May 12, 2012

Inhumanoids, episode 8: "The Cult of Darkness"

A nerdy boy named Jeremy runs through the dark city streets of the night. He ducks in an alley where he's caught by a group of other nerdy kids, who accuse him of crossing the Centerville Debating Society, then toss him in a dumpster.

In the Granite city, Earth Corps finished constructing the ruined tank into an Environmental Suit for Anatoly Kiev, now nicknamed Tank. The local Granite leader suddenly shows up to take them into custody, having struck a deal with KGB and the Soviets who brand Tank a traitor against his motherland. After a big fight, Earth Corps chases the Soviets into a retreat, and Grankor shows up to repeal the local Granite leader from his position. Earth Corps offers Tank a position on their team, but he sets off alone, vowing to complete his mission to destroy Metlar.

On Twenty Questions, Hector Ramirez debuts the question of the night: Just where are all of our teenagers going? It seems the local teens have been gathering in the bowels of an abandoned skyscraper where a cloaked figure named Brother Druid promises them power to confront the difficulties of school and home, and incites them to bouts of vandalism on the streets. Among them is Jeremy. Ramirez's investigation has uncovered ties between the Shore Foundation and Brother Druid's cult. During a confrontation, Sandra Shore admits some of the company funds have been misplaced, but denies any connection.

Ramirez ends his report by donning his best teenagery getup and infiltrating one of their meetings. When he emerges, his entire tone has changed as he talks about how wonderful an organization it is. Watching the report from Earth Corps HQ, Sandra, Auger, and Herc suspect Inhumanoid involvement.

In the underground "cathedral", Brother Druid promises the final revelation as D'Compose bursts through the wall. It's revealed all the teenagers have been made compliant by mind control gas and they each walk up, one by one, and let D'Compose turn them into a zombie army, including Jeremy and Hector Ramirez. As the zombies unleash mayhem on the streets above, Jeremy gets his revenge on the Centerville Debating Society, Ramirez goes after his boss at the network, and a group of zombies break into a chemical warehouse where they retrieve vats of a purple fluid which they bring back underground as the sun comes up.

During the above, a suited up Sandra, Auger, and Herc investigate the "cathedral", finding a hole in the back leading deep underground. They fight off giant bats before arriving at Skellweb, D'Compose's dead city.

In the city, the teens return with their chemical vats and Brother Druid leads in a new batch for D'Compose to transform. Our heroes move in to attack. Brother Druid is revealed to be Blackthorne Shore in his Suit, Dr. Manglar shows up, and a big fight breaks out. The heroes hold their own, but have no luck leading the kids to safety due to the mind control they're under. The tide turns when D'Compose gets his hands on Sandra, trapping her in his ribcage, then plucks up Herc and Auger, who he d'composes.

That night, at Earth Corps HQ, Dr. Bright and Liquidator are stewing over their missing friends when the place is invaded by zombie soldiers, led by the d'composed Herc and Auger. Bright and Liquidator suit up and fight, but then the US army shows up, shooting everything in sight. Liquidator manages to freeze his warped friends, and he and Bright barely convince the military to stand down until the sun comes up, healing Herc and Auger.

With the four men of Earth Corps reunited, they team up with the army, using choppers to blow holes in the abandoned skyscraper, flooding the "cathedral" with light and curing the zombified teenagers. Hector Ramirez tries to score an interview with Earth Corps before Auger chases him off.

At Skellweb, the villains have mixed a solution that will save D'Compose and his zombies from the healing properties of sunlight, which he plans to test on the captured Sandra and a new batch of teens. Earth Corps arrives, rescuing Sandra, capturing Blackthorne and Manglar, tricking the mind controlled teens into leaving, and blowing the ceiling, which drops a massive stalactite right in the center of D'Compose's chest.

The heroes leave as the chamber seals itself off, unable to witness D'Compose casually yanking the stalactite from his chest as he drinks the formula and vows revenge.


What made the last episode glorious? Hector Ramirez. Well now he's back with a second report; one involving him going undercover as a teenage by digging his old 70s disco duds out of his closet and slipping on a bad red-headed fro wig. You can't top that moment. You just can't.

That's not to say the rest of the episode is a fumble, because it's not. At all. This episode is a thing of beauty. Something so ridiculous, so nonsensical, yet so sharply and meticulously constructed with tongue buried firmly in cheek the entire time. Using D'Compose to raise a cult that's turned into zombie soldiers is one thing, making it teenagers with clever jabs like news report headshots of Adults Who Just Don't Understand and Jeremy being bullied by the debate team is the icing on the cake that takes a good setup and makes it a work of genius. Even at the end, when all the teens are staring up at Bright, stonefaced in their mind control, he makes a crack about how they've been dulled by mindless entertainment.

What's interesting about the villains of this plot is that I don't know who's really in charge. D'Compose ultimately wants his zombie army. Blackthorne seems like the one who cooked up the entire Brother Druid gimmick. Manglar is working on the formula to cure the vulnerability against sunlight. There's a few moments where D'Compose bullies the other two, but they seem fully dedicated to this mission on their own, without any backstabbing plots as far as I could see. This seemed like a case where they were all just working together for a common goal - amassing an army and wreaking havoc - without one member of the group twisting the arms of the others. And it'll be very interesting to see how D'Compose's invulnerability to sunlight changes things.

I like how the Earth Corps is separated for the majority of the show. Auger and Sandra still have the most personality, but Herc finally held his own when he was the only one playing off of them. The best bit is a repeat of Auger's bad habit of destroying tvs with a hurled shoe. Herc catches it just in time, only for Auger to then hurl the second one, taking the set out. When we cut away to Bright and Liquidator, they still don't really hold much interest. You can see the distinctions - Liquidator is the laid back quipster, Bright over-thinks and over-panics - but it's still played too light. I'm sure Tony will continue to agree with me that these two just aren't that interesting. As opposed to Sandra - who, aside from being caught for much of the second half, comes off as more of a leader than Herc - and Auger - who's hair trigger snaps at people are hilarious, especially when he finally finds himself face to face with Hector Ramirez.

Tank is going to be interesting. The lone wolf operating alongside our heroes, but not with them. We only get a taste of that before he sits out the rest of the story, so that's an exploration we'll have to wait to see. I have to say, though, that his scene is really quite ridiculous. Earth Corps taking him back to their HQ for a few days to construct an Environmental Suit, that makes sense. Instead, they literally throw this thing together in a Granite's front yard in about 10 minutes with nothing more than what they have on hand. If his suit looked cobbled together and a little rough around the edges, that would make sense, but this thing is just as smooth and polished as theirs. And why is it suddenly brown and red? The tank was green, so why isn't the suit still green? Gah! And why did the Soviets suddenly run back, then turn tail again? I don't know. At least the scene still mostly works due to the Granites being hilarious.

So, yes, there are some problems, but I really dug this episode. I was rolling with laughter at parts, caught up in the excitement throughout. This is unlike most any show I've ever seen from the era. Even moreso than Visionaries, Dille and his frequent partner Buzz Dixon (scripter of this episode), have found a home for their twisted humor that blends gruesome ideas and imagery with a genuinely edgy sense of sarcasm and a yuk yuk poke in the ribs. It's far from perfect, but I love the hell out of it.

Some thoughts:
  • I continue to be impressed with the amount of serialization in this show. So much of this plot comes out of the previous installment and just as much feels set to carry us to the next. But it doesn't feel middle ground or incomplete. Brother Druid's cult makes for a solid story that left me fulfilled, and the threads still hanging are teases that excite me for next week instead of leaving me like I missed on on a satisfying climax. They're balancing it perfectly.
  • The recap of the last episode says Dr. Manglar is now named Nightcrawler, but we only ever hear him referred to as Manglar in the episode itself. Which begs the question of, why the hell do you need to name somebody Nightcralwer when they already have a magnificently creepy name like Dr. Manglar? This brings to mind Beverly Hills Cop. For those who don't know, that film was almost made as a straight action flick starring Sylvester Stallone, who renamed the lead character Axel Cobretti, just so he could have the nickname "Cobra" (which Sly would recycle in the film called, of course, Cobra). Which is stupid because why would you need a cool macho nickname when you're already named Axel.
  • The last episode called it "The Cult of Death". The title of this episode says "The Cult of Darkness". In the show itself, its only referred to as "a cult" and nothing more.
  • Seriously, the Centerville Debate Team. Nerd bullies bullying nerds while debating Aristotle. Pardon me while I stand and start a slow clap.


Have you ever pressed scan on your car stereo and listened as snatches of various songs and commercials blended together into one long, incomprehensible whole? Sure, there are moments when a familiar favorite - “Where the Streets Have No Name” - or a guilty pleasure - “Working for the Weekend” - breaks through the cacophony, but it’s gone just as quickly as it came, replaced once more by a symphony of confusion. That was my experience with “Cult of Darkness”. Very little about this episode makes a whit of sense, but there are flashes of pure joy that peek through the bewilderment like the sun through a veil of heavy cloud. Is that enough to save this episode? In short, no.

First, let me start with those brief moments of bliss. Noel described the Centerville Debating Society perfectly as “nerd bullies bullying nerds while debating Aristotle”. It doesn’t really go anywhere or further the plot, but it’s a lot of fun. Then there’s Geraldo Rivera Hector Ramirez and his Twenty Questions, a brilliant skewering of the tabloid TV disguised as investigative journalism which was just starting to rear its ugly head in the mid 80s. His indignation at the public indifference to the question “Where are our teenagers going?” is priceless. Of late, I find myself holding out for these little bits of fleeting fun, which I greedily savor like the crumbs in the corner of a potato chip bag. Heck, I actually found my self wanting to stick with these characters for the remainder of the episode. Follow them around and see what sorts of misadventures they got into. Alas, we’re stuck with The Earth Bores and the Inhemorrhoids. Try as I might, I just don’t find them or their conflict very compelling.

I really don’t know where to begin with what doesn’t work with this episode. The plot? Dumb. Why would the baddies have to go to such elaborate lengths to create their army? Why doesn’t D’Compose simply rampage through the streets and start touching people? Within a half hour, he’d have enough minions to overthrow Blackthorne and his fellow Inhumanoids for good, to say nothing of the Earth Corps. And speaking of D’Compose, could someone please buy the brother a bag of Ricolas? His phlegmy and incessant shrieks of “D’Compose!!!!!” make my throat raw.

And I’ve finally decided that I don’t like the serialized nature of the show. The episodes never feel complete. There’s no arc. It’s just one long unraveling spool of story. I want any ongoing saga to have a big picture, but not at the expense of the moment, and it’s the “moment” that often gets lost here. Finally, as Noel mentioned, we never know who’s in charge of this thing or what their endgame is. And what’s with the cooperation? Double-crosses and sinister machinations are what make the bad guys interesting. Even if Blackthorne and Nightcrawler are helping D’Compose out of fear, wouldn’t it be more fun if they were plotting behind his back?

There are moments of genuine delight in “Cult of Darkness”, but they’re like chocolate chips sprinkled on a turd.

A couple thoughts:
  • According to writer Buzz Dixon, the G.I. Joe episode that introduced the world to Hector Ramirez was in production when famous serial killer Richard Ramirez was captured. Hasbro wanted to change the character’s last name, but were ultimately persuaded not to.
  • The Russian word for Tank is Tahk (pronounced “Tunk”).

Tune in next Saturday as we dive into another Inhumanoids adventure with "Negative Polarity".

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