Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #16

Winding like an endless river, the time is now again. For our latest stop on the never-ending soul train that is the Prattle's journey to review every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, we close the books on April with a quartet of rather splendid episodes, actually. So much so that I'm going to quit hemming and hawing and get right down to it.


"I hate temporal mechanics."

We haven't tormented O'Brien in ever so long, really, so let's bomb him with something so intricate it may as well have come from Steven Moffat. The Romulans have come to the station to get all the intelligence they can about the Dominion, which was their price they exacted for giving Starfleet a cloaking device for the Defiant.

Well, that's the theory, anyways. In practice, the Romulans just come in and act like real shitheads to everyone and annoy Our Heroes. Well, except for O'Brien, who's having these odd time-shifts were he jumps ahead a few moments into the future at odd intervals. This wouldn't be too big a deal--hey, who doesn't get drunk and time travel a little, eh?--except that in one time-jump he sees the station destroyed and the wormhole collapse.

So it's up to O'Brien to try to work it all out and prevent that, and since there's three more episodes this week--SPOILER--he does. The mechanics of it are so much technobabble and aren't that important, and there's a good twist that results that, so far as I'm aware, is never followed up on but . . .you know, it's not a bad episode, really. It hums right along, never gets too tangled up in technobabble, and actually gives us some good scenes of the Romulans winding up Our Heroes.

There's better to come, though. Just wait.


"The trick is discovering who is guilty of what."

Bashir turns 30, then gets his brain leeched by an alien. I think on my 30th birthday I went out for pizza and got a bit drunk, hence, I win.

This is not a bad episode, not least because of Garak (I quite liked his revelation that Cardassian murder mysteries say that everyone is guilty, the only question is who is guilty of what) and because things get very weird and abstract as we're trapped in Bashir's head while he's dying of old age, trying to work out what's going on, and Our Heroes, which are avatars of various elements of his personality, aren't really all that helpful.

Though these "what is reality" episode would become more commonplace on Voyager, this iteration of this plot isn't too bad and looked at in light of later revelations about Bashir's character two seasons on from this, it takes on a very different tenor than it does if you start from episode 1.


"Do I get a vote?"
"Of course you do--it just doesn't count."

Hey, remember when we went to the Mirror Universe again last season? Well, this is our second visit, and while it's not a bad episode, it does set a few troubling precedents.

1) Everyone In The Mirror Universe Is Fucking Stupid: Seriously, I understand that the driving element of the Mirror Universe is barbarous violence and they're not subtle, but honestly, the collective brain activity of the Mirror Universe wouldn't equal the brain power of a pound of dirt.

I say this with the following proof: One, they forget that they have Orbs, because by the time of the penultimate Mirror Universe episode they come back to steal one even though it was mentioned in "Crossover." Here, we see a ship de-cloak, except by the last Mirror Universe they don't seem to have cloaking devices. So what the hell, y'all?

2) There Is No Subtlety In The Mirror Universe And An Hour Of That Is A Bit Much. Everyone tries to camp it up when they're playing the Mirror versions of themselves and that can be a bit much to take--oh sure, one camp guy or girl is one thing, but when you have a LOT of them all being loud and chewing scenery it's a lot to take.

That said . . .this isn't a bad one. In fact, it's the most action-packed of the Mirror romps (there's a decent space battle next season in "Shattered Mirror," but the rest of the episode really makes my head hurt) and gives us a chance to see Sisko kicking ass.

Here's the plot: Mirror O'Brien kidnaps our Sisko (the "Crossover" Sisko having been recently killed) to help persuade his wife (who is not dead on the Mirror side) to not finish a sensor array that could pinpoint the resistance. Action and dual-wielding disruptors and shit ensues.

The nicest thing I can say about "Looking Glass" is that it's cracking good fun. It gets a bit less so when you consider the three episodes that follow it, but generally, this one is pretty good. We have Sisko as an action hero, we have some decent scenes with he and Mirror Mrs. Sisko, and the whole thing hums along with such brio that the weak bits really don't register until a good time afterward.

We could (and will) do worse.


"Yes I thought you might appreciate it, on an aesthetic level"

This episode is part one of a two-parter that was the thing that turned DS9 into appointment viewing for me, honestly. More on that when we talk about Part 2 next week, but for now, I felt like it was important for y'all to get that.

Things start out normal--Bashir and Garak having lunch, Garak saying he doesn't "get" Julius Caesar (thus earning the sympathy of first-year Shakespeare students everywhere, no doubt) and ambling off back to his shop.

Which then explodes.

An investigation is launched into it, but Garak is his usual evasive self, and really doesn't help things (obviously it wasn't disgruntled Shakespeare teachers), and when you pull that shit with Odo, you're really trading on not much patience, really.

But working on it, Odo stumbles in to something else--a LOT of Garak's former co-workers have been dying mysteriously the past few days. What's more, there are indications that the Romulans were behind it, and what the hell could that mean?

Well, Odo assumes a Romulan/Cadassian war may be in the offing, so he and Garak pile into a runabout and go to find Enabran Tain (late of "The Wire") in the hopes he's not already a victim of this.

They find him.

On a Romulan Warbird. But he's not a prisoner, oh no: He's leading a join operation between Cardassian and Romulan intelligence agencies--turns out they've been developing a fleet for ages (since at least "Defiant"--see how things tie together?) To make matters even more complicated their real plan is finally unveiled. They're going to stage a first strike on the Dominion--taking out the founders with their first assault on the Founders homeworld.

So, Odo and Garak are unable to contact anyone, and the only person who know what's about to happen, have no way to contact anyone and . . .oh yeah. Garak went back over to Tain, which means it's just Odo now.

"Improbable Cause" is fucking awesome, because it raises the stakes and dangles a number of red herrings out there, each of which would have been a satisfying plot line in and of itself--Garak's past, the Romulan/Cardassian war, the first strike against the Dominion--any of these would be "Holy shit!" moments, but by lining them all up and continually raising the stakes, it really build to a moment whhere you are DYING to see the next part.

And we will soon enough! Join us next week for the denouement of this here episode when "The Die Is Cast"; Sisko, his new beard, and Jake go all Kon-Tiki in "Explorers"; My soul is withered by some Ferengi Komedi with "Family Business"; and we wrap it all up by remembering Bajor for a bit in "Shakaar" Tune in same witless time, same Witless Prattle!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #194

Digital comics are the future of comics, so says everyone on the Internet and everyone trying to justify their purchase of an iPad and leveraging that into a desperate attempt to generate content for their blogs and stuff. It is in this spirit that the management at Witless Prattle continues the following new, exciting, weirdly specific and slightly iconoclastic feature.

Iron Man #194

May 1985


Writer: Denny O'Neil

Artists: Luke McDonnell (pencils) Akin & Garvey (inks)

Stark in his grey Iron Man suit is hauling "altered to the point we can't be sued but really, it's Godzilla, guys" out to sea. Unfortunately his armour's not up to it and nearly drowns until he shucks his armour and Hawkeye and Mockingbird come save him.

Meanwhile, Jim Rhodes is meeting with Henry Pym to work out his mental problems, because when one is suffering unidentifiable mental problems . . .why not go to someone who has certifiable mental problems. Somehow this leads to someone sticking Henry Pym up looking for some shrink-gas to help hide out from the cops, but not too small--he still wants the ladies to know he's all man, after all. This doesn't go well and Rhodes punches him into some dimensional rift that Pym just stupidly left open while he and Rhodes were talking because Hank Pym doesn't really understand lab work aside from "make science go now!"

In Subplot Corner, Bethany Cabe shows up looking for Stark, only to get the brushoff from the Erwin siblings. This plot will repeat itself, occasionally with people storming in to kidnap her for a couple more issues from here on in. Oh, and Obadiah Stane hires the Enforcer to kill the Termite, who failed in his mission to sabotage Stark's new company. Unfortunately, the Enforcer gets killed by the Scourge a page later. This is the first of the Scourge kills, so you Spider-Woman and Marvel Team-Up villains watch your asses.

Ultimately, Rhodes gets Pym and the criminal out of the Tripping Balls Dimension, except the criminal decides it would be a great place to hide out and runs back in. O'Neil demonstrates that he's not that good with reactions at this point because everyone's like "whoa, I guess he went nuts in there or something. So, anyone for grilled cheese sandwiches?" Our issue ends with Pym saying they're finally going to cure Rhodes, by which he means he's going to throw up his hands and hand the problem off to someone else.

OK, well, except for the Scourge thing, this really doesn't figure into anything major and the various plots are spinning their wheels while we wait for the road to #200 to begin in earnest. It's kind of a weird issue in that it feels so . . .less than urgent, but as it's not "The Crossing" it could be leagues worse.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #186

Digital comics are the future of comics, so says everyone on the Internet and everyone trying to justify their purchase of an iPad and leveraging that into a desperate attempt to generate content for their blogs and stuff. It is in this spirit that the management at Witless Prattle continues the following new, exciting, weirdly specific and slightly iconoclastic feature.

Iron Man #186

September 1984

"Though This Fault Be Mine . . ."

Writer: Denny O'Neil

Artists: Luke McDonnell (pencils) Steve Mitchell (inks)

Man, that title. Hoo boy.

So Stark, Rhodes, and the Erwin siblings have finally made it cross-country to get their startup tech company started . . .literally. As in they go to vacant lot, dig a foundation, and pop up a pre-fab dome, which uhm . . .I'm sure isn't as simple as it sounds. What about water and power hookups and all that? Then again, that isn't the least of the dodgy science this issue, so we will gloss over it for now.

Meanwhile, in sunny Palmadale, Fortney, a ruthless capitalist who looks for all the world like the gun-slinging Texan from the Simpsons sends Dr. Vibreaux down the San Andreas Fault on some sort of machine that makes science happen somehow, and yet requires Vibreaux to wear those stupid sunglasses everyone was wearing in the 80s that made people like like Cyclops and stuff. Naturally, things go utterly wrong and Vibreaux tumbles down the fault only to pop up again as Vibro, who has flame powers. No he doesn't--he makes earthquakes and shit. Name as destiny in comics strikes again! Understandably pissed at Fortney, as the whole thing is his fault (*snicker*) Vibro wanders the streets ready to unleash vengeance on such a level that everyone will tremble, even quake, with fear.

Meanwhile in Subplot Corner, Stark suggests Rhodes find out a little more about the oil rig hijack that he's going to zoom off and solve and Rhodes tells him to mind his own fucking business. Rhodes feels a little bad about it (the blame for these little outbursts initially falls on the fact that Stark was too brain-pickled to recalibrate the armour's cybernetics, but it's something more than that) and everyone does the usual "what the hell is his problem?"/"Oh, it'll work itself out." thing they do before we settle all this in #192.

Meanwhile, Iron Man succeeds in stopping the terrorists, but Vibro shows up and destroys the whole oil rig. Rhodes is able to save Fortney and gets him to fly him ashore for another grand (Iron Man has been working as a hero for hire around this period to get startup capital for their business) Vibro sees Fortney with Iron Man and loses his shit and there's a fight which Iron Man wins by punching Vibro out.

Back in Subplot Corner, Rhodes gets Stark to fix his repulsors (having been lost during the first Secret War) and continues to act like an asshole to everyone. Rhodes says he doesn't like Stark messing with the armour, just in case we missed it. Meanwhile Vibro plots his revenge from prison.

Yes, well, this is all backdrop for Subplot Corner, really, as we have to build the the tension between Rhodes and Stark for their big fight 6 issues from now. Vibro is not what one would call a great villain (really, any of the villains created during O'Neil's run, except Obadiah Stane) but he's just an external driver for the Rhodes/Stark conflict.

It's an OK issue, really, but really exists just as a vehicle to get us to the next big moment in the larger story.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #296

Digital comics are the future of comics, so says everyone on the Internet and everyone trying to justify their purchase of an iPad and leveraging that into a desperate attempt to generate content for their blogs and stuff. It is in this spirit that the management at Witless Prattle continues the following new, exciting, weirdly specific and slightly iconoclastic feature.

Iron Man #296

September 1993

"Trade War"

Writer: Len Kaminski

Artists: Kevin Hopgood (pencils) Steve Mitchell (inks)

Iron Man starts his day with a training program, ends up fighting MODAM, who is like MODOK with boobies and all the gut-wrenching horror that entails. Omega Red also shows up because these are those salad days when anyone who'd been in two issues of X-Men could show up and give an immediate sales boost. Probably even Hazard, though no one really tried.

It should be mentioned, to give you a clearer picture of where we are in Iron Man continuity, that Iron Man is a robot piloted by Stark, as he's still recovering from his "death" (otherwise known as "getting out from under the hot mess John Byrne left when he quit the book") and learns of a decision made by Jim Rhodes (acting as CEO of Stark Enterprises during the time Stark was not-exactly-dead) to sell off their nuclear holdings, and they've sold them to AIM of all people.

Veronica Benning shows up for a page to keep her and Stark's soon-to-be-aborted romantic subplot humming along and yell at him for canceling his physical therapy sessions. She angsts about having to be such a bitch in the name of motivating him and we're off to the next thing.

Stark sends an LMD out to see if he can negotiate with AIM, but they gun him down and he sends in Iron Man. Meanwhile, Omega Red is sure that MODAM was formerly a NKVD agent who betrayed him (this uh, kinda goes nowhere and is really more a spur to make it seem like Red actually belongs here) this sets up a three-way fight between Iron Man. MODAM, and Omega Red next issue.

While I like generally Len Kaminski's run, this is not one of his stronger issues, it should be said. I mean, it's nice that he works in AIM and Iron Man's long-running feud with them into the story, but MODAM is boring as hell (so is MODOK) and Omega Red is . . .well, Omega Red, which is to say he's an eternally half-baked character. That said, the recurring theme of Kaminski's run (that people and corporations will do stupid shit owing to inattention or unintended consequences every time) is in full flower here, and Kevin Hopgood is a fantastic artist who gives everything a sleek yet solid look.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #192

Digital comics are the future of comics, so say everyone on the internet and everyone trying to justify their purchase of an iPad and leveraging that into a desperate attempt to generate content for their blogs and stuff. It is in this spirit that the management at Witless Prattle continues the following new, exciting, weirdly specific and slightly iconoclastic feature.

Iron Man #192

March 1985

"A Duel of Iron"

Writer: Denny O'Neil

Artists: Luke McDonnell (pencils) Akin & Garvey (inks)

The moment Tony Stark has dreaded has come. With Jim Rhodes completely irrational and out of control and endangering civilians in a fight with frankly barmy supervillain Vibro, he's forced to don the suit of Iron Man armour he'd been using as work therapy to stop his best friend.

It's not good news for Stark, who's only recently stopped drinking and identified one of the causes of his alcoholism as using the Iron Man armour as a way of avoiding his problems. To put it on again might mean crawling back into a bottle. Worse still, Rhodes' armour far outclasses his.

But there's no other option.

Stark is able to shut down Vibro while Rhodes is crawling from the wreckage of the fight and then Stark tries to talk Rhodes down from his rage. Now that Stark's stopped drinking he'd been a bit more active in helping out Rhodes when he was in a jam, which made Rhodes all paranoid that that Stark wanted to be Iron Man again. The irony of course, is Stark couldn't possibly want anything less.

Eventually, Stark shuts down Rhodes' armour and they finally talk it out. Rhodes fears Stark will take away the armour and his chance to be a hero, which is all he really ever wanted. Stark insists he really doesn't want to be Iron Man (obviously, circumstances will change that) and to prove his trust in his friend, Stark sheds his armour and un-freezes Rhodes'. Thankfully, Rhodey, having regained his senses, doesn't kill the hell out of him.

This is a pretty good issue--one of the major bits of Denny O'Neil's run on the book was contrasting Stark's use of the Iron Man armour as a crutch to isolate him from his problems and Rhodes' use of the armour to become a hero (even though, really, he already was) and his dependence on it as an amplifier for his conscience. In both cases, it's a destructive addiction, obviously.

This sets up the new status quo of the book until #200. Essentially there are two Iron Men running around in it, and the focus shifts to Stark trying to grapple with consciously or unconsciously getting back into the role of being Iron Man, a role which he's extraordinarily ambivalent about until issue #200 finally forces his hand.

It's a good issue, and while it really needs to be read in series (O'Neil built this up for three years, if you can believe it) to get the full effect, it's really worthwhile. It's also amazing to see how different Luke McDonnell's art is compared to the looser style he'd start doing in Suicide Squad a couple years after this.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #234

Digital comics are the future of comics, so say everyone on the internet and everyone trying to justify their purchase of an iPad and leveraging that into a desperate attempt to generate content for their blogs and stuff. It is in this spirit that the management at Witless Prattle launch the following new, exciting, weirdly specific and slightly iconoclastic feature.

So, my reviews of digital comics will be a little different. I did not use any of the various comics apps to read comics on the iPad. Mainly because I'm too cheap, I hardly read any new books and having 15 different apps for something like comics was a little too much like having a choice of 300 pairs of shoes when all I need right then is a comfy pair of slippers.

So I did it this way: Through the magic of "Foresight" I bought one of those Marvel DVDs where they stuck like 30 whole years of a character's run on one disc as PDFs and sold it. Of course, almost as soon as I did, Marvel stopped doing them because having that much archived Chuck Austen content is probably enough to qualify as a lethal concentration. Seriously, dude was everywhere in the 2000s.

I then moved the PDFs over to the Ipad. To better help with the linearity of this soon to be blog feature, it totally scrambled the running order, so we will be skipping around a lot. It will be nothing new to the people who read this, I imagine--whatever ever, the Prattle is not about being organised. It's not a complete run, it's not comprehensive, these are just Iron Man comics I like, they're on my iPad, and it's a handy thumb to the eye to all those wanna be futurists who think all we need to do to fix comics is save some trees.

The only drawback to these, I should add, is the big "MARVEL" watermark on the pages. But I found that you can do what I do with most Marvel comics these days and ignore it with practice.

That's enough preamble. Let's do this:

September 1988


Writers: David Michelenie & Bob Layton
Art: Jackson Guice & Bob Layton

At a somewhat thinly disguised CES in New York, Stark is showing off the new and improved Iron Man as an effort to shore up his companies reputation after the Armor Wars and take everyone's mind of his totally 80's permed mullet. In between that he has a look at Stane International's display, which is headed by some Chinese guy who seems to make everyone sick, including Peter Parker, who is there to cover the trade show and in no way shape or form a guest star shoehorned in for the benefit of sales.

While we're in the early days of working out what's wrong, Stark runs into his old security chief Vic Martinelli (who hasn't been seen for . . .geez, nearly five years at the time this was published) who ties up some lingering issues and additionally tips him off that All Is Not Well at his old company.

Meanwhile, in Subplots Corner, Kathy Dare shows up she and Tony have a meet cute. This will not end well.

Back at Stane, Spider-Man has worked out that Chinese-Guy-In-Sweater is actually Radioactive Man (No, not the one from the Simspons) and obviously, this is bad news. Stark pressures Martinelli to sneak him in to the compound and stop him, and he changes into Iron Man and stops Radioactive Man from harvesting Spidey's blood (spider blood spider blood radioactive spider blood) and any notions of stealth are chucked out the window as we get to fightin'

Eventually they seal him up in lead and part as chums, like you do.

This issue is from a period of time wherein the various subplots left over from the Armor Wars hum along in the background while new plots emerge (the Kathy Dare stuff) and we have time for a fun romp with Spider-Man. In other words, it works to a formula that, while a bit worn, is certainly effective for providing a satisfactory monthly installment in a continuing narrative.

The art is solid stuff--Layton provides the sleek, shiny tech stuff and Guice pencils insanely sexy women wherever possible, as was his wont at the time.

The permed mullet though? God, what a mistake.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #15

Coming at you with a pattern and a fresh pair of atoms, it's another step on our path to review every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a task which, if you remember last week, angried up my blood something fierce. Thankfully, this weeks quartet is a much better cross-section of the show and allows us the chance to peek at some long-term plot elements in their early states that spool out from here. So without any further ado-ackadoo, let's to it, shall we?


"You're a coward. You're afraid to stand alone."

Well, well. A lot to cover here. It turns out that, after last season's "The Collaborator," Vedek Bareil has become one of Kai Winn's most trusted advisers (no mean feat, considering how she tried to ruin him in that episode) in what would have been all but unthinkable two years ago--an attempt to negotiate a peace treaty between the Cardassians and Bajor. This is a major step, after all, and is an indication of how far things have come along.

It's also an indication of how delicate everything is, because someone tries to blow up Kai Winn and Bariel and Bariel dies, and with it, the prospect of peace with Cardassia.

Only not quite. Bashir is able to revive Bariel, kinda, and continue the peace process. It seems almost miraculous . . .and then it quits working, and another extraordinary measure has to be taken, then another, and another, and all the time, Bariel is slipping away and there might be a chance to save him, he refuses to stop, and Winn is afraid to stand on her own and finish the negotiations, even though it ensures that he'll die

Oh, and there's a stupid B-plot wherein Jake and Nog go on a double date and hilarity does not ensue. These kind of hijinks are really kind of weird when you consider how things are going to change with regards to that dynamic in the very next episode.

This is a really damn good episode, stupid b-plot aside. Oddly enough though, it's not really a Kira/Bariel episode, as much as it's a Bashir vs. Winn episode with Bariel turning into a vegetable as the football between them. Winn can't handle the negotiations herself and Bashir's ethics will only let him go so far in keeping him alive. There's a lot going on here--the peace treaty is actually a big plot turn, even though it's not exactly foregrounded ever. We get a lot more sense of Winn in her new role (not necessarily as a schemer--she's got what she wanted, for now anyways) as someone with responsibility to go along with her power and she may not have the chops necessary to handle it all.

It doesn't hurt that we've also now said goodbye to Bashir as callow twit for good and all now, and he's ever so slowly moving into a new role as the voice of ethical behaviour among Our Heroes, which is something with a good deal more legs than his previous characterisation.


"Of course it's your fault. Everything that goes wrong here is your fault. It says so in your contract."

Odo watches Kira get trapped in a frankly rubbish growing crystal. Nog undergoes a major character change.

I'm gonna go ahead and spoil this episode here, because, well, there's no way to talk about it otherwise. Odo and Kira follow a shop down and she gets trapped in the aforementioned crap crystal which gives them an opportunity to talk things over.

It's better than it sounds--as Odo tries desperately to break through the crystal with various bits of technobabble, he shares bits of his life that we didn't know about--for one thing, his name is actually Cardassian for "nothing," he kayaks with O'Brien on his off hours and, well . . .he's in love with Kira.

Now, depending on how you feel about this last this is either the beginning of some serious shading to Odo and Kira's relationship, or you see it as the beginning of the end and something which generally diminishes both characters rather than adds to them. There are arguments for both sides, but as far as how I feel about this, this is generally going to pay off in a better episode next season ("Crossfire") and it works better when its not foregrounded and made explicit/acted upon. But that's just me.

I should also point out here that "Kira" is not really Kira, but Big Momma, paying Odo a visit so they can reprise their whole "These are my friends/your link to them won't last/Yes it will/No it won't" dialogue we remember from "The Search, Part 2" because we hadn't really hit on that recently (we had two hours to spend talking about how much being homeless sucks, and there are only so many hours in the day as it were) and also, incidentally to suggest (subconsciously, in this case) that the Changelings are in the Alpha Quadrant.

Nothing to worry about, though.

That's the A-plot sorted, now what about the B-Plot? Nog.

So, remember how Nog was the comic releif? The rapscallion who was always in danger of making Jake a Bad Kid, because he himself was a bad kid? Yeah, well all that changes here. After failing to bribe Sisko to sponsor his application to Starfleet Academy, he relentlessly tries to earn his application, by doing grunt work, but when he refuses to reveal his reason for wanting to be in Starfleet, Sisko shuts him down and forces the truth out.

Nog doesn't want to end up like his father--Ferengi who have no skill to make a profit in life as good as have no status (this is a bit rubbish, because you kind of need a plurality of skills to make a culture work, but really, that ship sailed ages ago on Star Trek, so best not to open that can right now) so Rom, being a great engineer, doesn't amount to a hill of beans among his own people, and Nog doesn't want that for himself.

This is kind of a big deal, as Nog's determination to prove himself will lead to an extended character arc going all the the way into the final season of the show, which is pretty impressive considering he was just a foil for Jake at first.

In all, this is an unassuming episode, as it's very talky and doesn't really have any explosive status-quo juddering moments, but it doesn't move a few characters forward in very meaningful ways that really define them for seasons to come, so if you can survive the special effects deficiency of the growing crystal, it's well worth a look.


"I took your overt irritability toward me as a signal that you wished to pursue some physical relationship."

So we haven't really addressed the whole business of Sisko as the Emissary of the Prophets in any great detail at this point. Oh, sure it gets the occasional bit of lip-service here and there, but when you consider that the Bajorans have their religion intimately included in so much, one would imagine that this would have been a major issue by now.

Well, now it is. In the wake of the Bajoran/Cardassian peace treaty, three Cardassian scientists (one of whom will go on to command Babylon 5 a few years down the pike) come to help collaborate on the establishing a communications relay in the Gamma Quadrant. Naturally, for this they decide to engage the Defiant, because the best choice for a science mission is the ship that was explicitly not built for science missions, which is the same logic that I employ when I use matches to drive nails.

In any event, while all this is going on, a Bajoran prophecy comes to light that three vipers and a sword of stars and how it's going to totally fuck up the wormhole and a whole lot of pressure comes to bear on Sisko, who, in an ironic twist when looked at from later seasons, downplays it, because he's a a Starfleet officer first and an Emissary about ninth.

In the midst of all this, one of the Cardassian scientists is an agent of the Obsidian Order and has to be winkled out, and another of the Cardassian scientists crushes hard on O'Brien because Cardassian foreplay involves a lot of bitter arguments and (it is assumed) fantastic rage-fucking afterward.

This is . . .not a bad episode. It's ropey in places and has some painfully awful explaining of bits we'd already figured out, but there's some good bits in there as well and it's an agreeable way to pass an hour. The Emissary stuff gets a much better vehicle for a store in next season's "Accession," but this at least shows the people who write it are willing to ask the question.


"Not again."

The Nagus tries to make a buck off the Prophets, but they adjust his mind and he rewrites the rules of Ferengi society and it's up to Quark to stop him fucking everything up.

Yes, well, this is our Ferengi Komedy episode for the week and it's just what that entails, namely it's not all that funny. Except . . .the bit where they go into the wormhole and send up the bit where Sisko encounters the Prophets for the first time is pretty damn funny, actually.

Unfortunately, one has to soldier through a lot before one gets there, and really, Ferengi comedy is lost on me. One of these days I will explain why Quark episodes are worthwhile and Ferengi episodes are full of the most god-awful excuse for comedy ever and that the two can exist cheek by jowl is frankly amazing, but not today.

It's Ferengi comedy--you either like jokes about Space Jews from the Borscht Belt or you don't

That's all for this week! Join us next week as it's time to torment O'Brien with a bit of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff in "Visionary"; Bashir has the worst birthday imaginable in "Distant Voices"; We return to the Mirror Universe for "Through the Looking Glass"; and we get the first part of the best bit of this season (indeed the entire run) in "Improbable Cause." It's going to me so positive over here you'll wonder if you're reading the right blog.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

MAN TRUE--What Is Said, What Is Heard

So, today, this happened:

"I really don’t think Marvel and DC are helping things by having gritty, R-rated versions of their superheroes in their main comics – what they sell as the “real” versions – while simultaneously selling those exact same characters in kids’ comics and plastering them all over lunchboxes and animated cartoons… Casual readership by kids, or by parents for their kids, is effectively impossible the way things are currently structured. And I think the waters are muddied too far now to claw that ground back. I think it’s insane that DC have spent 70 years making Superman as big as Mickey Mouse, and branding him to be understood by parents as being pretty much as kid-friendly as Mickey Mouse, only to piss that brand away in a decade. Nothing wrong with doing mature content in comics – in fact, it should be encouraged as often as possible – but doing it with characters who are on your kids’ lunchboxes is kind of moronic. Take a lesson from Watchmen and come up with new characters for that stuff. And then go back to Superman and Batman and put the same kind of love and effort and craft and intelligence you’ve been putting into all those rape scenes and body mutilations into something kids can read, and adults can also be proud to read because of all the love and effort and craft and intelligence you’ve put into it, and make those the “real” versions."

And then you read the comments and oh my lord, the claws come out. To hear them tell it, Roger Langridge wants to come into your house, burn all your copies of Identity Crisis, and turn back time so everything's Archie, only literally (NOTE: THAT'S NOT WHAT HE SAID)

Is this where we've got to? Where we can't even suggest that maybe kid's character belong to kids first and us second (or more correctly, fourth?) Do we immediately have kick in the throat anyone who dares to say that maybe comics should be only for the same dwindling tens of thousands who haunt the direct market like a soldier's ghost on a lost battlefield?

Apparently we do, and more's the pity.We are now at the point where the ship is sinking and the one person who dares to suggest it might be time to get our collective asses to the lifeboats while we're simultaneously bucketing out the water that is rapidly filling the ship is pointed out as some kind of heretic because he has the audacity to suggest there might be an other option that could exist in tandem with the current option with only a minor redressing of the balance (emphasis mine)

Because if we can't even find it in ourselves to even have a discussion about it without getting irrational. . .Jesus, we're fucked.

I kinda wish, to teach these people a lesson, I woke up tomorrow and everything was rolled back to the early 60's or something. No Watchmen, no Dark Knight, no nothing. Dump it all, back to first positions, start over.

Superhero comics deserve better than us. I don't know if we should have the right to ruin them anymore.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Just Sayin'--More on the "dear God WHY?" Resurrection of Atlas Comics

For all my jokes and digs at Atlas Comics over my online career of evil, you can not imagine my astonishment at seeing the latest Previews, wherein Wulf the Barbarian teams up with LOMAX (NYPD!) to fight Iron Jaw.

I'm stunned my head did not, in fact, explode.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #14

Hi all, just as word of warning, this may be one of the most negative stops along our seemingly never-ending train that will recap every episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine before we're done, because only ONE of these episode (it's a good one, in fairness--one of the best) can be said in any objective sense to be worth a damn, and the rest are utter nonsense. However, rather than just spew invective like a . . .like uhm, like . . .some sort of invective-spewing device I am not clear on the specifics or purpose of just yet I will attempt to explain just why and how these episode do not work.

Because while dropping F-Bombs and seething with anger is inevitably my thing, I feel like I do better by everyone if I can offer a higher standard to my F-Bombs and seething, y'know what I mean?


"He won't look back with understanding. He'll look back with hatred. And that's sad."

Okay, so Kira's having a bad day. Finally put on enforced vacation by Dr. Bashir she runs into Riker, straight from Next Generation. Riker turns on the charm to Kira and Kira is receptive, even though she typically doesn't go for dudes with beards. To better have an excuse to cozy up to him, Kira decides to show him around the Defiant.

And Riker phasers her, steals the Defiant, and heads off to Cardassia with the Federation's most heavily-armed warship to do god knows what.

That's how you hook someone, y'all.

Of course, not all is as it seems. This is not Will Riker, stalwart commander for life from Next Generation, this is Thomas Riker, a transporter duplicate that got trapped on a planet and was this whole weird thing that never really went anywhere, but they decided to bring him back and, as with seemingly everybody on the B-cast of Next Generation, he's apparently joined the Maquis. Stealing the Defiant is a small part of a larger mission he has in mind within Cardassia.

In the meantime, Gul Dukat (who will not be our enemy this time, but not our ally surprisingly enough) beings Sisko to Cardassia Prime to help track and stop the Defiant before they do whatever crazy shit they're going to do. They're shadowed by a member of the Obsidian Order, who seems to be hiding things from both of them, which figures in later on. I don't wanna spoil it, but it figures in vitally to the plot and even more into later developments.

This is a cracking good episode. here's some genuine tension, the idea of Sisko and Dukat working together is an interesting ploy that comes off fantastically and adds a lot of character depth to Dukat. We also get the advancement on the Obsidian Order subplot even though we (and the writers) didn't know it at the time and most exciting of all, we get to see the Defiant kicking some ass, which is always welcome.

It's so good, in fact, that it overcomes the biggest problem--namely, that we never get that much of a handle on how Thomas Riker is different enough from his "brother" to do this. Oh, we're told plenty of it, but we really don't get a sense that this is the person who we're supposed to reconcile this with the person in front of us.

However, even in this there's some good in it--by putting Kira, former terrorist, in with the Maquis, who are terrorists filtered through the prism of the Federation, it allows us to get a few interesting scenes comparing the two approaches, even if we don't really have an equivalent Maquis antipode to adequately contrast that, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


"I think she asks your advice just so she can do the exact opposite of what you recommend."

This episode, however . . .

Okay, a long time ago, Next Generation did an episode called "The Naked Now." It was, and is, an astounding personal insult to every sentient human being living on this Earth and additionally everyone who ever lived on the Earth ever. Basically a flimsy excuse for everyone on the show to act like drunk, horny idiots, it really played up just how agonizingly puerile sex gets treated on shows like this--compared to this something like Porky's II is an incisive, brilliant commentary on sex in mature adult relationships.

"Fascination" is much like"The Naked Now" only much worse, because having failed previous to this with "Naked Now," and after that they damn well should have known better.

Here's the plot for "Fascination." Mrs. Troi returns to the station and transmits her hot flashes to everyone, causing everyone to act like horny idiots, only not with the typical people they're coupled with. This is supposed to be racy, wacky bedroom farce, but it's somewhat awful and juvenile and well, you know the old saw about how if your plot requires everyone to act like idiots, it's not a good plot to move forward. Every character comes out the worse for having endured it.

I really hate this episode and I don't want to talk about it anymore. It is a fantastic pile of shit.


"I don't like your hat."

Okay, so. This one. Look, Star Trek has been trading for most of its life in pop culture as a commentary on today's issues filtered through a sanitised for your protection science fiction filter. I recently watched a documentary about the 60's science fiction TV series and the living Trek actors were being appropriately self-congratulatory about sneaking in morality tales under the radar and being oh so clever about it.

But there's a problem with that sort of thing--filtering it through that lens can water down any narrative "punch" that one may intend, obfuscating it so much that it threatens to lose any and all connection to the real world. For another, there's something really annoying and patronising about folks from an earlier, enlightened time when All Problems Have Been Solved looking down and clucking their tongues and looking down on us poor idiot people and our stupid problems and how small we look to them.

This sort of condescension, you can imagine, does not endear one to submit to that kind of judgment.

So let's get to the plot of this: Thanks to some technobabble excuse involving magic time-fucking-up particles Sisko, Dax and Bashir get sent back in time to Next Sunday, A.D. and, not owning any money they get rounded up and taken to Homeless Concentration Camp, wherein they end up in the midst of a riot they have to survive, yet not stop because this his how history is supposed to go.

So, yeah, this is two hours of extraordinarily didactic condescension, delivered with very little in the way of excitement, and generally makes no real headway short of "Fuck man, the plight of the homeless is fucking depressing, moreso when it happens to people from space." Had this actually built to any suitably cathartic moment that might have been one thing, but what we get instead is a lot of tut-tutting about how it's a shame that people have locked people away because "[we've] forgotten how to care."

That this is coming from people, remember, who not only boast that they come from a society where they have overcome the need for acquisition of money as a driving force for personal and societal development and proudly boast such at every opportunity. And we've never seen how this flip came to pass--it was just one of those things that happened as a means to get Star Trek where it had to work as a narrative conceit.

That's forgivable--there's a lot of things you have to get off the table beforehand to make fiction work. But to then use that as a shield to hide behind during your rant about how fucked up our time is and how we need to get our shit together with no line of connection between those two points is obnoxious in its virulent condescension.

I don't mean to dogpile on the episode, but stuff like this rubs me the wrong way. I have no problem with morality stories, and I have no problem with DS9's stories--when they're done well (as we'll see when we get to "Far Beyond The Stars" in Series 6) This one is just not done well. We need to see some connection between the issue being addressed and our struggle with it and the future perspective. We don't get that and the episode suffers for it.

That's it for this somewhat bleak edition of our weekly feature. Fortunately, it's mostly all up from here on in. Join us next week as Kai Ratched returns and achieves something rather unlikely and a few very spoilery things happen in "Life Support"; Odo grapples with the existential angst a Taylor Wayne song on heavy rotation can cause in "Heart of Stone"; Sisko grapples with his role as the Emissary for the first time in awhile in "Destiny"; and we stop off for a wee bout of Ferengi comedy in "Prophet Motive." Join us then!

Friday, April 15, 2011


It's never easy to change up a long-running series. Whether you're moving from 8 to 16 bits or 2D to 3D, inevitably something will get lost along the way. Castlevania continues to struggle with this at the time of this writing--for all the attempts to bring it out of the DS ghetto and come up with a faithful evolution of the series, the best they seemed to do was to slap some Castlevania names on a mediocre God of War clone, add in a twist ending that even M. Night Shyamalan would have said was bullshit, and rolled out the resultant product to the bored yawns of many.

Contra, Konami's other big franchise, has also spent awhile wandering in the wilderness. Sometime after the release of Contra: Hard Corps for the Genesis, they followed this up with two games for the original Playstation that were so god-awful that the few hardcore Contra fans I know have all but decided they never happened. Things improved a little in the next leap forward, as Shattered Soldier and Neo Contra were more in keeping with the Contra tradition of thumb-busting difficulty and insane set pieces, but in general, the Metal Slug series had stolen a good deal of Contra's thunder, because people will never get tired of the quick hit of dropping a quarter in, running right and killing everything in front of them. There's a reason I always see Metal Slug machines in movie theaters.

An attempt had been made to return the series to its roots with Contra 4 for the DS, which was mostly successful, had an awesome soundtrack, but suffered from that weird need that programmers have to make a specific feature of a console a core element of the game--in this case, it was the two screens, in the SNES days it was Mode 7, and generally felt less like something new than old wine in a new bottle.

So now it comes and here we go--through a bewildering set of circumstances I frankly know little about, Arc Systems Works (they of Guilty Gear and Blazblue fame) were engaged--somehow--to rework Contra: Hard Corps in their style and update it for the HD generation of games.

However it turned out, it was bound to be interesting. Arc Systems Works cut its teeth on fighting games with slashing metal soundtracks and the notion that they were going to be taking on a 2D classic like Contra was bound to be something else.

Fortunately for all concerned, that "something else" was "a really great game." Hard Corps: Uprising is a fantastic game that manages to balance the shiny new stuff of today with the classic gameplay of long ago. What Uprising has in spades in pounding action, fast paced gameplay, smooth control, and a great sense of cool set-pieces, something action games had pretty well ignored in recent 2D games.

There is, naturally, not much in the way of plot to be found--there's an oppressive regime that's . . .er, oppressing, the Earth, Bahamut, a former soldier and Final Fantasy enthusiast, takes up arms and the meat of the game is his attempt to overthrow the evil empire, hence the "Uprising" part of the title.

Bahamut's not alone in this (if he was, it wouldn't be much of a Corps, would it?) he is accompanied by Krystal (your average girl with a huge gun and an eyepatch) and, if you spring for the DLC (and you should) you can add in Harley (a powerful tank-like character who has the most ridiculous/awesome pompadour since Rocket Billy Redcadillac's in that second Gungrave game no one talks about) Sayuri (a ninja/assassin/samurai character who has no guns and actually turns the game into a very frenetic version of Strider) and Leviathan, Bahamut's recurring nemesis, who actually initially plays like a classic Contra character--one-hit death, one slot for weapons, etc. Generally, except for Harley and Krystal, they bring different play styles and options to the table.

Where the real differences come in is in Uprising's most fun feature: Rising Mode. Playing it on Arcade is, quite obviously, a test best reserved for the best of the best (and I, uh, fail that test) but is there because the Contra series is very difficult, people seek out difficulty to prove themselves, and this achieves that admirably. Good on you if you can do it.

Rising Mode is for the rest of us. Playing in Rising Mode works like this: As you play the game, in addition to your regular points, you accrue a second set of points called Corps Points, which go up or down based on the multiplier amount of your combo meter. Your Corps Points function as a kind of currency with which you can buy upgrades, allowing you access to rapid fire, extra air dashes and triple jumps, the ability to begin a stage with a weapon equipped already, or the ever-popular 30 lives (available for a somewhat inexpensive 57,300,000 Corps Points!) Some can be unlocked right away, most roll out as you complete more stages. Some of these allow you to enhance specific characters--Leviathan, for instance, gains a moonsault and slide move that allows him several frames of invincibility and the ability to throw grenades, which can get him out of tight spots.

That's the specifics, let's actually talk about the game and the whole "set pieces" thing I mentioned before. A set piece in this case is defined as "a moment in a game wherein it changes from a simple thing like a boss fight to a dramatic, awesome moment," or to use the TvTropes term, a Crowning Moment of Awesome. Uprising is full of them: There's the last minute jump to safety at the end of stages 1 and 3, the train car that you finished stage 6 clinging to the side of crashes into a statue of the Emperor at the beginning of stage 7, and also there's the chase between you and Leviathan throw a burning building in that stage as well, as he tries damn near everything from bombing the floor to leaping rooftop to rooftop to elude you. There's also the final battle (all three of them) in Stage 8, which culminates in a battle wherein defeating the boss is not the main thing to worry about, really.

As words are an inelegant and inadequate tool to describe it, allow me to pause for a moment while I show you a video courtesy of Youtube of the game in action:

Now, owing to the game being a bit retro in terms of style, it will not be to all tastes. Conversely, the fact that it's just a good solid game with a nice HD sheen over it is precisely why it may be to some tastes. It doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, it doesn't try to mess with what works too much, it is exactly what it needs to be: You walk right (or run right) and shoot things. Awesomeness ensues.

In short, I was quite pleased with this game, for reasons up to and including that it's tremendously great stress relief. It's highly recommended, y'all.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Games People Play--MOON DIVER

So I remember distinctly the last time I wrote one of these I was less than kind to the game I was reviewing. In my defence, they frankly should have fucking well known better than to unleash a piece of shit on the world like King of Fighters XII. I suspect that the utter revolt that was unleashed on that game has made it difficult for the sequel (which is alleged to be much better--we'll see guys, we'll see.) to find a release date.

I mention this, partly because it's been awhile since I did one of these (mostly because I didn't want to resurrect the series just to complain again, this time about the aggressively mediocre Blazblue: Continuum Shift) and also to prepare you: This will not be a favourable review, and you either know what the means, or you will come to know as we go.

I am a big fan of the game Strider, in fact, I mentioned it here comparatively recently. The character, the games themselves (for the most part) were and are some of my favourites and I consider it, along with Shinobi III, one of the exemplars of the action platformer.

This was, I should add, a form that had pretty much died out with the advent of 3D. The platformer changed with the times and became stuff like the newer Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry (not always successfully--I personally find nothing makes precision jumping more of an un-fun pain in the ass than a third dimension) 2D platformers of the kind I enjoy and were pretty much a curio, for awhile.

As of late, though, a tier for games that hearken back to the games of yesterday with today's production values have found a nice on the big consoles download services, and good thing, as this spares them from being ghettoized on the DS.

And so, we find ourselves here. Moon Diver is an exemplar of this budget 2D niche. It has a fantastic pedigree--it's made by Square-Enix, one of the folks who worked on the original Strider game worked on this one and it had the look of a Strider game, only it also has a bit of Castle Crashers, the Capcom D & D arcade games, and and a few other things, and it was designed to be a four-player game so . . .it all looked good.

The question, then, is where did it go so terribly wrong? Everything in Moon Diver should work--the control allows a lot of attack and movement options, you have four different characters all with different strengths and weaknesses, you have melee attacks and magic attacks to take on bad guys, you have several huge stages with lots of enemies, plenty of power to do amazing graphical things, but none of it works. Let's look in detail at each of them.

The controls are far too floaty and awkward. When you have to hold L1 or whatever to crouch, you have officially over-thought your control scheme. I wish I could convince game designers, now that 2-3 control sticks or pads, and 18 buttons are now the norm, it doesn't mean you have to use every single one of them in every single game. Nevertheless, there's far too much shit to keep track of for a game which should really be focusing more on its core action. Everything feels awkward and fussy and counter-intuitive. Just assigning your 4 magic slots before a stage is an exercise in frustration.

The four characters, while in some sense distinct (they're certainly wearing different colour scabby, chitinous armour) . . .aren't, really. They're generally about the same, with only slight differences in how easy or hard it is to grind them into a character that will last more than a few stages. Plus, they all look the same in that "ripped from the rejected pile of Final Fantasy character designs" by which I mean they look pretty damn ugly. There's no personality, no cool factor . . .nothing.

The focus on magic attacks means your melee attacks are pretty much only vehicles to grind up your magic points so you can level up enough to do those more often as even at maximum power, your melee attacks don't do that much. Plus, you have to find all the different magics around the stages and while there are a LOT of them, they're little more than just slightly more powerful versions of the stock spells, which means there's not a good deal of reward for all that searching.

The huge stages with lots of enemies. Oh dear, this was perhaps the most disappointing. We have, conceivably, the processing power to make pretty much anything happen on screen. Moon Diver decided the best way to use that power was to make stages that ran the gamut from "burnt out city" to "city that is actually still on fire." Seriously, these are the most boring as fuck stages I have ever seen, and they're populated by enemies that look precisely as generic as your character does, which makes playing through them a little difficult, because of one other creative decision.

That being that the action is ZOOMED OUT TO APPARENTLY TWO FUCKING STATES AWAY. What the . . .you know, zooming in and out was a cool dramatic trick back in the 1990s--SNK made great use of it in a few of their fighting games and even Strider 2 did great with it 12 years ago. It was a way to get more of the stage into view back when we were limited by the dimensions of standard-sized monitors, but now, with widescreen HDTV being the new standard, why the hell was this necessary? It only plays up the problems with the game even more than was already apparent (why would I want to see more of a such a boring game?) by really foreground how poorly thought out the whole mess is.

I won't even go into the plot--it's bog-standard stuff, full of the kind of dartboard religious symbolism that's supposed to be shocking but just generally seems to be trying far too hard and none of it makes any sense so fuck it for a game of checkers anyway.

In short, this could not be less worth $15 if the game came with a $15 voucher to cover the money you spent on it. For people who don't love Strider they will find nothing other than misshapen half-assery, people like me who love Strider will find even more disappointing stuff here because the people behind it should damn well have known better and yet this thing plays like someone heard someone describe Strider once about ten years ago.

God, what a benighted fucking waste of time this was. If you need a $15 game to download, might I suggest the utterly splendid Hard Corps: Uprising, which actually has a DLC character you can get who makes the game play very much like a Strider game leagues better than this bullshit.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #13

Well, here we go again. For those of you who just found this place, beginning this year, I have begun a task to review every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. You can see previous installments by clicking on the link. This week, continuing on with Season 3, we have two great episodes, one generally good episode, and one of the wost Deep Space Nine episodes of the entire run.


"Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder."

Oh HELL yes. After investigating some discrepancies in her past history, Kira is kidnapped and wakes up as a Cardassian. As you might imagine, this causes her to totally freak the hell out. However, the Obsidian Order (making the first of several appearances this season) calmly informs her that she's always been Cardassian--her real name is Illiana Ghemor, daughter of one of a highly-placed Cardassian official. Illiana was surgically altered to look like a Bajoran and sent to infiltrate the Resistance, and now she's been brought home.

Naturally, there's a deeper game going on here, and we're very cleverly kept guessing what it might be (after all, Kira's got plenty of secrets that the order might want, being liaison to the Federation and all) until the end game begins.

Meanwhile, Our Heroes, thanks to Garak learn who's abducted Kira and they decide to infiltrate Cardassia and bring them back, and for that they need Garak. This is the first episode where we get to see Garak in the role for which he will be in more or less the rest of the series--the recurring cast member who you're never quite sure about. In a great scene which pretty much spells that out Garak, after decrying the whole mission as a fool's errand he straight up declares that if he has to, he'll sell them all out to save his neck.

Sisko responds that that's probably the first honest thing he's ever heard him say.

I won't spoil the whole mystery of what the Order is after--there's more punch if you watch it happen. Suffice it to say that it ties in with "Profit and Loss" from last season. Oh, and, not that you needed me to tell you this, but Garak still doesn't know the meaning of the word "stun."

This is a great episode, and not just because there's a tinge of "The Prisoner" to it or because Garak's in it. For one thing, it kicks off what could be considered an "Obsidian Order" arc that runs through the season, culminating in "The Die Is Cast" it moves along at breakneck speed (no mean feat, keeping the tension live in a show that's 90% conversations in rooms) and has quite a good finish, which will pay off in the fifth season.

It's one of my favourite DS9 episodes ever. But you could probably tell that, as I'm rubbish at hiding it.


"Admiral Nechayev won't like it, but it has the virtue of being the truth."

Our Heroes find a baby Jem'Hadar, things don't go well. Jake is dating an older woman who works at Quark's . . .the less said about that the better.

Remember when I said "The Search" was about the failure of the Next Generation way of doing things? "The Abandoned" is a lot like that--we watch as Our Heroes try to reach the baby Jem'Hadar, show it the possibilities of life, and urge it to transcend its predestined role as a murderous killer in service to the Dominion, and it totally doesn't work because the Jem'Hadar bloody well doesn't want to do anything but kill.

It's easily the most compelling part of the episode, not least because it gets tied in with Odo's discovery and estrangement from his people, who, this episode tells us, have not only genetically engineered the Jem'Hadar, but ensured their control by two means--by genetically addicting them to a drug that only they have, and for inculcating them with an almost religious reverence for the Changelings.

So the interplay between the two of them--one who thinks the Dominion is cooler than Tastee-Freeze and one who's utterly appalled by what his people have done-that part works fine, and to the writer's credit, we're allowed to see them pretty well fail at being able to change his mind and ultimately have to let him go.

The other stuff, with Jake bringing home his Dabo-girl girlfriend to meet Dad is treacly and a bit hard to take, really. Oh, sure Sisko has his doubts he'll like her but there's not really anything meaningful on the line here--Sisko's not going to throw his son out on his ear or forbid her to see him so really it just seems . . .artificial, somehow. Like the sort of mountains you see built out of molehills in sitcoms.

But there's half a good episode in here at least, and that ain't bad.


"And now your integrity is going to get us both killed. I hope you're happy."

So, I think I mentioned a few times that back when DS9 was a Cardassian station it was a work camp and I confessed to a certain unsettling feeling that Our Heroes were living and working on top of what used to be Space Dachau. Well, after two years, they decided to actually make something of the ore mines where the Cardassians worked the Bajorans to death and, while poking about with stuff, engage a counter-insurgency program written by the former commander of the station Gul Dukat.

And off to the races we go. Because the goddamn program frustrates every attempt to shut it down by raising the stakes until finally every part of the station is either in lockdown, has poison gas flooding through it, or the replicators have turned into something not unlike the Daleks on a bad day.

Every possible solution to the problem brings with it other problems: Garak can move about the station, but he can't do much more. Dukat, having received a transmission from himself saying the station is under revolt, returns, and since he actually wrote the program, he could, in theory, deactivate the program.

Dukat, in a bit of dickishness, decides this is a splendid time to start issuing demands, namely he wants Kira (eww) and he wants to permanently station a garrison of Cardassian troops here. This goes over a little less well than a fart in church, but Dukat, convinced he has them over a barrel, decides to hop back over to his ship and give them time to stew in the bouillabaisse of totally fucked that they're in.

Only he's not going anywhere. A program that he didn't even know about pops up, deletes his access codes, and triggers the station's self-destruct system.

Well, shit.

This episode, for all that relies on technobabble, is actually pretty goddamn awesome. For one thing, the program offers an ever-evolving threat--pretty much everything Our Heroes do to get out of Trap One inevitably leads to a more dangerous Trap Two, and so on. What's more Garak's back and his sniping at Dukat really keeps the episode humming along, as Does Dukat's absolutely glorious downfall--few people do posturing and the immediate deflation of posturing better than Dukat.

It's a great episode, really. It figures in very little of DS9's big arc, or really any arc whatsoever, but it's fun and it gives pretty much everyone something to do. It's a real favourite of mine.


"No. Don't tell me, I don't want to know."

This episode, however, damn sure isn't and I'm not going to waste a lot of time on this one. Here's a summary of the musical Brigadoon. Read it, and while you're reading it, randomly insert the words "space," "Dax," "Deep Space Nine," Gamma Quadrant," and "romance" into the text. Then take out all the music. Then take of your shirt and whip yourself down the back with an extension cord for the next 45 minutes and you will have a far better time than I did just watching this sorry thing.

There's a b plot about Quark trying to acquire a picture of Kira so he can use it as a sex toy in his holosuites and OH I JUST DON'T GIVE A FUCK.

Look, Star Trek has no business doing romance, OK? I suspect it's because being that our heroes typically tend to be from an idealised conceptual Earth where money does not exist and are the best and brightest from Planet Bullshitistan, that lacking a picture of humanity as we might recognise it, when we see them behave in a way that we're supposed to identify with, we get the emotional equivalent of the Uncanny Valley--namely, something unnatural is trying to act natural and it's frankly creepy. The effect is even more pronounced prismed through the hideous looking glass of "classic" romances, which have about as much to do with actual love and affection as monosodium glutamate has to do with auto repair.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: fuck this episode in its ear.

And on that down note, we're done for another week. Join us next time as Riker shows up in "Defiant," an episode for which I am withholding key information from because I don't want to spoil it. Then thing go down hill fairly rapidly as I review the utterly execrable "Fasincation," which is far more annoying than that Human League song, and "Past Tense," a two patter about how terrible homelessness is that I'm Biblically certain is going to engender a really hateful rant from me. So be back here next week for me to spit vitriol like a spitting cobra with Tourette's, I reckon. It sounds like fun already . . .

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #12

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never-ending like the rotation of a space station, it's time once again for our weekly sojourn through the entirety of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This week, we begin Season 3, and the first of several soft reboots and refocuses of the series.

To set the stage--with Next Generation finishing and Voyager six months off, DS9 was retooled slightly to better serve as an anchor for things to come. So, with addition of the Dominion threat to the overall tapestry, this is used as a motivating factor to make Our Heroes a little (okay, a lot) more proactive and less provincial (there aren't going to be many Bajor stories from here on in) and the collective mythos of Trek circa 1995 is opened up for DS9's use.

This works for the show more than it doesn't, as it works out, and the Dominion presence gives the show more urgency than its previous remit as no one's entirely sure how they were supposed to get Bajor into Federation (indeed, this will more or less be quietly pushed aside) Functioning as the first last and only line of defense against the Dominion is a more easily graspable storytelling engine.

So, here's what you need to know: Last season (or last week) Our Heroes directly encountered the Dominion, and learned that they were not to be fucked with. The Dominion is vast, aggressive, powerful, and not easily trifled with and they control the Gamma Quadrant and don't want anyone from the other side of the wormhole fucking up their action. This begins a period of cold war that will last three whole years . . .


"Welcome home."

They didn't split both parts over two discs, so I'm taking 'em together. Fortunately, Part 1 is pretty much all set-up and we can talk in generalities while we wait for the plot to get humming along.

In the wake of their first meet cute with the Dominion, things have gone rather tits-up. Nothing Our Heroes can suggest can do anything to halt a theoretical Dominion attack, short of closing the wormhole, which is not an option on the table (being that it's the focus of Bajoran religion and all that) Fortunately, Sisko returns to the station with a plan, and three more members of our recurring cast.

The main one, of course is their new starship, the USS Defiant, which really requires a whole entry of its own, but we'll be as succinct as possible. The Defiant was designed by Sisko before his days running the station. As much a metatextual comment on Trek itself as a break with established Dogma, the Defiant is a warship made by the guys who aren't supposed to make warships, designed specifically to fight and defeat the Borg.

To paraphrase SFDebris, when Picard got abducted by the Borg he cried about it, got into mudfights, and stared pensively out the window looking mopey. When Sisko lost his wife in a Borg attack, he designed a ship so powerful it would put them on the backside of hell if they so much as blinked in their direction.

Here's what I mean . . .someone stitched together a Youtube video of the Defiant kicking massive amounts of ass. Enjoy:

Yes, this is the ship that makes cool space battles happen in Star Trek, finally.

Of course, the Defiant isn't completely a game breaker--it's overpowered and overgunned and nearly tore itself apart on its shakedown cruise, and it's only one ship, besides. But it being here is a concrete statement that DS9 is not going to play the usual games that Next Generation did--we're not going to be dicking around on science missions (except when they do, alas) or worrying about the families and other adorable moppets on the ship should we have to go into battle (there aren't any) or solving things with diplomacy--if they're on it, it probably means shit has gotten real.

Which is funny, because among the many other things "The Search" is about is how the Next Generation diplomatic peace-at-all-costs approach is not going to work on this show.

But we'll get to that later, we've got two more people to into. The first is Commander Eddington, head of Starfleet Security, and played by the dude who was the title character in the movie Krull (and if you're one of the four other people who remember that movie, that's two more than I thought would admit it) back when he was sporting a mullet. Eddington is a bit of a cipher here, and exists more to drive Odo into a tantrum over being replaced (of this sounds familiar, yes, this is exactly how things played out in the first season when Primmin showed up for two episodes just to piss off Odo--it's almost verbatim, actually) but as Eddington sticks around a bit longer, it will come to more than that. For now, he's just here to piss Odo off, who's having a bad day anyways.

The third member of our little troika is Subcommander T'Rul who is only around for this episode and the next because no one really liked the Romulans and the actress was needed to play recurring evil bitch on Voyager.

So, at last, the plot--Sisko's going to take the Defiant into the Gamma Quadrant and contact the Founders (the mysterious rulers of the Dominion) and show them that they pose no threat to them. Meanwhile, Odo drops my blog's name when he gets all shouty and seems to be suffering from an urge to go to a nebula deep in Dominion space for some reason, an urge he seems unable to ignore.

The peace mission doesn't go well, as the Jem'Hadar kick the crap out of the Defiant and board the ship, leading to what soon becomes a DS9 "thing"--you jump on their shit, they will go hand-to-hand on your ass--they are that fucking hardcore. This leads to Dax and O'Brien being captured and the Defiant crippled and in Dominion hands.

But Kira and Odo have gotten away and have made it to the nebula, found a rogue planet within (don't think about it too hard) and wander right up to a big pile of suspiciously familiar looking goo and sure enough . . .Odo has found his people. End part one!

"You mean no one told you about the plan? You see, I pretend to be their friend, and then I shoot you."

So the peace mission was a bit of a mess, wasn't it? Let's see--Dax and O'Brien are captured, Odo and Kira have buggered off to the planet of Goo, and Sisko and Bashir are limping away from the battle in a shuttlecraft that's just about on its last legs. All seems lost when the door to the shuttle opens and they see . . .Dax and O'Brien, safe and sound. Apparently they were able to talk some sense into the Founders and it's back off to the station to play this thread out.

Obviously, something doesn't add up.

Meanwhile, the Female Changeling (seriously, that's her name. However, for the purposes of my blog, we will call her Big Mama, for reasons that will soon become apparent) spends a lot of time vomiting exposition--Odo's race has no actual name, though they've appropriated the word "Changeling," once used as a pejorative, as a term of honour. They live a solitary life here on Planet Goo, having been driven into hiding by suspicious "solids"--aka people who can't change shape. Big Mama explains that the Changelings exist as The Great Link, which has nothing to do with the Legend of Zelda, it seems. As near as I can figure (because seriously, arguing the logic of what the Changelings can and can't do will make your fucking head explode) the Great Link is a gestalt consciousness and which can individuate itself at will (hence the multiple Changelings we see here) or exist as a unified whole. Confusing as the day is long, but better than the stupid-ass Borg Queen.

Back on the station things are . . .not great. Sisko seems frozen out of the negotiating process, which has had some . . .well, odd blowback. For one thing, the Romulans have been excluded from the negotiations, the Jem'Hadar are allowed to beat up O'Brien without any sanction, and most of Sisko's crew is being reassigned. The news doesn't improve all that much when he's told that the Federation is pulling out of Bajor, leaving it to the Dominion. In fact, all the Federation seems to be doing is appeasing the Dominion and giving, giving, giving instead of making a stand (tying into the whole "TNG diplomacy is boound to fail on DS9" running through this two-parter)

Clearly, things are totally fucked.

Back on Planet Silly Putty, Odo works on his shapeshifting and his abandonment issues (turns out the Changelings still send out some of their race to look in on the other races in the galaxy, and Odo was one of a hundred goo-babies sent out) while Kira twigs that something is not quite right, and not just that Big Mama pretends she's not even in the fucking room when she's around.

Meanwhile, on the station, Sisko has had all of this shit he's going to take, and with Garak's help (more on that later) they get loose, take a runabout and blow up the wormhole . . .

. . .right about the time Kira and Odo find them all strapped to a table. Yeah, it was all a fucking dream, which is stupid and bullshit, and I know the creators of the show have said that it was meant to show that the Dominion was so far ahead of us they were playing with us and the real story was Odo and the Changelings, but uhm, that does not excuse hauling out one of the most overused cliches of our time.

Finally, Big Mama shows up to drop another exposition bomb--the Changelings are the Founders. Sick and tired of being hunted and killed by bigoted assholes, the Changelings decided that if the solids couldn't behave themselves, they'd roll over them all and force them to stay the hell off their collective lawn.

Odo breaks bad and tells Big Mama off, saying that his "thing" is justice, but Big Mama says it's not justice he wants, but order, and the Link can help him achieve that (she has a point--we've seen Odo skirt very close to he whole totalitarian thing several times already) Odo says to let his friends go, declaring that whatever the Dominion does to them they're going to have to do to him first.

Big Mama backs down almost immediately. No changeling has ever harmed another, she says (this is very important) and lets them go. She tells Odo next time it will be different and since they were kind enough to pay them a visit, they may decide to return the favour and install some order Dominion-style on the other side of the wormhole.

Yeah, so . . . this episode is sort of a mixed bag, innit? The first part feels incredibly creaky as a whole lot of retooling is ever so clumsily slotted into place, and it's all just a way of setting up the real meat of the story, which is in the second part.

Unfortunately, the second part's story--Odo has finally found his people and they're fascist bastards, making him an outsider among his own people as well as among solids is completely drowned out by the damn dream story (and I find it annoying that it's the audience's fault that the dream story is weighted more--I'm sorry you didn't pace your exposition scenes to make them less tedious) On the other hand, we do have the introduction of the Defiant, the Dominion is a little more fleshed out, and we do get, on pretty much every level the message that the Dominion is not going to be fobbed off with diplomatic concessions, as you only negotiate with equals, and they don't consider the solids fit to muck out their goo pond.

Nope, it's gonna be war. The only question is when.


"A brave Ferengi . . .who would have guessed?"

So, stop me if you've heard this one--guy running a bar that's losing clients gets in a fight with an alcoholic Klingon who is a dead ringer for Buck "Rock and Roll" Zumhofe (is that my most obscure pro wrestling reference ever?) and Buick Zumhofe falls on his knife and dies. Bartender then weaves this into a legend about how he heroically slew a Klingon despite being a Ferengi and all that. This leads, through a series of hilarious misunderstandings to political intrigues on the Klingon homeworld, duels of honour and the wily Ferengi outwitting the Klingons because he's in the main cast and there's not a Klingon on the main cast list. Yet.

If this all looks familiar, it's because it's the plot of the epic Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines 80's action epic Running Scared. For the purpose of this episode, however, Quark gets entangled with the Klingons, married to a Klingon, and there's a lot of bluster and swinging bat'leths and it's all . . .okay, I guess?

Oh, and in the B plot, Keiko O'Brien, mopey because no one's even referenced the school in god knows how many episodes, gets shuffled off to do botany on Bajor, after O'Brien's attempts to turn her frown upside down only buy him a little time before she gets all sulky. That's also OK.

Look, this is a perfectly serviceable Quark episode, separate from Ferengi episodes in that they will not kill portions of your soul with irritating "comedy" bits that sound so very much like an angel being strangled. Quark episodes are generally less irritating and feature the character either subverting the action around him (as he does here) or providing a perspective on things somewhat outside the typical human-centric viewpoint.

It's pretty much pure entertainment and is OK if you're in the right mood.


"Beets are a very misunderstood vegetable."

Hey, so, you remember all those times in the past that I've complained that far too many Dax-centric episodes that are supposed to feature her as a character have her incapacitated due to some plot-related shenanigans? Well, here is an episode that features Dax, is supposed to provide some character development for her, but has far too much of her being crazy or wigging out or fainting.

Here's the plot in a nutshell--Dax's symbiont starts having repressed memories resurface, causing her to become musical and flip out. You see, it turns out that one of her former hosts was a mentally disturbed killer and his memories were supposed to be wiped from the symbiont and it's all tied up an a conspiracy on the part of the Trills and . . .yeah.

This episode sucks. It sucks because every eerie "oh shit what's wrong with my miiiind" cliche is trotted out, it sucks because the conspiracy really doesn't make all that much sense, it sucks because it's going to lead to several episodes over the rest of the series where we drag out the attendant cliche of "getting in the mind of a killer" bullshit.

But most of all, this episode sucks because you can't really say that one of your main cast has a crazy person within them who's killed people and then just treat it like a bad day that was a long time ago. It causes so many problems I don't know where to begin. Is it the trivialising of the whole crisis you spent the episode building up? Is it the fact that this is treated as Major Shit and then barely referenced? I seriously don't know where to begin razing this thing.

So I'm not going to. I will simply say: This episode is foolhardy.

That's all for this week! Join us next week when the taste of "Equilibrium" is washed out of my mouth with one of my all-time favourite DS9 episodes as Kira experiences her worst nightmare in "Second Skin"; Odo tries to be a foster dad to a Jem'Hadar in "The Abandoned"; Things go from bad to worse to utterly vigor-fucked in another favourite of mine, "Civil Defense"; and things end on a sour note as we touch on one of the shittiest DS9 episodes ever as Dax visits Planet Brigadoon in "Meridian." I'll see you then!