a future for the series, as Sam is seen to leap into a toddler at the zoo.  But then Innovation folded, and the Quantum Leap comic was no more.

Back-issues can be found with a bit of digging.  There were 13 "regular" issues and one "Special Edition" (which just reprinted the first issue with some new--and some corrected--art).  Given the going rate of back-issue comics these days, you'll probably pay as much or more for shipping as for the issues themselves, so I would certainly encourage you to pick them up if you get the chance.  Happy Hunting!

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