Friday, November 28, 2014

Sapphire & Steel #1: Escape Through a Crack in Time Part 1

"There are things - creatures, if you like - from the very beginnings of Time, and the very end of Time. And these creatures have access to the corridor. They're forever... moving along it. Searching... looking... trying to find a way in. They're always searching, always looking."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.10 1979. Each series tells one whole story over the course of a variable number of usually twice-weekly 25-to-30-minute episodes. These have no titles, but the original Region 1 DVDs (not mine) give each "Assignment" (series) an overarching title, which is what I've used to differentiate them. It's unclear where these came from - some fanzine, potentially - and writer/creator Peter Hammond denies any involvement.

IN THIS ONE... Two kids' parents disappear down a time corridor triggered by a nursery rhyme. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.

REVIEW: Famously rivaling The Prisoner for impenetrability, Sapphire & Steel never actually explained the details of its premise, but I don't think creator Peter Hammond even intended to. And so we never find out what kind of beings Sapphire, Steel and other "time elements" are, who or what actually assigns them, or even what "elements", more alchemical than scientific, have to do with anything. But that's fine. I'm all for ambiguity, and I love to read between the lines. The first episode of the series does tell us there are beings book-ending the space-time continuum trying to invade reality somewhere in the middle. Presumably, these beings are unhappy with the physical conditions at either end (because there are no other living beings there, or at least none to subjugate), or they might even be from before and after the universe's life span, or outside of it (or outside the three basic dimensions, nevertheless having access to the fourth, time). Whatever the case, they must be fought, and agents like Sapphire and Steel are reality's first line of defense, assigned by video graphics to stop any incursion. There's the case of a ship, briefly mentioned, but evoking stories like the Bermuda Triangle or the Mary Celeste, and there's the disappearance of these children's parents.

If the reasoning is scientific - time corridors and the like - it plays out as a haunted house story. A nursery rhyme from the days of the plague, "Ring Around the Rosie", makes clocks stop and parents vanish, the rhyme acting as a spell that spools the process forward and backward as it's recited front or back. We see ghosts that bridge the rhyme's age, and our time-mending duo immediately sees the danger inherent in an old house, full of old things, owned by an old family, saying old words. It's a "pressure point" through which a relatively large chunk of history can be accessed. Everything is designed to be creepy. An old house in the evening, apparently isolated on an island (the police would come by boat), just as Helen's room is an island in time. The claustrophobia is palpable. A little girl who likes to repeat things (and unfortunately, mumble them). Sound design that emphasizes the silence by blowing noises out or proportion. And where even the protagonists are a strange, aloof couple showing up at the kids' door out of the blue.

The older boy, Robert, is immediately taken by Sapphire (Joanna Lumley), however. She's beautiful in a posh, sophisticated kind of way, and her charisma and empathy are a necessary complement to David McCallum's Steel's, well, steeliness. He's cold and dour, always reminding the boy of the danger, in no way a comforting presence. Just note how he manhandles the little girl, not violently or even roughly, but without a hint of tenderness. Even so, Sapphire says some rather Doctorish things (and see On the Other Side of the Vortex for more Doctor Who connections), like when she takes a potshot at the "idiot" policeman Robert has called. She's not all smiles and hugs. She's just the ambassador, the face presented to the locals to keep them calm and on track while Steel stands staring in the background. The two "time CSIs" - that's as good a description as any, as they do a fair bit of procedural investigation - have a suite of powers available to them, like a telepathy and access to the time wardrobe Sapphire uses to change her look. It's all so bizarre, you can't question it.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE VORTEX:
Obviously, as ITV's answer to the BBC's Doctor Who, connections between the two series could prove an amusing diversion, just as comparing B5 to DS9 was. S&S is a spooky time travel show featuring aliens with unusual powers and personalities, in a sense tonally picking up where Who left off in the late 70s as Doctor's Gothic stories turned to silliness instead. Peter Hammond never wrote for Doctor Who per se, but he did write two Torchwood episodes, Small Worlds and Out of the Rain, both about strange abductions with a supernatural bent despite the science fiction framework. Joanna Lumley has the distinction of having played the first female Doctor, albeit in the non-canonical comedy episode Curse of the Fatal Death. Looking at this now, it's hard not to see the show as an influence to contemporary Who writers. Steven Moffat is, for example, rather obsessed with nursery rhymes and people disappearing through cracks in time.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A great start, by turns creepy and intriguing, like a dark fairy tale from the post-Einstein age. And though it remains mysterious, it packs a lot of information in less than a half-hour.

Doctor Who #959: Death in Heaven

"Your cooperation is to be ensured and your unreliability assumed. You have a history." "You don't have a future without me."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.8 2014.

IN THIS ONE... Cybermen from beyond THE GRAVE!!!

REVIEW: Remember how Dark Water (a title that could cover this episode's Cyber-rain as well) kept telling us to "be skeptical"? Death in Heaven is certainly book-ended by moments we should look at with that frame of mind. Up front, and this is the culmination of the Clara-as-Doctor thread woven into Series 8, Clara pretends to be the Doctor once again and while the idea of going to credits that name Jenna Coleman first and have HER eyes is certainly fun, it's almost too cute. If you haven't been paying attention for the past 12 episodes, it comes out of nowhere. If you have, the moment feels like it was made just so it could fit in a shocking teaser trailer (and it was) because there's too much evidence to the contrary. Anyone believe it for a second though? All this sequence really does show is that 1) Clara has access to Impossible Girl memories, and 2) that she can be a phenomenal liar. The scene where Cyber-Danny recognizes her as such isn't without some pathos, and it's something that will return later in the episode. Putting on a brave front, she hurts Danny even more by telling him (not knowing he was standing before her) that the Doctor is the only man she would never lie to, when he suspects it to be true, and we know it not to be. At the very end, Clara and the Doctor will lie to each other, telling each other what they think they want to hear, and hide their true faces under cover of a hug. The reason they do so is to spare the other pain (and don't tell me Clara wasn't going to spring a pregnancy on him just then, see yesterday's Theory). And that's a major theme of the episode.

The heroes in this episode are intent on taking psychologically damaging experiences away from one another. Danny asks for this, forcing Clara to play the Doctor's role one last time, screwdriver in hand. And she's willing to do it, taking on the guilt he'll be released from as she'll have "killed" the man she loves. And it's a double sacrifice, because she also keeps the Doctor from bloodying his hands with this action. Danny takes him to task for it, playing the "officer" card and even in undeath, trying to bitterly wedge Clara and the Doctor apart, but he doesn't understand the situation. This is Clara's choice. Later, the Doctor will reciprocate and offer to kill Missy so Clara doesn't become a killer. And then a mysterious Cyberman zaps Missy (but that's our second skeptical moment, or do you honestly think Missy's dead? it would be easy to build safeguards into her Cybermen so their weapons could only teleport her), taking that "damage" so the Doctor doesn't have to. The Cyberman turns out to be the Brigadier, and the Doctor offers him the first sincere salute of his life in tribute and as thanks.

I must admit I have misgivings about such a tribute. The Brig is more than a dead character; he was played by a deceased actor. His presence in the Cyber-army reminds us that it's likely all of the Doctor's friends were probably time-knapped at the moment of death and are part of that army. Many must have pressed DELETE, because only Danny and the Brig (in London anyway) are acting of their own free will. And some of these companions were also played by now-deceased beloved actors. So it all made me squirm in my seat a little bit, even on second viewing, and it's somehow even more irritating that the Cyber-Brig isn't seen to explode like the others. Better not bring him back. Yeah, it's real icky. It's joined by the notion that Missy's collection might have given rise to the very idea of an afterlife, which is just a step too far. Ugh. The statement doesn't even make sense.

Let's talk Missy for a second, because Michelle Gomez really steals the show this time around, and I can understand why a lot of people have already embraced her as their favorite version of the Master. She's completely looney-tunes, of course, which seems to be the paradigm for modern-day super-criminals (especially this group of writers; see Moffat's Moriarty as well as RTD's Master). Missy is deliciously evil, funny and mercurial, brings some interesting pop culture references (like Mary Poppins and Marilyn Munroe), but most of all, is having FUN. This is actually an important notion. The thing that separates the Doctor from the Master, and the uninhibited Danny from a Cyberman, is their ability to feel pain. The Master has so much fun because nothing can damage her psychologically, so she can kill without remorse - the Doctor signed Osgood's death warrant when he contemplated taking her on as a companion, but perhaps she Missy was reacting to the cosplay; Kate thankfully survives. Missy is nevertheless motivated by an ancient pain, a pain she may no longer recognize has such. The two of them being old friends dates back to the Delgado days, got lost during Ainsley's time, and was touched on with Simm. But the loss of a close friendship, and from the Master's point of view, for no discernible reason (remember: it's the Doctor who's atypical of his race), is a deep wound. Missy just wants the Doctor to be like her so they be friends again. And that means corrupting the Doctor (I'm having a flashback to Survival), giving him an army and daring him to use it (or in fact, blackmailing him into doing so). And he seemed on his way this season. Full of doubt and dark thoughts, put in positions of power like never before (President of Earth?!), and now given the means to be the "officer" Danny thinks he is. Pushed to the limits of his identity, he finally finds the answer to the question "Who is the Doctor?", a question that's been thematically asked again and again through the season. It's not my favorite speech of all time, but it has its merits - he's the Fool of the Tarot, an idiot on a journey, learning and continually becoming. He doesn't want unlimited power because he doesn't trust himself with it. It's not that he could fall prey to corruption, but rather that he accepts the idea that he doesn't know everything and that it's not his role to make important decisions for others. It's why he gives the army to Danny, and possibly why he let Clara make the call in Kill the Moon. How this realization will affect the Doctor's portrayal in episodes to come is something I'll be keeping a close eye on.

I don't have a problem with how insane Missy's plan is, because the Master's always been one for crazy convoluted ploys with so many moving parts, there's no way they should work. The Cybermen too, incidentally, so they're well matched. So that this plot hinges on Missy getting Clara and the Doctor together and keeping them together is suspect - it seems a long shot to hope the Doctor's bond to this particular companion would eventually make him follow her into "hell"; there must be easier ways to drag him to St.Paul's - but we're talking about an immortal time traveler who can hack minds (The Bells of Saint John also used this plot device; just how long has Missy been moving pieces behind the scenes?), so who knows how much she knew? Did she in fact engineer the whole Impossible Girl thing? Was it all part of a Time Lord plot to get themselves free by creating a non-Time Lord who could flit her way into the Doctor's timeline, Gallifrey sections included, and nudge the crack open? Did the Master get left on our plane after The End of Time and so the only agent they could use to get the ball rolling? Missy would have hijacked that plan as soon as possible and used that bond to her advantage. She could even be responsible for the Clara-Pink relationship, just pushing sliders on mind hacks at an appropriate time. Who knows? The point is, I don't find it difficult to fill in the holes, and any inconsistencies can be chalked up to erratic behavior.

What I do have a problem with is some of the last act and epilogue. The "love conquers all" ending - and absent love, Danny still keeps his promise and so on - borders on the cheesy, and left me cold first time 'round. Clara's difficult moment was more gripping the second time. I've really come to care for the character, if not her beau. Then comes the Cyber-Brig moment, which I've already discussed, also cheesy in its way. Where it loses me is the scene that starts with a call-back to Doomsday, and Danny waking Clara up with a whisper from some other dimension. In exposition, we're told Missy's Cyber-control bracelet has the power to bring a single person back from the dead, essentially making a digital avatar of a mind flesh again. It comes out of nowhere, though I suppose we're meant to believe Missy physically entered the Nethersphere in all those scenes. It wasn't just a mental connection. The classic series has moments that bear this out (in Arc of Infinity and Trial of a Time Lord, which really should never be referenced), but I don't expect most viewers to be Whovian scholars. Even in the context of the season, the child Danny saves, the very child he killed, I didn't even recognize on first viewing because I hadn't given a lot of thought to the character a week before in Dark Water what with everything else that was happening. Now I see it as Danny's redemption, but then it might as well have been the ending of In the Forest of the Night, with Maebe's unknown sister. Still, it feels tacked on, especially the magical process by which it happens, and we're left wondering if Danny and the other Cybermen all escaped by uploading their minds back to the Nethersphere. And if so, how did the bracelet follow? Is Danny "physically" in the Nethersphere as a Cyberman? Thankfully, there's that restaurant scene where the Doctor and Clara give their farewells. We end the season on the right note.

Oh right, not quite. In another fanciful credits meta-moment, the scroll is interrupted by Nick Frost as Santa Claus telling the Doctor it can't end like this, like he's been watching the show. Is he another mind hacker? An amusing teaser for the Christmas special, in the style of RTD's season enders. See you then.

THEORIES: Is the Cyber-race created by Missy the same one that assails the Doctor and his friends in Nightmare in Silver? Obviously, they're the same new look Cybermen, but where did that look come from? They have the same hive mind, not shared by other Cyber-races. There's one superspeed moment for Cyber-Danny, as Clara looks around, again a unique ability from Nightmare. We just met them in the wrong order. So how do they survive? With Time Lord technology in the mix and the ability to grow new ones with nanotech, I'd say it's a fair bet we'll see them again, and that we saw them before.

REWATCHABILITY: Almost Medium-High
- Resolves a lot of themes we've been following this season, provides several worthy moments, has great dialog and an always entertaining version of the Master. It's unfortunate that it drops the ball in the fourth quarter with wrong-headed notions, cheesy melodrama, and at least one objectionable magical fix.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

31 Indie SF Films in 31 Days (and Other Daily Projects)

So I'm done with daily Doctor Who reviews again (until Christmas), so I must again ask "what's next?". I've got a couple of daily projects set for December, actually. One of these is a movie marathon, inspired by my downstairs neighbor Marty's 31 horror films in 31 days of October. I went to see a good chunk of those movies and discovered some real gems, and no turkeys, really. So I'm going to try the same thing in December, but my theme will be indie science fiction films. I've assembled a list and plan to watch one a day, but only review them on Sunday as normal in This Week in Geek (for what will happen daily, starting tomorrow, keep reading). I've used the word "indie" pretty loosely. I'm interested in how people make SF films with low budgets primarily, but really, anything made without studio support (or that lost that support) could count. I've seen a few of these already, but want to revisit them. I've cut others I've seen too recently like Another Earth, or because their auteur has another film on the list, like Primer, but to help me structure the marathon, I've split the films into six categories. One a day, with a selection of favorites for Fridays when I have people over. Here's what I came up with (films in alphabetical order, will choose on the day, according to whim and people present):
Mondays: TIME TRAVEL
Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel
Happy Accidents
Safety Not Guaranteed
Sound of My Voice
Upstream Color
Tuesdays: MAD SCIENCE
Cube
Extracted
John Dies at the End
Radio Free Ablemuth
The Signal
Wednesdays: ASTRONAUTS
The American Astronaut (Friday pick)
Cargo
Christmas on Mars (Christmas eve pick)
The Cosmonaut
Europa Report
Moon
Thursdays: APOCALYPTIC
Blindness
Melancholia
Monsters (Friday pick)
The Rover
Snowpiercer (Friday pick)
Take Shelter
Saturdays: LOVE
Code 46
The Future
Mars
Perfect Sense
TiMER
Sundays: INTELLECTUAL (bit of a catch-all, really)
Coherence
The Double
The Man from Earth
Metropolis

So there you have it. Catch the action on Twitter or on each successive Sunday.

But if I'm going to watch a whole film every day, I can't be spending too much time watching SOMETHING ELSE for daily reviews. So a half-hour show then. Okay. And if I start tomorrow, what has exactly 34 episodes and would take me to the end of the year? And what's actually pretty relevant to my interests as a Doctor Who fan? The answer, my friends, is Sapphire & Steel, Who's ITV rival/rip-off/head trip starring Joanna Lumley and David McCallum. Not sure what that is? I'll start on it tomorrow, right after the last Whovian review. And if you're a strict Doctor Who fan, come back Monday for Series 8 seen as a role-playing campaign. Lots of cool stuff coming atcha, hope you agree!

Doctor Who #958: Dark Water

"Do you really think that I care for you so little, that betraying me would make any difference?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.1 2014.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Clara go to hell for Danny, and Missy's identity is revealed.

REVIEW: First-run, the big question was whether this episode, which on the whole feels like it's all set-up for the finale, would stand up to repeat viewings, or if knowing all the answers would kill the buzz. I'm happy to report it actually got better with age. Because it's more than set-up, it's actually misdirection. It's an episode that takes its full meaning after you've seen Death in Heaven, and watching it a second time is a pleasurable experience as things dawn on you that merely intrigued before. Like Missy's Heaven. It's actually a version of the Matrix, that repository of Time Lord minds (waste not, want not) with virtual reality properties AND the ability to archive whatever a TARDIS "sees", which all fits what we see of it here. There's a lot of horrific talk about the dead staying conscious and feeling whatever happens to their bodies, but these are plainly lies ("be skeptical!"), with everything designed to push the uploaded mind/soul to press DELETE (oooh, hint!) on an iPad so the Cybermen Missy is creating can have "operating systems" devoid of personality and the attachments one builds up over the course of one's life. Because one question you might ask after the first viewing is why Missy is joining forces with the Cybermen, but these aren't the Cybermen we've seen before; they're a new breed SHE'S created, an army of the Doctor's friends and foes reincarnated as Cybs. So many lies and red herrings - including the leaked scene/script where Missy reveals she's the Rani - but inside the lies, you'll find the truth. It's a matter of interpretations.

Missy's actual identity wasn't very hard to figure out: Missy, Mistress, Master. It's all part of Moffat's plan to make a female Doctor acceptable to audiences - I'm convinced that's where we'll be going next, CONVINCED I tell ya! - but though a lot of fans had guessed it, Moffat still tries to confound expectations. Missy at first pretends to be an android guide, for example, finds an excuse to kiss the Doctor, and so on. Michelle Gomez makes for a delicious psychopath and could become one of the better Masters. Chris Addison as her Nethersphere attendant Seb still manages to steal the show though. He'd be great at playing the Devil, based on this, hiding great evil in apparent kindness and empathy. The Cybermen are mostly underwater skeletons in the episode, but make for cool zombie-types. They're referencing Tomb of the Cybermen, in a way, and I don't know how I didn't see the two teardrop on the doors as a single Cyber-face first time 'round. X-ray water is a completely bonkers idea, but I'll allow it for the cool reveal.

The real shocker is the death of Danny Pink. It happens abruptly, and like Clara, we might be put off because it was such an ordinary death. Well, until you figure out that it's very likely the car that "came out of nowhere" had Missy at the wheel. It sends Clara into a tailspin, and regardless of what happens in the rest of the episode, the scene in which she tries to force the Doctor to break all the laws of time - inside a volcano, no less! - remains one of the season's best moments. Distraught, she starts throwing TARDIS keys (7 of them... to Doomsday?) into the lava flow, but the Doctor won't back down. It's all a hallucination ("be skeptical!"), but the betrayal is real. Rather wonderfully, the Doctor can get past it and though he agrees to go to Hell (or wherever) to get Danny (telling that his go-to afterlife is Hell), he won't let Clara fall prey to false hope. Danny IS alive after a fashion, or at least a copy of his mind is, but he's being tortured with the child he accidentally killed in the Middle East (so that's what happened), also a denizen of "Heaven", so that he'll push DELETE on the pain. This more than anything fills me with dread. I can take cyber-zombies and so on, but the death of identity (and this theme returns with a vengeance here) is truly horrific to me. Danny's final "I love you", designed to make Clara terminate the call, is another reversal of expectations. Words she wants to hear, but that she can't trust. But at the same time, he means it, and it's a way to sacrifice himself so she can go on. We should be skeptical of everything we see and hear in Dark Water, but perhaps not that. No, not that.

THEORIES: So what Clara trying to tell Danny at the very start of the episode? We know she didn't want to do it face to face, and that she had a hard time getting it out. "I love you" [and only you, forever] was only a prelude. So what was going to follow? Well the prevailing theory is that Clara is pregnant. This will ensure Orson's eventual birth, and would explain why Clara leaves the Doctor in the Christmas special (as is rumored). Like a lot of the episode, much of the evidence has a double-meaning that works both before and after you figure it out. First up are the post-it notes. They list elements from adventures, because Clara was presumably going to tell Danny everything she did with the Doctor, as promised in the previous episode. Two stand out however as possible clues. One of these is "3 months", which sounds like it could be the length of her secret trip, or might be how far along she is. Another says "Miniature Clara", a reference to Into the Dalek... or to a baby? Then there's the Doctor's scan of Clara, where he assesses that she's a mess of chemicals. On the surface, it sounds like he's describing her grief, but could it actually be more than that? On the thematic front, the episode is very much interested in babies and progeny. Missy is giving birth to a new Cyber-race, for one thing, and Seb uses that interesting metaphor about babies communicating womb-to-womb. Is there a reason the script is pointing us towards that image? We'll find out soon enough.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High -
An episode that works differently but equally well whether you've unlocked its secrets or not, but still not a complete story.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Marvel's Recent Number Ones

Earlier this week, we talked about DC Comics' first issue sins. Marvel commits its own. Far too many of their recent first issues (we're looking at the past three months or so) aren't really jumping-on points at all! Rather, a lot of these are part of some crossover event (or other plotline) already in progress, and if you're not following that story, it feels like you're missing something. Look, it's normal for new series to spin off from big events, but that's not what's happening here. Anyway, let's look at 9 new Marvel series to see which will be worth following monthly.
All-New Captain America by Rick Remender, Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger. I have no problem with the Falcon taking on Captain America's mantle, especially since he's not giving up the wings to do it. New ideas for action scenes, and so on. On a character basis, it's harder to say because the first issue is almost non-stop action. It looks nice (Immonen and von Grawnbadger are an excellent team), but aside from some voice-over captions and a flashback to Wilson's preacher father, there's not much to go on. The new Cap shares the page with the new Nomad, who happens to be Steve Rogers' super-fast grown son from the alternate dimension where I left Rogers when I quit the previous series very early on. The pair-up feels a little like Dick Grayson-Batman and Darian-Robin Lite. And they better not have just killed Batroc (though they definitely killed his accent, booo). The old Cap is in the background running the missions, in case you're actually a Steve Rogers fan. So a perfectly competent superhero action book, but it definitely means to continue plots from a previous iteration I wasn't reading.
Keep reading? Not enough there to keep me interested. People invested in the previous series will likely like what's going on moving forward though.
Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier by Ales Kot and Marco Rudy. WHAT THE HELL. Cap's OTHER sidekick/partner also gets a new series, already on its second issue, and it's completely bonkers. Now, I like Ales Kot well enough, and he's proven to be quite good at covert ops kind of stuff (Zero being the prime example), but this is complete lunacy. Normally, I'd be quite keen on the story of a covert agent going all around the Marvel universe - outer space, other dimensions, magical realms, etc. - on whatever mission took his fancy. But is this really the right character with whom to tell such a story?! Rudy's painted art has some incredible layouts, and is told in huge, if slightly muddy, splashes that somehow don't compress the story because the writing won't let it. It's not that the comic is dense, but rather than we keep jumping from one situation to the next. It's full of ideas, but they're disjointed. I'm interested in its energy, but keep pulling back because I don't understand how Bucky Barnes, a gritty realistic hero, can be involved in any of these adventures. I like the book, but not who it's about, if that makes any sense.
Keep reading? I liked both issues, and have half a mind to keep going, but everything is just a bit... off, you know?
Captain America and the Mighty Avengers by Al Ewing and Luke Ross. It's part of Axis, which is absolutely the worst way to start a new superhero series. Here's what I think I know of this event: The Red Skull decided to play Hate-Monger and whatever device he was using caused a moral inversion in various heroes and villains. The villains who gained a conscience are all getting mini-series, it looks like, which is fine. For the heroes who have temporarily turned anti-hero, it's not. This series should more appropriately be called Captain America VERSUS the Mighty Avengers, because Sam Wilson is Axised out of his mind, which will not only act as a turn-off for this series, but for his own where he's perfectly on-model (despite the fact that series AND Axis are both written by Rick Remender). And it's too bad Ewing is strapped with this false representation of the character because the series otherwise has several things going for it, including henchmen arguing with the now goodie Plunderer, a varied ethnic cast (in the Mighty Avengers itself), funny captions, and pundits using the Twitter arguments against FalCap right on the first page. I like what Ewing is doing in Loki Agent of Asgard, and this could have the same vibe. It'll just need for Axis to resolve itself before finding its real voice.
Keep reading? Doubtful. I shy away from all Avengers and X-Men books because they're always snagged in some event or other. That CA&TMA actually starts with such a snag is proof enough that I can't trust it to tell its own stories for very long.
Deathlok by Nathan Edmondson and Mike Perkins. Edmondson is always very good at doing covert ops stories. He has a handle on the lingo, does his research, etc. But seeing as I'm already reading his Black Widow, do I actually need another Edmondson covert ops book? I don't really know this Deathlok, and almost wish he was still a character who lived in the near future, which would distinguish it from similar books. Unlike a lot of other books reviewed in this article, however, Deathlok doesn't tie into other events (good) and shows a bit of his personal life (he's a single father to a teenage daughter; again, good). There's also the question of who he's ACTUALLY working for, which is a standard but intriguing mystery for this kind of book. Perkins' art is a bit soft and grimy for my tastes, but I like his layouts and how he incorporates Deathlok's HUD into the panels.
Keep reading? Maybe. But I'm not a fan of shoot-'em-up stories, which the first issue definitely was. So probably not.
Guardians 3000 by Dan Abnett and Gerardo Sandoval. With the Guardians of the Galaxy's star on the rise, and fans of the original iteration complaining that Star-Lord etc. weren't THEIR Guardians, it was only a matter of time before the 30th-century group got its own series. Dan Abnett is a great choice to write it because he's got lots of experience with SF superheroes, most notably The Legion and Hypernaturals (which I really liked). Right away, he makes the year 3014 distinctive with its own lexicon and crazy hyper-science, and taps into what I've always liked of the franchise back in the day, the way it uses Marvel Universe elements (Cap's shield, Tony Stark's A.I., Galactus' new herald, Annhililus' descendent, etc.) as fun continuity references. (I poached this approach for my 28th-century Justice Legion role-playing campaign.) Fans of the current Guardians may be a bit confused as to who these guys are, the only recognizable name Yondu's, but it's easy to catch up thanks to our point-of-view character Geena, who may just hold the key to what's really going on in the story, with twists that may yet redefine who some of the Guardians are.
Keep reading? To my surprise, yeah! Both issues were a lot of fun, which I think it what readers are now expecting from the Guardians name. (Is the GotG series any good, by the way? And Star-Lord, and Rocket Raccoon? I haven't sampled them.)
Hawkeye vs. Deadpool by Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli. Hawkeye is on such an intermittent schedule (6 months between issues 19 and 20), a second book in the same style isn't one too many. Obviously, it's not quite as sharp as the Fraction/Aja award-winner, but it has its moments. Deadpool isn't as meta as I want him to be, but there's one particularly hilarious moment near the end of #0 that takes the piss out of Hawkeye's avant-garde story-telling style that made me laugh out loud. And before I knew it, I'd read two more issues. Kate Bishop also features strongly, so that's nice. The comedy stems more from buddy movie banter, but I do wish Lolli's amusing and expressive art would be a little more consistent with its portrayal of Hawkeye's current struggle with deafness. Sometimes he needs Deadpool to pull his mask up so he can read his lips (and yuck, by the way); other times he must be able to read them when it's down. And then there are time when the characters say it's up and it isn't, or vice-versa. Not as clever as the parent series, certainly, but mistakes aside, still pretty entertaining.
Keep reading? Well I got this far (third issue) from a single joke in the first one, so... Keep going? All signs point to yes, though it's no substitute for the main Hawkeye book.
Spider-Woman by Dennis Hopeless, Greg Land and Jay Leisten. Is it damning with faint praise if I say the book wasn't as bad as I thought it would be? I liked Jessica Drew's recent appearances in Hawkeye and Secret Avengers, and Hopeless writes her much the same, a somewhat jaded superhero, all sass and no patience. She's funny, no-nonsense and generally pissed-off. I really like her. Greg Land, I dislike immensely, but he seems to reign in the worst of his proclivities, with few postures you'd be able to point to as traced over pornography. The real problem is the one discussed above: The series starts in the middle of the Spider-Verse crossover event. So Jess - and Silk, and various other Spider-Girls - is running around the multiverse from page 1, and if you don't follow the event, it's just the weirdest thing. Now, I'm enjoying Spider-Verse, that's not a problem, but just what will Spider-Woman be ABOUT once that wraps? Who will be in it with Jess, what will the focus be? Unknown. And THAT, more than Land's inability to make lips match up (page 16, panel 1) is the problem.
Keep reading? I'm following Spider-Verse, so yes, but once that's over, the book will have another trial issue.
Superior Iron Man by Tom Taylor and Yildiray Cinar. No Axis logo on the cover, but make no mistake, Tony Stark has been morally inverted. Superior is essentially Tony Stark if he'd learned nothing and was still the character we saw at the start of the first Iron Man movie. Does that appeal to you? It's actually not bad. Taylor's been making his living turning goodies into not-so-goodies in Injustice and Earth-2, but he doesn't have to go too far off-model with Tony. Mostly, it's techno-savvy, with lots of interesting applications for Iron Man tech and appearances by more heroic characters to balance things out. Unlike Bad Falcon, who's just an ultra-conservative parody, this Iron Man is funny, charming and the most despicable of capitalists. A hero(?) for the times. It shocks without being violent (I'm actually surprised), has something to say about our culture (not something deep necessarily, but I can't say that about every comic on the stands), and asks questions I want to see answered.
Keep reading? The "Superior" brand better not become diluted through over-use, but this series isn't a threat to its seal of quality. I'm back on the Iron Man wagon.
Thor by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman. Nope, I don't have any problem with a female Thor. In fact, I quite liked her, whoever she is. I'm glad we're two issues in, because the first isssue basically ends with her appearance. Not a lot to go on as we say farewell to Thor Odinson (in a particularly DC kind of way... whatever). So the premise is that no one can lift the hammer anymore, certainly not Thor, and it's abandoned on the Moon following the events of Original Sin. The Asgardians leave, a woman's hand reaches for Mjolnir, and lo and behold, she is worthy. Who is she? The second issue doesn't tell us either. That's fine, it's a neat mystery, and I like how she SPEAKS as Thor, but thinks as a human being, surprised at the information her Thor self imparts. So she's not normally a goddess, but she can survive on the Moon. Place your bets! It gives a human touch to a series that often lacks it, behind its wall of thees and thous, but there's plenty of Norse action too, with Frost Giants bursting out of the ocean floor and causing mayhem. I really liked Dauterman's art on Superbia, and he brings the same slick pencils, detailed action and quirky expressions to this book.
Keep reading? Yes, I definitely want to see who Thor really is, but beyond that, how she handles the joys and lows of being the Goddess of Thunder.

So Marvel fares a little better than DC does, usually by bringing a sense of fun to the table. Next week, we'll look at some books from less mainstream labels and publishers.

Doctor Who #957: In the Forest of the Night

"I don't want to see more things. I want to see the things in front of me more clearly."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.25 2014.

IN THIS ONE... A forest grows all over Earth overnight.

REVIEW: If you didn't like Kill the Moon, you will likely hate In the Forest of the Night. Because guys, not only is the Moon a dragon egg, but the Earth is protected by a magical forest that pops up anytime an extinction-level event is expected. Yeah, tell that to the dinosaurs. Frank Cottrell Boyce may be an award-winning novelist and screenwriter, but all he's done here is somehow repeat Peter Harness' points from KTM, and peppered it with Doctor Who's greatest hits. Like Kill the Moon, it's got kids taking part in the action, an annoyingly magical world view, Clara arguing that she's visited the future and it was fine, an appeal to the world not to kill the "monster" (a little girl calling everyone is even less likely to get Earth's cooperation than Clara in KTM, come on), and "doing nothing" as the appropriate solution. The Doctor has very little agency, in fact, useful mostly to puzzle out what's going on and what'll happen regardless. It's even got the Doctor throwing Clara's KTM point back at her about Earth being his home as much as hers (more osmosis). Greatest hits: A solar flare (Time Heist), a ridiculous metaphor for the TARDIS being bigger on the inside (The Robots of Death), there being no monster (Listen), the burning sky (The Poison Sky), and so on. Even so-called character development between Clara and Pink feels completely redundant, with Danny coming out with the same point that he doesn't want to be lied to. He has a nice speech about wanting to explore his world rather than go off to find new ones, but it's hardly enough to save the episode.

No doubt what will infuriate viewers is that, as in KTM, science has taken a vacation. This magical forest appears out of nowhere, disappears the same way, somehow covers the ground with dirt, is flame-proof, and so on. I'm equally perplexed that school kids can have sleepovers in museums, and that despite being a city of millions, cramped into a relatively small space, so few people come out of their houses. Never mind the fact the forest grew overnight... simultaneously all over the world, even where it was day, even on the oceans. And I certainly don't buy Clara refusing to save the children on account of their missing their parents. She lost a mother and turned out all right, didn't she? But while Kill the Moon worked on a thematic basis, In the Forest either doesn't or else hits its themes too bluntly. For example, the whole thing with the problem kids in class actually doing the reverse of what they're known for - literal Ruby (the bit with the x was actually funny) who seems dumb, but as the best sense of observation; the kid with anger management issues asking nice; the silent traumatized child opening up to the Doctor - is perhaps meant to echo the threat turning out to be Earth's savior. Well, okay, but it needed to be more integral to the plot. It just seems like a random weird thing with no explanation. And then there's the fairy tale motifs, which just seem like Boyce is doing Moffaty things because he's working for Moffat. The plot echoes such random things as Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rumpelstiltskin, Blake's Tyger Tyger, and Hansel & Gretel. Had the crisis lasted longer, I'm sure Clara would have lost a glass slipper. The point is, it's there if you want to see it, but aside from screaming "FAIRY TALE!" at you, it doesn't bring anything to the story. It's gratuitous.

But aw, a little girl looking for her lost sister - lost how?! - and then finding her at the very end of the episode in a bush - what?! - it's all so cloying and sentimental, and I feel nothing. Nothing at all. What's left? A neat directorial trick to show how news was reported all over the green world, a distorted view of the TARDIS interior, a few jokes, Danny's speech, kids more acceptable than the ones in Nightmare in Silver... Not enough to recommend. Because we also have a ropey sequence where the heroes avoid being crushed by Nelson's statue, a nearly incomprehensible voice for the "fairies", the TARDIS having a Star Trek computer voice (huh?!), and the Doctor dead set against kids taking their medication, which I must admit made me uncomfortable. A real mess.

THEORIES: Okay, so how do I make this episode make sense? By tying it in with Torchwood's Small Worlds. Remember the Torchwood fairies? (Wow, well that was an unfortunate turn of phrase.) They kidnapped little girls and turned them into fairies, flitting back and forth through time via natural spaces. They could manifest vegetable matter (rose petals, mostly) and were pretty mean and murdery. What if the tree spirits seen here are a different manifestation of the same beings? That would account for Maebh's missing sister and use of Maebh herself as a chosen one they could talk to. The fairies could be grabbing children as payment for the important service they offer, i.e. the protection of Earth from certain catastrophic events. With the temporal abilities, these creatures could conceivably manipulate time so vegetation could grow at an accelerated rate, and take those trees right out of time when the task was done. And if we were willing to accept the fairies in Small Worlds as scientifically possible (extradimensional beings, etc.), then we can accept the New New Forest. Possibly, they will evolve into the Great Forest of Cheem by the year 5 billion.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The season's low point, it features a magical plot and makes the same points other episodes did, only not as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Arrowed: Doom Patrol

The feature inspired by great cosplay and fan art where I imagine various DC properties taken to the small screen and wonder aloud just what their shows would be like. Today's pitch: Doom Patrol.
Cosplay by: Joanne (taken from Comics Alliance Reader Halloween Costume Spooktacular 2012)

While every proposed series comes with a large potential supporting cast, just as the actual TV shows do, neither those real or imagined have actually been about superhero TEAMS. The Justice League is big enough for the silver screen, but television can explore more obscure corners of the DCU. My choice: The Doom Patrol. Its got the right elements. A compact cast of superheroes with the potential for more. Lots of tortured souls to fuel the subplots. A conspiracy meta-arc as they discover the Chief engineered (or did he?) each of their situations, and perhaps foreshadowing of their demise as "doomed" characters. Powers and looks fairly easy to create on today's television budgets - a guy in a wheelchair, a size-changer, a clunky robot, and a guy in bandages (or skip right to Negative Woman to balance the cast). To this cast, we can eventually add (or replace them with if the show survives past their deaths) Mento, Celsius, Crazy Jane and the like. Bumblebee can be in it or not, but I love the idea of a superhero team with its own live-in therapist. Cliff would be the soul of the team and of the show, and the reason you'd keep watching no matter how damaged the rest of them got, or how bizarre the adventures.

I'd probably never take is as far as Grant Morrison did, but I would like DP to be WEIRD. The oddest villains. The strangest situations. Like Doctor Who at its darkest. From Morrison, I'd obviously take the journey into Crazy Jane's mind, the Painting that ate Paris, the romance between the Brain and Monsieur Mallah, Danny the Street, and all manner of plots poached from Borges and Lovecraft. Whatever happens, "doom" has to be an important factor. I'd be tempted to have the show start with their deaths, then flash back through several seasons of their prior adventures. You'd always know they were done more. Or perhaps take a page from the Tangent version, heroes from the future who have come back in time to prevent something terrible from happening, but soon lose the plot and might even be responsible for the doom that awaits us all (kind of like the much under-appreciated Sarah Connor Chronicles).

What would YOU do with the world's most alienated and traumatized heroes?

Doctor Who #956: Flatline

"You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.18 2014.

IN THIS ONE... Attack of the two-dimensional aliens while the Doctor is trapped inside a shrunken TARDIS.

REVIEW: New writer Jamie Mathieson has just had two fantastic ideas produced in a row, Mummy on the Orient Express and this. No, wait, THREE fantastic ideas, because Flatline features two ideas that could have worked separately, but he combined them to make the episode even more fun and incredible to look at. I'm not one to care all that much about special effects, but these are indeed "special". On the one hand, the two-dimensional aliens who can flatten things and people (that sofa sequence was indeed worthy of being shown twice) before they learn to become graffiti zombies ("wearing the dead" is certainly a motif this season). So unusual and even painterly. The "Boneless" made for excellent enemies. The idea shares a strand of DNA with Fear Her, except it's not complete bollocks, you know? And on the OTHER hand, we have the TARDIS shell leached of its dimensions, and the Doctor trapped behind a door now too small for him - just a face in box, or a hand crawling the ship to safety - it's crazy and awesome. These two problems are almost too much for our heroes, and they keep failing, staving off destruction until the next cliffhanger moment. It's quite exciting and urgent.

But what this twin dilemma actually does is force Clara to act as the Doctor's proxy, which is what we've been moving towards for a number of episodes now. Her taking on the role, even if he can talk to her (though the solution is all her, with the help of an artist; how often does art figure into Whovian solutions, as opposed to science or, uhm, the power of love?), gives her the chance to deconstruct the Doctor for us. Sometimes it's done in fun, and she takes pleasure mocking the show's tropes. Sometimes it's dead serious, and she assumes those attributes and ways of working she identifies with the Doctor as a coping mechanism. She recruits a companion, she gives the people hope, she shuts down the one man without imagination (amusingly, Fenton can't even make psychic paper work for him) who must be how the Doctor sees almost every human, and above all, she lies her head off. The Doctor lies; Clara lies. And at the end, she sweeps the fact that people have died under the rug, because "on balance", some survived and the world was saved. It's the Doctor who's pushed into the role of companion, shocked at Fenton's callousness, and perhaps at Clara's too. Has she learned the wrong lessons? Or has she learned the right ones too well? He thinks she made an exceptional Doctor, not a "good" one, because it's not "goodness" that makes you the Doctor. Well, that's a harsh evaluation from a notorious self-loather, more a comment on himself than on the monster he might have created in Clara. We know he's wrong anyway, because where the Doctor has often inspired someone to sacrifice themselves - call it the "Doctor effect" - and Clara does the same with Rigsy, she refuses to let him go through with it. The fact there's an easier way to accomplish what he's trying to is a factor, of course, but dramatically, it's a different take.

That he can step away from who he is, or from his reflection (Clara), to comment this way is the whole point of the episode. Trapped within ourselves, we're missing that "third dimension" that would allow us to see inside. The Boneless are echoes of this idea. By allowing Clara to become him, he can observe himself and finds what he sees disturbing. Ultimately, he must step back into the role of Doctor, and he does so almost literally with a blazing speech about the Boneless playing the monsters' parts thus summoning him to play his own, their opposite number and their destroyer. If it's a role - a mantle - could it be played by someone like Clara? There's a thread running in Season 8 that seems to test the waters for a female Doctor, and if Jenna Coleman, who DOESN'T have the casting for it, can pull it off, we could see an actress cast in the part when Capaldi has done his tour of duty. In fact, I'm CONVINCED of it.

THEORIES: The Doctor hacks Clara's visual cortex in this episode so he can see through her eyes. Then we see Missy, and she's looking at what might very well be the Doctor's POV on an iPad. Has the hacker been hacked? And is this how Missy keeps tabs on the Doctor? We're just a couple of episodes away from my exploring this issue fully. But now's not quite the time.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Incredible effects and clever ideas are just cherries on the sunday. A great episode for Clara and a fine audition for the concept of a female Doctor. Funny, exciting, insightful.

Monday, November 24, 2014

DC's Recent Number Ones

I haven't done this in a while, but that's because pressure on my schedule made it impossible to read any comics! Let's fix that with some articles discussing the new series that have come out in the past 3 or 4 months. Are any of them worth reading? Looking at DC Comics first, the company has gone through yet another round of cancellations and - quick! we need to bring the total back up to 52! - replacement series. It's also relaunched a number of books with new creative teams and directions; I'll be looking at the ones that made comic book news, at the very least. Following DC's usual trend, most of the new books are either Batman-related or about villains. Sigh. But I'll give them a fair shot.
Arkham Manor by Gerry Duggan and Shawn Crystal. If you haven't been following the Batman books, or at least Batman Eternal - and I have not - Bruce Wayne's lost the family fortune and Arkham Asylum's been blown up. Result: Wayne Manor has been taken over by the state and turned into a temporary replacement. When murders start happening inside the Manor, Batman goes undercover inside. It's Jail Break with all the "won't last long" that entails. The mansion as an environment is interesting in the temporal sense, with Batman's memories infiltrating the art, but yeah, the art... While I don't dislike the style per se, I'm wondering why flesh tones are all in chalk white or greenish gray, making everyone look like the Joker. I know Gotham is all night scenes and it must be hard to stay this side of anemic, but geez. But as with too many modern comics, the art just takes too much room, with far too many useless splash pages for the first issue to feel like any kind of story. Here was a chance for a cast of characters to be introduced and developed who could act as protagonists and antagonists, but it's just another Batman title, and he's a nihilistic, tooth-grinding, unengaging character in this. Why not call it a mini-series, which is what it really is?
Keep reading? Not enough meat on this bone. It's a grungy and ultimately short-term project.
Batgirl by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr. People screamed bloody murder when Gail Simone quit Batgirl due to editorial interference, but by then, I wasn't reading the book anymore. One flip through Simone's last (#35) reveals the sneering superhero action I don't much want to read. But then the Batman Family's editorial stewardship changed for the better, and it looks like DC is finally allowing changes in tone even within a specific family of titles. That's great. I LOVE the Batgirl relaunch. This is a low-tech Batgirl, obviously impacted by Batman Inc.'s bankruptcy (or whatever is going on over there), and I like the new costume (I fairly hated her New52 duds). Set across the river from Gotham, on a university campus, Barbara gets a full new cast of fellow students (and the now homeless - in more ways than one - Black Canary) and an anime-ish art style that suits both the action and the girl-friendly character stuff. This is a post-Sherlock Batgirl too, the series highlighting her brains with stylish deductive sequences, and her concerns are strictly 21st-century, with dating site fraud and anime convention fanatics as part of the techno-savvy mix. And in complete contrast to a lot of the books featured in this article, you get a LOT of story for your hard-earned cash. Pages with 8 panels or more abound, and each of the two issue that have come out tells a complete story in addition to catering to several subplots.
Keep reading? Yes, awesome. You've got me, don't lose me with Batman crossover shenanigans now!
Deathstroke by Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea. While I realize Slade made a splash in the Arrow show, that's still no excuse to bring him back again and again in the comics. This is his SECOND New52 series and I believe it's just as doomed to fail as the first. I mean, what's the story here? Each time we're introduced to a character, be they love interest or potable villain, they're savagely killed. And then maybe get back up, because everyone in this universe can apparently regenerate from getting the backs of their heads shot off through their screaming mouths. Who the hell cares then?! The only exception to the carnage is Wonder Woman's old mentor I Ching. Appearing in this turkey is still going to leave a taint. Only four pages aren't covered in blood, and if the last page is meant to intrigue us, well, it just looks like they're doing away with what's iconic about Slade's look, perhaps trying to inch him closer to the TV version. I don't know and I don't care. Tony Daniel's art is pretty and all, but he's got nothing new or interesting to offer readers story-wise.
Keep reading? Nope. But then, my interest in Deathstroke has always been less than zero.
Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl. You might be right in calling this book Batgirl's sister book, what with the same scripter, anime esthetic, and focus on young female characters. I don't think it's quite as charming or exciting though. The Academy has a certain Astro City vibe to it, showing us what it might be like to grow up in a creepy Gothic city like Gotham, where it's more than likely you have family members who worked for some madman or other. It's a world where the Bat-signal is on every night and the kids are sort of blasé about it. To my surprise, there's no obvious link with the kids we follow and well-known Batman Family heroes or villains. Best I can come up with is that the chemistry teacher appears to be Prof. Milo. Exactly. Think Mean Girls meets Veronica Mars, with the popular kids in some kind of Satanic cult, and you'll have it about right.
Keep reading? For the moment, but it'll need a couple issues more before I can decide. Is this more Locke & Key (yeah) or Harry Potter (bleh)?
Green Arrow by Andrew Kreisberg, Ben Sokolowski, Daniel Sampere and Jonathan Glapion. Losing Lemire and - let's face it, more importantly - Sorrentino may prove fatal to G.A. despite starring in a popular TV series. In fact, trying to bring it closer to the TV show in this relaunch hasn't done it any favors, except perhaps bringing in Felicity Smoak to replace the assistant Olie already had. She's a more interesting and recognizable character IF they can do her right. Not that the first issue of the relaunch (#35) really gives us much to go on. Frankly, I was bored with the story, which introduces mysteries I don't care about, and spends an inordinate amount of time on a visit from Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor paling around (ugh). But the art might have saved it. Sadly, the book's gone from one of the most sharply designed in DC's stable to ordinary superhero fare and Olie just a close shave away from looking exactly like Barry Allen. The series had momentum under Lemire. Now it's just running in place redundantly trying to be Arrow.
Keep reading? There's a panel in the book showing Luthor yawning. It sums up my reaction and explains why I'm dropping the title.
Klarion by Ann Nocenti and Trevor McCarthy. I loved Ann Nocenti's weird run on Daredevil, but I can't bring myself to connect to anything she's done since then, much less her work on the New52. Klarion the Witch-Teen (DC and Marvel should do a new Amalgam series and merge him with Loki) is another villain book, using an unfamiliar version of the character, set in an unfamiliar version of the Multiverse. Again, I feel completely disconnected from it. McCarthy does his best to create interesting technomagical worlds and unusual layouts, but there's absolutely no point of convergence between Klarion's universe and the New52. I feel strange for complaining about this, because I'd rather each title I read be in its own little section of the shared universe, away from crossover events, but in this case, it does nothing for me. It's not the world; it's the character. We're just thrown into the middle of things with no real explanation or background - Teekl is a dead creature in a jar, and so on - and there's no real hook to keep me interested.
Keep reading? No, but I could see this working for some readers. It has potential. I, however, didn't make it to the second issue, which is already out.
Lobo by Cullen Bunn, Reilly Brown and Nelson Decastro. You'd think it would be worth killing the old Lobo and introducing a new, Twilight model to actually make the character something new with actual story potential, divorcing him from his roots as a parody of 90s comics excess. You'd think. Instead, Lobo is a completely pointless exercise in beheading action. I don't even understand where the story is supposed to take place. Lobo is sent to kill the 8 deadliest assassins in the universe (so that's your first 8 issues then), the first of which appears to live on Earth (give or take miscolored clouds that look like lakes), but then it's all aliens and stuff. So is it NOT Earth? Is it Miri's Earth? Why is this series working with an original Star Trek budget?! The only interesting couple of pages are Lobo's dreams of Czarnia, in soft pencil, where he's some kind of romantic figure. Really not enough of that to warrant my even peeking at the second issue.
Keep reading? Definitely not. I dare say this was the most pointless Lobo comic I've ever read.
Trinity of Sin by J.M. DeMatteis, Yvel Guichet and Jason Gorder. Is it a new series, or really just a continuation of Phantom Stranger and Pandora, now collapsed into the Question's story? Feels like the latter, with each of the Trinity going through similar trouble, but not meeting until the end. Meanwhile, Siskoid doesn't know what to make of it because he wasn't reading either series before. I haven't been a fan of DeMatteis' writing for a while now, mostly because his prose is so pretentious and plodding. And I'm certainly not on board with the Stranger being Judas Iscariot. That just seems tasteless. Images range from the cool (the Swamp Thing equivalent of a tsunami), to slightly off-putting (Phantom Stranger holding a naked boy in his arms) to annoying (the artist's obsession with people and creatures being impaled). Ultimately, has this made me a fan of the Trinity of Sin? It has not.
Keep reading? No. So no change for me.
Wonder Woman by Meredith Finch, David Finch and Richard Friend. Brian Azzarello's WW story lasted too long, we can agree on that, but having recently read his final issue (#35), it ends with a beautiful statement about who Wonder Woman is, attacking directly the notion of her as a weak and unwritable character is she's at all interested in mercy, love and/or submission. It should have acted as a an essay on how to go forward with Diana. It did not. We all had a good eye-roll over David Finch's comments about Wonder Woman not being "a feminist exactly", and the appointment of his wife as writer, with her few T&A comics credits, didn't inspire confidence, but how did it actually turn out? Like the train wreck we thought it would, actually. In the story, we have Wonder Woman taking a shower for a page and a half, hanging with the Justice League so she can play second fiddle to the guys, and fighting Swamp Thing without provocation like the thoughtless fist she's now become (until the much smarter guys point out her mistake, naturally). If plotting isn't Meredith Finch's strength, then maybe scripting is? Well, Twitter had a good long chuckle at Diana's "What vegetative injustice was worth so many lives?!" 'nuff said. As for the art, I still struggle to understand why Finch is a star. His expressions are ugly (one Amazon looks like Gollum, for example), his Wonder Woman has spindly arms and looks tiny (from the nose, I'd say he's basing her on Sarah Michelle Gellar), and his splash pages make the story a short read indeed. But even if he starts missing deadlines (that's his thing), it's not like anyone can really salvage his better half's scripts.
Keep reading? NOOOOOOOO. We went from a well-respected writer, an awesome artist (on about half the issues) and a unique take on the character's world to a virtual unknown, a star artist with delusions of quality, cookie-cutter superhero action, and a Wonder Woman that better not be the template for what the movies end up doing with her. Just awful.

So a very poor showing from DC. The Batman Family of books are taking chances and a couple do pay off, but when trying to conform to more popular media (GA, WW), they fail abysmally, and those new villain books are pointless dreck. But that's my opinion, what's yours? In a few days, I'll do the same for Marvel's most recent #1s, don't fret.

Doctor Who #955: Mummy on the Orient Express

"Sometimes there are only bad choices. But you still have to choose."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.11 2014.

IN THIS ONE... 66 seconds on the clock before the mummy catches up to you aboard a train... in... SPAAAACE!!!

REVIEW: Remember that phone call at the end of The Big Bang? Well it seems like Doc11 and the newlyweds didn't go to the Orient Express in space to deal with that Egyptian goddess. Doc12 finally takes care of it here, in what is meant to be Clara's last trip aboard the TARDIS. He knew it was a trap all along, see, which isn't doing wonders for their failing relationship. Taken for its one-off qualities, Mummy (and yes, there's an obligatory "are you my mummy?" joke) is a a great little tale with a cool-looking, classic monster, complete with rules like the best monsters of the Moffat era do. The 66-second countdown (actually 67) the viewer can see is a great tension builder, as is the cramped set (this is more than just another Titanic in space thing), and the way the Doctor works it all out is brilliant stuff. He's a scientist, so he uses the scientific method, even if it means being rather cold and clinical. There's just no time for grief before the mummy attacks again. And ultimately, he makes good on his boast that he can defeat the monster in 66 seconds by placing himself in danger to save another. It means the resolution is quite quick, too quick, which isn't to say too easy. He just talks so fast, you need a repeat viewing to actually catch it. As it turns out, the mummy is another soldier - we've had many this season, including the train's captain suffering from PTSD - this one seeking an officer to put him to rest. And guess who Danny JUST tagged as an officer?

But it's the Doctor-Clara relationship that really stands out. They are each lying to the other. The Doctor desperately wants this NOT to be their last trip together and deftly plays on her addiction to excitment and danger. She calls him on HIS addiction, but she's the one who can't give up the life. Changing her mind, but not willing to admit she was wrong, she throws Danny under the bus and says quitting was his idea, and that HE'S changed his mind. All lies, but the kind the Doctor is more than willing to accept, if not believe. He's won this round, and the prize is Clara's continued company. Perhaps he understands humans more than he lets on and capitalizes on her sad smile (or emotional malfunction as he puts it). Perhaps he doesn't, as this Doctor tends to exhibit symptoms one associates with Asperger's (asp burgers? what's with the Egyptian theme?), but still understands Clara through her Doctorishness. It's through those traits that he secures her cooperation.

It's a terrific episode for Capaldi, not just in the crunch when he's being brave, clever, callous and calculating, but in the quiet moments too. He can't sleep in his cabin trying to calculate the odds of danger striking. He compromises Clara and forces her to lie to Maisie (she'll pull a Tennant and be so sorry by the end, which means more Doctor osmosis). He's got great dry humor (like the old ladies' job description). He touches on the lesson Clara just learned in Kill the Moon, saying bad choices still force you to choose, which obviously comes with a toll. The best scene, however, is the one on the beach, where the passengers' survival is ambiguous. He SAYS he saved them all, but by the time Clara wakes up, they've all be dropped off. Only Perkins, a pretty cool character with his own dry sense of humor (I'd like to imagine him as a recurring character, puttering around the TARDIS while the action is going on outside, but alas...), is present later to prove he's telling the truth. Maybe. But the Doctor's weak laugh makes us wonder. Is he telling the truth by couching it in a joke? I do that all the time! And if he lies to Clara, which I choose to believe he does, then she's doing the same thing he does later: She CHOOSES to believe him, because the reverse is intolerable and would effectively terminate their friendship. If it helps her to think he only ACTS like he's heartless, then that's what he'll tell her. And so they go off into the time vortex both lying to one another and to themselves. (Oh, and to Danny.)

REWATCHABILITY: High
- A lot of great moments, and it's all somehow wrapped in the season's motifs and themes. A great, great Capaldi episode.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

This Week in Geek (17-23/11/14)

Buys

When my downstairs neighbor ran his horror film marathon in October (31 horror films in 31 days), there were a few I knew I'd be getting for myself... and did. That's how Pontypool and Only Lovers Left Alive got into my collection this week, along with The Rocketeer and Season 1 of Young Justice.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Sherlock Season 3 is when the show decided to embrace that it was, in reality, a comedy. I don't mind that, though Sherlock's portrayal, especially on second viewing, is starting to get a little intolerable. He's always been a real git, but episodes 1 and 2 each have moments where I feel like he should just shut up. They're just trying to hard to sell his sociopathy and it turns into petty megalomania. There are many things that get me over that hurdle, however, including the infusion of several interesting characters. Mary Watson is an awesome addition to the program, smart and enigmatic, but also earthy, tragic and funny. Magnussan, the third episode's villain is effective and creepy. And I really like Janine, Sherlock's new... girlfriend? Plus, Sherlock's lovely parents and perhaps the hint of a third brother. Some great mind palace scenes here as well, as the show continues to set the style for brilliant detectives, pulling all the tricks that will become fashionable on TV later. The DVD includes three featurettes: How they filmed Sherlock's death, the fans' reactions and speculations, and the making of Series 3.

Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite made Mira Sorvino an unlikely Oscar winner, but it's her earnest character that does indeed steal the show. Allen plays a man obsessed with finding the mother of the son he adopted, and she turns out to be a prostitute and adult film actress, so his obsession turns to changing her life for the better. While the film must necessarily feature the healing power of infidelity (it's Woody Allen, what can I say?), it's really a story about friendship, and about helping others with no strings attached. It's heartfelt, but also very funny - Michael Rapaport as a possible match for Sorvino is especially amusing, even dumber than Sorvino's Linda. It's not an obvious thing to write and act characters that aren't very intelligent when you yourself are (just check out Sorvino's Harvard pedigree), but they pull it off. These are just people who don't think very much, and in a sense, that liberates them from anxiety about their respective situations. But because Allen IS an intellectual, he inserts a Greek chorus into the film that's pretty funny unto itself. A manifestation of his character's conscience, amusingly anachronistic commentators and Broadway dance troupe all rolled into one. It may well be one of my favorite Woody Allen films.

Only God Forgives may team Nicolas Winding Refn with Ryan Gosling again, but it's a team-up that lacks any of Drive's charm. Set in Bangkok, this tale of sex and violence looks gorgeous - the cinematography couldn't be any more intriguing and beautiful - but isn't in any way easy to follow. Refn almost tries to tell it with images only - the dialog is very spare - and many of those images only make sense once you've seen the entire thing. It's a mystery to be decodes, though the plot, about a series of revenges between Gosling's family and a Thai mob, is pretty basic. But though it follows a martial arts film structure, it's far from action-packed. I predict Only God Forgives will frustrate many a viewer going in with certain expectations. Still, worth it if only for Kristin Scott Thomas' monstrous character, looking and acting like a demonic Cameron Diaz; and for the discussions that might ensue with fellow viewers on the film's ambiguities. In the director's commentary and interviews, Refn discusses how those ambiguities were created by removing explanations from the script and letting the actors make choices for their characters. The DVD also includes about 20 minutes worth of behind the scenes footage.

I consider The Aztecs as one of the first Doctor's best adventures, with an unusually strong role for Barbara, and - surprise! - a nice little romance for the Doctor, wrapped up in a Shakespearean teleplay. Read all about it in the daily Who reviews #27 to 30. I just flipped the Special Edition DVD and thought I might discuss the extras. The first disc is almost exactly the same as the original release. The commentary track unites William "Ian" Russell, Carole Ann "Susan" Ford, and producer Verity Lambert, but they kind of need a moderator there to keep the conversation going. Production note subtitles shore up the necessary gaps in recollection. There's a nice making of in the company of the guest actors, an interview with the designer, a featurette on the restoration of The Aztecs and other stories (make sure to turn on the subtitles, otherwise it's all image comparisons with no commentary), a 6-minute docu-feature from Blue Peter about Cortex and Montezuma, a cute cocoa recipe with South Park versions of the Aztec characters, an unrelated TARDIS-Cam CG experiment, the Arabic soundtrack on one of the episodes, and a photo gallery. This edition adds 6 different introductions voiced by the guest actors when you press Play All (unless this was a feature on the original too and I never noticed). The second disc has one feature related to Aztecs, a one-hour documentary that tells the full story of Cortez and Montezuma - interesting if not exactly essential - but otherwise only bits and bobs with a connection to the first Doctor. Of course, the big reason to get this release is that it includes the newly-found third episode of Galaxy 4. Possibly one of the worst things ever on audio (bleep, bloop!), it's actually redeemed in part by the visuals. I've re-reviewed it at its original blogular location HERE. It's in context with a condensed reconstruction of the other three chapters. The disc also features a fun featurette on Doctor Who merchandise and toys, the very first Doctor Who comedy sketch from "It's a Square World", and a 4-minute interview with Gordon Flemyng who directed the Dalek films.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Tennant (2009)

Doctor Who #954: Kill the Moon

"That was me... respecting you." "Oh my God, really, was it? Yeah, well, respected is not how I feel."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.4 2014.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor takes Clara and Courtney to the Moon, and leaves them to make a big decision.

REVIEW: Did we learn nothing from Nightmare in Silver? Maybe something about not bringing kids along on adventures? No? Well, truth be told, Courtney makes a far better impression, though not a great one. Her inclusion, along with Hermione Norris (who, in Spooks, showed she was great at being hard-as-nails yet filled with regret, which is the essence of her character Lundvik here), creates a classic tri-generational dynamic between the three women the Doctor leaves to sort things out. They are the Fates, deciding Earth's. The concept of motherhood and the duty of care is certainly one of the themes, explicit in Clara's duty to a student and her anger at the Doctor's paternalistic abandonment, and implicit in their dilemma of whether or not to kill a giant baby. If this is partly about abortion (and that allegory doesn't stand up to scrutiny all the way through), then we should look at the Doctor's departure as strictly pro-choice, but should also compare it to Danny's absolute support of Clara in the epilogue - he's there for her, but won't interfere, while the Doctor simply wants nothing to do with the choice and offers no support system.

Of course, the episode also continues Clara's journey as a would-be Doctor. Left to her own devices, she must play God herself and, just as the Doctor would have, rejects the selfish choice made by humanity. But then, how fair is this choice? Billions of lives against a single one, no matter how unique? I think humanity - or at least, its governments; the way the lights go out in large chunks speaks to massive power shutdowns, not simple folks shutting off the living room lights - probably had it right by erring on the side of caution. Clara is caught between (in Fateful terms) the one who spins life and so chooses it (Courtney), and the one who cuts the thread and chooses killing (Lundvik), and must become the "allotter", the one who chooses how long the thread of life is. Ultimately, the giant chick must be allowed to spread its wings. Capaldi is a force to be reckoned with, sure, but Jenna Coleman is a terrific actress too and gets to show off her stuff here. The way the impossible choice wreaks havoc on her emotions is actually quite moving, and her anger at the Doctor at the end is powerful. As usual Doc12 gets his human psychology completely wrong, and disrespects her in trying to respect her. He's trying to push her out of the nest - that metaphor is à propos - but fails as a friend. It's Doc7 and Ace all over again. Perhaps the Doctor knew the Moon was fine, and certainly once the choice is made, his memory could "update" (confirming notions we've been discussing about unfixed points in history since at least World War Three) and he'd know its consequences. Maybe he traveled to the future and saw there was still a Moon there. It's not clear, nor is it meant to be. And the fact neither we not Clara can trust his statements is part of the problem for her.

While new writer Peter Harness shows great promise in the character and theme departments, he almost sinks the whole enterprise with so terrible, terrible science. His premise is absolutely ludicrous. It started off nicely enough, with a well-realized Moon thanks to the Lanzarote location (last seen in Planet of Fire), atmospheric lighting, and horror movie sequences in the vein of Alien. And then the Doctor identifies the moon spiders as giant germs with gravity shifting powers and it all goes to pot. We're meant to believe the Moon has always been a giant egg with a creature gestating inside, and that this creature - which I almost want to call the Great Bird of the Galaxy - not only doesn't create a tidal and meteoric double-whammy, but also lays an identical egg seconds after its birth, an egg larger than itself to boot, in time to keep The Moonbase and The Seeds of Death in continuity. It's absurd fantasy, which might have worked (even if the rest of the story wouldn't have) if it'd been set on another planet, but keeps pulling the viewer out of the experience this close to home. Speaking of The Moonbase, the giant germs offer the chance for Courtney to play Polly and kill monsters with cleaning fluid, but why would disinfectant have the same effect of giant germs it has on real ones? There's a question of dosage here. Not to mention that I doubt very much eggs get heavier as they mature. That this is now (or has always been) the reason humanity goes to the stars is, if you'll pardon the pun, over-egging the pudding, though it might just be for Courtney's benefit so she feels "special". And no matter how powerful Clara's departure scene is, hindsight has revealed that despite her absence in the trailer for the next episode, she's still with the Doctor in Mummy on the Orient Express, which cheapens it. Just another sin to add to the pile.

THEORIES: Has the Doctor left us to make "big decisions" before? Almost certainly. It perhaps explains why he didn't interfere with the 456 crisis in Torchwood: Children of Earth, or the subsequent immortality-for-all of Miracle Day. Think of Doc11's meeting with Homo Reptilia where he sat humans down at the negotiation table and left them to it. It's a similar idea. Of course, there are many more examples of the Doctor taking or trying to take that decision power out of our hands, but he was a kid back then.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It's good until the premise starts getting revealed. Too bad, because the thematic, literary and character-driven underpinnings of the episode are actually quite strong.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reign of the Supermen #555: Rainbow Superboy

Source: Superboy vol.1 #16 (1951)
Type: The real deal (since retconned)
"The Strange Costumes of Superboy" offers a whole month's worth of Reign articles when Superboy allows his oddest costume variations into a fashion show! And of course, each costume has a story to go with it! This fetching rainbow ensemble, for example, was born of necessity when a pretty young girl's explorer father was poisoned by a witch doctor for breaking a tribal tattoo. Just a regular day in Smallville/the Abrangi Territory. The witch-doc won't give up the cure until a rainbow appears in the evening sky on a day when there's been no rain (is this the Abrangi equivalent of hell freezing over?). Can Superboy do the impossible? Yes, and then some. He could paint his costume in rainbow colors, but I surmise its Kryptonian fabric would make the paint run off. He'll need a WOODEN uniform for this one!
And he could fly at superspeed to Pa Kent's general store and get some paint, but no, that would be too easy!
The best part is using a leopard's tail as a brush. PETA TAKE NOTE! And so...
Was it the SIMPLEST way to achieve this effect? Probably not. But this is about haute couture, not logic! Next week: A less colorful yarn (guys, this is a pun straight out of the comic, I don't feel guilty at all).