Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Jesus, how long have I been promising this one? It's been at least five months . . .

Anyways, here at last is a book I have been champing at the bit to write up, but never quite had time, and also, I was a little trepidatious about writing it up, as it may, in fact defy description. After all, how does one coherently weld into a coherent analysis thirty issues including (but not limited to) people with funny heads trying top conquer the world and somehow getting one of their own's brain stuck in a deer, a cult of Bozos, and elf with a gun, Dr. Strange getting out of his gourd and quoting Rush's 2112 album, Nick Fury's crazy brother cloning people so he can drink beer with them, a refugee from the recently imploded Atlas Comics battling a group of Blue Oyster Cult-quoting . . .er, cult and . . .damn, I can't cover it all, I just can't. You'll just have to Ask The Defenders themselves.

Of course, if you know your Defenders history (and how many of us would admit to that?) you know some of this has got to be from the fevered brain of Steve Gerber, and you would be right--Essential Defenders #3 is the end of his run, which, this being a Steve Gerber joint, means things get tied up if not some actual closure.

Let's begin at the beginning--Essential Defenders (never has a title been more chancy as a declaration) #2 ended with the beginnings of Gerber's Headmen arc, in which a couple of characters from pre-Marvel horror comics band together to take over the world in the most baffling way possible. This leads initially to Nighthawk being kidnapped with an eye towards being bodyjacked by one of the headmen, Chondu. Chondu will then go fight the Defenders, because he has a hard-on for kicking Dr. Strange's ass.

It doesn't quite go according to plan, as soon enough, the Defenders twig out that something's wrong (as Chondu-Nighthawk is far too competent to be Nighthawk) and a little bit of magical chicanery (with Daimon Hellstrom, who will come to dominate this book a little while later) and we get an extended flashback into Nighthawk's life in the usual elliptical Gerber manner. I should also add here that currently, Nighthawk's brain is in a dish.

One thing leads to another and Chondu's brain gets moved into a baby deer who spends the rest of his time looks really pissed off (hilariously so) and team pain in the ass Jack Norriss gets his mind put in Nighthawk's body as the Defenders try to work out just what the hell is going on.

Meanwhile, in a wholly unrelated, pointless vignette, an elf with a gun shoots people. This is Gerber's commentary on random pointless violence (or so 'tis said) and will pop up a few more times in more and more wiseass ways during these issues.

Oh, and the Headmen get a new member. She has a marble for a head. I don't get it either.

Now, one may assume that this would lead to a straightforward punch-up with the Headmen, but Gerber doesn't really work like that, because no sooner does the fight with the Headmen begin when the only man the Sub-Mariner ever kissed like he meant it shows up. Yes, longtime Defenders foe (and vague pisstake on cosmic characters) Nebulon the Celestial Man returns with a new plan for big happy success.

And we . . .kinda follow that thread for a bit. You may be asking "Oh wait, hang on, what about the Headmen?" but that's Gerber for you. Nebulon and the Headmen will play tug of war with the plot for a bit.

I don't really mind the digression so much in this case, because this bit is fucking hilarious. Nebulon has dreamed up this cult where he says the way to true happiness is "to embrace your inner Bozo"--admit what a mess you've made of things and . . .well, put on a clown mask and chant "bozo," a lot.

Did Joey D'Auria (or, given the time it was first published, I guess it would be Bob Bell) get royalties from this? I wonder.

Anyways, this is utterly ridiculous satire and Gerber, bless him, revels in it, but never in a Warren Ellis-y "I'm so much better than this shit I have to do to make money" kind of way, but more in a gentle, affectionate satirical sort of way. That all of this is happening while being juggled with the Valkyrie in her own women in prison flick, the Headmen . . .doing something . . .and the Elf with a Gun shooting people and none of it feels all that forced is actually pretty great.

This all comes to a head in that year's Defenders Annual (Back when Annuals were used for things other than dumping grounds or the High Evolutionary fucking bothering everyone) which ties up the Headmen and Nebulon in one fell (and somewhat mind-boggling, but hey--Gerber) swoop and Gerber follows up on a loose thread with a recurring character and he's gone.

Enter Gerry Conway (apparently riding high on a bit of hubris after being made e-i-c, if interviews can be believed) for a couple issues which are pretty stock stuff (see also: everything Gerry Conway has ever written ever) which seem even more glaring when compared to the run of issues that preceded it. Fortunately, he doesn't stick around very long before we get to . . .yes, the Rush issue.

Conway had left everyone chasing after this red jewel that apparently turns you into the evil Red Rajah (which is different from the Evil Green Ranger, obviously) and it looked like it would be your stock mind-control plot: Dr. Strange gets possessed, the Defenders have to free him, on to the next thing.

Only David Kraft and Roger Slifer turn up and throw the wheel hard to left and all of a sudden the Rajah is quoting "Twilight Zone"

and setting up one of those "one world under one mind" ruling bodies that nearly every Rush album from 1975-1981 railed against in some form or another, unusually in mighty, full-bodied 20 minute plus songs best appreciated in a room peppered with the full aroma of many powerful bong hits.

I kid because I love. One day I will write a huge discourse on recurring themes in the music of Rush, and the day after that happens, my readership will drop from 16 to something like negative googleplex, because I cannot imagine something anyone who is not me would want to read less than that.

Anyways, we go from there to a fondly-remembered post-Gerber bit: The Scorpio arc. Colin Smith over at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics had a quite wonderful examination of this arc, and is better qualified to speak about its philosophical content than I . . .I much prefer to make jokes about how fucking hilarious it is that the whole thing becomes this gonzo Kirby homage wherein Scorpio is creating a new all-robot Zodiac . . .to hang out, drink beer, and shoot the shit with. And maybe take over the world, too. Scorpio's not really all that bothered about that part. No, really--it's like a Schlitz commercial dropped acid and crashed into a James Bond movie while James Bond was watching the Adam West Batman TV show.

Great thing about this book: Keith Giffen can do an amazing Kirby pastiche. Also, this book explicitly says a can of beer can save your life if a super-villain dumps you in an airtight deathtrap. Yes, of course it was approved by the Comics Code Authority, silly rabbit.

It also wraps up the Elf with a Gun stuff in the only way it really should have been--with the Elf (who represents random pointless violence, remember?) being run over by a truck. I like to think that's the end of it, really, but of course it isn't, because no one in comics was apparently every told that if you don't stop picking at it it'll never heal.

Things marginally approach coherence for a bit after that--some effort is made to set up a new status quo. This is kinda strange when you consider that the Defenders' big gimmick was they had no set membership. Trying to do a book about this is a lot like how Hungary was governed in the interwar years, wherein a country with no coastline was ruled by an admiral without a navy who was a regent to an nonexistent king.

Yeah, you don't see that kind of reference in a comics blog often, do you?

So a few subplots tick over and it's time for the Hulk to fight the Sub-Mariner, because Nebulon's been gone from the book for ten issues, and there's no likelihood of any "awkwardness." Meanwhile, the second Red Guardian has met up with The Presence, who wants her to undergo "nuclear transmogrification," which sounds like science, but really isn't. This is, of course, just a prelude to the Presence trying to take over the world with radioactivity, which is all he really ever does anyway.

The art during this arc features some early Mike Golden stuff. It's rather neat, even if compared to the stuff from the previous arcs it's all a bit standard super-heroics, which is a bit of a shame, as the Defenders as a standard superhero book . . .just isn't that good and there's nothing you couldn't get in Champions or Avengers or what have you.

Fortunately, we close strong, because Devil-Slayer shows up. Devil-Slayer, I should add, is, in no way shape or form Rick Buckler's Devil-Hunter from the recently folded Atlas Comics. No, he is pretty much exactly, Devil-Hunter in every way, shape, and form. He's also not . . .particularly interesting, really, but then that is not the point of this arc. No, the point of this arc is to play the Blue Oyster Cult (sorry, I can't figure out how to do the umlauts on here, guys) drinking game, wherein you take a shot every time you see a BOC reference. I can guarantee that if you follow this (I suggest the Macallan be your co-pilot here) you will be good and plowed by the time you get through the first 3 pages. By the end of the first issue you will probably need your stomach pumped, and you will probably be dead by the end of the whole arc.

Should I mention that the whole thing is trippy as hell and doesn't make a lot of sense? Nahh, I think that speaks for itself at this point.

In any event, these are some good comics. I have often suspected that the Defenders were a way of getting stuff in under the radar that you wouldn't really have a chance to do in a typical superhero comic, and most of the issues here prove that out as there is a wonderful madness that is drizzled over it like chocolate fudge over ice cream. There's a real glimpse into the possibilities of superhero comics when you're interested in telling somewhat personal stories that aren't slavishly replicating that which has gone before and trying to slip in some idiosyncratic stuff where they feel like it won't bog down anything much.

So of course, 30+ years later, the Defenders will get re-launched here soon and I'm eagerly looking forward to it looking and sounding like every other superhero comic circa 2011. Because that's what the Defenders were missing.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #33

Well, I nearly thought I was gonna get blown to Oz with Hurricane Irene, but it looks like even hurricanes like--no, love--no wait, crave--my seemingly never-ending journey through every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week, we begin Season Six, and it's very much the best of times and the worst of times, really.

The season begins with a six-episode, tightly serialised arc that is generally very strong (though the whole is stronger than its parts) and is followed by episodes which range from the mediocre ("Resurrection") to the outright dire ("You Are Cordially Invited"; "The Magnificent Ferengi") until things calm down and they find their footing and produce some of DS9's best episodes in the entire run ("Far Beyond The Stars"; "In the Pale Moonlight") and, seeing as how we're about two seasons away from the finale, we will begin making every effort to wrap up and position characters in the direction they need to be for the endgame. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. We'll see both before we're done.

"All in all, it's a good time for Cardassia. And the Dominion."

Last week, Our Heroes lost the station but cockblocked the Dominion on the way out by mining the wormhole and preventing any reinforcements from coming through. We skip ahead three months and see Dukat (along with his right hand man Damar) and Weyoun in charge of the station, more to bring down the minefield and definitively write the finish to the war before it grinds on too long.

Then again, one could argue they don't need the help--frankly, the Dominion is kicking the Federation and the Klingon's asses up and down the woodpile. The war to this point has been a constant bought of "engage, retreat; engage, retreat," and the crew of the Defiant are getting a little restless, and really, who can blame them? They need a Big Victory, something to boost morale, and soon enough, they get it:

Sisko and the rest are seconded to a new mission to break behind the lines (using the Jem'Hadar ship they salvaged in the fifth season) and destroy a ketracel white facility that will cause a drastic shortage for the Jem'Hadar (this kinda goes nowhere in the long term, but that's a recurring problem with a lot of war stories in DS9--built up as massively important, but not amounting to much) and hopefully turn the war in their favour.

That's the A-plot, and rather serviceable it is too. The B-plot is a bit more interesting as we see how Kira and the rest of the characters left behind on the station and how they're responding to the new occupation.

Kira, as you might imagine, seems to have inherited Sisko's tendencies for incandescent quiet rage, and little surprise, considering Gul Dukat's back in charge of the station and the only thing keeping him from bringing his bootheel onto the Bajorans is Weyoun's insistence that they honor the nonaggression pact that Bajor signed with the Dominion last season.

Weyoun and Dukat have such wonderful chemistry it's a shame that they don't have more scenes together. Dukat is riding high, of course, positively lunar that he's done what he set out to do--Cardassia was a third-rate power and he's made them strong again. The alliance with the Dominion is just a temporary measure until they can stand on their own. In the meantime, however, Dukat is positively bursting with overweening arrogance.

Weyoun (and to a lesser extent, Kira) both think he's a bit full of shit. For Weyoun, the notion of power for its own sake isn't something he thinks a lot of one way or the other--his people are just functionaries--the Founders say "do this," you do it, and that's that. That Dukat sees it as sanctifying his greatness is something Weyoun takes great delight in mocking in ways subtle and grand as opportunity presents.

But he's also not afraid to jerk the chain on Dukat to bring him in line. While Dukat may think that Cardassia is the one using the Dominion, Weyoun sees them as just another functionary and isn't afraid to tear him out of frame or yell at Damar, kindling a hatred between the two that will develop as time goes on.

Not that Weyoun's a good guy either--he's been withholding Jake's stories about life on the station under the occupation, but Weyoun's withheld all of them because Jake isn't providing a sufficiently "balanced" account.

In the midst of all this indirect oppression, Quark is trying to put a good face on it. Yes, this occupation doesn't have ghetto fencing or Bajoran workers worked until they die, but an occupation is still and occupation and freedoms are being rolled back one by one. Whether they do so announcing it with iron gates and jackboots or not, it's still bad. It's that question of what we can do (and what we should do) that carries through into the next episode . . .

"Evil must be opposed!"

Continuing from last episode's A-plot, Sisko and company succeeded in their mission in the short term, in that they destroyed the ketracel-white facility but got the ship crippled and finally shot down on a deserted planet (or so they think) Oh yeah, and Dax gets injured in such a way as she doesn't die, but is absolved of all plot-relevant duties for this episode (really, this is the season that they all but give up on Dax completely in terms of making her a meaningful character. I know I've been saying that since season 3, but trust me, this is about the time their disinterest becomes plain.)

So good thing it's not her story, then. No, the story is between Sisko and Remata'Klan, a Jem'Hadar third also marooned on the planet. The Jem'Hadar are further suffering from ketracel white withdrawal and are led by a mortally wounded Vorta. When the white runs out, the Vorta's hold on them will be broken and they'll go insane, killing everyone on the planet.

The Vorta, Keevan, offers Sisko an option: They have a communications unit that O'Brien can fix, and in return for being taken as a prisoner of war, he will give Sisko the entire attack plan the Jem'Hadar will use, setting them up to massacre the Jem'Hadar.

This doesn't go down well with Our Heroes, especially when Sisko tries and fails to turn Remata'Klan and give the Jem'Hadar a chance to surrender. Remata'Klan won't even hear of it--yes, Keevan is selling him out and doesn't deserve his loyalty, but he never needed to to--there was no question of his obedience, ever. The scene where he lays this out to Sisko is really one of DS9's best scenes ever, and this a-plot is a bit stronger than last episode's which was more of a "caper" than anything.

However, it's the B-plot of the episode where the real meat of the episode really comes through. Here it is in a nutshell: Kira, through no fault of her own and no conscious effort, has become a collaborator. This episode is about how she realises that--first, when she has to rebuff Jake's probing questions to her and Odo about their presence on the station legitimises the Dominion's occupation, then when she has to talk to Vedek Yassim, who wants her to do what she did before--stand up to this occupation while there's still a chance.

The critical moment comes when Kira is confronted with arresting Vedek Yassim, who has planned a protest on the Promenade. Kira is put in the position of dissuading her, and being ready to arrest her when she plans to go through with her protest.

Yassim's protest is to hang herself on the Promenade. Kira watches, helpless as she does so, and from that point on her disgust with herself and her resolve over what she has to do to be able to live with herself. This sets her on course for the rest of the arc and also will eventually put her in conflict with even her friends, particularly Odo, but we'll get to that soon enough . . .

"You're an opportunistic, power-hungry dictator and I want nothing more to do with you."

Here's where things falter a bit, as we kind of put things on hold for Operation Get Ziyal Over Part #6 and revisit Worf's son Alexander for some reason after not hearing about him for two seasons of this show and I forget how many of TNG. This doesn't really figure in to very much (well, that I can talk about now without venturing into spoiler territory) and doesn't move things along that much, and as a result, we're not going to talk about it overmuch.

Alexander, having gotten one of those growth spurts that only ever happens on soap operas has come aboard the Rotarran to prove that he's a worthy enough warrior in Worf's eyes and pay him back for leaving him behind. Alexander is even more a rubbish Klingon than Worf however, and makes an ass of himself at every opportunity--he's clumsy, combative, and really adds nothing save ballast. I wish I could tell you that his and Worf's arc is insightful, done with a deft touch and doesn't hit every single tired beat of the "Daddy, why'd you leave?" plot, but that would be lying to you, and I don't want to do that. This is, of course, especially pointless, as Alexander will show up for only two episodes and will only be sporadically mentioned afterwards, which leads me to ask if it was really necessary to waste half an episode on this?

The Ziyal plot fares a little better, if only because it at least has something to do with everything that's been going on, as Ziyal is used as a football in Dukat's never-ending efforts to get into Kira's trousers. The problem here, though, is Kira is a well-rounded character. Dukat (at this point) is a well-rounded character. Ziyal is at best a lightweight, at worst, a plot point that walks like a person.

Time and again we've been given reasons we're told we should care about her--she's so good, so innocent, and so kind and so NOT like her father, but we really don't get to see her behaving that way in a way that just doesn't make her seem like an utter airhead (I mean, not wanting to see that your father is a genocidal rat bastard is one thing, but Ziyal's refusal to own up to it and confront him on it is a denial of reality so comprehensive it's like choosing to be deaf) and when you lift that out, you don't really have much more than Kira and Dukat bickering through another episode and that's just not enough.

"Cadet, by the time you took command, there'd be nobody left to call you anything."

Shit gets worse.

Dax gets promoted to command of the Defiant while Sisko gets kicked upstairs. This should seem like more of a big deal, but in practice, it lasts an episode and a half, because No One Gives A Shit About Dax. Really, this is just to keep the wheels spinning for the Defiant crew until part 5, whereupon Sisko will assume command and Dax will go back to getting the occasional prickly one-liner, but . . .ahhh, poor Dax.

In any event, the meat of the story is station-side: Kira's attempt to foment dissent between the Dominion is successful, but carries with it an enormous amount of blowback, at least as Odo sees it, which makes him perfectly vulnerable for the return of Big Momma, who has come to hang out with him (er, basically) Odo, torn by his affection for Kira, his worry about the resistance screwing up the level of order he's comfortable with on the station, and his need to return to his people . . .yes, he links with her, which is Extraordinarily Bad for one reason, one short-term, one long-term.

The short-term problem is that he's doing all this while Damar has worked out how to bring down the minefield, which would hand them the entire bloody quadrant and well, it's squeaky-bum time, innit?

There's another more long-term reason why this is bad, but all in good time.

Anyways, this estranges Odo from Kira, which is exactly when this didn't need to happen, and with everything in the balance, things are going completely apeshit.

However, while Odo may be deserting Our Heroes, Quark has decided he's had enough and can't function under the occupation anymore. It's Quark who brings the news of Damar bringing down the minefield. Rom tries to deactivate the station's systems and limit their ability to take down the minefield, but without Odo to turn off the alarms, he's caught and sentenced to die, which frankly is one of the many reasons the Dominion are pretty damned awesome, if you ask me.

So, at our penultimate tally, we have: The Federation on the brink of annihilation, the Dominion about to get reinforcements, and the one person who could always be counted on for justice, the one person who everyone (Kira especially) thought they could depend on to have their backs . . .just doesn't care anymore.

As I said, things get worse. Worse still, because this is the end for now. But join us next time when we finish up this arc in "Favor the Bold" and "Sacrifice of Angels"; and then we're in for a run of mediocre episodes as Worf and Dax get married in an episode I hate apart from one absolutely glorious thing, and the Mirror Universe comes to us in the utterly chronic "Resurrection." Join us next time for big space battles, lowered expectations, and pleasure!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Just Sayin--There's No Stopping Us Now

Oh man, I would guess if one of your "architects" of your comics universe is saying "superhero comics are probably in a death spiral" just about the time where your line-wine reboot is about to drop and you're praying it resurrects the industry . . .that's not a good sign, is it?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Just Sayin--Event Fatigue Event Horizon (or Johnny Hates Jazz)

Every time I see the teasers for Shattered Heroes, all I can think of is "Man, they're re-using the Onslaught font? It took us 17 years, but apparently we've now run out of fonts. That's the big story here."

Also, between this and the New 52, I've reach a point of utter and complete apathy with Big Events, I think. The notion that, immediately after Fear Itself, one of the most feeble crossovers ever minted (yes, even more than Genesis) we launch in to the next thing with all the confidence that people are dying--yes, dying--to read the next chapter in the same old shit we got but a two-year break from (and even then, not really) so Norman Osborn can return and allegedly start some shit.

Because this didn't have the kind of logical holes you could drive a truck through when we did this shit two fucking years back, we have Norman Osborn. Back. Again. In charge of stuff. Osborn. That guy. Weird O-Face. Stupid haircut. Wore purple leotard. Had a thing for cornholing, then killing Spider-Man's supporting cast. Was behind the Clone Saga. Totally OK with human sacrifice to Goblin people. Ran the country into the ground. Disgraced when he tried to blow up Asgard.

That guy. For those of you who didn't get the Morrisonian bullet points in the previous paragraph, let me put it to you like this. The following clip represents the kind of thing going on in Norman Osborn's head all the fucking time:

. . .and makes no effort to hide it. Marvel tried to sell us on two years of this guy being in charge as a logical line-wide event for the Marvel Universe. 25 years ago, they tried to convince us 8 punishingly boring issues of a god wearing a white jumpsuit and a Jheri curl taking a dump and learning about desire was a worthwhile use of everyone's time.

I'm sad to say, but Jerhi-curl made a stronger case. Helped a little because they only did it once, and didn't try it again because it wasn't adequately appreciated the first time or some bullshit.

I'm kinda sick of Norman Osborn and all he represents, most especially the never-ending event. Seriously, these things would be bad enough if we only had to weather then for a few issues and crossovers, but by the time you factor in the promo material (which, much like a trailer that gives away all the good bits of the movie, makes you feel like you've read it already) the "Road to" issues, and the crossovers, mini-series, tie-in series, chronic lateness, and the attendant bullshit they drag on for a year and just . . .feel . . .like . . .a. . .death march.

You would thing with these allegedly "epic" things, they'd be the opposite of decompression--big moment following big moment following big moment. Hell, for all that Crisis on Infinite Earths was little more than sound and fury, they never bothered wasting entire issues with not much happening--why do that when you can raise the stakes at every opportunity. They didn't decompress the shit out of it in the name of wringing the last few dollars out of an increasingly jaded handful of comics fans . . .you don't not if your intention is to tell a good story.

But I doubt that's the intent anymore, they've said as much. "Connectivity" is the new thing--all you do is kick the can, run up to it, and kick the can again, run after it, repeat until dead. The awful thing about all this from a storytelling standpoint is that it makes everything the middle of the story. It's like Lord of the Rings if you took out all the interesting bits and kept in all the walking.

They never get anywhere. They just keep wagon-training.

I should be mad, I guess, but I don't care. I should expect better, but I can't be bothered. There's nothing to get excited about, because we're now in a state where even the illusion of change as a storytelling-perpetuating mechanism has failed.

They're just keeping them going because it's what they've always done and what they always will do. No higher ideals, no aspirations toward telling good stories, just inertia. Keep the plate spinning, keep the money trickling in from the easy marks who will buy anything.

And if they don't care, why should I? Why should you? Why should anyone?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #32

Just my luck that even with an end-of-season post like this I'm running late. Alls I can say is blame that old devil "real life" for getting in the way (and being on course to do so for the foreseeable future) and really cutting into my blog time. I have considered stepping up the production of these posts so I can get through the last 2 seasons very quickly. We'll have to see.

Never mind the preamble, here's the Sex Pistols: This is yet another installment of my never-ending battle to recap every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week is one of those wonderful weeks, not just because it's half the usual episodes, but because the episodes are a matched pair featuring serious stories balanced with comedic stories. One succeeds amazingly well. The other really suffers for having to carry two incompatible stories. Which one is which? Let's find out!


"The entire future of the galaxy may depend on us tracking down Willie Mays... and stopping him."

In the name of cheering up his father, who, with the growing threat of the Dominion reaching the boil, is pretty down in the dumps (really, all of Our Heroes are pretty much in Shitsville about it) Jake decides to buy him a Willie Mays baseball card at auction.

Unfortunately, he misses his chance. Ordinarily that would be the end of things, but the owner of the card, Dr. Giger, offers to trade for a few services--you see, he's working on a science project to make himself immortal in the most idiotic way possible (seriously, it must be seen to be believed) and in the process of securing it, they manage to do good deeds for everyone, and piss off Kai Ratched, but that happens anyways.

This will astound you, but, for a comedic DS9 plot line . . .this, this works. It's genuinely funny, never overstays its welcome, and it's kind of sweet, all told, as in the process of doing all these good deeds, Jake and his buddy Nog end up creating some great business with the main cast (Bashir's story of his favourite teddy bear being stolen by his ex-girlfriend is a real favourite of mine) and manages to cross over the other plot a few times and makes the episode feel rather more unified than these stratified A and B plot episodes sometimes do.

And what is the other plot? Well . . .Kai Ratched is on the station to meet with Weyoun, to discuss the idea of Bajor signing non-aggression pact with the Dominion. Sisko is about as happy about this as you might imagine, which is not at all.

But he doesn't have much of a leg to stand on, sadly--when he flipped his shit and kept Bajor out of the Federation back in "Rapture," he pretty much isolated Bajor from the Federation and Sisko can't guarantee that the Federation would sacrifice an actual member world for Bajor's defence.

Yeah, they snuck THIS little tidbit into the comedy story. I do rather like the audacity of that, you know--here we are in the midst of the happy comedy story and you're all like "man, this seems like something they shouldn't be wasting time on this kind of frivolity" and BAM here's a major plot development that will pay off in the season finale (or, if you're watching it via DVD, the very next episode) and you never even expected it.

It's not even tone whiplash, as the whole plot with Jake is touched off BY the pressure the Dominion is exerting, so it's all . . .well, pretty unified, really.

I like this episode a lot. It's a palate cleanser for the end of the fifth season, it's a comedy episode that is actually funny, and doesn't involve a bunch of characters acting like imbeciles, and doesn't make me want to kill myself, and there's also some plot movement in the tall grass. This is DS9 at its best . . .everything's neatly balanced.


"As someone once said, these are the times that try men's souls."

The good news: This episode feels so perfectly in line with the main themes of DS9 that you could draw a straight fucking line from "Emissary" to this and it just . . .works. Everything from the man Sisko was when he came aboard the station to Dukat saying he missed the office he used to have on the station, to Kira having to submit to a power she doesn't particularly like . . .oh, so much to like here. This has the thematic weight and gravitas that a series finale should have, and we still have two seasons to go.

The bad news: Unfortunately, a quarter of the episode is spent on the culmination of the Rom/Leeta/Leeta's cleavage courtship, which ends in a wedding and a bullshit rip from the movie Casablanca, which makes me want to punch someone really really hard whenever I hear it, so I always try to fast-forward past these bits. If you care about Rom and Leeta and Leeta's breasts, then this will feel like the culmination of a long-hoped-for plot point. Oh yeah, and get the hell off my blog. This is all the time I'm spending on it--I'm gonna focus on what the episode does right, and Rom is only tangentially involved in that.

Now, here's some plot: ever since Cardassia joined the Dominion, there have been regular convoys of ships from the Dominion to Cardassia--enough that Sisko's decided they have to stop, and orders the entrance to the wormhole mined with cloak self-replicating mines to keep the Dominion on their side. This pisses off the Dominion to the extent they send Weyoun over to threaten Sisko (because, well, mining a trade route is a kind of warlike act, let's be fair) and while he seems to back down, the fuse is lit--given they know Sisko's plan, they're planning to attack before he can seal off the wormhole.

This would be an ideal time for the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans to ride to the rescue and make a stand at DS9, but . . .well, the Romulans have signed a nonaggression pact with the Dominion, the Klingons can only spare Martok, apparently, and the Federation will be busy elsewhere. It's up to Sisko to hold the station long enough to activate the minefield before the Dominion comes.

And holy shit are they coming in force--an armada, led by Dukat (naturally) are on the way to take the station back. There isn't much time, and Sisko has to move fast, and fast he does. He gets Bajor to sign the nonaggression pact with the Dominion (in the name of keeping them out of the fighting as much as possible) evacuates the station, and rolls out their badass defence grid (making its last appearance, sadly) in the name of holding out.

Oh yeah, and he has time to make a rather important speech--not just for the little tidbit there at the end that explains why the Federation never came to bail them out, but also one that really shows you exactly what kind of change five years at this station has made in him. This is not the man who didn't want to be here five years ago, this not a man who couldn't have given a shit about Bajor, and who didn't really have a dog in the fight one way or another. His speech is worth quoting in full, and we're going to do so . . .now:

"When I first took command of this post, all I wanted was to be somewhere else. Anywhere but here. But now, five years later, this station has become my home. And you've become my family. Leaving this place, leaving you, is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. But this war isn't over. I want you to know that, while we were keeping the Dominion occupied, a Starfleet/Klingon task force crossed the border into Cardassia and destroyed the Dominion shipyards on Torros III. Your sacrifices, our sacrifices, made that possible. But no victory can make this moment any easier for me and I promise, I will not rest until I stand with you again. Here. In this place. Where I belong."

As time ticks down on the episode, shit gets real, real fast: The minefield is activated and Our Heroes escape in the Defiant. Kira stays behind to activate one extra surprise--Sisko left a program in the station to completely wreck the station, making damn sure Dukat wasn't gonna take down the minefield easily.

So--again, tying into what I said before about tying five years all together--the former commander/oppressor of Bajor returns to a station that's been stripped and sabotaged of everything of value and returns like a conquering hero (seriously, watch Dukat's face when he comes on board the station. You'd think he just capped Bin Laden or something) The resistance fighter who would happily have cut his fucking throat has to defer to him. The man who just wanted to be a good cop is revered as a god now by the new conquerors of the station. And the man the Bajorans made their Emissary has been driven far, far, away.

And open warfare with the Dominion has begun. No turning back now--for the characters, for the plot, for the series itself. We are in completely new territory now, certainly for Star Trek, which tried so hard to downplay its military connotations (and generally stuck to cold wars or the occasional skirmish for its baddies--this will be two years of continuing warfare) for the most part.

Stating next week, we begin Season Six, perhaps the season with the most legendary DS9 episodes, We begin this season with another something that Star Trek doesn't usually do--the first six episodes form a very tight continuing arc as we deal with the fallout from this episode. Will the Dominion pull down the minefield? Will Kira choke a bitch? Will the Federation take the station? Who will live, die, and never be the same again? No snarky comments about the next 4 episodes this time, y'all, just join me back here next time for "A Time To Stand"; "Rocks and Shoals"; "Sons and Daughters"; and "Behind the Lines." Take care . . .spike your hair. Woo woo woo--you know it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #31

Bloody hell, it's hot outside, so why not stay in and join me on another whistle-stop on my seemingly never-ending journey through the entirety of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week, we round the corner on Season 5, tie up a few loose ends, and make a few unfortunate missteps as we go, which I will point out to you, like the unfortunate active sores and lesions on an otherwise beautiful woman.


"It is clear to me that none of you are worthy of my blood or my life, but I will stand for you."

OK, so even though Martok's been our designated Klingon Empire guy on the station, we really haven't done that much with him thus far, nor really followed up on the fact that he went from several years in a Dominion gulag right to being the Klingon liaison to DS9, and someone that's bonded with Worf that hasn't died before the episode ended or had some political axe to grind. Combine this with the fact that Ron Moore has been desperate to do an all-Klingon episode of Star Trek for ages, and well, you have this episode, with all the good and bad that entails.

So apparently Martok's been using the downtime he has at his new job to let Worf beat the shit out of him so he has can be hollered at by Bashir for not getting a new eye and pushing himself too hard, which, given what's going on, tells me that both Worf and Martok have way too much time on their hands, but never mind that--a Klingon ship is trapped in Cardassian space and there may be survivors and Martok has been given command of the Rotarran to go and get them.

Oh, and he wants Worf to come along, which leads to a scene I'm kinda always gobsmacked by wherein Worf plays the race and species card to get Sisko to give him detached service so he can be Martok's first officer. So far, so good--that scene was a little "man, I can't believe no one thought about how that might read" but it's a minor niggle.

Things get more interesting when we meet the Rotarran crew and holy shit, they are the Klingon equivalent of the slow class, all depressed and sullen and . . .kinda un Klingon in a way that your drunk uncle was--sullen and withdrawn, yet prone to occasional violence when the booze didn't drown his hate. I should add that Leskit, the biggest asshole in the Rotarran crew, is played by the same guy who was Tackleberry in the Police Academy flicks, and I cannot stress enough what perfect casting that is. Seriously--you're thinking about it right now and even you can't believe how perfect a fit it is, can you?

Things start to get a bit dicey in terms of plot logic and other things when the following scene happens: Because Worf's taking time off, everyone else has to pick up his slack. Oh, except Dax, who just up and decides to take her leave time with Worf on the ship. This despite being shorthanded. I should point out the having a science officer on a Klingon ship is utterly fatuous, (and puts the lie to the scene before it where they were just talking about how shorthanded they were without Worf) and really the only reason she's there is to tell Worf what he should already know about the potential powderkeg situation the Rotarran is sailing under (more on that in a second) and because we are deep into Dax being nothing more than an appendage for Worf. But can't nothing be done about it, so let's get on with things.

As they look for the survivors, it becomes clear that Martok is ducking a potential fight with the Jem'Hadar, which puts the survivors at risk of being killed. You just can't do on a Klingon ship and sure as hell not on this Klingon ship, full of pissed-off and demoralized Klingons. Without a victory---without someone to lead them, things will go from bad to worse. Oh, and there's the small matter of the survivors, who would probably like to be fucking rescued already. So ultimately, it's in everyone's best interest for Martok to get his balls back.

This being a ship full of Klingons, there's nothing for it but for Worf to do what Martok should be doing, piss Martok off, and set off a knife fight, because these are Klingons and you either admire their warrior spirit or you see through all that nonsense and realise just how utterly foolish a race of warriors who behaved like this would be. Seriously--I wonder if everyone who watches Star Trek at some point reaches a kind of mental event horizon and realises that the Klingons, like the Daleks, are utterly silly.

Worf throws the match, and Martok immediately gets his balls back, winning the love and respect of the people in much the same way that Tommy Dreamer did when the Sandman caned him across the back in the ECW Arena. The Klingons chant "He's hardcore! he's hardcore!" in Klingon then realise, "Oh shit, the rescue!" and finally do their fucking jobs.

Oh, and the rescue? The thing we've been building up to the whole goddamned episode almost? Yeah, we don't see it. I'm sure you can spin that as the episode being really about Worf willing to let Martok stabbity stab him so he'll rediscover his testicular fortitude, but damn it, if you're going to talk it up to this extent, you kind of need to pay it the fuck off a little more than they do here.

Anyways, in the Epilogue, Martok is all like "Hey bro, thanks for letting me stab you and get the crew on my side" and gives Worf his Jobber To The Stars Merit Badge and makes him a member of the House of Martok, which . . .well, OK, that is kind of cool. Given that Worf had been on the whole House of Worf is honoured/dishonoured yo-yo and had lost his brother in the most bizarre way possible that really, this allows us a way to rest that well-plowed plot furrow for a bit and give Worf a really hardcore Klingon buddy . . .well, when DS9 remembered Martok anyhow. It sets up Season 7 nicely, that I will say.

I'm torn on this episode, because I like Martok. He's neat, and his arc in Season 7 is one of the most successful bits of closure for any DS9 character. I like the notion of the Rotarran being the Klingon Fuckup Wagon. I like that they follow up with the psychological effect of Martok's imprisonment. But every time I watch this episode, I find something that doesn't sit well with me and get a bit more annoyed with it. Why the hell is Dax even fucking there? She's pretty useless--when Diesel Klingon Chick basically says "Stay by me when the shooting starts, cutie," I keep wondering where the badass Klingon chick who wrecked shit with Kang and company back in "Blood Oath" went.

And also, the logic of the Rotarran's crew makes no sense. If they're all fuckups, why would you want a whole ship-load of them? Oh sure, I can see it from one side--best to get them all in one place so they'll all take each other out, but I can also see it from the side of "so you're going to take several small discipline problems and put them together so they can be one big discipline problem? This is the kind of decision making I can see coming from Klingons, actually."

This episode has major logic problems that I cannot get past, and continuing on from here will only encourage me to take it apart more. So let's move on to the next episode . . .


"So that you wouldn't have to die."

. . .which is a highly regarded episode that nevertheless has major logic problems. Fuck, there goes my fresh start. Anyways, Dax, not acting as Worf's appendage, pouts and demands to investigate some weird life readings on a planet in the Gamma Quadrant, because she wants to do some science stuff and it's not like they're gonna be back in the Gamma Quadrant for two years (it's true--the next time they go is in the final episode of the series, for those of you keeping track of the plot points that were pushed forward in the initial remit of the series) Dax ends up getting them tangled up in something which will maroon them on the planet (kinda) which is probably why letting Dax get her way isn't always for the best, I suppose.

Anyways, they land on Gaia, and are greeted by a bustling agrarian civilisation that tells them that 200 years ago, the Defiant crashed on their planet and couldn't leave thanks to the planet's Bullshit Particle Field, and so they just said "Oh, well" and built a colony there and all interbred which . . .oh my GOD that is kinda icky. Because while the episode tries REALLY hard to get us to care about the Gaians and their hippie commune (in so many ways, I find this episode even more disturbing that Season 2's "Paradise," which painted a Granola colony like this as an unrelentingly sinister proposition. Gaia is too, but for a different reason) by populating it with good people (of the soil!) and cute little moppets who venerate their ancestors and are just so god damned adorable in a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie kind of way, all I can think of is, given the limited crew of the Defiant, minus those that didn't pair up or died of disease before they could, giving you a shallow-ass gene pool, that colony should look like Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel's family on The Simpsons.

But for all I thumb my nose at Gaia, I should point out something here which may be--no lie--the single funniest moment in the entirety of DS9. There are a group of Klingons on the planet. Well, "Klingons" in the same sense as say, Eminem is black. Worf was apparently so badass that he inspired a whole subculture, which is hilarious because for two hundred years, these people have had no idea that Worf may be the most rubbish Klingon in the universe, and based their ideal culture on him anyway.

The fact this moment exists makes me laugh myself silly, y'all.

Anyways, the central tension of the episode is this--theoretically, the Defiant can not make the same mistakes they did when they will/did crash and leave the planet. But Gaia would cease to exist. I'm told this is bad, but I have a hard time seeing why. OK, that's an exaggeration--I'd miss the Klingon wannabees. But the downside is Our Heroes could never return home. I should point out that I don't give a shit about any of this, because it takes more than a bunch of friendly faces everywhere and humble folks without temptations to make me give a crap whether they exist or don't.

Thankfully, the episode seemed to recognise this and self-corrected, because Gaia-Odo, who's lived here these past 200 years (and spent the time working on his face, apparently) shows up and Odo's feelings for Kira are now an open secret. Of all the Gaians, who obviously have a vested interest in continuing to exist, you would think Odo would have the most to lose--all he wanted was to be with Kira.

His decision is really the sole thing that gives the episode the weight it should have, and really, is the only thing that really works. The stuff with the other Gaians rings very false to me--yes, of course if you saw that several generations of your descendants had gone on to be fairly wonderful people, it would be difficult decision, but not so much that you'd abandon all reason to save them. It's only with Gaia-Odo, where something tangible is at stake, and something that's been running through the show for years at this point, that the episode gets any gravitas at all, really.

I'm not as high as other people are on this episode, but the Gaia-Odo and Kira stuff is very powerful, so it's worth sitting through the Planet Kumbaya stuff to get to it. Once. The exponential comedic value of the Klingon Poseur Colony will help it go down a bit easier.


"Attacking two Jem'Hadar soldiers with a pipe? That's a brilliant plan."

So, recently we had "For The Uniform," wherein we finally captured Eddington and proved once and proved that there are serious fucking consequences when you step to The Sisko. We also had the Cardassia joining the Dominion 2-parter, which relates to our story this time kinda like this: Cardassia joined the Dominion at 8 o'clock one morning. They wiped out the Maquis a little after lunchtime.

Eddington took the news about as well as you can expect, namely he's been sitting in his cell mightily depressed, which was a nice break from what he did before, which is sitting in his cell going "What the hell was I thinking? That's Ben Sisko up there." Sisko calls him on his shit and says that he gave the Maquis false hope they could do anything to the Cardassians other than drive them to the Dominion in desperation and as a "hero" he makes an excellent auto mechanic.

However, Sisko needs his help all the same. The Maquis have launched cloaked missiles at Cardassia Prime in a little something they call Operation Fuck You, and Sisko needs Eddington to find and disarm the missiles. Eddington says "Yeah, OK, but I'm going to kill your ass at the first opportunity" and Sisko spends most of the time either punching Eddington in the face or wanting to punch Eddington in the face. As this is a critical mission with a ticking clock and could trigger full-blown war, Starfleet wisely sends just the two of them in a runabout, because Starfleet is really fucking stupid sometimes.

Look, I'll go ahead and say this: This episode is intended solely to write finis to the Maquis, at least insofar as DS9 is concerned. They've said as much, and I'm just parroting that. That should, I hope, explain why this episode feels so perfunctory--for all the jeopardy that Sisko is in from Eddington and they both get into with the Jem'Hadar, it never feels like anything's really on the line, because the whole story is basically an elegy for the Maquis and Eddington.

Not that they couldn't have done something with the Maquis even after the Dominion horned in--the notion of the Federation now having to collude with the people they branded as terrorists and all but abandoned would have made for some good drama and given us a front in a war you don't usually see very much.

But DS9 wasn't willing to go that far just yet. Give 'em another year.

So while this episode is really OK, and there are some good bits, it feels like a foregone conclusion from the first frame and so, it's hard to get into, really. Mind you, if you really like Eddington (well, I'm sure there's one of you) then it's a positively gnarly episode which completes the Eddington trilogy began in "For The Cause." For the rest of us, it feels a little like ticking off boxes, and well, I wish it were the last time I'd feel that way.


"The worst part of it is, this isn't a coil spanner . . .it's a flux coupler."

A little while back, I mentioned that I thought the whole business with Garak being Enabran Tain's son was too neat, but I found the actual scene to be well done. I believe the term I used was "making chicken salad out of chicken shit." Keep that in mind as I try to explain why I like this episode whilst simultaneously hating so much of it.

For those of you who don't waste your life with movie trivia (you lucky, well-adjusted people, you) The actor who plays Garak was the Scorpio Killer in the first Dirty Harry movie. He did a great job of playing a capricious lunatic and probably would have made a pretty decent Joker had a Batman film been mooted at the time. Unfortunately, in such a defining role in such a defining film led to a bit of typecasting.

He would ultimately overcome this and go on to be a respected character actor (respected even though he was in the movie Cobra, but a man's got to eat, for fuck's sake) because he could play shaded characters like Garak really, really, well.

So, given a featured role in this episode, they decided to make him an effective, but pretty one-note slasher villain. It kinda pissed him off, and frankly I can't say as I blame him, as this episode is as dumb as a geometry proof worked out on a short bus driven by an inveterate alcoholic on brown acid.

Shit's breaking on DS9 and with Cardassia and the Federation almost but not quite at war, the odds of getting a replacement from them is very slim. But there's an abandoned Cardassian station, Empok Nor, not far from them where they can strip out all they need and is no way shape or form just the DS9 sets and models shot from ker-razy Batman angles to save money.

MAN, SO FUCKING CONVENIENT! And hey, in a rare burst of common sense, they're sending a whole bunch of people along--O'Brien, Nog, Garak (because he can disarm the boobytraps the Cardassians left behind) Dr. Chambers from Crusade, and a few yellowshirts named Deadmeat, Killmenow, Murderbait, and Futurecorpse, who I have every confidence will make it to the end of the episode.

What could go wrong? Well, for starters, the Cardassians left behind a trio of cryogenically frozen Cardassian soldiers they'd pumped full of hate steroids and murder juice, or as we call it today, Axe body spray. Oh, and they're now awake and stomping around the station looking to do some murdering. Oh, and while Garak is trying to kill them, he gets a piece of the Axe and starts going murder-crazy, too.

This episode is rock stupid and proves that, just like romance and comedy, Star Trek isn't really set up to do a slasher film. Garak makes a pretty impressive killer, of course, but he's much better as plain simple Garak than Michael Myers and while we should occasionally be reminded he's a potential threat . . .I don't know that anyone is well served by it being so blatant.

Not to say Garak doesn't make the most of it, and the central conflict between O'Brien and Garak (and of who O'Brien was--a soldier who killed a shitload of Cardassians--and who he is now) that stuff works. But holy SHIT the rest of it doesn't. Oh, how it does NOT.

To add injury to insult, Empok Nor will hang around for the next two seasons like a barnacle on the hull, complete with weird angle shots and everything, when, given that there's murder-inducing Axe body spray (is there any other kind? I kid, I kid) they ought to have blown the fucking place up on the way out. Oh, and Garak never pays any kind of price for all the killing either, which means that the previous forty minutes or so may as well not have happened. Jupter's balls, people--if you don't have the will to follow through this shit, don't put it on the table in the first place.

I did not like this episode. You might. I couldn't possibly say.

I'm either cranky or punchy today. Possibly both. Thankfully, next week is gonna be easy-peasy, as we finish up Season 5 with Jake and Nog fighting a never-ending battle against Willie Mays in "In The Cards"; and when the shit hits the fan with the Dominion (finally!) it's time to make a "Call To Arms." Join us next week for cellular ennui, open warfare, and pleasure!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Just Sayin'--"With your smell in my nostrils by my side"

Okay, I'm not big on the whole notion of perfumes based on various icons of "geek culture" (I've grown to loathe that term) but of all the ones you could pick, Matt Wagner's Grendel stuck out as the pick hit to click? Really?

I mean, it's for a good cause and all, but . . .wow. Trying to get my head around this is causing a stack overflow error in my brain.

The real tragedy of this, of course, is that Orion doesn't get a fragrance. Proving, I guess, that even if you conquer the world and kill vampires and shit, people don't really want to smell like you, like, ever.

Monday, August 8, 2011


OK, so having put in nearly a week's worth of hours into this game, and lacking anything else major to talk about, I figured I'd finally go ahead and post my thoughts about Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3, a game which I have mightily enjoyed and, amusingly enough, I've sorta become tech support for.

Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3, like its previous 2 sequels, is about fanservice, pretty much. The formula goes something like this--gathered together from 30 years of Gundam anime, side stories, and god knows what else, a handful (OK, 50) characters, their giant robots (called mobile suits) are plonked into a game that involves them beating the holy hell out of other mobile suits by the hundreds of thousands.

. . .and then when you finish the game (SPOILER) there's a bit at the end that says we should all strive for peace. No, really. The cheek of this game being able to say this with a straight face just goddamn kills me. Not that the show isn't guilty of the same kind of thing, of course, but it's somehow more glaring when you plug it into the Dynasty Warriors engine, which basically involves killing people, taking fields, and then killing the big boss.

To be fair, DWG3 has added some tweaks to that formula--now, instead of random fields that are generally indistinguishable from on another apart from maybe having some obstacle or something in them somewhere, there are actual strategic points on the various maps that will help you finish the mission--from catapults that allow fairly instant movement from point to point, to missile bases that allow you to launch missile strikes on enemy fields, to bases that allow you to call reinforcements or stop enemy redeployment.

This is kind of cool, in a sorta Herzog Zwei way (only I could talk about Gundam, itself a niche, and cite something that's even more of a niche. I would be gobsmacked if anyone reading this knows what Herzog Zwei even is) and it kinda works, except there are a few bits where it's kinda buggy. Occasionally the computer will ignore that these locations are supposed to affect the gameplay of the mission and just randomly take fields or drop enemy aces into your territory and generally violate the laws of causality, time, and space, because, well, that's what computers do, really. In situations like this, then, all you can do is just kill every ace on the board and drop the enemy meter down to zero the boss will come the hell out and get his ass killed.

There are other tweaks--the teeth-bleedingly annoying Friendship system from DWG2 has been tweaked, and now is a lot clearer and most importantly, doesn't go down and sabotage your progress. It's still a little opaque--for instance, I had 15 mission unlock because I had one character who was one friendship level below what he shoulda been--but it's a lot better than the nightmare that DWG2's was, trust me.

The Official Mode from DWG1 and 2, that being the mode which allowed you to play as missions from the various anime series has been downgraded into History Missions, which cover the various series just as well and give you the option to play it from both sides in certain cases (which, in one particular case, allows for a different outcome for a critical moment) For those of you who have no real idea where to begin with this Gundam stuff, well this will give you a decent grounding in it in half the time watching 30 years of stuff would.

Online has been heavily overhauled as well, and good thing. The Vs. Missions DWG2 had have been replaced with a slate of missions designed to be impossible to complete alone (SPOILER: They're not) and replaced with missions where you team up with 1-3 other people and kick some ass. They're quite fun and very useful for grinding up your pilot's levels and getting higher-rank plans for your mobile suit (allowing you to customise more powerful suits) and generally, a good way to kill some time--er, when the netcode is stable. It usually is, but somedays you'll have no end of problems with it crapping out as you're trying to start a group mission.

The Story Mode, however, is Fanservice Central. Borrowing liberally from Secret Wars (only better) it involves Our Heroes (and villains) being spirited to the land of NonCanon, wherein they compare notes on how they got there and what they should do next and what the hell is up with the Knight Gundam (it's a long story) showing up, being inscrutable and magic'ing away at appropriately dramatic moments.

It's kinda fun and has a pretty epic sweep. Being that this kind of crossover is tacitly impossible (as these series generally exist in separate time periods and universes) it's cool to see all the evil masterminds from various series unite and all the idealistic pilots form one bloc, and so on. In fact, it was so much fun to see them interact it made me lament that most crossovers in comics don't have this kind of weight to them, now.

So it's pretty cool. I haven't covered in detail the DLC for the game (which, depending on your feelings about DLC may or may not be a deal-breaker) which features a handful of pilots from 00 Gundam and Gundam Unicorn, and a few special missions which were fun to play, but also mighty damn fiddly. The DLC issue is something I vacillate on--here, I'm generally OK with it, but I lament that the bonus pilots can't be more fully integrated into the game--they have no real story modes, nor can they be incorporated into the game and randomly show up in missions for instance. This is a real missed opportunity, I feel.

So in all, it's a pretty fun game. If you look down on Gundam and Dynasty Warriors games as monotonous an inane, this is probably not going to change your opinion any, but if you're the sort of person who likes this sort of thing, it is absolutely the sort of thing you will like. Obviously I do, because I did do a whole Gundam week that one time . . .

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #30

If it's Saturday, it must be time once again for another visit to the happy little corner where we look at Picture Picture. And wouldn't you know it, Picture Picture is showing another quartet of episodes from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week, we follow up on the seismic shifts in the tone of the show a little, but generally it's dominated by character bits. I initially dreaded this, since watching "Ferengi Love Songs" is about as pleasant as having a shock-stick jammed in my junk, but it gives me a chance to compare why a Quark episode works and why a Ferengi episode doesn't side by side, so there's at least a silver lining to it.


"If people are talking, it's only because they care. You put on a good front, but anyone who really knows you can see that you're lonely."

So, I'm a big fan of sci-fi noir. Blade Runner is one of my favourite movies, after all--it must be, as I bought that big DVD case with like, 6 cuts of the damn film in it. Either that or I have a serious mental illness--and I can see why, in a show like this, having a character like Odo, it would seem to be a natural fit to do a story like this.

The problem is noir is more a style than a natural mode of plots--noir plots typically turn on gimmicks and gloss over these problems with stylistic exercises more than logical plotting, and unfortunately, this is what keeps this episode from really working as it should. Because the gimmick in this episode is rather eye-rolling.

So let's get right down to it: Odo becomes involved (in every sense of the word) with a mysterious woman in a lot of trouble with the Orion Syndicate (the occasionally mentioned yet seldom seen stand-in for the mafia in Star Trek) Only in turns out that she's not all she seems. As this is film noir and this kinda thing happens all the time, I'd also like to remind you that rain is wet, fire is hot, and by all means, keep breathing.

I won't spoil the big reveal, as that's pretty much all this episode has going for it. It's sort of goofy and such an obvious reset button that it feels . . .well, like a cheat. There's some attempt to give all this a little more heft than it might have otherwise, and some meditations from the rest of Our Heroes about the way Odo lives his life and how he's being lonely and stuff, given that this is all reversed in a little bit and any meaningful attempt to not pair up Odo with anyone save Kira is abandoned it feels like a bit of a storytelling blind alley.


"28 million dead? Can't we just wound some of them?"

Quark gets into business with Victor Maitland and Joe Cabot, and those of you who enjoy convulsing your minds to make a Star Trek/Beverly Hills Cop/Reservoir Dogs crossover work with any kind of logic, go right ahead.

OK, seriously, this is a Quark episode, wherein he loses a lot of money and decides to throw in with his cousin Gaila, who's been mentioned a few times and who tried to kill him back in "Little Green Men." Gaila is one of the wealthier members of the family and is doing all right for himself, and has an idea to use Quark's holosuites as a weapon showroom, which makes running guns through there technically legal, though seriously immoral.

Quark, being Quark, pretends he doesn't care at first, and rather enjoys the fact that he's making money and the authorities can't touch him, partly because he's technically not doing anything illegal, and also because the people he's working for sold arms to the Bajorans during the Occupation and well, they ow them one (this is a good bit, I rather liked it)

However, there is a cost--Starfleet officers stop going in to Quark's bar and he starts to feel the gnawings of his own conscience, especially when he's asked to sell weapons that will annihilate large chunks of populations. Quark, despite occasionally being the exemplar of old-school Ferengi values, just can't let himself be as amoral as his cousin.

So Quark decides to get out of the weapons business by virtue of a complicated double-blind, because that's better than two week's notice any day of the week. I'll leave the details of it out, except to say that when it comes off, it is incredibly satisfying.

So, remember when I said that Quark episodes work while Ferengi episodes tend not to? Well, it's because of this: This episode is about something, and the comedy all flows from that point: how much is too much for a greedy profit-minded Ferengi? It's not just a collection of bits based on characters who are satellites of a main character and have little to differentiate themselves, this is someone we've actually seen go through something of an arc.

This is an example of the right way to do these. The wrong way, well, let's look at the next episode before we get to that . . .


"Oh my, that is quite toxic, isn't it?"

So, you remember two seasons ago when I said "Second Skin" was one of my favourite episodes of the whole DS9 run? Well, we now tie off that loose end with this episode. Ghemor, former Legate of the Cardassian Union returns to DS9 to see Kira, because he's dying of End of Plot complications and he wants to perform a Cardassian ritual, wherein he gives up a lifetime of secrets about the Cardassian political system to the only family he has left.

Starfleet is, of course, over the moon about this--with the Cardassian situation being what it is, the information is priceless. So priceless, in fact, that Dukat himself shows up to the station, and we get our first real look at what's happening in Cardassia since the "Purgatory/Inferno" two-parter shook everything up.

For one thing, Dukat isn't alone--his Dominion right hand is none other than Weyoun, last seen being very dead in "To The Death." They get out of this pretty easily by saying Weyoun, like all Vorta, just run off a new clone whenever one of them gets killed, which is . . .well, one way of doing it, I guess. Not much comes from this inititally--this is Kira's story after all, and the Dominion stuff is more of a filigree and presaging of things to come than a direct story point.

Things go according to plan until Dukat makes Kira aware of Ghemor's past and when he took part in a raid on the Bajorans. This naturally sets Kira off and she refuses to see him while he comes ever closer to slipping away for good. Kira looks quite willing to let him die alone (this is, after all, a woman who took out a Cardassian serial killer while pregnant not so very long ago) until she's reminded of a moment when her actual father was dying and she left him alone to go kill some Cardassians.

It's a really good scene and the whole episode really turns on it. In a way it's more effective than the recent "The Darkness and the Light" because it's a bit more nuanced--there's guilt on both sides of the equation, and that guilt can bind as well as it can separate.

This is a really good episode. It may have more weight/pain for you if you've had to take care of a terminally ill family member, and it's rather unique because it really does allow Kira to come off as a bit of an asshole and doesn't really try to walk it back--her abandonment of Ghemor and her subsequent return really does feel earned.


"Don't you think of anyone but yourself?!"
"Of course I do. I just think about myself first."

And then there's this. All Ferengi Komedy, all the time, with all the shrill mugging and histrionics that implies. Zek gets involved with Quark's mother and Leeta and Rom almost get married, then don't.

I don't really want to spend a lot of time on this, so I'll deal with this in bold strokes. There is no god damned reason why anyone should give a shit about either of these plots. Zek and Quark's mom are appendages and plot complications for Quark more than they're characters in their own right, and if DS9, the show that wrote the book on giving recurring characters as much weight as the main cast, then you have some problems.

But then, that's just half the problem. What's the excuse for the Rom and Leeta subplot? Believe it or not, before the whole season became Operation: Get Rom Over, Rom was actually an interesting character with a different perspective--he had no aptitude for profit, which made him a horrible Ferengi, but he was good at something else. It made for a great contrast with Quark, who only ever wanted to be the best Ferengi he could be

Unfortunately, with his prominence this season, all the interesting stuff has been set by the wayside and now all we get from him is irritating mugging and such overexposure it fills me with head-swimming dread when he shows up in an episode for longer than a minute.

It's not helped that he's marrying a cipher named Leeta, who, impressive Valkyrie cleavage aside, has little character to recommend her. The wisest thing to do for all concerned would have been to marry them in this episode, declare victory, and move on. Instead, this running sore of a subplot will drag down the season finale.

I really hate Ferengi episodes, is I guess what I'm saying. And they're all the more frustrating when you can see that they can be done well (if you follow the "less is more" method of doing things, and not try to jam so much in and turn it up to 11. The worse thing is that the nadir of Ferengi episodes still awaits me, and oh how I dread it.

That's all for this week. Join us next week when Martok and Worf solve post-traumatic stress disorder with knives and Tackleberry is outed as a Klingon in "Soldiers of the Empire"; We pay our last visit to the Gamma Quadrant before the end of the series and deal in time paradoxes in "Children of Time" and Sisko enlists Eddington to tell him his favourite Bon Jovi song in "Blaze of Glory"; and Garak makes chicken salad out of chicken shit in the wrongheaded yet still entertaining "Empok Nor." Join us next week for Maquis, horror flicks, and pleasure!