Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fred Wolf Baxter Stockman is Not a Woobie, and Other Lessons in Ineffectual Villainy

Based on casual browsing of several Turtles fansites, as well as comments on YouTube and, it seems like a lot of people see the Fred Wolf version of Baxter Stockman. The nebbish mad scientist/fly monster with a voice like a cat being strangled and a lot of bad times is seen as an innocent victim, even a "tragic" character, which just ain't true.

I say this as someone who likes the character (and several other versions of him), and finds him adorably pathetic and endearingly stupid. But it's the same old thing: just because you like a character, doesn't mean you excuse their actions. While villain apologism for cooler and stronger villains has already been discussed by others, I figured it was time for me to take a crack at it.

But why would a comedic cartoon with absolute moral lines provoke villain apologism? Villain apologism, no matter how ridiculous it can get, is at least understandable when inspired by works that have grey morality and villains with developed, sympathetic motivations. Baxter Stockman has none of these things, and is largely a joke even by the rules of his own jokey universe, which means this all oughta be an open-and-shut case. However, the apologism happens anyway, and for two major reasons.

The first is that if one looks at Baxter's story without considering his actions, you can see him as an ordinary guy who wanted to sell his rat-killing robots, but ends up working for a supervillain, going insane, and turning into a fly monster that's slowly losing his mind. Several technical problems with his character arc also might provoke viewers to not only feel sorry for him, but to excuse him.

But Baxter is solidly a villain, with that fact becoming harder to deny as he changes. The fundamental truth is always that regardless of a character's circumstances, if they do evil things with joy, they're the bad guys. I feel like getting more technical about it, though, so I'll discuss why Fred Wolf Baxter Stockman might be exonerated by viewers, and why this doesn't hold up.

The first issue is the way Fred Wolf Baxter is handled in his first appearance, in the third episode of the series, "A Thing About Rats". Here, he's a relatively ordinary person; not a "mad" scientist: not even slightly disgruntled. Baxter gives Shredder his Mousers, and willingly, but he doesn't revel in the destruction being wreaked, nor even seems to be aware of it.

Instead, he spends most of the episode just standing around looking scared and bewildered, and passively following commands. For a series that is usually so blatant about its evildoers, this seems strange, and might push viewers' sympathies towards Baxter.

Baxter is not totally clean here: he shows a little bit of arrogance when the Shredder picks him up, saying. "Well, it's about time somebody discovered me!", and insolence, talking back to the Turtles when they try to interrogate him. But these things aren't a major part of his character, and someone would have far too high standards to think of this as villainous behaviour by itself.

It does still unbalance me a little, that Baxter's initial appearance had him be so completely non-threatening, and that the series mistakenly said Baxter tried to "take over the city" with his Mousers. In the former case, I really wonder why David Wise wrote him that way. It's possible that Baxter really was meant to be as hard-luck as viewers perceive him, but nothing else about him gives this impression. There's no sense of direction to Baxter's portrayal, no sense that the writers are drawing on dark humour to deliberately present him as a character with a hilariously terrible life. It's a real wasted opportunity.

However, a character's motives and bearing are, at a certain point, irrelevant: you do the crime, you do the time, regardless of your personality. Baxter gave his invention to the Shredder, so he should be held responsible for what was done with it.

In this universe, the Turtles also get their iconic vehicles by stealing stuff that was in Baxter's lab, which I do consider to be unfair.

Sheer pragmatism could justify this Turtledickery—after all, Baxter isn't going to need it, right?
But viewers do expect heroes to have the moral high ground, and not leave everything to mercenary laws. The Turtles stealing Baxter's shit is one of those lazy writer's things where anything the heroes do is right because they are labelled heroes, and they don't actually need to prove themselves to the audience.

But that doesn't change any of the other facts. So, while I don't agree with the conclusions viewers reach, I can see why some fans would ignore what episodes four and five of season one are trying to tell us, and see Baxter as innocent instead.

As the story goes on, however, understanding why Baxter is viewed as innocent gets harder to do. In the second season, Baxter reappears as Shredder's obsequious, cowardly sidekick, now an obvious "mad scientist" with a changed character design that includes long, shaggy hair.

In this position, Baxter Stockman's moral role is clearer: while he is frightened of the Shredder, when Baxter happens to get his hands on something to attack or bully another character with, he revels in it. "Curse of the Evil Eye" is the most obvious example, when Baxter steals the completed MacGuffin, the Eye of Sarnath, and has some fun with it (and looks very funny with Shredder's helmet on).

Baxter also enjoys his Ultimate Rat-Catcher in "Return of the Shredder", too, the modified construction vehicle that he happily attacks Splinter and the Turtles with. Because of incidents like these, it's no longer possible to read Baxter as a character unknowingly working for a villain, or removed from what that villain does, when Baxter has a clear villainous side himself.

I disagree with anyone who's suggested that the Eye corrupted Baxter and made him more vicious and power-mad than he would otherwise be. Baxter wanted to get the damn thing in the first place, and doing so is consistent with his character—no matter how much he simpers at the Shredder, there's still evidence that Baxter thinks highly of himself, as someone deserving of more than he gets, and "Curse of the Evil Eye" is where that all comes to a head.

But there are still writing problems that apparently don't make the opinion come smoothly to some viewers. The chief question is why Baxter now acts wholly evil, and why he is now so eager to work for the Shredder, with a much more devoted, fawning attitude than before.

Baxter is clearly intended to have some kind of mental issues going on, but it's never defined how he became insane, or if this explains his changes in personality. In this confusion, I can see why some viewers might try to give Baxter the benefit of the doubt, to in effect "plead insanity" for him. Since Baxter is no longer in a stable state of mind, being an evil henchman is something he can't be blamed for.

Furthermore, some of the people editing the TV Tropes page for the Fred Wolf series are squeamish about Shredder's treatment of Baxter in season two, which I sort of don't share. It's the standard stuff, you know: the lead villain yelling at his stupid henchman, who cringes and apologizes. I feel sorry for Baxter because I like the character, but there's nothing in his treatment that's actually unusual. (And it's funny, too).

They must think it looks worse when the Shredder is picking on a smaller, older human who is terrified and might not have asked to be a villain in the first place. With Bebop and Rocksteady, they were bad seeds right we first see them, oblivious rather than scared, and bigger and more monstrous than the Shredder, so maybe it doesn't look as bad to some.

Nonetheless, Baxter's episodes as a human mark him as a villain. That his turn to evil is never explained is not meant to be relevant, and no matter how scared Baxter is of the Shredder, he clearly likes doing evil deeds, and so can't be excused for anything.

Of course, usually perceptions of Baxter Stockman's innocence don't revolve around him as a human, but as a fly-creature. Baxterfly is seen as someone who just wanted to be normal again, and had a "tragic" ending where the writers stop bringing him out of the dimensions he gets formulaically trapped in, so that he's in dimensional limbo for all time. His little bit of transformation angst, and his oddly cute Boston Terrier-like features might further endear him to viewers.

Okay...but the "wanting to be normal" thing typically takes a backseat to "get revenge on people, sometimes by also turning them into monsters". Baxterfly is the most definitively and actively villainous of all versions of White Baxter, and the morals of the situation are still simple: even if you hate being a bug-thing, if you keep hurting and attacking other people, you deserve what happens to you.

Throughout the episodes he appeared in, Baxter kidnapped April, tried to kill the Turtles with poison gas, tried to turn the main cast into animals, trapped the Turtles in the gears of a clock, attacked the city with a legion of flies, and tried to turn everyone into bug monsters. You can't think of him as anything even approaching innocent. At best, he gets forgetful of the evil he wants to do, but never for very long.

In most of these episodes, Baxter follows around Zee, the Hal 9000 parody he discovered in an alien ship, now embodied as a 90s desktop PC and Baxter's BFF (though personally, I find Zee a little smarmy and always wonder if he's up to something else). Zee is an enabler, always reminding Baxter of the evil that he wants to do, and helping him to do it. At the same time, Baxter's clearly acting on his own desires.

The jury is still out on whether "Revenge of the Fly", Baxter's last appearance, was meant to have any kind of finality to it. However, it's hard to view it as a sad ending when Baxter's actions are his own fault. Besides, even if more had been done with the character, though, the Fred Wolf series is not one where the villains would ever get what they want, whether it's taking over the world or getting a human body back. I can't view this episode as saddening, or shocking.

What's more irritating is there is no finality to Baxter's character, which would have been more plausible than his becoming human again. Zee could have been killed by Donatello, but otherwise "end up stick in another dimension" is the ending to most Baxterfly episodes, so this doesn't feel like any kind of conclusion for him, but just a standard Baxterfly episode after which no more were made.

I don't mind fans wishing things were different—in that case, I'm not immune. It's just that a lot of people don't seem to understand what kinds of series we were dealing with, and what we could have expected of it. That kind of knowledge can exist independent of personal attachments. Just like knowing a character has committed evil actions doesn't mean you have to dislike them.

In short, the assumption that Fred Wolf Baxter Stockman is an innocent character isn't true. At one point, he did seem ordinary, but he still was involved with evil acts, and after that, it was all downhill from there, as he became more and more villainous. The fact that some of this is not fully explained isn't relevant. He's a bad guy. Often not very good at it, but he still is one.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Not Wishing for Grit: Words from a Softy who Dislikes Macross 7

Macross 7 has apparently undergone a change of fortune. Once the black sheep of the Macross franchise, now it seems to be embraced by a large amount of the fandom, with all the role-reversal of fandom arguments that that suggests.

However, I'm still comfortable with disliking it: we can't all love everything. No problems…except that some associate a dislike of Macross 7 with certain traits that are the exact opposite of mine. The assumption is that those who dislike Macross 7 do so because they assume Macross is, or should be, a gritty, military-driven franchise.

This sucks, because I actually love the ideals and themes of the Macross world.  Themes about the life-affirming power of song and art are usually guaranteed to float my boat, and I'm a sappy, sentimental sort of girl. I even regret the prevalence of military hardware discussion on the fandom, when I would rather discuss plots and characters instead.

But I just don't like Macross 7. In fact, I really hated watching it, and haven't been back to watch it since I finished it three years ago. The way the themes and ideals of the series are presented just do not appeal to me, and I either dislike the characters or haven't any strong feelings towards them. I also don't like the style and look of the series, and I don't even find it appealing in an ironic, "look-at-this-crazy-shit-oh-my-god" way. It all adds up to one unappealing cartoon.

Let's start where most stories start, with the protagonist. Basara Nekki is the lead, and he's the type of character who only makes the world change, and never has his own world changed.
Basara's determination to "listen to his song", and his commitment to peace are both unwavering, and all that is needed is for the rest of the world to catch up to him.

I'm not saying a character who starts the story with everything he needs to succeed can't be an effective lead, but Basara is just so fucking obnoxious…. He's a loudmouth, an idiot, but one who's always proven right. He's always "on". It's both offensive and boring at the same time, and never gets any better.

And once again, I get it. I get that Basara is meant to embody the force of Art, the way that a creative person can become so passionately devoted to their work, and how this passion can change the world. I understand it because I'm into the creative arts, too, and usually I love artistic characters—but not now.

Just because you enjoy a theme, doesn't mean you enjoy all representations of it. I don't dislike Basara because I want a more "manly", rugged lead who thinks with his weapons: I do because his mannerisms are so irritating, and his strong convictions don't move me. It's nothing to do with a lack of appreciation for the power of music.

And yes, I don't believe that Basara was meant to be taken ironically, that viewers were meant to laugh at him for being bull-headed and/or he was meant to spoof a pompous "rock star" attitude. Macross has never been short on comedy, but it's never been about that kind of vicious, cutting humour.  In fact, one of the main characteristics of the Macross universe is earnestness: no matter how silly its premises are, they are presented with conviction, which is what I think is going on here.

While Macross 7 isn't short on comedy, it's comedy of the straightforward kind: slapstick and jokes and faceplants, without any criticism of the series itself. We are meant to see Basara as a great hero, a maverick whose methods may be bizarre, but who will be vindicated. As further proof, the name "Basara" refers to a mentality of freedom and forward thinking. That could be a joke, too, but it's even more doubtful.

Macross 7 is not an ironic series, in short. And even if there were, even if this was actually an ironic series, it doesn't excuse any visceral dislike a viewer might feel. "It's supposed to be funny" is never an excuse if you don't actually find it funny.

I don't have a problem with the rest of the new cast of heroes. I don't hate Fire Bomber at all, just Basara and his...Basara. Dr. Chiba gives me the willies, though, since he's a little too close to that particular kind of otaku that exists in real life.

I don't have anything against Gamlin Kizaki either way. He's a cool guy, but he never clicked with me. I guess he's popular because, despite his comic moments, Gamlin is a pipeline to the militarism that some desire from the Macross franchise. I'm not in need of anything like that.

Of course, I don't strongly like any of the newer characters, either, but that isn't enough to make a series repulsive. Veffidas Feaze has grown on me a bit, but just as an unconventional female Zentradi. I still consider her to be a shallow character; I know a character doesn't have to speak to have a strong personality, but Veffidas still doesn't succeed at it.

The second major reason I dislike Macross 7 has to do with the antagonists, the Protodevlin. At first mysterious aliens with their own ships and mecha, they are gradually revealed to be energy vampires inhabiting stolen human bodies or alien constructs made by the Protoculture. They feed on "spiritia", and Basara's music holds the key to defeating them, or at least making peace with them, partly because his life-energy is particularly potent.

I can buy that the "spirita" generated by music can be so intense, so powerful, that it could stop the Protodevlin in their tracks (among other things), but the Protodevlin just get on my nerves. They're hideous to look at, or to listen to.

The construct bodies, without fail, look ridiculous and ugly, like enemies from a Super Sentai show, or Inuyasha, all done up in garish, awful colours. Particularly bad is Gabil, a moth/elf/angel thing who always screams about "beauty!" There are plenty of attempts to make these characters sympathetic, but they never get through to me.

To make things worse, the Protodevlin are overhyped. It is said that they caused the downfall of the Protoculture, the mysterious galactic civilization that is responsible for creating artificial life and countless technological wonders. And yet, all it takes is Basara's music to make them realize peace, that they could create their own "spiritia" through the group. Even if these are only a handful of Protodevlin out of past legions, it's still so hard to believe.

There is also a personal reason for disliking the Protodevlin, and it ain't nothing to dismiss. Protodevlin apparently invoke an instinctive fear or anger response in the Zentradi, turning them into violent terrorists or complete cowards—except for Milia, for some reason, which makes the idea  less credible. It's so brainless, when the Protodevlin don't live up to their hype, and when it means that humans have to save the Zentradi, instead of both races working together, using what they've earned through previous stories.

The odd thing is that the Protodevlin can be considered parallel to the Zentradi in a number of ways, not only because some of their stolen bodies were originally designed to replace Zentradi. Still, this just proves my point that the presentation of a theme is even more important than the theme itself. I dislike the Protodevlin so much, while the Zentradi are one of my all-time favourite things.

Despite all this, I never believed that the Protodevlin would be blown away, destroyed, defeated in that standard manner expected of antagonists. I understand is not how Macross functions: it's a media franchise where a key motif is making peace with one's enemies. I accept that, but it doesn't mean I accepted the Protodevlin anyway. Their embodying a valuable theme made no difference.

Besides the new heroes and the antagonists, there's also the three returning older characters: Max, Milia, and Exsedol. Some viewers have said they watched the series for Max and Milia, while I watched it for Exsedol. I'm not proud to admit it, because watching a series just for a character, and not its plot or themes, always felt shallow to me.

Especially with this character. I know I've talked about this before, but it needs repeating to get the whole picture of my reaction to Macross 7. Exsedol is my favourite character in the franchise, and his form and personality were changed for no reason. Furthermore, Macross 7, he's not much of a character.

He's a talking prop, a background object who is too big to have any meaningful interaction with the characters, not that Exsedol is meant to. He's also virtually useless, with very few of his deeds things that could not have been accomplished by another character. All of this puts me in a bad mood for the whole series.

At the same time, Exsedol was also the only thing I ever cared about while watching the series, which proves how screwy my relationship with it is. I don't view fixation on a minor character as a personal problem, but the result of the larger stuff not being interesting. And while there's  nothing wrong with preferring a tertiary character, in this case I feel it's not "earned", because it's not about qualities Exsedol has now, but only what he used to have, back when preferring him to major characters was justifiable.

Max and Milia's portrayals are much better. They have lives outside of their military role, feel like actual characters who matter to the story. Hell, they even look (almost) the same after decades of life. I don't believe the difference in these portrayals is totally due to the relative differences in popularity—Exsedol's portrayal is just an unusual execution, and being tertiary doesn't necessitate making him less a "person". I don't mind Max and Milia getting more focus, just wish Exsedol were more "human" in his function and living.

There are problems, though. One is that Max and Milia are estranged at the start of the series, and it is never explained why. Many fans are content with making up their own explanations, but that never works for me. Stories shouldn't make fans do the mental legwork to fill in their background.

Many believe that Max and Milia's breakup was a commentary on the impossible nature of their relationship. These were two characters who had been bitter enemies, but Max defeated Milia on and off the battlefield, and they were married almost on the spot. There are many practical objections to this scenario, but in-universe there was never the sense that this was anything but a grand love story.

If their estrangement in Macross 7 was meant to be a biting commentary on the previous series, it would have been clearer. The only hint we get as to the reasoning behind the breakup is that Milia complains an "elite pilot won't take care of domestic matters" in the OVA Which One Do You Love?—which is a surprise, when Milia used to be the one tossing babies and blowing up kitchens. It looks like the writers went for the standard gender roles rather than the characters' roles, clearing up nothing about the individuals themselves.

In fact, a huge problem with Milia in Macross 7 is the way she's turned into a comic relief figure by drawing on ugly stereotypes of older women. Zentradi have, ideally, been a mixture of comical and serious traits, but Milia's portrayal relentlessly mocks her in a way that becomes uncomfortable, since it's tied to very real attitudes towards women.

She's portrayed as the meddling mother (pushing her youngest daughter to pick a suitor at age fourteen), the nagging wife, the insecure woman who snaps when you call her "old" or anything similar. While Milia in the original series could be hilariously vain and petty, you never get the impression that was what the writers drew on: instead, they went straight to stereotypes again.

The plot construction of the series also does it no favours. The plot of Macross 7 drags and cycles, with a lot of filler, stagnation, and other messes that are uninteresting if you don't care about the characters. The climax also depends on Geppelnitch, a human-bodied Protodevlin, becomes a "spiritia black hole", a monster that must be stopped...because why the hell not, right?

I realize that newbies are encouraged to just watch Macross 7 in small doses to avoid burnout, but if you need a set schedule to make yourself enjoy a series, that defeats the point of watching something for entertainment. A series should be enjoyable no matter how you take it in.

Also, while Basara's ability to affect the Protodevlin can be defined as an abstract power, Macross 7 attempts to make it literal, in the form of song energy that can be quantified, measured, and implemented. This does lead to some silly visuals, like rocker-piloted mecha with giant speakers, but more than that, it spoils the ideal of music being transcendent, suggesting it's all about a superpower rather than artistic passion. I've backed off over the years, to see that one view of music's power doesn't necessarily cancel out the other, but it does chip away at the power of the concept.

Just as the Protodevlin are ugly to look at, so is the rest of the series. I don't mind the low animation quality so much, or the reused footage, because TV animation has always had those limits. The character designs are good as with all Macross series, but the colour palette of Macross 7 has so many garish blues, pinks, yellows, and purples it just becomes unpleasant to witness. Some of the futuristic outfits and stage clothes are also hard on the eyes, too.

Whatever other problems my dislike might suggest, I know my differences with Macross 7 are not due to wishing for a more gritty Macross franchise. I like the idea of music being able to change the world, of making peace with one's enemies, and of sticking to ones' convictions: I just don't like this particular series. I like the themes Macross embodies, but Macross 7 takes them to unappetizing extremes, and has several specific problems that further bring it down.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Upchuck is Working for the Shredder: Season Three of the 4Kids TMNT

The third season of this series impressed me more than the second, with all the bits that moved the story forward being entertaining enough to make me forget the groaners among the filler. And some of said filler was also fun, too.

Last time I was critical of the Triceratons for being uniform in personality and structure, so I liked that there was a multitude of Triceratons that rebelled against their leader, a trope which is much more satisfying than an otherwise one-note alien race having "the good one" or "the bad one". Their invasion story was pretty strong, too.

There were a lot of unlikable episodes at certain times. I'm starting to think it's not my lack of investment in the characters that's the only problem with being able to get through filler, but that most of these episodes aren't very good. "The Entity Below" and "Time Travails" were favourites of mine (I'd read the original Mirage stories of Renet and Savanti a while ago), although I thought the former's ending with the stranded alien becoming the last of her race was rushed. On the other hand, I like Lovecraft, but…"The Darkness Within" didn't do it for me. I also cringed at the pointless retcon of "The Lesson" and because I dislike casts where it turns out everybody knew everybody.

The fused Ultimate Ninja/Drako was a cool, creepy visual that reminded me of Ratchet and Megatron's fusion in the old Transformers comics, though not as disturbing. It's too bad this creature didn't bring much of an interesting storyline with him, since most of the four-part time-travel episodes weren't that great. I was reminded that I've grown out of "dark future" stories, for "Same as It Never Was" didn't shock or move me at all. Then again, not even "Future Tense" from Gargoyles did that.

However, the Miyamoto Usagi reappearance was fun, giving me a true glimpse of Stan Sakai's world, much more exciting than Usagi and Gen's appearance in season two. The overall climax of the time arc was also interesting, though the Ultimate Ninja's turn to remorse happened too quickly, and his rebirth was a little trite by consequence…though you could argue that losing his memories and personality in being regressed to a child was "punishment" enough.

(And the Damiyo's War Staff still looks like a croquet mallet).

I've decided that Baxter Stockman is my favourite character in this universe. Splinter is still cool, but he never clicks with me as much as the older Splinters did, which is probably my "fault" in various ways. All the reasons I like Baxter in this series are still in place, and there's no other character here that I enjoy quite as much.

Early in season three Baxter seems notably put-upon, and his desires notably doomed to fail. But he continues to be arrogant, and to try to salvage something…and it is satisfying to see him get a turn around by the end of the season, as he betrays the Shredder for good to ally with Bishop. No matter how much I enjoy a character's failures, in the end I do want them to succeed. That's as true for Baxter as it is for anyone else.

Adding to the humour of Baxter's situation in the season is the introduction of Dr. Chaplin, who both idolizes Baxter and is his rival, a contradiction that Chaplin is hilariously oblivious to. And Chaplin, for all his faults, is actually good at his job, at first in danger of outshining Baxter. I liked that, because you often expect a new character to be inferior to the veterans in all but the cheesiest of marketing moves. It was a very funny and entertaining dynamic while it lasted.

Everybody says Chaplin reminds them of Fred Wolf Baxter Stockman, but I don't see it. It's probably because, since I like White Baxter, my standards for a resemblance are stronger than "white nerd with a high voice who works for the Shredder and has an opinion of Baxter Stockman", but that doesn't invalidate my view, anyway. Chaplin's personality just isn't like Fred Wolf Baxter at all, even if you allowed for the fact that Fred Wolf Baxter's extremes of personality wouldn't be allowed in a more serious, modern show. Chaplin is also younger.

No, you know who Chaplin reminds me of? His creepy infatuation with Karai in "New Blood" made me think of Upchuck from Daria, and I could just see him uttering Upchuck's catchprhase, "Rrr, feisty," to Karai. Yeah, bit of an exaggeration, but those Karai robots, and his reason for building them, were both pretty creepy. Fortunately, Chaplin was inoffensive in his other appearances in this season, and I hope that continues.

(Fun fact: Marc Thompson, who does voice work on this series, voices several characters on Daria, including Upchuck himself in the first season)

Leatherhead was a very irritating character, though. I looked forward to a version of Leatherhead that had a personality, unlike the Fred Wolf one, and unlike the generic character the Archie one faded into after a good initial showing. What I got was an over-the-top Jekyll-and-Hyde thing that was just not compelling at all. The same is true for his angst over being "a monster"—just so cheesy and banal. Which is a shame, because I like alligators, and would have enjoyed seeing a heroic one.

Bishop is quite the interesting guy, however. In hindsight, adding MiB (in the original sense, not just the particular media franchise) elements to the Turtles is an obvious match, and here it works extremely well. With the Shredder out of the picture for a the rest of the actual series, it will be interesting to see what gets done with Bishop, or actually, what Bishop does.

"Exodus", the season finale, had me on the edge of my seat, and erased all the bad will built up by some of the previous episodes. (Which is another reason why I'd make a lousy professional critic). The premise is so simple, but the suspense was top-notch, and the action superb. I love the way this series plays around with Karai's divided loyalties, so that it seems realistic that she does not choose a side, but also that she doesn't get destroyed by this refusal to commit.

In fact, season three managed to remain credible regarding the reasons the Shredder kept his three main henches around: Baxter, Karai, and Hun are still useful regardless of their failings, so the Shredder can be "lenient". And as we have seen, he does have familial feelings towards Karai, albeit to a debatable degree.

As time goes on, I'll be watching the "lost" fifth season before I get to the rebranded seasons of the series. And at the end of it the run, I'm going to rewatch Turtles Forever, which I'm excited to do now that I've got more grounding in both of the universes it depicts—well, a more adult grounding in the Fred Wolf universe, anyway.

Ancillary Turtles Stuff

After being so vicious towards the main female character in the Fred Wolf show, let me say it was out of dislike created by disappointment. I wish the TMNT universe had more female characters, and sometimes I wish it were more female mutant characters.

I realize that having grotesque female characters in media isn't going to set the world on fire, and that it will come about as a consequence of larger changes to women's role, but I can't help but be drawn to images of "monstrous" female characters, and be annoyed with their rarity. I think it's because as I kid I usually identified more with monsters and creatures than human characters, and hated not to see my gender represented. This weird self-denial changed as I grew older, but I continued to be drawn back to freaks and creatures.

In the TMNT franchise, I can't help but feel that the small percentage out of the already small percentage of female characters who are "monstrous" is something unconscious but definite. It has to be for the usual reasons, but also because April O'Neil is both the major female character, and the only human among the major characters until Casey Jones started getting prominent creating the equation of female = normal in the multiverse.

Strangely enough, I've seen male viewers get actually angry when female characters are monstrous. There are plenty of examples, but a while ago I was shocked to see the transformed Fred Wolf April in "Catwoman from Channel Six" derided as "ugly" by fans, when  the point was, she was a frigging mutant—why should you expect a mutant to be "hot"? Whatever the problems I've got with April, I'm glad that when she gets mutated, she doesn't look "sexy". Wasp April in "Revenge of the Fly" looked pretty boss.

Okay, so what about "female Turtles"? I watched some of The Next Mutation while it was airing, and thought it was stupid to add Venus—not because she was female, but because it's very hard to add a new character to an iconic group that's been around for decades and have it work. Also, she was an idiot and defined just as a love interest, with a creepy "mammalianized" design.

However, I've realized over the years that the objections to Venus sometimes were specifically because she was female, and that several ideas for a fifth male Turtle have been floated by various parties without much fuss. I know others have said that adding a female Turtle is am specific problem because it raises the issue of reproduction, and the Turtle's inability to reproduce is a usually unspoken but powerful problem, but for the Mirage story "Sons of the Silent Age".

But pardon me if defining a female presence solely by her reproductive ability makes me a little sick, not to mention it's become harder for me to let writers and fans get away with ignoring population bottleneck when they make these assumptions.

In short, creating a new Turtle as a regular team member is a stupid and lazy idea no matter what the gender of said Turtle would be, and it's a huge double standard to single out female Turtles as the worse problem.

Which in a roundabout way brings me back to Mona Lisa, the lizard/salamander girl from the old cartoon (I bet salamander because of the webbed fingers), whom near as I can figure, is the only grotesque female character in the Fred Wolf series (Kala doesn't really count) whose transformation is permanent. Or permanent as a one-shot character can be.

I'm glad Laird and Eastman vetoed her being a turtle (not a Turtle), and that it was because of the lack of creativity and no other stated reason. I wasn't too impressed with "Raphael Meets His Match", as Mona Lisa seemed like a Generic Good Person, a simple hero without any distinctive traits besides that. But Mona Lisa did look pretty cool. I also give her hair and bust a pass since she started life as a mammal, which Venus didn't.

While I understand it might not be in the best interests of a children's series to give characters a love life (and in the process, throw aside my own belief that multi-faceted worldbuilding is a universal good regardless of target audience), when they give it a try, the floodgates for criticism can be opened up. Honestly, "Raphael Meets His Match" did almost nothing to imply Mona Lisa was a love interest. The title, and the assumption that a female character of similar age must be a love interest, were the biggest things to support it, and that's weak. If you're going to try something different, might as well dig to the bedrock, right?

The fandom has obviously taken the idea and ran with it, but I'm disappointed at the lack of effort canon put into it. Still, I'll give a little cheer for more grotesque female characters in the franchise.

(I'll give my thoughts on Ninjara once I'm finished re-reading all the Archie books. Huh; why did Raphael get the most love interests?)

And the other day, I saw, "Mousers Attack", the eleventh episode of the Nickelodeon Turtles show. I wrote this show off, but I keep running into it, keep turning on the TV when an episode is close to showing and there's nothing else on. It's a reflex, because this series is not even a guilty pleasure: it's just numbing, not worth any deeper criticism.

But this time I actively sought out an episode, and was sad that I had to wait a week for it to air. The reason's obvious: Baxter Stockman in "I Think His Name is Baxter Stockman" was the only thing about the show that I actually enjoyed, and I wanted to familiarize myself with more versions of the character.

(So far I'm only familiar with the 4Kids, Fred Wolf, and Nicktoons versions, plus his first Mirage appearance and the short career of White Baxter in the Archie comics.)

Of course, the real focus of the episode was how the bickering Turtles worked divided into "A" and "B" team and tried to get April's phone back from the bad guys—nothing really fun. And the Turtles are such jerks to each other—lead characters should not be perfect, but the attitudes that lead to this fight seemed childish even for the already immature Turtles, and I don't think anybody got the message that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and so on and so forth.

And the art style of this show is so…dark. I'm not talking about the outdoor scenes, which obviously have to take place at night, but that the Shredder apparently has no lights on in his lair, and several other poorly-lit indoor scenes that made it hard to figure out what's going on. It's the same problem with Transformers Prime and The Clone Wars, and it's really aggravating to watch because of my slight vision problems.

Also, also, also, Dogpound has such an ugly design. It's misproportioned with a squashed-looking head and strange doggie moustache, and hurts aesthetically to look at.

 I didn't notice the "Irma" Easter Egg during the first viewing. I hope she shows up on principle, since April is still the only female character in the series, but I never liked the original Irma so there was no excitement to be had. However, I assume a school-age Irma won't be so obnoxious and creepy, and I always did like the idea of April having a life and connections outside the Turtles. So, you know, knock yourselves out if you want to do something with that.

Nicktoons Baxter is great, though. He won't be to everybody's taste, because he's now revealed himself to be almost as big a dorkasaurus as Fred Wolf Baxter, and has a lot of personality traits in common with him: he's a comical character whose inventions usually work and has an arrogant streak, but that's usually hidden by how easily he bows to threats. Hell, Dogpound even carried Baxter away from a battle scene, the way the Shredder sometimes did in the old cartoon.

I can't lie: despite my principles about creating quality antagonists who can stand up to the heroes, and about maintaining novelty in media franchises when possible, I was delighted again by another goofy Baxter Stockman; all apologies. Once again, though, I don't anticipate Nicktoons Baxter becoming a fly, since we've already got the robot stuff going.

It's true that Baxter's motivations changed with this episode, since his reveal of the Mousers and plans to use them for robberies were an on-the-nose homage to the Mirage comics, instead of Baxter's "disgruntled office worker" persona of his previous appearance. That fact never crossed my mind until later, however, and it all doesn't change the fact that he was an enjoyable character.

 And Mousers are fun; those little terrors have grown on me a bit, becoming sort of cute. This time their exterminator purpose is eliminated entirely, as M.O.U.S.E.R. is an acronym referring to their capabilities, but I wouldn't be surprised if they go after Splinter at some point.

This means I'll have to keep watching after all. I try to avoid watching a series just for one or two characters, but the Nicktoons show is at least inoffensive enough that I might be able to live with it.

Also, Pat Fraley was on Rob Paulsen's podcast Talkin' Toons at the end of November, which I was already an avid listener of. That was pretty awesome. If you've never given Talkin' Toons a listen, start now. Paulsen has had many, many conversations with the funny and entertaining people that work in the animation industry, and his podcast is always worth a listen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Thoughts about Dragons, for Some Reason

I've been a dragon geek since I was a toddler. They've consistently been my favourite monster/fantasy creature, because they are such a flexible concept. While other geeks draw blood over what constitutes "real" vampires, werewolves, or zombies, dragons are mostly left to be whatever that particular creator thinks they could be. There have to be some out there who think dragons are becoming too "cuddly", or that giving them sapience or heroic qualities dilutes their mythic power, but thankfully people like this are rare.

While I'm open to almost any depiction of dragons, as an adult nerd I've developed certain tendencies and desires, ones that I make exception for, but that are common. What I prefer from modern dragon fiction is for dragons to be treated like characters rather than serving as symbols or plot devices: they are not purely evil or purely good, but have distinct individual personalities and a defined culture. This happens rarely, and I enjoy other types of dragon stories, but this ideal has a special place in my heart.

While I can enjoy books where the dragon has a small role, if asked what I want from a story that is defined as a "dragon story", I prefer a story about dragons rather than one with dragons, where the dragon is a major viewpoint character that participates in the main events of the plot. Again, this is rare, so I make exceptions.

When it comes to that classic, dragon riders, I dislike the standard Pern-inspired stuff, but can enjoy it when the dragon is an animal, and when the human has to earn that animal's trust. These and many other reasons are why How to Train Your Dragon was a great film.

But the type of dragon rider everyone remembers, the one with a sapient dragon steed and intense telepathic bonding, has always left me cold. It's just a little skeevy to have a thinking being treated like a horse, no matter how the narrative tries to justify it. The implicit wish fulfilment of a companion that immediately loves and understand you is also part of the problem.

The kind of story I don't prefer to read when there can be one about the protagonist earning their place in the world instead. It's similar to my dislike of vampires always being sexy, suave, and aristocratic with tiny pretty fangs: the fantasy is just a "fantasy", instead of an impetus for character growth.

When it comes to dragonslaying, I mostly find dragonslaying stories to be boring. It's not because I'm morally against dragonslaying stories, but standard Perseus and Andromeda story is too predictable and too rigid. But if the dragonslaying story is presented in an interesting or vibrant way, I'm in for it. Dragonslayer is one of those exceptions, as is a children's book adaptation of Saint George and the Dragon, because of the gorgeous art by Trina Schart Hyman.

Modern stories that flip the mythic roles so that the dragon is now a pure, saintly creature persecuted by evil humans aren't appealing, either. Role reversals can be exciting, but "dragons good, humans bad", is just as banal and overplayed as its opposite, still limiting the possibility of characterization and originality. I liked DragonHeart, but I keep to that principle….

Portraying dragons as saintly gets even more aggravating when it seems fans are using dragons to create their ideal vision of society, a fantasy of something that they would rather be than be human. This is ludicrous and a little bit crazy, even before you get to the otherkin and furry stuff, or the nuts who believe dragons are real.

How about the speculation on how dragons could function in real life, the taking of traits from other animals then combining and extrapolating them to create a dragon species? Some of these make for entertaining reads (see: Peter Dickinson's The Flight of Dragons), and I like them as thought exercises. But honestly, I've never needed these kinds of explanations.

I accept that the usual image of "dragon" is biologically and evolutionarily impossible. Animals that specialize for specific abilities often have other ones diminished in the process, so it's hard to imagine an enormous animal that can function equally well on the ground and in the air, which is also a six-limbed vertebrate, and a four-legged animal with a sentient mind and has jaws that can produce both speech and fire. This is too large a mix of abilities that are too equal with each other, in which nothing is sacrificed.

To make dragons even remotely plausible, their distinct qualities have to be hamstrung, and even then, it doesn't quite align with the laws of nature and physics. Those attempts to create plausible dragons are just another way to write them, and not superior to the concepts that do not try. The best thing is to make a fantasy internally consistent, and not necessarily conforming to the laws of the real world.

When it comes to designing dragons, I do have a soft spot for the standardized modern dragon: four-legged with handlike forepaws, two bat wings, long muzzle, long thin horns, maybe finned ears, a long tail...but at the same time the prevalence of this design is disappointing, because dragons have so much visual potential.

I'm glad to see any exception to it, like the many species of the How to Train Your Dragon universe, and often turn to Medieval European depictions of dragons. These could get much more wild and strange, including the incorporation of human features. I wish modern artists would look back upon the offbeat past of the western dragon and buck the trends more often.

(Oh, and I like "cute" dragons, but not fat ones with tiny wings, except Gronckles)

These are the last things I have to say about dragons in general, and I'll close out this post with a list of my favourite dragon media. This is not a list of the best of dragon media, or a wide-ranging history, but works that I find something worthwhile about. Where there are omissions, I either haven't looked at them yet, or I personally don't like them.


How to Train Your Dragon
Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real


Age of Fire (Dragon Champion/Dragon Avenger/Dragon Outcast/Dragon Strike/Dragon Rule/Dragon Fate), by E.E. Knight
The Black Wing, by Mary Kirchoff
A Book Dragon,  by Don Kushner
The Book of the Dragon, text by Montse Sant, illustrated by Ciruelo
A Diversity of Dragons, text by Anne McCaffrey Richard Woods, illustrated by John Howe
Dragons: The Modern Infestation, by Pamela Wharton-Blanpied
The Dragon Book: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy, edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois
Dragoncharm/Dragonstorm/Dragonflame, by Graham Edwards
Dragons Can Only Rust/Dragon Reforged,  by Chris Cymri
The Dragons of Babel,  by Michael Swanwick
Dragons of Darkness, edited by Orson Scott Card
A Dragon-Lover's Treasury of the Fantastic, edited by Margaret Weis
Dragons of Light, edited by Orson Scott Card
Dragons: A Studio Book, by Peter Hogarth
The Flight of Dragons, by Peter Dickison
Guards! Guards! , by Terry Pratchett
The Iron Dragon's Daughter, by Michael Swanwick
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, by Bruce Coville
Miss Fanshawe and the Great Dragon Adventure, by Sue Scullard
Saint George and The Dragon, Retold by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, adapted from Edmund Speser's The Farie Queene
Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton
Winterlands (Dragonsbane, Dragonshadow, Knight of the Demon Queen, Dragonstar), by Barbara Hambly

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Few Short Guilty Pleasures

This isn't the end of the Guilty Pleasures series. But I've reached the end of the current list of characters, works, and abstract concepts that I felt qualified as "guilty pleasures", so I'm putting the series on hiatus.

To close off, here are some short guilty pleasures that I didn't feel needed a long post to discuss them:

The Word "Pterodactyl"

I'm a huge fan of pterosaurs a.k.a. "pterodactyls", with the name of this blog even poking fun at inaccurate pterosaurs with bat wings. However, my interest is casual and based on aesthetics more than anything involving scientific rigour.

I don't know everything about extinct saurians, and tend to accept inaccurate popular depictions of pterosaurs with little fuss. Yet I know enough that "pterodactyl" is technically an inaccurate term for the whole of flying reptile species, though exactly why it is inaccurate has changed with the times.

But it's such a fun word to say. Pterodactyl, pterodactyl, pterodactyl.

Doing Everything But Playing the Silent Hill Games

For some reason, I never ended up getting into video games. The only ones I played were Duck Hunt, where I'd sit close to the TV to end up getting all the ducsk, or Gahan Wilson's the Ultimate Haunted House, which we had for some reason. But, I've become fascinated with the mythology behind the first four Silent Hill games.

I'm constantly looking at images, wikis, walkthroughs, and Let's Plays, loving the strangeness of the story and the freakishness of the monsters, not to mention the care put into the backstory and artwork. But…I've got no interest in actually playing the games. I realize that doesn't make sense, and I don't call myself a Silent Hill fan for this reason, but I just don't.

Ancillary media adaptations won't scratch my Silent Hill itch, either, since the movies and comics get rid of many things that made the original storylines good, and put crap in their place. There's nothing that actually re-creates those compelling stories within the narrative conventions of a comic or film, and nothing that's as good as those original stories. So I have to stick with watching people play video games.

Internet Trainwrecks

I suffer from a serious case of "There but for the grace of God go I" syndrome, convinced that if I didn't have so much self awareness or self-control, I could have become one of many terrible breeds of nerds, or maybe several terrible kinds of nerds at the same time. I won't go into detail, but the possibility sticks with me.

So I would enjoy watching/hearing others discuss internet trainwrecks, exposing the perversity of people online, because this makes me feel better about myself, reminding me that I didn't become that kind of person.

Sometimes the act backfires on me, because the commentary reminds me that I could still be more mature than I am. It makes me more self-conscious instead of less, and makes the whole activity even less justifiable. But I can't stop myself either way. It's brain-rotting, but fun.

I sneak around, lurking on various websites and watching strange people have meltdowns or watch other people talk about strange people having meltdowns. I don't join in, because I know I'm too damn earnest and sensitive. I can't make myself pretend there's nothing I care about for the sake of cutting into others, or that I have anything to lord over anyone. Eventually I'd expose myself as just another nerd.

Lacking that killer instinct, I just like to watch.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Guilty Pleasures: Griffith

Griffith from Berserk is a great villain. His razor-sharp intelligence, immense ambition, and alluring elegance all pull viewers in and make them want to root for him, to consider Griffith the kind of villain that both dreams and nightmares are made of. All the fanboys who can't take a male villain seriously just because he's pretty, step away. Y' got no power here.

I appreciate him for all that and more. I like the fact that Griffith makes the "beauty is only skin deep" thing work for a male character, which is harder to do these days. In modern times, beautiful men are already perceived as suspect and decadent more often than they are seen as virtuous, but Griffith sells the idea that this double standard doesn't exist. What he is turns out to be is a genuine shock to the characters, who believed in him.

So what's the problem with this amazing villain? The problem is that Griffith committed rape. There's no way around this: Griffith is Femto, and Femto is Griffith, with his rape of Casca and mutilation of Guts a reflection of Griffith's desires. Griffith needed to assert his dominance over Casca and Guts, "punish" them for being "above" him, because he felt he should be the one in charge, and others his servants.

Ultimately, that is what Griffith wants: for others to be below him, and to use them. He could have said no to the Sacrifice, and continued his suicide attempt. The fact that he said yes proves that despite Griffith's charisma, and despite his fear and pain, a demon is always what he was deep down, someone who viewed others as the means to an end.

As I've said before, you can try to boil it down to statistics, to say that Griffith should be condemned more for the loyal men he sentenced to be mutilated and devoured by demons, rather than his rape of a single woman, but this isn't rational. The smaller, personal microcosm of evil is the one that punches you in the gut.

I'm saying these things maybe as a way to come to terms with the fact that even after seeing all this, I still like Griffith as a character, enjoying him as a high-quality villain. Griffith might be the guiltiest of guilty pleasures, an interest that haunts me a little, which proves the power Berserk can have when it's operating at its peak. Berserk isn't so shocking that it's immune to critique, but I admire it for being able to create violent events that would be over-the-top in other hands, and making them powerful and poignant.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Holding Two Minds: Villain Apologism

I try to be open to all widely-varying interpretations of fictional characters, to remember that other people don't perceive characters the same ways I do. But there's just certain things I can't  agree with, and one of them is villain apologism.

You know it: the insistence that a villain is "not that bad", that because their actions are the result of a bad life or a bad situation they can't be blamed for the harm they cause. Nerd wars are fought over whether this is "true", and my stance is always firm.

Once a character voluntarily chooses to harm others, and they are aware they are causing harm, the reasons you commit these actions don't matter: you're the villain, the bad guy, not a nice person. There are plenty of ins and outs in this viewpoint, but I'm trying to keep it simple for the sake of making a point.

I support and prefer making stories emotionally and morally complex, creating changing, multifaceted characters, and authors being able to look at a story from multiple viewpoints. However, a story with these things doesn't mean the villains aren't easy to identify. There are exceptions, stories with truly blurred moral lines, but having a villain with understandable motivations and emotions doesn't on its own erase the possibility of moral judgement.

The truth is, most people aren't evil for the sake of evil. There are always reasons underlying their actions. But it's not right to throw away morality and punishment because the villain had "reasons", because otherwise, anyone can do anything.

So then why are there villain apologists? Many people like to blame sexual attraction for "blinding" fans to the faults of their favourite villains, but it's too simple to only think that's the only reason. And even when someone is attracted to a fictional character, that doesn't explain why the morality of that character should matter to them, when the character doesn't exist and can't hurt them.

There are lots of reasons why this morality would matter, though. The first one is that attraction to a character can be more than sexual. Whatever the intentions of the writers, it's inevitable that a character will "click" with a viewer in a way the writers did not intend. The viewer will find some strange sympathy or empathy with the character, sometimes making a connection between their experiences and the character's.

This connection might cut very deep, and change the viewer's perception, so that because they don't believe themselves to be bad, they can't see the character they intensely identify with as bad, either.  To judge this character as evil will therefore seem like a personal insult.

This could also take a different form. A viewer, even if their connection to a villain isn't so deep, could still feel squeamish about the thought of liking an evil character, and believe that to like an evil character reflects badly on their personal morality. So they deny this evil in order to make themselves feel they're still on the side of right.

Thirdly, it can simply be too difficult to balance a dislike of the character's deeds with a liking for the character themselves—and trying to could water down or even corrupt the affection one has for the character. Never being able to reconcile these two viewpoints might therefore make the hobby too much of a strain. To pretend that this character is not evil would therefore simplify things, and make it possible to love the character unconditionally.

And yeah, sometimes it has something to do with lust. I can't deny it entirely. After all, beauty is supposed to get you places, and onto a pedestal in a nerd's psyche could be one of those. Just that it might be a little bit different from that, too.

Attractive villains may get apologists more often, but unattractive ones can still "click" with a viewer in the way I mentioned above, still be liked without the viewer actually being in love with them.

I've seen it implied that villain apologism is a commonly female phenomenon. Female fans are suggested to be more likely to be into a fantasy rather than the "real" character. They produce insufferable sexual fixations, corrupting fandom with their squee-cooties.

If there's any truth to the idea that female villain apologists are more common,  it's not because women are hardwired for blind masochism or too stupid to see what a character is "really" like, but because women have greater concerns about social reputation.

Fandom therefore reflects this…women don't want to be seen as "bad", so they try to excuse their own interests lest others judge them. Furthermore, don't deny there's a double standard—that fangirl lusts are perverse and ridiculous, while fanboy lusts are normal and sensible, even though there's nothing to suggest that.

If all of this seems stupid, it's because it sort of is. It's all just fiction, after all—shouldn't we be able to realize that liking a character doesn't mean we approve of what they do or the morals they represent? Yeah. But people are weird, and fiction is meant to evoke emotions, to make us dive into imaginary worlds and react to them as we would to experiences in the real world.

So it's not surprising that things can get intense, and that fans might want to save face in one way or another, be worried that their choices say bad things about them. But it's possible to like a character while not approving of them in all aspects. Heck, it can be fun sometimes, to insult a character you love when they do ugly things. You still love them, and I don't think a fictional being cares if there are caveats to that love.

Oh, and all this applies to anti-heroes, too, for whatever way you define "anti-hero".

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Horns and Brains: Another 4Kids TMNT Recap and Other Ninja Turtles Things

I've decided to resign myself to blogging about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles whenever I feel like it. I fight the urge because this sudden mix of the past and present is a bit weird, not to mention that TMNT is a huge step down from Macross in terms of emotional resonance and depth of respect, so I will be on some levels, dragged into accepting this new interest. But, to quote from MST3K the movie, let's see how many times I can skip this thing.

The current plan is to start each post with a recap of my opinion on whatever season of the 4Kids series I watched, then throw in opinions on anything else at the bottom. I also leave a possible change in format open, especially if I think a topic is important enough to discuss separately.

So, I finished watching the second season of the 4Kids series, and am now well into the third season. I knew most of the Turtles' original origin through my internet tracks, not to mention knowing a few other things, so the reveals in the earliest episodes didn't rock my world, but it was still interesting to see them played out as a cohesive, if clichéd story.

I had the Triceraton action figure as a kid, and  never realized until a couple of years ago that they came from the Mirage universe having a race of aliens that were essentially humanoid Triceratops, with no explanation. But, see, it's perfect for this "anything goes" media franchise, and is really no worse than the cliché of making aliens that are exactly like humans, or humanoid versions of Earth animals. A good writer like C.J. Cherryh can still make that work, and the Triceratons get by on the sheer weirdness of their presence.

I found out even later that Laird is a fan of things ceratopsian, which was kind of cool. I'm a huge dinosaur fan, too, and I can see the temptation to create things on your favourite saurians. Intelligent dinosaurs are usually based on carnivorous species (like Robert J. Sawyer's wonderful Quintaglio Ascension trilogy), probably due to the greater initial brainpower, so the Triceratons are even more of a novelty. So, dinosaurs, those are neat.

But I've never been a fan of the "proud warrior aliens" trope. The one exception is the Zentradi of Macross, and their story was more about exposing such a race as living in slave conditions, rather than celebrating their way of being.

Both the Utroms and the Triceratons are a little disappointing for the fact that they're one-note alien races with a single culture and so far, a narrow range of characterization. These days I'm easier on SF writers for being unable to capture the complexity of the human race within a single piece of media, but that doesn't mean there's no possibility of variation among the single culture the author has work with. I do like the Utroms being a mostly peaceful race, when they look like something that would be the villain in a B-movie.

I'm completely neutral on The Shredder being an Utrom. It was an interesting twist, and I have no personal attachment to the Shredder as he was or as he is, and Ch'rell is a great villain regardless, not needing to have any necessary species. The only thing I don't like is that Ch'rell himself has an "evil" design, red with horns and a scar, so you know he's evil, which seems a little corny. Some of it could be attributed to body modifications, but I don't know if the series ever goes that far.

It raises an issue I've tackled before, and never came down on one side with: how do you take advantage of a visual medium and create a character whose body reflects their personality, without degenerating into lazy stereotypes? I hate stereotypes, but there's something appealing about a character design whose "parts" all work together.

Speaking of body modifications, Baxter Stockman is an organic head in a little spider robot, and then he's in a robot body, the head apparently all that was left of him after the explosion that easily should have killed him. And then he's a brain in a jar, poor fuck.

It just all looks so cool and disturbing, especially the way he casually has his head turned backwards in the robot body. Baxter obviously doesn't think it's that cool, but I like how Baxter still continues to be insolent and arrogant when he can, despite no longer having a body and being at the mercy of others. That's very funny, appealing to whatever strange part of me likes seeing her favourite characters get fucked up.

That being said, I'm starting to re-evaluate 4Kids Baxter's competence level….but without any disgruntled feelings. He's still in the clear when it comes to fitting with a more modern, sensible portrayal of cartoon villainy, just…slipping a little. My reaction is more pity than contempt, though, especially since Baxter literally can't leave his job at this point.

(Again, despite the obvious differences between the two, ones that go beyond race, I can't help but be reminded of the way Fred Wolf Baxter keeps showing up once you thought you've gotten rid of him. I still love 'em both, naturally.

I'll have to look at other versions of the character before I consider myself a fan of Baxter Stockman in general. Would I find him interesting without transformation and a fucked-up life?)

Hun also seems to be slipping, which is disappointing. I hope the secondary villains get back up to code soon.

Splinter isn't in this season very much, and I surprised myself by not missing him. It leads back to something I've wondered about, if my interest in Splinter exists on a purely nostalgic, low-brain level, so it's harder to transfer it onto a Splinter I didn't grow up with. It doesn't make the interest any less worthwhile, but I'm also a different person now than I was as a tot, and that's bound to affect things. That said…I was flailing with joy at the image of Splinter fighting a dragon.

Karai is very interesting. Her personality is at first sharply defined, but with an ambiguous future that has me interested. Her treatment of the Turtles seemed honorable, but she's still on the Shredder's side, with her place being precarious. I'm looking forward to how this would play out.

But why is Casey Jones being portrayed as such a doofus? I'm not that familiar with the character outside of the first live-action movie, but I just hate it when secondary characters aren't competent, and when a character becomes pure comic relief in a story that is supposed to be serious. It never serves any purpose, and is just clashing with the story.

I still have my issues with April O'Neil. I'm starting to warm up to her, and she does have a slightly more defined personality as time goes on, which makes her easier to deal with. I still think she suffers from "the normal one" syndrome, or whatever you would call it, when a character's role in a story somehow permits them to be less developed and harder to write about, but at least it feels more like being the mother/sister-figure is part of her personality and not just a writerly obligation.

Though her character isn't developed much, I like Quarry, because we need more grotesque female characters in animation, and I liked the oni and insect influences in her design. I was surprised to discover that that spider-creature, and the "Quarrysaurus" were apparently women, too.

In between all the major plot beats there are breather episodes, and these aren't as good. I'm not yet invested in the characters to watch their adventures without a larger plot involved, so I sit and wait patiently for the main plot to begin again. I think in general, the season started to sag after the earliest episodes, so I didn't enjoy season two as much as season one.

And the "Big Brawl" four-parter just bored me. I appreciated that they added plot so it wasn't just a series of fight scenes, but damn, I just didn't care. Despite everything, I just didn't care.

Ancillary Turtles Stuff:

I'm thinking of re-reading the Archie comics series, once I get my hands on a portable hard drive to save space on my machine. I loved that comic, which I "graduated" to after the Fred Wolf cartoon and followed until the end of the Moon-Eyes saga, though maybe I won't love it after I read all those environmentalist messages again.

Speaking of comics, Mark over at TMNT Entity has reviewed the amazing Soul's  Winter  trilogy  from Mirage Comics, a piece which I've loved for a long time.

The phrase "like you've never seen them before" is said a lot, but there's no other way to describe Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli's take on the TMNT. It's a powerful, strange, and mystical self-contained tale that completely re-invents the universe and makes you believe in it, all backed by Zulli's gorgeous art, which I also see every time I open up the last volume of The Sandman and my eyes get misty. It manages to tell so much with so little that it's amazing.

And another thing about comics, I did forget one thing before: there was actually one change made to Turtles continuity that I wasn't "chill" over. The IDW comics idea of Splinter and the Turtles being a reincarnated human father and his biological children was something that was an unexpected punch in the gut when I first heard of it.

It was because, without realizing it, I had become invested in this franchise's notion of a family being made, not born, and in this case, crossing boundaries of species (whatever species Splinter was to start with). But by establishing that genetic connection, it makes things more conventional and convenient. I'm not saying I won't read the IDW series eventually, but I've learned not to be ashamed of disliking changes made to media.

And I'll bite: Costco was selling the Fred Wolf Turtles Van box-set for $70 Canadian instead of the standard $100, so I asked family members to buy it for me for Christmas. At first I wanted to hold back, but I can't anymore. I can't justify keeping the pirated copies of the small number of post-season 2 episodes I want to keep, when there's a chance to give money back to the company.

Lion's Gate didn't do that great a job with the DVD releases, but that's never on its own been a justification for piracy. Suck it up, buy the legit releases, and so on. But I don't regret getting seasons 1 and 2 on DVD: they were cheap, after all, and portable. It was fun lying on the couch sick and watching the Sarnath arc again, dizzily wondering again how the search for a stupid Do Anything jewel can be so much fun.

(Though I really didn't need to know that Splinter doesn't wear anything underneath his robe)

I've also started to reconsider watching the Fred Wolf series a la carte. It's not about "disrespecting" a series I still don't respect, but I feel sort of humourless and dull, when I thought I had the usual nerd capacity to ironically embrace absurdity. Sometimes with Fred Wolf stuff, I do, but other times….

Of course, my interest in the Fred Wolf series is not purely ironic. As these posts show, at times I show an earnest, sentimental interest that might cripple my ability to be all cool and distant. So that might make me more vulnerable to the show's faults.

I don't mind thinking critically about the Fred Wolf series, and I'm critiquing it for not being good as a goofy spoof show, not in secretly wishing it was like the 4Kids series. I just that I wish I was able to tolerate the OT better. So I might try to watch more episodes if I get that set, is what I'm saying.

However, I've also been able better describe why I dislike Fred Wolf April O'Neil so much. The problem with her is twofold, the first being that it's hard to get a handle on "who" she is. The male characters are simple and easy to describe, but April it's hard to get a bead on for some reason. Sometimes she's timid, other times she's bold, sometimes she's useful, sometimes she's not. Naturally I can't attribute this to April being complex, but just becoming whatever she needs to be in that moment. It just seems like even less effort was put into her than the rest of the cast, and as a result, fans remember her mostly for her breasts.

The second problem is that being "the girl" apparently puts April in this totally neutral position, where she never gets judged for anything, because she's not a "real" character. If somebody were to judge April's character, the assessment would be pretty dire: there are so many times when she is totally useless, and displays traits that in male characters are judged as cowardly or inept. But because April's just "the girl", no one calls her on that, and there's the implication that she can't be disliked for it, because we just aren't expected to form an opinion of this non-entity.

It could be argued that April's portrayal was ironic, mocking the damsel in distress stereotype. But…I don't think it was meant to mock anything, just that the series went through the motions, and then called attention to that fact, not making fun of stereotypes but just talking about itself. And when April is the major female character, there's still the urge to judge her for not being able to hold her own as a heroine—we simply expect more of characters when there are so few of their demographic represented. Even though April is an ordinary human, if the writers had tried, she could have been useful more often, and it also is a little heartbreaking to see how many times April showing initiative just leads to her getting kidnapped.

I feel a little bit bad picking on one of the few representatives of my gender in this show, but it can't be helped. April just gets on my nerves, in a completely different way than any other character. Irma, though she's an annoying stereotype, still has a consistent personality, and because she's a secondary character, we have less of an expectation that she will be effective.

Anyway, with that out of the way, my 1988 Splinter and Baxter toys arrived in the mail, with their file cards included. I hadn't touched my old Splinter in years and have no idea what happened to him, and I was surprised at how small the toy now felt in my hand, which is your mental Kodak moment for the day.

Playmates Splinter doesn't look much like any other version of Splinter, but the nostalgia of that sculpt is just overpowering. I lost the cloak to mine as soon as I had him, and he was naked for all time. I had the hard plastic-headed one, and this was the one with the "soft" head. I'm not sure which is rarer, or why those differences exist, but I'm pleased to have this one.

Baxter Stockman doesn't look much like the Baxterfly of the cartoon, but after the Exedore toy from Matchbox, any other off-base cartoon likeness looks more acceptable than it could be, especially when you know the toy was created first. Looking at this figure again, I wonder if it, with its exposed veins and muscles and psychotic grin, was the large inspiration behind almost every fanartist drawing Baxterfly as a drooling hell-beast.

(He also has a little watch, so he'll always know when it's revenge o' clock)

I'm all for radical artistic re-interpretation, but it's so hard to find art of Baxterfly that's not out of a horror movie that I jokingly wonder if the dark and edgy version is what people believe the character is actually like. If childhood memories could distort the main Fred Wolf villains into badasses, I guess anything's possible, but the idea of anyone recalling Baxter as a threatening villain is very hard to wrap my head around. He's supposed to be a malicious but silly creature even in the confines of his own very silly universe.

(Honestly, if I feel like I've got enough new stuff to say on the issue, I'll deal directly with the presumption that Fred Wolf Baxter Stockman is an innocent victim or "tragic" character: why it happens, and why it's not true)

The Playmates toys always did have interesting sculpts though, with a lot of grotesque detail everywhere, and in some cases, extra vermin crawling on them. These vermin manage to avoid that, and are cute little things to add to my collection.

Sadly, I've discovered the secondary market for toys based on the 4Kids series has them trading for high prices, so I won't be able to make any new additions anytime soon. At the same time, I'll likely buy the upcoming Nickelodeon Baxter Stockman toy, since he was the only enjoyable thing about this very boring series. I'm sorry, everybody, I tried, but I can't get into it.

But even so, until next time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Better Breed of Bitch: Female Zentradi and the Assumption of Superiority

I always used to notice this weird thing in both Macross and Robotech fandom: the consistent off-the-cuff assumption that female Zentradi (or "Zentraedi") are a higher quality of soldier and personage than the Zentradi men. Nothing in any Macross material states this, so it's "fanon" in the truest sense, meaning fans coming together and agreeing upon some truth that they all perceive in the material, but that is not actually an official part of the universe.

I can think of a few reasons why this perception took root, but none of these reasons are enough for me to declare it a canonical "truth", or even something that aligns with my own interpretations of the series. This is true for Macross or Robotech, though only Macross' material holds weight. The Robotech-exclusive material can be studied more as a reaction to the original Macross, than something equal with it.

(Oh, and I'll add "Meltrandi" here to get search results, but I pointedly don't call female Zentradi "Meltrandi" because they don't need a special term, and it's used very rarely in media outside of DYRL, whose portrayal of Zentradi I hate anyway.)

The first reason that female Zentradi might be considered a better breed is that all of them are beautiful. The only"unconventional" female Zentradi design is the very muscular but otherwise pretty Veffidas Feaze of Macross 7. Any other female Zentradi are generically gorgeous according to the standards of modern culture, with the only thing odd about them being anime hair. Male Zentradi designs, on the other hand, run the gamut from the ugly to the handsome, with weird skin colours and the occasional cybernetic attachment.

As time goes on, the design gulf between the genders grows wider. The film Do You Remember Love?  added giant brains to male Zentradi advisors and more extensive cybernetic attachments, and hinted that all male Zentradi soldiers were now bald. Not all of this was carried through to the main continuity, but much of it was, so that we have male Zentradi who still look like normal humans, but other characters with a more intense variety of "ugly" designs. The female designs, however, remain unchanged across all continuities.

There is also the question of whether the male Zentradi's goofy anime faces are meant to represent actual physical deformity, with buggy eyes, saggy skin, and apelike features. I don't think they were, though the Robotech novels certainly thought so. However, even if it's not deformity, it still represents the greater range of character designs among male Zentradi.

I'd argue that nobody on the creative ever intended that female Zentradi were literally more beautiful than male Zentradi, were be manufactured to be exactly that. Rather, it's just that old thing where male characters can have a wide variety of body types, while female characters must all be generically sexy. It's not actually part of the characters' biology, but just a motif that's used without thinking. In this case, I think fanboy-pleasing is part of the intention, but other than that, there is no deeper explanation for why female Zentradi are always "hot".

And viewers should never underestimate the power of beauty. Female Zentradi could be assumed to be of a higher class, more refined, intelligent, and elegant, simply because none of them are ugly or goofy-looking. My reaction is sort of the opposite—having a wider variety of character designs makes the male characters more interesting and engaging, while the more uniform female designs are duller.

It's also harder to call a group flawed when they have little screen time. While beautiful female Zentradi might make for popular characters, in the original series only Milia (Miriya) and Laplamiz (Azonia) had any substantial role, and only a small number of female soldiers and staff had any lines at all.

And even though Laplamiz exists, Milia Fallyna is undoubtedly more prominent. As usual, whenever a character is the major representative of their group in a series, he or she starts to define the series' representation of that group. Milia, who is beautiful, skilled, and whose comical moments are minimal, therefore becomes what viewers think all female Zentradi are like, because we see little to contradict that. And so the logic goes, if female Zentradi are all close in quality to Milia, of course they are superior to the men. In other words, because SDFM has a smaller amount of female Zentradi in speaking roles, it's easier to base the faction off of what we do see, than to assume it is diverse.

But to me, having less female Zentradi characters makes their faction less interesting, not more. I just can't imagine the entire faction being like Milia, every soldier only a little bit shy of being an "ace". Why would that be true of any army, even a fictional one? There have to be female equivalents to the Regult pilots that die like flies, Zentradi women who simply weren't fast or smart enough.

Regardless, I sometimes wonder if female Zentradi are given prominent roles in later stories, exactly because Milia was so popular. This is especially true if you include characters of mixed Zentradi/human race, but even so, most of the major Zentradi characters following Space War 1 have been female: Klan Klang, Veffidas Feaze, and the returning Milia. Likely this is just due to following what worked with the audience before, but I can see how this might contribute to a greater perception of the "worthiness" of female Zentradi to the fanbase, if the female Zentradi characters keep being the primary ones.

Male Zentradi also have many types of mecha, while female Zentradi have only one: the Queadluun-Rau battle suit. The Queadluun-Rau is one of my favourites, a big, bulky machine that's a far cry from the sleek and sexy armour I expected. Other people seem to agree with me, as the Queadluun is a popular choice for mecha art and kitbashing.

 However, there's when the only female mecha is this wonderful, powerful death machine, it brings up the reputation of the female fleet. While the male fleet has smaller, more disposable mecha, such as the "legendary" Regults/Battlepods that get destroyed by the boatload, if the cool Q-Raus are all you have, it makes the female fleet look cooler by comparison. We all know there are female Zentradi soldiers dying left and right in the actual battles, but Queadluuns just look better than those fragile walking eggs, and the former might overwhelm the latter truth.
(I've also wondered if writers were  less comfortable with using female characters as disposable infantry, and that is why female Zentradi don't do ground warfare. The only exception is the "Draug", a female Zentradi ground vehicle found in the PC game Macross VOXP, and its obscurity might still prove the above point. Also, it looks like a squished Queadluun rather than having a unique design.)

Notably, the upgraded mecha that cracked the "mainstream" of Macross are the Queadlunn variants: the Queadluun-Rae (or Rare) from Macross Frontier, and the Queadluun-Quilqua from Macross 7: The Galaxy is Calling Me. Sure, there are many upgraded versions of male Zentradi mecha, but they are confined to games and guidebooks, while anime releases are the backbone of Macross media. Furthermore, the Queadluun-Rae had several toys made of it, strengthening its representation. The accidental implication is that female Zentradi mecha reflect the supposed quality of their owners, both of being more worthy of being perpetuated and upgraded than their male equivalents.

Once again, though, my reaction is to prefer a range of things than just one "cool thing". I love the Queadluun-Raus, but was disappointed to understand it was the only mecha that female Zentradi had (despite those mysterious Regults in the belly of Laplamiz' ship, which have to be a continuity error). More is better, a wider range of things is more appealing.

I realize that no one takes stock in Robotech these days, but to make a point, I'll say that the Robotech expanded universe has its fair share of material that could promote this view of female Zentradi as superior. However, in this case this material is, if not strictly "fanon", still the result of people not involved in the original production looking at the material and drawing their own conclusions.

Every new female Zentradi created for this side of the Pacific is still good-looking (and usually has a name that sounds feminine to English-speakers, for some reason), and are more prominent than any new male characters created, with the most important ones being Seloy Deparra and Kazianna Hesh. All of them are Queadluun pilots, or in this case, the messy Romanization of "Quadronos", but given that their army was made of little else, I can let that slide. However, the focus on only creating new female characters for prominent roles might suggest a greater perception of "worthiness", the same way that most prominent new Zentradi in Macross are women as well, especially if we include those of mixed race. It's an odd coincidence.

In the original Palladium Robotech RPG, the only character class that a female Zentradi can have is "officer", while the male classes include the ranks of Officers of the High Command, Fighter Pilots, Officers, and Foot Soldiers. That makes so little sense: if they are all officers, who the hell do they have authority over? The exact reason for this choice is never given, but to me it seems like they thought a female Zentradi army would be more glamorous and didn't think about anything else.

Furthermore, when James Luceno wrote the midquel Robotech novels, he decided to chronicle the pointless and contradictory self-destruction of the Zentradi race. Stupid, but he also made a point of saying that the female Zentradi lasted longer, and that their deaths involved a last-ditch attempt to protect the earth. The choice of which gender to survive longer could have been random, but given what else we've seen, Luceno may have been another one of those who thought that female Zentradi were just better.

Newer Robotech material just doesn't deal with Zentradi because of the legal trouble surrounding Macross, but the newer version of the Palladium RPG does something very strange. You see, the Robotech dub made a few mistakes and had male voices among the female Zentradi one-offs, and the RPG tried to explain it by saying male Zentradi were assigned to "menial duties" among the female fleets.

This defeats the entire plot point that Zentradi were sexually segregated, which was a major component of their character arc. Besides that huge error, though, it might suggest that Palladium has bought into the fanon hype, because female Zentradi are just too cool and glamorous to concern themselves with the menial day-to-day running of a ship.

All of this is based on guesswork, since no one, to my knowledge, has ever actually said why they believe female Zentradi are of a higher calibre. Looking at what we're presented, I see plenty that would trigger that perception, but no real evidence for it. Furthermore, it helps me understand why, even though I'm a female Zentradi fan, the actual female Zentradi characters never interested me that much. It's because there are less of them in speaking roles in Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and in that group, a narrower range of designs and roles. What seems to make some fans think they're of a greater quality are the same traits that make me disinterested. Which is a shame.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lola Bunny and "The Looney Tunes Show"

Image from Toony Time

I have a dog in this fight, but it's more like a Chihuahua. Still, there's an opinion I have to share: Lola Bunny is the best thing about The Looney Tunes Show, and a character who is a million times better than her initial appearance in Space Jam. Not that being better than Space Jam Lola is hard, but I appreciate the principle.

I don't have a problem with adding new Looney Tunes characters, male or female. If you are trying to bring back fondly-remembered characters, you're already going to have to rewrite them, so adding a new character to suit the changing times also shouldn't be out of the question.

The trouble with Lola Bunny (voiced by Kath Soucie) was only that she was a shallow character, and one that had no comedic aspects whatsoever, no one involved in her creation who pretended they were making a new addition to a comedic cast. In Space Jam she took herself entirely seriously, and the narrative let her. She was saved from slapstick instead of participating it. All of that sounds like nothing a Looney Tunes character, however removed from their original roots, would be. And there's that creepy sexualisation….

And dammit, Lola felt so calculated. Tokenism isn't adding a minority character itself, but adding them superficially, not as characters, but as points to score with advertisers and executives. The way that Lola Bunny was so distant from anything recognizably Looney Tunes shows how little effort was put into making her.

Lola from The Looney Tunes Show (voiced by Kristen Wiig), on the other hand, starts out as an insane stalker with the attention span of a very stupid insect. Canada is behind on episodes of the series, but from where I sit, Lola is now, actually a funny, cartoony, loony character. She's exactly what a comedic female character should be: subject to the same pitfalls and pratfalls as the male cast, instead of getting stuck being the moral centre, the "straight" one who is there to roll her eyes at the men's antics.

Some have taken offence to Lola's insanity, saying that it pushes the idea of women in love as desperate and crazy. But craziness should be allowed in cartoons, and Lola isn't defined by her relationship to Bugs: she's got a weird personality that shines through everything she does, and that is what defines her, rather than the attraction to Bugs (unlike Space Jam, where "love interest" comes above "sexy basketball star"), and furthermore, her possessiveness of Bugs is just plain fun. Lola is simply a complete and total nutbar, and it's not because she's female—it's because she's a funny cartoon character. In addition, she does things without Bugs, such as the President's Day song.

Lola still might not be to everyone's taste, because the writers do a very good job of making her sound and act exactly like the type of flighty, rambling person that you might encounter in real life and have grate on your nerves. There's a certain realism to Wiig's line delivery that you don't get from a lot of cartoon characters, including everyone else in the cast. But for all of that, Lola is likable, so that you can enjoy her enough to appreciate that quality.

However, while I like Lola, I don't find The Looney Tunes Show to be that interesting. I'll watch it when it's on, but it doesn't grab me. It's not that I'm a big fan of the original Looney Tunes shorts and don't like to see them changed: I like those old cartoons, but they don't loom large in my mind. It's just that something feels unnatural about The Looney Tunes Show, the sheer weirdness of trying to place characters from the 30s-50s into a modern style of humour and pacing.

My inner schoolmarm likes to wag her finger and remind me there's nothing that can't be done well, but even so, you've got to establish these personal standards, so you can get a better idea of what you want from entertainment. You are free to make exceptions to these standards at any point, but you have to make note of them.

In this case, I'm usually not comfortable with the idea of "eternal" fictional characters, being remade for every era and taste, long after the creator is gone. I see this as based on the conceit that a character is just an image, and not a personality that depends on their era. I believe the opposite….a character can't just be ported from one era to another, but we do it because of the longer and broader reach of mass media today, where because we can touch the past so easily, we can bring it back in a new form just as easily.

Lola Bunny is a good example of this. She's a fun character, but she's so obviously the product of a modern style of humour, it shows that Looney Tunes have to be totally rewritten to conform to modern standards, and I fundamentally don't understand why writers need to go through that trouble, instead of creating original characters. It's because I'm a nerd, I guess, who doesn't emotionally understand the value of name recognition or why going with a recognized brand is still "safe" even if you have to rewrite it.

That stays true, even if I think Lola is damn great. We need more cartoony female characters, and if something like Lola can be turned to the side of good, then we can hope for more cartoony female characters to show up in unexpected places.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I have a Tumblr

For posting pictures and links and nerdy thoughts too small for a place like this. Enjoy!

Guilty Pleasures: Fred Wolf Baxter Stockman

Here are three things I dislike: incompetent villains, whitewashing (in the sense of changing previously non-white human characters into white ones), and bugs. But when I started to watch reruns of the Fred Wolf Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, I realized I now liked its Baxter Stockman, a character I had no opinion of as a kid, and no interest in.

It's a little embarrassing, first because I want creators to create the best antagonists they can. Even a comedy show shouldn't make the villains dumber than the heroes, because that writes the end of a story before it starts. Baxter is a particularly bad example, being inept, cowardly, and just plain stupid, the kind of villain nobody should write.

Also, while it's very funny that so much bad stuff happens to Baxter, it's obvious there's no real running joke meant or considered…it was just a bunch of random stuff the writers threw at the wall, with some stuff left unexplained. Again, that's a bad way to write a character—you should be aware of what you're creating, make it clear, and then play to that.

What bothers me even more, though, is that Baxter is a whitewashed character. It is true that the kind of character Fred Wolf Baxter is would have looked very, VERY wrong with his original race, but nobody had to write the character that way to begin with. Many people believe Baxter's race was changed over concerns of a recurring black character being a villain, and while I can get behind that sentiment, they didn't have to make him a regular character to begin with. I just can't make any excuse for the racelift, or get around the fact that I'm enjoying a whitewashed character, either.

I agree with the choice to have other versions of Baxter Stockman keep his original race and go for robotic transformation over the insectile. I particularly like the 4Kids Baxter Stockman, who is what you would get if you took a similarly terrible life, but actually had it written by people who gave a damn about creating an effective villain and giving him a clear arc. 

However, despite all this, I like Fred Wolf Baxter. I just find him to be surprisingly funny, which becomes acceptance of most of his faults. It's his comically crappy life, of course, and that he's so tiny and nebbish and ridiculous that he becomes lovable. Because of this, all the asinine things I've seen silly villains do suddenly become amusing when Baxter's the one doing 'em. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I like this unholy fusion of Jerry Lewis and R.M. Renfield.

As you can guess, I slightly prefer Baxter in human form, post-sanity, though I'm not sure why, since as a fly, he's a more distinctive character. In bug form, Baxter gets dumber, but keeps that same appeal, now with the bonus weirdness of being a mutant and hanging out with a Hal 9000 parody. He's still lovable, probably only as a consequence of streamlining his design for animation, but it works for me. I'm not too sad that Baxter never got a resolution, because that was a consequence of the sort of show he came from, but I still feel sorry for 'im.

(But I don't look at Baxterfly as an innocent villain, the way some other people do. C'mon, he's silly and gullible, but he still does evil stuff, and he likes it.)

Baxter going through more lasting change than any other character in the series, and then becoming a guest villain, might also make him go over better with me. It makes Baxter interesting, and also keeps him from getting stale. I couldn't follow any character through the almost two hundred episodes of TMNT, because there are limits to what I can take of the series, even if I'm looking at it with amused, ironic detachment.

It's still so weird for me to like Fred Wolf Baxter, and I can't forget that by all rights I should find him incredibly annoying, or let my principles overcome my interest. But even if I layer it with cynicism and irony, this liking is genuine, an exception to a few personal rules.

(The other Fred Wolf TMNT villains, though, man, forget those guys.)