Friday, May 18, 2012

Meditations on DC Nation "Vibe"

As a number of my faithful readers have pointed out, this Saturday Vibe returns to popular culture in a DC Nation Short all his own on Cartoon Network. Can Vibe: the Musical be far behind...?

It is as I have maintained: Vibe is inevitable. And now his time has arrived.

Note well: this portrayal of Vibe is accurate, unrevisionist, and completely UNAPOLOGETIC.  Even I was unprepared for its bracing Vibetasticness.

The creators could have opted for one of Vibe's later, more sleeker, abstract, simpler, "cooler" costumes.  But they didn't.

 Here is Vibe as he first appeared in 1984:

Here is how he appears on the DC Nation Short.

The outfit is essentially the same--including the yellow harem pants--with some understandable simplifications making it more appropriate for animation.  If you look carefully, you'll notice the little Vibe fan beside him in the clip below is wearing elements from Vibe's other, later costumes: nice touch, DC. 

It gets bolder, actually.  Note from the clip below that Vibe's hobby-- breakdancing--isn't ignored or even glossed over in favor of his streetgang connections: it's the crux of the episode.


Believe it or not, those dance sequences are, for the most part, ones that Vibe was actually portrayed as doing in the Justice League comics of the 1980s. That's RESPECT, people.  Also, did you notice what Vibe said?  "I'm going to shake things up." Now look again more carefully at the cover to JLA #233 above.

This is glorious.  I have said repeatedly that DC comics tend to go off the rails when creators become embarrassed about DC's characters, usually worried they aren't "edgy" like Marvel characters are (supposed to be but aren't really anyway).  This DC Nation short says quite clearly, "Yeah, this is Vibe.  You don't like him, fine, go read the Spectre." 

Now, you can make fun of breakdancing all you want (probably because you can't do it). While you're doing so, chew on this:
  • Step Up $65M
  • Step Up 2: $58M
  • Step Up 3: $42M
  • Breakin' : $38M
  • Breakin' 2: $15M
  • You Got Served: $40M
  • You Got Served 2: $10M

EVEN "You Got Served 2"--which sports a non-coveted and fairly rare ZERO PERCENT rating at Rotten Tomatoes--earned $10M at the box office.

It may seem silly to you, but the concept of ritualized dance/display as an alternative to actual fighting isn't a "fad"; it's commonplace throughout the animal kingdom.  Vibe's background as a streetgang member is neither coincidental nor incidental.  Breakdancing was the mechanism by which he turned from being a criminal into, eventually, a hero.  Dance is just like sports in that respect: an organized ritual "battle" that can be used to constructively channel young men's competitive aggressive energies while rewarding pro-society values. 

I am also delighted that the DC Nation folk allowed Vibe to 'self-contextualize'.  You know how the Toons in Roger Rabbit brought their own 'cartoon physics' with them even in the human world?  Ever notice how Batman sometimes manages to be a big black slab with two white eye slits even when he's in a well-lit satellite space-station?  This is allowing characters to self-contextualize, to carry along with them the context that generated them, and in which they make the most sense.

In this case, they are allowing Vibe to "self-contextualize" by giving him an animation style consistent with when the character was created. 

The DC Nation Shorts are not made with one overall 'house-style" (as were, say, the Batman/Superman/JL Animated Series). Observe the difference in art between these two DC Nation Short designs:

Super Best Friends Forever
Black Lightning and Family
Each has an individual style and contextualizes the characters.

Note what the DC Nation folk have done in the Vibe short:  they have used an animation style based on cartoons of the 1980s.  Here's two stills from '80s cartoons (G.I.Joe and Defenders of the Earth) to illustrate my point (particularly for those of you who weren't around yet to watch cartoons at that point):

I think you can see how the style of the Vibe short is much more like these 1980s cartoon than it is like the animation in the other DC Nation shorts; Captain Planet could walk right into the Vibe cartoon and you wouldn't bat an eyelash..  Choosing to contexualize Vibe this way is a decision that is at the same time bold yet sensible, and a healthy sign that DC's own genius is in full renaissance.

And everyone will learn to love Vibe.  Some of them for the first time.


Bryan L said...

Scipio, your joy is infectious. I'll be sitting in front of the TV with my Vibe action figure tomorrow morning.

SallyP said...

I have to admit that the DC shorts are practically my favorite part of Saturday morning...although I naturally enjoy Hal and Kilowog as well.

But it the ONLY place where I can see all my beloved B-listers or beloved DEAD B-listers!

Which makes me sad.

Anonymous said...

It's good to see Vibe get some unironic screen time, just being Vibe and running with it. Mind you, he's no Johnny Storm:

Now those are moves. Also be on lookout for the moonwalking bandleader.

r duncan said...

"Enter Extremo."

I love the respect for tradition.

Chemo, etc.

Xanadude said...

I just loved the little touch of Dr. Ivo/Dr. Evilo being a partial homage to Captain Action's Dr. Evil, with the medallion.

Anonymous said...

I care naught for Vibe...

...but it's nice to see someone happy in their love for an obscure character.

Chuck Patton said...

Wow, I was surfing blog recently and ran up on this wonderful lil post.
I know its been well over a year for another response, but just couldn't resist! Very happy, you liked our efforts, Scipio.
You nailed everything on the head except this hopefuly interesting fact. That as one of the comic creators of Vibe, I also designed and storyboarded this short for DC Nation. The director and I were sympatico in wanting this to be a homage to both the 80's comic and animation of that time, and I'm very pleased that we seemed to have suceeded.

I cant tell you how proud I am on how this all turned out and how well the fans have received Vibe's return.

This was definitely done for the fans!


Chuck Patton