Monday, October 31, 2011

The 2011 Witless Prattle Halloween Spooktacular--CARNIVAL OF SOULS

Evening boys and ghouls, here's your horror host with the very least, Kazekage, who like one who walks on a lonely road doth walk in fear and read down to the liquor store, stopping in to drop in a Halloween themed post for you here on the actual day, lest I wait a few more hours and then it's All Saint's Day and everything just feels a bit late and past it and it's all faintly embarrassing somehow.

The movie we're going to talk about tonight is Carnival of Souls, an incredibly strange movie from 1962. It's an annual Halloween tradition to watch it at the House of Thump (the codename for the compound from where this blog emanates, and if you're a longtime reader, you know "emanate" is the right word to describe what we do here) and it's something I've always had a soft spot in my heart for--no least because I think I befriended the illustrious Diana Kingston-Gabai based on a spirited debate about the virtues of this movie (she thought it was rather dated, and to be fair, I made a poor defence of it) though I think we both enjoyed it's occasional silliness.

If you'd like to follow along, you can watch the movie for free via Youtube (thank heaven for public domain, eh?) It's rather short and won't take up great wodges of your life. For those of you who want to know what you're getting into, here's the trailer:

Man, even back then they gave away pretty much the entirety of the movie.

Anyways, before we get to the actual movie, a little background. Carnival of Souls was the brainchild of Herk Harvey, a man who made his living doing instructional films for the Centron Corporation, and if you're a big Mystery Science Theater 3000/Rifftrax fan, you will know them well. Carnival hovers close to that at times--it all too often veers towards the thudding, earnest blandness of an instructional film in the dialogue scenes (the bits with Mary--our heroine--and the psychiatrist set new speed records for an almost enervating dullness) and everyone looks intensely uncomfortable being on camera and tends to ham things up as a result.

However, Carnival isn't a Manos: The Hands of Fate kind of bad movie. It's actually rather good and eerie in some places, with a plot nicked from an Ambrose Bierce story before that became a thing, and a rather strange dreamlike quality that prizes images more than narrative coherence.

So let's dive right into the movie, shall we? Mary and her friends decide to have a drag race. The first thing you notice , of course, is that none of the drag racers seem to be at or above the age of thirty. Naturally, they pick the ricketiest bridge to drag race on and Mary's car flops off and sinks with all hands.

Or so they think, because Mary, our heroine, wanders up covered in mud and looking a little spacey. She'll look a bit spacey through the whole movie, actually, and you can read that several ways depending on whether you're willing to let it go as a dramatic choice or a comment on the skill of the actress. Mary takes the whole "falling off a bridge" thing like a champ, and doesn't let it break her stride at all. Mary, you see, is a budding church organist in her native Lawrence Kansas and has just received a job offer to go play organ for a church in Utah who has what I consider to be easily the hammiest pastor I ever did see.

One curious side effect of the bridge thing seems to be that Mary's a bit indifferent to everything--playing in a church is just a job to her, and most anything she can take or leave. During her first visit with the pastor she drives by an old pavilion that catches her eye in an eerie sort of way (Mary was the first urban explorer, you see) and suggests to the reverend that they bust in and look around and this is the first inlking that Mary's a little bit of a sociopath.

Fortunately, she's living in the creepiest boarding house in Utah, which should calm her right down. The owner of the house, Mrs. Thomas, who is mind-bogglingly obsessed with people taking hot baths (she's not one to make a fuss about such things, as she tells Mary a dozen times) and Mr. Linden, the other boarder in the house who is pretty unpleasant himself, as we get to know him by making clumsy passes at Mary, drinking a lot, and stealing a peek when she's undressing for the bath (God dammit Mrs. Thomas, every time you mention the baths, it's like you're ringing the dinner bell for him) Mary handles this like a champ, by alternately coming on to him and freaking the hell out around him, which ultimately puts him off, and you must say . . .takes a lot to out-creep a creep, doesn't it?

As an aside, this movie works even better if you just assume that everyone in it is fucking insane. It makes it like Eraserhead before Eraserhead was a thing.

But Mary has her own problems . . .every now and again during her day, she sort of "drops out." The sound seems to fade out and all she can hear is weird organ music (this is also known as "the entire soundtrack of the movie--seriously, the only place you'd hear more organ music was if you camped out at an ice rink) Everyone seems to ignore her. It's like she doesn't exist.

Well, that is, she doesn't exist except for the creepy dude (actually the director) who seems to appear and disappear and gets ever closer to her. This leads to the bits of the movie that are very effective indeed--the surreal, dreamlike, scenes that really kick in right here at the middle of the movie:

Man, the preacher losing his shit at the end of that clip is just awesome, as is Mary acting catatonic. This movie slips so neatly between striking images and unintentional comedy so easily, which is probably a reason why I love it so.

Things go downhill for Mary after that, and she proceeds to get weirder and weirder to the point where even Linden decides there's too much crazy in them drawers to justify the effort involved, and he finally gives her the broom. So Mary spends a little more screentime freaking the hell out and finally returns to the pavilion one final time, wherein the shocking secret (OK, if you've read the wiki thing or seen the movie by now, it's not so secret and probably not shocking) of the whole movie is revealed. Oh, and someone who's supposed to be dead blinks on camera. Once you see it, like the arrow in the FedEx logo, you can't un-see it.

I cannot, in all good conscience say that Carnival of Souls is a good movie. I will say, however, that it's one of my favourites, as somehow even its flaws--the wooden/hammy acting, the unlikeable lead, the somewhat meandering plot--really add to the dreamlike ambiance of the piece. The scenes that work the best--the ghouls coming out of the water, the ghouls on the bus, the odd dancing scene at the end, while a little mannered today, really stick in the mind and point the way towards later movies like Night of the Living Dead a few years later.

It is, however, entertaining for what it is--a very odd strange little film that seems to be several things but also it's own thing at the same time. I do rather like its goofy earnestness and somewhat effective moments of atmosphere (it makes excellent use of black-and-white photography to give certain scenes a real desolation and coldness), and it's well worth a look if you're curious as to what horror was like pre-Night of the Living Dead (which made it a little more OK to be gory) but after the horror waves of the 40's and 50's.

Or, if you just like to see preachers lose their shit when the organist goes off script.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #42

I could be out getting drunk as a skunk at several Halloween parties, but something in me said "No, let's get one step closer to the goal of recapping every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." That, plus I wasn't invited to any of them. In any event, join me as I endure three hatefully shitty episodes and one great one with my typical lack of patience for how far things have gotten out of whack in the seventh season. Let's just get it over with.

"I've always found that when people try to convince others of their beliefs it's because they're really just trying to convince themselves."

Oh God, I fucking hate this episode so much. Kira gets hijacked over to Empok Nor (THIS SHIT AGAIN ARGH) and find out the cult of the Pah-Wraith (yeah, you remember--the cult that's all over Bajor that we've seen like, twice) and, in a plot twist you could see from the next state over it's led by Gul Dukat. We run through all the expected Jim Jones /David Koresh comparisons and Kira escapes in time so we can close the episode with her saying Dukat is "more dangerous than ever." How this is possible when all he has is an under-motivated hippie commune when he once had the Dominion on his side, I am not exactly clear on.

This episode is so problematic, I don't really know where to begin, except to say just in general, that this is where many of Season Six's sins come home to roost. We have Dukat being Ker-AZY and really uninteresting as he tries to do the cult leader thing, even though he's still up to his usual tricks like banging Bajoran women (married Bajoran women) and spawning Bajoran/Cardassian love children (which he then spins in to a miracle, which takes balls bigger than all outdoors)

There's an attempt at nuance here, however--Dukat is seen praying alone to the Pah-Wraiths, which would undercut Kira's assertion that he's only joined a Bajoran cult to win the love of the Bajorans, but it never really goes anywhere because this would imply nuance in Dukat, and that's not what we do anymore.

Because it's not enough to revisit one misstep, it's time to plunder over the Prophets/Pah-Wraith conflict, although unlike "The Reckoning" no one busts out goofy contacts or Force Lightning. The shape of the Prophets/Pah-Wraiths tiff is explained thus: The Pah-Wraiths wanted to take more of an active role in Bajoran like, the Prophets told them "uh-uh" and they kicked the Pah-Wraiths out of the wormhole.

The sad thing is, this is actually sort of interesting. Over on Babylon 5, they managed to frame the extended conflict between the two major powers, articulated their philosophies, and made them credible and interesting in that they were both right, and both wrong, and at the conclusion of Babylon 5's war, the actual conflict was about finding an option outside of their two philosophies.

DS9 rolls this out, then ignores it for the rest of the episode and the rest of the series. They were just shitting you about making this a somewhat even contest, all you need to know is Pah-Wraiths=bad, Prophets=Good*

*(That's "good" despite their opening and closing the wormhole whenever they get in a snit. And brain-raping Sisko's biological Mom. Oh, and jerking Sisko around like, every season. Other than that they're fucking saints, I guess)

Did I mention that I hate this episode? Yeah, I do. The whole "evil cult is evil" bullshit is bad enough, but the thing that really honks me off is how we have a whole bunch of interesting ideas get rolled out, and are immediately buried so we can go for the safer choice. The idea of a clash of philosophies forming a structure for the finale is one thing, the notion of dueling Emissaries is also very interesting. Without spoiling it, we're not going getting that. Sorry.

"He's a one legged crazy man!"

It's somehow fitting that Ezri's second big attempt at helping someone fails as miserably as the first. For all they try to get her over as a Worthwhile Addition, her inability to do her fucking job really undercuts it.

I just wanted to get that out of the way before I sank my teeth into the meat of this episode, which is one of DS9's best episodes, which is no surprise. The true surprise here is that: This is an amazing episode that features Vic Fontaine, and until I saw this, I just assumed that was like dividing by zero or some shit--you couldn't do it.

But you can, apparently.

Nog returns after getting an artificial leg to replace the one he lost last week (our time) in "The Siege of AR-558" but he's having a little trouble. His leg hurts and makes him limp, and he requires a cane to get around. He's not interested in anything anymore, and rebuffs his friends and family when they try to help him. The only thing that seems to make any difference is when he goes to Vic's and asks him to sing the song that was playing when he lost his leg ("I'll Be Seeing You")

This leads Nog to basically move in to the holosuite and hang out with Vic all the time. Vic does his best to help--giving Nog a cane to replace the other cane to subtly wean him from the need for it, and Nog helps him expand the parameters of Vic's program. Things seem to be going well.

Until Nog beats the crap out of Jake when his girlfriend keeps calling him a hero. Then it becomes plain this is a way that Nog is trying to escape from a life he's become to terrified to try to live, as he articulates in the following speech, worth quoting in full:

"When the war began... I wasn't happy or anything, but I was eager. I wanted to test myself. I wanted to prove I had what it took to be a soldier and I saw a lot of combat. I saw a lot of people get hurt. I saw a lot of people die. But I didn't think anything was going to happen to me. And then, suddenly Dr. Bashir is telling me he has to cut my leg off. I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. If I could get shot, if I could lose my leg, anything can happen to me, Vic. I could die tomorrow. I don't know if I'm ready to face that. If I stay here, at least I know what the future is going to be like."

Vic responds by telling him that running away to a holosuite will kill him little by little until he's as hollow as Vic himself is and shuts down his program. It's only when Nog finally agrees to try to live in the real world that Vic re-activates, and in gratitude, Nog gets Quark to leave Vic on all the time (which depending on how you feel about Vic may be a rather unpleasant prospect) which, well . . .I'll complain about it when I get there. This is my only moment to be positive, and damn it, let's ride that train as long as we can.

This is one hell of an episode. The Nog story is continued (as it should have been, as blowing the poor guy's leg off and just shrugging your shoulders and saying everything's fine would have been rather disingenuous) and we're allowed to follow along and identify with Nog's need to escape from a world that has far more drastic and terrible consequences than he thought he was ready for and his anger at his inability to control himself and his withdrawal from things. Typically that sort of thing usually gets sacrificed at the altar of your heroes being "heroic," forgetting than a story like this--of someone triumphing over a less tangible but no less lethal foe is also very heroic, even if it's not a conflict that ends in punching.

I can't really do this episode justice in a review--it's too damn much a character piece and really the kind of thing you need to see for yourself. In fact, g'head and do it now, because you ain't missing anything if you skip the next two episodes, lemme tell ya.

"I hate your hair."

Operation: Get Ezri Over Part . . .shit, even I've forgotten.

This episode is regarded by most of the people who worked on the show as the worst episode of the season, and while it is dull, ultimately pointless, boring, and fails to tell us anything interesting about Ezri, they are absolutely wrong, as the next episode is easily the worst of the season and in contention for worst things ever.

Someone had the bright idea to use Ezri trying to reconnect with her amazingly dysfunctional family to follow up a thread from lasts season's "Honor Among Thieves." These were two bad ideas that never should have been stuck together.

Ezri has a dysfunctional family because this show was made in the 90's, when we all found out our families were totally fucked up in the head places. Her mother is a queen bee who runs her own mining company the same way she runs her family, with an iron fist. Ezri's older brother is the dutiful son, the younger one is weak-willed and a sensitive artist guy, and why yes, they are pretty stock character types. The problem with this bit is that we barely give a shit about Ezri at this point (admittedly, not for lack of trying) so a cipher coming from a family of ciphers really is hard to get all that het up for, despite the whole murder mystery thing that comes up.

The O'Brien thing follows up on a character who died at the end of "Thieves," and the whole reason that the episode was in any way memorable was their interplay. With that gone, there's little reason to give a crap about O'Brien rummaging through the dead guy's backstory, and that's without the fact that it takes places pretty much entirely off-screen. This episode has some fundamental and downright mystifying plot problems that I cannoy believe no one saw before it filmed.

They're so bad they really seem to negate the point of the episode at all, and it thus becomes, as Homer Simspon said, "Just a bunch of stuff that happened." But beleive you me when I tell you that it is like goddamn art when compared to . . .

"Do we look smart to you?"

The only good thing about this episode: Vic Fontaine gets shot dead.

This is DS9 at its most emetic. Someone had the brilliant idea to combine a Mirror Universe episode with a Ferengi episode, and already I can feel my dinner fighting it's way up through my esophagus.

I'm going to make this as quick as I can: The Nagus gets captured because he went over to the Mirror Universe to look for new business opportunities. This is shrugged off in show as a "well, it seemed like a good idea at the time" and you know, if you have the characters in the episode complaining about the plot . . .

The Alliance holds him for ransom in exchange for a cloaking device. Mind you--we saw they have cloaking devices back in "Through the Looking Glass." This touches off some Klassic Ferengi Komedy as Quark and Rom steal a cloaking device from Martok's ship while it's still cloaked and . . .and. . .

Fuck, this is so fucking stupid, and I can feel my brain cells dying just writing all this shit down. It was clear as far back as "Shattered Mirror" the Mirror Universe shit was running on fumes--it's the place where everyone's a bit camp, and that's pretty much all there is to it. When you layer Ferengi style broad farce on top of more broad farce, you get something rather unbearable, and if you've been following this blog, you know good and hell well what's coming:

That's it for this week. Join us next week when Ezri confronts the killer within because that's so much easier than doing her job in "Field of Fire"; Odo encounters another Changeling who isn't a Founder in "Chimera"; Vic Fontaine convinces everyone to rip off "Ocean's 11" before ripping off "Ocean's 11" was a thing in "Badda-Bing Badda-Bang"; and Section 31 returns whole Bashir's on a road trip to Romulus in "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges." Join us next time for exploding watermelons, espionage, and pleasure!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Just Sayin'--The Times I Come Closest To Giving Up

Everything about the existence of the linked article I find grossly, oppressively, terribly, depressing.

Yes, that includes the bloody comments, too.

Seriously--can't we just divorce the politics from the book for one second and just admit that Miller is way past his shelf life and Holy Terror was just total shit? Can we go ahead and do that?

Besides, which--my favourite comment about Miller of all time was some wag on a discussion board who said "[Miller] always wanted to see giant Nazi stues fucking each other." That was it for me in regards to the notion of Miller being a Serious Artist Worthy of Consideration, now I'm just waiting for everyone else to catch up.

He's a clown now, guys. Just a clown. All-Star Batman and Robin and the Spirit should have taught us this by now, so why are we still talking about this in two thousand god damned eleven?

I leave you with this nugget of wisdom: Consider that Rob Liefeld, on balance, carries himself with more dignity than Frank Miller. Rob Motherfucking Liefeld. Think about that for a second and consider the chill that rushes through your bones as you contemplate something so improbable and how it tampers with the fulcrum of your world and everything you thought you could depend on.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #41

Hey, ho--let's go! Time once again for another stretch of time around the racetrack on our final lap covering the length and breadth of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Last week, we kinda stumbled through the opening moments and it proved an excellent peek into the future for this season, as really awkward and ill-advised bits stood cheek by jowl with bits that were excellent and completely up to DS9's standards. This week, we have a couple of stronger episodes that I can recommend a little more unreservedly. So let's hop right in, shall we?

"That's a stupid question!"

When you get to the final season of a show, especially one that has had so many long-term plot threads wandering through the entirety of the show, every hour of television becomes precious, as you try frantically to tie everything up with the time you have and do it in a way that feels satisfying and justifies the time the viewers have spent following the show.

Of all the plot threads running through DS9, the one that I could safely say I DIDN'T need any follow-up or closure on, was the goddamned Jack Pack. Yes, those lovable mentally-ill manques who nearly sold the entire Federation down the river back in "Statistical Probabilities"
are back to waste an hour of our precious time in a story that is pretty much "Flowers for Algernon" mixed with an almost word for word rewrite of "Melora" from the second season of this show.

I'm going to speed through this because this episode is awful and the next one is far more worth my time in terms of writing about it. Here goes: Sarina, the mute member of the Jack Pack returns to the station and Bashir develops some Whatever Science that makes her not catatonic and isolated, and it works. Sarina also falls in love with Bashir which kinda makes me wonder if "roofie" was hidden somewhere in the treatment.

But Bashir pushes too hard and it freaks Sarina out and ultimately it comes to nothing because Sarina is a guest star and Bashir has already been destined by the Fickle Finger of Plot that he will hook up with Ezri, a plot convulsion that happens in even more muddled way.

So I'm not really sure what the point of this episode is really supposed to be. Sarina's a stereotype that walks like a person and Bashir has five or ten people come at him the whole time telling he's lonely, which kinda undercuts the point there a little. The zaniness of the Jack Pack is even more annoying the second time around and again--I saw this episode before when it was called "Melora," and while "Melora" wasn't amazing or anything, it was leagues better than this.

"Of course I'm paranoid--everyone's trying to kill me."

Hot damn--here we go. Odo journeys to meet with an old informant, only to find that it's Weyoun, who wants to defect. He no longer believes in the Founder's plan for war against the Federation and he wants to surrender to Odo. However, Damar, along with ANOTHER Weyoun (they're clones, remember?) send the Jem'Hadar after them, as Weyoun is a near-fatal security risk they can't afford to let run loose.

In the B-Plot, O'Brien loses Sisko's desk, and hilarity ensues. No, really, it does.

Let's take the A-Plot first, as there's a lot to unpack there. Odo has never been comfortable being viewed as a god by the Jem'Hadar and the Vorta, and so sticking him in this situation causes him plenty of awkwardness, mitigated somewhat because he can pretend, at least initially, that it's a simple matter of "this is my prisoner, I'm not going to let you take him."

Initially, anyways, because Weyoun won't leave it there. After all, he's genetically predisposed to see Odo as godlike, and when Odo says "yeah, you know they probably programmed you to think that way"; Weyoun's all like, "Yeah, of course they did, because unless you have people worshiping you, you're just some prat in a robe doing stupid magic tricks." The interplay between Odo and Weyoun, covering as it does the past (Weyoun explains how the Vorta became what they are now--the Vorta once saved a Changeling from persecution, and in gratitude, the Founders gave them a place in the Dominion) the present (how in the hell are they going to get out of there current predicament) and the future, which is a critical plot point and deserves it's own paragraph break:

The Founders are dying. Some sort of disease is spreading through the Great Link. There is no cure, and no hope. Odo, despite his rejection of his people, despite his repudiation of the Dominion, may one day be the last Changeling left alive when all is said and done. His words are borne out when we see Big Momma show up, and she's not looking very well at all. There's actually a good bit there where Damar and the other Weyoun are trying to keep it a secret that they're trying to kill the good Weyoun--who's got Odo with him, remember?--which shows just how messed up the situation's gotten.

Ultimately, the Jem'Hadar boxes them in and good-Weyoun self-terminates to save Odo's life. It's actually a great scene, as the only thing he asks for it is Odo's blessing, and as a god, Odo makes a good waiter, as it's incredibly awkward for him. Then again, given he's learned that his people are dying, it had already been a pretty bad day up to that point.

Had this episode had a bad B-Plot, the strength of the A-Plot would have made it essential viewing anyways--it's that good. Fortunately, the B-plot is just as good and genuinely funny as Sisko gives O'Brien an impossible deadline for fixing the Defiant and Nog schools him in incentive-based economics (yes, we kinda saw this in "In The Cards," but dammit, if you're going to take from comedy episodes, take from GOOD comedy episodes) things seem to be going fine, until O'Brien finds that Sisko's desk is gone, which leads to the following exchange between O'Brien, Bashir, and Kira:

"What do you think?"
"It's white."
"I know it's white, I'm gonna' paint it."
"It's the wrong shape. The wrong height. The wrong width. Other than that it's perfect. The captain will never suspect you switched desks on him."
"Julian, I need help, not sarcasm."
"I'm afraid Nog is the only one that can help you now."
"If he gets back to the station before the captain does."
"Maybe he's not coming back. Maybe he's decided to make a run for it."
(Kira enters) "That isn't the captain's desk!"
"He's gonna' paint it."
"Get it out of here!"

I love that exchange more than is healthy. There is some effort to dovetail the two plots together and reflect the title (and they kind of pull it off, actually, which is even more of a reason to throw down some gold stars on this episode) Point is, this is the first unreservedly strong episode of the season, and it's sixth. If they'd spent more time doing episodes like this and less trying to do the hard sell with Ezri and dicking off with the Jack Pack, this season might be a bit stronger. But that's probably the headache medicine talking.

"If you do, then there should be no doubt in your mind that he died a hero's death. If you do not believe in the legend, then he was just a man, and it does not matter how he died."

OK, so not two minutes ago I typed that DS9 really shouldn't have spent so much time exploring tangents like the Jack Pack, and this would, naturally, lead you to believe that I would hate this episode, as it features the return of Kor, who's only shown up on this show twice and had little going for him apart from he was a link to the original series.

And yet . . .this episode kicks all kinds of ass, not least because it uses a guest star like Kor to et us know something about a character we're more familiar with--Martok. Kor returns to the station to ask a favor of Worf--he wants to do something to help out the Klingons in the war, and his own efforts have come to naught. Part of that is because he's old and considered past it, but some of it is that he's made so many enemies in the Empire that now that he's down on his luck, no one will help him.

Indeed, when you consider that the last time Worf and Kor were together in "The Sword of Kahless" they were trying to kill each other, it should give you a sense of how bad things have gotten for him. I should mention that for an actor who is (or sadly was) a mighty ham like John Colicos, he really does do well with the subtle touches this episode, as when his voice breaks slightly when he says it's not easy for him to beg Worf for help. It's nice to see some of the melancholy that colored Kor's character back in "Blood Oath" return for a bit.

However, there are two important bits that should be addressed, here. One, Martok is one of those enemies that Kor has made. Back when Kor was on the review board for the Klingon equivalent of OTC, Kor struck Martok's name from the list because he comes from the poor part of the Klingon homeworld. The shame meant Martok spent most of his early years working as a janitor before he got lucky enough to earn a battlefield commission. Kor doesn't even remember he did it, which makes it even more galling, but it burns in Martok every time his name comes up.

The other and more important problem is that Kor has the Klingon Equivalent of the mad cow. It happens to a lot of OG Star Trek guys, apparently--hell, Kirk had it so bad he thought he was attorney from Boston and talked like a Pokemon for five whole years. But seeing as how this is military operation, maybe it's not a good idea to take the senile guy who your CO despises on a mission.

Worf, being Worf, of course gets Kor posted as third officer so he can be right up there annoying the shit out of Martok at every opportunity. Worf is . . .kind of an idiot like that sometimes.

Well, Martok is annoyed that the rest of his crew worship Kor and have a tendency not to focus on the task at hand, and he'd probably also like to beat the crap out of Worf for putting his sworn enemy on the bridge as well, but Martok Gets Shit Done, and so focuses on the job . . .

. . .until Kor loses his shit and nearly gets everyone killed. Martok nearly kills him then and there, except Worf catches the knife he was throwing and backhands Kor (which, idiot or not, is seriously fucking awesome) and it is more or less All Over For Kor. The crew ride him unmercifully, Martok rubs his nose in the fact that his mind is going and all Kor can do is accept his fate with some real dignity and a great line, worth quoting in full:

"Savor the fruit of life, my young friends. It has a sweet taste when it's fresh from the vine. But don't live too long... The taste turns bitter... after a time."

This pisses Martok right the hell off in return, with another great line:

"I've hated his name for almost 30 years. I've dreamt of the moment when I would finally see him stripped of his rank and title - when he would suddenly find himself without a friend in the world, without the power of his birthright...Well I've had that moment now - and I took no joy from it."

I like that the episode doesn't have Martok ever relent in his hatred of Kor, but is willing to at least let Kor earn his respect. That can be a hard think to write credibly, but they pull it off here.

What they don't pull off so well is that we don't get to see Kor's final stand. I know there was a story reason for it--the whole point of the episode is do we beleive or not in the legend of Kor, but . . .nahh, it just doesn't work. I see the point of it, but I don't buy it, especially since we get a bunch of Klingon singing at the end and I've seen all of that I need to, like, ever.

But it's a minor blemish on an effective episode, so it's still well worth your time to check it out.

"We held."

Is this another of those really controversial episode among Trek fans? I think it kinda probably is. This is the "war episode," wherein our heroes get deposited right on the front lines, and there's very little of the Federation's virtue or nobility on display here, just people trying to survive as rather desperate situation as best they can, and . . .some of them succeed.

Not all, though.

Our Heroes are running relief supplies to an outpost that was recently taken that houses a Dominion communications array. The soldiers guarding have been there for five months. Most of them are dead. They've been there long after they were supposed to be rotated out, and they're well beyond cracking as not only do they have to deal with Jem'Hadar attacks, but the Dominion's latest nasty surprise--Houdini mines. So named because you hit one and disappear.

The Houdinis are really nasty customers, as they float through subspace and can suddenly appear anywhere. Think of what kind of fear you'd be living under if a mine just decided to pack itself on you at any moment. The soldiers live in fear of them and consider them a really sneaky and unfair weapon . . .

. . .until they crack how to use them, and suddenly they're not so sneaky and dishonorable anymore. This kind of moral relativism was fairly new in Star Trek--or at least it wasn't made as explicit, really.

The Defiant has to chase off some Jem'Hadar fighter (which means Worf misses the ground battle, which I'm sure just killed him) leaving Sisko to rally everyone for one final holding action to finish off the Jem'Hadar.

While this desperate fight is going on, of course, Quark is there for . . .well, some germane reason in terms of story, but the real reason he's here is to say "This shit is fucking crazy, the Ferengi would never have let things get this bad," and it's frankly a good use of Quark as a counterbalance to what's going on, most especially in the scene where Quark shoots a Jem'Hadar dead to protect himself and he's kinda freaked (as he was last time) There's an honesty to it that's really effective.

So now, let's talk about poor Nog getting his leg blown off. Man, this is a hard bit to talk about. We've seen Nog in a lot of contexts and really watched him develop more than Jake and a few other characters have over the years. He wanted to be the first Ferengi in Starfleet, with all the glory that entailed, and now, he gets the other edge of the sword--the Jem'Hadar catch him and as a result, he has to have one of his legs amputated. This is a wrenching scene, and it'll be even moreso when we look at the follow up episode next week. There's not a lot I can say that can convey the sense of loss this moment has, it's one of those you'll just have to see for yourself.

This is a really great episode, and kinda makes you wish they'd really not acted as though the war was some far-off thing so much, as it provides a lot of grist for the storytelling mill. This is one of DS9's best and oh my GOD is it good to end on a high note.

That's all for this week. Join us next time when I really raise some hell over the hopelessly annoying and problematic "Covenant"; We follow up with Nog AND witness a miracle with a great Vic Fontaine episode in "It's Only A Paper Moon"; Operation: Get Ezri Over continues with "Prodigal Daughter" and you get to watch my soul die right in front of you as I have to gut through the final Mirror Universe episode, "The Emperor's New Cloak." Join us next week for bogus religious mumbo-jumbo, Frengi Komedy . . .and displeasure.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Witless Dictionary #27--Year-Skip Paradox

It's amazing that I go from not doing these things for months to doing two in the same month. This is, for the uninitiated, a continuing effort to provide a working language we can all use when talking about comics and is in no way a way to spout off snarkily about comic trends that annoy me, and anyone who says different is a damn liar.

Year-Skip Paradox--Term referring to the inevitable screw-up that happens when comic creators decide to skip ahead in fictional time so they can jump right into a new status quo without all the tedious writing it through and letting the audience see it for ourselves.

Inevitably, major status quo changes are hidden in these year-skips, much as one might sweep dust bunnies under the couch. The problem is, these plot movements are typically major things that the readers then clamour to have explained, only the creators had no intention of ever explaining it--they just wanted to get to things going their way.

So typically what ends up happening is some mind-manglingly convoluted plot is then cobbled together to explain what happened during the year-skip (it may not necessarily be a year, but for the sake of our hypothetical construct) This is considered a fail state, because it negates the stated intent of skipping ahead in story time in the first place, as all the time they could have spent on new stories in the new status quo is now spent filling all the gaps and they could have avoided the whole mess just by not skipping ahead to begin with.

Alternately, then new status quo is dumped in a panic and there is much frantic scrambling about and the writers busily keep all their metaphorical plates spinning and hope everyone forgets that they every skipped ahead in time at all. This is also a fail state.

Examples include the skip-ahead after Age of Apocalypse (Hey, Sunspot's back! Only wasn't he evil just before the . . .no, shut up) DC's One Year Later post Infinite Crisis (seriously, rebooting everything was preferable to that nonsense) The skip-ahead that they did when Claremont came back to the X-Books at the turn of the century (Cable and Gambit are leading the X-Men and stuff! We don't know why, either!) and of course, the "Suddenly, One Year Later!" thing from the justifiably forgotten move BRAIN 17.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing--STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE #40

Well, well--never thought we'd make it this far. It's time once again for us to begin the final lap of our run-through of the entirety of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week, we begin the final season of the show, a season which will do a lot of things write, and all too many things wrong.

I was on another review site recently and someone articulated the big problem I'm having with DS9 here lately--they're working diligently to color in all the shades of gray which previously set this show apart and to a large extent made it good. This wouldn't be a bad thing, except the colours their using seem to consist of black and white. Characters that typically thrived on ambiguity become one-note mustache twirling baddies, of all the various paths to a resolution of a plot point, typically the most obvious and least interesting path is the one chosen.

And unfortunately, it's not going to be long until we run into this. So let's get to it, shall we?


"So, what'd you find out?"
"That you should never try to match drinks with a Klingon."

After last episode's offensive which saw the Federation getting a foothold in Dominion space, but everything else going to shit, we skip ahead three months. Kira has been promoted to Colonel, and been left in charge of the station and is chafing ever so slightly under the new Admiral Ross brings over--the Romulans want a liaison officer posted to DS9 a la Martok, and Kira is none too pleased about this.

The Dominion has managed to keep the Federation bottled up on their foothold, which is bringing Bashir and O'Brien down, as they've been on convoy duty and are bored out of their minds. Worf is dealing with the death of Jadzia by smashing up Vic Fontaine's holosuite, which I can't really find a lot of fault with. But generally he's being a real dickhead, and as I rack my brain and go over the breadth of the season, I'm not sure he ever really stops being one, bar once.

Sisko is completely out to lunch, working in his dad's restaurant to get over the funk he has about Jadzia's death and the wormhole closing and all that stuff. He soon finds out that his father's been lying to him about something when he gets a pretty vague vision involving a woman he's never seen before and he confronts his father, who tells him that the woman he thought was his mother . . .really isn't. I would call bullshit on this whole plotline right now, but it has one more turn to go through and I'm saving my ire for that.

"That's an awful lot of setup," I hear you saying. Yeah, it is. The two-parter that opens the season is willing to try and juggle an A, B, and C-plot, and unfortunately, there's only one of those that's any good. See if you can guess which one.

Kira's plot comes to a head when Cretak, the Romulan liaison, asks if the Romulans can set up a field hospital an a Bajoran moon, only to fortify it with weapons. Kira says words to the effect of "bitch, you crazy" and blockades the moon. Obviously, this is a suicide mission--the Bajorans don't even have warp drive, remember?--but Kira is determined to force the Romulans to withdraw, whether it torpedoes the alliance or not. I should mention, given how fiery and defiant she was in "Emissary" it's great to see her draw the line line this once again. It's not her only finest hour this season, but it's a hell of a good one to start on.

Worf, Bashir, O'Brien, Martok, and Quark all pile up and go off to win a glorious battle in Jadzia's name and ensure her a place in Sto'Vo'Kor, but I think it's really just to shut Worf the fuck up because no one really believed they were at all romantic because they had them chemistry of used dishwater, really. You may also wonder why it is that Bashir and O'Brien, who are rather critical Federation servicemen, can just fuck off on a Klingon ship on some nonsense mission where no one else on the ship can talk about anything but "honor" and junk, and yes, it's kind of bullshit, but DS9's relationship with the war they say is going on rather atrophies in moments like this, and really it's best not to think about it and just hope that it's over quickly.

Sisko is all freaked out about his biological mom, not least because she seemed to have a locket with ancient Bajoran writing, which speaks of an Orb no one knew about--the Orb of the Emissary--and soon after being stabbed by a member of the Cult of the Pah-Wraiths (who have been growing in numbers since the wormhole closed--sadly, this plot thread doesn't go far) Sisko and Jake, and Sisko's dad pack up and head off for Tyree, or they would, only Dax shows up.

Ezri Dax, that is. Guys, Nicole DeBoer was really awesome in the movie Cube, and she is indisputably cute as a button, but sweet Jesus in a smoking birchbark canoe, Ezri is one of the most problematic characters ever, and I may not be kind to her as we make our way through that season. I am warning you now.

I am also warning you that she will, in fact, have one scene where the character works out like gangbusters, and when Ezri Dax's Finest Hour happens, you can trust that I will point it out, because for all my snark and impatience, dammit, I like to think I'm fair at the end of the day. Hop on over to the next episode and let's get this over with.


"Because it could be no one else."

In the A plot, Sisko goes to Tyree, and we catch up with Ezri's backstory. Ezri was a counselor on the ship carrying the Dax symbiont back to Trill when they had to put the slug in her as an emergency measure. This is a little bit of bullshit, as several times (most notably in "Equilibirum" and "Invasive Procedures") we've seeing that being a joined Trill takes years of training and vetting and you can't just plug them in and out like flash drives, only apparently now you can. This has given her the equivalent of Trill multiple personalities, which is played for laughs, even though one of them is a murder (remember?)

I understand what the point was intended to be, I suppose--they wanted to experiment with a character that wasn't a composed, complete Trill. Well, OK, but it didn't really ever succeed: Ezri tries had to be winning and ends up just being an ear head who upchucks all over the controls the first time she's in space and does very little else. It's sort of like if someone but Twist from Spaced in a Star Trek show.

In any event, Sisko is searching for the Orb in the only way he knows how--by wearing a bathrobe, wandering around the desert, and bugging the fuck out. He keeps hearing an intercom announcement that a Doctor Wykoff needs to report to the isolation ward, and Sisko really wishes he'd get his ass there already, and if I had to hear it nine dozen times, I really would too. Sisko finds the Orb, digs it up and before he can open it . . .

. . .oh shit it's Benny Russell. Benny Russell has not been doing too well since "Far Beyond The Stars," namely he's gone all Syd Barrett and is in a mental ward, and has apparently been spending his time writing the entire saga of DS9 on the walls of his cell, a fact which Dr. Wykoff (who may or may not look like Damar without his makeup) is dismayed by.

The stories are what drove him there in the first place, Wykoff says. He offers him a roll of paint and says he's giving him a chance to wipe away the past, paint over the stories, and get well. Benny's actually considering it.

Things look bad. . .

In the B Plot, Kira has drawn a line against the Romulans, and the Romulans are threatening to step over it by sending a fleet of warships to ensure their supplied get through. Ross begs Kira to back down and seek a negotiated settlement, but Kira isn't having that shit--even if she is outgunned and outmatched, she will not go down without a fight.

I will put my cards on the table right now--of the three plots, I really love this one the most, as it has so much of DS9's DNA running through it and feels more true to the characters. Kira fought the Cardassians because they invaded her home, remember, and so it stands to reason she'd fight to stop anyone else from trying to stage an incursion on their territory, and the notion that she will risk everything for that is so very true to her character. Nana Visitor plays this perfectly, as he outward bravado to Cretak and Ross is tempered by her genuine fear that in making a stand she's more than likely not going to walk away from.

Let's flip quickly back to the Benny Russell scene for a moment, because it sets up the best scene in this two parter (the Benny Russell scene is great, but falters because of how it's woven in to the overall story) as Benny, completely out of his damn mind and so close to wiping the words he's basically sacrificed his life for drops the paint roller, punches Wykoff the fuck out, and writes on the wall that Sisko opens the box.

Sisko follows the plot, and the wormhole opens up and blasts the Pah-Wraith out. The scene that follows is one of my all-time favourites because it is so quiet and so understated but incredibly effective: Kira sees the wormhole open, and all of a sudden, with the reappearance of her gods on the scene, she feels no longer hopeless and is more determined than ever to stand her ground.

But she doesn't have to. The Romulan ships withdraw. Not because they were scared off by Kira's blockade, but because her defiance convinced Ross that just because Bajor doesn't do as much for the cause as the Romulans can doesn't mean we can throw one under the bus for the other in the name of expediency.

I do really love this scene, as it has so much paralleling with "Emissary" (Sisko coming to Kira's rescue, the wormhole returning, Kira facing down overwhelming odds with nothing but her gigantic metaphorical balls) and I really wish the rest of the episode was as good as this.

Over in Plot C (I demoted it, because I hate it) Worf and Co. blow up a shipyard with technobabble, because of course that's what Klingons would do in that situation. Before that happens Worf runs down Bashir, O'Brien, and Quark for horning in on feeling sorry for Jadzia and Martok is like "are you serious bro? Maybe if you turned down trying to be a shit-cock for five fucking minutes, you'd see these people are trying to help you honour her and you are not sole custodian of her memory."

Oh, if only he'd listened. The next episode might not be necessary.

Anyways, they succeed in getting closure, only Worf is still sulking about this as the season reached endgame, which makes me wonder what the point was, and . . .y'know, I'm kind of tired of Worf being an asshole dickmonster and yet everyone thinks of him as this honourable warrior type. Frankly, he's a big fat poseur who utterly fails to pull his own weight and just because he's not the designated "strong guy who gets smacked around so we know the threat of the week is Serious Fucken Business" anymore go to his head.

That said, Worf too will have a few good scenes this season. And a whole lot more awful ones, too.

Oh, and . . .uhm . . .-deep breath- the Prophets appear to Sisko and tell him his previously unrevealed biological mother was taken over by the Prophets so she would conceive him.

I thought this then and now: Bull. SHIT.

I know what they were going for here: Of all the Trek Captains, who are typically considered almost godlike, why not make one an actual demigod? Plus, think of all the story avenues this opens up, as it makes the Prophets kinda sinister, as they kinda bodyjacked this women to ensure the creation of their Emissary and doesn't that mean we can't completely consider them the good guys?

Well, all of this would be very interesting, except for a few things: One, the Prophets gimmick was that they really didn't understand corporeal humans. Two, they didn't perceive time as linear. I don't think that meant they could travel in time, they just saw it all happening at once, which means the Prophets are now just the generic godlike aliens down the street.

And three, none of this is followed up on in any meaningful way, really. Sisko's Mom just becomes our designated Prophet, robbing the Prophets of that whole "speaking through people you knew" thing they did and . . .it's kind of disappointing just how rote and mystery-killing this whole twist is. I didn't like it then, and I don't now. It feels too pat, too . . .easy. I like DS9 a whole lot better when they're willing to give me messy resolutions and let me make up my own mind, and I don't really know what happened to them here.

You had a good mythic thing going already: Sisko came to Bajor not wanting to be there. Then he didn't want to be the Emissary. By the beginning of the sixth season he's embraced being the Emissary, talks about building a house on Bajor, and has pretty well gone native. That's good enough (even if it's a bit unsettling in that "identifiable protagonist goes native so we're more comfortable with them being noble savages" trope that's in far too much SF anyways) right there, as we've followed him grappling with and embracing it over six years now.

But sometimes people keep fixing things until they break.

In any event, everyone comes back to the station and everyone's happy again, and oh look here's Dax everyone! She's totally not dead--sorta--and now we'll have to try very hard to find her something to do!


"You dreamt about what? You're crazy. Now get out of my office."

Sorry--the chance to drop in that Rush song was too good not to take. It's not really cool among Rush fans to find any value in their snyth period, but dammit, I do.

Operation: Get Ezri Over, Part 2 of Too Many This Season.

Ezri is a counselor, which means she's kind of a shrink. Deanna Troi was a counselor over on Next Generation, and set new standards for being crappy at her job, as all she really ever seemed to do was get her brain raped and had the uncanny ability to sense what everyone else on the goddamn bridge could figure out anyway.

All Ezri would have to do is be sightly better at her job than Troi. Given Troi's record, that wouldn't require much more than not drooling like an imbecile at the dinner table.

You know where this is going, right?

As Ezri grapples with the fact that being a counselor more mentally ill than the people she's treating is about as useful as mag wheels on a dump truck (as Arn Anderson once said) Garak is bugging the fuck out as his claustrophobia is now to the degree that he's trying to walk out of an airlock because the entire station is too confining for him. Worf is being an absolute shitheel to her because he can't deal with a person who has Jadzia's memories in her head but isn't Jadzia walking around--it's really unsettling and creepy.

However, Worf can't just leave it at that, he has to actively sabotage Ezri's attempts to fit in, and nearly beats the shit out of Bashir when he talks to her, and really, it's stuff like that that makes you wish Worf had gotten whacked rather than Jadzia, because that one extra step really eradicates any sympathy you might have for his plight. That's not a man grieving--that is a fucking psycho.

I should also mention that I'm certain this is technically against the Trill "re association" taboo they have--remember the episode "Rejoined," aka The Last Good Dax Episode?--but if the people who write the show can't be bothered to keep it straight, then why should I care?

In any event, the point of the story is Ezri trying to help Garak so he can get back to work breaking Cardassian codes without trying to step out of an airlock and get some fresh vacuum. To be blunt, Ezri does as well at this as the doctor in Revenge of the Sith. Garak can see through this immediately and lets her have it in one of the great bits in this episode, which is worth quoting in full:

"I want someone to help me get back to work. And you, my dear, are not up to this task. I mean, look at you. You're pathetic – a confused child trying to live up to a legacy left by her predecessors. You're not worthy of the name "Dax." I knew Jadzia. She was vital, alive. She owned herself, and you... you don't even know who you are. How dare you presume to help me? You can't even help yourself."

"Now, get out of here before I say something unkind.

Ezri (who, remember, we are supposed to be rooting for in this episode) breaks down and cries and quits Starfleet. Sisko yells at her and that makes her even more upset and more determined to quit and finally she goes back to Garak, who finally tells her what's bothering him (less because of anything she says and more because there's like, five minutes left in the episode and we really need to get on with it) Gark is wracked with guilt because he knows that with every code he breaks, it means more Cardassians die. He knows his people will fight to the bitter end, and he--who only every wanted to go home--is assisting in the murder of his countrymen, and the guilt is is literally killing him.

It's a great scene, and most of that is down to the fact that it's, well, Garak. However, there is one problem I can't let go of: NONE OF THIS IS BECAUSE OF ANYTHING EZRI DID. This is kind of a problem because the whole point of the episode is to show that she has a reason to be on the station and she fucking has failed at every opportunity, up to and including the problem set before in this episode which she was supposed to fix and we were gonna all fall in love with her because she was cute and competent.

Naturally, they promote her to lieutenant, because god dammit, we've evolved past the need for money, but you can't get rid of the Peter Principle, I guess.

She can't do her job, everyone reacts to her as though she's Jadzia's ghost or something (which in a way she is) and in the three episode she's been in she's either been acting ditzy or crying or failing to accomplish the one task she was given in an episode designed to showcase her.

How do you fail that hard? I really hate to keep harping on this, but the real reason Ezri is here is because there was a Dax on the show before and for no other reason than that, dammit, we have to have another one whether it makes any more sense to do so or not.

I'm kind of glad the last episode this week ends on a high note. I'm complaining even more than usual for me . . .


"I know that look. It's the I'd-really-like-to-smash-something-but-she'll-think-I'm-crazy look."

From the moment that Sisko explained the game of Baseball to the Prophets, by hook or by crook we were going to get a goddamned baseball episode, and here we are. Sisko longtime rival (who we've never heard of before or since) Solok comes to the station and in his own irritatingly passive-aggressive way challenges Sisko to a game of baseball. In practical terms, this means we go through every baseball movie cliche you've ever seen in the name of getting the game going.

I should mention, in the name of historical curiosity, that some Trek fans consider this part of an overall trend with the franchise of making the Vulcans smug, superior assholes, which is, according to them, a betrayal of one of the noblest fictional races ever. I don't really give a shit about this and neither should you.

In any event, Sisko assembles his rag-tag team (I do love that Odo is the umpire. It's so perfect) and they are utterly fucking hopeless. Oh, they've got some good people, but it's not enough and Sisko gets all pissy because he really wants to beat Solok, and this is a way for Sisko to Learn A Valuable Lesson About What's Really Important and . . .yeah, you've seen this shit a dozen times.

But there's enough good bits in there to make it worthwhile--Worf advising Nog to find and kill a runner instead of tagging him out, Odo tossing Sisko out of the game, Ezri's totally kickass wall-flip catch (see? It's not all negative) and Kira coming this close to fucking up one of the Vulcans keeps the cliches grounded in the characters we've come to know and love, which keeps it from being an empty stylistic exercise.

Except (SPOILER) there's no come-from-behind victory for Sisko's team. They get one run entirely by accident, but that's enough of a moral victory for the whole thing to have been worth it, and it's a very DS9 ending. Plus, there's something really damn sweet about Sisko's reaction when his team gives him a baseball they all signed.

I know some people hate this episode, and wonder why this is being done when there's not much season left and a war going on in the show, but that ship sailed long ago, and that's all there is to it. It's nothing original, but it works very well making the cliches work in the DS9 milieu.

Plus there were no major long-term plot developments I didn't like that I felt compelled to rail on at length. I'm just as tired of it as you are, y'all.

And that's it for this week.. Join us next week, as the Jack Pack returns and we all but re-do a previous episode in "Chrysalis"; Odo has to protect a defector from the Dominion from the Dominion in "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River"; Kor returns in "Once More Unto The Breach"; and we get on the front lines of the war with the Dominion in the excellent "The Siege of AR-558" Man, I wish we'd led with these episodes. Join us next week for long-term plot revelations, maiming, and pleasure!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


A man's first Ominbus is a much cherished moment. After all, one so rarely gets books large, ungainly and heavy enough to double as a murder weapon, should the need arise. The New Teen Titans Omnibus Vol. 1 is such a book, weighing in at a hefty 686 pages, I imagine I could easily bludgeon someone to death with it, if I so chose.

Rather than that, I decided instead to review it.

Recently we talked a little about the "Marvelisation" of DC that had happened in the 70's and 80's. To put it as succinctly as possible--what was happening was that Marvel people were going over to DC and vice versa, and with each movement of talent, certain changes to the content and character of the books happened.

It's especially pronounced around the late 70's/Early 80's. You have Firestorm, which is DC doing the Spider-Man formula in all but name. You have All-Star Comics and later All-Star Squadron which fill in the history of the JSA, helmed primarily by Roy Thomas who had just come from Marvel and did, among other things, fill in their Golden Age history.

And you had the New Teen Titans, which, in many ways, copied the approach that made X-Men a top-selling book. Indeed, one of the biggest guaranteed argument starters back in the day was whether or not NTT ripped off X-Men. I'm not going to pry that can of worms open again, but it's something worth thinking about. I wouldn't necessarily say that they straight up ripped it off, only that there is a similar approach at work.

Because both books made their successes by following the . . .er, following formula. You take a cult hit book that's been on the shelf for a few years. Add in a few new characters, but keep a few of the old ones around as a link to the previous history of the title (also providing grist for the mill for stories) Bring in characters from other forgotten books--it changes the team dynamic and allows you to fold in plotlines from their other books. Then add in some new characters that can generate stories of their own. Mix it all together by plotting in the following way: Small one-issue plots become larger extended plots that weave in and out of the book, creating an extended soap-opera-ish narrative where one feels like there is a living world in this book and anything can happen.

And it goes without saying, add in some mind control and domination stuff. I had forgotten NTT did that a lot, but, well . . .George Perez, y'know.

In any event, it was 1980, and DC was still smarting from its last attempt to expand their market share (the "DC Implosion") and were at the time time getting quite an influx of people coming over from Marvel again who weren't happy with the way things were across the street. Into our story comes Marv Wolfman (creator of, among other things, Nova, and former Editor in Chief of Marvel comics back when it seems the only criteria for being EIC was "be the 10th caller") and George Perez, who was well-regarded but not quite a superstar just yet, mostly because the hallmarks of the George Perez style (insane detail, huge elaborate panels stocked with characters) weren't quite coming together as they should.

(In fact, as an aside and because I have no other place to put this thought, Perez's work is very dependent on who is inking him at this stage of things. Perez and Pablo Marcos tends to soften his details down but not in a bad way--just in a way that calls to mind his Fantastic Four and Marvel Two-in-One work, where his Kirby influence seemed to have a bit more sway. Dick Giordano, who inks the teaser comic that opens the book subsumes a lot of his detail with his thin and somewhat angular ink lines. His longest serving partner on this run of the book, Romeo Thangal, finds a happy medium and really enhances his sense of detail)

So DC gave them a book, the New Teen Titans, and Wolfman and Perez both figured it probably wouldn't run more than six issues and so decided to just have fun with the six issues they had and do they book they wanted to do. And so, without any sort of strict editorial guidance (obviously, this would never happen today) New Teen Titans was sent out into the world . . .

. . .and soon enough found its audience and became the DC's big breakout hit. Not bad for something that even the people working on it thought only had six months to live, eh?

Our Omnibus here covers the first two years of the book and yes, I promise we're getting to the meat and potatoes in a bit. But before we do that, let's get to know our Titans in a segment the longtime readers of this blog (the ONLY readers of this blog) know well. ROLL CALL!

ROBIN--You might remember him from being Batman's sidekick. Robin is the glue that holds the team together, and for the purpose of this book, functions as the only "normal" one that everyone else is allowed to be crazy around (The Dave Foley, if you will) Is typically most consumed with proving himself to Batman, a little thing which culminates years later when he finally steps into the role of Nightwing.

WONDER GIRL--Before she became a continuity nightmare (but not too far from that) Wonder Girl was the ultility infielder for the Titans in that she had no real extant drama (er, yet) and she had enough time as a member of the Titans and was enough of a blank slate with a connection to Wonder Woman's mythos that would allow for story potential and ultimately, her death from Mystery Collapse disorder.

She also dated Terry Long, who made his first appearance in this. I'd like to thank the Internet for beating the "Terry Long is a creep" meme into the ground so this is the extent that I have to talk about that douchebag.

KID FLASH--Wally West runs very fast, and is sort of the odd man out, as he is manipulated on to the team at first, has a thing for Raven that never quite goes anywhere, and generally seems to the member most intent on getting out as soon as is convenient. That's not a knock against his character--he has some good bits in the book, but he's one of the thinnest-drawn characters in the team.

CYBORG--One of our brand-new characters, Cyborg is . . .an interesting case. For one thing, he's a pretty powerful character, unusual when you consider the most powerful black guy in the Titans last go-round only had a trumpet. Cyborg is estranged from his father because his father made him into a cyborg after he'd Tampered With Things Man Was Not Meant To Know and his son got crippled. Cyborg is a genius and a super-athlete and plays the role of the malcontent in the team, as he's not 100% on board with joining the Titans, or at least he says he is.

STARFIRE--The Red Monika of her day, Starfire is cute and has boobs and George Perez unmistakably loves drawing her, as a casual flip-through of this book will tell you. She also flies around and wants to kill people, but never really seems to do that successfully. It's rescuing her that actually pulls the trigger on the Titans uniting, and her back-story actually proved sturdy enough that the Omega Men ended up spinning off outta this. If you don't know who the Omega Men are I . . .can't really help you, as I never figured that book out.

RAVEN--Has Raven ever not been a problematic character? Because she's always seemed so to me. She's committed to an extreme sort of total pacifism but is not above manipulating other people to do her fighting for her, has powers that 30 years in continue to be pretty ill-defined, and, well, she really doesn't do all that much on her own, as we'll see.

CHANGELING--At first, Changeling seems like the most irritating comic relief character there could ever be, but scratch the surface and you see dude has a really shit life. Former member of the Doom Patrol that he is, Changeling has already seen his biological parents die, his adoptive parents die, and his stepfather routinely lose his fucking shit and turn evil. He's the Shinji Ikari of the DC Universe, if Shinji Ikari had been crossed with a third-rate Borscht Belt comedian.

Our story opens with a 16-page teaser from DC Comics Presents. These little tipped-in books were kind of a cool gimmick to trail new series, and I'm sure paper considerations would make something like this impossible today, but it was a damn good idea, really. Anyways, the teaser opens with Robin tripping balls as he seems to be simultaneously helping save S.T.A.R labs from a hostage crisis and fighting a big slimy monster at the same time. Needless to say he's a little bit confused, but it's a handy way for the team to show up as a unit, show off its powers, and set up an interesting paradox--Robin and co form the team as much because they've already seen the team together.

Our first issue opens with the Titans uniting to free Starfire from the Gordanians, which somehow covertly ended up becoming the DCAU's standard aliens, but sometime, apparently it happened. Early on we get sketches of what everyone's role is going to be on the team--Changeling cracks jokes, Cyborg complains, Raven pulls the strings and never seems to do anything, and Robin holds it all together. This would probably take six issues today, I'll bet.

Incidentally, while they're fighting the Gordanians, they wreck the apartment of Grant Wilson, who is tight with the H.I.V.E. one of the dozens of villainous conspiracies which were stalking around the DCU at the time. Grant volunteers for the H.I.V.E. to give him superpowers, only he's a bit of a reckless tool and gets himself killed forcing Deathstroke the Terminator, the guy the H.I.V.E. wanted to hire in the first place. The particular plate will be kept spinning in a direct sense through the next 40+ issues of the book as Deathstroke, the H.I.V.E. and the Titans fight in various permutations off and on.

Issue three introduces us to the Fearsome Five, a group of . . .shall we say third-rate villains led by Dr. Light before he was all rape-happy. While this initially seems just a mere stunt to make sure the book has an action sequence, it's actually tying into the main plot for the first six-issue arc.

We find out in issue four that Psimon of the Fearsome Five is an agent of Raven's father, a rather goofy looking demon named Trigon. This leads in a roundabout way to two major things--the Titans fighting the Justice League of America and having their big "we're not like you" statement of purpose, and Zatanna revealing that Raven has been manipulating the team to fight Trigon since the beginning, up to an including making Kid Flash fall in love with her. Naturally, this causes the team to dissolve just when they're needed most.

Curt Swan shows up to do one chapter of this story, I should mention, which is an interesting clash of styles considering all that happens in this arc. Since I'm talking of things I miss that they don't do in comics nowadays, I kinda miss the whole "use the splash page a summary/teaser for the main story" thing. It's kind of cool.

In any event, as befitting such a problematic character as Raven, her backstory is equally headache-inducing: Trigon raped her mom, who fell through the cracks of the social safety net (Regan was really hard on that "demon rape recovery for unwed mothers" program) and got spirited away to a magic land of sanctimonious pacifists who swear to defend the universe against Trigon, but don't really want to, y'know, do anything.

Trigon isn't much better. Apparently he can crush universes, and has phenomenal power and all that, but really doesn't do much with it short of act like a dickhead and shoot rays at people. He sorta works as a uniting force for this story, because all he has to do is show up in the final act, look super-scary, get defeated, and end the arc.

Unfortunately, they kept bringing him back to diminishing returns, which was kind of a continuing problem with the Titans. The strength of the book, like X-Men, was the fact that they had a set number of plates they kept spinning--if you hopped off for a bit and hopped back on when, say Deathstroke came back, you could be brought up to speed with a minimum of fuss, because everything just goes 'round and 'round and that's . . .OK.

For a while.

The problem comes in which you don't change up the plates. X-Men under Claremont finally fell in on itself for me personally because I could not stand to read one more story about the Marauders or the Shadow King or Genosha . . .I had seen that come around so many times I knew just what to expect and I did not want any more. Titans undergoes a similar disintegration, and Wolfman's final issues, which are maybe 15 years from these early days are just . . .embarrassing because of how obviously they're just running on fumes at that point.

But that's the future. Let's get back to the now. The Fearsome Five show up again at the conclusion of the Trigon arc to do that old beloved classic: Turning the heroes headquarters against them (man, given how many times this happens, you really wonder about superhero real estate. It's like fucking poltergeists, only so much worse) positively ancient villain The Puppeteer returns for some mind control shenanigans, and the Deathstroke pops back up to rope the Titans into his plan to pay the H.I.V.E. back for killing his son, among other things. Oh, and Deathstroke kills Changeling, more or less.

But that's just a means to get us to the next big plot--the New Teen Titans vs. the Titans of Greek Myth. This, uh . . .wow. Wonder Girl gets a Titanic mickey slipped to her and becomes the love-slave of one of the Titans (although given the competition is Terry Long, this may or may not be a step up) and it's up to the Titans plus the Amazons, then finally the Olympian gods themselves, to beat back the Titans.

The problem with all this is that it's not terribly exciting (and sadly, it seems Perez did not get that memo) and the Teen Titans are kind of sidelined as Greek gods fight other different Greek gods and there's some baffelgab about free will and no one really ever raises their hands and says "Hey man, that shit with Wonder Girl being a love slave is foul," which I feel is a missed opportunity of sorts. It tries for an epic feel, but can't really close the deal, possibly because it's too far afield from where Titans works best, which is a more earthbound milieu.

Thankfully, the next extended storyline works far, far better, as the Titans get drawn into the search for the Doom Patrol and end up in a battle between a number of their old foes. This is the intro of the New Brotherhood of Evil (Don't worry--they still have the French gorilla) who go on to become recurring nemeses.

It's a pretty decent story, as Changeling actually gets to purge some demons he's been dragging around (and create a few more as he relentlessly pursues the people who took his family from him and he's willing to kill them for doing so) and we get a story that could have easily have been a "Doom Patrol story in all but name but done here because that's the book Wolfman's writing" made to fit with the Titans milieu a lot better than the Titans of Myth arc does.

A few done-in-ones close out the first 20 issues of New Teen Titans. They're . . .okay, and quite necessary after the Titans of Myth and Doom Patrol stories, as we needed a good stretch of time where we could get closer to the cast and feel a bit more grounded, as it's a danger with Constant! Epic! Action! that it's also meant to be more than constant epic action.

The final four issues in the Omnibus is the 4-issue Tales of the New Teen Titans mini-series, which provided expanded origin stories for Cyborg, Raven. Changeling, and Starfire. It also provided George Perez a chance to collaborate with a couple of great artists who inked his pencils. The Changeling issue features Gene Day inks (it was one of his last jobs before he died, sadly) and it is an incredible combination and makes me wish that 1) They'd been able to do more stuff together and 2) More people knew how good Gene Day was. While these issues were generally in the business of filling out the backstories of the lesser established characters, they also function as teasers for newer plot elements that will eventually filter back into the main book.

So . . .being we're talking about a book that is 31 years old, the question must be . . .do they hold up? And the answer is . . .well, sorta. Wolfman has a reputation for writing melodramatically and really shoveling on the purple prose and that is not an undeserved charge. However, Chris Claremont was doing the exact same thing across the street on X-Men and both books were selling quite well, so obviously that was what people wanted to read back then. Despite that handicap, these books have a tremendous energy--Wolfman and Perez did 6 issues of whatever they wanted figuring they had nothing to lose, and the book reflects that. Compare the joy and excitement these first six issues of New Teen Titans have with six issues of the latest book to spin out of a crossover or editorial diktat, and see which one feel less like work to get through.

There's a feeling of boundless possibility here, and being this is the early years of the run we're far away from the stuff that would finally kill the book--the repeating plots, the whole Baxter Paper bullshit, etc. Believe it or not, the notion of superhero comics universes being tightly vertically integrated things with ironclad canons was actually a fairly late development in the history of superhero comics--this book and All-Star Comics treat a superhero universe with 50 years (at the time) of accumulated history as a great big toybox to play in, and don't sweat things like making sure ever story lines up with every other one--there is an effort made to keep everything consistent, and the rest is just there to have fun with. There's a freedom in these stories that is almost unheard of in today's books.

It was nice to revisit this time and these characters and have it still have a certain charm even now. As to the rest of y'all, well, just remember: oftimes nostalgia isn't what it used to be.