Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Face of Spragg!

Because you demanded it (or I may be hearing voices again): More Journey Into Mystery feature monsters!
Now, to be fair, isn't Spragg just a chin puppet?
Another secret origin revealed, here on the SBG.

Star Trek 113: Where No One Has Gone Before

113. Where No One Has Gone Before

FORMULA: The Ultimate Computer + Shore Leave + By Any Other Name

WHY WE LIKE IT: One of the few palatable Wesley episodes, and some of the starscapes are pretty cool.

WHY WE DON'T: Sets up much of what will be causing us grief later.

REVIEW: Where No One Has Gone Before is the best Wesley episode for a couple of reasons, one of which is that it explains why he's such a wonderkind, that he's not just precocious, but an actual genius. Though he still remains one of Roddenberry's indulgences, we can now sort of respect his presence. The reason I find it a better episode than most for him, however, is that Wil Wheaton underplays it. Aside from some gushing at the end there, and a little whining in sickbay, he's mostly concentrating on the mathematical work at hand, and seems to be a regular kid watching an adult (the Traveller) do his job.

The Traveller himself is a bit ethereal for me, but works fine as an advanced alien. I find great delight in Kozinsky's arrogance and pretentiousness, but once he learns the truth, he sadly becomes the opposite, meek and grateful ("You really want me to help?") and it flattens out the character totally. It doesn't at all feel like something the character would do. The crew gets short-changed with this focus on "the boy" and his two pals, but that's ok. Note once again the absence of a starring chief engineer. Argyle ("ONE of our chief engineers") is fine, but Riker has to be put in charge of Engineering just so there's someone we know there.

The first jump to Galaxy M33 is cool, with lots of known galaxies spinning around, and the space there is gorgeous. It's too bad the ordinary black starfields are less costly, because space could really have been interesting throughout modern Trek. The edge of the universe, however, makes no real sense. It's weird, but that's about all it is. (I prefer to think they're inside some kind of wormhole, but didn't know where they were so never tried to come out. Compare to the Bajoran wormhole, for example.) Things really start to dribble out for me when the crew starts to let their imaginations take over. For one thing, seeing the dreams of unnamed crewmembers is just so much padding, and the illusions experienced by the crew aren't all that interesting (except the dramatic scene where Picard almost steps out into space). It's not even consistent. Sometimes the illusions are shared, sometimes they're not, sometimes you're totally in your head. Whatever.

And while Picard's giving Wesley "encouragement" is a well done scene, and logical within the framework of the story, it will lead to more exposure for the character, more chances to get the ship into and out of trouble. It's just that I don't think young Wheaton is up to the task.

LESSON: Thought is what makes me move. Yeah, well... I knew that.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Cool visuals, memorable guest-stars and a destiny for Wesley, but there's a lot of padding with the imagination sequences, and it ends in a sappy way with the crew sending their good vibrations to the Traveller.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Journey Into Destiny

Long before it became Thor's title, Journey Into Mystery was a Marvel horror anthology like every other in the 1950s - your basic cross between Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. Towards the end though, it became a sort of Monster of the Month showcase, proudly proclaiming the creature's name on the cover.

Quiver at the sight of Zog! Fear as you meet Rro! Bombu will eat you! Watch out for Gruto! Roc! Glob! Korilla! And as I was perusing said covers, I found this:
Soooo... Marvel had the copyright a bit before the Green Goliath came to play. Interesting. And let's not forget the Hulk was actually gray on his first few appearances...
Ah, there we go. So it was an evolution. I'm kinda glad they didn't stick to the giant fuzzy Frankenstein's monster concept in the end...

BONUS MONSTER COVER... SHAGG!!!!!
It's all here. The secret origin of the sexual revolution. Read all about it. I indeed admit to being helpless before Shagg.

Star Trek 112: The Last Outpost

112. The Last Outpost

FORMULA: Balance of Terror + Arena + ¼(The City on the Edge of Forever + The Trouble with Tribbles)

WHY WE LIKE IT: The Ferengi make a historical first appearance. It's fun to compare them to today's Ferengi.

WHY WE DON'T: Oh my, were they ever silly! (The crew as well.)

REVIEW: The Last Outpost introduces a new enemy for the Federation, but the Ferengi really don't have the same impact the Romulans and Klingons did. They don't let us see them for the first half of the episode, which I think works to their advantage. To that point, they're fairly impressive. Their ships look cool, they have an unusual weapon (strangely, it's not shown with an outside view), and their video communication style is dramatic and fearsome. And at this point, they are attributed various effects actually accomplished by the Tkon planet, but still, once you see them in the flesh... The expression that comes to mind is: "Eeeeeech."

The creators just went too far in trying to make them alien, I think. The energy whips are an interesting idea, and basing their culture on capitalism run rampant is certainly worthy, but the extreme pantomime gestures are ridiculous, and much of their attitude just makes them seem stupid. The fact they don't clothe their females is revealed here, again to make them different, but the idea has never worked for me. I don't mind that they have a sexist society so much as the idea that they would be surprised and repulsed at clothed females. Have they never conducted trade with ANY other species at this point? Humans are far from the only well-dressed species (actually, we dress *abominably* in the future).

Watching this with an eye toward marrying this portrayal with later, DS9-era material, there's no real contradiction, even if they are so different. At this point, the Ferengi have been avoiding the Federation as a moneyless, dangerous power. The list of crimes spouted off to the Portal at the end is entirely from a Ferengi perspective and is one of the few scenes with them that works. They make a show of force (talk about dishonor, say it's not their custom to communicate visually, etc.) because they still want to keep the Federation at bay. There's also the disparity between the businessmen seen on DS9 and the privateers seen on TNG. The Ferengi fleet has other methods, it seems, which explains a lot of the differences.

Anyway, back to the plot (for what it is). So we have a first half that has some tension, then the let-down of the Ferengi. I also don't much care for the Tkon stuff. The planet is sometimes impressive, sometimes on par with what was seen on the original series. The Portal has some of the worst make-up seen on the series, and his speeded-up battle moves are dreadfully silly. It all ends abruptly after unncessary grandstanding (if the Portal had read all the Enterprise's files, why did he need to test Riker?). One point to make is that at this point, the creators really see Riker as the hero of the series, keeping Picard more as a father figure for the crew.

There are a lot of character moments in The Last Outpost for the rest of the crew, almost all of them bad, apparently because all involved at still feeling their way. For example, Data's fascination with the chinese finger puzzle almost comes out of nowhere, even if it makes for an amusing finale. Geordi's jive talking is iffy at best, and here we see him in engineering, coming up with solutions, highlighting once again that a cast member really should be at that post. Beverly calls Picard, simply "Jean". Worf and Tasha are once again blood-thirsty and grating. Saving graces: Wesley is unseen, and Troi has a good showing, though it does seem to weaken Picard as a negotiator.

LESSON: Communism good, capitalism bad.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: If it achieves Medium, it's because of the landmark appearance of the Ferengi. Otherwise, the script is a bit of a mess on multiple levels.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Barbie of Two Worlds

If last week's Thursday of Two Worlds left you with baited breath as to whether the multiverse would survive, you're gonna have to bait it a little more. But I'll tell you this: Worlds are ABOUT TO COLLIDE!

Earth-1 Barbie is into skateboarding and leggings. Earth-2 Barbie likes roller skates and mini-skirts.

And only one may live.

(Obviously this is just a set-up for a big Barbie Year One mini-series that sets her up as a bisexual rollerblading tatooed rock chick. But that's why they call it a crisis.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Get Some Perspective!

The stuff I tend to think about... Like how there was a time when people couldn't read in their heads and those medieval monasteries must have been abuzz with monks mumbling what they were copying. And then there's another easily grasped concept that wasn't known/used until the Renaissance: Perspective!

It seems pretty simple. Things that are far away look smaller than thing that are closer. That's how the sun and moon look to be of similar size, and how the Kids in the Hall can crush each others' heads between their fingers. But there was a time when this wasn't really understood. In the Middle Ages, figures in a portrait would actually be of a size proportional to their importance.Look at those tiny peasants! Heehee!! So for example, you might imagine Medieval Americans drawing weird maps where the US encompasses the entire globe, and all the other countries are slapped together in an area maybe the size of Senegal. Oh, I kid. I kid because I love. And I love because I've been told to... or else!!

But in the Renaissance, something happened that set things right. Perspective was born. So what happened? Well, recently unearthed art treasures stolen by the Nazis have revealed a possible - and disturbing - answer:
Alien intervention! Yes, it seems like time-traveling Daleks came to Earth and forced perspective on us. Why? Unknown. Perhaps they knew that all Daleks in the future would not be properly scaled by our film makers...

Here's a famous example of distorted Daleks from Abducted by the Daleks, an unauthorized soft-core porn where these Giant Saltshakers of Death force their human captives into girl-on-girl action.
That red one's got a totally unauthorized head that defies all sense of perspective.

Over the years, Daleks have been represented in all sorts of sizes, big and small. Thankfully, they licked the problem in 2005 with New Who, and now viewers can immediately tell which Daleks are close and which are far.
Of course, we've sacrificed something. For example, how the hell can we tell which Dalek is the most important? The usual answer is: If it's a different color from the rest, then it's a "boss". But in the above image..?

Ok, I seem to remember this starting as a serious, informative article. I lost it somewhere. Ah well. Maybe next time.

Star Trek 111: Code of Honor

111. Code of Honor

FORMULA: Amok Time + Friday's Child + Requiem for Methuselah

WHY WE LIKE IT: Data's jokes. The Ligonians have an interesting culture.

WHY WE DON'T: Denise Crosby, or the script she was handed, or both - they're terrible!

REVIEW: A rather ordinary adventure, but it starts off well enough, as we meet the Ligonians, an honor-based culture that seems to resemble those of China, India, Africa and North American Natives. There are plenty of fun quirks to remind us that these are aliens (even if no prosthetic has been applied to their faces), and I find they are well played by the actors involved. It's also refreshing to see a humanoid race of black people, when so many aliens are typically either white, or some odd color like green or blue.

Picard fares rather well, figuring out the subtext of Lutan's ploy and playing into his psychology. The joke subplot keep Geordi and Data busy, and this is something that will return again and again. Though I doubt Data could ever have a slip of the tongue, it's a fun moment nonetheless. I find the Wesley subplot more worrisome, but it's still not at a point where I want to tear my hair out. Unfortunately, those are all minor moments. The central character here is Tasha, and I haven't warmed up to this character yet.

It doesn't help that Denise Crosby seems outmatched by the material (or perhaps no one can act the line "Troi, you're my friend and you tricked me!"). The character is over-aggressive to begin with, and in this back and forth with the Prime Directive, does nothing to endear herself to the audience. Everything surrounding her place in the plot is dodgy, from Riker's sudden jealousy when Lutan asks for her to show him the holodeck, to Troi's "trickery".

LESSON: Honor is something that's... relative.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Worth watching for the interesting alien culture and the various subplots that take root in this episode. The plot isn't bad, but if you can't stand Tasha, you'll probably have problems stomaching much of the story.

Star Trek 110: The Naked Now

110. The Naked Now

FORMULA: The Naked Time redux

WHY WE LIKE IT: Data proves he's fully functional.

WHY WE DON'T: Well, we've been through this exact plot before, and it's not as well done here.

REVIEW: Two major mistakes make short work of this episode. The first is that it copies much too closely the plot of The Naked Time, but manages to make it less interesting. The second is that it's way too early in the game to remove characters' inhibitions to reveal something about them. Point of fact, not a lot IS revealed, as the actors and writers are still looking for who these people are. Oh, Geordi has always wanted sight? Not a big surprise. Where the original series had very different behaviors assigned to each infected character, this cast gets little more than amourous feelings to play. Troi wants Riker, Beverly and Picard want each other, Tasha wants Data... Yeah, yeah. They're going for "sexy", but they most often achieve "dirty".

On top of that, Data gets drunk? Bad characterization, even if it leads to an amusing moment or two. Wesley is not yet intolerable, but his saving the ship (with a trick Scotty once used without problems) weakens the entire crew. I like MacDougal as chief engineer, but her appearance just shows that there should have been a cast member with that job from day one. Troi's new costume? No, sir, I don't like it.

On a positive note, the potential relationship between Beverly and Picard is first hinted at here, and watching these early episodes, you almost get the idea Wesley is really Jean-Luc's son (he looks at him much like Kirk first looks at David). If I didn't know any better... Though the plot is a copy of an earlier episode, I'm glad they at least acknowledge it in the script. More subtly, the same rattling sound accompanies each infection, but it's way more subtle than in The Naked Time. Wish it'd been a little clearer. Once they were past the point of the simple hommage, they might as well have gone for it entirely.

LESSON: We are doomed to repeat history.

REWATCHABILITY - Low/Medium: I'd say Low for plot and style (there's even some subpar editing), as I was rarely anything but annoyed at this (the only tolerable characters are Beverly and maybe Data and Riker). If I'll concede to a Medium it's because so many things in here are going to pay off later (Picard-Crusher, Data-Tasha, Data's functionality). So it IS an "important" episode.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

RPG Accessories That Time Forgot... The Zocchihedron

Zocchihedron
Tag Line: 100-Sided Dice
Makers: GamescienceWhat is it?
A true 100-sided dice.

Neat Stuff
-Because the number are under a plastic enamel, they can't rub off. This is a problem with most polyhedral dice, especially the most handled ones (lookin' at you, d20 fetishists). When there are literally a hundred tiny numbers, rub-off could be disastrous. You don't want to spend half the game wondering if that was an 85 or a 65.
-In a pinch, the die can be used as a prop, perhaps some jewel, magical artifact or Cosmic Cube-like item to scare the purple pants off Galactus.
-No more staring at those two d10s wondering... "Which one was tens and which one was units again?"

Bad Stuff
-And yet, whenever I've rolled the d100, even though I can easily tell which number sits on top of the golf ball, other invariably ask just HOW I can tell. Great sense of spatial orientation, I guess.
-You'd think the d100 would roll right off the table 99 times out of 100, but tiny ball bearings inside make it stop in about the same time as normal dice (and turns it into handy maracas in case a musical number breaks out). Still, it doesn't have the same visceral feeling of crashing dice, which, to be frank, is the real reason diceless RPGs never make it big.

Quote
From the ad: "The DM Guide provides more than 100 uses for this die, which is ideal for use with all role playing and miniatures games."

How I've used it
I first saw this thing in an add at the back of the very first Dragon magazine I ever got. No clue as to how it could work. Then, I absurdly came across it at a local convenience store (Jack&Jill's) and snapped it up. Guess what. It didn't really replace 2d10 as my percentile dice of choice. I think I've used it more as a prop than anything else or to break from the routine. A villain who uses a giant d100 is someone to be reckoned with. "Throw your tiny, insignificant d10s, mortals! And face the wrath of my enormous golf ball... of DOOM!!!"

In conclusion
A novelty and nothing more. People who love dice of every shape and color will need one for their collection (if you have a secret stash of d30s, you are its target audience), but don't expect it to see much play.

B&B 2-in-1 Round 8: Metal Men vs. Dr. Strange

The Thing is leading 4-3, so it's time for Round 8!

In the black corner, in 1967... it's Batman and the Metal Men, written by Bob Haney and drawn by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, Brave and the Bold #74, Rampant Run the Robots!

While in the orange corner, in 1974... The Thing and Dr. Strange, written by Steve Gerber and drawn by George Tuska and Mike Esposito, Marvel Two-in-One #6, Death-Song of Destiny!

Looks like Mike Esposito is fighting his own inking... FROM ACROSS TIME!!!!!!! (DING DING DING!)

The Stars
Bob Haney is in good form here, as I was thinking of scanning in the first three pages of the story in their entirety. It starts with some acrobatic padding as Batman defies "the law of centrifugal force!"
And disses Spider-Man? Geez, that was uncalled for! Then he waits around on the Bat Building (#1 on the list of things you didn't think he had in his utility belt - and apparently, it's got that gargoyle everybody uses when posing for covers).
"Robin's off with the Teen Titans... No action at all!" Too much information, Bats! That page continues with our hero talking to himself and calling himself Bruce before realizing that he should watch that lest he give his secret identity away. And when he finally sets off, it's with these immortal words: "Follow, follow, follow the gleam..." I'll have what Haney's having. Now ok, Batman loses a lot of points in these initial panels, but he loses even more as he shows a rather disturbing prejudice against robots. "What's next? Robots voting?" Oh, and he crashes the Batmobile again. Just another day on the streets of Gotham, I guess. I'm afraid even an appearance by the Whirly Bat can't save him now. Well, he does karate chop a robot's head off. +3 bat-points

But I must say the Thing doesn't do a whole lot better, basically getting his ass handed to him by a giant rodent. However, he gets some points for still being a beloved figure in his old neighbourhood, where a kindly old lady says he hasn't changed a bit since he was a boy - still the same gentle blue eyes. Awww. Uh-oh.
Not UNIVERSALLY beloved, then. Just as he's planning to kill the Yancy St. Gang, he gets into a team-up with Dr. Strange, swings a giant rat by its tail and that's pretty much it. +4 points

The Guests
The Metal Men have individual personalities and abilities, and that's well exploited here. Tina (Platinum) gets to flirt, cry and slice an evil robot into bits. Iron gets to be strong. Tin gets to stutter and fawn over Batman like the fanboy he's meant to represent. Lead is dumb and well-shielded. Mercury is liquid and snarky. And Gold is the other guy.
A good example of how they use their shape-changing powers to good and entertaining effect. I also give them props for respecting Batman's decision to jail them in a cistern, which they later escape from and throw at the bad guys like a homemade missile. In the end, they melt Batman's racist heart and he's even haunted by them as he almost drowns. +7 bat-points

Dr. Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, the Master of the Mystic Arts... and Voyeur with a Third Eye?
While the Thing has his punch-ups, Doc Strange is stated to be "not a man of action", to which I can only say: Things sure have changed since the 70s. Strange would rather solve every problem with the judicious use of psychobabble. Takes a guy's face away to make him realize he's turning into a drone at the office, so his wife falls in love with him all over again... Kid's self-doubt appears in the form of a giant rat, so Strange gives him a big pep talk which allows the Thing to overcome it. If I want to read about a psychologist, I'll pick up something with Doc Samson, thank you very much, the shrink who PUNCHES YOUR TRAUMA AWAY! +3 points (yes, the voyeur thing actually SCORED him points)

The Villains
Gotham City is in the grip of a robot-fueled crime spree, and Haney (or perhaps Andru) has fun creating some outlandish designs, like say, waterski-bots:
Now unless you're like Batman and actually believe Doc Magnus and the Metal Men are behind this, you probably figured out the mystery villain from the get-go. Dr. Daedalus (with his "amazing robot Icarus") is a flat-topped scientist who escaped from a Dick Tracy strip. The better to headbutt you, I suppose.
He gets points for setting up the Metal Men and hiding his loot in the GCPD basement, where no one would have thought to look. +5 bat-points

There's no clear villain in Marvel Two-in-One though. The story begins in the New York subway when Strange and his apprentice Clea witness a young girl getting run over by a train and exploding into a shower of glitter. The girl leaves a magic harmonica in Strange's care and posthumously reveals herself to be an incarnation of Destiny. She's affected everyone who saw her "die" by turning their lives into Freudian pablum, apparently. That giant rat I keep referring to, by the way? Insecurity. I'm sure you can look it up in some dream interpretation book for me.
+3 points

Odds vs. Ends
From Brave and the Bold:
The whole thing starts out at an International Robot Exposition in Gotham. This is strange in itself, but moreso because the sign is bilingual, English/French. Is Gotham in Canada?
Note that I don't take well to my mother tongue being mangled in comics. That sign should say "La première exposition internationale des robots". -1 bat-point

From Marvel Two-in-One:
Steve Gerber still seems to be writing this book against his will. The whole idea of a mystical even touching the lives of ordinary people in a new agey, self-help book kind of a way is straight out of his Man-Thing stories. -2 points
Panel placement is confusing on at least two occasions, and the harmonica's secret magic word is mispelled at least once (Clestia instead of Celestia), which is frankly unforgiveable from editor Roy Thomas. -1 point
Check out that subway scene and see if you can spot the ads for cigarettes and booze in this Code-approved comic. Don't be distracted by how creepy Stephen Strange looks.
+1 point

Farewells and Scoring
Batman gets a most Friendly Farewell. Not only does he make an about-face regarding robots and their rights ("They're people too!"), but he gets a kiss from Tina as well!
Nothing like the lips of a hot silver robot. Jocasta has nothing on her. +3 bat-points

Ben Grimm doesn't get an Unfriendly Farewell per se, since the story is to be continued, but you have to read between the lines.
Dr. Strange: "Valyrie, Ben [you moron] after the female warriors of Norse legend [you uneducated pile of rocks]. And yes... it is quite impossible. Nevertheless [moron], it's happened [as any fool can plainly see]."
Ben: "Yeah [I can plainly see that]." His expression says it all, really. +1 point

Checking with the judges and... It's a landslide for the Metal Men who seem to have piled up on Dr. "Not a man of action" Strange 17 to 9! Ouch! But that's what Batman needed to swing the score back to a tie. Will no hero take a definite lead?!?

Star Trek 109: Encounter at Farpoint

109. Encounter at Farpoint

FORMULA: The Squire of Gothos + Spectre of the Gun + The Motion Picture + elements of Requiem for Methuselah, The Practical Joker, Is There in Truth No Beauty? and The Immunity Syndrome

WHY WE LIKE IT: A new adventure begins with some cool reinterpretations of old tried-and-true concepts, as well as some new ideas. Many of the characters will be fun to watch develop.

WHY WE DON'T: The female characters are a disappointment. Some tedious musical cues. It's a little too aware that it's a sequel to a legendary show (and is perhaps intimidated by it).

REVIEW: Where to begin? How about with the opening? They start cold with those timeless words (with one crucial, PC, change) over very nice renderings of planets in our own solar system as we leave it. We're into it now! Not sure about the Motion Picture theme being used, and the incidental music throughout was rather intrusive for me. Anyway... then we see the new Enterprise. Though we're used to it now, I still remember my reaction from 1987. The Enterprise-D looked really warped (no pun intended), all curvy and top heavy. The interiors are huge and just as curvy and non-threatening. Took me a while to accept it, and you know what? I think it looks dated now. Beige and dusty rose dominate, with huge empty floorplans that belie a studio floor, and plush comfy chairs. Truly a product of the PC 80s.

The trend continues with the idea of having families aboard, one that Picard isn't too sure about, and neither am I. It seems ill-thought for an exploration ship, despite the saucer separation concept (we're not gonna see it very often anyway, because it breaks the Enterprise's curves and makes it look like a duck). Better PC ideas include making the captain a non-American and having a Klingon on the bridge. Things HAVE changed in the last 70 years. Less interesting PC idea is having a counselor as part of the bridge crew. Technobabble move over, leave room for psychobabble.

And this new cast of characters? Though their characterization isn't always solid, I thought Picard's command style was really very interesting here. He's gruff, cold and pushy, and he (quite consciously) lets Riker be genial and make friends with the crew. Definitely a dynamic to watch. Data is a bit jolly, but he makes for a refreshing twist on Spock - logical and machine-like, but naive and innocent. The irony of a blind man at the helm of the ship is a one-trick pony, in my opinion, but Geordi is more of an all-purpose Away Team member here, so it doesn't show. The female characters are far less engaging. Tasha is much too aggressive, to the point of being stupid (she and Worf spend the whole show trying to shoot a godlike being), and Troi is the exact opposite, demure and rather sappy. I understand she was overwhelmed by alien emotions, but it just impaired her performance here. And her past relationship with Riker is just copied straight from The Motion Picture, drawing a yawn out of me. As for Dr. Crusher, she has the potential to be a more complex character, but gets nothing more to do in the pilot than be the protective mother. Wesley is precocious, but thankfully not overly present, highlighting Picard's discomfort around children. As a minor aside, Colm Meany makes an appearance here - do you think he knew what he was in for? ;-) But no chief engineer? That's a twist.

When I look at all the super-powers represented in the crew, I have a feeling the creators may have written themselves into a bunch of corners. Will they really have the Enterprise jettison the saucer everytime danger looms? Will Troi's empathy make it hard to use deceptive villains? Geordi's special perception, Data's super-strength and mind, those will limit the amount of jeopardy the crew might find itself in. No chief engineer in the cast could also pose problems. Cooler technological tricks include faster transporters, ubiquitous communicators, and the holodeck. These are fine at this point, and give us a sense that technology has advanced since the movie era.

So about half the characters have real promise, and the new environment looks glossy, but are they plugged into a good plot? For a two-hour premiere, dividing the action between two dangers was a good idea. Q is immediately magnetic, played much more dangerously than his obvious ancestor Trelaine. I've always found the Q-net impressive, and the court scenes, in addition to adding to the Star Trek universe's history, show off Picard as quite a good negotiator and lawyer. Q may be a little too helpful at the end, but his heckling of Picard is a highlight nonetheless. As for the Farpoint element, it's not as engaging, but features fair-to-good design, and its resolution is pretty and lyrical. And check it out: The Ferengi get mentioned for the first time.

With Admiral McCoy's little cameo, charmingly played though rather fortuitous, we get an obvious passing of the torch. A nice moment. The rest of the show works a little to hard to herald a new era in Star Trek, with Picard telling Riker most adventures would be much more interesting than this one, for example, or Riker saying that Data will make an interesting companion (not to mention Q's tests which are a metaphor for the audience's judgment). These seem quite self-serving and self-conscious. There is the sense that the show is hopeful that it will be able to recapture the magic of Star Trek, but at the same time, the script is a little nervous about that.

LESSON: Jellyfish have feelings too. POWERFUL feelings.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Despite its misteps, it's still vibrant with energy, and there's real joy in reinventing the format. New characters, new technologies, new effects, new relationships, a new enemy (hey, it's true he never says the test is over!), they all start here, and the story is solid enough for a recommendation.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Star Trek 108: The Undiscovered Country

108. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

FORMULA: The Search for Spock + The Conscience of the King + Journey to Babel

WHY WE LIKE IT: The links to The Next Generation are well done and appreciated. All the Shakespeare references. Good jokes, cool action and an intense political backstory. A great farewell to this cast of characters.

WHY WE DON'T: The racial slurs levied at the Klingons.

REVIEW: I won't hide it - this is my favorite of all the Star Trek films. It manages to be funny and tense at the same time, brings back the Klingons in full force, yet bridges the gap between the original series and The Next Generation in which the Klingons are our allies, and gives us a few surprises along the way. The political plot gives weight to the film, a real sense that things matter.

The opening, for example, is great. We get the usual credits over music, music that builds a tension, suddenly stops, and BAM! A Klingon moon explodes. Great way to start the picture, immediately followed by the revelation that Sulu has made it to captain (with a cameo by Janice Rand). "Do we report this, sir?" "Are you kidding?" Only the first of many memorable exchanges throughout the movie. We'll be returning to Sulu's Excelsior now and again, keeping him part of the story, whether it's to accomodate a fun Christian Slater cameo, or be the cavalry, saving the day at the end.

As for the other cast members, they're off meeting the Klingons under a flag of peace, and not liking it one bit. They'll remain involved in the story, even once Kirk and McCoy are sent to Rura Penthe, and they'll all get some good lines to say or bits of business to do. Chekov may be the exception, as I find him pretty useless, once again, delivering clichés and boring one-liners. Taking Saavik's place in the group is Valeris, a saucy little Vulcan played by Kim Catrell. She's searing hot and makes the character quickly come into her own. The final mindmeld violation is one of the best (and most disturbing) scenes in all of Trek. Spock is back in top form, finally, and his "I've been dead before" is another great moment for me. I could quote various moments all day.

Speaking of quotes, the Klingons, and Christopher Plummer's Chang particularly, often steal the show. The conceit that Shakespeare was originally Klingon literature is used to push Kirk's buttons, but I'm a big Shakespeare fan (HUGE!) so I'm not complaining, and quite like Chang's overdoing it at times. It's perfectly in tune with Star Trek to date, which has always been big on referring to Shakespeare, using Shakespearian actors, etc. (Before you ask, yes, I own a copy of the Klingon Hamlet.)

The bits on Rura Penthe, fun. Seeing the Romulans again, fun. Michael Dorn playing Worf's grandfather, fun. The riffs on Kissinger's cold war talks at the UN, fun. The battles (including a zero-G assassination), fun. Not using the universal translator, fun. You can see where this is going. There are flaws, like the various racist comments made by the crew that just don't ring true (one from Scotty uses rather harsher language than, say, "Denebian slime devil"), and the purple blood that has caused so many continuity problems since then, but nothing too, too bad.

By the time it's over, the movie's done it's job, and the cast has said its goodbyes, leaving the stage for The Next Generation (already going strong for about 4 years on tv). In particular, I love the idea of the Enterprise just disappearing into the stars rather than reporting to starbase, and Kirk's final line, changing "where no man has gone before" to "where no one has gone before". Solid, and Kirk himself completes the personal journey he began in The Wrath of Khan.

A quick note on the various versions floating out there. The theatrical release was missing the revelation that the final assassin was Colonel West, for example (or any mention of West, actually), and these scenes are more than padding. They work to inculpate many more Starfleet officers, and answer some questions. One television edit I once had on tape kept those in, but tightened up on the conference footage, creating a lot more tension. For example, a Klingon torpedo shot followed Sulu's order to "Fly her apart then!" So I miss that energy when I watch the film uncut. But what are you gonna do...

LESSON: Klingons may be Klingons, but one of them managed to write A Midsummer Night's Dream ;-).

REWATCHABILITY - High: After the failure of The Final Frontier, this was the only Star Trek movie I didn't go see in the theaters (except The Motion Picture, which premiered when I was too young). So I only later fell in love with it, and at one point, even became obsessive about it, running the last hour every day for a couple weeks. Well, I'm over that now, but the movie still resonates very strongly with me, and has a lot going for it.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

This Week in Geek (19-25/03/07)

I promised hockey results, so here they are: Aigles Bleus lose against the UNB Varsity Reds 3-2. They won't be closing university tomorrow, so I better finish my roundup and go to bed.

Buys

DVDs this week: Little Miss Sunshine, which came recommended by Carolynn and, uhm, the Academy, I guess. As usual, I'm buying films sight unseen, although I did see my second buy, Stranger Than Fiction, and enjoyed it enough to make it part of my collection. I happened to see with a girl who was disappointed she didn't pee her pants from laughter, but I thought it was a great tragi-comic turn for Will Farrell and Emma Thompson can do no wrong.


As for comics, it's getting to be a monthly trip to the store to get the most recent Showcase Presents. This time, it's House of Mystery vol.2 and Hawkman. Since it's still 3-for-2 on Marvel and DC trades, I also got Essential Captain America vol.1, which I'd been eying for a while, and it's no disappointment. Jack Kirby is ON in this thing. Check out the image on the right for proof. That is totally whacked out. It's got Batroc ze Leaper, Modok and Hitler... it's the comics blog equivalent of the Holy Bible.

Oh, and I couldn't help but also get Brave and the Bold #2 based on the success of the previous issue. Looks almost as good.

"Accomplishments"

Only crafted 5 cards for my Unauthorized Dr. Who CCG, but that spelled the end of the Timeline expansion, so it's a big deal. Not the favorite booster pack art I ever made, but does the job (you can open a virtual pack here). Up next will be a small 7-card set based on the Peter Cushing Dalek movies.

Warcraft: It's been all about Lynda with a Y this week, with Sarajane seeing no play. Got her from level 18 to 23, which is a great place to be for a shaman. Ghost Wolf form, Water breathing powers, and new maps. I think this is the first time I really finished a map completely before moving on, and I'm already missing Bloodmyst Island. Ashenvale sucks. You heard me, elves, ASHENVALE SUCKS! Still, very nice send-off for Bloodmyst with some cool Elite missions. When that giant demon babe showed up, I thought I was gonna crap my pants (and given that there's a hole in it for my Dranai tail, that would not have been pretty).

Finished watching the Super-Friends "Season 2" DVD. That's the one with Zan and Jana, not the Legion of Doom one incidently. It was ultimately sillier than the first one (not just for the featurette where Paul Dini discusses the show while scarfing down cereal and pop tarts and the Zan & Jana music video), but I was surprised by the quality of some of the action setpieces. For some reason, by the end of the season, it seemed like the Super-Friends were operating in the 30th century. Weird, and no doubt, future blog fodder.



And while our RPG session had to be cancelled because of schedule problems, Bass' brother Phil finally came in to create a character, and it was a fun exercise. We decided that post-Crisis, Green Arrow's place in the Seven Soldiers of Victory should be filled by an archer (instead of Wing or whatever sidekick they put in his stead). So the Battling Bowman was born, and prompty given a Captain America send-off, frozen in ice and thawed out in the present day of our Crusaders campaign (i.e. the late 1989 DC Universe). Here's proof (note that the Golden Age Speedy has been replaced by Bowman's sidekick Bowy):


Website finds

Doctor Who Series 3 starts in less than a week now (in the UK, at any rate) and I'm starting to get excited. Here's the new teaser trailer.

Find music you love on Pandora. It's a nice service where you can create radio stations that correspond to your tastes, but it's all about musical discovery. They'll play stuff LIKE the stuff you like, using a variety of "genomes" such as tonality, instrumentation, vocals and influences.

And ending on bit a silliness... Mathematically-inclined couples should check out this important information on Bedtime Entropy. Actually, just go ahead and check Wellington Grey's entire archive of charts.

ROM #1, Marvel Comics, December 1979

In the 80s, Marvel did rather well with toy-inspired comics, going far beyond the toyline's premise to offer action-packed, thought-provoking stories. G.I.Joe and Transformers are well-remembered, but I was rather a fan even of the Starriors, and when we mention the Micronauts or Rom Spaceknight, people often say "Those were toys?!?"

Since my blogging experience began less than a year ago, I've gone back and reread a number of old comics, including Rom #49, one of only 3 issues of the series I own, and which had completely freaked me out back in the day. I wasn't ready for this sci-fi action horror series starring a toy that was already long forgotten by 1983. I now believe it is Bill Mantlo's masterpiece, but I can't check my theory until some kind of collected edition comes along. Problem: Because Rom was a licensed property, it is unlikely that Marvel can ever reprint any of Rom's appearances, nevermind his series! Crap! We have to suffer Essential Nova to live, but as for Rom... bupkiss.

Chris Sims over at the ISB posted the first page of Rom #1 not long ago, which just whet everyone's appetite for our favorite Spaceknight. Check it out. Dude falls to Earth like a meteor and walks away from the crater! That's how you start a series. That or 3 people sitting at a table looking through trading cards for 4 issues, I guess, it's up to you, modern comic book writer. But alas, it was only one page of cool, and no more followed.

Cut to my retirement from improv and my good friend Bauble getting me Rom #1 as a gift. And to him, I shall always be thankful. So to him, I devote this review.

Now at this point, gentle reader, you may ask what the big deal is? Isn't Rom just a rip-off of the Silver Surfer, except with a square head and mittens? Yes, in many ways, you are right. Like the Surfer, Rom made the ultimate sacrifice by giving up his humanity to prevent his world from being destroyed by an intergalactic menace and now is doomed to piss and moan about it for all time. But Mantlo has bettered the concept a thousandfold. Perpend:

The Silver Surfer rides a surfboard through space. A surfboard! If he wasn't an iconic Kirby character, he would be laughable. He kind of is anyway. Rom: No surfboard. 100% cooler.


The Surfer gave up his humanity to serve Galactus (that must be one huge tray), which is a sacrifice, sure, but really, how many worlds did the Surfer help get devoured by his boss? He's got blood on those silver hands. He was all like, "Don't hurt us, I'll do whatever you say", and I was like, "Why can't you be more like Rom?" Rom allowed himself to be cyborged to fight the Dire Wraiths. Fight them. Not toady up to them. Fight them. And when the Surfer finally rebelled, he was exiled to Earth where he putted around with the Hulk and Namor and moaned a lot. ROM NEVER STOPPED FIGHTING THE WRAITHS! Never! With the occasional break for moaning, of course.

And on the subject of the menace they were born to stop... I have nothing against Galactus. He's a top-tier villain. He's a big friggin' giant who doesn't speak to us gnats and eats entire planets. Anyone whose spaceship is as big as a solar system is alright in my book. The Dire Wraiths aren't "better", but they are more personal. Creepy body snatchers who come to your town, drill out your brains and replace you. Not just evil aliens, but practicioners of the black arts to boot. They still give me the willies (though their true forms are not yet revealed here). So I'm not saying they're as hot as Galactus, but at least they can be fought, which makes Rom a more kickass comic, cuz he can win the battle, if not the war.

So enough
exposition, I sound like a Roy Thomas comic, let's dig in. Rom lands on Earth on the trail of some Wraiths - yes, they already walk among us!!! - and his first encounter with humanity goes about the same as you'd think. Oncoming car, Rom doesn't care. He's the king of the road. And that's Brandy Clark inside there, who will have quite the destiny as the series unfolds. For now though, Rom saves her life after admittedly putting it in danger.

He tracks the Dire Wraiths to Clairton, Virginia, "the kind of place where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens".
See, it's a given that if your local theater is showing a B-movie starring alien monsters, then your town is about to be hit by an invasion. That's just how it is, and the Bijou shoulda known better. Seriously though, the fact a lot of the action takes place in Smalltown, USA makes it a lot more visceral. Everyone know everyone else, but as the Wraiths start replacing people, it gets creepier and creepier. You can't get that same sense from stageing stuff in New York.

Rom quickly finds a couple of Wraiths, summons his gun from subspace (look Ma, no pockets!) and SHREETs the bejeezus out of them.
Bam-bam! That quick two-shot is killer, and I'm way too excited over that one panel, which has just become THE Rom panel. "Please, we beg of you..." BAM! All this without a single word, cuz he hasn't learned our language yet, and in front of the entire town who don't know those guys weren't their neighbours no more. Don't worry about the violence though. It looks like they are painfully disintegrated, but they are actually banished to Limbo ("a fate worse than death" apparently).

Rom realizes that whoops, maybe he's not making friends here, so he runs back to the one person he saved and might be a good listener: Brand
y. She's up for it, so he recounts the origin of the Spaceknights. The best part for me is when the newly minted knights fight the Wraith armada. It just looks like maybe 40 guys standing in a line against hundreds of ships. The line has been drawn and YOU... SHALL... NOT... PASS!!!! Pure kickassery.

But while he's gabbing it up, the Wraiths have called on their contacts in the army, and Rom has to face a Hulk Scenario with tanks bearing down on him. Obviously, he doesn't want to fight them. He knows the Wraiths are behind this, but it's not the soldiers' fault. He now understands that he needs to make friends on Earth if he's to efficiently fight the alien incursion. He's an ambassador of Galador...
...or maybe not. "I have flown near the stars, humans! Your pale, pitiful fire cannot harm me!" Nice trash-talking there Rom, but what are you trying to accomplish? According to the next couple pages, the plan was to destroy some tanks, punch some guns into bits and fry a couple of Wraiths. Mission accomplished, by the way.

So am I now on a holy quest to complete my Rom collection? The cover of the next issue proudly promises "Lethal Laserium!", so what do you think?


BONUS: You've read the comic, now buy the toy!!!
Time to start that letter-writing campaign to Parker Brothers. They may have the monopoly on... uhm... Monopoly, but they don't own Rom. He's outgrown whatever version they "created".

Star Trek 107: The Final Frontier

107. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

FORMULA: The Way to Eden + The Magicks of Megas-tu + The Search for Spock

WHY WE LIKE IT: All the regulars get to use their talents. Some insights into what makes the big three tick.

WHY WE DON'T: The humor doesn't quite work this time. The plot about finding "God" is slow, unsound, redundant and uninspired. The Klingons are wasted.

REVIEW: No, it DOESN'T work, but every time I watch this movie, I find it's not as bad as its reputation. By that, I mean that it's worth watching for the characters. The regulars almost all get something to do (Chekov's pretty useless again though): Sulu crashlands a shuttle into the shuttle bay, Uhura dances for the natives, Scotty plans a breakout, and the big three go camping ("Row, Row, Row Your Boat" is a little painful, yes). They're all charming and we learn new things about them, whether that's a possible relationship between Scotty and Uhura, or the visions shown McCoy and Spock by Sybok. I particularly like Kirk refusing the whole exercise stating "I NEED my pain".

The plot is pretty clunky, however, and the search for God is both boring and ridiculous, especially once they have to break through yet another galactic barrier (this one, at the center of the galaxy). The location shooting is interesting, both on God's planet and Nimbus III (in Yellowstone too), but the pacing is rather slow, so we don't care that much. There are also too many characters littering the story, from the ambassadors to Sybok's followers to the wasted, pursuing Klingons. Net result: Except for Sybok himself, all the guest stars seem irrelevant, and as a villain, Sybok is too sympathetic to create any real tension.

There's also a big problem with effects in this movie. They look awful and far less credible that in earlier films (a change of fx companies resulted in unfinished fx, according to the DVD), and even the Enterprise looks more low-tech than before (the interiors, I mean). Speaking of the ship's interiors, they're more than a little strange here. Why the steering room, for example? And that turboshaft just isn't the shape of any turbolift I've ever seen, nor are the floors numbered in the right order. All in all, it's pretty dismal when compared to the fine trilogy we just had.

LESSON: There's nothing worse than finally finding God and it turns out he's a real jerk.

REWATCHABILITY - Just Barely Medium: Nowhere near as awful as everyone says, but still a big disappointment. I remember not wanting to tell my mom I didn't like it after she took the time (and I'm sure, considerable mental effort) to bring us boys see the new Star Trek picture at the drive-in. But I'd watch this over The Motion Picture any day, and not having seen it as often as the others, there are always character moments that surprise and entertain me.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Our Boys vs... The X-Men!

So I went to one of the championship games last night. Bass had a stray ticket, so yeah I went. "But Siskoid," I can hear you say, "why are you talking about sports? That is a most ungeekly thing to be talking about, even after your hockey post earlier in the week. Where's Rom Spaceknight #1? Where's the debate on which polyhedral dice is the best? WHERE IS THE DOCTOR WHO GOODNESS?"

You have a point, but look, I get there, and we're playing the St. Francis Xavier X-Men. THE X-MEN! Sports, schmorts, it was the perfect excuse for a major geek-out. In short order, we'd renamed every player with Uncanny X-Men counterparts and just waited for the penalty calls to come in. (As Bass said, the SFX players' names seemed to be just a jumble of letters picked out of a hat, which isn't too far-off from Marvel's mutant-naming policy in the 90s anyway.)

We waited in vain for a fastball special, and watched with glee as Will Verine got 2 minutes for high snicking. Power play piled on top of power play as Colossus got a penalty for going out with a minor. (I don't know how they roll in the Ukraine, but dude, Kitty Pryde's 15 years old... As a 15-year-old myself at the time, I was not impressed.)Anyway, great game, and our boys TORCHED the X-Men. Yay! Down with mutie! I'll let you know tomorrow night how it all ended.