Thursday, June 30, 2011
Iron Man #135
"Return of the Hero"
Writers: David Michelenie & Bob Layton
Artists: Jerry Bingham (Pencils) Bob Layton (inks)
We pick up not too long after last issue, and the Titanium Man is wrecking New York City. Stark, ever the barometer of good taste, ducks into a massage parlor and suits up as Iron Man ready to break of a foot off in Titanium Man's green-skirted ass.
The rest of the issue is exactly what is advertised on the tin--Iron Man and the Titanium Mam wrecking shit. If it can be said to have a larger role in things, it ties up something from "Demon in a Bottle," wherein Iron Man's armour had been controlled remotely and killed someone. This naturally made New Yorkers somewhat more skeptical of Iron Man than they had been previous.
This issue, then, can be said to be Iron Man's return to grace, as he fights Titanium Man from one end of NYC to the other, culminating in a fight at Rockefeller Center where Iron Man finally tears Titanium Man's helmet off and knocks him right the fuck out. Everyone's cheering, and while Iron Man still feels guilty for killing the guy, at least people still recognise him as a hero.
This is pretty much an issue-long fist fight, but really, it works well. For one thing, the Titanium Man is sold as something more than an ersatz Iron Man/Cold War relic. He's a stronger, more powerful, brutal and more cunning Iron Man, and the fight actually has a couple of very imaginative set pieces as well. It's one of my favourite issues from this era and holds up really well. Jerry Bingham, despite not being John Romita Jr., does a great job with this issue, making the NYC landmarks look very NYC-ish (I say this as someone who's been to NYC exactly once, so any natives of the city are free to write in and comment about how it's not really) and the action is very well-rendered. It's a good one.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Iron Man #247
Writers: David Michelenie & Bob Layton
Artists: Bob Layton (Pencils) Tim Dzon (inks)
We open with Iron Man waiting for representatives from HYDRA and AIM, for a big conference about why HYDRA, AIM, and the Maggia are fighting some sort of wholesale 3-way war between the three organisations. The reps from HYDRA and AIM suggest that Iron Man use his relationship with the Maggia leader, Madame Masque, to allow them close enough to take her out, but Iron Man tells them to stick it up their ass and leaves. Then the HYDRA and AIM reps decide to do it anyway, so really, this was time well spent, huh?
Iron Man flies back to Stark Enterprises so we can touch on the subplot about him being trapped in a wheelchair after being shot by Kathy Dare. He meets with the assistant district attorney (they're working out the case against Kathy Dare) and turns down a date with her, feeling ever more closed off from people. Jim Rhodes frets over this and were this a TV show some ominous chord would play over the soundtrack right now.
But never mind that shit, here's Mongo. Oh, no, wait it's the hulk--the grey one--who's arrived in LA for a job. Meanwhile, in Hastily Tied Up Subplots Corner, Abe Zimmer gets a message on the computer, which has news about Stark's medical condition while Stark has words with an Agent Mallard of the FBI, who tells him to stay out of the way or he'll find himself in even more trouble than he avoided in the Armor Wars.
We soon learn that the Hulk has been hired by AIM and HYDRA to abduct Madame Masque and stick her in a brain-sucking device because why not, really? Iron Man flies off to interrupt the Maggia's operation as well, but the Hulk gets there first and spirits her away, hanging her over to AIM and HYDRA, getting paid and walking off.
Or well, he would be, except the Dreadnoughts attack the Hulk just when Iron Man shows up and all hell breaks loose. The Hulks clothes get incinerated (along with his money) and Hulk gets really pissed off and starts wrecking shit. Meanwhile, Iron Man rescues Madame Masque and is on the point of getting answers, however, another Dreadnought attacks and allows Masque to get away.
Iron Man finds out that agent Mallard and Madame Masque have been working together all along--the Maggia will keep the criminal element in line (as much as they're able to) and they won't have three super-criminal organisations to keep an eye on, just the one. Iron Man says "Thanks for blathering all that right when I can record it, jackass," the Hulk steals a coat, and we close with Stark doing the unthinkable--stepping down as head of Stark Enterprises. Duhn Duhn DUNNNNNNN.
Yes, well this is a servicable enough issue, and it's kinda cool to see the Hulk and Iron Man team up, but that isn't the real story of this issue. The real story is how many plotlines can get aborted in time for Layton and Michelenie to leave with issue #250.
The AIM/Maggia/HYDRA gang wars thing gets wrapped up rather perfunctorily (not that there was much there there when you get down to it) as does the whole business with Stark in the wheelchair. You see, he was supposed to be crippled for a good long time, and his increasing remoteness was going to basically be him giving up his civilian identity so he could be Iron Man full time. As it will eventually happen, Stark gets the use of his legs back next issue just so everything can be back to normal in time for the rematch with Dr. Doom the issue after that.
I can't really say I'm sorry about the plot getting cut short--it wasn't really that interesting at the time and a lot of it Stark being a mopey surly asshole and that's something of a narrative dead end too, so really, it was no big loss, even though the resolution leads to more than a few plotting nightmares yet to come. Best not to dwell on those for the moment, however.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Iron Man #224
Writers: David Michelenie & Bob Layton
Artists: Bob Layton (Pencils) Bob Layton (inks)
Blacklash, the Beetle, and the new Blizzard have found and are about to kill Clay Wilson, the man formerly known as Force. Force left Justin Hammer's employ last issue and went to Stark for protection. Stark put him in police custody, apparently having a bit of a brainfart related to the Permed Mullet of DOOM and failed to realise that any twit in a costume can make it past the cops, even as woefully stupid a guy as Blacklash.
Blizzard has walled off the rest of the police and Jim Rhodes with a wall of ice, so Rhodes decides to make the best of a bad situation by plowing through a wall and running them over with a riot tank. New Blizzard panics and freezes Blacklash allowing Stark, Wilson, and Rhodes to make their escape. The bad guys make their escape as well and Stark decides that he might as well protect Wilson himself as he gets read the riot act for stealing the riot tank. Stark pulls rank and calls the mayor of Los Angeles to get himself off the hook for all this.
Cut back to Stark Enterprises, where Force exposits on what he did for Justin Hammer and why he left. Simultaneously, Hammer is upbraiding his goons, who he very graciously gives another chance to screw up--er, I mean to finally punch Wilson's ticket. Oh, and there's one page showing us Scott Lang has made the move to the West Coast, and he's brought his Ant-Man suit along with him, because dammit, if Bob Layton is at all involved, dammit, Scott Lang will be in this book one way or another.
Deciding that there's no way that Hammer could have known he was bringing Wilson to the police unless he had an ear in the department, Stark decides to set up an opportunity to get Hammer to back off, and wouldn't you know it, he's acquired one of those tourist trap Old West towns which, if you believe movies and TV, dot the California landscape like . . .well, dots.
At last it's more or less an even contest--Wilson's suited up as Force, Rhodes is armed with something a little more effective than a riot tank, and Stark has the Iron Man armour. Blacklash distinguishes himself as the Iron Man villain of record by being taken out by James Rhodes, who is armed with a stick. Says it all, doesn't it?
The Beetle doesn't do much better, nor does Blizzard, and they quickly beat a hasty retreat. Iron Man congratulates Force and Rhodes on a job well done, but says this could easily happen again, so Force has to die.
The issue ends with Stark placing a call to the cops saying that Force flew into some high-tension wires and fried himself. Meanwhile, at one of Stark's subsidiaries, a man named Carl Walker starts his first day on the job . . . .
Man, I really do like this Force arc. It's a crackerjack story that hums right along, hits some nostalgic beats (Iron Man and Force have tangled once before) introduces the new Blizzard, who would go on to be on the Thunderbolts during Nicieza's last run on the book, and has Blacklash being beaten up by a guy with a stick, which is personally just no end of hilarious to me.
There's also a good story in here about a bad guy trying to go straight. I did really like the status quo of having Force working for Stark and occasionally helping out, even if he did vanish for long stretches of the book, ultimately returning in about 2004 in a story I have expunged from my memory but for the phrase "Man, Phillip Tan's redesign of the Force suit is . . .not great." I understand they also brought him back in Dark Reign, but I could care less really. The point is, it was a cool concept and a lot more could have been done with it, but never was.
I should also add that this story is essentially one long prelude to the Armor Wars, which begin next issue, when Stark finds out that Force's armour is built from his designs, but it also functions as a story on its own. That's one of the things I lament about comics today--unless you can compartmentalize it neatly in a trade or whatever, the notion of small stories which form larger stories which have threads of even larger stories running through them is all but a lost art nowadays, and comics really suffer for the lack of it.
Monday, June 27, 2011
-Added 2 new chapters to GUNMETAL BLACK 6
-Added two new short stories "Heart Like An Open Book" and "Life During Wartime"
-Massive updates in the Art Gallery and Fanart galleries.
-Added a link to the GUNMETAL BLACK Wiki
Oh, and we put a brand-new index page pic over it too.
Hop on over and have a look!
Iron Man #220
"Ghost Of A Chance"
Writers: David Michelenie & Bob Layton
Artists: Mark Bright (Pencils) Bob Layton (inks)
And we're back!
Okay, so Tony Stark has gotten so paranoid about the Ghost coming after him he's taken to sleeping in his armour and nearly repulsors Jim Rhodes' head clean off and yeah, you could say he's really freaking out. After all--if Accutech's invention is destroyed or fails to make good, Stark's new business will implode right along with it. Meanwhile, the people who hired the Ghost, Roxxon, have decided the Ghost failed in his mission and has gone renegade, so they decide to cut ties with him.
But the Ghost doesn't play that, declares that he doesn't give a shit about how much money they will or won't pay him, his contract still stands, and should Roxxon decide to make this an issue, he'll come after them next. Roxxon decides they'll call in their backup.
Meanwhile, Stark is busy working on his armour, completely bugfuck paranoid. Rhodes worries about his friend and wouldn't you know it, things go from bad to worse, as there's an alarm right when Stark's been messing with his armour. Only one thing to do--Rhodey needs to get his red and gold suit (not used since #216 when he nearly got burned alive in it) and take the fight to the Ghost.
The Ghost, however, is already there and shoots Tony Stark dead. Except it's actually Spymaster, who manages to shut down the Ghost's systems just as Stark walks in. Spymaster, being unusually polite, tells Stark to piss off so he can put a round through the Ghost's skull. Stark weighs the pros and cons of this for a bit and decides to stop Spymaster from killing him. Spymaster and Stark have a gunfight for a bit while the Ghost reboots his armour and escapes.
Spymaster finds him and they have a shootout in the ladies' room, because well, why not? Stark runs into Spymaster and Rhodes runs into them both long enough to take a shot that would have killed Stark. Rhodes fesses up--after nearly dying in the suit last time, he can't really face putting on the suit again, so Stark, despite his opinion that "The suit symbolises a dark part of my life! A part that's over! It symbolizes the past" (no, really, that hammy and everything) finally says "Screw that" and suits up to fight Spymaster and the Ghost. Spymaster is taken out of the fight pretty early, but the Ghost clips on an intangibility doodad and seems to be leading him to safety.
Only he's not really. In one of the most fucked-up terminations of a character I've ever seen, the Ghost lets Spymaster crawl halfway through a wall and pulls his intangibility device off right in front of him, and, as The Official Handbook of Marvel Universe has informed me on multiple occasions, this kills Spymaster instantly due to fatal molecular disruption. The Ghost leaves a message that Stark shouldn't have saved him, because now he's really pissed off.
To be concluded . . .right here!
The middle part of the first Ghost trilogy is a really good bit that ramps up the tension to a fever pitch, features a kinda cool gimmick (here's Stark back in the old suit!) and really sells the Ghost as more than a good gimmick and a cool costume--his total disdain for money and his outright sadism (seriously, that shit with Spymaster is ice fucking cold, really) We also get some follow-up with Rhodes nearly being killed at the beginning of Layton and Michelenie's second run on the book and why he demurs from wearing the armour (this will, of course, change later on) and it all hums along with some real unflagging energy.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
"The dialogue is sharp, the story's involving, the characters are real... the spelling is terrible!"
But first, this. Oh holy shit is this episode nightmarishly execrable. What we have here is an A plot that doesn't make any sense (Jake gets his head felt up by a psychic vampire who feeds on inspiration and nearly works himself to death) and a "wacky" B-plot that attempts to be funny/poignant, fails miserably at both, and makes every single character involved look like an utter schmuck.
God it's hard to know where to be begin. Let's knock out the A-plot first, I guess. Jake runs into a muse who makes him write easier and more inspirational than he ever has before. I'm sure it was meant to be a metaphor for how writing or any creative endeavour can become an all-consuming obsession, but trying to make that metaphor concrete with a head-massaging psychic vampire was a mistake in judgment on the order of trying to cut hair with a guillotine.
I say this as a writer--half the shit that gets written about writing is only slightly more worthwhile that what you would get if you put your finger down your throat and pressed down. Most of stuff that's written about writing portrays it as this noble calling and those who can do it are anointed with brilliant halos of inspiration from the Great Pixie herself (in fact, it's one of the things that makes Season 5 of Babylon 5 so awful. It got to the point that every time someone said G'kar was the greatest writer they'd ever read, I wanted to punch a baby in the throat) Honestly--it's not that noble a calling, the pay is for shit, and when you get down to it, it's basically just staring at a blank page (or screen) until your forehead bleeds.
Then again, maybe I'm just jealous because no psychic vampire's ever felt my head up. Then again, fuck you.
Okay, that's the A-plot. The B-plot involves Lwaxana coming back to the station and getting Odo involved in her baby momma drama. Oh God, I hate this part so much. What transpires to happen is that Odo fake-marries Lwaxana so her baby won't have to grow up under the tyranny of the Sexist Backwards-Ass Fucks who segregate children by sex when they're born. Oh, my head. I feel stupider just having typed that.
Anyways, this is an excuse for Odo to feel a bit appreciated after Kira pretty much setting him aside in "Crossfire." Unfortunately "Crossfire" was actually a good episode, and this is not, so we really don't get much in the way of anything insightful about any of this, just a bunch of really cringing awkward moment which I'm sure were supposed to play as light comedy (it does end in a wedding, sorta) but falls so short of the mark I haven't the words to actually encapsulate it.
The thing is, this utter cowpat of an episode is not the fault of the people who are performing it--they do the best they can with what they have. Unfortunately what they have ain't much.
I should mention, by the way, that the actress who plays Lwaxana, (she's the wife of Star Trek's creator, and her name escapes me at the moment) somewhere around this time, was on Babylon 5, and played completely against wacky, horny, Lwaxana and was instead cast as someone who carried herself with real dignity and tragedy and actually had an important role (rare for a one-character in B5) This begs the question to me of why she couldn't get the slightest bit of dignity on a show she actually had some pull on.
God, avoid this episode as though it were teeming with leprosy. I don't want to talk about it anymore.
"FOR THE CAUSE"
"Paranoid is what they call people who imagine threats against their life. I have threats against my life."
OK, this is much better. While we haven't had a lot of opportunity to explore the Kassidy Yates/Sisko relationship, and those opportunities we've had haven't really been exploited to the best of everyone's ability, at last we finally hit on a notion that makes her substantially more interesting, grounds it in part of the DS9 milieu that's actually meaningful to the larger story, and oh yes--it makes a already good story crackingly good.
Except for the part that isn't, but I'll get to that a bit later.
To aid them in rebuilding after the Klingons have spent the past season kicking the shit out of them (take our word for it) Starfleet is giving the Cardassian government some industrial replicators. However, as Commander of Exposition Eddington notes, the Maquis, eager to exploit the Cardassians' weakness, may try to steal them, so everyone needs to be extra careful, so Sisko authorises Odo and Eddington to take all appropriate steps to keep them from falling into the Maquis hands.
Open and shut, really, except Odo and Eddington have an additional concern--there is a Maquis smuggler on the station, and they suspect rather strongly it's Kassidy.
Sisko, not looking forward to another romance going down the tubes, is understandably pissed off about it, but as we saw in "Homefront"/"Paradise Lost" he's not really one who can let go of his suspicions--once the seed is planted, they will take hold and work on him until he cracks.
So the main plot is established--Sisko doesn't want to believe Kassidy's guilty. The question then becomes--what will he do if she is?
The cool thing about the plot is that it doesn't flinch from the consequences of this, nor does it try all that hard to distract us with red herrings. The reason for this (stand by for spoilers) is that the entire plot is a red herring: Yes, Kassidy smuggles things for the Maquis, but the whole deal of getting the Defiant, Sisko and company out to follow her is a distraction.
Because Eddington is working for the Maquis, and being left in command is able to organize the theft of the replicators and get away scot free. Oh, and he phasers Kira, but name me a Maquis operative who doesn't get to phaser Kira at least once?
Oh, and he also gets to rant at Sisko, and frankly, it's good enough to quote in full, because after several episode of trying (and of the show the Maquis was created for being cut loose completely) this is the first time after several years of trying that someone's actually put a button on what the Federation/Maquis conflict is about:
"Why is the Federation so obsessed with the Maquis? We've never harmed you. And yet we're constantly arrested and charged with terrorism. Starships chase us through the Badlands and our supporters are harassed and ridiculed. Why? Because we've left the Federation, and that's the one thing you can't accept. Nobody leaves paradise. Everyone should want to be in the Federation. Hell, you even want the Cardassians to join. You're only sending them replicators because one day they can take their "rightful place" on the Federation Council. You know In some ways you're even worse than the Borg. At least they tell you about their plans for assimilation. You're more insidious. You assimilate people and they don't even know it."
Sisko says Eddington's full of shit and Eddington is a dead man walking, and this will end . . .well, not great for Eddington, because Sisko don't shiv. However, this is tinged with some sadness as well, because Kassidy has to pay for working with the Maquis, and she is put on the prison bus. But Sisko promises to wait for her, and she will be back, which is an intriguing inversion of the typical form--typically once Trek love interests are gone, they're gone.
Okay, now, had this been the entirety of the episode I'd be happy. Unfortunately, we got a B-ploy stuck in with Ziyal (remember her?) reaching out to Garak because she's lonely and they're the only two Cardassians on the station. This is supposed to be cute and hint at a future romantic relationship but . . .it just does not work on any level.
For one thing, they have no chemistry, not least because three episodes in Ziyal is still not that much of a character. For another, pairing Garak, who is worldy and a good deal older than sweet innocent Ziyal is . . .troubling in a kind of "creepy uncle" kind of way. And finally, it's just too damned pat: Yes, there is certainly plenty of grist for the mill in pairing up Garak with the daughter of his sworn enemy, but it's too obvious, and besides, they never do anything with it anyway.
So yeah, this really sticks in my craw, and mars an otherwise brilliant episode. Fortunately, it can be mostly ignored for the bits we really care about and thus, doesn't damage things too much.
"TO THE DEATH"
"Wait 'til I find him--I'll kill him for scaring me like that!"
Oh good, here's another good one without any troubling bits. Our Heroes return home to the station after another successful mission . . .only to find someone has done fucked it up. Apparently some Jem'Hadar raided the station, stole some stuff, blew off one of the pylons and got away before the Defiant could return.
The Sisko don't play that, of course, so immediately everyone piles back into the Defiant and goes hunting for them so they can put the bite on their ass. They find a Jem'Hadar ship, crippled and near-destroyed, which was also attacked by the Jem'Hadar who attacked the station. They beam the survivors on board, including the head of the Jem'Hadar unit, Omet'iklan and their Vorta overseer, Weyoun, who makes his first appearance here . . .kinda.
The renegades are a security risk to the Federation and the Dominion--namely because the Jem'Hadar have found an Iconian gateway (last seen in some TNG episode I'm not going to look up), which would allow them the ability to travel anywhere in the galaxy instantly without the need of a starship, which would allow them to conduct strikes virtually anywhere any time. This would make them quite powerful--powerful enough that other Jem'Hadar might defect as well and lead to the ultimate collapse of the Dominion.
So a joint operation is mooted--the crew of the Defiant and the Jem'Hadar with work together to attack the base and destroy the gateway before they can activate it and start stirring up trouble. It's an ideal plan, or it would be except for one small problem:
Our Heroes and the Jem'Hadar always seem seconds away from killing each other. A fight in the mess hall between Worf and one of the Jem'Hadar ends with Omet'iklan snapping the neck of his second in command and when Sisko fails to kill Worf as punishment, he vows he'll kill Sisko. Worf then vows to kill Omet'iklan and well, what could possibly go wrong?
Fortunately, not much, because the actual raid part goes somewhat smoothly, and by "smoothly" I mean Our Heroes and the Jem'Hadar go hand-to-hand and fuck some renegade shit up in a group of sequences so violent they actually got edited down. Needless to say, they accomplish their mission with a twist or two I'll be good enough not to spoil, and Our Heroes escape, having sort of earned the Jem'Hadar's respect even if the next time they meet, they will be enemies.
This is a pretty good episode, actually, and one that is really committed to keeping the stakes without and the tension within as high as possible, which makes for a very energetic episode. What's more we get really great bits like Dax blowing the Jem'Hadar's mind because she's lived so long, Weyoun stirring the shit as best he can, and Omet'iklan being such a hardass he almost unseats The Sisko. Couple that with a long-ass fight in the jungle that's nearly "Way of the Warrior" level in terms of action, and you have a cracking great episode.
"I thought this was a hospital, and that you were a healer."
"I am. I take away pain."
Bashir cuts the head off an immortal, and--nahh, it's not that. Bashir visits a planet that dared to defy the Dominion, and the Dominion must have really had it's bastard shoes on that day, because they infected the planet with a deadly plague so virulent that it's a lifetime death sentence--every child is born with it, and everyone eventually dies from it. The Dominion then left them to serve as an example of why you don't mess with people who call themselves The Dominion." When "the blight" "quickens" only one man, Trevean, is trusted with aiding them, and the only way to aid them is to euthanise them and prevent them from dying in excruciating agony.
Living under this kind of permanent death sentence has, of course, fucked up their society no end. Their technological advancements have utterly collapsed and their will to do anything except live and die with the disease as best they can (not very well, really) is all that drives them.
This is pretty intolerable to Bashir, who, being the upstanding Federation sort he is, believes every disease has a cure. The people suffering from the disease thing he's full of shit--plenty of other have tried, but the Dominion did their work too well--there is no cure, they say. All they can hope for is a quick and relatively painless death at Trevean's hands.
Only one person seems to believe in him--a pregnant woman named Ekoria. Her faith and her hope that her child might live free of the blight even if she won't is what keeps Bashir going after his first efforts fail and the entire city turns on him for getting their hopes up.
Really, this episode isn't about the disease and the search for the cure as much as it is a way to put Bashir in a box and file off the last of his arrogant dickitude and arrogance and find the character within. The arrogant callow doctor of the first season, smug and obnoxious, convinced of his skill, dies with the first group of patience, and we're left with someone who's utterly shattered by that failure.
He's a far more interesting character (not least because this episode will gain some real shading by what happens in an episode later in the season, but we'll get to that when we get to it) after that, as we've seen him humbled and keep trying, sustained by Ekoria's faith in him and ultimately finds a solution.
Ekoria dies, but her child is born free of the blight--Bashir's vaccine was absorbed in the placenta and the child was born immune (this is a pretty typical out in virus run amuck stories, eh?) While he can't save the people who are suffering now, the generation after them might have some hope (whether or not they can breed themselves back to a thriving population is a question not addressed.) Trevean, so long considered a bringer of merciful death, is charged with Bashir with distributing the vaccine, and becoming a person who can give new life to his people.
This episode didn't play so well when I first saw it, but it plays like gangbusters now. Bashir is actually made an intriguing character, held hostage to his drive to succeed and utterly shattered when he falls short of it and Trevean is a man whose gone about his grim duty so much he's become a personification of what the blight has done to its society. The scene where Bashir gives him the job of distributing the cure and Trevean is moved almost beyond words is frankly excellent in its understated emotion.
I really do like this episode a lot, and while it doesn't have much in terms of arc significance, dammit, as a character piece it's well worth your time.
And that's it for this week! Join us next time when we deal with Quark dying and watch the creators of this show go absolutely fucking nuts trying to hide a pregnancy in "Body Parts" and we close out the season with with the Dominion returning to settle some accounts in "Broken Link." Join us next time for dark comedy, runny cast members, and pleasuurrrree . . .
Monday, June 20, 2011
Okay, so last year in the Iron Man 2 review, I lamented they hadn't bothered to get Kiss' "War Machine," despite the fact War Machine was in the movie and all that.
I feel like they equally missed an opportunity with not including "God of Thunder" in this year's Thor movie.
I know it's little more than a goofy musical pun, but so was sticking "Iron Man" in the first Iron Man flick.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
"It's just so hard getting used to being a religious icon."
OK, so Sisko's been angsting about his position as Emissary, which chafes at him, being he's from the godless Federation, which doesn't typically look with favor upon its personnel ending up as religious icons and all of that.
So wouldn't you know it, a Bajoran named Akorem tumbles out of the wormhole and wouldn't you know it, it's Frank from Fletch. Akorem looks suitably dazed, as he's 400 years out of time and isn't sure of much, except that he's the Emissary.
At first, Sisko couldn't be happier to hand over the title--some things that worry you no end you'll jump at any chance to get shot of them without thinking them through. Unfortunately, this has some unintended consequences. Akorem is preaching a return to the caste-based society that Bajor was before the Occupation, which forces people into careers based on their caste (which results in Kira being forced to resign and become an artist, something she's not really happy about) and allows members of rival castes to kill any Bajoran who doesn't conform.
This ends up complicating matters even further for Sisko: The Federation isn't down with caste-based discrimination, which pretty much puts paid to the notion of them being admitted to the Federation, which means Sisko's failed on two counts this time. There's only one thing to do, really--he and Akorem BOTH have to journey into the wormhole and get the Prophets to sort this mess out.
Man, what a surprise this was. We hadn't really done much with Bajor at all this season and hadn't touched much on Sisko's role as Emissary ever since "Destiny" and even then it wasn't really foregrounded to this level of detail. It's good that we finally had it, and when we had it it's a very very good episode that confronts the unease that Sisko has about being Emissary head-on and sets up what they do with it next season, in a way (what happens after, maybe not so much)
It's a great episode and it plays really well indeed. It's good that even after a season of all this upheaval with the Klingons, DS9 is still willing to work in some small way with the concept that they were initially charged with.
"RULES OF ENGAGEMENT"
"I say this: You live with Humans because you're afraid to live with Klingons."
You might have forgotten, and it would be easy for you to have done, but the Federation is still at war with the Klingons. Such is the focus of today's episode--well, kinda. You see, while out commanding the Defiant, Worf opened fire on a ship that was decloaking in front of them, he didn't wait and sent it straight to hell.
While this happens all the time in a war zone, in this case, Worf has blown away a transport full of men women and children, and dammit, he's going to stand before a board of inquiry for it. The Klingons have sent along a prosecutor (Ch'Pok who . . .well, let's just say if David E. Kelley ever did a show about Klingon Lawyers, he would be the Denny Crane of the enterprise) and he's demanding Worf's extradition for trial.
So what we have here is a legal drama, Star Trek style. They've done a few of these over the course of Star Trek as a whole and generally they're done in the service of one big issue or another, but this one is primarily concerned with playing out the Federation/Klingon war by other means.
While it's imaginatively shot and gives us a great little peek into Worf, it's also a very by the numbers. We know Worf hasn't actually killed a transport full of civilians, and we know there's something more going on here and the real contest is to find out what before judgment is made because in the meantime, evidence will conspire to ensure Worf looks guilty as sin.
Fortunately, the story is told in such a way that it really works and doesn't feel quite so predestined when you're actually watching it (analyzing it after the fact? Well . . .) and the twist is rather clever.
It further helps that we get some insight into Worf's character--whether he's conscious of it or not, he fights the Klingons as if he has something to prove--being the outsider, he keeps it real, perhaps ridiculously so. It's a good bit and it really recontextualises the whole "Worf lives in two worlds and isn't it just tragic?" thing and shows that there's some anger on his part underneath it all. Of course, by now you know I'm for anything that keeps him out of the corner acting like a sourpuss.
After six years in a place like this, you either learn to laugh or you'll go insane. I prefer to laugh..."
Oh, wow. A "Let's torture O'Brien" episode featuring actual torture. What a ray of sunshine this will be.
We open with O'Brien looking like Grizzly Adams being released from one of the shittiest TV jails you can possibly imagine. Only it turns out he's really only been detained for a few hours, only he's been implanted with memories of two decades of incarceration. That it was for some minor security infraction isn't really the point--this episode isn't about the funky funky mindgames or the virtual reality stuff--it's about Miles O'Brien trying to re-adjust to an experience that for all he knows is as real and tangible as what he had for lunch the other day.
Our plot follows two tracks. The first is O'Brien's attempts to adjust to life on the station again. It doesn't go great--O'Brien just wants to get back to work and pretend the whole thing never happened, and no one will let him do that. The more they try, the angrier he gets, and the angrier he gets, the more they try to help him.
This follows concurrently with some revelations about his time in Imaginary Prison. Turns out, despite what he said, he wasn't alone in the cell. He had a friend, named Ee'Char. They did all they could to keep each other from starving to death or going insane from the unrelenting grimness of their sentence.
I can't say much more without spoiling the rest of the episode, and frankly this is one that you deserve to feel the impact of. This is a very emotional episode that doesn't feel mawkish, is willing to put a member of the regular cast through the wringer to such an extent that he doesn't exactly come out of it looking great even knowing the strain he's under. It was frankly pretty awesome that DS9 had the guts to do this, and one of the things that set it apart from the other Trek series.
Of course, if I have one regret, it's that the long-term consequences of this aren't played out at all and that all it takes to cure post traumatic stress disorder is for you to learn to let go, which is . . .yeah, not great. On the other hand, I feel like there's no way it would have been workable in the long term so this was probably as good a choice as we were liable to get and I give them credit just for going this far.
"Oh, Pattern Suicide."
The best thing I can say about it is that there's an awesome space battle between the Mirror Defiant and a giant Klingon ship. This took one sentence.
The rest of the review is going to be spent telling you all I didn't like. Yes, we're back in the Mirror Universe and well into, I'm sad to say, diminishing returns. Jennifer comes to the normal universe and entices Jake into going over and bringing Sisko as well. You see, the rebels need Sisko to help them finish retrofitting their version of the Defiant. The "good guys," you see, have taken over their version of the station since we saw them last, and getting their Defiant up and running is the surest way to deter the Alliance from retaliation.
Of course, if they knew who was coming for them, they could probably relax--The Alliance Regent is Worf, who seems to have an IQ in the negative exponents and seems to enjoy dragging around Garak on a dog chain. He makes about as much of a credible threat with his blustering around as Mumm-Ra The Ever-Living would if he were trying to fatally stab people with a candy cane.
This episode makes my fucking head hurt. Oh sure there's plenty of action and derring-do and all that, but the whole conceit of the rebels stealing the plans for the Defiant (after Thomas Riker stole the fucking thing last year they didn't do anything to make it more secure? Shit.) having the resources to build it, and having it not be, y'know, a piece of junk . . .all of this is beyond credulity.
There's some good bits in amongst all this--Jake responding to Mirror Jennifer as if she were his actual mom, Sikso getting to kick some ass and not really sweating the whole "interfering in the events of another universe" thing (Honestly, it's not as if he could screw it up more) but on the whole this is a romp, but unlike "Through The Looking Glass" last season, it's not that much fun.
That said, we're done for another week. Join us next week as Jake gets his head grabbed a lot in "The Muse" one of the most indefensible episode of all time; Two of the DS9 extended family go down very unlikely paths in "For The Cause"; We say hello to a new face and hang out with the Jem'Hadar in "To The Death"; and Bashir has to grapple with his own hubris in "The Quickening," which if you remember, happens after the gathering. Join us for a cornucopia of fun!
There's also a cool wrinkle they added that almost--almost--makes Parallax work. Unfortunately, the choice to portray Parallax as an evil cloud doesn't work very well. I would have hoped after the second Fantastic Four movie that people would twig on the idea that evil clouds make rather silly arch-enemies, but maybe next movie.
The problem is the other two thirds--the Hal bits are Top Gun with the names changed (seriously, they barely bothered to change some of those beats) and the rest is Campbell-cum-Star Wars Hero's Journey boilerplate, with a side helping of daddy issues that are supposed to give our hero and villain some gravitas, but it fails to.
However, I have often said that typically I like everything about Green Lantern apart from Hal Jordan, so really, the makers of this film have managed to transfer the experience of reading the comic with frightening accuracy, when you get down to it.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Iron Man #134
Writers: David Michelenie & Bob Layton
Artists: Jerry Bingham (Pencils) Bob Layton (inks)
We open with Iron Man flying through a wall of fire and into a room full of laser guns and about three pages in we learn what this is all about--around about the time of "Demon in a Bottle," Iron Man's armour was remote-controlled and used to kill a guy, he's made a raft of improvements to be able to resist that method of control in the future. Oh, and also so we'd have an action sequence this issue.
Stark decides to call Bethany Cabe and unbeknownst to him, is being spied on when he goes to see her and various plot complications prevent him from confessing his feelings for her, cheif among them, the Titanium Man's back, he's ranting, and holy cow he's mightily pissed.
Sorry for not going into my usual level of detail with this issue, but frankly it's so slight there's not really that much to talk about in terms of it--it's another one of those "pendulum in the middle" stories that Layton and Michelenie do that ties up some plots, advances others, and kicks off new ones. The Titanium Man thing is part of a very complicated plot involving The Unicorn that happened before Layton and Michelenie took over and, well, really the resolution of it is more ticking off boxes than actual resolution of anything. It's not bad, and the pace of this issue is redolent of how things were paced for the newsstand--give 'em some kind of action sequence somewhere, set up an irresistible cliffhanger for next issue, lather, rinse, repeat.
Naturally, in our more enlightened age, this would take six issues, three of them involving Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Wolverine hanging around eating eggs and bitching about how tough it is to be a superhero. What an age of wonders we live in.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Iron Man #311
Writers: Len Kaminski
Artists: Tom Morgan (pencils and inks)
Sorry about yesterday. I needed a personal day.
Anyways, this is part 3 of 6 of "Hands of Mandarin," and since it's early days, this means it's mostly just the Mandarin smacking Iron Man around with his new scaly green hands and explaining that he doesn't believe in science anymore because it always let him down. Iron Man explains that he's gone completely mad and is more dangerous than ever (I really don't buy that) now that he relies on magic. The Mandarin rants and whips on Iron Man some more and pulls Iron Man's helmet off and gloats over Stark some more and for the love of Christ, I'm already sick, and an all-Mandarin issue is not helping at all.
Meanwhile, Century and War Machine are punching out Chinese guys who are, naturally, dressed like samurai. The head of the Chinese warriors rides up and offers an alliance. Meanwhile, it's back to Mandarin and Stark. Mandarin blasts off his armour (which doesn't work anyways, because of "magic") and Stark takes the opportunity to punch him in his face. Mandarin gets the upper hand soon enough but Stark is still defiant.
Meanwhile, Force Works is riding to the rescue, which means the situation is more desperate than we all thought (because having recently read a few issues of Force Works, I have to admit . . .there is nothing they don't fuck up or make worse.) They arrive by crashing their plane (again, something that seemed to happen constantly in Force Works--I swear they crashed that plane more than landing it) and join the battle because in Marvel Comics, people find airline crashes as easy to shape off as getting dinged while backing out of the parking lot.
Meanwhile, the Mandarin is beating Tony Stark's ass and is about to kill him. You can read Force Works #7 if you want to know what happens next. Myself, I could not care less.
Oooh, "Hands of the Mandarin." For all that I like Len Kaminski's work, this is not one of his better efforts. This is a six-part crossover that ran through Iron Man, War Machine, and Force Works, and really you probably could have knocked it out in half the time, maybe. For all it pretends to be epic, it's really just a lot of delaying action until everyone's together and kicking ass. The Mandarin's anti-technology field is soon thwarted and the Mandarin really never seems like he's on the verge of capital-W World Domination anyways. This is another one of those things I keep talking about where they try once again to convince the readers that the Mandarin is some kind of Bad Motherfucker, rather than the cringing, unfortunate, Yellow Peril stereotype that he is. The upshot of all this is that long after he should have been forgotten with other Iron Man lame-asses like Mister Doll and Gargantua, and yet he keeps coming back because Marvel Comics likes me to feel depressed, I suppose.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Iron Man #235
"Epitaph In Grey"
Writers: David Michelenie & Bob Layton
Artists: Jackson Guice (pencils) Bob Layton (inks)
We join the action in the midst of an exhibit by a sculptor named Paul St. Pierre. Jim Rhodes and Marcy Pearson are trying to get through another date with all the agony that entails (seriously, they're having a rough time) as they take the frightened-looking stone figures of the St. Pierre exhibit. And yes, if you're up on your Marvel Handbook, I'd say you have a great idea of where this is going.
Meanwhile, let's keep our plates spinning in Subplots Corner, as Stark gets picked up and runs into Kathy Dare who pops in for a couple pages to act really psycho and generally mess everything up. Rhodes has a feeling this isn't going to end well (precognition is a somewhat underdeveloped power of his) and oh yeah, Stark got one of those Paul St. Pierre statues delivered to him and well, it's of its style--a very frightened woman frozen in stone.
Back with Marcy Pearson, she's angsting over the fact that one of St. Pierre's statues looked awfully familiar, and looks into finding out what happened to her. I should add that she does some of her investigating by lounging around in a teddy which is . . .well, I think that's just where Jackson Guice's head was at at the time.
Cut back to Star Enterprises, where Iron Man is attacking so they can test out their new security gizmos and give Iron Man something to do. Iron Man declares them to be highly effective (I should add that Stark Enterprises will be attacked twice again in this way and neither time these things will be a blind bit of good) and he goes to hang out with Rhodes, who tells him that Marcy Pearson has gone off on personal leave.
Pearson is looking into her best friend's disappearance, and wouldn't you know it, it seems to coincide with an investigation into Paul St. Pierre. This all culminates in a party for Paul St. Pierre--which is good, because it's page 27 and not much has happened. While sneaking around, Pearson discovers that the room where St. Pierre works, and discovers it's empty. St. Pierre finds her there and reveals himself: Yes kids, he's the Grey Gargoyle. We close with a pun ("Will Marcy be taken for granite?") and it's all to be continued next month.
Uhm . . .wow, you know, looking back, I suppose these issues are awful thin in terms of plot momentum, but there's some fun to be had with them. The notion that the Grey Gargoyle has found a way to make money off his superpowers in a way that doesn't involve robbing banks or pestering Thor is rather clever, and it's good of Michelenie and Layton to give Marcy Pearson something to do, because she's been so dangerously one-note up to this point and would be again. It's a good enough issue, sure, but really, it's a vehicle to ramp up the tension for the next issue and little else.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Iron Man #239
Writers: David Michelenie & Bob Layton
Artists: Jackson Guice (pencils) Bob Layton (inks)
We begin with Boomerang, Blacklash, and the new Blizzard are stalking through a factory on the hunt for the Ghost, who despite melting through a floor last time we saw him, is alive and well. The Ghost makes them look like chumps (not that that's an all-day job or anything) and declares he's going to attack Electronica Fabrizzi because that's just what all polite comic-book villains do: announce their next target in dramatic ways.
Meanwhile, we check in with Stark deep in Subplots Corner, asKathy Dare is getting ever more clingy, especially as she cockblocks Stark while he's trying to make time with Rae LaCoste. Stark goes from there back to the office and Felix Alvarez drops by for some exposition--apparently Stark is trying to acquire Electronica Fabrizzi, and they got it despite putting in a low bid. Stark reckons there's something going on, and starts having a nose around and decides to go to Rome himself.
Cut to Boomerang, Blacklash, and Blizzard going to see Justin Hammer and get a good dressing down for being pantsed by the Ghost. Stark suits up as Iron Man to fix a weld because it's page 18 and Iron Man hasn't shown up yet while the Ghost rants and shoots things, like you do.
Stark learns that Justin Hammer is behind Electronica Fabrizzi, and meets with Hammer to learn the whys and the wherefores behind all of this. Hammer's idea is that Iron Man will take care of the Ghost and offers up Donald Gill (the Blizzard) as a bargaining chip--if Hammer will leave him alone, Stark can work to rehabilitate him (I'm not sure this ever really goes anywhere) Stark stalks off after the Ghost.
Iron Man goes to Electronica Fabrizzi and encounters the Ghost, who's upgraded his bag of tricks since they first fought. Of course, so has Iron Man, so they appear to be evenly matched at first, at least until the Ghost surprises him, slaps a gizmo on Iron's Man chest turning him completely intangible. The reasoning goes like this--Iron Man, having no way to remove it or deactivate it, will starve to death, very slowly (well until page 3 of the next issue, anyhow) and the Ghost, satisfied, stalks off.
Man, remember when every issue has a cliffhanger like this? I admit--it doesn't really hold up when you're not waiting a month to see how Iron Man gets out of it, but at the time, comics were still kinda disposable reads and the intent was simply to provide a monthly thrill.
And in that respect, this mostly succeeds. The Ghost--perhaps the last enduring Iron Man villain to be created that had any enduring potential (Dark Aegis doesn't count)--returns, and he's even more maniacal than ever. The trap he devises to deal with Iron Man is rather novel and echoes the imaginative and sadistic way he offed Spymaster before the Armor Wars, and it's cool to see him back. The rest of the book is just a few subplots humming over (Kathy Dare, the Donald Gill thing that really goes nowhere) but as the first part of a two-parter . . .it ain't bad, I guess.