Danny Phantom Road to Reign Storm : Shades of Gray Review
Hello all you happy people! And a special thank you to all of you lovely people who liked, literally and metaphorically, my “Bitter Reunions” review!” I was very proud of that one and you people are lovely. And since the audience is clearly there i’ve decided to go ahead with making this a full arc on the blog. Welcome friends old and new to
ROAD TO REIGN STORM!
Basically me covering every important episode leading into the first tv movie and my faviorite episode of the series , Reign Storm. I DID plan to cram this all into the months leading up to July, when Reign Storm first aired.. buuuuutttt with my vacation in July, I simply didn’t have the room to shove all the episodes needed into that time space. But it ended up working out perfectly anyways as doing the math, I realized doing these monthly i’d hit Reign Storm in October PERFECTLY timed for Halloween as long as I did two episodes that month.. and given one of the episodes needed for this arc is Fright Knight, The Show’s Halloween episode, it was just too good to pass up. So yeah if you like Danny Phantom stick with this blog as from now until October i’ll be bringing you some of the shows best episodes once a month. And honestly if the reviews keep up their popularity, or hell being optomistic INCREASE it I intend to make this a permeant part of the blog and just pick other episodes to review after Reign Storm. And if you hop over to my pateron at patreon.com/popculturebuffet and help me reach my goal of making 20 dollars a month (i’m up to 15 now), I will ALSO do a review of the second TV movie and another one of the series best episodes, The Ultimate Enemy. I also have exclusive reviews, a patreon discord and a free review a month for five dollar backers so if you want me to double up on Danny or review some other great animated show hop on over.
Now out of the episodes for this marathon this is the one I was dreading the most outside of Fright Knight. Like Fright Knight I just remember not liking it but unlike Fright Knight, where I remember the reason very well, I just couldn’t recall why, especially since I loved the other Valerie centric episodes. Life Lessons is a great Chained Heat story and the series best use of Skulker, Reign Storm is again my favorite episode, Flirting with Disaster is again one of the series best even if I don’t like the redeisgn of Valerie’s Suit, and finally D-Stabilized is the last great episode of the show. Granted I don’t HATE Phantom Planet the way a lot of fans do, but in hindsight it’s still not GOOD. Huh that might be worth a look in fact as of this very sentence i’m adding THAT one to my pateron stretch goals too at 30. No really.
In hindsight those reasons turned out ot have jack all to do with episode quality: Turns out I just felt really bad for Valerie and seeing her life ruined, and it clouded my memories of how much the rest of this episode slaps.. as well as obscured it’s ACTUAL problems. But why did I feel so bad, why does this episode rule, and what serious Tucker shaped issues does this episode have? Join me under the cut to find out!
As a heads up despite the title.. I will not be making any Fifty Shades of Grey jokes. In large part because these are teenagers... I have limits. The other reason is that serious sucks, glorifies abuse and better men than me, i.e. Domnick Noble, have torn apart why this series is terrible, glorifies abuse, misrepresents bdsm, and in general just sucks eggs. There’s nothing I can add and thankfully it seems it’s starting to fade into the ashes of history. Thankfully though, Jamie Dornan has not as Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar has proven he’s not only geninely talented but funny too and thanks to that we got this gem.
I wont’ lie I was waiting for a chance to use this.. this movie is a treasure and worth your time. Seek it out.
We open with a typical day for Danny... running for his life from Dash whose taking his D out on him.
Haven’t pulled that one out in a while...
Dash is not a character I like a lot. He’s like Flash Thomspon.. but minus the things at that eventually made Flash Intresting: a growing friendship with the hero as he grows out of being a horses ass and some hidden depths. He DOES get a really good episode with Danny that sent the shippers racing and Butch Hartman racing to ban those shippers from his forums, no really heard that happened, but otherwise he’s just your standard dickish bully.
Scott Bullock DOES give it his best and we do get some great gags with him but he’s mainly there for Danny to either ruin danny’s life, get humilaited by danny, or be part of some hamfisted “you shouldn’t sink to your bullies level” aseop that dosen’t work because sometimes you have to defend yourself and what the fuck is Danny supposed to do otherwise, Sam. My point is Dash wasn’t great and neither was Splitting Images. It’s part of why I object to calling the first 9 episodes “The Magnifcent 9″ as some do, as that episode is plain bad and the first episode after them is this one, which as we’ll get to is pretty damn good. I will howver admit the rest of the 9 are really great and a a few, for the record: What You Want, Bitter Reunions, Prisoner of Love and My Brother’s Keeper, are some of my faviorites of the series peirod. I just feel singling those episodes out as some hot streak when it goes cold pretty quickly is kinda weird, and that season 1 on the whole is VERY strong, with only a handful of weak episodes in the bunch, so it feels disingenuous to say the rest of the season isn’t as good when it clearly is.
Danny’s problems only get worse when he pisses off the episode’s antagonist...
No no.. that’s next time. No it’s Valerie who Danny accidently spills coffee on and whose response is to tell Kwan to beat him up a bunch.
At this point I was wondering why Danny didn’t you know just duck away and use his ghost powers.. but it turns out that was the joke because as the Ambigously Gay Duo, I mean there’s gotta be shippers for these guys right? The chemistry is there man.. the chemstiry is there, charge at one another Danny just ducks off and phases and leaves them to smack into one another.
Danny ends up phasing into the parking lot and encounters a puppy. AWWW LOOOKIT THE LITTLE DOGGO.
He’s so precious. Nick is really missing out on not making this guy a plushie. Just saying. But naturally this being Danny’s life he’s not allowed to have nice things and the dog instead turns into a hellhound. As you do. And not the sexy goth kind the giant classical kind that bites your head off or lives in Stephen King’s basement. Naturally, he’s named Cujo. Here’s an artist interpretation of what happens to our hero next.
So being dragged along, Danny ends up at Axion Labs. I get the feeling this place was SUPPOSED to be more important given that like Valerie it gets a lot of importance here and was likely supposed to be this series version of S.T.A.R. Labs, a place for the ghosts to break into and take stuff. Looking at the wiki this happens all of once and the Lab itself only shows up twice after this.
The reason is simple: Unlike most superhero works almost all the super powered players are ghosts. Ergo, the Fentons are going to have any equipment they really need and given their lab is also right next to the very portal they all escape out of , it just didn’t make a lot of sense to have a second location for that sort of thing. As such it only comes up the one time they need something not ghost related, and for another episode featuring Valerie.
So naturally as Valerie’s Dad promotes his new security.. Danny unwittingly trashes it fighting the ghost dog and Damon is unfairly fired because his boss is a white dipshits and white dispshits don’t pay attention to things like basic logic or you know, look at security cameras to check for acountablity.
So Damon and Valerie are forced to sell everything they can in a yard sale and move. And in show of his character depsite Val having JUST sicked Kwan on Danny yesterday.. or the day before that the time scale’s not very clear here, but it had to be recent.. he still shows empathy. He feels bad both her dad lost his job.. and that it’s his fault. he’s a good honest kid. Even Sam, depsite her tendency towards self righteousness feels bad. Tucker though... this is his actual dialogue:
“She’s having a hard week.. which means I can catch her on the rebound! Sweet!”
So to recap, Tucker’s first thought upon seeing a fellow classmate, one who is a bitch but still dosen’t deserve this, at a clear low point in her life, depressed, humilatied and having lost everything is...
“She’s emotionally vulnerable for me to pray on! I might have a shot now!”
Yeah... this is the episode’s biggest problem. The episode TRIES to portray Tucker as sympathetic after this as he tries picking her up....but he’s VERY not. He tried preying on her vunerablities. I’ve screwed up, come on too strong, been a bit offputting but even at my lowest and dumbest I knew better than to try and prey on someone’s worst emotional moments to make them like me. It dosen’t WORK, she rebuffs him as well as Danny’s genuine attempts to reach out because h’es a good person and not a predatory little shithead, but it dosen’t make it okay and again the rest of the episode tries to make him seem like a nice guy.. after this.
This episode in general reminds me why Tucker isn’t the best episode. He DID get an excellent spotlight episode early on with “What You Want”, one of my personal faviorites... but otherwise he’s a coin flip: He’ll either be Danny’s loyal if geeky and egositical best friend... or an egositical little shit who dosen’t care about what other people think, and isn’t a good friend let alone a good person.
I chalk this up to the series broad nature: while it dosen’t lack depth, not in the slightest, being very loud and bold with characterizations as is Butch Hartman’s signture means sometimes the characters get amped up a bit too far past likeablity> it happens to all of the main cast EXCEPT Danny. Sam tends to get too self righeous, Jazz tends to be a bit too over the top in not liking her parents beyond her usual very resonable and understandable amount, Jack fluctuates between likeable bufoon and dangerous jackass and Maddy sometimes gets sucked up into that. The show is very good but it’s tendency to flanderize the cast when convient is easily i’ts biggest weakness and something that would only get worse for Butch Hartman across all shows as he degraded as a creator and human being over the years.
Anyway Cujo shows up again, Danny tries to stop him, he gets Linused again, you get the bit. Valerie is PISSED and now thinking the two are in cahoots, wants answers for what the fuck they are. Meanwhile Danny TRIES putting the pupper back in the portal but Kujo digs his way out. Yes he DIGS his way out of the ghost zone portal that’s necessary for all the other ghosts to get through. How?
The next day at School the Popular Kids prove how good people they are by shunning their friend who just lost everything for not being able to got to the concert. Team Fenton once again feels bad and Tucker once again swoops though this time TRYING to be nice and being a bit awkard.. but again the episode shot that in the foot, head and gonad by having Tucker EXPLICITLY go after her earlier because she was vulnerable. You don’t get to have him be awkard and have trouble approaching her.. especially since Tucker usually DOSEN’T have this issue anyway. His problem with girls is that he comes on way to strong, struggled there myself. Though where as iwth me it’s because i’m awkward as shit and tried way too hard, with him it’s because he overcompensates for feeling awkard by being an egocentric buttmunch.
So Cujo attacks, linsued, you get it. Act 1 is a reptitivie. The scenes are all NECESSARY, the axiom labs breaks in sets off Valerie’s downward spiral, the house sets up how bad it is for her and reinforces her hatred and finally this one has Tucker reveal to valrie what she saw were ghosts, leading to her big origin story moment in the next scene now she knows what to blame for her misfortunes. It just dosen’t make the Danny and Dog shenanigans any less repittive and they don’t do much diffrent each time apart from a VERY funny bit where Danny makes a who let the Dogs out joke Sam finds blisterly unfunnya nd I find delightfully unfunny.
So at home Valrie is frustrated, her dad is now Axiom Labs security guard because clearly white douche just wants to humiliate him further, and WOW this episode has a lot of clearly unintended racial subtext: it’s not a bad thing mind, but an upper middle class black family looses eveyrthing in a second because of a white guy’s accidental fuck up and another white guy’s utter douchebaggery runing his career despite what’s clearly been a sterling situation. I mean... it’s pretty hard to ignore and I don’t know why I would but it enhances the episode in hindsight. Damon comes off as genuinely charming, hardowrking friendly guy who lost everything because of NOTHING he did wrong. Just because one white asshole didn’t BOTHER considerng that maybe it wasn’t the security system’s fault.
But Val gets a package.. from Vlad. Vlad claims in a letter to have heard her troubles, and gives her the equipment to do something about it. He also is watching from the Window because fuck subtley. But I do love this origin story. For one Vlad knowing works perfectly and while the series felt the need to have vlad show up in person to hammer in he’s behind Val’s gear, they wisely didn’t feel the need to force an explination why he knwos about all this. His intro episode established he has connections in the ghost zone: he hired skulker and the shriner vultures, we learn later in the season he has his own portal. If he was already keeping tabs just on Jack to try and steal his wife, would he suddenly STOP now he has a new prize in Danny and directly has an intrest in Danny’s career as a hero and steering him away from that.
As for why do this at all.. it’s simply good strategy: Vlad HAS minons.. but Skulker costs money and only beat Danny so far due to Danny’s own inexperince and something Vlad made for him, and as seen in “Bitter Reunions”, Vlad can’t entirely rely on him not to kill Danny and rob him of his prize.
The Shriners meanwhile are loyal and wouldn’t kill him.. but as we’ve seen are no real match for Danny. Vlad has pieces on the board but none are strong enough to take the one he wants and any ghost he could get introduced so far has it out for Danny and like Skulker would simply wipe him out instead.
Valrarie fixes that problem: While she also wants to kill him if she succeeds, then that not only leaves Maddie vunerable in her grief, but also leaves him with a worthly replacement, and with Val’s inexperince, that’s not guaranteed she will. If she captures him, as she’s revealed to have her own fenton thermos, then she really woudln’t have anyone else to take him too other than the Fentons, and given Vlad backed val, has been nothing but nice and supportive, she’d have no reason not to trust him. No matter which way things go, Vlad has his heir and Danny is out of the picture.
So with Cujo’s repeated escapes, Sam comes up with a plan: she gives Danny a dog training book for him to deal with it, then says “I can’t be seen with a ghost boy and fucks off”... I mean yes she has a point and stays nearbye to watch, but it’s still pretty dickish> Not the most she’ll get this episode though.
So Danny tries training him.. only to find out Cujo IS trained, which deepens the mystery. But before he can get into the why Valerie attacks. Valerie strikes me as a weird combination of the Second Green Goblin and Venom, smiliar to how Vlad is also a combination of the first and the lethal protector. But while Vlad has Norman’s personality and Venom’s powerset and knoweldge of the heroes perosnal life as a threat, Valarie is the oppositie. Her arsenal purposfully echos the various goblins: she has a glider, a laser (though a rifle rather than a glove thing), and razor sharp throwing weapons (little pink razor discs for val, Bat shaped projectiles for the goblins. Her personality though comes of a LOT like a more like Eddie Brock: someone who lost everything thanks to the hero just doing their job, and blames him for it and refuses to see him as a good person despite it clearly being true. She’s not INSANE like Eddie but she is just as blinded by vengance. I specified the second goblin because she SLIGHTLY echoes harry as someone who, at least at first, genuinely has a reason to think the hero did something bad and easily blends into their personal life. It’s not a lot but it’s still a little.
A nice touch I like is much like Danny himself Val.. isn’t really skilled at first. She just GOT this equipment hours ago presumibly and dosen’t have anywhere to practice with it, and seems too impatient and angry to WAIT to do that anyway. So during the first fight she misses Danny constantly, with all thre of her weapons as she also has missiles, and regularly stumbles with the hoverboard , to the point she actually falls off at one point, though Vlad was smart enough to build an autopilot in the thing to pick her up as soon as it senses she was detached. I like it because in some works, even good ones, she’d of already picked up the skill in an instant. Instead just like our hero she has to learn how to use her stuff wisely. She does land ONE hit.. and that’s when Danny realizes he’s in danger as while she’s not skilled YET, the one hit from the razor thing DOES in fact hurt him. And she does start to get a grip on them as she goes, meaning h’es in real trouble and Danny runs to sam for help.
How she does.. is infamous. Espcieally people like me who shipped sam and danny at the time. Sam makes out with Danny, tackling him, and this fake Val out, hence the term fake out make out, though both try to deny it was nothing after. I don’t MIND the Sam and Danny will they or won’t they arc on paper.. but it runs into a problem a LOT of shows of the time did.. and nick did THREE times in teh same era: they drag it out for the ENTIRE SERIES. They hint at Sam and Danny as far back as this but apart from some chemsitry and ship tease here and there they don’t do anything to build up to the relationship properly, and they just sorta frustratingly hint at it without EVER paying it off.
And I get the old axiom “Oh if the relationship happens it will be boring” But then why are you bothering with it? If fans don’t want to see what happens with these two as a couple then WHY are we tuning in. Sure if it dosen’t quite work out after the fact, feel free to toss it... but if your NEVER going to pull the trigger, why load the gun?
And there are exceptions to the rule: She Ra took all series.. but Catra was an antagonist till the final season, and said final season spent a good amount of time on it. Ducktales very clearly built up Weblena but didn’t have the creative freedom of say Owl House of being an original property to pull that trigger so they did hte best they could.. and poosssibly TRIED to backtrack in the finale, but it’s hard to tell if tha’ts what it was or not. I’m just caling poor writing.
But this shit just never sits well with me and Nick is the reason. This show, Avatar and Zoey Fucking 101 all ruined the idea for me by taking an entire fucking season to pay off the main relationship. Especially Zoey seriously fuck that show. Jamie Lynn Spears seems nice like her sister (#FreeBritney), but I sunk SO many hours into hoping for a relationship that just wasn’t worth the effort there. May be worth exploring at some point. Point is while i’m not against Sam and Danny despite their more jerkass moments, the show had no real intrest in actually developing them as a burdgoning couple.. which was made 10 times worse by this very arc as the next episodes with her would make VALERIE a far better poteitial love intrest and character in general. And yeah.. i’ve switched to that ship in adult age despite not having rewatched those episode. Becuase apparently “pairing sinvolving a thorughly intresting character who gets fucked over because it’s not the series OTP” is my life now. Welcome to the club with CJ and Tom, Valerie, i’m having Jackets made.
Before we move on i’ll also say this.. Valerie’s outfit is awesome. It’s simple, a miliatary style bodysuit with a cool helmet but it just WORKS. It’s striking, deadly looking and a nice contrast to Danny: Almost all red with hints of black to contrast his all black with hints of white, a mask in contrast to Danny never being spotted because of Atom Eve Logic: if no one supsects a hero at your school, your not going to think someone is.
Tucker runs into Valerie the next day and finds she has an intrest in ghost hunting... and then decides to exploit that using his own knowledge of ghosts and when Val scoffs at his cheap ploy, he brings up Danny’s family being ghost hunters.
I mean... good god this makes him look just as bad as not worse than that line before.. and that’s a HIGH bar to clear. But the facts of the matter are
A) Val is showing an interesting in hunting ghosts, after having a grudge AGAINST HIS BEST FRIEND. I get Tucker is thinking with his dick but there’s a limit to how stupid that can make you.. it’s a high limit but come on man.
B) Telling her ANYTHING short of what he just did endangers Danny and while he could use being around Danny a a cover that’s just going to make her want to visit Danny’s parents and this posisbly team up with them, and get even BETTER armed.
C) She has repeadtly shown NO INTREST in you and only does the second you have valuable info, you shallow, stupid dipshit.
Good god Tucker sucks in this episode. And I thought he was bad in King Tuck but good fucking christ he somehow got worse.
Sam however proves she too can be a buttwipe, as she’s hostile to Valerie from this point onward. While sh’es not WRONG to not want her to kill him, Danny at least gets WHY: He ruined her life and as fara s she can tell, he’s just a bad guy who did it for kicks. He did genuinely hurt her and feels awful about it. Sam... is a dick because Val used to be a dick, and is ignoring any and all reasons. The two also stupidly tell val she can’t sit, which is just dumb. Val also isn’t much better at being sneaky by asking Danny about his parents... though at least she has no real reason to hide it as she dosen’t know Danny’s the ghost boy.
We do get a really cooll shot at the game their at as Cujo returns again and Val and Danny leave in unison to go suit up. I love stuff like that.
We get another fight with the two, one Danny wins.. but only barely and partly because unlike Val, he’s not trying to actually hurt her and just trying to talk to her, as well as having to keep Cujo from eating her. Val does, as mentioned have a thermos.. but can’t open it and Tuck PITCHES IN TO HELP. Grante dhe COULD just be a distraction but frankly i’ts hard to tell. Danny gets away.
The next class Danny and Sam berate tucker for letting Tucker Jr think for him and the best Tucker can rebuttal with is “A girl finally likes me, i’m going with this”
SHE DOSNE’T. LIKE. YOU. YOU ARE A TOOL. In both senses of the word. A means to an end. A way for her to get to Danny’s Parents and possibly get more equipment, proper training or both. Also that plot thread is never followed up on and it bothers me a lot. But the real point is , she is not intrested. She wasn’t before, and you only were beacause she’s hot. No really what other reason does he have. He never talks abotu her personality or anything, he’s just happy someone’s intresteed. And i’ve been there, trust me, but even I, lonely as I am, wouldn’t put a possible relationship over the saftey of people I care about! Jesus christ man do you even LIKE Danny. And he also has the GALL to tell Danny “don’t you trust me?”
That’s not the problem you stupid hat wearing ... person. I’m running out of insults. Danny is concerned your DATING someone who wants to transparnetly use you to help kill him! GAHHHHHHHH.
Danny’s response is also stupid. “I trust you tucker”
Our heroes head to Axiom Labs that night, though Danny’s uneasy as Damon is on duty. This episode is a good showcase of who Danny is: he wants to help Cujo because the dog genuinelY ISN’T evil, jsut a dog wanting something from it’s old home. And he dosen’t HATE Valerie because he gets she has every reason to hate him, he simply dosen’t want to die and wants to get through to her. He’s the ONLY one in Team Phantom to not be a moron about her really: Sam is leaning way too hard on “she’s our enemy so she’s evil” even though it makes no sense and at worst Valerie was just a bitch before, and Tucker is thinking entierly about getitng a girlfriend and putting it over his friends lives.
Danny leaves Cujo with his friends, using the Fenton Fisher as a dog chain, and goes in to find why.. and finds Valerie. And this time he’s at his most vunerable as he’s tryign to reason with her.. and she wants to kill him, AND has now had enough field time and preperation to actually be a threat. It’s a neat progression going from novice to mildly skilled to on Danny’s level and actually shows some pretty good depth from Valerie: she went from a vacuous teenager to a badass with only DAYS, and it took danny much longer to get as skilled as he is by this point. It’s no wonder she’s the second biggest threat he’s faced, nor that Vlad backed her: he saw what she was capable of when she put herself to it.
The fight both triggers the alarm, and sends Danny down into the old guard dog Kennel. Now realizing why Kujo is mad he grabs his squeaky and gives it to the good boy, FINALLY sending him off. He also genuinely tries ending the conflict with Valerie, telling her not all ghosts are bad, he didn’t mean anything and trying to bury the hatchet. And who knows.. in another life she could’ve let go of her anger, truly teamed up with Danny and joined the team then and there, giving himn a valuable ally and depriving Vlad of a pawn. Maybe their relationship would’ve happened.
But sadly as you likely know.. tha’ts not what happens. She instead flips him and tries to kill him, not buying it. It’s her biggest weaknesss really: Val is so clouded by rage and resintment she can’t see that Danny TRULY is a good person who just done goofed and thus robs herself of a potetial friend and ally simply by refusing to let go of a grudge. Danny by contrast let go of his own animosity imiedlty: Despite having ZERO reaosn to be sympathetic, he has been the whole time and genuinely has wanted to help her and help undo his screw up. It’s what makes him the better person: he can forgive.. she can’t.
Tucker does get ONE moment of not being a shithead and takes the fall for the mess in the room to save Damon’s job. WIth that Danny has yet another powerful, driven and personal arch enemy.. btu Sam has valeries tickets and takes the guys to the show Val couldn’t go to and embarasses the popular kids. Horays all around.
Shades of Gray is a decent episode. Valerie is a throughly engaging antagonist, a rare sympathetic one in this show and a unique enemy; Danny can’t just pop her in the ghost zone and be done with her and while it dosen’t come up here he has to worry about actually hurting her when their fighting, something he really dosen’t with the more resilent ghosts he faces. He has to use his skill to compensate and fair is fair does so well, but it creates an intresting dynamic: he now has one of his enmies right at School, and thus like with having to guard his ghost half from his parents is never truly safe anywhere now.
Cujo is also intresting. While his shictk is repetiive, the idea of an ANIMAL ghost, whose simply acting on insticnt is an intresting one I wish they revisited. He’s not malicious he’s simply a dog and simply wants his toy and likely dosen’t even fully comprehend he’s dead. I honeslty wish Danny had kept the little guy as a pet. It would’ve been adorable.
But this episode is held back by Tucker as i’ve made clear. He’s at his most obnoxious, selfish and self serving here and is entirely too stupid to live. He priortizes maybe being in a relatinship over his best friends life and said relationship starts with him trying to pick her up when she’s vunerable. He’s an utter ballbag this episode and I pray to god he isn’t this bad in the rest of the episodes. Still this is far better than I remembered, and proves that on average even when Danny Phantom’s not at it’s bet, it’s still damn good.
Next Month on Road to Reign Storm: Walker declares war on Danny and changes things for our hero for good. Also another good doggie.
Tommorow: Treasure of the golden suns continues! And given this episode has a content warning i’m not excited.
See you at the next rainbow!
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