Comic Review: Jack and the Zombie Box

Hey there!

Comic books are one of the guilty pleasures I gained as a kid. I grew up raised by two English teachers as parents and my Mom was never too keen on me spending time reading comics. It wasn’t until I was in high school I finally picked up a few here and there, but long before then I’d found my Uncle’s stash of old Marvel comics at my Grandparent’s house in the back of a closet. Any chance I had I’d dive into classic Spiderman, X-Men, and Fantastic Four stories.

For me, comic books epitomize the marriage of storytelling and art. When a great artist and a great storyteller meet, there’s no limits to what they can accomplish. And now that I have a daughter with a knack for art and an interest in telling stories, I’m finding ways to introduce her to the wonderful world of graphic novels so she can learn more about a potential hobby or career path.

A couple of years ago I reviewed Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom by Bruce Brown and Renzo Podesta which managed to tell the creepy story of a young H.P. Lovecraft and his adventures in other dimensions and worlds inhabited by the creatures of Lovecraftian horror. Brown and Podesta managed to capture not just the horror factor but the innocence of a childlike fascination with the unknown.

Brown is back now with a new book – Jack and the Zombie Box – which brings his storytelling ability together with artists Mike Barentine, Rafel Hurtado, and Shawn DePasquale to tell the story of a father in over his head with his kids while his wife is away. Now, being a father, I understand far too well the troubles that can happen when you’re occasionally on your own as a single parent. But thank goodness Brown and his team of artists managed to capture the humor more than the horror in this particular situation.

The story starts with a quote from one of the funniest people I know – Bill Cosby – “Parents are not interested in justice, they’re interested in peace and quiet.” And I’d have to agree with that assessment 9 times out of 10! That quote however sets the stage for the magic that only children can achieve on a regular basis… the ability to take one small thing – whether it’s a phrase, a song, a TV show, or whatever – and turn it from innocent to annoying in the blink of an eye through the power of repetition.

Jack is the youngest of the three children of Brad and Teri, and he’s a handful. With his big imagination, he and his toys get into adventure after adventure that unfortunately have the side effect of driving his Mommy a bit crazy. Teri is getting ready to go to a conference, but is concerned that her husband won’t be able to handle the kids. Brad isn’t as worried and thinks he has a secret weapon – DVDs of old cartoons like “Larry and Dewby Dog.” Jack loves the cartoons and as Brad says – “It’s just Larry and Dewby Dog. What could it possibly hurt?”

The first night that Teri is gone, Brad and the kids have a “home cooked meal” from Cowboy Bob’s burgers and enjoy a night in front of the TV with Larry & Dewby… That combination repeats for the next few days and when Teri gets home, there’s a little problem. Jack wants to watch Larry & Dewby and have Cowboy Bob burgers… forever!

I won’t spoil Brad’s solution to the problem, but it made me laugh out loud.

The artwork is bright and family-friendly, the story is great fun, and the combination provides 40+ pages of entertainment. Jack and the Zombie Box is another comic book I’d be happy to share with my eldest daughter. She might even catch the Scooby-Doo-like references of “Larry and Dewby Dog,” as I’ve shared more than a few of the cartoons from my childhood with my kids. And no, my name’s not Brad!

Be sure to check out Jack and the Zombie Box when it’s released in May 2011 at Amazon and other retailers!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other books from Bruce Brown at Amazon below:

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DVD Review: Scooby-Doo! Mystery Inc., Season One, Volume 1

Hi again!

It’s no secret I’m a fan of Scooby-Doo. Ever since I first sat down with a bowl of Fruit Loops on a Saturday morning watching cartoons, the talking dog and his friends Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy offered bite-sized mysteries perfect for an impressionable kid. Sure, over the years, Scooby and the gang have changed a bit, but the formula has largely remained the same. It always boils down to a boy and his dog hanging out with his friends while foiling the plot of some crazy criminal scheme…

So I was surprised that the new series on Cartoon Network – Scooby-Doo! Mystery Inc. – added so many bells and whistles to the already thin plot and characters that I stopped enjoying it. At times it even drove so far off the rails that I simply turned an episode off rather than wasting more of my or my kids’ time.

Now they’ve started releasing the first season on DVD. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Inc., Season One, Volume 1 collects the first four episodes of the 13 episodes for the first season. I watched because I wanted to see if maybe the first time I watched the cartoons I happened to be in a bad mood or odd frame of mind… Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy them any more the second time.

“Beware the Beast from Below” re-introduces the characters in their new series as they deal with pressure from their parents to grow up and find more meaningful career options and relationships. Back in their home town of Crystal Cove, Scooby and the gang start the episode being locked up by Sheriff Stone (Patrick Warburton, Rules of Engagement) for eliminating another potential revenue stream for the town by solving a mystery. That line of thinking is repeated in every episode as the Mayor (Gary Cole, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) (Fred’s father) or the Sheriff berate the gang for debunking potential creepy attraction after creepy attraction for the town. To say the least, this particular plot twist is so over the top and used to beat the audience over the head that it gets old quickly.

After that, we learn that Fred (Frank Welker) is more clueless than in any prior series and is obsessed with trap-making; Daphne (Grey DeLisle) is just as in love with Fred as per usual, but less assertive than ever before; Velma (Mindy Cohn) and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) are in a relationship Shaggy is trying desperately to keep Scooby from finding out about; and Scooby (also Welker) is just as lovable and clueless as always. The gang stumbles into a slime mutant that cocoons anybody who gets in its way and are off and running to solve the mystery.

If that wasn’t enough for one episode, Daphne stumbles across an old locket with a picture inside and the gang gets contacted by the mysterious “Mr. E” (comedian Lewis Black) who tells them they’ve stumbled into an old mystery that may doom them all. [Insert evil laughter here…] The mystery of “Mr. E” is the glue that binds all four episodes on the DVD together leading them to new clues as to the disappearance of an older generation of mystery solving kids.

The one amusing part about the first episode for me was a character who appeared looking a lot like the great Don Knotts. I kept hoping we’d learn more about that character, but it turned out to just be a tourist visiting Crystal Cove and disappeared before the episode was over.

The second episode – “The Creeping Creatures” – leads the gang to Gatorsburg… And it was this episode that really threw me for a loop. Evidently Gatorsburg was once the hub for the manufacture of products made from genuine alligator hide. As Velma tells the story, there was a “Gator well” that “went dry” and ran out of gators. It was about this time I was wondering who wrote this script and if they meant it as a joke that somehow got put into production…

The third episode “Secret of the Ghost Rig” gave me a bit of hope for the series. This was more of a traditional Scooby-Doo mystery with a ghost big rig chasing cars up and down a coastal highway. The truck’s tires were on fire and it was bathed in an eerie fog as it pushed a motorcycle cop and the Mystery Machine (the gang’s green van) off the road. Then the truck would simply disappear… The gang eventually solved the mystery, but it was less tongue-in-cheek than the first two episodes.

And the fourth episode on the DVD – “Revenge of the Mad Crab” – had the gang trying to figure out why a giant man-crab would be terrorizing a girls’ beach volleyball tournament and kidnapping people. This time, the crab eventually snatches Daphne as one of the victims and this drives Fred over the edge. He might even have to admit he has feelings for something other than trap making!

Beyond the four episodes, there are a couple of trailers for other Warner Brothers releases and that’s it. I was hoping to see an extra episode of some other Cartoon Network series or a glimpse behind the scenes as a feature, but this release is very bare bones.

If you are anything but a die-hard fan of Scooby-Doo, I’d skip this series (and the Scooby-Doo! Mystery Inc., Season One, Volume 1 DVD) entirely. Look for the original series or even Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue, which was on a few years ago. It was more fun than Scooby-Doo! Mystery Inc..

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other DVDs from Barnes & Noble below!

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DVD Review: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! – Season One, Volume 4: Spooked Bayou

Hi all…

When Scooby-Doo and the gang come on screen in all their animated glory, I know I’m going to enjoy some part of the production – new or old. The pairing of Scooby-Doo as a talking dog and Shaggy as the eternal slacker are sure to provide comic relief with their Zen approach to food (the old “see food diet” – if they see it, they’ll eat it) and a fear of anything remotely scary. Combine those two with Fred Jones, the team leader and planner, the brilliant mind of clue hound Velma Dinkley, and the fashion sense of Daphne Blake, and you actually have a well-rounded clue crew working together to get to the bottom of mystery after mystery.

The new Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! – Season One, Volume 4: Spooked Bayou DVD release includes four episodes from the first season – “Which Witch is Which?”, “Go Away Ghost Ship,” “Spooky Space Kook,” and “A Night of Fright Is No Delight.” When Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! began airing in 1969, somehow I doubt that Hanna-Barbera had a clue it would still have an audience 40+ years later!

In “Which Witch is Which?” the gang drives the Mystery Machine (the green paisley van they drive everywhere) through a swamp on a “shortcut” only to find themselves face to face with a Zombie on the road. He’s not very forthcoming with directions, but they find themselves knee-deep in a mystery involving the uncommunicative monster and the Witch who brought him to life. Why is the creepy pair chasing everybody out of the swamp?

“Go Away Ghost Ship” pits the gang against Redbeard the Pirate… Why is a pirate ghost so interested in the ships of shipping magnate C.L. Magnus? What’s behind the hauntings and why are they so interested in a modern freighter? Can Freddie, Velma, and Daphne save Shaggy and Scooby from walking the plank from Redbeard and his ghost pirate friends?

In “Spooky Space Kook” the van runs out of gas near an old airfield and the gang meets the glowing alien who now calls it home. What does the alien want with the old WWII airstrip? Can they figure out what the alien wants and why he’s plaguing the local farmer?

And finally in “A Night of Fright Is No Delight,” Scooby inherits money from Colonel Sanders (not of KFC fame), but there’s a catch… He and the gang have to spend the night in the Colonel’s haunted mansion. Will they succeed? Or will they get scared away?

It was great fun to see these classic Scooby episodes again. Though I have to admit I’ve enjoyed recent Scooby movies like Scooby-Doo! Abracadabra-Doo and Scooby-Doo! Camp Scare, there’s an innocence to the originals done in a hand-drawn style as opposed to today’s crisp, clean computer-aided or CGI animation.

In addition to the classics, there’s also an episode from the Shaggy & Scooby Doo Get a Clue series that aired a few years ago. “Lightning Strikes Twice” pits our scared but well-meaning heroes against the evil Dr. Phibes who has created a machine to create worldwide lightning storms. We loved this series from 2006-2008 and were quite bummed that it wasn’t renewed. Somehow it captured a bit of the innocence of the original show while managing to merge it with a new villain and fun new mysteries.

If you love classic Scooby-Doo, be sure to check out Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! – Season One, Volume 4: Spooked Bayou on DVD at your favorite retail or rental counter!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great Scooby DVDs below!

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