Weekly Animation Round-up: Ben 10 Welcomes Aziz Ansari, The Clone Wars Forgets, and Green Lantern Goes Steampunk
DC Nation is back! And while Cartoon Network and/or DC Entertainment continue to behave as if suddenly pulling two shows from the air for three months and not even informing those shows’ producers is totally normal (and it may very well be... in Bizarro World!!!), we’re just glad to have them back! While Green Lantern: The Animated Series is still in the round-up, we’re moving Young Justice to its own standalone review.
What’s in store for this week? Ben 10: Omniverse did the well-trodden “de-aging the characters” plot, Star Wars: The Clone Wars found a clone trooper with amnesia, and Green Lantern: The Animated Series went steampunk.
Sometimes all you need is a good guest star to make an episode go from “passable” to “interesting” and that’s exactly what happened in “Arrested Development” thanks to Aziz Ansari’s presence as Billy Billions. The character felt tailor-made for Ansari’s particular style of delivery: Over-confident-but-generally-competent-fool, prone to big line readings, while also knowing exactly when to grumble a good throwaway line into a nice moment. That’s Ansari’s image, and that was Billy Billions. It was the perfect melding of actor and role. Which is good because de-aging the main characters on a show is a pretty standard plot, and it needed a little extra pizzaz.
Which isn’t to say that the de-aging plot wasn’t out of place here. As this series of Ben 10 is showing a concern with Ben’s past—albeit a past that’s been manufactured for this series, as opposed to pre-established stories, but I’m letting that aspect of it go (really, I am!)—the de-aging and the return of an unknown rival fed into this desire to explore and complicate Ben’s past. And while I wish the show would dig deeper into those elements, I understand it’s not completely the writers' focus or desire to develop Ben too much, or too quickly.
If there’s one other thing that made this episode fun, it was the use of Billy as a twisted version of Richie Rich, the 1950s comic book character, and later star of an animated series and a live-action film with Macaulay Culkin. While I’m not sure if the show’s intended audience would pick up on it, I chuckled at the redone R-slash-dollar sign logo, the oversized bow tie, and the caring robot bodyguard Mazuma standing in place of Irona. It gave the episode a nice layer of humorous nostalgia.
After the previous episode’s more experimental approach (which, upon further reflection and a rewatch, I liked even more than I did when it aired), “Missing in Action” was a return to a more standard sort of Clone Wars episode, complete with a big shootout and a (plot-convienent) self-sacrificing clone.
Gregor’s presence in the episode is something that I wish was expanded more. While the amnesia aspect was certainly easily written through, and solved as well, a longer exploration of the implied trauma from the Battle of Sarrish associated with the amnesia would have given the episode a nice hook beyond the “we need a proper soldier to help us commandeer the shuttle” aspect. Indeed, the entire existence of Gregor and his being lost in the galaxy brought to mind Karen Traviss’s sadly unfinished Republic Commando book series, and the way it explored the lives of the clones during the war.
That being said, Dee Bradley Baker turned in a really nice performance as Gregor. It started off as a softer version of the standard clone trooper voice before it hardened back into the more recognizable version. It was a subtle but nice touch to help give Gregor an aural transformation in addition to his visual one after he shaved his head and beard.
Gascon seems to have mellowed some from his time in the void, though he still came off as full of hot air, especially as he dealt with the Sullustan diner owner. The humility he’s learned over the course of the mission wasn’t always on display, but I like that he’s at least more willing to listen to the droids and their recommendations than he was at the start of it. Hopefully Gregor’s sacrifice is the pin that completely pops that balloon.
“Steam Lantern” handily picked up right where we left off before the sudden DC Nation hiatus with Hal falling through a rift in universe and ending up in... a Steampunk-inspired world.
I’m sort of over Steampunk as a genre, but I really enjoyed this particular episode. Perhaps it was because the planet of the week had a bit more personality than most other planets of the week have had in the past, or maybe it was the use of the word “barmy,” or maybe it was the flirty-flirty between Gil and Catherine that felt way less forced than the flirty-flirty between Hal and Carol, or maybe it was Hal transporting the entire planet from one universe to another in a moment of sheer awesome, both in terms of being a superhero and animation work. Probably it was all of the above.
But it was also the expansion of the show’s universe. While the Anti-Monitor’s presence in the series has implied the presence of DC’s multiverse, the episode granted us confirmation that, at the very least, Alan Scott (the Green Lantern Gil spoke of who wore a red shirt and had a cape) exists in this show, and, like with the deeper look at Oa, it showed that Green Lantern is eager to expand its scope. Yes, the first 13 episodes were really about establishing the universe, but they also tended toward the generic "space adventure" plots with DC-inspired aspects grafted on, and sometimes clunkily so. With the Anti-Monitor and the Manhunter robots, there’s something richer for the show to craft stories around, a sense of history, and while Hal is a great Green Lantern, he—like the audience—doesn’t know what’s in store, and that’s pretty exciting.
DC Nation Short: The first installment of the Thunder and Lighting shorts, featuring Black Lightning and his eponymous daughters. There's not much to say about this since it was very establish-y, but I liked the tone and style of the short, and I’m all for a series that focuses not only on two young girls being heroes, but two young girls of color as well. I’m eager for more.
A bit of housekeeping: We're switching back to a weekend round-up for the foreseeable future, instead of publishing it on Monday/Tuesday in order to include Adventure Time. The decision has nothing to do with Adventure Time’s quality, which isn’t the issue at all; our pageviews simply suggest that you'd rather read about the weekend shows over the weekend and you don't care as much about Adventure Time—if that's not the case, let's hear it in the comments!
This month, we’re keeping the shows reviewed above in the round-up, along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and My Little Pony when they return. We're also going to try Young Justice as a standalone review. As always, we welcome your feedback!
What'd you think of this week's episodes?
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