Monday, March 31, 2008

Aquaman Rocks All Week Long!

AQUAMAN #4, DC Comics, December 1994
People often ask me, "why do you like Aquaman so much... or at all?" A dumb, foolish question, but they ask it. Quite simply put, people, AQUAMAN ROCKS and you don't know it! That's why I'm embarking on a "Why Aquaman Rocks" week. I will show you the error of your ways, heathens!

One way to tell if a superhero rocks is if he can win fights against tougher opponents. "Yes," you say, "but he still talks to the fish!" You say that as if it's lame. So let's take a look at Aquaman #4 by Peter David, Martin Egeland and Howard M. Shum, where he not only fights the meanest bastich of them all, but also makes talking to the fish cool.

So to give you folks a little context, this is only a couple of issues after Aquaman gets his hand eaten by piranhas and replaces it with a harpoon. No pain killers either. That's not Aquaman's way. And he's looking for Porm, a dolphin that helped raise him (she calls him her "swimmer"). She's been captured by Japanese fishermen and sold to Japanese scientists for study.

Enter Lobo. Lobo is a combination of all of Marvel Comics' antiheroes (Wolverine, Punisher, Ghost Rider) without the conscience. He's a frickin' parody of the type and unkillable to boot. This is how he's introduced in the book, as he nicks the side of a space bus:
That is cold. Ironically so. But what's his connection to Aquaman? Lobo's got one tender place in his black, black heart, you see. He tends to a flock of space dolphins. (I know I'm not helping my case about this comic, but bear with me.) Anyway, one of them's fallen to Earth, and now it's in the same facility as Aquaman's Porm. Meanwhile, the King of the 7 Seas is helping some sharks get out of a trawler's net. In Peter David's oceans, fish are fun (or at least funny) to talk to:
It's a superhero comic, so the two stars fight for a while before realizing they're on the same side.
Lobo's handed Superman his ass, but Aquaman fights him to a standstill here. That takes some rather large oysters, if you ask me. The dolphins are freed and Lobo blows up the fishermen's boat before heading out. The ship's captain survives to face Aquaman's wrath. It's worth showing you the entire page:
Now that is literally cold. Ocean depth cold. What kind of good guy is Aquaman?!? Answer: One that ROCKS!* More ocean justice tomorrow, folks!
*After reading Aquaman's Showcase Presents, I don't actually condone Aquaman killing or letting his finny friend kill. But if he's gonna be an anti-hero for the 1990s, he gonna do it right.

Countdown to Ambush Bug: Maritime Edition

If Ambush Bug wants to be employed at DC again......he's going to have to make friends...
...with the REAL movers and shakers of the DCU.
I'm just saying.

Aquaman Rocks Week starts... right now!

(For more on Aquaman's undersea language, please read The Comic Treadmill today.)

Star Trek 479: Projections

479. Projections

FORMULA: Ship in a Bottle + Distant Voices + Frame of Mind + bits of Caretaker

WHY WE LIKE IT: Barclay.

WHY WE DON'T: The new holodeck set. None of it happened.

REVIEW: An episode that looks like it was written by Philip K. Dick? Must be Brannon Braga's doing. While I found his reality benders an entertaining change of page on TNG, they seem to come too soon and too frequently on Voyager. Though making everyone real a hologram and the hologram a real person is a fun notion, it seems like every show has now had it's "one character wakes up alone on the ship" brain teaser episode, so it feels very derivative. And for a malfunction in the program, it seems altogether too coherent an "alternate reality".

Despite the "here we go again" nature of the premise, there's some good comedy here. The very notion that Reg Barclay was in charge of the EMH's social skills is subversively funny, and the show has a lot of fun with the Doctor's foreknowledge once the simulation is reset to Caretaker. There's the deletion of key characters that annoy the EMH, Neelix's frying pan fight with a Kazon, and Kes' recasting as the Doctor's wife (she's most responsible for his thinking of himself as a "person", so definitely an important part of this hallucination).

We also learn a little bit about the EMH's early development, and the name Lewis Zimmerman is thrown at us for the first time. The series bible famously has Zimmerman as the EMH's name, but despite the confusion here, that didn't stick any more than Schweitzer did. Barclay probably worked on the program between Generations and First Contact, and his presence is welcome, though it's a case of forcing a cool recurring character into the proceedings despite the distance. I like Barclay, but I do wish Voyager would be a little braver with its concept sometimes.

In the end, we know Voyager can't have been a simulation gone wrong all this time, so it's a matter of watching the Doctor go through the usual hoops until the holoprogram ends. The episode can't quite maintain a sense of suspense. I think it's the first time we see the new holodeck set, and it looks like a step back to me. More manageable as a set, but I liked TNG's yellow-on-black grid a heck of a lot more. The idea of projectors elsewhere on the ship is an interesting one that would give the Doctor more mobility, but it's part of the fantasy, so we'll have to wait a bit longer for that.

LESSON: It's not fun being real.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: It's entertaining enough, but not quite as involving as it wants to be because "it never happened" (again).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

This Week in Geek (24-30/03/08)

Buys

A number of purchases this week, actually, most of them DVDs: No Country for Old Men, coming off its Oscar wins; Gattaca, about time I retired my old tape and this Special Edition is it; Adaptation, because it was cheap and I've given up hope of a better edition; and Dr. Strangelove, another tape I've wanted to retire for a while. As for comics, well, you'll see below, but Jeffrey Brown's Incredible Change-Bots finally made it into my collection.

"Accomplishments"

I never really discuss the single issues I read here, but this was a big week for polishing off trade paperbacks. First up is Uncle Sam & the Freedom Fighters, which sadly didn't star very many of the originals, or even the second person to bear their names. Instead, we have something that wants to be Nextwave, but isn't quite as funny. It's still a perfectly crazy political thriller with glitzy art that grew on me as I flipped the chapters. I'm now looking forward to the second mini-series.





Up next: DMZ volume 3 - Public Works. Vertigo still produces the kind of series I really want to buy in trade and lend to other people, and DMZ is certainly one of their top titles. Public Works isn't quite as affecting as the first two volumes, focusing less on the common man and instead on an Iraq-like rebuilding effort stymied by terrorists. It's still excellent and as ever, harrowing for our protagonist Matty.






As previously mentioned, Incredible Change-Bots fell into my hands, and while I was rather nonplussed by Jeffrey Brown's Clumsy, and am not a Transformers fan by any stretch of the imagination, I loved loved loved this. Like everyone else, apparently. From the roll call of featured robots to the very end, every page has something to recommend it. Sometimes, it's a joke, and sometimes a bit of nostalgia, or often just the charming artwork. Brown's naive style is surprisingly up to the challenge of drawing vehicular transformations, and who'd have thought coloring a book with markers would actually be appealing? My favorite Incredible Change-Bot? Balls.

The big "accomplishment" though is finishing Showcase Presents Aquaman vol.1. At more than 500 pages, this monster was still a joy to read. Nick Cardy's artwork is dynamic and always original, but I still liked Ramona Fradon's cleaner, more cartoony undersea world. But the key to the success and charm of the Silver Age Aquaman is this: Octopi. I'm not kidding. Topo quickly became a favorite and I always liked stories with armies of octopi a lot more fun than those without. Liked it all so much, this week is going to be Aquaman Rocks Week. I'm going to reprint old Aquaman reviews from a previous, now deleted site, but some new material as well, so I hope you'll dive in with me.

Outside of comics, role-played last Monday. I ran a "stone age" that got flipped on its head when white anthropologists showed up at the players' unmapped enclave. I had planned for both peaceful and violent resolutions and was pleasantly surprised that they went for peace. Indeed, the most memorable fight was one for political control of the tribe when the chief showed himself to be less than reasoned.

As for my Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG, only managed a few cards, all from Utopia. I'm hoping to design more throughout the week.

Someone Else's Post of the Week
You know, I could probably put one Absorbascon post in this section every week, but this time, I really have to. Scipio's carefully culled all possible clues from the Martian Manhunter's Showcase Presents to figure out what city he operated in during the Silver Age. I personally love his conclusion. Check out: Where in the World is the Martian Manhunter?

Star Trek 478: Initiations

478. Initiations

FORMULA: Suddenly Human + State of Flux

WHY WE LIKE IT: Meat on those Kazon bones.

WHY WE DON'T: Too much peace pipe for Chakotay.

REVIEW: We finally learn more about the Kazon in this episode, and though their harsh way of life will always seem only a step away from the Klingons', there's a lot more to them here. We find out they were a slave race only 26 years ago (which certainly explains why they've decorated their ships like they were housing), and that their territoriality is linked to a showing of markings (so Starfleet insignia singularly insults them). They don't believe in non-lethal training, and their young men go through a deadly rite of passage to earn their true names (akin to honor). Their ways appear to be ritualistic, but not without empathy.

Our guide through all this is Kar, played by Aaron Eisenberg, and it's excessively difficult not to hear Nog under there. Still a good performance on his part, and I'm kind of sorry we never saw him again (as a foe). While Chakotay's final solution is the usual Starfleet self-sacrificial con, Kar's is a lot more political, revealing a Kazon that's smarter than the norm.

Chakotay is probably the best character to have "discover" the Kazon, because of his anthropological predilections, and he shows himself to be an able diplomat, finding common ground between him and Kar (name vs. uniform). I can't help but wonder, however, if his mild character here will play against him in the long run. He'll become too stable and boring to ever be counted among Voyager's "cool kids". The show is still developing his Amerind heritage as prays to the spirit of his father, but one might question the wisdom of letting someone take off in a precious shuttle for this kind of thing, especially since the shuttle is lost forever. Note this is also the second time Chakotay's medicine bundle mysteriously survives the destruction of a ship.

There's not much happening on Voyager, except a thin subplot in which Neelix wants to be better utilized. Despite being repeatedly ignored, he's still the one that best grasps Kazon psychology. And this also marks a comeback for the Arena planet (Vasquez Rocks) to the show. Though it looks a little more arid here, you just can't mistake that rocky outcropping.

LESSON: If at first you're not baptized, try try again.

REWATCHABILITY - High: The best ever Kazon episode? I think it may be, though Voyager is more of a bystander in it, even Chakotay, who isn't truly responsible for the successful resolution.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

5 Things to Like About All-Star Superman #10

Everyone loves this series, right? Grant Morrison's a genius, right? Morrison's also the guy who going to give us Final Crisis, right? Well, let me go on record here and now saying All-Star Superman should be the new post-post-post-crisis default for Superman. I would LOVE for the Superman books to be an extension of Silver Age continuity. Here are five great excerpts:

5. Lex Luthor's reading materialWhen even a simple visual gag makes the list, you know you've got a great comic in your hands. And it's all part of a memorable scene that encapsulates perfectly what Superman and Lex each believe about the other, and how it has driven their relationship all these years.

4. The Kandorian Superman Rescue Squad's uniforms
Made me believe these guys could grow up to become the Daxamites, and in the All-Star universe, that's still possible. Because...

3. The Fate of Kandor
In what would be a bold move in the DCU, but is par for the course in Morrison's All-Star Superman, Kandor is freed from its bottle and the diminutive Kandorians given new life on a neighboring planet. Huge possibilities are opened (by this and the map of Superman's DNA) for future stories, and I'm feeling more and more like "He's got to be the last Kryptonian" post-Crisis stance was a wrong move.

2. Superman and Lois' timeless romance
This is a great moment about how static and yet iconic comic book romances are. Superman and Lois have always been meant to be together, their bond to be strong, and yet never to move too far ahead like real relationships do. That's no secret to Superman (meta-textually) and it doesn't crush Lois' hope. Perfect.

1. We are on Earth-Q
It was a weird Morrisonesque bit when Superman created a tiny universe in his lab some issues ago, but it pays off here when he experiments with it to see if a world can survive without a Superman. Answer: It can't. Thankfully, we don't live in such a world, even if he's not flesh and bone. I'm just glad we're in the DC Multiverse again, after Earth-Prime turned out not to have been it.

Star Trek 477: The 37s

477. The 37s

FORMULA: The Neutral Zone - 50 years

WHY WE LIKE IT: The hot Amelia Earhart.

WHY WE DON'T: Stock 30s characters. Too many humans this side of the border. Sights unseen.

REVIEW: If Learning Curve was a quiet season finale, The 37s is a REALLY quiet season premiere. Again, no real antagonists and the big outer space shot is of a rusting truck... IN SPACE!!! Very TOS, that. What directly follows is the usual scene where one character isn't a cabbage head (Tom Paris turns out to be a car buff) and everyone else seems incredibly badly informed about the 20th century (despite the number of holoprograms apparently made about this era).

Anyway, the crew follows an old S.O.S. to a planet where they find people who were abducted by aliens back in 1937. Sadly, their characterizations aren't really a step up from the 20th century stereotypes of The Neutral Zone. The one exception, I suppose, is Sharon Lawrence as Amelia Earhart. Hot off NYPD Blue, I remember this being a big deal at the time. Then she went and ruined her career with "40 and still sexy" and earthquake movies. In any case, Earhart was always an inspiration to Janeway, and there's a connection made there.

Then some aliens show up, but it turns out they're descendants of other 37s who had been thawed out centuries ago and put to work by the UFO aliens. It's too bad in a sense because those block-headed outfits were pretty distinctive. Tensions are quickly resolved once everybody figures out everybody's human. Humans long ago overthrew their alien masters and built a civilization for themselves, including three magnificent cities the crew visits, but we never see. This is really takes the air out of the episode's big dilemma: whether or not the crew should stay in this frontier paradise instead of risking a 70-year journey home. It's a good, courageous moment when no one shows up at the cargo bay to be put off the ship, but I'm not entirely sure how realistic it is (all the 37s want to stay, all the Voyager crew members want to leave).

If we'd seen the cities, maybe we'd have a better idea of the sacrifice, but the money apparently all went into designing Voyager's landing sequence. Yes, the ship can land. The only reason they never did in Star Trek is because of effects practicalities, but we're over that now, and despite the ship's dinky little legs, it still creates some striking shots, and gives the creators a chance to light the interiors differently as well.

Note that this marks the start of a couple of questionable trends for Voyager. One is the use or "urban legend" type factoids as a basis for an episode, in this case UFO abduction and whether or not Earhart could have been a victim of it. And the other is putting other humans in the Delta Quadrant, which frankly, makes Voyager less isolated. Not a good thing, thematically. If push comes to shove, they could always limp back to these human hotspots, couldn't they?

LESSON: There are 152 crew members aboard Voyager. Start the countdown.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Everything looks pretty good (including Sharon), but that hardly makes for an exciting or though-provoking season premiere.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bored, Jaded Knockouts Through History

Been participating in Bahlactus' Friday Night Fights for a while now, and as this particular round (Knockout!) ends, I have cause to remember History's first ass-kickers. Asterix and Obelix. They kick ass without having to think about it.

Cheap Shot at Rob Liefeld

YOUNGBLOOD #1, Image Comics, April 1992
You might have noticed of the last couple of days have been about crap comics. And no serious crap roundup can occur without a fine product by Rob Liefeld. In this case, Youngblood. (Easy prey? Yes. But it's Friday. Leave me alone.)

When a bunch of "hot" Marvel artists started asking for more money & women and didn't get them, they cut themselves loose and created Image Comics, where they promptly started books that were - at least visually - derivative of what they'd been doing at Marvel. What they didn't really bring with them is writers and editors. Result? A new Dark Age of Comics that made the 50s and 70s look like Italy at the height of the Renaissance.

The worst of these new comics was Liefeld's Youngblood. Now, Liefeld is the artist that "popularized" a style of comics that combined overrendered art (mainly cross-hatching and speed lines in lieu of backgrounds), disproportionate anatomy (also known as "not knowing how to draw the human form"), and totally useless costume accessories (like huge epaulets, mismatched boots, and thigh belts - here's a tip: if you're not gonna sheath a knife in it, you don't need that thigh belt...)
(...unless it's to keep your muscles from blowing your leg up, I guess.)

Bad art, but it was popular at one time. Bad writing though? Well, I don't think it even qualifies as writing. Youngblood #1 features two stories in flip-book format. You spend 16 pages with the "home team" and 16 with the "away team". I say "story", but they're really each a collection of splash pages detailing a fight with villains that might as well be the heroes. Visually, there's nothing that makes them any different from Youngblood, and there's nothing morally different about them either. Not only is characterization at its absolute minimum, the heroes are rather reprehensible and thoroughly unlikable.

For some reason, I got the second issue too, which introduces even more characters I'll never care about, but it's interesting for its letters page. Now it's a well-known fact in the comics industry that Liefeld has an inflatable ego and that even his Image buddies eventually had to throw him out. When did he start deserving that rep? Short answer: Youngblood #1 with its ad for joining the Rob Liefeld Fan Club!
Dude... More to the point is that letters page from Youngblood #2, which I'm being very careful not to touch in case I get some fanboy jizz on me. It's two pages of the gushiest ass-licking I've ever read. Liefeld didn't just print the most complimentary comments, he published the ones that were openly having an orgasm over his stuff. Everything I hate about the comic, they love. One comment caught my eye in particular (paraphrased): "I love ALL the characters! And I don't even know anything about them!"

Ok, in my book? Not knowing anything about any of the characters after the first issue is a CONDEMNATION.

For example, the guy we know the most about is the Youngblood's leader, Shaft. What I know about Shaft:
1) He's a Hawkeye or Green Arrow rip-off.
2) His name must inspired by the fact that he's a prick.
3) While he can kill a guy with a thrown pen (sound familiar?), his real power is turning his face into a skull:
4) He takes hormone treatments and eventually hopes to have enough money to pay for "the Operation".
Shaft, you're being paged. Dr. Lovebaum is ready to see you now.

Awful art, bad computer coloring, unmemorable characters with unmemorable codenames (Combat? Vogue? Psi-Fire?) and unmemorable costumes, lettering that doesn't flow with the dialogue, gratuitous violence, stilted scripting, disjointed action, a "badass" character riding a lilac motorbike, and a Saddam look-alike being turned inside out at the end.

No, that cannot be considered its one redeeming value.

Star Trek 476: Learning Curve

476. Learning Curve

FORMULA: Lower Decks + Parallax + Hollow Pursuits

WHY WE LIKE IT: The Maquis way! -POW!-

WHY WE DON'T: The pat ending.

REVIEW: Centering the season finale on the characters, with no real antagonist and a gentle touch, is an odd way to go out, but I'm not complaining. Not when it comes to the entirely too plot-driven Voyager (at least, that's how I remember it). Janeway continues her boring cliché-ridden holo-novel, in which it is revealed that her idea of relaxation is helping raise some spoiled brats. You'd think she had more than enough of that at work with the Maquis. Ha! And so we segue into the actal focus of the episode: Starfleet-Maquis relations.

The captain gives Tuvok the very special assignment of breaking--I'm sorry, training four of the least cooperative Maquis crew members. In the incident that sets it off, I can see where Dalby is coming from. Dude saw a problem and fixed it, so what's the big problem? Tuvok, of course, completely misses the point and tries to deal with Dalby and his three other charges as if they were cadets. They're not, and he'll require the advice of Neelix and the behind-the-scenes help of Chakotay to make any headway. This was back when Chakotay was cool, and his lesson about what the "Maquis way" is supposed to be it reason enough to watch Learning Curve. Another high point is Dalby's chat with Tuvok over a pool table, probably the most realistic scene in the episode (and a good indicator of the Maquis experience), and there are some cute humorous moments throughout having to do with lack of discipline.

Meanwhile, the bio-neural gel packs have gotten a virus or an infection, disrupting systems shipwide. It's the usual malfunction B-plot TNG used to throw out at us all the time to pad character-centric shows, but at least it examines this new piece of technology for the first time since the term was thrown out in Caretaker. That Neelix's cheese was responsible is perhaps silly, but not impossible, and the sweat-drenched resolution, with a dripping Kes and very dry Doctor, makes for a fun ending.

Obviously, Tuvok is going to show the Maquis he isn't an uncaring robot by saving one of them, because it's more about Starfleet officers getting the Maquis' respect than it is about learning discipline and protocol. Hopefully, that too-pat ending doesn't mean the Starfleet-Maquis conflict is entirely resolved for the rest of the voyage. If it is, Voyager's just gotten rid of it's built-in twist quicker than any season of Big Brother. Chell will be seen again, but not the other three, which is really too bad. Since it's impossible for the ship to transfer personnel, I would have thought building a supporting cast would have been more important than on DS9.

LESSON: Starve a fever, hyperthermically feed a cold.

REWATCHABILITY - Oh screw it, I'm gonna say High: It's not a big blow-out and the big baddie is a block of cheese, but the focus on the characters and the gentle humor make it one of the better episodes of the first season.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Independent Comics Can Suck Too

TROSPER, Fantagraphics Books, 2001
Superhero books don't have the market cornered on crap. Take Trosper for example. Really indy stuff like this - by master surrealist Jim Woodring - doesn't usually make the racks in ye olde comicke booke store. You have to order it special, sight unseen.

Based on the rantings and ravings of pretentious underground comix lovers just like me, I ordered it. After all, I'd enjoyed Woodring's Frank comics. Operative words are: Sight unseen.

Turns out Trosper is an extremely brief read. Pleasant enough to look at, but completely wordless. That wouldn't be too bad if it had more than 18 FREAKIN' PANELS!!! It comes with a jazz CD by Bill Frisell, so maybe there's more to this little hardcover comic. And again, the CD is pleasant enough, sounding to my ear like the Rheostatics tuning up in reverse (they're my favorite band - much is forgiven on that basis). But clocking in at only 6 minutes or so, it still can't even be listened to in time with the reading of the book! It's a 15-second read!

The story? It's about a little elephant who's playing with a ball, when things go awry and he gets chased by Woodring's trademark vaginas and penises until he finds another ball...

So I guess it's about the Child going through Puberty and Sexual Development (all of which makes you Emo), then finding the Inner Child again as one grows Old and loses one's Libido. (Us pretentious Fanboys think things are more profound when they start with capital letters... or more Profound, at any rate.)

Bottom line? Here's what I paid for it*:
And that content/price ratio, my friends, is why I have to call bullshit on Trosper.

*I'm Canadian.

Star Trek 475: Jetrel

475. Jetrel

FORMULA: Duet + The Alternate + Ties of Blood and Water

WHY WE LIKE IT: James Sloyan's performance.

WHY WE DON'T: The Kes-Neelix Hallmark card romance.

REVIEW: Meant to be Voyager's version of Duet, with a national guilt over concentration camps replaced by America's national guilt over dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it's not quite as resonant because the writers forgot what made Duet so good. That episode was really just two people talking. This episode seems to go out of its way to introduce technobabble elements and effects sequences that quite simply divert attention from its main thrust.

Because at its core, this is a good story. James Sloyan is impeccable as Jetrel, even if initially too close to Dr. Mora for comfort. He knows his invention has made him a monster and has accepted his coming death as justice. He stands as a monument to blind, amoral science and knows it, even if he chalks it up to scientific inevitability. The scene where he doesn't apologize to Neelix - because how could he ever - is a standout. Neelix as his adversary is petty, but justified, and his descriptions of metrion cascade victims are harrowing.

Neelix meets the man responsible for a weapon that killed over 300,000 people, including his family, a man hungry for redemption. There's enough juice in that conflict to last us the whole show. Unfortunately, both characters are saddled with extra material that just doesn't work. Turning Neelix's righteous anger back on himself because he was a consciencious deserter and using that to motivate forgiving Jetrel at the last minute is psychobabble I don't think even Troi would have touched (good nightmare sequence though, almost justifies the Sandrine's sequence). And the so-called romantic scene in which Kes hands out this pop psychology revelation is very badly written, with the two "lovers" coming off as pretty happy Neelix is going to die from space cancer.

Jetrel, for his part, tries his best to be Aamin Marritza by keeping a couple of hidden agendas close to his vest, but since it all comes down to using the transporter (what's Janeway doing letting him look at her technology?) to recreate the vaporized victims of the metrion cascade, the last act falls apart pretty quickly. When even Janeway doesn't think your technobabble makes sense, you're in trouble.

LESSON: When there's no possible shot, call a safety. How that relates to the theme of the episode, I have yet to figure out. (SAFETY!)

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Almost a Medium-High, but it makes a number of missteps.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What If... the Hulk Visited Zork?

QUESTPROBE #1, Marvel Comics, August 1984
Billed as a Scott Adams/Marvel Comics limited series, Questprobe was meant to go 12 issues over 4 years, but only managed 3. Why? Because it was quintessentially a bad idea, that's why. Scott Adams... Scott Adams... Sound familiar? It should, but this isn't the same guy who's responsible for Dilbert. Crossing Hulk with Office Space might've been something. Not funny, but something. But I won't bash Dilbert here. I think the Internet has got it covered.

In any case, this isn't that Scott Adams. This Scott Adams was a programmer of games in Basic in the late 70s and early 80s. In '84, he took some Marvel-inspired text games he'd made in '78 and updated them with graphics for the likes of the Commodore 64. In the tie-in comic, the featured hero would eventually enter a black portal. If you wanted to know what happened to the character, you'd have to play the game. It's the Matrix franchise at least 15 years before its time.

Have you spotted the problem? It's a text-based adventure game. The first of which stars the Hulk. The HULK. Clearly, they went with Marvel's best and brightest puzzle-solver. I hope there's a lot of smashing to be done! Let me tell you, I've played the game on my old C64, and there isn't. There are, however, obtuse puzzles like this one:
The same objects recur in the game, and no, I have no idea what to with them. The egg smashes itself!

The plot of the comic revolves around a pacifist alien race confronted with its own doom when a "black fleet" approaches. Only one of them does something about it by heading to Earth to copy our heroes' powers. I kinda like the guy's look:
Man, that's a 'fro made of light! Writer Bill Mantlo strikes again! He's not as interesting with a helmet as the Chief Examiner though (a name he seems to have picked off tabloids in the grocery store checkout line). He finds the Hulk rampaging through the Grand Canyon and tries to make him jump into the portal. Since he seems to have control over the damn thing, I don't know why it just doesn't fly straight at the green goliath, but there you go.

Finally, to save a girl wearing what must be the heaviest lifejacket in the history of comics, he does go through it. And it leaves you wondering if you missed the only interesting bit of the story. But if you've only played the game, you have the feeling the comic must have been the interesting bit.
And what happened to the Questprobe series? Hulk was followed by Spider-Man, then the Fantastic Four, and while they were working on the X-Men, Scott Adams' company folded. The X-Men comic was eventually published in Marvel Fanfare. Computers just started developing too fast for poor ol' text-based adventure games. I guess that's why we don't remember Scott Adams' name along the likes of Bill Gates and... um... Bill Gates.

They brought John Romita Sr. out of retirement for THIS?!?

Star Trek 474: Faces

474. Faces

FORMULA: The Enemy Within + Phage + Caretaker + The Enterprise Incident

WHY WE LIKE IT: Exploring B'Elanna's background.

WHY WE DON'T: Vidiian gross-outs. The reset button.

REVIEW: Faces is basically a device for B'Elanna to have a interior monologue... externally. Splitting her up not only into two bodies, but two natures as well, allows her to confront the violent Klingon half that so often caused her trouble, and at the same time reconcile herself with her braver, stronger side. Much of her every day anger seems to stem from self-loathing, as she blames her Klingon side for her father's abandonment. It's a strong, dual performance from Roxanne Biggs-Dawson, who looks - and acts! - totally different in either form, without sacrificing her B'Elanna-ness.

It's a good thing the premise works as a psychological metaphor (not unlike The Enemy Within), because it can't quite stand up to scrutiny despite the Vidiians being so medically advanced. For example, though there are precedents for transporter duplication, why don't the Vidiians use this technique to multiply their organ stores? Why does turning B'Elanna into a pure Klingon alter her accent? And if it's all a product of super-advanced Vidiian technology, why can it be so easily undone by the EMH? Aside from a requisite reset button, I mean?

The main thrust of the plot is focused on escape from the Vidiians, and here the Klingon B'Elanna fares better than her human half, breaking free and toasting rodents when an offer of "voracious" sex doesn't quite work on Sulan. He's more of a villain than the previous Vidiians, but still a pathetic figure, kind of like the Hunchback of Notre-Dame. One of my early misgivings about Voyager at the time was that it too readily tried to pain itself as "adult" by veering into the grotesque (a form of visual violence). The killing of Durst and grafting of his face on Sulan is pretty horrific here. And I can't help but think of it as gratuitous.

The other characters go through the paces either trying to escape or getting their people out (I feel sorry for the rest of the prisoners who were just left there at episode's end). Chakotay made up like a Vidiian is hardly as iconic as the Romulan Kirk, and barely necessary to the plot. At least it gives him something to do.

LESSON: Introducing a background character and doing away with him or her an episode or two later has now become standard practice.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: The dramatization of B'Elanna's internal struggle is well done, but there's quite a bit of headless running around surrounding it. And I can't help but fear that the reset button at the end is just giving the writers permission for all sorts of wacky transformations down the line.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Star Trek 473: Cathexis

473. Cathexis

FORMULA: Lonely Among Us + Return to Tomorrow + Clues

WHY WE LIKE IT: A good, tense mystery.

WHY WE DON'T: The title. The holo-novel.

REVIEW: In psychodynamics, cathexis is defined as the process of investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea (from Wikipedia). As a special service, I'll be offering definitions for Voyager episodes with glossary-promoting titles. I know Bragga's gone on record saying he does this on purpose to be "educational", but I'd rather the show get some of the science right instead. Such titles read like the authors are showing off, and don't relate very well to the episode ("which one was this?").

Cathexis isn't a bad episode actually. It recycles the "possessed by an alien entity" trope to good effect, creating plenty of paranoia as crew members apparently do things without remembering they have. The mystery is further deepened because there are two "ghosts" at work, one working to lure Voyager into a trap, the other trying to prevent that. The twist is that both seem to be a danger to the ship. The measures taken by the crew are interesting, and the ways the aliens use to counter them give them cold sweats. Is Tuvok, in fact, investigating himself?

One of the aliens, of course, is Chakotay's disembodied consciousness. In the least successful element of the episode, Chakotay returns to the ship brain dead, and yet no one ever gives up hope of "reintegrating" his consciousness into his body even if it's been vampirically sucked out of him. His medicine wheel is an interesting prop, and it's nice to see B'Elanna respect one of her commander's customs.

With Kes feeling Chakotay's vibes, it's really a haunted ship story, so it makes sense to start Janeway's holo-novel in this episode. It's quite clearly a take on Jane Eyre, and aside from the always creepy presence of Carolyn Seymour, isn't something I'm looking forward to. I'm not a big Brontë fan (not even a small one, I should say), but beyond that, I'm not sure what it wants to say about Janeway's character. Knowing in advance it'll be abandonned before coming to a close, it also feels like another missed opportunity for Voyager. Every season could have featured a grand holo-novel and paced itself through that (a bit like the never-seen Alamo program on DS9). Alas...

LESSON: Never give them up for dead.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Nice suspense, mystery and paranoia, though perhaps the twists aren't hard to see coming. Good, but rather inconsequential with its invisible enemies.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ambush Bug: The Real Countdown

I've been very much ignoring Countdown (to Final Crisis), even though I intend to read Final Crisis. But to me, the real countdown is to July 2008 for the return of Ambush Bug. START THE CLOCK!

Your Ambush Bug Moment of the Week: The Golden Age Ambush Bug's first appearance!Not a hoax, not an imaginary story, not an alternate universe in which Spock has a beard!*

*Well, maybe a hoax.

Star Trek 472: Heroes and Demons

472. Heroes and Demons

FORMULA: Emergence + Lost Among Us + Eric the Viking

WHY WE LIKE IT: The EMH gets an away mission.

WHY WE DON'T: Dumb technobabble. Cod beards. Janeway's new hair.

REVIEW: It's the old nugget where the crew captures energy and it turns out it's sentient, so it takes over the holodeck in order to communicate/wreak havoc. This time, it's "photonic energy"... so you mean, like, "light"? And so begins an episode that disappointed me greatly. After all, I don't think we've seen a viking holodeck program before, and Beowulf seemed like a fun and unusual choice back in 1995, more than 10 years before all the sucky movies started coming out. Alas, I found it really painful to sit through.

The main reason is that the Beowulf program is unconvincing. Fake beards and ham acting abound, and while it can be justified as a poorly designed "holo-novel", it's still not pleasant to look at or listen to. Unferth is an especially annoying character, whose last plot complication (the theft of the "lantern") is simply ignored. Freya and her father are better, but still have mannered speech patterns. And we have to sit through the same hammy set pieces more than once as the program more or less resets. At least the musical cues are properly heroic.

And it's all too bad, because it's the Doctor's first adventure outside sickbay - and a great idea for giving him the hero's role - and Robert Picardo does a good job of giving us the EMH's first reactions (to nature, to women, etc.). Unfortunately, the script insists on some lackluster comedy as well. His romance with Freya is somewhat sweet (the program seems altogether too raunchy though, Harry, you pervert), though doomed. I still don't see why he couldn't have resurrected her and continued it. At least it means he won't keep Schweitzer as a name. I don't think it would have worked.

So the Doctor's good, it's just everything else that's off. Chakotay comes off as a stuffy anthropology professor (though I like his opinion of Vulcan literature). The technobabble really gets out of control, contradicting everything we thought we knew about holodeck technology and throwing out terms like "energy mass". And the only thing worse than the cod beards is Janeway's new hairdo.

LESSON: Beowulf was better in the original Old English.

REWATCHABILITY - Low: Could and should have been a lot better. I was surprised at how stupid and dull it all was.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

This Week in Geek (17-23/03/08)

Buys

Only a four-day week. Didn't leave enough time for packages to get to my home. See you next week.

"Accomplishments"

Finished Manhunter volume 4 (Unleashed) and it reminded me of why I'm so glad it's back on the docket this spring. Not only does the book walk a thin tightrope between poking fun at superhero books and being a damn good one itself, but it's also full of witty dialogue and memorable characters. The centerpiece of this volume is Wonder Woman's trial for killing Maxwell Lord, a plot point I found repugnant, and yet, I'm ok with it here. Such is the power of Kate Spencer. More please!




On the DVD front, in addition to a steady diet of Star Trek: Voyager, I flipped Michael Palin's New Europe, another excellent travelogue through 20 countries of the former Eastern Block. The initial (more southerly) chapters are definitely the better ones, exuding the melancholy of people whose cultures seem to have been on hold for decades. Some of the sights are pretty exotic and spectacular too, especially the strange lava cones of Turkey and the Nazi resort in Northern Germany. So Michael, when are you going to take a trip through Canada? ;-)


Because of my roommate's sudden man-crush on Matt Damon, I also flipped The Bourne Ultimatum, which I think was the only film I saw in theaters last year. Wow, is that possible? I think it is. I'm such a recluse. The DVD includes a fair director's commentary (not a whole lot different from Supremacy's) and lots of featurettes on stunts and the joys of filming on location. Deleted and alternate scenes round out the package. Part of me wants the Bourne franchise to continue, but my reason tells me you shouldn't spoil a trilogy with one too many movies.

And after a break of 20 days (yipes!), I at last finished work on Human Nature/The Family of Blood for my Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG. Long overdue, but I needed to settle a number of game issues regarding the human Doctor and the galactic mayflies that are the Family of Blood. 27 new cards, all crafted today, really. Those interested should check them out as usual.
Someone Else's Post of the Week
Not a post so much as an entire blog, Palaeoblog is something I discovered at the tail end of Dinosaur Fortnight. It would either have helped me or hindered me greatly, I'm not sure which, but it's full of cool dinosaur material. Real science, comics and movies, everything you're looking for. So if 10 days of dinomania wasn't enough for you, there's the escape hatch.