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Thursday, August 14, 2008

So much for the afterglow



So SuperWife got me a videotape containing two episodes of JONNY QUEST and one ep of SPACE GHOST, and I was stoked, because JONNY QUEST and (to a lesser extent) SPACE GHOST were among my favorite cartoons when I was a kid, and I was looking forward to re-acquainting myself with them. I'd heard that someone or other had just released a DVD set with all the JONNY QUEST episodes on it, and I confidently presumed that I would love the two episodes on this videotape so much, and they would be so brilliant and fabulous in a way that would transcend the child/adult dichotomy that I would jot them down on my Christmas list and could look forward to watching the entire series again sometime before the expiration of 2008.

And that happened. Oh yes, it did.

In my mind.

The two JONNY QUEST episodes on this tape are "Calcutta Adventure", which tells the tale of how Race Bannon, Dr. Benton Quest, and his son Jonny first ran into Hajii and incorporated him into their oddly NAMBLA-esque adventuring group, and "Pirates from Below", which was about some vaguely Soviet seeming guys with a trillion dollar underwater base and a few billion dollars in advanced submarine technology who decide to steal this stupid little underwater tractor/probe thing that Dr. Quest is test-driving for the U.S. Navy today.

Certain commonalities immediately established themselves across both individual episodes -- crappy animation, lousy dialog, the weird crypto-gay vibe between Race Bannon and Dr. Quest, the master supervillains who never have actual names, with their legions of incompetent minions wearing fairly cool costumes for no discernible reason, in pursuit of some master villain plan that never quite comes into focus, who apparently have access to trillions of dollars to spend on secret Himalayan nerve gas labs and underwater fortresses and heavily armed one man minisubs that whip along underwater at supersonic speeds and cool looking yachts and advanced communications arrays and nifty little hover-discs, all of which inevitably gets blown up, melted down, or otherwise completely fucking trashed by huge avalanches or their own deadly mines or maddened octopi or some goddam thing at the climax of whichever episode they're appearing in.

Jonny Quest and crew do not have recurring villains. If you're stupid enough to try to do something evil on JONNY QUEST World, you will by the Jesus never fucking make THAT hideously retarded mistake again, buddy, because Race, Dr. Quest, Jonny, Hajii, and Bandit will come stumbling and bumbling along and, sometimes by employing some experimental death ray Dr. Quest just happens to have in his luggage, or on other occasions through the bizarre superhuman machinations of Hajii's wiley Oriental mystic powers, or every once in a while just because Bandit happened to by complete coincidence leave a live grenade in your shoe, completely undo all your anti-social machinations and send you screaming to hell in the process.

Hajii was, apparently, some kind of 10 year old Indian Sith Lord, as early on in one episode for no comprehensible reason whatsoever he employed his strange Eastern mental powers to waft Jonny thirty feet up in the air, while Jonny whimpered in terror and begged him not to -- "Oh, no, not the levitation trick! Please put me down!", to which Hajii malevolently sneered "Oh, I'll put you down -- but -- shall I do it slow -- or fast?", causing Jonny to piteously beg, rather like some anti-Peter Lorre in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, "Slow! Slow! Real slow!"

Hajii continued to demonstrate his absolute mastery of the Dark Side of the Force a little later on in the same episode by hypnotizing an armed underwater pirate into letting them all go free, heaping insult onto spiritual injury by unnecessarily demanding that his newly conditioned slave carry him around in his arms, snidely mock-apologizing to the Quests "I'd like to give you a lift, but you'll just have to do the best you can".

Now, you'd think that one of the world's top scientists and a one-time alpha class international espionage agent would be at least somewhat bemused when witnessing a 10 year old casually defying every law of physics known to man, while simultaneously both terrifying and endangering the show's title character, and you'd also figure they'd be at minimum astonished if not entirely appalled when this sneering Hindu dwarf deftly employed his turban-gem to mentally enslave a full grown man... I mean, you'd really think either of those displays of superhuman mental prowess would have elicited at least a murmured "What the FUCK, Hajii"... but, nooooooo... to Race and Dr. Quest, this was all apparently just SOP. All they ever did was exchange knowing glances with each other and chuckle at Hajii's colorful antics while, presumably, giving each other reassuring handjobs just below the cartoon frame's lower edge. Most likely Hajii had long since mentally conditioned the two of them to accept whatever impossible bullshit he was pulling this week as being perfectly normal, nothing to see here, move along, please, allowing him to torment Jonny at will with perfect impunity.

I had never realized, while watching these cartoons in my childhood, that Jonny was essentially a cartoon version of STAR TREK JR's Wesley Crusher, a character whose only reason for existence is to get everyone else around him into as much trouble as possible at any given space/time coordinate they might happen to find themselves occupying at any particular moment. Nor had I ever absorbed that the Quest bunch is some deeply disturbed animated incarnation of Spanky and Alfalfa's He-Man Women Hater's Club, apparently inhabiting some dismal and horrifying Testosterone Planet, as not only do they never hang around with any chicks at all, but there seem to be no females of any variety, human or otherwise, anywhere in their entire quadrant of the galaxy.

The only other notable thing I can think of from either episode was the presence in "Calcutta Adventure" of a supporting character named Pasha Peddler, an agonizingly 'groovy' middle aged Indian guy with an apparently endless supply of useful equipment and goods he would provide to Race and Dr. Quest for heavily marked up (if, thirty or so years after the fact, seemingly ludicrously inexpensive) prices. Now, normally the dialog quality in JONNY QUEST ain't nothin to write home about, sure, but every scintillating syllable of presumed Flower Power slang that dropped from Pasha Peddler's badly animated lips was a pearl of such painful parlance as to make me want to puncture my own eardrums with the closest writing implement to hand, although somehow I managed to summon up enough willpower to conquer this doubtless entirely sane and reasonable impulse.

But then they were done, and I was on to a Space Ghost episode entitled "Vengeance of the Spider-Woman!!!!" And it was everything I'd hope that JONNY QUEST would be... subtle, brilliant, multileveled plotting and dialog that could be enjoyed by any age group, fabulous hand painted animation that brought the carefully nuanced, deeply complex backdrop fully to life, living, breathing characterizations that... it... erg... urm...

Okay, no, it was awful. Terrifyingly, brain-bendingly awful. See, Jan, Jace, and Blip the goddam masked space monkey are all on this water world jet skiing, and the Spider-Woman sends her ugly toad-man minions to capture them, so the ugly toad-man minions hold a length of rope up just above the surface of the water, which causes Jan to trip and flop off her jet ski into the water (because she's just a stupid gurl, of course) so Jace has to come roaring in on his own jet ski and scoop her up before the stupid toad guys can grab her. (Only Jace, Space Ghost, and probably the friggin monkey are allowed to grab Jan; everybody else can take the air.) So then the toad-guy commander croaks "Put into effect -- Plan: Capture!" which, you know, you have to give these toad guys credit for style and wit and imagination, coming up with a name like that for a plan to, well, capture somebody. So their big sharklike sub opens its mechanical maw and gobbles up Jan, Jace, and the fucking monkey (causing me to wonder why they didn't just do that in the first place, but never mind) and Space Ghost has to come rescue them, talking to himself the whole time about how the Spider-Woman has sent him detailed instructions to get to her lair, and she traps him behind this 'viso barrier' or some such shit, and sends a hydra-shark (a three headed shark! DUDES! what were you SMOKING?) and an electro-manta to kill him, but Space Ghost deftly dodges the first one and uses some kind of nebulizer beam to absorb all the power of the second one, which lets him break the viso barrier, causing a huge tidal wave of released water to wash over Spider-Woman and her toadies (Jan, Jace, and Blip turn invisible and fly into the air to get out of the way, which is their entire contribution to the adventure beyond getting captured in the first place). And then they all return to the Phantom Cruiser, where presumably Jan and Jace put on their kneepads and remind Space Ghost exactly why he puts up with all their bullshit in the first place. Or something.

The moral of the story is, anything you thought was really cool on TV when you were 8 years old is actually a fucking nightmarish horror of mind melting proportions that you should avoid at all costs once you've become an adult. There are no exceptions to this policy, and the sooner you accept this and move the fuck on, the better off you will be.

Okay, all the old Bugs Bunny cartoons are still pretty neat, though.

4 Comments:

At 3:27 PM , Blogger SuperWife said...

I know someone who likes to say "I Told You So"...but it ain't me...;)

I'll bet Johnny Quest's opening is still pretty cool though. But I am not planning to take any chances in re-orientation.

See, I still get to live in the Johnny Quest Was a Cool Show world. I miss you. Send a postcard.

 
At 10:03 PM , Blogger Nate said...

I own the Transformers DVDs, like... most of them, anyway. Certainly all the good ones. Not that losery 'Beast Wankers' crap, that's for sure.

Transformers still holds up. Not great, but it does. You ought to watch one or two eps, just to see what I mean.

 
At 6:04 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're wrong on a couple of points. There was a recurring villain, Dr. Zin, and there was even a recurring female character called Jezebel Jade, who had a past with Race Bannon.

You also have to remember, this was a cartoon, based in the mid 60's. It was geared towards young men. It's also a cartoon that is 44 years old. It was groundbreaking for the time, but of course now it's going to look dated.

I don't know if you were going for humor, or accuracy in your review, but I would have to say that you missed the mark on both.

The parts of your review where you insert homosexual tendencies to the Jonny Quest cast, and then comments regarding acts of pedophilia between Space Ghost and Jace and Jan are not funny at all, in fact they are rather sad. Those types of jokes have been done to death, and done much better.

 
At 8:56 PM , Blogger Doc Nebula said...

I normally don't bother to address comments that come in anonymously, because there's something vaguely contemptible about someone who won't use any kind of identifier. Especially when they're being insulting.

Having said that, there's enough of interest to me in your comment that I'm going to let it through, although normally I would never encourage an anonymous troll by doing so.

Humor is always subjective. There's always going to be stuff that one person thinks is funny and another person just doesn't. Hero/sidekick pedophilia jokes are, indeed, classic; the fact that they're classic would seem to indicate that a great many people see the humor in them. And while I'm sure the writers of JONNY QUEST didn't intend any kind of gay vibe for their show, well, it sure comes off that way. I have no doubt that better writers than I have commented on these subjects in the past, but, again, that would seem to indicate that other people than I have looked at this subject matter and found these elements within it, and worthy of comment.

As for whether I was going for humor or accuracy, I'd say I was trying to accurately as well as humorously portray my feelings as a 46 year old former JQ fan, upon re-experiencing the show for the first time since childhood. Humor and accuracy are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

 

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