March 25, 2009

I Want to Help the Environment, But….

I was at my second home, The Home Depot, a few weeks ago. I have a room to paint and needed primer (there is no paint color selected yet, don’t bother me with details). I see this new low-odor, low-VOC version of an old friend, Kilz. “What the heck. They make good stuff.” Besides, the wife and kids like to sleep without smelly paint fumes (to each their own, right?). Of course it cost more, but that is the price you pay (apparently) to be good to Mother Earth.

I open a can to find the ingredients completely separated. No problem, I’m a tool hound. Cordless drill with paint stirrer coming up. So I stir. A lot. I put the lid back on and dance the paint can shimmy. The stuff never mixed thoroughly. The stuff either dripped and ran, or dried mid stroke/roll creating blobs.

This low-odor stuff smells. Odd. To me it was a fish smell. My wife smelled crackers. As promised on the can, any odor detected did indeed fade. From the room I was in. Apparently paint chemists have created a way for odor molecules to find another room. The rest of the house smelled terrible.

No water cleanup so I have to clean all my paint tools with mineral spirits and other volatile agents. The walls will need a sanding before real paint goes on. I got less than half the normal coverage. I used more than two gallons, where one should have been more than enough.

Green is a big, in-your-face buzzword these days. Everyone is on the bandwagon. While some are true innovations, such as building houses like they did before central AC to gain passive energy savings, some are just stupid. And I am talking to you “new environmentally friendly shaped plastic water bottle people.” I squint in my hallway because of the lame compact fluorescent. It is supposed to save me many dollars each year, except I keep turning on a table lamp with multiple incandescent bulbs to read my mail.

Okay I have a point. Saving the environment is a good idea. Really. Now that I have children it really does matter. But I am going back to acrylic primers and good old Benjamin Moore paint. I may even take that stupid bulb out. If anyone really wants to save the environment, they should go after the marketing genius that came up with the ridiculous toy packaging we have today. Multiple plastic shrink wrap levels and cardboard inserts and those DAMNED WIRE TIES. Just to show the kids EVERY SINGLE PIECE included in the package. “Wow! Polly Pocket sure has a lot of shoes!”

Why, when I was a kid (shut up), our toys came in a simple box with a painting on it. The toy never could do what the artwork showed and the many extra parts were required to come close, but by gum, you kept the toy in the box until it was shredded dust, further keeping the landfills empty. So let’s get the movement going! Get rid of the wasteful packaging! Save Mommies and Daddies sanity on Christmas morning!! Okay, I have an ulterior motive and I am using the Green bandwagon. Shoot me. But you use lead-free bullets, I live near a school.

March 19, 2009

Sadly, I Am Reminded that the Human Skull is an Inadequate Helmet.

The tragic news of Natasha Richardson’s passing last night inspired a flurry of emails, texts and IMs between myself and a couple of my boyhood friends who for lack of a better way of saying it, are bound by the fact that we like to do stupid shit together. Kenneth, ten years my senior, taught me how to operate the clutch array on a motorcycle when I was 15. My old friend Ernesto taught me how to snowboard in 2000.

I have been taught all of my form and procedure by hooligans. But as crazy as my friends are, they have never, ever let me do anything without wearing a helmet. Not that I’ve ever needed any convincing.

We went snowboarding three weekends in a row this year already, spurred by the recession-inspired discounts offered by Windham Resort with the start of the Martin Luther King holiday weekend (I know we should have spent that weekend reflecting considering we’re all conspicuously Hispanic and we should’ve been thanking God for our first African-American president.) I went tear-assing down my favorite route called “Lower Wolverine” and wiped out repeatedly in spectacular displays of Newtonian physics gone horribly, retardedly, wrong. Windham’s near empty grounds that first weekend allowed us all to achieve speeds we’d only seen in X games footage and magazine photos. My sprawling dismounts left my whole left flank wrecked for days at a time, as well as the requisite wrist aches and knee soreness. My head and neck however were always fine, thanks to a very large and comical-looking black full-face Bell snow mobile helmet that I will not step outside into the snow without, -and also a washable foam neck brace I’ve had since a car accident in 1983.
I still take a lot of shit for that beige neck brace.

Bell helmets have saved my life twice. The first time: I went over the clip-on handlebars of my KZ 750, catching my left foot on the gas tank, smashing my head into the well of a steel support column for the elevated train line that runs along Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. The second time: We were testing an inverted fork on Ernesto’s GSX-R, which proceeded to cant and lock, performing a “stoppie” that flicked me on to my head in a parking lot. I only traveled ten feet. My knee caps hit the pavement a second later, in what I assure you is one of the most painful impacts I will ever be subjected to unless I’m someday headed to the moon tied to a giant rocket.
I don’t mean to imply that death or cognitive impairment from head injuries are absolutely avoidable. Here in New York City people are struck and killed by falling debris from construction sites, misaligned air conditioners and all manner of careless hazard. But it is still entirely acceptable to let persons, especially novices, engage in velocity and motor sports with no protection where a head injury is a calculated probability and not a remote possibility. I still see go cart tracks in amusement parks without available head gear. I still see kids on mini-bikes and those popular pocket racers without helmets: these are Two-stroke engine machines that while smaller than the family dog in most cases, can still easily achieve speeds of 40-50 miles per hour with their mufflers off. Add the rider’s diminished height on these replica cycles and I can’t think of a finer guarantee that you will be crushed by an automobile. I see people rollerblading, skateboarding all over the city bare-headed; which is ironic because we are all pretty much in agreement that bicycles, those familiar human-powered speed machines, are not to be ridden without helmets.

Years ago, I tried to track down one of the writers who’d had a terrific influence on me as a youth. His name is Bill Mantlo. He is responsible for, among many things, creating a licensed comic book series for Marvel comics called “The Micronauts” in the late 1970s and early 80s. Issues one through twelve of those comics made me want to become a writer in the fifth grade. Mantlo’s work made me take my writing seriously, even though all but two of my teachers across the totality of my education told me that comics were worthless; not an art form; not literature; not reading of any kind but a medium of sublimated masturbation for half-wits and the unsophisticated (I’ll write at length about this someday). I tried to track Bill Mantlo down in 1999 as I was producing my own first comic book action series “Marley Davidson,” if only to show him what his work had meant to me. It was widely known he left writing comics in order to practice law as a Legal Aid Society public defender… in my own home borough of the Bronx no less.
Eventually, I received a heartbreaking letter from his brother, thanking me for my kind inquiry and informing me that Mr. Mantlo had suffered a severe closed head trauma in 1992, the result of a hit-and-run accident while rollerblading, and that he had been in institutional care ever since. He is severely cognitively impaired and not expected to ever recover.

There’s no federal helmet law requiring motorcyclists to wear protection. Laws vary from state to state even though the United States Air force has long established that a blow sustained from a human head striking a table from a seated position can cause death. There are no laws governing what beginning skiers like Natasha Richardson should wear to protect themselves in case of a fall or collision. That’s just too bad. This isn’t a new or unfamiliar danger by any means.

Our brains and their functions are what make us… ourselves. Robbed of our memories, power of thought and reason, we cease to be sentient conscious human beings.

I hope that the untimely passing of Natasha Richardson, the scion of a proud acting dynasty, who wasn’t anywhere near finished with any aspect of her life, will draw some attention and maybe inspire some protective regulation on the world’s slopes where even children can still be seen falling and colliding with each other at dangerous speeds with nothing on their heads but protection from the cold.

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March 13, 2009

“There’s No Coming Back From This”

…is what I am naming the latest U2 album; CD; recorded abortion; or what-have-you.

To say that I have been a fan of this band since I was thirteen doesn’t quite cover my relationship to their music. They appealed to me precisely because they were Irish, working class, politically aware, socially conscious, progressive lefties and unique sounding amongst all other bands of their time: the late 70s and early eighties.
U2 seemed to be beaming directly to me in my South Bronx housing project in 1981 with their deadly serious, but unpretentious and relevant music. Back when they had only one album recorded, (but about 8 or 9 b sides of their 45 singles and one-shot songs) I greedily ran out and bought anything I could find by them, bootlegged concert tapes or demos at long gone meccas for adolescent weirdos like me: “Freebeing Records”, “Finyl Vinyl”, and “Second Coming Records.” Of the places I relied on for dispatches from the outer reaches of rock music and records of hard core and Punk bands I wasn’t old enough to go see, only “Bleecker Bob’s” and “Thompson Street Records” remain standing today in New York City.
I’m going there after I write this post.

WLIR, an FM station that was unapologetically operating on the fringes of mainstream taste would play their music in heavy rotation. The Edge’s (prematurely) much derided note-riding and over use of digital delay went on to become the most copied style of guitar playing for almost twenty five years. For a band firmly operating within the “New Wave” of European rock music they had distinctly progressive tendencies that owed more to bands like the Beatles, King Crimson and Pink Floyd (listen to the production on “Boy” and “October” again some time and tell me if you think I’m wrong) than it did to the bands they publicly claimed to be influenced by (Punks like The Ramones, The Stranglers and the Clash).

U2 were just kids with a lot of talent back then. They were Irish white boys in their twenties whose listenership was composed of an army of smug, sophisticated kids scattered around the globe. They were creating a music that was distinctly theirs and no one else’s and I loved them. The red and black U2 patch on my MA-1 flight jacket started more conversations with random strangers when I was in eighth grade than anything I ever said or did. There was a time when fans of this band shared a common sensibility and political awareness.
Along with bands like the Jam, The Damned, The Clash, The Specials, The Saints and strangely enough, Bauhaus, The Misfits and Minor Threat, -they were the soundtrack of my early teenage days when the world was revealing itself to me in fits and starts beyond the beginnings of my own borough’s Hip Hop, which back then was too materialistic and apolitical for my tastes. After Melle Mel and Grandmaster Flash cut “The Message,” I had to wait for pioneers outside of the Bronx like RunDMC, Erik B and Rakim and ultimately Public Enemy and NWA before I could embrace Rap openly and defend it as the intelligent, vital music I knew it was, with acknowledgement and my deep respect to the work of Afrika Bambaata.

I lined up to buy the LP for U2’s third album with the only other two classmates who were cool enough to even know who this band was. It arrived on a Sunday morning at a record store I’ve long forgotten on Broadway on the upper Westside of Manhattan somewhere in the 70s, -I want to say 77th street? The owner seemed annoyed and undid the boxes and took our cash on the street before opening his gate for business, angry that we’d made him sell his stock before he could list it for inventory.
The next year, I used all my money from a summer job to buy all of their recordings again, on cassette this time, so I could listen to them on my endless subway rides to and from school on a Sony Walkman.
“October” in particular, was an album I could not go without listening to every single day. I can still play it back to myself, from memory, note for note, in my own head from start to finish.

Then came their fourth album.
“The Unforgettable Fire” was the first sign that the egos of these then young men might have caught up with the unprecedented hype they were receiving. “The Hype” incidentally, was U2’s original name in Ireland and so I guess all things do come full circle eventually.
In 1985, I remember watching Live-Aid at my friend’s house (because we didn’t have cable in the Bronx back then, only HBO service) while their performance of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was cut off by commercial. Then U2 proceeded to waste the rest of their slot and quite a bit of the follow up act’s time (they may have bumped the Special Beat Service out of a chance to take the stage) by performing one of the most appropriately named songs in their catalog to date: “Bad.”
“Bad” was one of the first, inarguably self-indulgent songs U2 composed. At best it’s just preachy and condescending, but it also represents the beginning of a long insufferable period where Bono began screaming lyrics at me. “Bad” is long, ponderous, and well… just “Bad.” This song also marks the beginning of Bono and The Edge taking an almost Lennonist (the Beetle not the Communist) stance of pretentious superiority over their audience. As with John and Yoko’s “Revolution Number 9” they were trying something, their motives probably unclear even to themselves, but they insisted you listen to it, repeatedly until you “get” its profundity and appreciate the song.
I have never been able to stomach “Bad.” For their part, U2 included it on every EP they could, with ever longer, ever insufferable extended variations, live, remixed etc., ad nauseum from 1984 to 1986. I stopped buying their EPs during this time.

The three albums that followed, “The Joshua Tree”, “Rattle and Hum” and “Achtung Baby” were the records that tore them far from the insider audience that on the one hand chastised people for not knowing who they were, and on the other hand were dropping them in a juvenile response to their colossal mainstream popularity. These records/CDs established U2 firmly as an arena band on the scale of The Who and the Rolling Stones. It established them as crafters of songs that tapped into the very heart of rock and roll. But these records also contain certain songs that exemplify just how horrible and lackluster their songwriting could be. Their potential on the last of these albums was frightening.
I submit to you: “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” or for that matter “The Fly.”

Then came three of the worst records ever recorded by anybody, from one of the best bands ever to play Rock and Roll of any kind:
“Original Soundtraks 1”
and “Pop”
I responded with only two words when my then girlfriend Barbara, played the “Zooropa” cassette for me: “Holy shit.”
But it wouldn’t end there. Bono was concocting stage personas like "The Fly", "Mirror-Ball Man", and "(Mister) MacPhisto".

Give me a fucking break

The richest citizens in Ireland and the most famous rock band on the planet were attempting to point out the pitfalls of commercialism and the dangers of the media to me?


By becoming victims of their own distorted self image and collapsing under the sheer metric tonnage of their egos

For the first time, U2 did not possess the requisite sophistication that their music and lyrics demanded. They didn’t seem to understand the concepts they were attempting to communicate. They left their now immense global audience wondering:
what the fuck did any of this have to do with music?
Watching their multimedia concert clips of the “ZooTV” and “PopMart” tours was like being held at gunpoint by a fast talking idiot who was gripping the pistol backwards. You were just hoping it would all backfire in front of you.
I’ve always referred to “Zooropa” as “The Unforgivable Fire,” but I’ve always been too pissed off to laugh at my own joke. While I hated earlier songs like “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Angel of Harlem,” I’ve never written them off as failures, simply as things U2 recorded that I didn’t like. But I have to insist that much of what U2 did in the 1990s pushes the boundaries of what intelligent people can bring themselves to call music.

Then in 2000, a baffling but eagerly welcome return to form, a return to seriousness; a return to making music for this band. “All That You Can't Leave Behind” was what many the world over had been waiting for since “Achtung Baby” first frightened, then impressed them in 1991 depending on which tracks they were listening to.

“How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” came in 2004.
At the age of 36, I knew U2 would never be my band again, I couldn’t own them like I did when I was a little kid. Nor would I want to. I was just impressed at how well they had gotten back on course, like they’d never done any of that embarrassing puerile concept rock in the 90s. Their then recent performance on SNL of “Elevation” was like seeing old friends again. Old friends I missed terribly.

Now this shit.

“No Line on the Horizon” is it for me. It is simply an inexcusable, indefensible waste of time. It's one of those rare records that is so bad it offends.

I don’t know what rationalizations go on in the mind of someone as accomplished and talented as these guys when they are faced with their own mediocrity. Clearly, they are no longer strong enough to say “no” to their own bad ideas.

But I am.

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March 6, 2009

I Have Always Hated Musicals.

I know.
It’s a tired, boorish sentiment from a straight man, but seriously, I hate musicals… with five notable exceptions listed at the end of this post.

I should note that I’ve seen enough of them on film, but only three productions on an actual stage, “The Wiz,” “Sweet Charity,” (with Debbie Allen when she was looking ridiculously fine back in 1986 or thereabouts) and “42nd Street.”
Now these where all impressive productions in their own time, before the contemporary standard of special effects, wire work and puppetry that seems to dominate the premier Broadway shows of today. Interestingly enough, the current day standard of pyrotechnics, lasers, smoke effects and stunts are made to lure people like myself (what I sometimes call the 2nd television generation; raised predominantly on action and violence) to the theaters by Disney and others.
Well it’s not working:

I am not going to see “Phantom of the Opera” no matter how loud Michael Mejias says it is.

I have an extreme dislike for the idea of people breaking into song at what seems like random intervals (more on this later). On some level it really pisses me off. I follow a story, and suddenly it is hung up by a song and dance number that recycles the same bit of emotion, information or conflict over and over again, generally in a repetitive chorus like:
“You’re the one that I want,”
“I need this Job,”
or “Hello Dolly.”

I get it, “She’s the one that you want,” so shut up already.

I, like many people, was astounded to have enjoyed this year’s Oscar’s telecast as much as I did. It had more of the shit I hate in it, (song and dance numbers) than any other Oscar’s program I’d ever seen before in my life.
So what was the difference?
Even a troglodyte such as myself, appreciates song and dance when it’s done well, and with self-deprecating humor to boot… or maybe it was just Hugh Jackman channeling James Cagney, Gene Kelly, Bob Fosse… and Wolverine?

Being that Hugh Jackman is the first and only actor to play Wolverine (in three successful big budget movies already with a fourth one devoted to him alone coming soon), a character that single handedly raised Marvel’s fortunes in the 1980s and 90s with then-kids like me, it’s not crazy to assume that he acted as a bridge to get me over my hatred of musical numbers.
It’s not crazy, but it’s not accurate either.

After the Oscars were over, I began to think and wonder why is there such a clear divide between the fandom of action pictures and the audience that is devoted to stage musicals. These audiences are today curiously divided along straight and Gay lines, although that wasn’t always the case. Both action pictures and musicals employ a “show piece,” a segment or a phenomenon if you will, crow barred into a narrative: car chases and exploding corridors in action pictures versus the synchronous dancing crowds in musicals.

So the question I was left pondering after the Oscars was:
Is Hugh Jackman leaping into song in “Oklahoma” any stupider than Hugh Jackman leaping into the air as Wolverine and eviscerating swat teams to a guitar track?
I have to say I don’t have an answer for that question… or more honestly, I don’t like the answer that I readily have which is:

There’s no difference at all other than that of simple individual tastes.”

I realized that while I like music, I don’t like musicals and the reason is that the songs in musicals are almost uniformly terrible in my opinion, with rare exceptions like the score for “Chicago.” The songs in musicals are often constructed to simultaneously entertain and move the story forward, but don’t seem to do either effectively. Dennis Potter managed to do some pretty crazy stuff with musical numbers and the stage musical medium as a metaphor chiefly because he embraced its unreality as a device for the delusions of his characters within another medium: Television.

So on further reflection, I suppose I should say:
I don’t hate musicals... I just think they suck most of the time.”

…And what a relief that is. I can now say I love the five musicals I listed below without fear of contradicting myself, although I’m probably coming off pretty Gay.
I hope I’m also coming off as not giving a shit.
A fear of presumed effeminacy is a very stupid reason not to like something, or even someone.

Note that these are all films:

West Side Story
Lower class White kids versus Puerto Ricans. Almost six decades later, this shit is still genius. It’s also a brilliantly directed film by Len Wise.

All That Jazz
This movie is so dark and so messed up, it’s almost Metal.I always hope he’s gonna pull through in the end,
then –ziiiip.

The Rocky Horror Show
A transvestite mad scientist. Do I even need to explain this one? Probably, but I won’t.

The Blues Brothers
Aretha does a dance number.The verdict? Totally bitchin’ my friends.

Planet of the Apes, The Musical
“Come on and rock me Doctor Zaius!”

Okay the fifth one has never been staged or filmed, it’s just a great gag from a “Simpsons” episode, one of the last ones with the late great Phil Hartman.

But you’d come with me to see it wouldn’t you?

Come on, admit it.

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March 1, 2009

The 10 Best Animated Shows You’re Probably Not Watching:

This may be the nerdiest post I’ve ever written, so brace yourself or turn back now.

My friend and long time mentor at World War 3 illustrated Seth Tobocman once said that bad writing takes longer to reveal itself in comic books because of the novelty and spectacle of illustration to some degree, -and so it is with animation.
For every movie like the groundbreaking 3D animations “The Incredibles” or “Monsters Inc.”, you also have several more talking animal 3D flicks “written down” to the allegedly (and erroneously) simple mind of a child. On television, what separates a good animated show from an unimaginative one is its writing, regardless of who it’s written for.

South Park” is one of the worst animated shows I have ever seen… from the standpoint of its actual animation alone. As far as original television series go however, “South Park” is one of the greatest comedies ever produced for broadcast. This is due entirely to the force of the writing on that show. The show is clever, frighteningly original; offering the best commentary on modern world culture available anywhere on TV. If you are someone who has dismissed that show because of its crass humor, I invite you to watch a recent three-part episode called “ImaginationLand.” In these three episodes, Matt Stone and Trey Parker explored the notion that Americans have allowed Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to highjack our imagination, bringing our nation to the point of collective abject hysteria. Those three episodes are the most powerful and prescient example of social political commentary I have seen on television in the last ten years. It effectively deconstructs all of the post 9/11 state and right wing-sponsored fear mongering, as well as the ineffectuality of our advertising sponsored news media as a reliable source of factual information, and the herd mentality of the American voting public in times of war… but those three episodes are loaded with really disgusting jokes, so I doubt that many will recognize its brilliance. South Park is a great show. It has remained a great show by positioning itself as a program for those 14 and over, which speaks to a larger issue of who animation is for.

Animation is not just for kids, and it never has been.
The work of producers like Fred Quimby, Leon Schlesinger, Tex Avery and others from the 30s 40s in the Merry Melodies, Looney Tunes and the multitude of MGM canonical short works is an indication of the savvy, urbane potential of animated stories even when they are populated by furry neotenic animals.

The perennial problems of what determines American animation’s content and tone accelerated in 1954 with a book called “Seduction of the Innocent” by psychiatrist Frederic Wertham, who maintained that there was a direct link between juvenile delinquency and mass media, (specifically comic books) in children. His efforts and advocacy led to a U.S. Congressional inquiry into the comic book industry and the subsequent creation of the Comics Code. The chill effect that resonated throughout the media industry at the time resulted in waves of internal preemptive censorship at publishers but also Film and TV studios and the formation of “codes” and reformulations of “Standards and Practices” for any entertainment that might reach a child audience.
Much of the problem with the development of the animation created in the 1960s and afterward, especially programming made for Saturday morning television (The Flintstones was a prime time show in its initial run) was not the idea that animation had to be made “safe” for children but that children had to be “written down to.” There was a notion, in actual practice (if not in theory before the fact) that along with explicit violence, sexually suggestive content and certain other specific moral conventions (E.g. no one can be depicted as getting way with or benefiting from criminal activity) sarcasm, complexity, topical references, politics, irony and any kind of innuendo or double entendrĂ© had to be eliminated. In short, sophistication had to be excised from animation.

Animation was hopelessly mired in a strange world of kids-only entertainment after the 1950s despite the masterpieces being churned out by Disney. Animation progressively got dumber and dumber, (see the Al Brodax Popeye cartoons produced in the 1960s for an example of how “Standards and Practices” concerns allowed and emboldened hacks to create absolute garbage for kids.)

Just as Prohibition begot the mafia, and the mafia begot the FBI, censorship always inspires the subject of its control. The world of “Adult animation” was born in the late 60s and early 1970s in motion pictures. There were movies like “Fritz the Cat,” “Heavy Traffic,” and later “Heavy Metal,” “The Lord of the Rings” by Ralph Bakshi, as well as his “American Pop” and “Fire and Ice.” On television, Filmation studios’ “Flash Gordon” animated series and rare short run shows like “Thundarr the Barbarian” tried to challenge the idea that shows targeted for children had to be sophomoric and predictable. But even the writers of “Flash Gordon” were eventually forced to write in a pink baby dragon side-kick in later seasons, and Thundarr didn’t survive its second season despite featuring the art work and stories of great masters like Gil Kane, Alex Toth and Jack Kirby.

The 1980s ushered in a strange era of toy marketing wherein TV shows were created in order to promote action figures and play sets on store shelves. “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” was one of the more egregious examples of this strategy. Instead of creating good animated narratives and entertainment, toys were designed and then TV shows developed to promote them on Saturday afternoon and after school programming slots. That said, the 1960s and 1970s also brought us the Spider-man animated series, the Hanna Barbera or Ruby Spears productions of the various “Superfriends,” shows that while interesting adaptations of their comic book inspirations, fell far below the level of the latter’s complexity of writing. I was one of many children who wondered why Batman comic books were so great, and yet the Batman Filmation produced series on CBS was so bad.

The late 1980s and early 90s brought a number of groundbreaking shows and tremendous changes to televised animation. “The Simpsons” and also a now largely forgotten Saturday morning show called “The Pirates of Dark Water” eschewed the insistence that animation, even animation for kids, had to be written with anything less than skill and sophistication. Volumes could be written about the Bruce Timm produced “Batman, “Superman” and “Justice League” shows in that decade.

Today we have “Family Guy,” “King of the Hill,” “American Dad,” “South Park,” “The Boondocks” and surprisingly after all these years, “the Simpsons,” enjoying massive audiences due to the quality of the writing on those shows. Interestingly most if not all carry parental advisories. As in years past, we still see absolute dreck developed and televised for kids. In most cases they’ll just have to get older before they can see reruns of all the great animation they are missing. Thankfully not all the writing in animation for kids today is mediocre.

As someone who loves animation and their narratives of impossibility, I felt the need to champion certain shows that are being ignored by the mainstream. So here are my ten selections of shows, -regardless of whether they are adult targeted or kids fare that exhibit a level of sophistication and excellent writing that I don’t feel are getting their due, either critically or in terms of their Nielsen data.

“The Venture Bros.”
A truly postmodern, almost fanboy-centric show, it chronicles the adventures of two dopey teenage boys, Hank and Dean Venture, their insecure super-scientist father Dr. Venture and the family’s bodyguard, Brock Samson voiced by Patrick Warburton. Beautifully modeled and animated, this show requires a level of political, media and cultural literacy that would stymie readers of The New Yorker. Thankfully it’s going into its fourth season, even though you’re not watching.

“Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends”
A show in which imaginary friends become physical beings the instant a child imagines them; unfortunately for the friends, the children eventually outgrow them. Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends is the place for abandoned imaginary friends seeking a new home.
A beautiful, smart show for kids with a vector-based look that refers to the “splash” layouts of the 1960s in Warner brothers’ cartoons.

“The Marvelous Misadventures of Flap Jack”
I don’t know how to describe this show. It’s for children, but it might be the most subversive thing I’ve seen since “The Pee Wee Herman Show.”
It’s about a kid whose mother is a whale. It has to be seen to be believed.

Another kid’s show: Chowder is a young child who is the apprentice to a chef named Mung Daal, who owns a catering company serving the fictional city of Marzipan. The show combines traditional 2D animation with stop-motion animation and puppetry. It’s pretty wild looking and legitimately funny for anyone.

“Batman: The Brave and The Bold”
James Tucker, one of the long suffering storyboard board artists/ animators/ modelers/ Directors/ writers/ producers on the Batman animated series, Superman animated series and Justice League series is the producer of this new show which features Batman teaming up with other characters from the DC Universe (as in the comic book showcase of the same name.) The show is much lighter in tone than previous Batman animated shows. Strangely, like the Filmation CBS show, Batman does not appear as his alter ego, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. But even with the renewed kid-friendly approach, its tone is even-handed and pretty serious although the aesthetics and design of the show harkens back to the Adam West live action show… and did I mention Diedrich Bader is the new voice of Batman?

A show so good, it ought to be illegal. Totally not safe for the kids... and so what?
I feel really bad enjoying this animated show; it’s like laughing at a car crash.
Superjail is built inside a volcano, located inside a larger volcano and run by the “Willy Wonka”-like Warden. Superjail exists in an isolated reality, where time and space are somewhat fluid and can change at the whim of the Warden. At the start of every episode a criminal named Jack Knife is brought to Superjail by the Jailbot. Every episode inevitably leads to a spectacular psychedelic bloodbath prison riot, while Jack Knife escapes in the confusion to be caught again in the opening of the next episode.

“Ben 10” and “Ben 10 Alien Force”
A main character in a kid’s animated show named after the poet Tennyson. Nice. Ben Tennyson finds a mysterious, watch-like device, called the Omnitrix, which attaches itself permanently to his wrist and gives him the ability to transform into a variety of alien life-forms, each with their own unique powers.

A show chronicling the exploits of a death metal band called Dethklok.
This show is the most important critique of the new facism and the mass cult of celebrity that our media and the military industrial industrial complex thrive on. It is extremely violent. It is frequently funny. It is always profound, even when it’s trying to be sophmoric.

“The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy”
(Originally Part of the “Grim & Evil” show)
One day, The Grim Reaper loses a bet to Billy and Mandy, two children from Endsville, a typical suburb (an homage to the “The Seventh Seal”). The Grim Reaper has to be their best friend "forever and ever": Two little kids with “Death” at their beck and call. It’s the sickest kid’s show I’ve ever seen considering any mention of mortality is generally off limits for Saturday morning TV.

“The Secret Saturdays”
The opening theme music alone is worth the watch.”The Saturdays,” are a family of cryptozoologists who work to protect undiscovered and mythical species from the human race and vice versa. The look of the series is influenced by 1960s-era Hanna-Barbara action series such as the Herculoids, and Jonny Quest and features an interesting use of washed out color plates that remind me of what it was like to watch color animated TV shows on Saturday mornings when I was a kid… which is to say I watched them in black and white, on a tiny Sony TV monitor.

--Honorable mentions that have recently bitten the dust:

“Frisky Dingo” (and the spin off series “The Xtacles” has also been scrapped)
This was a very slick, sophisticated show that followed an extraterrestrial would be conqueror and single parent, “Kill Face” as he threatened to drive the Earth into the sun for ransom. Episodes revolved around his attempts to market and promote the planet’s doom while running afoul of “Awesome X,” the most believable billionaire superhero ever brought to screen. Thankfully, seasons 1 and 2 are available on DVD. Hang your head in shame for not watching this show.

“Fairly Odd Parents”
While this is not a show that was unsuccessful in its intended demographic, I do believe that this show should have had a longer run than it did.

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