Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Time Capsule: Code Name Assassin

James Robinson has always had a penchant for bringing back forgotten characters, and you might have noticed a character called Code Name: Assassin in the Superman books, working for General Lane. This is a pretty weird superhero name, you'll agree, and don't try looking for him in an old issue of Who's Who. He's not there. So who is he, and where does he come from? I'm gonna have to break open a Time Capsule to find out!The label says February 1976...

1ST ISSUE SPECIAL #11, DC Comics, February 1976
Those responsible: Gerry Conway, Steve Skeates, the Redondo Studio and Al Milgrom, tough Carmine Infantino designed the costume. Mike Grell did the cover. That's a lot of talent thrown at a character that never appeared again until Robinson decided to give him a cameo in Starman, and a role in Superman!

Assassin (for short) is really Jonathan Drew. Raised by his big sister after his parents' death, he later took part in ESP experiments as extra credit for a failing psych course. The testing equipment blows up and he finds himself with mental powers. As he's released from the hospital, his sister tries to tell him her big secret about working for a gangster and she's gunned down. So he's strongly motivated to bring down the mob.

He can... read minds!
Fly on telekinetic waves!
Fry your brain!
And surprisingly, never kills anyone!

He's also a pretty good hand-to-hand combatant, has nifty gadgets and pistols borrowed from a dead associate, and can even take a bullet.
Don't expect a full story though. The issue ends in the middle of a fight between Assassin and a couple of circus goons with powers. Conway and Skeates were apparently convinced Code Name Assassin would spin off into his own series, or at least another 1st Issue Special, between the cliffhanger and the story's editorial notes.
That was 1976. It took 32 years before he made another appearance, and the years haven't been kind to him. Now a government operative responsible for the murder of the Guardian, the attempted murder of pop culture icon Jimmy Olsen, and part of a conspiracy directed against Superman. Wiki calls him a supervillain. Man, it's all gone wrong.
That's what happens when you put the word Assassin in your Code Name. Choose your superhero name well!

SO HAVE OUR FOREFATHERS SPOKEN!

Star Trek 935: Veritas The Conclusion: Cold Comfort!

935. Veritas The Conclusion: Cold Comfort!

PUBLICATION: Star Trek v.2 #33, DC Comics, July 1992

CREATORS: Howard Weinstein (writer), Gordon Purcell and Al Vey (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: Though the Betans aren't the terrorists the Quatrini make them out to be, they're still morally suspect, as Uhura finds out when they force her to repair com equipment if she wants Sulu's life to be saved. She later uses the communications gear to try to call the Enterprise on higher ground, where she is waylaid by Quatrini agents. The Enterprise, following a a trail of debris, arrives just in time and the Quatrini plan is exposed.

CONTINUITY: Sulu becomes captain of the Excelsior in the last couple panels (ST VI).

DIVERGENCES: None.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Keith Giffen's Justice League survives to the 23rd century.
REVIEW: I've figured out what's wrong with Weinstein's Kirk. He's such a sad sack, always leaning against a window and sighing, rarely taking action. What is this angst, and what's it doing in that character? Maybe he doesn't want Sulu to leave. Sulu's promotion is sadly tacked on at the end of the issue. I thought Veritas might be his last Enterprise hurray, but it's really Uhura's spotlight, so it's just an addendum that doesn't quite fit the story. As for the resolution of Veritas itself, well, Uhura's good in it, but what now happens to Quatrin and Beta is barely glossed over, and the climax basically involves Chekov walking in just as it was getting good. I did appreciate the Betan leader's intelligence and Uhura's gutsiness, but everything else is a little weak.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The New Doctor Who RPG Wish List

Have you heard? It's coming out in October! Details are sketchy, and Shag is legally bound to hold out on us aside from the fact that he play-tested it. We know it's a boxed set that contains a Gamemaster's guide, Player's guide, an adventure, character sheets, quick start rules, pre-generated characters as well as tokens and dice for around 60 bucks, but we know very little else [Edit: Hero Press knows a little more].The real question is: What do *I* want from this game? I own copies of the last two iterations, FASA's and the Timelord game, neither of which I found very satisfying. FASA's CIA (Celestial Intervention Agency) was an ok way to open up the setting, but the rules copied from their Star Trek game never captured Who adequately. In Timelord's case, there wasn't much of a chargen system in the book, or even an opening up of the world, basically assuming you'd play the Doctor or one of his established companions. There were some fun skills though, like bench-thumping and screaming. So the first was a practical RPG, but didn't capture the flavor. The second was the opposite.

So here's my wish list for New Who RPG:
1. Must open up the world, which won't be easy with the Time War reducing the number of TARDISes and Time Lords to one. Either it didn't happen or we're before it does. It'd be kinda cool if they published an adventure that sent you to the Time War, wiping out all Time Lords but your own (then again, making new characters can be tough). Another possibility is using the fobwatch trick.

2. Must balance Time Lords and Companions. Not everyone can play a Time Lord, not if the flavor of the show is to be respected. One way to do this is to give all the Companions the "drama". They give the Time Lord a reason to care, unerringly lead it to the villain with their "getting into trouble" skill, say exactly the right thing for the Time Lord's intuition to kick in, etc. And they should be able to do so mechanically. New Who has done a good job of giving Companions "stuff to do", so playing Companion should be a lot more palatable now. Which brings me to...

3. It must cater to Classic Who. A true Doctor Who game can't just have the Eccleston/Tennant material, it should give fans of the Classic series the chance to use the old monsters, the more relaxed UNIT, Gallifrey itself, etc. Supplements could later allow you to run Torchwood, UNIT or Sarah Jane stories.

4. Easy, anything goes-style rules. Not only does the Doctor's popularity offer a chance to initiate non-gamers to the wild world of tabletop RPGs, but it should feel like the show, where solutions can be grabbed out of thin air. Bafflegab (the UK version of technobabble) should be a skill that makes things happen, dammit!

5. Support. For fans, a book of Friends & Foes would be great, even if "Friends" are rarely very useful except as examples of how to make characters, but I'd love for the game to be supported by published adventures. Not only do these help make the game a good introductory one, but could be really fun thanks to the breadth of possible settings.

So that's the long and short of it. If it manages to do all these things, it'll be a well-spent 60$. What would YOU like to see in a Doctor Who RPG?

Star Trek 934: Veritas Part III: Danger... On Ice!

934. Veritas Part III: Danger... On Ice!

PUBLICATION: Star Trek v.2 #32, DC Comics, June 1992

CREATORS: Howard Weinstein (writer), Gordon Purcell and Arne Starr (artists)

STARDATE: 8589.2 (follows the last issue)

PLOT: Having crashed on icy Beta, Uhura goes out looking for help, but by the time she returns with Betans to the escape pod, Sulu is dead. A healer uses a plant to revive him and they're taken in by the so-called "terrorists", simple people who are ready to fight for auto-determination against a plundering upper class that would stripmine a world they think of as theirs. Quatrini agents arrive on Beta and figure Betans are holding the Starfleet officers hostage. All must die so that Quatrin can become a police state...

CONTINUITY: None.

DIVERGENCES: None.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Nasty cold
REVIEW: Perhaps not as entertaining as the previous issue, but Uhura gets a starring role and the motivations and intentions of each faction are made clearer. Purcell's art remains strong and may even be getting stronger by the issue.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

This Week in Geek (22-28/06/09)

Buys

It's gonna be a Kung Fu summer thanks to Dragon Dynasty's excellent releases. Every time I watch one, I immediately get my hands on 2 or 3 more. This week, I grabbed Vietnamese kung fu movie, The Rebel; Donnie Yen's Flashpoint, and an old Shaw Brothers' film, Heroes of the East, AKA Shaolin Challenges Ninja (see below)!

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: To start with, flipped the first season of True Blood. Now, I have an uneasy relationship with sexy vampire fiction (I despise it), but I was willing to give it a go based on Alan Ball's credentials (American Beauty, Six Feet Under). Had I known it was based on a series of books (how many secy vampire series ARE there, anyway? Sheesh!), I might have skipped it. I'm glad I didn't though. The elements from the books (as far as I can make out from the various commentaries) get sillier and sillier and are by far the weakest thing in the show. The invented characters and situations, however, are my favorites. I found myself much more interested in Tara's demons than in Sookie's (sucky... haha, I get it... yeesh) love affair with a vampire. At least, it knows that vampires are all about sex, and doesn't keep up any pretenses about that, so the world that's created is satirical, which I like. Throw in Michelle Forbes near the end and you've got me for a second season. Still uneasy about liking it, however. In addition to commentary tracks, the DVD has some funny fake ads and television pieces about vampires "coming out of the coffin".

My biggest revelation, however, was Heroes of the East, mentioned above. I thought, hey, why not give an old school Hong Kong film a try to see what they were like. Turns out, it's one of the best martial arts films I've ever seen. Doesn't sound like it when I say that it's The Taming of the Shrew with martial arts, does it? Or that no one dies in the whole picture? And yet it kicks ass 20 different ways. It stars Gordon Liu, lately better known as Pai Mei in Kill Bill, as a Chinese husband whose Japanese wife doesn't care about his stupid kung fu. Through a comedy of errors, he winds up having to defeat 7 masters of Japanese weapons and styles. Pretty great. Watched it back to back even before switching to the commentary track. The DVD also includes interviews with Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan and star Gordon Liu, as well as Japanese weapons demonstrations by contemporary masters.

Books: Finished Blood Heat, a Doctor Who New Adventure from 1993, the first of a 5-part arc in which the 7th Doctor, Ace and Bernice Summerfield are spun into various alternate universes by an unknown hand. In this one, the Silurians won back in their premiere story and the world's been taken over by dinosaurs as the last vestiges of UNIT fight the good fight. Except the Doctor still wants to make peace! A good adventure yarn with memorable set pieces (Benny's not in it enough for my tastes though), but rather dark (a staple of the series). Jim Mortimore's previous novel for the line also had illustrations. I wonder why he gets special treatment.

Twitter: You know, I kinda liked doing quick reviews of comics singles I was reading in my Live Blogs, but I don't like how it interfered with the blog's schedule. Then, I thought, why not join the rank of Twits? So if you'd like to know my impression of the comics I read boiled down to a single pithy sentence, I'll be reading them on Twitter. The link's toward the top of the sidebar, or here.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 25, all from The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, finishing up that story's cards, at least for now. Next up will be Warriors of the Deep.

Someone Else's Post of the Week
I'm not gonna mention the various celebrity deaths of the week in these pages, but if you're interested in the death of your childhood, how about Topless Robot's excellent review of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen? You don't even have to have seen it to enjoy it.

Star Trek 933: Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual

933. Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual

PUBLICATION: Pocket Books, November 1991

CREATORS: Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda

STARDATE: TNG era

TOPIC: Like Mr. Scott's Guide before it, this Tech Manual pretends it is from the applicable century (24th), though some asides go behind-the-scenes here and there. In actuality, it is largely based on the document TNG writers used to keep their Starfleet technology part of the cohesive whole. Each system on the Enterprise-D is described in technical detail, with black and white technical drawings supporting the text. The book includes a lot of the graphics seen on the show (whether on screens or the console layouts themselves), allowing for the clearest look at them yet. Special attention is taken to explain some of the more "magical" technology, like holographics, the universal translator, and just how the computer relays your voice to the right person aboard the ship. And there are also clear protocols for what to do when there's a yellow/red alert or an order to abandon ship, or when you have to beam someone down.

CONTINUITY: Features the first appearance of the saucer section's landing ability (Generations) and though seen on a different ship, the captain's yacht as well (Insurrection). The last chapter proposes design directions for a Nova-class ship, one of which looks like the actual Nova (Equinox).

DIVERGENCES: The revealed, graphical inside jokes are "divergent" even if they're on the same graphics seen on the show. For example, the large cutaway Enterprise features a duck, a plane, a mouse, and NOMAD. Similarly, the Sickbay's diagnostic wall charts your insurance coverage. The holodeck works better here than it does on the show, through a combination of holography, transporters and replicators, and computer-animated puppets. Most episodes put the lie to the solid (replicated) puppet concept. As for mistakes, there are few detectable ones, like on one drawing, the small and large shuttlebay doors are reversed. The Enterprise-E was not a Nova-class after all. The lineage of the Enterprise of course omits the NX-01.

ILLUSTRATION OF THE WEEK - Now I really want to see that third EV suit.
REVIEW: This is the most detailed Star Trek tech manual ever, which means it's both the nerdiest and my favorite of all time. Sure, it's not as pretty as later books, or as breezy as earlier ones, but the amount of information is pretty spectacular, not skimping on "stuff you haven't seen... yet!". I mean, this book tells you just where the auto-destruct charges are placed, what the deflector dish deflects and why, and just whose names are on the dedication plaque. How can you tell where you are on the ship by looking at a door number? How are departments structured? What do each of the 16 settings on a phaser do? And of course, there's all the stuff you'd expect like propulsion, weapons and sensors. A lot of it reads very much like jargon, but there's always just enough vulgarizing for the Deanna Trois out there who might not be gear heads. The behind-the-scenes bits, often about why choices were made, are interesting for everyone, as would be the roles of each job on the ship.

Next for the SBG Book Club: Strike Zone (TNG), Betrayal (DS9), Invincible Part I (SCE), Invincible Part II (SCE), Planet of Judgment (TOS).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Spaceknight Saturdays: The Things These Eyes Have Seen

So the Dire Wraiths just rolled a critical failure on their Canadian gambit. Silly Wraiths, you can't poison our environment. We're already doing that ourselves! What's next? Diverting the media's attention from things that matter or injecting fat into our food? Sorry to say we don't need you for that. Just wait it out and jump on our misinformed obese asses when polluted Earth is ripe for that taking.

So what DO the Wraiths have in the pipeline? Massive snowstorms the world over?
Nope, that's got something to do with Thor comics (oh, when editors actually edited...).

Turning the Earth into a postapocalyptic nightmare Charlton Heston or Kamandi might be at home in?
Nope, just a dream Rick Jones was having.

How about just the massacre of everyone on a train?
Because evil is evil for evil's sake. Screw the master plan, let's just get our grooves on. Of course when Starshine sees this, she goes just a little bit ballistic. L'il bit.
She shoots the sole surviving child on the train in case she's a Wraith, forcing Rick to throw himself in front of the beam and burning his nice leather jacket. Not cool, Brandy. Rom's gonna have to play peekaboo with you.
Turns out the little girl IS human after all (lesson learned?) and the things she's seen. She's seen inside the head of the Wraith that killed her parents, and she's seen Rick Jones' exact dream.
Could the Planet of the Apes be for realz?

Next: Rom's baddest enemy returns!

Star Trek 932: Veritas Part II: Sacrifices and Survivors

932. Veritas Part II: Sacrifices and Survivors

PUBLICATION: Star Trek v.2 #31, DC Comics, May 1992

CREATORS: Howard Weinstein (writer), Gordon Purcell and Arne Starr (artists)

STARDATE: 8588.7 (follows the last issue)

PLOT: Sulu and Uhura are brought to Quatrin to testify to the massacre, and the security chief tries to use it to get his planet declared a police state, or else those damn Betans will destroy their society. Our heroes are put on a shuttle back to the Enterprise, along with an agent who tries to kill them. When the bad guy loses, he kills himself. Sulu and Uhura realize he's set the auto-destruct sequence and they barely escape in a pod. The only place to go is Beta...

CONTINUITY: None.

DIVERGENCES: None.

PANEL OF THE DAY - The Judge Judy of space
REVIEW: That's more like it! I guess it pays to get the exposition out of the way in the first chapter, even if it makes for a boring first issue. This second chapter has some nice, brutal action, humorous cutting between scenes, actual suspense, and even humor. Sulu and Uhura really shine, whereas the story turns to molasses every time we go back to the Enterprise. Weinstein really does write the secondary characters better.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Geekdom's Athlete of the Century

The ACTUAL Athlete of the (last) Century is Mohammed Ali, this according to Sports Illustrated, Sports Night and my own discussion panel of armchair experts. And while Ali did fight Superman once, there are perhaps better contenders for Geekdom's Athlete of the Century. Counting down my top 10...

10. Rom (baseball)Sure, I could open this list with some that's actually ATHLETIC, but sports is more than SKILL. It's HEART. Heart and HOW LUDICROUSLY THE UNDERDOG CAN PULL AN UNLIKELY VICTORY OUT OF ITS ARTHRITIC ASS. And of all the underdog stories in all the galaxy, Rom's bunt against the Vulcans Logicians best represents that ideal. And I love how Sisko turned that one point into a victory. It's all about where you set the bar. And with Rom on your team, it can't get any lower. Everybody wins!

9. NFL SuperPro (football)
Speaking of losers... If Ed Wood can be counted among the greatest film makers exactly because he's the worst, then SuperPro surely deserves to be counted among the best comic book heroes. Phil Grayfield used to play pro ball until he was injured, so he became a sports reporter. And while investigating a story about a scientist's 5 million $ super-football suit (if you thought players were already being paid too much...), thieves raid the Hall of Fame and torch the place. They don't take the suit though. And they torch a lot of priceless memorabilia. Who you gonna call to stop stupid criminals? A stupid superhero, of course. Nick puts on the suit (which he never gives back) and spends 12 issues cracking heads and laying down football puns. So bad Marvel reprinted the first issue as a Special Edition.

8. Shaq (basketball)
Shaq? But wasn't it Michael Jordan who played basketball with Bugs Bunny? In space? Yes, but did Mike play Steel in a movie? Or a genie casting that ol' Orlando Magic around? Bugs Bunny is for everyone. Steel is for geeks. If you need more evidence, his nicknames have included Shaq Fu, Superman and the Big Galactus. An animated version of himself appeared on Static Shock, and in Ultimate showdown of Ultimate Destiny, he fights Godzilla and survives a collision with the Batmobile.

7. Super Harlem Globe Trotters (basketball)
The Harlem Globe Trotters are pretty awesome even without powers, and they have an enduring legacy that reaches 1000 years in the future (so sayeth Futurama), but WITH powers? There ain't nothin' they can't do. Liquid Man, Sphere Man, Gizmo-Man, Multi-Man and Spaghetti Man blew my 8-year-old mind. Some say they still keep the world safe and fight crime with the power of basketball.

6. The 5th Doctor (cricket)
I don't understand anything about cricket, but any fool can see the Doctor is an amazing bowler (am I using that word right?). Whether it's using a cricket ball to propel himself through space before he freezes to death, or taking 15 minutes out of the only 50-minute-long Black Orchid to play a match (is that what they're called?) with Lord Cranleigh, or just influence his 10th self made human to stop a piano from falling on a baby with one good throw... there's no denying it. Denying what exactly is a mystery to me. But cricket fans know what I'm talking about... even if I don't.

5. Mohammed Ali (boxing)
He made it into this list too. Dude boxed Superman. 'nuff said.

4. Black Lightning (track and field)
Jefferson Pierce is an Olympic gold medalist, and according to his recent Year One mini-series, started fighting crime in Suicide Slum without the help of powers. Unless you count decathlon power! Anyway, a lot of superheroes claim to have "Olympic-level" physical abilities, but only Black Lightning has the bling to prove it.

3. Mr. T (boxing)
Where do I start? B.A. Baracus on the A-Team? Clubber Lang pitying that fool of a Rocky? Mr. T fighting crime and drug abuse with the kids in his beloved cartoon? Bodyguard to such stars as Steve McQueen and Ali himself? The Mandinka warrior haircut? That time he killed and ate SuperDave Osborne? His World of Warcraft Night Elf? Out-kitsching NFL SuperPro in comics of his own? Yes, opens the top 3 for all those reasons.

2. Wildcat (boxing)
Another boxer? Well, excuse me if geeks generally like people hitting each other, but we do. While there are a lot of pugilists in comics, none are as enduring and endearing as Ted Grant - Wildcat. Already a heavyweight world champion boxer in 1942 when he premiered under Bill Finger's pen, Ted is STILL fighting bouts today at, what, at least 87? Plus, he trained Batman. Let me repeat that: He trained the Batman.

But who's our winner? Come on down...

1. Bob Barker (golf)
Just a touch younger than Wildcat and only recently retired after a record television streak, Bob Barker has probably putted more green just on The Price Is Right than 10 Tiger Woods. Whether you like Price is Right or not (and I loathe it), you grew up with Bob just as I did. A cultural icon for generations. Never too old for a sex scandal either. But what puts him over the top? Kicking Adam Sandler's ass in Happy Gilmore.
Thanks for that, Bob. I'd have done it myself, but I'm a big pussy.

Now I know I missed your favorite. Right the injustice in the comments section!

Star Trek 931: Veritas

931. Veritas

PUBLICATION: Star Trek v.2 #30, DC Comics, April 1992

CREATORS: Howard Weinstein (writer), Gordon Purcell and Al Vey (artists)

STARDATE: 8588.3 (follows the last issue)

PLOT: On a Quatrini space station, Sulu and Uhura witness the massacre of Quatrini agents at the hands of terrorists from the subservient world Beta, who may just be agents themselves if the sole survivor under McCoy's care is to be believed. The Quatrini security man needs Sulu and Uhura to go to the homeworld to testify, but has Kirk left them in the hands of villains..?

CONTINUITY: Sulu and Chekov have been under orders to follow Uhura around on her shopping trips ever since the tribbles fiasco (The Trouble with Tribbles).

DIVERGENCES: None.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Context: It's what makes things make sense.
REVIEW: This arc looks to be a last hurray for Sulu aboard the Enterprise, especially since ST VI was already out at the time. And this is a good thing. Not only do I like Sulu and Uhura a lot, Weinstein is better at writing for them (and Chekov) than the other, higher profile, characters. Of course, being a Weinstein script, the first chapter has to be weighed down with expositional tonnage. New aliens are introduced, and of course, there's a dissident faction, bla bla bla. I'm really glad Purcell is back on the art (covers even), though his Quartini are given an odd coloring job that doesn't quite work. Not his fault. A good start, especially the Sulu-Uhura scenes, but I snored through the Encyclopedia Galactica entry.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Wide Weird World of Sports

Everything I know about sports, I learned from comics...

Baseball...Center field is the devil's position.

Bowling...
You'll get more strikes if you imagine the pins are garden gnomes.

Tennis...
There is no sport that can't be made Xtreme.

Horse racing...
Always put your money on the carnosaur.

Football...
It's all about the coach... and the padding.

Basketball...
There's no "I" in TEAM.

Boxing...
Some of that equipment is a lot heavier than it looks.

Hockey...
In some situations, high-sticking is called for. Like when fighting the goalie of death on an ice floe going down a waterfall.

Golf...
The traps aren't just in the sand.

The more you know...

Star Trek 930: The Price of Admission!

930. The Price of Admission!

PUBLICATION: Star Trek v.2 #29, DC Comics, March 1992

CREATORS: Timothy de Haas (writer), James W. Fry and Bud La Rosa (artists)

STARDATE: 8827.3 (follows the last issue)

PLOT: The Enterprise goes out to planet Zuyna to pick up an observer and see if the world is ready to join the Federation. The Zuynans have discovered a rare mineral used in computer processors on a continent inhabited by another species they've termed animals, something the observer condemns. She knows they're intelligent because... she's one of them! This shapeshifter took the observer's place when she was killed before she could speak out against the impending genocide. In a final melee, the alien takes one of the Zuynan leaders' place, hoping to build a peace from the other side.

CONTINUITY: None.

DIVERGENCES: The stardate is too late for the series' time frame.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Tentacle love
REVIEW: The guest team does a fair job of providing a self-contained story, with a solid twist and a look into the Federation's humane policies. Fry's art is more cartoony than the usual, sometimes reminding me of Cully Hamner's, which isn't a bad thing at all. The issue does have some significant problems, however: The old cliché of a super-rare substance being key to making starships work; McCoy finding out the observer isn't human when she's drawn and colored as an obvious alien (if not of Zuyna's two species); and some extreme acting from Kirk when the Romulans are mentioned ("nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!" - busted the Shatner-meter, that one). Just a notch under ordinary.