Monday, September 26, 2016

Villain Retrospect - Shredder

Barely making it into the 80s is another of my favorite villains, the bane of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Shredder. 

Originally Oroku Saki, the Shredder leads the robotic Foot Clan against the heroic reptiles, stealing super-weapons and kidnapping April O'Niel. Shredder is the prime example of villain entropy - the very beginning of the series, Shredder was a competent villain with realistic goals, but quickly devolved into plans that made no sense with zero chance of accomplishment and being defeated by the least amount of effort by the Turtles.  By the later seasons, I seriously felt bad for Shredder.

One of the reasons why I felt his fall was the worst was because he had a partner.  You can't talk about Shredder without mentioning his cohort Krang.  Unlike a number of other villains who have an established second-in-command (like Starscream to Megatron), Krang was Shredder's equal.  He took no orders from Shredder and tried a number of his own schemes against the Turtles.  I honestly think Krang was the more successful of the two - the majority of the equipment, including the Technodrome, belonged to Krang.  Krang has his sights a lot higher than Shredder too.  You know what, I'm changing my favorite to Krang instead of Shredder.  Shredder was a dope.  But he was the main villain, so I'm stuck talking about him.  Maybe I'll get to Krang later.

Another one of the most recognizable voices in cartoons, Shredder was voiced by James Avery, who almost anyone knew as Uncle Phil on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I can't even think of another cartoon character, villain or not, voiced by him.  After looking at his filmography, all I could recognize was War Machine in the Iron Man and Spider-man cartoons.  I honestly wonder how TMNT picked him up for this role, but it was a great bit of casting.

So let's rate this guy.  Coolness - 9. A great voice and a distinctive costume makes this guy stand out among the rest.  Shredder was a cool looking dude who was easy as hell to dress up as if you had a roll of tin foil at home.  There's literally no downside to his costume - he just looks freaking cool.  Effectiveness - 2.  I wish I could rate him on his earlier episodes, I really do.  But looking at him over the whole series, he's one of the least effective villains because he not only had to contend with the Turtles, Krang also foiled his fair share of Shredder's schemes.  Poor guy, everyone's
against him.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Update - A couple of visuals

If you're reading this blog post, you've no doubt (well hopefully) noticed some of the background images.  I wanted the background to represent the various blueprints the villains would have to come up with for their devices and machines.  The easiest way for me to do that was to take a model I was working on at the time, convert it to a wireframe and use that for the design specs.  Unfortunately, I rushed through the creation and I'm stuck with this blurry mess.  But I have plans to change that!

Before I get to them, though I wanted to share what the blueprint behind this post is for.  In Old School Evil, there's a show called the Ultra City Ultra Twins, about two teenagers given super-powered police badges after their police chief father dies in the line of duty.  The badges give the twins certain powers based on different police roles.  All of the twins's powers are non-lethal, non gun-based, but all of the villains are gun-based.  Each of the villains has a pistol or other weapon that have a powered up mode that kind of takes them over in different ways.

The blueprint is Force Bolter, the weapon belonging to the creatively-named villain, Big Gun.  Here's a clearer render of a newer version of the model.
Okay, not that clear, I need to adjust the lighting. In fact, I'm still trying to figure out how to improve my renders.  The gun is created in Blender, a free and, in my opinion, incredibly easy to learn 3D modeling program.  I just figured out a few days ago how to create the cables, I think they turned out really well.  Just need to figure out how to render a better wireframe image.

Any fan of the cartoons I'm basing Old School Evil on will know where the Force Bolter design is inspired from.  I'm not even shying away from it: main character Manny (who loved the same cartoons as I do) mentions how incredibly close it looks to the Transformers's Shockwave in gun mode.

Now that the gun is modeled to the version I want it, I'm not just going to throw it on the background and leave it at that.  I want more designs on there: tanks, robots, weapons, devices.  All sorts of other things.  I want the page covered with crossed-off designs, each one written off as the villains are defeated and the machines are destroyed.  I've got six designs planned out, including the powered-up Force Bolter mode.  I have five of them modeled now with one more sketched that I just need to start modeling.  Here's one more I'm still working on:  Lead Tentacle, a robotic octopus from Zane and the Wild Zoobots.  No explanation necessary.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hasbro v. Mattel

There's no way to talk about the various cartoons from the 80s (and up to current times) without bringing up the toy manufacturers behind them.  Back then there were five primary companies producing toys that had accompanying shows - Hasbro (Transformers, GI Joe), Mattel (He-man, She-ra), Kenner (M.A.S.K.), Tonka (GoBots), and LJN (Thundercats, Silverhawks).  I may be ignoring or neglecting some others, but the majority of the cartoons I watched had figures and playsets produced by these five companies.  As time went on and lines fizzled out so did the companies that made them.  Kenner and Tonka were bought out by Hasbro and LJN... maybe they went back to making shitty games.  That leaves us with just two major toy companies - Hasbro and Mattel.  The full list of toylines that falls under either company is staggering, but outside of cartoon-driven lines were such great names as Barbie, Star Wars, Hot Wheels, and Marvel.

While researching the history of the cartoons, I found a number of books based on the competition between the various toy companies.  I haven't read any of them yet, so I'm not sure how much they delve into the cartoons themselves.  The most popular one I have found (and it's on my read list) is Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie, and the Companies that Make Them.  I swear I'll get around to reading it someday, even though I ran across some news today that might make me hurry to read it. 

Amazon is currently working on a mini-series based on the book.  With some top-notch talent attached to the movie, including a screen-writer whose father played a part in getting the original book written, it's sure to be an interesting watch.  Here's hoping it will show some of the cartoon writing and how they created some of the most iconic villains around.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Villain Retrospect - Hordak

One cannot talk about He-man's nemesis Skeletor without also bringing up his mentor and continual She-ra foil, Hordak. 
Ruler over most of Etheria, Hordak could be looked at as the more successful of the Filmation villains.  Under his brother Horde Prime, he leads a massive army of Horde Troopers to defeat She-ra and finally have the entire planet under his grasp.  At least, I think that's what he was going for.  Unlike Skeletor who always had the mission of taking over Castle Grayskull, I don't think I ever saw what Hordak's goal was.  I don't know if he even had one, considering most of the planet was under his control already. 

Unlike Skeletor whose powers were primarily magic-based, Hordak used more technological or scientific abilities.  Of course, they could have also been magic, but they didn't look like it much.  Hordak could change his arms to look like cannons or laser blasters or turn his whole body into rockets or tanks.  In fact, whenever he did shapeshift his whole body, he looked pretty damn stupid.  I mean look at that.  And that still isn't the worst thing he changed into.

Can anyone tell me why he needed the wheels on the cannon?
Hordak had a much more jovial attitude than Skeletor.  He seemed to enjoy his work more.  He laughed a lot more.  I'm probably making this all up.  There wasn't much to Hordak.  I mean, if you were to watch an episode of He-man and an episode of She-ra, which villain would you remember more?  The guy with a skull for a head or the guy that looked kinda like a bat, uh... thing?  He's a terrible looking villain!  And I think in cartoons where technology shows up sparingly but magic is all over the place, his mechanical stuff just doesn't fit as well.  Not to mention that as a toy, how were you going to play his shape-shifting power?  Sure you had Trap-Jaw with the replaceable arms and you could do the same with Hordak, but when he turned into a tank?  Were you going to put a goofy paper-plate mask on an Attack Trak?  No, you just miss out on half of his abilities!

Defeated by Hay-Fe-Vor!
Let's go to ratings.  Coolness - 1. I don't think I have much more to say than this: out of all the villains I looked at so far in Old School Evil, Hordak is the goofiest, and least terrifying one of all.  And that's comparing him to the likes of Dr. Claw (awesome voice) and Mon*Star.  Okay, maybe he's tied with Mon*Star for sheer ridiculousness.  Effectiveness - Being a Filmation villain, he's doomed to being completely ineffective, with stupid plans that are beaten with minimal effort by the heroes.  But Hordak rules Etheria.  He's already taken over a planet!  Does that count for something?  Probably not.  He's a 2.

And don't even get me started on Imp.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Voice of a Generation

Whether anyone our age knew it or not, they grew up with Frank Welker

Whether you watched Go-Bots (Scooter), Scooby Doo (Fred Jones), Superfriends (Darkseid), the Real Ghostbusters (Ray Stanz), Inspector Gadget (Dr. Claw), or Transformers (practically half the Decepticons), you heard Frank Welker's voice. Practically every cartoon produced - not just in a certain era, I'm talking every cartoon - had this man's name in their credits somewhere.

The most amazing thing is that most of these shows, you couldn't tell they were all his voices.  Sure Soundwave and Dr. Claw sounded similar, but were they anywhere close to his voice for Fred Jones?  His vocal range was so huge you could barely even tell they were the same person.  His talent extended not making non-human sounds - if you heard an animal in any animated show, you can be guaranteed he provided that noise.  Due to that alone, he had roles in more productions than any other voice actor and is referred to as a "voice god" in Hollywood.  Frank Welker has been in so many movies, he was the highest credited actor in Hollywood, coming out above big name actors like Tom Hanks and Samuel L. Jackson.

But let's get back to his bread and butter - the cartoons!  My first real experience with him, at least where I knew his name, was Megatron.  That deep gravelly voice fit the Decepticon leader so well and I was floored when I found out he also supplied Soundwave's highly-synthesized monotone delivery (same for Peter Cullen delivering Optimus Prime and Ironhide's voices).  Imagine my surprise when I read that Frank Welker had provided almost a dozen more voices in just that one cartoon. 

While the Beast Wars cartoons and the Unicron Trilogy had different voice actors, Frank Welker began supplying the voice again in the Prime series and Devastation video game, his voice having grown a little deeper and more gravelly with age, though it still fit the roles perfectly.  He's even returned to his role of Galvatron in the most recent Transformers movie.  In the meantime, all of Megatron and Soundwave's appearances in Adult Swim's Robot Chicken came from the original source as well (same goes for his Dr. Claw). 

Another life-long role for him is Fred Jones from Scooby-Doo.  Throughout every incarnation of the cartoon (practically equaling the various Transformers series that have come and gone), Frank Welker provided Fred's voice in all but one.  That's at least 15 different cartoons over the course of more than 40 years!  Not to mention after the passing of Don Messick, he took over the role of Scooby Doo as well.

To go over Mr. Welker's whole career or filmography would be a daunting task, but as far as Transformers goes, this guy is a legend.  As great as David Kaye or Corey Burton have been in their respective series, Frank Welker still stands above them.  And let's not get started on how much better he would have been in the role than Hugo Weaving in the first three movies. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Villain Retrospect - Cy-Kill

Who doesn't love Cy-Kill?  Megatron's counterpart in Tonka's Challenge of the GoBots, this guy lead the Renegades from Gobotron against Leader-1's Guardians.  Honestly that's all you need to know about Gobots - everything has a terrible name.  Everything but this guy here.  Cy-Kill, what a kick-ass name! 

Shouldn't Cop-Tur be the same size as Leader-1?
I think that's all he has going for him though.  I'm trying not to make too many comparisons with Megatron, but there's one I can't help.  In Transformers, you have a truck vs a gun.  Sure that is a crazy comparison, but at least Megatron mass-shifts to be Optimus's size.  But Cy-kill's a motorcycle that fights a freaking jet.  And when he changes shape (GoBots don't transform!), he's still way shorter than Leader-1.  It's hardly a fair fight!  At least he's bigger than Scooter.

Gotta go!  Gotta go!  Gotta go right now!
Speaking of Scooter - I had no idea Cy-Kill did the same thing with showing his face in vehicle mode!  Could you imagine driving around being chased by a motorcycle with an angry face and a five o'clock shadow?  Actually, I'm not even sure that's an angry face he's making.  He looks like he's full of that panic you get when you're not sure you'll make it to the bathroom in time.  Not to mention he's already in the right position to blow ass.

Okay, I'll admit it's been a long time since I watched this cartoon and I'm not familiar t all with how the story went.  I know their origin as cyborgs with organic brains, but as far as what happened in the episodes.... no clue.  And YouTube is somehow completely devoid of official or even unofficial episodes. 
So I don't think I can even rate him on effectiveness since I can't tell it at all.  However, I'll do some coolness and I can't give him anything higher than a 2.  The only thing great that he's got is his name.  As cool as the Megatron name is, he still doesn't have Kill in his name!  I don't think there's a single Transformer with a name as cool as that.  So sorry, Cy-Kill, but besides your name, you leave a lot to be desired. 

Edit: I have since bought a few Go-Bots DVDs and Cy-Kill doesn't do much to elevate my original scorings.  His plans aren't much better and mostly involve him running away - even leaving behind his lackey Crasher once.  Worse than Megatron even, he depends on a human for his plans, taking the idea of Dr. Archville and running with it.  So Effectiveness - 2.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Villain Retrospect - Dr Claw

Inspector Gadget was a different kind of show than the usual ones I watched.  Out of all the cartoons I watched, this was the only one I did for the humor.  There wasn't a whole lot of action, none of the villains had any names besides the good doctor, and the hero was a bumbling idiot.  A follow-up of sorts to Get Smart starring another accident-prone protagonist, Inspector Gadget was even voiced by the series' Don Adams.  It was full of slapstick humor with everyone being nearly incompetent, save for our villain and Gadget's niece Penny, and her dog, Brain.

Really the only picture I need here.
I say Dr. Claw was one of the only smart characters in the show, but that was the only thing going for him.  As leader of the villainous group, M.A.D., all he did was tell his nameless goons what to do and yell at them when they couldn't.  Normally his evil deeds were based on some kind of theft - money, treasures, gold bars, etc. - so I'm not sure what kind of end goal he had.  M.A.D. certainly wasn't an apt name for a group that was basically bank-robbers.  At the end of the episode, Dr. Claw would generally escape in a transforming vehicle similar to Gadget's, except his could fly.  Why would he escape?  I dunno, I can't remember Gadget ever really getting close to catching him, even with Penny's help.

The picture above is all you ever see of our villain. He sits in a high-backed wooden chair as a desk with one computer monitor and his ever-present pet, M.A.D.Cat (everywhere I've looked online had the M.A.D. part looking like this and just cat afterwards.  I thought it would just be one word).  He never stands up, never turns around, never does anything but wave his hand around or slam his fist on his desk, which usually scared his cat from a nap.  So even though you only see that gloved hand, he's still one of the coolest villain you'll see - or do I mean hear?  Frank Welker gives Dr. Claw his deepest rumbling voice, the same one he provides for Soundwave, and it is awesome. Dr. Claw's voice is one of the very best things in cartoons.  "Next time, Gadget!  Next time!"  I can here those dulcet tones already.

Let's get to some rankings! 
Coolness - Based on Frank Welker's voice alone, I'd give Dr. Claw a 10.  He just sounded so downright evil!  I mean there's not much more to him besides a spiked bracelet, so maybe a 3?
Effectiveness - Here's where I'm torn.  He's got good plans but he does absolutely nothing to get them done. His plans always fail, but he since he doesn't get involved, it's hard to blame it on him, either though.  I guess I'd have to give him a 4?  Sure. 4.

And no, I'm not going to post a picture of that stupid action figure.  Dr. Claw never showed off his face - NEVER!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Nearing the tipping point

In July, I posted an update to Old School Evil's progress.  Since then I've made a few strides in preparing for the agent search and prepared my submission package.  Today was supposed to be the day I sent my query letters off, but the extra requirements most agents request has taken me more time to complete than I expected.  I wanted to talk a bit about those extras here, while I avoid actually working on them.

The first thing an agent will request is a query letter.  Sometimes it's the only thing  The query is a three paragraph (or so) introduction to your book and you as a writer to an agent.  It's got the basics of your storyline and your bio.  And the most important part of it, or so I've heard, is the hook.  That first sentence has to really grab the agent's attention or you're dead in the water.  I've had a query letter draft written for a few months and had it looked at by an agent on Reddit who helps us aspiring authors get them in the best shape.  After a little reworking with some help from my critique partner, I think I've got one polished. 

Next, an agent will usually ask for a 1-2 page synopsis.  Here's where my biggest delay has come in.  Synopses are hard as hell to write.  To condense a book from seventy-four thousand words so it can fit on two pages is a Herculean task!  And if it weren't hard enough to pair it down that much, you've still got to make sure you focus on your conflict, and your character arcs, and so many other facets of your story.  I have a first draft done that's mainly just an outline of the book, but next on my plate is to rework it to include the things I mentioned. 

Lastly, and this one varies a lot, an agent will request a sample of the writing.  Sometimes, it's the first 5 pages, sometimes it's the first three chapters.  Just depends on who you're submitting to.  Here's the important part - the majority of agents today are requesting all of this stuff to be pasted into an e-mail.  No attachments, just one long e-mail with everything slapped in it.  Once you've got that pasted in, get it all formatted to look correct (this apparently is too hard for some people to follow) and hit send.  And that's going to be an incredibly hard button to click with so much anxiety resting on that one button. 

One thing to remember is to personalize the message to the agent.  If you've read something they represented, let them know.  If your book is similar to something they've represented, let them know that too.  If you've never read anything they've represented, don't feel the need to tell them that. 

Overall, this process is the hardest I've hit since starting Old School Evil.  Writing it was a snap, editing it was a little difficult at times, but getting it ready to send out into the world, to be pummeled with rejections, is frustrating, nail-biting, pants-shitting hard.  I've considered more times than I'd care to admit just self-publishing it so I can avoid it altogether.  But I shall persevere and will submit it when the synopsis is ready.

There's one other reason I'm delaying everything, though.  A writing group is holding a query letter contest next month.  I've had to rewrite my query to fit their requirements and also write a blurb, which I never even considered doing.  Next weekend they're also holding a seminar on the querying process that I'd like to attend.  I don't have to wait until the contest starts to submit to my agents, but it's taken time away from the synopsis since it only recently was moved to October from this coming meeting.  As soon as I'm able to process the info from this coming meeting (hopefully the synopsis will be done by then), I'll be sending out my query letters. 

Then the rejections begin.