Sunday, August 28, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA, Episode 29: "The Nightmare Narcissus"

Things looked dicey for a while there insofar as a Kimba posting this week was concerned, but the damage from Irene was less than expected and the power outages limited to a few seconds at a time. So I'm back with the last posting before the academic year begins... which, ironically enough, is about an episode in which the forces of unnatural nature threaten Kimba's kingdom.

The old OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE listings would have flagged "The Nightmare Narcissus" as "drug use motif." Oddly enough, the jungle animals' falling victim to the effects of the mind-altering scent of a monster plant isn't the creepiest aspect of this tale, not by a long shot. That particular palm goes, petals down, to the completely bizarre appearance of the giant narcissus, which looks nothing like a true narcissus but instead could give Audrey her/itself a stiff challenge in the "comically horrible" sweepstakes, with its cackling, ravenous mouth and poofy lips. Since the plant turns out to be the product of human genetic engineering, besting it would seem to be an ideal place for Roger Ranger to lend a helping hand (as opposed to the somewhat contrived way in which he has served a deus ex machina purpose in several other eps). What I like about the ep is the fact that Kimba and friends ultimately rely on their own efforts, their native wits, and a slice or two of good fortune to get the job done.


The opening "under the influence" scenes just go on and on... and we'll be getting more of them later in the episode. Normally, I'd knock these as excessive filler, but they do perform a service, setting the tale's decidedly creepy tone. The "scary Kimba" we see here has clearly lost his wits and so isn't quite as frightening as, say, the "newly carnivorous Kimba" seen in the nightmare sequence in "The Insect Invasion." But he's certainly disturbing enough.

This is Sniffer's biggest role by far. The snuffling sage (with yet another different voice, this one a slightly "lunkish" one by Gilbert Mack) gets the distinct honor of accompanying Kimba to the first encounter with the narcissus, and his reason for doing so is entirely believable. I'm not sure what kind of animal Sniffer is; he makes reference to a "dogcatcher" later on, but he doesn't look anything like a wild dog, much less a domesticated one. Perhaps he was genetically engineered, too? During the opening sequence, watch for a brief "fourth wall" moment when the addled Sniffer literally breaks through the background at one point.

Kimba and Sniffer have good fortune to thank for their escaping the first narcissus, but Kimba quickly shifts into proactive mode once he learns of the sinister mission of visiting evil scientist Dr. Mendel Spees (Ray Owens).  BEST... VILLAIN'S NAME... EVER!! Sorry to say, that's the best thing that the good/bad Doctor has going for him. His characterization will turn out to be a bit of a train wreck before all is said and done, so his inexplicably driving his jeep over a cliff and crashing is a foreshadowing of sorts. Evidently, Dr. Spees didn't have the same advance scouting that Professor Madcap of "The Flying Tiger" enjoyed, so he doesn't know anything about Kimba or his kingdom (though he is another human who isn't fazed by Kimba's ability to speak). Not that it would have mattered much if he had.

Kimba's assault on Dr. Spees -- complete with the strangely cartoony "turning red all over" bit -- is vicious enough as it is, but it was actually toned down by the Titan crew. In the original script, Kimba responded to Roger's intervention by threatening to hurt his longtime friend if he got too close. By contrast, the dealings with Professor Madcap now seem like a reasonable palavar over a polished conference table. The big difference, I think, is that Madcap sought Kimba out and asked him if he wanted wings, whereas Spees goes the "lab rat" route.

Thanks to Spees' dumb-as-dirt revelation about the narcissus seed, the animals get a chance to seek out the second narcissus before it grows enough to find them. We still wind up getting yet another long "under the influence" scene, though Kimba, given fair warning this time, uses force of will to fight off the deadly scent. Seeing as how Claw was able to decimate the non-drugged, Kimba-less jungle population in "Gypsy's Purple Potion," Kimba's mass beatdown here loses at least some of its ability to impress, but perhaps Kimba deserves extra credit for having to overcome the effects of the narcissus on his subjects. We know that Spees must have been mightily impressed, because he does a completely un-telegraphed 180 ("Good has triumphed over evil... OH, THOSE POOR ANIMALS!") in a rather ham-handed effort to turn him into a Madcap-figure of sorts. It doesn't work, nor does it deserve to.

I really appreciate the idea that the animals discover and exploit the secret of static electricity for themselves, as opposed to having Roger play Mr. Whoopee. Kimba doesn't have any real reason to feel sheepish when Roger gives the more technical expo after the fact. Besides, Dan'l had already discovered a way to protect the animals from the scent, otherwise the animals wouldn't have been able to safely get close enough to the plant in order to find out the plant's weakness. Kimba also got plenty of aid when he physically attacked the flower in order to distract it from discovering "where's the rub." So, despite Kimba's quick insight, this truly was a team triumph.

Spees' revelation that he works for "the Reds" leads me to believe that the "enemy troops" he'd wanted to attack with the narcissus were nothing less than our troops in Vietnam at the time. This political affiliation might also help explain Spees' schizoid behavior; after all, he's used to cogitating in "doublethink."

Overall, just an OK episode, but hang on: we're ramping up to another fairly lengthy stretch which includes a number of classic or near-classic efforts.

Up next: Episode 30, "Adventure in the City."

2 comments:

Joe Torcivia said...

Best Villain’s Name – EVER?

Handlebars McTwirlsneer would like to talk to you about that... and he’s brought a couple of his “inspirations” along – Snidely Whiplash and Dan Backslide! :-)

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

From a math/science geek's perspective, Mendel Spees IS the best name ever!!

Chris