Watchtower Database is streaming weekly on Twitch! James Strecker spends every Tuesday reading an issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE ADVENTURES and taking detailed notes, every Wednesday involves myself attempting to blind play some DC Animated Universe related video game for the first time, and Thursday features Mattie Washburn, currently reading through the novelization of BATMAN: RISE OF SIN TZU. You can stream for free on Twitch, either live or later in the archive collections which are embedded below. Subscribe on the Twitch channel or follow @dcauwatchtower across social media so you don’t miss any reminder posts.
I will be first to admit, it took me a few weeks to figure out how to best facilitate the stream. My laptop is eight years old and could barely handle streaming and video game softwares simultaneously, but I upgraded my hardware for more powerful processing, purchased a wireless controller, and slowly but surely learned how to best manage the lifestream. Some of the first few videos playing through BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES on Game Boy were a little wonky, but I got the hang of it eventually, and now it’s become something that I greatly enjoy.
Once I completed that game over six episode installments, I played SUPERMAN, also for Game Boy, which I beat over an hour and a half in a single session, though I won’t ignore that I had to use cheat codes in order to stay alive to the end. The game was based on SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and released in 1997 just before Game Boy upgraded in quality, so the gameplay doesn’t totally hold up, but certainly not as terrible as the infamous SUPERMAN 64 video game for Nintendo 64. I’m sure viewers got a kick out of me stumbling my way through it anyway.
I moved on to BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER for Game Boy Color next, and beat the game after two sessions with no cheat codes! I found that this was the easiest out of all the games so far. If I died, I could respawn with all three lives and full health out of the last door that I had entered, so it was simple to pick up wherever I left off. Interestingly, the game did not completely follow the same events as the animated feature film that it was adapted from, including various scenes that never happened like Batman Beyond fighting through the Arkham Asylum ruins, and glancing over the death of the Joker, a flashback event that was depicted differently in both the traditional and uncut releases of the film.
Next on the lineup, I plan to tackle THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN & ROBIN on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (aka SNES). I played this game when I was a child, so I’m looking forward to returning to it again. THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN & ROBIN was also released on SEGA CD, SEGA Genesis, and Game Gear, which were all slightly different in plot and design, so I’ll be working my way through each of them in time, but alternating with other DCAU games so the extensive BATMAN & ROBIN comparison content doesn’t eventually become confusing. You’ll just have to see for yourself, every Wednesday at 12pm PT / 3pm ET for the foreseeable future only on the Watchtower Database Twitch channel!
The Watchtower Database continues to grow and evolve! Despite being in the middle of a pandemic, we’ve been lucky to continue creating steady content, and a lot of that energy and excitement goes to my channel cohorts James Strecker and Mattie Washburn. Bi-weekly coverage on BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE digital comic book series by Paul Dini, Alan Burnett and Ty Templeton has provided a consistent topic for coverage, and time in the zeitgeist for this niche fandom.
In light of the “12th Level Intellects” podcast, we have also conducted interviews with various creatives who worked on DC Comics animated series, such as writer Eric Carrasco and director Sam Liu from JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. FATAL FIVE feature film, as well as director Dan Riba who worked on animated series like BATMAN, SUPERMAN, BATMAN BEYOND, STATIC SHOCK, and JUSTICE LEAGUE. Such an incredible opportunity to discuss the craft with these cartoonists, and we’ve got even more on the way. The Dan Riba video was only part one of three, and we also spoke with writer Randy Rogel about his work on BATMAN and ANIMANIACS.
Aside from interviews, I also worked on several other videos, particularly a preliminary reading list for BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE where I compiled various books that Paul Dini and Ty Templeton had worked on in the animated DC Universe, and was joined by Owen Likes Comics who handled the latter half of the video where he revealed some of the mainstream Batman comics that featured characters like Deathstroke, Azrael, and Jason Tood who were set to appear in the DCAU for the first time in BATMAN: THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE.
Near the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the Watchtower Database participated in the first At Home Comic Con. We spearheaded a panel with guests Chris Lord and Cameron Dexter from the Timm Talk podcast where we read through the script for THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES episode “Legends of the Dark Knight.” I was the voice of classic chummy Batman, Mattie was an excellent Joker, James Strecker was an A+ narrator, and the Timm Talk fellas were pretty funny too. At Home Comic Con was organized by Comic Drake, Matt Draper, and Owen Likes Comics, and featured many other prominent comics based YouTube channels, some you may even know yourself. I don’t know what you watch on the internet.
My most recent video essay was all about Batman and Superman aka the “World’s Finest.” I wrote a gigantic script tracing all of the team-ups between the two superheroes throughout the DC Animated Universe before their more regular meetings in the JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon, which casual fans will recall was only three or four episodes, but I found many more obscure moments to relate.
Watchtower Database shares weekly free videos every Sunday on YouTube, but available earlier for supporters on Patreon. We have also started live streaming weekly on Twitch where every Tuesday, James Strecker reads an issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE ADVENTURES to determine its canonicity with the animated series, every Wednesday is a live video game played by me (usually for the first time, so it can be funny feeling it out in front of an audience), and Thursdays with Mattie Washburn, currently working through a reading of the BATMAN: RISE OF SIN TZU video game novelization. Good times are happening on the Twitch channel these days.
I have more video essays in the works right now; the history of Wonder Woman in the DCAU and the long road before her appearance on JUSTICE LEAGUE (timed to coincide with the release of WONDER WOMAN 84 in October), also an essay on director Tim Burton’s early influence and involvement on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, another “Casting Call” episode spotlighting various voice actors in the DCAU on Elfrem Zimbalist Jr. who played Alfred and Tara Strong who has voiced Batgirl and Harley Quinn, and speculation on what the “Rann/Thanagar War” might have looked like in the DCAU, all leading up to a big livestream event to celebrate the channel’s five year anniversary on September 17th. Be sure to follow @dcauwatchtower on social media so you don’t miss that announcement and more!
Ted Kendrick recently wrote a poem, “A Sonnet for the Spoils” after a day spent cleaning up the grandparents’ farmhouse in Prattville, Alabama which was built in the late 1970s, but has not been lived in for several years. Continued cleaning has been an endeavor, but there were several poetic elements from the day which were arranged in the following piece. Find the poem embedded below via Instagram:
The farmhouse is still beautiful, even though it’s no longer in its heyday. You can see various spots on the property that were loved by the extended Kendrick family, but have now rusted in age, like the basketball net over the grass or the loveseat swing. To aid in the poem visual, check out some photos taken on the cleaning day.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, most film festivals are postponing their events or switching to an online streaming format. Artificial Ink Creative worked on a few creative projects that have recently been selected for screening in late May 2020, particularly Cat Fly Film Festival‘s “Cat Fly and Chill” event as well as ConCarolinas Short Film Festival, not to mention festival strategy work for other filmmakers.
“Cat Fly and Chill” is the latest event from Cat Fly Film Festival, originally intended as a three day screening in Asheville, North Carolina, though now rescheduled as an online streaming event. Ted Kendrick assisted Kira Bursky in extras casting and festival strategy for BEAUTIFUL MESS short film which plays on the first day, May 29th. The second day on May 30th will showcase multiple film projects produced by Ted Kendrick including the DOUBLE AGENT short film which was also written and directed by Kendrick, MOMHEART short film starring Gunner Willis and directed by Joe Naylor and Joe Pellegrino, as well as the “Elevator Went” music video for the Asheville based band Wyla which was directed by Rome Widenhouse.
THE REPLICA RAID II short film starring Jeff Alexander was written, directed, and produced by Ted Kendrick, and will play at the 2020 ConCarolinas Short Film Festival, which is traditionally paired with a comic and gaming convention in Charlotte, NC but will stream online this year in response to the pandemic. THE REPLICA RAID III final installment is in pre-production with the hope to film ASAP.
Follow both Cat Fly Film Fest and ConCarolinas Short Film Festival on social media for more information on the upcoming screening schedules, and tune in to the online livestreams at the end of May 2020 in an effort to support indie filmmaking.
LOST DOMINION is a newly released space western comic book series written by Adam Mullen, illustrated by Mike Lombardo, and published by Lumo Station LLC. In the distant future where a devastating forty year long war brought humanity to its knees, an uneasy peace between two spacefaring empires, the Skran Imperium and the Naams Protectorate, hangs in the balance. On the brink of Interstellar War, a group of unlikely allies must join together to reclaim their LOST DOMINION.
LOST DOMINION is now available for digital download reading on Amazon.com’s ComiXology. The book consists of 48 pages for $4.99. Print issues will soon be available via KaBlam’s IndyPlanet direct printing and shipping service. Check it out, and if you enjoy the comic, please rate the book five stars, and share with a friend!
I was hired as Editor by Adam Mullen to reconstruct LOST DOMINION from a prose short story to comic script format. Over a few years, I helped strategize the comic’s construction from production to its eventual release. Along with James Strecker and Valentina Viesti on coloring, I assisted in the art department as Letterer, designing the word balloons and sound effects for the entire first issue. Check out the book if it sounds like your thing, and follow @lostdominioncomic on Instagram for updates on the series and additional chapter releases in the future!
The DOUBLE AGENT short comedy film was written, directed and produced by myself, Ted Kendrick, for Aputure’s Light This Location contest, with Garin Wilson as Director of Photography, Absolute Grip. Co. on lighting, Rome Widenhouse as Editor, and various other volunteer crew. The short features Erich Reinhard as Jim Tackman, and Zach Echols and Tyler Buckner as the two gangsters. Although the film didn’t the win, DOUBLE AGENT is currently in consideration to play at multiple film festivals, which I hope to share more info soon. Despite uploading a version of the film online in November 2019, I asked composer, Tony Mozz, to revisit the first minute of music in an effort to strike more of a balance between the piano and dialogue, and create the new version, which is embedded below.
Since the conclusion of GRAPHIC CONTENT, and continued brainstorming before the relaunch of the 12TH LEVEL INTELLECTS podcast, I’ve been creating random video essays for the WATCHTOWER DATABASE. Most recently, I focused on voice actor Mark Hamill, who played various characters in DC Animation like Solomon Grundy, the Trickster, Swamp Thing, and most notably, The Joker from BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. This video might read a bit like an audible IMDb page, but that’s exactly the purpose behind WDb’s CASTING CALL series which spotlights various voice actors who have participated in the DC Animated Universe.
I also lent my voice to a recurring character called Dr. ManHatTed, an amalgam of WATCHMEN’s Dr. Manhattan and the Mr. Nobody villain from DOOM PATROL, who has been interfering in the cosmic construction of the WATCHTOWER DATABASE video continuity in an extensive story that began with Mattie Washburn’s missing chair, and made its way into the chaotic rant that is the following video. Naturally, the character is a man, myself Ted, wearing a hat, with a deep voice modulation.
Lastly, I also recently wrote the script, and narrated the below video essay spotlighting characters from the traditional JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK, a superhero team made up of magical characters that take on cases too mysterious or disturbing for the primary Justice League to handle. Since the JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK did not premiere until 2011, and the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED cartoon wrapped in 2004, the team was never showcased in the DC Animated Universe (DCAU), though many of its members, such as Zatanna, Etrigan, and Deadman appeared in multiple episodes, and the team received their own animated feature film in 2017 as part of the DC Animated Movie Universe (DCAMU) continuity.
My comic book and graphic novel review show GRAPHIC CONTENT has officially come to a close after its 26th and final episode, which fulfills a complete biweekly year long run on the Watchtower Database YouTube channel. The following episodes showcase creator owned original series like UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY and NO ONE LEFT TO FIGHT, an independent graphic novel by Jeff Lemire titled FROGCATCHERS, and Batman focused comics like THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS written by Scott Snyder with art by Jock, and THE BATMAN ADVENTURES HOLIDAY SPECIAL by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Glen Murakami. The first two episodes immediately below were also filmed at a friends’ house in front of an extensive collection of DC Comics Archives editions which made a great backdrop.
The last few episodes focused on books like GREEN LANTERN: BLACKSTARS which was an interlude mini-series before the launch of GREEN LANTERN SEASON TWO by Grant Morrison, then the first of an original graphic novel series from Image Comics titled NOVEMBER written by Matt Fraction with art by Elsa Charretier, Gail Simone’s run on BIRDS OF PREY that inspired the film adaptation which featured Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn (and my episode coincided with the film release date), the MARTIAN MANHUNTER origin retelling mini-series written by Steve Orlando with art by Riley Rossmo, and ended with an episode on MAGE by Matt Wagner who wrote and illustrated the Image Comics series over several decades.
I’ve been lucky to have a forum to share my appreciation and speculation regarding what books I have been following, and grateful for the thousands of people who tuned in each episode to watch my take. Despite some experience in podcasting, being a talking head and internet personality took some adjusting for me, and even then I didn’t always correctly set the video focus or sound levels, but I grew and enjoyed the endeavor nonetheless, and look forward to continuing to produce content for the Watchtower Database. Catch me chatting with James Strecker and Mattie Washburn in the reboot of the 13TH LEVEL INTELLECTS podcast, and read my work in upcoming issues of the LEGACIES OF THE DCAU webcomic.
Bless Your Heart released their debut album “New Very Strange Songs” on December 6th as a collection of lonesome cowpoke ballads with characteristics of a southern pastel gothic flair from Southeastern born-and-bred frontpeople Sunn Set Apple and Vigilance Deadname.
The band defies genre conventions by combining classic country with post-rock, lacing up leather boots for its shoe-gaze aesthetic, all in an effort to unite their southern heritages with queer identities. Songs like “Coyote” and “Meet Me in July” are noodling entrees in an album full of spaghetti western dinners.
Southern slang like “bless your lil’ heart” has always implied a polite but backhanded “screw you” in Bible Belt colloquial, but the phrase has now been repurposed in punk fashion as a rock band.
Sunn Set and Vigilance met in 2005 on their first day of high school. “We were in a couple of [music] projects in high school and college,” said Sunn Sett, “but Bless Your Heart as a concept started in 2013” which is when they began writing and playing music together in a garage as a trio.
“I was having the worst year of my life. I found it cathartic to write country songs, but I wasn’t a very good guitarist,” said Sunn Set, “but I found different palettes to put country songs in while I was learning as I went.”
The band formally came together in 2017 when Sunn Set and Vigilance debuted the project in its current incarnation at a birthday party benefit for J20 Defense.
Bless Your Heart currently features D.K. Ryan on the standup bass, Mike Johnson is the engineer and pedal steel player, Nick Morrino plays drums, and Mary Beth Byrd sings harmony and does all the graphic design.
Since most of the band are professionals in their craft, Bless Your Heart has been able to embrace the semi-DIY approach, and keep many aspects of production in house. The one thing they went out of house for was the mastering.
“Mike was looking into mastering engineers and noticed that Harris Newman at Greenmarket Mastering was available, who mastered ‘Pony’ by Orville Peck,” which was one of their favorite albums that came out in 2019, and received some attention at the 2020 Grammy Awards.
“We sent it off to [Harris]. His rates were reasonable. We’re really happy working with him,” said Sunn Set. “Lo Wolf just sent an album off to him as well. We’ve gotten him some work. I feel like it’s the year of the gay cowpoke, between Orville Peck and Lil Nas X.”
Vigilance revealed that ze worked on the album for over a year. “We hashed out these songs, and these arrangements that just blow my mind and helped grow the band,” said Vigilance. “Now we want to get back into songwriting, start making some new stuff, and playing stuff live.”
Bless Your Heart played an album release show at West Asheville hometown venue The Mothlight on December 9th, and returned for a follow up feature shortly after on January 14th. “Pulling off a show like that, I feel like it’s not really the end of a cycle but the beginning,” reflected Sunn Set. “Setting a goal to release the album on time, getting the release show done, and nailing it, I was driving home, and felt like I had pulled off a heist. Like Bonnie and Clyde.”
“There’s this combination of exhaustion and inspiration,” said Sunn Set. “I feel like I’m going to be tired for the rest of my life, but I’m content with it. It’s like when I was younger and couldn’t fall asleep, my mom and my dad would always say, ‘You didn’t work hard enough today.’”
The band identifies as boot-gaze, bridging the divide between country and indie shoe-gaze. “People compliment my guitar playing, and I still feel a lot more confident than I did when I was starting to play guitar live, but I still feel like I’m not as good of a guitarist as I am a tap dancer,” said Sunn Set. “Solos are easy compared to the basics, like I can’t play a solid rhythm guitar.”
Although Vigilance takes the lead on most of the guitar solos, ze consider themselves to be more of a lyrical person. “I’ve always kinda felt like I’m the forest and Sunn Sett sings all the trees,” explained Vigilance. “I can build the world, and Sunn Sett picks all the plants.”
“I totally love pop music,” said Sunn Set. “I love it from a production perspective, and being able to bring elements of that scale of production to something that’s a little more outsider.”
“The really cool thing is we brought our songs together at the beginning. Now we write together, and you can just hear the unity of just working on it together than separately,” Vigilance spoke to the collaborative songwriting process with Sunn Set. The song “Coyote” has had several phases of existence, spanning back nearly a decade. “I definitely feel like songs are living things. I wrote ‘Coyote’ at three separate points of my life because the song needed more words as it went along to flesh it out. It’s basically the story of my life since 2011 in a sarcastic way.”
Although the band never explicitly went out of their way to present as southern gothic, they inevitably embraced the aesthetic. Sunn Set admits their goth phase began at the same time the band first formed in 2013. Vigilance and Sunn Set dyed their hair black at the same time.
Sunn Set and Vigilance revealed that their true influences are anything from James Taylor to the Magnetic Fields, and The National for the sadness factor. “I definitely feel like it’s really easy for me to go through the songs and be like, ‘Oh yeah, we totally had a Jesus and Mary Chain moment here,’” said Sunn Set. “I also really like Brandi Charlisle and think that comes through.” Sunn Set cited their all time favorite artist as Willie Nelson while Vigilance said White Pilgrim.
I feel like it’s the year of the gay cowpoke, between Orville Peck and Lil Nas X.
Sunn Sett Apple
The album title “New Very Strange Songs” was inspired by the song “Lukenbach Texas” by Waylon Jennings. The chorus includes the lines, “Between Hank Williams’ pain songs and Newberry’s train songs…” but when Sunn Set was a child, they always thought Jennings was singing “New very strange songs” in that final line.
The album title is both a nod, stating their allegiances, and passive aggressively wedging themselves into this canon of country music. “It’s also descriptive,” laughed Vigilance. “Someone told us that at the release show.”
The album was significantly funded by a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign as a community effort. “We had over twenty contributors give us more than $600 to help make it happen,” revealed Sunn Set. “That means absolutely so much to us, with so little to show for what we could do, for that many people in our lives to put their faith in us, is just incredible to me.”
Bless Your Heart is pulling all the stops on the merchandise as well, with cassettes of the debut album, stickers, and T-shirts and posters with the various design layouts by Mary Beth Byrd. Online ordering for any of Bless Your Heart’s products will be available in the near future.
Bless Your Heart also performed shows at Static Age Records on February 15th, and later that month in Savannah, Georgia where they opened for a burlesque group at the Jinx, which has a stage designed like the Black Lodge from TWIN PEAKS.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Find yourself at home on the dynamic range displayed with true grit from Bless Your Heart. “New Very Strange Songs” is now available for streaming wherever you listen to music like Bandcamp and Spotify.
LEGACIES OF THE DCAU released another six-page issue in the “Anno Domini” storyline. Anno Domini translates to “the year of our lord” in Latin which is used as a reference to an ominous ‘dark king’ on the final page cliffhanger. The subtitle “2019” reveals the setting, an important time in the DC Animated Universe since it was the canonical final year that Bruce Wayne operated as Batman, as expanded upon in the previous LEGACIES issue “Prebirth”. The “2019” issue was written by myself Ted Kendrick, pencilled by James Strecker, and cover art by Rick Celis.
“2019” occurs several months after the events of “Prebirth”, and centers around Superman giving a speech commemorating the ten year anniversary of the disastrous Near Apocalypse of ’09, a mysterious event involving Ra’s Al Ghul that was referenced several times in BATMAN BEYOND storylines. Page 3 even reveals imagery with my take on that crisis. One of the most fun aspects of this issue was dreaming up the Justice League of 2019. I included Superman and Big Barda as direct references to the team from BATMAN BEYOND, along with The Atom, Green Lantern, and Static there as nods to the far future as well. Starfire and Plastic Man were fun additions since neither had truly been seen in the DC Animated Universe before, though page 2 shows where all of the original Justice Leaguers such as Wonder Woman, John Stewart, The Flash, and J’onn J’onzz are during this issue.
A few weeks after the issue, James Strecker and I recorded a behind-the-scenes video looking at the process of creating the issue. We broke down the scenes, identified the easter eggs, and called out elements that reference previous issues or set up future events. We have a lot of story to tell, and a few more chapters set in the year 2019, which is 15 years after the end of JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED, but 20 years before the start of BATMAN BEYOND. The core mission statement behind LEGACIES has always been to fill in the missing gaps between those shows. Check out the BTS video below, and click the link above to read the full issue.