Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cat of the Geek #55: Brannigan

Name: Thomas Kincade Brannigan
Stomping Grounds: New New York, the year 5,000,000,053 (Doctor Who's "Gridlock")
Side: Good
Breed: Catkind
Cat Powers: Flying VW van. The love of a good woman. Patience.
Skills: Eat 4, Sleep 3, Mischief 4, Wit 7, Piloting 7
Cat Weaknesses: Would do anything for his litter.

Star Trek 1209: Public Enemies, Private Lives

1209. Public Enemies, Private Lives

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #8, Marvel Comics, August 1997

CREATORS: Mariano Nicieza (writer), Tom Grindberg and Bob Almond (artists)

STARDATE: 50444.1 (between For the Uniform and In Purgatory's Shadow)

PLOT: Kira, Miles and Keiko O'Brien, and Jake go survey the jungle planet Maurer IV where they are captured by a Maquis splinter group. A Romulan warbird commanded by Tomalak decloaks and destroys their runabout. Tomalak is angry that his son, currently posing as a Maquis, has blown an operation designed to spark a Maquis/Federation conflict. Sisko flies the Defiant to Maurer IV to rescue his son and encounters the Maquis raider who was lured there by the Romulans. It is commanded by Cal Hudson, who wants to help Sisko rescue Jake...

CONTINUITY: For the first time in the comics, the crew wears the gray uniforms (from The Rapture forward). Keiko appears, as does Commander Tomalak (last seen in All Good Things...). The Maquis encountered here include some of those that appeared in issues 3-4, and Cal Hudson (The Maquis).

DIVERGENCES: The Orinoco was destroyed in Our Man Bashir, here it is destroyed again.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Setting the mood.
REVIEW: Inker Bob Almond is a MUCH better match for Tom Grindberg's pencils. A world of difference. The art now has a slick sophisticated look that was missing under Milgrom's sketchier inks, and Grindberg also has fun with double-page spreads, all enhancing the action in the issue. As for the story, it contrasts two pairs of fathers and sons, Tomalak and his son, at odds with each other, and the Siskos' more unconditional love. Nicieza also ties this into previous issues by making the Romulans the instigators of the recent Maquis trouble. I'm finally feeling like this series is on track, though rotating writers and artists mean it could jump the tracks at any time. Still, Public Enemies looks good and may have something to say about the principals.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fixed Point: The Waters of Mars

(Spoilers for The Waters of Mars below. You have been warned.)I've delayed talking about the two last Doctor Who specials, I think in part because I found them lacking, If Planet of the Dead was replete with missed opportunities, then these specials break the bank. It's like they're ALMOST great, but then a funny robot rolls in and it drops to just ok.

Well, I've gone and mentioned it already - Gadget, the funny robot. There's nothing inherently wrong with a wonky, even cutesy robot on the show. I mean, K-9 is a wonky cutesy robot. The problem with Gadget is that he doesn't tonally fit into this story. Waters of Mars is one of the bleakest stories in the Doctor Who canon, if not THE bleakest. We've had base under siege stories where no one, or almost no one, made it out alive before, but none where a person who was saved immediately commits suicide! And yet, there it is, along with a potentially disturbing body horror monster. And in the middle of it all - Gadget, the funny robot.
As an exploratory drone, he's acceptable. The "Gadget Gadget!" cute-speak makes him borderline. How the Doctor apparently adds rocket boosters to him with his sonic screwdriver sends it way over the top to the point where the story is no longer believable. Comic relief that goes too far and destroys any tension the story had, or at least jars with the atmosphere of the story. If the point was to give something to the kiddies (and it often is), then we must accept that the kiddies were meant to watch it, and Waters is much too dark for children who might enjoy Gadget. Monsters, people not making it out alive, standard Doctor Who fare. But the suicide of a nominal companion? Really?

Is Gadget enough to ruin Waters of Mars? Not alone, no. Lindsay Duncan is excellent in the role of Adelaide Brooke (no surprise there), and the Doctor has some fun dialogue, such as when he is asked what his name is, what he does, and what he wants ("The Doctor. Doctor. Fun."). The sets and monsters are effective, and I like how Brooke is basically the future equivalent of a historical character (we just don't know the history yet), with the same historical sanctity afforded Shakespeare or Richard the Lionhearted. In fact, the matter of fixed points in time, and actually UNFIXING them was potentially the best thing about the episode. And this is where Gadget is not alone in undermining the story after all.

Fixed points. These are events that, if changed, will result in massive changes in History. You can save a marble merchant from Pompeii, but you can't save the city. You can't let Shakespeare or Agatha Christie die before their time. And when I say "can't", I don't mean that it's not possible. Time in the Whoniverse is flexible, which is why the Doctor must intervene to keep History on track, but it's at least resilient. He makes mention of time tending to smooth out small ripples so that they have little or no effect in the long run, and it's why he can save "the little people". So it's no small thing when he decides to make a big ripple in the pond, as the Time Lord Victorious.
Tennant is electric in the last 15 minutes of the episode. He sees Bowie Base One in flames (is that an oblique reference to the Master? David Bowie - Life on Mars - John Simm...) and recalls Gallifrey at the end of the Time War. It makes him flip out. There is no Donna to stop him. He rages against time itself and the laws that no one protects anymore. Isn't time his to lord over and manipulate? Not since the darkest days of his 7th incarnation has he been so brazen about playing with time (and yet, Doc7 was always the champion of time, not its abuser). Doc10 destroys a fixed point by saving Adelaide and two others, but she rejects him and kills herself to keep the timeline intact. At which point, he realizes he's gone too far, the Cloister Bell starts to sound and he knows his death approaches. It's a powerful sequence, all told, except...

The sequence doesn't really bear scrutiny. We're forced to ask: How is Adelaide's decision motivated? One the one hand, she takes the Doctor's word for it when he tells her about the future. There's no mention that he's a time traveler at that point, and he keeps saying "Suppose this happened..." Sure he knows more than he should, and his prophecy seems to come true, but would you commit suicide based on that flimsy evidence? And if you do trust him about one thing, why not a second thing, such as when he says the future'll sort itself out and a living Adelaide can inspire as much as a dead one? And frankly, Adelaide's solution isn't a great one. The fixed point has still be changed, and I'd think that, web pages aside, a grandmother's suicide would do less to inspire me to go to the stars than her well-remembered sacrifice on Mars. And has the future now changed completely? It doesn't seem so (the Ood are still in the picture, and surely, there would have been changes to the timeline in which Planet of the Ood occurred), so what was the big deal anyway?

But that's what happens when you analyze everything. So let's not do that. Let the paradox business slide. The sequence STILL doesn't work. Why? Because of The End of Time, that's why. If the next special had taken place back to back with this one, with the Doctor doomed and frazzled, I wouldn't be complaining. But they leave us on this moment where Ten has lost himself and knows he's heading for his final destiny, bells ringing, the TARDIS having a fit, it's all gone wrong and now he DESERVES what's coming. Opening of The End of Time, the Doctor's been having further adventures, and fun ones too! From urgency and malaise, we jump to relaxation and Hawaiian shirts. It's ridiculous and completely destroys what Waters of Mars has set up. It's not like there wasn't time for every possible untold tale in between Planet of the Dead and Waters.

And a few random comments...
-Can the Daleks detect fixed points in time too? Is that really why the Dalek didn't kill little Adelaide during the Stolen Earth scenario? Has Davros programmed them with such information (and it has to be pretty detailed for a Dalek to recognize a little girl as the woman she would one day become)? While a poetic idea, it was probably just the Dalek not finding relevance in the death of this harmless child.
-Moment I could have done without: Those awful, over-used web page flashes. After the first three or four, it just becomes this terrible joke, a parody of itself, which helps deflate the last moments as well. Maybe it's just the way they are all the same (angles and sounds), but it goes from clever to stupid reaaaal fast. And they're not even that interesting on freeze frame. (Ed Gold went to Adelaide University and then worked with a woman called Adelaide? Sparkling.)
-So Ice Warriors... Where are they? We know from the extra-canonical stuff that they live underground and hibernate, none of which Waters of Mars contradicts. The real question is: Has their presence been seeded for use in the next series? I'd love to see revamped Ice Warriors. Certainly, I like them more than I do the Sontarans...

Next up: The End!

Star Trek 1208: Risk, the Conclusion

1208. Risk, the Conclusion

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #7, Marvel Comics, May 1997

CREATORS: Howard Weinstein (writer), Tom Grindberg and Al Milgrom (artists)

STARDATE: 49354.9 (follows the last issue)

PLOT: O'Brien enters and leaves the anomaly, confirming his theory but not finding the lost pilot. The Shirn refuse to even look at his evidence. The dissident among them helps the crew uncover evidence of negligence, explaining the need for Sisko to be their scapegoat, but since no ship can use the information gathered to find the pilot, it is a moot point. O'Brien thinks the Defiant can make it, and so it does, but the dissident tries to sabotage operations while inside the anomaly, thinking a disaster would help stop the experiments once and for all. Dax overpowers him and the ship rescues the pilot and exists the anomaly. Sisko is freed and hopes the message of science gone mad has been heard.



PANEL OF THE DAY - Have Dax's hands always freaked me out?
REVIEW: Despite Weinstein's little obsessions, this is a better issue than Part I. It has some wit and humor (in particular, Dax quoting Curzon at the end), as well as some action and one surprising reversal. Or perhaps it only seems that way, given that the rest is so predictable. As you can see from the featured panel, the art is still iffy in places.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Doctor Who: The MMORPG

Settle down, kids, I'm not making an announcement here. A few months ago, the BBC had revealed that it was getting into the massive multi-player online game business, sparking speculation about a Doctor Who MMO, but alas, speculation is all it was. CBBC World seems to be the project they were alluding to, a virtual world aimed at children. But that doesn't mean we can't dream! As the countdown for the 11th Doctor begins, Doctor Who Week asks: What would a Doctor Who MMO be like?It's not an easy question to answer, is it? The Whoniverse theoretically contains all places and times and a few parallel dimensions and more than one timeline. The show itself features a pacifist and gives equal time to a super-powerful Time Lord and his relatively mundane Companions. How does that translate into an MMO comparable to what's on the market today? Perhaps some lessons can be learned from the pen and paper Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG, which is as different from, say, D&D, as our MMO would be from World of Warcraft. Perhaps. Certainly, the focus cannot be on fighting and loot, at least not exclusively.

Instead of WoW as a model, let's take City of Heroes as a starting model. It's a superhero game, which shares one thing with Doctor Who - the already powerful central hero. Pen and paper supers games, at least those that emulate comics, are not based on "leveling", not should a Doctor Who game be. City of Heroes, however, does level your character, adding powers as it goes along in a most un-comic book-like way. Still, one might imagine adding abilities as experience is accumulated even in a Doctor Who game. A Time Lord might add abilities like Taunt, Confuse and Extend TARDIS Shields, for example. City of Heroes might also provide a model for how time-space zones are configured. In CoH, city areas, divided by appropriate levels of difficulty are cut off from each other, requiring load screens while your character is in a tunnel or taking public transportation (as opposed to WoW's incessant walking).

And for all that, we should still respect WoW's continued success with its more martial trappings. The Whoniverse does have UNIT, Torchwood and the Time War, so here's my vision...

The Setting
The game would be set in the Time War for a variety of reasons. First, it explains why there would be so many Time Lords and other time-traveling species moving about. Setting it in the present era of Who, there would be little justification for all the player-run TARDISes in the game. Secondly, the setting creates impetus for all manner of missions where combat may be required, and combat remains one of the most gamable elements of these games. Finally, this would also help design abilities for the characters. The Doctor's sonic screwdriver is all well and good (and multi-functional), but Time Lords participating in a Time War, might very well have more tricks up their sleeves - high level stuff like Time Stop, Fast-Grow Dinosaur Eggs (the Rani had this), etc. And while the War rages, there would still be room for helping people caught in the crossfire or simply down on their luck. If you arrive on Peladon and the King asks you for help, even if it has nothing to do with the War, would you say no?

Who Are You?
Different character types is a major component in the success of many MMOs, usually used to promote interaction between players who cannot complete missions with their limited abilities alone. Now, the game would work with only Time Lords, separated into Chapters just like on the classic series, giving them access to different abilities depending on whether they are scientists, soldiers, aristocrats or rogues. But I'd widen it further. You could also choose to play UNIT personnel with a time projector, or Time Agents like Captain Jack aboard a timeship, or Torchwood operatives (looters!) with access to a rift in space-time. In each case, a slightly different mode of time travel is used, and different abilities/gadgets become available, but the the same principles of game play apply.

And it wouldn't be Doctor Who without Companions. I'm of two minds about this. MMOs cannot work well if all character types cannot play solo (at least in the opening levels). Trying to think of Companion abilities that aren't "buffs" is rather difficult, which leaves me with two options. 1) Consider the Time Agents, UNITeers and Torchwood guys "Companions" whenever they are paired up with Time Lords. Or my preferred method, 2) make them NPCs run by a Time Lord/main character. Think of them as mounts or pets in WoW, or Away Team members in Star Trek Online. You would gain a Companion every X levels, would be able to choose from a variety of archetypes (cute screamer, computer geek, history teacher, etc.), complete a mission to "meet" them (of course) and then be able to use them in a variety of ways. You could leave them on the TARDIS, or bring them along to buff your Time Lord, be directed to toggle machinery, etc. The game engine could even be directed to kidnap them from time to time, triggering a rescue mission.

Moving Through Time and Space
The TARDIS (or other time travel console) makes a good general purpose save point and options widget, but it's also how you move from one Space-Time Zone to another. As your level rises, the number of Zones you can move to increases, and more can be added by the design team as "patches" creating new points in history or planets in the universe where adventures are possible. The TARDIS itself can also be used to key off Time Lord abilities, whether that means materializing on top of your team in the middle of a battle or creating the Bad Wolf (obviously, some of these abilities are one-shot deals). Most Zones would be designed to hold many missions, or a single mission with multiple steps, so that revisiting is of interest.

Leveling would work much as it always does in these things, with experience being accumulated as missions progress, new zones are discovered and enemies are defeated. I'd also throw in points for befriending NPCs. Increased stats, new abilities, equipment (or equipment abilities, and such things as Companions would be awarded according to "character type" for each level.
-UNIT Characters: These are the soldiers of the game, and would be awarded with increasingly sophisticated weaponry and tactics. They are consequently not hugely versatile as far as abilities (and time machine abilities) go.
-Torchwood Characters: The middle ground between UNIT and Time Lords, the TW guys have some fighting ability, but are often awarded with alien equipment, giving them versatility, but not a lot of power.
-Time Agents: Also a middle ground, but with more in the way of temporal effects than Torchwood (so closer to Time Lords) and less battle ability.
-Time Lords: Very week in combat (though they should have abilities that tend to circumvent fighting, like parlay), but with the potential for amazing temporal abilities and equipment from across space and time. And these guys would be able to regenerate!

Dying and Regenerating
All these games have some scheme that allows characters to be resurrected when they die. WoW sends your soul to the graveyard and you must run back to your dead body. City of Heroes rematerializes you in a superhuman hospital far from where you were injured. Either way, there's a time penalty, but death is never permanent. I think the same can be accomplished with the TARDIS or other time machine. Time War Rules: Combatants are taken from a split second before they were killed and 'ported to their TARDIS. The time penalty comes from waiting for the machine to heal you from the low health from just before that last wound. You can storm out of the time machine right away if you like, but at the risk of dying very soon.

For Time Lords, there's an extre wrinkle. The same way City of Heroes gives you an extra costume at level 20, your Time Lord could suffer regeneration at certain points in its life. Players could then redesign their character's avatar from the ground up (and "respec" no doubt, even reselect your Companions), or they could hold off for later. The choice would be "stick to the avatar I've been playing with for so long" or change it and actually gain some bonus ability (to encourage you to respect the show's conventions). Perhaps other character types could have similar markers, but aside from rank, I'm not sure what the equivalent would be.

Playable? I'm sure. Designable? Aye, there's the rub, no doubt.

Second opinions:
Movement Point
MMOment of Zen

Star Trek 1207: Risk, Part One

1207. Risk, Part One

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #6, Marvel Comics, April 1997

CREATORS: Howard Weinstein (writer), Tom Grindberg and Al Milgrom (artists)

STARDATE: 49924.6 (between Body Parts and Broken Link)

PLOT: The Defiant is exploring when it finds a space-time anomaly. Investigating, the anomaly is disrupted and the Defiant is soon captured by Shirn ships accusing Sisko of having killed the test pilot who entered their artificial space-time conduit. The science council judging him seem to have already made up their mind, but a (sigh) dissident group sees this as an opportunity to put a stop to the wasteful project. O'Brien theorizes that the conduit has not collapsed but is out of phase, and the pilot may still be alive. Rejected by the Shirn as a possibility, O'Brien sets out to prove it by piloting a drone into the anomaly himself, even as Sisko is sentenced to death...


DIVERGENCES: What is the Defiant doing exploring the Alpha Quadrant, far from the Bajoran sector?

PANEL OF THE DAY - Phaser, remote control, it's all the same.
REVIEW: Weinstein's back and he thinks he's writing a TNG story. Changing the word Alpha to Gamma would have been a simple fix here, by the way. In any case, it was still interesting when suddenly, my heart sank at the mention of a dissident movement. Fine, the writer has a favorite trope, I get that. BUT EVERY SINGLE TIME? It's irritating. The art's growing on me, especially the outer space stuff, but I can't recommend the writing.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

This Week in Geek (22-28/03/10)


My belated Road to the Oscars continues with my purchase of The Hurt Locker, and there's also the definitely non-Oscary Hard Gun by the Tony Jaa crew which is going into the Kung Fu pile. But the most important purchases are both by-products of my improv troupe's latest tour: 1) The first two seasons of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which we watched a few episodes of one night on the basis that there's a lot of improv in there, and 2) The Breakfast Club, since we did a riff on it in one of our shows and have been pining to see it again since then. Sadly, I think I had the Anthony Michael Hall role.


DVDs: On Kung Fu Friday, we watched the King Hu classic, Come Drink With Me, a very early Shaw Brothers action epic (1966) that can veritably be called the precursor of the kung fu explosion, drunken heroes, ass-kicking heroines, and maybe even a lot of anime. King Hu impresses with his beautiful art design and willingness to experiment. Though effects are primitive, there's an energy and inventiveness there, and the use of percussive Japanese-style music adds a lot to the choreographies. It made Cheng Pei-Pei a star, but it's really Yueh Hua's "Drunken Cat" who charmed us as the hero who acts the fool. The DVD includes a commentary track with Pei-Pei and expert Bey Logan, and the various people interviewed for the features all speak English, which is a plus for those who are lukewarm about subtitles.

I also watched and flipped Doctor Who's Waters of Mars. With the 11th Doctor premiering next weekend, I'm calling another Doctor Who Week and will be talking about Waters (and hopefully The End of Time) during the week. Here, I'll only say that Waters, while better than the similarly bleak Voyage of the Damned, still has some important tonal and logic problems. Some high points, but I think they get flattened out not only by the episode's problems, but by the how it was followed up in the next two specials. The DVD includes the full 60-minute Doctor Who Confidential, a fair making of feature that shows you how everyone was fond of Gadget (except the fans, of course).

Hyperion to a Satyr entries this week include:
The Banquet - Hamlet as Wuxia

Star Trek 1206: Foundations, Book Three

1206. Foundations, Book Three

PUBLICATION: Starfleet Corps of Engineers #19, Pocket eBooks, August 2002 (Omnibus edition, March 2004)

CREATORS: Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore

STARDATE: 53680.2 (follows the previous novel) / 7981.3 (between The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan).

PLOT: The Sunata ship explodes, but not before the da Vinci is able to beam away everyone aboard. Carol Abramowitz has the first contact blues, so Scotty tells her a story about his mission with the early SCE to test a new Kelvan warp drive. The test is conducted with an old ship with a small crew of engineers, including the cocky Andorian Talev zh'Thren, and Kelvans. The computer malfunctions and sends the ship far out of its way where, damaged, it is intercepted by the warlike Lutralians. Impatiently requesting they leave, the aliens nevertheless allow the crew to effect repairs. Telev must still buy her people time, and agrees to board the Lutralian ship and see its captain who fancies her. She passes his tests of courage and fighting prowess and before the SCE ship leaves, they agree to proper diplomatic relations between their peoples. Scotty's good buddy Mahmud al-Khaled is to become SCE liaison (Scotty's current post) and vows to make linguists and anthropologists standard complement on SCE ships for such situations. Back in the present, the location of the Sunata homeworld has been found and a diplomat will be assigned to bring them home on the other side of Klingon space.

CONTINUITY: We met the Kelvans (Tomar, Hanar, Drea) in By Any Other Name. The Kelvan engines are hoped to provide the key to transwarp drive (The Search for Spock). Worf is currently serving as ambassador to the Klingon homeworld (What You Leave Behind).

DIVERGENCES: The short story "Gone Native" (Strange New Worlds 9) has Rojan kill Tomar before these events.

SCREENSHOT OF THE WEEK - Katee Sackhoff as Talev zh'Thren
REVIEW: Seems like Book Two was the origin of the anthropologists in the SCE, but it would be realistic that one recommendation would not have done it. Setting up Mahmud as the liaison officer who instituted these changes makes sense. And it's not a bad story either. It features another new character, but a likable riff on the early Saavik. There are two actions scenes in particular, the fight aboard the Lutralian ship but also the sequence where Talev gets thrown off the nacelle during repairs, that are fun and excitingly written. And there's some humor to the Lutralian interactions as well. It's impressive that these short books have managed to create interesting new characters so quickly, and I for one, am not that bothered that the present-day SCE took a back seat during the last three books (even Scotty is secondary to these stories). Mileage may vary, of course.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What If... Thor Fought Odin over Jane Foster?

Not too inspiring a premise, the cover sells it as "What if Thor and the Avengers battled the Gods?", which sounds like a storyline, but not necessarily one from a parallel universe. I've got to ask at this point what the obsession is with Jane Foster becoming a goddess. This is the second story to feature those events, while we have yet to see an Iron Man story (for example - though he's good enough to die in other people's tales). Just sayin'.

What If Vol.1 #25 (February 1981)
Based on: Thor #136
The true history: When Thor asks permission to wed Jane Foster, Odin turns her into a goddess, but then puts her to a trial to see if she is worthy of immortality. She fails and is returned to Earth without memory of these events. Thor finds solace in the Lady Sif.
Turning point: What if Thor disagreed with his father's decree?
Story type: Civil War
Watcher's mood: Neckless hologram
Altered history: In this universe, Thor dares express himself. And I guess Odin got up on the wrong side of the Odinbed that morning.
He sends Thor and Jane back down to Earth in a rage and forgets to take away her immortality. Thor, in full "my daddy doesn't love me" mode, enlists the help of the Avengers to fight the Asgardian Gods because it's obvious some dark force has taken over Odin. A divine over-reaction. The Avengers agree, all except Quicksilver, and ride out to Asgard.
The Asgardians are kinda split about what to do, especially after Odin names Loki as his general, giving him a sword and freeing his old allies Executioner and Enchantress from captivity.
While Loki makes Balder kiss it, Thor brings the Avengers to the sympathetic Vizier who boosts their abilities to godly strength.
Yeah, aside from giving Captain America a sword, it doesn't make a big difference. Battle is joined, with the Warriors Three and many other warriors throwing in with Thor, with neither side having the advantage. That's Iron Man's cue to turn against his friends. It's Civil War all over before.
He flies out to Odin and convinces him to call a truce. Odin gives him an olive branch to deliver, which means Loki will try to stop him from getting back to the Avengers. This being What If?, he succeeds.
The Avengers get revenge though, when the Wasp shoots her sting into Loki's ear. Oh my Gods, she's killed him.
Thor vows to now kill Odin, and the Avengers reach the palace where the All-Father is over-compensating for something...
Before he can pull the Odinsword out of its Odinsheath and bring an Odinend to the world, cooler heads prevail in the shape and form of Jane Foster. "Hey Thor, are you still fighting over me? Cuz I'm over here. Hellooooo!" Thor realizes he's forgotten himself, and Odin admits to being jealous that he boy's all grown up and moving on with his life, and they are reconciled. Sort of. For Thor, there's no going back, and he and Jane build their own stronghold for Thor's own followers. Let there be two Asgards!
Books canceled as a result: So long, Iron Man! Until someone else picks up the armor, of course.
These things happen: While Jane Foster has spent time as a goddess, and Thor has been in disagreement with his father's edicts, it's never gone this far.

Next week: What If Captain America Had Been Elected President?
My guess: Universal health care?

Star Trek 1205: The Shadow Group

1205. The Shadow Group

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #5, Marvel Comics, March 1997

CREATORS: Mariano Nicieza (writer), Tom Grindberg and Al Milgrom (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: From its cloaked HQ on Bajor, the Shadow Group, composed of Cardassians and Bajorans alike, targets Ziyal for assassination. DS9's investigation leads Kira to Bajor with Odo, Ziyal and Garak in tow. They are captured by the Shadow Group who wants to start a war between the Federation and the Cardassian Union so that the latter will finally be defeated (or so the Bajoran contingent thinks). The heroes escape and are rescued by the Defiant and a very angry Dukat's bird-of-prey and surviving members of the Shadow Group are arrested.

CONTINUITY: Appearances by Garak and Ziyal. Dukat is currently flying a bird-of-prey (Blaze of Glory). The Shadow Group uses Maquis ships as cover. The Shadow Group is made up of members of both the Obsidian Order and the Circle (The Circle).

DIVERGENCES: The Obsidian Order really shouldn't be dressed like the military.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Nobody ever dared mention Worf's speech impediment.
REVIEW: An intriguing way to bring back the Circle and good use of DS9's supporting cast at this point in the series. That's why it's too bad it only lasted one issue while lesser storylines were allowed to go to two issues. The Shadow Group could have been a much more important and long-lasting threat. There's some fairly good action, even if the art somewhat undercuts it (for example, the clever, but badly designed sequence in which Odo "replaces" a part of the door holding him captive). Still, Nicieza's issues hold more potential than Weinstein's.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Movie Marquee Friday: Musical Theater

Make it quick, I've got a world to dominate...
New York glitters if you're on the other shore...

Satin smooth, like old Hollywood...

Street, flower, or more, intertwined...

Theatrics, yes we can can-can...

Meet the man behind the woman...

The title card says all...

Star Trek 1204: The Cancer Within, Part II

1204. The Cancer Within, Part II

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #4, Marvel Comics, February 1997

CREATORS: Mariano Nicieza (writer), Tom Grindberg and Al Milgrom (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: With Jake and Kira among the ill, Bashir, Worf, O'Brien and Dax follow Pulaski's distress signal to the Maquis base. There, they hope to find a cure for the already mutating genetically engineered Maquis virus, while the Defiant is ordered to attack the base. Pulaski finds the cure and saves her daughter along with the other Maquis. The formula is transmitted to DS9 where everyone there is saved as well. Pulaski and her daughter are to stand trial, though there's little chance the former will be found guilty of consorting with the Maquis. Underground on Bajor, the Shadow Group, which seems to be composed of Bajorans and Cardassians conspires...

CONTINUITY: See previous issue (Maquis, Pulaski). Admiral Nechayev appears.

DIVERGENCES: See previous issue (Badlands).

PANEL OF THE DAY - Defiant versus Maquis raider. Make your bets.
REVIEW: Oh my God, talky! No, really, this reads like a Silver Age comic, with exposition aplenty, overly dramatic exclamations, and a footnote every other page. Rather old-fashioned. It also seems to start a few pages later than the previous issue ended, as if a couple things were lost in the shuffle. Maybe it keys off information given in issue 3, but certainly doesn't pick up from its cliffhanger. A reasonable issue otherwise, with some of the life saving occurring behind the scenes and Nechayev pushing Sisko around like he was still a Commander. Notable for the crew punching sick people and calling it "not a fair fight". I was frankly more interested in this Shadow Group thing, and that's just one page.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Live and Let Die: d12

Being the fifth profile in the polyhedral life of our favorite dice. This week: The d12.Poor d12... Probably the least loved dice, outpaced even by little d4 because people keep confusing it with a d20 and throwing it away in a fit of rage. What CAN you do with a 12-sided die that couldn't be done better by 2d6, huh? That's what us d-sixers wanna know! (Ooh, this just got political.)

Real name: Dodecahedron
Nickname: Why would it have one?
Uses: Random Hour Generator. d12 System Core. Axe and two-handed sword damage. In many systems, the highest skill rank. Pokéthulhu. Thousand Suns.
Beloved because: Geeks overrate things others underrate, ergo, the geekiest of the geeks like the d12. The only dice left you can spin an open license around.
Hated because: Politics. Not a Hit Die. Gets lower numbers than 2d6. Too easy to roll.
Bonus niche tattoo:

Star Trek 1203: The Cancer Within, Part I

1203. The Cancer Within, Part I

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #3, Marvel Comics, January 1997

CREATORS: Mariano Nicieza (writer), Tom Grindberg and Al Milgrom (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: The Maquis have created a virus to use against the Cardassians, but it's gotten out of control. A fleeing shuttle reaches Deep Space 9 with all hands lost, infecting many who breathe the same air, including Major Kira. Maquis agents destroy the shuttle and any evidence aboard, damaging the station and occupying the crew's time, as they must fix the power supply so that sickbay has what it needs to keep the infected alive and in quarantine. On the Maquis base, Katherine Pulaski's daughter has called in her mom to help. As Pulaski learns the Maquis created the mutating virus, she finds her daughter infected and dying...

CONTINUITY: The Maquis and Katherine Pulaski appear, as does Bajoran engineer Rom.

DIVERGENCES: Not out of the realm of possibility, but there are a couple of divergences in the art, namely that the Maquis seem to be using a Starfleet shuttle and that the Badlands do not feature the usual CGI effects.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Pulaski's Sally Field moment
REVIEW: As opposed to the Cancer Without... Truth be told, this is a better issue than the previous two. We have a new chapter in the life of Kate Pukaski, a sequence that manages to make engineering look exciting, and a solid Maquis threat. The art is still on the rough side, and the coloring too dark, but Grindberg and Milgrom still manage some attractive close-ups of female characters. I'm not saying it's exceptional work, but it kept me interested.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cat of the Geek #54: The Cat in the Hat

Name: The Cat in the Hat
Stomping Grounds: Six of Dr. Seuss' books
Side: Chaos
Breed: Tuxedo Cat
Cat Powers: Dimensionally transcendental hat. Magical clean-up. Disappear without a trace. Amazing equilibrium.
Skills: Eat 5, Sleep 1, Mischief 10, Wit 7, Detect latchkey kids across space and time 8
Cat Weaknesses: Mike Meyers.
Bonus muppet version:

Star Trek 1202: Judgment Day, the Conclusion!

1202. Judgment Day, the Conclusion!

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #2, Marvel Comics, December 1996

CREATORS: Howard Weinstein (writer), Tom Grindberg and Al Milgrom (artists)

STARDATE: 49237.1 (follows the last issue)

PLOT: In the Alpha Quadrant, Sisko learns from the Amaralans that they were oppressed by the Dominion into abandoning their religion and that what moved the station to the Gamma Quadrant is a godwind sent by their deities to punish and/or guide them. The Defiant fails to reach the GQ. On the other side of the Wormhole, the Amaralans distrust the DS9 crew and even jail Odo. A dissident faction frees him and helps the Niners get ready to return the station home. An opposed Amaralan commits their ship to self-destruct, and the Niners use it to destroy two Jem'Hadar ships while making their escape. The station returns to the Alpha Quadrant and Sisko wonders about the mysterious force that moved it in the first place.

CONTINUITY: See previous issue (Jem'Hadar).

DIVERGENCES: A holosuite scene has Kira playing baseball with Dax, long before and in contradiction with Take Me Out to the Holosuite.

PANEL OF THE DAY - When you do the Limbo Rock...
REVIEW: I just realizes that the mysterious space smoke featured in issue #1 was none other than the Wormhole itself. Rough art, but a rougher story. Flitting between quadrants and using alien characters that all look alike doesn't help, nor does Weinstein's cliched use of a dissident faction (I could have called it!). Plus, it glosses over how the station can return to the Alpha Quadrant while the Defiant can't cross over, and how a whole pylon is reattached. Worse still is the concept of the godwind which isn't addressed in any meaningful way, just left as a future danger. I don't know if it was ever followed up on, I'm ready to hazard a guess that it wasn't. Nor do I especially care if it was. Not to mention Bajor's prophecy of apocalypse, also forgotten. A most depressing reading experience, this series.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Top 5 Songs on TV

Being a continuation of the meme I started last week, and you're invited to play with this one too. The rules I'm sticking to on this one are: Stick to soundtracks played over the action. No more than one song from any given television series. No scores or theme songs written for the show (pre-existing songs used as theme tunes are ok, but borderline). And no songs sung exclusively by the actors (i.e. in musicals, sorry Cop Rock!). I also want to say, no songs from the end of a Cold Case episode, but that's not an official rule. Lots of TV out there... what do I choose? These are only my favorites, not an objective "best". You're invited to draw up your own list.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Veronica Mars
Veronica Mars is one of those shows that seems replete with fun and interesting musical choices. The pilot alone uses some 15 pieces of music, everything from loungy air to Blue Oyster Cult to the chick rock of Taxi Doll to Miriam Makeba's Pata Pata. I've probably acquired over 80% of the songs used on Veronica Mars in its three seasons. The "musical casting" is just that perfect. And because I couldn't choose a single moment to put in this list, it stands as my LAA. My thanks to the Music of Veronica Mars blog for all the research. Check it out.

And now, the real top 5, and I find that like Veronica Mars, the selected shows have universally good song selections. Gonna be hard to pick just one from each!

5. Live and Let Die (Wings) - Life on Mars (Episode 2)

Life on Mars (the UK original, of course) features great (I'd even say "forgotten") tunes from the 70s. Live and Let Die isn't in any way "forgotten", but I love how it plays up the comedy of this scene featuring an absurd chase in swimming trunks.

4. Let Me Show You (Camisra) - Spaced ("Epiphanies")Won't embed, so here's the LINK. The now iconic clubbing scene from Spaced has a kicking beat that is both fun and inspiring. There are world-class DJs who listen to the episode before going to work, and here in the apartment, simply playing the song will make someone get the shot glasses out. No joke. Bonus mix with the A-Team theme song at the end. It kind of broke my heart not to nominate Lemon Jelly's Staunton Lick from the final episode of Spaced here, but I had to admit to myself that Camisra took the prize.

3. Mr. Blue Sky (ELO) - Doctor Who ("Love and Monsters")

Here is an example of a song running through an entire episode (or in fact, a few songs from the same band). In the offbeat Who episode, Mr. Blue Sky manages to hit Elton's highest highs and lowest lows in a way that makes you feel like writing the episode started with the song itself. Sure, the Absorbaloff stuff is terrible, but the ELO stuff in the episode is just magical.

2. Breathe Me (Sia) - Six Feet Under ("Everyone's Waiting")

This is the final scene of Six Feet Under, so SPOILER WARNING. The way Breathe Me's silences are used to edit the scene is, well, breathtaking. It narrowly wins against Radiohead's Lucky, played at a pivotal moment of the series. Best damn car commercial ever.

1. I Don't Like Mondays (Tori Amos) - West Wing ("20 Hours in America")

Breathe Me drives its scene. I Don't Like Mondays, on the other hand, is an example of how a song can support a scene that would be strong without it. And yet, Tori Amos' sweet voice adds to the sadness of the moment, while the music gives it a funereal feel that I couldn't do without. Aaron Sorkin has used great music on his shows, infrequently but at crucial moments, and has always manages to elevate his scenes with it. I might just as well have named Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah ("Posse Comitatus") or the Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms ("Two Cathedrals").

So those are the songs I can't hear without thinking of the scenes they supported. What are yours?