ComicsAlliance Vs. The DC Comics Monster Cereal Redesigns
If there's one thing I've learned in a lifetime of reading, selling, making and writing about comics, it's that people who like comic books also tend to have a pretty healthy interest in breakfast foods. That, I assume, is why the people at General Mills decided to spice up their annual revival of the Monster Cereals -- Boo Berry, Franken Berry and the immortal Count Chocula -- with a set of redesigns for their principal characters, courtesy of artists Jim Lee, Dave Johnson and Terry and Rachel Dodson. In other words, your breakfast just got a New 52 reboot.
The whole thing is even marketed as a co-production between General Mills and DC, with the former presumably handling the cereal while the latter concentrated on art. Obviously, this means that these cereals are technically an edible DC Comics title, so with Halloween creeping up on us like a restless spirit, I have taken it upon myself to examine the new look for the spoooookiest of breakfast cereals to find out just how these new designs hold up to the originals.
Before we get to the actual cereals, though, I want to talk about the box these things arrived in. General Mills was kind enough to send over a box of each cereal for me to try, and this is how it arrived on my doorstep:
Now, far be it from me to criticize a veteran like General Mills, who fought so valiantly against Captain Crunch in the breakfast wars, but if I wanted to market something as being not just edible, but delicious, I would probably not want to cover the box in skulls and crossbones. Maybe this is just what I've learned from a lifetime of of watching cartoons, but skulls tend to be the universal sign for "DO NOT EAT THIS," especially when my usual breakfast involves Basic 4, a cereal that I believe is only consumed by me and the world's oldest living grandparents. I'm already worried about this stuff putting me into a diabetic coma (or, in a better scenario, combining with my morning coffee to give me actual super-powers), and then I have to contend with grim reminders of my own mortality staring at me from the box?
Right away, we're off to a bad start.
COUNT CHOCULA BY TERRY AND RACHEL DODSON
I'm surprised that DC assigned the Count Chocula reboot to the Dodsons instead of Jim Lee. I mean, I'm not saying they should be relegated to Fruit Brute or anything -- who, incidentally, did not make the cut, in a shocking example of General Mills leaving money on the breakfast table with regards to the lucrative Team Jacob market -- but in the world of breakfast foods, Chocula is basically Wolverine meets Batman. Say what you will about Lee's art, but if he should be redesigning anyone, the New 52 has taught us that it should probably be the guy who already has a high collar.
That said, they do a solid job here. The new Chocula is definitely an improvement over his predecessor, largely because they took the time to give him a nose that does not look like a floppy ol' ding-dang, something that most of us do not want to be confronted with first thing in the morning.
Nasal flaccidity aside, there are a number of positive changes here. I'm particularly fond of the subtle bat shape of the eyebrows and the sharpened sideburns, since the Count's original mutton chops tend to look less like a hairstyle choice and more like an olde timey leather football helmet. What's especially notable is that it keeps what works: The bat-ear hair and the "fangs" that make the Count seem less like he's going to suck your blood and more like a bunny rabbit who may or may not crave the precious vitae of the living. The more dramatic posture is a nice touch, too, although like all the boxes, it removes the element of Chocula actually enjoying his own cereal.
Overall, it's a positive change. 4 out a possible 5 coffins.
BOO BERRY BY JIM LEE
As much as I would've enjoyed seeing him take on Count Chocula, I do have to applaud Jim Lee for playing against type by going for Boo Berry instead. Unfortunately, I don't think the redesign actually works that well. There's nothing wrong with it, you understand. I even like that facet that the longer you look at it, the more the eyes appear to be disturbingly off-center, angling to focus directly on you even though Boo Berry's head is tilted slightly away, which helps to add a little Lovecraftian geomtery to a form that would otherwise just look like one of the ghosts from that live-action Casper movie. Even so, I don't think it measures up to the original.
The original Boo Berry design, while flawed, definitely looks like a soul that has been denied paradise, doomed to forever walk the Earth hawking cereal to children. His eyes have a weariness that speaks of years trapped between worlds, while the redesign's suggestive waggle replaces the tragedy with a dose of hucksterism. The shift of the porkpie hat and tie to shades of blue, while representing a muted color palette that works from a design standpoint, takes away from the mismatched ensemble of Boo Berry Prime, which I've always seen as ties to his mortal life. Also, that weird, jagged outline has an unsettling ectoplasmic feel to it that smoothing it out really misses.
On the other hand, people would probably rather see a smiling face on their cereal box than a dead soul so worn down by the toil of his afterlife that he can barely open his eyes and mouth to speak. I'd still say this is the weakest of the bunch: 2 out of a possible 5 coffins.
FRANKEN BERRY BY DAVE JOHNSON
First, neither one of these designs has successfully made it look like Franken Berry does not have a butt growing out of his forehead. Second, I have never noticed that Franken Berry's fingernails are strawberries, and I'm severely weirded out by that for reasons that I can't quite explain. I just... I just do not like it one bit. Third, spelling it as "Franken Berry" instead of "Frankenberry" makes it seem less like it's based on Frankenstein and more like it's a particularly unflattering portrayal of Senator Al Franken (D - MN), especially with those glasses.
That said, this is far and away my favorite redesign of the bunch, mainly because of how much Dave Johnson has added to it. Roughing the edges on the riveted eye pieces and steam gauge gives everything a slightly more steampunkish look, which I appreciate, but the main things here are the two most metal things you can add to a cereal mascot: Scars and chains. The scars play up the Frankenstein connection, serving as a reminder that this dude is definitely a monstrous creature formed from corpses in a mockery of God's creation, which is pretty fantastic. On the other hand, it also opens up pedantic corrections of "um, actually, Franken Berry was the scientist?" so that one goes either way.
It's the chains that really sell it. Who has tried to keep Franken Berry chained, and what happened when he broke free, raining damnation and destruction (and strawberry-flavored frosted cereal with spooky marshmallows) on all who would bind him? That is a story I would like to see. Seriously, if DC really wants to capture fan interest, they can forget about this whole Justice League movie nonsense and give us a nine-movie franchise about these guys.
And Yummy Mummy. He deserves his time in the spotlight.
4 out of a possible 5 coffins.