Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Beast That Hath No Name

At the risk of horning in on Jeff's territory, let me share with you a recent discovery of mine. You see, one of the many, many benefits of having children is that, no matter how curmudgeonly and set in your ways you are, you're inevitably going to be introduced to new things, at least some of which might not be bad. One such thing is Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, a reboot of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon series that began in 1969.

Now, in general, I'm not a big fan of reboots. They're typically tasked with changing characters and concepts enough so that they're very different in both tone and content from the originals. In the case of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, there is a change in tone. The show is much more serious than its predecessors, though not self-serious, if you understand the distinction. There's still plenty of humor and many of the plots are the kinds of things that could only happen in a cartoon. Yet, the stories are presented straight and without irony. In this respect, I'm reminded a bit of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, another excellent cartoon I learned about because of my children.

I bring this all up because, in addition to its other fine qualities, many episodes of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated are loving homages to horror films or books, which makes them great fun to watch if you catch the references, as I do. A thoroughly delightful example of this was the episode entitled "The Shrieking Madness," which concerns an octopus-headed creature known as Char Gar Gothakon, seen below.
Char Gar Gothakon is the creation of a professor at Darrow University by the name of H.P. Hatecraft, voiced by Jeffrey Combs.
Hatecraft claims that Char Gar Gothakon and his ilk are real entities that contact him in dreams and that he then spins into horror stories.
Some people scoff at this notion, including visiting lecturer Harlan Ellison (voiced by the author himself), deriding Hatecraft as a fraud.
This stance doesn't find favor with one of Hatecraft's biggest fans, a young man named Howard E. Roberts, whom Ellison humiliates at his appearance at Darrow University. Here's Roberts, who looks nothing like any real world person, living or dead.
Char Gar Gothakon attacks the university several times, leading Hatecraft to eventually admit that Ellison is right and that he invented the monster with his own imagination rather than having been contacted by him. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop the beast from attacking Ellison in a parking lot and nearly carrying him off.
I won't say any more about the plot of the episode, since I don't want to spoil it for anyone, though I suspect anyone who's watched even a single Scooby-Doo episode should have no trouble unraveling the mystery. For me, though, the real joy of this was seeing all the references and allusions to some of my favorite pulp fantasists and their creations. It was also amusing seeing Harlan Ellison making light of himself, his writings, and his acerbic style. If you get the chance to see this episode, please do so. There's nothing deep or meaningful in it, but it is great fun.

29 comments:

  1. Combs is clever casting too, given his prior connection with Lovecraft adaptations.

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  2. I caught a brief glimpse of this episode as a friend of mine was channel-surfing and I had to stop and ask, "Did they say what I think they said?" "Yes. H.P. Hatecraft."

    Now I regret not watching it. I would have liked to see cartoon Harlan Ellison.

    I think that's a loss of 4 Sanity points for hearing a Lovecraft reference in Scooby Doo and a deduction of 16 Sanity points for contemplating the existence of cartoon Harlan Ellison. Or vice versa.

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  3. It's the obsession I have had with Daphne (perhaps one of my first fictional crushes in childhood) for so many decades that keep me in touch with Scooby Doo. The old ones weren't so great (Scooby Doo movies a particular bad show, with the Three Stooges one actually making me upset in it's lack of a clue when it came to Moe, Larry and Curly). But the animated movies from the last few years are great (very often featuring my beloved Daphne in very small bikinis surfing or doing karate - the live action Daphne has nothing on this cartoon chick), especially the Samurai one and the Hawaiian one. And this new series is actually pretty good too, although I've only seen it flicking around the TV on a lazy weekend afternoon like the cartoon movies.

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  4. I must share this with a friend of mine who qualifies as a "victim of Harlin Ellison".

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  5. The Real Ghostbuster: "That Collect Call of Cthulhu"

    Part 1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e24tkBx4mNQ

    Part 2
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNfOBf2GeH0

    Part 3
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5YUuHFObwc

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  6. My 8 year old son turned me on to Mystery Incorporated just last week. He had absolutely no clue why I started laughing when I did, as hard as I did, and just stared at me with a puzzled expression for the rest of the episode (the one previous to this one, having to do with Professor Hatecraft's feud with the author of the "Dusk" series of vampire romance novels, LOL). In that episode, Professor Ellison isn't in town, because... wait for it... he's off at a misanthrope conference.

    I'll have to check out this episode too. Great stuff.

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  7. Are there real monsters in this reboot? When the monster is no longer a guy in a mask, it just ain't Scooby Doo.

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  8. Char Gar Gothakon would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids.

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  9. Never fear! There are, so far as I have seen, no real monsters in this show. It's always a guy (or gal) in a mask at the end.

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  10. Now that's just pretty darn cool!

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  11. View it (ep:12 season:1 "The Shrieking Madness" here online:

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xjfa8a_scooby-doo-mystery-incorporated-episode-12_creation

    Cheers!

    "Why should I fret in microcosmic bonds..." - HP

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  12. If you want to reward them for making the episode, you can buy it in HD for $2.99 at iTunes.

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/shrieking-madness/id380314616?i=398897643

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  13. The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy had an episode, "The Prank Call of Cthulu".

    http://www.tv.com/the-grim-adventures-of-billy-and-mandy/prank-call-of-cthulu/episode/525917/summary.html

    Clearly people of a certain age (i.e., ours) have taken over.

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  14. Daphne? PFFT!
    Keeper her. I'll take Velma anytime. Brains and curves. Jinkies!

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  15. I don't know anything about Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated... but the far left character in the third panel you posted appears to be an almost complete lift of "Hippypants"... a Dan Clowes character from his comic Eightball. Perhaps a homage?

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  16. I have known about this episode for some time. I really like the Hatecraft character, but I never liked Roberts being some zealous fan-boy, and one-off villain.

    This was not the only appearance of Prf. Heatecraft, as he returns in a later episode - "Pawn of Shadows" - where his job was threatened by a younger writer, who writes a line of popular teen-romance/horror novels (you know who she is supposed to be? ;D). The humor was cranked to 11, when Hatecraft felt that he needed to be more appealing to teens, and quoted a line from from a teen novel he been working on. I laughed SOOO HARD AT THAT!

    @Brunomac: I always had a thing for Velma. I find needy girls appealing. I found the sexified Velma from the movie to painful to watch! Since then, they have been showing her in bikinis, which I find somewhat disappointing, as I always pictured her has being slightly pudgy under that orange sweeter. I guess I just like her needy and a bit awkward.

    As for this new Daphne, what I like about her, is how she is voiced by Grey DeLisle, who is not just a great voice-over actress, but is also a professional singer. In "In Fear of the Phantom", she sang a song - "Trap of Love" - that sounds awesome! Most cartoons throwout shitty-ass songs, and pass them off a good.

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  17. @Duglas: Beat me to it. My first thought as well.

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  18. Thanks for letting me know about this James! I am so watching this TONIGHT. My players often say my games have a "Scooby Doo" vibe... this is totally my kind of thing! :D

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  19. James, since I can't find anywhere better to put it, and it seems suitable to a beast with no name, here is an Australian movie critic's opinion of the new Conan.

    I'm guessing you'll take it with more than a pinch of salt, given the reviewer describes the original prose as "execrable" (it's good to pin one's colours to the mast, don't you think?) but there's still a small chance he's right about the movie, I suppose.

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  20. Some of the humor in Mystery Incorporated really makes me laugh. Like this exchange when Daphne is hoping Fred will take her to prom:

    Daphne: I guess prom is coming up. any plans?

    Fred: I'll probably do the same thing I do every year--monitor my police scanner and patrol the sewers.

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  21. The movies of recent years have taken Daphne from old school lady in distress (i.e. Penelope Pitstop) to capable karate badass, which is fine with me. If she is worried about the prom in the new show I guess it is a step back for her (although it may be more of a prequel show, all of them seeming a tad younger than the movies).

    I'm looking forward to Fred and Daphne finally sneaking out to the Mystery Machine to do the dirty deed. Then maybe Scoob and Shag can show up and encounter the "Beast with Two Backs."

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  22. Velma was never "needy". Even when she lost her glasses and yelled pretty loud for them, she usually didn't stop groping around on the floor for them. The only reason she used to have glasses was that they kept her from taking over the show.

    Of course the old show never had much romance going on. If there's two sets of couples going on, what sane parent would let kids tool around in a van together on overnight trips? Whereas if Velma and Shaggy (and Scooby) are essentially chaperoning their friends Fred and Daphne, no problema. So I think trying to pair up Shaggy and Velma is a mistake. (And kinda creepy, to be honest.)

    (Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys' friends both were set up with at least a boys' car and a girls' car, you will notice.)

    The new show has the kids in high school, on the verge of going to college. The original show seemed to vacillate on whether the kids were high school age or college age.

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  23. Never fear! There are, so far as I have seen, no real monsters in this show. It's always a guy (or gal) in a mask at the end.

    A mask does not necessarily mean that there is no real monster.

    I like that picture mainly because the film is -- aside from the absence of the dog -- a Scooby Doo story.

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  24. This'll be the what, nth reboot of Scooby Doo?

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  26. What a fine convergence of events! Chris Sims (of the Invincible Super Blog) just wrote a piece on this very subject on Comics Alliance Ask Chris #68: Cartoons for Kids.

    (I didn't make an anchor tag the first time, and blogger didn't parse the url as a link)

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  27. Thanks for recommending this, James. I watched it (and also the first two episodes of this series) and it was great. I loved H.P. Hatecraft and the mind-flayer-ish bad guy. Brilliant.

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  28. My 4-year-old son was watching this very episode this morning! I missed the "Howard E. Roberts" joke though, wasn't paying enough attention.

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