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The Greatest Hero Of Our Time Returns --
And In The Future, It's Still Duck Season...

The future ain't what it used to be. Once upon a time, it gleamed and glinted wildly, the product of our descendants' most fevered imaginations. Spaceships cruised sleekly, spectacular scientific achievement dared to be occasionally silly, and women, of course, heaved voluptuous and scantily clad bosoms. Yes, those would have been the days.

As we got closer to the future, it got cleaner and more civilized. Colors became muted, except perhaps on primitive hippie planets. Traveling through the stars soon became accomplished via ships that looked functional and polite, but little else. The future could still be exciting, but somehow, it stopped being as much fun.

Thank heavens, then, that this Saturday Cartoon Network remembers what the future once was. The eerie sound of the theremin fills the airwaves once more. Again, tomorrow is hip, and The Flaming Lips shall provide the soundtrack.

And most importantly, a duck shall lead us.

Not just any duck, but … (excuse me as I run all the way up the spiral staircase to the observation deck to raise my index finger and proclaim) Duck Dodgerrrrrrrrrs in the 24th and a half CENTURY!

The greatest hero of the 21st century returns, thawed out three hundred and fifty-one years beyond his time. In his original appearance in a classic Chuck Jones short, Duck Dodgers simply was, but series creators Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone have given him a bit of back story for modern audiences. Upon his revival, Duck somehow convinced Professor I.Q. Hi and the rest of the Galactic Protectorate that he was a great hero in the past. How he did it remains a mystery; maybe just the wonder of a talking duck amazed them so. Except for Porky, there don't seem to be any other animals in the show.

Rewarding the dauntless fowl with a ship and a porcine crew of one, the Protectorate depends upon their new captain to protect space from the menace of Mars and the diminutive Martian Commander, X-2, played by Marvin The Martian.

Yes, played by Marvin. One of the conceits of the series is that Daffy (Joe Alaskey), Porky (Bob Bergen) and Marvin (Alaskey again) all exist as actors portraying the characters on the show. In the few episodes Cartoon Network sent, that hasn't become a plot point, but the opening credits do make the distinction over a rocking theme sung by Tom Jones (Tom Jones).

The song fits the retro vibe with which Brandt, Cervone, and executive producer Paul Dini have imbued the series. Duck Dodgers is a cad (the good kind) on par with Captain Kirk, except that he's a black bird and slightly less brave than Barney Fife. Despite this being the future, most of the set pieces would fit in a Kennedy-era rumpus room. And when danger rears its ugly head, Duck has no compunction about dressing his Eager Young Cadet as a Space Vixen to fake out the enemy.

Really, we haven't had a good Space Vixen since the sixties.

Though the original short mocked a specific source, the creators have wisely broadened their aim. Much of the humor still comes from Daffy's inherent weaseliness and Porky's quiet long-suffering competence. But the show also pokes fun at a variety of science fiction conventions and parodies popular culture.

In the first few episodes (randomly numbered, to upset anal retentive fans, no doubt), we see Duck battle a mugatu, then get involved in a race that crosses The Fast and The Furious with The Phantom Menace (and a little Speed Racer). One storyline unexpectedly veers into The Iron Giant, except without the warm and fuzzy feeling. Daffy may be a hero, but he's a craven one.

Artistically, the creators have combined the old and the new. Certain character designs pay overt homage to the work of Jones. Professor I.Q. Hi comes straight out of the original short, though his suspicious reservoir-tipped gloves seem more pronounced. Duck, X-2 and the Eager Young Cadet, obviously, look as they always did.

But this series also has the touch of Dini, or rather, modern WB adventure animation. The Martian Queen (Tia Carrerre) resembles Marvin the Martian facially (?), but has a body straight out of Batman, as do most of the ancillary characters. The blend works, and will only be noticeable to hardcore fans.

Cartoon Network currently has the series scheduled to run Saturday mornings at 11:30. Though the kids will be attracted to it (my daughter has tried to get all visitors to watch it with her), much of the humor will go right over their heads. As Brandt admits, the team made this cartoon for themselves, figuring "…maybe a few other people will laugh at it, too."

Brandt is right, but he sells himself too short. A lot of people will be laughing at it.

What: Duck Dodgers
Where: Cartoon Network
When: Starting Saturday, August 23rd
What Time: 11:30 a.m. (ET, PT)

Derek McCaw

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