Monday, March 28, 2011

Just Sayin'--Some sad news

Well, no sooner after I sang the praises of Sym-Bionic Titan, word has come that the show is canceled, and more than likely the last 2 episodes to be burnt off on Saturdays will be the end of the show (not even a DVD, damn-it-all) and, given what happened last week, one expects the that the earth behind it shall be scorched something fierce.

I was somewhat amused that one of the reasons given for Titan not making it was because "it didn't have enough toys connected to it." This is interesting to me, mainly because NO ONE BOTHERED TO FUCKING MAKE ANY, thus ensuring a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Shame that, because Titan was a pretty toy-etic show, I thought. You had three robots, monsters, multiple Titan modes . . .yeah, why not take advantage of that? The Titan itself is a slick enough piece of design that it screams "make this a toy."

But oh well. We got plenty of good episodes, and a show that never would have worked had you just read the synopsis (Voltron meets Sixteen Candles) worked splendidly. And it's better that it had a small run, and it can be remembered fondly by the people who caught it, maybe shared with others, and it'll inspire someone else to do something cool.

And we'll always have this, of course:



Yes, I know I posted it last month, but really, it's everything Titan was good at in one nice little package.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #11

Well, here we go again, eh? Yet another weekly stop on our attempt to review every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space 9. A word about this week's, however--as we're doing these disc by disc through the DVD sets, by the end of the season, there's usually just 2 episodes on the final disc with the special features.

So that's why this review will only be two episodes long. But one has some big-time ramifications for the series as a whole, it'll make up for in gravitas what numbers failed to do.

"TRIBUNAL"

"ENOUGH! This is already the longest trial in Cardassian history!"

Some ideas are too good to leave as throwaway bits, and Dukat's little aside about the Cardassian justice system in "The Maquis Part II" was too good a hook not to use. What's more, it had been a week or nine since the last time O'Brien was tortured, well, it was time to put him through the wringer again.

On his way to the first vacation in a long time, O'Brien gets jacked by the Cardassians for providing weapons to the Maquis. Of course, this isn't quite what's going on, but we run with that for awhile while Our Heroes try to figure out what the hell is going on with this (the obtuse "arrested without charge" nature of Cardassian law enforcement provides a sufficient drive to give everyone something to do in the unraveling of the scheme behind all this. How neatly drawn, eh?) and ultimately, it all works out.

This is not really a complex episode, really. In fact it's a little maddening, as we already know how it's going to go the minute that O'Brien runs into Guy We've Never Seen Nor Heard Of Before Who Looks Very Suspicious And Immediately Does Something Suspicious, and we know the Cardassians are full of shit, and frankly, the key that unlocks the plot isn't that interesting.

All the same, it's really good. The Cardassian court is appropriately ominous, and can be besst summed up by O'Brien's defender:" "Whatever you've done, whatever the charges against you, none of that really matters in the long run... This trial is to demonstrate the futility of behavior contrary to good order."

The courtroom shenanigans are pretty entertaining, as it proves very hard to work the Cardassian legal system in any kind of quirky David E. Kelley sort of way, and everyone's sufficiently good in it that nothing particularly bad stands out in it. It's not essential by any means, but there are worse DS9 episodes to while away an hour with.

"THE JEM'HADAR"

"You have no idea what's begun here."

Well, this is it. After three big teases in which we have had them built up as an ominous, terrifying force in the Gamma Quadrant, the Dominion are here. And boy howdy do they announce their presence with authority.

Well, after we get done with the stupid comedy bits with the Siskos and Quark and Nog, of course. I won't be spending . . well, any time on the comedy bits because they're eye-rollingly awful--Quark complains about bugs and sets himself on fair, sadly failing to die. Nog simpers a lot, and he and Jake take apart a runabout. There you go. I've shaved half the episode off by glossing over that. I also skipped over the bit where Quark throws Sisko's Ferengi prejudice in his face because I DON'T GIVE A FUCK, OK?

This leaves us with the bits that actually work, namely the Dominion bits. The Dominion--well, specifically, their foot-soldiers, the Jem'Hadar, nab Sisko, Quark, and an alien girl named Eris (who is a Vorta, another member race of the Dominion, though we don't. Stop coming over here and getting on our collective lawn." To further make their point, they pop by the station, tell them they've wiped out a dozen colonies already and to stay on their side of the wormhole.

From the jump, the Jem'Hadar are presented as bad motherfuckers. They can walk through shields, transport through shields, and their weapons punch right through Federation deflector shields (sparing us the whole "ship rocks, someone gives a random percentage of what the shields are at) and just to underline just how fucking dangerous these guys are, they beat the crap out of a stand-in for the Starship Enterprise, then destroys it in a kamikaze attack just to show they mean business.

So, this is . . .well, half a good episode, at least. The Dominion pay off their build up quite well (even if "Dominion let prisoners escape because it's all part of the plan" becomes a bit of a shopworn cliche after awhile--seriously, creative incarceration is kind of their thing) and come off as a race of utter badasses who, for one, aren't a mono-culture like previous Star Trek baddies have been--the Dominion is literally an anti-Federation, and while that's not as foregrounded as much as I would like, it makes them a unique adversary to our heroes in a way that hasn't really ever been done before.

It's also great that the season ends on such a tenuous note--DS9 is no longer a remote outpost to more unknown space. DS9 is now the first line of defence against an implacable enemy that is definitely coming. The only question is "when" and "how pissed off."

And it's on that note that we're going to close out Season 2. Join us next week when we get a few new addition to the cast (one major one, as a matter of fact) and Our Heroes adjust to their new roles and suffer a (spoiler) really bullshit ending in "The Search, Parts 1 and 2"; Quark gets married and embroiled with Klingon politics in "The House of Quark"; and Jadzia suffers the Trill equivalent of repressed memories in "Equilibrium." Season 3 begins, and everything changes, mostly for the better, starting next week!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In Which I Plug A Fellow Blogger and Ruminate On The Class Struggle In Superhero Comics . . .

So lately I've been reading the entirety of Colin Smith's (no relation, so far as I know) Too Busy Thinking About My Comics and am equally fascinated and envious of it. Fascinated because the criticism therein is so well thought out and so intensive that even when we don't agree (frequently, but then if I read only people who agreed with me, my opinions would never be challenged, and would I ever get in good with the comics blogger cognoscenti? Am I now?) his arguments are so well reasoned and so damn interesting (Colin will explore the hell out of a work) yet not so dry and academic that my brain shuts off when things feel too much like college for me.

The envy, of course, owes to the fact that his approach is what all comics bloggers should aspire to and my approach is something like "old comics were better deep space nine obscure reference to comics wrestling whatever FUCK FUCK FUCK."

So there is that as well.

However, my personal jealousies aside, Colin is very skilled in articulating things which have always bothered me, but I never was able to articulate succinctly. In this, he functions very much like a sniglet--he creates terms of art we needed, but didn't have. He was able to articulate why Iron Man 2 was so disappointing, and recently, reading over his consideration of Kingdom Come (which has made me want to re-read the book again, as his reading of it being "Superman goes through the entire book screwing up and acting unilaterally, learns nothing, is venerated for it" has actually made that joyless slog of a book almost make some kind of sense, now) he spurred me to explore it.

During his writing on Kingdom Come (which you should all read, it's good stuff) Colin mentions something called the "superhero class." That is, so many superheroes are around, they only hang around with other superheroes and only deal with problems that involve superheroes. If civilians are mentioned at all, they are nameless, faceless, extras, barely considered, never really explored.

Holy shit, I thought when I read this. He's absolutely right.

One of the things that's bothered me so much ever since Kingdom Come, really, has been this idea that there is a superhero class. While it makes sense that say, the Justice League or the Avengers would be chummy (they work on a team, after all) or the Justice Society would be more like an august fraternity (the superhero version of the Freemasons or something) it's now hermetically sealed away from the person on the street or the street level.

This is a problem, as part of making superheroes work is making them plausible and relatable ("relatable," in this case meaning "has some connection to the reality of the reader," not "glum and unimaginative" or "deleting marriages by satanic fiat because no one on staff knows how to write one) to the person reading them. Marvel set their entire store by this--part of what set them apart was that their characters had real-world issues and interacted in a fictional world that was like our own in enough respects that it hit the right buttons (witness stuff like Spider-Man or Daredevil hopping rooftops because it's far too much of a hassle to try to flag down a cab--we've all be in stuck in traffic we've all wished for an "out") and it "read" as something a person who could do that sort of thing would do.

Now, of course, everyone knows everyone and they all hang out and have fun, angsting, gossiping, and moping about how alone they are when everyone in a union suit acts like their best fucking friend. Bruce, Clark, Diana. Steve, Tony, Thor. Moe, Larry, and Curly. It's ironic that Bendis promoted Luke Cage as the one "street level" hero who's now a major Marvel character, and yet, all he does is hang around with superheroes and have superhero problems over big superhero breakfasts. He couldn't be further from his roots or a plausible reality if he were the goddamned Warlord of Mars.

Witness the withering-to-the-point-of-dropping-off of supporting casts in books now. Because this is my blog and because I just read a ton of them, I'll use Iron Man as an example.

Being a rich asshole, back in the day it was hard to relate to Tony Stark. How many damn problems could he have--he was rich, good looking, smacked around commies, fooled around with beautiful women, etc. The heart injury was meant to blunt that a bit, but the other thing Marvel added was two recurring members of his cast--Pepper Pots, long-suffering secretary with the hots for Stark, and Happy Hogan, long-suffering driver with the hots for Pepper. Except for the occasional "Happy gets a whiff of cobalt and becomes a monster" gag, they weren't superheroes and weren't expected to be.

Over and above this, the fact of Iron Man's secret identity itself was also a potential driver of stories--in the suit, Iron Man isn't the lord of the manor--he's just another guy. Now the people who read comic books aren't all heads of Fortune 500 companies, but most all of us work for someone or have someone who tells us what to do. That's relatable, even if we don't get to punch a clock, throw on some armor, and punch out the Titanium Man.

And while not a lot was done with this--you'd occasionally get a bit where Stark forgot Iron Man's place and tried to act a bit too much like Stark, but beyond that, not much--it was a good thing, as it grounded Tony Stark's character more than the heart injury thing every could, Because so long as he could pretend to be a blue collar schmoe, he wasn't completely isolated as an ivory-tower technocrat, far too remote to be either interesting or relatable. It's the Prince and the Pauper model.

This was lost, of course, around 2000 when we collectively decided we were too hip for bullshit like secret identities. They were a hassle, added nothing, and we're all too grown up for kiddie crap like that. This more than anything led to the superhero class thing, because now superheroes only hung around with other superheroes, because no one wanted to play out the ramifications of this thing being an open secret (and the only times they did, as with Spider-Man, they walked it back almost immediately) so superheroes talked with other superheroes about how hard it was being a superheroes, which when you think about it, is as elegant a microcosm of comics increasing self-ghettoisation as you're likely to find.

Time was in Iron Man comics, damn near every member of the supporting cast spurred at least one story that would draw Iron Man in. I can think of at least five off the top of my head. I'm not arguing they were good stories, but they seemed to grow organically from the mise-en-scene of the comic book more than "the Red Skull's daughter, who is now the Red Skull with tits, gets a magic hammer and everyone's very scared all of a sudden because that's what we're doing now," let's say.

Nowadays, if you're a supporting cast member at all, you're probably a superhero too. Look at Iron Man once again. Jim Rhodes can't just be Jim Rhodes, he has to be War Machine. Except now he can't be War Machine, as it's not tied in tight enough, he has to be Iron Man 2.0. Pepper Potts can't be Pepper Potts, competent majordomo, she has to be Rescue, The Iron Man With Iron Titties.

Because God forbid we be made to care about any of these people and their relationship to the main character otherwise. We've been trained too well to disregard them unless they're part of the gang that "really matters." And it all feels a bit too far removed, and not very interesting. Because while the lives and problems of the rich and powerful may be worthy grist for the mill for soap operas . . .well, soap operas aren't doing very well nowadays, are they?

Maybe people aren't interested in the problems of an aristocracy any more. I know I'm not. It's too far removed from my own experience and my own interests to have any meaningful connection anymore and if I, as much of my interest is tied in with comics and has been for so long, don't care, then who's left to give a shit (or give money, to be blunt) after me?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #11

So now it comes and here we go, DS9 is here again, and our continuing goal to recap every single episode rolls round once more. This week we have a quartet of very strong episodes that even I can't snark too much about. So without any further ado-ackadoo, let's dive on in!

"THE MAQUIS, PART II"

"Will you stop talking and shoot them?"

Last time we talked a lot about how the Maquis were a set-up for Voyager, and how little it ultimately mattered in the end for that show. The funny thing is, in this part of the episode, we actually set up a very large section of what DS9 is about and the best part of it is that it'll stick.

So as of last episode, the Hit Man has betrayed Sisko, and this set's up one of the inviolable rules of DS9. You remember the first from last week--"Garak doesn't know what 'stun' means." The second if: "If you stab Sisko in the back, he will hunt your ass down." This will play out to more pronounced effect later on in the series, but for now, just know you don't cross the Emissary without paying for it.

Anyways, Gul Dukat's been abducted, the Maquis are making everyone nervous, and everything's in the toilet. Starfleet's breathing down Sisko's neck, and wonder of wonders, the Cardassians have said they don't even want Dukat back because apparently he was the one arming the Cardassian colonists. War seems ever more imminent, little makes sense, and it's up to Our Heroes to work it all out by stopping the Cardassian arms shipments and stopping the Maquis raid on a Cardassian colony.

Which, obviously, they do. The good bit is how it's done. We rescue Dukat early on, which gives us a time for a few good Sisko/Dukat scenes wherein we learn that Cardassian jurisprudence relies on the verdict known before trial even begins (which will become important soonish) and gives Dukat a chance to really work out as simultaneous ally and antagonist to our heroes simultaneously.

Oh, and we also get a space battle, which is . . .okay-ish, but given all the time Star Trek used to fink out on doing space battles, it's good that they're trying at least.

It all works pretty well and feels more like a DS9 episode than Part I did. But what it's most notable for is the following quote, which more than anything we'll see, spells out the how and the why of why Deep Space Nine is different (and I would say better) than all the Star Treks past and future:

"On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it's easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarized Zone, all the problems haven't been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive, whether it meets with Federation approval or not!"

It's one of the essential episodes of the series and the one which most defines the show's approach.

"THE WIRE"

"Living on this station is torture for me. The air is always too cold. The lights are always too bright. Every Bajoran on this station looks at me with loathing and contempt. And so one day, I decided I couldn't live with it anymore, and I took the pain away."

Garak's fourth appearance is the best so far, the one that best defines the character (after last week's . . .well, didn't) and even better, helps define Bashir as something more than a supercilious asshole. We also get even more about Cardassian society and in addition, a recurring adversary.

Garak and Bashir are having lunch when Garak acts all headachey and annoyed. He continues to get even more aberrant and, after witnessing a clandestine meeting between Quark and Garak, Bashir decides to investigate.

Garak is looking for a piece of Cardassian technology, you see. Unfortunately for him (and everyone else who looks for it) the technology is held by the Obsidian Order (fuck, what an awesome name) Cardassia's version of the KGB, a formidably scary organisation which apparently counts as it's hobbies widespread surveillance, covert operations, and disappearing people who do anything to piss it off. It so happens that an identical piece of technology is stuck in Garak's brain. Only it's breaking down and oh yeah, also killing him.

Bashir assumes Garak must have been exiled and had the device stuck in his head as punishment, but Garak responds that it's not that at all--it's actually meant to make him immune to pain, as he has information that must be protected at all costs locked up in his head, no matter what pain he was subjected to. But the circumstances of his life are so painful to him that he's become addicted to it, and its constant use is breaking it down and breaking him down as well.

Andrew Robinson, the guy who plays Garak, is given the entire episode to showcase his skills, as the episode is by and large Bashir and Garak playing off each other as Bashir become ever more determined to save Garak and Garak tells him he isn't worth saving, then explains why this is with three somewhat obscure and vaguely interconnected anecdotes about his life. It takes a few viewings to figure out just what bits of them are true, which aren't exactly true and . . .well, this is the game we'll be playing with every Garak episode from here on in, so get used to it.

I should also mention here that this is the first episode where Bashir doesn't come off a right twat. We're allowed to see him as a competent doctor, he puts up with Garak's abuse with a surprising amount of stoicism and ultimately tracks down someone in the Obsidian Order to find the answers he needs. And for once, he's not callow or skirt-chasing, or acting dweeby. It's pretty awesome, actually.

We also get another bit of Cardassian culture, wherein we learn that the most elegant form in Cardassian literature is the "repetitive epic," wherein the exact same story is told multiple times in one novel and no one finds anything that wrong with it. Nice of them to drop that line in for dorky English majors like me. :)

There's so much good to say about this episode and so much I don't want to spoil, so really, you should seek this one out. It's an absolutely essential episode.

"CROSSOVER"

"I care about freedom! What I don't understand is why YOU don't care!"

So, uh, remember that episode of OG Star Trek where Kirk went into another universe and everyone was evil and Spock had a goatee and was like "I'm going to kill you for not being evil enough Kirk" and Kirk was all "No way dude! I come from a planet of goodness! Grab my head and find out!" and Spock was all "Okay! Say . . .this ain't bad."

This is the sequel to that, wherein we found trying to make everyone join hands and sing "kumbaya" in a universe which seems to be intrinsically evil is Not A Good Thing, as it has led to Earth being enslaved by the combined might of the Cardassians, the Bajorans, and the Klingons, who are, if anything, even more brutal than Earth was, and have humans doing the workl Bajoran slave laborers were doing under the occupation.

Oh, and DS9 is ruled over by a Kira who's into fetish gear, manic episodes and barely restrained murderous rampages. This version of Kira, the Intendant, is notable because I believe that, 16 years later, there's probably some dateless wonder still fapping to her even now. Subsequent revisits to the Mirror Universe (which they uh, shouldn't have done--one of my complaints with DS9 is that after the second visit in the next season, they should have stopped beating this particular deceased equine) will have her more campy than evil, but for now, she straddles the line well enough.

Generally this is a pretty bleak episode, even with the slight campiness and the fun of everyone evil-ing it up to greater or lesser extent, there's . . .well, not even subtextual bleakness to it. Even our nominal good guys--Mirror O'Brien and Mirror Sisko qualify less as actual heroes and more as "well, they're slightly less evil than everyone else."

Of the 5 Mirror episodes that happen through the DS9 run, this is the best of them. There's a gripping tension that runs through it, and we're shown that the flip between the good guys and bad guys on DS9 is not as far a trip as one might hope.

It's another keeper, is what I'm saying.

"THE COLLABORATOR"

"Welcome back. You're under arrest."

God damn I hated this episode when I saw it during it's original run. "Great," I remember saying. "More talky Bajoran bullshit."

Viewing it again, I was wrong--this episode kicks ass. As in the best of the Bajoran episodes--"In The Hands of the Profits," the Circle Trilogy--we get an ideal interplay between Bajor and Starfleet. That is, that this is not going to be a cozy marriage where everyone gets along, in this case, because the Occupation has left deeper wounds on Bajor's collective psyche than one may initially realise.

This is the first time we really deal with the notion of Bajoran collaborators. Oh sure, it was a plot point in "Necessary Evil," but that was just an engine to get the noir homage moving. Here we finally deal with it, and in a big way. We also get our status quo shaken up to quite a large extent, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Vedek Bareil has popped round to sex up Kira and have a rather confusing vision that he can't make a lot of sense out of because the Bajorans don't understand anything about foreshadowing. In the midst of this, Vedek Ratched--sorry, Vedek Kai shows up, all glib and cheerful despite the whole "nearly getting Bareil killed" last season and "aiding in the overthrow of the Bajoran government" this season. We're near to the election of the Kai--the Bajoran Pope--and Bareil and Winn are the front-runners.

While all this is going on, Kubus, a member of the Bajoran government that collaborated with the Cardassians (making them war criminals) appears, and is immediately arrested. Kira has some very ugly words with a guy who fairly blatantly participated in his own race's genocide (like you thought she'd be all understanding?) and his ass is gonna burn for it.

However, wonder of wonders, Winn grants him sanctuary, which raises some eyebrows because well, it's bug-fuck crazy. However, all becomes clear when Winn reveals the price of Kubus' sanctuary--he knows the person who gave the Cardassians information that allowed them to perpetuate the Kendra Valley Massacre. What's even more alarming is that the orders seemed to come, at some remove, from Vedek Bariel.

What follows is Kira reluctantly having to work with Winn to learn the truth, all the while desperately hoping that the evidence is wrong. And here, of course, I have to hedge and not walk through the rest of the plot because the big reveal is actually damned effective, as is the twist enfolded within the reveal. It's a very DS9 way of playing things, and it works like gangbusters here.

So yeah, this episode plays phenomenally well. The Bajoran stuff requires sustained viewing to be as powerful as it is (as you have to follow pretty much every stage of the Bajoran situation, which requires a sustained investment in the show) so while I would use this as an introduction to DS9 or even rate is as a strong standalone episode, for those of you going through bit by bit, you'll find a lot to like here.

And that'll do it for this week! Next week I get something of a vacation as we consider the final two episodes of Season 2. Pull up a chair when O'Brien has a really crappy day and appears before the most unfriendly court since the Quintessons redefined revolving door justice in "Tribunal;" and the Dominion finally show up, kick massive ass and push the show into an entirely new direction in "The Jem'Hadar." See you then!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Just Sayin'--The "YOU'RE NOT HELPING" Edition

So I wake up to greet the Internet with everyone in the comics blog intelligentsia all agog because Lex Luthor stealing forty cakes is now "canon," whatever that can be said to mean. And everyone can't stop wasting valuable ones and zeroes talking about how brilliant and clever it is.

Now, look:

I know it's just a throwaway gag, I know it's just a little extra Easter egg thrown in to please the fifteen--sorry, twelve--fans still left, but honestly, endlessly self-referential stuff like this pushes the audience numbers in one direction and that direction ain't "up."

Jesus, were it not for the Internet, people wouldn't even know what the hell "Lex Luthor stealing forty cakes" thing was all about, so it's a reference to a semi-forgotten DC tie-in book (written, funnily enough for people who didn't read comics, back when we made an effort to achieve such things) that turned into a minor Internet meme that is now a throwaway gag in a comic that exists, if at all, as a head-scratching reference for everyone who doesn't know what the gag's all about.

Comics about other comics, in other words. And while this may seem an innocuous thing, this kind of obsessive "everything is important" stuff ultimately leads to acute and virulent cases wherein you make Element Lad's girlfriend a magic tranny pill addict so he can be canonically gay because look at his goddamn haircut. [NOTE: This actually happened]

Sometimes I wonder if comics haven't already imploded and all that's left is a small handful of people cracking wise and trying hard not to notice. Comics, ladies and gentlemen! We can't seem to create much of anything the masses might want to consume but we're fucking fantastic at contemplating out navels.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #10

Well folks, here we are again. Another step on the trail of recapping every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine continues as we look at four episodes that begin to lay the groundwork for longer-term plot thinking than we've seen and add a few more threads to the tapestry of this show. Oh, and that other spinoff with Mrs. Columbo is briefly discussed.

"PLAYING GOD"

"Take those phasers off stun, Chief. No more Mr. Nice Guy."

Dax's "Save The Trill" sponsored initiate comes to the station to get her seal of approval on being implanted with a slug. Said initiate is an utter dickhead with a retarded haircut and a smock and manages to run over a universe and nearly doom our universe, because the damn Prime Directive says that if the answer to the question of "is the pocket universe possibly full of life" the answer is, apparently, to let the pocket universe crush yours.

I hate to think how they would have handled the Crisis on Infinite Earths or that episode of the Simpsons where Lisa's tooth has a civilisation growing on it.

Anyways, this episode is kinda . . .well, not good. Arjin is an annoying ass, and we're not really given a reason to care about what he does with his life whether he has a slug or not. Whether he falls out an airlock and dies, however, is another matter. Unfortunately, he lives to the end of the episode.

However, this episode does have one thing going for it, namely we finally have a feature episode for Dax wherein she's actually an active participant, and good damn thing too. The last two she had was "Invasive Procedures," where she was sacked out on a gurney most of the time and "Dax" from season one, wherein she kept her mouth shut lest the plot of the episode be resolved before we padded out 45 minutes with it.

Fortunately, we've got one coming up episode after next.

"PROFIT AND LOSS"

"So, how well does this woman know you--just enough to dislike you or well enough to really hate you?"

While part of me wants to rip this episode up one side and down the other for being so blatantly a knock-off of Casablanca and Garak acting so very very out of character, rather than do that, allow me to go on a discursive rant about something that starts happening now.

If DS9 can be said to be a critique of the Federation and an examination of Bajor and its struggles to rebuilt, there's an added thread that starts here, because we get an examination of Cardassian society here as well. We had a glimpse of it in "Cardassians" early in this season, but now it starts playing out here for the first time.

Essentially, Isla--I mean, Natima, a former flame of Quark's, shows up on the station, having been attacked by their own people. Natima is carrying two other passengers, who are members of the Caradassian dissident movement, which is a subplot that pulls through Season 3 and sets up the beginning of season 4. Garak notices all this and tries to dime her out to the Cardassians which would make sense if . . .OK, well, it doesn't make any sense and the episode knows this, because it sets up Garak's turning face so blatantly you could see it from a mile down the road.

While all this is going on, Natima's trying to get her letters of transit--er, I mean, a cloaking device, from Quark. Oh, and Garak kills the guy who he was going to snitch for at the end of the episode. He does this because Garak doesn't know the meaning of the word "stun."

There's some good stuff here, but damn near all of it is wholly incidental to the plot, which you've seen before (and for those of you keeping count that's two Bogart movies they've . . .uh, bogarted, this season. We get some stuff about how Cardassians are expected to put their loyalty to the state above everything--we'll see more of Cardassia's rather totalitarian approach to everything before the season's done.

So this isn't a great episode by any means--far too much time spent trying to emulate Casbalanca's crackling dialogue without courting legal action (which didn't work--they got threatened anyway) pretty much everyone except Quark is sidelined from figuring into the plot and, well, it could be better. However, no Garak episode is truly worthless, as Andrew Robinson has the talent to elevate weak stuff up to tolerable and well, it could have been worse, couldn't it? They could have adapted Porky's Revenge.

"BLOOD OATH"

"The only weight I carry now, my dear comrade, is my own bulbous body. I was, if you'll remember, far less than you see . . .and far more than I've become."

Three OG Klingons--Kang, Koloth, and Kor (not to be confused with Kang and Kodos, of course) show up, fresh from the original series, ready to pay back some asshole in a turtleneck for murdering their children. The fourth member of this reverse tontine was Dax, or well, Curzon Dax, who apparently took hanging out with Klingons so seriously he somehow managed to get his full patch. After some persuading, Dax decides to come along and kick ass with the KKKs (oh dear, that sounds bad) and a battle with all the epic scope a circa 1994 TV budget affords ensues.

Well, hey guys, here's an episode that's everything "Playing God" wasn't. Dax gets center stage, and we get some thought expended on the notion of what debt Trills owe to their former lives (only we get a more immediate issue than a murder or a potential slug-host this time) and we're allowed to have a certain ambivalence about it. Because for all her brio, Dax has never killed anyone before, and while that throughline isn't carried through as much as I'd like, but the ending works perfectly--after the battle, Dax returns to the station, and while hasn't changed, she's not the same.

Part of the reason this theme may not be as strong as it is might be because the OG Klingons are fantastic characters played to the hilt. Kang is the battle-hardened warrior (Michael Ansara can make anything sound good) Koloth is the zen master of blades and Kor (also known as the OG Baltar from the first Battlestar Galactica) approaches his role like pretty much everything I see him in--devouring the scenery like Unicron eating Cybertron's moons. While their vitality downplays the themes of mortality and questions of living beyond one's time that simmer just below the episode's surface, you don't mind it so much.

Nor do you mind that the final battle tries mightily for scope and drama and violence but looks a little too much like some LARPers rampaging around an arboretum one afternoon in May. Fortunately, the next time large-scale ground combat happens in a DS9 episode, they'll do rather a better job next time.

For now though, you can be content that this episode is full of awesome and well worth watching.

"THE MAQUIS, PART I"

"Now do you begin to see, Commander? That without any help from us they've managed to start their own little war out here"

Now we're getting somewhere. But before we start off talking about the ep, being that it's part one of a two-parter and hence what plot we have is on the thin side, we have the luxury of decompressing a bit.

This time, circa 1994-ish, as Next Generation was going off the air, it was time to set up the next installment in the franchise, Voyager. Voyager would generally continue in the Next Generation/Original Series vein and explore strange (yet mostly familiar) new words and seek out new technobabble plot complications in an allegedly new part of the galaxy.

As this is already sounding like old wine in new bottles, it was suggested that another wrinkle be added--namely this crew, like DS9's, would not be all Starfleet. Half (roughly) would be composed of the Maquis, a terrorist organisation made of of Federation citizens who seem to spend an awful lot of time not really doing anything that terroristy, or at least not enough to really upset the folks watching at home.

The notion was this would be an instant drama generator--two crews, stranded far from home, having to work together, not necessarily having to default to the goddamned Prime Directive . . .it certainly had possibilities.

Voyager, in the pattern it would follow for most of its run, let it play out half-heartedly then blatantly killed it in an episode that is notable, as the Agony Booth once said, for explicitly negating their entire storytelling engine and playing it safe.

But that's later. The good news is, even after Voyager shits on the very thing the other two shows did such heavy lifting to build up, the Maquis actually end up functioning superbly as a long-term plot point on DS9.

And why not? DS9 doesn't shrink from issues of terrorism--it was a terrorist campaign that allowed Bajor to finally drive the Cardassians away, and Our Heroes certainly won't shy from taking a harder, less moral option, should the moment present itself.

And so, this is the beginning of all that. When a Cardassian freighter gets blown to bits outside the station, Our Heroes gradually uncover that a group of Federation settlers and those sympathetic to them are stirring up shit, and the Cardassains are arming their settlers to counter the Federations settlers, and if allowed to fester, this kind of thing could touch off a war, easily.

So it's up to Sisko and Cal Hudson (our Special Guest Star You Can Totally See Is Actually Working For The Bad Guys) who, awesomely enough, is played by the Hit Man himself, Bernie Casey:



Even though this has Obvious Plot Twist written on it so big you could see it through clothing from across the street, The relationship between Hudson and Sisko grounds the episode and adds some weight to the proceedings--they're old friends, both have lost their wives and they tend to be more passionate about things, so while it may be the expected thing, at least it feels a bit more natural. Plus, hell, this is the first time we've seen the happy happy Federation people be so openly contemptuous about Federation policy.

What makes this even more awesome (and gets you well past the fact that this two-parter is rather thin in its first part) is that we get Sisko and Gul Dukat teaming up, as Dukat is finally promoted from Recurring Cardassian Heavy to a character in his own right. Sisko and Dukat have some pretty good scenes here and represent clashing ideologies--witness Sisko's regret over a man dying and Dukat's lamentation that his suicide meant they'd gotten one up on them.

It's a good bit of set up . . .mostly. There's still the feeling that not much is happening, but the notion is, I think, to set up a sufficiently burgeoning crisis that has to be nipped in the bud before the worst case scenario comes to pass.

And we're gonna leave it there. Join us next week when Sisko and The Hit Man square off in "The Maquis, Part II"; Bashir and Garak team up to examine the endemic failure of the system in present-day Baltimore and try to keep from being killed by Omar in "The Wire"; Kira develops a thing for overacting and fetish gear in "Crossover"; and Vedek Ratched returns to bedevil Our Heroes in "The Collaborator." I'm looking forward to next week, as we have a quartet of unassailably classic episodes. See you then!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I Read This--IRON MAN: LEGACY OF DOOM

As I have said innumerable times, I am an huge Iron Man fan despite Marvel's repeated attempts to make that impossible. Of the various runs I have read (and I have one of those DVDs that had like, 50 years or whatever of Iron Man comics, so I've read a lot) the only two that really still "play" in this day and age are Len Kaminski's run from the early 90's (what happened to him, anyways? How come he's not in the cards when they troll about for Iron Man one-shots right before the movies come out?) and Bob Layton and David Michelinie.

Layton and Michelinie have an interesting history with Iron Man. They came on after Bill Mantlo's Iron Man run in the 1970s and had what is typically considered the definitive run on the book. They managed to create a storytelling model that allowed Iron Man to be about more than "experiment goes wrong" and "Iron Man fights commies" expanded the supporting cast (which helped to extend their options insofar as plots--need a quick punch-up? How about one of the supporting casts being in trouble?) did the first "Iron Man hits the bottle" story (before this became an albatross) and, in the capstone to their run (well, they continued on after this, but in people's memory this is the cutoff point) was the battle between Iron Man and Doctor Doom in issue #150.

And then they moved on. They would return a few years later (he said, blanking on the exact number) for another run which, while not as consistently good, managed to re-establish a functional storytelling engine that worked with the changes that had taken place in the book thus far, created yet another defining Iron Man storyline (the Armor Wars) and capped it off with Iron Man vs Dr. Doom, Round 2 in issue #250.

There was supposed to be more--Layton was coming back for a sequel to the Armor Wars which would have been better than what we got (then again, so would a kick to the nuts) and Michelinie was busy on Amazing Spider-Man working with some guy named McFarlane no never went anywhere.

And then, things get a bit problematic. During the retro craze at Marvel around the turn of the century, Layton and Michelinie get brought back for Bad Blood, a mini series notable less for what happened in it (I think there was a new Spymaster and Justin Hammer died. I don't remember.) more for Tom Brevoort throwing them under a bus and calling their work "Your dad's Iron Man" (whatever the hell that means) in the name of playing up Joe Quesada's soon-to-debut run, which, you'll remember, featured Iron Man's armour coming to life because of the y2K bug.

No, really.

Anyways, Layton and Michelinie have been back a couple times, and as much as it pains me to say it, to largely diminishing returns. Iron Man: The End was competently done, but felt rushed--I kept feeling like there'd been about 20 pages lopped out of it somewhere along the way and the remains jammed into a one-shot. Then again, it was a slightly re-purposed version of a proposal nearly ten years old by the time it saw print so that alone might explain a lot.

Legacy of Doom, thankfully, fares a lot better, because it has a narrowly focused remit: Tell a good Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom fight over four issues, hearkening back to their previous two encounters. In addition, it function as a sort of "middle chapter" to Iron Man's #150 and #250 respectively, functioning as the "present day" installment in the "past/present/future" triad it forms with the other stories.

It . . .sort of works, I guess, even if the parts are ultimately better than the whole. Part of this is due to how Michelinie and Layton write the Doctor Doom/Iron Man relationship--Doom continually looks down his nose at Iron Man (who was supposed to be his bodyguard, remember) and generally only engages Iron Man's aid because "I might need some lackey work done." Iron Man, for his part, does a slow burn and looks kinda exasperated.

Anyways, let's actually look at the story, shall we? While melting down his own armours, because ith the Extremis armour, keeping the old suits around is a security risk, which is funny because while this is a plausible excuse, no matter how many times his old suits get wrecked or destroyed, damn if he doesn't have giant chambers full of armour lying around everywhere, implying that Tony Stark is extremely forgetful when it comes to leaving his wearable loose nukes lying around, or (more likely) Marvel just doesn't give a shit.

While he's looking over the black box recordings of his post Armor Wars armour, he find a record of something he hadn't recalled and this frames up the flashback wherein our story takes place. While in space (I always lamented that Iron Man's space armour from this time looked so very much like he's strapped a bunch of marital aids to himself) Doctor Doom shows up and tells Iron Man to get his ass over to Latveria, he needs him for something.

They pack up and head off to Mephisto's realm, ostensibly because Mephisto has figured out how to accelerate the end of days. Man, Spider-Man's marriage is powerful, I guess. This is a complicated bluff, of course--Iron Man was traded to Mephisto for Morgan LeFay, a shard of Excalibur, and a utility infielder from Latveria's AAA team who's ready for "the show." I'm glossing over most of this, but that's because it's incidental and just there to set up what happens later.

Menwhile, Iron Man is stuck in hell, and fights a demon posing as his father, who, in my favourite unintentionally hilarious bit in this issue, called Stark a "Fancy-Boy." I have no idea what that means exactly, but man oh man, I hate them fancy boys.

So all this gets sorted out by the end of issue 2 and Iron Man is out the frying pan and into the fire because Doctor Doom now has Excalibur, is dressing in black, can cut through Iron Man's armour with contemtous ease, and is of course, now Shift-Y against orcs. When this goes badly for Shellhead, Merlin shows up for a Third Act Exposition to suggest a course of action--Iron Man should try to find Excalibur's scabbard, because while Excalibur makes you invincible, the scabbard will make you invulnerable.

Naturally, Iron Man succeeds and gets a totally bitchin' suit of magic armour (seriously, it's easily the highlight of this series and is such an effective design, as it reads visually as "Iron Man" but with some magical flavour) Kind of a shame that the scabbard doesn't make Iron Man "invincible," but that may have been too obvious, I suppose.

This turns out to be a Bad Thing, because at that moment, Eye Guy from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers shows up and begins killing people and we find out that Doctor Doom's plan was to reunite the sword and scabbard and stop Eye Guy from destroying the world. So thanks for totally assing things up, Stark

Yeah, uh, this part isn't so good. Eye Guy is not a particularly effective villain without Hulk to hit eyeball man in eye and the final conflict never really crystalises into something with the proper weight or stakes or . . .anything. The bit at the end where Merlin deletes his memory of Excalibur because Merlin knows that as time goes on he'll become a megalomaniacal asshole feels a bit perfunctory and exists more as a means to set up a story point in #250 than an organic part of the story.

That aside, there's still enough in Legacy of Doom to make reading it worthwhile.The Iron Man/Doom chemistry works great and drives the story past even the ropier plot points, Ron Lim and Bob Layton do a splendid job with the art, creating the clean, clear, shiny action that to my mind is what Iron Man always should be, and Michelenie does great in making Stark a more dimensional character. He's not a shallow asshole, aloof technocrat, or alleged futurist. Stark is fallible in this story, he gets in trouble and we're actually given the luxury of following him as he works out how to get back out of it and how rare is that in this day and age?

In short, these are four issues of solid, reliable, entertaining comics that don't try to pose as though they're above the audience, aren't full of feeble junk science culled from skimming that dog-eared copy of Popular Science, there's not an issue of people sitting around doing nothing save spouting cloned Whedon, there's nothing save a decent superhero comic that tries to hit the mark, doesn't quite, and somehow ends up still being worthwhile.

If you can find it cheap enough, why not give it a read?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #9

This is the official "Let's make Miles O'Brien's life miserable" week apparently, as my disc happens to contain three episode (in a row too--spooky) wherein Miles O'Brien is messed around with to greater or lesser extent. I'm not sure how they all lined up, but we'll play the hand we're dealt.

I should add that over DS9's run, the "Let's Torture O'Brien" (apparently the official name of these episodes) become an annual tradition, and so, on our quest to recap every episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, we're going to be seeing a lot of these from here on in.

"ARMAGEDDON GAME"

"It was hell. You can see for yourself--the man never stops talking."

I used to hate this episode. I think it was because the T'lani and the Kellerun have utterly stupid haircuts and as they are out main adversaries in this episode, it is hellaciously difficult to take them seriously when you're hair looks like goddamn Astro Boy.

I'm also (and I realise this puts me in the minoirty) not very fond of Bashir O'Brien team-ups. Oh sure, they're a fun duo in the odd comedy scene, but their chemistry is difficult to sustain into an entire episode (one such episode, near the end of the series, is utterly torpedoed by this) but if this is something you might like, well, just follow this simple formula. O'Brien=Murtagh Bashir=Riggs.

What I ended up liking about this episode much better this time was how completely it inverts a Next Generation trope I'd gotten sick of--at the end of a successful peace brokerage, Bashir and O'Brien help them destroy their stockpiles of biological a weapon called "Harvesters." To further set the seal on their peace, after the weapons are destroyed, the two races decide to move forward with a joint operation--namely killing anyone who might have any knowledge regarding the Harvesters.

What ensues is a simple chase scenario--the rest of Our Heroes try to work out what's really happened to their crewmen, the two races are trying to finish off they who Know Too Much, and Bashir and O'Brien are trying to stay alive until help can reach them.

It's not the most complex episode ever minted, but but it gets the job done, and I quite liked that this whole "establishing peace" business that the Enterprise seemed to pat itself on the back for actually backfires for once. That, plus a twist in the final battle with the two races (can you tell I've decided to stop typing their names over and over?) keeps things fresh. It's pretty good all in all, but the next episode is better.

"WHISPERS"

"They got to you, didn't they?"

Oh man, this is a good'un. Perhaps the first "let's torture Miles O'Brien" episode of many the series will do over the course of its run, "Whispers" plays out entirely from O'Brien's perspective, succeeds in establishing an unrelenting sense of paranoia and dread without dissolving into confusion, and has an effective twist at the end.

O'Brien wakes up and goes over the course of his day, noticing the people around him, the people that he's worked for for a year and change, are behaving strangely, acting evasive. Even his own wife won't have much to do with him. What's more, it seems to center around some peace negotiations the station will be holding with the Paradans.

I'll keep this short, because the twist is rather effective and I don't want to spoil it by spooling out too much of it, but I do like the way this plays out, entirely from O'Brien's perspective, giving no evidence of the larger plot around him. It's well worth watching, and an example of DS9 taking a darker path than Star Trek usually takes.

I could have lived a long and fruitful life without knowing that O'Brien writes smutty letters to his wife, though. Overshare, y'all. Over. Fucking. Share.

"PARADISE"

"It's interesting how you happened to to crash on a planet that fits your philosophy so well."

I kept getting this episode and "Sanctary" confused, dammit. Anyways, this is the one where Sisko and O'Brien meet up with the Space Amish. Basically, while searching for a good place for a new colony, Sisko and O'Brien land on a planet where technology of any kind doesn't work, and there's a clan of people who's previous ship crashed and they've built themselves a little hippie commune which is led by Alixus. In the best tradition of hippie communes, Alixus is a pompous asshole who disdains technology, writes manifesto after manifesto about how modern life and its dependency on technology sucks a bag of dicks, and stamps out even the suggestion of Sisko and O'Brien trying to restore their technology.

Oh and she pimps out Jeffrey Sinclair's girlfriend to Sisko to win him over. He's gonna be pissed, I bet.

Anyways, it doesn't take long for Alixus' granola farm to be played up for the concentration camp it is. If you can't treat a sickness with herbs and leaves, you die from it, no argument. If you misbehave even a little, you get locked in the hot box to starve and dehydrate (Sisko ends up spending some time in there) The discipline is brutal and unforgiving and it takes about 18 minutes for me to decide that Alixus is a giant self-righteous asshole.

Which is a good thing, because she's the main villain of this episode. You see, she set up the anti-tech field so she could have a place to live out her hippie commune beliefs and from there, built it into the little crazy-ass Planet Waco it is today.

Despite the fact that it's all pretty obvious how all this will play out, I really like this episode, mainly because it flies in the face of all the earth-happy, hippie-friendly, we're-all-in-this-together, it-takes-a-village crap that was getting shoveled around about the time this episode was new was pretty much everywhere (this was, for instance, about the time that Captain Planet was the only action cartoon one could find) and it was good to have an episode that warned about the dangers of the ultimate extent of that sort of extremism. It also helps that Alixus makes a very creepy and dangerous fanatic, especially in that somewhat disturbing scene where she turns the death of one of the commune into a chance to reinforce her propaganda.

Plus, Sisko has a bit more to do than he has comparatively recently. For a long time the show has struggled with trying to find a role for him and decided to generally have him bark orders or sit in his office or fret about Jake, but this episode foregrounds him and allows Avery Brooks to do what he does best, and that is to look like he's about five seconds away from breaking a foot off in someone's ass. The amount of silent defiance he's able to bring in this episode is just amazing and it just radiates off the bloody screen.

"SHADOWPLAY"

"After seven lifetimes, the impersonal questions aren't much fun anymore."

Talk about your slight episodes. Odo and Dax land on a mysterious planet full of people in caftans and beads (no, this is not Planet Waco from last time) and they're the usual brand of suspicious, mysterious natives, possibly because everyone keeps disappearing.

Oh, and in plots B and C Jake starts his internship with Chief O'Brien, and in the C plot, Kira grapples with her anger at Quark and a visit from Bareil, who immediately lays his butter-snooth "sexy minister" routine on her and, it is assumed, juices her like a cranapple.

Anyways, back on Planet Muumuu, Odo and Dax get to the bottom of the whole mysterious disappearance thing--apparently there's only one real guy on the planet. The rest were destroyed by the mysterious Dominion and, his entire planet gone, he moved away and built a life-size version of The Sims and left it running. Unfortunately, his graphics card isn't up to the task (fuckin EA, I swear to God) and so, it has to be fixed and the one living guy decides to live in his MMORPG for the rest of his life.

While this episode doesn't add up to much there are some good bits. Jake saying he's not sure whether he wants to go to Starfleet Academy is a good bit, and frankly knocks hell out of something that's always bothered me about the underpinnings of Star Trek: It presupposes that science and technological knowledge is so much more highly valued that the only means to have anything like a meaningful life is to enroll in the Space Coast Guard and go off to Space West Point.

Not to say we don't need scientists--obviously, we do. But science isn't the entire warp and weft of the human tapestry. What about artists, what about musicians? Where's their Academy and funky uniforms? I don't know about you, but the notion that in the future we will grind out children who are locked into only one specific career choice in science and technology is antiseptic and deeply unsettling in a kind of "destroy individuality" kind of way. One of the reasons I like DS9 so much is it's the first time anyone actually bothers to explore this notion a little, and because it happens to a member of the main cast, we actually play it out over an extended period of time--this isn't a one-shot guest star who shows up, makes their decision, and then vanishes, never to be considered again.

Oh, and we finally pull the trigger on the Kira/Bariel romance which will run through the next few appearances into next season and Kira gets tries to pin a complicated scam on Quark and . . .yeah. This episode is a bit Frankenstein-y, I think. The people who wrote it claim that the three plots are united by a common theme of "the unreliability of appearances," but that kind of general interrelation doesn't quite gel.

That said, the Starfleet Academy thing is worthwhile and this is our last teaser of the Dominion until they show up in the finale, so . . .it's worth a look for that, I reckon.

And that's it for this week! Join us next time when Dax plays guidance counselor in "Playing God"; The DS9 writing staff skirts dangerously close to full-on plagiarism in Space Casabl--I mean "Profit and Loss"; OG Klingons come to the stations and be awesome in "Blood Oath"; and we set up the premise for Star Trek: Voyager and have our first cliffhanger here on the Prattle in "The Maquis, Part 1." In the meantime, this is Kazekage, reminding you to keep your feet on the ground, and don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.