Saturday, October 31, 2009

Spaceknight Saturdays: Extended!

So yeah, I've decided to keep this going beyond Rom's "best before" date. Spaceknights is a five-issue mini-series that is at once a labour of love from artist Chris Batista and a labour of hate from writer-for-hire/telephone caller Jim Starlin. What does that do to a comic? Apparently, relegate it to "it never happened" status with the fans, as much as Star Trek V or Episodes 1-3 of Star Wars or even Teen Wolf 2.

But we're gonna give it a shot. It's not like every comic I've ever featured on this blog has been GOOD, right? And the creative team did have a number of challenges to overcome. One of which was doing a series that spun out of Rom without having the rights to that character. I do like their solution: Elevate Rom to sainthood and explain the backstory in tinted glass. That gives the artist all kinds of creative license!
Tinted Glass Rom has a halo and Neutralizer energy coming out of his hands...
He is a god among men.
Strong opening to the series. Now, another challenge was the whole matter of repopulating Galador. At the end of Rom Spaceknight, we were left with the impression that Rom and Brandy were going to pull off an Adam and Eve and do it all alone, but it's now some 20 years later and the planet's got a population and only two Spaceknights identified as Rom's sons. Further, as we start things off, we meet a member of the angel elite who is the only one of his subrace ever to genetically qualify for Spaceknighthood.
Pretty cool, but surprising, as the angels all seemed to have been killed by Dominor's NextGen Spaceknights. So did Rom harvest DNA from various corpses and surviving Spaceknights (cuz where are THOSE guys now?) and grow his civilization back in test tubes? Or did we only see events occurring in the capital city and there were a number of other enclaves around the planet? Since there are some old men walking around shouting advice, I guess it's probably the latter. Or are those older characters Spaceknights who have cloned their humanity back? It's not real clear, and it may just be that Starlin never read the key issues.

And what of Rom in this new world? Well, we can't really call him that, so they call him "First One" (confusing the issue of who begat what further) and "Prime Director" (that's the highest position in the land) and "Father/Dad" (his sons only) and "Artour" (his first name finally revealed? More on that later). In any case, Rom's cameo is very brief indeed. Seems like he was killed just before the series started.
So the series is really about Rom's two heirs, Balin and Tristan, both NextNextGen Spaceknights and deep in a Cain and Abel relationship. Balin is the volatile "bad" brother who has inherited Terminator's title (a nice nod to the fact that Terminator stole half Rom's humanity) and Tristan is the "good" brother all in white (he's the new Rom in all but name). It's a Marvel comic so they fight.
These new Spaceknights can apparently switch to and from armored mode. I guess Rom didn't want anyone to lose their humanity ever again. Those things are so easily mislaid, stolen or destroyed. With Rom gone, Brandy tries to take the reins of leadership, but she's not a real Galadorian, which weakens her claim to the throne.
That must suck about as much as being called Brandy Prime. She should have kept her maiden name.

So she names Prince Balin, Sir Terminator, as successor, and he must confirm that succession by pulling out Axadar, the Neutralizer recast as a sentient object that only allows itself to be yielded by someone worthy of it (and that apparently has had a big makeover).
That's a fail. If you haven't clued in yet that the series is robbing Arthurian Myth blind... We've got Rom being called Artour (Arthur), we've got the Neutralizer turned into Excalibur, we've got his sons named after knights of Earth legend, and we've got brothers sure to be pitted against one another (à la Arthur and Mordred).

Balin isn't the chosen one, but no one thinks to let Tristan try, so the darker brother inflames the crowd with his charisma and takes on the mantle of leadership anyway. Just in time, because a corrupted Spaceknight has forced the planet Trion to declare war on Galador.

Frankly, despite the dissonant transition between series and complete lack of mittens, it's not a bad start. Next: Things get worse. (Am I talking about the situation or the comic? Come back and see!)

Star Trek 1058: The Armies of the Night

1058. The Armies of the Night

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: The Next Generation #49, DC Comics, August 1993

CREATORS: Michael Jan Friedman (writer), Peter Krause, Pablo Marcos (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: The mission to retrieve Locutus from his Cube is a failure, but Data detects his presence at Starfleet HQ on a 90%-assimilated Earth. Picard, Data, 2 Rikers and 2 Worfs (Worves?) beam down to take out the base's forcefield and kidnap Locutus there, while Shelby causes a distraction with our universe's Enterprise (though she clearly has plans of her own and has no respect for Alt-Riker). As they near success, Worf is shot and killed. But which one..?

CONTINUITY: See previous issues. Locutus finally puts in an appearance.

DIVERGENCES: Alt-Riker doesn't know Guinan, even though 1) she joined the ship before the events of The Best of Both Worlds, and 2) he specifically mentioned her among the dead two issues ago.

PANEL OF THE DAY - That cardboard cutout didn't stand a chance.
REVIEW: This issue keeps the excitement going, though there's really no suspense in finding out which Worf was killed on the cover and cliffhanger. I mean, really. Though Alt-Worf's honor quandry makes for good drama, the best addition this issue is the in-fighting between the alt-characters. Shelby still finds her Riker gutless and expects his mission to fail, so she's got a plan up her sleeve, while Alt-O'Brien's loyalties seem to be on Riker's side. Everything's set up for the big, double-sized finale of issue 50.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Spaceknights: The Next Next Generation

In 2000, Marvel published a 5-issue limited series sequel to Rom that was met with resounding silence, winning the dubious honor of being their lowest seller that year. Doesn't sound promising, does it?

I've decided to push Spaceknight Saturdays 5 weeks more (inching towards my threeversary on December 9th) and take into account the story of Rom's sons, warts and all.

Speaking of warts, though the series was the brainchild of artist Chris Batista, Marvel brought in Jim "Cosmic" Starlin to write it. Here's what Starlin had to say about it (interview with Universe HQ):

"I thought [Rom] was a pretty dumb character back in the seventies. I just took on the job of scripting the series so that I could pay for some parts for my boat."


Join us tomorrow for the work-for-hire, phoning-it-in splendor that is Spaceknights #1!

Star Trek 1057: The Belly of the Beast!

1057. The Belly of the Beast!

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: The Next Generation #48, DC Comics, July 1993

CREATORS: Michael Jan Friedman (writer), Peter Krause and Pablo Marcos (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: Picard agrees to help the parallel universe's crew defeat the Borg, though part of that crew just commandeered his Enterprise. Reviewing what went wrong the first time, the combined crews decide our Enterprise's plan is still workable, and Picard chooses to lead the mission to the Cube (bumping Worf). The two ships head to Earth where Locutus' Cube is assimilating the planet and attack it with a barrage of anti-matter and slip a shuttle inside its shields. Picard and Data head for the command center to find Locutus, but he's nowhere to be found...

CONTINUITY: See previous issue. Commander Shelby has stayed on as Riker's first officer (The Best of Both Worlds), and Wesley didn't have an Academy to go to (Final Mission). Forgot to mention this last issue, but the Starfleet insignia in the parallel universe are those from Future Imperfect. Geordi's defense of individual drones harks back to the events of I, Borg. The difference between the parallel and our world is that their Riker didn't listen to Shelby's idea of launching an anti-matter spread and causing the rescue shuttle to be attacked, destroying Data and wounding Worf. The restoration of Picard from Locutus may not have worked anyway given that Dr. Crusher remained at Starfleet Medical longer than Season 2.

DIVERGENCES: The title was later used for an SCE novel. If the saucer section was destroyed during the events of The Best of Both Worlds, Alt-O'Brien shouldn't be aware of his wife Keiko (Data's Day) and his daughter Molly (Disaster); both episodes occur much later.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Alt-Worf: No more or less a sore loser than our Worf.
REVIEW: Still an exciting arc on a plot level, though Krause's art could be a little more dynamic in the battle scenes. The "what if" aspects are well thought out. On a character level, Friedman does a good job of confronting the alt-crew with the world and people they've lost as represented by our version of the crew, though here there may be timeline problems (see Divergences).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dire Wraiths vs. the Thing: Rematch!

I'm not going to cover every single Wraith appearance, flashback and cameo this week, but FF 277 is one issue that I've had in my collection for a long time, right up there with Uncanny X-Men 185-188. It tells the tale of the Thing's rematch with a Dire Wraith. But this time, he doesn't have Rom to help him out.

There's also a Mephisto story (Byrne split the book in half horizontally), but we don't care about that.

Our story takes place as Ben Grimm finally returns from the Beyonder's planet. Can he pick his life up where he left it, or has somebody been sleeping with his girl Alicia?
The answer is (b). Fighting ensues until Alica stops it with an insulting slap. Oh well. And in any case, that's when the Wraiths decide to send their planet out to meet ours through a black hole in our sun (Rom #64).
As per Ben's luck with women lately, the first girl he tries to help out of the cataclysm turns out to be a bad one.
The last time, Ben met male Wraiths and ripped them to shreds with his bare, de-powered fists. Can he handle a female? He obviously keeps himself up to date, so maybe he can. Drill tongue!
And it's a fail for mah Wraith sista! And then Rom #65 happens and things get back to normal. Yeah, I thought those two issues lasted a lot longer. Maybe Ben took in a movie before trying to rescue the girl or something. He HAD been away a long time, after all.

But his winning streak against Dire Wraiths remains unbroken, which is the only thing that's important!

Star Trek 1056: The Bludgeonings of Chance!

1056. The Worst of Both Worlds, Part I!: The Bludgeonings of Chance!

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: The Next Generation #47, DC Comics, June 1993

CREATORS: Michael Jan Friedman (writer), Peter Krause and Pablo Marcos (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (between Chain of Command and Ship in a Bottle)

PLOT: The Enterprise-D gets sucked through an anomaly into a parallel universe where Locutus was never freed from the Borg, and the Collective assimilated most of Earth's population. The ship finds its twin, just a battle bridge now, and the bridge crew gets beamed aboard where Captain Riker and his motley crew wants help defeating the Borg from those who have succeeded before...

CONTINUITY: The parallel world keys off the events of The Best of Both Worlds. Events must take place before the O'Briens leave for DS9. Beverly uses the same racket design she would later offer Guinan in Suspicions.


PANEL OF THE DAY - Ladies and gentlemen: Alt-Geordi's eyepatch.
REVIEW: I'm a sucker for well-constructed "what ifs" and this could be a really fun one. Friedman has found a way to use the Borg at last. And if Geordi's silly eyepatch is anything to go by, "The Worst of Both Worlds" could be a real dose of pure comics madness. I hope he doesn't cut any corners. After all, it's not our world. He can blow everything up! But there's also some heart to the issue, as with Picard's trauma about helping the Borg destroy the fleet at Wolf 359 (great art on that sequence, psychologically), and the exploration of Riker and Troi's relationship (is she fated to fall for Alt-Riker?) and Beverly's motherly concerns (what's Alt-Wesley up to?).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cat of the Geek #29: Socks

Name: Socks Clinton
Stomping Grounds: Oval office, Clinton administration (from its adoption in 1991 to the end, living with former Clinton secretary Bettie Currie until his passing in 2009 at age almost 20)
Side: Good (according to the press release)
Breed: American shorthair/Tuxedo cat
Cat Powers: Can sub for Press Secretary. Website guiding skills.
Skills: Eat 6, Sleep 5, Mischief 7, Wit 6, Answer Fan Mail and Be Investigated by Congress For It 8
Cat Weaknesses: Political rival and co-presidential pet, Buddy the Labrador (Bill Clinton felt the Israelis and Palestinians were on better terms).
Unreleased Video Game:

Rom: Universe X

Earth-X (or Earth-9997 if you don't want to mistake it for the DC Earth where WWII never ended) is a parallel world in the near future where Black Bolt released the Terrigen Mists into the atmosphere, turning everyone into a superhuman. As you can imagine, that pretty much fracks society up and the result becomes an extended What If. But I'm less interested in the What Ifs here than I am about the What Abouts. Specifically: What about Rom in this alternate Marvel universe?

He's there! In Universe X #3, Captain America, Baby Mar-Vell and a super-powered Ka-Zar jump to Belasco's version of Hell/Limbo and find they're all the same. So of course, you've got Dire Wraiths there. If any of this doesn't seem to make sense, please note that Hell has indeed frozen over.Ka-Zar's mutate ability, by the way:
Steps into the fray: Rom! Proving that you never give up the fight, and that the action figure may be copywritten, but not his damn accessories!
And I like that his shield is a piece of his armor, too. It's not a big role, and we don't get much in a way of explanation, but you can imagine Rom dying and spending the whole of the afterlife fighting Wraiths. In the end, he gives his Neutralizer to Cap, giving him the means to destroy his enemies without killing.
You know, that reminds me of Cap yielding Thor's hammer. I bet the guy can pull Excalibur out of a stone too. That's just cool.

Star Trek 1055: The Maze

1055. The Maze

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: The Next Generation #46, DC Comics, May 1993

CREATORS: Michael Jan Friedman and Kevin Ryan (writer), Carlos Garzon and Pablo Marcos (artists)

STARDATE: 46318.6 (between The Quality of Life and Chain of Command)

PLOT: The Enterprise-D and Picard in particular have been invited to the planet Farisi allegedly because its ruler Zed wishes to join the Federation. In actuality, he admires Picard and crew so much, he wants to throw them in a maze of his own devising. It's been a while since he's had proper opponents, and the only way to shut down the maze is to kill him. Cut off from the ship, Picard is made to wait helpless behind a force field in Zed's control center while he watches Data, Geordi and Riker navigate the deadly maze. One by one, the crewmen falter, but Picard realizes he's the one being tested and manages to get through the force field, and follows up by finding a non-violent way to get Zed to shut the maze down. Though angry that he didn't get Picard to at least try to kill and prove he's no better than him, he admits defeat and allows the officers to leave.



PANEL OF THE DAY - Not a good GameMaster
REVIEW: Another pretty good one-off. Friedman and Ryan seem to have a good partnership going. Though the designs would probably not have been made on the show (the giant winged reptile in the maze particularly), the plot certainly could have stood next to similar fare (say, Allegiance). The traps are especially made for the characters involved, create a real catch-22, and Picard is very smart at understanding the clues that allow him to defeat Zed, not just physically, but ethically. And if that's not how a good Picard story should go, I don't know my Trek.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dire Wraiths vs. Avengers

Hey, speaking of Rick Jones (yesterday), I never talked about the story that brought him into the fold.Avengers #244-245 fits roughly after Rom #53 (the attack on SHIELD), and has our heroes investigate the possibility of Dire Wraiths infesting the space program. So if you wonder why all those Mars probes went off course, blame the Wraiths. No sooner is the mission explained that the Wraiths blow up the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, and the Avengers assemble off the deck of the Wasp's yacht.

The attack at first seems to come from the Rocketeers, but Rom fans will remember that the Dire Wraiths replaced this villain team way back in Rom #22! But TWIST: The Rocketeers were male Wraiths (or Science Wraiths, if you will) supposedly exterminated by the female Witch Wraiths! Seems like there's a little bit of a masculist movement going on here.
Fearing that the Sisters were closing in, one of the Science Wraith betrays his brothers by stealing the experimental shuttle for himself, a shuttle they were installing a stardrive on.
You heard what butt-ugly just said, the stardrive's unstable and could blow any minute, and as #244 ends, the Wasp is passed out aboard the ship!

In the very next issue, it's the Wasp and Captain Marvel against the Wraith, and you won't believe how hardcore the tiniest Avenger gets.
And we weren't even close to the 90s yet! That's the gun that seemingly killed Captain Marvel a few pages earlier, so I guess the Wasp is justified in going postal. But the Wraith warns her that if the ship doesn't leave the atmosphere soon, its unstable engines will blow it up and rain deadly antimatter on the Earth.

Back on the endangered planet, Captain America goes to visit the captured Wraiths and finds the witches already experimenting on them!
That's some quick infiltration! And now Cap is to become one of them!
Of course, it's Captain America. There ain't no way he's gonna let that happen.
Meanwhile, Vision and Starfox have taken a Quinjet to intercept the shuttle and a battle ensues, one that ends with the Wraith blowing the hatch.
If you're surprised the 2 gram Wasp isn't the first one blown out, you won't be that Captain Marvel survived after all. And she's handy with spacesuit accessories too.
Back on Earth, Cap battles the Wraith sisters alone, but he's got an ace up his sleeve: The Scarlet Witch!
Soon, all the Wraiths have been electrocuted or frozen solid and SHIELD swoops in and tells the Avengers it's not their case anymore. Good move, U.S. governement cuz, you know, the Avengers did so poorly in combatting the threat and Rom doesn't need help or anything. No wait, that's right, they sent him RICK JONES. Cancer-ridden Rick Jones, to be exact. This is before the U.S. had color-coded threat levels.

The Avengers would meet the Wraiths once again in issue #268 when Kang sent them to Limbo. It was a pretty interesting story for continuity fans, since the "timeless dimension" was filled with just about everyone and everything that had ever visited since the 60s, including every Avenger whisked there by the Space Phantom whenever he moved into our dimension. That's Avengers #2, people!

And of course if we're in Limbo, we gotta have Dire Wraith armies. And this being post-Rom #66, that would be ALL OF THEM.
Just another day at the office for Hercules. In the wake of the battle, the Wraiths ask to be ALL killed off.
Living in Limbo really is cruel and unusual punishment. So much for Rom using humane methods. Though we don't see the massacre, it is inferred that Hercules put them down. Humanely.

Star Trek 1054: Childish Things

1054. Childish Things

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: The Next Generation #45, DC Comics, April 1993

CREATORS: Michael Jan Friedman and Kevin Ryan (writers), Chuck Frazier and Pablo Marcos (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: The Chorrtan prince is blind and could die going through his people's ritual of manhood because of it, so the Federation has offered to fit him with a VISOR. The Enterprise brings the same team that gave Geordi his VISOR to the planet and soon enough, Geordi befriends the blind prince. But just as soon, there's an attempt on his life, and then on one of the doctors. One of the scientists is implicated and freely confesses. Seems the Chorrtans once raided an illegal eugenicist colony and he's the sole survivor. But he isn't. Just before the operation is about to occur, Geordi confronts another of the doctors who was planning to kill the boy with a scalpel swipe. She reveals she too was on that secret colony, and she and the other scientist were married there and had a daughter who died in the raid. But she can't go through with murdering a child, so Geordi convinces the prince to go ahead with the operation and it all works out for the best.

CONTINUITY: Eugenics research is banned in the Federation as per episodes going all the way back to Space Seed.

DIVERGENCES: Troi has a noticeable Betazoid accent, apparently, which doesn't explain why every other Betazoid we've seen doesn't. The comic places the Eugenics Wars in the early 21st-century instead of the 1990s.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Geordi couldn't let that ensign find his pathetic message on her answering machine.
REVIEW: A surprisingly effective story that could have been done on the show (they never did enough with Geordi, which is probably why he's my least favorite TNG character). Cramming a whodunit into a single issue does tend to make that issue rather wordy and expository, but the focus is more on the emotions than the plot details. Having Eugenicists in the picture explains why no one knows their story (there's been a cover-up) though also seems a bit throw-away, and I think the VISOR technology should have been updated over the last 20 years or so, but still a strong vehicle for Geordi.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rom Wrap-Up Week Begins!

Yes, Spaceknight Saturdays are over, but there are still some loose ends to tie off. Rom and the Wraiths would appear here and there again, and I would be remiss if I didn't show you the entire story. Rom's last true appearance (not in flashback), for example. It occurs in Incredible Hulk #418, June 1994, written by Peter David with art by Gary Frank. Nice pedigree.

It's the one with Rick Jones' wedding to Marlo, Joe Fix-It's ex-girlfriend/porn star (Joe is the name the gray Hulk gave himself, if you didn't know). It's your standard superhero wedding, with the Impossible Man handing out bogus invitations to various villains, Northstar chatting up some dude at the bar, and Mephisto trying to collect the soul of the bride. The usual.

But it's the guest list that interests us here. The award for guests that came the longest distance goes to none other than Rom and Brandy!
She has a lot in common with Marlo, after all. She too was a hand-me-down from a superhero he was sidekick to. Brandy was his pity wife for the time he had the cancer, you remember. Awkwarrrrrrrd.
Waitaminit... shouldn't Brandy be pregnant? Like, all the time? They've got a planet to repopulate. I'll give Peter David the benefit of the doubt and say she's in her first trimester here.

Why invite Rom? Could it be because he used to be a silver dude?
Could be! More likely it's because the Sidekick-to-the-Stars wanted all his mentors there (Mar-Vell obviously excepted).
But Rom isn't the most unlikely character to show up. No, that prize must go to this girl here:
Peter David spoiling for a lawsuit. And her wedding gift is a brush. A BRUSH WITH DEATH, GET IT??!? GET IT!??! Peter David spoiling for a slap.