Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Babylon 5 #72: The Long Night

"I did not remove one dictator from the throne just to become a dictator myself."
IN THIS ONE... Emperor Cartagia is assassinated, Londo is promoted to Prime Minister and the Centauri leave Narn. Meanwhile, Sheridan sacrifices guest-star Bryan Cranston on a suicide mission on the even of a great battle.

REVIEW: Given the title, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at the episode's longueurs. The idea is to play on the build-up before a battle, spend time with the troops as anxiety rises. But as a viewer who has been told the Big Battle(TM) will soon happen for half a dozen episodes now, Sheridan still playing chess moves against two god-like opponents, and all of the action played as reports coming in, leaves me a little unsatisfied. There are moments that work, like Ivanova asking Sheridan to promise her she will be placed in danger when the time comes, which is full of apprehension. I can't believe he's still sending her on boring quests to find the First Ones though. Her story about her mother's suicide is long but worthy; I do wish it connected to the other stories a bit better. My takeaway is that it's about what memories we take with us to heaven, or alternately, about promises unfulfilled, but that hardly describes the rest of the episode. I'm just expecting more at this point. The various shots of First One planetary weapons digesting planets also raises tension, but there sure are a lot of them. And then there are moments that don't seem so great. The comedy of Lennier having crucial information, but being consistently interrupted must surely be an example of what Cartagia calls the subjectivity of humor. There's something a bit cheesy about all the aliens' embarrassment that Bryan Cranston's Ranger is given a suicide mission. Character comes out of nowhere, immediately ordered to die? Why should we care?

I wish I could feel more catharsis from Cartagia's death, but it's been planned for so long and in such detail that it doesn't come off as a surprise. The attempt at a twist, with him turning the tables on Londo, soon returns to predictability when Vir has to do the deed himself. Well, obviously. And I won't miss Cartagia who's pretty much been played out. Bookending the event are two scenes between Londo and Vir which each go on too long. The first features some Centauri black comedy, and the second shows the toll already being paid by Vir, with yet another moment of Londo showing his love for his aide. It's well shot and well enough acted, but feels like padding. The Narn sequences are largely saved by G'Kar who, like Londo, finds no joy in their new freedom. G'Kar is saddened by his people's immediate wish for revenge, and can't even feel gratitude towards Londo. Where this character goes now, I have no idea (or memory), but his admonishment that the Narns have learned the wrong lessons from their captivity is gripping stuff.

So where DOES the show go from here? Londo becomes Prime Minister, filling the power vacuum left by his assassination, but he can't spare a smile so long as the Shadows are still roosting on his world. More court intrigue to come even if he manages to expel them, and the future we've seen doesn't exactly give us that assurance. For the giant allied fleet, it's war with little hope of return (FINAL LOG ENTRY ALERT!), and the camera even stays behind a touch too long in an empty room. Perhaps this IS the end of history. If we're seeing so little space action, it may be to boost the budget on the next one. Please tell me the big fight is finally next! I've grown impatient! All the powers are being funneled to the same system, so it NEEDS to be a doozy.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Sheridan listening to a doomed ship's audio evokes a similar scene in Star Trek: First Contact, released just a couple months earlier.

- I get what they're trying to do, and there are important events and good moments here, but the pacing is too slow and tedious.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Who's Steelclaw?

Who's This? Turn to page 11 in your guide book (Who's Who vol.XXII). That guy.
The facts: Dedicated Star City mayor turned vigilante Steelclaw appeared in Detective Comics' Green Arrow back-up from 'Tec #560 to 565 (1986), only a few months before his Who's Who appearance, and even then, isn't necessarily always the focus of the episodes. His death at the end of that arc has proven to be permanent.
How you could have heard of him: You couldn't. Hey, you think Mayor Thomas Bolt would make a good character for Arrow? His story seems perfect for the show.
Example story: Detective Comics #560-565 (1986) by Joey Cavalieri (writer); Jerome K. Moore and Stan Woch (pencilers); and Dell Barras, Steve Montano and Rodin Rodriguez (inkers)
The whole point of Steelclaw is to answer the question "what is a hero?" and contrast his journey with Black Canary's. At this point in her toxic partnership with Green Arrow, she distances herself from Ollie to infiltrate the underworld, just like the Golden Age Canary once did. That's what Steelclaw is doing too, pulling a Green Hornet on Star City's drug trade, and taking financial chunks out of it and setting himself up to sabotage operations. GA is totally against this strategy, but he's distracted by another "superhero", Champion, who uses a supersuit basically for profit and insurance schemes. Each of the heroes "on the edge" (GA excepted) all utter the line above - "Does that make me a bad guy?" - which is also the title of the first chapter. But who is Steelclaw? The first clues come in the next issue when he does two peculiar things:
1) Defend the mayor's honor, and 2) call the mayor's son "Brucie". Black Canary hears all this, because she's been rampaging through the underworld setting herself up as a superhero gone bad who also wants protection money from the city's organized crime. When things get a little hot, Steelclaw gases everyone and Black Canary ends up in the river/ocean (depending on where Star City is). No worries, the cold drink wakes her up and she gives the thugs a bloody nose. Meanwhile, Green Arrow crashes the mayor's press conference to ask pointed questions about Champion and City Hall's stance on vigilantes. Well... does GA want HIMSELF arrested?
Not Ollie's best moment, on camera or off. This just throws the mayor into DEEP THOUGHT, and a walk to the Claw-Cave reveals HE'S the mysterious villain/vigilante!
Yes, it's his ELECTED RESPONSIBILITY to stop crime and corruption, apparently by any means necessary. 'Tec 563 doesn't then feature Steelclaw per se, but they do talk about him, and Black Canary figures out who he is from the clues above and GA's mention that the mayor had gotten a phone call about "Brucie". So the heroes converge on Costa the mobster's mansion where Brucie is being held. But when Canary and Steelclaw meet, they each think the other is a criminal. So it's lights out for Dinah, with just a scratch of the mayor's cyber-fingernail. He does bring up a good point while tying her up...
Yes, that struck me from the off as well. How believable is it for Black Canary, a JUSTICE LEAGUER, to turn to a life of crime? It's a little absurd of her to think she could pull the deception off, isn't it? Regardless, a couple thugs then show up, wanting to kill the prone, unconscious Canary who, in their eyes, is either kicking thug ass all over town, or skimming 25% off the their profits as a femme fatale criminal mastermind. Maybe both. (Looks like this was a very bad plan.) But Steelclaw doesn't want her dead, because he's really a good guy, see. He interferes...
Well, he was skimming 50% off the top. Those drug stooges had the right idea. And... that's it for Steelclaw. Canary is saved by Green Arrow, but the mayoral vigilante makes for a sober reminder of what can happen to a double agent. Brucie is rescued as well and asks who that hooded corpse is, but gets no answer before we cut away to some Onyx subplot. By the next issue, no more mention of his is made. Better not to think about it.

Seems like a pretty interesting idea for the TV series or even the rebooted GA series, no? They kept it so short, there seems to be some untapped potential left.

Who else? Other mineral heroes in Who's Who volume XX include Star Sapphire (well-known), Steel (soon dead and eventually replaced by someone cooler, but I think we know this guy well enough), Sterling Silversmith (thought about it, but not this round) and Stone Boy (the Legion of Substitute-Heroes is NOT obscure, I swear). No, next I think we're going to go the other direction... in time.

Babylon 5 #71: Falling Towards Apotheosis

"They need to believe." "Not in me."
IN THIS ONE... Sheridan takes down the Vorlon ambassador. Londo convinces the mad emperor Cartagia to go to Narn for G'Kar's trial.

REVIEW: Apotheosis is "the glorification of a subject to divine level"; the "fall" in the episode varies from thread to thread. In the case of Emperor Cartagia, it's a moral fall. His madness has led him to believe that he can rise to godhood by letting the Vorlons burn his world to a cinder. In the previous episode, I was content with Cartagia's portrayal, even though I've despised JMS' other psychotic villains, mostly because we had Caligula as a historical example, but now it strains credulity. He's gone from careless disregard for his people and delusions of grandeur, to crazed, irrational genocide. Really pushing it. Londo learns to navigate the choppy waters of his logic and convinces him to go to Narn (where surely, a god is in no danger) to try G'Kar and make a public show of his madness. It's hard to say if the mercurial Cartagia trusts Londo at all, because every time he shows him one of his special places, it comes off as a not-so-veiled threat. The theater of tortures last episode, and the "shadow cabinet" (ha) of heads in this one. When Cartagia is being a twisted sadist, I buy it. (G'Kar loses an eye for the sake of that portrayal, taking us closer to the vision we have had of the future.) But when he's justifying the destruction of Centauri Prime itself, he loses me. It's too much.

On the station, Sheridan has become a Christ figure, one that literally "fell" into a sort of godhood, one he rejects. POV shots do show us how people's perception of him has changed, and we might even note his more centered demeanor ourselves. A resurrected man assembling followers - the attack on Z'ha'dum will just have to keep until the army is big enough - but also offering a "promised land" for refugees created by the Shadow-Vorlon conflict, in the form of the planet below. It's all very Biblical whether Sheridan wants to acknowledge it or not. Garibaldi, perhaps cast as Judas (remember his PsiCorps conditioning even if he doesn't), doesn't trust Sheridan (or at least, God--I mean Lorienn), when ironically, he's the hidden danger. He's kept out of the loop for a reason, at least, and it isn't because he's become irritatingly sarcastic. It feels like Ivanova is just as sidelined, playing TV presenter while the refugee crisis escalates, a reminder that B5 doesn't have ISN anymore and has had to inform its population through internal channels, but it's also an effective narrative tool to increase tension without having to show all that sweet destruction (still, some nice Vorlon fleet CG in here).

Sheridan's new status is explored further in his plan to kick Kosh 2.0 off the station. He's going up against an angel, this one. As the main action plot of the episode, it's a long sequence, but somewhat disappointing. I do like that they have to trick 2.0 out of his quarters with a feint and a lure. Lyta is sent in with the revelation that the 1.0 is inside someone, but it's a good thing 2.0 doesn't really care to understand humanity because she's a TERRIBLE actress. Not Patricia Tallman, but Lyta herself, ugh. Could she be more obvious? Then comes the ambush, which is just people firing at 2.0 while he remains frozen, and it's interminable. Eventually, the creature is released from the encounter suit, and rather than looking like an angel, it's a Cthulhoid energy monster (so if they had a choice about how they can be perceived, why did the first Kosh not adopt some more discreet form a little over a year back?). And then the first Kosh is released from Sheridan's body, and the monsters fight, eventually exploding out of the station and blowing up the Vorlon ship. Done. These "gods" have fallen never to rise again (presumably). Except this saps Sheridan's life and it's revealed he's on life-force support thanks to Lorienn's healing hands. He was/is dead and this boost will last at most 20 years. Awkwardly, this is told to Delenn twice. The second time, she's upset it's a MERE 20 years, given how long the Minbari live. But Sheridan calls it a good run, at peace with the notion of his death (that was the whole point of his experience); all he wants is to spend that time with her and it'll be worthwhile. The marriage proposal is awkward, but Delenn really has nothing to compare it too. Now all they have to do is survive to the wedding...

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The action plot isn't as clever as it needs to be and JMS straps us with another unbelievable psychotic agenda. Nevertheless, a thematically sound exercise with some interesting revelations and plot movement.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Comics' Great Turnarounds: Countdown

You remember Countdown? Countdown to Final Crisis? Countdown to the death of the New Gods? Countdown to Mary Marvel's corruption? Countdown to getting rid of legacy heroes? Well before all that crap, there was another Countdown:
And wow, it actually looks like it was about something I'm interested in.

Babylon 5 #70: The Summoning

"Do you know that we assigned him one of our best pain technicians? - Pain technicians? They used to be called torturers. But ever since they got organized, it's 'pain technicians'."
IN THIS ONE... Ivanova and Marcus find a hidden Vorlon fleet. G'Kar is tortured. Garibaldi is retrieved. And Sheridan returns to life and the station.

REVIEW: The series is growing ever more serialized, and as a consequence, we may be getting more of these episodes where every single member of the cast is featured (a rarity to date). And not all of them are on the eponymous station. G'Kar, Londo and Vir, on Centauri Prime, are at once in the most dramatic story line, and yet the blackest comedy. As promised, G'Kar's torture and humiliation are brutal, and his having to sacrifice his honor and pride to the cause (yet waiting to the fatal last second) is heart-wrenching, but there's also something darkly comical in Emperor Cartagia's sadism, getting his own hands bloody when G'Kar refuses to scream, and feeding Narn blood to his potted plants. G'Kar as an S&M court jester is also an image that's at once amusing and disturbing. Cartagia's behavior needs to be extreme so Vir will go along with the assassination plans, but again this is played as a comic about-face. If we weren't allowed to smirk at the scenes, the whole thread would probably be intolerable to audiences not yet numbed by Game of Thrones.

Between Centauri and Babylon 5 is space, and several characters have taken to the void to find others. Zack follows a lead to Garibaldi, who appears to have been programmed by PsiCorps to do God knows what. We know they have this ability - Talia's personality implant and the "dead" cyborg assassin from Mars are two examples - so this is just the most recent case of JMS using tech introduced in earlier stories to ramp things up. Garibaldi is quick to distrust Sheridan's new ally - and I must say, I'm not sure we should trust Lorienn either - but he's the sleeper agent in their midst and doesn't know it. Meanwhile, Ivanova and Marcus are off an a White Star to find more First Ones - not sure why this is such a great idea seeing as the last batch hasn't answered any calls - but they run afoul of a gigantic Vorlon fleet instead (more on this in a second). Their relationship has certainly thawed since the last time they were thrown together, and Marcus' revelation that he is saving himself for the perfect woman (Ivanova, though she doesn't know it yet) is interesting, though not that surprising when you consider he is essentially a monk figure. An oath of celibacy would certainly be in keeping with that idea and his Minbari training.

On the station, the League of Non-Aligned worlds has more or less disbanded and won't rally behind Delenn's plans to attack Z'ha'dum, having lost hope now that Sheridan is dead. Their conjecture that it's a suicide run motivated by her grief isn't entirely off-base, to be fair. In the kind of coincidence that only happens on TV, Sheridan shows up right as it's turning into a riot and kills the mood (that mood being despair). Props to the production for waiting 35 minutes to reveal the captain had survived the previous episode's harrowing events, though it was just a matter of when, really. The troops are reenergized and the lovers reunited, sweet. But the epilogue raises more complications. That Vorlon fleet, with more than a thousand ships, some several kilometers long, has been cutting the Shadows out like an infection, and have destroyed at least one whole planet to date, its 4 million non-Shadow inhabitants just unfortunate casualties of war (Centauri Prime, take note!). The one Vorlon we could ask, not-Kosher, has been acting like a real villain, with his telepathic slave, Lyta, trapped in an abusive relationship with the entity. Looks like she's ready to jump ship too. Because now the war with the Shadows has turned into a war with both Shadows and Vorlons, as their conflict has escalated, and our poor lesser races will be treated like anthills on a battlefield if we don't put up some resistance. Whether we believe in Order or Chaos, the First Ones' absolutism is the real danger and the root of the evil they're visiting on the galaxy.

You know, I never mentioned the fact both B5 and DS9 have a LEE-TAH (Lyta and Leeta, respectively). There. Now I have. DS9's has an abusive employer too, but she dealt with it. You think the Vorlons would let Lyta unionize?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The stakes are getting even higher, but there's still a whole lot of waiting around in this episode, for Sheridan to arrive, for First Ones to manifest, for people to be found. While the down time allows for character development, and the big moments are big enough, the structure doesn't always keep the energy up, with the exception of the Londo-G'Kar material, which in naturally excellent.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

This Week in Geek (8-14/09/14)


At the movies: Went to see latest Woody Allen movie, Magic in the Moonlight, a witty 20s romcom about a world-famous illusionist (Colin Firth) who tries to debunk the powers of a charming medium (Emma Stone) in the South of France, but she may just upend his world view. It strikes me that Allen is making a lot of films with the same intent Tarantino does, i.e. tributes to a certain genre of literature/film. Magic is a little bit Agatha Christie, a little bit Arthur Conan Doyle (the man himself was a ghost-breaker who came to believe at some point), and a whole lot P.G. Wodehouse. Perfectly charming and entertaining, especially Firth's character who is the perfect Wodehousian (and Wildean) wit. There are greater concerns here as well, such as the contrast between Firth's atheism and the simple magic of emotion. But overall, I dare the Whovians among you to watch this film and not think Firth would make a great Doctor. It plays like a lot of New Who, with a great but clueless genius talking circles around everyone, yet learning grace from a would-be companion. At the end, they hopefully climb into his TARDIS, destination Everywhere. Ok, that's not the intent, but by now, I'm sure you understand how my brain is wired.

DVDs: I don't care what anyone says, D.O.A. - Dead or Alive, the movie about the stupid beach volley-ball video game with "realistic bounciness" is, or should be, a cult classic. Yes, there's a volley-ball sequence in it, and it's actually pretty smartly done, even if, like so many butt shots, it's gratuitous, but it mostly treats the material as a fighting game. There's cheesecake AND beefcake, and it's all pretty well-intentioned and clean. Not only is it bloodless, but it's about girls kicking all sorts of ass. Like every good B-movie, it has "one of those actors" in the villain role, this time, Eric Roberts. But best of all, it's got Cory Yuen directing and it's wall-to-wall action. It works as a slick, fun kung fun movie in the crazy Hong Kong style. Most people who give this a pass just based on the source material. I get that. What I'm saying is that it's so much better than this. Ridiculous fun that isn't ashamed of what it is even remotely. The DVD includes a 10-minute making of that's got some fun bits too.

In I [heart] Huckabees, David O. Russell creates something almost pretentiously art house, except that it's clearly a comedy that mocks pretentious art house films. And yet, it's about existential exploration nonetheless, about the questions we ask ourselves, and how we connect the big and the small picture. Between the organ music and Jason Schwartzman's participation, it feels a lot like a Wes Anderson film, truthfully. The story? Schwartzman is an environmental activist who hires existential detectives (Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman) to explain a coincidence in his life. They're more interested in helping him figure out who and why he is. In the process, they pair him up with another client (Mark Wahlberg) and turn people in his life into clients (Jude Law and Naomi Watts), but all might be lost when a darker detective (Isabelle Huppert) steals him away. It's the kind of movie you're not really sure of while you're watching it, but then it gets to you, especially in the final moments' deconstructions, epiphanies and catharses, ensuring your next viewing will be more profitable. It's not all talk, there's a lot of texture and background detail, crazy video dream montages, and no, not everything will make sense or tie into the big picture. Or maybe it will, over time. The 2-disc special edition has tons of extras, including two commentary tracks (Russell, and then Russell with a few of the actors; both have value though there is repetition here and there); a production documentary that prioritizes behind the scenes footage; more than an hour of deleted scenes, outtakes and bloopers (though the line is blurry as to which is which); a half-hour infomercial made by the two detectives, with lots of outtakes from it and a small making of besides; the music video for composer Jon Brion's "Knock Yourself Out" directed by Russell, with optional commentary track (and I hope you like that song, because it plays over a LOT of extras - I didn't tire of it though); Open Spaces PSAs and Huckabees commercials (though some are cut into the infomercial as well); a slideshow gallery; and a booklet with in-universe journal entries, articles and adverts.

The Another Kind of Distance time travel podcast took its name from 1948's Portrait of Jennie, a film they examined, and that I, that night, dreamed about quite intensely (though not having seen it, I of course made up my own version). I vowed to see it. It's a bizarre little film, with a story I find rather incredible for the era. An artist (Joseph Cotten) is unnoticeably drawn to the past where he meets a strange young girl called Jennie (Jennifer Jones) who gets older with each meeting. He falls in love with her and investigating her life, attempts to change her fate. No explanation is given for the time travel as such, it's psychic in nature. The characters are drawn together by some unfathomable connection, a metaphor for love. While some of the era's trappings come off as cheesy today (overuse of voice-over, very heavy-handed music), it surprises with stylish flourishes, most of them motivated. Canvas-like treatment as we enter landscapes, interesting angles, an intense tidal wave sequence, and some surprises I won't spoil besides. A fantastical and even metaphysical romance that will intrigue, at the very least.

Babylon 5's third season, entitled Point of No Return, was the show's strongest yet, but then you know this if you've been following along with the daily reviews over the last few weeks. So let's talk DVD package and extras. Well the package is about the same as the other boxed sets, since they did come out as a set. So the same problems with zoomed-in effects (the pure CG appears sharper than before, but same problems when live action has fades, compositing, etc.), and the more ugly morphs in the menu. We're used to all that. The extras also follow a familiar pattern, with commentary tracks on three key episodes (two with JMS, one with the cast), a talking heads introduction to the season that should be watched AFTER you've seen the whole thing to avoid spoilers, ridiculously spoilery trailers for each episode (people at the time would shut their televisions off when they were broadcast, I'm sure), and some more focused featurettes on subjects like alien make-ups, the look of sets and props, and the process Narns must go through every morning. Data files you click for 30-second informative videos are drying up - there are far fewer - but there's a neat one where you have to input Garibaldi's password to get access (it's easy, don't worry).

RPGs: Don't know if it'll amount to anything yet, but our Stairwell Party (housewarming for three apartments in the back stairs only so as not to mess up anyone's apartment) became the stage for yet another conversation about giving a group of n00bs a classic role-playing experience. So mostly people who haven't played, with an experienced player in the mix and myself as GM, at least to begin with. They're open to anything and have backgrounds in theater and/or improv, but the ringleader does want a "classic" experience - in other words, character creation, leveling and looting opportunities. For me, that's going to be AD&D 2nd's Planescape. It's the only configuration of D&D I want to go back to, ever, but I believe the setting has everything needed to make this work: An extra layer of ridiculous philosophy that puts the focus on role-playing which theatricals crave, a nexus for every possible idea regardless of geography which allows me to say "yes" to any n00b's character concept, and a city setting that helps justify the absence of certain characters when schedules fall apart (and I know these players, it WILL happen). I do plan on streamlining some of the rules, incorporate new school ideas in there, and perhaps push the timeline so the characters can level up faster instead of at the usual crawl. But this is the frontrunner, pending a conversation with the whole group. Tabled for now are my plans for a Bond's Bastards campaign using the Leverage RPG.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.i. Ophelia's Funeral - French Rock Opera

Babylon 5 #69: Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?

"If you're falling off a mountain, you might as well try to fly."
IN THIS ONE... G'Kar is looking for Garibaldi, but is grabbed and taken to Centauri Prime. Sheridan is trapped between life and death where he talks to the first First One.

REVIEW: Fall or fly? Sheridan's words in his log (and logs and journals seem particularly important to this season of B5, just as "history is ending") prefigure his fall at Z'ha'dum, but also inform everyone's situation. Essentially, when you're desperate, you have nothing to lose by taking a risk. Will you die a slow inevitable death, or risk it all to win it all or lose it all in one go? Sheridan is going through this dilemma literally, or if you will, metaphysically. The others are doing so figuratively. Delenn, inspired by his words, calls the Rangers together for one big (suicide?) attack on Z'ha'dum (in 7 days, so you know it happens in the next episode). Garibaldi - who appears for a single scene almost a half hour in despite being named in the title - won't give in to his PsiCorps captors, but are they loyal to Bester/Earth or Santiago/the Shadows? G'Kar leaves the sanctuary offered by the station to look for Garibaldi and is taken to Centauri Prime, where he and Londo ally, neither holding the long end of a stick, both desperate in their own way and both playing for the biggest of stakes, freedom from tyranny for each of their peoples. In each case, the test will be whether they're able to risk all for the ultimate reward; none appear ready to live with the evil they know.

Sheridan is only the exception because we're taken on his philosophical journey from one point of view to the next. We're in zen territory, like something out of a more mainstream Jodorowsky film, and what we're seeing is essentially a dream, and the reality is Sheridan's dream of struggling in the grasp of an energy entity's tendrils. For all intents and purposes, the entity is God, or in this mythology, the very First One, older than all the rest, who considers the Vorlons and Shadows his children (and he asks both their questions). In fact, Z'ha'dum is his home (so is he Satan instead?) and the Shadows go there to worship him. To Sheridan, he is an immortal philosopher who encourages him to give in to death and trust that he will be saved. Schrodinger's Sheridan could live or die, it's not yet decided, but so long as he clings to life, and does so for what God (ok, let's call him the rather Middle-Earthian name Lorien) thinks are the wrong reasons, that outcome will remain unknown. Does he dare follow his own advice and attempt flight? Lorien promises (well, not "promises", but he does give hope) that Sheridan can be resurrected, Phoenix-like, from his ashes. But he must fall/fly towards something in front of him, not pointlessly hold on to the mountain face, which represents the past, or in this case, the idea that he is needed to sacrifice himself for the army of light's ideals. The Shadows are wrong, we know that, but are the Vorlons when they preach self-sacrifice? What saves Sheridan in the end isn't sacrifice so much as his love for Delenn. There lies his future. It's also about the shedding of fear, to face that future, and from Sheridan's old message, we know he sees his love for Delenn as another unknown, another leap of faith that may yield disaster as well as success. Judeo-Christian myth is all over this thing, with writerly concerns thrown in as JMS makes Lorien expound on word, thought and creation, while also asserting again (but it rings false from him) that some people/characters have some kind of free will that gives them the ability to change the world beyond the writer (or Writer)'s ability to control them.

G'Kar's personal quest for Garibaldi, whom he views as one of his few friends, actually makes more friends still come out of the shadows. Marcus wants to follow him (and gets a badass interrogation scenes), but is sent away, so as always happens in B5, the one who refuses help and isolates himself from others is bound for failure. The fire fight makes you think G'Kar really can take care of himself, but alas, it's a trick and he's taken to Centauri in chains. There he finds an unexpected friend in Londo, who has never been a sadist and no doubt sees before him an abbreviated life filled with the poetry of sycophancy. For G'Kar, he sees violent torture and humiliation. Since they are both dead (falling), they might as well try to fly, together. The price G'Kar asks is unsurprising, his people's freedom, but then, he has past the point of selfish needs if he ever really had them. This is the man whose first words to his imperial captor were about Mr. Garibaldi. G'Kar thinks of others, always. In the darkness, these characters have hope, and so does the audience.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Deeply interesting, literally and figuratively, as the characters are pushed to the edge to see if they'll jump.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Reign of the Supermen #545: HeroClix Superman

Source: WizKids' HeroClix (2002-present)
Type: Toy/Game
If HeroClix had come out in the early 90s, during the collectible card game craze, I would likely have spent the better portion of my student loan on it. I do have a few, most of them gifts, almost all of DC characters, and I do use them to stage battles for superhero RPGs (the characters must all stand in for other, obviously), but I never took the time to learn the rules. The game is clever, with the potential for lots of different powers and the "clicking" that drains the character of vitality, but also changes its abilities to account for that drain or its resourcefulness when things get tough. I'm sure there's lots of strategy involved, but also what I like about collectible (or rather customizable) games, that each play creates a story (it's why I got into the Star Trek CCG, but hated Magic: The Gathering, for example). So Superman - the object of our interest - well, WHICH Superman? WizKids has produced literally dozens and dozens of different Superman figures. I tried to grab all their pics, but it was just too time-consuming. Here's what it looked like in my file when I flat gave up:
There are Supermen from alternate Earths, Bizarros, classic poses with phone booths or racing next to the Flash, zombies, replacements, costumes from across his history, bobble-headed atrocities, Elseworlds, flying and not... All kinds. Is he the most featured character in HeroClix? (It's probably Batman, I bet it's Batman, but he must be pretty close. I'm really no expert.) So who's Jimmy gonna call?
It's really anybody's guess.

For more information, I invite you to scour the Absorbascon because fellow blogger (and inspiration) Scipio has not only written quite a few articles on the subject, but also creates some mighty fun DC-themed battle maps for your Clix. Germane to our discussion, he has maps for the Daily Planet (newsroom and rooftop), and an attempt at a 3D aerial battle over Metropolis.

Babylon 5 #68: The Hour of the Wolf

"It was the year of fire… the year of destruction… the year we took back what was ours. It was the year of rebirth… the year of great sadness… the year of pain… and the year of joy. It was a new age. It was the end of history. It was the year everything changed. The year is 2261. The place: Babylon 5."
IN THIS ONE... Babylon 5 is reeling from Sheridan's apparent death, and some of the crew go take a peek at Z'ha'dum. Londo is distressed to find his mad emperor has invited the Shadows to hide on Centauri Prime.

REVIEW: Compared to its epic finales, I find Babylon 5's season openers fairly timid. It's a time to rearrange the pieces on the board, and set them up for the bigger things to come. This timidity isn't just the production's, but the characters'. We spend most of the episode with characters stunned or grieving over Sheridan's death - or refusing to believe it - and though a mission is undertaken to go to Z'ha'dum to perhaps retrieve him, the ship comes back with its tail between its legs. It's not even a case of the characters making an active decision to leave, but rather an automated response programmed by Lennier in case he was incapacitated, or in this case, tranced out under the swoon-inducing eye of a new Shadow vessel with uncharacteristic lights. With all the talk of the "Eye" (also part of Londo's prophecies), and the way the characters started to fall prey to its evil influence, it looks like JMS is freely poaching from Tolkien. Sheridan is alive down there, even if they don't sense him, but we knew that, didn't we? After all, he's in the new credits sequence (spoiler!). That new opening sequence changes the theme again, and I already miss Season 3's, but it's not bad by any means. Far more interesting is the voice-over which is now spoken by the entire cast, each phrase distributed among them. So despite Sheridan being a "nexus" on which events spin, and so the idea that one person CAN make a difference, the larger point that it takes a community to achieve something lasting and worthy is brought home again. Brought home, unlike Sheridan whose underground existence is merely teased, and unlike poor, lost Garibaldi, whom only Zack and G'Kar seem to think about - though please, don't let G'Kar wear any more hats. It's just too silly.

If the show's resident telepaths can't sense the good captain, they are nonetheless an important part of the episode. Lyta is now a proper member of the cast, serving Kosh the 2nd in the same way she did the 1st, but finding it much harder. There's a darkness in this one that goes beyond his encounter suit. Mystery resolved... ish: When Lyta seemed to be feeding Kosh her soul in Passing Through Gethsemane, she was actually returning the part of him she carried inside her. Vorlons appear to have the ability to make part of themselves travel nestled in another's mind. This is how the 1st kind of survives in Sheridan, and perhaps how the phrase "we are all Kosh" makes sense. Like the Minbari, Vorlons have an oversoul, but they are more directly aware of it and do not need to die to rejoin it. So going back to the vehicle, Lyta, that means Kosh the 2nd is inside her when they go to Z'ha'dum, is boosting her powers and even possessing her (black eyes syndrome). And did I spot gills on her neck in 2nd's quarters? What is THAT all about? I'm not forgetting the OTHER telepath in the show, Ivanova, who "latent" though she is, did seem to sense Sheridan's "death" in the finale. Or more likely, the Shadows' screaming in agony when their city was nuked, through the network of ships surrounding the station. Perhaps this is why she feels Sheridan's absence more acutely, though there's certainly enough work for her to feel crushed under its weight. Her list of messages and appointments listed off while she sits alone and numb to the world becomes a tranquil image of things spiraling out of control.

Londo is also in a new position, one he isn't likely to enjoy. Promoted to the Emperor's Court, he finds, isn't as great a moment as it ought to be. Emperor Cartagia is quite mad and reckless and doesn't really listen to Londo's advice. He's there so Cartagia can keep him close and castrated, with a little routine humiliation on the side. The model for this young, mercurial leader who rules by fear and whim and wants to be made a god is clearly Caligula. His most reckless move is to give the Shadows territory on Centauri Prime while they nurse their wounds after "losing the war". Looks like Sheridan failed to change the history he saw in War Without End, and in fact, played right into its hands. Speaking of visions, one of Londo's comes to pass when Shadow vessels fly overhead to their new island. Now Londo is forced to turn rebel and assassin, plotting with Vir, a man invisible who has managed to walk the corridors of power untouched (a new, thin Vir, in fact; Furst has lost a lot of weight and while that's healthy, it does mean Vir did so in just a week - the stress!), to kill the mad emperor. But then, if Londo is a man of tradition who wanted to restore his world's former glory through the old ways, his opponents at Court have always been those who do not value those traditions. Refa and his WMDs, for example, and here we find that Cartagia's atypical short hair has started a trend that leaves Londo looking like a relic from the past. But if Cartagia thinks he can break with tradition in the hair department, yet have Londo respect the tradition that "the Emperor is always right", he's in for a surprise. A covenant was broken the second he put scissors to his crown. Also at Court and a possible help is Mr. Morden who survived the nuclear holocaust on Z'ha'dum, but wasn't especially spared. He looks charred, his skin flaking off in a most disturbing way, and is just a little bit mad, the picture of a man decomposing before us. Like the Shadows themselves? Or like Londo's power? He better make use of Morden while there's still a Morden to use.

- With characters temporarily and permanently placed on other planets (and Garibaldi will be next), B5 really expands its universe this season with a premiere that both answers questions and asks new ones. The season titled No Surrender, No Retreat starts a little slow, but could pick up momentum quickly.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Babylon 5 #67: Z'ha'dum

"G'Quan wrote, 'There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting, in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.'"
IN THIS ONE... Melissa Gilbert guest stars as Sheridan's Shadow-controlled wife and he follows her to Z'ha'dum.

REVIEW: Sheridan's wife is back, and she's Melissa Gilbert now (props for redoing the flashback scene and putting her in there), and she's a Shadow puppet. A rather obvious one. Luring Sheridan into a trap (ish, I think the Shadows are sincere in making an appeal first) isn't really contingent on his emotional connection with Anna, but on his wanting to go to Z'ha'dum regardless, for answers, for revenge and as he reveals in a message to Delenn, to perhaps prevent the dark future he witnessed in War Without End. But I wouldn't trust Sheridan to figure out my time travel puzzles. His logic is flawed. Was that future caused by his heeding future Delenn's (and Kosh's) warning not to go to Z'ha'dum? Or was it caused because he did go. The prophecy that he would "die" there (quotation marks mine) might have been his (false) clue - if he dies at Z'ha'dum, and future Delenn isn't surprised to see him alive, that means he didn't go, right? Except she wouldn't have warned him about Z'ha'dum if he HADN'T gone. Though everyone seems to act like the future mutable, some things really aren't. Sheridan was always going to Z'ha'dum, and I'm not sure it makes sense for all the seers to tell him he has a choice in the matter, except to create tension and expectation for the audience. So he does go (any other outcome would have been dramatically disappointing), but at least he isn't treated as an idiot and knows from the first that this isn't his Anna. He isn't, like so many television characters tend to be, blinded by love or some such nonsense. He goes in with eyes open. In fact, he's in love with Delenn, and says it for the first time in that message, even though it looked like Anna would split them up (if not as his "real love" coming back, then because of the breach of trust represented by Delenn not telling him her survival was possible).

On Z'ha'dum, the Shadows get to explain themselves, through a human called "Justin" (JMS' choice of names frequently seems off to me, but whatever), and according to them, we haven't been interpreting "light" and "dark" very well. This isn't a war between good and evil, but between order and chaos. Or if you will, this isn't Tolkien, it's Moorcock. In fact, Z'ha'dum is covered with black spires with glowing red runes reminiscent of Elric's soul-drinking sword Stormbringer. Chaos wants the strong to survive and sees it as its mission to cull the inferior races/cultures through cycles of war and strife. We've heard this philosophy before, in Acts of Sacrifice, where Ivanova had to endure arrogant aliens with just such a point of view (if more passively expressed). If the show has taught us anything, it's that only together can we prevail. It's karmic in the B5 universe. In other words, the Shadows' point of view has no real value. They can foster war and push for survival of the fittest if they want, but the capacity to make alliances IS an evolutionary adaptation. It's like saying humans are weaker than lions and pack/tribe/community behavior to take down that lion is cheating. Screw that. The Shadows' argument doesn't hold water, and I rather think they ARE evil, the way they try to achieve their goals is evil. Or else, why does the center of Z'ha'dum look like the very pit of hell as envisioned in the Divine Comedy?

I thought for sure they were going to make something more of that piece of Kosh inside Sheridan's mind, given the Shadows' fear of anything Vorlon touching the planet. Sheridan could have been a psychic suicide bomber. Perhaps he still can be. Who knows what happened when he fell down to the planet's core? And of course, the White Star crashing down into the dome (a mirror of the Shadow vessel bursting through one on Ganymede earlier) has Vorlon tech and the base IS destroyed (a base that somehow reminds me of so many 60s Star Trek sets). Not that Vorlon tech necessarily has anything to do with it, what with Sheridan having nukes aboard. Truth is, it's played as if Sheridan dies, but since he was told to jump by Kosh (a programmed message), we can expect him to survive. It's huge and epic and who knows where it goes from here, and that's more than enough to compensate for our knowing (today, at any rate) that he makes it. And he's not alone in cliffhanger mode: Garibaldi's Starfury has been captured(?) by a Shadow vessel, Ivanova finds herself holding the reigns of leadership, and Londo may be leaving B5 forever to assume a position at Court. What happens next? It's a wonder I haven't yet popped the next disc into the machine.

Sheridan getting help from Kosh isn't unlike Sisko getting help from the Prophets, especially when season finales roll around. In a reverse twist, B5's Big Bad is all about Chaos, while DS9's (the Dominion) is obsessed with Order.

- Another huge episode. Babylon 5 isn't scared of change and of putting its characters through the wringer.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My Amazing Disappearing Crotch

OH NO!!! The horror... the (Freudian) horror...

"My parents warned I could go blind if I (wink wink, nudge nudge) 'said the magic words' (knowwhatImean? knowwhatImean?), but never... THIS."

Don't say SHAZAM, kids. Just don't.

Babylon 5 #66: Shadow Dancing

"I can’t go back, but I can appreciate what I have right now… and I can define myself by what I am, instead of what I’m not." "And what are you?" "Alive. Everything else is negotiable."
IN THIS ONE... Doctor Franklin "meets himself". The good guys' fleet meets the Shadows'. And Anna Sheridan is back in the picture.

REVIEW: Doctor Franklin finally returns to the fold in a story line that could have seamlessly fit the previous episode's themes. Like Refa, Doc Franklin runs from his problems and his shame, never confronting them head on. He left Earth because he couldn't please his father, destroyed his research so as not to face a moral dilemma, lost himself in work rather than face a loveless personal life, and then into stims when work became the problem. His "walkabout" is just another iteration of that pattern. He's gone to meet himself, and in shock from a nasty stab wound (oh the life of a lurker! say, what was that business with the nagging mother moaning about the Babylon 5 ghetto all about?), he does and isn't very complimentary about himself. It feels like Franklin is channeling his father there, which is perfectly appropriate. Later in Medlab, he's shamed into getting back to work by patients who need him, and perhaps thinks of all those he didn't help because he had selfishly walked away from the job. Franklin is correct to call himself stupid as he sits dying, becaue the truth of B5's universe - a truth he has also run away from, a near-atheist in a supernatural world - kinship is rewarded and withdrawal (I suppose that's a pun) from a larger society is punished.

The success of community is represented by the victory of the allied forces against the Shadows. They they lose twice as many ships as the forces of evil do, the real victory is in having brought everyone together, in spite of expected losses. There's a moment when we think their appeal to the Non-Aligned worlds didn't work, the Council chamber almost empty, but no one's left out of mistrust. They just need to make some calls. If there's tension even in this simple scene, it's because the episode recognizes that the heroes' goal is this, more than any space battle. But what a space battle, eh?! Huge, varied fleets (even the Shadows gain a new, hair clasp design) going at each other across multi-colored backdrops, and even the DVD encoding problems can't kill the mood. It's all much worse in scene that combine CG and people, but I still think the Minbari surround-screen is cool as hell. But as eye-popping as the action is, don't expect anyone in the Babylon 5 universe to punch the air at the end of a fight. They are more likely to grimace and quite rightly think of the price paid for even the most symbolic of victories.

Things are definitely heading for a season finale though, and Shadow Dancing's focus is more on setting things up than the kind of thematic coherence we saw in the previous few episodes. At its clunkiest, JMS feels the need to bring back Sheridan's Kosh-induced vision, no doubt because some of its prophecies are about to be realized. The characters struggle to make sense of the symbols, using hindsight and patently reaching, but it feels forced. Ivanova getting chummier with Marcus is only marginally more palatable, though her battle with Minbari beds is amusing enough. Much better is the Sheridan-Delenn subplot, specifically the way Delenn describes Minbari courting. Three nights' watchings is all it takes to see a man's true face in his sleep, and if she likes it, then she's his forever. This could be kind of creepy, but it's very sweet how Delenn just sits there with a smile of delight, though I'm pretty sure that first night they spent lying next to each other on the White Star was all it took for her to know. Obviously, this needs a complication, and at snow globe-shattering vision from War Without End comes to pass - Sheridan's wife (now played by Melissa Gilbert, so it's a good thing she introduces herself) has arrived. Oops.

Deep Space Nine's huge space battles really start with the '96-'97 season's finale, but that's still a few months off. Similarly, we won't learn of Doctor Bashir's own "running away" for a while. But the captain's dead wife returning with unknown motives? That's already happened on DS9.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Cool action and a strong (if talky) resolution to Doc Franklin's subplot, but not as satisfying as it might have been because it's really a game of setting ducks up in a row.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Canadian Golden Age's Comeback

I'm going to talk about Golden Age Canadian heroes on a radio show later today (remember when I used to do Geek-Out? well that show has gone from a 1½ hour geekstravanza to a 15-minute spot; I'm NOT complaining), so I might as well marry my blog's content to it. Because these are exciting times for fans (or would-be fans) of "Canadian whites", comics made here after WWII closed our borders to certain outside products like, y'know, Captain America and Batman. Why all the excitement? Because since Nelvana of the Northern Lights was Kickstarted into a full-fledged collection (out in the States soon from IDW, if I'm not mistaken), the same comics historians - Rachel Richey and Hope Nicholson - who went around the country collecting pages from her stories are splitting forces to Kickstart TWO similar collections, one featuring the Nazi-fighting Johnny Canuck, and the other a character I know very little about but he sounds like Tarzan meets Doc Savage in a lost land beyond the British Colombian woods, Brok Windsor!
Nelvana beat Wonder Woman to the stands by a few months, so her cred is assured, but these others? Well apparently, Johnny Canuck's creator Leo Bachle tried to immigrate to the States in the 40s, but Johnny was apparently so important to Canadian morale, the government wouldn't let him leave until he'd completed his backlog of adventures! As for Brok, he's more of a mystery to me, which is no doubt part of the attraction. And he might just be French-Canadian despite the name, because he calls people "mon ami"! Here are some links if you want to get in on the ground floor:
Johnny Canuck on Kickstarter
Brok Windsor on Kickstarter
On the second floor, Nelvana's already out, but you do know you can get a look at her stories by clicking this handy Nelvana of the Northern Lights label, right?

The other thing that pushed me to talk about early Canadian superheroes this week is the announcement that Superman will be featured on four collector coins from the Canadian Mint. Only one is really worth it in my opinion:
The others are okay (gold coin S-shield from the animated shorts, classic Superman) or terrible (New52), but this one's beautiful, with certain sections of Action Comics #1 in color and the rest in sterling silver. And before you ask, no, we do not normally use 10$ coins. The economy isn't great, but it's not THAT bad yet. Surprised to see Superman in a Canadian superheroes discussion? You must be new. Now, I don't think of Superman as particularly Canadian, since he was born in the States (no matter what that Heritage Minute wants you to think), but he does have a Canadian parent (Joe Shuster), which makes him about as Canadian as Doctor Who. In other words, just enough that we'd want to appropriate him. News item with more on this.

Babylon 5 #65: And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place

"Maybe this is as much about terror as it is about territory."
IN THIS ONE... Londo sends G'Kar to Narn and gets revenge on Lord Refa. Everyone else tries to cheer Sheridan up.

REVIEW: An episode about the weight of responsibility people take on, responsibility one cannot hide from (as the title reminds us), but nevertheless a burden that can be shared. As ever, Babylon 5 is about how we do come together to withstand and overcome what alone we could not. The two story threads, unconnected as they are, share this theme. In what is ostensibly the character-building subplot, Sheridan is trying to carry the load alone, and is remonstrated by one of three spiritual leaders on the station who have come together, despite philosophical differences, to lend a hand, running information between the station and Babylon 5. And maybe offering a non-denominational service that brings everyone together and highlights the themes. Sheridan's reflex is understandable. He doesn't want to burden anyone else with his problems, especially not Delenn, but the pastor is right, sharing hardship isn't an additive process, it's a subtractive one. Pairing up with Delenn, he gains a second set of eyes that help him see where the Shadows might strike next, someone who calls him on his bull so he doesn't burn out or lose perspective, and the comfort of a lover's embrace (they finally kiss in the proper timeline). That, and she reveals a fleet of White Stars. Sheridan is not alone, far from it, and here's a visual to bring it home.

Of course, the more engrossing story line is Londo's. He pretends to send G'Kar into a trap on Narn using Vir as a messenger, a messenger then intercepted by Lord Refa who uses a telepath to get the skinny on the plot so he can hijack it and reap its rewards. Except Londo hates Refa far more than he does G'Kar, and the trap is really meant for his slimy Centauri colleague. London hates him for killing his lady love and other friends besides, but it's more than that. Refa represents his own unbridled ambition and HIS part in the Narn genocide. It's the weight HE carries, and killing Refa... no, not just killing, but ruining his reputation with a frame-up, and in some small sense trying to undo some of his works by releasing thousands of Narns, all of that is atonement. G'Kar goes along with this because perhaps there's a greater villain than Londo, but he's really just a delivery device. This is Londo's show and he just stands and watches, taking no joy from it. When Refa is ripped apart by Narns, G'Kar doesn't join in. He just walks away. It's not in his blood anymore, and Ivanova is right to equate him to the holy men on the station. Though Londo may know some peace from this action - spiritually and physically - it might also herald some trouble with Vir, whose anger towards his mentor is born of the same sentiment, guilt by association.

Obviously, Refa was the kind of character you'd love to hate, so his death must be memorable. And it is. Refa deserves Londo's intricate and grandiose plot. He is the man who hasn't shouldered the burden of what he's done, but has sought to hide from it behind moral apathy. He can't and gets his just desserts at the hands of the people he harmed. When confronted, he runs, and that slow motion sequence is well done, intercut with irony (a frequent JMS trick, but a pleasant one) with the religious service and a hymn about not being able to hide from your sins. The song is cheery and enthusiastic, a counterpoint to Refa's Caesar-like assassination, contrasting the sense of community on the heroes' station with the selfish isolation of the predatory individual. The same game of contrasts is played with Sheridan, mind you, the build-up to his alleviated pressure counterpointed by the tense promise of doom inherent in the "Z minus x days" countdown. What a great way to place the last few episodes of the season in Z'ha'dum's shadow.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Later in the year, Jake and Nog would work hard to cheer Sisko up, but seeing as Trek is more secular than B5, with a baseball card instead of a religious service.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Seems to meander in the Sheridan bits, but that's because it's a portrait more than a narrative. Londo's revenge on Refa was worth the wait, regardless.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Who Are the Star Rovers?

Who's This? The rocket age trio on page 8 of Who's Who vol.XXII.
The facts: The Star Rovers, created by Gardner Fox and Sid Greene were featured in a recurring strip between 1961 and 1964, starting in Mystery in Space #66 with no actual group name. They returned in #69, and then, fully christened, in #74. They would appear four more times in Mystery in Space (through #86) before moving to Strange Adventures with #159 (1963), appearing in just one more issue, #163, the following year before being discontinued. Despite having so few appearances to their collective name, the Rovers' stories were reprinted several times in the 70s, in Strange Adventures #232-236, for example, From Beyond the Unknown #18-22, and DC Super-Stars #8. Each story pretty much used the same formula, with each of the three members working on the same problem individually, then coming together to share notes and perhaps a final solution.
How you could have heard of them: Twisted versions of the Rovers were main characters in Howard Chaykin's Twilight mini-series and subsequent Iron Wolf graphic novel (1990-1992). They also appeared in that catch-all of space opera obscura, Starman #55 (1999), which in fact, mirrored the triple-POV structure of their original stories. More recently, they were introduced as space smugglers in the New52's Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual #1 (2013), and are later hired by Larfleeze in a Threshold back-up. Same names, one extra member, no real relation.
Example story: Mystery in Space #80 (1962) by Gardner Fox and Sid Greene, reprinted in From Beyond the Unknown #18 (1972) and DC Super-Stars #8 (1976)
The Star Rovers aren't really a team. Think of them as fiercely competitive friends. "Who Saved the Earth?" (most of their stories are titled with a question) actually shows how team work can be used by individuals, and is sort of sweet. Our story begins when all three Rovers individually receive notice that they've been awarded medals for each saving Earth, which they haven't even been to in a while. The newsfeed gives them a partial clue.
When they meet up online to brag and ponder the mystery, they realize they're all in the same situation, so they stay in Skype until they can solve the puzzle. If anything about this space opera is prescient, it's that. Playboy/athlete Rick Purvis tells the others about how he recently won the solar sailboat race.
What does that have to do with anything? Well, when a meteor punctures his sail, he's forced to set down on a planet. There he finds a metal object that would fit perfectly over the hole, but armed aliens attack him. He doesn't have any long-range fighting ability, but maybe something his friend Karel once told him about marksmanship...
And so with her "help", he defeats the bad guys (of course, he might as well have remembered a game of dominoes, so my theory is that he has the hots for her), patches the hole, and still wins the race. Just then, a mysterious voice breaks in on their communication revealing that the patch was really a secret weapon designed to hurl Earth into a "no-time continuum" by a "clever manipulation of magnetic flux". Taking out of the equation saved Earth! But what about glamor girl/expert marksman Karel Sorensen? Well, she was just minding her own business practicing her marksmanship on exploding flowers, as you do...
...when she was attacked by Shen aliens firing bubbles at her. Her big epiphany also involves a "team mate":
Blinding then with explosions! Of course! It's so simple, I can't believe she needed a flashback to work it out! (My theory is that she has a massive crush on Homer.) The mystery voice now tells us Karel saved Earth too, because those weird upward-floating tear drops were, in fact, a Shenn process that would have been carried on cosmic rays to draw the Earth out of it orbit. Well, we narrowly escaped that one! As for novelist/sportsman/ecology destroyer Homer Gint, he's about to steal a radioactive Tigerog egg from a nest on a volcanic planet when...
...he too is attacked by aliens - Kartivians to be exact - but it's all lava and noxious smoke up in here! The solution? Do like Roving friend (and man-crush) Rick Purvis and... jump!
They really should have left the flashback to later, when still inspired by Rick, Homer throws the egg over a lava stream and pole-vaults into position to catch it again. So how does this save Earth, mysterious voice that is maddeningly never explained?! Voice says the egg was on a timing device powered by the egg's radioactivity, which was counting down to Earth's explosion, somehow. We sure do have a lot of enemies in the future. Also, completely mad science. Also, crazy good luck. And people whose job it is to call up with exposition. And of course, no privacy if these events were all somehow witnessed. Sweet resolution? Okay:
Aww, they each gave their secret crush their medal. Cute!

Who else?
The next character will have a metal-based code name. Which doesn't actually narrow it down much.