Monday, January 31, 2011

Just Sayin'--On The Occasion Of A Man Being Denied A Bank Loan.

Man, when even Marvel can't pretend this death is in any way shape or form permanent, we're just not even fucking trying, really, are we?

PS: Jonathan Hickman is "this generation's Alan Moore?" Gah, I shudder to think about the loli porn-fic and the fishman-rape stories to come, really.

PPS: I also enjoyed the circumlocutions people went through to say "Yeah, even though this is a polybagged death issue, this is better than when they abused this bullshit in the 1990s blah blah blah Liefeld Wizard."

This folks, is why my pull list is down to one. And that book is late.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #5

Well, I decided to jump the gun and draw a line under the first season so we could have a clean slate for next month. For those of you who came in late--in what must be a test of will, endurance, or my own pig-headed obstinacy, I'm recapping every episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. We're on the final four episodes of the first season and the show's starting to flesh out and get a little more adventurous and ambitious. Let it roll!


"It looks ordinary. And I've never cared to be ordinary"

Fuck me, this episode is a bit of a mess isn't it? Three plots, all of them rather daft, another character from Next Generation with no connection to the regular cast , painful comedy and stupid technobabble. And yet, in one respect, it just about works due to one scene.

But first, let's has out the particulars. In the A plot, the computer turns into a puppy, puts station in jeopardy, O'Brien looks pissed off, lots of dog jokes are made. It's pretty standard stuff, and by "standard" I mean "grating and dull, existing only to spur artificial jeopardy in our B and C plots."

In plot B, Bashir has to escort a trio of cartoonish ambassadors who have one character trait shared between the three of them ("assholish") because Sisko felt like busting his balls. Bashir ultimately manages to make himself look better in their eyes after the previous 42 minutes of them just grinding him in the dirt. As we've given no real reason to care about Bashir, it hardly matters that he does well or not.

And in plot C, Troi's mom from Next Generation comes to the station and acts like her usual sex-clownish self. In that the character works on Next Generation at all, it's because Troi is such a blank, her mom being comical works due to the contrast between the characters. As we have no connection here, they have to tag her with a main character on the show.

So she gets all horny for Odo, who rebukes her as politely as possible, because really now. Then they get stuck in an elevator and we have tons of scenes where they bicker and Odo frets because he needs to go sleep in his bucket and then . . .and then . . .

. . .and then the god damned episode actually works in the last act. We get a good bit where Odo has to let down his guard and lets Mrs. Troi look after him because he sees that he's not the only one who has to change himself to get on. It's a great scene and it works terrifically despite all it has going against it, and god damn you wish it was in a better episode.



Look, let's get this clear--as goofy and silly as this episode is, it's fucking awesome. Essentially, everyone gets roped into playing out an ancient power struggle because someone forgot Rule 1 of Space Travel: Don't ever touch a telepathic archive without washing your hands immediately afterwards, you'll end up possessed by it and acting in broad, hammy ways. This whole episode is a glorious parade of scenery-chewing fun.

Oh, and there's a macguffin called "Weapons-Grade Dolemite." Rudy Ray Moore is dangerous, son.

The virus spreads to the main cast, forcing everyone to act as following: Dax becomes indifferent and absentminded, Bashir turns into a shit-stirrer, O'Brien becomes Sisko's Dragon, Sisko turns into Prince Ludwig and spends the episode acting crazy, shouting a lot and building a frankly impressive clock. Kira turns into Starscream with boobies, or as we'll know her this time next season, the Intendant.

The only people who haven't gone bugfuck crazy are Quark (who gets the shit beaten out of him by Kira) and Odo, who has to figure out how to undo everything without the two factions killing everyone or blowing up the station.

Again--obviously, nothing bad is going to happen to Our Heroes, but we have a hell of a lot of fun in the meantime--everyone's acting well out of their rigid character and apparently the sets were quite tasty, because little was left un-chewed. Sisko's bug-eyed craziness carries the episode along very well.

This episode is a bit like the piece of candy you have an extra treat--it's not at all nutritious, but it's a wonderful guilty pleasure all the same. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to make a clock because you bastards are all against me, anyway.


"I owe it to them."
"You mean the victims"
"That's right . . .The ones who moved too slowly and never moved again. I'm asking for all the Bajorans who can't ask: Let a Bajoran do this."

This is easily the best episode of the first season, and one of the finest in the whole series, and I'm going to tread lightly here because I don't want to spoil any of it.

Here's the plot in a nutshell: A freighter brings a Cardassian to DS9, one who is suffering from a very specific kind of disease that he could only have contracted by working at one of the worst of the labour camps during the Occupation. Kira claps eyes on him and immediately puts him under arrest. But who does she really have under arrest?

At first, it appears to be a file clerk. Not exactly a catch on the level of Eichmann, obviously. But later, we learn that he's not a file clerk--he was the commandant of the whole damn camp, and thus, responsible for an ungodly amount of atrocities. And the prisoner seems positively pleased about it.

The truth--the ultimate truth--is far more surprising and more affecting than you might imagine. Questions of justice versus revenge, guilt an innocence, bravery and cowardice--this episode touches on all of them. We also get a very stark picture of what the Occupation was like, and it goes far beyond the plundering and pillaging of the planet. No punches are pulled.

This episode is essentially just Kira and the Cardassian together in the room, and while that doesn't seem like a recipe for tense drama, it works like gangbusters. After all, you have a genocidally oppressive representative of a foreign power squaring off with one of the terrorists that threw them off the planet in the first place. For a show that has no space battles, no exterior shots, and no pyrotechnics, it's amazing that it works as well as it does.

It also completes the evolution of Kira into a character who's more than just a bitch on wheels. This is someone who has been a terrorist and on some level has a hard hate for Cardassians she will never get over. She fought them ever since she was 12, and while she's not out and out bigoted, her default thought is made very clear: "He is guilty, they're all guilty." That's a rather heavy thing for one of Our Heroes to say, hm?

In short, I really like this episode, and I'm damn sure not gonna risk spoiling it by writing more about it. Go watch it right now. I'll wait.


"My point is, it's a matter of interpretation. It may not be what you believe but that doesn't make it wrong. If you start to think that way, you'll be acting just like Vedek Winn, only from the other side."

While "Duet" is a stronger episode, there's plenty of good things to say about this episode. For one thing, we're working exactly where DS9 is strongest--when people don't share the same values as Our Heroes but aren't necessarily wrong for believing different, we get a critique of religious extremism that's willing to ask some serious questions and not chickenshit out on the consequences and most importantly, and we get a new recurring baddie, and frankly, she's the most successful of DS9's recurring villains, even if she does have a ridiculous hat.

Yes, Vedek Winn joins the party, played by Nurse Ratched herself. Winn is a curious bad guy, because she just escapes every conflict with our heroes by the skin of her teeth and because she's smart enough to know to keep her involvement in things distant enough to where no one can prove her culpability in the crisis du jour. While this makes her an effective adversary, and one that poses a unique threat to Our Heroes (one of a political threat that one cannot attack directly) that evolves rapidly over the course of the series (well, it takes a little back-step near the end, but time enough for that later) and generally makes for some very strong moments.

Anyways, Winn shows up on the station and starts some shit in Mrs. O'Brien's school--she's teaching the science behind the wormhole, but the science runs counter to the Bajorans belief that its the will of the Prophets, not the Whatever Particles that make up the wormhole.

This collision between Bajoran spirituality and the Star Trek casual atheism that we jut took for granted (because it's never been challenged like this) leads to some pretty ugly schisms: The Bajoran parents pull their kids out of the school, the Bajoran merchants stop serving Federation workers, and the rhetoric gets more heated, more ugly, and more dangerous. By the third act of the show, it looks like the whole experiment is poised to fail.

In amongst this, there's a great moment where Sisko and his son are fretting over the whole mess and Jake rails against the Bajorans. Sisko corrects him--the Bajorans' faith was the only thing that sustained them during a brutal Occupation and whether we agree or not, it has to be respected, and militating for the other side of the argument doesn't help either.

Even our new recurring cast member Vedek Bariel (yes, another recurring cast member joins your party) while he seems like a nice guy, isn't willing to jeopardise his ascension to Space Pope (a position that Winn also covets) the Second to help Sisko out at first. Of course, he finally does try to help and . . .well, let's just say a few things become clear very fast as to what this is really about.

This is a really strong episode. For one thing, it establishes Bajor as an actual power with its own problems and points of view and a potential (and actual) driver of conflict for the rest of the series. What's more, we have a balance of good guys (Bariel) and bad guys (Winn) to illustrate that Bajor is ally and enemy. We get to see how far Our Heroes have come and how they're slowly gelling into a cohesive unit. We're not "there" yet (wherever "there" is defined to be) but we're on the right path.

And that's season 1. Join us next time when we start on Season 2 with the very strong and very compelling Circle Trilogy--"The Homecoming," "The Circle," and "The Siege." Oh, and to make up the numbers, the Riddler shows up with a fever and the only cure is Dax's slug in "Invasive Procedures." Season 2, I should say, is a good deal stronger and more sure-footed and we will rapidly see DS9 develop into the unique show I promised it would be but we've not seen much evidence of yet. Join us next time for political intrigue, armed insurrection, and . . .pleasurrrre.

Not To Praise, Nor To Bury . . .

So everyone was quite gobsmacked that Wizard and Toyfare folded last week, even those who claim that they weren't surprised (there's always at least one of them) and as the rest of it comes out--the frankly awful way in which it was done, the cost to all those poor souls who now have to find jobs in a shit economy working in print, which is a bit like being a good stable boy just as the automobile is coming in, the usual chorus of people have come up, parroting the standard line which comes up every time the words "Rob Liefeld" "Wizard" or "foil cover" come up (seriously, it's like Tourette's or a post-hypnotic suggestion. Every time someone says it, the same response, nearly always verbatim)--"Those fuckers deserved what they got, because they overheated the speculator market in the 1990s and nearly drove the comics industry to extinction (thank God we've come back from that abyss, eh?) and they sucked. Fuck them, fuck them, and fuck them again."

They also bring up the hoary old image of Frank Miller shredding a copy at the Harvey awards or whenever it was, because nothing buttresses one's point like that exemplar of rational thought self-restraint Mr. The Goddam Miller, eh?

Anyways, I'm not going to go into a defence of why Wizard and Toyfare were worthwhile. The short answer is "If you were in some remote outpost that didn't have a comic store--not uncommon then, even more common now--it provided a window to what was going on in mainstream comics in a way no other comic magazine was quite doing. Whether this is good or bad depends on how close you are to the following things: 17 years old, overcaffineated, and 1993." After all, if you liked super-hero comics, there wasn't much serving you--Amazing Heroes was about dead, Comics Scene barely had stuff about comics in every issue I had, Comics Buyer's Guide was a little too inside baseball and like it or not, for the little busters who were completely jazzed by comics in that time, this was the only thing speaking at their level about what they were into.

Of course, having driven all the kids away, there's no chance of that happening again. Rest easy, everyone!

No, I was going to talk about how the death of Wizard made me miss its short-lived but fondly remembered competitor: Hero Illustrated. Yes, I know you have no idea what I'm talking about, and no your webcam isn't on--I just know when someone's staring uncomprehending at the screen.

Hero Illustrated attempted to be a Wizard competitor at perhaps the worst time possible to be one--in 1993, at the peak of the speculator market and when Wizard was probably at the peak of its influence. It was an offshoot of the original Electronic Gaming Monthly--that venerable videogame magazine that rode the NES generation (and Street Fighter II) to pre-eminence in its field. EGM was kind of at the peak of its influence, publishing two phone book sized issues a month (though everyone I knew read it out of obligation--all the real exciting shit was happening over at GameFan where people were reviewing Atari Jaguar games bombed out of their skulls on acid) and so, they decided "Hey, comics are making a lot of money. Let's get in on that and do a comics magazine."

Again, given the state of the comics magazine market, this was as smart as strapping a solid rocket booster to a bus full of children and launching it 50 feet into a brick wall--it's bound to be spectacular, but even by the loosest definitions of "success," you're going to have a hard time spinning it as a positive thing.

Anyways, Hero Illustrated was born. It was the same size as Wizard, it had a price guide (though if I remember right they would only focus on one book or character instead of the entirety of all comics) it had little bonus tchotckes to justify being sold in a bag (ashcans, that great white elephant of the speculator days--my God, the things one could say about the boondoggle that was the ashcan and it's uglier cousin the "tourbook." Yes, these were totally things) In fact, I still have my Batman/Grendel ashcan from the first Hero Illustrated. Damn if I know where the actual magazine went to . . .

What set Hero Illustrated apart from Wizard for me was just the general agreeable sense of anarchy that floated through the pages. They would cover stuff from awhile ago, do a goofy parody of an X-Men interview (that interview is, to this day, the reason I say Professor X rides around in a bumper car) they had reviews of Japanese live-action stuff which coincided with my own interest in the stuff, and generally the whole thing seemed like Wizard, but Wizard for people for whom the overcaffeinated euphoria had passed.

Sadly, it was not to last--Hero Illustrated lasted all of three years, undone both by its competitor and Ziff-Davis buying EGM and all its magazines and . . .well, let's just say when all was said and done it wasn't the same.

But for the brief period it lasted, it was a splendid little alternative, and a few of the contributors went on to do zines and stuff and would soon move on from their to greener pastures. It's been 15 years since the magazine finished, but something about the death of Wizard made me momentarily nostalgic for a brief bygone era that seems very far away indeed.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #4

Back once again, rolling this DVD all over town with the freedoms, this is yet another installment in our continuing, comprehensive review of every episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Thankfully, and just in time bolster my enthusiasm, this quartet of episodes, while still not objectively "good," are a good deal better than last weeks, because we have actors actually rising above the material (in most respects) and actually managing to be good even if the plot is ropey, hackneyed, or ropey and hackneyed. And even more encouraging, it's uphill from here.

So let's get started!


"I've discovered we can't afford to die here. Not even once."
[Because nothing is more detrimental to living than dying in any circumstance, right?]

You know, travelling by transporter seems pretty dangerous, what with the dicing you up into your component atoms and reassembling you and hoping they put you together in the right order and all that shit, but far more dangerous than that, apparently, is traveling by shuttlecraft.

Because their fail rate high as fuck. Through this course of this and many other series, shuttles crash and burn at a such a high rate one wonders how they made it past safety inspection in the first place. Anytime it's necessary to whip up some instant drama, either people get locked in a room or crash.

I bring this up because the plot of this episodes is: Our Heroes take Space Pope through the wormhole, crash the shuttle and kill her. Fortunately, they've landed on the Planet Of The Laboured "War is Pointless" Metaphor, which means like the Human Torch, we're sad for like ten minutes and we're on to the next thing.

The next thing is they have landed on a penal colony, wherein two warring factions, the Enos and the Not-Enos, who are dedicated to killing the fuck out of each other. And wouldn't you know it, in a rather unlikely twist, they're on a planet that keeps them alive so they can kill each other dozens and dozens of times and really ram home the whole futility of war thing just in case we missed it the first few dozen times they troweled it on. Oh, and if you die on the planet, like Space Pope did, you come back to life . . .only you can never leave the planet.

Space Pope takes this all in stride, asserting that the Prophets brought her there to make peace between the Enos and the Not-Enos and generally, it's all typically touchy-feely typical Star Trek bullshit and while it's nothing new, it's played rather sincerely and getting Space Pope off the board allows for some more interesting plot points later on as regards to the Bajoran religion. So while the episode feels very familiar, it's not bad as much as it's sort of "there" and leads indirectly to better stories later.


"I'm still charging her for that drink."

Or, the beginning of the Bashir/O'Brien buddy cop dynamic, and a few rather dodgy bits of plotting make this an episode one could happily sleep through and miss very little.

Bashir and O'Brien haul ass to Bajor to follow up some mysterious "medical emergency," which turns out to be the approaching death of Distinguished Old Wizard-Type Guy, who is the only person who can defeat a monster that looks either like an angry cloud or some real poor-ass CGI and he defeats them with the power of story time and rainbows.

I wish I were making that up.

Anyways, DOWTG dies and passes his task on to O'Brien, who then spends many minutes wandering around in his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and turning down the village's gift of sexy womens. This is all supposed to be funny, but it's steadily making me wonder if I haven't given debilitating alcoholism a fair chance as a lifestyle choice.

Anyways, we come to find out that the whole thing is a big con--the poor-ass CGI blob is actually the externalisation of the negative emotions of the villagers and the storytime ritual was intended to bring them together as one. Frankly, this should have been the point of the episode, I thought: "Oh shit, our whole religion was a god damned lie and intentionally constructed as such!"

But here's why it fails--indeed, here's why nearly EVERY story about religion in SF ultimately fails: Because no one wants to offend anyone. And so: direct allusions are obfuscated, pointed questions blunted, and critical examination cast aside, and you get feel-good stuff like "Oh, God did it, and that's OK, and really if you just believe, everything will work out fine." Which is OK if you're watching Touched By An Angel, but if you're going to summon up a big critique of religion and shrink from going all the way in the clinch, why bother?

Anyways, in the B-Plot, Sisko arbitrates between two warring Bajoran factions, one of whom is headed by a 15-year-old girl and this leads neatly into our C-Plot, wherein she, Jake and Nog make mischief, Nog inspires her to compromise with the other faction and everything ends with wonder and whimsy and Nog gets a kiss. How sweet.

The good thing about O'Brien episodes is that even if they're terrible and nonsensical, they're gonna be on some level of quality because Colm Meany is such a good actor, and really it's only that that really saves the episode, because the Bashir/O'Brien dynamic isn't quite in place yet, because the writers still seem committed to writing Bashir as the most obnoxious asshole possible in lieu of actually giving him a functioning character. So really, the whole thing is carried by O'Brien, and good thing, because the rest of it is pretty damn slight.


"It's not 'dirt.' It's 'land.' Land is good."

When I saw this episode as a kid, I remembered hating it, and when I contemplated writing about it again and revisiting it, I wasn't too enthused.

Imagine my surprise when I revisited it and found it to be one of the best episodes of this season, even if its main plot barely hangs together.

The main plot is this: Bajor is about to do a planet-wide power tap on one of their moons, which will hopefully set Bajor on the path to energy independence, and will also flood the planet with toxic gases and make in uninhabitable. It's not pleasant, but the price of progress.

Unfortunately, three of the inhabitants of the moon refuse to leave. None of them are named Arthur Dent, surprisingly enough. In the name of getting on with it (because like bypasses you have to build power plants that fuck up entire planetary bodies) they send Kira down to persuade the main hold-out, Mullibok (played by Dave fucking Blassingame himself, Brian Keith) who then proceeds to ignore her entreaties to leave.

Kira responds by basically going native, and we're really not given a clear reason why she would jeopardise her career and screw everything up from the episode itself. Looked at in the larger context of the series, it's easy to see why: Kira has some serious daddy issues. Over and over, and in various ways throughout the series, she is looking for surrogate fathers. Hell, even her boyfriends have a significant power advantage over her and treat her in a kind of paternalistic way. I'm not making a judgment on this--I'm just saying that's how the character is consistently written. Hanging out with Mullibok is the first time that element comes up.

However, there's a pretty good wrinkle in the denouement of this story: Mullibok will not leave the house. If he leaves, he'll die, he says, and so as long as his house is standing, he will not leave.

So Kira burns his fucking house down. She doesn't talk about it, she doesn't soliloquize it, she just efficiently commits arson and leaves him no choice about going. It's a really powerful and ambiguous ending and doesn't leave you with neat pat answers.

Not least of which, one imagines, is because not much of the "how" and "why" of the plot is made explicit. But it somehow works, not least of which because Kira is actually given more to do than bicker and be a utter bitch to everyone, and that shading (and the actress' performance) really pulls you along and you're given a lot to read into how and why she does things. Is she ambivalent about the idea that Bajor has to do this kind of stuff if it wants to recover? Does she like the idea of forcibly relocating people which the people she was fighting against did as a matter of course? It's possible. Is it just the daddy issues? It's more than likely.

There's a lot to unpack in this episode and it's well worth watching--it plays a hell of a lot better than I remembered. I should also mention that the B-Plot is yet more Jake/Nog shenanigans, but this is actually a good bit that leavens the angst and is amusing, if not laugh-out-loud funny.

So--this is a real dark-horse of an episode, but well worth your time.


"You're still disgusting."

"'Till the day I die."

One of the growing pains all series have is that inevitable first season episode where people decide to take some crazy-ass chance that ultimately doesn't really work out. Star Trek series of this era are notorious for it--so eager to break a formula (before one has even gotten properly established) that they will just run one wacky-ass episode, look at the ultimately disappointing results, and shrug and say "well, we tried."

In this exciting episode, a group of aliens from a Whatever Universe wish themselves into existence because, like Starfleet, they are explorers looking to understand the concept of lo--er, imagination, and so they adopt the likeness of various character's imaginations. This leads to some artificial jeopardy when the crew inadvertently wishes a station-wrecking anomaly into existence, but then they figure out they have to wish it away and everything's fine.

This episode is pretty naive and silly, little more than annoying fluff. Thankfully, it is saved by two things. One, one of the imagin-aliens is played by the same guy who was the Dancing Dwarf from Twin Peaks:

And another is played by Mr. Wu from Deadwood:

And frankly, the episode improves immeasurably if you transpose those characters upon the episode, which is, in itself, a testament to the power of imagination, I think.

And that's it for this time, I think. Join us next time when we draw a line under season 1. Troi's mother visits the station (for some god damned reason) and gets all horny for Odo in "The Forsaken" (a not inappropriate name); the crew goes nuts and tries to kill each other in "Dramatis Personae;" We get one of the greatest DS9 episodes ever with "Duet;" and the season ends on a high note with "In The Hands of the Prophets." Enjoy like Italian. And Scientist.

Monday, January 24, 2011


One would not think that Marvel: The End, featuring an invasion, the assumption of divine power by a committed nihilist, uncounted multitudes dying and finally culminating with the entire universe being destroyed would classify as "the feel-good comedy of 2003," but beleive it or not, it is.

As with all great works, however, the reason for this is more metatextual than anything. To set the stage for that, let me give you a bit of a history lesson:

By 2003, the Jemas/Quesada era that came in with a wave of optimism and innovation was starting to break and roll back. Quesada, content to play "good cop" to Jemas' "bad cop," hung back on the sidelines, only occasionally starting work on books he had no intention of finishing. Jemas, apparently long past his ability to control his impulses, seemed to be well past the point of "lovable rebel/provocateur" and now seemingly lived to do things that pissed off Marvel's fans--shitcanning Mark Waid on Fantastic Four (not something I was against in principle, but what it was due to be replaced with was no better) the whole U-Decide mess, re-doing Thunderbolts as Fight Club, and Marville, a book so apocalyptically wretched it's just one of those things No One Talks About Anymore.

Jemas was fond of pronouncing things in the style of an Old Testament deity, with a little Stone Cold Steve Austin thrown in. "It was fucking stupid to kill of Cyclops if you're not gonna keep him dead" was a classic one, and one that actually led us to this here book.

Because Marvel: The End, unlike the rest of "The End" books, is an actual part of continuity, not some imagined "final issue," which is pretty much what the rest of "The End" books have been. But those books existed to give beloved creators a chance to write a "last word" on their own terms. Marvel: The End exists to ram through a editorial edict: Dead characters should stay dead and will no longer be coming back, we really mean it, no backsies.

I'll leave a space for laughing right here.

But yeah, that was the whole thrust of this. It was left to Jim Starlin to actually weave it into something a story, and really--let's give credit where it's due, it's much more thought out than say, "Mephisto erases Spider-Man's marriage because that's the thing we're doing now." Starlin even manages to work in some elements he'd carried forward from his last mini-series, Infinity Abyss, and gets some decent mileage out of his main character, Thanos (who else did you expect?) once the plot gets going.

Of course, this being a 2003 Marvel comic, the plot doesn't get going until issue #4 or so. But it works to Starlin's advantage, because the real story he wants to tell is much more interior than the usual whammo-blammo stuff you'd think you were getting.

So, now that we've wasted enough time with the metatextual stuff, let's cut right to the heart of this thing--a cosmically-powered pharaoh named Akhenaten shows up and declares that he's ruler of the world because he's basically God and stuff, and generally puts everyone on notice that he will not to tolerate any dispute to that. After everyone spends a few pages shitting themselves (Akhenaten is SO POWERFUL he makes George W. Bush drop his bag of pretzels. HE DROPPED HIS BAG OF PRETZELS, people. Shit just got real.) the various good and bad guys start coming up with ways to send him packing.

Doctor Doom remembers he has a time machine and goes to kill Akhenaten (seriously, it's that abrupt) before he can become a threat, but unfortunately, Akhenaten figured someone might do this so he travels back and kills Doom before he can kill him in the past and.

Meanwhile, Thanos and the Defenders (and Captain Marvel) try a more subtle approach, which ends up getting the desired result. Thanos steals Akhenaten's power and becomes the de facto god of all things. How this is different from when he used the Cosmic Cube to make him God or the Infinity Gauntlet is that every time Thanos pulls this stunt, a new deus ex machina to make him deus is required. It's tradition, like how Ric Flair never hits the flying bodypress no matter how many times he goes up on the top rope.

The Defenders aren't strictly necessary for this--neither are the legion of other superheroes that show up. Chad Nevett says in his frankly excellent series on Stalin's cosmic work that the huge casts of superheroes are little more than a smokescreen for the stories that he's actually interested in, as nearly without fail they show up, do very little of consequence and get blasted off the field in fairly short order. That little storytelling move is done like, three times in the course of The End.

Anyways, by issue #5 the real crisis is laid bare. Thanos has the ultimate power, but learns to his horror that he's been given a poisoned chalice: He has absolute power over everything in the universe, but the universe is slowly being undone. Thanks to the ridiculous amount of resurrections that have happened in the Marvel Universe, a fundamental flaw has crept in that is about to wreck everything.

Oh, and it all started with Wonder Man. I knew he sucked, but knowing about he's responsible for the destruction of the universe frankly justifies everything bad I have to say about him. What an ass.

Knowing this, the Not God But Really Guys It's Supposed To Be God handed off the resolution of the whole mess to Thanos, as he was ideally suited to the job. To quote:

"I now clearly saw the oblique nature of the trap I had blundered into. What better way to handle a cosmic dilemma than to pass of the responsibility of dealing with it to an unsuspecting fool? A megalomaniacal fool with delusions of grandeur."

But even then, that's not the whole of it. We're led to believe that Thanos was the ideal person for the job because he'd been trying to destroy the universe for the past thirty years, so blowing the whole mess up and doing a system restore was, for him, a lazy Sunday. Only, instead of killing everything to impress his girlfriend or relish his power, he has to destroy everything to save everything.

And so, by the end of Issue 5, the universe is gone. Thanos gets pissed off that everyone (and I mean literally everyone--Starlin draws crowd scenes that come very close to requiring the creation of a Perez scale) is attacking him, pulls the universe into himself, and kills it and everything else dead.

The End.

Oh, wait, one more issue. Well, with everything gone, all that's left is for Thanos and Warlock (who was conveniently outside the universe at the time of the cataclysm. Y'know, like you do) debate whether or not to restart the universe or just keep things as they are. Of course, Thanos has already made his decision, Warlock just goads him into admitting it, but not before we have the laugh line of the decade from Thanos:

"Death will now be permanent. Never again will there be any miraculous resurrections. No fooling or bargaining with the great divide. Heroes will no longer be recycled. From this point on, when they fall, another will have to take their place."

Yeah, laudable goal this, and a good thing, too--by maintaining an ever-evolving cast of characters it keeps things fresh and keeps the possibilities open. And so Thanos reboots the universe and everything's back to normal (even Thor's ridiculous 2002-ish costume with the nipple chains. My God, what the fuck were they thinking?) except Thanos died.

Only he didn't, beause look at that, coming soon: Thanos #1. Kinda KICKS THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE SERIES SQUARELY IN THE NUTS, doesn't it? Then again, the Quesada/Jemas era was marked by its arbitrariness, its illogic, and its inconsistency (just like every other editorial regime that comes in with Big Plans until reality sets in and forces compromise, lest you think I'm picking on them) so it's small surprise it was almost immediately undermined.

For all I pick on it, The End isn't a bad book--it just hasn't aged all that well. It didn't make much of a ripple at the time either, I don't think. Line-wide continuity had been de-emphasized to such an extent that someone coming along and clapping their hands and saying "Okay people, this is what we're doing now" probably scarcely caused anyone to look up. Reprinting it now, eight years since it was current and seven years and eleven months from the time the edict was rescinded, is a bit curious, but Marvel seems to be on a Starlin-reprinting kick lately, is all I can suggest.

But it's a pretty good book, as it's basically a long character study of Thanos, who takes us carefully and logically through his heel-face (or more accurately heel-tweener) turn and actually makes the whole "too many resurrections" thing feel like an organic plot element rather than the execution of an order (This is maybe 6 years before Blackest Night uses the same element as a plot point) and it's a brisk read. That, plus the idea of a line-wide "event" in the Quesada/Jemas era of Marvel--exactly the thing they were working so hard to get away from--is bound to be interesting if for no other reason than historical curiosity.

In short, this book is for hardcore Starlin fans more than anyone else, but taken on those merits (especially if, like me, you happen to be a hardcore Starlin fan) much enjoyment can be taken from it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Top 9 Dubiously Awesome Cartoon Intros Ever

Hey, who doesn't love list posts? The correct answer is probably "everyone who sees them as a rather transparent way to disguise a lack of content," but never mind that. This time out, I thought I'd regale you with some thoughts on one of the things I've only briefly touched on here--my love of 80's cartoons, one of the many things that totally screwed up my mind, as I mentioned last time.

So I thought rather than begin another long-winded bloviation about 80's cartoons, why not show off a few? No? Well, we're doing it anyway. Presented for your edification and delectation, Witless Prattle presents, in no particular order, the top 9 awesomest cartoon intros ("awesomest," of course, is by my deeply subjective definition) It was supposed to be ten, but I couldn't embed by 10th choice, and so you are free to speculate one what it might be if you choose to.

Let's get this rolling!

1. Silverhawks

Okay, so let's be honest here--while Silverhawks is leagues better than Thundercats (this is not open for debate. One had the Berbils, one didn't. The one without wins) they and their third counterpart Tigersharks were basically the same damn show--team of guys with vaguely anthropomorphic animal powers fights team of bad guys, the leader of which changes form in some rather badass way that somehow never really seems to turn the tide as much as you think.

But you don't figure that shit out until you're older, so never mind that. Man, that is a killer intro, even if that "Partly metal, partly real" line is utter bullshit (I understand why it's there, though--"Cyborg" is a hard word to rhyme) and that's before the guitar solo kicks in.

Of course, the intro promises far more action than the show can ever possibly deliver--I mean they're just in the fight. No strained comedy, no unlikely plot to slow us down, no bullshit stuff with Copper Kidd learning about goddam astronomy, just action, action, action.

2. Voltron

Oh HELL yes. Optimus Prime can narrate the phone book and make it sound like some important shit. I think one of the reasons that Voltron is "loved by good and feared by evil" is because Voltron is rather disturbingly imaginative when it comes to wrecking people. "Oh, well, today I'll gut the giant monster like a rainbow trout. . . upside down! Take this fucker--it's Opposite Day!" It's like Hostel with giant robots.

While this one doesn't promise much in the way of action, it makes up for it by making the show look as epic as possible (easy to do with impressionable kids) by a combination of dramatic narrating and a really awesome main theme.

3. Iron Man

This is actually the second intro, and as goofy and risible as it is, please believe me when I tell you it is an order of magnitude better than the first one. The weird thing is, as silly as it is, and how both you and I are giggling as we watch this . . .it kinda works. I mean, we have the image of Tony Stark with a hammer (one of those subtle iconic images that somehow became synonymous with Iron Man--it's in the movie, it shows up on comic covers, etc.) and, for some reason, Eddy Guerrero's mullet. Oh and how many times have we used "I am Iron Man" in some way, shape, or form? Even before they finally used the Black Sabbath song in the movie, people were doing it in ways that one would think music clearance rights would make impossible.

4. The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers

The baddest-ass cartoon no one knows about has an equally fucking awesome intro. Rocking the space western thing before Firefly was a gleam in anyone's eye, we get the setup, we meet the Rangers, we have some dude shredding on a guitar like this is the most awesome fucking thing ever (it's close) Oh, and they end the intro with firing at the screen. That's always a good bit.

5. The Mighty Orbots

Ohhhh shit--a computer the size of a planet that looks like a fish is threatening earth and only six goofy-ass robots can stand against them. Fortunately, they have a hyperactive/awesome theme song and some beautiful animation (I felt so bad that this was the Superfriends' lead-in back in the day. Kinda made it look like shit) which gets around the fact that the female robots are named "Ohno, Bo, and Boo." Man, I sometimes wish my childish innocence guided my soul more than it does--because then I probably wouldn't wonder who the fuck thought any of that was a good idea.

Bo and Boo. I didn't get it then, I don't get it now.

6. Thundercats

As I said with Silverhawks, there is no way in hell the show can possibly deliver on the awesomeness promised in this intro, and Thundercats never failed to live up to those expectations. I mean, bad enough that all the main Thundercats are pretty dumb (so much so that when the second string gets introduced later, they make the main guys look good by being dumber than they are) but then you add in professional hostages Wilykat and Wilykit, and you a cherry to that mediocrity with Snarf, who is less a "funny sidekick" and more an "unfunny jackboot to the kidneys." When you add the Berbils on top of that . . .well, let's just say the show missed a few opportunities, pat ourselves on the back for not making a joke about furries, and move on to number 7!

7. Transformers

The quality animation and all the cool shit happening here is somewhat of a downer when you consider the following: It was all nicked from toy commercials, the actual story your about to see would be nowhere near as well-animated (when it was animated at all) and this was the last season of Transformers and it's just three episodes about the stupid Headmasters.

Still, pretty rad and delivers on the recommended daily allowance of robots gatting the fuck out of each other, and really, you can't hate on that but so much.

8. Spiral Zone

"SURRENDER, OR PAY THE CONSEQUENCES." In a plot that has "HALO ripoff" (seriously, it seems like someone would have nicked this concept by now) all over it, a scientists has created a brain-sucking biological weapon that threatens to enslave the world, because it gives everyone red lesions and makes most people act like zombies, and the only people who can help are a group of stalwart heroes . . .and the guy behind them fucking shredding on the guitar.

9. Gargoyles

Like Voltron, Gargoyles aspires (and mostly succeeds if you watch the show) to be EPIC, and its intro is geared towards that. The problem is, it's far too easy to push too hard, and so things get a little bit hilarious about the time the narrator says "AND WE LIVE AGAIN!" Man, me and my friends got so much mileage out of how funny that shit was.

The awesome thing, though is that even with that rather notable handicap, it's still pretty awesome and gets you pumped for the show. Such is the way of really cool stuff, I guess--it can somehow round the corner on cheese and come back to "awesome" like some kind of wacky completion backwards principle in ways the intro to, say, "Heathcliff and the Cadillac Cats" never really did.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #3

I left this lie a little bit, but I feel it fair to take this moment to say hello to the two new followers who added me (twelve, now. Awesome!) and thank Kurt Busiek for stopping by, utterly improbable as that may seem considering this blog flies underneath the underneath the radar.

With that out of the way, here's the next installment of our comprehensive coverage of Deep Space Nine. This week . . .four of a kind, and not the good kind, either.


"There's nothing wrong with a good delusion."

One of the things about shows with ensemble casts is that they will typically devote one episode a season to each character in turn, with the goal of exploring the character and giving them a featured role to show that everyone is equally important and interesting and worth liking. For instance, DS9 annually did what they called their "Let's torture O'Brien" episode, wherein we struggled along with our likeable everyman as he was taken for a walk across hell on a spiderweb.

45 seconds into Bashir's first feature episode he manages to overclock his usual pompous assholery well into scientific notation. It is another three and a half minutes before the credits, so really, we're off to a roaring start, aren't we?

Anyways, Na'Toth from that other space station show is making everyone's lives miserable because she continues to insist the prisoner she was guarding is still alive despite being dead. Bashir gets possessed by the dead prisoner which makes him several times more competent than he usually is and a lot easier to get along with. What's a little murder for a gentle personality adjustment.

Meanwhile in the B Plot, Odo flips his shit when he encounters Lt. Premmin, Starfleet's security liason rolls in, acting like a know-it-all asshole the whole time. This will, of course seem like deja vu when it happens again almost exactly two years later when Eddington shows up, and when you consider that Primmin only lasts two damn episodes, it's a bit of a tempest in a teacup. Anyways, this is a rather obvious song and dance--The Cop Who Plays By The Rules Teams With A Cop Who Plays By His Own Rules And Both Of Them Learn Something, and it's worth exactly this paragraph worth of discussion.

This episode is really aggressively mediocre. The whole business with Bashir getting taken over is needlessly complicated (involving that hoary old cliche about not using your full brain capacity) and really, it's not worth getting into. Villain Bashir underplays it (to the point that it's pretty much Bashir, talking slower than usual) when a little scenery chewing would have been welcomed and it turns out the whole thing is in service to a hijack, which is severely underwhelming.

Oh, and the damn thing doesn't even have an ending. Na'Toth just zaps the container with her prisoner's brain ghost and everyone stands around like she just farted a John Phillips Souza march from behind her left earlobe. It may be me, but "mild amusement" would not be the expected reaction at a summary execution. Then again, like me, they could just be happy it's over.


"One man's 'priceless' is another man's 'worthless.'"

There are good and bad episodes of every TV show. And the better the TV show, the worse the misfires feel when you see them. Whatever else I can say about Deep Space Nine, I can say when they miss the mark, they do so spectacularly.

If you've never had the pleasure of seeing this episode, you've never had the metaphorical equivalent of a lit blowtorch shoved into your rectum. It is awful beyond my ability to convey.

Here it is in a nutshell, the Wadi, let by a guy who looks like Ron Jeremy if Ron Jeremy had "KICK ME" written across his forehead shows up and it turns out his entire society is all about games, so they spend ages at Quarks until he decides to cheat them and then Not Ron Jeremy takes Sisko, Kira and Dax and plugs them into the game and oh sweet holy shining fuck I hate this god damned episode.

Here's all you need to know: The game bits are annoying and stupid, and consist of scene after endless scene of Our Heroes trying to figure out what they're supposed to do. It's done on the cheap, and thus looks boring as hell. Oh, and at the end of it it's revealed they were never in any danger because "it's just a game," meaning that this episode was actually twice as pointless as it seemed and any emotional investment you may have had (your poor sap) was utterly pointless.

There, now you know the plot. Here's my review: Fuck this episode. MOVING ON.


"Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity. I certainly never have."

At least once every season, the people who make Deep Space Nine, labouring under the possibly drug-induced delusion that people wanted to see them, made many episodes that involved Quark and the Ferengi. They were obviously hatefully wrong about that, as Ferengi episodes tend to be full of appallingly broad comedy which is twice as objectionable when you consider they're basically Space Jews and the whole drive of their culture is to make easy and obvious points about runaway capitalism and oh dear lord wasn't "Move Along Home" bad enough?

The Nagus, the ruler of the Ferengi (played by Wallace Shawn, even more annoying here than My Dinner With Andre) comes to the station and enacts a hopelessly elaborate plot to teach his son a lesson by making Quark the new Nagus and faking his own death. Obviously, he isn't actually the new Nagus and the old one isn't really dead this episode's in the DVD player right now and I should be paying more attention but all I want to do is beat my head against the desk until sweet blissful darkness envelops me.

In the name of preventing a self-inflicted concussion, we shall leave it at that. If you like ten Shylocks around a table all trying win the prize for "who's got the most irritating high-pitched voice" then you will like this episode and probably the other twenty times they did this over the course of the seven years. God knows I don't.


"Don't thank me. I already regret it."

Ironically enough, while this episode isn't great (it's kind of bullshit, actually) the stuff surrounding it is not that bad. For one thing, although we didn't know it at the time, we do get a lot of pretty accurate information about Odo's people--they call themselves changelings, they're rather judgmental, and they don't like outsiders.

The rest is complete claptrap, of course--the people we finally see wouldn't let the person in question hang around with them and they certainly don't go around making lockets for them and . . .

Well, I'm getting ahead of myself. A guy named Croden (who very desperately wants to be and probably should have been played by Brad Dourif) interrupts a meeting between Quark and a pair of Miradorn (another attempt at introducing an alien race, and my God are we running to the law of diminishing returns very hard now) killing one of the Miradorn before Odo can bust them. This makes the surviving Miradorn go ever so slightly nuts and everyone makes frowny faces as we try to work out what to do with Croden.

Odo, tempted by the knowledge Croden has about his people, eventually spirits Croden back to the Gamma Quadrant, wherein we learn that Croden was declared and enemy of the state among his people. The state killed his wife and nearly killed his daughter, but he squirreled her away so he could collect her later.

You see where this is going, don't you? Croden's child is an adorable little moppet who melt's Odo's heart, because heaven knows he can't be a bluff craggy asshole all the time and so Odo will honour Croden's last request and see that she's taken care of and it's all serviceable enough, but it's so very very rote and boring and it's another one of those episodes that even when you see it for the first time you feel like you've seen it a dozen times.

It's . . .well, for an Odo episode, there will be several dozen better ones than this and none of them involve such blatant manipulation. Well, not many. A couple. I don't know.

Well, that's it for this time. Join us next week when things get a little zombified in "Battle Lines." We get our first O'Brien feature in "The Storyteller," a decent Kira episode in "Progress." And finally, in "If Wishes Were Horses," the dancing dwarf from Twin Peaks and Mr. Wu from Deadwood show up in an episode I promise is far less interesting than the two guest stars might indicate. Please pass the ketchup, I think it's going to rain!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Sensational Character Find Of 2011!

"his character is one of three new X-Men introduced in the game, who are "part of official canon."

Print photo at home

Oh dear. Even with the rather slipshod apparoach to character design we've been suffering under since the turn of the century, this is the best we can do now?

Print photo at home

Monday, January 17, 2011

Witless Dictionary #25--The Hank Pym Doctorate

Continuing my slightly condescending and apparently never ending series of entries wherein we try to find definitions for things that don't have a term, but should!

Hank Pym Doctorate--Term given to scientists or doctors who start as specialists in one field (as scientists tend to be) and soon graduate to becoming experts in everything. Give a general practitioner enough time and he'll go from putting a cast on someone's foot to designing a robotic exoskeleton for Steven J. Cannell.

Named for the original originator, who rose from a humble biochemist huffing shrinking gas for kicks to building robots, which he added genocidal urges for as that extra touch of workmanship that set his robots apart, I guess.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Boy, thank God for that Avengers movie, eh? Without it I wouldn't have a hope in hell of completing this series because Marvel would have blithely let two fifths of the run fall out of print and I would have spent inordinate amounts of time staring at price lists online offering copies for $100+ used muttering "you must be out of your god damned minds."

Anyways, my angst aside, once again the most ass-backward-yet-somehow-right-for-this-place retrospective look at Kurt Busiek's run on Avengers continues and goes back to the beginning (say it with me--"wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, dodgy availability") to the start. Picture it: Marvel, 1998. We've just gotten the Heroes Reborn business over with and we're trying to get back to the basics with our core characters (generally because Image-ising them didn't work very well and Grant Morrison's JLA was doing big sexy numbers) and someone said: "Get me Kurt Busiek. His near-encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel history will serve us well, especially since Roy Thomas is still burnt out and babbling in the basement."

To further sweeten the deal, they also retained George Perez, who hadn't done a regular run on anything for something like ten years at that point. I like to think--and no, I cannot prove this--that his recruitment went something like this:

MARVEL: Look, we need someone to draw huge crowd scenes and since Liefeld flaked out on us, we're going to try someone who can actually do it right this time. Are you in?

PEREZ: I dunno, man . . .I'm not really feeling it.

MARVEL: You can draw the Scarlet Witch in various kinds of bondage for the first two issues. How about that?

PEREZ: [Puts on sunglasses] I'm hip. Let's ride.

And so, Avengers #1 is born (for the third time), and with all credit to Busiek, the book starts off with an excellent three-parter that manages to hit some familiar continuity buttons and provide something new in the process (it looks like we're going to do yet another Loki brings the Avengers together story, but it's actually Morgan LeFay using Asgardian knickknacks to rewrite reality) and we drag damn near every extant Avenger into it, and by issue #2 give them all sweet medieval redesigns (how the variant hungry action-figure folks never jumped on this, I'll never know) and we even manage to bring Wonder Man back from the dead. It's a genuinely enjoyable romp that really gets the book off to a rousing start, even if this means the book doesn't really settle down and start moving forward until issue #4.

Issue #4 gets the team down to a more manageable size (10 from the original 39) and as is customary at the Prattle, it's time once again for ROLL CALL!

CAPTAIN AMERICA--This is the Mark Waid-era hyper-competent Cap who rides herd on everyone, however reluctantly at times. Over the course of the rest of the issues in this collection, will fret overmuch about how goddamn fractious the team is, but that doesn't really come to a head until much later in the run.

THOR--The designated team muscle, Thor is there to be the hotheaded emeritus member of the team, constantly on a short fuse and the one person who you can be certain that if you step to him, he will bring the pain on your ass. Fades a bit into the background for a bit as the new status quo in the Thor book is established, and rotates in and out periodically from then on.

IRON MAN--Man that armour design he had around 1998 was hella awesome. Anyways, Iron Man shares a subplot from his own book with this one--namely, as a recovering alcoholic, he's deeply worried about Warbird's Sudden Onset Alcoholism Subplot, and well he should, because it is one of the most clumsily handled plot threads in Busiek's entire run and is just . . .embarrassing, really.

SCARLET WITCH--Oh dear. You know, for all I love the Busiek run on this book, this was the exact point where I realised if I never had to read another story featuring the Scarlet Witch, my life would improve dramatically, because the concluding arc in this here collection involves another dry, dull, utterly uninteresting explanation of how her hex powers work (the only correct explanation is of course: "Who gives a flying turtle fuck?") which is in itself nestled in the subplot involving her choosing between Vision and Wonder Man (who remains kinda dead-ish) which, let us not forget, means choosing between a robot and a dead guy/crackle of Kirby-dots. None of this makes her interesting, and I wish she'd said "No More Wanda." I really do.

VISION--Hey, what better way to ensure that one side of a love triangle is doomed to lose out (not that they won't drag it out for THIRTY MORE ISSUES ANYWAY) than to have Vision basically be a non-entity/expository device after issue #3? Because that's totally what they did. Vision gets torn in half in issue #3 and doesn't get back together successfully until much later. The rest of the time he spends moping about as a hologram, occasionally peeking in on Wanda having sex with the dead Kirby-dot guy. This is sick, people. Really sick.

WONDER MAN--Back on the old Avengers mailing list (man, remember those?) one of my biggest criticisms of the early parts of the Avengers run was the following plot progression happened far, far too much: Avengers got their asses kicked, Wanda summoned Wonder Man, Wonder Man kicked ass while Wanda fretted and fussed over why he would appear when he was needed (even though it had pretty much been settled as early as issue #3) and the whole thing was just a hair away from all the Avengers pointing at the sky and calling for the Megazord (or, as I called him, Wonder Robo). I was shouted down, as I remember, but I thought it was pretty fucking funny at the time.

WARBIRD--"Ms. Marvel" may not have been the most imaginative name ever thought of, but sweet shit, it was leagues better than "Warbird." Was the other Ms. Marvel even still around at this point that not confusing the two characters was an issue? Anyways, I imagine that Busiek's goal was to do right by her this time, as Carol Danvers has been the most shit-upon character in the entire history of Marvel Comics. That's not hyperbole--the only one who comes even close is Polaris (and for much the same reasons, now that I think of it) I mean, the 200th issue of the Avengers is basically sending her off to be drugged and raped by her own time-traveling son and the Avengers are waving and going "Okay, have fun!"

That aside, in the name of "fixing" the character, Busiek makes Warbird a bit of a bitch on wheels who hides her de-powering from the team, develops an awfully drama-generating drinking problem, yells at everyone, and eventually gets tossed off the team for being such a hot mess. None of which would be bad, necessarily, except we're never given a moment where she's not being an utter jackass to empathise with her and see the pain that leads her to self-medicate--we're only told after the fact and then, in the shrillest way possible.

Never mind so much of this nonsense could have been avoided with someone having a simple conversation. In short, Warbird is a fictional example of what the late Richard Jeni one said: "This is what happens when you keep fixing something until it's broke."

HAWKEYE--For all that you may say I'm completely negative about even things, I purport to like--here's two awesome Hawkeye moments from this book--Hawkeye takes out the Whizzer, who won't shut up about his super-speed allowing him to run rings around him, and Hawkeye coolly sniping the Corruptor.

Hawkeye is not really on the team for that long a time--he's basically being set up as being discontent with his place on the Avengers (small wonder, he was leader of the West Coast branch for years and years) and setting him up as leader of the Thunderbolts (which happens in the next book) and as a foil for Captain America, which works OK except god damn Hawkeye is shrill as fuck when he's picking arguments with everyone and it kinda ignores the growth he'd made since his earliest days, but as I said, he's not around for long.

FIRESTAR--Firestar and Justice are the two reserves moved up from the New Warriors with the idea that giving them a spot on the Avengers would give them sufficient rub to make them major Marvel characters (see Cage, Luke) The deeper game Busiek was playing, I think, was that even though Justice had always wanted to be an Avenger (New Warriors #1 had him trying and failing to impress Captain America) Firestar would actually be the better Avenger when all was said and done (it would help, of course, that Firestar didn't lose 500 IQ points when she joined, unlike Justice) which is a clever switch and had things gone different, I probably would have liked that wrinkle.

It never quite comes off, because Firestar spends way too much time whining . . .about . . .everything. She's an Avenger only because she tags along with Justice (nothing says "strong female character" like "whiny codependency!") She hates her new costume because her boobs threaten to pop loose at any moment, and she frets over the fact that her powers could kill her (a plot thread that kept getting picked up and dropped because no one consistently dealt with it, and she bitched about Justice pushing her to be more Avenger-y.

Which is fine, but when that's all she does, it becomes so grating that you wish she'd raise up and leave already. As with Warbird, we need more of a larger picture of who she is and what she's about before we start laying on the drama with a trowel.

JUSTICE--In my time reading comics, I have discovered a few constants that exist, and are not unlike Newton's Laws of Motion and the theory of relativity in that they are seemingly immutable. The one law germane to this discussion is as follows: No One Gives A Fuck About What Fabian Nicieza Did. Now allow me to prove it in four steps:

When Cannonball was promoted to the X-Men and moved up after years of being a sober, experienced leader who didn't speak in ridiculous pidgin Southern in the pages of X-Force, he was immediately treated as though he'd just come from New Mutants and acted so ridiculously naive that one expected him to pop out of the bathroom and yell "HOLY SHIT--INDOOR PLUMBING! WHAT AN AGE OF WONDERS WE LIVE IN!" I mean, you could still have done the "rookie plays in the big leagues" thing, but a little subtlety would have helped. Not surprisingly, this was a completely uninteresting way to use the character and Cannonball has now been knocked down to the New Mutants because if comic fans fear anything, it's change.

Cable went from a subtle manipulator playing a long game that would ultimately reshape the world into a utopia (with examination of the consequences of that) to being in some bizarre mash-up of Lone Wolf and Cub and a Roadrunner cartoon.

The Thunderbolts went from being the last bastion of old-school Marvel superhero stories to Warren Ellis Writes The Same 10 Bastards He Writes In Every Story And Oh Look, Speedball's A Cutter Now.

And, most relevant to our subject today, Justice went from being the New Warriors' ace in the whole--wise beyond his years, cool under pressure, well aware of the consequences of his actions (he'd done time in jail for accidentally killing someone) into a callow, reckless starstuck idiot who does for the book what Wesley Crusher did on the Starship Enterprise.

Okay, well, after all that and only four issues covered, let's get back into it. Issue #5 and 6 feature a fight with the Squadron Supreme, who, even Busiek seems to think, have been victims of mind control to an astounding degree. Oh, I think they have the wrong character being a magician, but whatever. Naturally, they're all being mind-controlled here as well because in these heady pre-JLA/Avengers days there was no way we were ever gonna see the Justice League and the Avengers actually fight, right?

The mind-controller du jour happens to be the Corruptor, a Z-list villain from Nova back in the 70's who himself is working for Imus Champion, and even the editorial copy can't believe the continuity backwaters Busiek pulled him out of. This will all be tied up in an annual later in the book. For a quickie two-parter it does very well for what it intends to be--a couple of big fights that set up a conclusion later on and keep the internal subplots humming along.

But before we get to the conclusion, it's time for "Live Kree Or Die," or as it could be more accurately known, Warbird Fucks Up Everything Like Three Times And Nearly Gets Everyone Killed. Seriously, this could have been a done-in-one save for how utterly and repeatedly she messes up and how we watch her fail every single time in nigh-excruciating detail.

Here's all you need to know--after Operation: Galactic Storm, a few Kree survived and are attempting to put together a device that will turn everyone on Earth that it doesn't kill into Kree. As with all Kree plots, it is incredibly convoluted and dumb, and the Kree soldiers trying to make it happen really aren't clever enough to pull a greasy string out of a cat's ass, never mind accomplish a military operation like this.

But they didn't count on Warbird (who, I remind you, is supposed to be undergoing major character rehab) who, after telling off Iron Man for assuming she's a drunk (she is) gets her load on and nearly attacks Iron Man in the same place where (wouldn't you know it) the Kree have been working on their plan. A big fight ensues, and Warbird flies off to prove herself, which obviously is bound to go well, huh?

The story continues in Captain America, wherein Warbird gets herself captured by the Kree and thrown into a death camp (questionable taste, that) calls in Captain America, who actually gets a great scene in this issue when he beats down the head Kree and gets in the following good line, which is worth quoting:

"No. YOU fight for a crumbling empire of a cowardly sadists. You slaughtered innocent men and women who did you no harm. Well . . .I fight for them."

It's a great moment, even if it threatens to become eye-rollingly pretentious because it's a fistfight in Space Auschwitz. But it works, because it's everything you need to know about the Kree and Cap in three sentences.

Anyways, Warbird gets herself captured again (the character rehab's really going well, isn't it?) and we move over to Quicksilver (I cannot believe that Quicksilver once had his ongoing series. Just can't believe it.) wherein Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye try stop the Kree from stealing Terrigen Mists from the Inhumans, only to fail because Warbird gets herself stinking drunk on Space Booze and starts firing wild. On behalf of every alcoholic and every human being everywhere, I would like to apologize for the depiction of Warbird being drunk in this issue. Even Otis from the Andy Griffith show handled the disease of alcoholism with more taste and conscience than is done here.

We cut back to Avengers for the finale in time for Warbird to get cashiered out of the Avengers for being a colossal fuckup and an alcoholic (delivered with the gentle feather-light touch of a claw hammer to the temple, of course) and then it's off to the moon to beat the shit out of the Kree and reveal that . . .yet again . . .this has all been a convoluted plot by the Supreme Intelligence to cover up ropey plotting . . .I mean, part of his master plan for the Kree (which doesn't get covered until Maximum Security a few years later) which, is, as always, utter horseshit. Meanwhile, we're supposed to be sad because Warbird's hit rock bottom, but really, it's an empty moment because we've never been given a moment where the reader can sympathize with her.

That being over and done with, it's time for the Avengers/Squardon Supreme annual mentioned earlier. Imus Champion makes his move (something about blowing up the world) and, in what could be best termed a dramatic inversion of every Avengers/Squadron story up to now, they team-up and split into groups to fight him. And nary a single person is mind-controlled. All pretty standard stuff, but it has some great art by Carlos Pacheco (at this point well into his ascendancy as a top artist) and the whole thing moves efficiently enough, and hey, we get a happy ending for the Squadron (who get to go back to their own Earth, and if I remember right, are never seen again as the new version gains more prominence) and the Swordsman and Magdalene also leave, which is just as well because they only reason they were Avengers in the first place is because they kept hanging around the mansion.

So, there's your Annual, and it's back to the main book for a two-parter wherein Busiek tries to get even more obscure than Imus god damned Champion by pitting the Avengers against Moses Magnum, and I, for one, could not be more delighted. We are also introduced to Silverclaw, who will soon be our newest reserve Avenger and is Jarvis' Save The Children child (because naturally in the Marvel Universe, even something as straightforward as sponsoring a starving child in the Third World means they'll probably have superpowers or something) and Triathlon shows up for the first time.

I've done all my bitching about Triathlon's connection to the 3-D man elsewhere (if you're reading these in chronological order, this means I am retroactively referring to something which for you has not happened yet and as such I am capable of time travel, and this is absolutely blowing your mind) I will, however, say a few other things: I like Triathlon. He's neat, even if by the time he finally joins he spends too much time bitching about being the token black dude.

Also, Triathlon is also responsible for my first realisation that my concerns and the concern of most comic fans follow parallel but not necessarily intersecting tracks, as his introduction and power set (he is as strong and as fast as three men) began a weeks-long debate on the aforementioned mailing list over whether he was as strong as three regular guys or as strong as three Captain America, who is at the peak of what a human can achieve without enhancement. Yes, this was an actual thing, and it on for ever.

To lighten the mood, I shot my mouth off (never a good thing now, even less so then when I was even more of an opinionated pain in the ass than I am now) and said words to the effect of "Thank God we lived in a more enlightened time (give or take--after all, 1998 was the year the New Radicals' "You Get What You Give" held a terrified nation hostage) because otherwise Traithlon would be gadding about in a midriff-baring outfit calling himself the Black Athlete."

This landed with a thud, and everyone went back to arguing the "human vs. peak human" thing, the upshot of which was that when Triathlon came back, it was made explicitly clear that he was three times what a peak human could be because that distinction is IMPORTANT, god dammit.

Anyways, Moses Magnum looks like Mr. T and acts utterly bugged out the whole damn time, which is extraordinarily funny to me, because it's Moses Magnum (or, "who gives a shit?") and because this is part of an on-again off-again thing that happens whenever someone haules Moses out of the mothballs--Moses was apparently reconnected to be working for Apocalypse (because he appeared in X-Men once, and well, everything has to fit together even if no one really cared.) and has the power to create earthquakes and no control over it, hence the being bugged out and being dangerous enough to cause the Avengers two issues of headaches.

Oh, and while this is going on, by the way, the aforementioned icky scene of the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man getting it on while the Vision watches. Yeah. This happened.

Avengers #9 has one of my favourite overwrought, clunky titles of all time: "The Villain Who Fell From Grace With The Earth" (seriously, try to say that out loud. It sounds like two trains colliding) and ties up the Moses Magnum thing with a big fight. Oh, and Traithlon and Hawkeye crawl through air ducts long enough for Triathlon to rattle off his origin. There's a big fight, Magnum holds his own, and falls in a hole, because that's what super-villains tend to do. Oh, and the Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye both leave the Avengers for different reasons.

Avengers #10 and 11 are another two-parter, which handily manage to wrap up the Wonder Man thing (or at least get him out of the Wonder Robo formula) and allow George Perez a chance to go utterly apeshit as he manages to draw in one page every Avenger who's ever been an Avenger and a goodly portion of their villains in two separate panels, and the Stuntmaster and Chili show up. If you said "who?" and "who, now?" well, so did I. Life was hard before Wikipedia.

The Avengers celebrate 35 years of continuity (it's all sorta metatextual, really) and in the B-plot the Scarlet Witch frets to Agatha Harkness (who's alive all of a sudden, I guess?) about her powers and we get alternating pages of thrilling summations of the Avengers' history and boring-as-whale-shit explanations of how the Scarlet Witch's powers work for awhile, and then, mercifully, the Grim Reaper shows up, resurrects a team of dead Avengers (85% of whom have been resurrected by now) who promptly beat the living Avengers asses because this is part one of a two-parter and dead Avengers standing over the defeated bodies of living ones is frankly, one hell of a cliff-hanger.

Part 2 starts with the Scarlet Witch returning to the Mansion and getting captured and--you guessed it--tied up while the Grim Reaper monologues to the captured living Avengers about his utterly convoluted plan about how to Not Be Dead Anymore and . . .I've read this thing three or four times now and it just does not make one goddamned bit of sense, really, having to do with the weakening barriers between the living and the dead and love pulling people across and . . .uhm . . .yeah. Wonder Man's alive and he and the Scarlet Witch happily canoodle, and oh yeah, Wonder Man's antler-headed crazy asshole brother also comes back to life because shut up, that's why.

On the whole, one could do worse in trying to bring back the Avengers (and they did a year before this!) and there were enough new wrinkles in the early issues to get me past the bits that didn't work to well and there were a few subplots that worked well enough to balance the ones that got in my nerves.

So . . .yeah. Join us next time whenever the trade for the second volume gets published for the second and final (but not the end--I'm blowing your mind again), when we will cover the early peak of the Busiek Avengers run--"Ultron Unlimited," get a visit from your friend and mine Pagan, and Iron Man learns a valuable lesson about friendship when he fakes the funk on a nasty dunk. Let's all be there!