Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Teen Titans #17, DC Comics, Sept-Oct 1968

The Mad Mod returns! But the Teen Titans should have expected it when they went to meet the Queen of England. After all, who else do they know in the U.K.? It's also Bob Haney's last issue for a while, as he took the next year off from the title (boo! hiss! jeer!)

So what do the British Isles look like to Crazy Haney? We find out when the Mad Mod takes the Titans out on a merry chase across the country as his attempts to hide the stolen royal scepter in a variety of tourist attractions, then leaving clues à la Riddler. Of course, the Mod has enough style to consistently be surprised that he gets foiled at every turn.

Haney's Great Britain features a sweet and friendly Loch Ness monster, hippie druids from Stonehenge who want to worship Wonder Girl as a goddess, and, umm, killer whales. The Mad Mod is a native, so he's not surprised by any of this. In fact, he exploits it. His bag of tricks has also grown to include one of my favorite villain accessories ever: Combat Thimbles!

And here you thought it was the lamest playing piece in Monopoly. But it's the best in Mod-opoly! (I just gave you the right to come to my door and punch me out. I won't try to stop you or nothin'.)

Also part of his fab arsenal are trafficked costumes that depower the Titans. Really, they're just an excuse to put Kid-Flash on a motorbike.

Why? Because Haney, that's why. His characters all use hip slang and drive motorcyles... NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE!

But hold on, Robin doesn't have powers. Does the deadly designer have special Peter Pan booties that make him more stupid, by any chance? The answer is no. He just locks Robin behind a gate in the Tower of London for the entire adventure. And noone notices. They even get knighted by Elizabeth II and no one mentions him. Unappreciated? Check out this drama queen:
Yeah... Maybe Robin-o would get invited to the cool parties if he chilled out a little.

Atomic Grenade Meme

I can't resist a good meme, so when Chris over at the ISB put this one up today, I came up with no less than three things Ray Palmer might be thinking. Ô inspiration... you have struck once again. Whatever.

First up is a direct response to Chris' Invicible Super-joke about the classic internet.

This one's my stupid answer: 

And then there's the topical continuity-laden answer for up-to-date geeks: That's the last time I walk to work after just seeing a meme. It just gives me too much time to think. And thinking is bad for you, kids. Listen to someone with experience. Or listen to the Atom. He's the real hero here.

Star Trek 082: Yesteryear

82. Yesteryear

FORMULA: The Guardian on the Edge of Forever + Amok Time + Journey to Babel

WHY WE LIKE IT: Real insight into Spock and Vulcan, and a surprisingly uncompromising story.

WHY WE DON'T: The child actor's reading isn't really up to the task.

REVIEW: With D.C. Fontana doing the writing, and the return of some the classic elements from the original series, like the Guardian of Forever, Vulcan, and Spock's parents, Yesteryear had a lot of things going for it. It succeeds on more than that basis tough. For one thing, time travel paradoxes have always been interesting to me, and the twist here is that Spock was always meant to go back in time, since he remembered a long-lost cousin.

Good premise, made better by the return of Mark Lenard as Sarek, a man very hard on his young son. Indeed, I thought this was a very realistic take on the family situation for Saturday morning viewing. The death of Spock's pet selat is equally surprising, and the episode does a fair job of teaching kids to handle the heart-breaking death of a pet, a not-uncommon occurence in the life of a child. You don't see cuddly animals dying much anymore in cartoons, I don't think. No Care Bear heads on a lance, for example.

This episode offers good reason to think of the animated series as canonical, with the various insights on Vulcan culture (love the explanation offered for their logical society's many ancient rituals) and on Spock's family. His mother gets her canonical last name, Grayson, from this episode, for example. We see Spock decide to embrace his Vulcan half more than his human half, and what about that funky parallel history where Kirk's first officer is an Andorian!

The episode falters in some of the voice work, especially young Spock's stilted dialogue. My research indicates they used the child actor's cold reading audition, and it shows. The other Vulcan kids are much too emotional, and the new, ghostly voice for the Guardian is vastly inferior to the original. The selat is ok, but other alien creatures are a little too fantasy-inspired for my tastes (a hallmark of the series, I'm afraid). And there's the matter of Kirk returning to the Guardian without all the emotional baggage from City. But those are just details.

LESSON: Saturday morning cartoons have really changed in the last 30 years.

REWATCHABILITY - High: I can see why this episode would win an Emmy. Yesteryear is very relevant to the character of Spock, brings up various fairly adult issues, and even manages to come off as touching. Of interest to any fan of the original series.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Lady Cop - A Hit!

Devon from Seven Hells would be very proud.

This monday, I tried something a little different at our weekly improv game: Instead of the usual spoken-word themes, I gave each sketch only an image to inspire the players. And in true Siskoid fashion, they were all vintage comic book covers. Stuff from old romance comics, Rex the Wonder Dog parachuting out of a plane, and... Lady Cop!
This cover in fact yielded one of the best improvs of the game, with my good friend Josée playing the title role brilliantly. Come to think of it, she had a great game over all, also playing this chick as a phone sex operator:
And the Black Fury saving kids from an ice patch.
They weren't all successes (I'm looking at YOU, Betty & Veronica Summer Fun #1!), but I wouldn't have spent the evening doing anything else, if only for the sight of a grown woman letting people hang on to her by the ponytail.

Star Trek 081: Beyond the Farthest Star

81. Beyond the Farthest Star

FORMULA: Wolf in the Fold + The Doomsday Device + Tomorrow Is Yesterday

WHY WE LIKE IT: Star Trek's back for all intents and purposes!

WHY WE DON'T: Animation's a bit stiff, especially when watching it today.

REVIEW: First, a few notes on The Animated Series as a whole. Though it may contradict some parts of the canon, I don't think it does so much more than the old Klingon make-ups or different warp scales or Star Trek V do. It's got it's own style, but I think it's a worthy successor to The Original Series and can be considered the rest of the 5-year mission. These are the stories that couldn't be told because of budget restrictions, though a new restriction is the 30-minute Saturday-morning format. It's all about plot, and not much about characterization. I also don't imagine the redshirt death toll will get very high in that kiddie timeslot. I am VERY glad to hear the voices of the original cast, however, which is what makes this a true continuation of the Enterprise's adventures.

The animation's a little stiff by today's standards, something that is translated into the voicework of some of the cast. Spock, in particular, takes on the role of the teacher, with documentary-style delivery and a tendency to talk about educational topics (like insect honeycombs, in this episode). Scotty, McCoy and Uhura are much more emotional and better-acted characters in this first cartoon. Where the animation fails in one department, it succeeds in others, in particular with showing us things that would have been impossible with The Original Series' effects. We're gonna get some truly alien creatures and environments this time. The pod ship is particularly beautiful in Beyond the Farthest Star.

This episode does a good job of capturing the exploration aspects of the live-action show, with the old Trek clichés of the alien entity and the take-over of the ship thrown in for good measure. Standard fare made better by the "sets", I'd say. It introduces a couple of new concepts, like the bridge security system and life support belts, which are fine. Mr. Kyle gains a moustache to make him more visually distinctive, that's ok too, though it does make him look a little old. The alien gets dispatched a bit heartlessly at the end, although that depends on how many people it's killed over the centuries. One thing I really liked was that Kirk's first and last logs have identical elements, namely "Mission: star charting", which is a cool way of saying this stuff is routine for the crew of the Enterprise. Nice touch by Where No Man Has Gone Before writer, Sam Peeples.

LESSON: Where does Star Trek go now that Enterprise has ended? Could animation be the way?

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: A routine runaround, but it serves as a fine introduction to The Animated Series and what it can do visually.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscar Rip-offs

Watching the watered down Oscars last night, I got to thinking (you have a lot of time for that during shadow puppet shows and sound effect choirs) about the times I felt really ripped off by the Academy Awards, and whether it could happen again in a year where I hardly saw any movies.

Well, maybe Kelly Clarkson felt ripped-off when fellow American Idol (actually, Idol wannabe) Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar for Dream Girls when all she got to star in were a couple of skanky goth videos and From Justin to Kelly. But me, I don't really care. Nope, didn't feel particularly ripped off by Hollywood politics this year. (The gratuitous Celine Dion performance came close though... 5 minutes I'll never get back, and in which I didn't even score any points on my Oscar pool.)

So what are the Top 3 Oscar rip-offs in my viewing career (dating back to 1988)?

3. Sin City not in the running at all, not even Art Direction or Cinematography, when clearly, it has a completely different look than any feature ever made. And why? Because it didn't adhere to the Union rules 'cuz Rodriguez absolutely wanted to credit Frank Miller as co-director. Personally, I think trade unions have had their day and are currently the work of the devil (or lawyers, whichever term you prefer). Cuz really, how cool would it have been to see Frank Miller get up on the Academy stage, huh?

2. Waking Life excluded from the first Animated Feature category. I've got nothing against the usual Dreamworks and Pixar stuff, but something as groundbreaking for animation as Waking Life really should have gotten some kind of nod in 2002. Similarly, Linklater's A Scanner Darkly, didn't figure in this year's crop of candidates, which did include such animation classics as Cars and Monster House. Are Linklater's movies just not submitted? Or are Academy members just letting their kids vote for them?

1. The biggest rip-off of all though occured in the 2000 edition of the Academy Awards' RIP reel. In 1999, we lost DeForest Kelley, but he didn't make the reel. What gives?!? Even if they decided to poo-poo the Star Trek movies, the man was in a ton of westerns as well. Major rip-off. Happy to see James Doohan properly honored this year.

So there you have it. So what are YOUR Oscar highs and lows?

Star Trek 080: Turnabout Intruder

80. Turnabout Intruder

FORMULA: What Are Little Girls Made Of? + Return to Tomorrow + The Enemy Within

WHY WE LIKE IT: William Shatner and Sandra Smith give what might be called bravura performances.

WHY WE DON'T: Star Trek at its most sexist, and a terrible end to the series.

REVIEW: Though Turnabout Intruder is often attacked for being outrageously sexist in its statement that women can't be starship captains, I'm among those that prefer to read Janice Lester's words another way. What she actually tells Kirk is that (paraphrase here) there was no room for women in his world of starship captains. Seeing as she was bitter, their relationship ended because he took off to the stars. I don't read that at all as if women couldn't accede to the position (2 captains couldn't have been together on the same ship), but rather that his position doesn't really allow him to carry on a serious relationship with a woman. All that doesn't dispell the fact that Lester is a madwoman who hates her own gender and is both hysterical and psychotic. If the episode is sexist, it's because it paints a really unflattering picture of a woman. If I seem to be making excuses for the episode, it's because this "controversial" element is more or less a non-issue for me. There are so many more reasons to dislike Turnabout Intruder! To me, the third season ends like it started. Spock's Brain, an episode in a key schedule slot, turned a main character into a zombie, torpedoing the episode from the get-go. We tune in for these guys, show them at their best. Turnabout Intruder might have been less of a turkey if it had occured mid-season, but as a series finale, it's a disaster. This time, it's Kirk that's not himself. Not the farewell I would have liked for the captain of the Enterprise. The whole mind-swapping plot is on autopilot anyway, with Kirk totally unable to come up with something not on the record to convince his officers he's the real deal, and security backing the faux-captain even after an execution has been ordered like they were extras from the Mirror Universe. And what of McCoy's totally useless psych test? Overall, a pretty silly dilemma. And yet, I do give props to the actors. William Shatner gives his performance a jaunty feminine quality and also sells Lester's pettiness and relish in the trappings of power. The descent into madness gets way over-the-top, at least delivering some campiness. As for Sandra Smith, she never manages Kirk's accent, but she does have some of his delivery and mannerisms. Kirk's strength and confidence show through. The other characters get some good scenes too, in particular Scotty's incitement to mutiny. An oddity for a finale episode is Nurse Chapel's new brunette look. Looks like she knew they were on their way off the air and decided to change her hair for another job. Jarring.

LESSON: James T. Kirk really DOESN'T have any standards when it comes to women. If Janice Lester doesn't seem his type, it must be because he HAS no type.

REWATCHABILITY - Low: The series ends, not with a bang, but a whine. Though I don't think it's as bad as its reputation makes it out to be (mostly thanks to the acting), they missed the boat on ending the series with dignity. Good thing it wasn't really the end...

This Week in Geek (19-25/02/07)

Once again, no Buys section. It's not that I'm saving my money. I just haven't seen anything I wanted. Let it never be said that I wasn't a spendthrift.


Almost a dozen cards for the WhoCCG completed. It's been two weeks since I worked on the project, and well, I was feeling bad about that. Gave a good go today and I'm satisfied.

Doctor Who obsession continued: Managed to finish a couple of Big Finish audios this week: "The Mutant Phase", starring the 5th Doctor against the Daleks in a big paradox story. Well done, though I'm progressively more wary of listening to Dalek tales at work. There's just no hiding the grating electronic voices. I also finished Gallifrey Series 1 with part 4, "A Blind Eye". It neatly wraps up ongoing plotlines, and the twists the story takes are pretty cool. Not sure what I think of Charley's Nazi sister though...

Over in the comics section, I finished reading Showcase Presents Teen Titans. Only 2 reviews to go before I jump to the next project, kids! I also got through The Escapist Vol. 3, which is as gorgeous piece of work as the first two volumes.

Website finds

I don't play Dungeons & Dragons anymore. It just hasn't been my roleplaying thing since I was a teenager. However, the one world I wouldn't mind revisiting if my group really wanted to play D&D is Planescape. It's multiverse where one's philosophy actually impacted the universe really appealed to me. It's crazy and still holds interest. A great online resource for Planescape is I am the Mimir.

Ever checked out White Ninja Comics? Do so. I am not responsible for any mental distress this may cause you.

Remember Infocom'sold text-based adventure games for such luminary computer systems as the Commodore 64? Well, it's possible to download all four Zorks from this website. Now if only they could provide free copies of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Planetfall, we'd be all set. I am not responsible for any mental distress these games may cause you.

And I'm off to bed, see y'all later.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Teen Titans #16, DC Comics, July-Aug 1968

Imagine a cross dimensional Die Hard set in a high school and you pretty much have Teen Titans #16, "The Dimensional Caper". But like Die Hard III, don't look at the plot too closely.

It all starts when the Titans characteristically visit a small town to set a teenager straight. Seems like Chet defaced the town's reservoir to prove he wasn't gay (or some other teenage motivation), but once up there, he saw a glowing rivet. Touching it, he was sent to another dimension, where everything is exactly the same except the people there are science fiction goons.
What circumstances might have led to that particular parallel earth, we'll probably never know. Some kind of fascist fashion police? Might explain the hairdryer rayguns and algea facials.

Of course, the Titans have to cross the threshold to prove their boy Chet right! And from then on, it's Die Hard. You know the basic formula: Put your heroes inside a space from where they must defeat the villains from within, then use the crap out of every nook and cranny of that space. With Die Hard, it was a building. With Die Hard 2, an airport. Speed? Die Hard in a bus. Sudden Death? Die Hard in a hockey arena. And so on.

And here, Haney makes use of the entire school. Kid Flash chokes some goons on chalk dust. Aqualad gets his water from the boiler room. Wonder Girl pushes some library shelves on top of the bad guys. And Robin plays some nasty dodgeball with them in the gym.
Now, I don't think Haney did it on purpose, because his handle on physics is never too tight elsewhere, but my theory is that the alternate universe has slightly different physical rules. How else to explain the kids fitting down a book drop?
Sorry, but no one this side of the Atom or Ralph Dibney should be able to fit in there.

And what about Aqualad's big pool scene? He jumps into the school's pool and the goons just stand around like idiots, saying: "Soon, he must show himself and face our weapons." Then, when they think he must surely have drowned, they are caught totally unawares as he pulls a "Jaws" on them.
So has the pool not been cleaned in a long while? Is water just more opaque in the alternate universe?

The rest of the story has our dimensions merging inside the school, the principal being exposed as an otherdimensional alien, and the school almost blowing up, then not doing so. Oh, and Chet's dad learns a valuable lesson about believing his son the next time he comes home with a story about aliens taking over the school.

So... Did anyone notice Earth-Fascist Fashion bite it in Crisis?

Star Trek 079: All Our Yesterdays

79. All Our Yesterdays

FORMULA: The Guardian on the Edge of Forever + This Side of Paradise + The Naked Time

WHY WE LIKE IT: A neat idea, good Spock-McCoy action, and that luscious Zarabeth.

WHY WE DON'T: The rather boring and/or annoying "musketeer era" sections with Kirk.

REVIEW: The idea of an entire planet's population escaping their star going nova through time travel is a really interesting one, and with the irreversible death of the planet, it's not like paradoxes will create much of a problem (as long as you don't prevent the invention of time travel). Or the atavachron might "prepare" you in a way that makes history static (you can't change it) rather than fluid (à la The Guardian on the Edge of Forever). So the premise itself is thought-provoking.

But a premise is only that. Good thing then that Spock and McCoy's predicament generates a number of good scenes. The icy environment itself is well done and original for the series, and we find out the atavachron was once used for other purposes. Zarabeth has real presence and sweetness, even if her clothes seem impractical in her locale (why do I always remember a fur bikini here?). McCoy accuses her of many things at the end, but I think he was trying to goad Spock into realizing he'd changed. She wasn't really guilty (at least not consciously) of those things. Anyway, Mariette Hartley, good guest-star.

As for Spock's change, it asks some questions that were never explored after this on the nature of his mindlink with other Vulcans. He suffered from psychic shock in The Immunity Syndrome when 400 Vulcans died in one go, but here, the rampant emotions of the ancient Vulcans affect his behavior and he loses control. It makes for some memorable scenes, in particular when he attacks McCoy for calling him names. "I don't like it. I don't think I ever did." Wow, intense. It gives Spock a chance to really react before the series' close. The romance here is way more believable than in The Cloud Minders, as these two share a real loneliness. It's heartbreaking that we have to leave Zarabeth behind, and Spock's handwaving at the very end almost manages to hide his pain. Good stuff.

Meanwhile, Kirk is stuck in a time period that combines foppish musketeers and witch trials, all too reminiscent of Earth in its clothing styles (parallel history again?), but with outrageous period accents. Ugh. My eyes glaze over whenever we switch to Kirk. I understand his function in the story, but his part in it is pretty dull compared to Spock and McCoy's. Still, it does put a different spin on the "Bones" nickname (even if the witness never heard him say the word). We have more fun with his scenes in the library, though he's a bit rough with poor Mr. Atoz, whose character is a real hoot. His trying to wheel an unconscious Kirk into the time portal still draws a chuckle from me after all these years.

LESSON: Just because you live alone in a icy cave 5000 years in the past, doesn't me you should let yourself go.

REWATCHABILITY - High: I was angling for Medium, but there are enough cool ideas, guest-stars and scenes here to warrant higher rewatchability. Not perfect, but in a way, the original series' last classic episode.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Many Faces of Doctor Who

Doctor Who. I don't talk about it much on here, but I am a crazed fanatic. 26 seasons, 1 TV movie, 2 more seasons (and counting), and hundreds of fairly canonical stories from novels, short stories, comics, audios and stage plays. It's an immense body of work that appeals to my collector's spirit and I can't get away from it.

One of the things that insured the Doctor's longevity is the concept of regeneration, a crazy beautiful idea (especially for the mid-60s) that allows the show to recast its star and reinvent itself every few years. For the uninitiated, it works this way: When the Doctor suffers some massive trauma that would normally kill him, he regenerates every cell in his body. It doesn't just change him physically, but psychologically as well, in effect giving each actor the chance to create his version of the character. All the Doctors have some traits in common - a bohemian obsession with freedom, a keen scientist's mind, the ability to be immediately underestimated, excentric habits, empathy mixed with a certain impatience, and the proverbial curiosity that killed the cat - but personalities vary greatly within those parameters.

One of my pet theories is that the Doctor's new personality is a direct response to his previous incarnation's failings. Obviously, this is born of producers' and actors' necessity to contrast with the previous Doctor, but I'm using onscreen evidence to propose that the regeneration process actually takes into account what killed you to better prepare you for the next life.

In-continuity, 10 actors have played the role, starting with William Hartnell. His Doctor was an elderly grandfather-type, gruff and intolerant, but whose heart could definitely be melted. His death was due to old age and the rigors of space-time travel. In "The Tenth Planet" he regenerated into Patrick Troughton.

"The Mighty Trout"'s version of the Doctor had the vitality that Hartnell lacked. Indeed, one of Troughton's catch phrases became "When I say run.... Run!" I don't think Hartnell could have kept up. Well obviously, you should regenerate into a younger body, right? But if regeneration has a way of "fixing" your faults, then we have to look at the psychology of the character. Not just what killed him, but what HURT him, what weakened him, his very malaise. In the first Doctor's case, he was an exile in every sense of the word, especially once his granddaughter Susan left the TARDIS crew. A lonely old man who started taking on companions perhaps never to be alone again (this trait has stuck). His gruff personality worked to keep people at arm's length. Cut to Troughton and his clownish behaviour. Gone is the authoritative patriarch that acted as the figurehead, Henry IV-style. The second Doctor forged deep, warm friendships with his companions and was totally unassuming.

He didn't die. He was caught by the Time Lords and forced to regenerate as punishment for his flight from Gallifrey. The third Doctor was played by Jon Pertwee as a kind of elderly James Bond, a dashing dandy with little patience for bureaucrats, but who enjoyed the finer pleasures of elegance, wine and conversation. In his previous life, he had been a clown, been caught, been unable to convince the Time Lords of his position, blathering through his mock trial. He had thus regenerated into a man of action, authoritative once again. This Doctor would be able to stand up to the Time Lords. His huge ego would draw no quarter.

Five years later, this Doctor would be killed by a massive dose of radiation and pass the mantle on to Tom Baker, the actor most associated with Doctor Who, especially here in North America. It's not so much the circumstances of his death that are important here, as the circumstances of his life. Exiled to Earth by the Time Lords, Pertwee's Doctor only infrequently left 1970s Earth and though he would have been loathe to admit it, became attached to that world and era, with an extended family, a car and probably a home there. It was in defence of that world that he died, and one might say that this attachment was everything he once stood against. In reaction to that kind of psychic damage, the fourth Doctor is a true bohemian who immediately wants to leave Earth and only rarely come back. This Doctor knows instinctively that his nature calls for him to be a traveller, free from all ties. In this incarnation, he becomes a lot more excentric, often reacting to events in an "alien" way. It shows up the fact that the third Doctor was in many ways the most human of all incarnations. He was incredibly well integrated into British society. Tom Baker's version is nothing of the sort.

Tom Baker stayed with the character for seven years, some say too long, and progressively took the Doctor towards the comical end of the spectrum. His bohemian, laisser-faire attitude made him laugh in the face of danger as he took his adventures less and less seriously. That would be the end of him. In "Logopolis", the entire fabric of the universe is at stake, and the Doctor's greatest enemy, the Master, returns to destroy him. Suddenly, it's all very serious, and the Doctor falls to his death and dies/regenerates. Had he become too careless? Perhaps, because the fifth Doctor, as played by Peter Davison, cares too much! He acts as the "big brother" to his TARDIS crew, and though there's a lot of needless arguing in this era, he always gives his companions the benefit of the doubt, even when they turn out to be insupportable (Adric, for example) or traitors (Turlough).

It's that kind of compassion that will get him killed when he sacrifices his incarnation to save the life of Peri in "The Caves of Androzani". Did he give too many chances to too many villains? According to his next incarnation, yes. Colin Baker's sixth Doctor is a loud, arrogant blowhard that is more likely to throw out a Bondian pun when a baddie meets his end than, as with previous Doctors, decry the waste of life. We like to call this a failed regeneration, because the Doctor isn't as likeable or even heroic as usual, but fact is, it's a direct response to his previous self's failings. Namely, that he was "too nice". Kudos to Colin Baker and Big Finish Productions for totally redeeming his character in their audios, by the way.

More than any other Doctor (since perhaps Hartnell), no Doctor has been as much a victim of the producers as the 6th. Consider how he dies: At the start of the the season, he bangs his head under the console and regenerates. Wow. That's epic stuff. In other words, the producers required a new actor in the role and the Doctor was killed off in the most expedient way possible. Colin Baker thus gives way to Sylvester McCoy. He was as small and discreet as the previous Doctor was loud, maybe because Doc #6 got into too much trouble calling attention to himself. In the excellent novel "Love and War", author Paul Cornell introduces the idea that "Time" asked the Doctor to become its protector, and that the fateful bang on the head was, in a way, a kind of suicide because #6 wasn't up to the job. A controversial idea, but I like it, because the 7th Doctor, for all the clowning of his first season, soon becomes the master manipulator. He's always ten steps ahead of his companions, his enemies and the audience, making seemingly innocent decisions only to later reveal that it was all a big trap for the villains. He doesn't just react to enemy threats, he actively seeks them out and destroys them. So how perfect for his to have manipulated his former self into offing himself in a seemingly random act? Randomness had always been a failing of the Doctor, who is usually barely able to control his TARDIS' flight, but now the regeneration process finally reacts.

The original series ended during McCoy's tenure, but the 7th Doctor continued his travels in a large number of novels. He will only die in the TV Movie however, catching some stray bullets when he walks out of the TARDIS. A truly random act. Oh, the irony. Again, difficult to tie the circumstances of his death to his regeneration, as played by Paul McGann, but his life bears more fruit. His incarnation was a real puppet master, which led even his companions to distrusting him (especially in the novels). Is it a coincidence, then, that he dies alone? Has he pushed everyone away because of an overriding need for control? He knows too much, so can't get too close. Enter the 8th Doctor: He's an innocent, partially amnesiac. He's a romantic, for the first time kissing a girl. And physically, he's handsome and charismatic, and more of an action hero than his previous self. It fits the mold.

The TV Movie was it for onscreen appearances of this Doctor, but he too appeared in a long series of novel and audio adventures, which haven't really ended yet (the audio adventures are still ongoing, with McGann still in the role). So we don't know how he is forced to regenerate, though from what we're told in the new series, it most likely happened in the Time War that destroyed Gallifrey. Christopher Eccleston's 9th Doctor is a lonely soul, the "unpopular" kid that gravitates towards pretty people and is desperately looking for companionship. The loss of his people has left a deep wound, which would be odd since the Doctor has always rebelled against them. Every time we've seen the Time Lords in the original series, they've generally been stuffy, corrupt hippocrytes. So why all the angst now? Regenerating in the middle of the Time War may be the cause. We don't know the exact circumstances, of course, but since he seems to blame himself for the destruction of Gallifrey, maybe he regenerated some loyalty for the Time Lords. If his autonomy was the cause of the disaster (he wasn't there to help), then his new self will need others. He becomes a catalyst for OTHERS reaching their potential and saving the day. He empowers others rather than fix things himself.

Unfortunately, it also makes him a victim. In the end, his need for Rose's companionship will turn to love and he will make the ultimate sacrifice for her. David Tennant takes on the role, and his Doctor tries to remedy some of the previous incarnation's problems. He's a dashing young lad that would be much more attractive to Rose, and with a more overt sexuality - a way to fix the 9th Doc's fatal loneliness? And from his first story, he's the hero, not a facilitator and not a victim. He takes charge, he makes hard decisions, he jumps in, and he relishes in it. In place of the sad sack, we've got a wizard who uses the sonic screwdriver as a magic wand. He's supremely confident in his abilities and cannot be stopped. Tennant's got a 3-year contract, which means that in a couple of years, we may see that confidence be the end of him. What will that mean for the 11th Doctor?

ADDENDUM: THE CASE OF ROMANA (because I didn't think this post was already long enough)

The only other sustained look at a Time Lord with multiple regenerations is Romana (we don't see the Master regenerate per se). In the middle of Tom Baker's run, Mary Tamm came on as an aristocratic know-it-all to help the Doctor find the six segments of the Key to Time. She doesn't die, she chooses to regenerate, but there's some hand-waving as to why. It's perhaps not unlike the 6th Doctor's suicide. After the Key to Time season, they were on the run from the Black Guardian and she had decided not to return to Gallifrey and keep adventuring with the Doctor. A new look might add a level of difficulty for the Guardian to find them.

More than that, Lala Ward's Romana was a lot closer to the bohemian Doctor. A free spirit, just like he was, she was much better at coping with the randomness of that life than her original self had been. So did she initiate the change on purpose to give herself the tools to not only survive, but enjoy this new chapter of her life? Is this closer to the way Time Lords actually make use of their 12 regenerations? Was the Doctor a revolutionary even in keeping his original form for 500 years until it really did wear out? Food for thought if you're a Whovian...

Star Trek 078: The Savage Curtain

78. The Savage Curtain

FORMULA: Spectre of the Gun + Arena + ¼(Space Seed + Devil in the Dark + Amok Time + Errand of Mercy)

WHY WE LIKE IT: Some really intriguing glimpses into Vulcan, Klingon and human history.

WHY WE DON'T: Some truly horrendous fight scenes, and a pretty silly premise.

REVIEW: The Savage Curtain, AKA "Abraham Lincoln in space", has some nice things going for it, but execution lets in down. I like the Excalibians as this truly alien-looking life-form, much more gestural than we might have expected. The test they set up between good and evil using historical figures pulled from the minds of the crew is reminiscent, some might even say derivative, of Spectre of the Gun and before that, Arena. Unfortunately, instead of the great triumph experienced at the end of Arena, it's all a bit limp. I do appreciate that the Excalibian doesn't "get it" - I really like that - but it's all so "ok, goodbye, see ya later" without so much as a warning buoy left behind (as in The Cage). Seems so irrelevant.

Matters aren't helped by the terrible fight scenes that make up this conflict. I thought I'd seen some bad ones over the course of the last three seasons, but nothing this bad. Spock, in particular, has a lot of trouble, spending half his time with Zora on his back and totally unable to use his super-strength or nerve pinch. Did they get left behind on the transporter pad with the phasers? The villains are rather wasted, with the two non-speaking roles being particularly dull and uninspiring. Kahless is as treacherous as a Romulan (it's the crew's idea of Kahless, not the Klingons'), but not very engaging or exceptional in battle. Colonel Green has more of a voice, but the show is very humano-centric (even americanocentric) in making him the leader. These serve to tantalize with brief details of Star Trek history, but do no more at this point.

President Lincoln and Surak are much better however. Lincoln is immediately charming, and we share in Kirk's admiration of him. The crew's reactions to him are fun for the most part, and the use of Uhura is interesting here. Surak is a more stoic character, incredibly strict about showing emotion (he agrees that Spock was emotional about seeing him, but it's not really visible to our eyes, for example), but even more than Lincoln, a great stand-in for Roddenberry's philosophies. Both characters get some good lines and get to sacrifice their "lives" for good reasons.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention all the science fantasy "magic" that has now become the norm for the show. There's a lot of hand-waving here even if you accept that the Excalibians can rearrange matter. For example, if they don't understand good and evil or human(oid) nature, how can they create such realistic simulations of historical figures that exemplify those traits? If they can reach into the minds of the crew, why can't they get their information there? How do they interfere so specifically with the transporters? It makes the all-important suspension of disbelief necessary for this kind of series all the more difficult.

LESSON: If Khaless' new empire hadn't worked, he could've had made a fair living doing impressions.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: If you want a complete picture of the history leading up the Star Trek universe, this is a key episode. Enterprise fans in particular can compare it to more recent stories, but TNG has also mined from it. Unfortunately, the story is an uninspired retread of better "alien test" episodes.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Comics Marketing 101: Blackhawk relaunch

How do you relaunch a flagging title? Make your other characters give it a seal of approval!A new Blackhawk era begins! They're all-new! They're washed up! They'll be clobbered by today's villains! They're junk!

Yeah, that's the ticket. Good job of promoting this one, DC.

Star Trek 077: The Cloud Minders

77. The Cloud Minders

FORMULA: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield + Patterns of Force + Day of the Dove + The Enterprise Incident

WHY WE LIKE IT: A good take on the struggle of the lower classes, and an interesting venue to do it in.

WHY WE DON'T: Spock's sappy romantic interest in Droxine.

REVIEW: The Cloud Minders has everything required to be a Star Trek classic. It takes a 20th-century issue, and puts it through the 23rd-century filter to discuss it more openly. It's got alien environments, a planet in danger, Kirk breaking the Prime Directive in the name of individual freedoms, a couple of saucy gals and a cave set. It's unfortunate that it still manages to miss the mark.

There are still a lot of well-realized elements, not the least of which is Stratos, a city that features a large number of art pieces. The costumes are good too. The Troglites look like red versions of the Mole Man from Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four, and while I'm not a big fan of the cut on Droxine's outfit, the material looks really fabulous. In good science-fiction fashion, putting the priviledged class up in the clouds and the lower classes underground does Metropolis one better, and really creates a divide. The Troglites are kept down by the very substance they are made to mine, giving more reason for the Stratos dwellers to keep them there, so it's not entirely black and white.

Kirk is back in his prime in this one, going right after Plasus as one of those bureaucrats he can't stand (shades of Nilz Baris). His final solution is a good one, and well played by all involved. Vanna comes off as a credible rebel leader, and the Stratos dwellers are real hypocrites. Though it works fine in an SF context, I'm worried that class struggle as presented is largely a non-issue today, or even in the 60s. A pretty easy target that hasn't been controversial since the 1930s (as presented, since there's a very different, and slyly subtle, class divide at work today).

Spock creates a few problems for me in The Cloud Minders, one of which is our hearing his inner voice early in the episode, explaining the issues, etc. This is the first time I've felt the creators were talking down to me in the entire run of the series. Some messages have been hammered home pretty stiffly, but this interior monologue seems totally unnecessary and redundant. And then there's his relationship with Droxine, a subplot that nearly ruins the entire episode for me. Much like Kirk in Requiem for Methuselah, Spock in love at first sight is a little hard to swallow. While an intellectual attraction is certainly possible there, I can't believe he would spill the beans about the super-private concept of pon farr. The romance between the two is almost creepy, and often sounds like it wanted to cater to all of Spock's female fans. It's less graphic, but no less torrid than most fan fiction on the subject. Perhaps part of the problem is that Droxine is so boring and obvious a character. On the one hand, it makes her seem more alien and aristocratic. On the other, it makes it that much harder to believe Spock would show an interest. I certainly don't believe she'll really take up mining. A Siskoid Special Edition Cut would leave her almost entirely on the cutting room floor.

LESSON: Even what's invisible can kill you. Like ratings.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Despite the Spock/Droxine fiasco, The Cloud Minders has some good ideas, and plays on the great Star Trek themes of personal freedom and universal equality rather well.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Silver Age of Two (Three) Worlds

It's that time of the week again, when worlds collide and reality is changed forever. This thursday, it's not just two worlds that crash together, but three!
On Earth-XYZ2422, Hal Jordan was born with a rare skin condition, a permanent hot pink rash. Huh. Never noticed how high his forehead was before...

On Earth-1101001/apple/1, Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot's parents are murdered in an icy Gotham alley, he vows revenge. As an adult, he looks for something that would inspire fear in the hearts of criminals, when suddenly, a bat and a penguin both bust through his window, startling and perplexing him. Now he's the fearsome combination of a flightless bird and a flying mammal...

And on Earth-..-...-.-...-...., baby Lex-El is sent to Earth to escape the desruction of Krypton. He loses his hair upon reentry and vows revenge...

Now they all crash on some intervening Earth, which is just like ours except that crowds routinely stand gawking at unfinished masonry. The table is set... Let Crisis XLV begin!

Teen Titans #15, DC Comics, May-June 1968

Ripped from yesterday's headlines... the Titans finally go to Hippieville, USA, which fits perfectly into the Space Hippies celebrations here at Siskoid's. "Captain Rumble Blasts the Scene" is you typical Teen Titan plot, as they try to help a misguided youth who's been running packages for some ne'er-do-wells. When the Titans intervene, it sets off a gang war between Captain Rumble's bikers and those poor peace-loving hippies. Carnage ensues.

Because for a hippie story (and for this series), it's incredibly violent. Obviously, you expect the bad guys to be violent, but they may be overdoing it a bit by trying to run over all those filthy hippies.
But the Titans aren't any better. Here's Robin, disguised as a hippie (they go undercover, you reach?), ripping a guy off his bike with a string of beads.
Playing a bit rough, don't you think, Robin-o? Not that hippie Kid-Flash (hat sold separately) is doing any better, making a truck crash into a wall. Tell me if that guy doesn't look like he's going to intensive care as a bare minimum.
Since there's a lot of fighting, I'd like to highlight a couple of figthing styles, if I may. I really jive to the groove of the tone of Wonder Girl's Amazon antigrav fighting:
Wow. Less stellar is Kid-Flash's patented superspeed crotch slam.
Double wow. I just don't know who that hurts more.

But the Titans are superheroes, you expect them to be violent as well. Thing is, even the hippies get into the action! Throwing flowers in bikers' faces! Harsh! Or how about when the troubled teen's hot girlfriend drops an artistic mobile on the bad guys? A mobile with CINDERBLOCKS in it! Not appropriate for all cribs! At some point, even the Bob Haney stand-in who annoyingly narrates the tale in poetic doggerel ("Robin's advice is fav and gear, and my song ends right here / But stay in the Titan groove, cause DC is really on the moooooooo-ve!") gets into the action:
Lesson: Violence breeds violence. Also: Hippie-speak breeds violence. I hope we reach.

Star Trek 076: The Way to Eden

76. The Way to Eden

FORMULA: (And the Children Shall Lead + 10 years) + And Let That Be Your Final Battlefield + The Apple

WHY WE LIKE IT: High camp! It's still groovy after all these years.

WHY WE DON'T: Space hippies make this one of the more dated stories from the Original Series.

REVIEW: To my surprise, The Way to Eden isn't quite deserving of its bad reputation. The idea of space hippies IS goofy, and they do break out into song way too often (that canned singing that can be immediately spotted as lipsync), but if you're in the mood, the tunes aren't bad and the story comes off as a bit of fun.

Yet, the episode still has a serious aspect to it. Like the best morality plays, The Way to Eden plays on a few ironies. Dr. Sevrin has been given a disease by the sterile technological environment which would make him the instrument of the destruction of any natural world he so desperately wants to visit. The Eden they find is beautiful, but poisonous. The latter is strictly Twilight Zone fare, but the former holds some interest. The episode certainly explores some gray areas, telling us that Star Trek's utopia has created other problems, and that everyone isn't happy with it. I especially appreciated the crew of the Enterprise representing the establishment here. They would normally have been the "heavies" in such a story, but because we like them already, we're more prone to see both sides. Chekov gets some nice character development in his scenes with the red-hot Irini Galliulin, and we can see why he was painted as Spock's protégé earlier on.

Of course, The Way to Eden is quite dated in its portrayal of Sevrin's movement. It really has little to do with any kind of 1960s civil rights movement, as they are more than a little criminal and even violent in their methods, maybe closer to extreme environmentalists, but they look and sound like hippie stereotypes. The episode is well-padded with folk songs (which I don't mind that much), but it's the hippie lingo that makes me "reach" for the fast forward button. With flowers painted on their heads, instruments in their hands, and participating in various forms of demonstration, they're too close to the real thing for the show not to be commenting on the movement, but I'm never sure on what side of the issue they are.

On a final note, the Romulan Neutral Zone is a bit of a waste here. Too bad we couldn't cut a song or two just to see the Romulans one more time.

LESSON: Your first instinct may not be to invite a Vulcan to your jam session, but if you do, you'll be well rewarded. Those pointy-eared guys are reaaaal now.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Face it, the entire original series is dated by effects, attitudes and hairstyles. The Way to Eden has some of the most memorable moments in the third season, and is a lot more solid than usually credited.