Thursday, January 31, 2008

No Gorilla Suit Day This Year

At the request of Don Martin's widow.

I guess my family wouldn't understand a homage to me either. ("Don't call here again about All-Prophets Day and tell that kazoo band not to show up at our house this year!!!")

So in lieu of apes, the SBG offers... ROBOTS!

We may have replaced the apes, but the robots... The robots will replace us in every sphere of human activity!

Prize fighting!
Shaking the boot-AY!
Looking stupid!
The arts!
Even the most popular sport on Earth though it's not very popular over here will be played by ROBOTS!
Your obsolescence is only the first step. The takeover is coming. You cannot oppose us, meatbags.

Star Trek 419: Statistical Probabilities

419. Statistical Probabilities

FORMULA: Doctor Bashir I Presume + In the Cards + Whom Gods Destroy + Melora

WHY WE LIKE IT: Damar and Weyoun. The mutants.

WHY WE DON'T: The preaching.

REVIEW: Bashir's new status as a "mutant" (a misnomer if I ever heard one) has to be explored, and so we have Statistical Probabilities. Actually, it's not bad at all! The episode goes a long way making his genetic heritage a part of his character as he attempts to integrate four "failed" mutants, each with his or her mental aberration. That's a perfectly good Bashir story type of set-up, but I could really have done without the round table discussions on whether or not mutants should be allowed to participate in society. They come off as staged and preachy, and worse still, they don't tell us anything new.

The new mutants themselves are an interesting enough lot, each distinctively drawn. The manic Jack might not be everyone's cup of tea, but that's exactly the point. The child-like Patrick is more endearing, it's a sweet performance, while Lauren's choice of never standing up (except to dance) gives her performance something extra. There's little to say about the more fully autistic Serina at this point, except that is was perhaps inevitable that she would become the most useful of the bunch.

Just because it's a human interest story doesn't mean there's not a war on, and the episode also advances the bigger arc. Damar has been named Cardassia's leader by virtue of being on the puppet government fast track and peace (read: stalling) talks brings him and Weyoun to the station. Merging the two plots, the mutants become intensely engaged by the proceedings and start unraveling the whole story from simple body language. Credulity might be strained on occasion, but for the most part, this is all well played and interesting.

Of course, they must go too far, and beyond uncovering the Dominion's schemes, they use advanced mathematics to predict the outcome of the war, and ultimately, that the Federation should surrender and let their descendants beat the Dominion. Cue Bashir's nihilistic rampage. The key is that Bashir claims that in their calculations, small disturbances even out over time so that the far future can be accurately predicted. However, Star Trek is about the difference one person can make, as indeed will occur at the series' end. The mutants' little ploy to betray the Federation is aborted by the actions of Serina, the random element, just so the lesson can be made clear.

The mutants bring a lot of humor and vibrancy to the episode, though I have to call padding when I see it. In addition to the overlong recap, there's an extra goodbye that comes mid-coda and is really strange structurally. The scenes poking gentle fun at O'Brien's relatively "feeble" intelligence are more fun, but just as unnecessary.

LESSON: It's not how smart you are... no wait. It IS how smart you are.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: Certainly important for the political side of things, this episode remains dynamic despite its padded bits thanks to some great guest roles, some recurring, some as yet not.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tonal Pockets

One thing left out of the Continuity Bottle model that should be addressed is the concept of Tonal Pockets. What's that now?

Ok, you know how dynastic molecules swim through continuity like it's a liquid? Well, Continuity Fluid can have different consistencies throughout the bottle. Fluid consistency manifests itself as TONE. This explains the sometimes drastic retcon that occurs when, for example, Superman guest-stars in Plastic Man or Hitman. If the latter characters don't exist in a different world exactly, their stories are definitely told with a different point of view. When Superman swims into the tonally different fluid, he might become a lot sillier or a lot grittier.Now, Plastic Man isn't just swimming through a "funny" pocket. His essence so well matches the pocket's that he sticks with it (or it with him), bonding with his character concept, becoming, in a sense, one of his dynastic elements. ("What do you know about Plastic Man?" "He's funny.") It becomes very hard to dissociate Plastic Man from that tone even when he's in another style of story (say in the Mock-Realism of the Justice League). Other characters aren't so "essentially" tonal, which may explain why Batman has been used with a greater variety of tones (though there's a fluid consistency he definitely "prefers").

With this added element, the Vertigo Partition may just be a Tonal Pocket with a semi-permeable (editorial) membrane, though that's oversimplifying the various tones actually present across the line of books - horror, fantasy, gritty realism, high weirdness, etc. So a Pocket with a "mature readers" tone to be sure, a property the various fluid pockets inside the Partition all share. After all, Partitions still enclose continuity fluid, even if that fluid is different from the outside's. An Elseworld might only have one homogeneous tone (they often do), but it's still registering tonally. It still has consistency.

Tonal Pockets are an important concept because they help explain how the same Continuity can be so heterogeneous as to allow, for example, the grittiness of Alias, the superhero action of the Avengers, the irrevent edge of Nextwave and the indy vibe of Omega the Unknown. Is this really the same world, following the same rules? It is, because its constituent elements can meet each other, but we have to acknowledge that the Fluid in any given part of the bottle is not the same. Tonal Pockets can even stimulate Bubble Worlds to develop, especially in cases where the Bubble's rules are distinctive enough (Iron Fist being a good example here).

The above-pictured model obviously isn't complete because all stories have tones, so a detail would really look like this:
(Again, an over-simplification, but it does its job.) If there's still Fluid not color-coded, it's because a Continuity Bottle does have a "standard consistency". For these shared superhero universes, it's usually a mock-realism with a dash of grit (read: dismemberments). And since there's a standard, dominant Fluid, we can veritably talk about Pockets of substantially different consistency.

To be continued...

Star Trek 418: Resurrection

418. Resurrection

FORMULA: Shattered Mirror + Past Prologue + The Outrageous Okona

WHY WE LIKE IT: The wonderfully evil Intendant.

WHY WE DON'T: It's that easy to invade Ops, eh?

REVIEW: It's the Mirror Universe episode nobody ever remembers to list when such lists are made, but by not going to the MU, it avoids the kitsch that has infected it since its first DS9 appearance. And while I was never a fan of Vedek Bareil, the Mirror Bareil is at least more interesting a partner for Kira, as Quark rightly points out. Though I can't for the life of me find Philip Anglim charming, I can't help but find his stealing a mek'leth from Worf a cute bit. He's got mad skills to be sure.

The budding love affair could be considered creepy, but ultimately, it's the story of a man's wasted potential. How do you react when confronted with the life you should have led? Being with Kira is a big part of that. The story picks up steam when the coquette Intendant shows up, once again flawlessly played by Nana Visitor, at once in love with herself and jealous of herself (just like Bareil). Though Visitor is good in both roles here, the Intendant is seductively evil ("You have a lot to learn about giving a massage" indeed!).

So it's all about an Orb heist and a plan to bring religion to Mirror Bajor with Bareil as anti-pope (not that far off Quark's own scheme for Mirror Bareil actually). As far as Mirror plots go, it's better than most, probably since it can't trade on the coolness factor the others usually do. The script is still sloppy however, with no security (or urgency) when parties unknown beam aboard the station, for example. Levar Burton's able direction covers the holes pretty well, with noticeably artful framing, anxious lighting and good blocking and camera angles.

A cute moment before we learn our Lesson: Bashir tries to pump gossip out of the usual sewing circle and ends up being stonewalled by Kira herself. It's especially cute since Alexander Siddig is married to Nana Visitor, so it plays on an actor's jealousy over his wife kissing another actor. Cute, but from fear of beating a dead horse, I see no need to play that trick again, do you? More interesting perhaps is our first look at Bajoran services. I wonder what shrines without Orbs do?

LESSON: We are cursed to fall in love with the same kind of people over and over again.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Better than expected, mostly thanks to Nana Visitor's twin performances, but still feels like a step backwards. Can't we move on from Bareil now please?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bottom Line (in tiny script)

Ant-Man may have won the Comic Treadmill's Scaled-Down Smack-Down against the Atom, but you know what?"But most of all... it smells like a huge fart!"

Ants stink and they're stupid. That's right. He said it.

Star Trek 417: You Are Cordially Invited...

417. You Are Cordially Invited...

FORMULA: Haven + The House of Quark

WHY WE LIKE IT: The bachelor and bachelorette parties.

WHY WE DON'T: I guess Alexander had to be there.

REVIEW: As a character-driven detente after an intense storyline, this episode isn't unlike TNG's Family, but way funnier. It celebrates at once the return to the station and Worf and Jadzia's wedding. And while there's the inevitable falling out between the two lovers, there's a sense, much like in Fascination, that no harm will be done here. It's comedy in the Shakespearean sense, and quite amusing even in the smaller scenes (such as Jake "selling" a book, the quotation marks attracting Quark's contempt). It's in that spirit that Kira and Odo make up, but it's perhaps too bad that it's done backstage, a little too much like a reset button.

Most amusing of all are the bachelor and bachelorette parties. Worf is from a culture whose bar mitzvah involves pain sticks, so the boys' belief that his party will be a grand orgy is probably mistaken. The trials actually in store for them are painful and sadistic, which brings out the best in Sisko and the whiners in Bashir and O'Brien. Their antsiness at the chance to finally pummel Worf is great. Of course, the whole thing is undermined by Alexander's slapstick, but a happy Alexander is more palatable than a sad one.

While Worf's closest male friends are going through seven kinds of pain, Dax's party is sheer pleasure. Staged like a real party, full of improvised dances (Nog's great) and mayhem, there's a delicious contrast to the events underscoring the same in the characters. Dax's hangover is hilarious as well, and if you've ever had a fight while hungover, you know exactly where it's all heading. Alert viewers will also spot the mention of a Captain Shelby, meant to be from The Best of Both Worlds, though as a fan of the New Frontier books, I prefer to think of this as someone else with the same name, or else she got a battle commission for a short while.

Though we'd seen a bat'leth wedding in The House of Quark, Worf's has all the trimmings so we get more insight into Klingon culture. Martok's shrewish wife Sirella is a great opponent for Dax, the latter getting some sweet revenge by retconning Sirella's family history. The episode also teaches us that while only men serve on the High Council, the Great Houses are basically run by women. The ceremony (precipitated by Alexander's departure, which at least explains the absence of the Enterprise crew and his human parents) is rather beautiful, retelling the story (a staple of most Klingon rituals) of how two Klingon hearts joined together to destroy the gods (we already knew they were dead, now we know how).

LESSON: Most Klingon men have a subscription to Bride magazine.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Worf's wedding is a Big Event, like all things Worf, and it's commendably done with both respect and humor. You'll chuckle to yourself and might even get misty-eyed.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Let's Play with Models!

Since I'm a Grade-A nerd, that's not going to be nearly as sexy as it sounds.

Between comic booky discussions of Bubble Worlds and Retcon, I've been asked to clarify my thought, so I'm going to propose visual aids to better define the terms I use. And I think it'll make new points on top of the old ones as well. Let's just take things one step at a time.

Before we even get into bubbles and whatnot, let me pay once again my debt to the Absorbascon's dynastic model. Scipio is especially interested in "dynastic centerpieces" (iconic figures like Superman, Batman et al. that can support their own series) and defines certain roles surrounding that centerpiece (the girlfriend, the loyal pet, the arch enemy, etc.). When all the pieces are in place, you have the makings of a true icon with a rich, memorable world around itself.

I'm throwing the net a little wider: Every character and concept surrounding a particular character is part of its "dynastic model", whether there's a defined role for them or not. Here's an example:Each character is a character's dynasty may also have his or her own dynasty, which probably has many of the same elements as the more iconic centerpiece. Note also the inclusion of the character's "contextualizing city", another Absorbasconcept, as an element of the character's dynasty. Now imagine these dynasties floating through what I'll call a Continuity Bottle:
This is the DC Universe, which I'm using as an example in all but a few places because it's got all the features I'm looking to discuss. Imagine all characters moving through this continuity fluid like molecules, brushing against one another and combining in varied ways. Usually, a character moves with and interacts only with its own dynasty, but any element can be shared by another "dynastic molecule" (a crossover, a guest-star, a lent villain, etc.) even to the point of losing that element to another dynasty over time (the Kingpin moving from Spider-Man to Daredevil for example). Let's not forget the particular problem of superhero teams:
Teams have their own dynastic model after all, HQs and vehicles and supporting cast and villains that are not usually shared with the member characters. Or a team might have members that aren't usually out on their own, so would usually remain with the team dynasty (the Legion of Super-Heroes for example). A team like the pictured JLA would have many large "receptor sites" to allow combination with lots of character that have their own large dynasties. As can be seen from this model, nothing is ever at the true "center" of a molecule, they're all on the "outside" to allow combination with other elements. In a shared universe, no man is an island.

Enter Bubble Worlds. As defined earlier, sometimes a character's world (read: its dynastic model) is expanded through both time and space in an effort to make its series at once a stand-alone world with its own particular rules within the shared universe, and at the same time add something to the sum of that universe. The dynastic model bubbles outward and/or backward. Let's put the recent Lantern Corps development into the bottle:
While the model shows a colored bubble around the dynastic model, this is just a graphic representation. In actuality, there is no difference between the fluid inside and outside the bubble, it's all the same continuity. However, it does mean that Green Lantern's dynasty has gotten less dependent on other character's dynasties, or possibly, that many more characters can now interact with his dynasty. The membrane is entirely porous. Over in Marvel's continuity bottle, Iron Fist's dynasty has bubbled backward in time as well, creating precursor Iron Fists. I mention this only to show that in a continuity bottle, all continuity is represented, not just the "present", but the past as well.

There's something else in the bottle though: Partitions. This is an attempt to explain the Vertigo problem whereby, mostly because of editorial fiat, some characters are trapped. They may have originated in the DCU proper, but having been used to tell "mature readers" stories (mostly horror and fantasy), they cannot be used in traditional G-to-PG-13 continuity.
Here the membrane is only semi-porous. Very often, characters go in, but don't easily come out. This is accepted as a different area of the same continuity, and characters don't often interact with characters outside their Partition though it happens from time to time, and certainly, some characters make the conscious move to that "other place". Vertigo isn't the only Partition in the DCU either. The Wildstorm universe might have been a totally different bottle, but with Captain Atom moving there and now Wildstorm taking its place in the multiverse, there's no question that it is behind a Partition. As are all the imaginary stories, possible futures, and Elseworlds:
With Partitions, you can see the fluid really is different, because there is a different continuity at work, and yet it's a continuity that exists side by side with the present one. Characters could conceivably move through the Partition and find themselves in the other, simultaneous continuity because it's all part of the same shared MULTIverse. Even Vertigo has its own rules that make normal continuity loopy. Can the world of superheroes be reconciled with the more mystical yet down to earth nature of many Vertigo titles?

Which brings us to Retroactive Continuity. My contention has been that a shared universe is continuously being retconned. World history and fashion change too fast for the character's age, personalities and looks are being amended with every creator change, and so on. So think of continuity fluid as if it were fermenting, always changing (usually subtly) to keep pace with the time scale, creative license and editorial direction. You need a less subtle Crisis? You'll need to shake the bottle.
Here's our bottle after one or more shake-ups. Past continuity isn't gone, so long as we remember it. Before the bottle was shaken, past continuity was partitioned off behind thick Continuity Walls. The new continuity is based on the old, but that's oversimplifying the interaction between continuities, isn't it? Upon shake-up, many elements are destroyed, others rearranged, partitions are busted up (such as other companies' properties poured into the bottle), leaving intact the bare bones of any given character's dynastic model. The stronger the bonds, the more likely these elements are to remain attached. That's why we'll never see a Superman without a Lois Lane, yet a villain like the Kryptonite Man might not make it. But isn't it strange that years after the reboot, a dropped element will show up again, say Red Kryptonite. How can that be? Let's look at that Continuity Wall more closely:
What appears here is Continuity Funnels, straws leading from the undercontinuities and sporadically feeding current continuity. When the old element hits the new fluid, it finds a way to adapt and transforms into a revamped version of the old element, sometimes as a wink and a homage, sometimes as a full blown element. During a shake-up, any number of old continuity elements might slip out of the funnels and reinfect the new continuity. Obviously, funnels to outside continuity are part of an Elseworld's genesis.

Funnels might also be how characters can travel from one bottle to another:
In these cases, a Partition somewhere inside or at the edge of the funnel is invariably created so that characters crossing over into another shared universe are not allowed to remember it. Whether it's DC. vs. Marvel or Batman/Spawn, none of it happened in any continuity but its own. Leakage between bottles is probably also responsible for homage/parody characters, like the Extremists looking like Marvel villains, or the Squadron Supreme being based on the Justice League.

Well, I hope that explains a few things. If not, I'm taking questions. It's also still an incomplete picture as I plan to add a few things to the model in the weeks to come.

Star Trek 416: Sacrifice of Angels

416. Sacrifice of Angels

FORMULA: The Siege + Call to Arms + Emissary + a can of whupass (open)

WHY WE LIKE IT: The big battle.

WHY WE DON'T: Prophet ex Machina?

REVIEW: Star Trek isn't really about huge ship battles, but they sure are cool from time to time. And this one's great! An incredible number of ships (Charge of the Light Brigade is a wonderful counterpoint), lots of new shots, detailed destruction, but best of all, a sense of strategies at work. Sisko and Dukat are locked in a chess game, trying to outwit one another more than outfight one another. And yet, that isn't the climax of the episode because the outcome will mean nothing if the mine field goes down and the Dominion reinforcements come through the Wormhole.

So really, it's up to Kira's resistance cell to free Rom and have him disarm the station so the bad guys can't take the mine field down. The breakout is one thing, soiling Quark's hands with blood for the first time (?), but the plan doesn't work without Odo's help. And they get it after the Founder miscalculates and threatens Kira's life. (I'm actually a bit surprised that I held Odo's betrayal against him for so long when it only lasted a couple episodes... I guess things are different when you're living it week to week.) In any case, it's a great moment when he shows up with his deputies, as rousing as the Klingons' belated arrival at the battle.

But while the station IS rendered defenseless, it happens a split second too late to protect the mine field. Sisko has no choice but to meet the Dominion fleet in the Wormhole where the actual climax becomes an appeal to the Prophets for them to protect Bajor. It may not be as exciting as a few hundred more explosions, but it's not like the episode hasn't served enough already, and in Trek, convincing someone of something can be just as heroic. After being called on their non-interference crap, the Prophets whisk away the fleet... in time? Has it been erased from history? Who knows. Say what you will, but it's basically God drowning Moses' pursuers in the Red Sea. An epic, spiritual climax.

And of course, there'll be a price. Sisko will never be allowed to "rest" on Bajor. Doesn't seem like much now, but we'll see. There's a cost for other characters as well. Ziyal is killed by Damar when she rejects her father one last time, and in retrospect, she's been set up for it all along, the poor innocent who never deserved it. I won't miss her, though I didn't mind her. Of course, this will inform any relationship Damar has with Kira, Garak and Dukat in the future, so it's at least interesting. Dukat doesn't just lose his daughter and his station, he loses his mind, but one could easily say he'd been on the edge for a while. His megalomania is made obvious early in the episode when he and Weyoun are discussing conqueror philosophies, and he simply cannot understand his defeat (incomprehensible to outsiders to be sure). His pathologically grandiose self-image breaks, taking his spirit with it. Price or not, the joyous reunion on the station is more sweet than bitter, fast paced but satisfying. We're back, baby!

LESSON: Praying WORKS.

REWATCHABILITY - High: A pretty exciting and satisfying end to the Taking of Terok Nor arc, with moments for everyone, impeccable effects and lasting repercussions.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

This Week in Geek (21-27/01/08)

Buys

Two buys this week. The first is the second and final (boo!) trade paperback of Nextwave Agents of HATE, which I'll get to in a moment. The other is Torchwood Series 1, coming at just the right time. I haven't seen most of the episodes since they first aired last year, and since Series 2's just starting... Well, let's just say I'm on Disc 3 already.

"Accomplishments"

Made some 15 cards for the Doctor Who CCG, finishing up my stripping of Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, though including a few other Cyberman-related stuff. Check it out if you like that sort of stuff.

And I read Nextwave's second trade almost as soon as I got it. Took me an issue to get back into the irreverence I liked so well when I read the first trade last year, and now I'm just sorry the series had to end there. Warren Ellis has a lot of fun in the 6 collected issues: Mindless Ones on skateboards, the return of Forbush Man and the parody version of the Avengers from Not Brand Echh, flipping the bird at the Civil War event, Captain America's stolen urine sample, and fight scenes involving everything from sentient broccoli and Elvis impersonator MODOKs to monkey Wolverines and snakes quite literally planes.

Someone Else's Post of the Week
A new blog that might just become one of my favorites is Craig Fischer and Charles Hatfield's Thought Balloonists. Looking at comics critically, as an art form (as opposed to "I liked/I didn't like" reviews), is something I find very interesting, and if they're going to dip into both the superhero spectrum AND indy comics, I'm going to keep clicking their link. My Post of the Week fits in the latter category as Charles examines a page from Chester Brown's Yummy Fur, a series I also liked quite a bit. It's called "Hide with me."

5 Things to Like About Wonder Woman #16

I am actually enjoying a Wonder Woman comic. Every month. How is that possible? I've always liked the character, just not the stories. Well, that's all changed now. Here's stuff I particularly liked about this week's issue:

1. Super-intelligent ape commandos fighting high-tech NazisWhile that speaks for itself, it's only REALLY great because the apes started out as Diana's enemies who know owe her fealty. Wonder Woman is REGAL.

2. Diana's prayer
It's wonderful that Diana can be both spiritual and compassionate without losing any of her power as a warrior. Gail Simone has found the Amazon's voice in fewer than 3 issues.

3. Amazon baby killers
The whole backstory of Diana's birth is fascinating, with a segment of the Amazonian population seeing childbirth as an aberration of Man's World. Naturally!

4. The Golden Age reference
If having Diana fighting Nazis isn't already a throwback to her origins as a WWII hero, this bondage joke seals the deal. Delightful!

5. The Golden Eagle
My favorite bit from WW16 has to be the origin of the W-bird on her costume. Only Gail Simone can fill a cleavage shot with meaning. I am in awe.

More positivism every week here on the SBG... though expect a fair chunk of "5 Things to Like" to be about Wonder Woman, Booster Gold and Iron Fist!

Star Trek 415: Favor the Bold

415. Favor the Bold

FORMULA: The result of the last 5 episodes + Heart of Stone + Homefront + a can of whupass (unopened)

WHY WE LIKE IT: Kira vs. Damar.

WHY WE DON'T: Creepy alien sex. Leeta.

REVIEW: As things come to a head, Sisko uses his new position to advance his own agenda, if only he can convince the Federation and the Klingons to retake DS9. But these folks could learn something from playing kotra with Garak. They are so afraid of losing their governmental seats that they won't easily put in the resources. Help comes from an unusual direction - Morn with a secret message. It's nice to see him used as someone Sisko knows and trusts. He's not just a background feature. So the attack will proceed as Sisko plans, and it's not just about getting the station back for him, he's also fighting for his future on Bajor, on which he plans to build a house. He is "of Bajor", which adds just the right extra bit of power behind the heroes' objective. Oh yeah, and Nog gets a field commission, which means he's either been very good or the war's gone very badly.

Once again, it's the happenings on the station that warrant more attention. Rom is to be executed (cue Leeta's overblown whimpering, but also Quark's greed-fueled loyalty) and Kira's relationship with Odo has deteriorated on account of it. That would be bad enough without him having creepy "humanoid" sex with the Founder Leader. It's on a level that remains unmatched until Dukat beds Kai Winn. The Founder, still acting like an opium fiend/pusher, goes too far eventually, and though Odo breaks finally the spell, Kira's not too willing to forgive him.

The other villains remain eminently watchable, even Weyoun's little scenes about his lack of aesthetics. Dukat's hubris is sure to be his downfall as his priorities get more and more ludicrous. Sending Damar to make things right with Ziyal just so he can have his daughter at his side in his moment of victory is the main example. Kira and Damar have been heading for a collision for a few episodes now, and she memorably sends him to the infirmary when he accosts Ziyal.

With the mine field coming down, Rom about to be killed, and Damar about to revenge himself on Kira and her resistance cell, a massive Federation fleet has gathered just in time for the "To be continued" card. Finally, what we've been waiting for!

LESSON: Family and business don't mix.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Mostly one big set-up for the arc finale, but it still has some great confrontations and the acting is unimpeachable (except for Chase Masterson's).

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Star Trek 414: Behind the Lines

414. Behind the Lines

FORMULA: Descent + Trainspotting + The Siege

WHY WE LIKE IT: Screwing with Damar.

WHY WE DON'T: Odo's seduction. Sisko as pencil pusher.

REVIEW: Flipping the structure of the last few episodes, Behind the Lines uses the station for its A-plot and the rest of the crew for the B-plot, and all I can say is, it's about time! Not to say the Defiant crew's adventures aren't interesting, but the future of DS9 is what really drives the arc. The episode makes clear that the Defiant has gone on many missions throughout the war and the crew had adopted some wartime traditions. Both this and Nog's easy fit into the role of "procurement officer" are well played. Sitting Sisko down at a desk is less exciting, but I suppose it does set up his role as the station's liberator over the course of the next couple episodes.

Over on Terok Nor, Rom's back and in the resistance cell, and Kira's getting into Damar's head and causing trouble over Odo's objections. Quark's contribution is getting Damar drunk and talkative (setting up his love of the drink). The entire episode has the feel of a Mission Impossible episode as the Cardassian-Dominion alliance is undermined by the resistance and Rom attempts to prevent the bad guys from destroying the mine field. But he gets sold up the river by Odo...

Yes, this is the episode that originally made me regret I ever liked Odo. This isn't criticism of the story, just a manifestation of how invested I was in the character when he became an almost irredeemable traitor. See, I hate hate hate the Great Link. I find it extremely creepy that Odo always comes out of it in a heroin-induced haze in which nothing really matters. And like a junky, he's ready to betray his friends and ideals for one more fix.

But with Founder Leader in the picture, we now have quite the cadre of villains to contend with. Weyoun's an excellent character, but the Founder adds an uncaring god for him to toady up to as well as making Odo's situation more problematic. Odo's reaction to the link also teaches us something about the Founders as a whole. If its euphoric effects make you feel "above it all", it's easy to think of yourself as a god with elevated concerns. I suppose that's a major factor in their psychology. And while Odo's betrayal is less disturbing when tempered with knowledge of what will happen in the future, it's still a shocking development to fans of the character today.

LESSON: Loose lips sink ships. And stations.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Now that they've told "Tales of the War", we're ready for things to move towards a wrap-up of the Terok Nor question. Behind the Lines gets things moving in a big way.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Counting Is Fun!

1...2...
3...
KNOCKOUT!


Helicopter survival lessons by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. All battles sponsored by Bahlactus. All hail.

Pass the Retcon, I'm Feeling Mmemonic

In the category Warped Minds Think Alike, Thought Balloonists discussed Immortal Iron Fist's story structure (Part I, Part II). Where I coined the term "Bubble World", Craig and Charles use "Pile-Up", an additive use of continuity both OUTWARD and BACKWARD in this case. Charles is even reminded of Starman, which has been in the pipeline since my first article (look for it soon on an Internet near you!). Thanks for Chris Roberson for getting us together.

Now one of the Thought Balloonists' contentions is that Immortal Iron Fist is essentially a retcon. That if we look at Iron Fist's entire publishing history, we won't find the other cities competing in the Heavenly Convergence Tournament. We won't find a "Golden Age" Iron Fist, or Iron Fists going back to ancient times. Indeed we won't.

I'll say this: All shared universe comics are being continually retconned, all the time.

I'm not just talking about the big retcon events (DC's Crises and Marvel's One More Days), or about shifting paradigms on second-string characters whom we "didn't know much about so it's ok to do a big reveal that Changes Everything(TM)" (like Iron Fist). I'm also talking about the minute and not-so-minute differences in any character's history caused by long-term publishing at the hands of various creators.

Long-term publishing of any character means his or her origin must be continually retconned lest he or she dies of old age. The sliding scale of time most characters have to put up with means they'll celebrate Christmas 10 or more time a year, will see the President of the U.S. change 5 times while they finish college, started out fighting the communists, and can be heard calling their friends "daddy-o" when they were reasonably born no earlier than 1978. Comics taking place in the "present" continually retcon the character's history to reflect a present-centric view. That anyone can stuff decades of history into a character's 10-year (at most) career is a whole other issue.

Long-term publishing also means different creators will have left their fingerprints on characters and concepts, tweaking or changing their natures and personalities, slightly to outrageously. Can all these discrepancies be reconciled? One extreme case study is Batman who has probably been handled by more creators than anyone. Even if we leave out the "Elseworld" stuff, can we reconcile the human, beatable Batman and the unstoppable genius of the JLA? Sometimes he's an angry force of nature, sometimes he's got a sense of humor, sometimes he's fun-loving, sometimes he's planning his friends' overthrow, sometimes he's a loner, sometimes he wants to start the Outsiders, etc. His speech patterns change. Every time someone writes Batman, he's slightly different, necessarily so. A continuous and coherent personality cannot be maintained across multiple writers.

And what about artists? They bring something to a character's look, motion and world. There have been as many Gotham Cities as there have been artists to render them. A very small change in costume from one artist to the next (say, the design of a belt buckle) isn't a major retcon, but it is a retcon.

Fandom is clearly obsessed with continuity or massive event retcons wouldn't be mandated by Editorial. As pop culture historians and collectors of stories, we have an inherent need to know where things fit and what is canon. While it is patently ridiculous, it is (an essential?) part of the hobby. But there is it: None of it actually makes sense as a continuous "pile-up" or "bubble" because of the inherent nature of the medium.

I should take another look at Grant Morrison's Hypertime theory, since it claims to fit even this minor, subconscious retconning into a logical schematic, but isn't it just the retcon to address all retcons?

Star Trek 413: Sons and Daughters

413. Sons and Daughters

FORMULA: Soldiers of the Empire + New Ground + The Wrath of Khan(-1)

WHY WE LIKE IT: The fatherly Martok. Tension rising between Dukat and Kira.

WHY WE DON'T: Alexander is still a pain.

REVIEW: The Dominion War through Klingon eyes gives Worf is only sizeable role in the 6-part opening arc, but aside from Martok, he's not well attended. The Rotarran crew I liked so well in Soldiers of the Empire is nowhere to be seen, and instead we get a band of chuckling bullies pushing Alexander around in the cafeteria. Yes, that's right. Alexander's back. There's probably not a Klingon I care less about than him.

He's what now, all of 12? But playing fast and loose with (take your pick) the timeline or Klingon biology, he's a young man who's just enlisted. He's still petulant and disrespectful to his father, and insultingly polite to other Klingons. You just know he's going to save the ship at the end despite all his screw-ups, and Worf's shame isn't unreasonable under the circumstances. Martok is steady and wise throughout, the only one seeing the forest for the trees, and his scenes are rather good. But a lot of the Klingon story is high school drama. My daddy never loved me. The bigger boys beat me up at school. Boo-hoo.

Meanwhile, on the station, the title "daughter", Ziyal returns from Bajor. See, I'm not a big fan of her either. Her naiveté is so outrageous that you can tell she's being set up for a fall. Dukat naturally uses her to get closer to Kira, but with a new resistance now in the offing, there's not much chance of that happening. His little games are nonetheless entertaining - and her artwork a good catalyst - as Damar looks on and grumbles.

LESSON: You can't play video games and work at the same time.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: The only part of the Retaking of Deep Space 9 arc that doesn't reach High in my opinion because we're suddenly back to TNG's family dramatics.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Swamp Thing's Burst Bubble

Relevent conversations: Bubble World Theory & Myth-Building, The Amazon Bubble.

By virtue of its horror genre or its Vertigo or proto-Vertigo status, Swamp Thing was probably one of the DC Universe's first Bubble Worlds. Yes, he still interacted with the rest of the DCU, but existed in his own realm, with its own rules, and indeed, added to the sum of the DCU by creating a new and interesting corner of that universe. Swamp Thing's Bubble has always been leaky: The DC Universe isn't so much a soft drink full of tiny rising bubbles as it is a lava lamp with bubbles flowing into each other.

On the one hand, Swamp Thing started the ball rolling for Vertigo's cloistering. Alan Moore introduced John Constantine in those pages, and John has welcomed a number of titles (Sandman, Books of Magic) into the Vertigoized DCU, thematically leading to more. But Swamp Thing's leaked into the so-called normal DCU as well. When Moore changed Swamp Thing's paradigm to make him an earth elemental, a guardian answerable to the Parliament of Trees, he created the need for other elemental guardians. Soon, Firestorm was named fire elemental, Red Tornado air elemental, and a creature called Naiad became water elemental. Aquaman would eventually take over that mantle, and there was even talk of Captain Atom as a quantum elemental. Swamp Thing's "rules" had become DC's "rules".

But there's another important concept that was part of Swamp Thing's bubble, and that's the Green. The Green can be described as a dimension that connects all plant life - part teleporting matter stream, part collective consciousness (manifested as the Parliament), part dreamtime. It might have stopped there, but it got a mythological boost when the Green went to war against the Gray, which represents all fungal life, and in a sense the decay of plant life. All of a sudden, the DCU is overlaid with more than one nature-based continuum. Jamie Delano's take on Animal Man, for example, made him draw his powers directly from the Red, representing all animal life.

In the final months of the series, pre-WTF Mark Millar, possibly working from Grant Morrison's notes, took all this to its logical extreme by having Swamp Thing meet and become the champion of other Parliaments: Stones, Waves, Vapours and Flames. The Parliament of Stones, for example, exists in the Melt, and so on.
When he is of all elements, he essentially becomes Gaia herself.
But wait, it doesn't stop there.
The Parliament of Worlds. Or enlightened Worlds, actually, which seems to mean planets where life has evolved. Perhaps our own consciousness is a product of our world's own evolving consciousness. Represented in the Parliament is Earth, Mars and Oa (the others are not named). And unfortunately, that's the last issue of the series, offering a development that creates a fine permanent ending for the character, but sadly abandonned when he invariably made a return. The bubble has burst.

But why? Swamp Thing became too powerful? I could easily imagine a Swamp Thing book built like Vertigo's other star, Sandman, with the various natural continua as the Dreaming. Alec still tries to live a "normal life" with Abby, but is embroiled in fantastic stories as Earth/Gaia is undermined by evil forces. There's political maneuvering among the various Parliaments (think of Swamp Thing as President, the Parliaments as States and the Worlds as the UN). It opens up a ton of stories on the macro scale too as, say, the Worlds get together once a century to honor their fallen comrade Krypton.

In the end, perhaps Swamp Thing's Bubble World became to ambitious to be allowed to leak out into the DCU.

Star Trek 412: Rocks and Shoals

412. Rocks and Shoals

FORMULA: The Ship + To the Death + Hippocratic Oath

WHY WE LIKE IT: Kira's new routine. Remata'Klan.

WHY WE DON'T: Garak says "there's hope for you yet" once too many times.

REVIEW: After narrowly escaping a shipwreck in Children of Time, the crew finally goes down on a quarry planet (which nonetheless has a lot of scope thanks to real and digital bodies of water), but the Defiant is thankfully not sacrificed. Dax is injured and O'Brien's ripped his pants (a great moment). That would be bad enough, but there are Jem'Hadar there too. It's a classic Pacific Theater confrontation while both sides await rescue.

The Jem'Hadar are the honorable kind and Third Remata'Klan is a sympathetic and wise character. But doomed. All his scenes with his men and with Sisko are excellent and create the emotional context for our heroes regrettably butchering the Jem'Hadar at the end. Keevan is a true Vorta, devious to the last, but by default not as interesting. Note that Nog probably sheds his "first blood" in this episode, and that he and Garak get a good moment that says the events of Empok Nor have not been forgotten (which so often happens in episodic television like this).

The main plot is a strong war story, but the station sequences are equally powerful. More so even. Kira's mirror is used to reflect her sins back at her, and though she tries to smile, she's obviously dying inside. They're sins of indolence. In trying to save lives, she's become a collaborator, but she can't quite see it. It takes a vedek hanging herself on the Promenade for the lights to turn back on in her soul in a shocking sequence that reminds one of Vietnam's burning monks. Chillingly directed.

LESSON: It's a small galaxy, full of small planets.

REWATCHABILITY - High: At its core a horror story, both threads force or cajole our heroes into betraying their ethics. And it looks good too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Star Trek 411: A Time to Stand

411. A Time to Stand

FORMULA: The Search Part I + a whole new ballgame

WHY WE LIKE IT: Weyoun vs. Dukat.

WHY WE DON'T: The new computerized Bashir. WHY I DON'T: Admiral Ross.

REVIEW: After letting us believe that the season would open with a huge battle featuring the mega-fleet from Call to Arms, A Time to Stand turns everything on its ear by skipping three months ahead, and that fleet's on the run and beaten. Basically, while we were sipping pina coladas in the sun, the DSNiners were fighting a brutal war and getting their asses kicked. When 14 out of 112 ships survive any given encounter, you can forgive the characters their pessimism. Since we don't retake the station here, the show sets up a new (albeit temporary) paradigm. Sisko and crew are even reassigned from the Defiant for a special ops mission behind enemy lines, aboard the quite spartan Jem'Hadar ship they captured in The Ship. That part of the episode is well executed with some humor, a suspenseful climax and a tense cliffhanger.

Part of the paradigm shift is Bashir acting like a human computer all of a sudden. This is less pleasant. Fine, he's genetically engineered and you can show him smarter and more agile, but calculating everything to the fraction of a second, all the time, is just turning him into Spock or Data. The new paradigm also brings a new supporting character, an admiral for Sisko to get his war time orders from, Admiral Ross. I won't lie to you, I hate this character. Even in this small first appearance, Barry Jenner gives an awkward, almost embarrassed performance that will remain Ross' character for the length of the series. Just another lame duck admiral that must never ever be stronger or cooler than the starring captain, and so never becomes strong or cool at all.

While you get plenty of action with Sisko and crew, the most interesting part of the episode is what's going on on the station. The uneasy peace between Cardassian, Dominion and Bajoran representatives is fascinating: A hagard-looking Kira rebuffing Dukat's creepy sexual advances (which are played for the first time as if, yeah, he really did know her mother), Damar acting like this was Occupation Part II, Weyoun dismissing Damar as the inconsequential brute he is, Weyoun instantaneously folding to Odo's requests (he is divine, after all), and Jake getting nowhere with his journalism (and yet, you totally see Weyoun's point that this isn't technically an occupation). Kira's only anchor at this point is Odo... so good luck with that.

LESSON: The same good ingredients can be used in more than one recipe.

REWATCHABILITY - High: The episode leaves us with many questions and pretty much ensures that you'll immediately set your DVD to play the next one.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Posters Post

Can't seem to finish any article I start today, so here's a cheap post about posters I've made that have a (sometimes slim) connection to geekery. I exhibited a few improv posters last year, so this is very much a sequel. Beware: They're pretty much in French.

I'd been wanting to engrave a message on the One Ring since last year, and this year got to do it:
A more recent poster paid hommage to that geeky mainstay, the Christmas-cookie-chucking ninja:
Is the space program geeky? I say YES.
Geeky in the sense that it looks like a multi-genre universal role-playing product, though it really started out as a study of fonts:
And here's one where I repurposed Brian Bolland's monkey from the top of my blog for a poster ("Improv... it isn't scripted!").
And finally, not an improv poster, but something I had to do for a Hawaiian party. The doll's name is apparently "Honey", and everyone at the office has taken to saying that I have one at home.
Yeah, like my lazy bones would ever go to the trouble of staging that whole mise-en-scène with ANY of my dolls. Uhm... but I've said too much.