July 22, 2012

Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines, chapters 4-6

Chapter 4

Bigfoot is on the loosing end of his tug-of-war duel against the cheating Graveroller and is slowly being dragged toward the pit of bubbling acid. Yank kicks Bigfoot in reverse, having just enough room to slacken the chain and douse it in the acid. It snaps and Graveroller races out of the arena, Bigfoot right on his tail. A chase follows them through the neon streets of Vegas and even into a casino, where they pulp slot machines and chase showgirls off a stage.

The two trucks come face-to-face in a dead-end alley. Graveroller activates flamethrowers, but Yank smashes Bigfoot into the front of the other truck, reversing the jets and setting Graveroller on fire. The driver runs off and Yank chases the man down, revealing him to of course be Slye. Yank's about to give Slye what for, but sees the mysterious woman searching through Bigfoot's interior.

Before Yank reaches the truck, she spots him, gets behind the wheel, and races off. Yank manages to snag the tail gate and hang on for dear life before slowly climbing his way to the cab and forcing Bigfoot to a stop. The rest of the team arrives as Yank gets his hands on the rolled up document and demands answers. After threats of going to the police, the woman finally reveals the document is a map and that her name is Jennifer McGraw, but won't say any more, and since none of them can read medieval Spanish, they can't do much with the map without her. They agree to help Jennifer so as to get out of all the trouble that's fallen their way.

Slye meets with his boss. The shadowy figure's brutish limo driver wants to pulp the man for his failure, but the boss offers Slye one last chance.

The team and Jennifer hit the road, reaching the farmlands of Oklahoma while Yank and Jennifer continue to not get along. A wheat harvester is suddenly in front of them, it's wide, spinning blades cutting off access to the road. Three more harvesters appear, boxing in our heroes from all sides.

Chapter 5

Yank uses his tow-line to snag the blade mechanism of a harvester and tear it off. The others are quickly dispatched with and their operators flee the scene. As our heroes gather their breath and demand answers from Jennifer, a souped up muscle car with massive back wheels races onto the scene and spins to a stop. It's named War Lord, and the driver is a hearty young hick named Close McCall who wants nothing more than to be a part of the team. Despite Red having the instant hots for him (Redder not so much), Yanks brushes Close off with a thanks but no thanks.

The team rolls across the Louisiana border where they're instantly swarmed by cop cars. The heroes are arrested, brought downtown, and thrown into a cell despite no actual charges being filed against them. Deputies search every inch of the vehicles, eventually coming up with the map. Slye is there, giving our heroes an ultimatum to either help with the map or rot in jail. Jennifer takes responsibility for events and offers to translate the instructions. As she does this, Close McCall shows up in War Lord, crashing through police cars and smashing open the cell wall. Our heroes get to their vehicles and Yank frees Jennifer with his almighty tow-line.

They race off into the sunrise, Close now a part of the team despite everyone but Red getting a little tired of his gloating. The police are still on their tail, but everyone's nearing a bridge that marks the state line. Unfortunately, it's a bascule, and the sheriff radios ahead for the leaves to be raised. Three of our hero vehicles are able to jump the widening gap, but Bigfoot is the last to reach it and the gap proves too wide, sending Yank and Jennifer plunging into the river.

Chapter 6

Bigfoot bobs to the surface, apparently designed to also operate as a fully functional water craft. Slye and the cops commandeer a riverboat and start ramming Bigfoot. Yank lets them, using their force to push Bigfoot to the river bottom where the traction allows him to race onto shore. The riverboat smashes into the muddy banks. Our heroes race off and Slye ditches the cops.

Slye meets with his boss, but is roughed up and sent packing over yet another failure. The operation is now put in the limo driver's hands as he's ordered to deploy The Barbarian.

That night, our heroes dry themselves around a campfire. Jennifer reveals to them that the shadowy mastermind is Adrian Ravenscroft, a billionaire who's become such a recluse that many think him dead. Ninjas on swamp boats suddenly show up and attack them with flaming arrows.

Our heroes hit the road, headed toward the shelter of a building, only to discover the building is a towering, heavily armed and armored monster truck. The Barbarian. With the river ninjas on their tail now using explosives, our heroes rush the Barbarian. Three of the trucks get by, but Barbarian extends its spiked spokes into the rocks on either side, preventing Bigfoot from escaping. A spiked pit opens behind Bigfoot and Barbarian extends additional spikes and smashes into the smaller truck, driving it towards the pit.


"I like Bigfoot, my team, and freedom, and that about covers it. I don't like trouble."

This show continues to be an absolute treat. River ninjas. Killer wheat harvesters. Yank talking about Smokey over a CB radio while police lights flash in his rearview mirror. I love it, I love it, I love it. It's not perfect, though, and let me take a moment to focus on my two main problems with the show at this point:

1) As I mentioned in the last installment, the villains are a real bore. We learn a bit about Adrian Ravenscroft, but the mastermind is still being hidden in shadows and we have no idea what he's ultimately after or why. Slye is a complete screwup, but not in a fun way like Starscream or Mortdredd. He's just a loser. An uninteresting, unskilled loser, and even that "knights in leather studded armor" aspect of his biker gang - hell, where'd the rest of his gang go - has been entirely dropped, making him just some Joe schmo goon. The burly and ruthless limo driver has potential, but they inflated him out of nowhere and by the time he's behind the wheels of the Barbarian (a monstrous monster truck that's really silly, but admittedly would have been wickedly awesome to me as a kid) it feels like too little too late. It is fun how the villains have access to river ninjas with flaming arrows, farmer spies complete with Ravenscroft Co. branded cows, and even the entire Louisiana police force (I'm sure that's a massive bit of corruption that wouldn't have made the show popular in that state), but none of these are developed characters. They're just new things tossed at our heroes, then discarded when they fail.

2) Yank steals the show. I love Yank in his red, white, and blue southern duds and the way he gets through life with faith in the land of the free and the constant swish of his tow-line (seriously, it's amazing how many situations that tow-line gets him out of, despite him having to get out of his truck, unreel the winch, lasso it, then get back into his truck every single times he uses it), but what about the others? Professor Dee and Red/Redder get some great lines now and then and are a very welcome and unique presence on the team, but they hardly ever get to contribute to the action or save the day. Whenever danger strikes, Yank handles it, either racing away from the others or sending them racing away while he's left behind to deal with things. Hell, Close McCall (love the name, and the character is just the right level of self-centered youth) sees more meaningful action in the chapter where he's introduced than the other two trucks have in the series up till this point. I understand that the kids are tuning in each week to see Bigfoot and there's not much you can do outside of featuring Bigfoot when you only have 6 minutes an installment to work with, but still.

Now, do these two elements ruin the show? Absolutely not. It's still one of the most clever and unique 80s action toons I've ever scene, with the action constant yet never desperate or overwhelming, and with a colorful cast of leads who'd absolutely keep me tuning in each week. The animation is still crap, but I find it's growing on me as the "can do" swagger of the things portrayed by the willing yet not always able animation adds another level of charm to the show. And the music is wonderful in this episode, doing away with much of the 80s symphony synth and instead rolling us from state to state with the jaunty southern ditty sounds of finger-pickers and fiddle players. The moment we cut to a line crossing a map and that tune started playing, a huge smile lit across my face.

There are a few other problems, like some editing leaving Jennifer largely nameless during her introduction and the other three wheat harvesters going from perfectly fine to smashed with no explanation, but stuff like this is what can happen with you slice serialized shorts into a single feature-length edit, so I won't hold it against them.

This is a really, really fun show. It's far from perfect, but it has a rascally wink, a colorful charm, and a lot of the flaws actually increase the laid-back enjoyability of this southern rodeo of monster tires and river ninjas. I'm officially in love with this series.


Over-sized trucks. Post-apocalyptic biker gangs. Ninjas. Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines is the like the id of an eight year old boy come to life. It’s a ten gallon absurdity, crushing logic beneath its giant Fun Wheels and hauling ass down Interstate-Awesome. If you don’t crack a smile watching this show, I suggest you try un-puckering that hiney a bit.

Noel and I have pretty much been sympatico on this one from the start. Art it ain’t, fun it is. It uses the latter for the same reason Yank uses Old Spice, Brute, or Stetson: to get chicks mask odor. In this case, the odor is weak villainy. Look, anything short of Mr. T riding Godzilla is a mismatch for Yank Justice, and Slye would get his ass kicked by a Care Bear. And I don’t mean a relative badass like Tenderheart - we’re talking Funshine or Love-a-Lot here. You can almost imagine Yank taking Slye aside at some point, throwing an arm around his shoulders and drawling, “Kid, this is gettin’ embarassin’.”

Another thing that's bothered me thus far is Professor Dee. Wait, wait, wait, before you go calling the NAACP, let me explain. I like Professor Dee. He’s a great character. I just don’t know what in the hell he’s doing here. Why is this elderly academic riding around the country in a big ass monster truck? If Bigfoot (and the Muscle Machines) had advanced electronics that he was responsible for, I’d get it. He’d sort of be the team’s Lucius Fox tech guy. But they’re just trucks. Big ass trucks, but trucks none the less. So you’re telling me that this distinguished African American professor decided to pack up and leave a cushy, tenured position at a prestigious university (I’m guessing on some of this) and travel the back roads of America with a large white redneck named Yank Justice? Ohhh-kaaay. This might be less realistic than Mr. Raven-scrote(?) and his army of Ninjas.

Lastly, I could’ve done without Close McCall and his hot shot attitude. I know, I know, he’ll eventually learn his lesson and Yank will take him under his wing and he’ll become a valuable member of the team blah, blah, blah. I’d just grown fond of this tight-nit band of do gooders all pulling the rope in the same direction. I know it’s corny. Sue me.

This is mostly nit-picky stuff that I fully expect would’ve been smoothed out had the show been given the green light... along with more serious issues like the Etch A Sketch-like quality of the animation. For now, I’m just content to sit back and enjoy its simple and straightforward pedal to the metal brand of fun.

Four on the floor!

1.) Yank Justice. Close McCall. If I ever have kids, I’m going to let Flint Dille name them.

2.) Orange Blossom Special (the name of Professor Dee’s truck) was also the name of a passenger train that ran between New York and Miami from 1925 and 1953. It also inspired the song of the same name, often referred to as “The fiddle player’s National Anthem”.

3.) Grave...roller?

4.) *Whispers* In real life, Barbarian would totally own Bigfoot.

Tune in next Sunday as we wrap up Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines with a look at chapters 7-9.

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