Sunday, November 30, 2008

This Week in Geek (24-30/11/08)

Buys

There are no real reference works on Star Trek comics and novels, but since I was going to include them in my blogging schedule, I thought I might at least get SOMEthing. That something is Voyages of Imagination by Jeff Ayers, which isn't really THAT useful. He does put the books in order and offers a possible timeline for them, so I can use it as a checklist at least. The only information included besides the basic blurb of each book is a short interview, when possible, with the writer(s). A cursory look reveals that some are insightful, others not very much. There are longer essays for each of the book series, which are of interest. Great cover concept too.

Criterion came out with a new edition of Chungking Express this week, so I grabbed that. My Wong Kar-Wai collection proceeds apace.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Six Feet Under Season 1: I bought them all in the bulk edition, though I've only seen the first two on tv. The first is the best and aside from a straggling plot thread here and there, could have been a stand alone production. I love the quirky black humor, the neurotic characters and the emotional payoffs. The DVD includes a couple of interesting commentaries by the series' creator/writer, as well as a series of interviews with the cast and a making of the opening credits.




Enterprise Season 4: Yes, though there are a few left to review, I've flipped the boxed set. In fact, I've flipped all of Trek. Huh. It's really too bad Enterprise had to be cut short, because I thought the last season was its best. Under producer Manny Cotto, the show started to draw links between its era and TOS' that were a joy to watch, and the characters have almost all matured well. Like TNG and DS9, Enterprise really took off in Season 4. I would gladly have lost 3 seasons of Voyager to get to 7 with this one. The DVD package is a little disappointing though. Yes, there are a few good commentary tracks, deleted scenes and the usual documentary features and outtakes. However, there are no actor profiles, which means 4 of the 7 actors didn't get one. Seems there was space to run through them all on that final disc. Ah well. Still better than what was done for other series.

So now that it's over? You voted thus:
Star Trek comics and novels 18 (34%)
Babylon 5 12 (23%)
Doctor Who 11 (21%)
Other genre shows back to back 8 (15%)
Nothing. Get your life back 3 (5%)

I gotta say, those last three votes made me laugh and laugh. Now, granted, there are more people who don't want comics & novels than do, it still stands out as the option that will disappoint the fewest readers. So we'll try it for a while and see where it goes. If I decide to switch gears in the new year, I will.

Trades: Batman 100: Paul Pope's gorgeous dystopic artwork makes this story of Batman in the year 2039 shine, but I still don't see why it should get an Eisner for best limited series in 2007. Gorgeous, yes. Groundbreaking? Hell no. Still, good attention to detail and real desire to make Batman feel real. The collection includes a story he wrote and drew for Batman Chronicles starring a Jewish Batman in 1939 Germany, as well as sketches and police documents. A good, slick package.

RPGs: Only managed to get one more character rolled up for GURPS Torg, a junkrat living in a postapocalyptic Montreal besieged by killer robots. I'm really glad Julien picked Reign of Steel for inclusion in our Torg game. It's gonna kick shiny metal ass.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 8 new cards pulled from various non-canonical sources, including the original tv pilot and the Curse of the Fatal Death parody, as well as "reject" cards featuring concepts from Extras and Spaced!

Someone Else's Post of the Week
Just to show that the SBG is not above a good vibrating cosmic rod joke, SallyP gets my vote this week for favorite post. Hey THIS made me smile. And then THIS made me smile some more.

Star Trek 723: In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II

723. In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II

FORMULA: Mirror, Mirror + Arena + Waltz

WHY WE LIKE IT: Mirror Universe + retro TOS starship... I'm not made of stone here.

WHY WE DON'T: Reaching the limits of posturing. Sadly, the Gorn.

REVIEW: If Mirror Universe stories weren't already geekfests, In a Mirror Darkly recreates a TOS-era ship for the HD generation. Because we've been through the TNG era, TOS ships seem like quaint, early models, but here, the Defiant is huge, powerful and incredibly sleek by 22nd-century standards. With a lot of care and detail, they've built more of the Constitution-class ship than ever before: Most of the bridge (where the consoles are deftly revealed to be digital displays rather than blinking lights), some corridors, the conference room, the rec deck (complete with those funky food cubes), the captain's quarters, and the original vertical Jeffries tube. They look great, as does the moody lighting (check out that love scene between Archer and Hoshi for example) and the tweaked up effects. Even the uniforms pilfered from the Defiant closets looks good. The only sections that aren't up to par are the converted Enterprise corridors that represent the bowels of the ship. These just don't match the aesthetic, no matter how many pipes you paint in bright colors. But the retro stuff actually works and perhaps due to my Trek-addled mind, doesn't seem dated.

Or maybe I'm just too involved in the story. If Mirror Archer seemed perhaps a little too close to our own (in his darker moments, at least), here he is revealed as a paranoid megalomaniac. With Defiant, he has true power, which seems to ramp up his swaggering sadism. One of the most interesting aspects of his character, however, is the "ghost" of the real Archer appearing to him to taunt and goad him. The discovery of an Empire-less history isn't as disturbing to him as the biography of a heroic and much more successful Archer (writer Mike Sussman has the screenshots of that bio on his site here and here - you decide how canonical you want to make it), so that Archer gives voice to his paranoia and insecurity.

In fact, this psychological dimension hasn't really been seen in a Mirror episode since, what, Crossover? MU episodes have concentrated on the romp aspect and tried to be cool and funny, but rarely were they really character-driven. The characters aren't all evil or slutty versions of themselves. Besides the tortured Archer, we have T'Pol staging a revolt against Archer, enlisting a bearded Soval and a lecherous Phlox in her cause. Though Phlox is a loyal servant of the Empire, he can be bought, while the Vulcans, though ruthless, are represented as trying to protect their way of life from a dangerous potential Emperor. Hoshi has a great cat fight with T'Pol, but most memorably steals Archer's victory from his grasp and names herself Empress, backed by the Defiant's guns and having seduced most of the human males in the cast to get to where she is (final tally: Forrest, Archer, Trip and Travis... sorry Malcolm). Sure, there comes a point when the Mirror Universe's teeth-grinding starts to seem a little samey, but it takes a while to really wear out its welcome.

The weakest element in the episode, sadly, is the Gorn. It's cool that the MU setting allowed the creators to include species that we couldn't normally meet in Enterprise's time without tossing the timeline out the window, but the CG Gorn is a little too CG for my tastes. The effects are well done, but not quite Gollum, and they've screwed with the design too much. Was it too much to ask for the Gorn to be given silver composite eyes like in Arena? With the curved neck and those snake eyes, it just doesn't look like the same species. Worse, probably, is that the chase for the lizard man in the bowels of the ship is filler. There's no plot-driven reason for it except to have a Gorn there, and maybe to do the amplified grav plating gag. Speaking of tossing timelines out of windows, a quick word on Defiant's pollution of the MU timeline: To win a no-prize, I'll say that the Empire might build more Constitution-class ships, but they never better them (nor need to!), complacently resting on their laurels until Mirror, Mirror.

LESSON: In the Mirror Universe, they've developped a pheromone blocker for the Orions.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: Though not perfect, this is very entertaining. Especially amazing is the art direction and how it seemlessly integrates in Enterprise.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Spaceknight Saturdays: Hybrid's Baaa-aaack

Previously, on Rom Spaceknight...

The Torpedo found Hybrid - the powerful and evil crossbreed between a Wraith and a human - reforming from his constituent atoms and got trounced. Meanwhile, Rom let some convicts go on the false belief that they were slaves. He then partially prevented the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from escaping prison, and the female members ran to hide in a mansion where Hybrid was now squatting!. All caught up? Ok!

So what can the Sisterhood of Evil Mutants do against Hybrid? Well, let me jump ahead a number of pages to bring you the most honest panel in the comic:
Exactly. Destiny is particularly useless, just as she was in the last issue, having unclear visions of what kinda might happen maybe a split second before it actually does. The gibberish must be really annoying:
As you see, Rogue doesn't fare any better. Hybrid and the Brotherhood have an enemy in common, and that's Rom, so Hybrid manipulates them into forming an alliance and fighting his battles for him. Then, those escaped convicts show up in their snow suits. For Hybrid, it's an opportunity to check if his powers are full up yet.
Spin, convicts, spin! SPIN UNTIL YOU DIE!!!
Though shaken, the Evil Mutants still lay a trap for Rom. And now...

MIXED MESSAGES THEATER PRESENTS... Rom and Rogue Fall in Love!
In the first round of speed dating, Rom doesn't do so well, but what's this?
Yes, he's got it. One kiss and Rogue is smitten! Not only that, but she finds she likes decency and goodness!
There you have it, folks: Rom is so The Man that one kiss from him turned Rogue to the Light Side of the Force. You've enjoyed Rogue as an X-Man for years. Now you know who made that possible.

So Rogue turns rogue and joins Rom's fight against Hybrid, and though the other two whine a lot ("but we're eeeeeevil!!!"), they have to help too. There's a lot of "obscene touching" from Hybrid before he takes over Rom's circuits with his telekinesis and tries to aim the neutralizer in the wrong direction.
It's only thanks to Rogue, who braves the gross touch of the creature, that we're spared another issue in Limbo. She drains enough of his power for Rom to regain control and shoot the mother-%$&#ing monster in the face!
Until Hybrid "is no more". Well, he's come back from being no more before, so I'm not that worried.

So can Rom and Rogue see each other? Surrogate mom Mystique says NO. "Aww mom, you never let me see the boys I like. I'm leavin' you for the X-Men!"

Star Trek 722: In a Mirror, Darkly

722. In a Mirror, Darkly

FORMULA: Mirror, Mirror + The Tholian Web + Yesterday's Enterprise

WHY WE LIKE IT: The opening credits. The whole idea.

WHY WE DON'T: This close to the end, a break from the actual characters?

REVIEW: In a Mirror, Darkly is a ballsy two-parter. Not only is it a Mirror Universe story that doesn't feature the regular cast at all, but it makes us, the audience, part of the MU by redesigning the credit sequence. We're watching a different show completely. Those credits are a lot of fun and have a way better theme song than regular Enterprise. The pre-credit sequence is also a hoot: A reprise of First Contact in which Cochrane shoots the Vulcan. It's a great idea.

As is usual for alternate universe stories, part of the fun is seeing how different the characters are. Admiral Forrest commands the ship with an angry Archer as his first officer who will of course stage a coup and take command of the ship. Phlox is a sadistic vivisectionist and enjoys operating the brand new agony booth (thus, the theme of Enterprise is sustained). Reed is a bloodthirsty Maco, as is Travis who is made captain's bodyguard. Trip has scars that pay homage to both Captain Pike and Mirror Sulu. And the girls are real sexy. Hoshi is put in the Marlena role as captain's mistress (and it doesn't matter which captain). T'Pol is the only officer loyal to Forrest, has Vulcan crewmen to command, and uses her telepathic skills for mind control. Even Porthos gets a nasty makeover. Not sure about the ship's paint job, though.

The Earth Empire is at a crossroads. Instead of working at an alliance between the peoples of Near Space, it's in the throes of a rebellion from those same subjugated species. Archer takes over because he knows of another threat, and another opportunity. He has intel that the Tholians are in possession of a Starfleet ship from the future revealed to be our universe's (TOS) Defiant, zapped into subspace back in The Tholian Web. It gives us the chance to see Tholians in the "flesh" for the first time, and it's not disappointing. These crystalline aliens actually look like they did in TOS!

The episode as a whole conveys the dangerous politics of the Mirror Universe, and as fortunes swing, Archer gets thrown in the agonizer for 10 hours (some things are true in all universes). Still, having committed Enterprise to the mission, Forrest allows him to take a team to the Defiant and steal it while the Tholians attack. Suddenly, we're back in Trials and Tribble-ations land. The TOS era interiors - both sights and sounds - are wonderfully recreated, right down to the position of the struggling bodies on the bridge. Meanwhile, Enterprise is destroyed by the Tholians, killing Forrest, but giving us a first look at the ship's escape pods. It's all pretty neat and gorgeous-looking. Cue end credits - also evil.

LESSON: The key to Mirror Hoshi is to be found in the first two letters of her name.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: This thing drips in wonderful geekery, though it's a little too bad that we lose two episodes not furthering the actual Enterprise's story when there are so few left.

Friday, November 28, 2008

My First Crossover Ending

MARVEL SUPER HEROES SECRET WARS #12, Marvel Comics, April 1985
Secret Wars was the first crossover event I ever read, and definitely one of the first ever published. And though it's a very simple premise, it's that simplicity that makes it work. Basically, a godlike being from another dimension, the Beyonder, peeks into our own and sees something he does not understand: Desire.*

He decides to pit various motivations against one another on a piecemeal planet created from bits and pieces of planets throughout the galaxy. On the side of "good" (unselfish desire), you have all the best Marvel heroes (except Daredevil... jeers!). On the side of evil (selfish), you have an about equal number of Marvel villains. Oh, and you have Galactus the Devourer of Worlds pretty much by himself. Whichever motivation wins is the more powerful and will be rewarded with their heart's desire. The Beyonder has clearly seen one classic Star Trek episode too many, but that's what makes it a "universal" story.

How'd it end?

In the last issue of this 12-part mini-series, Doctor Doom revels in his victory. The heroes were all killed at the end of #11. It's not a mistake. Not a dream. Not an alternate universe. He's used his scientific know-how to usurp the powers of the Beyonder (the planet itself responds to desire so that you can manipulate reality there) and nuked the heroes' base. This is all that's left:
And Captain America's shield is more indestructible than Wolverine's skeleton! In case you needed it proven, this proves that Dr. Doom is the meanest, baddest Marvel supervillain of all time. His second order of business is to make himself handsome again. His third is to start maybe planning on getting his mom's soul out of Hell. Great set of priorities there.

The only villain that has remained loyal to Doom is Klaw, a crazy guy made of solid sound, and he puts an idea just as crazy into Doom's head: Imagine, if you will, that Colossus' alien girlfriend from earlier in the series, the healer Zsaji, arrives on the scene and finds the various bits and pieces of our heroes. A Hulked-out thumb here, a Spider-ass there. And among these, there's Colossus' almost intact body. Imagine she's seen the classic Star Trek episode "The Empath" and that she gives her life to bring Colossus back to life. Imagine he's seen Reed Richards operate an alien healing machine in a nearby compound and that it was enough to let him resurrect Richards with it ("less shredded than the rest"). Imagine Reed then resurrects everybody using that technology. Far-fetched? Yes. But if Doom can imagine it with his Beyonder powers, then it could happen. What if it has?

When he starts doubting, he immediately uses reinforcement techniques: "No... NO! They are DEAD!" And then...
Oh my (thunder) god, he's made it happen.

After that, he starts to lose control of his powers, so he gives a tiny bit to Klaw while he tries to contain the rest before he blows up the universe. Klaw pretty much uses it to create monsters for the heroes to fight, but he's got another agenda. When Captain America gets through the defenses, Doom disintegrates him. But Klaw resurrects him again... and again... and again! In that moment of confusion, the Beyonder shows its hand: It was hiding inside Klaw and now grabs its power back and sends Doom and Klaw "away".

And after that, it's all about picking up the pieces. Captain America, the baddest mo-fo on the heroes' side fixes his shield using willpower alone, and everyone but the Thing goes home. Since he can wish himself human here, he wants to explore the planet a little before going back. Meanwhile, the villains have left thanks to Molecule Man moving a chunk of Denver through space. And of course, they're all at each others' throats. The funniest part of that section is Thor villain Enchantress calling up a water elemental in a bathtub:
When she isn't happy with the creature's attitude, she FRICKIN' TRIES TO DROWN THE POOR THING! Yes! She's drowning a water elemental! Ok, ok, she's actually boiling her alive. Like that's better? That Enchantress is one mean b****!

Let's take a quick look at what changed after Secret Wars. After all, these things always advertise that "nothing will ever be the same again", right? So here's a quick rundown:

-Deaths: None permanent, and none that even appear to be permanent (even Kang's).
-New characters: Spider-Woman II (pretty cool), Titania & Volcana (ok villainesses)
-She-Hulk joins the Fantastic Four (good stuff!)
-Spider-Man gets the black costume which will become Venom (good until it became bad)
-Colossus and Kitty Pryde, splitsville (good, she's mine, ALL MINE!!!)
-Professor X gets to walk and wants to lead the X-Men in the field (in an awful yellow costume, no less; this was not a permanent change)
-The Thing's comic gets a new status quo, with him hanging out on Beyonder World (I bought exactly 1 issue)

Overall, I guess it's most important for how Venom was introduced, but I think you can see why it wasn't used as his origin in the movie! I dunno. Can we hope for as much in the endings of both Secret Invasion and Final Crisis?
*If you've ever seen the Super-Friends episode "The Last Challenge" (totally recommend the Challenge of the Super-Friends DVD by the way - it's rad!), your eyes may be open as to where Jim Shooter took the "simple" idea for Secret Wars. Godlike being takes heroes and villains to another world where they fight it out? Yeah, real original Jimbo.

Star Trek 721: Bound

721. Bound

FORMULA: Mudd's Women + Borderland + Raijin

WHY WE LIKE IT: Hubba! Hubba!

WHY WE DON'T: My Orion girlfriend says there is no possible reason.

REVIEW: Finally, a little more is done with the Orions when an Orion captain invites Archer aboard his ship to smooth relations between Starfleet and the Syndicate. We get a sense of their Arabian Nights-inspired culture and a nicely choreographed and shot (if extended) dance/seduction sequence with three Orion slave girls. The girls will be given to Archer as a gift, though we're not naive enough to think this gesture of good will is anything but a ploy to get Archer and/or his ship. When Archer accepts the invitation in the first place, it clarifies what his new motivation is: He's turning himself into a diplomat to make Near Space safer for humanity. Makes perfect sense given the last couple years.

But of course, it's also obvious that the Orion slave girls have some kind of hold on him (and men in general). I'm sure some see Bound as a sort of homage to the sexual mores of the TOS era, and as such, just as juvenile as those attitudes were when tongue was not squarely pressed in cheek. But the idea that the Orions have a pheromone that makes men pliant to their wishes makes this more of a mind control episode, and not symptomatic of the characters' naturally sexist attitudes. This ability, no doubt developped as part of natural selection, gives the women the ability to create competition between the men (they get aggressive) and take out their own competition (gives women headaches). For Phlox, a hormonal mystery, it disrupts his normal sleeping cycle (always fun to see him sleep-drunk). Ultimately, the joke is that Orion women are in charge, not slaves, but enslavers, probably putting themselves on the open market to take control of targeted buyers.

To lure Enterprise to its doom, the women target Archer, of course, but also the new chief engineer Kelby. He's already got a problem with Trip returning to help with repairs, afraid he'll lose his promotion, and is a perfect candidate for sabotaging the engine. The only characters effectively immune to Orion wiles are T'Pol and Trip. Her, because Vulcans are naturally immune. Him, because of the Vulcan mating bond they share. It's more of that "magical daydream" stuff, and a little silly, but it does create a few humorous moments. When the Maco are left guarding the slave girls, it's only a matter of time before they have them seduced (great performance from the girls there), and they head for the bridge. Trip walks in to save the day, but can he resist a full frontal pheromonal attack? Hell yeah!

In the epilogue, Trip officially returns to Enterprise, having it cleared by Archer, but teasing T'Pol to see if SHE wants him back. Good to see him have the upper hand in that relationship. However, he was gone for so short a time, I have to ask what the point was of having him leave in the first place. Missed opportunities. Still, nice to see the Orions explored a little before they draw the curtains on the Star Trek franchise. There's plenty of other TOS references too: Enterprise heads to the planet where Spock once saw "dragons", the Gorn merit a mention, and Deltans once came aboard Travis' home ship (the origin of why he's so buff... sexual frustration!).

LESSON: If Enterprise story logic held in the real world, I'd be more ripped than Schwarzenegger.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: Though not a major episode, it's still a lot of fun and uncovers details about one of TOS' most famous, yet underutilized species.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Doctor Who's Fatal Quickies

With David Tennant on his last year as the Doctor before new producer Steven Moffat gives the Time Lord a new lease on life, there's inevitable speculation about who will take the reigns. But rather than look forward, let me look back, back to The Curse of the Fatal Death, the comedy special made for the Comic Relief charity telethon in 1999. That too was written by Steven Moffat, and despite being a parody, it may give us an insight into his Who work to come.

Most interestingly, the story ends with the Doctor regenerating not once, but four times! Might Moffat consider offering the job to any of these actors?

Rowan AtkinsonAn alternative to Christopher Eccleston, this 9th Doctor prefigured the Rose relationship by getting engaged to his assistant, Emma. More Blackadder than Mr. Bean (thankfully!), Atkinson does a good job in the role, never winking at the camera as he deadpannedly goes for the jokes. In fact, aside from the actual story material, this could be a convincing "serious" Doctor.

The other Doctors only last for less than 2 minutes each, but their respective actors make that short time memorable.

Richard E. Grant
A sexually alive Doctor whose double-entendres might go a bit far, sickeningly so, he still scores points by calling a spade a spade, or in this case, calling Jonathan Pryce's Master, "the camp one" (does he mistake him for Ainley?). He has an interesting, smart delivery that won him the role of another Doctor in the webtoon Scream of the Shalka, but he's also got the potential to be thoroughly dislikable.

Jim Broadbent
The 11th Doctor makes a u-turn, away from the romantic lead of Doctors 8 through 10. This one is shy around girls. It's a funny performance, innocent and child-like, but I doubt it could be sustained for a few series. That said, Broadbent certainly has the acting chops to play a more balanced, yet still asexual, Doctor. I'm thinking of an eccentric, tragi-comic role like that Harold Zidler in Moulin Rouge, for example.

Hugh Grant
And then back to romantic lead, indeed, as romantic predator. Though played as a joke at the time, it seems rather natural in these post-Tennant days. Tone down the charm a little, through more of Grant's trademark neurotic behavior, and you have a palatable Doctor. Of course, the romantic hero thing is "been there, done that" at this point, and a change is needed.

Joanna Lumley
In just about a minute, Joanna Lumley convinces me that the Doctor could (even should!) regenerate into a woman next. I'm not saying it should be Lumley herself, who's perhaps gotten a little too old since Curse of the Fatal Death, but someone with that basic look. I'm sure there are other middle-aged, but very sexy actresses that could be tapped, even if they don't have Lumley's temporal cred (Sapphire & Steele). It'd be a nice way to shake up the status quo, and maybe get some new male companions into the TARDIS. What do you think?

And to watch the Curse of the Fatal Death on veoh.com:
Part I
Part II

Star Trek 720: Divergence

720. Divergence

FORMULA: Nemesis + The Pegasus + Cold Station 12 + Hippocratic Oath

WHY WE LIKE IT: Same as Affliction.

WHY WE DON'T: Trip's pointless restlessness.

REVIEW: The second part of the Klingon Augment arc isn't directed by David Straiton, but it's the same kind of crash zoom-happy direction he's so fond of. It really breaks an arc's continuity when various parts are so disparately directed. That said, it's not quite as bad as Staiton's work, and there's a funky shot flying into the Columbia's bridge. As the sabotaged Enterprise is speeding to its death, the Columbia must fly close to it and transfer Trip over. Enterprise's new engineer sucks real bad, see, and they need the best man for the job. It's a crazy-ass sequence that requires Trip to climb a grappler cable between the two ships at high warp. Cool effects and cowboy action (the equivalent of Cold Station 12's cliffhanger save).

Otherwise, the episode basically follows Affliction and has the same strengths and weaknesses. Antaak remains a sympathetic doctor, revealed here to have caused the viral infection in the first place and only trying to fix his mistake, even if it means abandoning the idea of Klingon Augments. In fact, saving his species will require Klingons to be gutted and made much weaker than their ridged forebears. It's believable then that Phlox would want to stick around as long as possible, even when a rescue party arrives.

The Section 31 material still seems like overkill, though we do learn the origin of the name and how it was part of Earth's charter even before it was in the Federation's. However, I again question their unnecessary manipulations. Reed gets out of the bridge at least, and cuts ties with Harris, his contact, but he's not done with him. Perhaps this'll seem better - necessary set-up - once the Section 31 arc wraps up in a few episodes.

In the end, as a battle rages in orbit and a Klingon cruiser fires on the colony to sterilize the virus, Phlox finds the cure and turns Archer into an antibody factory to produce enough of it. The final gambit involved infecting the attacking cruiser and ransoming the cure. It's a good climax.

LESSON: There's more money in palliatives than in cures.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: A lot like Affliction, although it seems like that previous episodes held all the actual revelations.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Craziest Yet Most Appropriate Finales

Seems like the Theme of the Week is Endings, easy enough to do since all things end (actually, the expression is all GOOD things must end, the bad stuff keeps going and going and going, like the Simpsons). I'm actually a fan of things ending when they should end. Nothing worse than a series being run into the ground because it's still marketable, or characters surviving from fear of customer backlash. When a character or series ends, and ends WELL, you might be upset, but that just shows you care. It's the good kind of upset. It's catharsis. It gives meaning to the story preceding it. Keeping things going just to keep them going usually turns them into pale shadows of their former selves, as they lose the good will of those who heralded them as classics. And that's as true for tv as it is for comics or franchise movies and books or anything, really.

Here then are my five favorite upsetting finales. Endings that either attracted WTF?!? reactions or consumer rage, and yet, seem completely appropriate to me. Feel free to throw in your own.

5. 24 Season 6 finaleOk, so right away I'm breaking my own rules by featuring a series that HASN'T ended, but it sorta proves my point. 24 never quite fulfilled its promise for me. The show could essentially have been called CTU (had that been the case, I'm sure we would now have a CTU - New York and a CTU - Miami), and as such, ignored its high concept in favor of yet another "cop/workplace" drama with glass walls and soap opera subplots. This culminated in its 6th season, an exercise in shark-jumping in which practically everybody came back (even from the dead), and Jack's family was revealed to be terrorism brokers. It felt like one big, desperate, last hurrah for the show and could/should have ended there. The somber, ambiguous ending in which a burnt-out, guilt-ridden Jack Bauer teeters over a precipice was, in my view, the only perfect thing all season. If I was content to think Jack committed suicide after the closing second, then that worked for me. If you wanted him to survive and do something ludicrous like, I dunno, become a missionary in a fictional African country, then you could do that too. A bummer, you say? The whole damn season was a bummer.

4. Sledge Hammer!
I wouldn't be surprised that few remember this cop show parody from the 80s. After all, the ultraviolent Sledge (no more violent than, say, Hunter, but relishing it a lot more) didn't make it past a second season. In fact, they didn't think he'd get past his FIRST! The ending to the first season is pretty finale, let's say. How DO you end a series that makes fun of violence on tv and makes the networks' other shows look bad? Sledge fails to disarm a nuclear bomb and well, there goes the neighborhood! Better to think of that as the final end of Sledge, as the network gutted the "too violent" show in its second season. Duh! That was the point!

3. Seinfeld
Perhaps the example that most readily comes to mind is Seinfeld. When the hit sitcom came to an end, fans gathered in living rooms and bars, held Elaine dancing contests and recited their favorite lines. Then they watched was must have seemed like a slap in the face: A huge clip show demonstrating how these characters you liked? They were real assholes. And maybe you're an asshole too for liking them. Severe DOWNER!!! And yet, it seems perfect to end on such a note, having the "show about nothing" give a wake up call to those who made it into "something". Clever loop back to the show's first meaningless conversation too.

2. Newhart
An odd WTF?!? moment that was better received is Newhart's. Having 8 seasons of the Vermont-based sitcom be a dream by Newhart's character from The Bob Newhart Show was a damn perfect final twist (with special guest star Suzanne Pleshette!). And more than a small dig at Dallas' silly dream season from a few years earlier. Perfect for a show helmed by a comedian with a single character. Dick, Bob, they're the same guy, really.

1. Tintin et l'Alph-Art
My last choice is the last Tintin story which was to deal with a piece of modern art, a Plexiglas "A", and in line with all of Hergé's last efforts, would have been more postmodernism than adventure story. L'Alph-Art in fact promised to be Hergé's ultimate thesis on the relationship of form and content in art, but he died in the middle of the work. Casterman later decided to publish the book anyway, and there's something incredibly eerie as the penciled pages give way to sketches, scripts and then notes. Like the only way Hergé could ever have published a truly deconstructionist comic is to do so posthumously. Worth tracking down to get insight into a great master's work.

I'm sure you have your own WTF?!? endings. You. Comments. Tell us.

Star Trek 719: Affliction

719. Affliction

FORMULA: Paradise Lost + The Undiscovered Country + Borderland + Extinction

WHY WE LIKE IT: Finally an explanation..? Great targ action!

WHY WE DON'T: Everything aboard Columbia.

REVIEW: Now that we've prepped the Vulcans for TOS and beyond, it's time to do the same for the Klingons. Though you might prefer Trials and Tribble-ations' non-explanation, I see nothing wrong with attempting an actual one. And this one is fine. A metagenic virus (we know they exist thanks in part to Extinction) has been ravaging the Klingon Empire, and the species is facing extinction. Klingons are first transformed into the TOS model (affecting both appearance and mindset), then start to deteriorate, becoming contagious in the process. Obviously, by the end of this arc, the virus will be prevented from killing, but not from altering the Klingons' DNA, altering their society for the next century or so.

A stronger connection to Enterprise exists: The virus actually stems from attempts to use Augment DNA to create Klingon supermen. This explains why these new Klingons look a lot like humans. Further, there's a connection between these attempts and Section 31. Yes, it's back for the first time, and it seems Malcolm was once (and forever) a member. In that sense, Affliction goes a bit overboard. Do we really need Earth to be so intimately involved with a potential Klingon genocide?

Our man in the Klingon camp is Phlox who, under the guise of a xenophobic attack, is kidnapped by the Klingons and brought to Qu'Vat colony (always nice to see older Klingon ships' names repurposed). He's to help a not unsympathetic Klingon doctor stabilize Klingon DNA, or at least cure the plague, but he isn't given very much time by the colony's governor. The attack in the street gives Hoshi a chance to showcase her recently revealed martial arts abilities, but she's still knocked unconscious. To help her remember something about the assailants, Archer guides T'Pol in her first initiated mindmeld (he picked up a few tricks from Surak's katra). This will have strange repercussions later.

Malcolm, under orders from Section 31 (his first master), erases information that could lead Enterprise back to Phlox before he can cure the virus, but he's found out by Archer and is sent to the brig. Malcolm is torn and his anguish palpable. Is this why he was such a closed off, mysterious character? Or was that always his nature, making him a perfect recruit? Enterprise also deals with a raid from Klingon Augments, but that's a lot less memorable.

Speaking of unmemorable, Trip's transfer to the Columbia is lackluster in the extreme. Has there ever been a duller starship in Star Trek? The engineering crew overreacts to Trip's manhandling them, totally unwarranted given the scenes we're shown. Trip isn't much of a hardass. The launch of the ship lacks any joy, and is in fact quite somber despite those big glowing tubes in the back of the bridge (ugh). No wonder Trip is always daydreaming about T'Pol. These daydreams, shared by both characters and recently melded Hoshi is a strange bit. Has the couple bonded in the Vulcan marriage sense? Hard to say as this is totally unlike anything we've ever seen concerning Vulcan telepathy.

LESSON: You don't quit the unit.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Though there are important revelations here, there may just be too many of them. There's no reason for this complicated a plot, and the potential of Columbia, Trip and Captain Hernandez is wasted.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Enough Already!

If Heroes references the Red Hulk one more time, I'm gonna scream.

Is it Jeff Loeb's massive hubris or a farewell gift to a sacked producer? Either way, I ain't buying it.

"Endings" Continues... Pyramid No More

Eulogy Section
It's with some regret that I had to say goodbye to Pyramid Online Magazine last week. Steve Jackson Games' in-house magazine is moving on and turning itself into a third format. 10 years ago, it went from a printed publication to a weekly online format. In the past 8, I was a subscriber for maybe 3 years, usually during peak role-playing periods. What was really nice about Pyramid is that no matter when you jumped on, you had complete access to all articles, ever, even the ones from the print magazine. For some 25$ a year, that was a great bargain.

And ultimately, probably what made it less than a financial success. Pyramid is now going another way: A monthly pdf publication at 80$ a year, though current subscribers will get the first 6 issues for free. People are already promising to quit Pyramid once it gets its new sticker price. I probably will too. Not that I've never spent money on pdf ebooks. I have. But while I rarely read Pyramid articles on the week they actually came out, I was a big fan of the searchable database for finding just the articles I was looking for. I know that for others, the price of admission was only worth it because of the forums, newsgroups and playtest opportunities it came with.

So what will I miss? Since I regularly play GURPS, tons of articles statted for that system, though 4th edition material does annoy me a little bit (another reason why I preferred the database). Certainly, some of my favorite features included Chad Underkoffler's great Campaigns in a Box. He wasn't the only one to contribute to that feature, but his ideas were always the most inventive and varied, very often with some cool illustrations, and he was a nice guy to boot, eager to hear about how I (and, I hope, others) inserted them into my own games.

Editor Steven Marsh must also be commended for his weekly musings on gaming, which had the knack of at once inspiring me and yet undercutting everything I might have wanted to say on the subject. If I could come up with such interesting posts on gaming, believe me, you'd have noticed by now. Kenneth Hite's Suppressed Transmissions were also a great source of entertainment for the illuminated mind. So my thanks to every writer, editor, artist or other job who ever contributed to Pyramid Online, and goodbye dream of having something in Steven's slush pile. I'll miss it.

Phoenix Section
Ok, so the first issue of Pyramid 3 is already out. What's it like? Well, it's 45 pages (about 40 once you ditch the cover and ads) revolving around a single theme. The next will be about superheroes, and the third more futuristic, but this one's on Wizards. Not my favorite subject given that a) I don't enjoy fantasy gaming very much and b) even when things get fantastic, my players never want to play magicians. More than anything, the lack of variety within a single issue will be the deal breaker for me. On the other hand, I see how it could encourage me to buy a single issue here and there, as a kind of game designer "jam" about a topic that interests me. Maybe this is a better business model after all.

And you know those writers I was thanking above? They're still here. Marsh is still editor and continuing his Random Thought Table column (good notes on how to keep an air of mystery). Hite hasn't actually done any work for Pyramid in a long while. And Underkoffler gets a little interview (makes me want to track down his more professional work) though not an article. Other contributing SJG stars include Sean Punch, and Murphy's Rules is still part of the humor page.

So anything truly interesting despite by non-magical bias? Well, there's a cool feature on prop-making, with step-by-step pictures, which I like. It's the kind of thing than the online version didn't or couldn't do, so I'm glad to see it there. (In general, it's a handsome package with color and the typical GURPS 4e layout.) The guildhall maps are a little indulgent (and eat up a few pages). The articles on undead weapons and curses might make their way into my next game (there's a horror cosm in there that might benefit from an idea or two). There's a good "Tools of the Trade" article on integrating board and card games into RPGs too. Overall, the articles are longer than in the online version, and more complete for it. I think I like it, but we'll see how much when the time comes to actually pay for it.

Ever read Pyramid? Or some other gaming magazine that's folded?

Star Trek 718: The Aenar

718. The Aenar

FORMULA: Interface + The Breach + United

WHY WE LIKE IT: First look at Andoria.

WHY WE DON'T: Uneven pacing and lazy writing.

REVIEW: The Romulans' incursions into Near Space have had the opposite of the intended effect. They're in fact responsible for the first union between usually warring factions. So they get desperate before their project is shut down, throw more marauders into the fray (from out of nowhere, all piloted by the same multi-tasking guy), and go suicidal. The pace isn't so frenetic on the proto-Federation side though, with Shran and Archer taking a walk on Andoria and even spending the night.

Data brought back by Trip and Malcolm has revealed that the remote pilot's brainwaves match those of a reclusive, pacifist, telepathic subspecies of Andorian, the Aenar. Archer and Shran set out to find out what involvement they might have and if one would be able to disrupt the remote pilot using a makeshift remote interface (this assumes they Aenar are NOT responsible, so the first mission is suspect). At least it gives us a chance to visit Andoria for the first time: the frozen moon of a ringed gas giant, all the cities are actually underground. The Aenar's is a rather beautiful place, though I question the use of the same paneling found on Andorian warships as a design element. Through Shran, we discover plenty of local color, the fauna, the terrain, etc.

The Aenar are in fact a lot more telepathic that one might have thought, but a kindly, peaceful folk. Shran bonds with the young sister of the man believed to have been abducted and slaved to the remote pilot system. Jhamel defies her people by joining Enterprise to find her brother, which makes her the real hero when she telepathically makes a plea for her brother to stop what he's doing. He redeems himself by allowing the marauders to be destroyed and is poisoned for his trouble. While these moments are well done, it's still a bit of a let-down when a one-shot guest character wins the day instead of one of the regulars. Never as satisfying certainly. That last battle features the usual strong effects, but it does start with a silly dilemma about whether or not a freighter is actually the marauder, as if they hadn't already established sensors could get the skinny on the Romulan ship.

The epilogue seems to say goodbye to Shran, who's lost his ship and is unlikely to be rewarded for it by another. The way he's become as much a protagonist as the crew of the Enterprise (more so than some of them!), it reads like a set-up to get him on the crew in some capacity. This was discussed in the plans for a fifth season, though it's an oddity here as the show had already been canceled (though the script possibly predates that). In other endings, Trip admits that he was thinking about T'Pol when he thought he was about to die. She's still not interested, so he asks for a transfer to the newly-minted Columbia. It's a strong scene between him and Archer that leaves things unspoken but understood between them (and is an interesting development).

LESSON: The Planet Hell set has been equipped with a leg-breaking slide since The Breach. Actors and characters beware.

REWATCHABILITY - High Medium: Seeing Andoria makes this worth the viewing, but it's definitely the weakest episode of the story arc.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Of Endings... and New Beginnings

In less than 10 days, that's it. No more Star Trek to review on a daily basis. Enterprise has less than 10 episodes left and then... what? It's a question that's been hounding me for weeks, often in the guise of fellow bloggers prodding and poking me for an answer (much appreciated). It's been my 100% guaranteed daily content for almost two years, and now I face the possibility of having to come up with new material or - gasp! - missing a day here and there.

Some would have me try my hand at other cult series. The problem I foresee is that no series really has Trek's sheer bulk of material. Time Tunnel is over in 30 episodes, and then I have to start scratching my head all over again. For a while I though Babylon 5 would be an interesting substitute - similar in content and with a lot of episodes to cover - and it's not completely off the table. I'd like to do Doctor Who as some have requested, but I'm not comfortable with that until I have access to the entire classic series, which I certainly am not.

So what IS the plan? Well, one of the things I'm a little loath to do is lose Trek's numbering. It's been a mark of how long Siskoid's Blog of Geekery has lasted and I'd be sorry to see it go after #726. Or is that infuriatingly indulgent? The only way to keep it going I see is to start reviewing non-canon Trek material. GiT Corp has just come out with a DVD featuring all the Star Trek comics since the Gold Key days, and I have a ton of trashy Star Trek novels picked up mostly in thrift stores over the years...







So one possibility, and it's the one I propose, is to do a comic book each day Monday through Saturday, and a novel (or even a non-fiction book, collection of short stories, etc. I'm not fussy) on Sunday. I can do the comics in order of publication, but the novels will be all over the place, depending on which I've already read (mostly the TNG ones), etc. Of course, I'll have to figure out how to review these other media. "Rewatchability" no longer applies, for example. Certainly, I'll have to cover the plots a little more, since people cannot be assumed to have read them, and it'd be fun to see how they contradict canon information. And of course, we'll need pretty pictures from the comics.

Even if I skip movie adaptations, that should last me, oh, until Kirk takes command of the Enterprise for real! So how about it? Poll in the sidebar.

Star Trek 717: United

717. United

FORMULA: Amok Time + Redemption Part II + Mine Field

WHY WE LIKE IT: Shran. Shran. Shran!

WHY WE DON'T: Man, that Romulan isn't pretty, is he?

REVIEW: Archer must find the Romulan marauder to prevent it from attacking more ships in the area (which might lead to war) and to recover Malcolm and Reed, still trapped aboard. His plan is to enlist the help of all ships in the area to create a kind of sensor grid, but that requires collaboration from Vulcans, Tellarites and Andorians. Not easy when they're all at each other's throats. Things get worse when Talas develops of phaser infection and dies. Thanks to Talas, we see a whole other side to Shran, a sweet, romantic side (I dare not use the word vulnerable), but he is plunged into grief when she is taken away. And it's all the Tellarites' fault.

Jeffrey Combs gives a full performance in this episode, the key scene being his challenge to the Tellarite ambassador. Despite everyone being afraid of what he might do, it seems clear that he's trying to do his best for Archer. He's only there to talk. The tradition of bringing back a warrior's blood to the ice is very interesting, and his speech a fine eulogy to a character we might have liked to see more of. As it turns into a challenge for a duel to the death (the Ushaan), things get violent again. Archer's logic is flawless when he invokes the Rite of Substitution: He will have to face Shran in single combat because only a neutral party can afford to be killed if the makeshift alliance is to succeed. Hoshi and Travis (hey, at least he has something to do) look for a loophole to help Archer, and they find one that will allow the two protagonists to survive (albeit with Shran losing an antenna and his sense of balance). The fight itself is brutal, with a great twist having the opponents tied together, something Archer takes full advantage of.

Meanwhile, Trip and Malcolm find ways to survive, replenish their air supplies and reach the bridge. An interesting series of challenges that turn into a conflict when the Romulans start actively trying to counter their efforts from afar. Trip disables systems, but they use the remaining ones to trap him in a radioactive chamber, for example, or gun the engines to try to knock them out on a bulkhead. This culminates in Malcolm bombing the bridge and in the rather desperate maneuver of throwing themselves out an airlock as a ship battle rages around them, hoping to be picked up by transporter (don't worry, they are). The space battle is notable for the marauder's crazy spinning. Whoah! The final twist this time is that the remote pilot is... an albino Andorian? Bizarre!

In the middle of all this action, you also get some proper character moments. Aside from the previously mentioned moments, Shran has a cute bit regarding the many Enterprises on Archer's wall. And Trip and Malcolm's dilemma is spiced up by Malcolm disobeying an order to leave Trip to die. These two have a long history and it's nice to see it exploited still.

LESSON: You don't have to like your ally, just don't kill him.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Even better than the first part of the arc. Exciting and even a little moving.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

This Week in Geek (17-23/11/08)

Buys

This week, I finally got Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest, the Doctor Who cartoon that appeared in 3-minute installments on the BBC's Totally Doctor Who. I've already flipped it, so see below, but I wonder if its success will encourage BBC World to put out some kind of omnibus DVD with Doctor Who webtoons like Scream of the Shalka, Real Time, Shada and maybe those crazy Children in Need comedy specials. I'd buy it!

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Futurama: Bender's Game: The third direct-to-DVD Futurama feature is meant to be a riff on Dungeons & Dragons, but though there is some of that, it's more about mocking Lord of the Rings and afterschool specials ABOUT the dangers of D&D. And perhaps it's because I have a role-playing background that goes way beyond D&D, but I thought those were actually the weakest and least motivated parts. Much more interesting is the plot about Mom stockpiling dark matter and the revelations that follow. Worth it just for the Enterprise joke. The DVD package has plenty of stuff to make you smile, like a character crossbreed exercise, behind the scenes material (the one on D&D is funny) and Bender's anti-piracy warning, though the commentary track is a bit unruly and there isn't really as much stuff as the previous two releases.

Doctor Who: The The Infinite Quest: Though the story is geared towards younger viewers, and the pace really fast as befits the original format, it's still recognizably Doctor Who. Tennant and Agyeman reprise their roles as the Doctor and Martha, and the villain is voiced by Anthony Head. There's some really cool animation, a lot of humor and classic bits, but also some heartfelt tragedy, all in 45 minutes. The DVD also features a look at the audio recording process, which looks like it was a lot of fun, as well as very brief animation tests and Totally Doctor Who featurettes. I'd be up for more, though perhaps tack them onto a full series next time?

Trades: DMZ vol.4 Friendly Fire: I'm a big fan of DMZ. This volume reprints #18-22, and deals with the massacre of Day 204 in the first year of the 2nd American Civil War. Our hero, the rogue journalist Mattie, gets the story from various sources on the eve of the soldiers' court-martial. As usual, it's very potent and ambiguous stuff. I'm a little sorry to see fill-in artists replace Riccardio Burchielli even when not in flashback mode, but Brian Wood's script keeps everything tightly bound.





DMZ vol.5 The Hidden War: Reprinting DMZ #23-28, this volume features 6 different short stories starring various characters that have crossed (and/or will cross) Mattie's path. Here, using different artists works very well. The stories range from the daring exploits of a graffiti artist to the hopeless tragedy recurring characters' deaths. Some are "secret origins", some are overtly lyrical. Wood gets to show off different modes of storytelling and proves rather versatile. Speaking of which...





Northlanders vol.1 Sven the Returned: Northlanders is Wood's other series, this one reprinting issues 1 through 8. The series is a real gem, telling the story of Sven, a Viking who's grown up in Constantinople and returning home to clear the riffraff from his father's house. It's a story that never quite goes where you think it will, with good characters and great historical detail. I'll certainly be picking up volume 2 when it comes out.






Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall: While I was waiting for new Fables (and Jack of Fables) trades to come out, I found 1001 Nights of Snowfall, which was advertised as an illustrated compendium of the fairy tales Fables is based on. It's not that at all. These are actually a number of short stories showing what happened in between those tales and the Fables series! Had I known, I'd have read it sooner. It's great to see King Cole, Bigby, et al. before they got to the modern era, with usually painted art from a number of great artists. I can't even pick a favorite.


Audios: Scherzo: The end of the year is when I use non-canon material to make Doctor Who cards, so I usually start intaking such material. I've picked up the 8th Doctor audios where I left off, with the Doctor and Charlie entering the Divergent Universe without a TARDIS, where they apparently stay for two seasons (8 stories). Scherzo is a really strange, surreal animal. The exploration of a romantic relationship between the two leads predates Rose Tyler by a few years, but is intermixed with acts of cannibalism, an odd sound creature, and the Doctor often being angry and even cruel to Charlie. A real mixed bag, but one I essentially liked for its originality, bizarre though it was.

RPGs: Still in the prep stage for my GURPS Torg campaign. Three characters have been generated already, with more still left to do before December's kick-off. From the Steampunk world, there's a Sherlock Holmes analogue who uses a band of orphans to collect information. From the Viking world, there's a proud and boasting warrior. And from the World of Darkness, there's a werewolf shaman who doesn't have a human form. A good start!
A quickly drawn map of my Torged Earth.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 12 (or 13, depends how you count) new cards, finishing up my Lords of Time set (open a virtual booster pack here; starter still to come) and starting Relative Dimensions 4, my annual "boutique product" that uses non-canon sources for card fodder. Readers of this blog may be most interested in 2 cards from the IDW comics series, The Forgotten:
and
And in a boutique kind of move
Sacre bleu!

Someone Else's Post of the Week
Seems like Everyday Is a Wednesday gets more than its share of shout-outs from me, but how can it not when the subject is Obama's presidential dog choices? I'm not made of stone! (Then Caleb did it again with a feature on Black Lanterns he wants to see.)