Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More Green Muck

RAMPAGING HULK #7, Marvel Comics, February 1978
The Hulk's not a swamp monster, I know, but half the magazine-sized Rampaging #7 is devoted to the return of the Man-Thing, who is. Sadly, I do not own any issues of the obscenely-titled Giant-Sized Man-Thing, and what few issues I have of the late 90s Man-Thing aren't very good. I liked the creature's stint in Marvel Universe Presents, but at only a few pages per issue, it's a little harder to talk about. So Rampaging Hulk it is.

Now, for those who don't know, Man-Thing is the Marvel Comics equivalent of DC's Swamp Thing and the best example of industrial espionage between the two companies since the X-Men and the Doom Patrol both trotted out their wheelchair-bound leader only a few months apart. Man-Thing and Swamp Thing are both scientists that fell into a swamp and were turned into vegetable monsters. So which came out first? Man-Thing did, but only by a month.

Unlike Swampy, the Man-Thing is a mindless creature that is attracted to violent emotions that make it reach out and touch you with its acid-producing fingers ("and whatever knows fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing!"). It lives in a swamp that is also a nexus for various dimensions, so the stories tend to be a lot weirder than the early Swamp Things. Case in point: "Among the Great Divide", which features a half-naked chick referred to in the purple prose as a "living - or at least animate - grotesquerie, wailing like a banshee in heat, sinking her claw-like nails deep into Man-Thing's miry mass." Since this is followed by a bunch of ass-crack shots and see-thru nips, the tendency to think of this as soft core erotica is rather tempting.
And not too flattering to that girl considering the protagonist has three roots for a face. If you want real grotesque, check out the girl's mother.
I can't believe a comics legend like Jim Starlin drew this thing. It's really rough and out of perspective. I guess if it's not full of stars and nebulae (or optionally, kung fu), Starlin can't do it.

Anyway, it turns out the girl has split personalities and they've become tangible thanks to the swamp's mojo action. This 15-year-old (drawn like a 19-year-old nymph by Starlin) runs from her mom, goes clubbing with her gang in tow, and ends up almost raped by Larry from Three's Company's ugly brother. Steve Gerber sometimes goes on decent flights of postmodernism, but in the final analysis, it's all a bit heavy-handed and talky (especially considering the protagonist doesn't speak).

Now if you're looking for real weirdness, the Hulk story is much stranger than the muck monster's. Hulk's a green monster too, so I might as well say a few words about it. Or to start with, let me just show you a panel:
Yes, this is a Hulk story in which a ghost with an eyeball for a head comes out of the purse of a chainmail-bikini-wearing chick with a mohawk. And that's not the freakiest stuff to come down the pike. She, Rick Jones and the Hulk all get into her bird mask, which turns into a spaceship and where she uses what is basically a huge cyclops/Mrs. Potato-head hybrid to tell us what happened:
Mohawk-chick creates a lot of these creatures and when they die, they just go back to the purse. They've coalesced into that eyeball demon and it's running amok. No problem! The chick creates a love-gun filled with her... you don't want to know. By the end, Rick will have to use the "bliss-maker" to stop the demon, and prevent the chick from being burned at the stake by comic book gypsies. He hasn't gone to a shooting range for a while though:
Yeah, that's not really how you should hold that thing. It falls in the fire, and the Hulk has to shoot it instead. Big explosion, and the bird-chick wakes up screaming "Yes... Oh, yes, YES!!!" in rather coital fashion.

What can I say? Marvel's big magazines were geared toward an older audience (that's why they're black and white - kids don't dig the black and white), but they're not quite Vertigo level yet. As you can see, it's a lot of innuendo, pretentious psychobabble, and maybe a rape thrown in for good measure. But if you must get Rampaging Hulk #7, get it for a good reason...
Get it because the Hulk frickin' punches out an elephant! Yah!

Star Trek 662: The Communicator

662. The Communicator

FORMULA: Patterns of Force + A Piece of the Action + Tomorrow Is Yesterday + Little Green Men

WHY WE LIKE IT: The biggest "Prime Directive" cock-up since TOS.

WHY WE DON'T: The invisible man.

REVIEW: Another bad experience in the long line that will lead to the creation of the Prime Directive, Malcolm leaves a communicator behind on a pre-warp planet, and in trying to get it back, makes things much, much worse. It's a good example of Enterprise creating stories out of things we've been taking for granted for over 15 years of Trek. The more modern Trek crew is well versed in alien contact protocols, etc., but these guys are just making it up as they go along, and a blunder or two should be expected.

In this case, things go from bad to worse when Archer and Reed get mistaken for spies from another superpower, delivering phase pistols into the hands of militaristic aliens. Even worse, their disguises are revealed during a violent interrogation, as the flimsy make-up rips off and their blood turns out to be red. Even a cover story about genetically engineered soldiers won't save them from a postmortem autopsy and some rather grisly gallows.

It's all down to Trip and Travis. You may be surprised to know that the Suliban cell ship captured in Broken Bow is still in the hold (because I certainly was), and its cloaking abilities are put to some use in retrieving the captured crew and equipment. There's a ridiculous sequence in which the cloaking effect renders Trip's arm invisible for a few days, which is the usual "Trip-up", and bizarrely doesn't feature into the escape plan whatsoever. I'm not sure I wanted a repeatable plot device for invisible men, but here, I'm left wondering what the point was (other than once again humiliating Trip).

The rescue itself is well choreographed action, including a short dogfight that reminds one a lot of Star Wars, just from the craft profiles. Though the evidence is more or less all taken, first hand accounts will probably be inciting a nation to war in the near future (or perhaps deterring one, who knows). Either way, lesson learned. The Archer and Reed pairing continues to work well, and the other characters do ok.

LESSON: Always double check your motel room before going to the airport.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: A bit if a deus ex machina and some silly padding, but The Communicator creates something worthwhile from a very simple idea.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Welcome to the Swamp

SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING #29, DC Comics, October 1984
I've been swamped at work recently, which gave me an idea for the week's theme: Swamp monsters! Do you need a better reason? It gets me to talk about the Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, John Totleben Swamp Thing, how's that for a reason?

In the early 80s, I'd bought a Len Wein issue of Swamp Thing, and it didn't mean anything to me. Swamp dude fights Crystal dude in, where else, a swamp. But a year later, my kid brother begged me to buy the most recent issue of Swamp Thing because, well, he was 7 years old and it had monsters in it. I bought #29, relatively early in the seminal Alan Moore run, and I don't know about my kid brother, but it freaked me out so badly I didn't buy another issue of Swamp Thing until I was, like, 2 years into university.

Found on the regular comic book racks, it's one of the few comics at the time not to boast Comics Code approval. And naturally so: This is the incest/necrophilia/bestiality issue.

See, it seems that Swamp Thing's girlfriend Abby Cable is once again sleeping with her husband Matt, but guess what, he's dead and his corpse is being animated by Abby's uncle Anton via various insects crawling inside him. Incest. Necrophilia. Bestiality. It's all there in one neat package. Here's the love scene (don't worry, it's tasteful... as much as zombie love can be anyway):
Abby's reaction when she finds out? Scrubs herself raw with a toilet brush.
Man, today, this isn't that hardcore, but you've got to remember that this is 1984. And yet, it's still damn creepy today. Alan Moore is a master of horror, both subtle and shocking. I'm skipping over vast swathes of disturbing imagery here, but after the hell Moore puts Abby through, it's still the quiet last page in the company of the Swamp Thing that chills me every time.
Swampy sees a wounded bird moving on the ground. He reaches for it... "He saw it move and thought it was alive... but it was full of bugs." This, ladies and gentlethings, is how Moore orchestrates the final reveal about Matt Cable. And at the same time, it relates to Swamp Thing itself, an animate creature that only has the memories of a man, rather than a man that has been turned into a monster. The true horror here is that I was too young to appreciate this stuff at the time and had to chase after what back issues I could find later.

Star Trek 661: The Seventh

661. The Seventh

FORMULA: Things Past + Vortex + The Pegasus + Carbon Creek

WHY WE LIKE IT: The action scenes.

WHY WE DON'T: Vulcans not being Vulcans.

REVIEW: T'Pol is tight-lipped about a top secret mission to retrieve "Menos", a undercover Vulcan defector, in a story that promises to give Travis some time to shine. Unfortunately for him, T'Pol realizes she needs a wing man on this thing and she brings Archer along as well. It's a trust that's rewarded by the end. As usual, the story has some nice action, plenty of guns blazing, and even a cool-looking flashback foot race.

What it doesn't have is Vulcans acting like they should. There is no indication that master criminal Menos is of that stock. At all. He's very good at manipulating people, it seems, and maybe his emotions are all for show, but there really isn't then a tangible motivation for his defection. Either he cares for his family (no genetic traits passed on?) or he doesn't. Either he's greedy for power and money, or he isn't. But if he isn't, there's just no point.

T'Pol at least has an excuse for her obvious bouts of anxiety. She's sustained psychic damage as a result of killing a man years ago that she wasn't sure was guilty. Vulcan guilt no doubt being debilitating, she underwent a ritual that repressed it and the memories that went with it. They've resurfaced, in a classic case of revealing a dark secret from a character's past. Unlike its many DS9 cousins, the point here is to alleviate that guilt by proving the man guilty.

The drama is balanced by Trip's first extended stint as acting captain, in which he finds out he likes the perks a lot more than the responsibilities. I'm not too sure the chief engineer should be portrayed as a man incapable of decisions, but that seems to be his role since the beginning: comedy relief. Some amusing moments as he impersonates Archer to get some polo scores, but it's essentially fluff.

LESSON: Logic can't buy you stuff.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Nice action, and bringing further vulnerability to the character of T'Pol, but I don't buy "Menos" or Trip's antics.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

This Week in Geek (22-28/09/08)

Buys

My copy of Sequarts' Teenagers from the Future has finally come in, and I've already started it. In case you're not yet in the know, it features some 18 essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes, some by bloggers I follow every day like the ISB's Chris Sims and the Absorbascon's Scipio Garling. Great homage cover too.

And to make my order get above 39$, I also picked up that long overdue Time Bandits DVD. It should be in every geek's collection.

"Accomplishments"

Finished Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys. Though an early novel of his, the prose still sparkled and I was sorry to see the pages run out. I then proceeded to watch the movie adaptation (for the first time), which answered one question people always ask. Which one is better, the book or the movie? For me, each medium has always had its strengths, so while I don't want to make a qualitative judgment call, I will say that I prefer seeing the movie first and reading the book second. With enough time between reading and viewing, this isn't so bad, but back to back (and in this case at least), the novel's depth outshines the film's by a mile.

Even while reading, I knew the film would omit the whole Jewish family sequence, one of my very favorites, so that's where the film starts to derail a bit. In fact, while the movie's casting and acting can't be impeached, and the director does well with the material, it's the script that injects bad movie clichés into the story in order to connect the dots. The movie's coming of age ending for James is saccharine sweet and awful. If the novel is a coming of age story, it's a belated one for Grady Tripp, a man who has coasted all his life and avoided making choices. He finally grows up. Though the film brings that theme into focus even more than the book, it does take away his final choice in the ending. I miss that little boat. Anyway, the DVD is a simple package, but not a bad one, with some good interviews, an insightful tour of Pittsburgh, and commented song choices.

I also flipped Dr. Strangelove, a film I'd of course seen a couple times before on video, but which never seemed so sexual before. I don't know where my head was at in those original viewings, but it's now becoming incredibly evident that the cold war is seen as sexual tension between two countries, a tension that both desperately want to consummate in a "nucular" war. The DVD features a long documentary on the making of the film, and a shorter one on Kubrick's earlier work, plus odd splitscreen interviews in which YOU can ask questions to Sellers and Scott, just like your local stations did!


The rest of my DVD time was spent on Doctor Who releases. First was Doctor Who and the Silurians starring the 3rd Doctor, Liz and the Brig, up against sentient reptiles from Earth's prehistory. Against? Well, it's not necessarily so black and white, which is the story's great strength. The Silurians remains very watchable today despite some really strange musical cues and rubber outfits. One thing I really love about BBC Video/2|Entertain's DVD packages is that, with so many Doctor Who stories to do, they really vary the focus of their documentaries. Though there's a shorter making of piece, there's a long featurette on the socio-political climate that shaped the story. Visits to locations, pieces on the music and the color restoration, and the usual commentary track with the people involved.

The Invasion of Time may not be as good a story, but it has its moments. The interplay between the 4th Doctor and his former teacher Borusa is intense and Leela, well, I've always had a crush on Leela. It's the plot that doesn't make sense, and the production values are quite horrible (even with the CGI option which certainly can't fix the inappropriate location work). The commentary track and documentary are a little more positive than I am, but everyone acknowledges the production problems. The DVD also offers a short bit on the rise and fall of the Time Lords, which sadly doesn't reach the present era, and a comedy bit on the pseudonymous writer of the story. The deleted scenes aren't much to rave about given the amount of padding left in those episodes. But I needed to flip this one because...

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 16, all from The Invasion of Time. Ahhh, there it is.

Someone Else's Post of the Week

What's better between All-Star Superman and All-Star Batman & Robin? Tim Callahan and Chad Nevett duke it out to get you the answer on Sequart's website.

I know who I'M rooting for...

Star Trek 660: Marauders

660. Marauders

FORMULA: The Siege of AR-558 + Errand of Mercy

WHY WE LIKE IT: The practical location.

WHY WE DON'T: The kid.

REVIEW: Marauders looks really great thanks to a large practical location, creating a real sense of geography for the tactics employed and the idea that the mining colony is a "real" place (of course, it's obviously Southern California). We also get the return of the desert gear, T'Pol's new silver uniform (she's a clothes horse, that one), and a new Klingon ship for the marauders, which looks very raptory, with some interesting tanks under its wings.

Once the Klingon pirates appear, it's clear that Enterprise will help them fend for themselves against this threat. The dilemma is how to take action against the Klingons without having to fear retaliation once the Starfleet ship has gone. While the plan to move the town a few meters and turning the deuterium fields into a fiery trap is a nice one, I'm not sure how convincing it is as a deterrent. I suppose the colony, once armed and able to dodge weapons, was more trouble than it was worth.

Marauders introduces T'Pol's seldom used Vulcan martial arts, and while she only shows defense moves to the colonists, she herself is a one woman army corps. I'm not sure what to think about this? It's a skill we've never really seen in Star Trek, so I'm looking forward to more. At the same time, where was this skill all this time, and where does it go from here?

And then there's the kid. Ugh. While the colonists are pretty much all ciphers, the kid is truly annoying. He delivers all his lines through gnashed teeth and is kind of a jerk, which makes us care very little about his bond with Trip. The one good thing about this subplot is that it didn't fall into the tired cliché of having him run up to the battle and either get shot (cue maudlin music), force one of our heroes to go into harms way, or simply jeopardize the plan. No, surprisingly, he listens to Trip and stays out of sight. Well, thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy for small favors.

LESSON: If they're not hospitable, make them be hospitable (should I really be taking my lessons from the Klingons?).

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Great production values elevate a rather standard plot about a colony under siege.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Spaceknight Saturdays: The Baxter Building Tour

So this week (SBG time), Rom went a little farther afield and, while looking for the Fantastic Four so that they might give him a ride to Galador, found trouble instead. Now, New York City is on high alert, the army has been called in, and everyone's looking for a big silver robot who's been killing Power Man's favorite hookers. Much of the hysteria orchestrated by the Dire Wraiths.

Now it's up to Power Man and Iron Fist to help Rom find the FF and/or clear his name before the authorities catch up to them. And not just the authorities. Attacking New York is a surefire way to attract all sorts of attention.
Now Rom has to watch out for: Spider-Man, with his incredibly detailed spider-sense; Daredevil, human detection machine; Moon Knight, now I'm really scared; and Captain America, media watchdog. You know who's missing though?
Tony Stark really needs to put money into his public profile if he's afraid Iron Man won't be recognized on sight. (Granted, this was before the movie came out.)

For Rom, there's only one option:
DISGUISE!

Meanwhile, back in Clairton... as Torpedo thinks he may be in over his head, a strange fog descends on the small town's citizens.
A new Dire Wraith paranoia? "Maybe they haven't been replaced by Wraiths, but maybe they're their hypnotized pawns!" Well, better look at your own home closely, Torpedo, because guess who else has turned to the Dark Side?
Your infant daughter! Mwahaha!

Ok. Where was I? Ah yes: DISGUISE!
Crap. Rom will just have to fall back on his more tried and true methods. Like throwing stuff around:
You'd think Power Man didn't have super-strength. Easily impressed, that one. One quick escape through the sewers later, and the trio reaches the Baxter Building's basement. Thankfully, Power Man was a member of the FF for all of three minutes, so he has the crotch key.
Well, the lock's been changed, but Rom can just rip doors off their hinges, so...

The Baxter Building. Office space for rent. Home of the Fantastic Four. Plenty of laboratories, workshops and hangers. A toddler running around... AND QUITE THE DEATH TRAP. First there's the elevator shaft, filled with laser beams:
The elevator itself has a paralyzing sonic wail.
So the Neutralizer can negate all forms of energy, not just the Iron Fist.

Then there's the HERBIES.
Up to now it's been a cross between an Indiana Jones movie and a Mister Miracle comic, and it doesn't let up. Time for Rom to trot out his power to be BADASS.
Wait for it...
You can't be badass without the proper one-liners, my friends. Learn from the Spaceknight. But wait, there's more!
And more!
ENOUGH! Rom then goes to the nearest Kirby Wall and turns it into an electrical buffet. Yum. The building powers down and the heroes reach the spaceship hanger where - surprise - the FF are just getting home.
Ben Grimm on that particular storyline: Predictable, but priceless. Just wait 'til he hears how much Luke Cage was paid for three issues' worth of work (sadly left to our imagination).

Just to make sure the FF aren't Wraiths, Power Man has to "use [his] brains insteada [his] fists". Intense! Cuz there's no way the Wraiths could have found out how much that check was. Right. Rom's has a Wraith detector, you know. No? Power Man's brains? That's what we're going with? Ok.

In the end, Rom is allowed to take an old Skrull ship, pre-programmed for Galador.
So he's gone. What's next? How about the return of Nova? See you next week!

Star Trek 659: A Night in Sickbay

659. A Night in Sickbay

FORMULA: Vox Sola + Dear Doctor + Shuttlepod One

WHY WE LIKE IT: More Porthos for your dollar.

WHY WE DON'T: All that sexual tension.

REVIEW: The Kreetassans are back and they're still being offended, and they're still throwing parasites the crew's way. This time, poor Porthos catches a disease and he may well be dying. Noooooo! While "rewatchers" of the show will already know he makes it, it's still a pretty harrowing affair for pet owners. A visit to the vet for a sick pet may well be a death sentence, and seeing Porthos suspended in liquid at one point is grisly indeed. It's all made worse by the dog's heart-breaking performance.

Archer decides not to leave his pet's side and spend the night in sickbay. He's in for a sleepless one. Here, the potential tragedy is counterbalanced by the comedy inherent in Phlox's strange ways. The episode goes a bit far on the gross-out/CG anatomy side of things (cutting toe nails, wringing a super-long tongue of saliva), but it's always nice to see him interact with his personal zoo. The CG bat that escapes is especially well done, and Hoshi's resolving of a situation that had the boys falling all over themselves is a hoot.

Less interesting is a notion explored by Phlox that Archer is sexually attracted to T'Pol, which is the source of the conflict between them. I'm sorry, but they've never sold this idea well. They've put the two of them in close quarters, but there was just no chemistry there. All of a sudden, Archer is making Freudian slips that while kinda funny, seem out of character. And if I have to see another wet dream with T'Pol in it...

The episode is nonetheless a good character piece. Archer gets one step closer to understanding alien points of view thanks to his exposure to Phlox, which makes him realize that swallowing his pride and apologizing to the Kreetassans (who he blames for Porthos' health problems) doesn't diminish him. (In a deleted scene, Trip makes the point that it's ok to apologize when you shouldn't have to, as long as you don't mean it.) The required ritual is completely ridiculous, of course, but we don't get the sense that Archer is humiliated by it. His apology to T'Pol is more heartfelt (and thankfully nips the sexual stuff in the bud), and I think addresses the more likely root of their conflict, a clash of cultures. Look back at the standout treadmill scene and you'll see two competing ideologies, one of which sees no need to compete, frustrating the other. That is the essence of the Human-Vulcan conflict right there.

LESSON: Sometimes you have to swallow it.

REWATCHABILITY - High Medium: Despite what I consider a red herring, the episode is a good character piece with a fine mix of comedy and drama.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Spaceknight Extra: Hulk Cutaway

Was the Hulk have to do with Rom? Well, kids, Bill Mantlo was writing both, and Sal Buscema was drawing both (and other stuff besides). Man was a machine. Shame on you today's late books, shame.

So parallel with Rom #22, a back-up tale appeared in Incredible Hulk #262 in which the Green Goliath met, no not Rom, but a Dire Wraith. "Foundling" is that story.

And it starts when Bruce Banner comes across a boy running from his evil parents. Evil? They're just trying to administer his Ritalin.
Well, like me, Bruce is against medicating children, but seeing as they ARE his parents, he doesn't have much choice. That and he's coincidentally applying for a job at the dad's clinic.
Awwwwwkward.

Turns out the kid is severely deluded and believes himself adopted, and that his parents are evil aliens. Sound familiar? The twist: The parents aren't Wraiths - the kid's a Wraith! In fact, he's the Superman of all Wraiths:
They decided to raise him as their own and now that he's hitting puberty, he's hearing voices. The Black Nebula beckons! And Bruce Banner discovers that the only thing worse than a shape-shifting Dire Wraith is a TEENAGE shape-shifting Dire Wraith (remember Hybrid?). And this one has a lot of imagination.
They haven't pulled THAT trick on Rom yet, but subtlety is lost on the Hulk. Cuz yeah, Bruce doesn't stay Bruce after that sucker shows up. Rock monster to porcupine...
...to giant eagle...
...to ugly snake. The Hulk can't stop it, but maybe Ritalin can!
Hate can't do a thing, but maybe love can!
Oh you're not serious! Those folks are quite dead indeed. Their kid is a monster!
Uhm. Yes. Well. They're BOTH monsters. That's a possibility too, isn't it? Ah well, with that, the Hulk leaps away with a broken heart. As the man(tlo) says: "... he can never change the nightmare of his own existence."

Tomorrow: It's Saturday for realz!