Sunday, December 31, 2006

This Week in Geek (25-31/12/06)

Last Roundup of 2006, so how did the year end?

Buys

Mailman brought me the Goodfellas DVD (so somebody's gonna get my VHS copy as a present, I can feel it).

Also, A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater's very faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel. In fact I'd say it's the only such movie that can make anywhere near that claim. Not to take away anything from Blade Runner or Minority Report (but I'll willingly take everything I can from Total Recall, Screamers, Imposter and ugh, Paycheck).

"Accomplishments"

Yeah, about A Scanner Darkly... I went and flipped the tape on it. And just to give myself another extra to play with, I picked up the novel from my bookshelf and started reading it.

On the RPG front, played two (count 'em, TWO! 1... 2... well, that was rather easy) sessions of the Crusaders: One a Christmas story that pit them against the Toyman and ended with our heroes in some rather inappropriate garb in the same vein as the Thing and Ghost Rider passing themselves off as two of the three wisemen. The other focused on Plastic Man and Red "Emo" Tornado trying to cheer up the Jester by pranking the Joker. Aww... it was a Christmas miracle. (That I allowed Red Tornado in one of my games, that is!)

Other than that, I listened to the Doctor Who audio play "The Stones of Venice". The 8th Doctor fights amphibious gondoleers in future Venice... It's a description that rocks a little more than the CD, but not unpleasant.

And of course, more Dr Who cards for that project. About a dozen, in fact, 2 Christmassy ones and the rest today even. No holiday shall stand in my way!

Website finds

While looking for some Teen Titan radness, I came across this particular entry of Dial B for Blog focused on the Beatles' comics appearances: Dial B for Beatles!

And then there's stuff other people send you and that make you wonder just what possessed them to Google anything remotely like it. Combine Christmas Carol with HP Lovecraft and you get... The Carol of the Old Ones!

And finally, here's an oldie but a goodie: The Cats Role-Playing Game. I love this thing. It's a little like Bunnies & Burrows and a lot like Homeward Bound II (and nothing like the musical), and of the slim 182 hits on the site since 2001, I'm probably responsible for 180. Give it some love, won't you?

I'll wish you a Happy New Year, and see you here tomorrow for some more posting. Ok, gotta get back to work. That Teen Titans #1 won't read itself, you know. (Actually, I sometimes wish it could.)

Star Trek 023: Space Seed

23. Space Seed

WHY WE LIKE IT: Khan is positively magnetic. Possibly the greatest Star Trek villain of all time.

WHY WE DON'T: If I had to nitpick, that fist fight at the end has problems.

REVIEW: Ricardo Montalban eats up the screen as Khan, a charismatic and ambitious tyrant from a bygone age, immediately likeable but incredibly dangerous. He's not evil, merely ruthless and totally confident that his order is what the world needs.

It's a testament to Kirk (or to Shatner) that he can hold his own against Khan. The two quickly come to admire one another. That admiration gives us a couple of great scenes. The crew's loyalty (especially Uhura's defiance) is also a great moment, and the final solution opens the way for a sequel ;-).

As for McGivers, she's an interesting character, well acted by Madlyn Rue, and her seduction is a powerful moment. If there's a letdown (aside from the 1990s not being a great choice for Khan's origin), it's the fight beteen Khan and Kirk at the end. It's an easy and clichéed climax, is acted out with stuntmen that look nothing like the stars, and is won with a beating stick obviously made of light plastic.

LESSON: I should watch the news more. Completely missed the Eugenics Wars on CNN 10 years ago.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Khan is a most memorable character and the great performances of all involved carry the episode. Top notch.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Showcase #59, DC Comics, Nov-Dec 1965

Here's a little known fact: Batman's a square.

In fact, all the Justice Leaguers are, and that, my friends, is what sets the Teen Titans apart.

Before spinning off into their own title, the Titans briefly moved to Showcase from The Brave and the Bold. Doesn't feel like much of a trampoline though. The story features a teen band called The Flips who are accused of theft, but of course, they have to be innocent cuz they're teenagers. Despite the thieves looking just like them, using the same gimmicks (a motorbike that runs on walls, a hovering surfboard, a remote controlled baton, and narrating their every action with a rhyming tune - no singing talent required), and eventually being caught in the act (no pun intended) by the Titans, our heroes STILL won't believe the Flips did it. And of course, they didn't.

I wish I could tell you there were highlights, but the story is only interesting because it shows that they get TV in both Atlantis and Amazon Island. That's like, a happening scene, man!

Groovy Bonus from the previous story:

Here's how the Giant Ear of the Separated Man was finally defeated. The kids raise their hand radios an deafen it with the SHEER POWER OF MONO!Strike another one for the Beatles! I remember them also charming an octopus with that very song in their Saturday Morning Cartoon.

Star Trek 022: The Return of the Archons

22. The Return of the Archons

WHY WE LIKE IT: Some historical firsts - first time Kirk breaks the Prime Directive, first time he makes a machine blow itself up...

WHY WE DON'T: Landru is a pretty boring villain.

REVIEW: Landru's "body" is at once a criticism of religious sects and a preview of the Borg, but while these are worthy ideas to center a science-fiction story around, there are way too many things that happen just for the plot's sake for me to like this one.

Sulu can be absorbed on the street, but the others have to be brought to an absorption chamber; Kirk and co. conveniently walk into a house owned by a member of the underground; the computer destroys itself after not very much of an argument; Spock's ears are never noticed; etc. It's the first time we hear of the Prime Directive (in those words), if I'm not mistaken, and Kirk immediately breaks it (justifying his actions, of course), and not for the last time by destroying the machine that runs the planet. His anti-machine attitudes will surface again.

The culture created by Landru has a number of unexplained elements, like the tubes that can kill (super-advanced tech?) and the Red Hour/Festival (needed to keep human instincts from surfacing?). No real mention is made of the Archon's crew at the end of the episode either. The 19th-20th century look of the place is cheap and boring, and the whole thing is very drab. I guess when you show a people with no soul, things like that are going to happen.

LESSON: If you're going to have wooden acting, write it into the script!

REWATCHABILITY - Low: Dull, lifeless and contrived, even if it is historically significant.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Brave and the Bold #60, DC Comics, June-July 1965

One of the accusations often leveled at "Crazy" Bob Haney is that he didn't have any respect for continuity. If his story demands that Black Canary be a fashion designer, then by George, she was never a florist. For that one story. Did you happen to see that Earth blow up in the Crisis? Must've been off-panel. Case in point, B&B #60, the Teen Titans' second appearance, and Wonder Girl's first. So who is this Wonder Girl? Before this time, any appearance of "Wonder Girl" had been Wonder Woman back when she was a teen. Here is the whole explanation/origin :Yep, all of a sudden, Wonder Woman's got a little sister. Made of clay too? Or is there a daddy? And how come she can fly when Diana has to use an invisible plane? These questions would hound Teen Titan writers for decades to come. Don't ask me how Wonder Girl currently fits into continuity, I don't think I have the bandwidth. Check out Wikipedia, I'm sure they have the whole convoluted history.

As for the villain of the piece, he apparently "returns" to threaten the small town of Midville, but of course, it's the first and only actual appearance of the Separated Man. If you're into giant hot pink gruel monsters that can detach their limbs and send them off to stomp on buildings, you're gonna wonder why he never got a Who's Who entry. I said "if".

So Midville has just elected a Teen Mayor for a day, and it just so happens that the boy's father is in the big house for having dabbled with forces man was not meant to dabble in which turned him into the Separated Man. As the State of Arizona vs. Bruce Banner case has shown, you are liable for acts of destruction performed while turned into a rampaging monster. But the guy's escaped prison AND the Separated Man is on the loose again. Teen Mayor doesn't believe it's his father this time and calls in the Teen Titans. And he's right. His father was apparently using the prison lab (!) to refine his formula to remove the criminal tendencies associated with the transformation, when his cell mate stole the vial on his day of parole. As if the prison didn't already get a failing grade for letting mad scientists fool around with mutagenic compounds within its walls, scientist dad escapes to stop the new Separated Man.

So now it's a race to find the monster's torso to plunge a giant syringe into its heart! But the Separated Man is always one step ahead thanks to its eavesdropping with A MASSIVE EAR THAT NO ONE SEEMS TO NOTICE UNTIL IT'S TOO LATE!
It's a patented Haney fever dream. Don't try to make sense of it, just enjoy the shots of disembodied eyes crying tears of flame, or of a dozen kids riding out of town on scooters with a giant floating hand tied kite-like behind them, or of those same kids, stabbing the Separated Man with surfboards in the climax to our story.
Vote Prez for President!

How it would really end

I'm finally set up to play with some memes (for better or worse)! Random Panels is running one right now, so here's my bid for immortality. If the Mad Thinker really had a Nostradamus Machine that could calculate the future to the last split-second, you know this is what he would actually get out of it:But that's not how you calibrate it when you're a megalomaniac, is it?

Star Trek 021: Court-Martial

21. Court-Martial

WHY WE LIKE IT: Legal episodes always have a good speech or two. This one's no different.

WHY WE DON'T: A lot of dreadful acting.

REVIEW: I'm a fan of legal shows, and I generally like courtroom scenes in Star Trek, which hits the right balance between moving arguments and detective work (so a little Boston Legal, a little Matlock). How Spock hits upon the computer glitch and the final revelation of Finney's status are both high points of the episode, and Kirk's crew coming to his defense (and his own defiance) are well played.

Unfortunately, the episode is marred by some terrible acting and direction. Stone and Cogley are good characters, even Finny if a bit over-the-top, but Shaw's romance with Kirk is mannered and unbelievable. Perhaps it's her dialogue that's undeliverable. Likewise, Kirk's old classmates can't act themselves out of a paper bag, and Jamie's southern belle accent is incredibly melodramatic.

As for direction, the episode seems to have gone a bit long, and Kirk's voice-over intrudes to give us information that should have been part of a scene. Doesn't it also seem that Cogley knows Finney is alive because of Jamie's change of heart? We're never told since she disappears from the story after that.

LESSON: Next time you build a starship, don't put the jettison button so close to more actively used buttons. Typos can be deadly!

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: The court theatrics and the mystery remain interesting, but you have to ignore a lot of wooden acting and choppy editing to get through it.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Red Tornemo

In honour of having just used him in a DCHeroes game in which his player used only this post from Chris Sims as research... and to wonderful effect might I add... Here's a a little pic of the Red Tornado that I promised to make:

Aim well.

DC Divas

So while riffling through my old Who's Whos in search of some cheap jokes, I noticed something about some of DC Comics' scantily clad fantasy women. Like the cat girl from Warlord... Shakira!
That name ring any bells? Looks like she could do the 4-point breast shake, doesn't it? But one character does not a pattern make. How about... Mariah?Yep, another sword-totting , half-naked fantasy babe with a name prefiguring that of a pop diva. Where next? Fantasy series were apparently popular back in the early 80s, but they aren't now. I say "apparently" because I never liked 'em, but between Warlord, Arak Son of Thunder and Arion Lord of Atlantis, somebody somewhere must've thought they were a good idea. Or did it take three series to stand up to Marvel's Conan?

Whatever. Maybe after the success of Lord of the Rings, it's time for DC to get back to the fantasy and the half-naked chicks? Or are they gonna wait to see if that Eregon stuff ruins it for all of us? Does that mean we shouldn't hold our collective breath for a sword-girl called Whitney or Pink or J-Lo?

Maybe it's really in the pop divas' corner. Somewhere, there's a little girl with an unlikely name and big dreams. And she's called, I dunno, Jennifer Morgan? Tara? Oh I know! VALDA! Her subtitle is already a legendary heavy metal band, after all!And just a piece of advice, Valda, wherever you are, practicing your voice: Make sure you wear a chainmail mini-skirt in one of your videos. I may just tune in to my local video channel for that.

Star Trek 020: Tomorrow Is Yesterday

20. Tomorrow Is Yesterday

WHY WE LIKE IT: Made Star Trek IV possible.

WHY WE DON'T: The plot is a total mess (not a good sign for future time travel stories). Attempts at humor are just that - attempts.

REVIEW: It all starts out interestingly, with a very different teaser. You don't even realize you're watching Star Trek until its final seconds, and none of the regulars make an appeance until after the credit sequence.

They give Scotty, Sulu and Uhura stuff to do, which is good, and some of the ideas are interesting, such as the basic premise, but aside from that, this is a dreadful mess. To start with, the crew is not working at peak efficiency. They get thrown into the past by accident, get seen by accident, destroy a plane by accident, and then on purpose, they keep showing two 20th-centurians all sorts of things they shouldn't. They don't try to isolate Chistopher and the Sargent from Spock, give them information about the future (and Christopher's OWN personal future) at every turn, etc. Spock makes a fact-checking mistake, security lets Christopher sneak out, and Kirk keeps arguing with his seductive computer as Christopher laughs at him.

Speaking of which, if there's humor to be had with the female computer voice, I've yet to grasp it. It's not only ridiculous and insulting by today's standards, but also fits badly with the tone of the overall episode. Well, the tone is all over the place, to be frank, the base personnel being particularly silly. The episode even features the weirdest, most slapsticky fight choreography in all of Trek.

Finally, a couple words on the time travel elements. They just don't make sense. Not the last time that happens in Trek, but the major reset button at the end is particularly bad. How is history erased this way with Christopher not remembering anything, but the crew of the episode remembering everything? Would beaming you into yourself do anything like this? It just doesn't work.

LESSON: There's a manned Saturn mission that should be on the drawing board even as we speak.

REWATCHABILITY - Low: I hear this is a well-liked episode, but while it isn't unentertaining, it's just silly pablum with little common sense applied and the characters looking incompetent.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Star Trek 019: Arena

19. Arena

WHY WE LIKE IT: The Gorn! An ingenious solution! Great location shooting!

WHY WE DON'T: Another godlike being so soon?

REVIEW: Ok, maybe I'm a Godzilla fan, but I can't help but like Arena. The Gorn may be a guy in a rubber suit, with a very limited expression, but he works for me, and it's really a shame that we never saw much of the species again using later technology.

It helps that we don't see a Gorn until late in the episode, starting this out as a mystery and a suspensful battle where you can't see the silver of your enemy's eyes. If your alien can't be too realistic, at least go for realism elsewhere, and they do that here, with an impressive, huge outdoor set for Cestus III and the always cool Vasquez Rocks for the Metron battleground. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy also appear to do their own stunts in the explosive barrage scene!

Even the styrofoam rocks are looking appropriately heavy (for the most part). The fight itself has its ups and downs, with some dreadfully slow blows from the Gorn, for example. But he is redeemed by his sheer toughness. Had I been Kirk, I would have run for days and days after that first exchange of rocks. Nice solution at the end, and I mean both the gunpowder weapon and Kirk sparing the Gorn's life. The revelation that we were in the wrong to start with was nice too.

My only real worry about this episode is that we just saw a godlike being in the previous episode (Trelane). How many of these things are there? (Turns out, there are lots.) Good thing they played the Metrons totally differently.

LESSON: How to make explosive gunpowder! Who said television couldn't be educational. All right kids, let's go blow up stuff!

REWATCHABILITY - High: Lots of money on the screen, the future of siege warfare, a neat alien, and a humanistic resolution (there's the core of Star Trek, right there). One of the most memorable of the series.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

RPGs that time forgot... Ars Magica

Ars Magica
Tag line: The Art of Magic
Makers: Lion Rampant (1989)


What is it?
The 2nd edition of a long-standing game. You play a magus in medieval France, but also his Companions and Grunts. The focus is on powerful magic-users, and they make no claim that other character types can be as powerful.


Neat stuff
-After D&D's weak early level magic-users constantly taking a back seat to the stronger fighters, etc., it's time magic got its real day in the sun. Not that it isn't fun to draw up a disposable Grog (fighter) to bring along as muscle on errands.
-Of course, there's the elegant magic system. The latin names are hermetic in feel, the spells have cool names like Confusion of the Insane Vibrations and Weight of a Thousand Hells, and your magi can create and improvise their own based on the schools they study.
-Different character sheets for Magi, Companions and Grogs!
-The game doesn't shy from portraying Christianity as it was at the time, and pits Divine power against Infernal.


Bad stuff
-Not sure how I feel about leaving my Magus behind on adventures so that other players may bring theirs and benefit from my Companion's presence. Make sure you make a cool Companion! Some players might not like having to play up to 3 characters in the campaign, others will thrive on it.
-Small print and not a lot of good illustrations, as well as some really strange layout decisions in the Virtues & Flaws section.


Quote
"Once a year a patch of magical mushrooms sprouts up from the thick silvery moss that grows beneath the trees."


In conclusion
The game was good enough to be published by a number of companies over the years, and it spawned the Storyteller system used by White Wolf's games today (if I'm not mistaken). If you're not into the system, there are still some things that can be imported to another game, such as good information on the middle ages (and its attitudes) and plenty of inspiration for spells, magical procedures, etc.


How I've used it
Always WANTED to use it, but alas, you really need a focused group to really get the most out of it, create a convenant, etc. I did make some characters, I seem to remember, but I can't find them now. Seeing as I never throw anything away, maybe that never happened. I got the twice-as-thick 4th edition in a gift exchange program a year back, so obviously, I'd use that to run a campaign. Since the action takes place in Medieval France, and we always play in French, that'd be the first time it fit the setting, instead of our usual "universal translator" policy.

Because everybody's doing it: Christmas covers

So I've finally folded under the holiday pressure and rummaged through 8 of my 20 comics boxes to find some random Christmas covers, going deep into my dusty, no doubt anthrax-filled plastic bags to bring you the best in Xmas fun. Hope you enjoy the gesture, you cheery bastards. It took 6 months off my life.

No, I'm not a very Christmasy person, but that's because everything I know, I learned from comics. And in comics, Santa Claus is EVIL! The Hulk knows it:
The Flash knows it:
Iron Man knows it:
Even Shade the Changing Man knows it:
I mean, there's a reason the old man has a price on his head. Lobo nearly got him that one time, remember?
Hitman too.
And there was that one time that I took a shot at him. (Black eye's mine, not the lipstick.)
No, verily, he's a monster.
And somewhat kind of pathetic.
That's why I prefer to be a Pagan. Yeah, the Festival of Lights sounds good to me.
As comics have taught me, the only real Santas are the superheroes.So pick one, and have a cheery old time, wherever you may be.See? I'm not such a Scrooge after all. Hope you had a good one!

Star Trek 018: The Squire of Gothos

18. The Squire of Gothos

WHY WE LIKE IT: Trelane is the prototype for Q. And that classic ending!

WHY WE DON'T: Kind of a silly runaround, and I find Trelane more annoying than anything.

REVIEW: A godlike being playing with the crew is a Star Trek staple, but in this case, it's all kind of silly and pointless. When your antagonist can do anything, you just have to wait for him to defeat himself, going through setpiece after setpiece until that happens.

The mystery starts out as interesting, and Trelane isn't immediately annoying, but as the episode goes on, he becomes more and more childish and whiney. Once you know how the episode ends (a very classic and watchable ending), there's no mystery and you just want Kirk to slap him a couple times.

Which he does! The main characters are all strong here, including Sulu, Scotty and Uhura who are still being used interestingly. Still, sitting through harpsichord music, badly staged sword fights and that ridiculous mirror scene (so what was that machine for anyway?) again isn't something I look forward to.

LESSON: Don't break your toys unless you want mom and dad to take them away.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: I'm a bit on the fence between Low and Medium, but the classic finale and the strong performances by the regulars (not that William Campbell doesn't do well with what he was handed) make me recommend it mildly.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Teen Titans #13, DC Comics, Jan-Feb 1968

Skipped ahead to Teen Titans #13 to see what crazy Bob Haney did for holiday cheer, especially considering some of his other efforts. And well... oh my... "The TT's Swingin' Christmas Carol", as Teen Titans #13 is criminally titled, is exactly what you think it is: A take-off on Dickens' famous Christmas story. You've got a junkyard owner called Ebenezer Scrounge working a Bob Ratchet to death so he can get enough money to buy an electric wheelchair for his son Tiny Tom. Subtle, it ain't.

In case you missed the point, Robin's reading A Christmas Carol at the start of the story, while everybody else is reading their mentor's comic. Everyone? No. Kid Flash is a blasted traitor.
Aqualad, Kid Flash, Robin and Wonder Chick - as Wonder Girl is called throughout - are pulled into the story after Tiny Tom somehow sneaks onto the snowbound junkyard in his old wheelchair (it's a Christmas miracle!) and witnesses Scrounge shadily dealing with some crooks. Like every kid in America, he seems to have a direct line to the Titans, and they show up to help. Not always easy when you don't have a driver's license.
And in case you still haven't gotten the point, Robin calls attention to it! All similar names in similar situations, it's just like Dickens! By golly, you're right Robin! So of course the thing to do is make like the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to scare the old man into Doing The Right ThingTM. Except Dickens never wrote about gangsters that show up and activate a "tree" that pulls junk, wheelchairs and Titans to itself. And even if he had, I don't think he would have included their scheme to turn junk into gold-plated merchandise with a raygun.

And that's why we have Bob Haney, God bless 'im.

Brave and the Bold #54, DC Comics, June-July 1964


I
said I was gonna talk about some Showcase Presents, and none have captured my imagination as much as the Teen Titans'. I mean, it's not my favorite team in the world. They were basically just the sidekicks of the Justice League, and later became the DC Universe's answer to the X-Men, but if there's one thing that I've learned thanks to other comic book blogs, it's that writer Bob Haney's stuff should be experienced first hand. I'd even go as far to say that Haney is his generation's Grant Morrison, except without all the postmodern bullshit (which I love, don't get me wrong). Where Morrison "comments" on comic book leitmotifs to bring out the absurdity, Haney plays it straight and manages the same. Where Morrison revels in silver age nostalgia, Haney IS the silver age. And should I mention here that Haney created the Doom Patrol?

But let's talk about the original Teen Titans, shall we? They first appeared in Brave and the Bold #54 (1964) as just Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad, to be joined in their next appearance by Wonder Girl. After a couple of appearances in and there, they were awarded their own title, and the words I've most seen associated with it are "Mod" and "Fab". I guess it's a 60s thing, and Teen Titans were supposed to be "hip", "with it" and "groovy", three things which are no longer hip, with it or groovy. They are, however, hilarious! Haney was born in 1926, which makes him 38 by the time he wrote this... Was he really in touch with the teenager's idea of what was cool?

Showcase Presents Teen Titans contains the first 21 TT comics, and it's perhaps a testament to Haney's mad genius that flipping through this thing, not one villain was ever featured in DC's original Who's Who encyclopedia. Not even the Mad Mod, who has repeat appearances. And this is an encyclopedia that has entries for Detective Chimp and Kite-Man!

Case in point, the Titans' first villain: A guy dressed in Colonial apparel calling himself Mr. Twister, who uses an Indian magic staff with weather control powers. His unlikely real name: Brom Stikk. His even more unlikely scheme: His ancestor sold the land to small town Hatton Corners with a provision that the citizens had to give him one passenger pigeon feather a year, or he could take a youth from the town for slave labour. He died and they forgot all about it. Now Brom Stikk wants the town to pay up, but since passenger pigeons are extinct, he steals all the kids and makes them build a giant tornado out of bricks.

And along the way, we'll learn a valuable lesson about appreciating our parents. See, Hatton Corners is pretty much the town from Footloose, so the adults are unhappy because the kids "played the juke too loud", and the kids are unhappy cuz the town is imposing curfews. By the end, I'm sure Hatton Corners will be building them a big clubhouse, in no small part because of the responsible example of the teen superheroes.

These three are fast friends, despite the fact that Aqualad and Kid Flash are a little condescending to Robin for not having powers. Yeah, Kid Flash can pretty much do anything with his powers (Haney makes him fly, among other things), but Aqualad, if your role in the team is just to stand in a pond and shout encouragement, maybe you should take a long look at how Aquaman operates in the Justice League. Oh wait...
But in fact, Robin DOES have powers: Brains and leadership! He's Junior Batman, after all. He's the one who finds Mr. Twister's island work camp thanks to his knowledge of geese migrations, and later, he'll be the one to take down the villain from atop a fire engine ladder. Because of course, the villain never needs to go after the one with no powers.

And though I've been hard on Aqualad, he's pretty useful in this story. He discovers that the island's bottom has eroded so that it's just a thin stalk, so to get the kids away from Mr. Twister, he uses whales to detach it completely from the ocean floor and move it somewhere else. It's either a crime against ecology or physics, I'm not sure which, because we never see the island sinking. I think Brom Stikk's ancestor was a con man in more ways than one, because Hatton Corners has bigger problems. When Mr. Twister floods the town with heavy rain, Aquaman rides a narwhal to the rescue and makes it bore a hole in the middle of the street. Looks like the town is built over a big air pocket (and now an underground lake). How long before the ground collapses under their feet? That new clubhouse better be high up in a tree!
And that's it for the Titans' first outing, tackling issues like the generation gap when no other comic would. Oh, and I notice now that there's a Christmas issue included... I think I'll skip ahead and get back to you.

Star Trek 017: The Galileo Seven

17. The Galileo Seven

WHY WE LIKE IT: Kirk's unwavering search for his lost crewmen.

WHY WE DON'T: The funky alien apes, for starters.

REVIEW: The episode starts out nicely, with some interesting effects (the quasar formation, the shuttle launch), and an engaging story - How will they survive? We might think of Apollo 13 in relation to this, for example. Survival stories are always tense and engrossing.

And while that's true here, and Kirk's search for his men adds to the drama, there are so many things that let the episode down. For example, I might mention Ferris, the first of many "interferers" that can take command of the ship for no discernable reason other than to make the plot work. The first in a long Star Trek tradition, but one of the least interesting.

Speaking of traditions, this is the second ending with extended forced laughter. I hope they don't make it a habit. Here, Uhura even points and laughs at Spock. Indeed, attitudes toward Spock are illogical throughout (if you'll permit the expression). It seems that any time his crew was against his ideas, I was in total agreement with them. He takes their advice and makes a show of force to the giant apes, and when it turns for the worse, they're all "what, you expected the apes to act logically?" It was THEIR idea!

My frustration with the episode goes up with every such scene. Spock acts emotionally all along, being angry and shouting in places, and then the breakdown where he questions his logic (that scene doesn't work for me), yet they keep calling him a machine. At the end, the so-called act of desperation is quite logical to me (they were gonna die anyway, there obviously WAS a chance), but this is the one time they say he did something irrational. Saving graces are a couple of Spock's jabbing remarks early on and the fact the Mr. Scott is very professional and follows orders. He's not like all those nay-sayers at all.

And then there are size issues, with both the apes (which might be anywhere between 8 and 20 feet tall judging from onscreen evidence) and the shuttle itself (kind of like a TARDIS, isn't it?).

LESSON: Just because an alien race is using stone spears doesn't mean they don't have access to enlargement beam technology. (Sounds like something I might get spammed about soon.)

REWATCHABILITY - Low: Though the episode is suspenseful, there's no reason you can't watch any number of "Spock's in command and we don't trust him" episodes in its stead.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

This Week in Geek (18-24/12/06)

So what have I been up to in the week leading up to Christmas? Here's the week's roundup.

Buys

Well, it seems that for every gift I got someone else, I had to get a couple for myself. It's not my faut! There were sales!

For example, how could I resist a 3-for-2 sale on Showcase Presents? How could I resist buying 9 of them? How? I ask you, how?!? And so it is that you'll probably be hearing about the following collections: Teen Titans, Justice League of America, Batman, Superman 1 & 2, Phantom Stranger, Green Arrow, Superman Family, and Metamorpho?

And that Golden Age Green Lantern action figure? Less than 10 bucks! Had to have it after I made a big fuss earlier about his creator passing away.

And then there's the Xbox I had to buy to replace the one my roomie Emili had to take back to her dad when she moved a couple days ago. I just couldn't lose a 98.40% saved game on Grand Theft Auto San Andreas! Her dad'll be fine with the one I got on sale (cheap, now that 360 has come out) as he's never even used the old one!

As for the stuff that came in the mail, well, I technically bought those the week before, so it's not like I spent that much money THIS week... And that's the Doctor Who 2007 Annual, Quantum Leap Season 5, and Super Friends Volume 2 (booya! Zan and Jayna!)

"Accomplishments"

Finally finished About Time 1, the guide to Doctor Who's first 3 seasons.

Also finally finished Batman The Animated Series vol. 2. The Paul Dini scripts are clearly the standouts, especially "Harley and Ivy" and "Almost Got 'im".

On my Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG project, currently doing 1 card per story ever aired, I promised all the stories through the Troughton era before Christmas. Happy to say I made good on that promise (happy and yet sad that that's what I was doing on Christmas eve).


RPG accomplishments: Made my good friend Pat a character for our Crusaders campaign, which has a pretty neat tie-in to the Sandman series. And yesterday morning, played the tail end of a subplot for Etienne's Absolut character, detailing his secret origin (Absolut's that is, Etienne's is still a mystery).

Oh yeah, and I converted all our DCHeroes 2nd ed. characters to Blood of Heroes 2nd ed., which pretty much means I've skipped our game ahead 3 editions.

Website finds

While talking about the monkey comics cover phenomenon with Carolynn (I know, I know), I came across Comic Book Gorillarama. That's a pretty cool obsession with apes, I must say. (I may say "cool" because I'm afraid of this guy.)

Speaking of obessions, you might want to check out The Aquaman Shrine, a blog by a guy with a huge collection of Aquaman memorabilia. Not too many comics though, which is only strange when you consider the quality of many Aquaman comics.

And might I also interest you in Whomix, a site chockfull of remixed Doctor Who themes, all free. Personal favorite happens to be "Skaro or Bust v.2", but it's not like I've yet been able to go through the whole list.

And that's it for this week, except for a couple buys I'm keeping secret so as not to ruin any Christmas surprises. Thank you, come again.

Star Trek 016: Shore Leave

16. Shore Leave

WHY WE LIKE IT: Filmed on glorious location, including the first ever shot of Vasquez Rocks.

WHY WE DON'T: I can't STAND Finnegan!

REVIEW: Though basically inoffensive, this episode is repleat with moments that annoy me. It does start off well, though, with the crew badly needing shore leave "after the last three months", which would include most episodes since the start of the series. And Kirk's hesitation while voicing his log is a good, human moment. Great location shooting, though maybe they should have limited themselves to a single environment, saving others for other worlds. The variety is nice, but we'll tend to see the same rocks each time they go on location.

The creators remember Sulu's interest in botany, and add collecting weapons to his many hobbies. McCoy's death is well realized, and Kirk reacts much as the Romulan Commander did to losing his closest confidant in Balance of Terror. The Caretaker has only a brief scene, but he's immediately likeable. And Barrows, the first of many replacement yeomen suprisingly goes for McCoy.

But that doesn't save the episode for me. The script is haphazard and messy. There's a huge reset button at the end. And they just try too hard to make the episode light-hearted (concluding it with extended forced laughter). I'm most annoyed by Finnegan, and his fight with Kirk goes on for way too long as the "funny" music gets more and more strident. Ugh.

Other than that, everyone acts giddy and out-of-character, doing things they really shouldn't. Kirk has too much fun after McCoy's been killed, the Doctor's romance is awkward and strange (had they been seeing each other already?), Sulu gets trigger-happy, and no one, NO ONE, figures out their imaginations are coming alive until the very end.

I also object to 23rd-century characters having to explain to each other about 20th-century things. Do people in the future really not know what a plane, a firearm and an amusement park are? Barrows' hat. Her amazing, self-repairing uniform. Alice as a blonde (they apparently still watch Disney films in the future). Martine referred to as Teller (yet still Angela) being all too cozy with Rodriguez after her fiancé died in the last episode. The ethical questions raised by resparking an old romance with a plastic dummy. I'll stop now before I think of something else.

LESSON: Getting beat up is a great way to relieve stress. ("Sleep forever, Jimmy-boy!")

REWATCHABILITY - Low: I know it's well regarded, and I don't think it's truly bad. It's not. But don't make me watch it again. Please.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Star Trek 015: Balance of Terror

15. Balance of Terror

WHY WE LIKE IT: The Romulans are cooooool.

WHY WE DON'T: A botched last appearance for Grace Lee Whitney's Yeoman Rand.

REVIEW: Like The Corbomite Maneuver, this is a shipboard episode dealing with first contact with an alien species, again featuring a navigator that has problems with the Captain's orders. Despite these similarities, it all turns out very differently.

The introduction of the Romulans to the series is excellent. The basics are there: a culture based on glory, ambition and politics. The invisible ship and destruction of 4 outposts speaks to their treachery as well. The Romulan Commander, brilliantly played by Mark Lenard, is an oddity among Romulans. He's actually an honorable man. We really feel for this soldier ordered to do a duty he finds repugnant, who loses a friend during the battle and must make the ultimate sacrifice by the end.

The revelation that the Romulans are Vulcanoid makes more sense than all the humanoid species in the galaxy, since Vulcans had space travel long before humans did, and it sets up Stiles' prejudice. Kirk immediately jumps to his friend's defense in a great moment. Here, there's no room for prejudice - an interesting mirror to Kirk's later attitudes towards the Klingons.

The commitment to showing shipboard life is still in effect, with the well-remembered wedding ceremony, and thanks to the unlucky couple, the weapons room operations. Kirk's walk down the corridor as the credits start to roll after he's spoken with Martine is a strong, subtle handling of the captain dealing with casualties and the pressures of command. Sulu comes off as a respected adviser and Uhura shows she can hold the navigator's position.

Too bad that Yeoman Rand couldn't have been as effective (even Scotty gets to walk a girl down the aisle), especially since this is her last aired episode. The most she does here is give Kirk an inappropriate hug on the bridge. Where's the sharp character I actually liked and respected in Charlie X?

But that's minor, as are any problems with this tight military thriller. The physics are bizarre and often dictated by the parallels to submarine warfare (they run silent as if voices could be heard across the void, their phasers are really torpedoes to give the effect of depth charges, the Enterprise outruns a plasma blast as if it were a torpedo, etc.), the Romulans are awkwardly based on the Roman empire, and I've never really understood the title. You forget all that when you watch it. Great acting, good model shots, and a real chess game between the commanders makes you disregard the flaws.

LESSON: It's quite ok for a superior officer to hug or marry you. He's quite a catch, after all!

REWATCHABILITY - High: It's really too bad the Romulans so seldom returned in the original series and movies, but what makes them great here is their commander, a definitely atypical member of the species.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Action Figure Theater: Passion of the Aquamen

What happens when a comic book world goes for so long...
You can't be expected to like your Silver Age self.