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The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 2

Z_34_-_Batman_and_ZeeWelcome back for the second installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 79 through 60. As a reminder, this feature encompasses all of the episodes produced under the banner of Batman, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and The New Batman Adventures which are collectively referred to as Batman: The Animated Series. If you wish to view my thoughts on the episodes as a whole each episode here is linked to the write-up. If you prefer to explore more, simply head on over to the index page for all things BTAS. Now, lets take a look at the episodes coming in at number 79:

runaway bomb79 – Time Out of Joint

The return of the Clock King! Yeah, I’m not sure many were looking forward to that one, but we got it anyway. I was really down on the Clock King when I was a kid, as an adult I still really don’t care for him. There’s some fun time-lapse business here, but it’s still not an episode I care to return to.

78 – Birds of a Feather

Penguin’s attempt at redemption didn’t go too well for him, but at least he got to fly through the air with a Viking helmet! This was actually a fun story that just didn’t have a satisfying resolution.

77 – Terror in the Sky

Another return, this time it’s the Man-Bat from the first episode. We didn’t need another dose of this character, but I wasn’t opposed to the idea. This show sometimes stumbles with the supernatural, but the Man-Bat is the rare exception to that. This is a solid episode with a little bit of deja vu holding it back.

76 – The Clock King

The debut of the Clock King was low on my list of favorites as a kid. I did warm to it a bit as an adult because it’s just so silly. The Clock King is full of dubious puns and the image of him with his clock face glasses and cane does make me smile. The thing I disliked about this one though is how Batman plays down to his competition and that’s something I could never reconcile in my brain.

seenoevil175 – See No Evil

This is one of those early episodes of the show with a very grounded premise. An ex-con father wants to see his kid, but the law has wisely stripped him of that right, so he’s resorting to other means. This time it’s via an invisible suit which allows him to get close to his estranged daughter, whom he eventually kidnaps. It’s a good story, but I felt like it may have wanted me to feel a touch of sympathy at times for the bad dad when it really should have been more forceful to show him as in the wrong. This one earns bonus points for featuring the fun visual of Batman riding on the roof of an invisible car.

74 – Be a Clown

This one is actually rather similar to “See No Evil” as it once again involves an adult assuming a friendly persona to dupe a minor. In this case, it’s Joker who befriends the mayor’s son in a bid to get back at the mayor for saying some mean things. This one could have been a classic Joker episode if it went a bit further. It also included the somewhat annoying character of Jordan. Joker just wasn’t intimidating enough to make me, as both a kid and adult, fearful for Jordan while he was in Joker’s presence. I think this is the rare first season episode that may have been better served had it aired during the WB days.

thomas-wayne-273 – Nothing to Fear

The third episode of the show is mostly remembered for some wild visuals, including a giant skeleton harassing Batman, and for that early look at Scarecrow with the teardrop shaped mask. It ends up feeling a bit too by the numbers when examined with the rest of the material. As the third episode, it’s pretty good though.

72 – Beware the Creeper

This one is very much a mixed bag. The character of The Creeper is pretty entertaining as sort of a Loony Tunes character existing in this world. There’s also some gross stuff with Harley though which was growing tiresome at this point nearing the end of the show.  I guess ultimately I was okay with never hearing more from The Creeper.

71 – Holiday Knights

It was a bit of a surprise that The New Batman Adventures began with a Christmas/New Year’s episode. It was even more surprising it was better than the previous Christmas one, “Christmas With The Joker.” This little anthology episode is fine. It features a vicious (yet ugly) Joker, a fun romp with Harley and Ivy, and ends with a nice moment between Batman and Gordon. That’s not bad.

On_Leather_Wings_50_-_Batman_bleeds70 – On Leather Wings

The first episode of the series is more a feast for the eyes and ears than a great episode of Batman. It has a simple mystery with an obvious red herring, but the thriller aspects of the episode give it almost a horror vibe. The Man-Bat is a cool spectacle though and the sound effects may be the best in the entire run of the show. Solid action, great visuals, maybe I should actually put this higher?

69 – Avatar

The return of Ra’s al Ghul was a bit underwhelming. I was looking for a scheme on par with “The Demon’s Quest,” but we ended up with something lesser. Worse, it also had a feeling of retread with the Talia/Batman relationship. Batman is a world class detective and has to be one of the smartest men alive, but I guess he’s still a sucker for a pretty face. He’s only human.

68 – Read My Lips

The premise of this episode shouldn’t work, but it pulls it off. A ventriloquist gives life to a dummy that ends up taking charge. Scarface is the bad guy, not the “dummy” with his hand up his ass. The animators have some fun, as do the writers, with the premise. There’s still a ludicrous aspect at play to the plot, but it makes it work.

67 – Zatanna

One of the few team-up episodes of the show. In this case, it’s Batman and the sexy magician Zatanna. There’s some interesting character building in this one with it being revealed that Bruce studied under a magician to learn techniques that could benefit him as a crime fighter, namely the art of the escape. We already saw Batman get out of a dunk tank trap so this helps make that more believable in hindsight. Aside from that, the episode is a bit ho-hum.

Kyodai_Ken_subdues_Batman66 – Night of the Ninja

Kyodai Ken’s debut episode is a solid one. It posits that Batman is more Samurai than Ninja in his training, even though ninjas were considered pretty damn cool in the 90s. It fleshes out a bit how Bruce came to be such an accomplished fighter and gives him a win over an old rival. The Ninja might have been more interesting a villain had he bested Batman in one-on-one combat, but since he only came back once I guess it doesn’t matter.

65 – Vendetta

Killer Croc’s debut in the series portrayed him as a vengeful murderer, which is probably the persona I prefer as opposed to the dim-witted goof he sometimes embodies. The episode itself is a fun little mystery at first and it puts Batman in the position of helping Bullock, someone who is arguably more foe than friend to Batman. That part is arguably more interesting than Batman vs Croc, who while at first appears to be a villain Batman can’t just take on head-to-head, he still gets the job done with minimal suspense. This one does lose some points for featuring perhaps the dumbest scene in the entire show’s run. Bruce, looking to figure out who is after Bullock, is shown visiting a crocodile exhibit at a zoo and when the exhibit gives him a piece of on-the-nose info he turns (almost to the camera) and says “Of course!” If the episode were poking fun at shows that do this sort of thing that would be one thing, but it plays it totally sincere.

roxy vs batman64 – The Ultimate Thrill

This episode is certainly something. Roxy Rocket is a fun addition to the show, even if it can be hard to take her seriously. One could argue her motivations aren’t much different from The Terrible Trio, the villains of the most disliked episode of the bunch. At least she’s entertaining though, and the surprising innuendo of her encounter with Batman is shockingly funny for what is ostensibly a children’s cartoon.

63 – Love is a Croc

An odd couple paring and one I would have never dreamed up returns Baby-Doll and introduced a new version of Killer Croc. Croc is reframed as a manipulator with an appetite for cash and women. He’s basically your garden-variety sleaze ball now who just so happens to resemble a crocodile. Baby-Doll has a severe case of arrested development now as she appears to be in worse shape emotionally than before. As a result, she ends up being even more sympathetic. I think if the episode leaned into that harder it would have been better, but it also wants to be funny and feels it needs an exciting climax in the form of a confrontation between the heroes and villains. It’s solid, but I prefer her debut episode to this one.

62 – Cold Comfort

The third Mr. Freeze episode is the most uninteresting. Unsure of what to do with the villain, but feeling like he needed to return for The New Batman Adventures, the writers basically just returned him to how he was when we first saw him:  a cold, uncaring, villain. Only now his motivation was lost. His wife is alive and well, but no longer with him. Given how SubZero ended, we were to assume this was okay for him, but now Freeze is just generally ticked off at the world because he had it so bad. He wants to make others feel the same. It’s a motivator that keeps him in the role of a villain, but removes the sympathy that made him so special.

61 – Batgirl Returns

Batgirl made her debut near the end of season one, so it made sense she would be brought back in season two. She even got the prestigious role of closing out the show in a solo adventure where she was paired up with the most famous female character in the show:  Catwoman. By now, Catwoman was back to a more villainous role and much of the episode has fun with the notion of how trustworthy can she be. Robin is also tossed in as one part voice of reason, and one part smug jerk who tries to hold Batgirl back. To her credit, Batgirl is still decisive in her decision-making and self-confident, but not to a fault. The pairing is fairly fun, in a disposable way. After her father’s framing being the motivating factor to get her to take on this new persona, it’s a little disappointing something on that level didn’t get Barbara to bring back Batgirl in this one, but at least she’s back.

catwoman alone60 – Catwalk

This is basically the re-debut of Catwoman. After toeing the line of thief and vigilante in much of the first season, this one returns her to the role of a thief. Nothing of significance causes that change, Selina is mostly just bored living the straight life. Predictably, she gets into some trouble that requires some help from Batman who naturally tries to implore her to change her ways. It’s a bit lacking in drama this time around, but I mostly rank this one as highly as I do because it ends on the right note.


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 1

batman and selinaWe have arrived at the ultimate end game of our feature on Batman: The Animated Series. After doing a blog entry on all 109 episodes, plus each film, it is time to determine just what is the best of the best. This is always an exercise in futility as people are going to disagree on what is ostensibly a subjective exercise. Still, it feels like a worthwhile way to put a bow on the coverage here as it was the biggest undertaking this blog has done.

To arrive at these rankings I basically added a subjective score to each episode. At first, I started with a 5 point scale, but found that lacked nuance. Inevitably I ended up with a lot of 3 and 3.5 grades without a tidy way to arrange those episodes. I then switched to a 10 point scale and found that much easier to work with. I’m not going to include these ratings with the episode as I don’t think they’re really worth much. It was just a way to make arranging 109 data points in a more manageable fashion. And ultimately, what separates an episode with a rating of 8 with one awarded a rating of 8.5? I don’t really know, it just felt right. Mostly it was me going over the episodes and comparing them. Maybe I did score two episodes the same, but in isolating them I felt one deserved to be ranked higher than the other and thus the 8.5 rating was born. In that, I felt like an old professor I had in college who explains how he approached grading on a curve. If he awarded one student an A and another an A-, but felt they both demonstrated the same knowledge of the material in an equal fashion, he bumped the A- recipient to an A. And there are quite a few episodes of this show that I felt were pretty much equal to one another in terms of quality and enjoyment.

Mostly, this ranking was about separating the episodes I liked from the ones I loved. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some bad ones, but none managed to receive a rating of 0 from me. It also ended up being a bit of a Bell curve in the end as I had three episodes with a perfect score and three with a score of 1 or less. I didn’t do that on purpose, but it amused me to see it play out that way.

Anyway, if you disagree with my list then that is totally fine. I would not expect anyone’s list to match mine. I did not consult any other publications to see what they felt was the best and worst episodes of the show and it has honestly been a long time since I did view such a list. And since there are so many episodes, it didn’t make sense to cram this all into one post as I want to provide a sentence or two to justify my ranking for each one as opposed to just presenting a list. I’m also just doing the episodes and not the films as it hardly seems fair to weigh a feature-length subject against a 23 minute television episode. And if you’re curious, I’d rank the moves in order of release anyways with Mask of the Phantasm being the clear cut best of the three. Let’s get this show on the road though with my pick for worst episode of Batman: The Animated Series.

trio clever names

There’s a trio to fear.

109. –The Terrible Trio

So this episode basically sucks. I hate to be so negative right out of the gate, but I’m not going to say that often so I feel fine with it for now. Basically, three rich kids decide life is boring and turn to crime to get their kicks. It’s not very compelling, nor is the animation particularly enjoyable. Not every episode needs a marque villain, but it needs something better than these clowns. Let’s move on.

108. – Prophecy of Doom

A con artist dupes Gotham’s wealthy into handing over their money as part of a doomsday cult. It’s pretty incredible, and why should Batman care if a bunch of rich people get taken for a ride? A fool and his money are soon parted.

107 – The Underdwellers

This one felt like the show pandering to children. It almost feels like it started with the notion of Batman admonishing a child for handling a firearm and then the episode was created around it, and rather haphazardly. This is the one where Batman has to go into the sewer to beat up a jerk who dresses like a pirate and has pet crocodiles. It is one of the most “anime” looking episodes which at least makes it visually interesting at times.

106 – The Forgotten

If you had asked me to name my least favorite episode of Batman when I was a kid, I probably would have named this one. As an adult, it’s merely the fourth worst episode. Batman spends much of the episode with amnesia trapped in a slave labor camp being run by a morbidly obese man who seems to always have food in his mouth. It’s just not a compelling story and the payoff of Batman getting this guy doesn’t make up for it. Plus, I really dislike the music in this one which is a criticism I can really only say about this particular episode.

Cape_and_Cowl_Twist105 – The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy

Batman is lead through a series of traps by some joker named Josiah Wormwood who wants his cape and cowl to give to some other jerk. It ends up being a long con by Batman himself to basically entrap the guy which makes it feel rather pointless in the end.

104 – The Worry Men

Another one of Gotham’s wealthy is victimized once again, this time it’s Veronica Vreeland who brings back little dolls from a vacation she recently returned from. They end up being mind control devices created by the Mad Hatter, so this is the first appearance of what I would consider a noteworthy villain on this list. Once again, it’s just not a very compelling plot, but at least it does an okay job of holding back on the reveal of the plan’s mastermind, something even the good mystery-based episodes fail to do.

103 – Moon of the Wolf

Steroids are bad, kids, which seems to be the message in this one. Anthony Romulus seeks an edge and winds up a werewolf courtesy of Dr. Milo, one of the worst of the reappearing villains. There’s also some animation gaffes and some odd visual choices which further hurt this one.

102 – Fire From Olympus

Another one I detested far more as a kid than I do now. At least I can find humor in this one which depicts Maxie Zeus as a guy basically out of his mind. He thinks he’s the actual Zeus from Greek mythology with Batman serving as Hades. It’s almost too ludicrous though for an episode of Batman. Some laughs can be had, but little else.

TT_41_-_Cat-Woman

A new look for Catwoman.

101 – Tyger, Tyger

Batman does The Island of Dr. Moreau, only here it’s Catwoman who serves as a victim. This one may be a favorite of those who identify as Furries considering Catwoman is essentially nude throughout it and covered in fur, but for the rest of us it’s just merely a dud.

100 – Lock-Up

This episode has a solid premise, but the execution is just so-so. Lock-Up is a more extreme vigilante who views himself as judge, jury, and executioner which obviously doesn’t mesh with Batman’s world view. It does a good job of laying the groundwork before falling apart in the second act. It also contains one of Batman’s sillier “transformation” techniques when he uses a briefcase full of smoke to hide so he can change into his Batman costume.

99 – The Lion and the Unicorn

This is basically an Alfred solo episode, and no disrespect to the world’s most famous butler, but he’s a bit out of his element. It also marks the return of lesser villain Red Claw, someone no one needed to hear from again. The story takes our characters over to London though which at least makes for some new backgrounds.

 

klarion in control

98 – The Demon Within

Our first appearance of The New Batman Adventures. In short, if you’re a fan of Etrigan the Demon then you’re mad at me right now. If you’re like me and you care not for the character, then you’re probably in agreement that this is one of the lesser episodes in the series. Batman doesn’t do supernatural real well, and there’s a lot of that going on here. It’s just not an episode I was ever able to get into.

97 – Eternal Youth

The episode where we are introduced to Alfred’s friend, or girlfriend, Maggie. She will not be heard from again and I suppose that was for the best. They get lured to a resort being operated by Poison Ivy and wind up turned into trees. Yet another episode where a villain preys on the stupidity of Gotham’s wealthy. At least Batman has a personal stake this time and the rich aren’t just being extorted out of their money, but also their lives, unless you consider existing as a tree living.

96 – The Cat and the Claw – Part II

The follow-up to the show’s premiere was…okay? Batman and Catwoman team-up to stop Red Claw from basically nuking Gotham. A Batman/Catwoman team-up could have been appointment television, but it happened way too fast killing the novelty. Plus Red Claw just wasn’t up to the task of being the big baddie who gets the pair to cooperate anyway.

95 – Joker’s Wild

Our first appearance of the Joker! His episodes are usually pretty good, but this was a rare dud. Joker gets lured into attacking a casino baring his likeness in what amounts to an insurance scheme. It’s a bit amusing to see Joker get played, but this sort of thing would be executed far better in a later episode. It’s also a real low point in terms of animation as this episode basically lead to Akom Production Co. getting fired from the show after producing several other season one episodes.

94 – Chemistry

Poison Ivy’s lone solo outing in The New Batman Adventures comes in at 94. She basically just repeats her cloning trick from “House & Garden” only this time she creates a spouse not for herself, but for (you guessed it) Gotham’s wealthy singles. Bruce is part of the scheme and he ends up getting married to a plant lady. There are some interesting choices in this one, but mostly the plot just isn’t believable which ruins the whole mystery of it all.

bruce mantis

93 – Critters

A much derided episode that Paul Dini is at least willing to stand up for. He can like whatever he wants to like, but I’m just going to have to disagree here. I never wanted to see Batman battle giant bugs or anything similar. The humor the episode aims for also just doesn’t really land.

92 – Sideshow

Killer Croc’s redemption story might have turned into a worthwhile episode if it was ever believable. Instead, we know he’s just a bad guy and it’s only a matter of time until Batman finds him among the circus folk he falls in with. There’s a solid fight scene though, and I like the logic of Croc being declared completely sane and thus deserving of jail as opposed to being placed in Arkham. It’s too bad that didn’t stick though.

91 – I’ve Got Batman in my Basement

A surprisingly divisive episode. Bruce Timm seems to despise it, and with some good reason. This one really talks down to its audience, and it also makes The Penguin look completely incompetent. There’s some fun bits in it though that make it hard to hate. I actually know some folks who think this is one of the best of the series! I disagree, but I can at least see what they might find appealing about it. Basically, if you like it when the show doesn’t take itself seriously, or ever wanted to save Batman as a kid, then you probably rank this one higher than I do.

90 – Girl’s Night Out

I want to like this one, but the character of Livewire just doesn’t do anything for me. She’s annoying and a bit overpowered for the likes of Batman, not that he’s in this one really. This is the one that features the Batgirl/Supergirl team-up and unfortunately that just isn’t nearly as interesting as the villainous ladies. Poison Ivy and Harley are along for the ride and their chemistry keeps this thing from floundering. They’re so much more interesting than the heroines that I wish the episode focused entirely on their perspective and eventual clash with Livewire rather than presenting something a bit too conventional in the end.

CSF_46_-_Batmobile-2

Let it snow!

89 – Cat Scratch Fever

Dr. Milo’s other outing. I think I have this one too high because it’s not among my favorites, by any means. It once again puts Catwoman in the role of the victim as Dr. Milo and his annoying goons target Gotham’s strays. I do give this one bonus points for all of the snow though as it is a great deal of fun to look at. I still think I could have ranked this one closer to 100 though.

88 – The Cat and the Claw – Part I

The premiere episode of the show put Batman and Catwoman at odds. It’s a solid episode, reminding me that once we got past #95 or so the episodes actually became fine, just nothing to write home about. As a stand-alone episode, there’s just not a ton to work with though, and it’s too bad the setup created by this episode had such woeful payoff. The episode is at its best when we get to see Catwoman and Batman play off each other and Adrienne Barbeau really nails the role of Catwoman.

87 – P.O.V.

This was an experimental episode in which three cops are forced to recount the events of the evening to Investigative Affairs and we’re left to figure out whose account is the most accurate. It’s written pretty well, but the nature of the beast means it’s also repetitive and I don’t think it quite manages to remain compelling for the entire duration. I like that the show tried something like this though and other episodes would attempt similar things and really knock it out of the park.

joker0286 – Christmas with the Joker

Maybe my most disappointing episode. I love Christmas so I want to love this, but it’s just okay. Joker at least gets to sing the popular alternate version of “Jingle Bells” and be genuinely amusing, it’s just the action spots that are a bit weak. Plus there are some awful puns and Robin really adds nothing in his series debut. Even though it’s not great, I still think it’s worth watching around the holidays.

85 – Day of the Samurai

The rematch few wanted, but most were fine with. Batman takes on the Ninja only this time it’s in Japan and we get a silly Touch of Death plot device added to raise the stakes. There’s a fun Bat-death fake-out and a fight around an erupting volcano which is pretty cool.

84 – Animal Act

The Mad Hatter returns only this time he’s decided to control the minds of animals rather humans to some degree of success. Nightwing gets to return to the circus which is cool, and Tim literally shovels poop. It’s also one of the better mystery plots the show did, which is worth something.

batman catwoman smokestack

83 – Cult of the Cat

Catwoman gets herself caught up in some cat worshiping cult that you just know is bad news. This puts her at odds with her masculine counterpart which just feels incredibly corny. I was definitely sick of victim Catwoman by the time this one came around which probably prevented me from enjoying it more. It’s basically just another average episode.

82 – Torch Song

A celebrity has herself a violent stalker in the form of Firefly. It’s a different setup from what we’re accustomed to, but a more worthwhile one than rich person gets extorted. I wish Firefly was just a better adversary though. It feels like Batman got scaled-down to be on more equal footing with him, but that’s a criticism I could level at a great many villains on this show.

81 – Deep Freeze

The much anticipated return of Mr. Freeze saw him team-up with the Walt Disney wannabe, Grant Walker. This one marked an extremely contrived way to bring back one of the show’s breakout stars. It nailed the motivation for Freeze, but the rest was a bit lacking. The film SubZero ended up being really similar and a much more suitable way to bring back Mr. Freeze making this episode feel nonessential as a result.

the condiment king strikes80 – Make ‘Em Laugh

Joker’s finale from the original run of the show had him seeking revenge on some comedians who dared to suggest he wasn’t funny once upon a time. It’s silly, but Joker is insane so I can’t say the plot doesn’t make sense. This has some of the funniest moments from the show in it such as the debut of The Condiment King. I think if the final act was more satisfying this could have been a classic, instead it’s just merely good.

This is where I’m going to cut-off Part I of this feature. This will be the longest entry in this series in terms of episodes covered with the rest spanning 20 episodes each until we spotlight them all. It seems only right to make this the Friday feature going forward as that’s what Batman was for the better part of two years on this blog. Check back next week for episodes 79 through 60. Same Bat-time, same Bat-blog.

 


Chinese Democracy Revisited

chinese democracy

After a lenghty development process, Chinese Democracy was released on November 23, 2008.

Quite possibly the most interesting and fascinating rock album released in my lifetime is Chinese Democracy by Guns N’ Roses, released ten years ago today. This was an album of mythic proportions. It was in some state of genesis for parts of 15 years and I think come the mid-2000s most probably assumed it was musical vaporware and would never see the light of day.

To comprehend the magnitude of Chinese Democracy you need to take a trip back to 1991. That year, Guns N’ Roses released its true sophomore effort and follow-up to the debut Appetite for Destruction with the double-album Use Your Illusion. The band was on-top of the rock world thanks to the success of Appetite. It combined good tunes with big personalities, none bigger than frontman Axl Rose. The band invited controversy, or at least Axl did, and was pretty upfront about its destructive lifestyle. The title of their first album wasn’t something that just sounded cool, it was basically their lifestyle. As a result, record company Geffen was quite fearful that the band would crash and burn before they could milk it for all it was worth. This is all detailed quite well in Watch You Bleed, the unauthorised biography of the band by Stephen Davis. Geffen would repeatedly try to get the band into the studio, and fast-tracked the follow-up EP Lies in 1988 just to keep the cash flowing. Use Your Illusion would basically turn into Axl’s vanity project, wanting to do something bigger than Appetite. His affinity for Elton John was front and center in the many long ballads contained on those two albums and the accompanying music videos were lavish and expensive. The albums were a major commercial success, even if they were quite inferior to what came before.

Following the release of Use Your Illusion, the band would embark on a massive, global tour where apparently things deteriorated between Axl and his band mates with some claiming Axl forced them all to sign over the rights to the band to him before a gig in Rio (a claim Axl denies). Members were dropping, but the most recognizable personalities of Rose and guitarist Slash were still holding things together, albeit barely. Following the heavy touring, the band would work on and release a covers album in 1993, The Spaghetti Incident?. It wasn’t particularly good, though few cover albums are, but still managed to sell over 6 million copies. Things would further fall apart following the recording of another cover, this one of “Sympathy for the Devil” for the Interview With a Vampire soundtrack. Axl supposedly mixed it behind the band’s back and Slash was disgusted with how it turned out (I personally find it kind of interesting), but he still soldiered on but eventually left the band in 1996. Bassist Duff McKagan would eventually follow Slash out the door in 1997. At the time he stated the band had studios rented for the better part of three years and yet no songs to show for it.

gnr uyi tour

In the early 90s, Guns N’ Roses was on top of the rock world.

By 1998, the band was practically unrecognizable. Axl Rose was the only member left from the early days, and keyboardist Dizzy Reed was the only other holdover from the Use Your Illusion albums. It was at this point the band seemed to get serious about writing and recording new music and Geffen even offered the band a bonus of a million dollars if it could complete the record by 1999. That obviously didn’t happen, but by then one song was unveiled along with the eventual album’s title. That song, “Oh My God” was included on the End of Days soundtrack and was not met with much enthusiasm. It was basically an industrial rock song and few nice things were said of it. This was also the era in which Rose really started talking up the album claiming he had enough material for a whole trilogy of albums. He even played some demo versions of songs for Rolling Stone and there was some momentum for the album, and yet nothing would come for many years.

The band’s first unveiling with this new lineup ended up as a surprise appearance at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. Despite a warm reception, the band kind of floundered through a brief set that included renditions of classics “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City” sandwiched around a new song, “Madagascar.” Rose particularly sounded awful, unable to really unleash his screech and compensating by just singing comically high. Still, the band suggested the album was close with guitarist Robin Finck even throwing out a date of Summer 2003, but that obviously didn’t happen.

vma appearance

The band’s surprise appearance during the 2002 VMAs may have done more harm than good.

Guns N’ Roses, possibly in need of a cash infusion, returned to touring in late 2002. This likely stalled production on Chinese Democracy, but not enough to justify missing that release window by five years. During the touring, fans did get to hear early versions of songs that would make the album, but the reception wasn’t warm. Leaks would follow over the ensuing years, some resulting in legal action by Geffen and the band, and the New York Times would report in 2005 that production costs had now topped 13 million dollars, an incredible sum for an album that still was years away.

Eventually, the album would see the light of day. On November 23, 2008, Chinese Democracy was unleashed. It’s hard to say what the level of enthusiasm was at that point. Because the costs for Geffen were so astronomical, the label went to great lengths to try to make as much of its money back as possible. It negotiated exclusive deals for songs with movie studios and video game makers. “If The World” would run during the closing credits of Body of Lies while “Shackler’s Revenge” was included with Rock Band 2. Best Buy secured an exclusive agreement to sell the album in its stores, including CD versions and an LP.  The title track was debuted on Opie and Anthony’s show before being distributed to other radio stations while “Better” was released as a promo single as well. To drum up enthusiasm for the record, fans could stream it for free three days before release. Perhaps most infamously, was the Dr. Pepper promotion. Early that year, Dr. Pepper openly promised free cans of its signature soda if the album was released in 2008. The roll-out of coupons for individuals looking to take advantage of the promotion was botched, with Dr. Pepper’s website becoming overloaded. The band even threatened a lawsuit over the whole thing and accused Dr. Pepper of tarnishing the album’s release leading to lower than expected sales. Rose would later claim he had nothing to do with the threat of litigation and considered it a non-issue.

buckethead

Buckethead was probably the band’s most famous member outside of Rose during the interim period between albums, though by the time it was released Buckethead had left the band.

When Chinese Democracy was finally in the hands of fans curious to hear it, it came packaged with a rather thick booklet. So many cooks were in the kitchen here, many no longer even with the band. Of them, the most famous was likely guitarist Buckethead who didn’t hang around long enough to see release. Twelve separate musicians received credits in the personnel department with five additional guest musicians credited (most famously, Sebastian Bach who performed backing vocals on “Sorry”). The 14 track album ran for over 70 minutes, and it’s almost impossible to know how old some of the tracks are. It’s a rather fascinating album for this reason, and perhaps one day Rose will open up about the production process and be able to provide track lists for each year recording was ongoing. It certainly would make for an interesting documentary.

As for the album itself, while the initial sales may have disappointed (it debuted at number 3 on the Billboard 200) it has since been certified platinum. Critics seemed largely complimentary of the release, even if it was tempered somewhat. Perhaps the biggest proponents of the album were Axl’s former band mates with almost all of them offering a positive assessment of the record.

dr pepper promotion

Chinese Democracy’s release cost Dr. Pepper a few bucks and maybe some PR damage as well.

In revisiting the album I still largely hold the same opinion now as I did back in 2008. It’s both a satisfying and disappointing release. The disappointment comes in that this isn’t some over-the-top sound, nor is it a giant dumpster fire. I think some people were hoping for a disaster, and what they got is a pretty decent record, though not one anyone is likely to proclaim as an all-time great. What I do find really interesting about the album is that its best moments are what many people disliked about Use Your Illusion. This is an Axl Rose record and Axl Rose likes ballads, so there’s no shortage here. The last three songs are long, slow, pieces and are also among the best moments for the record. When it tries to be hard and heavy, it has its greatest stumbles. The title track is a fairly straight-forward rock track, satisfying, though not spectacular. “Shackler’s Revenge” and “Better” follow a similar path, though to not as great an effect.

The album stumbles following its first ballad, the quite competent and satisfying “Street of Dreams.” “If the World” goes for a bit of a jam sound and it sounds way over-produced. It’s more an idea than a fully realized song. The next two, “There Was a Time” and “Catcher in the Rye,” are fine, but sound way too similar to each other. It’s puzzling to see them placed back to back. “Catcher in the Rye” also goes for a melancholy sound that feels stale and a touch corny. It’s not helped by the subject matter of the song, which feels like well-trod territory. “Scraped” is where the album bottoms out, a noisy, directionless song with Rose’s worst vocal performance. “Riad N’ the Bedouins” feels like the unofficial beginning of the album’s second act. It’s a rocker that’s delivered with true ferocity. It’s probably the heaviest song on the album and it contains some classic Rose gusto with lines like, “I don’t give a fuck ’bout them ’cause I am cra-zay!” What momentum the album finds with the song though is wasted on “Sorry,” just a snoozefest of a track. “I.R.S” is more a mid-tempo rocker, and it’s fine. Axl’s vocals are probably as close to classic Axl as you’re going to hear on this one. The trio of ballads that round things out follow. “Madagascar” is another over-produced mess, though it debuts a new “voice” for Rose in which he goes with a weathered, low, sound. The song is interwoven with clips of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech as well as the same soundbite from Cool Hand Luke that was previously used at the beginning of “Civil War.” “This I love” is a gentle ballad with a great melody and vocal performance by Rose, while “Prostitute” is similar, but it has a bigger end.

axl and bach

Fellow rocker Sebastian Bach was a source of news on the album leading up to its release. He also guested on the track “Sorry.”

Despite my dislike for some songs on this one, I do still find it compelling enough to listen to the album the whole way through. It is not and never will be my favorite GNR album, but I’m torn on if I like this more than I do the individual Use Your Illusion albums. Those two were a mess stuffed full of filler material. I think if I were to cut Use Your Illusion down to a single album, it would be better than Chinese Democracy, but it is a fun discussion. Appetite for Destruction will likely always be the band’s best album and one that really defines its sound. It’s not just the best album in the band’s discography, it’s one of the ten best rock albums of all time. No one, even back in 1991, expected the band to top it only to supplement it with more worthwhile content.

GNR reunion

After years of saying it would never happen, Slash and Axl finally reconciled and re-joined the band, along with McKagan, in 2016.

Following Chinese Democracy, Guns N’ Roses has been quiet on the new release front. Rose did claim around 2014 that more material was on the way, but it’s been rather quiet. The band put out a remastered version of Appetite for Destruction instead, and former band mates Slash and Duff are back with Rose. Supposedly, there are dozens of unfinished songs leftover from the Chinese Democracy sessions so it’s possible that some day Geffen will put them out looking to just make a little money off of them, if they can. If GNR is to remain a nostalgic act I suppose few will mind, though longtime fans are probably curious to hear what a new album with Slash and McKagan back in the fold would sound like. Regardless of how the album ultimately turned out, Chinese Democracy will always be remembered as the white whale of rock albums. The incredibly long and dramatic production time was perhaps more fun to follow than the album was to listen to. There’s a part of me that wished it continued, though I know that’s a retroactive feeling as at the time I was more than ready for the whole thing to have an end. I think ten years later the album is still worth a look and how much you enjoy it largely depends on your expectations. If you’re looking for another Appetite or even another Use Your Illusion, you’ll be let down. If you just want a textured rock record with a modern sound, then I think there’s something to like here.


SH Figuarts Super Saiyan Vegeta

IMG_2172He’s the Prince of all Saiyans. The last survivor to have laid eyes on Planet Vegeta, home world of the mighty warriors and birthplace of the legendary Goku. And he’s also a pretty fine toy. Vegeta, arguably the most popular character to emerge from Dragon Ball Z, has seen his likeness cast in numerous forms of plastic over the years. The Dragon Ball franchise is probably the most recognizable anime franchise around the globe and probably the most beloved. Despite concluding over 20 years ago, Dragon Ball Z remains insanely popular. It has experienced a renaissance over the past few years due in large part to the launch of Dragon Ball Super, the Akira Toriyama blessed true sequel to Dragon Ball Z which basically erases the lackluster Dragon Ball GT from canon. It’s thanks to that series, as well as Giant Bomb’s new Dragon Ball Kai podcast All Systems Goku, that I’m feeling awash in Dragon Ball related nostalgia. And when I get nostalgic, I often turn to toys.

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Final Flash, sort of?

SH Figuarts, a division of Bandai, has been releasing high quality action figures for a few years now. I reviewed each figure in its aborted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line and came away really impressed with the build quality of those figures. That license was reportedly rather expensive for SHF, so I should not be surprised that their Dragon Ball products actually seem more substantial and are even a bit cheaper in price. They’ve been dabbling in the franchise for a few years now, but it’s only just now that I finally bit the bullet on my first DBZ figure and who else was I going to pick other than Vegeta? Truth be told, my options were rather slim at my local comic shop as these figures aren’t stocked like a typical action figure line or the much cheaper Dragon Ball Super figures. I had my choice between Vegeta, Tien, and Kid Goku from Dragon Ball and opted for Vegeta because he was always one of my favorite characters and at $50 he was also the cheapest. That price point is substantial for a lone action figure and it’s the most I’ve ever spent on a DBZ figure, but after having a couple of days to mess around with him, it’s hard not to come away impressed.

Super Saiyan Vegeta comes in at roughly 6″ in height and is depicted in his iconic Cell Saga blue armor attire. He has more points of articulation than is worth mentioning and loads of optional parts. His parts list includes 4 interchangeable face plates, nine different hands, and a set of crossed arms. His wide range in articulation means he’s capable of numerous dynamic poses, though the lack of a display stand of some kind is a bit disappointing (they’re sold separately) as he can’t truly assume his classic Gallic Gun pose or Final Flash. His joints are nice and tight so there’s no flopping around. The paint apps on my figure are all really clean. His face has few paint accents, but his expressions work really well and it kind of plays off of the yellow in his hair this way. His bodysuit has some shading and the armor does as well so it’s not just stark white. There’s no battle damage or anything like that and nothing is removable, but the armor itself is part of the sculpt providing maximum articulation at the slight cost of true likeness.

The SHF line is composed of numerous smaller pieces and the figures can practically be deconstructed if you so desire. This means you can get a little rough with them without fear of breaking anything as it’s more likely the piece will just pop out instead. The hands all popped out rather easily for me. They’re seated on a small peg which is attached to a ball joint. Snapping on a new hand can be a little tricky as that ball behind the pegs wants to move, but it’s still fairly simple. The cross arms piece is a little more tricky as you have to remove Vegeta’s arms just above the bicep. They come apart easy enough, but getting the crossed arms to fit means inserting one side then kind of bending the other arm to make it work. Still, I never felt like I was endangering my figure when putting it on. The end result is a classic Vegeta pose, though it looks slightly unnatural. That may just be due to me knowing it’s one solid piece and overthinking it, so judge for yourself in the picture below. As you can see, SHF did a great job of making sure the blue of the sleeves matches Vegeta’s shoulders.

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Vegeta is not impressed with your fighting ability.

Veneta’s face plates are all relatively easy to remove and re-apply. His “bangs” are attached to his face and including that as part of each face plate helps add depth to his hair and also hide the seem. After struggling with the face plates of the recently released Bucky O’Hare from Boss Fight Studio, it was nice to have no similar issues with the faces here. He comes capable of four different expression: a serious face, a cocky grin, an angry scream, and an angry scream while looking off to the left. I’m not really sure why that last one is included, but I’m not complaining as it’s not like anything is missing (unless you enjoy horrified Vegeta). His screaming faces even have that little vein that shows up in the show whenever Vegeta gets pissed which is a nice touch. The only challenge to the faces is finding a spot to place your fingers as you push another face on – that hair is pretty damn spiky!

Between the numerous hands and the various expressions it’s relatively easy to recreate any scene you wish from the show or manga. The only thing missing is a true Big Bang Attack hand gesture, which if I’m being honest actually is a pretty disappointing omission. He can handle the Final Flash with ease though and it’s possible to kind of contort him into a Gallic Gun, but that one always was a bit odd and a pose more appropriate for a Saiyan Saga Vegeta. It would have also been nice to get a a non-super head, though I personally wouldn’t display him with black hair so I guess I shouldn’t complain. Now if they had wanted to go the extra mile and include removable shoulder pads, tail, and armor “skirts” then that would have been great – basically creating an ultimate Vegeta figure. That would have also added considerable cost to the figure and already being at $50 I can understand why SHF would rather not. If you love all forms of Vegeta though SHF has you covered as they’ve done a Saiyan Saga Vegeta, Majin Vegeta, and a Super Saiyan Blue version as well.

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Hug me!!!

Considering prior to purchasing this Vegeta action figure the only ones I had were made by Bandai, Irwin, and Unifive, it probably comes as no surprise that this is the best Vegeta I’ve ever purchased. Since it’s the most expensive, I guess that makes sense. It’s also given me a bit of an itch to acquire a few more of the Dragon Ball figures released by SHF. I can’t see myself going nuts and trying to collect the whole line, but a few choice figures is not out of the question and I may or may not have already bought a second figure (spoiler alert, I did and you can expect a review of that one in the not too distant future). The only danger is with companion figures. If I decide I really want a Saiyan Saga Vegeta will I then feel the need to pair him with a Nappa which runs around $75? It’s a dangerous game. For now at least I can feel pretty happy with this figure.


Nothing Off Limits

This blog is about nothing.  It’s just my thoughts and whatever is compelling me to write in a given moment.  I often have subjects on my mind that just don’t lend themselves to conversation.  Or that is, they would in the right company but really how many people care about the merits of the Bucky O’Hare cartoon and how it relates to the comic form?

I am blessed, or cursed, with an affinity for things from my childhood.  Not blindly, but I’m the kind of guy that can wander around a gimmicky store like Newbury Comics and be delighted by the novelty items.  A lego-styled representation of Marvel’s The Beast from 1990 – awesome!  As a result, my home is full of things most would label as junk.  DVD’s of the Super Mario Bros. cartoon, a Batman doll beside my TV, Optimus Prime guarding my laptop.  I’m rational about my compulsions, more so now than in my youth, but am prone to the occasional impulse buy.  I once sought an action figure simply because as a kid I could never find it in stores and always wanted it (Marvel Super Heroes Venom II, if anyone is wondering), so I bought it as a 20 year old just because I could.

That’s not all that fuels me.  I have a lot to say about music, specifically metal, and I never seem to tire of a good baseball debate.  It’s just sometimes I find that my best conversation partner for the more obscure or fanatical things is myself, which makes a blog a pretty natural thing for me.


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