On the cartoons of my youth.

*Comics in Media Alert Dept: Well, I finally got a hold of that shiny new Æon Flux box set on R1 dvd, and it’s really nice. And not just for the Flux material - I’d entirely forgotten that the set includes a bonus assortment of non-Flux shorts from the heyday of Liquid Television, the animation anthology venue that gave birth to Æon (not to mention Beavis and Butt-head and the live-action movie Office Space). And good god had I forgotten all of the awesome comics folk that were involved with that show! Imagine my surprise to see Mark (Amy and Jordan) Beyer’s The Adventures of Thomas and Nardo gracing my screen, along with Richard (Peculia) Sala’s Invisible Hands, which actually was its own continuing serial, just like the initial iteration of Æon Flux, though we only get one episode here. Too bad Charles Burns’ Dog-Boy is absent. Actually, too bad there’s no credits given after the shorts - unless there’s fuller credits hidden somewhere on the disc, all of these films appear entirely devoid of attribution, which is pretty awful.

Man, Liquid Television. I presume there’s a lot of rights issues going on behind the scenes that would make a complete dvd release unfeasible (maybe that’s why so many seminal exhibits from the show’s three seasons are absent from this sampler - no Billy and Bobby? no Stick Figure Theater?), or maybe there’s just a lack of interest, but boy would I like to go over Liquid Television again. Watching stuff like Brad Dharma: Psychedelic Detective with more mature eyes doesn’t always make it good, but I certainly appreciate what these little cartoons were trying to accomplish on a visual level (although it must be said, The Art School Girls of Doom is no funnier today than it was when I was 11). In a way, it’s almost shocking that such experimental material was getting a regular airing on a major network, and Æon Flux was only part of the equation.

Still, those old Flux cartoons hold up pretty well too, especially the original serial, made when creator Peter Chung was fresh off of Nickelodeon’s Rugrats (he did the famous title sequence, as well as the pilot episode) and itching to stretch his legs with some crazy movement and subversive action. And indeed, with its excellent one-two punch of chapters 1 and 2, depicting the title heroine’s glorious rampage through an army of masked soldiers, then backing up and studying the dying thoughts and personal dramas of those same expendable drones (years before The Invisibles), Æon Flux quickly set itself apart from other action cartoons in theme as well as visual style. Really, the point (to me - even on his commentary track, Chung is adamant in refusing to explain what the shorts ‘mean,’ asking the viewer to draw their own conclusions) of this first outing is that the delightful violence and high-flying adventure of such fantasy is ephemeral, and ultimately meaningless in the face of the world’s true movers and shakers - those who combat disease and compel changes in the world’s architecture. Everything else is capable of spoiling, from even the tiniest nail in the boot.

And even in the subsequent standalone Liquid Television shorts (the ones where Æon dies at the end of each outing), it’s interesting to remind yourself as to how jagged the title character is. She’s arrogant, cruel, vain, overconfident, prone to distraction - and yet, she’s an oddly endearing character, so hapless in allowing her own faults to get the best of her every time (that itself is perhaps subversive in the world of scantly-clad superheroines). And the fact that all of this comes through loud and clear, even though a grand total of one word is spoken throughout the entire run of episodes (“Plop.”), is only a testament to the skills of Chung and his team - the creator talks much about his appreciation for the finer points of animation, the quiet gestures and telling motions over loud action (which is obviously there too). And style is key, even at the cost of rock-solid meanings or visual consistency; at one point, Chung notes that the animator working on a certain scene is drawing Æon ‘off-model’ (in deviation of the character designs provided for a character, which animators are supposed to follow to allow for a consistent look among diverse teams), though he doesn’t really seem to care, since it all works so well.

Upon hearing this, I immediately thought of Chung’s most recent directorial effort, the direct-to-dvd animation tie-in film for a certain Vin Diesel franchise, The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, in which the climactic one-on-one fight scene looked totally different from the rest of the film, complete with a whopper of a continuity error (Riddick is wearing a shirt that got mangled by some monster in the scene prior - there’s even a line of dialogue to the effect of ‘I’m not using this again’). And yet, it worked quite nicely as its own piece. It’s particularly fun to compare Dark Fury to Chung’s The Animatrix short, Matriculated. In the former, Chung is in the director’s seat, but the Riddick team is very much in control of the story. In the latter, it’s just as much a franchise tie-in, but the Wachowskis apparently left Chung largely to his own devices, and the film feels much more effective (not to mention one-of-a-set with Æon Flux) because of it, though Chung does not eliminate all franchise connection. That was actually one of the biggest problems I had with The Animatrix - as lovely and varied as it all looked, very little of it (even the parts the Wachowskis didn’t directly control the stories of) came off as more than relatively expensive, glorified fan-fiction. Only Chung’s short and Kôji Morimoto’s (even better) Beyond stood out as their own pieces, with their own individual themes and stories to tell.

But yeah, it’s a nice dvd package so far, and I haven’t even gotten to the proper series (which I’ve always liked a little bit more). Always good to remember those shorts, especially the one where Æon is killed early on, then the film adopts her killer as its ‘hero’ (complete with a new theme song) and follows him around until he’s killed, after which his killer becomes the heroic figure, and so on and so on. And then there’s the one where Æon goes through the same actions on every floor of a building, trying to unlock a certain door with a certain key, and always being forced back into an elevator to deal with an ever-complicating mess. It’s impressively frantic, layered visual storytelling, and Chung expresses the opinion that its repeating refrains are meant to be more like music than anything else. Hmmm, maybe MTV was playing music after all.