Written by Jonathan Wojcik
September 4: Bogleech's Favorite Courage Villains!
Bogleech's Favorite Courage Villains!
I felt like doing something a little new this year, so while I did a lot of video game posts for Halloween 2011, I'm devoting a chunk of this year's festivities to children's cartoons! All season long, we're going to be talking about some of my favorite monsters and villains from animated television series, and what could possibly be better to start off with than John R. Dilworth's Courage: The Cowardly Dog?
By far one of the strangest original programs to air on Cartoon Network, Courage regularly subjected a small dog and his elderly owners - the kindly Muriel and her emotionally abusive husband, Eustace Bagge - to a seemingly endless parade of monsters, maniacs and abnormalities who often defied categorization. Opting for a sense of dread decidedly more often than a sense of humor, this may have been one of the western cartoon world's truest and greatest examples of horror writing in the traditional sense of the term.
Narrowing down a "greatest" or "best of" list would be damn near impossible for this show, but I definitely have my own favorites, and maybe some of them were yours, assuming you ever watched it. If not, consider this a crash course in how hard you spent all that time sucking.
EPISODE: "Courage in the Big Stinkin' City"
As one of the Blattodea's biggest fans, I appreciate animated cockroaches by default, and this crunchy bug looks great as one of Dilworth's pop-eyed fiends, even fastidiously cleaning his antennae like the real thing! That's adorable. While more huggable than frightening in my book, Shwick's outward appearance is really more symbolic than anything else, part of his role as the archetypical sleazy, conniving back-alley crook, a poster-bug for the dangerous underbelly of city life.
We never learn a lot about Shwick, except that his full name is Bushwick (but never call him Bushwick, call him Shwick, just Shwick) from the New York borough of the same name (you can call that Bushwick, but not him, just Shwick) and that he's on the run from the law for ambiguous crimes that probably involve murder and extortion. I'm just guessing, because he uses threats of murder for extortion.
Posing as a stagehand for Radio City Music Hall, Shwick lures Muriel and Eustace into his run-down hideout and holds them as unwitting hostages, demanding that Courage run some shady errand for him lest he feed the couple to the unseen, flesh-eating thing he keeps behind a curiously tiny door.
I appreciate the detail of what's probably a poop bucket, there.
Shwick only asks that Courage retrieve a package for him, but the endeavor proves far more dangerous than it sounds. An alert even goes out about the "evil package" on the loose in New York, and the box is smashed on the run from a cop. It turns out to have contained nothing but a squeegee, now useless to wipe away the incriminating "HELP" scrawled on Shwick's filthy window.
It's funny, because as anticlimactic as the squeegee is, it does have a completely illegal purpose. It's the most evil thing that a squeegee can be used for, short of violating and maiming someone. This is exactly why TV-G horror is the best horror. A chase ensues, ending when the insect is finally apprehended by the law, Muriel gets to play her sitar on stage and Eustace is reduced to a still living skeleton by the still-unseen door creature...neither the first nor the last time an episode ends with his mutilation or implied death.
There was also some point at which Shwick and Eustace compared undergarments, because this was the best thing on Cartoon Network ever.
Conway the Contaminationist
EPISODE: "Conway the Contaminationist"
On paper, Conway the Contaminationist is a brilliantly warped character; a man who's lived centuries beyond a normal lifespan through constant exposure to filth, pollution and disease, looking only about as human as you can reasonably expect. It's a concept that would feel right at home in the works of Hideshi Hino or Junji Ito, though his friendly mannerisms and fragile, snail-eyed design are easily the most precious thing I have ever seen in this series.
You might need a full-body condom for it, but tell me you wouldn't hug the shit out of this pestilent geezer. He's like the adorable lovechild of Salad Fingers and Montgomery Burns, a visual you're welcome to remember always. How is this guy even a villain?
Having learned such unorthodox secrets to "true" health and longevity, Conway travels the world in his adorable biplane, extoling the virtues of contaminationism wherever he goes. When he crash lands on the Bagge's farm, he refuses to leave without indoctrinating the family into his way of life, which, while awesome, takes a little too much getting used to. Courage is finally driven to employ a gigantic vacuum cleaner, trapping Conway in a bag of refuse where he fortunately finds himself happier than ever. Everyone wins!
Jeeves Weevil, the Butler Bug
EPISODE: "Evil Weevil"
Our only other insect antagonist is every bit as memorable as good old Shwick, even if the two are almost polar opposites. When this eloquent arthropod flies into Eustace's windshield, Muriel insists that they bring him into their home, where the classy Coleopteran makes a speedy recovery and all too eagerly offers his services.
According to Jeeves, a Butler Bug is a creature that lives only to serve, and his willingness to help around the house has even Eustace warming up to him. He does, after all, work for free, if body fluids don't count. Eustace is soon reduced to a pile of (still grouchy) dust, and Muriel is already rapidly thinning.
After Courage fails a rancid broccoli-eating contest (I guess it's a giant weevil thing) he only defeats the posh parasite by plugging him into his own life-sucking proboscis, preposterously shrinking the monster down to more conventional insect size. At least Courage has the decency to let him leave, presumably to go on killing one family after another.
The Alien Brains
EPISODE: "Car Broke, Phone Yes"
Up there with some of my all-time favorite animated characters, the brain aliens feature in the episode Car Broke, Phone, Yes, titled after the smaller alien's charmingly broken English. Very crudely disguised as a human, the little guy enters people's homes, pretending to need help, and evaluating the overall kindness of the residents. It sounds like noble work, but when he actually finds kindness in Muriel, he whips out a tentacle and drains it from her head, depositing it into a test tube. This "kindness" looks exactly how I always thought it would. Exactly like green snot.
Leaving Muriel even more abusive, hateful and self-absorbed than Eustace, the bug-eyed visitor returns to his starship and delivers the sample of "kindness" to his huge, immobile master.
The overbrain (as I'm going to call him, because that's what you call these kinds of things) boasts that he now knows the secret to ruling all the universe, because "with kindness, I know what NOT to be!." How cute is that? You didn't need to go through all that, overbrain! It's just called being a dick, and you can find that within all of us, if you just care to look!
Freeing the liquid love from the throbbing organ (I'm not sorry for any of that) Courage not only manages to restore Muriel, but gives a splash to the little brain and turns him to the side of good...shortly before handing him a lit bomb, which the naive extraterrestrial graciously accepts. Damn, Courage, that's cold. Fortunately, he gets better. A lot better.
EPISODE: "Freaky Fred"
A fan favorite, Muriel's young nephew Fred isn't even a space monster, an android or a reanimated corpse, but easily one of the creepiest things Courage ever faces. Escaping from his padded cell, he drops in on the Bagges for a visit and spends most of the episode narrating his thoughts to us - in rhyme - as he reflects on his long history of being, as he puts it, "nnnaaaaauuuuughtyyyy."
Fred is a barber, a freaky barber, with an inability to resist shaving people and animals entirely hairless. For the purposes of the cartoon, it's a stand-in for serial murder, but when you get right down to it, significantly more distressing. Fred is really, really into shaving others without their consent, which you may or may not know is a real sexual fetish. He is physically unable to restrain himself for long in the presence of anyone else's hair. It made a mess of his childhood, his only known relationship and his career, and he doesn't regret any of it.
Particularly terrifying - and hysterical - is the moment when Fred shaves off the pancakes he forced into the dog's mouth. Be honest, here, how utterly violated and wrong would you feel if this were you? I'm not counting those of you who just realized you have a new kink. The kind of guy who does this to someone's dog is the kind of guy you trust even less than a convicted killer.
The best part is, Fred essentially "wins," since he succeeds in completely removing virtually all hair from Courage, except for his tail (which, in Fred's own words, would just be "weird") before he's returned to the psychiatric ward, which doesn't seem to bother him in the least.
Did we mention his theme music? It's too bad there isn't a full, clear version of the track I could link you too, but you get the idea. There were a lot of memorable, cool and clever bad guys in Courage, and sometimes equally cool good guys - like the heartbreaking space squids, or the Hunchback - but my dumb favorites list should do for now.
HALLOWEEN 2012 ARCHIVE: