Friday, August 31, 2007

Everybody Was Kirby Fighting

This week was Jack "The King" Kirby's birthday, and a number of my fellow bloggers marked it by posting some really great Kirby artwork. I, however, suck.

But what better way to pay homage to the man than including him in Friday Night Fights? After all, not only did he co-create Galactus (who has a definite relation to Bahlactus), but he pretty much perfected the art of slapping villains silly, usually using the Thing's fist. But tonight, I go a bit farther in time than that, back to November 1942 and Detective Comics #69... The Boy Commandos in "The Siege of Krovka".

Cuz nothing says Kirby like children killing Nazis!Hey, they started it.

BONUS - Kirby Historical Moment:
Naked Hitler takes a steam bath!Have a good Labour Day Weekend everyone. I'll be hear every day, nursing my wounds.

RPG Award Shows

Having retired the RPGs That Time Forgot feature, I find myself translating the geek power of role-playing to more practical essays on the subject. You mind? Don't worry, Friday Night Fights is later today, bringing the comic book violence you actually crave back to the top of the page.

This week, something I've mentioned once or twice already and which is a quasi-annual tradition here at Siskoid's House of Pancakes: The RPG Award Show. Every year (if possible), we like to get together and have a gala event in which prizes are awarded for Best Player, Best GM, Best Adventure, Stupidest Death, Best NPC, Most Memorable Event, and so on. It's a fun night of cheap thrills that helps reward players and GMs alike and imbed the games into our memories more solidly. Here's a quick guide.

Categories and voting
The first step is to once a year (or once every two years, or maybe when a particular campaign wraps up) send each of your gamers a ballot. On that ballot, they will find each category and a list of each nominee (include every possible candidate, not just 4 or 5). Their job is to rank each nominee from best to worst, skipping only things and people that occured in sessions they were not present for. When you get the ballot back, count up the points. Say there are 10 choices, the first choice gets 10, second choice gets 9 and so on. If a player missed a number of sessions, his or her top choice for Favorite Adventure might only score 8, while an assiduous player's might score 15.

Always allow write-in votes. In fact, you should also make an open call for nominations before composing the ballot, or better yet, encourage players to make nominations right after any given session, and keep a record. The ballot might also include silly little survey questions like "What game should be play next?" or "Which GM would you like to see in drag?", answers to which you will reveal at the gala.

Prizes
There are plenty of ways to make these, and you really should. They're fun keepsakes and add a lot to the upcoming proceedings. If you're artisticly inclined, you might make little trophies. A box of HeroClix might yield good awards statuettes for a Supers campaign. Golden dice stuck on a little cardboard plate? Why not? Personally, I like to grab pictures that represent adventures we've had, either scanned from scenarios used, like this James Bond RPG pic awarded for Best Player in 2005:
Or the inspiration for a scene, villain or other character. Like this Best Menace award from the same year:
I really hurt my throat playing Lrrrrr, I'll tell you that. But hilarious. Definitely hilarious. I stick the pic on a piece of cardboard and print a little sticker with the name of the prize. Skip any categories that go to yourself, or non-actors (your NPCs, for example), but duplicate any prizes that go to groups (Best Move might be a team effort on the part of multiple players, for example).

The Event
The Awards Show itself can take as little as 20 minutes just before your actual role-playing session, or it can go for a couple of hours and stand on its own, if you like. The only component that must be respected is the reading of the best 4 or 5 nominees followed by the winner. Every winner should make a speech in character, including you and your NPCs. But you can add more to the night:
-The red carpet: As the players come in, play the interviewer that acosts them at the door (or have a pretty roommate do it, it's very disconcerting). Bring up gamer gossip and rivalries, talk about future plans. If you don't want anyone to miss a thing, wait til most have arrived, and while you wait for the usual latecomers (they know who they are), do the Ellen Degeneras thing where she goes down the alleys and sticks a microphone in celebrities' faces.
-Musical numbers: I like to book a band at these things. If you have players with musical talent, they might play "themselves" as the band and do a song or two, especially if they're silly or can improvize something gamer-y. The other way to do it is to find a band (or more than one) whose songs have some kind of revelance to your games, either in subject matter or because you've used them as part of a soundtrack. Role-play what they say on stage (usually dedicating the song to a certain player or moment or laughing at them) and press Play.
-PowerPoint presentation: Never used one as yet, but if you have a big enough screen, it could be fun to do the reveals that way, or throw in some webcam videos from players not present to receive their awards.
-The Oscar after-party: Once it's done, feel free to have a drink as a group, give more details about certain nominations to players who missed those sessions, plan the next campaign, remind everyone that YOU were named Best Player last year, and so on. Have a good time, that's why we play!

Throw a nice enough event, and the Award Show might feature among them Most Memorable Moments of the following year...

Star Trek 266: Dark Page

266. Dark Page

FORMULA: Phantasms + Manhunt + Violations + Sins of the Father

WHY WE LIKE IT: Wait a minute, is that Kirsten Dunst?

WHY WE DON'T: Majel Barrett's crocodile tears.

REVIEW: Through this whole process, Lwaxana Troi have been the most surprising episodes. I remember most of them as annoying but this process has given me the chance to reassess them, and I think I've been unfair to the character. Dark Page, like Cost of Living before it, is an episode that's not at all like I remember. There are problems with it, don't get me wrong. Majel Barrett pouring it on emotionally is over the top in the extreme. I find her quite effective when she's being subtle however. (And I think the same can be said of when she plays Lwaxana as comic.)

But for Deanna, this is an excellent episode. Her relationship with her father is delved into more than ever before, and we even meet him (making Deanna's accent a total mystery). His death has caused a deep wound indeed, and Marina Sirtis plays this well. In the more comedic first half, Deanna is really sweet and likable in her handling of Maques as well.

And for all of Deanna's character building, it's the more comic half that I really appreciate. Where Maques' halting speech could have been very annoying, it comes off as realistic and somewhat charming instead. Lwaxana's attempts at matchmaking are funny here, and it seems Worf has given up on Mrs. Troi learning his name. And that poor lieutenant in the turbolift with two telepaths... It's also fun to see Kirsten Dunst running around as an 11-year-old girl.

Once Lwaxana collapses, the episode takes a 180 degree turn, and we have to go inside her mind. We've just done this with Data, and it all looks remarkably the same. Dark Page certainly suffers by being placed right next to Phantasms in the schedule. Sirtis keeps us interested, because the surreal imagery doesn't. The secret sister solution is strictly from a soap opera, but again, Deanna's reaction to it is in character and saves it from ridicule.

LESSON: If you want to teach telepaths to speak, you need someone who knows how to talk. A lot.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium, to my surprise: Emotional truth and a strong comedy front end redeems this episode, which I'd wrongly remembered as melodramatic pablum.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Adam Strange of Two Worlds

It's always Earth-This and Earth-That, but what about those other planets? Rann-12 for example, where world wars are waged with a giant magnifying glass...Oh yeah, yeah, there's an Earth-12 in there too, blowed up good in World War III (no, the OTHER World War III).

But wait, what's this? The same story told on Earth-Not-Prime has a very similar Rann-12 and Earth-12.
I know I may be biased, but our Earth has much better depictions of nuclear strikes, don't you think?

Star Trek 265: Phantasms

265. Phantasms

FORMULA: Birthright Part I + Night Terrors + 4 cups of flour...

WHY WE LIKE IT: Nice surreal imagery. Spot's expanded role.

WHY WE DON'T: The technobabble/voiceover resolution.

REVIEW: Data revisits his dream program and gets his first nightmare, providing lots of memorable imagery, like the phone in his chest cavity (the "Bender Moment"), Crusher sucking the brains out of Riker, and of course, the mint frosting Troi cake. (Why is Worf eating her? Has Data sensed an attraction between the two already?) Going into Data's mind using the holodeck is a nice idea, and the dreams are simple enough that it never gets pretentious. I'm wasn't sure about the Freud character at first, since he seems like a collection of clichés, but seeing him explain his own appearance in Data's dream was worth it.

Now, I wouldn't call this a comedy episode exactly, but it is light-hearted with plenty of funny bits. Picard's dread at attending the Admirals' banquet converting itself into being a busybody in engineering. An allergic Worf having to tell Spot that he is a good cat, and a pretty cat ("I will feed him."). Ensign Tyler's crush on Geordi (evidence still points to him being involved with Aquiel, folks). Best of all is Troi's amusement at Data looking forward to a new neurosis. I love the part where she offers to set up sessions for him. "Daily?" "Whoooah there big fella!"

Despite the comedy, the episode does turn on the creepfest, with Data stabbing Troi in the turbolift and the interphasic parasites themselves being pretty damn gross. I bet Barclay was wetting himself in his quarters during this episode. It unfortunately fizzles out at the end when some technobabble magics the parasites away and we're told in voiceover that everything's back to normal. Troi delivering a Data cake in the conclusion isn't as sharp as I'd like it either.

LESSON: A cellular peptide cake recipe.

REWATCHABILITY - High: There are so many fun character moments in Phantasms that the pat ending and the usual "aliens we can't see" plot can't detract from its rewatchability.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Flits!

Sometimes I come across a superhero translation that makes me giggle like a little girl. De Flits is such a hero:This issue also reveals what Art Spiegelman did after Maus.

Star Trek 264: Gambit, Part II

264. Gambit, Part II

FORMULA: The Chase + Face of the Enemy + A Matter of Honor + Redemption Part II

WHY WE LIKE IT: Double crosses and triple crosses galore.

WHY WE DON'T: Crusher's "comedy" pretense.

REVIEW: I think we could see the resolution of the cliffhanger coming, but that helps sell it. It's doesn't feel like a rip-off. And from there, we're back in the fun adventure that is Gambit. Yes, the characters' competence sometimes veers into Mission Impossible territory (such as when they dispatch Baran), but it's so much fun seeing Picard and Riker play the bad boys and do a lot of talking with their fists, that it's pretty easy to ignore the plot holes.

It helps that Baran is easily manipulated. Tallera is the real interesting character here. She's got a triple identity and is playing all sides, which throws even more double crossing into the mix (since Picard and Riker are also playing multiple sides). We don't really from the Vulcan isolationists ever again, but have we seen them before? Was Sybok an isolationist? Tallera certainly shows emotions like he does even if their goals are totally different. Maybe Enterprise will yield more answers. In this case anyway, the goal was getting their hands onn a archaeological artifact with magical (psionic) properties, which made me rather think of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Had a cool effect, and built on what we know of Vulcan history, though aren't we all a little surprised that Worf could survive it? ;-)

Back on the ship, Data chews out Worf for questioning orders, which harks back to Redemption, of course, but also leads me to ask whether he really is running some kind of command subroutine. His stiff and no-nonsense attitude would seem to indicate so even if it isn't explicitly mentioned. At the very least, an interesting acting choice, and his naive impression that he lost Worf as a friend was a good, if a tad sugary, moment. And at the end of the episode, it provides a nice bit of comedy as he escorts Riker to the brig.

Part of the fun of such an episode is getting some off-beat guest-stars. In this case, it's basketball star James Worthy as the tallest Klingon you've ever seen. Not much of an acting performance, but his height IS the performance. It's amusing in and of itself, so I didn't appreciate Crusher's over-the-top nervousness around Koral, especially given the level of pretense everyone manages to exhibit when Galen and bad boy Riker board the ship. The Cosby Show's Sabrina LeBoeuf as Ensign Giusti gets a mention in the guest-stars category, but she's no Stephen Hawking, you know?

LESSON: Make logic, not war.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: For once, a two-parter remains even throughout. Just a good bit of fun.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

DVD Tales: Crash to Daredevil

Following from Contact...

Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004)
Not to be confused with the "erotic" Cronenberg film about people who get turned on by car accidents, Crash is a meditation on racism as told through multiple interweaving stories and viewpoints. I thought it hit its marks a bit obviously at times, but it at least had something to say and presented characters that could be both noble and nasty, depending on the moment. It surprised me by winning the Oscar for best film that year, but since it was the only one I'd seen, it's the one I had on my Oscar pool. Yay for me.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)
I first saw Crouching Tiger in an indy theater, sitting next to a Frenchman friend of mine who'd been a projectionist back home in a theater that showed a lot of Hong Kong cinema. I thought the film was beautiful, but to him, it was a lot of stuff he'd seen before, but that just hadn't been shown to mainstream audiences. And then after the multi-weapon battle between the two women (isn't Michelle Yeoh just wonderful?), I heard him say under his breath "Well I've never seen THAT before." It was also the very first DVD I ever bought, at the same time I bought my first (and much lamented) player.

Cube (Vincenzo Natali, 1997)
An indy, Canadian-made science-fiction puzzle movie? Why yes! Cube definitely had a 1970s SF vibe, with a puzzling downer ending, but it at least gets you talking. My own theory is that the Cube represents the failing mind of a man, represented by the Autistic Man in the story. Nicole de Boer (Ezri Dax!) as the Math Student is logic, the Architect is the ego, the Cop is aggression, and so on. Pieces of him are being destroyed systematically, so there may be a reincarnation allegory going on here, especially given the final image. Maybe there's a whole post in that.

Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (Gordon Flemyng, 1966)
In the mid-60s, when the Daleks became even more popular than Doctor Who itself, Gordon Flemyng attempted to remake The Daleks as a drive-in movie for American audiences, with an absent-minded professor-type Doctor Who played by Peter Cushing encountering the Daleks in glorious technicolor! Doctor Who and the Daleks did well enough that The Dalek Invasion of Earth was also attempted, and it's just as charming as the first. Charming, though clearly aimed at younger audiences. I have it because of my obsession with Who, of course.

Daredevil (Mark Steven Johnson, 2003)
A lot of people speak ill of Daredevil, but I quite liked it. Sure, some of the effects were fuzzy. Yeah yeah, everyone fights with the power of Xena Warrior Princess. But so what? It thought it was a great distillation of some of Frank Miller's storylines, and I would be more than happy to see another chapter, with the Kingpin destroying Matt Murdock's life like in the comics. Daredevil is in fact the only reason I can stand any song by Evanescence. Those two cues in the film really affect me. I liked it so much, I bought the Director's Cut as well. But that's a story for next time.

But what did YOU think? Next: Daredevil Director's Cut to Dead Poets Society.

Star Trek 263: Gambit, Part I

263. Gambit, Part I

FORMULA: The Chase + The Most Toys + Face of the Enemy

WHY WE LIKE IT: Picard backhanding Riker.

WHY WE DON'T: "We're all hurting!" Troi at her most strident.

REVIEW: Gambit starts with a intriguing mystery surrounding the apparent death of Captain Picard, and tracks the reactions of the crew before it is inevitably revealed that Picard is alive and well. Similar scenes in The Most Toys were perhaps less effective because we knew exactly what Data was doing in the meantime. Here, we don't, and Riker obsessed with avenging his captain is a good turn of events. I could have done with less of the shrill Troi scene, and more reactions from other members of the crew (Crusher especially), but we really don't need to dwell on it because we know Picard will turn up eventually.

When Riker gets captured by Baran and his band of artifact thieves, Picard does turn up, in the guise of the brutish Galen (taking his name from his archaeology mentor). This "Galen" is the best part of the episode. Picard is perhaps too good at engineering ship problems to be solved by Riker (I guess Narik really sucks at his job), but it's the social interactions which are great. He manipulates Baran incredibly well by making himself such a big target that the target ironically becomes invisible (my thanks to Dr. Will for the expression). Lots of tension, a respectable phaser fight, and an uncompromising character created by Picard. I only wish the aliens other than Tallera were a little less generic (though their ship is really cool, and its piechart displays are fun).

Meanwhile, aboard ship, Data's been given the captain's chair, and does well with it. It seems like the android may be doing a Picard impression at times, and he's learned to explain his decisions a little more since the gaffes of Redemption Part II. This will hopefully pay off more in Part II, but already, he's able to decipher Riker's intentions at the episode's close. The freeze frame cliffhanger looks hokey, but it does work.

LESSON: Picard's been lying to Crusher. He IS a good actor.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: What The Chase should have been more like. Great character bits, but also a tension-filled adventure story that moves at a brisk pace.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Charlton Captain Atom LIVES!

Secret Origins was one of my favorite series, believe it or not, especially because it usually featured a Golden Age hero's origin in each issue. One of the most memorable origins was from the Silver Age, but for a modern hero: Captain Atom's. Now Secret Origins #34 (DC, December 1988) could have been a dull one because this version of Captain Atom had only been around less than two years, his series starting WITH his origin story. What new element could they bring to the story? None. But what about an old element?

In a genius move, we're told the Charlton Comics version of the story. I'd read a couple stories of the original via reprints with the Modern Comics banner, but I didn't think I'd ever see the permutation again. That origin? Dude drops a screwdriver in the nosecone of a nuclear missile bound for orbit testing. Wasting time reaching for it, he's gone with the rocket and atomized by the explosion.
NOT!
The storytelling baton is passed to another member of the select "we knew Captain Atom before he went public" club, filling us in amazing "feel good" adventures that clearly never happened post-Crisis (can anyone with access to the Charlton material confirm that these stories were actually published?).
So the twist: The government is trying to cover up their involvement in the creation and control of Captain Atom, so they've manufactured this cover story. Good ol' General Eiling is a bit of a nitpicker though:
A great use of the character's history, even if it's a history bought wholesale by DC. Captain Atom was without a doubt the Charlton character most changed from his origin concept (no screwdriver or anything), with Blue Beetle, Question, etc. rather close to the originals, so it's great to see the old red and yellow suit in action at least once in the DC Universe. Thanks for the memories, Cary Bates, Greg Weisman, Alan Weiss and Joe Rubinstein! (And Ditko, can't forget Ditko!)

Star Trek 262: Interface

262. Interface

FORMULA: The Bonding + Pen Pals

WHY WE LIKE IT: An intriguing SF premise.

WHY WE DON'T: Another alien ghost story.

REVIEW: Though it is never seen again (and if you're gonna introduce an important technological development, it seems like it should be), the Geordi-probe interface is a really interesting concept. Not only does it give Levar Burton a chance to act without the VISOR (I bet he was happy about that!), but it also creates some eerie, almost surreal, images (Geordi walking through fire or shooting phaser blasts from his hands), though also the need for dull narration to relate information to the rest of the crew. And then they throw it all away on a ghost story.

Ghost stories in Star Trek are invariably the same: There's an apparently supernatural entity "haunting" the characters who turns out to be an alien lifeform of a type we can't understand (energy being, subspace lifeform, what have you). So when Geordi's mother is missing in action and presumed dead, and later appears on the derelict ship where only the probe can survive... you can see it coming. (Or can you? I think it shows in the "mother's" performance, but maybe it's in rewatching it that it falls apart.)

Because Geordi is pretty good at justifying his mom's presence through technobabble (that even Data finds improbable). It's a fair subversion of Trek's usual tropes, and it does build Geordi's character a heck of a lot more than any episode in recent memory. We knew he was a Starfleet brat, but seeing his relationship with both parents (ooh, Ben Vereen!), we can understand that he's really family-oriented, which makes his lack of romantic success perhaps more poignant, as he's unlikely to ever have a family of his own. I do find it disturbing however that while people's lives are on the line, Geordi's superiors are still willing to give Geordi time off because his mom's gone missing. That's too soft a hand, in my opinion.

I should also mention Data, because he's excellent in this. The scene where he's experiencing a 47-minute blank in a poem is quite fun, especially when he calls Geordi out on his reason for passing by. The best thing about Geordi (perhaps sadly) is his friendship with Data.

LESSON: Geordi misses the point about the alien poetry. I just figured out why he's not a character I empathize with.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-Low: I was all set to give this one a Low, but the characterization is well done, and the premise relatively fresh. It's just that we've seen this kind of twist too many times before.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

This Week in Geek (20-26/08/07)

Buys

Invincible's 3rd Ultimate Collection hardcover came in the mail this Friday and having jumped into it today, the story's just as good as I remember. I think I have to figure out on which trade paperback I should be after that because I don't think I can wait for another hardcover omnibus to follow the story.

I also got a package from eBay containing all 7 seasons of Voyager (strictly to supplement my blog, you understand). I got it on the cheap and I can now see why: It's some kind of Asian rip-off, with especially funny copy on it, such as:
The eBay notice didn't show a picture, and I guess that's what I get for not really checking into it more closely. Actually, I'm happy with it. The DVDs work and don't have unsightly subtitles, and come in a space-saving box instead of 7 mammoths with an odd shape like most other Star Trek products.

And another recent arrival is Death Race 2000, but I'll reserve comments for an upcoming DVD Tales, but basically, it's a B-movie starring David Carradine and Sly Stallone facing off in a car race whose object is to score points by hitting people with your car. Roger Corman produces. Are you stoked yet?

"Accomplishments"

Early in the week, I finished Words That Work by Republican message crafter Frank Luntz, which I'd bought for work despite my much more liberal leanings ;-). It's an interesting inside look at both corporate and political language that subtly but surely affects how a message is received and understood. I've always subscribed to the idea that words and images matter and that it's not "all the same", and Dr. Luntz had plenty of good and practical examples. I recommend it for anyone working in communications today. It's effective if a bit repetitive (or because it is?). One of my co-workers also thinks Luntz is an irritating name dropper. So there.



Then, fiction. I devoured Fables volumes 6 through 9. Man, it's a good series. Now that I've run out of trade paperbacks, it's back to the waiting game on this one. Sadly. Brief thoughts on the 4 volumes I ran through:
-Homelands: Who knew Boy Blue had it in him? Engrossing in the extreme and what kept me going all week.
-Arabian Nights (and Days): I was wondering when we'd see non-European Fables, and why we hadn't to date. Also fun to see the new administration of Fabletown start to gel.
-Wolves: A good finish if Willingham had wanted to call it quits there. Issue #50 actually moved me. I'm such a girl.
-Sons of Empire: Thankfully, he didn't call it quits. I love the smaller stories in this one, there's a great take on Santa Claus, and how 'bout that Mike Allred art?
Man, I'm already starting to feel the withdrawal setting in.

Cards! After finishing the Ancient Foes set (finally!) last week, it's time for a leisurely "premium" set for my Doctor Who CCG: 10 cards, one for each Series 3 story. There's Martha and Tallulah and Lazarus and Giant Macra, oh my!
7 new cards (plus pack art), with three more to come before I embark on Time Meddlers, a full 180-card set.

See you in the funny papers!

Star Trek 261: Liaisons

261. Liaisons

FORMULA: Allegiance + Lonely Among Us + Khan's Happy Ceti Alpha V Adventures

WHY WE LIKE IT: Worf is da funny!

WHY WE DON'T: "Love me!!!"

REVIEW: It's hard to sell aliens that don't understand a particular emotional concept sometimes. The Iyaarans apparently don't understand pleasure, antagonism and love, but I guess they're good imitators, basing their "performances" on found writings. But then Voval seems a bit antagonistic on the shuttle, doesn't he? And do they have no concept of pleasure because they don't have good food? You'd think they'd have only rudimentary taste buds if they had NO concept of that kind of pleasure AT ALL.

Silly premise, but it's a comedy episode, so it's passable. And the comedy does work. Worf is especially good here, commenting on how his fancy uniform looks like a dress, and taking all the crap his antagonistic ambassador can sling. An uncomfortable Worf is a hilarious Worf. The Troi scenes are less interesting, does it's nice to see her love of chocolate being tested, it's still repetitive and shallow. Data's small talk subroutine makes a cameo.

The bulk of the episode, however, is a creepy romance between shipwrecked Picard and Anna. Creepy because she's a mad stalker of a woman, who exactly the type to shatter your legs so that she can taking care of you longer. Well, what the Iyaarans didn't learn about love from Picard, they certainly learned about determination. He's resistant to it all. That may be a good thing because when you get down to it, Anna is really Voval. What I like here is that there's no mention of Picard actually having kissed a dude there, which hints at the evolved society of the 24th century without making it an "issue". Now, imagine this story with Kirk instead.

LESSON: According to the coda, humans take a "balanced approach, never too much, never too little". Oh really?!

REWATCHABILITY - Low: The Worf comedy bits are amusing, but the rest is nonsense. Too vapid for any kind of recommendation.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Star Trek 260: Descent, Part II

260. Descent, Part II

FORMULA: Brothers + I, Borg + Suspicions + Starship Mine + Redemption Part II

WHY WE LIKE IT: Crusher has a good turn at the wheel.

WHY WE DON'T: Bla bla bla. Exposition galore.

REVIEW: The problem with Part I is that it didn't ask the simple question "how do they get out of this one?" It asked many more questions than that. And over summer hiatus, we tend to forget them all. The air is let out of the balloon before the season premiere. But that's not much of a problem in syndication or on DVD. No, now the problem is that all those questions are answered is expositionary scenes that seem to go on forever, and even repeat information. What happened to Hugh after he rejoined the Collective. How Lore became a psychotic cult leader. What he's been doing to Data. What his plans are. A real babble-a-thon.

And while "evil Data" fails to pique my interest these days, the heart of the episode IS the ethical dilemma he's been placed into. There's no question that they'll get through to him, but his experimenting on Geordi could go too far at any time. I can't fault the tension there, though elsewhere it's a lot of Picard talking at Data. Lore's plan scarcely makes sense, but he's psychotic, and there is a touch of pathos to his final end, which I found effective. Data about to destroy the emotion chip is pure hogwash though. If he's emotionless, why would he even be tempted? They're just forcing the drama there.

The other half of the show is about Beverly commanding the ship against a Borg ship. Again, the plot dictates some unbelievable things. That she's stuck with a skeleton crew still isn't explained to my satisfaction (are there really hundreds of people looking for Data, and none come upon the Borg structure?), and why Riker would leave her in a combat situation against the Borg with no experience (rather than beam up himself) seems to indicate that he wants to spend the rest of his life stranded on that planet.

Beverly does very well for herself however, and her command style is more democratic than most. She's very likable and inspires a rookie to make good, as well as finds a use for Suspicions being in the canon. It's the kind of underdog moment that invariably works, but again, the writers go a little too far to ramp up the drama, with the face-making Barnaby taking pokes at young Taitt. it's all remarkably manufactured.

In the end, all the resolutions feel like Starfleet Solutions Greatest Hits, with metaphasic shields (Suspicions), turning a gadget into a transmitter while in a jail cell (Starship Mine), and destroying a ship with a solar flare (Redemption Part II). Good use of past continuity, but nothing too original.

LESSON: Waste not, want not. Even the stupidest episode can yield a solution for your cliffhanger.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: The elements are there, and it's a better season premiere than Time's Arrow, but the Borg are essentially wasted as opponents and there's a strong feeling of déjà vu. Still important for the emotion chip and Lore's fate.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I like the Flash in any reality

...even (especially?) the Tangent Universe Flash.

Friday Night Fights and Bahlactus present the tale of a girl who knows what's really important......and who knows how to keep her temper in check.
But don't mess with her designer dress!

RPGs I'd like to play

Sadly, but inevitably I suppose, our DCHeroes campaign seems to be fizzling out. That's fine. Players come and go, schedules change, and maybe our initial enthusiasm is cooling into simple interest. So maybe it's time to tie up loose ends on the Crusaders and cancel the series and start recruiting for something new? Here then are the RPG campaigns I could be convinced of starting:

Star Trek Reboot: I've long had this idea of re-doing Star Trek, but recasting the alien species as truly alien beings, possibly using GURPS Aliens to do so. The last time we ran a Star Trek game, it fell apart because of the command structure - characters were bridge crew, so they would have a lot of personnel under their command... and abused that priviledge. It was more realistic, yes, but went against the format. My reboot might simply do away with large starships altogether. As simple as saying that a large warp field won't hold, really.

Planescape: Last year there was talk of a Planescape campaign using the FATE system, and I'm still game (though also simply using ol' AD&D 2nd - modified). Sigil, the City of Doors, and the many different and exciting environments she makes accessible might entice old school gamers to join the game, especially since they're all on World of Warcraft now (some similarities with The Burning Crusade). But for me it's with the Factions that the setting shines. The idea that your worldview actually does affect the multiverse, leading to philosophical wars, etc. is brilliant. And I bought almost every product for it, so there's a wealth there.

GURPS... something: I have more than a 100 GURPS sourcebooks, and I like to find ways to use them. For a good while, until too many players moved away in fact, I was running something I called GURPS Shiftworld. Every few sessions, the world would "shift" and become another, as detailed by a different sourcebook. In addition, the characters themselves would be revised to fit that world, but they were the only ones to perceive the shift and remember their other life, superimposed on their new one. Sounds a bit complex, but it was incredibly rewarding and free-form. I could easily restart Shiftworld, though maybe I should shake things up again. Maybe instead do a Multiversal Nexus kind of thing where players could make characters from the world of their choice and travel the dimensions like Runaways or Booster Gold.

GURPS Blacks Ops: Of all the campaign settings GURPS offers, this mix of X-Files, Men in Black, Torchwood and the Matrix most interests me. Not sure GURPS is the best system for its over the top action (Feng Shui maybe?), but GURPS does supply a lot of resources that would fit the style (Monsters, Villains, Faerie, Horror, Cabal, Illuminati, etc.). Am I the only one who sees promise in a mission to gun down an army of Yeti on a Tibetan plateau?

Over the Edge: Once attempted to start a story on the Interzone-like Al Amarja, and I'm still game. I think I have the material and fevered mind to feed a truly screwed up game of creepy weirdness. And if I ever run out, I can always throw in some Unknown Armies.

Time Lords: Ok, despite the difficulties, which include figuring out paradoxes and players not knowing enough history (or knowing too much - damn these History majors I play with!), I still haven't lost my hard-on for time travel games. One I'd be game to try is Time Lords, not to be confused with the Doctor Who-related Timelord, in which you get to play yourself (there's a way to stat yourself out). You're lost in time and from there, well, I'm sure you start changing. Unfortunately, I don't love the rest of the system (too old school and crunchy), so maybe it's just that premise I like. Never mind.

Paranoia: Can't quite be called a campaign, since characters aren't expected to survive the missions, but as an interlocking series of humorous one-shots, I'd love to play it again. Unfortunately, I don't think it works unless you have 5 or 6 players (the more, the more traitorous), and I doubt I'll have that kind of pool to play with on a regular basis.

Toon: For one-shots or an actual series, yeah why not? It'd be great fun to play a Looney Tunes-style game, especially since most of my players are quick-witted and funny improv players. I'm sure it would be Anamaniacs crazy.

So there you have it. Ultimately, it's my players' call. They may want to save the Crusaders, or might want me to resurrect Dream Park or Shiftworld, or go another way entirely. Time will tell. Or we'll just roll the dice!

Star Trek 259: Descent Part I

259. Descent, Part I

FORMULA: I, Borg + The Mind's Eye + (your choice of Evil Data episode)

WHY WE LIKE IT: Data's creepy exploration of his negative emotions.

WHY WE DON'T: Emasculated Borg.

REVIEW: Descent feels a bit random to me at times. It starts with a gratuitous cameo by Stephen Hawking playing cards with Einstein and Newton (fun moment, but wholly irrelevant), has the Borg return in less than full force, plays with the idea of Data generating emotions for the first time, and finally brings back Lore in the cliffhanger. Where it feels random, I think, is in the tenuous link between Lore and the Borg (supervillains team-up!).

The fact is that Best of Both Worlds wrote the Borg into a corner. They were too powerful an enemy, making their use dangerous and even ill-advised. So instead, we have the Rogue Borg infected by Hugh's individualism, but then corrupted by Lore (or so we'll find out... after this episode, we can guess that's what happened, but we're not sure). I'd say a good cliffhanger makes you want to see what happens next, but not what JUST HAPPENED. Summer hiatus gives us too much time to forget about unanswered questions. The Rogue Borg bring a different agenda, and are fewer in number, but still draw out a good portion of the fleet. That's realistic, as is the stern talking-to Nechayev gives Picard about not exploiting Hugh as a Trojan horse (helps sell Starfleet's decisions in First Contact). And the Rogues do bring something new to the Borg in the shape of the transwarp conduit, something that explains how they could have been in our space back in The Neutral Zone, but still not have "met" Starfleet until Q Who. Unfortunately, the Rogue Borg ship design is terrible and has nothing to do with Borg design except size.

Most of this episode centers on Data's exploration of his mystery emotions, producing a couple of creepy scenes as he admits to feeling pleasure at the Borg's death to Troi, or Geordi walking in on his holodeck murder session. Of course, we've seen permutations of "evil Data" so many times now (from Lore, to The Schizoid Man, to the fistful of Datas) that we know how Brent Spiner's gonna do it. It left me non-plussed. The scenes on the subject are uneven as well, with the high point being Data telling an amused Troi he looked at porn, and the low point Geordi being unable to describe anger.

As the cliffhanger approaches, the Enterprise is cut off from the fleet and Data leaves the ship with Crosis to meet "the One". Beverly is left in charge of the ship and its skeleton crew while everybody else goes searching for the Borg. It's a weird moment - I don't think they sell the need to send so many people to the planet - but I don't begrudge Crusher the opportunity to command. It'll be the first time we see a doctor in the captain's chair though they have technically always held a high rank. The episode gets marks for the look of the planet, proving that a colored filter can turn even the most Californian of natural settings into an alien place, and the structure used by the Borg is cool both inside and out.

LESSON: Negative emotions don't hurt people. People hurt people.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: A fair set-up for what's to come, and an important story for Data, but there's no glorious return for the Borg, and the cliffhanger delves deep in melodrama ("The Sons of Soong will destroy the Federation, MWA-HA-HA!").

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Archies of Two Worlds

Worlds live and worlds die... but what about the children? Or rather, what about the eternally teenage Archies gang! Well, in the last Archie Comics Crisis, their Earth was split in twain, with Betty on one world, and Veronica on the other. Each with their own Archie. Perfect right?As you can see, on Archie-Earth-1, women's basketball is incredibly popular. On Archie-Earth-2, Veronica has a full grown son in the crowd. Well, both these absurdities are begging for Archie-style Monitors (sometimes known as Hall Monitors) to wipe their respective histories.

And so... an Archie Crisis:
As both Earths start to merge, the thin orange line between them is about to find out the meaning of DATING HELL! (Again.) (And all will be right with Archie-Earth once more.)

Star Trek 258: Timescape

258. Timescape

FORMULA: The Next Phase + We'll Always Have Paris + Starship Mine

WHY WE LIKE IT: Cool temporal anomaly.

WHY WE DON'T: Stealing shots from DS9? For shame!

REVIEW: By this point, even a technobabble premise can be saved by the characters. We know them well, and they're allowed to act as a family and grow. Picard and Troi doing impressions, her use of plexing when she gets unnerved (never noticed it before now!), Data watching a pot boil, Riker dreading Spot's feeding time - they're all fun moments that make us like what is essentially a high concept episode. Not that that concept is bad, mind you. The temporal bubbles are actually pretty fun, and it's to the episode's credit that while the solution requires some [TECH] tools, it is noetheless predicated on puzzle-solving and actions that you or I could have thought of.

Our characters walking around frozen crew members is at once eerie and cool, and the dilemmas set up are tension builders - Beverly being shot by a Romulan, Romulans on the bridge, a warp core breach in progress. How did this all happen and how do we stop it? It's a timeline puzzle like that of some film favorites like Memento, 11:14 or 12 Monkeys. The plot goes a little gonzo with the quantum singularity parasites nesting in the Romulans' engine and their parents taking Romulan form, but you buy it.

In the final analysis, what's enjoyable is that the characters are smartly written. Troi pulls the plug on Geordi to save his life, Picard throws the runabout into the beam, etc. And there are some really fun, surreal moments like Picard getting the "time bends" and tracing a smiley face into the warp core breach, or his hand aging at 50 times the normal rate in the rotten fruit bowl.

There are flaws, such as pulling the runabout shots straight from DS9 (I'd recognize the Denorios Belt anywhere!), apparently in exchange for building the aft section (ok then), and Romulans armed with disruptors in sickbay (when Riker went through the trouble of planting a phaser there in the opening scene). I'm sure the concept can be nitpicked to death like The Next Phase, but like the Next Phase, the character moments and fun action save it from its logical failings.

LESSON: Picard has an affinity for Lee Press On Nails.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Loads of fun, with nicely written characters moments as well as effective tension.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

DVD Tales: Clerks 2 to Contact

Following from Clerks...

Clerks 2 (Kevin Smith, 2006)
Twelve years after Clerks, Kevin Smith returns to the Kwik-Stop, except it's burned down and Dante and Randall are now working at fast food joint. Surprisingly, and I say this because the movie does include a donkey show after all, it's a really good film, with an strong emotional core. I guess a lot of the credit goes to Rosario Dawson, who creates an immediately likeable and naturalistic character in Becky. Sadly, I've come to realize that between Becky and Chasing Amy's Alyssa Jones, I really want to date Kevin Smith. Preferably in Rosario's body. The DVD has the usual commentary shenanigans, including Jason Mewes' admission that he pleasured himself to Rosario's scenes in Alexander in his trailer.

Clerks Uncensored (various, 2000)
AKA Clerks: The Animated Series. I wrote a couple words on it in a Geekly Roundup once, which gives you a taste for the extras. But indeed, what ISN'T an extra here? With only 2 of the 6 episodes ever aired, the majority of the release is brand new. I held out for a while, unsure of how it would play against the films, but it's a good bit of fun, in the outrageous cartoon style that's now become the standard. Not just for Jay & Silent Bob completists (you know you're out there, stop denying it).

Coffee and Cigarettes (Jim Jarmusch, 2003)
A recommendation from fellow movie buff and former roommate Carolynn, this was my first taste of Jim Jarmusch's work and I wasn't disappointed. Coffee and Cigarettes features a number of vignettes over coffee and you guessed it, cigarettes, filmed over a number of years with various celebrities. The White Stripes discussing a Tesla coil? An irascible Tom Waits sitting across from the too-nice Iggy Pop? Cate Blanchet playing both herself and her own sister? All that and more. Our favorite: The last skit starring playwright, actor, and Andy Whahol inner circlist Taylor Mead. That and an interview with the old guy has made him a rock star in my home. I kid you not.

Constantine (Francis Lawrence, 2005)
Another recommendation from a friend, this time frequent responder Pout. Now, Pout has had a man-crush on Keanu Reeves for years, so I wasn't surprised, but he's got another reason for liking it (he's got to because Keanu is barely acceptable in this). Due to my RPG experimentation, Pout was exposed to In Nomine and has since gone off on his own to GameMaster that particular game of angels and devils. And Constantine - the film - is really an In Nomine movie more than a Hellblazer movie. As an adaptation of the comic, it fails thoroughly. They use the same names, and elements of Garth Ennis' cancer plot (which ends exactly the wrong way), but that's it. But reviewed on its own merits, it's a perfectly good supernatural action movie, with good action bits, nice effects, a twisted plot, and Tilda Swinton who can apparently do no wrong (the demons are all sinfully overacting however).

Contact (Robert Zemeckis, 1997)
I saw Contact in a theater with some friends and it led to a late night discussion on the nature of faith (as opposed to the specific objects of faith, which is a downward spiral conversation in mixed religious company and should be avoided at all costs), so yeah, this had to go in my collection one day. We just don't get enough scientific thrillers from Hollywood these days. This thing makes prime numbers seem interesting.

But what did YOU think? Next: Crash to Daredevil.

Star Trek 257: Second Chances

257. Second Chances

FORMULA: The Enemy Within + Tapestry

WHY WE LIKE IT: The bold ending.

WHY WE DON'T: Riker just can't help breaking Deanna's heart.

REVIEW: Riker meeting his transporter clone... Let's see, a chance to pull off some deft effects, and obviously, he has to die at the end to maintain the status quo, or perhaps we'll let the audience believe that "our" Riker is the one that died, but then, classic reset button, blablabla. Right? Wrong! The effects are, indeed, wonderful, but the story doesn't actually go where you think it will.

Second Chances manages to do for Riker what Tapestry did for Picard. It speculates on what would happen if your younger self met your present self and found it lacking. Lt. Riker basically spent 8 years in story stasis, so he has remained a risk-taker, ambitious and quite in love with Troi. Commander Riker, on the other hand, has grown comfortable, has refused a couple commands to stay aboard the flagship, and is "just friends" with Troi (despite some somewhat romantic interludes that we must've simply mischaracterized in the past two seasons). Neither likes what he sees in the other. I would probably feel the same. ("Loser." "Jerk.")

Jonathan Frakes does a good job of portraying two Rikers, the same yet different, but it's Marina Sirtis who really sells it for me. This has got to be one of her best episodes. Her reactions seem very real and effective, and we learn a great deal more about how their relationship ended. I also don't think she's ever looked prettier, the fairer hair possibly matching the blue uniform better than the jet black. The opening sequence has her looking a lot more like Marina Sirtis, and I don't think that's a bad look for her. At all.
It's one excellent scene after another (the romantic treasure hunt, the dead-on poker scene, the mention of Riker's father), but when you think it all has to end on a rickety bridge (of course), it doesn't. I can't commend the creators enough for allowing Lt. Riker to live. It's too bad Troi never gives him a second thought (though the romance ends believably, as in Lessons), but it's a bold subversion of audience expectations and the right thing to do. (He'll return in DS9.) Oh, and surprise cameo: Astronaut Mae Jamison as the transporter chief!

LESSON: The road not taken can make all the difference.

REWATCHABILITY - High: I didn't expect it to be this good. Effects, acting and plot all converge to make this one of the surprises of the season.