Monday, June 30, 2008

5 Things to Like About OMAC

If you haven't gotten a copy of the OMAC: One Man Army Corps Omnibus, you really, really should. Its only real flaw is that it got interrupted mid-swing. Here are some (only some!) of my favorite moments in the book:

1. My body is rejecting the bullets!Yes, there's a medical reason why OMAC is bulletproof. Puts all other justifications for super-powers, EVER, to shame.

2. Nomenclature with OMAC
Animal? Vegetable? Mineral? All three?!? Here again, Kirby deals in pure comics. Screw realism. There can't possibly be a scientific explanation for visuals like this. And later, the monster "fission[s] like a hydrogen bomb!!!" so yeah, we're far off the Safari Cards.

3. The bad guys are ruthless
OMAC survives THIS, among other dangers! The first rule of OMAC: Everything! Must! Be! Extreme!!!

4. Super-Court!
Criminals in "the World That's Coming" don't just go to court, they go to Super-Court, at the very summit of Mount Everest. Everything! Must! Be! Extreme!!!

5. One army. One punch.
It only takes one.

Star Trek 570: The Disease

570. The Disease

FORMULA: The Perfect Mate + Retrospect + A Matter of Honor

WHY WE LIKE IT: Harry shows some balls.

WHY WE DON'T: Janeway's attitude again.

REVIEW: It's the one where Harry gets VD. Actually, that's a bit mean of me. The metaphor here is that love is essentially a disease, and the love bond is amplified in the story with some kind of sexually-transmitted chemical element. Things are made more complicated by this being a case of forbidden love, Harry breaking the rules to be with this girl (who's a right hottie, I agree). It's actually good to see Harry get off-spec, if you will, and show that he's more than just about duty and doing what he's told.

Of course, the way the conflict is engineered strains credulity (as per aforementioned Voyager laziness). We have this truly xenophobic race, the Varro, allowing themselves to be convinced to accept help from Voyager. Throughout, Janeway is desperate to help these people who do not want her help. Why? At some point, she mentions an off-chance that they might share some technology or be (short-term, surely!) allies. Her contention that they are spiritual cousins and that Voyager might become a generational ship has little weight considering that it can't have much more than 30 years to go, what with all its recent jumps. The Varro's xenophobia is really only to make Harry's affair more problematic.

Janeway's reaction to it is disproportionate in any case (even Chakotay says so). The Starfleet regulation requiring you to get permission from both your CO and CMO before engaging in relations with an alien makes sense (diplomatically and medically), but would have more weight if it had ever been referenced before. Sure, Kirk was probably his own CO, but did he get a lot of permissions from Bones? Did Picard and Sisko require their officers to conform to this as well? Even so, Janeway's attitude leaves a lot to be desired, and in fact, she pushes Harry to violate orders even more. Her warmer demeanor at the end of the episode manages to get the same points across without turning her into a fascist we can no longer agree with. Why can't she be more like that? The scene does reveal, perhaps, why Harry is stuck as an ensign over the course of the entire series: She sees him as her best and youngest son, and so, always as a child. Has she stalled his career with her motherly ways?

Harry's girlfriend Tal is appropriately exotic, with an odd accent (I don't know if it's part of Musetta Vander's native South African accent) and striking looks. Unfortunately, Charles Rocket is as white bread as they come, killing any real sense of the Varro's alienness. Tal is also part of a group of separatists aboard the generational ship, an interesting enough subplot that leads to some really cool effects sequences at the end. If she had such a wanderlust, I wonder why she never considered following Harry to Earth?

LESSON: Alien sex may require more than your basic condom.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: There have been lots of Star Trek romances where a character has been willing to jeopardize his or her career, but this is probably the most sensible and credible one. Shame about the Iron Maiden's reaction.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

This Week in Geek (23-29/06/08)

Buys

Nothing to see here. Move along. Leave the wallet alone.

"Accomplishments"

Books: I was hungry for some quality short stories, and I hadn't read a Julian Barnes book in a while (used to be my favorite contemporary writer) and so I picked up The Lemon Table, a collection of 11 stories about the bitterness of growing old. I wasn't disappointed. What struck me is how good Barnes is at crafting different "voices", and he never pulls the same stylistic trick twice. If I had to name a favorite, I guess it would be Hygiene, in which a regular visit to the out-of-town hooker is met with disappointment, but if you're a fan of Barnes' more postmodern work, like Flaubert's Parrot, check out Knowing French, which is written as correspondence to the author.

Comics: Finished the OMAC Omnibus, and while I knew it would end in an unresolved fashion, it still shocked me how the series was canceled so summarily. Still, it was good while it lasted, and I often found myself giggling at the sheer extremity of it all. It's comics with a capital !. I'll be paying proper homage to it tomorrow.







DVDs: Flipped All the President's Men, the classic 1974 film about Woodward & Bernstein's journalistic investigation of Watergate. It's quite a feat when you can make a compelling film about people with typewriters, and the movie succeeds mostly on the strength of the paranoid cinematography and the extremely authentic performances from Redford and Hoffman. Redford also provides a nicely detailed commentary track (he was producer as well), and an extra disc has documentary features on the film, the history, and what it meant to journalism as a whole. Only Jason Robard's vintage interview with Dinah Shore is fluff.

RPGs: Played rather than GMed this week, trotting out my usual character, an outside-the-box thinker/clown that is no doubt the terror of all the GMs out there. The Romepunk scenario had its high points, though my PC just can't thrive in anything that includes a lot of combat. Horse thieving, however, was right down my alley.

GTA4 completion: 68.5%. Addiction Level: High on Your Own Supply. (Story complete.)

Someone Else's Post of the Week
For post of the week, I'm going to point yo Caleb's always excellent Every Day Is Like Wednesday for a discussion on the racism implicit in Mark Millar's work, specifically in Wanted (coming to a theater near you!). His observations sparked an interesting debate in the comments section as well.

Star Trek 569: Dark Frontier

569. Dark Frontier

FORMULA: The Raven + First Contact + Infinite Regress

WHY WE LIKE IT: New Borg ships.

WHY WE DON'T: Continuity snafus. The new Queen.

REVIEW: The Borg Queen is back and with her, the promise of more Borg action. You know how we cleared Borg space in Scorpion? Well, Borg space ahead, kids. They really shouldn't have trusted a species who uses transwarp conduits to get everywhere in the galaxy. Janeway's reaction, however, is pretty arrogant. She gets greedy after winning a fight with a lowly probe and imagines a plan to steal a transwarp coil from the heart of a Borg Sphere. DESPITE the one Borg expert aboard telling her it's too dangerous.

And if the Borg Queen wasn't out to make a deal with Seven, they'd all have been assimilated. Yes, the Borg Queen returns, with Susanna Thompson (whom you may remember as Lenara Khan) in the role. Though she tries to approximate Alice Krige signature performance here and there, she never quite manages it. Her Queen is cold and boring, robotic even. And her plan doesn't make any more sense than Janeway's. We're not supposed to believe that she ALLOWED Seven to be cut off from the Collective in order to gain an insight into humanity that the Borg could then use to assimilate Earth. First, I'm not sure how Seven's insight would actually be an advantage when all you're gonna do is drop a ton of nanoprobes in the atmosphere and wait for people to get infected. Second, the Queen seems to consider Seven unique, and yet, there have been de-assimilated Borg before: Hugh and his gang, Locutus, and as we'll learn later, plenty of others. If the Collective is trying to create a new Queen who understands individuality, or if Seven is being groomed as a female version of Locutus, it's not expressly said here. Instead, we have a very convenient laxity on the Borg's part that allows Seven to remain Seven, the ship to rescue her, etc.

Against all this are flashbacks to when Seven was little Annika Hansen and her parents were filming a nature documentary starring the Borg. These sequences are problematic. On the one hand, we have the heavily rerun Q Who that shows us humanity's first encounter with the Borg. On the other, Generations had Guinan and her people escaping the Borg some 60 or 70 years earlier. So ok, the Hansens' were investigating rumors and had heard of the Borg. They do seem to know too much (as much as has EVER been revealed in Trek up to now), however, and if this much was at least rumored, then Picard appears to be quite a chump in TNG. While their investigation makes for interesting viewing, they are as irresponsible as Janeway, especially with a child aboard. On Voyager, that child is Naomi Wildman, which Seven associates with her younger self. Another Janeway tactical error: Trusting in the Hansens' methods to save her from the Borg. We're talking about methods that 1) didn't save them in the end and 2) were assimilated years ago by the Borg. No secrets there.

But that kind of faulty story logic is part and parcel of Voyager by now. I believe we're now heading into that era of the show that formed my rather negative opinion about it. The fifth season is definitely the turning point. Lazy scripts uplifted by beautiful effects, focus on only a few "cool" characters, an unreasonable Janeway, episodes that hardly star the crew at all, and playing fast and loose with established continuity (just like a comic book company!). So to distract us from the story's "logic", we get handed plenty of effects. New Borg structures abound: the Borg Lump, the Borg Diamond, the Borg City. Satisfying explosions, the Queen's usual brand of body-building, plenty of pretty graphics. It's all a bit video gamey to have won the Emmy that year over other Voyager nominations like Timeless and Thirty Days.

The climax is something of a battle for Seven's soul (already won by Voyager before Janeway walks into the room), and turns the whole Borg-Humanity conflict into a custody battle. From now on, when we see the Queen, she's Seven's adopted mom trying to get her back from Janeway, her "bio-mom". Or vice-versa, I'm not clear on the metaphor. What I AM clear on is that this weakens the Borg even further as an opponent race. I'm also not keen on their new lighting scheme, a stark, sickly green that eats up all the detail on screen. And as for Voyager, not only does it make its escape, it gets to use the transwarp coil to shave off another 15 years from its journey. This season has had how many big leaps now? 2 in Night, 10 more in Timeless... Definitely going to make any future appearance by the Hirogen or Malon suspect.

LESSON: Not to try to figure out how many crew members are still on the ship. This episode puts it back up to 144 (if I count the Doctor).

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: You can't dress up a pig and make me dance with it. Again, perfectly watchable, but falls short because it's more concerned with looking cool than making sense.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Spaceknight Saturdays: Rom vs. Air Force!

RomTM Vol.1, No.10, September, 1980 issue (as it is officially called) is an odd-looking comic. While it features the usual art of Sal Buscema, the quality of the linework seems to change from page to page because of the lettering. I'm sure it's an illusion, but thinner letters seem to make the inking bolder, and vice-versa. And the book has very diverse lettering styles going on in it, lettered as it is by the "Friends of Danny Crespi", Crespi being the actual letterer who'd fallen ill. According to an editor's note, various and sundry bullpeners chipped in. As you'll see, some of it is VERY amateurish and shaky.

Anyway, while Rom was fighting Serpentyne, Brandy and Steve were jailed in connection with the death-by-vegetable of Artie the Cop. Rom's solution is a simple and effective one: Bust them out.
Man, that really blew the sheriff's mind, didn't it? DON'T DO IT, SHERIFF! IT'S NOT WORTH IT! (And did you spot a vital clue in that cluster of panels? There'll be a test lower.)

Rom's quest at the moment, if you'll remember, is getting his Nullifier back. It's that blocky toy accessory that sends the Wraiths to Limbo keeping the horrorfest that are his battles with them to a manageable PG rating. He knows it's been taken to Washington D.C., but where's that? Brandy provides a useful map:
He's got to go, but before he does, he has to learn a valuable lesson about girls.
They're all the same, Rom. But then, wouldn't YOU be needy if you dated the Silver Sultan of Galador? In any case, Brandy already has a boyfriend, as indicated by what is my favorite scene to date:
Oh Rom, you've got it bad. Steve holds and smooches Brandy as the Spaceknight leaves, content that his manhood has been satisfied in this matter...
Wait. Hold on. "One of her own"? A creepy smile? It COULDN'T BE! ...Could it? It could and IT IS!

While you freak out, Rom's gotten himself to the nation's capital and violated presidential airspace. Break out the jet fighters and the heat-seeking missiles. Lowly humans, you think missiles can stop Rom?
And now your "SCREW THIS!" moment of the week:
Further, here's your "SCREW THIS TOO!" moment of the week:
But distracted as he is with the little planes, Rom doesn't see Sister Sweet get behind him in a hovercraft and blast his ass with purple beams (oh, dreaded purple!). He's captured by the Wraiths, Brandy's smooching alien Steve... It's all gone wrong.

Until next week!

Star Trek 568: Bliss

568. Bliss

FORMULA: Where Silence Has Lease + Persistence of Vision + The Cloud + The Game + Galaxy's Child

WHY WE LIKE IT: Naomi Wildman's big adventure.

WHY WE DON'T: Anything we haven't seen before?

REVIEW: It's that old nugget, the space siren trope, rearing its seductive head again. While Bliss isn't unwatchable, it IS derivative to the point of being forgettable. Voyager encounters what is basically a mouth in space, though they think it's a wormhole that leads directly and conveniently to Earth. Throw in some will-sapping telepathy and letters from home that promise to make your dreams come true, and you have an efficient lure for a stranded Starfleet crew.

Getting into the crew's headspace is something that's been done before, though here we do get to see what kind of life each character would love once he or she gets back to the Alpha Quadrant. Chakotay would like to become a teacher, Paris a test pilot, Neelix to have a valued role, Janeway is still hung up on Mark, and B'Elanna wants the Maquis to be alive. No real surprises. Seven and Naomi, lacking the drive to go back to the Earth, are unaffected, as is the Doctor, so it'll be up to them, along with a knowledgeable Ahab figure, to free Voyager from the monster's grip.

And it IS a monster far more than it is an alien life-form. Still very much indulging in fantasy, the show presents a creature I can't imagine evolving naturally. It eats starships. It can not only weaken people's minds and manipulate their senses to show them anything they want, but also broadcast actual sensor data and text messages. And yet, according to the Doctor, it does so on instinct and is likely non-sentient. What?!? I don't know if they were trying to make it ok for him to help kill the monster (because they actually don't), but it's a ludicrous assertion. If the creature's powers don't follow their own rules, it's that there are no rules. It does what it does because the script requires it to do so. In other words: The lazy writing Voyager is becoming known for.

The Seven-Naomi sisterly relationship is the bright spot and in many ways, the child's presence helps blanket the episode with a sort of fairy tale quality that makes sense. The technobabble solution at the end is so much more palatable when it's called "making Voyager taste bad", isn't it?

LESSON: Why they call it the mouth of a wormhole.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Not terribly badly done, but we've seen all of this before, and it's never risen above Medium either.

Friday, June 27, 2008

One Man Friday Night Fighting Corps

When OMAC meets tentacled freak, it gets ugly long before the fight can be inked and colored! Jack Kirby's tradition lives on in Bahlactus!

Joe Quesada Out, Siskoid In

Let the Marvel rampage begin! Hey, fair is fair, and as far as I'm concerned, Joey Q's rating is lower than than DiDio's no matter how much better he's doing financially. He makes some of the same bonehead decisions, and compounds it with criminal PR disasters. So what would I try to do with Marvel Comics were I given those particular reigns?Well, what's good for the goose is also good for the gander, so there are some strategies I detailed yesterday that could apply just as well to Marvel. Series shutting down when its creative team leaves, no more line-wide crossover "events", distinctions for what deserves hardcover treatment, and tighter editing are all still good ideas across the road from DC.

In addition...

-Marvel has always maintained that Continuity was King. No reboots, no fresh starts, everything that happened, happened. This is clearly fallacy. Siskoid doesn't like hypocrisy, so we're no longer making a point of this. Does that mean I'd advocate a line-wide reboot? That's a tough call. On the one hand, no matter how badly it was handled, the Spider-reboot has done good for the character. On the other, it seems like Marvel can't possibly do a reboot because that's the competition's thing. But when Marvel HAS rebooted characters and situations, they continuity contortions to justify it have been, shall we say, difficult (One Last Day, Secret Invasion). Still, if Mephisto has the power to reboot a single character, some final rebooting event is entirely possible using the Marvel cosmogony. In the end, the Marvel Universe would be dreamed back into alignment to bring its icons back into focus with as much or as little baggage as they need. Much like they did with Spider-Man.

-Among the things I would do away with is Civil War's repercussions. It makes the Marvel Universe too fascist, bringing elements from the X-Men franchise to every other title.

-Lower prices. I'm not against making money, I'm against unfair price points. There's no reason why two Marvel Comics with the same number of pages and paper stock should have 1$ difference. A 22-page comic for 4 bucks is simply too much. I would also reduce the number of alternate covers across the board (what is this, the 90s?), and reduce prices on comics DVDs so that they are more in line with what was previously offered by GIT Corp. I see no reason to fleece an already fragile customer base.

-Creators that might fall from favor include Bendis who is for the moment spread out so thin he keeps repeating himself. There's no call to have him on so many books. Other than that, all those cover artists who can't draw feet, you know the type. Mark Millar's cynicism is counter productive to my way of thinking and I refuse to continue wasting good artists on his brand of shock theater. JMS and Jeff Loeb aren't high on my list either.

-An odd detail to focus on, but I hate the fonts used by letterers in too many Marvel titles, specially those that use lower case letters. It's becoming the new Comic Sans Serif for me.

-Practice some sensitivity. Marvel has done a poor job of depicting minorities and women in recent years. I don't care how many fanboys would like Mary Jane Love Slave or Eviscerated Bride statues on their mantle, Marvel needs to act more responsibly to gender and racial issues. Quesada's reaction to MJGate, the Hentai cover, and other charges of representational misogeny was to say the dead parrot was only resting. Combine that with photos of him in strip bars on the Internet and claims that readers couldn't identify with a married man, and you have one of the most disagreeable public personae in Comic Book Land. Marvel also needs to do a better job with racial issues: Storm and Black Panther get married cuz they're both Africans, the death of Black Goliath at Aryan hands, and have you read Kick-Ass? Maybe there's malice, and maybe (probably) there isn't, but editors need to realize the appearance of a thing is as offensive as the thing itself.

-Marvel needs its own Vertigo imprint. Ages ago, they briefly trotted out Frontier, along with, what, 3 other new imprints, all at the same time. All were doomed to failure. I would like to see a little harsher separation between Mature Readers books than the rather soft line between "Parental Advisory" titles like the Marvel Knights line. Marvel could definitely stand to revamp their horror books (all of which are available as Essentials) into modern horror, and I believe a better identified imprint would help sell books like Omega the Unknown and Criminals to the right audience. Call it Frontier, call it Epic, but call it.

-Marvel's website definitely needs an upgrade, especially when it comes to its actual comic book releases. As it is, the week's comics are way at the bottom, and the catalog lists are filled with variants of all sorts, not very well organized, and never list creators. The website listings are actually less useful than a 3-month-old copy of Previews.

Now for some notes on individual titles...

-Cancel and never again resurrect: Kick-Ass, Anita Blake (sorry, Chris Sims), Marvel Comics Presents, and... You know, I'm looking at June's listing, and there are way too many titles that are less than a year old and that I know nothing about. Hard to cut them loose, but I do see it as a problem. Because while I can't be expected to read every book on the stands (unless you actually give me the job), I do read an awful lot of comic book blogs. And if it's not on ANYBODY's radar, well, that can't be a good sign, can it? Certainly, I'd pair down the X-titles, Wolverine titles and Avengers titles, but how exactly would demand more study than I'm willing to give it right now.

-Amazing Spider-Man: It's crazy, but One More Day is working out fine. A good direction to keep, though I'm only really attached to Dan Slott as a writer. Could the "braintrust" be a good way to go for other multi-title characters/teams (of either company)?

-Iron Man: Invincible is the title to beat. Not only does it play down the character assassination that has been going on in virtually every other title, it's a nice place for the movie's fans to go. I would call for all successful Marvel movie franchises to do the same. Not quite kowtow to movie continuity, but still respect the same iconic tropes for smoother movie-fan-to-comics-fan migration.

-Hulk: An example of how this is not currently done. There should be an Incredible Hulk comic starring Bruce Banner on the stands parallel to the movie's release. Red Hulk, Son of Hulk, Incredible Herc... Some of these are good/promising, but it's not the same.

-Captain America: I trust Brubaker on this, but I fully intend Steve Rogers to return at some point.

-Avengers and X-Men: Both franchises need to be a lot trimmer. Every time they sprawl team books like this, you can't get a classic line-up going.

-Alpha Flight: I'd write the damn thing myself to make sure it's properly Canadian.

-Marvel Adventures: No problems there.

-Ultimate Marvel: I would consider shutting it down. It made sense as a way to attract new readers afraid of the established continuity, but today has enough baggage to deter new readers just as much as the "real" MU. Furthermore, while I enjoyed the experiment for the first couple years, it may have become a sort of competition for the regular stable of titles. If you're going to offer an alternative Spider-Man that's more fun that the real deal, readers are likely to desert one for the other.

-Also worthy of a series: Damage Control, Doctor Strange, Nextwave.

-I'd mention limbo characters, but Marvel has been really good at trotting out even the most obscure of characters lately (Rocket Raccoon, the members of the Twelve, 3D Man, etc.) but I would have to say Rom Spaceknight, right? ;-)
And you?

Star Trek 567: Gravity

567. Gravity

FORMULA: Final Mission + All Our Yesterdays + The Motion Picture's Vulcan sequences

WHY WE LIKE IT: Noss.

WHY WE DON'T: Too few flashbacks.

REVIEW: Gravity has a number of interesting threads, but one too many for any of them to be fully explored. The first of these is the flashback to Tuvok's youth. Giving credit where it's due, Trek has never really done this before (not without a time travel element). The problem with it here is that we don't flash back ENOUGH. Narratively, these sequences should act as counterpoints to the present day story, weave in and out of it. At the rate shown, not only are they a little jarring (i.e. you had time to forget about the entire thread), but Tuvok goes from angry young man directly to cured in between flashbacks. There's no sense of build-up as he's deprogrammed and brought in line with his usual characterization.

In the present, his emotionlessness is brought into play by the character of Noss, who is one of the more interesting love interests we've seen in Voyager. Totally atypical with her short hair and strange intonations, she makes the mistake of loving a man who cannot love at all because if he did, it would be the end of him. In the end, he does share himself with her via mindmeld, and I guess that's as far as the a Tuvok romance can go.

Distracting from the Tuvok story is the whole idea that his away team is trapped in a solar system that's down in a subspace layer accessible only through a gravity well that's about to be destroyed by local aliens. First, that is some crazy-ass science. No one can just be shipwrecked anymore - it's got to be in another dimension. It seems quite the stretch just to introduce a temporal element in there so that Tuvok and Noss could get to know each other for two months. It's a chance to see the multispatial probe used for real, but otherwise, a lot of technobabble and manufactured tension.

The climax just throws too much at the characters to be credible. Not only are the aliens going to close the gravity well early, but the aliens trapped on the planet with Tuvok also decide to attack Noss' compound at the same moment, just so it comes down to the last second. No wonder we don't have time to get back to young Tuvok very often.

LESSON: The recipe for spider sammiches.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Too heavy a script jeopardizes what's actually good about it - a sweet anti-romance and exploration of Tuvok's character and Vulcan discipline.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dan DiDio Out, Siskoid In

This week on Great Ceasar's Post, Maxo responded to yet another round of rumors that Dan DiDio would be canned from his position as DC Comics Editor-in-Chief by asking where we'd personally take DC (not that I think he's doing a particularly bad job). Playing editor is just my thing! I did it once before in a post that tried to come up with a Final Crisis strategy. It's almost a year later and you know, those ideas still seem good to me. But let's go further this time:

I would still call for a Final Reboot and ask writers to tie up storylines before the end of FC, still publish Reboot Month, still have characters' rebooted backstories detailed there without requiring any character to be reset at Year 1, and still launch every new series about an established character with a Reboot Special. Details HERE.

In addition...

-Publish a new version of Who's Who that takes the new history into account, with special minis to come for pre-Crisis, post-Crisis, post-Zero Hour, post-Infinite Crisis continuity (like Marvel Universe has done with decades).

-Keep events to families of books à la Sinestro War. Enough with the major crossovers. Make the Final Crisis truly Final for the foreseeable future.

-Better editing, definitely. Continuity between titles is very poor at the moment.

-We all have our own biases as far as artists, writers and characters go, so obviously, there are some people I wouldn't be giving work to - Benes, Meltzer, Starlin, Daniel, etc. - and others I'd try to attract from the competition: Fraction, Brubaker, Romita Jr.

-Flagship titles deserve the very best creators. No crap, and no stunts (i.e. non-comics writers).

-More Omnibus-format books, possibly with soft covers. Higher end than Showcases, lower end than hardcovers. (NOT EVERYTHING REQUIRES COLLECTED HARDCOVER TREATMENT!)

-The split between DC and Vertigo needs to be repaired. Not only do I see no problem with Vertigo stars appearing in DC books, I think it would oil the wheels for crossovers in the other direction. Vertigo needs an injection of new blood in addition to creator-owned projects.

-Get into that digital comics racket all the kids are talking about these days.

-Tie creators more closely to their books. When a creative team puts a definitive stamp on a title, why keep it going after it has left? Take for example the decline in both quality and interest in All-New Atom after Gail Simone left. Is Blue Beetle on its way there as well? The Darwyinless Spirit? Why take the risk? Ending the series (indeed, considering it a "limited" maxi-series) opens the schedule up to new projects and keeps the property open for either a properly planned relaunch or the creative team's return in mini-series or specials to continue the story. So I know people are sad to see Catwoman canceled, but if Pfeiffer was going to leave anyway, I would have to approve. (Obviously, this isn't a scheme for DC's big properties.)

-DC's recognizable properties (i.e. that have been successful in other media or are part of the cultural zeitgeist) should be kept in print as much as possible and given strong attention: And yes, that means Supergirl too.

Now for some notes on individual titles...

-Cancel and never again resurrect: Batman and the Outsiders, Titans (only needs one monthly), Infinity Inc., all those Confidential books, Superman/Batman.

-JLA: Off-track. Needs to be bigger and bolder, closer to both Morrison's run and the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. Leave the soap opera in X-Men where it belongs and make this an event book. Maybe then there won't be a need for extreme tonnage in event mini-series all year round.

-Teen Titans: This family of titles has gotten so far off track that we're better off reseting it entirely post-FC. If it could have a Year One vibe, that would be great.

-Flash: Hard to say before FC wraps up, but I wouldn't mind bringing Barry Allen back and retiring Wally, or rebooting him to Kid-Flash status for my rebooted Titans book. CSI with superheroics. Let's do it already.

-Legion of Super-Heroes: We'll see how the Legion Crisis shakes up the book, but I wouldn't mind the 80s Legion back in full force as per Geoff Johns' vision.

-Checkmate: Replaced by Suicide Squad. Now.

-Batgirl: Sorry, we don't need Cassandra. A book staring Barbara Gordon before The Killing Joke would be great, however. As the current Batman Confidential story arc shows.

-Shazam!: Jeff Smith needs to come back for more. (Though I'll gladly give Mike Kunkel's new series a chance. Captain Marvel really needs to show some face on the racks.)

-Aquaman: The real one, as policeman of the seas, please. Enough with the blond Namor trope.

-Hawkman: With continuity as confused as the Legion's, the Hawks need to be rebooted as the sexy married couple Kubert used to draw in the Silver Age.

-Also worthy of an ongoing series: New Frontier, something relating to the 7 Soldiers, Swamp Thing. I might also get behind Doom Patrol, Blackhawk and the Question (especially if it's a rebooted Vic Sage).

-Limbo characters I would like to see given a shot (either in DC or Vertigo mini/maxi): Green Team, Global Guardians, Prez, Slam Bradley, some would say Wild Dog is primed for a comeback.
What would you do?

Star Trek 566: Bride of Chaotica!

566. Bride of Chaotica!

FORMULA: Night + Heroes and Demons + Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang

WHY WE LIKE IT: Satan's Robot.

WHY WE DON'T: The Bride (there's OTT and then there's OTT).

REVIEW: From start to finish, Bride is a masterful exercise in style. The look, the fades, the music, the acting style, the retro SF vocabulary, the costumes, the black and white cinematography, the dramatic recap, the wobbly sets, the castle that wants you to start singing about Camelot... There's even a Planet Hell inside joke. All of it, beautifully conceived and crafted.

The plot about a photonic version of Starfleet invading the holodeck and thinking it's a real planet, however, strains credulity. It probably should, as this is a just a bit of goofy fun. But where something similar like Our Man Bashir just had one crazy premise for us to swallow, Bride leaves too many questions unanswered. Where do the aliens get proper period costumes when they look like nothing else in the program? How can the holodeck interact with the aliens like they're holograms too when the computer shouldn't really recognize them? What kind of convenient malfunction actually prevents the holodeck's power source from being unplugged? And worst of all, why did Harry and Tom sit on information about interdimensional openings on the holodeck for three whole days? My point is this: A comedy episode doesn't justify lazy writing.

As a comedy, it has its good moments. Satan's Robot is especially entertaining (especially its disheartened "Invaders!"), and Tom's deadpan "his armies of death" has just the right dryness to it. Janeway has always shown herself a more than competent actress in other settings, and not surprisingly, she plays Arachnia to the hilt. I find Kate Mulgrew's performance to be very distracting however. Yes, Arachnia should be played over the top, but Mulgrew makes Janeway's reactions to the program over the top as well, her face a collection of twitches and ticks. I'm not sure needed the toilet humor about Bolians either.

LESSON: Exclamation points make everything more dramatic. I mean, more dramatic!

REWATCHABILITY - Just a bit better than Medium: Loved the style, but found the substance lacking.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ambush Bug: Slumming It

In a month, Ambush Bug returns to the DCU properly, despite appearances in a Loser Justice League (I'm not talking about the current incarnation, no) and a Lobo mini-series (they still publish those things?). Before that, his last true appearance was 1992's Nothing Special, in which he literally leaves the DC Universe. So the question is: Where's he been all this time?

It's been intimated that he was in Arkham Asylum all along.I don't believe a word of it. That's just a cover story for people who don't have the Reality Check power. No, he's been around...

He took up residence in the City of Heroes online game for a while, until he had his fill of superheroes called SSSPIIDDORM_ANNN.
Became spokesperson for a beer company.
Went on the HeroClix circuit.
Palled around with fellow 90s humor outcast Lobo.
And tried to get extra cash by appearing in sketchbooks...
...before getting into the subversive cameo racket.
But that's all over now. Proper appearances. A proper mini-series. A proper place in the DCU pantheon.

There's no going back...

Star Trek 565: Latent Image

565. Latent Image

FORMULA: Clues + Whispers + The Swarm + Retrospect + The Measure of a Man

WHY WE LIKE IT: Some nice direction.

WHY WE DON'T: The EMH is a toaster.

REVIEW: It's Clues in reverse as the crew tries desperately to keep a disturbing moment out of the Doctor's memory, but he proves too resourceful for them. That memory: Given equal chances of survival, he unethically perhaps chose his friend Harry over another ensign for a life-saving operation. The conflict in his program had made him go mad and Janeway had ordered the event wiped from his databanks. So the first half of the episode plays like a conspiracy mystery, but it quickly turns into a study of ethics. The Doctor's, yes, but Janeway's as well. While the Doctor asks how anyone can make a moral choice given those circumstances, the deeper question of the episode is whether the Doctor has a soul.

But while Data had the support of his captain when it came to his civil rights, Janeway still sees the EMH as a piece of software and nothing more. You wouldn't think twice about formatting your hard drive, right? Her arguments, however, are rather insulting (comparisons to a replicator, etc.) and Seven once again has to call her on her bullshit. I was happily surprised to see Janeway reexamine her views on the EMH and realize that he had grown beyond his original programming and was, perhaps, a person. She had been dodging a simple truth: A human doctor might also have suffered a breakdown after those events. Letting him work it out naturally might take time, but we know he'll get through to the other side eventually. I'm not sure about the Vita Nuova reference, but referring to Dante also conjures up the image of a lost soul walking through hell and purgatory to purge his sins.

The girl not chosen to live, Ensign Jetal, was cute and sassy, so it's really too bad we never got to know her more (we couldn't, by the very premise of this episode), though the personality evident on screen makes her death more meaningful. And though the second half of the episode is where it gets heavy and important, the investigation that precedes it must also be commended. The Doctor's plans are clever, and Seven makes a natural ally, this time because she's the new girl.

But what really puts this one over the top is the direction. There are a lot of moments with real flair one show: The rack focus between the Doctor's face and the memories being unlocked, the degraded holo images looking like bad Photoshop embossments, the creepy opening of doors when someone comes to sabotage the EMH, letting console surfaces tell the story in reflections and empty rooms... The most subtle - indeed, you practically have to be told about it - is Ensign Jetal's face being incorporated into the holo-camera's flash. Subliminal haunting.
Stolen soulBrilliant work by Mike Vejar.

LESSON: 18 months prior, Kes took a vacation from nursing.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: I'd have easily given it a High if it didn't participate in the destruction of Janeway's character. Despite her change of heart, she still comes at it from a morally weak position.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Watch Your Mouth!

Since the dawn of time (or at least since they instituted the Comics Code), Man has been trying to get curse words under the wire in all-ages books. It's one of the great human endeavors. It's that pioneering spirit that eventually made the despotic Comics Code fall, gave rise to the great and bountiful Vertigo, and paved the way for the JLA becoming a T&A rag.

Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

My favorite hidden curse word of all time is from Doom Patrol #32, which features the Pale Police, a Grant Morrison nightmare threat that only speak in anagrams. Now, tell me: What do these letters unscramble into?Granted, Doom Patrol isn't a Code-approved book, but this is still well before it got labelled as "Mature Readers Only".

In your usual Code-approved comic, a simple $%@! will do. The Code may be history, but comics are still marketed to different age groups. Marvel rates them like movies and video games, and a Rated T for Teen will give you plenty of $%@! for which to substitute your own favorite cuss word.

For aliens or people from the future, there's the substitution of some weird word (often frag or frak) in lieu of the so much more human F-word. The Green Lantern Kilowog has been calling people "poozer" for decades now, and I really didn't think of it as a dirty word, but then he started using it with this phrasing:
To my knowledge, there's only ONE word that can be substituted for "pooz" in that one. Which makes "poozer" a lot more crass than I imagined. Seeing as this is from Justice League Unlimited #46, an ALL-AGES book, I have to say it's overstepped its bounds. Tsk, tsk. Where's the soap?

What are your favorite and least favorite hidden cursing moments?

Star Trek 564: Counterpoint

564. Counterpoint

FORMULA: The Enterprise Incident + The Raven + Relics

WHY WE LIKE IT: Playa gets played.

WHY WE DON'T: Prime Directive blues. (Am I repeating myself?)

REVIEW: Counterpoint is an episode with a strong hook (Janeway complacently lets the space gestapo ransack Voyager in search of telepaths they've hidden in a transporter beam to get through their space) that develops well, has memorable guest characters, and makes the cast look smart. It also has sizeable plot holes that I find incredibly distracting.

What works: Kashyk provides a good romantic foil for Janeway. Has he really fallen for human culture or for Janeway? Or is he still working for the Devore Imperium? Maybe a little of both? He and Janeway get enough quiet moments to let you believe something could develop between them, and there's a really nice moment when a security guard notices their chemistry. You can hear the rumor mill start spinning its wheels. But of course, he IS playing her and it's all a grand con game, but as in the best con stories, the con men end up getting conned. Janeway covered her bets well, and screwed Kashyk out of his victory. Nice. I also want to mention my favorite make-up in all of Trek: Torat's. The inflatable nose bags aren't just funny, they also give him alien mannerisms.

What doesn't work: First of all, what is this wormhole worth to Voyager? While it might seem (without being explicitly said) that it would take Voyager out of the Imperium and closer to home - reason enough to help the telepathic refugees - Janeway's endgame precludes them from ever using it. Even worse, they give up two shuttles and are left stranded in the middle of enemy space. How could she know her ship would then be spared? How far to the border anyway? And isn't Tuvok, a telepath, right there on the bridge when the Devore return? Questions, questions.

And then there's the Prime Directive. Voyager keeps breaking it and to make matters worse, they keep mentioning it just so we notice. Here we do get an explanation however. Janeway admits to playing fast and loose with Starfleet Order #1 and usually letting the Board of Inquiry handle it. In fact, she infers she's been in front of the Board many times, as she's on a first name basis with those admirals. Knowing that she ends up as an admiral herself, the story paints the picture of a political animal. Get in good with the bosses, get yourself out of courts-martial, climb that ladder right to the top. I'm not against the characterization, but in light of other comments she's made about following Starfleet rules, it does make her a hypocrite.

LESSON: Mahler knew his subspace harmonics.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: A strong episode for Janeway, but the refugees could have just escaped through that massive plot hole at anytime.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Year One... of What Continuity?

You know, no matter how hard I try, I can't figure out where Final Crisis will leave the DC Universe. If the original Crisis shrunk the multiverse to a single Earth, and Infinite Crisis+52 brought that number back up to 52, then in what state will Grant Morrison leave the multiverse post-Final Crisis?

One of the reasons I'm confused is that DC has been putting out a number of Year One series, admittedly few of which I've read (the wonderful Teen Titans and the underrated Huntress - I haven't seen anyone mention this one, but I'm really enjoying it). If Final Crisis will (like other Crises) reboot the universe, why waste time rebooting characters BEFORE that final reboot?

Presumably, facts established in Year Ones will be respected in the new continuity. Then again, we've barely even tasted the post-IC/52 continuity in the wake of which these books are coming out. So will there even BE a reboot? If there is, is it too soon? If there isn't, is it really worthy of being called Crisis? Or will the post-52 multiverse be simply tweaked to a) rewrite the rules for multiversal storytelling (with Hypertime or some such thing) and/or b) finally gel character histories into a final continuity?

After all, the Year Ones are arguably only featuring second-tier characters right now. And when they're not (Green Lantern), they're being written by people who are also handling aspects of the Crisis (Geoff Johns, in that case). Are more fundamental Year Ones waiting on those Final Tweaks?

Any theories?

Star Trek 563: Thirty Days

563. Thirty Days

FORMULA: The Ambergris Element + The Chute + Home Soil

WHY WE LIKE IT: The underwater environment. The Delaney Sisters.

WHY WE DON'T: Prime Directive blues.

REVIEW: Told as Tom's confession during 30 days of incarceration - though it breaks its own rules by sometimes going to other characters - Thirty Days will perhaps be best remembered for its gorgeous special effects. The ocean planet, its underwater city, all the marine action... It's very, very pretty. And an unusual environment, which we haven't nearly gotten enough of in Trek.

The story itself is more usual however. Thirty Days is an ecological fable about respecting the oceans, and a warning that Man can upset its balance and cause untold disaster. Scientists good, politicians bad. The sort of thing we see all the time. Perhaps we should count ourselves lucky that the center of the sphere didn't house its "true inhabitants"(TM).

Of course, the real focus is Tom Paris who remains unconvincing as the bad boy, and indeed, doesn't do anything here that's truly objectionable. Plus, he was goaded into it by his girlfriend! Bad boy indeed. At least there are consequences this time, and one could imagine a solitary cell with a revolving door on Voyager if one wanted to. The show is so wildly inconsistent on such things that it's doubtful such punishment is doled out with any regularity, but it's interesting to see it at least once. Gonna have to get used to thinking of Paris as an ensign, but as an ex-con, he probably shouldn't have gotten better from day 1.

And speaking of being inconsistent, the episode would be loads better if the writers actually understood the Prime Directive. You can't trot it out as a plot element and not know what it is. In Thirty Days, it's plainly wrong for Paris to shut down a refinery or two, but giving the aliens information and technology that will most likely change/save their culture seems fine. I remember the days when you couldn't help any more than you could harm, but the Moneans here get handed the same technology Janeway wouldn't give to the Kazon only just 4 years ago.

The episode does score extra points for a Captain Proton sequence starring the Delaney Sisters, twins mentioned throughout the first season, but never seen.

LESSON: Day 10 is when you crack.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: By all means, watch it for the Emmy-nominated effects. The story's a little limp, but the show looks so good, you hardly mind.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

This Week in Geek (16-22/06/08)

Buys

Found a pretty incredible deal on the Six Feet Under DVD boxed set, and having enjoyed the first couple of seasons before my schedule took me away from it, I jumped on it. Plus, I've got a friend who desperately wants to borrow it and I do so love acting like my inner circle's library. There's a grassy cemetery plot on top of the box that's either supremely silly or wicked cool, but I can't decide which.



"Accomplishments"

Books: Finished Douglas Coupland's Generation X, his first and best known book. I must say that it captured lucidly the particular quirks of my generation (I'm tail-end, to be sure, but GenX nonetheless). On numerous occasions, I was surprised to read something that I thought was unique to my world view (or at least, non-generational). If there's a theme to be drawn from the novel (and thus, the group of people it depicts) it's that of impermanence. For GenXers, relationships, jobs, families are not permanent and not expected to be so. We half accept this, and half scurry after pieces of nostalgia to make permanent. A kind of idealistic cynicism permeates the book. And my apartment.

DVDs: Flipped The Wire Season 2, or "the one that takes place on the docks". It's an environment you don't see often, and held my interest with the usual deft direction, sparkling writing and fine acting. A break from the projects, but keeping tabs on those as well. One character I really loved from Season 1 bites the dust, so that's a minus, but on the whole, a thumbs up. Two episodes have commentary tracks, and I have to say the first is marred by atrocious sound mixing. They've got Dominic West (McNulty -whom I wouldn't have pegged as a Brit!) real loud, and Michael K. Williams (Omar) lower than the episode soundtrack. It's too bad because they're pretty entertaining.

RPGs: Finished off the spy game I was running on Role-Playing Monday, and I can now admit to having used the You Only Live Twice scenario from the James Bond 007 (didn't before in case my players took it upon themselves to rent the film). Lots of differences anyway, so it wouldn't have worked out for them. In fact, it didn't anyway. It was going along real well there, and then they failed to destroy the volcano and let a deadly virus out into the ocean, killing millions and bringing the USA and USSR on the brink of armageddon. Can't win 'em all!

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 20, all from Logopolis.

GTA4 completion: 65.60%. Addiction Level: Buying in Bulk.

Someone Else's Post of the Week
Mark Engblom is celebrating Superman's 70th birthday all month long over on Comic Coverage, and each new day brings new Superman-related material, and not just from the comics either. Mark manages to make everything look so pretty too. I'm just going to grab a random post from this week, but do try to browse the entire month. I can't really decide, so how about Part 3 (of 5) of the Kryptonite Chronicles?