Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Star Trek #1439: Assimilation2 Part 3

1439. Assimilation2 Part 3

PUBLICATION:
Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2 #3, IDW Comics, July 2012

CREATORS: Scott and David Tipton, with Tony Lee (writers), J.K. Woodward and the Sharp Brothers (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows previous issue). The flashback to the TOS era occurs in 3368.5 (possibly between Seasons 2 and 3).

PLOT: While the Enterprise-D hides from the Borg-Cyberman fleet in a nebula, the ship's records and the Doctor's memory are updated with an adventure from Kirk's Enterprise in which Cybermen attempted to take over a colony, but were defeated with the help of the 4th Doctor.

CONTINUITY:
See previous issue (the Borg, the Cybermen). The Borg-Cyberman fleet is commanded by a Cyber-Commander with Borg implants. A flashback (and a cover) features the original Star Trek cast, the 4th Doctor and the Cybermen sporting their look circa The Invasion (though the Cyber Leader has a black head piece from later stories, and their vulnerability to gold is also from a later era). The 4th Doctor has jelly babies and his sonic screwdriver, and is traveling alone (in between The Deadly Assassin and The Face of Evil?). Communicator flip-tops are made of gold, which makes sense given that the metal is by this point worthless except as decoration (Catspaw). Given the temporal shenanigans at work, Guinan makes an appearance.

DIVERGENCES: None.

PANEL OF THE DAY
- I think something's loose in there.
REVIEW: What I thought was just a fun variant cover actually shows events from inside the comic! Well on the one hand, it's very cool that the book would go back to the The Original Series and Classic Doctor Who in this crossover. On the other, the 4th Doctor isn't all that well realized, being mostly a cipher aside from that bit where he offers Kirk some jelly babies. There's really very little of his eccentricity, no companion to bounce off of, and certainly none of Tom Baker's scene stealing. Bill Shatner and Tom Baker really in a scene together? I would pay to see that kind of madness. But here he could be any Doctor, or really, any guy with a TARDIS. It's too bad, because it's fun to see Kirk and crew fighting 60s Cybermen, and the clean art, despite an iffy likeness for the Doctor, is a welcome break from Woodward's murkier painted work for the TNG stuff. There too, there are highs like the mystery of the Doctor's updating memories and the inclusion of the ship's resident expert on shifting timelines, and lows, like Picard laughably asking if they've been seen when the ship is clearly in the middle of the enemy fleet. This series is proving to be a thing of two parts, not just Trek and Who, new and old, but also of good and not so good. Perhaps it's the writers' unfamiliarity with Doctor Who? The Trek bits are sound (if ordinary), but the Doctor just doesn't have the right banter going, in either incarnation.

Doctor Who #252: The War Games Part 7

"His ingenuity could ruin everything!"TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 31 1969.

IN THIS ONE... We finally meet the War Lord and the Doctor is captured after setting up a resistance stronghold in the 1917 chateau.

REVIEW: This episode marks the arrival - finally! - of the War Lord, as played by an unrecognizable Philip Madoc whose last baddie, in The Krotons, didn't even get a concluding scene. He's brilliant here because he's so cool and collected, almost lizard-like, and suave and amused at the simplest sadistic thought. The bad guys are all interesting in their way because war, to them, really is a game, one that hides a deeper agenda. We don't yet know why the War Lord and War Chief are doing what they're doing, but it's entertaining seeing their agenda possibly at odds (the entertaining Security Chief completes that triangle). General Smythe makes a comeback (did I hear him exclaim "Jesus!" at one point!?) and lies about the Doctor having been killed just so he can have his revenge for his previous embarrassment. They make delicious villains because even though they are united in their common plan, they act on personal impulse and agenda.

These "officers" stand in stark contrast to the enlisted me and resistance fighters who have to actually fight this war. The action in these sections is mostly exciting (aside from the slowest grenade in all reality), but violent. There's a brutal moment, for example, when a German soldier gets the nasty end of a bayonet. It's not shown, but Zoe's reaction, looking down in shame that her allies are up to their elbows in blood, is more powerful. War isn't pretty, even if the program can't quite show it. The Doctor's brand of action is much less violent, of course, so he's left to throw smoke bombs like some kind of ninja tramp, and putting up a field of time mists around the chateau, even if it doesn't stop the baddies from re-capturing him, feels like the kind of thing he does today, as opposed to the less time-savvy 60s era.

I won't call it perfect though. In addition to that embarrassing grenade choreography, one of my pet peeves is invoked, i.e. a French character that simply can't speak French. I'm not blaming the actor so much as the writing, which has illogical moments like a Frenchman not recognizing the word "resistance". Voyons! Oh, and the troop-carrying TARDIS has a name and it is SIDRAT. An absurd palindrome, right? (See Theories.)

THEORIES: If TARDIS is an acronym, then what does SIDRAT mean? More to the point, perhaps, is why there's even a connection with a name apparently created by Susan. I can attempt answers to both questions. The use of the word TARDIS now used not as the ship's proper name, but to refer to all Time Lord space-time machines probably means it is a proper Gallifreyan word, untranslatable. Susan, as a teenager in love with contemporary London, would have made a game of turning it into an English-language acronym. We don't know anything about the Gallifreyan language, so reverse spelling might be part of their grammar or syntax, indicating in this case a TARDIS with limited function. Or the aliens' natural language might have reversed the acronym, which telepathic circuits are translating as the palindrome SIDRAT.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Small blemishes aside, this is another cracking episode, in large part thanks to Madoc's fascinating portrayal of the War Lord.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Star Trek #1438: The Truth About Tribbles Part 1

1438. The Truth About Tribbles Part 1

PUBLICATION:
Star Trek #11, IDW Comics, July 2012

CREATORS: Mike Johnson (writer), Claudia Balboni (artist)

STARDATE: 2259.155 (follows previous issue)

PLOT: Scotty tries a transwarp beaming his pet tribble to Earth, and coincidentally, the Enterprise tracks the Klingons to the planet of the tribbles.

CONTINUITY: The comic starts with a flashback to Delta Vega (Star Trek) and a scene involving older Spock and a tribble bought off [Cyrano] Jones (The Trouble with Tribbles). The Klingons already consider the tribbles the Empire's greatest enemy (Trials and Tribble-ations). The tribbles' predator looks like a glommer (More Tribbles, More Troubles).

DIVERGENCES: Scotty has a nephew called Chris; it is not known if this is meant to be the same character as that of Peter Preston (Wrath of Khan). Obviously, the new timeline has changed a number of events if Jones has come into possession of tribbles this early, and the Klingons marked tribbles for death without Scotty's original intervention.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Revealed! What eats tribbles?
REVIEW: Another completely new story, excellent! Classics really can't be approved upon, so The Trouble with Tribbles is essentially "replaced" in the J.J. Abrams timeline with this completely different first contact with the lovable, fertile furballs. For the first time, we get a look at their native environment, a beautiful, quirky planet as designed by Claudia Balboni whose pleasant,colorful and thin-lined art seems well suited to a light-hearted tale. The tribbles' natural predator provides a bit of action - I hope those phasers are on stun or else you'll break the ecosystem in half! - and there's the promise of some Klingons in the next chapter (hopefully). It IS a bit of a stretch that Scotty would be fiddling around with tribbles (and accidentally infesting Starfleet Academy) just as their planet comes into range, but his role as comic screw-up is fun enough. So, of course, not on the same level as The Trouble with Tribbles and certainly not as funny, but it at least breaks new ground and goes its own way. I respect it for that.

Doctor Who #251: The War Games Part 6

"You don't trust me. But if you question my loyalty tell the War Lord, but I warn you be absolutely sure of your suspicions because if you accuse me without proof, I shall crush you!"TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 24 1969.

IN THIS ONE... Time Lords get mentioned for the first time. Patrick Troughton's son David appears for the first time. And the War Chief threatens to crush at least four people.

REVIEW: Yes, the War Chief's people (and thus the Doctor's) are named, and they are Time Lords. In a story that features a War Lord, it sounds like they sort of pulled it out of thin air, but no matter the nomenclature's origin, how exciting is that after 6 years of near-total mystery! It's also possibly the first mention that a TARDIS' exterior is impervious to attacks (though Jamie's line could be sarcasm because the Doctor's often tried to protect the TARDIS from damage, and it spun apart at least once on his shift). Speaking of TARDIS shenanigans, the War Chief pulls the same dimension-collapsing trick on a TARDIS the Doctor did in The Meddling Monk, except with people in it! A fine cliffhanger that uses the world of Doctor Who to good effect, and well realized too.

Terrence Dicks' skills as a writer are very much on display. He uses what has been established in this story and before to build the action most logically. He's very good at structure and plot (if not at dialog - which sounds fine, but is never particularly witty). So Zoe knows the names and locations of all the rebels because she has total recall of course. The Doctor and the rebels can lead a successful gas attack because gas masks are part of the WWI equipment sent, of course. The Doctor finds that the wall panels are magnetically sealed, and that too makes sense given that their control panels are basically magnetized shapes. And the paranoia that keeps the villains from working together is completely believable because from their plans, they actually are untrustworthy individuals. If there's a problem in the structure, it's in the scenes featuring David Troughton as the Redcoat soldier Moor (his first of several roles in Doctor Who, and yes, son of Patrick) and Von Weich. Sure, it may be important to tie up that particular loose end (Von Weiss buys the farm), but it seems like there's a whole thread devoted to this minor plot point, giving Moor about as much screen time as any of the regulars. A nice thing to do for a family member? Or a bit of padding to give the regulars a breather during the taping?

There are a couple of new overlay effects here that are pretty cool, like a person's brain over his head when he is scanned (the rectangular bars meant to represent Jamie's unprocessed mind are less successful however), and a cool force field as well. The guards in their wetsuits, forgivable until now, become goofier and goofier the more we see of them, especially when there's a modicum of acting involved. Surely the most minor of complaints.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - There's the question of why David Troughton gets a spotlight in this episode, but otherwise, the revelations, neat effects and well-plotted elements keep on coming.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

This Week in Geek (23-29/07/12)

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: My summer vacation DVD-flipping frenzy continues with Due South Season 1, a mid-90s show I'd never really watched much of, but I'm a big fan of Paul Gross generally, and the complete series was on sale on Amazon so... Let's get the bad out of the way first: The series is most annoyingly packaged with the pilot NOT in the Season 1 set where it belongs, but as a "bonus" in Season 3's. Good thing I bought all four seasons together then, right? Other than this absurd decision (which I bypassed), Due South is an incredibly charming buddy cop show about a straight-arrow Mountie from the Northwest Territories (a cross between Dudley Do-Right and Sherlock Holmes) forced to move to Chicago's Canadian consulate where he can't help but help the police solve crimes, partnered with his wolf Diefenbaker and an obnoxious American detective. Going far beyond its fish out of water premise and American-Canadian jokes, Due South features quirky characters, occasionally spins into a kind of wonderful magical realism, uses songs especially well, and is both exciting and heartwarming. Surely one of Canadian TV's best exports.

The Lovely Bones is a very strange choice of project for Peter Jackson post-Lord of the Rings, and though it has fantastical effects sequences and is a book adaptation, it doesn't feel at all like his other work. I was impressed both by its stylish shooting and its touching human drama, so that wasn't a complaint. Essentially, the film is a ghost story from the point of view of the ghost. It delves into upsetting territory - a 14-year-old girl killed by a serial killer and the events that follow - but somehow remains tasteful. It's horrifying, and yet keeps a sense of wonder and is ultimately uplifting and delightful. Quite odd on the emotional spectrum. Jackson prepares us for the crime from very early on, building tension while we fall in love with the family, and then (as the book does, I imagine) confounds expectations in the aftermath. Saoirse Ronan is affecting and believable in the central role, and there are some great performances by the likes of Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci. I was less convinced by the parents, Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz, bringing a numbness probably called for, but that felt so underplayed they weren't technically able to render emotion appropriately. Overlooked in between Peter Jackson's more epic genre fare, it's definitely worth the watch.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the 2000s are going to be known for their impossibly long movie titles, aren't they?) is the third and probably final Narnia adaptations to make it to the big screen, and its structure is sadly one that turned me off fantasy fiction when I got out of high school, i.e. incidents strung along a narrative like connected short stories, glorified random encounters as you head towards an eventual plot-related finale. That's the book, and the film makers do their best to tighten it up, but to no avail. The first film had the perfect mix of magical wonder and epic battle scenes. The second replaced wonder with battle scenes almost exclusively. The third goes for magical wonder, but very little fighting. So magic/CG stuff happens for an hour and a half, whatever. But then the last half hour arrives, with its cool sea monster, great big battle, redemption for the new cast member Eustace, and a touching farewell to some of the characters and all is forgiven. They say it's the journey, not the destination. In Narnia 3's case, it's the opposite. The DVD features some brief deleted scenes I would totally have kept in the final film, and a pretty good producer and director commentary.

Next up, Red vs. Blue Season 9, re-edited as a movie, just like Rooster Teeth did with the rest of the popular web series. Now, Season 8 felt like an ending and a good one, so I was curious as to how Season 9 would proceed. Well, half of it is a flashback from the beginning of Project Freelancer, while the other is a virtual reality that recreates the Blood Gulch seasons with a twist. The former is heavy on CG, motion capture and incredibly exciting fight scenes, while the latter is more old school machinima, with lots of talking and purposely bad effects, a true mix of old and new. The marriage sits uncomfortably, in my opinion. There's the feeling that the old school stuff doesn't matter because it's happening in the "matrix", and the new school stuff features many characters we already know to be dead. Even so, the jokes are funny and the action is totally badass. It's the plot that by now is so completely opaque it's giving Neon Genesis a run for its money. All the RvB releases have had sound issues, but Season 9 really did give me problems with levels, the sound getting very loud or very low from scene to scene. DVD package is awesome though. Fun and informative commentary track, a half-hour's worth of interviews with actors and making of materials, and the usual quite funny selection of deleted scenes, animated outtakes, promos, PSAs and animated menus. There's also a trailer for Season 9 that is a completely original scene that acts as episode 0.

Because our Kung Fu Friday selection was to be Throne of Blood, Kurosawa's adaptation of MacBeth, I decided to watch the 1983 BBC production of the play (featuring Nicol Williamson in the title role) the day before. Not one of the great ones, but then I've always had trouble with the Scottish Play, subscribing to Slings & Arrows' contention that it is a very difficult play to stage effectively. It's not a bad production by any means, but the MacBeths' motivations border on the psychotic, which makes them difficult to relate to. There is a strong sense that what drives them mad isn't guilt, but rather the fear of being caught, and Jane Lapotaire's Lady MacBeth does that very well. As we get into the MacDuff stuff at the end, the play gets more involving, but ultimately, this is a very murky DVD, dark and on soft video, and could have used better restoration to bring the performances alive.

In Throne of Blood, Kurosawa addresses many of my problems with MacBeth by changing and/or clarifying the lead couple's motivations, and the wonderful casting certainly helps. Toshiro Mifune is always watchable, but it's Isuzu Yamada as his Lady MacBeth that really steals the show. Very, very creepy, almost like she's a figment of his tortured imagination rather than a real person. This is a rather experimental film for Kurosawa, one that holds shots far too long, crosses the line, uses aggressive musical stings, and creates spare kabuki spaces, make-up and expressions to make the audience uncomfortable. It may seem boring to modern audiences, but embrace it and all will be well. It is a mood piece, first and foremost, and a visual masterwork with an incredible arrow-laden climax. Part of the Criterion Collection's much more affordable Essential Art House series, it nevertheless comes with a lavish booklet and an enthusiastic film expert commentary track.

Theater: Not done with Shakespeare, it seems, last night we went to see Shakespeare in the Park's local production of Midsummer Night's Dream. Though the acting was uneven and they cut a lot of the Bottom stuff, which I like much more than the magical rom-com, the language still carries the play, and it was lovely to discover new things about the Dream from the often low-brow take on the material (hey, Shakespeare works on all those levels). Getting teenagers to play the young lovers basically as petulant children actually works well, and the players found ways to use different areas of Victoria Park here in Moncton to good effect in the staging. Even the accidental things, like bands of kids and dogs throwing themselves into the park's fountain in the background, fit into the faerie world of the forest. A very nice evening, thanks all!

RPGs: Our Hong Kong Action Theater session this week was a "film" called Gun Fu Zombie, pulled mostly wholesale from the HKAT book itself. A fake review HERE. It was a total slaughterfest - a Total Party Kill - which doesn't really matter in HKAT (your Actors are still alive, of course) and appropriate for a zombie flick. The players, I hope, learned that they really should keep some Star Power for the climax of the adventure, because they would surely have gotten a more satisfying result had they not wasted all their points in the opening fight sequence. The adventure was also an interesting look at something that doesn't happen very often in standard RPGs, characters that plainly hate each other and are on different sides. Players relished turning on each other as soon as zombies weren't an immediate threat. The next game will be straighter Gun Fu fare, because I don't think we really captured the epic stunt-heavy feeling of those films, what with the undead running amok and all.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iii. The Confessional

Doctor Who #250: The War Games Part 5

"When I came to your people I was promised efficiency and cooperation. Without the knowledge I have, this complete venture would have been impossible!"TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 16 1969.

IN THIS ONE... Zoe gets interrogated, the Doctor frees Carstairs, and Jamie gets some rebels aboard a TARDIS, destination control center.

REVIEW: Unfortunately, there's a bit of a dip right in the middle of The War Games. It's not a bad episode, it's just fairly standard shuffling of where each character is. Zoe is captured, but then rescued. Carstairs is deprogrammed and rejoins the Doctor. Lady Jennifer is sent off to the rebel base to nurse some guys back up to health. And Jamie brings his team to the control center, where his friends are. A lot of what happens is a pay-off of things established in the previous episode, like the Doctor using the mind control machine against the aliens, and rebels coming together from different time zones. It's actually odd that though we're told there are various resistance cells the Doctor hopes to bring together as one army, the one cell we see is composed of soldiers from all over the zones. Looks like his plan is already on the way and he doesn't know it.

That said, there are a great many things to enjoy in the episode. It introduces a paranoid rival for the War Chief in the Security Chief, whom James Bree is playing with a bizarre speaking voice. He's got super-spectacles that bore right into your head (a cool prop), and has to prompt answers from Zoe in a parody of a bored teacher (clicking with the idea that this is a kind of university). And how cool is his office with the hypnotic wall decoration? When he hears Zoe talk about time travel, he immediately jumps to the conclusion that the War Chief, a traitor to his own people (the plot thickens), has his own agents in play to betray THEM. This is a much more watchable and natural conflict than the more physical in-fighting between the various resistance members.

I also want to mention the cool psychedelic overlays that represent the effects of the aliens' disruptor weapons because it is a very effective way to represent energy weapons in-camera as the show's tech level. They tried similar things back in Tomb of the Cybermen, but it hasn't really made a comeback until now. Looks good, and helps makes the cliffhanger sequence exciting, as the resistance spilling out of the troop TARDIS is ambushed by rubber-suited guards. One imagines that the weapons aren't lethal given that Jamie is among the fallen.

THEORIES: So should we mention that the War Chief is wearing Zephon's medallion (from The Daleks' Master Plan)? I really want to because he indicates that it somehow represents his incredible knowledge, like a badge of office. Zephon was master of a galaxy, and the War Chief could hold the same office in another time. He's certainly power-hungry enough to have him seek that kind of thing. Or perhaps, Zephon's medallion is meant to represent some knowledge-based honor the War Chief shares.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The standard in this story is quite high, so any episode that doesn't quite reach that level is going to seem a bit disappointing.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Reign of the Supermen #432: Superboy Analogs

Source: Various (see below)
Type: AnalogsThough Mon-El is the longest lived of the superhuman teens who visited Smallville during Superboy's career, there are many others who tried to steal his thunder, his place or his girl. It's one of the tropes of the 50s and 60s, and I probably only scratched the surface today by limiting my research to the Teen of Steel's Adventure Comics stories. In order, then...

Analog: Marsboy
Source: Superboy vol.1 #14 (1949) and Adventure Comics #195 (1953)
Sutri is a decidedly not-green boy on Mars who gets the Superboy Powers Suite when he's exposed to a red meteor. He becomes the planet's greatest hero. It turns out that these Martians' ancestors escaped from the doomed continent of Mu on Earth, and that now, Mars is doomed too, unless Marsboy can get a secret formula out of the Sphinx in Egypt. Superboy tries to stop him from stealing a landmark, and so begins Marsboy's big plan to keep Superboy away from him, first by becoming a bespectacled student at Smallville High to learn Superboy's secret identity and weaknesses, and then by making Superboy radioactive so he can't follow Marsboy around without poisoning innocent bystanders. It ends with Superboy escaping the trap and getting the formula out of the Sphinx thanks to a small difference in his power set (he can see through copper, while Marsboy can't) and Mars is saved. Marsboy returned for a Lana Lang jealousy trap story, in which poor Sutri was forced to do her bidding, a ploy so transparent, Superboy immediately started dating a Martian girl just to piss Lana off.

Analog: Kral, "the Second Superboy"
Source: Adventure Comics #205 (1954)
A rocket crashes on a familiar Smallville farmhouse, and it contains a telepathic teenager from Titan (misattributed to be one of Jupiter's moons) rocketed to safety by his parents before the planetoid could explode. There are all sorts of wrong with this picture, but the Kents adopt the boy Kral. It's all a lie. He's actually a scout for the war-like Titanians, here to find out all he can about our weapons. Life on Earth is so good and sweet, that it keeps melting his heart. In the end, he still resolves to bring Superboy to Titan under false pretense and entomb him in kryptonite, leaving Earth undefended. It backfires though, and the people of Titan are afraid we're ALL like Superboy, so they chicken out of the invasion, leaving Kral with a mission to make Titan a better place to live. (So did they remember this boy's telepathy when they created Saturn Girl some years later? Of course, Kral's got other powers, like emitting heat from his body to melt criminals. Is Saturn Girl actually the first Legionnaire to get nerfed?)

Analog: Joe Smith, Man of Steel
Source: Adventure Comics #233 (1957)
The radiations of a meteor give Joe Smith super-powers, and Superboy must prevent him from being exploited by a greedy promoter. And it's the story of how a random dude stole Kal-El's nickname years before he would have need of it. Joe's a bit of a bungler, so he causes trouble whenever he uses his powers, so it takes Superboy to clean up after him. To get him out of a contract with the promoter, Superboy follows an elaborate plan to make it look like Joe's lost his powers (it involves, for example, lying in the earth and holding the roots of a tree to it can't be ripped out of the ground). They might have just waited, because the powers only lasted a day anyway. Joe Smith needs to come back with his lawyers though.

Analog:
Krypton Kid
Source: Adventure Comics #242 (1957)
Zar-Al is a Kryptonian teen sent by his father in a time-ship to Earth in the future in order to find a supply of Zeelium, the only element that can dampen Krypton’s uranium core. Didn't know Earth was rich in Zeelium? Join the club. Actually, we really don't have any (they look real hard, with giant shovels and everything), so Krypton is doomed. At least there was another Kryptonian scientist who believed Jor-El. Having failed in his mission, the Krypton Kid returns to his place and time to meet his fate with his family.

Analog: Allen Kent
Source: Adventure Comics #260 (1959)
While Superboy is away in space on a mission, the Kents adopt a boy from Smallville Orphanage for a month, who turns out to be a super-powered alien named Vidal who takes Superboy’s place in his absence. Though he has his own costume, and wears it around the house, he always disguises himself as Superboy when doing good deeds, but is a bit of a blunderer when it comes to keeping his secret identity safe. Good thing the Kents are on the job. The truth? His people have been keeping Superboy busy in outer space deliberately while Vidal finds Superboy some good parents (it must be lonely being an orphan, you know), using his powers of suggestion to get families to adopt him so he can test their ability to keep a super-teen out of trouble. The Kents are so good at it, Vidal leaves telling Superboy not to let his foster brother Clark know about his super-identity. Haha.

Analog: Dev-Em
Source: Adventure Comics #287-288 (1961)
Before Krypton's destruction, Dev-Em was a juvenile delinquent always pulling destructive pranks on his neighbor, Jor-El. He's a clever boy though, and he believes Jor-El's warnings and outfits a shelter to take him and his folks to another world when the planet blows up. He awakens on Earth after years of suspended animation, learns that Jor-El's son is Superboy, sends him to the Phantom Zone and impersonates the Teen of Steel, ruining his reputation. He then releases Superboy and takes his still sleeping family to the future. Superboy is asked to leave Earth because he's been such a jerk, but Smallville's police chief talks the pitchfork-waving population down by "proving" Superboy was under the influence of Red Kryptonite. Dev-Em sounds familiar? That's because he finally settled in the 30th century where he turned over a new leaf working in the Inter-Stellar Counter-Intelligence Corps after declining Legion membership (in Adventure Comics #320, 1966). Not quite on par with Mon-El, but still a memorable recurring character.

Analog: Prince Mark
Source: Adventure Comics #303 (1962)
Prince Mark of Sardonia, marked for death by the evil Lord Hawke, is not only Superboy's physical double, but he wears a big-ass "S" on his shirt and a cape too. It's a chance to play Prince and Pauper for Kal-El, and lay a "super-kiss" on a princess. His cover's blown by a crown with an acid-released Kryptonite compartment, but Superboy still manages to defeat the usurper and his Kryptonite-bearing trained hawks.

Analog: Roz-Em
Source: Adventure Comics #304 (1963)
Oh that Em family... I don't know how Roz-Em is related to Dev-Em, but he's a no-good criminal too, AND a body double for Jor-El. He was imprisoned in an orbital satellite by Jor-El (crime-busting scientist), but has now escaped. His plan? To impersonate a time-tossed Superman and tell Superboy to go packing and get off the planet. Roz-Em is rumbled with the help of the Kents and Krypto (good dog!) and is sent to the Phantom Zone where he eventually became one of Jax-Ur's cronies.

Now, I'm sure there are more, since Superboy's adventures weren't limited to Adventure Comics. Any favorites you want me to tackle in an eventual sequel?

Doctor Who #249: The War Games Part 4

"Passed a reception area, living quarters, lecture rooms - it's just like a university."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 9 1969.

IN THIS ONE... While Jamie fights for his life in the American Civil War Zone, the Doctor and Zoe infiltrate an alien training center.

REVIEW: As soon as the Doctor enters the troop-carrying space-time machine, the Doctor fears his people may be involved. (He could be fearing the Daleks too, but did you notice the roundels on the shower curtains?) The moment when he and the War Chief come face to face and seem to recognize each other (at least as members of each other's race) is a moment not unlike our realization that the Meddling Monk has a TARDIS, but made much more exciting as both of them stand shocked. As we'll find out, both are outlaws, and probably thinks the other will haul him in. Speaking of audience foreknowledge, who else thinks the Doctor acted exactly as he did during the mind control presentation when he was at the Academy? Taking the floor and contradicting all his teachers? Yeah, I'm sure he did.

The revelations keep coming, though their method of delivery is a bit awkward this time around. It's a bit much that the Doctor and Zoe walk into a classroom just in time to hear a massive bit of exposition about what these aliens are up to (though their reasons remain to be explained - the writers are pacing themselves). The set design is interesting and alien, especially those control panels that seem to work with fridge magnets. That's really original. I'm less enamored of the loud alarms they use. The various pieces of eye wear could be seen as silly, but again, they add to that alienness, required to make these otherwise-human characters. They certainly make for easy disguises. And Carstairs gets reprocessed and starts pointing fingers at the Doctor and Zoe, like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, though it seems like Zoe should know not to trust him after that. I guess they needed a cliffhanger.

Meanwhile, Jamie has been separated from the group and is hanging with Lady Jennifer in the American Civil War for a bit of violent action on location and bad American accents. Unfortunately, it feels a bit tedious to me, with lots of shooting and bouncy revolutionary music. Jamie does meet up with a member of the 5% of humans who can't be mind controlled, and it's perfect that the first of these is a black man fighting on the side of the Yankees. I was also impressed that the Rebs weren't played as villains, much like the Germans in the previous episode. The War Games is playing fair with history, and showing a balanced look at the Soldier with a capital "S", fighting a war not of his choosing. Interesting that Smythe and his counterpart seem to be leading the armies in each zone. It adds to the universality of war. I can feel Malcolm Hulke behind these elements.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - I have issues with the sound design, and the Civil War seems to go on too long, but the episode still has lots to love, and I hope more than a few kids made their own visors at the time.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games #3 - Companions Issue

The gaming 'zine's first theme issue caters to that theme, but also continues what it started in numbers 1 and 2, i.e. its primer for new role-players. I don't think I'm the target audience for some of these articles, but I do appreciate the effort to teach these concepts to younger players and GameMasters. The following review should help gamers of all experience levels find the items useful to their particular group.Issue 3 PDF - October 5th 2010

Tools
The Diary continues to offer a mix of advice and testimonials to help players and GMs alike make their role-playing experience the best it can be. With the focus on Companions this issue, it seems a natural to turn towards the question of female players and characters. After all, the classic Companion IS female. There's an article that speaks to everyone but the female player, and one that speaks directly to her. All good advice, though there's a bit of a focus on personal hygiene for some reason (it's also mentioned in an etiquette column about how to behave before a game), and some of the advice makes me think there are a lot of boorish role-players out there to inspire some of the advice. Still, good advice for integrating not just female players, but really any person less familiar with role-playing or your group specifically. Some redundancies, so a couple of these articles might have been combined into one. The same goes for two articles on playing off-type. Stan Miller II has a nice testimonial about a playing a black female character and what he learned from crossing into the perceptions of two minorities, while John Curtis offers suggestions and encouragement for playing a character outside your comfort zone. Again, I might have combined these, the first acting as an example of the second. It may be that given an imposed theme, writers will come up with some of the same ideas, and it's hardly a big complaint.

But there's more! Should Companions have access to the TARDIS' controls? The GM Tips column goes into detail, referencing the times they did on the show, and how such scenes might be incorporated into games. The story about how the Time Lord in the Diarists' campaign hid the console from his Companions is a hoot, and I found the whole thing rather inspiring. There's also a list and description of the gear Companions may want to carry with them outside the TARDIS, and some very sound advice about giving your characters some characterization (stuff in there I'd recommend to my players). And finally, there's a weird little article about mapping multi-dimensional spaces that's at once very loose with the word "dimension", and extremely nerdy and techy. Good for some kinds of GM, less for others. Worth a look for the TARDIS bowling alley.
Reviews
The Diary's Retro-Review covers the Time Lord role-playing game, and goes over its pros and cons very well (I'd only disagree with its assessment of the art). It's one of the three RPGs the 'zine caters to, so it's an important review. There are also reviews of books that could be used by Whovian gamers, though weren't written for the games specifically: The TARDIS Handbook, and Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress (plugging into on the issue's themes).

Modules
The issue has two adventure scenarios, the first of which takes its inspiration from a classic Companion.
-I Am a Slitheen, Hunting a Sevateem: A short adventure that seems to spin out of a simple rhyme, it combines Leela of the Sevateem (if you like, you don't have to play with her obviously) and the Slitheen, and acts as an excuse for the Diary to provide Slitheen stats for the FASA and Time Lord games, or and for some fart noises around the table.
-The Lost Expedition: This one's MUCH longer (10 pages) and lavishly illustrated with pictures from the Fallout 3 Russian LARP that inspired it. At the very least, it's a fine lesson in how ANYTHING can be used to inspire an adventure. This "save the princess" scenario has court intrigue, wilderness exploration, computer hacking, and the potential for action. It feels very old school and sandbox to me, but if that' your style (as opposed to fast-paced one-off "episodes"), you'll find an area and culture for your players to explore.

And more
The issue also has a list of Doctor Who stories that are especially good at featuring Companions - food for thought when thinking about how to craft stories around the more human members of your cast - pictures of the 11th Doctor's TARDIS that weren't used, but that could inspire your players' own TARDIS design; and not one UNIT cartoon, but FIVE!

As usual, you can find the entire collection HERE, but I'll be back later with a review of issue 4.

Doctor Who #248: The War Games Part 3

"Everything seems to be difficult for you to explain."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 2 1969.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor gets a map of the Time Zones and runs for the center, getting as far as the American Civil War Zone when he hops aboard a war TARDIS.

REVIEW: The War Games continues to throw in references to its past while forging its future. Some of the references are very recent - Jamie mentions the tuning fork from The Space Pirates, a strange line my watching everything in the right order has explained - to the things we now take for granted, like the Doctor's John Smith alias and the sonic screwdriver. At the same time, we have Zoe jumping into Jamie's lap in a German trench, innocently done, but just enough to make us wonder what might have been beyond the pair's final tale. And looking truly ahead, there's the clash of seeing a mod future set in the middle of all those historical set pieces, and the first appearance of the War Chief, a character who will turn out to be a Time Lord (but I shouldn't get ahead of myself).

There's so much variety in this episode! The Roman Legion, obviously depleted by warfare (cough, cough), with their mouths comically open as the Doctor and his friends vanish into thin air. The trusty World War I zone, with all the characters we've come to know, and now their German counterparts, including a Smythe's with his creepy monocle. It's also a good occasion for the Doctor to do a little MacGyverism, and extend a fuse with the wick from a broken candle. The America Civil War zone, complete with horses and falling trees. And the strange futuristic set, where everyone seems to wear a visor or play with a huge game of Risk on a glass table. Director David Maloney, as if intent on making up for The Krotons, makes it all very exciting, and even throws in some coolness like the shot from under the table.

And we're definitely heading towards the reveal of the Time Lords even if the words haven't yet been spoken. There's a troop carrier TARDIS, apparent interference with the TARDIS' translation circuit (unmentioned, but easy to explain if Time Lord tech is involved), and a world divided into different war Zones, not unlike... the Death Zone on Gallifrey? The premise of the story keeps changing every episode, much to my delight.

THEORIES: Maloney breaks the format at one point, letting us hear the War Chief's thoughts. I'm going to use this as a retroactively relevant moment that hints at his status as a Time Lord. How? Well, The Trial of a Time Lord has the Matrix - a combination computer databank/Gallifreyan hive mind - show the Doctor's adventures. The inference is that it recreates events based on data collected by the TARDISes themselves, through their telepathic circuits. We might wonder if the Matrix isn't the thing that's actually creating these episodes for us. The fact that we hear a man's thoughts, just this once, is meta-proof enough that he is not only telepathic, but has a special connection to TARDIS technology. Who else but a Time Lord? Why doesn't the TARDIS let us hear the thoughts of its own bonded Time Lord? Well, the Doctor talks enough as it is, wouldn't you agree?

REWATCHABILITY: High - So full of great bits, both old and new, and immensely fascinating for fans of the show's entire run. The War Games keep on giving.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Romana (the First) Tribute

We've lost another Doctor Who actress, Mary Tamm, the most glamorous of all Companions. She passed away yesterday at 62, taken from us too soon by cancer. Fans can still looking forward to more of her work as Romana in a soon-to-be-released series of audio adventures with the 4th Doctor. As for me, I leave you with the few cards we made for her for the Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG.Heaven just got classier.

World's Finest Chicks

Usually, the Man of Steel and the Dynamic Duo knew how to amuse themselves on the Golden Age covers of World's Finest Comics. But sometimes, they invited the girls. I don't know who they are. A blond (sometimes strawberry) and a brunette. Don't know who they are. Not Lois or Lana or Vicki, that's for sure (they never try to out their secret identities). Check it out:LinkHas anyone ever told their story? Or were they never allowed inside the book? THIS IS A TALE THAT MUST BE TOLD, NuDC!

Doctor Who #247: The War Games Part 2

"You know, not many women take an interest in the problems of supply."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.25 1969.

IN THIS ONE... Our heroes escape 1917 right through the mists of time and into Ancient Rome!

REVIEW: I think what I most like about this episode is how it subtly references the best parts of the Troughton era (compare to The Space Pirates, which didn't seem to know WHO these characters were). We have Troughton impersonating an official, like a human version of psychic paper. We have him, in the same sequence, totally putting one over the military mind, back to his anarchist's ways. In fact, the military gets lampooned in the most amusing way throughout. Lady Jennifer makes Ransom think he's finally found a woman interested in hearing him talk about paperwork, and General Smythe keeps getting interrupted at the most inopportune times, which makes me think he really should hypnotize his men into knocking before they come in. This is the kind of themes the show was getting into circa The Macra Terror, and which has appeared only intermittently over the past two seasons. We also have Jamie almost giving him away, the Doctor stepping all over his lines to get him to shut up. Going even further back in the program's history, we have Zoe cutely knocking someone out with a pot of flowers, and the return of a historical culture from a story where that fighting move featured prominently - the Romans!

But it's not all about the past. The program is also looking to its future. Smythe is traveling via TARDIS - a neat upright drawer design, and apparently, not flying with the breaks on judging from the sound - and his monitor can't be seen unless you try really hard, what today we'd call... a perception filter? Of course, that's all hindsight, since there's no real way to guess where The War Games is actually heading, but these little bits a great upon rewatching. For the virgin audience, there's no solid reason to believe we're NOT in 1917, in a story dealing perhaps with temporal wormholes. The story keeps throwing new clues and mysteries at us to keep us interested - mists through which one can get to a different time zone, a time-lost Redcoat, Smythe's time machine and secret meetings.

And since we ARE dealing with time, both the program's past and future, we can also judge how far we've come in the present. This is best represented by Jamie's interactions with the Redcoat from his era. Instead of fighting him (although this is pleasantly teased), Jamie takes him as a short-lived ally. Unlike these time-tossed soldiers, Jamie's war is well behind him. The Doctor's shown him a better way, and he can't be absorbed back into his former life (sad foreshadowing, that, I'm afraid). And am I the only one who loves the car cranking bit? I love it when Who uses history to good effect.

REWATCHABILITY: High - As we'll see, The War Games is a bridge between black and white Who and color Who. That theme is potent in Part 2, an episode that is full of greatest hits, yet keeps throwing fresh ideas at you too.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dial H for Hail Hydra!

Oops, not THAT Hydra (see below). So anyway, this is the second part of the Master arc, a story that will actually take us right to the end of Chris and Vicki's run as the Dial H heroes. In Adventure 485, he's assembled a team of Your Own Villains(TM), the Evil Eight, and manages to cut Fairfax off from the world behind a force field. Dude's bad. Who's gonna try to stop him?

Case 31: Adventure Comics #485
Dial Holders: Chris and Vicki
Dial Type: Watch and Pendant Dials
Dialing: The Master claims to have killed the Dials' creator, and that he's been looking for the Dials since then. The mystery deepens.
Name: The Hummingbird (a name since taken by an Astro City character, but it works)
Created by: Stephen Moore, Age 20, of Casa Grande, AZ
Costume: Sporting Infantino's classic triangular haircut, Hummingbird's green costume with yellowish green highlights comes to a mask, puffy sleeves, and a scarf tied to her thigh. Oh, and bird-like winds on her back. Bit ordinary.
Powers: She can fly, obviously, but also vibrate her wings so as to produce an ultra-sonic wail that can shatter brittle material (like ice and ear drums).
Sighted: In Fairfax, stopping the Evil Eight from robbing the Science Museum.
Possibilities: The Hummingbird takes pages from both Hawkgirl and Black Canary, which may put her in a position to take either's role in a team that had access to neither. But not an important team. Maybe Blue Jay can start a Bird Brigade.
Integration Quotient: 15% (no deal breaker, but nothing noteworthy enough for inclusion in the DCU either)
Name: Gravity Boy (sounds like a Legionnaire's name, the Academy already has a Gravity KID)
Created by: Jeffrey Odenweller, Age 15, of Bloomfield Hills, MI
Costume: A standard red and white spandex number, though with short sleeves, sporty black lines running down his legs, and black straps crossing on his chest. His wild red hair comes out the top of his mask, and he's got those strange ear protectors Infantino's always drawing. Were they on the original drawings?
Powers: Gravity Boy can, what else, manipulate gravity. He can make things heavier or lighter (the latter acting almost as a kind of telekinesis).
Sighted: In Fairfax, stopping the Evil Eight from robbing the Science Museum.
Possibilities: Gravity Kid knew he didn't have a shot in the Legion because his powers were already represented by Star Boy and Light Lass. What shot does Gravity BOY have with all three in the mix?So despite the name, he'll have to stay in the present. I see him as a teen hero with a "light" personality but "heavy" problems. Good for a Gray and Palmiotti mini-series, surely. No?
Integration Quotient: 10% (highly redundant, I'm afraid)
Name: Hydra, Goddess of the Sea (that name could cause confusion... ALL HAIL!)
Created by: Alicia Shing, Age 14, of Shrewsbury, MA
Costume: A blue and sea foam green number with a flowing cape and sea shell accessories, including an awkward tiara over her curly blond hair.
Powers: Hydra has total command of water and is able, for example, to ride a water spout through the air, and fire huge gouts of water at enemies. She does not seem able to control ice, however.
Sighted: In Fairfax, failed to stop the Evil Eight's second robbery of the Science Museum.
Possibilities: Her divine credentials are questionable, because while her name is mythological, it does not refer to a goddess. Seems like she could be from Mera's dimension though, a place ready-made to create as many water manipulators as we care to want.
Integration Quotient: 35% (her powers fit easily in the DCU, but her name's not gonna stand up in court)
Name: Blast Boy (another Legionny name, one with some bouncy alliteration)
Created by: Gilbert Fein, Ag 15, of Homestead Air Force Base, FL
Costume: A very plain brown and orange spandex suit, with a small domino mask. Uninspired and using the worst crayons in the box.
Powers: Blast Boy can "project any force... from the impact of a stick of ordinary dynamite to the power of a hydrogen bomb". That range is still on the unsubtle side isn't it? He projects it either as a beam or through a punch, and can blast himself into the air and fly.
Sighted: In Fairfax, failed to stop the Evil Eight's second robbery of the Science Museum.
Possibilities: Looks like a Legion reject in the making, and a really explosive try-out issue. Could be a good reason for a change of HQs.
Integration Quotient: 40% (the name and powers inspire exactly one story, though if he's clumsy enough, the Legion of Substitute Heroes might ask him to join)
Name: Hyptella, Mistress of Hypnotism (I kept looking at her hips, that is a terrible name)
Created by: Christopher Kraska, Age 13, no address given
Costume: A revealing purple bathing suit with a mask, long gloves and long boots, Hyptella goes a few steps too far with a yellow highlight on the crotch area, yellow suspenders that end in bling on her nipples, and jewelry in various shapes, like stars, hourglasses and foxes.
Powers: Hyptella can fly, and she can hypnotize her targets to implant powerful suggestions, like making them act like a donkey, or turning them into allies. It may work on only one person at a time.
Sighted: In Fairfax, saved school bully Brad from a gang of toughs, then was captured by the Evil Eight.
Possibilities: She's more than a bit silly, so let's go the whole way and give her a Silver Age origin. You know, like she just practices hypnotism so hard, it became a power. (What, I know a guy who drank soda until he became all stretchy.)
Integration Quotient: 5% (ill-conceived, not just because of name and look, but because mind control isn't a particularly engaging power for heroes)
Name: Electrostatic (I like it, kinda techie, kinda retro)
Created by: J.P. Hill, Ag 18, of Monmouth, OR
Costume: In yellow and white, the colors of comic book electricity, Electrostatic has an ugly "V" shape on his front, holding his "package" in place, and a weird backward head band with Kirby circuitry on it covering his ears.
Powers: Electrostatic holds an electrostatic charge he can loose to fly and throw electrical blasts of energy
Sighted: In Fairfax, was captured by the Evil Eight, but was instrumental in the Dial H heroes' escape.
Possibilities: The head band has to be the source of his power, or at least its control unit. Maybe it's a piece of Fourth World technology he's gotten his hands on. Maybe he's one of the less-known New Gods.
Integration Quotient: 45% (the Fourth World connection gives him a shot)
Name: Lumino (I hope he's Italian or something)
Created by: Karl Heitmueller, Age 15, of Lancaster, PA
Costume: A good-looking red, black and yellow cut, with a black sun rising on his chest. Works well with his blond hair.
Powers: Lumino can control light beams, shape them to his will and make them do whatever he wants. Basically, it means he creates solid light constructs.
Sighted: In Fairfax, capturing the Evil Eight.
Possibilities: The name inspires me to send him abroad to a country where it would sound more natural. There, he could fight crime with his sister (see below), maybe in the City of Lights? Lumino's a pretty hokey name for a French hero too, but I wouldn't put it past the French.
Integration Quotient: 30% (not here, but somewhere)
Name: Sonik (a hedgehog's lawyer called...)
Created by: Karl Heitmueller, Age 15, of Lancaster, PA
Costume: A match for Lumino's, Sonik is as well served by the color scheme, which fits a bright light-powered hero, but has nothing to do with her sound powers. Instead of the rising sun, she gets a thick, ugly S on her stomach.
Powers: Sonik can fire dangerous sound waves from her eyes or hands (Infantino's choice) that make every villain in sight pass out.
Sighted: In Fairfax, defeated the Evil Eight.
Possibilities: Designed as a partner for Lumino, the family resemblance would make her his sister. Where he goes, she goes. Any look at their adventures would have her bailing her brother out of trouble, because she's clearly the most powerful of the two.
Integration Quotient: 15% (should be the same as Lumino's, but her concept doesn't work as well)

Eight heroes to defeat the eight villains, and the Evil Eight will be the focus of the next Dial H article. Oh yeah, before I forget, there were a few other heroes in this issue...
I just don't think they'll ever amount to much.