Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap Year!

Leap year. Leap day. I'm sure Friday Night Fights will be populated by Asgardian Frogs tonight!Only Bahlactus knows for sure.

It's Gonna Work Out Just Fine

SUPERMAN: THE WEDDING ALBUM #1, DC Comics, December 1996
Kept the biggest for last. Part 5 of the wedding series looks at Superman and Lois Lane's wedding. It's a big shebang written and drawn by everybody who's worked on the Superman books since 1986 and even before. It's like they couldn't decide who should do it, so they drew lots. I'm guessing Jon Bogdanove was sad to get handed Lois' shower and the tux fitting, but maybe I'm just projecting my own feelings onto others again. It IS nice to see John Byrne do a few pages of Superman again, after being responsible for rebooting the Man of Steel in the mid-80s.

If you're a fan of the Superman movies, then you remember him getting married to Lois in Superman II. Or if you're Lois, you don't remember, cuz a Kryptonian kiss tends to wipe your memory clean. (Stupid, stupid movies.) But history repeats itself, because while in the movies, Superman lost his powers when he married Lois (STUPID!), here, he's weakened because of the Final Night crossover in which the sun was blocked out for days and he couldn't recharge his powers. So since he's got nothing to do for a while, he asks Lois to marry him.

This 64-page monster special has everything: buying the ring, bachelor and bachelorette parties, fittings (no less than 5 dresses by 5 different artists for Lois - her mom hates all the sexy ones), getting the license, talking to the in-laws... there's nothing too boring about weddings that this book won't show! Now I know the size of Pa Kent's waist (42 inches)!

But there's action too! There's a flashback where Superman fights a fire (padding of the worst sort), a motorcycle gang crashes the bachelor party, Mr. Mxyzptlk pays a visit to Clark Kent, and Ma Kent drops a coffee pot on the floor... can Clark get to it in time? (Answer: Nope.) Lois Lane actually kicks the most ass here when she beats up four criminals. Her weapons? Wedding dress, wedding cake and a killer bottle of champagne. I'm not making this stuff up:
Superman has to fight the same guys later and has to get his ass bailed out of trouble by Batman (who generously gives him a big apartment as a wedding gift... Batman's a softie, isn't he?).

I know I'm making it sound bad, but it's really not. It's got a light touch, and some of the humor - mostly surrounding Lois' sitcom mom - stands up well. For geeky fanboys like me, there are plenty of references to Superman continuity, names of Superman writers and artists plugged into signs, and catchphrases inserted into dialogue. So I'm not entirely sure where I stand on this. Doesn't really Jump the Shark. Not really Cool. Definitely not Hot or Trippy, but not Crap either. Well, if the Shark means "lame" and "overrated", and I guess it is that.

Star Trek 448: The Emperor's New Cloak

448. The Emperor's New Cloak

FORMULA: The Magnificent Ferengi + Shattered Mirror - any sense at all

WHY WE LIKE IT: Laughing at Mirror Garak.

WHY WE DON'T: Written by monkeys sitting at typewriters.

REVIEW: The last time we visited the Mirror Universe (Shattered Mirror), it was a question of checking your brain at the door and not asking too many questions. This time, even leaving your brain at home won't help you. Though the episode rolls along at a good pace, it's just about one of the stupidest things written for DS9. You're already starting from the basis of a Ferengi comedy episode - which have a tendency to go for broad caricature - so how about allowing the plot to make a modicum of sense?

They don't. First off, the premise doesn't work because cloaking technology has been seen in the Mirror Universe before. Further, this episode apparently forgets that the station isn't on the same spot in the two universes, so there's no reason for Mirror Ezri to risk beaming to the station in the first place. And is it me, or is anyone else getting tired of the brothers Quark apparently being responsible for the Nagus' safety every time he disappears? Does Gowron have a couple of bumbling Klingons around for this sort of thing too? Throw in complete nonsense like a real live Vic Fontaine for an extra question mark over your head.

And the episode knows it's stupid, or at least its script keeps pointing out its own flaws. Rom's comedy frustration is mostly good at telling us the Mirror Universe doesn't make sense (though his own ideas are even more absurd). And though I enjoy the scene where the Ferengi laugh at Mirror Garak's interrogation skills (because I've been saying the same thing since he first appeared), they're still underscoring one of the episode's weaknesses. This Garak remains a one-note character, and one that gets pwned by Rom here.

But at this point, aren't they all? The Intendant is a parody of her old self, practically making asides at the camera. The Regent is still a brute, and no one cares when he finally loses. Because the Terrans do win at the end, right? We're just not made to care. The punky Mirror Ezri is fine, but in the usual Mirror Universe smarminess, she "plays for the other team". I guess after breaking the seal in Rejoined, we might as well go ahead and make every woman on the show gay. It's not titillation, it's ALTERNATE! Nice guy Brunt is there because you need a Ferengi to kill, but it's not an uninteresting take on the character. He probably deserved better than an episode without heart.

LESSON: A Star Trek actor just might need Mime on his résumé.

REWATCHABILITY - Low: You can see the creators thought all of this would be fun and cool, but the plot holes are so big, and the motivational forces so lacking, that you can't possibly find this episode any good. The Mirror Universe ran out of steam years ago, folks.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I Married a Skrull

FANTASTIC FOUR #300, Marvel Comics, March 1987
There were two surprising things about Fantastic Four #300. First, it was a big, round number, but still only 24 pages. Maybe that shows you how much Marvel cared about its flagship title at this time. And second, the wedding was between playboy Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, and blind sculptress Alicia Masters. Alicia, old Marvel fans might remember, was the Thing's girlfriend since back in the 60s (she's blind - he's ugly as sin; she's a sculptor - he's made of rocks... it's a sitcom in the making). So what the hell happened?!?

Now, I usually like Roger Stern's writing, but this subplot about the Torch stealing the Thing's girlfriend was just the dumbest (started by John Byrne, but I would have abandoned it). I give props to Stern for having paparazzi trying to cover the wedding, but otherwise, it's a feeble twist on the "villain(s) crash the ceremony" story.

Well, when Alicia is the daughter of the Puppetmaster, it's not like you can avoid it. But they couldn't leave it at that. Four other villains make an appearance, and half of them feel obliged to recount their first encounters with the FF and swear revenge on the Torch.

So will it all end in tears? I dunno, but by page 15, all eyeballs are a-peein':
You can tell she's got her father's evil gene. I mean, hasn't Ben Grimm been through enough without her torturing him this way? Geez!

You know it's a Fantastic Four wedding because the priest gets all cosmic at some point: "Let us pray, most gracious and all-seeing Lord, at your command all things came to be... the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, the stars, the planets in their courses..." He forgot to mention the Negaverse, but regardless, that's some pretty progressive cosmology for the clergy. One disappointment is that I hardly know anyone at the wedding. Seems like the entire art world is on Alicia's side of the aisle, but not one superhero who wasn't a member of the FF could make it. Look:
Man, I wouldn't want to be sitting behind She-Hulk at a thing like this! Actually, I would. But in any case, no other superheroes were needed because the villains pussy out! Puppetmaster decides that he wants his daughter to be happy (all of a sudden), Doctor Doom sends flowers (FLOWERS OF DOOM!!!-- uhm no, just regular flowers), and as for the Wizard and the Mad Thinker, they were pussies regardless. I mean, any villain that names his mechanical creations "killer roboids" deserves to be called names.

The romantic match itself is a sham, though not quite on the order of the Storm/Black Panther wedding (yeah, the two characters from Africa, of course they knew each other... what a load!), and like the title says, they eventually had to undo it by making this Alicia a Skrull. Didn't wait for Secret Invasion either. They've been among us ALL THIS TIME!!! STEALING OUR HUSBANDS!!!

Still, a comic that features She-Hulk in a slip can't be all bad...
Bah, I've got a couple comics where she's topless. Sharks it is.

Star Trek 447: Prodigal Daughter

447. Prodigal Daughter

FORMULA: Journey to Babel + Honor Among Thieves + Necessary Evil

WHY WE LIKE IT: Well drawn guest characters.

WHY WE DON'T: The coincidental premise.

REVIEW: Just what I was afraid of when Ezri joined the cast... Episodes that flesh out her character at the expense of the rest of the cast and the greater story arc of the show. At least Prodigal Daughter follows up on O'Brien's promise to look after Bilby's wife, but only to tie up that loose end permanently. And it does so by tying her to Ezri's family, which is fortuitous in the extreme. It's even odd that Trills would be on a non-Federation world. Nice matte painting though.

At least Ezri's family is an interesting lot, despite it seeming at times like she's walked into a soap opera. She's never gotten along with her mother, well that's classic Trek, but Mrs. Tigan is well drawn as a smothering and controlling, hard-edged matriarch who loves her children, but doesn't realize she's destroying what she loves. Janel is the older brother trying to hold the business together, all pragmatism and no sense of humor. Norvo is the idiot brother, sensitive and artistic, immediately sympathetic, whose very psyche is being destroyed first by his judgemental mother, and then by a dark secret.

The sad ending isn't really shocking, but you've been pulled so efficiently into this family drama by the actors, that it still may cause your heart to ache. Ezri's final reaction to her mother is still a harsh one, and the Orion Syndicate stuff remains unresolved (they're very much just set dressing in this story, there to tie Mrs. Bilby to the Tigans). The episode makes Ezri as "damaged" as other DS9 characters in the least amount of time, I suppose.

LESSON: There's more than one type of gagh.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: A soapish family drama that nonetheless works well, even if its agenda is loaded with too many elements for its own good (flesh out Ezri + the Bigby thing).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

At the End of a Shotgun

UNCANNY X-MEN #179, Marvel Comics, March 1984
The X-Men AGAIN? Well, it IS the biggest soap opera in comics history, so weddings (Part 3, folks) are bound to happen more regularly here (and only 4 issues since the last one too!). I also wanted to feature at least one failed wedding. And in this case a failed shotgun wedding.

(Ok, ok. I admit that my collection has sizable wedding holes. I don't have the Flash and Iris West. Or Reed and Sue Richards. Or Aquaman and Mera. So I'm padding things out.)

But you also have to realize that I was a teenager when this comic came out, and that Kitty Pryde was too. I think you'll find a generation of boys who had a crush on Kitty from this time. She's got that girl-next-door attraction like Mary Jane Watson or Sarah Jane Smith (chainmail-bikini Leia is a whole other phenomenon). So yes, I was in love with Kitty Pryde. Who wasn't?

So when events conspire to marry her off to ugly Morlock Caliban, it's a real page turner. The Morlocks, in case you don't know, are the most disfigured (and androgynous!) mutants in New York, so they live in sewers of course. It's not an urban legend.

A girl that looks just like Kitty is found dead, but according to Wolverine, she don't smell right. That's cuz the Morlocks have kidnapped Kitty and replaced her, thanks to Masque using her mutant power of instant plastic surgery on some dead junkie, confusing CSIs everywhere. The Morlocks have arranged a wedding between Kitty and Caliban, who here represents every gushing fanboy of the early 80s. He's awkward, geeky, and yes, he's in love with Kitty Pryde. Now, can you imagine the sewer wedding of Kitty's dreams?

First, you need a dress. White, of course, and preferably found in a dumpster. It's important that the garter belt be visible, because Caliban isn't too bright.
Sweatband optional.

Ok, the next step is the make-up. And with Masque in the Morlock crew, you can look your best for your husband-to-be. That is, until you anger the make-up artist. Important tip: Don't anger the make-up artist.
To this day, that is genuinely disturbing to me. That damn image haunted me for years. Still does, like no other face-melting ever has. Ok, let's move on, I can't bear to look at that.

So anyway, the X-Men are in the comic too, right? And of course, they charge to the rescue and they disrupt the ceremony. The twist is that by that time, Kitty has agreed to marry Caliban ("yes! yes! Caliban is me!... no! no!, he's a monster!"). She's pretty pissed at her teammates for ruining her chances of becoming a Morlock princess, accusing them of just looking for excuses to break some heads (this is a comic book, Kitty). Anyway, Caliban releases her from her promise because he's willing to wait for her to reciprocate his love*. Aww. He's so sweet ("yes! yes! Caliban is me!... no! no! I didn't get the girl!").

*It never happened.

Star Trek 446: It's Only a Paper Moon

446. It's Only a Paper Moon

FORMULA: His Way + Hard Time + Melora

WHY WE LIKE IT: Great musical numbers.

WHY WE DON'T: Where has the time gone?

REVIEW: Nog's return to the station isn't so much the story of a maimed war veteran, since the Star Trek universe can fix most of what ails you, but one about a shellshocked soldier. Nog turns his fear into physical symptoms and even after two months (but only two episodes... are they opening things up for tie-in novels, or what?), has yet to really recover from AR-558. Ezri's "wait and see" approach doesn't seem to be helping, and you'd think O'Brien could do something as the voice of experience, but it all comes down to Vic Fontaine in the end. Nog's one escape seems to be his music, and after suffering through the same song once too many times (been there!), Jake sends him to the holosuite.

We already know Vic to be an excellent analyst, and he helped get Odo and Kira together, which is no mean feat. Can he help Nog? Of course he can. In return, he gets a life because he's turned on 26 hours a day, and maybe he forgets what he's there for (until Ezri out-Vics Vic... she CAN be effective, though she never shows her hand). His job is to give Nog back his life, but once he's weened him off the cane, he must ween him off the program. When he pulls the plug on himself, the wake-up call is wrenching. Truthfully, I didn't think Aron Eisenberg had it in him, but he gives a touching and truthful performance.

It's not all tears and hardship, of course. A great many songs are added to Vic's repertoire, and the title tune is a favorite by virtue of its commenting on Vic's holosuite reality (and Star Trek's fictional reality as well). The script is clever with Vic's lingo too. Using "crazy" in the context of this episode has ironic undertones, and there's a pun in Vic describing his life as "hollow" that isn't forced by winking at the camera. The black and white movies Nog watches are full of gunshots, commenting on fictionalized violence as opposed to Nog's own experience.

Lots of gentle humor, with one especially funny moment when everyone takes a shot at Bashir's "adolescent" programs, and one nostalgic bit when Nog is rude to Jake's girlfriend. Vic's explanation for his low-tech "computer" is fun too: "It's 1962, what do you want from me?"

LESSON: It wouldn't be make believe if you believed in me.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Great music, a satisfying mix of humor and drama, and no easy outs for Nog. One of the better "war is hell" episodes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Rebound Wedding

UNCANNY X-MEN #175, Marvel Comics, November 1983
As you might remember, my first issue of Uncanny X-Men was #153. When I came back to Canada, I jumped on the mutant bandwagon, though by that time, Uncanny was up to #175. Yes, it's a wedding issue (part 2 of my series on the subject), but it's apparently not important enough to be featured on the cover! The cover might also have said "Chris Claremont destroys the Marvel Universe... twice!", but that doesn't feature either.

Why? Well first of all, Dark Phoenix seems to return from the dead here and destroy the city of New York, where practically every superhero in the Marvel universe lives. (It's clear that were I a supervillain in the MU, I'd go commit crimes somewhere else.) But that's just an illusion created by Mastermind. What's less of an illusion is the inclusion of Cyclops' new bride, Madelyne Prior, a dead ringer for Jean Grey. I guess Scott has a thing for redheads.... redheads that LOOK EXACTLY ALIKE (way to get over your loss Cyclops)! This sows the seeds for some of the most complicated continuity ever explored in comics. I won't go into it here into any great detail - mainly because I don't remember or understand it all myself.

In short, Madelyne will turn out to be some kind of magic clone sent to destroy his life, but not before she has a kid that will turn into two possible superheroes who both come back in time to run with today's mutants, but not a daughter who will do the same as a second Phoenix. No, that one was the child of a non-dead Jean Grey. In any case, Jean Grey isn't really dead, she's been replaced by the Phoenix Force, and Cyclops will eventually marry her once she's found at the bottom of a river. If I got any of it wrong, I'm sorry if I can't muster much regret. So you see, Claremont destroyed the MU much more subtly this way.

But this is way before the X-world got seriously fooked, and #175 stands out as a great issue. Since I was coming directly from #153, I'd missed a year, but it wasn't too hard to catch up. Rogue had joined (interesting), Storm had turned into a mohawk-sporting punk (admittedly, all the X-Men are fashion disasters at this point), and Kitty had gotten a pet dragon (but I'd seen his precursor in "Kitty's Fairy Tale"). The art by Paul Smith was great, with Phoenix looking particularly hot, though he hands the last few pages to John Romita Jr. who would go on to draw the book for a good while. To me, the Claremont/Romita Jr. team remains the best to work on the series.

If you're not a Cyclops fan - and who could blame you? - this issue might change your mind about him. His experience plays out like Batman's in JLA as he kicks the ass of every single X-Man in the team (they think he's Phoenix). He uses his brains most of the time, but that optic blast looks like it hurts!
Ouch! Oh and the wedding? Well, first Scott has to say goodbye to Jean in a cemetery. He's all about closure, this guy. Then he goes on to wed a carbon copy of his dead girlfriend. She's mistakenly colored blond as she goes down the aisle (noooooooo, Scott will stop loving you if you bleach your hair!!!!), but back to normal by the time Scott has to kiss the bride (pheew!).

Star Trek 445: Covenant

445. Covenant

FORMULA: Accession + Paradise + Wrongs Darker + The Reckoning + a jug of Kool-Aid

WHY WE LIKE IT: Kira and Dukat, together again.

WHY WE DON'T: Bajoran crowd scenes.

REVIEW: Dukat completes his transformation into the anti-Emissary by becoming the leader of the pah-wraith cult and setting up shop on the bizarro DS9, Empok Nor. He's the same old Dukat in the sense that he still desperately needs to love of the Bajoran people and Kira's respect in particular. That he must be loved on a massive scale by those that rightly loathe him has always been part of his psychosis, but now he's also "speaking" with the evil Prophets and using them to justify his actions. While it's true to say he's been their vessel and has been used by them (as he also uses them), it's pretty ambiguous whether or not they are actively communicating here, or if it's all in his head. Probably the latter.

The set-up, with Kira magically being whisked away and being allowed to roam freely and cause trouble pushes the bounds of believability, even though it fits into Dukat's psychotic worldview, but it's hard to give credibility to any "test of faith" she must endure given the cult's spokesperson. Despite the claims of the cultists, how can their faith be a valid one with a thoroughly evil and insane character at its head. Still, Kira is always great when sniping at Dukat, though it weakens their rematch that he isn't mentally up for it.

Though she does foment dissent, Dukat doesn't even need her to destroy his little piece of paradise. He was up to his old tricks before she got there, and the problem with the half-Cardassian baby would have cropped up regardless and its mother murdered. Sooner or later, the cultists would have asked questions. Or maybe they wouldn't. The cultists are just like all the Bajoran crowds ever presented: A bunch of moronic sheep who can be swayed by any competent speaker and usually resort to just standing there shouting unintelligible insults. Though I'm sure the idea of Prophets that intercede directly into daily life, and that of becoming angelic warriors in a heavenly war, is seductive, they still think their living space doesn't look Satanic as they let a deposed despot and mass murderer run their lives and say the pah-wraiths are all about love.

LESSON: The pah-wraiths ate my homework. No lessons for today.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Kira's as good as ever, and this is a necessary chapter in the life of Dukat, but the Bajoran simpletons inhabiting the story very nearly ruin it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Wedding That Is No More

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #21, Marvel Comics, 1987
So Joe Quesada is convinced we don't want to read about a married Spider-Man, so he undoes the whole thing. Ok, sure. A publicity stunt to undo another publicity stunt. But what was that highly publicized wedding LIKE?

Starting a 5-part series on superhero weddings, not because I'm in any kind of romantic mood, but because superhero weddings are inherently funny. They're all about waiting to see which villain will crash the party, and then saying how it's a breath of fresh air when none does. 1987's big wedding was indeed Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson. A pretty big deal that got media attention, I remember, with actors staging a version of the wedding at Shea Stadium in New York, home of the Mets. But as a comic? It's a bit tepid.

I know you want to get to the ceremony as soon as possible, so I won't bore you with the details of the story. Basically, there's a little fight with Electro in the first couple pages, then a lot of angst as Peter Parker and Mary Jane both have second thoughts. Peter can't let go of poor, dead Gwen Stacy (it's a comic and you never know when a corpse will show up safe and sound - he doesn't want to miss that booty call), and Mary Jane is being actively seduced by Batman.

Don't believe me? There's this millionaire guy Bruce who keeps hounding her, his face always in shadow. He drives a sports car. Not damning evidence, but look at this. He sends his ol' pal Superman to give her a mixed tape. Well, looks like Clark Kent, at any rate.
Anyway, they're so unsure about the marriage thing that they hold off on telling their aunts until what looks like the day before. Don't these things take about a year of planning? Well, planning's not big with these folks. How else can you explain that there are exactly two people at Peter's bachelor party? Harry Osborne and Flash Thompson. Guys who have both tried to beat him up. Gotta get yourself some better friends, Pete!

Ok, so the wedding itself. Here it is:
I'm a bit surprised that Spider-Man's wearing the red-and-blues, since at this point, he's using the black and white costume. Isn't that the more formal, tux-like costume? I also like how there's a heroes' section and a villains' section. You want to keep those guys apart until the reception. But gee, didn't any of them get to bring their Plus Ones? Ok ok, that's not really the wedding. It's Peter's nightmare about the wedding. Still, pretty funky. I bet he thought about getting Doc Ock to play the organ for real, or at least DJ at the reception. Best dressed? The Thing, of course.

The real wedding (now also a dream) is on the city hall steps and both the bride and groom get there late (it's all about not planning it, remember?). There's no way I can comment on Mary Jane's dress, and I don't think it mattered to any comics geek. All we care about now is that Peter's marrying the "classic" MJ, not the "big hair fashion disaster" MJ. So here's the real wedding picture:
Kinda unintentionally spooky, isn't it? Why are they all crowding the happy couple like that? I mean, it's an outdoor affair, for chrissake. Give 'em some room. And before you ask, no, I don't really know who those people are on the bottom left. Friends of the family circa 1987, apparently. Oh, and we can take a breath of fresh air, there's no villainous wedding crasher. They must all have fallen asleep around page 6.

Star Trek 444: The Siege of AR-558

444. The Siege of AR-558

FORMULA: Nor the Battle to the Strong + Valiant + The Ship

WHY WE LIKE IT: The music. The direction. The strategies.

WHY WE DON'T: Vargas.

REVIEW: The cast goes to the front to experience some wartime horror first hand in an episode that seems to take its cues from the Vietnam conflict. The people at AR-558 have been holding out too long, have lost two thirds of their numbers and suffer from precarious mental health. Sisko decides to stay and help, driven by circumstances, but also by the anguish he already feels vis-à-vis the war. In an odd turn, Quark is there to act as the outsider, commenting on the situation. The point he makes about humanity being civilized so long as our bellies are full is a valid one that justifies his presence. It's also nice to see him care for someone other than himself (i.e. Nog), and he'll get his hands bloody as well.

The Siege itself features some pretty smart strategies on both sides which certainly keep the conflict interesting. Though the basic set-up would now inevitably be compared to that of the Spartan 300 ("THIS. IS. AR-558!"), there's the idea of projecting holograms to make the enemy reveal their position, nasty subspace mines ("Houdinis"), and then of using the Houdinis against their makers. Music is used effectively, first with a practically ironic Vic Fontaine song while the soldiers wait, and then the use of a moving new theme - used throughout - to underscore the action. This isn't exciting so much as it's tragic and melancholy. Sisko's POV as he passes out is as tense a moment as any. Great direction all around.

And since this is about the horrors of war, we perhaps shouldn't be surprised most of the guest characters don't make it. As the sympathetic main guest star, you'd think Bill Mumy's Kellin would survive, but shockingly, no. Most poignantly of all is Nog's loss of a leg, showing that even "our" characters aren't safe. Though Quark is an annoyance to Sisko most of the time, here it's harder for the captain to shoo him away when he becomes the righteous parent. It also relates to the final moments when the troop replacements arrive and are just "children". "Not for long," Sisko answers. War as a maker and destroyer of men.

Where the episode falls down is with its use of stock characters. We've seen these types in war movies before and in Vargus' case, it's way overplayed. Even Kellin, sympathetic as he may be, is just that "sympathetic engineer" who befriends the crew and does well, but that we're sad to see die. Reese is probably the better character - not by virtue of his special knife and ketracel tube necklace, which hardly packs the punch of Cardassian neck bones - but because he seems very much part of this gritty, desperate world, and yet, writes it off as soon as he leaves. When he abandons his knife, he abandons this part of his life. You get a sense that he'll never speak of it again. Reese tells us more by saying less.

LESSON: Vic Fontaine can't spot a comedy act when he sees one. (Check out Rom's audition.)

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: In an episode where we're reminded that the dead aren't just names and numbers, but real people, I'd have liked to see them better fleshed out generally. However, AR-558 is still powerfully scored and directed, with real consequences for one of the cast.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

This Week in Geek (18-24/02/08)


Been a hell of a week at work. Worst one yet this year. I thought a few times of making myself feel pretty by buying something geeky, but no energy for it. Consuming is hard work!

Did finally get a DVD of all our video efforts made for improv shows this year. The opening theme has me reading Showcase Presents: Aquaman vol.1, so I should mention it here.


Though we had an improv show in the middle of the week, I wouldn't really say we did anything "geeky" in it. It was perhaps the lightest show this troupe ever presented, but also one of the more entertaining. Gauge your audience, I always say. This was a younger crowd than most, out for some laughs. Even the "nerd" improv we always allow for, one based on Chaucer's work, was pretty comedic.

The one real accomplishment this week is that I flipped the tape on Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. A flawed masterpiece, it may just turn out to be my favorite of the "last westerns" (by which I mean that subgenre of westerns that details, either through plot or style, the end of that era). The story could be described as "a man who doesn't want to run is chased by a man who doesn't want to catch him", and is a gorgeously apocalyptic vision of the West. Here is a Old West that has grown into a static and aimless wasteland where one simply waits to die. In a way, it's a tragic parody of the classic western. I can't get Bob Dylan's score out of my head, and Slim Pickens' death immediately went to my list of favorite death scenes. In the end, it's really about Garrett killing the best part of himself, and if it makes the movie sound poetic, it is. Two versions are included on the DVD, though neither is the long-lost theatrical cut (no matter, since it was rush-edited into theaters by the studio), and each has a commentary track by the usual Peckinpah experts, which I like to invite into my living room regularly. The other DVD extras are a little amateurish however, but they do include a couple of nice songs about Peckinpah by his friend Kris "Billy the Kid" Kristofferson.

Someone Else's Post of the Week
Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin is an excellent source of commented comics news, retailer observations and good humor, so while I probably liked everything he posted this week (pretty much any week), I'm going to recommend the changing of the guard for Wonder Woman. She's BUSTIN' LOOSE! Ladies and gentlemen, the origin of her new, bronze age bustier!

Ok, I've got to get my annual Oscar party going, so I'll talk to y'all tomorrow.

5 Things to Like About Zorro #1

Matt Wagner on Zorro? Had to read it. And though I understand Chris Sims' point that you don't see much of Zorro in it, I still liked it quite a lot...

1. The art directionWagner may not be drawing it (which would be mucho cool!), but he's credited for "art direction", which seems to be good enough for me. Whether he or Francesco Francavilla is responsible for layouts like this is academic. The book has a good look, great design, and fits the Zorro story.

2. It's the Zorro that inspired Batman
Between such scenes as Zorro visiting a cave under his family home as a boy and instilling great fear into his enemies as an adult, you'd be hard-pressed to deny that frequent Batman scribe Matt Wagner is purposely drawing parallels between the characters. In current DC continuity, the Waynes were coming out of a Zorro movie when they were shot, which helped inspire Bruce to take up the mask. Wagner gives us a Zorro would could very much have inspired the Dark Knight. There's also a veiled reference to the Phantom, and so a certain reverence for the pulp heroes of yesteryear.

3. And yet, he's somehow better than Batman
Bruce Wayne required a personal tragedy to transform him. For the young Diego de la Vega, an injustice directed at someone else is transformative enough.

4. The Native American elements
The use of Isabel Allende's Zorro novel is obvious here - unless I'm mistaken, she invented Zorro's Indian mother and grandmother - and it works well. It gives further reason for Diego to adopt the fox (el zorro) as his totem animal, and greater depth to his character. I know of the novel, but haven't read it. Maybe the series is freely adapted from the book? In any case, coming to it fresh, this new take on the character holds my interest.

5. And hey, swashes are still buckled
Very little swordplay at this point, but Diego's destiny is evident. I'm sure the first scene of swordplay we see will be well worth the wait.

Star Trek 443: Once More Unto the Breach

443. Once More Unto the Breach

FORMULA: Soldiers of the Empire + The Sword of Kahless + Sarek

WHY WE LIKE IT: Kor's end.

WHY WE DON'T: The subplot. Missing effects shots.

REVIEW: John Colicos's last performance as Kor, just a couple years before his death, is a dignified one. Like Sarek, he is a great man who has lived too long and is now losing the very thing that made him relevant in this world. In Kor's case, with memory problems comes the loss of respect as hero worship becomes ridicule. He is a man under siege from both within and without. And though he has Worf as a friend, he's made an enemy out of Martok.

It's interesting to find out here that Martok is a self-made man, not of noble blood or "born to rule", and that while he tries to be petty with the man who caused him dishonor and is at the moment stealing his thunder, he can't find joy in it. And can he really blame his crew for their reaction? Remember how the cast reacted to Kirk in Trials and Tribble-ations? And from Worf's analysis of the Davy Crockett story shows, Klingons believe in heroes (as opposed to gods), and the legend surrounding Kor is a powerful one.

Though arguably, Kor never quite loses his dignity (there's his great line about tasting the fruit of life before it turns bitter), by hijacking Worf's suicide mission and accomplishing the impossible, he takes back his rightful place in the Klingons' heroic pantheon. Even Martok must agree. We never see the battle, which would have been mighty cool (not that the cavalry raids aren't well done), but it does add to the tension and the "mythic" feel of the scene. It's a battle in heaven.

Now, while it's entirely worth it just to watch Colicos, I do think the episode is entirely too much like Soldiers of the Empire, right down to the songs breaking through the hull at the end. Except the crew isn't anywhere near as interesting as in that episode. And then there's the subplot about Quark thinking Dax wants to get back with Worf. Strictly Three's Company level.

LESSON: Respect your elders, but don't let them drive your car.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: A good performance from Colicos as Kor and a fitting end to his story, but it just seems like we've been down this road before with other aging characters.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Star Trek 442: Treachery, Faith and the Great River

442. Treachery, Faith and the Great River

FORMULA: The Defector + Vortex + Progress

WHY WE LIKE IT: The Great Material Continuum. Weyoun's suspect death. The ice field.

WHY WE DON'T: Weyoun 5 was my favorite Weyoun!

REVIEW: Let me start by saying how much I like the idea of the Great Material Continuum (or Great River) and wish it'd have been mentioned before. After all, Nog's had to navigate it before, like in Progress and In the Cards, for example. It's also a perfect metaphor to use in connection to O'Brien, who's been up a treacherous stream or two in his day. Nog's played into the "procurement officer" archetype briefly before (in Behind the Lines), but here is allowed to use his skill with sometimes hilarious results, painting the portrait of a very eccentric Starfleet at the same time.

The episode's main plot (which incredibly fits the complex title just as well) concerns a "defective" Weyoun clone who has decided to worship the Great Heretic, Odo. Turns out Weyoun 5, whom we've been dealing with since the start of the Dominion War, met with an unfortunate accident (cue guilty look from Damar) and had to be replaced. I'm sad to see the disdainful, snippy Weyoun go, but can't wait to see what nuance Combs brings to Weyoun 7.

Without the hidden agendas, Weyoun 6 can't really generate as much interest as his precursor, but he still has some excellent scenes. The way he eats pizza is a delightful comic moment, for example, and there's the mythic origin story of the Vorta too. This episode does a rather good job of presenting the Dominion "religion" from the Vorta perspective. It tells us why they would consider the Founders gods (quite aside from the genetic programming), but also shows Weyoun 6 "mythologizing" Odo's plan to "become the ice" by flying into a comet fragment and shutting the runabout down. Odo is certainly thinking like a changeling when he comes up with this, and the whole hide-and-seek game through the ice field has to be one of the better looking effects scenes in the entire series. Finally, Weyoun 6 dies as he lived, serving his god.

But he didn't turn stag without a trigger. This is where the Founders' disease is introduced, provoking a crisis of faith in Weyoun and sending him questing after the one true (uninfected) god. An interesting notion, and prophetic in retrospect.

LESSON: Don't ever give away your NIP.

REWATCHABILITY - High: I want quality episodes and the River provides.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Last Word in Socks

Leaving the Golden Age Blue Beetle behind as MC of Bahlactus' Friday Night Fights' Siskoid Chapter, we turn our attention to the greatest socking villain of them all: Argh!Yle.But he's finally met his match. Except it's not another sock. It's DC Comics itself:
That's what I call TERMINAL KOCKOUT!

Star Trek 441: Chrysalis

441. Chrysalis

FORMULA: Statistical Probabilities + Melora

WHY WE LIKE IT: The musical number.

WHY WE DON'T: Bashir never learns.

REVIEW: Bashir miraculously saves a patient from a severe handicap and falls for here, but she is fated to leave him with a broken heart. Where have I heard that one before? Yes, it's really just Melora with autism, but Chrysalis is a much better episode by virtue of 1) Sarina being a sympathetic character, 2) 6 years of added development to Bashir's character have made us care about his loneliness, and 3) the musical number.

I've seen music used as the soundtrack of a character's heart before, and it is very well used here as Bashir's. When the mutants improvise a song based on musical scales, it not only helps us fall for Sarina ourselves, but is beautiful and cleverly done regardless of context. Honestly, I've often fast-forwarded to that moment just for the song. Uplifting and even moving. So even of the rest of the story relentlessly moves towards its inevitable ending, and the mutants essentially become a background against which Sarina's new self must be contrasted (their frenetic quest to prevent the universe from collapsing in 60 trillion years is a fun moment however), that single moment of musical purity makes Chrysalis worthy of note.

Not that the performances aren't well-judged. Sarina really does seem like a different character once she's "awakened", and the classic switch moments when her condition appears to have been reversed aren't cheesily played as cliffhangers. There's very real pathos here as the poor girl commits to Bashir out of gratitude and couldn't possibly have the maturity to understand what love actually is. Out of the very loneliness she sees in him, Julian somehow decides they should be together and forgets to ask her permission. And he learns that he must respect the freedom he's just given her. It's a fact of life O'Brien already knows, no DNA-enhanced intellect required.

LESSON: Bending the laws of the universe should be entirely possible once you've kicked Heinsenberg and Einstein's faces in.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium (with one High scene): Brilliant musical interlude aside, this is still a strong, but fairly predictable, episode.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Star Trek 440: Take Me Out to the Holosuite

440. Take Me Out to the Holosuite

FORMULA: DS9 does the Bad News Bears (+ Way of the Dove's ending)

WHY WE LIKE IT: "We will destroy them." "Death to the opposition!" And lots more, but those lines always make me laugh.

WHY WE DON'T: I almost feel the need to justify my love for this episode. Why is that?

REVIEW: I don't think Star Trek's ever done the sports movie thing, and though it makes perfect sense given Sisko's predilection for baseball, it's just goofy enough to fall flat on its face. It doesn't, and in fact, I think it may be one of my favorite episodes. Hey, the comedy works! It usually does when the characters react to silly situations, rather than act silly or like caricatures themselves. And though I wouldn't say it's without its plot holes, like Sisko's team not even remotely being the best he could conceivably gather, those holes still have a lot of charm. For example, though Sisko should have recruited Odo to his team, making him umpire is just plain perfect.

And it's more than a sports comedy (complete with a parody of the slo-mo moment of "victory"). The sports struggle can also be seen as a metaphor for the Dominion War - a motley collection of races banded together and outmatched by the overwhelming forces of order. And what that allegory has to say is pretty dark for the end of the series, and yet hopeful. The very first episode of DS9 represented the whole of history as a baseball game, so it's not that pretentious a conclusion. And it's a celebration of the human(oid) spirit too, an EMOTIONAL victory, an incredible feat given a losing scenario. You know what? This is Sisko's Kobayashi Maru.

It's very much a Sisko story who, as standard bearer for us "emotionally-crippled races", gets kicked out of the game because of emotion, but it's also a very strong ensemble piece. Each character gets to show his or her loyalty to the captain and to each other, and Rom in particular shines by his nobility. He accepts his own failure as well as others' successes in a moment I can't help but find touching (just like the signed baseball thrown up at the end... a great symbol of camaraderie and teamwork). In this "emotional" story, he rightly is the one to save the day. His accidental success is a triumph of the very randomness that Bashir's mutants couldn't take into account when they determined we would lose the Dominion War.

All the characters are great and true to themselves. Sisko's competitiveness and trust in the "myth" of baseball. Ezri finding the gymnast inside her to pull a Fancy Dan. O'Brien's beat-up body giving out on him once again, but how perfect is he as "the coach"? The scotch gum is also fun. Rom is as uncoordinated as he's always been shown, almost a hunchback in his physical performance, and he's only in it to get closer to his son. Kasidy is as no-nonsense as ever. Odo is the ultimate stickler for rules. And of course, Worf plays the game to the death. Throw in some robotic Vulcans who can't possibly get enjoyment out of it, and Solok who for all his contempt of humanity, comes off as almost Romulan, and you've got yourself - sorry - a ballgame. You can't wait for the good guys to stick it to him.

On the design side of things, it's fun to see baseball graphics, Star Trek-style, and the Niners' caps have a cool logo. Note the use of series fonts for the printing on the shirts, and Vulcan script on the Logicians' shirts. The Federation anthem is heard for the first and only time, and it's pretty generic. I can't decide if I'd have liked it to be a recognizable Trek theme or if it would have been too much. Probably too much.

LESSON: That I am not the worst baseball player ever.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Something potentially frivolous turns into a heart-warming and even rousing comedy with resonant thematic undertones.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Another Lame Letter

HELLBLAZER #63, DC Comics/Vertigo, March 1993
Time for another of my gay-sounding letters to the editor! I'm not gonna talk about the comic it was in, but rather the comic it commented on. Hellblazer is one of DC's premiere horror comics. You might know it as Constantine, the movie with Keanu Reeves in it that was made before DC got with the program and started caring about their properties (the pre-Batman Begins era, shall we say). All you really need to know anyway is that John Constantine is a right bastard that dabbles in the occult and regularly gives the Devil the finger.

This issue was from the Garth Ennis years, and I'll admit right now that I wasn't that keen on his stuff. Later, I'd come to love his splat-shock-no-taboos kind of horror in Preacher, Hitman, et al. But with Hellblazer, I just thought he was screwing with characters that were not his to screw with. The book used to be subtle and now it was about blowing a guy's nuts off in the light of day and similar shenanigans.

But now that I "get" Ennis, I'll reread the issue I sent a complaint about and see what I think. Give me a minute... I'll let you read the letter while you wait. It pretty much summarizes the main points (also included: the counter-argument from another reader). Click on the image to make it legible.
Wow. Am I lame or what? Mr. Green rightly puts me in my place. Of course, I haven't changed my mind. I'm still anally anti-drug. But calling it "the real horror"? Cripes, I can lay it on a thicker than Brad Pitt's accent in Snatch sometimes. (See? Did it again. Hyperbole, thy name is Siskoid.)

Like it says on there, it's Constantine's 40th birthday, and a bunch of his pals throw him a drunken binge (the word "party" just doesn't cover it). Nothing better to get him out of his current funk, right? That's his little arc, but along the way, Ennis has some fun bringing in a number of guest-stars from across the more mystical side of the DC Universe. If I had any objections, it's because he wasn't paying any respect to these comic book icons. The Phantom Stranger shows up, and John pisses on his shoes by mistake. Swamp Thing is invited (or rather, summoned out of broccoli), but it's for this:
And then there's Zatanna of the Justice League of America positively shit-faced. Usually she "backwards-speaks" to cast spells (read each word in reverse to see what she's doing!), but here, I just think she's thoroughly stoned. Still managed "dloh gib taf tnioj rof em" though.
Hey, it's all fun and games now, and yes, I do "get" Garth Ennis. Never liked Zatanna that much anyway (until 7 Soldiers), strictly a B-grade Justice Leaguer, so what was I moaning about? Ok, not Ennis' best work, but it's got a couple of fun drinking tales and a few good laughs at the expense of a couple of all too serious characters. It gets my belated thumbs up. Oh, Mr. Green, can you ever forgive me?

Star Trek 439: Afterimage

439. Afterimage

FORMULA: The Loss + The Wire

WHY WE LIKE IT: Everyone's reactions to Ezri, especially Worf's.

WHY WE DON'T: Psychobabble is back. Ezri's bawling.

REVIEW: Ezri's first feature episode is actually a fairly good one, but it does make one aware of the pitfalls that come with such a character. For one thing, we can expect a lot of talking about previous hosts, which basically rehashes much of what's been done with Jadzia already. I don't need those conversations repeated, though at least she discusses them through a psychological lense, for what they bring to her psyche. For another, a new character in need of fleshing out is not what the last season of a series needs, especially one that has to wrap up the Dominion War. A number of feature episodes will have to be given over to Ezri at the expense of everything going on. And of course, as a counselor, she brings psychobabble back to Star Trek (groan).

Now to be fair, Nicole DeBoer is capable enough and sympathetic as Ezri (except in that horrid crying scene), a kind of naive Columbo of counseling, counseling you in a way that makes you think she's counseling herself. Of course, it's not so much a technique as something that happens as a result of her chattering (not as bad as in Shadows and Symbols though). The assignment Sisko gives her sends her up against Garak's claustrophobia, and though he gets to be cruel to her, he's naturally not in top form. Where's the web of lies we love so much? But the final answer is at least interesting, playing less on childhood trauma clichés and instead on what it does to the ultimate patriot to be forced to betray his own people. There's a very effective idea behind all the chest-clutching.

Where the episode succeeds most, however, is in people's reactions to Ezri. Whatever it takes, Sisko is determined to get his guide back. Quark sees her as a second chance. Bashir doesn't until Quark makes it a competition, and then she goes and tells him he has a chance ("if not for Worf, it would have been you" - way to make him feel better, counselor!). Jake sees a cute girl close to his age. Kira is awkward about all things alien, a character trait we often forget she has, but subtly written in. And then there's Worf.

He sees Ezri as an insult to his wife's memory, a grotesque abomination that holds Jadzia's restless spirit captive. He wants nothing to do with her, but also gets jealous when Bashir befriends her (the latter is grossly outmatched when the confrontation gets hilariously physical). It takes down-to-earth O'Brien to set Worf right, heading over ("oh no, not again") with a bottle of bloodwine and calling Worf on his crap. In the end, Worf does the right, honorable thing by letting Ezri stay, and that tankard held high at her promotion ceremony is the perfect ending.

Now if she can only keep from giving away Jadzia's secrets. It's actually a lot of fun to have the beans spilled about, say, Worf feeling intimidated by Sisko, but hopefully, this is done sparingly over the course of the season.

LESSON: Reincarnation is hard.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: Actually better than I remembered. The counseling plot is just ok, but the reactions from the regulars are well-judged and the Worf question answered successfully.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Going Postal

Perf & Gauge, Canada Post Corporation, 1996
One last comic you won't believe I have in my collection! Perf & Gauge is a freebie promo issued by Canada Post, featuring the superhero design that won some contest I wasn't aware of (like Dial "H" for Hero, but without the bragging rights).

The story is simple enough. A kid with a chess piece hairdo called Perv--sorry, Perf - fingers slipped, there - releases a superhero from the planet Fellator -sorry, that's Philator, just a spelling mistake, honest - called Gauge. The superhero design contest specified a Canadian superhero, but they make him hail from another planet. I guess they've got maple trees as well.

Anyway, Perf helps Gauge defeat a villain called Dr. Pane and we learn about the wonderful hobby that is stamp collecting. The whole thing runs 10 bilingual pages (with the French being error-free, surprisingly, but totally undramatic).

Anyway, Gauge is a perfectly good Canadian superhero design, though with Perv and Fellator in this comic, it's a wonder they didn't pick runner-up The Great Canadian Beaver. So Gauge creator Richard Lee from Mississauga is blameless, but the characters created by the comic's "writer" are terrible. Cartoony Perf is totally out of place, and Dr. Pane is a terrible big-headed alien with mechanical parts. There's not a whole lot of thought put into it, with Perf describing himself as having friends, playing sports AND enjoying philately. Sing along with me now: One of these things doesn't go with the others...

I could have scanned the comic's interior, but the quality doesn't really vary from the cover. More interesting are the five stamps this thing was selling. In 1996, Canada Post issued this series, showcasing five Canadian superheroes (sorry, not you, Gauge):
Quite the list! Superman is the seller, but a controversial figure. Yes, co-creator Joe Shuster was Canadian, but Siegal wasn't, and before you start quoting that Heritage Canada commercial, let me tell you it is a load of BULLSHIT!!! There are so many things wrong with that one that it makes me doubt every part of my heritage. (Damn it! Is that PEI instant mashed potato story true??) Ok, sorry, got a little hot under the collar there. Ok, so Superman. After that, Johnny Canuck and Nelvana, and I'm right with you going "who?". Captain Canuck, ah now there's a hero. He was our guy during the 70s and 80s. Put Alpha Flight to shame. And then Fleur de Lys, no doubt because of a federal policy to include something from Quebec so that they wouldn't split from the country on the day these stamps came out. It might've been the last drop, after all.

Star Trek 438: Shadows and Symbols

438. Shadows and Symbols

FORMULA: Far Beyond the Stars + Redemption + Emissary

WHY WE LIKE IT: Benny's back! Worf's epic quest. Kira's bluff.

WHY WE DON'T: Uhm... still unsure about Ezri and this retconned mom thing.

REVIEW: Following from Image in the Sand... Sisko's quest brings him to Tyree where he finds the Orb of the Emissary (cleverly using his baseball as a portent) in which has been locked (near as I can make out) a Prophet who once possessed his birth mother. The implication is that the Prophets arranged his birth, but the ensuing paradox may just blow your mind. I'll have an in-depth article hopefully explaining it at series' end, but the net effect, whatever their reasons for doing this, is to more fully turn Sisko into a Christ figure. I'm not sure this "secret origin" was warranted, and I can't say I like Deborah Lacey's delivery as Sarah, but it's at least thematically coherent. More interesting to me is the pah-wraith's "false vision" sent to prevent Sisko from contacting the Prophets through the Orb, thus sending reinforcements to the Celestial Temple and expelling the wraiths from the Wormhole. It continues the story of science-fiction writer Benny, now in an insane asylum and ministered by Casey Biggs (Damar) as Doctor Wykoff. The continuing story of Deep Space written on the walls of his room are a great visual and the offered white-washing a sort of Last Temptation, a symbolic representation of the dilemma inside Sisko: To accept his destiny as a human Prophet (and the sacrifices to come) or not.

I'll have more occasion to discuss Ezri in the next episode, which features her heavily, but first impression: Uhm, Nicole... Are you gonna play her like that? The character concept has potential - a Trill who wasn't prepared for joining has all these lives thrust upon her - but having her be a rambling, yammering bubble head may just push my patience to its limits. More on that after I watch Afterimage.

Following from Image in the Sand... Worf's quest to get Jadzia into Sto-Vo-Kor is joined not only by Martok, Bashir and O'Brien, but predictably, by Quark. Worf's fierce territoriality about Jadzia is evident as he baldly tells them they are unworthy of his quest, but they do make up, in what is probably the weakest scene of the episode. A bit sappy for Worf to tell them they were always there in spirit, etc. The mission to create a solar flare to destroy Dominion shipyards doesn't sound like honorable combat, but is at least described epically and poetically. Plus, they do get to battle with Jem'Hadar inside the corona of a sun, so there's that. Plenty of eye candy in this sequence.

Following from Image in the Sand... Kira blockades Bajor's moon to prevent the Romulans from delivering the final component of their weapons of mass destruction in what is probably still my favorite thread of the episode. Harking back "We're not going to win this with torpedoes, Chief", Kira is great when cornered into a desperate and outmatched position. Admiral Ross is the lame politician who first lets the Romulans walk all over him, then finally bows to Kira's strong will. When Ross tells the Romulans who's boss, he doesn't point to himself, let's just say. And to tie it all together, the reopening of the Wormhole is just what gives Kira the extra confidence she needs to pull this off.

Oh and following from Image in the Sand... Damar brings girls to Central Command to show off. One of these days, he's gonna get one of these girls killed, I tell ya.

LESSON: Sometimes, destroying a solar system is the only real way to show you care.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Won physically, mentally or spiritually, there's a proper resolution for each thread left hanging at the end of Image in the Sand. Skepticism remains as to the value of toying with Sisko's origins, but ultimately, it's all of a piece.