What appears to be a miraculously preserved dinosaur is found in Big Sur national park, fully encased in a massive piece of amber. Journalist Barbara Walker is doing a report on the transportation of the monolith and tries to get a few questions in with Herman "Herc" Armstrong, the armor suited leader of Earth Corps, asking him about reports of strange voices heard by workers at the site of the discovery. Before he has a chance to answer, a shadowy figure in the woods pushes a giant tree on the two. Herc manages to knock Walker out of the way in the nick of time, and the figure is gone.
In a rocky patch of desert, a scowling man in an eyepatch, Blackthorne Shore, supervises a group of men working the ground with a massive drill that's already burrowed down a mile. They hit something and the drill is suddenly, violently destroyed. Massive tentacles rise out of the pit. The workers all run in fear, but Shore remains calm. "So, the ancient documents were right."
In San Francisco, Sandra Shore hosts a ceremony dedicated to the members of Earth Corps - alongside Herc are Dr. Derek Bright, Auger, and Jonathan M. Slattery (aka Liquidator) - and the unveiling of the creature encased in amber. They pull back the curtain and the crowd ooo's in awe... and the creature suddenly comes to life, rocking his amber prison back and forth, and howling so loud it shatters windows. As everyone clears the building, the ground starts to shake, and they spot a giant beasts of green tentacles smashing his way towards them across the Golden Gate Bridge.
The police are unable to hold the monster off, so Earth Corps dives into their mobile command center and don their suits of mechanically enhanced armor. Dr. Bright runs a scan on the tentacled monster, determining it's cold blooded. He'd love to get a sample, so Auger brazenly runs out and slices off a piece.
Liquidator runs back into the building to check on the encased creature. Its head is now free and it continues to howl as the building crumbles around it. Sandra is still there, pointing out to Liquidator that the creatures appear to be communicating. As the tentacled monster enters the ruins, the trapped creature speaks, identifying himself as D'Compose and the other as Tendril, and says their next goal is to free Metlar. D'Compose spots Liquidator and Sandra, and goes after them, but they get away when Liquidator uses his arm cannon to spray a sticky fluid in the monster's face.
Destruction ensues, with lasers and explosions and the ruins of the building erupting in a great inferno. When the fire is finally put out, both D'Compose and Tendril are gone.
At their institute, the members of Earth Corps ponder the origins of the monsters they just encountered. They eventually settle on the creatures coming from the center of the Earth, but the military doesn't buy it, instead writing the creatures off as extraterrestrials. The group has differing opinions on the next step they should investigate, so they split up.
Auger and Herc take a sub into the San Francisco bay, quickly spotting a trail left by the creatures. After a few false starts, they spot a cave, and quickly fall into the clutches of D'Compose and Tendril. The creatures destroy the sub, but our heroes, clad in their armor, just barely make it to the surface where they're protected from further attack by the light of the sun.
Dr. Bright follows reports of Tendril's emergence at the drill site. He sets up a crane and slowly lowers himself into the bottomless hole. He finds a chamber filled with massive chains - a cell that once held Tendril prisoner. Up on the surface, Blackthorne Stone cuts Dr. Bright's line and orders his men to drop a bomb in the pit, causing the hole to cave in. He heads off, bent now on stealing the plans for Earth Corps' environmental suits. He's unaware that Dr. Bright has found a way to quickly dig himself out.
Liquidator heads back to Big Sur, where D'Compose was first discovered. When his equipment shorts out, he starts calling out to the woods, claiming to be a friend and wanting to communicate. All the surrounding tree stumps suddenly rise up, taking the form of ghoulish creatures and saying "You shall never violate this forest again." He pleads for mercy, and they show him a vision of the past, a memory of a long ago war between the Mutors and the Inhumanoids. Metlar, a tyrant from the Earth's core itself, rained terror on the land with D'Compose and Tendril at his side. The Mutors consist of the Redwoods (our tree friends), the Granites (rock people), and Magnokor, a lava being able to split himself into halves of different magnetic polarity. Together, the races barely contained the Inhumanoids - the Redwoods locking D'Compose in amber, the Granites burying Tendril deep below the earth, the Magnokor locking Metlar somewhere yet to be revealed - but now two thirds of the evil have been reawakened, and it's only a matter of time before Metlar himself once again roams . Liquidator vows he and the other members of Earth Corps will stop them.
Back at their institute, the Earth Corps members share with one another their discoveries. Just as they start putting pieces together, Tendril suddenly smashes through their wall.
What serves as the first episode of Inhumanoids does the minimum that we ask of an opener. It introduces our heroes, the Earth Corps...
Herman “Herc” Armstrong has all the qualities you’d expect from a leader. Courage. Absolutely no discernible personality. Courage.
Eddie “Auger” Auguter. Underneath his gruff exterior is a gruff interior.
Jonathan M. Slattery, also known as “Liquidator”. In spite of his nickname, he doesn’t sell overstock merchandise, he... does a bunch of shit I don’t understand.
And lastly, there’s Dr. Derek Bright, the brains of the team. Never in the history of cartoondom has a character’s voice ever been so out of sync with the way he looks. He doesn’t get a nickname, so we’ll just call him “Ringo”.
Our heroes also have allies in the form of the lovely Sandra Shore and a talking tree (remember, this is set in San Francisco).
One of the complaints Noel and I both had about Visionaries was that the heroes were, by and large, dull and indistinguishable from one another. The Earth Corps is a smaller team (so far) than the Spectral Knights, so, right away, it’s easier to keep track of them when the shit is hitting the fan. And unlike the Knights, whose armor varied between dark blue and darker blue, the Corps all have their own uniquely colored suits. They also have distinctive (well, maybe not Herc) and conflicting personalities, opening the door for the kind of banter and chemistry often missing from the heroes on Visionaries. Little of that was on display here, but it’s early.
This episode also introduces some of our villains...
Blackthorne Shore. We know he’s evil because he’s rich and named Blackthorne. He’s also the brother of Sandra.
Tendril, a Cthulhu-like creature.
D’Compose, a rotting mass of flesh and exposed bone who sounds like AC/DC singer Brian Johnson trying to shit out a full-sized cactus.
While our heroes have promise, our villains worry me a little. Blackthorne is your standard cartoon bad guy, which is fine, except that, right now, he has no one to play off of. The two Inhumanoids are mindless creatures who scream and destroy, in that order. Hopefully, Metlar has a strong personality that will clash with Blackthorne. There’s also a lot of potential with brother and sister being on opposite sides.
And, finally, it sets up our premise...
Okay, so like thousands of years ago there were these warring factions... Hell, just go watch the episode. The tree tells it better than I do.
A couple of random Inhuman-notes.
- I’m totally confused by the music in this series. The open theme sounds like a Gregorian chant spliced together with a commercial for a monster truck rally. The end credits music sounds lifted from ABC’s Wide World of Sports circa 1978. I half expected to see some skier go flipping head over heels before landing in D’Compose’s mouth.
- 80s cartoon stalwart Michael Bell makes little effort to alter his voice, making Auger essentially sound like Duke in a pissy mood.
I'm suddenly remembering why I didn't make it through my viewing of the original DVDs, and why so little of this show has stuck with me over the years. Tony's being charitable, but I'll come out and say it: this is pretty bad. Not just something potentially interesting that's a little rough around the edges. No, it's just bad.
Tony's right about this matching Visionaries in terms of dull leads, but at least that show gave us introductions for the characters and moment that defined them early on. Here, we just suddenly have these guys who are being talked about as if everybody already knows them and we're expected to play catch up. Which is really hard when there's nothing there to latch onto. Auger is definitely the most distinctive of the bunch, but that's just because he's bald and acts like a cocky douche. Dr. Bright speaks in a nasally voice about sciency stuff, but otherwise looks exactly like he walked out of the same square-jawed mold as the others. Jonathan M. Slattery is potentially interesting, what with his beard and new-agey hippiness, but he spends a surprising amount of time being freaked out by things. And why does he get the superhero name of "Liquidator"? The others get their nom de plumes from their actual names, but I guess that wasn't cool enough for him, and I can totally picture them planning their operation years ago and he insisting on being called "Liquidator! Shut up, it sounds cool!" while the others face their palms before moving on to the next topic. And then there's Herc Armstrong, the marvelously named but flat as a finely levelled board leading man, who stands around and commands stuff. There's nothing here. Not even the affiliated lady of the group - note, they don't trust a woman to don armor and fight at their side - Sandra Shore has much in the way of spunk, excepting a completely random and unnecessary moment of her chasing down a helicopter ladder and sailing off into the sky.
In Visionaries, we had clear world building and mythology development. Here, we get some random stuff about tree people and rock people and this magnet guy and these bad guys who were really bad so they were punished badly for their bad badliness. D'Compose and Tendril are fine as monsters, but they have no personality, and while it's too early to tell what Metlar is going to be like, the glimpse we see of him sends a shiver up the back of my throat instead of down my spine. The dude is a fat troll in a once-piece bathing suit. Seriously. That is not an image that strikes fear in me, let alone something that would have wet my jeans when I was a kid. None of them are interesting. None of them have any depth. Like the heroes, they're just there because the story needs them to be there. It feels random and half-assed and, as Tony mentioned, there isn't even any of Dille's trademark humor there to boost it up. The one saving grace is the potentially interesting Blackthorne Stone, but even he's firmly in the "potentially" camp as all we have are glares and mutterances that reveal he knows a lot more than he's telling about what's going on. There's also the revelation Tony spoiled about him being Sandra's brother, but that hasn't been established yet in the show itself. Thanks for that, Tony. :p
Visually, this is a miserable show to look at. The animation is awful, with misguided layouts and awkward key frames that not only come off as shockingly amateurish at times, but make the action really hard to follow. The whole centerpiece of the monsters laying waste to San Francisco has shit flying around left and right with no sense of flow or narrative technique. Stuff just happens. And the suits. Ugh. They're hideous. I like the idea of something bulkier and more industrialized, as that gives it a great down-to-earth "laborer against odds" feel, but I don't even know what I'm looking at half the time. Anatomy, scale, and how the suits fit on the people changes from frame to frame, and Liquidator gets the worse of it with each leg being encase in two giant bubbles that would make it impossible for anyone to walk in, let alone run away from a monster. And there's animation and continuity gaffs left and right, the most glaring being a shot where Liquidator's unarmored hand (why would you wear a heavy duty suit of armor, but leave your hand exposed?) suddenly balloons up to this massive flapjack twice the size of his head.
The storytelling is sloppy. The animation is sloppy. The design is sloppy. The music is sloppy. I was really looking forward to checking this show out, especially in the wake of Visionaries, but that's all gone down the drain. If things don't perk up after the opening mini, then I fear I'm stuck on a miserable, ugly, half-assed ride to disappointment town.
Tune in next Saturday for our next Inhumanoids adventure, in "The Evil That Lies Within, Part 2".