Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #8

Okay, bear with me guys. Barring one episode, these are going to be rather hard to write, because that means watching them again and frankly, I'd rather eat fucking bleach. I vowed I'd try to recap every episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but holy God this is damn near impossible.

Oh well, let's get it over with.


"Now we have something to talk about" [SPOILER: We don't]

In which Sisko falls for a girl who can telepathically send her Mary Sue out for walkies.

Kevin Murphy once said Star Trek Prime Directive should be "Never do comedy." I would also add "romance" to that list, especially when it's done as bad as this.

In short, because I don't want to spend any more time on this than I have to: On the anniversary of Sisko's wife's death, he meets a girl on the station who mysteriously appears and disappears. Oh, and she's played by the same girl who did Elisa Maza's voice on Gargoyles, which proves that you can move her to another show, but she will always go for the guy with the sexiest voice. Hard to fault her for that.

The problem is, that's the Mary Sue version of Nidell, who is from a planet wherein people can project their idealised selves out of their brains and well, she needs all the help she can get because she's married to Seyetik, who is the main reason this episode causes me physical pain to watch.

Because Seyetik is an asshole. A big one. Bigger than the Judge in Pink Floyd: The Wall, who was literally just a big asshole--he is a bigger asshole than an asshole could be in the singular infinitive form of assholery could conceivably been. He is a big pompous blowhard, constantly given to proclaiming his greatness and self-mythologizing at every opportunity. This in and of itself is not a problem.

The problem is that we're supposed to like him, and his overweening douchebagginess makes this physically, conceptually, and mathematically impossible. I mean like "Warren Ellis starring in a tender love story with Jennifer Aniston with no credibility problems at all" kind of impossible.

Because one infers if Nidell is sending her dream-self off to canoodle with Sisko, she's obviously unhappy, and she is. The main reason for her unhappiness seems to be Seyetik, and she's not alone--he makes me unhappy, too. But there's a clear chain of cause and effect here which explains everything.

However--and follow the logic if you can--we're meant to feel sad when Seyetik commits suicide at the end of the episode. And I don't, because he's an asshole and good riddance. I don't care about Nidell's happiness because she walks around with a stick up her ass and forgets everything that Mary Sue got to do so . . .yeah, if I don't care, then what's the point?

That said, I am glad Seyetik died. God almighty what a fucking asshole.


This will be your quarters while you're here at the station. I'm sure you wanna rest and clean up and you don't understand anything I'm saying, do you?"

Thankfully, this is a better episode all-around (thank Christ) A huge fleet of refugees, the Skreeans, come through the wormhole, dispossessed after the brutal race that conquered them were themselves annihilated by the Dominion (but really, how dangerous can they be?) The are millions of Skreeans, far more than the station can comfortably handle, and they aren't really mingling well with the local citizenry, either.

To further complicate things, the Skreeans are convinced they have found Khentanna, a "planet of sorrow" the Skreeans would make whole. To the unending consternation of everyone, the planet the Skreeans have their eyes on is Bajor, who's already having their own problems and can't absorb three million refugees into their population. The Skreeans argue that they're a race of farmers, and they could help ease the famine on Bajor.

Speaking of which, the Skreeans liaison is Kira, which is our main generator of drama and grounds what would otherwise be a rather heavy-handed parable about immigration into something a little less didactic and a little more immediate. Because Kira has all the sympathy in the world for the Skreean's plight, but she also knows intimately that Bajor isn't much better off and as much as she might want to, they can't.

The Skreeans, of course, see it as betrayal--the Bajorans don't want them there because they don't like the Skreeans. Despite their assurances that if their crops don't take they don't expect the Bajorans to help them, but the Bajorans can't just let them stay on their planet and die, can they? Of course not.

It's a very thought-provoking episode and it gains much from handling a topical issue with a deft hand that makes sense within the fictional universe of the show, rather than hijacking everything for the sake of pounding home the moral of this episode's story with a goddamned sledgehammer (which they will do next season when we get TWO episodes telling us that while homelessness is bad it's all to do with people "forgetting how to care.") and is well worth your time and patience to watch.

Next episode, however . . .


"I just stumbled around the court for 90 minutes and made an ass out of myself!"

Oh, God DAMN it, it's another fucking comedy. In which Quark has a new business rival, the astoundingly charisma-free Martus Mazur, who opens up a rival casino with some kind of technobabble machine that gives people good luck but alters other people's luck and also threatens to destroy the stations, but everything's all right in the end.

That's all you get from me about this episode. I hate it. I hate every attempt to make it all jovial and clever and I hate every forced laugh that makes the flat comedy mutate into something so unfunny that it almost becomes rancid. In the meantime, here is the utterly inexplicable yet far more entertaining ending of Werner Herzog's movie Strozek:


"Death rituals?"
"Everyone needs a hobby."

Yes, well, it's going to take a few times to get this right. Dr. Mora comes to the station to see Odo, who acts all awkward, as Dr. Mora was the scientist who was assigned to figure out just what the hell Odo was, and whole Mora may consider himself Odo's "father," Odo couldn't disagree more and generally acts like we all did when we were teenagers and were embarrassed by the mere fact of our parents' existence, never mind what they did in our presence. This is, of course, overlaid with some outright anger from Odo because, well, he was treated like a lab rat.

This leads to a rather complicated externalization of this as surprise surprise, Our Heroes (and Dr. Mora) are menaced by a monster who has some genetic resemblances to Odo, shapeshifts like Odo and come to think of it, is Odo.

There's a lot of plot details I'm leaving out, but it's all just backdrop to the main conflict--Odo and his surrogate father. Unfortunately, the notion of "latent stepdaddy issues being enough to turn you into a shapeshifting monster" is so ludicrous that the whole thing kinda falls apart.

Not to say there isn't mileage in this story--it's done to much better effect in Season 5. But this kinda doesn't work at all, and as such, is best left ignored. It'll be better if we just wait for the Season 5 episode when this will totally work better.

And that's it for this Pyrrhic edition of DS9. Join us next week when the two most ridiculous haircuts in the universe team up to kill Bashir and O'Brien in "Armageddon Game;" O'Brien has too much paranoias, too much paranoias, his mother's afraid to tell him the things she's afraid of in "Whispers;" Sisko and O'Brien meet the Space Amish (This time I'm sure) in "Paradise;" and we get our last teaser for the Dominion in the otherwise completely forgettable "Shadowplay." What does not kill you can only make you stronger!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kazekage's Game Collection: The Perfect 10

In our never-ending quest to ever-expand our mandate here at the Prattle (to say nothing of putting off the next DS9 post--I really do hate that next slate of episodes) and with little interesting in comics that I feel like commenting on, I struggled for something meaningful to build a post around, weighed my options and just decided to do a list post, that last bastion of those who want to do content, but don't want to be hassled substantially in the doing of it.

But this one's going to be a little different. This time, I offer you a peek behind the curtain at the games that really gripped the shit (phrase tm 2011 David Campbell) of a young Kazekage and set him on the course that ultimately led to the creation of this blog.

A word before we begin--you will probably not find anything that's an acknowledged classic on my list, as mine if more personal, I've along ago abandoned the notion I have any "cred" and thus the need to front to maintain it--this is just the stuff I like.

Now that we got that shit out of the way, in no particular order, here's Kazekage's 10 Essential Games for Being Stranded On A Desert Island or Whatever Fucking Cliche Will Justify the Following List

The character Strider Hiryu is rad as hell. This is indisputable, incontrovertible fact. It helps, of course, that the arcade game that featured him (and to a lesser extent, the NES game, which would have been fine had they understood terms like "debug") is awesome/utterly insane. Taking place in an alternate future where the Soviet Union still exists thanks to their investment in robot gorillas as an effective military deterrent, Strider understands the concept of effective set pieces--witness the end of the first level, the end of the third . . .the list is long and distinguished:

Other games that recognised the brilliance of the set-piece were Strider 2 (the best platformer of 1995, which unfortunately got released in 1999) the sorta-sequel-to-Strider-but-not-really recently discovered lost game Cannon Dancer and out next entry . . .

These days, I suspect Revenge is known its unrelenting copyright infringement about as much as the fact that it's an awesome game.

I better explain--when it first came out, Revenge had a number if bosses that, well, looked a little familiar. You had the boss of Level 4, who was a strong guy who turned green and then exploded, revealing the skeleton underneath, the boss of Level 6, who starts out as fucking Spider-Man and then turns into Batman (this was one of the things that led to the first revision, I think--Marvel demanded their cut because, well, it's pretty goddamned blatant)

Oh, and the Level 7 boss? Totally not Godzilla. I swear.

That aside, Revenge is totally awesome. It's a bit less frenetic than some of the platformers I love (although the sequel would soon take care of that) the music is awesome, and it has ninjas, back before ninjas got chewed up in the jaws of Internet memes.

Oh, and the music is fucking awesome. It's worth saying twice:

Just to show it's not all about platforming or twitch reflexes, we have this strange little gem. One of the first real-time-strategy games that ever really clicked with me, you control a transforming fighter/plane thing and play against another fighter/plane thing as you try to destroy each other's base.

To help in that, you can deploy various levels of armament to capture bases scattered on the battlefield, launch attacks on the main base. Curiously, despite all the cool shit you can get, it turned out the motorcycle troops were the most effective unit to strike the main base, especially if you backed it up with one of those tanks that shot homing missiles at the enemy--which prevents them from destroying it or deploying countermeasures. Kind of a dick move, now that I look at it in retrospect.

One of my favourite memories of college is getting a friend, tricking out the game with the Game Genie, and having tooth and nail battles for supremacy.

Oh yes (and you'll get tired of me saying this) the music is awesome as hell.

Herzog Zwei is a curious little gem. Very few people played it when it came out. But everyone who played it, seems to love it:

Shinobi III is not as well loved as Revenge, possibly because the music is not done by the composer from Revenge, and also because they apparently weren't as keen to infringe on anyone's copyrights this time.

However, because I'm bloody contrary, Shinobi III is the clear favourite of mine. I like that it's fast, the control is tight as hell (finally, a game makes wall jumping NOT a screaming pain in the ass) the music is appropriately epic and the game manages to merge the set pieces of something like Strider with the action the Shinobi games were known for?

What do I mean? Well, there's the level where the level boss stands in the background taking potshots at you. There's the level where you have to strategically destroy the floor to move through the level, a level you go through on horseback, and a level you go through on a jetski.

Oh, and there are the last 2 levels, which need their own paragraph because they are etched in my goddamn brain for all time. Level 6-1 involves you having to climb up an avalanche--no, really, the entire stage is a race to keep from falling. Here's a true story for you--to finally get through that level (I cheated and used the invincibility code, which only gives you a 45% better chance of clearing the game, as the falling will kill you and there's plenty of opportunities for that) I played it over and over again with the sound off so I could concentrate on getting my timing as crisp and perfect as possible to clear it.

And that's only the beginning. 7-1 has you crawling on the underside of a jet, which means your shit must be crisp or it's instant death. 7-2 is even more sadistic, as it's nothing but jumping puzzles and all the invincibility in the world won't make those any easier.

Have a look!

Dammit, I sometimes think all games should be like that . . .

The good news--in the late 80s/Early 90s, there was an effort to make kick-ass female characters for games--there's Alis, Nei, Rika, and Alys from the Phantasy Star series, Yuko from the Valis series, and Annet from the Earnest Evans/El Viento series.

The bad news--in the case of the Valis and El Viento games, it seemed to be less about female empowerment and more about upskirt shots because, y'know, Japan.

However, every now and again, they rose above that and you got completely unique and unlikely stuff like El Viento, which puts out razor boomerang and magic wielding heroine Annet, and puts her in the middle of a plot to resurrect a Lovecraftian god in the middle of 1920s New York City.

This game is brutally hard, and not quite as tight in terms of gameplay as the games mentioned above. However, it does have a few things going for it--one, the bosses are really imaginative (the giant cell boss in level 3 is a favourite) the music kicks ass, the story and ending are a lot heavier than most stories of the time (seriously, shit gets GRIM over the end credits) and the cut scenes are utterly awesome:

Well, King of Fighters in general, really (Except 12. Longtime readers will remember how much 12 pissed me off) but 97 is a great representation of what makes KOF so awesome (well, apart from the deep, deep, technical stuff that the SRK folks are more qualified to talk about than me)--the character roster is so dense and so much care is taken (ideally) with them that you can do friggin' story arcs in a fighting game and make them work.

No mean feat--fighting games are damn difficult to advance in terms of story. Look at Street Fighter--ultimately Ryu is constantly questing to become the ultimate fighter and never getting anywhere, Ken is perpetually getting married, etc. etc. Nothing ever really advances.

King of Fighters, however, tries and mostly succeeds with it. What we're about to see is the finale of King of Fighters 1997, which concludes the first and most tightly constructed of the story arcs the series has undertaken--the Orochi saga. Essentially, Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami (the two rivals/main characters of the game) and a few other characters are the keys to a conspiracy to resurrect Orochi, the avatar of the ancient Japanese god and bring about the end of the world (in a fighting tournament. Clearly ancient Japanese gods play their long games on somewhat small stages) Finally, with the 1997 installment, Orochi actually steps forth and several dozen SNK players try to keep from throwing their controller at the cheap-ass son of a bitch:

Much like King of Fighters, the Dynasty Warriors Gundam series condenses a hell of a lot of series together in the name of fanservice. However, DWG offers a hell of a lot more in terms of unrestrained mayhem, and therefore, has a lot to offer in terms of awesomeness.

There are few better stress relievers than wading into an army of mechs in your own mech suit and unleashing unholy amounts of whup-ass on them. Witness:

I can't really do Gunstar Heroes its proper justice--despite the fact that it seems on the surface to be your basic "run left and destroy everything" game, it is not afraid to break its own rules.

Like when a board game suddenly breaks out in the middle of all the shooting things:

Gunstar Heroes is one of those games that few people played (oh lord I hope you never played the Gameboy Advance version) but most everyone who played it, loved it and keeps it in a special place in their hearts. How can you not love a game that calls a bonus room the "Happy Item Room?"

My name is Kazekage, and I have a problem--I have played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night far more times over far too many different versions than any one human should probably have done. Serious--I have three different versions of the damn game, most of which have at best superficial differences. That's not healthy, probably.

I think it's because it's kind of awesome. Sure, they beat this style of Castlevania into the ground, dug it up and did it all over again, but the mistakes of the future don't detract from the splendid present (and people who say differently are just miserable piles of secrets and fuck them): Symphony is an awesome game, blending the action and RPG elements deftly and giving us as close to perfect as Metroid clone as you can have without just buying a bloody copy of Metroid already.

As the game takes more than a few hours to complete playing straight, you'll have be satisfied with the highlight reel below:

So, the folks behind Gunstar Heroes got the word from Sega: "Hey guys, we're rolling out this new game system that we haven't exactly thought through, and this is the final stage of our long-term plan to piss away any and all goodwill we'd accrued from our fans, so is there any way you could make a game that is so awesome, so fun, and so surprisingly deep that no one will play it at the time but plenty of people will write wistful articles about it many years later and used copies on eBay will go for stupefying prices?"

And so, Guardian Heroes was born. Not a sequel to Gunstar (not exactly, anyways--there are some homages to Gunstar within the game, though) but a different spin on the Action RPG than Symphony was, Guardian Heroes is all about two things--as much mayhem as possible and a surprising amount of depth.

Essentially, you pick your character and proceed to beat massive amounts of ass. At the end of different levels, you can assign points to enhance various character attributes, which allow you to beat even more ass. At various point in the game, you are offered different choices to make, which cause the story of the game to take different paths, so playing through it each time can lead to an entirely different outcome.

Because that wasn't enough, there's also a second mode, wherein up to 8-10 people can battle it out in the arena as one of the up to 30 characters you unlock during the course of the main game. This folks, was the party game in my dorm hall in 1994. Even if there was always that one asshole who kept picking the Sky God and spamming screen-filling fireballs.

All this, and it had a bitching intro:

Joe Madureria saw this, was inspired, and spent the next 6 years mostly not drawing Battle Chasers which, uhm, let's say borrowed liberally from this.

Oh damn, 10 already?! And I've already thought of a few dozen more while I've been writing this. I suppose I'll have to do another one sometime, if people who like this sort of thing tell me that it is the sort of thing they like.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Man, it's kind of difficult for me to know how to start this one, considering that after more years than I care to mention (seven, since the first time it was announced, I think?) the notion that Suicide Squad would ever get collected in any form was bordering on Big Numbers-level mythology. And so, in the ensuring two years since the last time I wrote about the Squad, I have about three preambles to this that have successfully built up over time.

And I'm gonna use all three.

The journey of Suicide Squad from minor hit and quarter-box favourite to collected edition is a minor farce, or would have been had it not been cockteased for most of a decade. Initially announced as a Showcase Presents collection (Do they still do those, or has DC once again pussied out on getting anything without a known name behind it on the shelves?) it was announced, then hushed up, then nearly forgotten.

Various reasons were given, chief among them that they were under a different royalty structure for reprints than other things (because yeah, we can't have the actual creators getting the lion's share of their money, obviously) Although, given the arc of DC's output currently, a malicious part of me wonders if it's not because most everyone at DC is plundering the period in which Suicide Squad was being published and they don't want to suffer by comparison.

Anyways, some words about Suicide Squad. It could be argued that short of the Giffen/Maguire Justice League, the best thing to come out of Legends was the new Suicide Squad. Other than that, Legends is pretty goddamn dire, and while you may consider revisiting it, my advice is not to do so under any circumstances, because the ending alone will send your blood pressure into the stratosphere.

Basically, the Squad is "The Dirty Dozen" if it took place in a superhero comics universe. Our government recruits super-villains and the odd hero-on-the-edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown for covert mission wherein deniability or complete disavowal is needed.

The deal is simple--sign up, survive the mission--your sentence will be reduced or commuted outright. Disobey an order while on the mission, or just wander off too far, and your arm will get blown off. Only the worst of the worst get picked, and usually . . .only the worst of the worst survive.

It's an elegant concept, because it subverts a lot of problems with ongoing serial comics. One--anyone can die. As the Squad is typically culled from the third and fourth strings of the DCU, they are totally expendable (well, this is before Everything Is Important and Nothing Can Change, obviously) which adds actual jeopardy and uncertainty to their missions and, not unlike the Scourge of the Underworld or the very-close-in-spirit Strikeforce: Morituri over at Marvel, it allows you to clear out the deadwood that inevitably collects in superhero universes.

Two--using super villains plays with the typical expectations of what "superhero" comics are usually all about. Overlay on top of that a shadowy, deeply morally compromised government agency overseeing them (before that sentence became a redundancy) In fact, what drives the stories are how un-heroic the Squaddies are. They typically freak out, are insubordinate, ignore orders, attempt to undermine and or kill each other, try to defect and generally screw things up.

Three--it's that voice that makes Suicide Squad have its own individual voice (it is, of course, a product of it's time, a time when books were not homogenized and allowed to find mid-list success rather than having to do blockbuster numbers to justify themselves. Naturally in our more enlightened day and age, we've done away with all this) Nearly everyone on the team is deranged, the pressure without on the team various government agencies will manipulate the Squad for its own purpose is equally oppressive as the pressure within.

Now, admittedly, the advantages it has over a typical serial superhero comic could be disadvantages as well. A team full of replaceable villains killed, then replaced month in, month out (otherwise known as "every month in DC comics now") would mean little, so a core cast of Squaddies was built that shorter-term members could play off of, and you and I both know that means it's time for ROLL CALL!

RICK FLAG--Our connection to the original Silver Age squad (it gets very complicated, and this is long enough) Rick Flag is the bridge between the administrative, governmental branch. Upon the final mission of the previous Squad, Rick lost Karin Grace, his lover and teammate, and it cracked him hard. Over the course of the rest of the run, we will see him continue to crack until he finally breaks, because he has the misfortune to be a good man in an organisation with no place for good men.

CAPTAIN BOOMERANG--Boomerang, of course, is naturally at home in a place like this, as he's an amoral sociopath who lives to stir up shit. Naturally, this means that no one can stand him, but despite his being a jerk and a screw-up, he's just good enough to keep surviving his missions, and so, becomes one of the cornerstones of the team, and the straw that stirs the drink in the title because you read it to see how he's going to put one over on his masters, even if it's going to fall apart in the end because he's nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is.

BRONZE TIGER--Another of the team's cornerstones, Bronze Tiger is walking a rather fine edge himself, as he'd been brainwashed by the League of Assassins into dressing like one of the Thundercats and killing the pre-Crisis Batwoman and . . .yeah, while he's nominally one of the good guys, he's also a ticking bomb.

DEADSHOT--Speaking of ticking bombs, if ever you wanted to know how Deadshot became a major player that everyone wanted to use him, well, it started here. While we don't get the backstory yet about how Floyd Lawton came to embrace his nihilism, we get enough here to know he's genuinely messed up in the head. Deadshot, like Bronze Tiger and Captain Booomerang is one of the signature members of the Squad, and while his finest hour isn't in this collection, it comes up soon enough.

ENCHANTRESS--Because when you combine phenomenal mystic power with dissociative personality disorder, really what could go wrong? June Moone (no, seriously) transforms into the ill-defined in terms of power set but a force to be reckoned with Enchantress who constantly threatens her teammates before being shut down by someone a few times right before she fucks up a critical mission and more definite means to control her are devised. Once again, we have another ticking bomb on a team full of them. What could go wrong?

NIGHTSHADE--The one Charlton hero who doesn't even the the minimal respect that other Charlton heroes got, Nightshade is the Squad's covert member--she's not even technically on the team in the first issue, as she's a mole on another team. The deliberate amorality of the Squad's methods doesn't sit well with her at all, as we will see at the conclusion of the series' first arc. Things get even more strained from there.

NEMESIS--Super spy and master of disguise, Nemesis is another deep-cover member of the Squad, and being a nominal good guy, finds himself ill at ease on the Squad, not least of which because there is the continued suggestion that he's getting a bit past it, and of all the places to be losing steps, this team would not be the place I'd choose.

MINDBOGGLER--Our sacrificial lamb, Mindboggler gets smoked at the end of the series' first arc, not because she screws up or tries to defect, but because she embarrassed Captain Boomerang and when someone gets the drop on her Boomerang just decides to let her get gunned down, because he's that much of an asshole.

PLASTIQUE--Our other one-timer, Plastique is on loan from Firestorm (like he didn't have enough third-string villains to spare?) and Captain Atom, and in both she advanced the cause of Quebec independence by jobbing like a chump both times (one time knocking herself unconscious with her own explosives) Tries to defect, only to get caught, then is drummed out of the Squad via the use of mind-control, which causes friction among the other Squaddies, and when you cross these people's moral event horizon . . .hoo boy.

The squad is overseen by Amanda Waller, who is perhaps one of the most unique female characters ever. For one, she doesn't look like a supermodel. For another, she can actually cause Batman to back down (and how often does that happen) For another, she's given an origin that in a sense, presages her establishment of the Squad and the toll her moral compromises will take on her over the course of the series. Without Waller, Suicide Squad doesn't work. Her ruthless practicality (and her ability to ride herd on people by sheer force of personality) is what sets the tone for the book and drives its storytelling engine.

And that's what's on display in the Secret Origins issue that functions as the prelude for this collection (Back then, Secret Origins would typically function as a "pilot" for new series--whetting people's appetites for the first issue of the new series (as well as spackle in the requisite retcons). In the course of this issue we're brought up to speed on the old and new Suicide Squads, the history of Amanda Waller, and the remit of the new Squad.

From there, we launch into Issue #1 and open with the introduction of the Jihad. The Jihad are the latest in superhuman state-sponsored terror from the nonexistent but real-sounding country Quarac, who decides to tech demo the Jihad's ability to kill a shitload of people by mocking up and airport and killing a shitload of real people.

A word, if I may, about the realism of this book vis-a-vis politics. If you're looking for nuanced geopolitical thought in a comics universe wherein the citizenry is routinely menaced by a group of people following a guy who dresses like a snake, really . . .you're in the wrong place.

Anyways, the Squad has its mission--Destroy the Jihad, cripple Quarac's ability to re-create it, and catch Carmen Sandiego. The rest of the first issue is build-up as the team gets ready to move out and attack as the psych team frets over the combustible personalities and we have a few scenes with the no-it's-not-Airwolf-at-all-why-would-you-even-suggest-that helicopter.

Issue 2 has all this go to hell. No shock there--heist movies would suck if all the planning you do at the first part goes smoothly, wouldn't they? In short order, the two Squad moles on the Jihad are Plastique tries to defect, gets caught, and while the Squad doesn't 100% accomplish their mission, they do manage to cripple the Jihad (well, until they show up again a few issues later) and a number of subplots are set into motion.

Issue 3 picks up a plot thread from Legends, as Darkseid sends the Female Furies after Glorious Godfrey, who's currently incarcerated at the prison/Squad base after he lobotomised himself putting on Dr. Fate's helmet. Naturally, with a name like "Female Furies," what then ensues is a talky, intellectual issue, wherein the Furies make their case for Godfrey.

Just kidding--it's a big fight, and the Squad acquits itself fairly well, even if the Furies ultimately take Godfrey back. In the "B" plot of this issue, Plastique is being brainwashed to forget her attempt to defect and sell out the Squad, and everyone's quite upset about it.

Issue 4 is a done-in-one wherein the Squad has to discredit William Hell, a man posturing as a superhero to disguise his attempt to instigate a race war. This is an interesting little tale, as it's our first look at Deadshot in any great sense and also puts the Squad in a different kind of conflict. After all, as Waller points out, killing Hell would just make him a martyr to his cause. And so a rather elaborate plan is hatched to discredit him.

Issues 5-7 constitute out first major story arc, wherein the Squad are engaged to help a defector escape the Soviet Union. It's a good story, and a good deal more nuanced than the Jihad conflict was. I don't want to say too much about it, because there's quite a few good twists in it and the whole thing turns on an intriguing twist at the end of the first part.

Issue 8 wraps it all up with a "pause and take stock" issue wherein our various subplots are touched on, tensions ratcheted up, and a new Z-lister joins the Squad--The Privateer, just in time for Millennium (for those of you who thought that Legends wasn't bad enough) which will be picked up in the next collection (if there is one) hopefully.

It's a good collection, I think, and well worth the money. While Luke McDonnell's art has lost some of the "smoothness" his Iron Man run had, it's gritty angular-ness fits the mood of the book perfectly. While the art my not be to all tastes, the real star is, of course, Ostrander's writing, which had a real tough-mindedness to it that really set the tone for the book (no mean feat, as he stayed on the book for the entirety of its run) and he makes the "black ops/superheroes" nexus work in ways that subsequent imitations (and haven't there been a lot?) mostly never did.

In short, this is a good collection and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


So, while everyone's been creaming their jeans about Young Justice (short answer: "It's good, fitfully interesting, notion of hyperactive children as your black-ops squad is utterly laughable and is studiously ignored as often as possible to the benefit of all, but I still miss Brave and the Bold) I have been enjoying a little-noticed show called Sym-Bionic Titan.

Sym-Bionic Titan is the latest from Genndy Tartakovsky, late of Samurai Jack and the Star Wars: Clone Wars episodes from the early 00s that I actually liked, and the action scenes in the last act of Iron Man 2 (otherwise known as "the only indisputably good part of the movie"). Apparently, the intent here is to create a hybrid of Voltron and Sixteen Candles.

Even more amazingly, it actually works.

Here's the briefing as briefly as possible: To protect the Galalunan princes Illana, brooding tough-guy Lance and mysteriously opaque robot Octus (played by Brian Posehn, another feather in this show's cap) get sent to Earth, where as luck would have it, they look exactly like Earthlings, and decide to hide out in high schools, because if Invader Zim taught us anything, it's that it's easy as hell to hide out in the public school system if you're an undercover alien.

While they're doing this and dealing with the usual teenage stuff, the Mutraddi, who conquered the Galalunans, keep sending monsters to attack Our Heroes. Fortunately, our heroes can link up to form the Titan, who then proceeds to wreck monster ass in high style.

There's more to mention (a couple running subplots have emerged, one of which involves the leader of the Mutraddi and his connexion to the Galalunas and the GGG and their mysterious leader) for instance, I would be remiss if I didn't tip my hat to the GGG character design--all their soldiers wear bell-bottoms and scarves like all good 70's anime characters should) but really, the synopsis isn't important. All you need to know is this show is hellaciously entertaining and the animation is god damned beautiful, especially as we're talking 2D animation on a TV budget.

Oh, and they have made the best use of A Flock Of Seagulls ever, as seen in the following clip (hit "full-screen" and enjoy it while it lasts!)

Yes, you just saw a girl dancing while a giant robot blasted the shit out a giant monster, all to the strains of an 80's new wave song, and you and I both know it was face-rockingly awesome, so don't lie to me or yourself about that.

Currently Sym-Bionic Titan has been wedged in CN's schedule between their utterly despised live-action shows, which means it will be dutifully lost in the shuffle and this will be axed any day now, and there's no DVD release I've seen planned, which is a double shame, so really, catch it while you can. I think you'll enjoy it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #7

EDIT--I forgot an intro for this one. Sorry, y'all.

Continuing our journey into the second season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, we have a quartet of episode which swing between "awesome" and "eh, whatever." We're still shaking off the ropier bits of Season Two here (boy will we EVER find that out next week) but we haven't hit an utterly crap episode. Yet.


"I believe in coincidences. Coincidences happen every day. But I don't trust coincidences."

Bashir and Garak team up, save episode.

Look, the plot of this episode is worthwhile--the notion that the Cardassians just left a bunch of orphans behind when they pulled out and the Bajorans care for them is an intriguing idea. The notion that a dispute has to be sorted out when accusations of abuse come to light is also good. The notion that this is an utterly barmy long game on the part of one of the principles is shaky, but also a decent hook on which to hang an episode, especially as it leads to more Gul Dukat.

But beyond that, it doesn't make a lick of sense--Rugal (no, not that one) makes it plain that he hasn't been abuse by his Bajoran parents, that he prefers to live with them, and he hates Cardassians. And Sisko sends him back to Cardassia, to live with a father he barely knows and doesn't like that much.

What the hell is that, I don't even . . .

Anyways, good damn thing everything else happening in the episode keeps you so entertained that you don't notice how asinine the plot is. Bashir and Garak drive the episode--Garak has dialed the camp down quite a lot since the last time we saw him in "Past Prologue" and plays the wise mentor quietly unraveling the scheme while Bashir tags along, several steps behind and that kind of chemistry makes this work. While they'd been paired off in Garak's debut episode, this is the episode that really defines their relationship and best shows off their chemistry as a duo. We'll see a considerably darker version of it a little later on in the season, but for now, there's this.

That alone would be enough to carry the day, but we get some good stuff from O'Brien as well--there's several good moments where he's paired off with Rugal and you have two people who don't like Cardassians all that much who kind of bond over their mutual unease.

Again, while the actual plot of this episode is a great silly mess, the sum of its parts make up for a ropey whole.


"A deal is a deal . . .until a better one comes along."

OK, so, really "Melora" is a lot more interesting to talk about in terms of what it represents than the actual episode, and given that I type things faster if I'm actually interested in what I'm typing, we'll cover that first.

When the pre-planning for DS9 started, a character like "Melora" was mooted--someone from a low-gravity planet who was disabled in Earth-normal gravity and had to schlep around in a wheelchair. It was ultimately dashed as an idea for the recurring cast, partly because of logistics and also because it smacked of blatant tokenism. When even the Burger King Kids Club had a kid in a wheelchair to show you how "hip" disabled kids are, you're really just ticking off boxes on the form, aren't you?

But because there is a temptation to use every part of the bear, there's this.

Ensign Melora comes to the station, ostensibly to help map the Gamma Quadrant but basically to batter every bloody cliche about disabled people you've seen in every goddamn movie about someone in a wheelchair ever. Does she come off initially very pissy, insisting she doesn't need any help? Yep. Does she push herself too hard and fall down, overextended? Uh-huh. Is her standoffishness ultimately melted by the love of her doctor? Fuck, and yes. Even if you have never seen this episode, you have seen great huge wodges of it already, trust me.

Because this is our Bashir episode, and apparently this whole notion of "Bashir cures patient out of love, but ultimately loses her" thing was considered so durable, the same goddamn plot is hauled out of the mothballs in the seventh season, for an episode which I will try to gloss over as swiftly as possible when we get there.

It's not that there's not the kernel of a good idea here--Dax frames Melora and Bashir's romance as something akin to "The Little Mermaid," though more the "walking on razors" than "singing Jamaican lobster version. Bashir can "fix" her, and she won't need to bang about in a wheelchair everywhere . . .but she can never go home.

Unfortunately, rather than play that out as character drama and milk it for the requisite pathos, we get a duddering Quark subplot, where someone who wants to kill him hijacks a shuttle, Dax kills the gravity so Melora can show off and remember to miss the whole low gravity thing and . . .yeah, it's all very stupid and underwhelming.

Ultimately, it doesn't work, and a shame too--DS9 has already shown itself willing to do ambivalent stories and play the string all the way out to the end, so why did they not go that route here?


"Free advice is seldom cheap"

This is the one with Shao Khan as one of the most ridiculous Star Trek aliens ever, and the first mention of the Dominion.

It's also our first Ferengi episode of the season and . . .uh, well, it's passable. Nowhere near the Lovecraftian horror of later Ferengi episodes, but full of broad comedy, shrill voices screeching, and more oh-so-hilarious jokes about everyone's favourite Space Jews (well, the ones that Mel Brooks had nothing to do with) and oh yes, the twist in the plot is nicked from the first episode of Blackadder II.

Anyways, The Grand Nagus shows up and asks Quark to help him broker a deal with the Dosi, a race of wine merchants who look like Mummeshanz on blotter acid (and one of whom is played by Brain Thomson, better known as Shao Khan or, the axe murder from the movie Cobra.) and oh my lord are the Dosi silly as hell.

Quark takes along his partner, Pel, who, unbeknownst to him, is a woman in drag. Because in Ferengi society women have no standing, this is utterly shocking, as is her putting the moves on Quark as a "him" and Rom ultimately outing her and . . .wow, I just do not give a shit about any of this. It's not interesting, it's not funny, and it's not . . .much of anything, really.

Even the makers of this episode consider it far too broad, and frankly were it not for the fact that this is the first mention of the Dominion (there's two more coming, one of which is actually in a decent episode) it would fall into the formless, seldom tended bin where we keep all the other Ferengi episodes. If you thought Borscht Belt comedy just needed more latex appliances to be that much funnier--well, you're barking mad, but I guess this is your episode.

For the rest of us, stick to Blackadder II's "Bells"--it's a far funnier take on this kind of thing. Thank God the next episode is a DS9 classic--these middle two were bumming me out.


"At the request of Commander Sisko, I will hereafter be recording a daily log of law enforcement affairs. The reason for this exercise is beyond my comprehension, except perhaps that humans have a compulsion to keep records, lists, and files--so many, in fact, that they have to find new ways to store them microscopically. Otherwise, they would overrun all known civilisation. My own very adequate memory not being good enough for Starfleet, I am pleased to put my voice to this official record of this day: Everything's under control. End log."

The episode where we get a look at life on DS9 under the Occupation, Kira has a ponytail and Odo has his first day on the job, all tied up in a gritty, noirish, package.

Quark makes a deal to retrieve a list of names for a Bajoran woman who used to live on the station and nearly gets murdered. Odo has to piece together who tried to kill Quark and why, and reconcile how this is related to his first job aboard the Cardassian-occupied station, when he was hired by Gul Dukat to solve a murder, and along the way, he meets Kira, who may or may not be the person he's looking for.

I don't want to spoil too much--if you were creating a DS9 mix to introduce someone to the series, this would have to go on there. For one thing, it's a mystery with several levels to it that actually pays off in ways other than the solution to said mystery, it has some rather funny moments (as in the above quote) and you get some bravura performances.

It's also the first time Gul Dukat begins to flesh out as a character and become more than just Our Recurring Cardassian Thug. Here he's the personification of the banality of evil--he's been the embodiment of an occupying force for so long he swaggers around the benighted hellhole like he owns the place, the fact that he's running Space Dachau doesn't bother him all that much.

The other reason this episode is so intriguing is that we cover something that shades the whole Bajoran occupation--there was a class of Bajorans who collaborated with the enemy, something we'll be elaborating on later in the season. Now this is a fine line to walk--despite their occasional unctuousness, the Bajorans are supposed be heroes and also pitied for being powerless against a more technologically advanced and brutal occupying force. Typically, something like this wouldn't even be brought up, because however realistic it is, it raises some troubling questions.

There's a lot going wrong, and even though this is a murder mystery overlaid on another murder mystery and it gives us some perspective on our mise-en-scene, and even adds some shading to one specific character relationship, which did more in one episode than they did almost the entirety of last season.

This folks, is DS9 very quickly coming into its own, and in high style.

And that's all for this week (we're now back on schedule!) Join us next week when I struggle mightily to get through Sisko's love affair with Elisa Maza's imaginary friend in "Second Sight"; The Dominion is mentioned again in the midst of a rather obvious parable about refugees in the better-than-it-sounds "Sanctuary"; Quark gets some competition in the casino game in the crushingly terrible "Rivals"; and Odo meets his step-dad in "The Alternate." Hilarity does not ensue. Next time will not kill as much as this one did, and hopefully it will not kill me. It's right on with the now TV series, and it's all here at the Prattle.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK DS9 #6

Sorry, I'm a bit behind on these--life kept getting in the way. For those of you new to this, we here at the Prattle are undertaking a project to review every episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a task that just got a little easier because we are now embarking on the second season, which is several orders of magnitude better than the first. It's actually starting to form into the DS9 in short order and this season will have a higher ratio of classic episodes and all-around good episodes than the last one.

Oh, and we'll also be introducing several recurring threats for Our Heroes, not least of which is the Dominion.

But that comes later, for now, let's open strong with DS9's initial foray into straight serialisation. It's just a simple three-parter, but it already shows a dramatic improvement over things For one thing, it seems the show has finally discovered how to use Bajor to the advantage of making consistently good stories and putting them in sharp contrast with Starfleet. For another, the show is more willing to take chances, both with its story structure and its recurring character and I am tired of this introductory twaddle, so let's get it on:


"You can't expect a politician to pass up an opportunity like this"

The beginning of our little troika starts with Kira finding out that a famous member of the Bajoran resistance is still being held in a Cardassian labour camp and the episode primarily concerns itself with the buildup to freeing him and the fallout from that. In the subplot of this episode, there is a new movement on Bajor called The Circle who want the Federation out and a new government installed. While this isn't the first time we've seen this, they do seem to be far more brazen and far better equipped than the last group we had.

But that comes into sharper focus in part 2. Our first part is more to introduce our special guest star, Li Nalas, played by the same dude who played Benjamin Horne in Twin Peaks. It should be said that Li is an entirely opposite character to Horne (who was kind of . . .well, was, a shitheel) Li is a man looked at as a saint, when in reality his entire legend is based on (he feels) a lie and he'd just as soon leave it lie, if only people would fucking well let him.

Of course, the very act of being rescued puts paid to that. Boy does it ever. Almost immediately, everyone wants to hitch their wagon to Li's star. Frankly, Kira's prime argument for going to rescue Li is that his presence would strengthen the faltering provisional government, which is presently victim to a parliament of political opportunists, with no clear leader to unite everyone (Kai Opaka having been killed on Tortured War Metaphor Planet last season) everything's a bit fraught. Just so we don't forget them, the Circle shows up and brands Quark just so we know they're bad motherfuckers and all that.

Li's response to all this is, naturally, to try to steal a runabout and run off to the Gamma Quadrant. But it's too late, as a grandstanding Bajoran minister, Jaro (Played by Frank Langella, who, depending on when you first encountered him is either more famously Dracula, Skeletor, or Nixon) pops round to get the rub from Li, appoint him to Kira's position, and send Kira packing and oh look, it's to be continued . . .

Well, it's good. Gets us right back in and sets it all up, but really it's a bit light unless we follow it with part two . . .


"It might be interesting to explore 'useless.' See where it leads."

In the wake of last episode, Jaro explains that he's appointed Li to be Sisko's second on the station to keep him safe from The Circle, who are growing bolder and beginning to march on the capital. Kira has a very "Night at the Opera"-esque little scene with everyone saying goodbye to her until Bareil shows up and asks her to take her leave with him, and since Bareil instantly makes her wetter than a fish's wet bits, she leaps at the chance.

So in some kind of weird-ass foreplay, Kira tries to arrange a stone in a wading pool for hours, declared she has no sense of art (this'll come up again way later) and generally paces the room hoping for something to do. A few oblique conversations later, Kira has her first orb experience, sees Jaro, Vedek Winn, a room full of arguing ministers and then, all of a sudden she and Bariel are as naked as jaybirds and all this will eventually make sense. A little sense, anyways.

In the middle of all this, the Circle is attacking the Bajoran capital, Our Heroes are trying to figure out who's arming the Circle. As it happens, it ends up being the Cardassians, who want the Circle to succeed, push the Federation out, and move right back in in the ensuing chaos.

We're also introduced to one of our nominal nemeses, General Krim, who's actually a pretty interesting character, as he's not a 100% straight bad guy, but obviously, despite being the commander of the Bajoran militia, is not doing all he can to engage the Circle. He'll play a larger role in the last part of this drama, but for now we're merely teased with his appearance.

Kira gets kidnapped by the Circle and finds out that Jaro is the one behind them, aided by Winn, who wants to . His plan is to cause all sorts of chaos with the Circle, then step in as a strong hand. Li would have complicated his plans and so, he had to be removed.

After a firefight and a bit of rescuing on the part of Our Heroes, the endgame becomes clear: Jaro and the Circle consolidate their power, the Federation makes plans to pull out and there is only one chance to break the Circle: someone has to take the evidence of Cardassian involvement to the Bajoran Council of Ministers (no mean feat, as anyone who tries will be shot down, and making a call is out because communications have been blacked out) and cause the whole thing to collapse. The clock is ticking . . .

This episode manages to avoid the difficulty with middle chapters of a trilogy--namely, there's no satisfactory end until the final part. This is thwarted by virtue of the fact that the stakes continue to escalate during the middle part and things are balanced precariously on a hair. Fortunately, the third part will mostly live up to the buildup of the first two . . .


"Off the hook . . .at last."

So, things aren't going well. The Bajoran Militia, under orders of the Circle are on the way. Starfleet is desperate to evacuate, but a few are staying behind as a rear guard action, which is actually a diversion. They'll hold the Militia there long enough for Kira and Dax to get the evidence to the Council of Ministers.

Oh, and Li Nalas is still bitterly uncomfortable in the role of embodying the hopes and dreams of the Bajoran people. He actually gets a pretty decent speech early on, and end up with a fate both appropriate to his character and fulfilling to history. It would, of course, swing a little weight if Li or any element of this crisis were to be referenced after this.

Okay, so by this point, the legwork of the plot has more or less been handled and all that's left to do is play it out, but it's all done competently enough and the game of cat and mouse Krim and Sisko play is really intriguing (Krim is actually a pretty awesome character--smarter than that guy from Wings who plays his second, and he actually seems to have more of a plan than the next bunch of idiots who are going to take over the station next episode) Dax and Kira have a few good scenes and the whole thing ends with an appropriate amount of punch to it.

Taken as a complete whole, the Circle Trilogy is one of the first time DS9 stakes out its own territory successfully. Things feel epic, we get a larger view of the relationship between Bajor and Starfleet, and the writers are actually willing to ambivalent--sure, the immediate crisis is over with, but the problems that fomented it are still very real, things are very tenuous, and we've lost yet another candidate in our "strong leader" sweepstakes (if not two) and we get our first instance of Sisko's baseball on his desk as a symbol for something. Enjoy it--it'll be an enduring symbol over the years.


"They reduced my entire life to one word--'Unsuitable.'"

Well, now that we've started with a bang, let's move on to the business of giving each member of the cast an individual feature episode or two. This time it's Dax's turn.

If you remember from last season, the first Dax episode, while having somethings to recommend it, really fell apart for the same reason this episode doesn't quite work--Dax is completely passive through the whole thing and spends most of the episode unconscious on a stretcher, so really it's a curious way to "feature" her character. We'll get a better Dax episode a bit later in the season, but for the moment, this is what we have to work with.

Some kind of storm in space forces Our Heroes to evacuate everyone but themselves (Yes, yes. I know we just went through that) and wouldn't you know it, some guy and his crew of malcontents show up (aided by Quark, surprise surprise) take Our Heroes completely by surprise, put Odo in a box, and demand Dax's symbiont.

Yes, this is pretty explicitly a riff on Key Largo.

No, not that one--the Humphrey Bogart movie. There's an actual element beyond straight homage--Verad, the leader of this little group, was once up for being merged with the Dax symbiont, but it turned out they knew he was the Riddler from Batman: the Animated series and also the guy from Gremlins 2 and obviously far too crazy for being joined.

It's . . .you know, it's all performed well enough--Verad is an intriguing enough character and has a certain nervy energy that immediately turns into warmth when he's finally joined, and Sisko has a good bit at the end, but . . .yeah, it's a comedown after the Circle Trilogy, but then, anything was probably going to feel like a comedown after that. It's competent enough, but it doesn't ever quite get off the blocks.

That's all for this time. Look for another one this week to get us back on schedule wherein Bashir and Garak liven up a really bizarre riff on Diff'rent Strokes in "Cardassians;" A leaden parable on respecting the disabled takes up 45 precious minutes of our lives in "Melora;" A standard Ferengi romp with a little twist occurs in "Rules of Acquisition;" and we end on a high note with the noirish "Necessary Evil." Stop by and say hi then, won't you?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Perhaps the MAN TRUE-est MAN TRUE, yet?

The venerated and now back-with-a-vengeance Gone and Forgotten recounts DC Comics most pointless deaths and articulates perfectly the end result of all this overblown gorn:

"They don’t wind me up in the way where it’s easy to find the humor in it, but rather they wind me up in a way that disappoints me. It’s a pretty common refrain - among those of us in the last few generations who have reached a respectable simulacrum of adulthood - that so-and-so “raped their childhoods”, that because some form of entertainment wasn’t exactly like we remember from our youth, it was therefore a betrayal and is bad, regardless of the fact that a new generation will remember these remakes and reimaginations from their childhoods when they are our ages and obviously it’s all subjective.

I promise you, that isn’t my complaint – I don’t want to read comics which are exactly like the ones I read when I was a kid. For one thing, I’ve already read those, I want something new. For another, I’m an adult now and I’m looking for more emotionally and structurally complex comics. And for yet another reason, most of those comics weren’t very good – if comics in 2001 were exactly like the comics of 1981, I might walk into DC’s Countdown:Arena and let two bigger, meaner versions of me from some grim alternate universes slaughter me off-handed – what would be the point?

I wouldn’t mind the death, destruction and degradation if only it had some purpose in the storyline – I wouldn’t mind a hundred thousand deaths or the massacre of an entire nation (well, I’m in luck!) if it made even one character feel sad for more than a panel. "

Well worth a read, as it says what I could never quite articulate about the ennui this kind of thing eventually generates--there comes a tipping point when you've seen just about every possible gory death that is conceivable and then one of two things happen:

1) It becomes funny (the original Dawn of the Dead is like this--you're meant to be desensitized to the violence)

or 2) You start kinda not giving a shit. It's like going to the circus and seeing the trapeze act 20 times in a row, by #15 you're so bored by the whole thing you just want it to hurry up and be over with already.

I'm at 2. How about you?