Sunday, August 27, 2023

Enough With the Multiverse Shit Already

Have you been watching that new Superman cartoon? It's called My Adventures with Superman, and six episodes into the ten episode first season, I was quite enjoying it. You got some villains showing up, something to do with Kryptonian technology, and put the relationship between Clark and Lois at the forefront. Then they went and made episode seven. I'll get into it later, but the gist is they introduce a multiverse. Complete with universe numbers and a group made up of alternates of one person. Looking at the shit I watch, you might assume this is right up my alley. I certainly love the Spider-Verse movies, so why not? I'll tell you why. Enough is enough.

Comic properties are no strangers to multiverse shenanigans. Since DC had The Flash interacting with his previous iteration, each line has had a smattering of storylines that take place across different universes, such as DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths or Marvel's Captain Britain comics. That's all well and good, but the thing with comics is that there are a lot of them. There are a ton going on at any given time, and there was always a series going on that had nothing to do with the multiverse crossovers if you had no interest in them. Hell, the original Crisis was meant to dissolve the multiverse entirely, assumedly because writers didn't want to deal with it anymore. However, there's something that happens with adaptations that you don't have to deal with in the source material. Comics can have small stories that don't tie into anything big, what might be seen as filler to our current day, but necessary to build characters and a world for any comic. When adaptations come along, these sort of things are left by the wayside more often than not in favor of the big memorable stories, your Knightfalls and Kraven's Last Hunts. This has the effect of multiverse stories being more suited for adaptation, because they tend to have a bigger impact.

The long and short of that is: When The Council of Reeds showed up I could ignore they existed and read my Spider-Man. Now I can't escape it. Because the first one did so well, there's always a Spider-Verse or a Spider-Geddon occurring, and they keep having crossovers with comics I was enjoying just fine before. And because they keep making more comics, they keep making more adaptations.

I don't know if most of you can imagine a world before Rick and Morty. It was a naive age, where the concept of a deranged universe-traveling old man and his traumatized grandson having sci-fi parody adventures was a novel concept. It came out and it was funny and nobody was yet losing their shit about a McDonalds dipping sauce. Then the writers decided to do a parody of the Council of Reeds. The Citadel of Ricks had an episode, and for some reason things were never the same again. Later that year the Spider-Verse event in comics began, leading to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and now it's everywhere.

Before we move on I should clarify some terms, namely Alternate Universe story, Multiverse story, and Multiverse Team stories. Alternate Universe stories involve one or more characters crossing over to a single different universe. These have existed forever, like the Justice Lords saga in Justice League, or that first story where Barry Allen met Jay Garrick. Certain time travel stories are a subset of these, like Back to the Future 2, or even It's A Wonderful Life. A Multiverse story is like an Alternate Universe story, but add more universes. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is an example, where a bunch of universes crossed into Miles' universe, or Crisis on Infinite Earths, where a bunch of heroes from different universes team up to fight the Anti-Monitor. Then we have the newest craze, the Multiverse Team story, which is similar to the Multiverse story, but specifically involves a team of people that are all alternates of the same individual. This is, of course, like the Citadel of Ricks, the Council of Reeds, and Beyond the Spider-Verse as well as its comic counterpart.

I have no problem with Alternate Universe plots. I still like them, they've been a standard trait of fiction before people called them Alternate Universes. There's a lot of room there, for something as simple as the Mr. Bevis episode of the Twilight Zone or complex as Star Trek's Yesterday's Enterprise. Sure, the format isn't fool proof, but it's versatile enough that it can make well-thought, interesting stories. However, one just isn't enough anymore.

Without the focus on just one universe, Multiverse stories are more apt to be scattershot, requiring a lot more restraint. A writer can just kind of put anything in there, the sky's the limit. If you haven't established multiple universes before the story it's almost too simple to chuck in a bunch of fanservice or solve conflicts by plucking an answer from another reality. Not to say it can't be done well, as Futurama's The Farnsworth Parabox starts with one alternate universe and turns into a chase through a bunch of them, made mainly as jokes. Into the Spider-Verse is probably the shining example of this kind of story, but as the exception, not the rule. Otherwise you get something like The Flash (2023), a hodge-podge of past characters in uncanny CGI and references to abandoned projects that never saw the light of day, all in the name of spectacle.

Finally we come to the most contentious one of all, the Multiverse Team. These are far more prone to the deleterious aspects of the Multiverse plot, as the choice to have a bunch of different versions of the same character lends itself to excess. Once again, Beyond the Spider-Verse is our paragon. Even it has flaws, which can hopefully be mitigated by its sequel, but nails the premise a lot of others couldn't. It may surprise you, but the comic Spider-Verse, the one that lends its name to these movies? It's bad. The villains are pretty stupid, turning Force of Nature Morlun into just one of a family of Spider-Man eating vampires. The story is a string of attempts to enrage you by showing a Spider-Man you loved, like the title character of 1981 cartoon Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, getting murdered by a tired cliche. Spider-Girl's dad? Dead. Spider-Man Unlimited? Dead. Repeat ad nauseam. It's danging candy in front of a baby's face before stomping it into the ground. Rick and Morty got about two good episodes out of the premise before becoming the current "I'm smarter than you" sludge, and I ain't watching more to make sure. Then there's Spider-Man No Way Home, which had its own set of problems that I don't need to reiterate here.

You may have noticed an abundance of Spider-Man in these examples. Sure, it could be due to my obsession with Spider-Man, but I offer a different explanation. Once you let it out, you can't get the Multiverse cat back in the bag. Ever since Spider-Verse, the whole property is inundated with Multiverse stories, from the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, to the new movies, and periodical new Spider-Verse comics. There's one going on right now! You can't do anything with Spider-Man anymore unless you at least acknowledge the Multiverse.

So we come back to My Adventures With Superman. In the episode we're introduced to a team of Multiverse Lois Lanes (and one alternate Olsen) and a new Mr. Mxyzptlk. Through this we're shown a ton of cameos from past Superman cartoons, like Superman the Animated Series, or the Lois from Fleisher's rotoscoped cartoons. These characters don't interact with anyone or do anything, they're only on screen so you can point and say "I remember that!" I don't need to be reminded of another Superman cartoon! Now, to be fair, I would probably just be annoyed if all this amounted to was a couple of cameos, but that's not it. They introduce both kryptonite and the concept of an Evil Superman in this episode, the latter ostensibly being the reason the League of Lois Lanes even exists. It feels like they skipped some stuff! They didn't have to go the Smallville route of kryptonite being under every corner, but I thought it would at least get a proper introduction. Evil Superman, as a concept, has a lot of pitfalls, this more so due to this Superman being easily the softest cinnamon roll tumblr ever conceived, but they get to sidestep any establishment by just throwing in a scene of some Injustice knockoff or whatever. That's probably going to underpin the rest of the show! So out of nowhere this conflict arises, and there's no way the League of Lois Lanes won't be involved in the resolution. That scares me.

I don't want Superman to be all about the Multiverse. The brushes with Alternate Supermans hadn't thus far transformed the franchise into that, but each time something like this happens I become wary. My Adventures With Superman was a nice simple show. For the first time in a long time we have a Superman I actually like, and I want to see where it goes. That simplicity is tarnished if a bunch of Alternate Universes get crammed into the first season of this show. Just let me have my cute Superman show, and stop chasing the Multiverse dragon. It's the least you could do after Man of Steel.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Life In Plastic: A Barbie Marathon Part 7

Seven weeks ago I embarked on a quest, to see every Barbie movie ever made, to prepare for the live action film coming out soon. While in the preceding six articles I detailed my experience with each film, I haven't yet laid out my feelings on the Barbie series as a whole. That's what this is.

I made a tier list. Lists are dumb and I try to avoid them whenever possible, but I am nothing if not accommodating. (Keep in mind my standards are stupid and ever-changing.)

Barbie The Princess and the Pauper (2004)
Raquelle A Fairy Secret (2011)
Skipper and the Big Babysitting Adventure (2023)
BARBIE Barbie (2023)
The Secret Door (2014)
A Christmas Carol (2008)
The Nutcracker (2001)
Princess Charm School (2011)
The Pearl Princess (2014)
BARBI A Perfect Christmas (2011)
A Fashion Fairytale (2010)
Mariposa and Her Butterfly Fairy Friends (2008)
The Magic of Pegasus (2005)
Star Light Adventure (2016)
The Pink Shoes (2013)
Barbie & Her Sisters in A Pony Tale (2013)
The 12 Dancing Princesses (2006)
BARB The Three Musketeers (2009)
Epic Road Trip (2022)
Princess Power (2015)
A Mermaid Tale (2010)
Princess Adventure (2020)
BAR Fairytopia: Mermaidia (2006)
Swan Lake (2003)
Mariposa & The Fairy Princess (2013)
The Island Princess (2007)
Big City, Big Dreams (2021)
Rock 'N Royals (2015)
Dolphin Magic (2017)
BA The Diamond Castle (2008)
Fairytopia: Magic of the Rainbow (2007)
Barbie & Her Sisters in A Puppy Chase (2016)
Spy Squad (2016)
A Mermaid Tale 2 (2012)
Fairytopia (2005)
Chelsea: The Lost Birthday (2021)
Mermaid Power (2022)
B Rapunzel (2002)
Video Game Hero (2017)
Barbie & Her Sisters in The Great Puppy Adventure (2015)
Thumbelina (2009)
The Barbie Diaries (2006)
The Princess & The Popstar (2012)


Voice Actors

There were a lot more VAs for Barbie than I thought there would be! Kelly Sheridan is, of course, the legend. She's the OG, you can't do better. She set the standard, especially in films like Princess and the Pauper, where she managed to make the two Barbies distinct enough to tell apart. Diana Kaarina, though only with four film appearances, certainly made her mark as the second voice for our favorite doll. Even matching up against Sheridan, she gave notable performances, especially in A Perfect Christmas, adroitly conveying the subtleties of Barbie's relationship to her sisters. Next we have Erica Lindbeck. She was on board for five films, though I don't know if she made as much of a mark as I remember. She's kind of sandwiched between Sheridan and the newest VA, and she only had one movie I really liked. She's a great actress in other properties, I loved her in the Broly movie, but Barbie didn't use her to her fullest. Lastly we have the most current Barbie voice actress, America Young. There's no way that's her government name. Like that's what you might name a patriotic Barbie knockoff. Anyway. Her performance is pretty far afield from how Sheridan voiced the character. It's a more obviously young voice, even cracking sometimes. I might dislike that if Barbie was like her previous iterations, but with a complete change of cast and age for Barbie, the voice makes sense. I disliked it at first, coming after getting used to the Sheridan-type voices, but it's grown on me as the Dreamhouse Adventures version of the character did.

There's a couple actors who have been a main character in a Barbie movie without necessarily being a Barbie. What I mean is Chiara Zanni as Mariposa from the movie of the same name and Morwenna Banks from A Christmas Carol. I like both of their performances, Zanni as the unconfident Mariposa and Banks as the stuck-up diva Eden Starling. Both of them are good enough that they could have headlined another Barbie movie, though at least Zanni got cast as a supporting character again.


This one's all over the place. Early Barbie movies had orchestral scores, done by the London Symphony Orchestra or the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. It's hard to go wrong with that, especially in the case of Nutcracker, given the time-tested nature of those tracks. In the middle things get a bit muddier, as the move away from orchestral music necessitated a digital approach, which took a while to find its legs.

As far as sing-songs go, the first musical did it best. Princess and the Pauper has a classic Broadway musical style for its lyrics and performance, which provides it a timelessness some others in this series don't. Diamond Castle started the trend of including a Main Song for each film, a little pop number that could play over the intro and credits. I'm not a huge fan of these as a concept, since the style always seems behind the times when you get to it. There were a few good tunes in there, like Queen of the Waves from A Mermaid Tale, that infuriatingly gets stuck in my head sometimes. Most of them are forgettable at best.


There were a few unexpected plots going through this series, but the majority of these are pretty boilerplate. Fairies, mermaids and princesses. You could count the number of movies without at least one of these elements on one hand. Typically if those aren't involved it's about Barbie herself. Not that any of these plot elements are bad, mind you. I really enjoyed a few that had these in abundance, like Princess and the Pauper or The Secret Door. There's really not that much variety when it comes to themes here, but I suppose that's another requirement of the Barbie ethos. Overwhelmingly the point of one of these movies is that you should be yourself. Sometimes the obstacle to that is a system that is unfriendly to you, other times it's a fact about yourself you reject. If the actual Barbie isn't the main character, that's essentially what you're going to see. They only dipped into more meaty subjects on this line a couple of times, with The Three Musketeers dealing with sexism, and Mariposa and the Fairy Princess clumsily discussing racism. These aren't unworthy subjects to cover, but something about Barbie movies makes them ill-equipped to handle these very well. I don't know if it's because they're aimed at younger kids or if they just had restrictive brand requirements, but neither one of the more progressive messages come across very well, with one minor exception. In Princess and the Pauper and Princess Charm School, there's a little bit about economic class that's unusual for Barbie's oeuvre. It's not a lot, but having a main character grow up poor and then deal with princesses was more effective than other attempts at that sort of thing.

The Barbie & Her Sisters plots tend to have a bit more going on with them, usually foregoing the fantasy elements and ending up a bit more grounded. The family dynamic is the focus, and with the sisters being different ages, they could include arcs relevant to different ages of kids at the same time. A theme I really didn't see coming is a sort of parental anxiety from Barbie when it comes to her sisters. In Perfect Christmas and A Puppy Chase their vacation goes awry and Barbie blames herself for not being able to fix it. It's weird for a kids movie to make the main character an ersatz parent with applicable problems. That's the stuff that really caught me off-guard while watching, even if some of it was interspersed with stupid puppy bullshit.

Wrapping up

There's not a lot of media franchises that can compete with Barbie. The doll line alone has an impressive legacy, and that's not counting the cartoons, animated films, and finally a live action movie. Sure, one could say the same thing about Transformers, but there's something special about Barbie you don't find in other toy-driven series. There's a versatility to the brand that keeps it going, so there's always a chance you'll see something you didn't expect. Any given Transformers property will hew closely to a pre-established story, but a Barbie movie can range from a grounded musical about a princess to a sci-fi story about the fate of the stars. I think that's why it took so long for a live action film to get made; in a comic book story you can adapt one of the long-running stories, but with Barbie there's so much potential, picking something to adapt is almost impossible. G.I. Joe can never have the same cultural cache, each generation remembers their own Barbie.

I started this project as a big joke, and to be fair a lot of it is still that, but the adage holds true: The longer you perform a joke, the more sincere it's going to become. There's a lot of this that simply will never affect me the way it would a young girl, but you can't watch over 42 hours of something without taking a little with you. There's plenty of bad in there, don't get me wrong, but I still listen to the Secret Door or Princess and the Pauper soundtracks from time to time. I've learned a lot, and the most important part is that I will never have to watch another Barbie movie again as long as I live.

Who am I kidding. I'm in too deep to stop now. When's that Stacie movie coming out?