austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Could've tripped out easy but I've changed my ways

Good news, everyone: it's an Aquaman episode! On to Terror On The Titanic:

Things start out with a boat Somewhere in the North Atlantic, where ``an exploratory diving team searches for the remains of the SS Titanic''. In our timeline it was the RMS Titanic. As one of the divers, who's by the way in a short-sleeved scuba outfit, mentions it's the final dive of the season and bemoans how they will never find the ship, what do you know, they find it, and order the pump hoses sent down so they can refloat it, since archeological exploration of the wreck on its site or consulting a structural engineer to see if the ship can be lifted without breaking apart would just slow them down.

The divers immediately swim right in, the way most experienced divers who don't want to die will immediately explore an unfamiliar confined space. They swim past a hole in the bow that looks suspiciously like teeth. Tearing open the engine room door, the way most experienced archeology-minded people will swiftly destroy artifacts, they find a goo monster, which traps them before they can flee, and Mission Control on the ship calls the Superfriends, the way everybody in the world thirty years ago had a video hotline to the Hall of Justice.

Luckily, Aquaman's on duty. So is Black Vulcan, since who do you want in deep-sea work other than a living bolt of lightning? Black Vulcan gets there ahead of even Aquaman on his giant pink sea horse, but Aquaman knows there's something incredibly dangerous, possibly the giant eye to the side of the mouth.

Well, the divers have been turned into goo monsters, who sneak up behind Our Heroes and viciously hug them. Aquaman delivers this beautiful line of expository lumping which is meant to justify all the proceedings of the day: ``This algae creature must have come from some chemical reaction in the ship's cargo.'' The Titanic was notorious for its work transporting exotic mutagens. When Black Vulcan pulls the goo off one of the diver-monster's face, Aquaman realizes, ``they've been taken over by some mutated form of thinking algae'', which makes sense since the Titanic was a leader in 1912's research into thinking algae.

I know a lot of people rag on Aquaman, but you have to admire his ability to throw a primer of rationalization on the entire very silly episode with a quick glance at the situation and two efficient yet silly sentences.

Black Vulcan zaps his way out of the Goo Hugs, but the stray lightning hits the hull, and then ... uhm ... the ship wiggles around, and something forces the water out, and the halls start wiggling around like those 1930s cartoons before they knew how to do a panning shot across a background cel. The ship's alive, water is being pushed out of it, and the Titanic is raising itself to the surface where it bites a few dainty nibbles out of the research vessel and then leaves.

The goo-diver-monsters swim towards Aquaman and Black Vulcan, provoking Aquaman's thoughtful critique: ``You may look like a fish but you sure don't swim like one.'' They don't look like fish. They swim kind of like scuba divers, and like how fish don't. Aquaman and Black Vulcan tie them up in that famous North Atlantic seaweed. The research ship is sinking, meanwhile, due to the little nibble out of its side, but Black Vulcan ... uh ... uses his electricity powers to melt the hull so that it solidifies as something without holes in it, and they promise to call for a rescue vessel. Really.

On to Cape Race, Newfoundland, where a very old man sits whittling and is shocked to find the Titanic bolt out of the water and take a tiny little nuzzling bite out of the end of his dock, making it collapse. Meanwhile a recreational boater who looks like Mystery Science Theater 3000's Professor Bobo is similarly forced to flee the predatory algae-possessed Titanic, which goes on to take a couple little bites out of the base of a lighthouse. Black Vulcan finds the Titanic, and Aquaman, off in the middle of some ice floes on his giant pink seahorse, declares that he's got the way to stop it, ``if you can lead it 45 degrees northeast''. I don't believe 45 degrees can be anything but northeast, unless Aquaman is under the impression that 45 degrees is a distance.

Black Vulcan swiftly uses his powers of electro-melting to fix the lighthouse's broken steel beams, somehow. Black Vulcan also tells the Titanic, ``why don't you pick on someone your own size, like me?'' Black Vulcan seems to think he is comparable in size to the Titanic, incorrectly. The lighthouse keeper, who appears to be Where's Waldo's Acadian uncle and is clearly not just Superman's voice actor picking up an extra paycheck, is overjoyed that the Superfriends have saved Cape Race, although I note that at this point they haven't actually got the Titanic away from shore, and that all the Titanic has done is damage a wooden pier and a lighthouse. Professor Bobo got away in his motorboat.

But Black Vulcan's taunting has made the Titanic chase him, and the ship doesn't even notice the iceberg Aquaman's pulled into its path. ``Isn't it strange, Aquaman, to think the Titanic was sunk in the same spot 70 years ago, and by an iceberg too?'', says Black Vulcan, trying to build up the extruded irony-like theme product for the youngest kids. Aquaman asks, ``Who says lightning never strikes twice in the same spot?'' Lightning, in fact, often strikes the same location repeatedly because it usually strikes spots which are well-suited to lightning strikes. Clearly they did not leave the writing of the comic tags for these episodes until thirty seconds before the voice-actors recorded them.

I have a lot of affection for this episode. That affection holds even though it starts with a dopey premise and builds it ineptly to an ending that's purely arbitrary. (If the Titanic could (somehow) re-float itself once why would a second gash near its first mouth-gash keep it down?) But I'm not being completely ironic in appreciating this episode. This episode has one of those premises that I think really captures what's awesome about comic books and superhero stories. ``The Titanic reappears --- and it's hungry!'' is a great premise to build from. It feels like something that came to a person in a dream, maybe a nightmare, and if there's any genre that supports turning an odd dream-moment into a story the superhero story, or at least the monster movie story, does that.

This is also one of those stories I think was caught by the Writers' Strike, since several important pieces do seem to have been left to be fixed later and then never fixed. In particular, the technobabble explaining how the Titanic has come to life is skimpy, and there's no reason given to think that it should be stopped by ramming into an iceberg again. I know that no level of technobabble would justify the Titanic coming alive, but all Aquaman actually addresses are the goo-diver-monsters; we have to take as implied that Aquaman is correct, first of all, and that what goes for the divers goes for the ship as well. It's not like Superfriends to leave plot points understated.

Also, while more screen time is given to the goo monsters, their exact connection to the Titanic is unclear since we see the goo monsters moving without an obvious connection to the ship, other than that the first goo monster with a face was seen in the engine room. Apparently something transformed the whole ship, but what did it? A mystery. Maybe it was supposed to be Black Vulcan's lightning bolt that made the critical change, and the connection was lost in a missing rewrite?

And the Titanic's rampage against the North Atlantic is a pretty understated thing: there's a little damage to one diving expedition's ship, one wooden pier that's smashed, and a lighthouse that's damaged. The ship is given these mighty huge jaws, huger if you know how big the ship is supposed to be as opposed to how big it's presented as being, but it takes tiny nibbles like it's trying to make lunch go longer and feel fuller. I imagine this is because it's hard to animate a devouring monster giant ship using Hanna-Barbera's ``three frames per second is all you really need'' animation style, but it does make the menace seem like more of a mild nuisance than a terror of the high seas.

There's no mention, incidentally, of the hundreds of people who died on the Titanic, nor of the corpses that would logically be in the ship. Maybe they lived out strange lives as goo monsters 70 years before the episode's adventures happened. Maybe it's wisest of them not to mention the issue at all.

Still, I like it a good deal. It feels like there's a decent monster movie struggling to get out of here, and that all the important things can be wrapped up in seven minutes shows the dramatic economy that the Superfriends feature at their best.

Trivia: The blizzard of 26 November 1898 forced the Baltimore Country Club to cancel a tornament which had invited golfers from 125 clubs across the nation. Source: 1898: The Birth Of The American Century, David Traxel.

Currently Reading: McKinley, Bryan, and the People, Paul W Glad.

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