Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Timeslip: Nick Fury

In Timeslip, a hot artist of today is taken back to 1962 to get handed an assignment by Stan Lee. So what happens when John K. Snyder III gets handed this assignment?Funny to me: Looking for a single piece of work he'd done for Marvel, they had to mention the Onslaught promo poster. Wow. Timeslip just doubled the number of pages he's done for the company. Anyway, his idea for Nick Fury is closer to Suicide Squad than it is to Onslaught:
So screw SHIELD, let's make Nick covert ops and friendless instead. Furthermore, let's make him Jonah Hex's only slightly prettier descendant. You know what sells it? Those taglines. "A loner with a license to kill" isn't very original, but I really like "there are no heroes without scars".

Imagine a comic where we jump around in time and see missions in every post-WWII conflict. That Cuba 1962 job alone would be worth the admission price.

How do YOU think Nick Fury should work?

Star Trek 327: The Maquis, Part I

327. The Maquis, Part I

FORMULA: Journey's End + A Private Little War

WHY WE LIKE IT: Dukat and Sisko trading quips and insults.

WHY WE DON'T: Cal Hudson - I just don't like that guy.

REVIEW: DS9 has shown that there are good and bad Bajorans, and good and bad Cardassians, but The Maquis makes the Federation a bit grayer. And not just the idea that humans might become terrorists or be unhappy with Federation policy, but we've got Sisko and Dukat teaming up in this one against a common foe. So on a personal level, both our hero and our villain are painted in gray tones as well (Dukat is a family man?).

Enter Cal Hudson. Now I understand the character's role as a man a lot like Sisko, in a similar position, with a similar background, and with the same ability to bend or break the rules. Unfortunately, Bernie Casey just doesn't work for me. His mumbling, staccato delivery just sinks the character. I never quite believe him as part of this world. The rest of the Maquis aren't really very interesting either, from what we learn of them, aside from the idea. Like the Badlands effects, they have a ways to go yet. The exception might be Sakonna, the Vulcan hottie Quark takes an interest in, though even she's a little vapid. Still, Quark gets to do some nice comedy with her.

The true stars of the show are Sisko and Dukat. From the sinister scene where Ben finds Dukat in his quarters and starts asking where Jake is (and the security on the station is addressed, so it's not a "convenient plot device") to the witty repartee in the runabout and elsewhere, these two make a good pair and have proper debates about so-called evolved human morality. Sisko also has an excellent scene without him when Kira makes the Maquis' point for them and he answers by way of just opening the door for her.

Just a set-up for the next episode, of course, and in the long run, for Voyager, but it's a promising one that's strongly written. Also keep an eye out for recurring Cardassian jerk Gul Evek, and the first mention of Captain Boday and his transparent skull.

LESSON: Dissidence - it's now available in Federation Blue.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Very nice interplay between regulars (I include recurring guest-stars here), but the Maquis aren't very charismatic, especially the sleep inducing Hudson.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Batman and the Outsiders #3: Pages 8-9

More Halo? Ok, you asked for it.I'm the Batman and I'll say how old she is. Halo: Ward in the making.
Bruce Wayne walks in with a superpowered Jane Doe. Another one for your scrapbook of clues. We'll blow that cover yet. If asked, the doctor'll probably just say "Bruce Wayne, Batman? Maybe, maybe not! There's just so much you can tell with a stethoscope."

In retrospect, maybe a general practitioner wasn't the best person to bring an amnesia case to.
Oh well, if he knows hypnosis, we're all set. "Please, doctor, I noticed the legs too, but we just established she was only 16."
Time to start a new list... Things Halo remembers: How to play the piano.
But we have to keep our old list going... Things Halo's forgotten: How she known how to play the piano, and the moral implications of playing the piano.
Oh Halo, you just DID hear it. We have to repeat everything with that girl.
"Jane Doe" is just an expression, but you can't blame her for taking a cue from Geo-Force, the namer of all things nameable.
Things Halo remembers (subconsciously): The expression "Plain Jane".
Gus the lorry driver is obviously mystified by this exchange. He can't decide which Mike Barr pun is more appropriate to the character: Gabrielle like the shining angel, or Gabby because she can't shut up. He's my favorite character in the book as yet.

As for Batman, he's the guy who'll tell you what your kid will be called in the schoolyard while you try to pick a name. And yet, never said a word when Geo-Force picked "Outsiders"... or "Geo-Force", for that matter.
I've never heard the nickname "GAY-bee" outside certain... uhm... circles.
Oh Bruce, putting the moves on a minor? Is your playboy image more important than common decency? Be here tomorrow for your answer when it goes all Pretty Woman on our asses.

DVD Tales: Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks to The Two Doctors

Following from Doctor Who #130: The Five Doctors...

My usual note: Doctor Who DVDs usually include an audio commentary by surviving cast and crew, dense production note subtitles, brand new making of documentaries and photo galleries. And in the spirit of the season, let's see if I can't name the best Holloween costume from each.

Doctor Who #134: Resurrection of the Daleks (Matthew Robinson, 1984)
Starring the 5th Doctor, Tegan and Turlough. Davros and the Daleks are back once again, and there are so many factions here that it would be easy to get confused. It's the Dalek equivalent of Earthshock, with all the guns blazing and a companion leaving. Yes, last time out for Tegan, done a little more touchingly than is usual for these things. The DVD includes deleted scenes, a John Nathan Turner interview, a featurette on the BBC Radiophonic workshop and interviews about Janet Fielding's departure at the time.
Halloween costume: If you've got a wheelchair lying around, you should really do Davros. Rubber mask acceptable!

Doctor Who #136: The Caves of Androzani (Graeme Harper, 1984)
Starring the 5th Doctor and Peri. The 5th Doctor goes out with a bang, because this is probably his best story, and one of the best directed stories in Classic Who, period. It just has so much STYLE. The weird angles, the creepy POVs, the jarring asides... It's lovely to look at. The DVD offers a fixed special effects feature (repairs a bad matte shot, basically), behind the scenes footage and more.
Halloween costume: Sharaz Jek.

Doctor Who #139: Vengeance on Varos (Ron Jones, 1985)
Starring the 6th Doctor and Peri. Many call this the best 6th Doctor story, but while the reality tv stuff seems to have come true, in a sense, it's still rather obvious. Sil is an interesting new villain, but the level of violence has been rising through the 80s, and now the Doctor's a bit too callous about it. Sort of like Roger Moore's James Bond. So while it's good, it never quite gets as good as other Doctors' best shows. The DVD includes deleted scenes, some behind the scenes footage, but not a lot more. This was an early release.
Halloween costume: Sean Connery's studly bare-chested son.

Doctor Who #140: The Mark of the Rani (Sarah Hellings, 1985)
Starring the 6th Doctor and Peri. The Master gets shown up by new Time Lord threat, the Rani. Her amorality (as opposed to the Master's immorality) is as refreshing as the pretty historical background. The DVD includes deleted scenes, a Blue Peter segment on Ironbridge Gorge as well as a visit to the location, interviews from the time and another with the show's composer to go with an isolated music track. I never mention it, but isolated music tracks are frequent on these releases. I don't quite see the appeal given that most stories feature electronic farting music. More melody in this one, but still 80s synth that is murder to my ears.
Halloween costume: A rubber tree.

Doctor Who #141: The Two Doctors (Peter Moffatt, 1985)
Starring the 2nd and 6th Doctors, Jamie and Peri. The last Doctor Who reunion before Children in Need springs a brief new one on us, The Two Doctors suffers by springing a cannibal story on us, and using the Spanish location as if it were just anywhere. Since this is a Bob Holmes script, there's still some spark of wit, but this last clash with the Sontarans is altogether too violent for its own good. It is interesting however for those who postulate a Season 6b, in which the Doctor and Jamie kept having adventures before he was eventually regenerated into the 3rd Doctor. The DVD includes a silly Sontaran sketch from Jim'll Fix It, a documentary on writer Robert Holmes, behind the scenes footage, a return to the location and a lot more.
Halloween costume: Shockeye - all you need is a kilt and a piece of raw meat.

But what did YOU think? Next: Doctor Who: Revelation of the Daleks to Survival.

Star Trek 326: Blood Oath

326. Blood Oath

FORMULA: Errand of Mercy + The Trouble with Tribbles + Day of the Dove + Reunion

WHY WE LIKE IT: The TOS Klingons are back!

WHY WE DON'T: Uhm... how is that possible again?

REVIEW: While I don't want to get into the cosmetic changes to Kor, Koloth and Kang too much (given all we've learned about the subject in later years, we might say they got some cosmetic or genetic surgery to get them in line with other Klingons later), there are some more important character changes to address. Some might say that only Kang really sounds and feels like his Original Series self, but accepting that Klingons can live that long, you must also accept that time can change a man. Especially in the Klingon world where old age is seen as a dishonor as the opportunity to die in battle grows less and less likely.

Kor is a shadow of his former self, dealing with his survival by living in past glories and indulging in food and drink a little too much. He's become ridiculous. Koloth is least like he was, from prancing dandy to "ice man", but again, age tempers a man. He's incredibly serious to the point of embarrassment when he appears the fool. He's a man who is deathly afraid of appearing weak. As for Kang, while he's played closer to the original vision, he's embittered by long life, and looking for a way out. He's simply tired.

Giving Dax Klingon roots and making her the fourth member of this quartet will direct the rest of her story, so it can't be called a convenient plot device. The connection between these four may be convenient now, but since it is not forgotten later, and like all things Klingon, it's all about giving it a sense of the Epic.

Maybe Kang's refusal to let Dax go on his suicide run goes on a little too long, but we get plenty of action at the end, including some very nice bat'leth work. What's especially good is that this isn't a mercenary story (where it's all about the guest-stars). Dax really does drive the action by implementing strategies and having a choice to make at the end. To kill or not to kill the callous Albino. That choice is taken away, so she's still a virgin, but it still haunts her. What might she have done? For Kang, it's the end of his story, so dying was a foregone conclusion. Koloth didn't have much of a story either, so out he goes. It's Kor who survives, ironically the most degraded of Klingon heroes, but also the most interesting of the characters. Dax returns to the station and to a classic DS9 resolution: A deafening silence. How bad is the damage to their relationships?

LESSON: Klingons ROCK!

REWATCHABILITY - High: Stunt casting and fanfic fare becomes a character-building story with nice action and moral dilemmas for all. Better than it should have been.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Batman and the Outsiders #3: Pages 6-7

Batman isn't really going to blow his cover, is he?Short answer: Yes. If Bruce Wayne isn't Batman, he at least pays for Batman. That puts his loved ones as risk as much as if he were. But the Outsiders won't tell, will they?
Batman: World's most costly squatter. And Katana - the killer YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT - is already asking too many questions. Still, no chance they'll ever stumble on Bruce Wayne or his loved ones, right?
Wrong. They'll be staying up there. Just another chance for Batman to perpetuate the myth about his sleeping upside down.
Loved one #1: Alfred Pennyworth. If this made any sense at all, he would be dead by Joker gas within the month.
Note Alfred's memory reinforcement here. He's just been called Alfred and feels the need to say his name again. Obviously, he's already been briefed on the Outsiders' chronic amnesia.
Well, Halo got distracted by the dinosaur, so I guess he'll want to mention it yet again. Speaking of forgetting things, Batman's totally forgotten the reason he went to Markovia in the first place! Stayed behind... a likely story!

Meanwhile, at Gotham's equivalent of Madison Square Gardens (scheduled for demolition - no wonder the streets are rampant with crime, there's nothing for the kids to do in this town)...
The villain of our piece is giving a good talking-to to his henchmen who don't seem to have the stomach for this kind of thing.
Students of the comic book form will note here the traditional trick of not showing the villain right away (hoping the reader's eyes won't glance at the bottom of the page). Who is this mystery figure? Do we find out in the next panel?
No, not yet! We do know two things: He killed babies in the 'Nam, and he's into black gloves. So now can we see him?
No! He's disfigured, don't you understand? You have to prepare yourself for his hideous face!
Agent Orange?!? Wow, I really didn't expect him... EVEN AFTER HIS APPEARANCE WAS SPOILED ON THE COVER AND ON THE SPLASH PAGE! I have no choice but to nominate this page for "Worst Reveal" of 1982.

Next up: More Halo! And when my wrists are sore from playing, I'll come back and write about the Outsiders.

Gamer Profile : Pout

Pout. You've seen his comments 'round here from time to time. He used to be one of my players (still is when he comes down from Ottawa). Known each other for years. And I probably like his characters better than I do him.

Archetype: He's the player you want to have in your group, though maybe you're afraid to.

Explain: Pout is committed 100%. If you have an idea for a game, he's there, he's driving his girlfriend crazy talking about his adventures, and he's the perpetual motion machine that makes sure you play regularly. He's not one to let campaigns die, and still talks about those old stories you had to leave behind when groups dissolved. In fact, he won't easily let you drop a campaign you WANT to drop.

As a role-player, he's just as committed, playing his role to the hilt. His Plastic Man (DCHeroes) is funnier than most iterations of the character in the comics, that's for damn sure. Unfortunately, he likes to play ladies' men and then insists on role-playing romantic interludes. There's nothing I find creepier than Pout putting the moves on me. The trick is to just say "and at the end of the night, she slept with you".

Psych Profile: Here's the thing about role-players. They naturally gravitate towards particular character types. It's usually something that's close to them (easy to fall into once a week), but different (the wish fulfillment principle). Pout wants to be the cool guy with the trenchcoat and the badass attitude, who gets all the girls and all the one-liners. He's James Bond meets Neo meets Howdy Doody.

Best game: GURPS/Mecha. Surfing on the door of an exploding hotel room was sheer action genius.

So to all his characters - Gloves, Tommy Cruisin, Ace, Captain Cortex, Plastic Man and the others - I raise my dice glass. Thanks for the memories.

Star Trek 325: Profit and Loss

325. Profit and Loss

FORMULA: We'll Always Have Paris + Cardassians + Unification

WHY WE LIKE IT: Garak, Garak, Garak.

WHY WE DON'T: The soap opera dialogue.

REVIEW: A Quark episode without the Ferengi? Of course it can work. Quark's being built as this ladies' man, especially when it comes to more exotic women, which relates to his character in a meaninful way - when he's making passes at Dax or Kira, he's not a creep with no hope in hell, he's a charmer used to getting his way with women. There's a difference, at least in his intention. He's the alien Riker. And for once in Trek, you can believe in this rogue's charms. Now enter the badly named Natime Lang (why use a human last name, it's just confusing, especially since she's the first Cardassian with a surname we meet), and old love that reveals Quark's heart of gold (he just doesn't like to spend that gold very much). It's unfortunate that the relationship doesn't go much further than clichéed soap opera, with the dialogue between them rather terrible. (There's a good Odo/Quark scene in there however.)

The element driving the A-plot however is the introduction of Cardassian dissidents who want to oust the military from government. This is a good way to lend ambiguity and complexity to the Cardassian people, though the same had been done to the Romulans not long before. The problem here is that the two dissident "leaders" are boring and stilted. I simply don't understand why they're a threat, but their mentor Natima isn't. How is she not a dissident leader?

Coming to the rescue of this episode is Garak, who's sudden appearance in Ops is as paradigm-shifting a moment as any. I can't decide if outing him this way means he's lost something as a character, but it's not like we really believed he was just a tailor, did we? The circumstances of his exile and the role he played on Cardassia still remain unknown to us. In any case, his fashion metaphors when describing Cardassia's politics are sublime, and it seems like the writers can't screw up his unique "voice". What comes across is that Garak has a love of the State, but also sees the bigger picture and has a vision for that State. In the end, he chooses that vision over his own selfish desires. Not that he was going to get his way, but killing Toran certainly doesn't advance his cause... or does it? If the dissidents come to power, they might remember his actions. Wheels within wheels.

LESSON: Nope, I can't hear the words "Professor Lang" without thinking of Superboy.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: DS9 hasn't mastered the art of the one-off romance yet, but additions to the Cardassian political landscape and the formidable presence of Garak save this one from total forgettability.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

This Week in Geek (22-28/10/07)

Buys

A few cursory purchases this week. Amazon sent me the two Grindhouse movies, Tarantino's Death Proof and Rodriguez' Planet Terror. Missed them at the cinema since a long double feature isn't good business, and 8 theaters full of Underdog, four times a day is. And it's no surprise a Tarantino Special Edition didn't take long this time. I always said it was all about pairing him up with Robert Rodriguez on a project. That man is a DVD-making machine!

Haven't been going to the comic book store lately, on account of their inability to order enough copies of the only rags I buy (no Brave and the Bold for me). Walked in just to get Showcase Presents: Metal Men. I think you understand why.

"Accomplishments"

Flipped Michael Palin's Pole to Pole this week, a 9-episode journey along the 30th meridian made in 1991 just as all the countries were collapsing. I was particularly interested in how state markets work in the Soviet Union (a bureaucratic madhouse), and I always wondered what was on that northern island (Swedenborg). Now I know. Always genial, Palin takes us through Europe and Africa (not easy), suffering many setbacks along the way. A more recent 30-minute interview tells us what we missed when the cameras were off.

 

Finished The Art of Destruction a New Who novel by Stephen Cole, which I'd abandonned on page 100 to read Kavalier & Clay. It's no secret that these New Who books look nice, but are written for a younger crowd and so a little thin. Picking this one up in the middle, I realized why I'd left it there. There's an inordinate amount of running away from things, then an inordinate amount of twists and reveals. Gets better towards the end with various alien factions fighting over a treasure trove in Africa, but it's still not much more than a runaround.

For my own Doctor Who project, I made 15 new cards from Father's Day, from Series 1. Just reading the script and looking at pictures of this one makes me tear up. I also indulged in a little "CGI" for this one:
Had an improv show Wednesday, basically an improvised sitcom that lasted an hour and a half. I got to play the "Kramer" character, i.e. the moron with this crazy life who just impinges on everybody else's. And having finally watched Big Bang Theory on everyone's advice and found it lacking, I proposed to make my character a geek. But he became a sporty geek, prone to playing snow soccer with his D&D buddies, and practicing Klingon martial arts to clear his head. Best bit: Having received an office memo about cultural diversity, he started an elf on World of Warcraft.

Speaking of Warcraft, got my Lynda with a Y to level 66, so up another level this week. At this rate, it's lvl 70 in a month. In other fantasy news, a particularly wicked drinking binge took away one my rpg players, so last night's prep work has gone to waste (the hook was centered on him). I hate it when that happens. But we made the best of it, advancing another subplot instead and visiting an inn in the Abyss. A good time was had by all left.

Batman and the Outsiders #3: Pages 4-5

Let's rejoin our in-flight movie already in progress...Right away, you can tell Halo is going to be a nightmare for anyone who wants to keep a secret identity.

And now: Sizing up the team with your host, Geo-Force!
Seeing as she hardly killed more people than Geo-Force in the previous issues, that could mean she's not all that enigmatic. But of course, "enigmatic" may just be Barr-talk for "haven't really thought out her origin yet".
The smartest guy on a fabricated team like this is always the one who doesn't want to be there. It's the same with boy bands.
You'd be anguished too if you spent the better part of 1982 working a Rubik's Cube. Oh Ideal Toys Inc., you ruined so many lives.
"No memory, but a fine, fine body..." GF wants a gf, methinks.
"The others are enigmatic, reluctant, brash and retarded, but I'm... a champion!" Yeah, yeah... any reason you didn't give us your thoughts on Batman? Thought so.
Ah, Alfred and his scrapbooking. There's really no need for the Bat-Computer, is there? Agent Orange strikes again, you'll note, this time poor ACME Chemicals, who were thus forced to move to Pakistan and allow their website to stay under construction forever.
For once, it's not the same "bat-channel"!
"I will comply... or he'll have me sit on that stalactite again. I wish he would just let me finish grinding the floor instead of forcing me to do press clippings."
Well now we're just moments away from Batman blowing his cover, aren't we? "Yeah, he lets me hang out under his house... we're not the same guy or anything... nor is his ward my sidekick..."

One Silver Age Secret Identity Farce coming up!

Star Trek 324: Playing God

324. Playing God

FORMULA: Emergence + (The Wrath of Khan - everything but Saavik) + In Theory

WHY WE LIKE IT: The Klingon chef. Terri Farrell in a towel. O'Brien using a sonic screwdriver on Quark.

WHY WE DON'T: That proto-universe nonsense.

REVIEW: A Trill initiate comes to the station to be evaluated and mentored by Dax, and it's more a way to learn about Jadzia than it is about Arjin. Indeed, the guest star isn't drawn very well. Sometimes a milksop, sometimes a spoiled child, sometimes centered, sometimes arrogant, sometimes ready to dive into the alcohol. Maybe that's part of his "aiming to please" shtick, but the result is that I don't really know who Arjin is at the end of this, or if he'll make it. I don't care frankly.

It's a much better opportunity to find out about both Jadzia's and Curzon's past however. Here, the seeds are sown for later explorations as we find out Curzon drummed her out of the program and that she bounced back. The backstory marries the aloof Dax of Season 1 with the more outrageous Dax of Season 2, since by now, she's wrestling sweaty men in the morning and teaching songs to the Klingon chef. She's a Dax who certainly indulges in her former hosts' predilections, but is also the dedicated young scientist when she needs to be. Particularly lovely is her relationship to Sisko here, as you're never altogether sure who the mentor is anymore. In effect, both Ben and Jadzia had the same mentor.

What's unfortunate here is the techie plot that comes with the character development. The proto-universe is a worthy science-fiction idea, but probably unmanageable in the DS9 format. Does it make sense at all that you could plop it back in the Gamma Quadrant with no worries? Won't it still grow to displace our universe? I'm sure it went back to that subspace pocket thingie, but with all the technobabble in this episode (and there's an inordinate amount of it), you'd think they could have made it clearer in the dialogue. Inevitably, the climax is one of those piloting challenges that doesn't translate very well to the screen (and the Wormhole looks nothing like it ever does before or again, though the effects are pretty). It's Arjin going "I can't see it... I can't see it... I see it" in the dullest possible way.

The vole subplot is cute, but little more than fluff. It features the first appearance of Gul Evek, setting up a larger one in The Maquis in just a few episodes. DS9 is getting better and better at establishing its universe's inhabitants so there's a sense of continuity. Bashir's relationship to O'Brien has graduated to the friendly ribbing stage as evidenced by the Hamlin joke. And we even get to see a little of Jake who lets the cat out of the bag regarding Marta. These continuing threads are making DS9 extremely fulfilling to watch in rapid sequence.

LESSON: Either Cardassians evolved from voles, or you can't live on Cardassia without a spoon on your forehead.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: An uninteresting guest star and the babblathon that serves as plot and the episode STILL manages to be a good one? That's because DS9 is carving its place as a character-driven rather than plot-driven show. Still, can't avoid that annoying plot.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Batman and the Outsiders #3: Pages 2-3

Our story starts in Gotham City because, well, it should be a damn sight more interesting than Markovia.Better times, like when we were producing PCP and making money hand over fist!

A quick search on Horton Chemicals shows that no such company has popped up in the real world, but I did hit upon a reference to Green Arrow owning stock in it. It'd be lovely to think the DC Universe felt like a coherent whole back then, but nah, the reference is from Mike Barr's own 1983 Green Arrow mini-series. Remember that one? I didn't think so.

So where was I? Ah yes, Gotham City, where, in batman's absence, bad things are bound to happen. The Joker? The Penguin? The Scarecrow? Nah, those guys keep quiet. Still, I wouldn't want to be a security guard in that town.
See Gus ain't no prophet, but he did apparently coin the term "graveyard shift" (it's really caught on). And hey, if you're a security guard in a chemicals company on its last legs IN GOTHAM CITY and you never thought of yourself as dead? That's a failure of YOUR imagination.

But back in Markovia...
Yes, it's the living king we should be sad for. Not the dead king in his tiny Hobbiton sepulcher.
Pretty sad yes, but before you start to feel sad for this guy, remember than he's living in the lap of luxury in a country that runs on manure. Boo-hoo.
His first act as king is to send his brother away "to learn"? Way to hand out the edicts, tyrant. How about diverting some of Dr. Jace's electricity to homes?

"I am not in the giving vein today." - Richard III