Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kirby Motivational: One for the Collectors

I know who Tiny is. I've been Tiny. Lured to the Big City in the hopes of finding some collectible, or as in his case, REPLACING an old collectible, lost since childhood but still holding some kind of nostalgic power over me. If you're one of my readers, you've probably been there. But do we really want to BE Tiny? Does owning that elusive toy really make us happy? For how long? And you were like Tiny, a bit of an ape about it, perhaps grabbing it from someone else's hands, or blowing cash you were supposed to use responsibly, was it worth it?

Don't be Tiny. Try to be Big.

Doctor Who #464: Image of the Fendahl Part 1

"Your ancestors have a talent for self-destruction that borders on genius."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Oct.29 1977.

IN THIS ONE... A glowing skull, a terrified corpse, and the TARDIS lands in a cow patch.

REVIEW: Doctor Who usually mixes up its horror tropes with strong SF concepts, but Image of the Fendahl feels like a purer sort of horror. Dark woods, men falling dead in fear, dogs finding dead bodies which soon start to decay at an accelerated rate, and a creepy glowing skull superimposing itself on sexy Wanda Ventham's face. The pace is slow and deliberate, but cuts back and forth between events that might otherwise not seem connected, the tension living in that editing. And of course, it has to take place in an old priory/country house, even it if's inhabited by scientists, because that's where horror stories take place. As it turns out, the story also has elements of the thriller, as Fendelman plans to hide the body and calls in security troops to protect the house and his secret agenda. How can a human skull be dated to a period a good 8 million years before humanity's birth? And can Fendalman really see into the past with his electronics? There's a mystery afoot and we need a pair of detectives to feret it out.

Two detectives, but no bloodhound. K9 is ALREADY out of the game, just a tangle of wires (is the Doctor trying to rewire him with Time Lord tech?), and unable to come out and play. Clearly, since he was a late addition to the TARDIS crew, the script had no call for him, nor would he fit its darker tone. But this really feels like a sign of things to come, the first in a long list of nerfing scenes to keep the popular tin dog from becoming a deus ex machina or make certain uneven-ground locations a nightmare for the production. I don't like Leela's new look. The bun makes her look like Louise Jameson skipped her turn in the make-up chair, and the skimpy dress looks far less functional than the skins, has less visual texture and is basically built to show cleavage. I find it unflattering, frankly. But with Chris Boucher, her creator, writing this one, she's at least well written, protective of the Doctor, sure of her physical skills, the hero of her own story. And best of all with Boucher is the large number of gems to found in the dialog - great turns of phrase, clever jokes, and biting truisms. My favorite is the Doctor's answer to Mr. Moss about whether he and Leela have escaped from somewhere ("Frequently"), but it's one example among many. I really like how the Doctor fishes for information with Moss too. It's like he's going through a checklist of things he usually finds in these rural towns. Ghosts? No? Strangers? Ah!

Those strangers aren't quite that thanks to the scenes we share with them. Fendelman is a typical irresponsible scientist playing with forces he doesn't really understand. Max is his assistant almost too sincere to understand humor. Colby the laddish paleontologist and Thea the dating expert (I guess that's a pun) are apparently a couple, and being used by Fendelman. Mitchell is the brutish, rude security chief. Oh and there's the old cook, spitting venom and talking warning signs (a classic character for this kind of tale). It remains to be seen if they're cannon fodder for the threat out there, or if they'll remain in play as part of its manipulations, but they're engaging enough for us to follow them in whichever path.

- It's all about mystery at this point, so not very much to get your teeth into, but Chris Boucher promises a crackling script.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Who's Dr. Tzin-Tzin?

Who's This? The wonderful illo by Bill Sienkiewicz on page 4 of Who's Who vol.VII:
The facts: Tzin-Tzin is a Fu Manchu-inspired underworld figure who used his powers of illusion and hypnotism against Batman and Robin a number of times, starting in Detective Comics #354 (1966). His appearances have been few and far between. His next appearance has him joining the League of Assassins (Detective #408, 1971), which didn't exactly make him take off (though as you'll see below, a nice-looking tale). He was then in Adventure Comics fighting Supergirl (#418, 1972) and in a few 1977 issues of Batman. He served as main villain in the 1988 Peacemaker mini-series where he was killed.
How you could have heard of him: Grant Morrison used him as a member of the League of Assassins in Batman Inc. vol.2 #4, but only eagle-eyed trivia kings are likely to have spotted him.
Example story: Detective Comics #408 (1971) by Len Wein, Marv Wolfman (and his annoying use of 2nd-person narration) and Neal Adams
"The House That Haunted Batman" is a 15-page story (reprinted in Detective Comics #477, 1978, with a new framing tale) that starts in medias res with Batman obviously suffering through some nasty illusions, like Robin dying and coming back as a killer (no, not Jason Todd), and his funeral/roast:
That stings! That last one is also the basis for All-Star Batman & Robin. As the walls close in around him, Batman becomes aware of reality (disbelieved illusion). He's in a glass tube, bouncing around, as is Robin. It's a death trap concocted by Dr. Tzin-Tzin with the help of Guild of Calamitous Intent League of Assassins resources. Because it's not enough to have mental powers that can confound the Batman, you really need a high-tech death trap to go with them. Point in case, this Bondian beauty:
Predictably, Batman dies. Did you believe that? Tzin-Tzin did! SUCKER!
So he breaks out his "Deadly Dozen", a cadre of kung fu fighters mostly dressed as waiters.
Check please!
Though Batman makes relatively short work of these goons, it's Robin who gets the kill on Tzin-Tzin, coming up from behind him and...
The Dynamic Duo walk him out to the Batmobile, but hear a laugh from the old haunted house. It's Tzin-Tzin at the window! Or is it? They turn around and the one they had in custody is gone! And then...
So much for the Deadly Dozen, eh?

Batman writers have often used hallucinogenic villains to screw with Batman's head, and that makes sense because his world is entirely conducive to psychological exploration. So why hasn't Dr. Tzin-Tzin been used more? Is it because the Scarecrow can fill that niche more effectively? Surely, if that were true, no one would have felt the need to create the equally forgotten Mirage or Spellbinder. Is it the inherent racism of an Asian character, even an Asian-American like Tzin-Tzin, taking on a stereotyped Fu Manchu persona better suited to the Golden Age and its tales of Yellow Peril? Whatever the case may be, even with League of Assassins support, Tzin-Tzin has failed to get much play.

Who else? At the time, Dr. Thirteen and Dolphin were probably as obscure to me, but they've made good since. The next character I do, also from volume VII, will be someone who I think only reappeared in Crisis after his last appearance decades before.

Doctor Who #463: The Invisible Enemy Part 4

"Shall we try using our intelligence?" "Well, if you think that's a good idea."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.22 1977.

IN THIS ONE... The giant virus goes to Titan to spawn, but the Doctor destroys it.

REVIEW: OK, cards on table, I'm relieved that an antibody is discovered that invalidates the theory that Leela was immune thanks to her stupidity (and coincidentally, she's now clever enough to disguise herself as a possessed nurse - play fair, script, play fair). However, it's hard to forgive the serial when we then cut away to a profoundly silly giant prawn. The Nucleus has reached the macrocosm, and now thinks itself invincible, but it was much more dangerous as a virus! In its larger form, it has to be propped up by human pawns and led infirmly to its hive. Aside from the telepathic domination thing, it actually has LESS going for it as this infirm, wiggly-armed creature than it did as an invisible, microscopic virus. I'm not even sure how its eggs are that big. If they were "grown" with the dimensional stabilizer, why was a place like Titan needed to host microscopic eggs?

But the real problem here is that the Doctor, while calling for a reasoned solution all the way through, nevertheless takes the violent way out, and even takes credit for it (it was Leela's idea) with glee. I mean, he created a cure, but still left the possessed Lowe and friends to die on Titan, and laughs about it afterwards. There's righting the balance and then there's thoughtless destruction. Of course, this Doctor (and the last) has often resorted to violence, but there's something twisted about having him invoke using their intelligence and then immediately having him send K9 firing and Leela put a knife in a guy's neck. It's as if the original idea had always been to make aggression the immunity factor, but it was changed along the way, except the behavior wasn't. But then, this story isn't too concerned with proper motivations for its characters. As long as they do what the script tells them, there won't be a problem. And so, we have Professor Marius suddenly give his trusty K9 to the Doctor out of the blue, and Leela act jealous towards the Doctor's new favorite one minute, and do a juvenile "can we keep him please?" song and dance the next. If Baker and Martin (or Holmes) think the "TARDIS trained" joke is even remotely funny OR motivated, they're very much mistaken.

The production continues to be marred by iffy effects and dodgy direction (Derrick Goodwin never directed another episode). One reason the monster doesn't work is the bright lighting. There's some confusion in the way shots are designed, when for example, the Lowe shoots at?near? the Doctor while we're looking at another shot of those eggs. The model effects are middling, but the base's destruction on Titan makes you wonder if the whole moon somehow blew up. I guess I'm only glad it's over, though I think the Baker years hit their peak and are now facing decline if The Invisible Enemy is anything to go by. I mean, a PIECE of this story will be following the Doctor for some time.

THEORIES: So is Leela the timey-whimey origin of her own antibodies? It's a clever idea they don't really talk about.

VERSIONS: The CGI option certainly redeems the destruction effects. But too glowy for my tastes, but seeing the moon and Saturn behind it, and the explosions on its surface, is a heck of a lot better than the smoke rings previously used. Laser replacement is good, but as they must follow the sound effects, they come out of their guns' barrels at strange times, and not at all based on the actor's movements. Likewise, I was underwhelmed by the new model shots. The Target novelization is much the same, though it probably doesn't suffer from bad effects.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Yes, the virus attacks intelligence, but it doesn't mean the Doctor should bow down to the most common denominator to beat it. At least Leela doesn't do too badly.

- Watching this seems a high price just to see K9's first appearance. The enemy should have remained invisible, the effects are paltry, the plot is stupid, and Leela's character isn't well used until maybe the last episode. Remove its historical importance from the equation and I give it a Low, straight up.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Kung Fu Fridays in March 2013

Wasn't feeling well enough to knock out the next Kung Fu Fridays poster last Friday, but here it is now, featuring a major star I'm surprised I neglected until now, Yuen Biao! He never quite made it as big as his "brothers" Jackie and Sammo, but he still has a good comedy kung fu resume. So these are the films I plan on showing in March. You might notice there's nothing on the 15th, but that's because we'll all be working at an improv tournament for the weekend.

Knockabout - Yuen Biao stars as one of two con artist brothers cheated of their fortune by Fatty the Beggar (I dare anyone to show up for their first KFF and grab that nickname!) attempt to become great fighters so they can reclaim it. Sammo Hung directs, so you know there's gonna be some silly but incredible action by the time this thing's over.

The Viral Factor - Dante Lam's 2012 action flick is a rare international thriller, as Jay Chou is wounded escorting a witness from Jordan to Norway, and must team up with his mercenary brother, Nicholas Tse to track down the villain and his stolen mutant virus. I don't know if Hong Kong plays other locations from around the world or if the story itself only takes place there, but I'm curious to find out.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate - It's a big wuxia event from 2011, starring Jet Li and "featuring" my man Gordon Liu. I could go into the plot, but what would be the point. These big historical wuxias are full of court intrigue and melodrama, and this one has an evil eunuch in it. And we in the Kung Fu Fridays Klub do love us an evil eunuch.

The Hidden Fortress - One of the key inspirations for Star Wars in the way the action is experienced from the sidelines by two "clowns" (equivalent to the droids), Kurosawa casts Toshiro Mifune as a weary general in charge of protecting a princess (Leia?). The great experiment here is seeing how much Lucas borrowed from Fortress, and how much of Kirby's New Gods he had to throw in afterwards.

If you're in the area, March on over (ha ha), and if not, expect capsule reviews on each successive Friday on this very blog.

Doctor Who #462: The Invisible Enemy Part 3

"I know this brain like the back of my hand."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.15 1977.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Leela travel through the Doctor's brain and inadvertently free the virus into the macrocosm.

REVIEW: Doctor Who does Fantastic Voyage as things get stupider and stupider. The micro-clones, who are somehow connected enough to their other selves to feel pain when, for example, Leela is inexplicably knocked out dodging a laser beam, delve into the actual anatomy of the Doctor's brain, a sort of Barry Lettstastic world of CSO. Some of it is gorgeously realized (see above), but it's still a completely inexplicable universe, even with the Doctor's attempt at a dissertation on Time Lord brain physiology. (The inclusion of a 1000-brain networked super-mind node, which the Doctor can no longer access, is interesting though.) My problem isn't so much empty space and breathable air and mini-Rovers, free-floating white blood cells that amusingly "eat" the Lowe clone the virus sends in to help it. No, my problem is that the production can't seem to decide if the Doctor's brain is a piece of anatomy or a metaphor. It's fine to talk about the brain metaphorically (the passing thought is a cute idea), but the idea that you can't see across the gulf between the conscious and unconscious crosses the line, as do the winds of thoughtlessness blowing in Leela's face and the window looking out on Grecian columns flying through space. You can do Fantastic Voyage, or you can do The Deadly Assassin, but you can't do both.

The Nucleus is an ugly, amorphous creature who seems to be destroyed when the clones explode (the leftover hairpiece and CLONED knife - forever in the Doctor's brain? - are thoroughly silly), but through the magic of the Doctor's mantra about tear ducts SOMEhow transports it to that anatomical location, where it is regrown as a giant prawn. As with the previous episode, the production itself is also a big mess, with K9 cutting through a wall quite obviously pre-cut, and the same flailing about during shoot-outs, a lot of pointing without anything happening. Louise Jameson would have made the scene 100% better just by going "piew piew" as she did it. I do so hate it when an episode reduces me to the role of nitpicker...

VERSIONS: The CGI option can't help the brain dead plot, but it does fix a few of the bugs. The wall K9 fires at is now intact, and the sequence, as with any laser-related sequence, is given a lot of raw energy. It's certainly more exciting with the beams added. The passing thought, or synapse fire, or whatever that is, is also given a bit more spark, though it wasn't strictly necessary.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The world of the Doctor's brain is certainly imaginative and a lot of work went into realizing it. However, the script is so objectionably dumb, it nearly invalidates the production design achievement.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Nuclear Men of the Atom

Firestorm, Captain Atom, Dr. Solar, Doc Manhattan... They walked into some atomic reactor, were completely destroyed, and then found their molecules coalescing again. Their new selves had great control of the molecular world, but had they kept their humanity?

Today we're looking at these Men of the Atom and what makes them resilient tropes in superhero comics. They're rarer than some other archetypes, of course, because their powers are off the charts (which is part of the problem of writing for them), but their origins really aren't. Marvel Comics in the 60s were especially keen on getting people and things into irradiated spaces. Spider-Man, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four (to name but a few) were all changed by radiation, that mystical science of the Cold War. But they didn't become Dr. Solar or Captain Atom. For that, radiation can't just change you. It must destroy you completely. When you are remade, it's by your own force of will. YOU create your new body. You've become a Quantum Archangel (to borrow a phrase from a Doctor Who novel).

And of course, there are gradations. Doc Manhattan is on one end, more god than man, cold and aloof, his understanding of the universe giving him a sense of a big picture that makes the rest of us somewhat insignificant. At the other end, we might put Firestorm, who though he has these amazing abilities, retains his kid-like personality. Perhaps there's a reason Firestorm is classically made up of two people (beyond the fusion theme). Maybe one needs to keep the other sane and grounded. Most Men of the Atom seem to fall in the former category however, as the most recent versions of Captain Atom and Dr. Solar have both been more compassionate versions of Manhattan, somehow still in touch with their humanity through their love of a woman.

Is that what draws us to these Nuclear Hyperions? The play between human emotion and cold logic that is at the heart of us all? Maybe we should think of them as reverse Hulks, where the Hyde figure is actually the calm, smart one. The Hulk paradigm seems to say our bad side is our emotional side, but these heroes tell a different story, that we should be afraid our of reason, not our emotions. In reality, either side can be used for good or evil. And that's perhaps where the more moderate Firestorm comes in. He too is a split personality, with the intellect in tow as a spirit guide and the body led mainly by emotion and instinct. Yet, neither are shown as negatives. Firestorm achieves a balance the others struggle to keep.

Now I want to hear from you. Why do you like Men of the Atom, or why don't you?

Doctor Who #461: The Invisible Enemy Part 2

"Non-thinking is the only way to shake it off, but I can't stay mindless for eternity, can I."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.8 1977.

IN THIS ONE... It's K9's first appearance!

REVIEW: As facts are unearthed about the nature of the threat, the serial starts to come apart. I'm especially annoyed by the idea that the virus feeds on intellectual energy, so naturally, stupid Leela is completely immune. Make no mistake, again and again it is suggested that she doesn't think, has a low intelligence, and indeed, the script overdoes it by making almost every line she gives about not understand words or situations. This isn't how Leela was ever written before. Uneducated, yes. Leading with intuition, of course. But stupid, she never was, and in fact seemed quite the opposite. Even here, they have her memorize a complicated set of TARDIS coordinates. You're telling me the virus didn't want to jump her brain pan right then? She has a nice, mildly frustrated rapport with K9 and his technobabble, but some of the gags fall quite flat, like her asking the tin dog if she really looks like her clone, as if there wasn't a mirror in the wood-paneled control room the whole time. I'm insulted for her and I'm insulted for myself.

Because it's really not the only logic problem. The whole cloning thing, for example. In the year 5000, they can make clones that have all your experience AND clothes, but that last only 11 minutes. It's a "parlor trick" and has "no medical value", and yet there's a cloning chamber right there in Professor Marius' surgery. The Doctor compounds the ridiculousness of this idea by shrinking the cloned Doctor and Leela so they can be injected into his brain, and of course, though they're microscopic thanks to some TARDIS gear, Marius can go straight to the right spot and suck them up in his syringe. Don't take this the wrong way, gentlemen, but I don't think it's Leela who's stupid. Even the effects people are getting it wrong. As we move the action over to the asteroid hospital, the establishing shot is clearly from AFTER a shuttle crashes into it (above is the CGI option's correction). And yes, I'll even take a shot at K9 who seems incredibly out of place in this universe, a flight of fancy in a world of white walls and simplified spelling. Then again, they've got drawings of eyes in the hospital's eye section, and Grecian columns in the corridors. Maybe they're starved for art and whimsy, and Marius IS an eccentric genius. Ok, the dog can stay. In any case, the Doctor has an immediate rapport with him.

At least Lowe is an intelligent pawn of the Nucleus, able to think on his feet, adapt, use subterfuge, etc., which lends credence to the idea that the Doctor made the better host. He's the smartest guy in any room/solar system. The Nucleus' efforts to survive are bold and clever - crashing a ship into a hospital to isolate your host is pretty incredible stuff - perhaps as it assembles more minds in its network, it will get even more dangerous. I also want to mention the secretary who takes Leela's information, a sort of parody of hospital staff, cold and humorless, with breathing mask and rubber gloves, completely sterile. It's an amusing scene which they could have done more with. As usual, the point was to make Leela foolish so we'd buy her immunity to intelligence feeders.

VERSIONS: Once again, the effects take the episode up a notch. The hospital's establishing shot is correct and undamaged, and the shuttle crash is a giddy, point-of-view affair with a CG-assisted explosion. There's also lots of shooting in the halls, which was just limp and messy when you couldn't see the beams. A few glows here and there, such as on the Doctor's furry hand molting (it still bugs me that the reverse transformation doesn't shed that white hair on the floor), complete the enhanced look of the show.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Some amusing bits, K9's first appearance, and Michael Sheard are the only reasons this gets up to a Medium. The sheer stupidity of the science and the way Leela is being treated makes me want to do to it what seems to be happening to the clones in the cliffhanger - it makes me want to flush it down some toilet.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

This Week in Geek (18-24/02/13)


After enjoying so much Elmore Leonard on TV and movies, it's about time I bought a book of his. I'm easing in with the collection of short stories that includes the basis for Justified, Fire in the Hole. Otherwise, it was all DVDs this week: Battlestar Galactica Blood & Chrome, Argo, Robot & Frank, Game of Thrones Season 2, Skyfall, The Man with the Iron Fists and Doctor Who's The Reign of Terror.


DVDs: In Season 2, Misfits shows it's not afraid to fool around with its status quo. After all, they've got to finish their community service SOMEtime. But that's not all that's going on. As if a riff from Heroes, there's someone from the future who's come to save their lives and make sure everything goes as planned. And in the Christmas special includes as a 7th episode, there are more drastic measures taken to make sure the characters aren't right back where they started by the start of Season 3. Despite the drama, this is the season that made me laugh the most. Or maybe I just keyed into Nathan's sense of humor. Dude's hilarious in the most disgusting way. In any case, I don't know how I can wait around for Amazon to offer Season 3... Oh yeah, DVD extras, there are some, and it's a very good package. There a bonus scenes that are exactly that, not deleted scenes, but bonus content shot from a voyeuristic point of view and telling little stories and gags around our gang working at the community center. The making of material covers the look and design of the show fairly comprehensively, as well as life on the set, plus there are small making ofs for each and every episode. Fun stuff.

Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django is a pretty mind-blowing experience. It's a western apparently populated with Japanese pop stars speaking in variable English accents, as two clans, the Reds and the Whites, fight over a town's gold. It's anime in live action, much of the time, exciting, but also funny and tragic. Now what's especially interesting is the Django brand which has recently made a splash thanks to a little film called Django Unchained, which you might have heard of, made by a guy called Quentin Tarantino. Well, THIS movie was made in 2007 AND Tarantino's IN IT. It's more than a cameo - he gets 2-3 scenes on a terrifyingly expressionistic set - but when the Django song came up in the end credits (in Japanese of course), there could be no doubt of the cross-pollination at work here. Not sure which way it went either. Miike is a very inventive director, and he plays with the form, throws strange images at you, and often plays to metaphor, delightfully. The only thing I'm not sure he gets away with his forcing his actors to speak English, which often makes the dialog come across as stilted and at time difficult to understand (we kept the subtitles on). One of the strangest westerns you ever might see, so put it on your list, cinephiles! Strong extras too, including a long making of documentary that talks to almost everyone (except Tarantino, dang!) and principally follows the shooting. I do think the narrator is a bit too reverential to the director and overselling the movie, but it's good otherwise. You'll also find some deleted scenes, trailers, and as you sometimes find on Asian releases, selected clips, basically scenes you can watch without having to forward through the entire film.

If you've been reading my daily Doctor Who reviews, you already know I think The Talons of Weng-Chiang is classic Who at its best. But what about the recent Special Edition release. Any good extras? First, everything that was on the original release is also here, making this a direct replacement for your old version. In fact, they didn't produce a new commentary track for it and only included the old one, which to be fair, has a lot of the people you would have wanted to hear from - Louise Jameson (Leela)' John Bennett (Chang), Christopher Benjamin (Jago), producer Philip Hinchlcliffe and director David Maloney. The production notes are likewise the same. A third disc contains the original extras, including the excellent Whose Doctor Who vintage documentary made while Talons was shooting (as evidenced by the visit to set from which we get a lot of behind the scenes material), Hinchcliffe's (hostile) TV interview relating to it, Blue Peter's Doctor Who theater crafts project, very rough outtakes from the last two episodes, a weird TARDIS Cam with space whales, trailers and continuities, and redundantly, a shorter photo gallery. As for the new material on the second disc, there's a good making of documentary, and to go further into the story both on screen and behind the scenes, featurettes on: Why Hinchcliffe left the show (not by choice!) and what stories he was thinking of developing for Season 15, the truth of what Bob Holmes did or did not filch from the story originally slated to be made, the literature behind the story, the true story of Limehouse, a quirky documentary on the music hall tradition performed AS music hall, and a visit to all the locations used on the show. A vintage interview with Tom Baker (who really seems to dislike journalists and their really stupid questions) and the longer photo gallery complete this impressive package.

Audios: With The Prisoner's Dilemma, Simon Guerrier adds another layer to the Key2Time trilogy and manages to find a way to avoid the same-old-same-old feeling of Nyssa's Companion Chronicle. Ace, too, has appeared in a large number of Big Finish audios, so he doesn't give her the story's first voice. Instead, it goes to Zara, the twin sister of the Key2Time's short-lived companion Amy. As living key segment trackers, these girls have no experience of the real world and that creates an interesting point of view as we're taken through a prequel to the trilogy. Ace gets to narrate some part so the story as well, and again, she's got a stronger point of view than Nyssa did. It seems the problem with The Darkening Eye wasn't that it used an already well-worn voice, but that it didn't get her anything interesting to say. But The Prisoner's Dilemma does, it's about trust, something often missing between Ace and the Doctor, and if you liked Key2Time (its second chapter was may favorite audio last year), this is a must-listen.

Zines: Finished reading the 15th issue of Diary of the Doctor Who RPGs, dubbed the "Chess Issue", because no avenue of Doctor Who-related gaming will go unexplored, apparently! So there are enticing reviews of a couple of Doctor Who chess sets, including homemade ones, paper miniatures to make your own, an article on chess tropes in Doctor Who, and two very good chess-related adventures (including one that features the deadly Live Chess seen in A Good Man Goes to War). It's not all chess, all the time though, and you'll also find a few gaming-related news briefs, a review of Wil Wheaton's Just a Geek, gamer etiquette regarding dice rolling, complete FASA stats for Peri, Time Lord stats for Bessie and the Whomobile, two Gazetteer articles that introduce new planets, a bit on H.G. Wells' wargame (possibly the first ever), instructions for a craft/four-point yarn TARDIS, a non-chess adventure module on an ice planet, a short event report only marginally related to Who, an article on starting sessions which I found a little bewildering (I guess it's useful for large groups that cross in and out of the game, but found is strange for most small-knit group games), and some interesting mechanics to handle those pocketfuls of props that seem so handy on the show. Overall a very strong issue that follows its theme admirably, but also offers great variety.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - Hamlet 2000

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Green Arrow to Green Lantern.

Doctor Who #460: The Invisible Enemy Part 1

"That's the trouble with computers. Always think in black and white. No aquamarines, no blues, no imagination." (The computer I shared with my brother back in the 90s had an edited .wav of this file that went "That's the trouble with computers... no imagination" when it shut down, so the line is very dear to me beyond its obvious wit. (If you must know, emptying the trashcan had it going "EXTERMINATE!". We were nothing if not consistent.)
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Oct.1 1977.

IN THIS ONE... Something infects a shuttle crew bound to Titan, and then the Doctor.

REVIEW: It's a return to the classic console room look (give or take a bigger TV), just in time for a return to space opera, which the show hasn't done in a good while. It's really too bad about the Victorian-style room. Apparently, the sets warped in storage. Still, it gives this serial a more coherent look. Unfortunately, that look is wobbly models and wobbly sets (just look at Michael Sheard's Lowe hitting the distress button)! Oh, it's not quite that bad, I quite like the vistas outside the windows, the use of a special futuristic font, the intriguing smoke effect used for the virus' home, and the approach to Titan looks nice. See Versions for the CGI effects available on the DVD as an alternate viewing experience, but what's there is fine for the time. You sometimes wonder whether people are shooting or just gesticulating, since there's only ever an effect on the receiving end, and the shuttle (based on real shuttle designs, thank you very much) are obviously directed by strings, but they're a product of their time... of course, they time was the year Star Wars was released, but Doctor Who's on a very different budget.

Baker and Martin return to the program with their usual high concepts and tenuous grasp on science fact with the story of a space virus that can infect machines and people alike, but not Leela apparently. It does crank her intuitive powers a notch and its mere presence, out there, causes her to suck on the Doctor's scarf in apprehension. This is quite a cute episode for Leela - wearing the Doctor's hat, learning to write her name, etc. - but they almost overdo it with the parroting of every word she doesn't understand. At least the Doctor points it out, so it's a knowing gag, not a script problem per se. She's still proactive though, and tries to stop the Doctor from leaving the TARDIS. I AM annoyed they don't show how the conflict was resolved, and I almost expected the infected Doctor to get the better of her violently. He plays a dual role here, creepy when he's taken over, and pleading with the voice in his head when he isn't. Host to a viral nucleus he may be, but he's a resistant one. It's not an instant takeover. Even after he's zapped, we still get a lot of the Doctor we love, trying to get attention with a duck call, and telling Leela not to wander off just seconds too late.

The guest characters are simply and quickly drawn before being turned into a butterfly-eyed death squad, so you do feel for them, if briefly. I like the irony of Meeker rebelling against the auto-pilot, frustrated by his boring career, just before he's taken over and PUT on auto-pilot. A similar foreshadowing occurs in the TARDIS when the Doctor talks about humanity spreading out among the stars like a virus. Soon, HE'S turned into a furry-handed piece of the monster's reproductive cycle. So with all these people going monotone, it's nice to have steady old Michael Sheard to identify with, scared and brave and suffering and making friends with Leela, which is all the more horrible when the virus takes him over. Alas.

THEORIES: So it's 5000 A.D., the year of the great breakout when man skipped off to the stars? What about Magnus Greel's Ice Age and 6th Word War in the same time frame? Maybe people elsewhere in the system were taking it as their cue to leave Sol already and good riddance. But more importantly, what about the all those stories that took place in the second and third millennium? The base on Titan looks no more advanced, say, than Zoe's starbase in 2090. And for sure, Frontier in Space showed an Earth Empire that was having trouble with its neighbors in 2450. It's not a clean timeline, but it's one that can be resolved from onscreen evidence. Some colonies were obviously founded over the next couple thousand years, but in The Mutants (30th century), the Empire was collapsing, recalling those colonies. By The Daleks Master Plan (4000), we have a Solar System that's a world onto itself, in danger of falling prey to various powers coordinated by the Daleks. 1000 years later, is seems earth isn't so hospitable anymore (Greel and such), and the solar system's probably been exploited a great deal. We're ready to move on, and all those factors make it so a lot of people do it at the same time, ergo a "great break out".

VERSIONS: For the best possible experience, watch it with the CGI effects on (purists need not apply, of course). First off, they remove a lot of problematic model work while still respecting the originals' look and intent. The flight through the asteroid field has more dynamic camera shots, and the field doesn't look as cut and paste. The approach to Titan has been redone (too bad, I like the original), to get Saturn appropriately closer to its moon, and it beautifully dominates the sky on the landing, which has been further enhanced with retrorockets and a definite lack of wobbliness. The attack by the space smoke, interesting though it was, is turned into a better looking, if a bit unoriginal, Mutara Nebula-type cloud, but the electrics and camera angles are much better. What the CGI effects also do is make the gun battle scenes much more visceral by adding a continuous (and frankly violent) beam from each gun. Now you can see who's shooting who, and when Lowe's gun is shot out of his hand, there's even some nasty debris flying around. (This will become especially important in later episodes, where the action scenes as shot are incredibly limp, like a big game of laser tag.) Finally, are some glowy touch-ups to the infection zap, to make it seem more organic and less like a video effect. Overall, the effects take the episode up a notch.

- We spend some quality time aboard the TARDIS, but it doesn't detract from setting up the time, location and threat, which are all pretty well realized.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Reign of the Supermen #465: Rotten Superman

Source: Swamp Thing vol.5 #16, Animal Man vol.2 #17 (2013)
Type: Alternate future
You know, I'm really happy that guys like Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder are having so much mainstream success, and (tendency to prolong story arcs almost indefinitely aside) they're among those writers who are actively saving the New52 from being an outright disaster. And I don't know for sure, but they seem to have the same opinion of DC's current output I do. In Rotworld, a possible future where the Rot has won and most of the planet has been contaminated by it, they both use "rotten" superheroes as threats/cannon fodder for their Red and Green rebels. But not just ANY superheroes. The clues came early, with Swamp Thing's group facing the Teen Titans, and Animal Man's going up against Hawkman, Hawk & Dove, Grifter and Deathstroke. These last four were all tainted by Rob Leifeld's influence, and the Titans book was dead on arrival as far as I'm concerned. So if these were the heroes of the Rot, it seemed like the writers had picked them for a reason. I mean, there are plenty of more recognizable characters out there, so to pick those specific ones calls attention to itself.

So are we prepared to take it all the way to the end and say that Lemire and Syder are none too impressed with the other rotten heroes that show up to defend Arcane's fortress? Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash (AKA the Justice League)? Suicide Squad? The Birds of Prey?

Go on, tell it's a coincidence.

Doctor Who #459: Horror of Fang Rock Part 4

"Rutan, that's the empty rhetoric of a defeated dictator, and I don't like your face, either."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.24 1977.

IN THIS ONE... The Rutan is revealed and is killed, but only after it slaughters everyone but the two regulars.

REVIEW: So the Beast of Fang Rock is revealed to be a Rutan, previously mentioned as the species the Sontarans are waging war on, and two more different alien species you couldn't imagine (or could you? see Theories). The Rutan's true form is a green, glowing jellyfish with the semblance of eyes, and rather sharp I always though. I'd love to see them in all their CGI glory on the new show (they do appear in the computer games, but I've yet to experience those). Once the Doctor's figured it out, he's back on top, and the stand-out moment of the episode is his little chat with "Reuben the Rutan" in the stairway, confidently puncturing the monster's inflated ego. There's something very amusing too in that the creature is killed by a various bits from the Doctor's pockets, fired from a mortar, including a very familiar bag of sweets. Death by jelly baby.

But the Doctor didn't get his groove back all by himself, no, he had Leela's help for that. She gives her a rather cool pep talk about how he's a Time Lord, and quite above the relatively primitive creature hunting them. And it's Leela who has the bright idea to turn the lighthouse into a laser to destroy the incoming Rutan ship, getting a rare smile from the Doctor in this serial. Her naivete works in her favor here, since OBVIOUSLY the Doctor can do this extremely Whovian of things. She doesn't know it's an absurd notion. But our girl Leela has her ugly side too, and the Doctor must condemn her for gloating over the dying Rutan. She's still got a lot to learn.

She'll get a chance to, unlike the rest of the human cast. Vince gets it early, and then Adelaide (but not before Leela rolls her eyes at her for fainting). Colonel Skinsale seems a character begging for redemption, but his death is a touch off the "honorable" one the Doctor claims for him. Yes, he bravely risks his life to get at Henry Palmerdale's diamonds, one of which should work as a focus for the Doctor's makeshift laser, but when the Doctor throws the rejected specimens away, Skinsale stays behind to pick them up and gets caught out. It's his greed that does him in, not self-sacrifice. And perhaps the Doctor realizes it's his fault for once again misjudging human nature, and so he gives Skinsale better report. And then there were two, and since Leela ALSO wastes time recovering her knife, there might just have been one. In a sort of karmic reprisal, disobedient Leela gets temporarily blinded by the flash of the explosion, though this is just an in-story justification to allow Louise Jameson to stop wearing those irritating contact lenses. When I first saw this, long before I had any sense of what might be going on behind the scenes of any television program, it seemed a strange thing to do to the character. I dunno... will I like a blue-eyed Leela as much? And then this sanguinary story ends on a poem which serves as brilliant short-hand for an epilogue to a story that won't be remembered by any of the natives. Simply another mystery attributed to the Beast of Fang Rock.

THEORIES: Why are the Sontarans and Rutans consistently at war? Why don't the Sontarans, for example, wage war on other species as well? It's not the Milky Way is exclusive. There are clues in this very episode. One is that the Rutans have recently adapted the ability to shapechange, presumably as part of the arms race. The other is that they once ruled Muter's Spiral (the Time Lord designation for our galaxy). That paints a picture of a race with advanced genetic technology that can change its own make-up, but presumably, also create races of its own design. Could the Sontarans once have been the Rutans' cloned army, much better adapted to taking over the galaxy by force than squishy electric jellyfish? And once that army singularly bred for war had no more enemies to fight, might they not have turned on their creators? If the two species' histories are intertwined, it would explain why they are each other's preferred targets. They've got skin in the game.

VERSIONS: I'm unaware of any major differences between the Target novelization and the televised story.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - It goes by a bit quickly for everyone's death to be really felt, but otherwise, a lot of great bits, especially for the principals, and a once mysterious alien race is revealed for us continuity junkies.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - My one small complaint is that is sags up front from spending two whole episodes on introducing a cast of cannon fodder, but that close to disappears when watched all in one go. Regardless, Horror of Fang Rock is a claustrophobic piece, very well plotted and full of excellent moments for the Doctor and Leela. I think the Rutans are pretty keen, and I'm sorry they were never used again. Come to think of it, there really aren't any "Sontaran at War" stories past the present day, so it's possible the Rutans were finally defeated relatively soon after this.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Doctor Who #458: Horror of Fang Rock Part 3

"Leela, I've made a terrible mistake. I thought I'd locked the enemy out. Instead, I've locked it in, with us."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.17 1977.

Reuben is killed and replaced by the creature. Henry is just killed after trying to bribe Vince. Oh, and Harker too.

The Henry/Skinsale subplot realizes its potential when, the protect his honor and prevent Henry from ruining him, Skinsale sabotages the telegraph. The one link to the mainland is severed, tension is ramped up and the sense of claustrophobia heightened. It's Henry's duplicity that makes him hide out on the ledge where he is killed. After corrupting poor Vince with a wad of money - does Vince burn the cash so that suspicion doesn't fall on him, or as an act of contrition, asking whatever karmic spirits might kill those with a blight on their souls? - he was on his way to destroy two men, so he deserved what was coming to him. Not so Harker, who was only trying to keep the "boy pressure" up and the lighthouse working. In other words, there is no karma in this world. The monster will get you whatever you do, and leave you on the floor with a creepy rictus grin.

If there's a sense of hopelessness to the whole affair, it's because this is essentially a story about the Doctor getting it wrong, with dreadful consequences. And even before that cliffhanger where he realizes he's locked the creature in with them, he knows it. You won't see a more serious, even dour, fourth Doctor. He stares out into space, has no patience for anyone, gives a very still performance. He doesn't have enough data to figure out which species he's dealing with, and that seems to haunt him. He's trying to figure it out before it's too late, but that ship might already have sailed.

While he deals in hard facts, Leela is more intuitive, and we might take her irascibility with the Doctor as a sense she has that he's not infallible. Certainly, this is the kind of situation where he should be listening to her more, even is she's "only a savage". Never one to sit down when something can be done, Leela takes actions into her own hands, breaks down doors, and most hilariously, slaps hysterical Adelaide right out of a scream. And yet, her faith in the more passive Doctor is unshaken, as we discover when she tells Adelaide, a believer in astrology, that it's better to believe in science. Of course, the way she says it, so reverently, Leela's just replaced one religion for another. She understands science as little as she does magic. And of course, this is doubly ironic given that the Sevateem's religion was a cargo cult where science and technology were deemed magic.

THEORIES: Do Time Lords have an accent? The Doctor pronounces chameleon, shameleon, and back in The Green Death, Pertwee more famously pronounced chitinous as tshitinous. Am I on to something?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The plot is really coming together, and I just love what Dicks is writing for the two principals.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Kirby Motivational: Sometimes I Think I'm Overwhelming Myself With Content

I've been staving off illness since before Christmas when everyone at work was coughing in my face, on the basis that I JUST DON'T HAVE TIME TO BE SICK. Well, I still don't. In fact, I REALLY don't. But I'm contemplating taking a sick day for the first time in months. I've hit a wall. I'm achy, I'm shivering, and my head is about to split open. I'm simply not up to writing the Who's This? feature I had planned.

Oh man up, Siskoid! It's just the start of a cold! You're not dying or being tortured by postapocalyptic manimals!

Shut up, voice in my head. I'm trying to sleep here!

Doctor Who #457: Horror of Fang Rock Part 2

"And when she struck it was get the owner away and the owner's fancy woman and the owner's fine friend. Never mind the poor sailors."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.10 1977.

IN THIS ONE... The crew of a shipwrecked yacht arrive at the lighthouse, which may be under attack from the "Beast of Fang Rock".

REVIEW: The cast of potential victims is supplemented by a group of yachters - Henry the greedy businessman who needs to get to London so he can use a hot tip, Harker the sailor who blames him for the death of the crew, Skinsale the gentleman gambler who regrets his collusion with Henry, and Adelaide his racist secretary. Harker looks pretty honorable, but the rest of the lot are quick to show why they'll deserve their eventual deaths. But it's hard to get too invested in their subplots because, well, they're not expected to last the night! So unless their story arcs tie into the plot (which they don't in this episode aside from landing them on Fang Rock) or are thematically relevant (they're not, are they? I suppose you could say they're lost souls in the fog, but it's a stretch), their scenes can come off as padding. That's part of the genre, of course. We get to know the characters just enough that we feel for them when they're killed, or we cheer the monster on. Henry and Adelaide definitely fall into that last category. Skinsale at least finds the Doctor and the irony of Henry's situation humorous, so he's more likeable.

Thankfully, the Doctor and Leela are quite good. Sometimes, Leela acts like Dicks' idea of a companion, just there to ask questions, but she's also a good tactician, trying to work out how to survive the siege. There's a great moment when she loses it and threatens Henry with her knife. And this is the second story in a row where she questions the Doctor's bravery. To an action girl like her, he seems awfully passive, his caution like fear in her eyes. But it's not fear that animates him, it's urgency and the knowledge that something terrible is just out there, in the fog. It's funny that he doesn't want Leela to spill the beans about their being aliens, because his reactions are quite alien. He smiles broadly when announcing their eminent death, and he bolts up with alarm when he realizes he and the yacht passengers weren't yet introduced, rude and bored as soon as they start making those introductions.

As for the so-called "real" monster, the "Beast of Fang Rock" (I won't reveal its identity until the serial does), they keep teasing it. We see some kind of phosphorescent green jellyfish, and of course some jellyfish have an electric sting. Teasing is fine, but with so much time devoted to the new crop of victims, the Beast doesn't get up to much. It's studied its first kill's anatomy, and allowed the Doctor to sort of divine what's happening, but otherwise... There's of course little chance the Beast is the same that menaced these shores 80 years ago, that's another red herring. Looking for more meat (or seafood) from this 4-parter. And maybe a good cliffhanger. The musical sting has been coming just a little too late to be effective up til now.

- With the introduction of a second guest-cast and very little from the monster itself, it feels like Horror of Fang Rock is stuck in first (episode) gear.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kirby Motivational: Sometimes I Think I'm Overwhelming You With Content

But then Silver Star says:
He reminds me that the span and breadth of the geekery contained in these pages means most readers will be interested in one thing (say, comics) and not another (say, Doctor Who), and vice-versa, reaffirming my commitment to two posts a day.

On the other hand, for more loyal readers (and this gnarly-handed writer), it's still important to alternate between longer and shorter posts. And so, articles like this one.

Doctor Who #456: Horror of Fang Rock Part 1

"You said I would like Brighton. Well, I do not."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Sep.3 1977.

IN THIS ONE... A strange fog comes up and deaths start occurring on a lighthouse.

REVIEW: The Hinchcliffe era gives way to Graham Williams', but Robert Holmes stays on, so we shouldn't expect a huge difference quite yet. In fact, Terrance Dicks' rapidly put together season opener could continue straight on from The Talons of Weng-Chiang without the short hop in time. We're within 20 years of the season finale, no more, on a Gothic, fog-bound island where ships, the TARDIS included, are running ashore. But it's not just the Doctor and Leela in different hats, Horror of Fang Rock is actually playing on a completely different genre. It's straight-up horror, with a monster picking off members of the cast one by one in a closed environment, in this case, a lighthouse. We don't see the TARDIS interior, but the lighthouse sets are actually smaller, creating a claustrophobic vertical world. Even the exterior scenes are closed off by darkness and fog (the better to hide that terrible unmoving sea and sky backdrop, thankfully). That makes the fun exchange about whether the TARDIS is big or small not only amusing, but thematically relevant.

The advantage of having Dicks write it is immediately apparent in the number of references to past stories (Leela's three, definitely), creating a cohesive whole. Even if he's never written for this particular duo, as the writer of so many Target novelizations, he's as good a continuity expert as the era ever had (imagine him advising JNT during the 80s instead of Ian Levine. So we get Leela's specific vocabulary (teshnicians), but also justification for the things she's able to take for granted (ships she might have seen on the Themes in the previous story). As in Talons, Leela starts to disrobe in front of a guy. The Sevateem definitely weren't a prudish bunch. There's no real reference to The Robots of Death, except the fact that the situation will soon look very familiar to Leela. And in thinking of references to past stories, I just noticed that the Doctor's bad luck trying to get to a proper beach has been going on since the Pertwee era. Maybe the TARDIS isn't attracted to trouble, maybe it just doesn't like to get sand tracked all over its floors.

There's the odd but well-worn theme of old vs. new, as weathered, superstitious seadog Reuben sings the praises of oil to electrical engineer and Terry Jones impersonator Ben, but aside from an incidental play on the producers' transition, it doesn't really have much to do with anything. Reuben's old-fashioned ways function like all those UNIT-era bureaucrats did, as a rather frustrating way to block the Doctor's actions. The actual thematic motif is electricity itself, since the monster (more about which in later reviews, for now, all you need to know is that it's green, the color of alienness in Who) kills with electricity, and likely feeds on it if the lighthouse's unfortunate power outages are any indication.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Nice atmospherics, good use of the regulars, and a set-up that promises an intense, contained story.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Doctor Who RPG: Season 14

On the occasion of completing reviews on the 1976-77 season of Doctor Who, I should like to re-imagine it as a role-playing game campaign using Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. (Go back one, to Season 13.)

The GM
It's Bob's third season and for the first time, he'll have to deal with replacing a player. Not an easy process. First he tries to entice the departing play to stick around. Then his Time Lord player tries to convince him to run all solo stories. Finally he finds someone to take the companion role, but she goes back and forth between concepts, disrupting the intended order of his adventure scenarios. Not to mention some tension at the table between his two players (time to bring in some guest players who can distract and smooth things over then!). But they say one does one's best work in the most difficult conditions, and Bob probably does the best GMing work of his life while trying to please everyone and keep the game going, pilfering ideas not only from his usual Gothic sources, but from classic science fiction as well.

The Characters
-During the hiatus, Lis announced that she was leaving the game for family reasons, so Bob immediately tried to get her to stay. He lured her back with the promise of a Renaissance-flavored scenario, a period she's mentioned before as a favorite, and then convinced her to stay for an ultimate adventure that would effectively write Sarah Jane out. The fact she agreed at all showed how committed she was to the game, and that she was leaving it only reluctantly.
-Tom loved playing with Lis and wasn't sure anyone could take her place. He offered to play solo for a while, or perhaps with some guest players until someone suitable could be found. While the GM was sure Tom's Doctor was up to it, he was keen on creating a new dynamic and get another player in permanently.
-The player Bob found was Louise, somewhat new to this role-playing thing, but full of unusual ideas for characters. In fact, that caused some problems. At first, she wanted to be an Eliza Doolittle-type, a Victorian street urchin who could be mentored by the Doctor. Bob started working on a plot to introduce her. Then, she switched gears and created Leela, a savage girl who could ALSO be mentored, but would also play more of the action. Bob went back to the drawing board and asked her if her tribe could actually be in the far future, survivors of a lost ship who went native, and she agreed. They were in business.

The Masque of Mandragora. Bob was never big on historical settings, but to make Lis come back, he chose to exploit a favorite setting of hers, Renaissance Italy, anyway. An alien presence trying to prevent humanity's Enlightenment, an ancient Roman cult, a possible love interest for Sarah (this might have created an opportunity for her leaving organically, but Lis didn't bite), and a chance for the GM to exercise his cod Shakespearean. Final score: Story points refilled and a salami.

The Hand of Fear. So this was going to be Lis' last adventure scenario. The GM was going to pull no punches with her character and in fact, Sarah Jane wound up taking two levels of Unadventurous in as few sessions. First she got buried in a rock slide, then she might have taken a lethal dose of radiation. Each time, she was saved by a creepy alien hand and the emergency use of Story Points. To give Lis an experience to remember, the spirit of Eldrad filled Sarah Jane, allowing her player to villain it up a bit (nice creepy performance, the boys at the table both thought), and once the danger was past, she and Tom played a heartfelt goodbye scene that made everyone tear up. Just as Sarah Jane had, Lis told the group not to forget her, indicating she was game to return some day. And she would.

Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 7, Presence 5, Resolve 7, Strength 6
Skills: Athletics 1, Convince 3, Craft 2, Fighting 1, Knowledge 5, Medicine 2 (only applies to silicon-based beings), Science 5, Subterfuge 2, Survival 3, Technology 5
Traits: Alien; Alien Appearance, Alien Organs (Minor), Armour (15), Environmental, Immunity to poison and radiation, Psychic, Telepathy; Fast Healing (by soaking up radiation), Voice of Authority; Dark Secret (traitor to own people), Last of My Kind (does not know it), Outcast, . Story Points: 6
Home Tech Level: 7 (Equipment: Eldrad's Ring [Fast Healing (even from death), Hypnosis, Possess, Weapon (Stun or 4/L/L)]; will only work for Eldrad)

The Deadly Assassin. While Bob was scrambling to find a new player and get that player to settle on a character concept, the game went on unabated. Bob had always been interested in filling out Gallifrey's culture, and had hoped to entice Lis to stay for that, but it would work just as well as a solo adventure. Neither he nor Tom had any connection to the game's only casualty, Roger, so he decided the time was right to bring back the Master, although in much different form. He laid out Gallifrey's politics, described the planet's founding myths, and introduced the Matrix, a sort of virtual environment where the Doctor could fight the module's unknown presidential assassin (a take on the roll-heavy mental dual he'd played out in The Brain of Morbius). It was the Gallifreyan Candidate, more or less, and Tom surprised him with some great legal thinking. Yeah, maybe he could do this alone, but it wasn't a very good example to set for their role-playing club.

The Face of Evil. The GM had an idea that an old (and untold) adventure could come back to haunt the Doctor and he ran it by Tom who was more than willing to give it a go. The trick was making the setting as different as possible from the original (unseen) adventure's, so that the Doctor would only be given the necessary contextualizing memories late in the game. This is also Louise/Leela's first game and she does a good job, though perhaps teasingly, Tom's Doctor tries to leave her behind. Tom IS worried about the violence becoming too common a way to solve problems, given Leela's skill set and attitude, but the GM encourages him to put that into the Doctor's character, admonishing Leela for her disregard for life, and so on.

Attributes: Awareness 4, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 4, Presence 2, Resolve 3, Strength 2
Skills: Convince 1, Knowledge 3, Marksman 3, Medicine 2, Science 3, Subterfuge 1, Technology 3
Traits: Technically Adept; Code of Conduct (Xoanon religion), Eccentric/Repressed, Obligation (to Xoanon); Natural Weapon/Psionic blast [3/5/7] to mental attributes, Networked, Psychic. Story Points: 3-6
Home Tech Level: 7 (Equipment: Energy rifle [3/5/7])

The Robots of Death. The idea is to do an Agatha Christie murder mystery in a society of Herbert's Dune, in which Asimovian robotics play a big role. To evoke the setting, the GM assembles a collection of art deco-inspired statues, architecture and fashions to show the players. By the end, very few NPCs have survived, and none unscathed. The PCs do far better, though the GM and Louise both agree not to allow Leela's Keen 6th Sense to get so close to precognition again, even when Story Points are used to add extra dice. It's one thing to stretch a Trait's meaning (in this case, Keen Senses), and quite another to treat it as a completely different Trait (even if Leela's native setting did call for Psychic characters).

Attributes: Awareness 1, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 2, Presence 2, Resolve 4, Strength 7
Skills: Fighting 2, Knowledge 2, Medicine 2, Science 2, Technology 3, Transport 2
Traits: Robot; Armour (5), Enslaved (Major), Fear Factor 1 (only to Natives of robot-dependent societies), Networked, Slow (Minor); Code of Conduct (Asimov's Laws or Taren Capel's imperatives). Story Points: 2-4
Home Tech Level: 6 (Equipment: Wrist communicator [Transmit])

The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Salvaging the work he did to introduce Louise's original, Victorian urchin character concept, Bob went to the literature of Victorian and Edwardian England to create a genre piece that mixed Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, Oscar Wilde, Ripperology and the Phantom of the Opera into a single, almost Steampunk scenario. Louise got to play shades of the character she originally wanted to play, and Tom brought his puzzle-solving ability to the game as the Holmes stand-in. But a lot of fun came from two guest players, friends of Bob's and big fans of the genre being emulated, playing allies in the cause who eventually join forces. The verbose Christopher played a cowardly lion of a theater owner called Henry Gordon Jago, and Trevor took the role of the gentlemanly and Watsonesque pathologist Professor Litefoot. Both characters integrated some of the GM's necessary plot details (Jago had to work at the theater, Litefoot was raised in China), but the characters - memorable ones - were all their own. Some day, these two players might pull their character sheets out again and play in some kind of Rippers or Cthulhu by Gaslight campaign...

Attributes: Awareness 2, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 1, Presence 3, Resolve 4, Strength 4
Skills: Athletics 2, Craft 1 (AoE: Ventriloquist act), Fighting 2 (AoE: Knives), Marksman 2, Subterfuge 4
Traits: Robot; Indomitable, Tough; Obsession (kill all humans), Unattractive; Fear Factor 1, Size/Tiny (Minor). Story Points: 6
Home Tech Level: 8 (Equipment: Knife [+2 Strength])

So ends Season 14! Tom and Louise are game to return for a 15th, and Bob is too, though he's starting to think he'll soon have run all the DWAITAS adventures he has in him. Maybe now's the time to slowly and silently look for a replacement GM...

Doctor Who #455: The Talons of Weng-Chiang Part 6

"Never trust a man with dirty fingernails."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.2 1977.

IN THIS ONE... Mr. Sin uses the House of the Dragon as a shooting gallery, and this being the finale, the bad guys are defeated.

REVIEW: Wow, I'm really missing Li H'sen Chang. Weng-Chiang (or as we find out his real name, Magnus Greel) is an infinitely inferior creation. Michael Spice is SO over-the-top in his growling, shouting, air-sawing performance that he just becomes irritating. The script isn't helping either. He's always about to kill someone, but stops himself or his underlings at the last second. Anything interesting about the character is actually said by the Doctor, describing his reputation as the Butcher of Brisbane and the notorious Minister of Justice. Impetuous gestures like knocking over chess pieces doesn't do anything to match that reputation. (And hey, did we just forget about Chang's "foot" clue? He really has disappeared from the script.)

Playing on Greel's desperation, the Doctor does get some excellent moments in, grounding the situation, as he must, now that his foil is a shouting madman. He's casual, he's mocking, he plays keep-away with Greel's time key, he frees the kidnapped girls, throws Greel into a distillation chamber, and pulls out Mr. Sin's fuse. He's an action hero, a comedian and the one who explains the gravity of the situation, all at once. His three friends do their best to do the same, but with variable results. Leela spends her time at two extremes, either a damsel in distress with a knife at her throat, or stabbing a knife in some poor Tong member before trying to do the same to Greel. Her efforts with the gun are even worse, appointing herself the shooter with no firearms training. By far, her best scene in this episode is the final conversation with Litefoot trying to teach her about tea, which is positively Wildean in its wit. Speaking of Litefoor, I love his brand of leadership, self-effacing, reassuring and full of common sense. His relationship to Jago, here admitting his cowardice, is rather sweet.

Unfortunately, the serial is finally running out of plot and these characters are left to deal with an awkwardly choreographed final battle, in which Mr. Sin uses the lasers in the eyes of the dragon statue to shoot friendlies and foes alike. The problem is that the effects required to achieve this sequence aren't really available. We're left wondering where the lasers are hitting, a lot of the time. An effect comes out of the eyes, but isn't present in scenes where people fall over, and there's a lot of distraction acting where the character SHOULD be shot, but isn't. It's a mess. No clue how Leela's gun actually disables the pig-brained dummy's dragon cannon, but it gives Mr. Sin a chance to jump her and the Doctor so we can point and laugh at Tom Baker shaking a rag doll off his back. Whatever.

THEORIES: Wait wait wait... If Magnus Greel is the first man (human) to travel through time, how can he fear Time Agents, an organization that could only possibly come after him? And are these the same Time Agents Captain Jack was a member of? One way to explain it is that while the zygma experiments that sent Greel back were a failure, some other means of time travel, possibly developed in parallel by an opposing power, actually panned out. Greel, posing as Weng-Chiang, was in the 19th century for decades according to Li H'sen Chang's story, so it's entirely probable he would have had run-ins with the Agency. There's a whole untold story there. One thing is fairly certain though - Greel and Jack are from the same general time period. No direct links are made, but in both their stories, there's an interesting re-distribution of political power. China, the Philippines, Iceland, Brisbane... In The Doctor Dances, he mentions the weapons factory at Villengard, which could sound Icelandic. Captain Jack comes from the fictional Boeshane Peninsula, which looks tropical, as people migrate to the equator during the 51st century Ice Age. The dates get a little fuzzy, but Talons is the basis for at least the feeling of Jack's back story.

VERSIONS: There are no major differences in the Target novelization nor the script book which I also own.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium, almost Medium-High
- Some lovely and funny character moments for the Doctor, Jago and Litefoot (and eventually, for Leela too), but the action is a real mess and Magnus Greel chews up the scenery and my frayed nerve endings.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - One of the greatest Doctor Who stories ever, even if the actual details of the finale let it down a bit. It's got tons of atmosphere, a deft use of genre tropes, a lot of brilliant dialog, and memorable characters. Awesome stuff to close out what is one of Who's very best seasons.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kings of the Seven Seas

Aquaman, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Man from Atlantis, the Little Mermaid, Neptune Perkins, the Sea Devils, Manta, Marrina, the Fin, Dolphin, Undersea Agent, Sealab 2020, Captain Nemo... The undersea hero is one of comics' enduring, yet most difficult, archetypes. Why do writers and artists return to this idea again and again, what makes it different from all other heroic archetypes, and why do they have so much trouble keeping their books afloat?

In a very real sense, what makes the aquatic hero different is also what threatens to alienate him from his audience: He has a whole, alien world to protect. On the one hand, the undersea kingdom, whether played as scientific fact or fantasy landscape, is a visually rich environment that's any great artist's dream - unusual and ample flora and fauna, the way the currents interact with hair and cloth, even the "surface world" of swaying waves, dangerous icebergs and tropical islands. On the other hand, readers are far more used to their superheroes fighting the good fight in urban areas, and can relate to the Big City even if they live in the country. Buildings, cars, fire hydrants, the threat of a mugging, these are familiar things the reader can latch onto, useful aids in the suspension of disbelief. I can believe a man can fly because I can believe these other elements of the world. The world of Atlantis, however, has none of those recognizable touchstones. We can't even take something like the difference between night and day for granted in the undersea world, not at the depths often shown. And surely they have a different culture down there. So while we can oooh and ahhh at the wonderful world created by the artist (and you can see how quickly even that feeling can leave us under a lesser pencil), we can often feel removed from it, disconnected and disaffected. This isn't that different from the hero who patrols outer space (like Green Lantern) or an alien world (like Adam Strange) or a mystical dimension (like Dr. Strange), but when those characters have left Earth behind for good, they tend to flounder as well.

And yet, though we may leave for safer shores, we will return to the mysteries to the sea again. And when a brilliant writer is teamed with a brilliant artist, both willing to embrace the aquatic hero for what makes him unique, Siren-like, it lures us back. World-building takes considerable talent, and that's often what's required. The temptation to dedicate the hero entirely to environmental and conservation concerns is a potential trap that can make the book preachy and readers may resent the hero. Obviously, pollution and over-fishing are concerns in today's oceans, and the hero should be confronted with them, but it shouldn't be his or her single focus, no more than an urban hero would obsess over a single type of crime. Because landbound heroes aren't doing a whole lof of environmental activism even though there's a lot of pollution on the surface world, treating the aquatic hero differently only creates another layer of distance between the reader and his or her expectations. And since the surface world is your main polluter of undersea environments, it will be make the hero clash with the reader's own world. The Silver Age Aquaman stories, perhaps the golden age of aquatic heroes, had him policing the seas FOR the surface world, a friend in a harsh, extreme environment. There's a lesson in that, surely.

What attracts YOU to aquatic heroes?

Doctor Who #454: The Talons of Weng-Chiang Part 5

"I'm a tiger when my dander's up."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.26 1977.

IN THIS ONE... Li H'sen Chang in an opium den. Weng-Chiang gets the time cabinet. Jago meets Litefoot.

REVIEW: Double act #1 - The Doctor and Leela. We're in the middle of an adventure and it's gotten very serious, but the script still finds time for the teacher/pupil relationship to show through. Leela learns the value of a glass vs. a bottle, but seems much more interested in how the Doctor opens a locked door, smiling at his cleverness. And she's starting to think for herself, written not as an asker of questions, but as someone who comes up with the answers herself and merely asks whether that answer is correct. She can now intuit, for example, when the Doctor is asking a rhetorical question ("You ask so that you can tell me"), and sweetly apologizes for thinking the Doctor might be motivated by fear in the one instance where she gets it wrong. And despite these advances, her knife-sharpening, golf club-spearing savage side remains.

Double act #2 - Jago and Litefoot. Finally the meet, and they were made for each other. It's lovely how Jago thinks he's the butler at first, seeing a dustpan in his hand, and it's indicative of the kind of people each of them are. Jago, the dandy who talks a good game and jumps to the wrong conclusions (although full credit for tracking down Litefoot's connection to the Doctor), and Litefoot, the gentleman who's more than ready to take action though he'd have been smarter to stay warm at home. From here on in, the latter will drag the former out of his native cowardice and into the talons of danger. Together, they're just resourceful enough to find Weng-Chiang's new lair - a brighter set than the serial's gotten us used to, but dramatic and memorable nonetheless - but not to escape the villain's clutches, and Litefoot's soft heart won't allow him to stand up to Jago's torture for long. Their escape via dumb waiter is amusing (especially Jago's confusion about why Litefoot would think of food at a time like this), but followed by immediate re-capture. Looks like Talons could have worked better as a 5-parter, but so long as I'm entertained, I can't hold the sequence against it.

Double act #3 - Weng-Chiang and Li H'sen Chang Mr. Sin. The Peking homunculus is creepier for his origin story as a misanthropic robot doll with a pig's brain, as Weng-Chiang's century keeps expanding through exposition, but as a villainous sidekick, he's a bit one-note. Weng-Chiang cackles, his animated doll cackles too. As a horror element, Mr. Sin is fine, but truthfully, I was glad for the dejected Li H'sen Chang to survive for one more chapter. If you thought his fate as rat food was extreme, it gets worse. A leg eaten off ("a singular sight", he says, his wit far from amputated), he's found his way to an opium den where the kiddies can watch him toke a big pipe and deliriously talk about his ancestors coming to get him. It all seems too adult for the era, but it's that adultness that has allowed this story to remain so current even as television evolved. He leaves the Doctor with a peculiar puzzle, point at his shoes as if that should lead him to his former master's hideout. No idea what it means, but it's a necessary trope in this kind of story.

REWATCHABILITY: High - The series' most memorable comic double act finally comes together (it's a testament to them they were actually a pair on screen for less than 2 episodes), Li H'sen Chang gets a potent send-off, and even so, the Doctor and Leela get lots of fun moments as well.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

This Week in Geek (11-17/02/13)


None, but my participation in HeroPress' make-a-monster contest recently did score my a copy of With Great Power... the Stan Lee Story, a DVD which arrived in the mail straight from the UK this Friday! Thanks Tim!


DVDs: It took a couple of episodes for Misfits to convince me, I have to admit. Though all the episodes have a sort of rock'n'roll aesthetic, the first ep has some rather extreme shaky-cam, frame rate thing going that kind of made me nauseous. The Brit-TV series features a gang of troubled kids doing community service together when a strange storm gives them (and many others in the area) super-powers. It's Heroes, sure, but with a delinquent, irreverent edge, and at 6 episodes, none of the slow pacing problems of its older American cousin. They give Buffy as a reference on the DVD cover, but really, it gave off more of a Being Human vibe. At turns making me laugh out loud, or feel severe apprehension, Misfits manages to remain true to its flawed characters while also endearing them to us. In this first season, the kids bond over a shared tragedy, which keeps coming back to haunt them. I can't wait to get my teeth into Season 2, already on my shelf. My favorite episode so far: The one in which Curtis rewinds time back to the night he ruined his life and that of his girlfriend through a coke deal gone wrong. I'm a sucker for time travel stories, and this is a good one. The DVD includes brief interviews with the cast and crew, stylishly edited; some funny films made by Simon the invisible man, including one where Nathan tries to trigger his unknown power; and some longer making of featurettes on specific stunts and sequences, and on assembling this near-unknown cast of young actors.

Archer Season 3 has perfected the formula of this animated spy satire - adding more "oh no you didn't!" moments to various relationships, and paying tribute to yet more spy films, as is usual - but they've improved the show in a couple of important ways. One is the car action, which is as exciting as anything you'd see in a Bond film or one of those Fast and Furious things (I'm guessing on this last one, never seen a F&F movie). It's so well done, I'm wondering how they do it. The other is the number of quality guest voices the production managed to wrangle this time around. Burt Reynolds is especially awesome as himself, but there's also Joaquim de Almeida, George Takei and Jack McBrayer. The DVD extras feature commentaries on three episodes, though the cast and crew will jabber and anything and everything, not really paying attention to what's on screen. You have the option of watching the three-part opener as a single, uninterrupted story. And the usual original sketches (a Gator 2 trailer!) are amusing. Unfortunately, what looks like footage from a ComicCon panel isn't a repeat of the fun banter seen on Season 2, but rather the weakest animated sketch of the bunch, used to introduce the panelists. Ah well.

Hunkering for some Shakespeare, I decided to watch the BBC's dramatic presentation of Antony and Cleopatra (1980). I originally came by this play via John Dryden's All for Love Or The World Well Lost, a Neoclassics-era remake of the Bard's last act. I'm afraid it's infected my thinking about A&C, because it had such a strong theme of emasculating Mark Antony by making all the other characters more decisive that he was. His failed suicide, Cleopatra's successful one, expanded roles for Octavia and the eunuch... it all resolved into a fertile pseudo-feminist concept for the play, and I kept looking for that in the original. Even when I try to put that out of my mind, I do still think Jane Lapotaire's Cleopatra could have been a little stronger. Her Cleopatra is a great manipulator, but she's also an emotional trainwreck, and strident at her MOST emotional. Colin Blakely was more to my taste as Antony, a man weakened by his natural bias toward the woman he loves. Ceasar is, in comparison, a more controlled man, logical and impassive, the great contrast between reason and passion, between Rome and Egypt. My favorite character remains Antony's right hand man, Enobarbus, but when you're played by Emrys James, it's hard not to have that effect on the audience. Overall, strong performances and wonderful words, quickly making me forget my initial raised eyebrow at the decidedly un-Egyptian sets and costumes. It makes sense historically, but is still not what you expect to see. No extras on these except for the scripts in pdf.

You already know what I thought of The Robots of Death - great script and design sometimes hampered by directorial mishaps - but what about the Special Edition DVD? Robots was one of the first releases and it shows. The picture is murky, there are no production notes or even proper subtitles, and the extras are slim. The Special Edition puts the story's picture quality and extras more in line with the rest of the range. There are two commentary tracks, the 2003 original between producer Philip Hinchcliffe and writer Chris Boucher, and a new one with Tom Baker (the Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), Pamela Salem (Toos), and director Michael Briant. Both have their virtues and tell different sides of the story. The DVD also includes a making of, well produced, and not too redundant for those who listened to the commentaries; a humorous docu-sketch about robots in history and in Doctor Who, by Toby Hadoke, good stuff; an example of the original studio sound with the muffled voices of the robots; a somewhat interactive map of the studio sets (would work better as a pdf); black and white model tests; a continuity announcement; and the usual production notes, Radio Times listing, and photo gallery we've come to expect. Middling as far as BBC World's DVD packages go, but a huge improvement on the original release.

Audios: In the first of three Big Finish Companion Chronicles radio plays I listened to, Home Truths, Simon Guerrier finds a way to bring back Sara Kingdom from the dead so she can tell stories in this format too. There was certainly a motivation to do so. Jean Marsh is an incredible actress who lends the story an amazing amount of naturalism, more I think than anyone has yet managed to. There are two mysteries jockeying for attention in Home Truths, a haunted(?) house visited by Sara, Steven and the Doctor sometime during The Daleks' Master Plan, and the how and why Sara is seemingly alive to tell the story to a visiting constable. But as intriguing as both of these are, they take second place to Sara's introspection throughout the play. Here is a character who, though she traveled with the Doctor for a short time, shot and killed her own brother. In a sense, she still needs to redeem herself in the eyes of the Doctor Who audience, and by entering this world through her eyes, I think that's exactly what happens. One of my favorites in the range for sure, and I can't wait to listen to the next Guerrier/Marsh collaboration.

Stewart Sheargold's The Darkening Eye is a huge letdown in comparison (to the whole range, actually). First, it has the distinction of being the first Companion Chronicle to star a companion that's already starring in the main range of audios. We know Nyssa (and Sarah Sutton) very well, and we've heard her pair up with the fifth Doctor quite often. The Chronicles are a great place to hear new voices and to hear untold tales of Doctors who AREN'T regularly featured on audio. If the story had been good, I might not have griped, but it really isn't. Sure, the Dar Traders and their flesh trade are fairly memorable creatures with unique motivations, but the script just isn't on par with the rest of the series. It's full of "I said, adverbially" tags at the end of every piece of dialog, he typed, neologistically, perhaps because Sutton's voice doesn't create a distinction between the various voices - the Doctor's, Adric's, Tegan's (a very small hint of Aussie accent), her own. Not leaving it all at her feet though, since it's really the stilted way the story's been written for her to read out. The final punchline is good, but can't redeem the dull dull script.

In The Transit of Venus, Jacqueline Rayner puts Ian (and thus, William Russell) and the first Doctor on the Captain Cook's Endeavor in the month leading up to the discovery of Australia. Where are Susan and Barbara? Well, in a shocking twist, the they and the TARDIS are thrown overboard! What follows is a nightmarish journey with some truly creepy elements and some real confidences by Ian, telling this story at some point in the future (no framing tale justifies it, which is refreshing in its way). Rayner manages to get the first Doctor's era down pat, with long voyages (à la Marco Polo) and companions disappearing while actors go on holiday, but also give it a creepy, horrific edge and some real tension. I mean, how do the girls get out of this one? The answer isn't completely convincing, but I think it works, and for its handling of the Ian/Barbara relationship, it gets top scores.

Graphic novels: Somehow, I read the third and last of Darwyn Cooke's Parker adaptations, The Score, first. Didn't really matter, so far as I can tell. It's a brilliantly-done heist story, done in one, with a large cast, but each character very easy to differentiate thanks to the mastery of Cooke's staging and pacing (and obviously, of Richard Stark's original novels). Taking place in 1964, Cooke gives the small hardcover an appropriate vintage look with a single, pale orange color added to the black inkwork, like those 60s readers every home seems to have, and to match the desert exteriors (the other books are in blue-gray tint). The story, about stealing an entire mining town blind is superbly constructed and pretty original, and in perfect heist fashion, makes the plan crystal clear so that you can see how it goes off the rails eventually. I guess now I'll be going back in time.

Video games: At 100% and with most activities and diversions done, I'm officially quitting Saints Row 2 for less difficult pastures. I've got a couple of stunt jumps I must've missed somewhere (out of 80, so it's a pain to do them all again), flying planes is just too wonky to do their 2 races and the barnstorming list, and the tow-truck diversion is just as impossible. So I am done. If you've been following my story through Siltwater, I first started with SR3, where my cool Asian chick took the city over, before going back to SR1 and finding out I couldn't prequel her story. You could only play guys. Well, I shouldn't have worried because SR2 starts with you getting severe plastic surgery, and in my case, a sex change. So it WAS her all along! SR1 was kind of rough going at times, with poorer graphics and a somewhat serious storyline, but SR2 gets us closer to the crazy, anything-goes version of Grand Theft Auto I loved so well in Saint's Row The Third. The opposing gangs include voodoo-using Jamaicans, sword-yielding Yakuza and tattooed truckers, and plenty of insane violence. It's the true precursor to its ultimate evolution. Some of the side-activities are frustrating, but there are new things to do like shoot sewage to bring down property values and play bodyguard to polarizing porn stars. The game plays well, and some fun secrets all around the map, and some good music on the radio (which your character sometimes sings to). I might replay parts of SR3 to see the connecting joins, but mostly, I think I'm off to another city now... Hong Kong? I'll tell you about Sleeping Dogs in 3 to 6 months (am I the most dedicated, least versatile gamer in history, or what?).

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - Kline '90

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Genesis to The Great Ten.