Friday, August 31, 2012

POWER RANGERS WEEK PART 6: "It's All Marvel Comics' Fault?!"

 Welcome, welcome, one and all to the penultimate installment of Power Rangers Week. Now, you may have wondered, if I had seven seasons worth of American stuff why am I two short now? Well, part of it is down to my usual planning (not great) and also because not much happens in Power Rangers for the first couple seasons, and the first two entries would have been a lot of "and then, for a long time, nothing happens" So rather than do that, I decided that the last two entries would look at things from the other side of the pond. So, sit ye down and I'll try to keep the weeaboo stuff to a bare minimum as we look at that which Power Rangers came from: The Super Sentai shows.

 Reaching back 37 years, the Super Sentai shows (only called "sentai" at first) were offshoots of the popular Kamen Rider shows (in point of fact, the same guy created them)--it was decided that more colourful people kicking the shit out of montsers would do well with kida, and they were more or less right, as Goranger (the first sentai) was well-received and had a rather long run. The follow-up series, JAKQ fared less well, and seemed to be the end of the Sentai cycle.

 Then,, who should show up but Marvel Comics? No, really. Marvel inks a deal with Toei, longtime producer to develop TV shows for Japan. This, then, was the result:

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 For all that Spider-Man can be taken on its own merits (if you have any familiarity with the character, this is like some crazy-ass acid trip) this show, though it didn't last long, set the paradigm for the Super Sentai to come: Colourful characters, slick vehicles, and a giant robot to haul out three minutes before the end of the episode were the last critical bit of DNA that was needed to make the sentai show into the "super sentai" paradigm.

 So Marvel and Toei collaborated on another show, Battle Fever J, this one based on Captain America. Oh, and Saturday Night Fever. I know, I know--look, it's better if you see for yourself:

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 It's OK--my head exploded the first time I saw it, too.

 Early on, they're pretty basic kid's shows--there's a few heavier things going on, but it's awhile yet before things get heavier and they get a bit more ambitious in terms of the stories they're telling. The good thing about changing up series every year is that it prevents one approach from getting dull. So one year you have a wacky series that has a light touch, one that's a little darker, next time, etc. I'm not gonna go through all of them (there's 37 of them, we'd be here all day) but I will tell you about a couple I was rather struck by:

 Liveman is, for a kid's show, mightily fucking depressing and surprisingly violent. Three students of a colony of academics find that three of their good friends have joined an army/cult/whatever in the name of personal glory and kill two of their other friends, only to vanish for two years. Upon returning, in command of the aptly named Volt, they then proceed to kill . . .oh, conservatively, nearly a thousand more people, and this is just the first two episodes. The Livemen, initially understaffed, try their damnedest to save their rivals no matter what, especially when it comes to pass that the commander of Volt, the very David Bowie esque Doctor Bias, may have his own agenda.

 I've recently started watching this show and. . .wow, it's some heavy stuff. Themes of betrayal and redemption and hanging on to hope and faith in other people even when they've turned their backs on you. Oh yeah, and a dude gets pregnant. That's not a vote in the show's favour (it's really kinda weird, but then, y'know, Japan) it's just. . .not . . .typical.

 For a kid's show that's supposedly about "loving the planet" or whatever the hell, it's really quite bleak, which is rather surprising, but its very worthwhile and takes real care to establish everyone as wholly-rounded characters.

 Jetman, if you've ever seen Battle of the Planets, may look a bit familiar. In a sense, it begins as a live-action version of it, but quickly goes its own way. For one things, there's a lot going on--a number of X-Men-esque relationships begin and are broken over the course of the show. For another, the team barely gets along under the best of circumstances (take a drink every time Black Condor punches the leader, and you will be polluted in short order) and the villains are an interesting bunch--less a vast organisation devoted to an evil goal than four aliens trying to one-up the other and having their own agendas. Also, it has a robot who smokes cigarettes and drinks wine, because of awesomeness.

 It also has one of the ballisest endings I've ever seen for a show like this, and I will not spoil it under any circumstances. It's too awesome.

 Timeranger is an interesting beast--for one thing, because the pink Ranger is the leader in this series, and for another because pretty much everyone in this show has a story arc. Some of them multiple story arcs in different versions. It keeps from being too confusing because all of these sub-conflicts tie into a larger, over-aching theme: can you change your destiny?

 It's a pretty bleak series (I mean, it's obsessed with the notion of fatalism, so that kinda follows) One of the Rangers is dying of a terminal illness, one of their allies is willful and unwilling to join in with the others, and one of the villains is getting more and more insane over the course of the season to the point where he's a danger to friend and foe alike.

 It's not as good as the American version (even though they share a lot of story beats. I'm . . .not the biggest fan of that, really. Direct adaptations never really work that well, as the most recent Power Rangers Samurai proves: sometimes there are way too indigenous to fully translate) but only just.

 As I've mentioned before over the course of the week, barring the occasional team-up, Super Sentai don't cross over that much. Even when they do, they specifically eschew the concept that there's any kind of shared universe--they just kinda show up, like that Superman/Spider-Man book where Peter Parker takes a trip to Metropolis just like that. So when Gokaiger came along, it was kind of a big deal, for two reasons. One, because the whole shebang begins with something called the Legend War, which features EVERY SUPER SENTAI EVER (They call it the 199 Hero Great Battle for a reason) uniting to fight the baddies of the season, which you can see in the first six minutes of the clip below:

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 Fun fact: they're hyping the 2013 Power Rangers series with a 10-second shot from this film of the Rangers en masse. The room collectively lost their damn minds at the promise of that much awesomeness.

 What's more, the series consists of the Gokaigers (space pirates hunting for the greatest treasure in the universe) meeting past Rangers from all series. Now, if they did this sort of grand-scale crossover thing all the time (as superhero comics do) it'd get a bit old. Thankfully, they've only done it twice--Gokaiger and a crossover with Kamen Rider (which had actually crossed over as early as the 70's) which keeps it potent. It's a great nostalgia trip for everyone who's been along for the ride, and it's novel because this kinda thing isn't really supposed to happen under the rules. Kinda like a multiple-Doctors episode of Doctor Who, only it delivers on the promise.

 So there you have it: a thumbnail guide to the history of Super Sentai and a few tidbits to give you an idea of what it's about. So for our final day, we're going to blow it all up. Join us Saturday for the final installment of Power Rangers Week, where we end on a Super Sentai--er, an unofficial series that is not just a parody of Super Sentai (and Power Rangers, and fanfic, and nerds, and everything) but manages to work a bit of Grant Morrison into it (no, really. That's not hyperbole) as we travel to a city floating on a sea of delusions--Akihabara. There, three warriors believe that pain is strength. They only fight in their imaginations. They are--Akibaranger, and by the time we're done, hopefully you'll see why it needed one whole day to itself. Good kids shouldn't join us tomorrow.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

POWER RANGERS WEEK PART 5: "Galaxy MAY Not Be 'Lost' "

 And now it comes and here we go, it's time for yet another installment in the frankly mystifyingly popular Power Rangers Week. Last time we witnessed the creative renaissance for Power Rangers and a serious attempt to push it into a little more thoughtful field of storytelling, and today's installment, Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, continues in a like vein.

 Lost Galaxy was meant to usher in the new paradigm of Power Rangers, in that each season would be an entirely new story with a new cast and pretty much no explicit correlations to seasons past or future, and to an extent. . .it generally is. However, Lost Galaxy was one of the most ill-starred productions (no pun intended) in the history of Power Rangers, and so, in the name of papering over all of the problems with the production (and papering over the papering over.) And before we get started, I reckon we should talk a bit about those production problems.

 For one thing, after Power Rangers in Space, the producers of the American version were eager to continue in like vein with another space-themed series (hence, dropping "Galaxy" into the title) The problem is, the Super Sentai for that year, Gingaman, was an environmental/nature-themed sentai, which took place in cities and forests, and well, it was going to be hard to parlay that into "space." Sure they'd done with In Space, but they'd split the difference by going back to earth for a few episodes and filming a lot of American footage.

 But there were a few carryovers from the last season. They were generally kept in the background--Alpha-6 is still there, as is the mech from last season. It's probably for the best as it's nothing critical (well, yet) as last season culminated with a giant energy wave supposedly destroying all evil on the universe and that would probably limit your options vis-a-vis continuing your franchise. So, here's a few familiar things, try not to examine the joins too closely.

 The whole thing of how to match the footage was surmounted by deciding "Oh, it all takes place on a space colony" which is. . .one way to do it, and again, so long as it's not examined too closely, it just about  works. It does involve them filming a lot more American stuff, but that'll be a pattern going forward.

 Anyways, the plot. On the planet Mirinoi, there are five Quasar Sabers jammed into a stone. 5 worthy people will pull the Sabers out, and those people are--wouldn't you know it--YOUR 1999 Galaxy Rangers:

 LEO--In the best tradition of Shatner, Leo does his best work shirtless and yelling. He stows away aboard Terra Venture to follow his brother Mike into space, and "discover a new world.." Mike actually draws the Saber, but gives it to Leo when Mike falls down a crevice of plot convenience. Nominally the leader, but really, he gets nudged about as the plot demands.

 KAI--The straight-arrow of the team, Kai doesn't get much development, as he's meant to be the straight-laced rational yin to Leo's hellbent-for-leather yang, and so, exists more as a foil.

 DAMON--Basically gets taken along because Leo jacks the Astro Megaship to chase after Terra Venture, Damon, like Geordi LaForge is an engineering genius, and ultimately becomes chief mechanic of Terra Venture, which is a bit of a reach in that Damon had (so far as we know) only worked on one ship and I don't know how much of that knowledge carries over to big-ass space colonies.

 MAYA--A jungle girl from the planet Mirinoi, I'm sure there are plenty of 12-years olds in 1999 for whom Maya was their first crush. Maya's the spiritual one of the group, and the one most tuned into the mystical side of things, none of which explains why she turns into a dude when the Japanese footage started.

 KENDRIX--Kendrix is the girl geek of the group, who handles the exposition that they don't give Maya. Usually how that works is that Maya finds out something, then Kendrix elaborates on it. I have a bit more to say on the subject of Kendrix, but we'll get to that when we get to that.

 They're an agreeable bunch, and they all have their own character-centric episodes , they're really separate parts of a larger whole.

 Anyways, the plot: The Quasar Sabers are being actively hunted down by the forces of evil, as led by blobbly. . .er, blob-thing Scorpius (no, not that one.) and his daughter, Trakeena. Trakeena starts out as a bit of useless in the early episodes, but taken as a whole, the storyline is really about Trakeena's evolution from second in command to head villainess in charge, and after the first third of the series, she starts playing more of an active role in things.

 The other thing once notices about Lost Galaxy is that the villains aren't a set group through the first handful of episodes. Initially, our only villain is Furio, who is only there to get the ball rolling plot-wise. After that, there's a rotating cast of baddies led by Treacheron (and with a name like that, you're pretty much doomed to be evil, aren't you?), who is also materially tied into the plot of our Sixth Ranger (or closest analogue this season) the Magna Defender.

 The Magna Defender's an interesting character. He's not exactly an ally to the Rangers at first--he just wants to kill Scorpius because Scorpius killed his kid  (and we see this on camera, which is a bit of a taboo broken for this show) and isn't choosy about people getting caught in the crossfire of it (he pretty nearly destroys part of Terra Venture trying to make it happen) and doesn't really have a "then what" after the whole Scorpius thing, which makes him dangerous. The Rangers fight against him as many times as they fight alongside him. Ultimately he dies (or as much as one is allowed to on a show like this) saving Terra Venture (having been convinced to sacrifice himself for something rather than revenge) and his powers are transferred to Mike (who was saved thinks to him in a way that allows the show to have their cake and eat it too) who then functions as a more traditional Sixth Ranger for most of the rest of the series.

 Ultimately, Trakeena goes off to be trained in the ways of ass-kicking by Villamax, who, despite his name, is an honourable sort and functions in the "honourable second role" for the season. While all that's going on Deviot (our "treacherous second" for the season) ingratiates himself with Scorpius, who has woven a cocoon. Whoever enters it will gain tremendous power, and Deviot's all about the acquisition of power, which he proves by letting Scorpius be killed and blaming it on the Rangers, which guarantees Trakeena will do something stupid.

 But she doesn't yet, and so things achieve a bit of stability right up until the team-up for the season with the Space Rangers. It's pretty badass--Deviot resurrects the Psycho Rangers for a knock-down drag-out fight with both teams of Rangers and it's an awesome thing, and one of the best of the team-ups that will become something of a tradition for the next few seasons.

 What's even more interesting is the episode right after that. One of the Psycho rangers survives, and in trying to stop her, Kendrix has to give up her life. It's not stated outright, but for all intents and purposes, Kendrrix gives up her life. That's pretty heavy for Power Rangers (and, it should be mentioned, never happens again), and would have been unheard of six seasons ago for sure..

 Even more unheard of is the candidate to replace her--Astronema. Yes, the master villainess from last season (now depowered, obviously) gets to be a Ranger herself, which is pretty cool for something that came up at the 11th hour. It's kind a of a shame, given the overall arc of the season that it wasn't the plan to begin with--Astronema's trying to do the right thing and atone for being evil, Trakeena's becoming more evil as the season goes on. It makes for good parallel plotting, especially heading into the final stretch.

 After finally getting to the Lost Galaxy for a few episodes which ultimately don't amount to much, Deviot makes his move, merging with Trakeena in the cocoon and making Trakeena utterly merciless and homicidal. Trakeena unleashes her entire army on Terra Venture (already crippled) and uses them as a suicide bombers, forcing them to land on an unknown planet. Trakeena, having completely gone around the bend, kill Villamax, just to show she means business, goes back into the cocoon to complete her metaphorphosis, and has one last battle with Leo while she files the remains of Terra Venture into the planet below, planning to smash the remaining colonists that her suicide bombers didn't blow up in the initial assault.

 It's a pretty bleak finale, but this is Power Rangers, for God's sakes, so it can't get but so bad. Our heroes ultimately triumph, Kendrix returns to life because of. . .er, reasons, and it turns out Terra Venture has landed on Mirinoi, which kind of negates the need to go traipsing through the galaxy a little, doesn't it?

 Head-scratching questions aside, Lost Galaxy is a pretty strong season. If there's a flaw at all, it's the that central conflict doesn't really take shape until like a third of the way in, and what's in its place is not very interesting. The Magna Defender arc is pretty good, but the Lights of Orion stuff is pretty blah and seems to drag and drag and drag. But once things get into place (let's say the team-up with In Space) it starts moving with purpose and some urgency (that detour to the Lost Galaxy. . .not so much, but it's over soon enough) It's not as good as the season before it, or, I would say, the season after, but it's very good and a further sign that the producers of the show are spreading out some and taking more chances.

 And that's the end of my DVD sets, but not the end of Power Rangers Week. Join us tomorrow when I look over across the pond and take a look at the Japanese shows that started this whole thing. Join us Friday for a look at Super Sentai, won'cha?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


 Welcome back to day 4 of Power Rangers Week, a feature I would not have guessed would be as popular as it is, but I suppose if you starve everyone for content, they're just grateful you did anything at all. After the utter dross that was the slog through Power Rangers Turbo yesterday, I'm pleased to announce the following: 1) We're covering Power Rangers in Space today. 2) In Space is the start of the creative peak for the show, wherein the writing gets a bit more ambitious, the storytelling takes a few more chances, and the show builds to a climatic finish, not just for itself, but for the 6 seasons continuity previous to it.

 So let's hop right in, shall we? Continuing from the events of the Turbo finale, which saw the Rangers utterly defeated and Divatox called away for a meeting of the United Alliance Of Evil (which, despite what you may have heard does not keep Atlantis off the maps and the metric system down) which features Rita, Zedd, the Machine Empire, Divatox, and our new villain for the season, Astronema, who I'm sure was someone first crush/fetish, as she combines being evil with a slinky black catsuit, armour that is less "protective" and more "look at my boobs!" half the wig budget for the season, and freckles, and even among the very evil, aren't freckles totally adorable?

 Astronema is flacking for Dark Specter, who is the monarch of ultimate evil and is in no way shape or form just the monster costume from the Turbo movie, because that would just be silly. Dark Specter has decided to gather his forces and begin the assault on the universe even though the Blue Senturion said that wouldn't happen until the year 2000, but really, who gives a toss, because the Blue Senturion was an idiot and at the time it was not a sure thing Power Rangers would make it to 2000 (more on that later)

 The meeting's crashed by a new Red Ranger, Andros, who is our main character through the whole season--pretty much all the storyline turns this season turn on him and his backstory, which we'll get into later. Andros eventually meets up with the other Rangers who were flying blind on a space shuttle after last season and there's your Space Rangers. Thus, the engine for the season is thus: Astronema plans to advance Dark Spectre's plans (Dark Spectre rarely does things himself, because evil is never more pimp than when you're allowed to delegate the less important shit to your flunkies) the Rangers thwart her, occasionally in space.

 There's more going on, of course, but let's peek behind the curtain for a second: Had the ratings not improved for Turbo in the last half (generally because it became a slightly better show and wasn't trying so damn hard to be the first two seasons of Power Rangers over again) Turbo would have written the finish for the whole franchise. As it was, it only gave them a one-season extension.

 So the producers apparently decided they had nothing to lose, and went all out. This is usually when your best work happens, of course, and this certainly qualifies. Because once they get the kinks sorted out, this actually becomes a pretty decent show.

 This despite the fact that it's Super Sentai counterpart, Megaranger, had absolutely fuck-all to do with space (consumer electronics saved the world that year--no, I don't get it either), which was kind a problem, as the Americans had really counted on the fact it would be. Fortunately, lemonade was made from this, but the problem of the Japanese and Americans not being on the same page reaches a critical mass of sorts next season.

 Before that happens, there's a crossover episode with the god-awful live-action Ninja Turtles show they were trying to peddle around this time. It's really rather bad and stupid and really, the kind of thing best left forgotten/skipped over

 Anyways, in addition to the main storytelling engine, the Rangers are trying to find Zordon, Andros is trying to find his sister, and everyone's trying to sell toys. Ultimately, it shakes out that Astronema is actually Andros' sister, kidnapped by her treacherous second in command Darkonda back in the day and raised to be evil be loyal adjutant Ecliptor (this whole "one honorable and loyal bad guy"/"one underhanded backstabber" at the second in command level gets carried forward into later seasons) Astronema actually ends up remembering all that momentarily and it looks like she'll actually go all the way and become a good guy . . .

 . . .but she's kidnapped again and brainwashed, turning even more evil and cybernetic implants to ensure her evilness. Good idea--don't want your evil empresses wandering off and turning good, after all. Bad idea in that now Astronema is utterly evil and has no loyalty to anyone. Now, instead of just prosecuting Dark Specter's war and trying to kill the Rangers, she's also trying to kill Dark Specter as well.

 This leads to a late-season arc that takes a cliche that Power Rangers had used a lot over its previous seasons--the bad guys come up with a team of evil Rangers!--and finally gets it right. The Psycho Rangers hit the scene, and man, are they awesome. They're way stronger than the Rangers, utterly relentless, and in a microcosm of the whole Astronema situation, borderline uncontrollable, as they're willing and able to go through Astonema and Ecliptor if it means a chance to kill the Rangers.

 Worse yet, they're goal isn't really to destroy the Rangers at all. The Psychos tap their power directly from Dark Specter, and letting them off the chain is just a means to weaken him so Astronema can kill him and take over. The Psychos last pretty much through to the final episode, returning again and again to plague the Rangers and even when they manage to pick one off, it's usually only just. This was a big deal, because usually these "evil ranger team" episodes only ever seemed to last 1-2 episodes before.

 This all builds to the final two-parter "Countdown to Destruction" and with a name like that, it's sure to be a laugh-fest, isn't it? This was written as though it were going to be the finale for the franchise as a whole, and really, it's plain to see it in that there is no stone unturned in wrapping things up: Dark Specter finally orders his forces to attack; the Ranger's giant robots are all destroyed; the Gold, Alien and Phantom Rangers are fighting to a standstill on various planets, and Zordon is held captive by Astronmena as she begins her final assault on Earth.

 Before the end of part 1, the Rangers are on the run, Dark Spectre is destroyed (by Darkonda, who decides now is the time for his power play, which, in the best Starscream tradition, ends up with him getting killed too) and Astronema is now in charge. The only thing that can stop the ultimate triumph of evil is Andros and Zordon making the supreme sacrifice.

 While the finale of "Countdown" is a bit disappointing--Evil's ultimate triumph is negated by breaking a tube, killing Zordon, and unleashing the most powerful deus ex machina in history to wipe out all evil in the universe--more or less the one thing Power Rangers never wanted for was deus ex machina endings.--where it succeeds in is making Power Rangers have some tension. For the most part, the Rangers have been on the defensive in the back half of the season. The Psychos were put down, but it was a hard as hell job, Astronema put their backs to the wall most of the time, and even destroyed all their robots. By the finish of Part 1 and through quite a bit of part 2, they're almost completely sidelined, which just didn't happen up until this point. When, save one, your title characters are pretty much stuck in a story wherein the outcome is completely out of their hands, especially on a show with as rigid a formula as this, well . . .it's a bold move.

 But it was the right one. In Space saved Power Rangers even as it wrote finis to Power Rangers as viewers had known it. Now, along with the costume changes, the casts would change each season as well, and for the most part, each season would become its own separate story with little connection to previous seasons.

 That was the plan, anyways. The logistics of that final transition is something we'll be looking at on Thursday, when we look at Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. Join us tomorrow for troubled production, a standalone story that wasn't, and trying to be out in space when you're stuck in a forest, won't you?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

POWER RANGERS WEEK PART 3: "Shift Into . . .Oh God, Kill Me Now."

 Welcome back all and sundry to what is surely going to be the hardest installment of Power Rangers Week for me to survive. Yes, today is Power Rangers Turbo day, and what can I really say about a show wherein the Japanese version actually saved Super Sentai, but the American version nearly killed Power Rangers for good. About the very best I can say is that is that it sets up Power Rangers In Space next year, and heralds the creative peak of the series (no, seriously!) But, as a wise sage (I think it was Steve Miller) said, you have to go through hell to get to heaven.

 OK. So, let's get this damn thing over with. After Zeo, the franchise was really cooling off, and when a franchise is well into its heat death, there are two things that usually happen. Either the people writing it, decide to get adventurous and move the story forward because there's really nothing to lose, or they try to roll back the clock and go back to basics.

 Turbo tries to do both, and the world is poorer for it. Turbo tries to be a transition between the classic and Zeo era but it's not because they want to progress anything, they really just want to roll back to the original formula where the monster fights were punctuated with bland pro-social character stuff, and slapstick comedy, involving actual monkeys this year. I'm told that there were actually two schools of thought--one half of the writing team wanted to do more serious stories, the other wanted to embrace the silly. As with Zeo, we're trying to have our cake and eat it to, to much more detrimental effect.

 Neither would have worked, of course. The Super Sentai for this year, Carranger, was a parody of Super Sentai (and being Japan's idea of a parody, this involves a lot of pointing, shouting, and goofy slapstick that is utterly impenetrable and incomprehensible to anyone outside of that cultural idiom) and while it was amazingly successful in Japan, it presented problems when it came time to adapt it for American audiences, because as someone who saw the first few episodes unsubtitled and with no context for it . . .it kind of hurt my brain.

 In any event, the idea was to relaunch it in spectacular fashion--by doing another movie. Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie was, I'm told, three hours in its original cut. I am relieved, then, that editors were able to whittle it down to something manageable (only having to cut out most of the plot) and also that the TV series summarises everything up to this point so I didn't have to watch it again before I started this review. A man should only have to suffer so much.

 The takeaway from the movie is this: Rocky gets injured, and annoying wunderkind called Justin gets to be the new Blue Ranger. Justin is 12 years old and so brilliant he goes to high school with the others, and he turns into an adult size Blue Ranger with the same technology that made Trini turn into a man whenever they switched over to the Japanese footage, I guess. Justin is a paradigm for what's wrong with this season--on the one hand, they want to refocus everything back for maximum kid appeal. On the other hand, the Rangers are graduating and moving on to actual careers and really, these things do not sit comfortably together.

 Oh well, I'm sure that with a suitably impressive villain, that aspect will be well-handled. Guess again. Divatox is our head villain for the season. She's not terribly interesting and doesn't do much except shout, camp it up, and whine. At no time does she really seem to be that credible a threat to the Rangers (given who's rolled through already) and yet . . .well, more on that later. She and her retinue of rubber-suited monsters are completely indistinct and make the Machine Empire look like well-rounded characters.

 It doesn't help, of course, that her plans are even more inefficient than Rita's. Basically, Divatox's standard plan for the first half of the season is this: See the Rangers are doing something in their civilian identities, plant a bomb near them, send the Piranhatrons (this seasons footsoldiers, whose own theme song doesn't even seem that impressed with them, which is very telling)  Rangers fight, find bomb, monster, robot, explode AND THIS GOES ON LIKE FOR THIRTY EPISODES.

 There's formula, and there's rote recitation.

 Anyways, while all that's going on, change is in the air. Zordon and Alpha 5 leave in the early episodes, to be replaced with Alpha 6 . . .who is just like Alpha 5 only more annoying, and Dimitria, perhaps the least helpful mentor figure ever. There is a suspicion that Dimitria and Divatox are sisters, but no one seems to care enough to really button that particular plot point, and of course, neither do we.

 That's not the only major change, though. About halfway through, Tommy, Adam, Kat, and Tanya leave the show and we have a complete rollover of the cast (Justin sticks around, of course). And you know what that means. Ladies and Gentlemen, these are YOUR 1997 Turbo Rangers:

 T.J.--Made Red Ranger solely by being on the right bus at the right time, T.J. has the unenviable position of replacing Tommy, the most popular Power Rangers character ever. However, he's pretty cool in his own right, a natural leader and he has some intelligence and charisma (it's not his fault the rest of the show is so chronic) His full name is Theodore Jay Jarvis Johnson, and this is what passes for characterisation this season.

 ASHLEY--Ashley is a cheerleader, which is what passes for characterisation this season. Gets to be a Ranger pretty much solely because Adam did all his recruiting for replacement Rangers during soccer practice. Wikipedia says this: "Ashley's character is upbeat, hardworking, and positive, being the cheerful heart of the group.Ashley and Cassie were best friends, with Ashley tempering Cassie's sass."

 . . .and I hear a dozen fanfic writers' keyboards clacking in the distance trying to determined what "terming sass" really means.

 CARLOS-- The Rob Van Dam of the group Carlos starts out as a glory hog on the soccer field until he isn't and given he has an honest to God character arc this season (or what passes for one) he's actually one of the more well-rounded of the new characters. Yes, that was damning with faint praise, why do you ask?

  CASSIE--Rode the same bus with T.J. and lucky them, they found Tommy and Kat trussed up in a cave, which made them ideal candidates to become replacement Rangers. Apparently it's like capturing a leprechaun, only instead of a pot of gold you get a spandex union suit and a helmet. Cassie is meant to be the sarcastic one of the group, but as this is Power Rangers, it's pretty mild and fades quickly.

 They're not bad, and they'll get better next season, but they're set aboard a ship with a number of holes in it for now. No sooner do they get installed in the outfits than they're embroiled in the nadir of Power Rangers Turbo (indeed, the only thing anyone remembers about this season) "Trouble by the Slice," or "The One Where The Rangers Get Baked Into A Giant Pizza." than things start calming down a little and some actual story arcs get more established. New allies for the rangers are introduced in the form of the Blue Senturion (who is an idiot) and the Phantom Ranger (who is a cipher) The Blue Senturion brings word (to the wrong person) about a great battle the Rangers will take part in the year 2000, and how Rita, Zedd, and all and sundry will destroy the universe. This goes nowhere . . .kind of.

 Anyways, let's deal with the final episodes of the season--"Chase Into Space." After 43 episodes, Divataox gets Final Episode Competence +1, forces the Rangers to destroy their mecha in a desperate attempt to finish off the final monster, and. . .raids the Command Center. By the end of the two-parter, the Command Center's destroyed, Dimitria's long gone (not that she was any help) Justin's gone, and the remaining Rangers hi-jack a space shuttle in a desperate rush to find Zordon.

 Oh, and Divatox has been called away to a meeting called by someone called Dark Specte right when she's destroyed the Rangers and she could be conquering Earth. That this happens is actually in-character for Divatox, who never really did have all that much follow-through.

While Turbo is a little better in the second half, it's still utterly muddled and the second half isn't exactly "good" as much as it is "an order of magnitude less bad" it's still not quite there. It's almost as if there's another, better series in there and it's trying to get out.

 And that other, better series is what we'll get to next time when we look at Power Rangers In Space, arguably the best of the series, and certainly an indicator that the show is at its creative peak. Join us tomorrow for the Power Rangers equivalent of Gotterdammerung, won't you?

Monday, August 27, 2012

POWER RANGERS WEEK--PART 2: "Zeo . . .Go . . .Zeo?"

 Continuing on from yesterday's inaugural (and amazingly popular--I guess everyone was just stoked for new stuff on the Prattle) installment of Power Rangers Week, we continue on with the Power Rangers franchise past it's event horizon (usually with stuff that gets white-hot anything after the movie is pretty much a cooling-off period) and in dire need of a change. After three season sticking to the same paradigm, more or less, and accumulating rather a lot of internal mythology and backstory that could prove daunting to the new (and lapsed, in my case) viewer, it was decided that perhaps a slight rebranding should take place as 1996 dawned.

 It was a good idea--hell, Japan changes Super Sentais completely every year, which gives them a blanket brand, but gives them the freedom to experiment as well--if one thing doesn't work, it's not anything they're locked into. Pointing Power Rangers in that direction and keeping the mythology somewhat malleable was a good idea. Plus, slapping a new coat of paint of it would at least give them a platform to give their relaunch more ballyhoo than "oh look guys--new season!"

 (And man, did they milk the shit out of it in the run-up. There were like ten little mini-episodes they played during the re-runs that were showing bits of the intro and filling in the new status quo, and

 And so, Power Rangers Zeo. I'm not really sure whether it was genuinely an attempt to relaunch the Power Rangers and start into the Super Sentai paradigm, but there's no way of knowing because Zeo is. . .well, overall it's strong, but in general, it's a little confusing, and watching it as a whole, you get the idea the producers wanted to have their cake (new beginning! New costumes! New everything . . .) and eat it too (. . .except for the stuff that isn't new) I'll try to explain as I go.

 We're now three seasons into Power Rangers, and it's clear that they can't go yet another season still using the Zyuranger costumes with another set of mismatching footage that they'll have to film more in America to cover over (especially now that PR's not the money-spinner it once was) and there was a whole new series (Ohranger, now commonly known as "the Super Sentai which almost ended the Super Sentai franchise." I didn't remember it being that bad, more "just kinda there.") of footage to go with, and so, this happened:

 After the destruction of the Ranger powers and their base at the end of Season 3, the Rangers find out there is an entirely new Command Center underneath the old one (you'd think we would have seen that by now, considering that a lot of the final stretch of season 3 featured the bad guys wandering aimlessly through the basement of the old Command Center, but when things don't make sense in Power Rangers, the wises course to take is to just say "Power Rangers is full of very inaccurate and contradictory information about itself that is generally just whatever is a good idea at the time"), and that Zordon and Alpha are waiting for the Rangers with new powers from the Zeo Crystal, a long-running season 3 MacGuffin that they used for a dozen things in that season and is now the foundation for the new Ranger powers.

 And since we didn't have time to last time because we were covering a mind-shattering amount of show before now, let's do a ROLL CALL. Ladies and gentlemen, these are YOUR 1996 Zeo Rangers:

 TOMMY--Men envy his ability to do three jumping spin kicks in quick succession, women envy his skill with hair-care products. Tommy is finally the leader of the group in fact. He gets dumped by Kimberly with a "Dear John" letter, as she's met someone else (and that someone is "Felicity, Tuesdays on the WB") grapples with being the leader, finds out he has a brother, but in general he's only expected to be awesome, and well, that ain't hard.

 ADAM--Still not Vash the Stampede. Adam is the Green Ranger this season. He grows his hair out and kicks ass.

 ROCKY--Rocky's promoted to second-in-command, which he always was. Gets bumped down when the Gold Ranger shows up, which gives him an inferiority complex which causes him to try to fight the head bad guy on his own and gets curb-stomped. He's the Blue Ranger this season.

 TANYA--Aisha stayed back in Africa when they were time-traveling at the end of Season 3, and a girl from Africa, Tanya took her place as Yellow Ranger, and no one really seemed to notice the change because Aisha had real problems registering. Not the actress' fault--they just didn't give her much to define her. Tanya, sadly, will have much of the same problem. Gets put under a spell later in the season with Tommy that causes them to sing everything. It is fucking hilarious.

 KATHERINE-- The Pink Ranger, mark II. Formerly a cat, Katherine is the Pink Ranger and bashes the bad guys around with a dinner plate because of course she does. It's teased in this season that Tommy and Kat will get married, but it never really goes anywhere, because Power Rangers is not that kind of show. Seriously, for the amount of couples we see, romance on Power Rangers is a miiiighty chaste affair.

 They're pitted against the rather steampunk-esque Machine Empire, ruled over by the Royal House of Gadgetry. King Mondo is the ruler--he's rotund and befuddling and really never all that threatening, and he is attended by his family--Queen Machina, Prince Gasket, and later Sprocket and Archerina. They're not. . .well, super-developed, and the producers must have realised that, because a lot of the series seems concerned with not using them or sidelining them in favour of Zedd and Rita, who turned tail when the Empire first showed up, but soon came back and jockeyed for the role of head villain, with a weird-ass interlude wherein they had a sentient bomb named Louie Kaboom in charge of everything.

 You know, I'd been having a shitty day right up until the point where I got to type out "a sentient bomb named Louie Kaboom." I should be able to do that more often.

 Oh, and the Machine Empire have a robot named Clank, who is Scottish, who has a little buddy/Siamese twin/I really don't know what (who is not Scottish) who makes monsters grow by throwing the little twin at them. There was a time that this was the weirdest thing I thought Japan could come up with. I yearn for those days of innocence, now.

 There's a few storylines bumbling along while all this is going on--Billy vanishes from the show (because of reasons) the villains jockeying for power, but the main one is the identity of the Gold Ranger, this season's sixth Ranger. It's teased for a good part of the middle of the series that it might be Billy, or a number of other candidates, but it ultimately ends up being no one we've seen before, only that guy (those guys, actually--it's a set of triplets) and then the power get handed over to Jason, who is back from Season two.

 It's. . .eeeh, it's not much of a mystery, because it's really obvious to see that they had two or three ideas for paying it off and all of them saw enough airtime to really confuse the issue and make the whole bombshell feel more than a little empty when it's finally paid off.

 In fact, that's a big problem with the whole season in general--there's very little forward momentum that's not muddled or stuttery, and the whole thing feels a bit . . .flat. The phrase "old wine in new bottles" springs to mind. Perhaps the most immediate symptom of this is that the final episode of the season . . .sort of closes the book on the Machine Empire, except it also doesn't. That kind of muddled and unsatisfied feeling really seems to permeate this series, and I wonder if that was the reason things take such a drastic turn in the next series.

 And we'll look at that tomorrow, unfortunately. Join us then for the season that almost did in Power Rangers and it will not be pretty at all. Join us Tuesday for Power Rangers Turbo, and when you speak of me, speak well.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


 Welcome back, y'all. Apologies for the paucity of updates here lately, but the plain fact is that I didn't have anything to review here lately (I've gotten a few things since then) and I had not a whit of interest in covering anything recent (Batwoman is still visually stunning, but textually muddled, most of the current comics scene I'm not into--save Glory/Prophet?Harbinger, and my sole reaction to Rob Liefeld's Fuck You Yankee Bluejeans Tour 2012 is the same as Abhay and Tucker's thoughts the last time someone lost their shit on Twitter--grown people really act this way in public?) So, then, what to do in the meantime?

 Fortunately, I remembered I do these little remembrances of things past from time to time, and this coincided with the first seven seasons of Power Rangers landing on my doorstep, as well as some general rumbling that Power Rangers is now on the verge of its 20th year of running, with no let-up (this despite nearly being cancelled three times) That's. . .in addition to making me feel hella old, it's also pretty stunning. The other huge properties that are considered evergreen--Transformers, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, the Ninja Turtles--all had years-long interregnums between revivals. Year in, year out, Power Rangers has been there.

 For another, a cheapo show that was only supposed to run 40 episodes and used a whole bunch of footage from a Japanese series . . .has now been pretty regularly homaged in the Japanese series that originated it and has all but been enfolded in its collective lore as well--in their recent anniversary series, Gokaiger, they say that "across the ocean, we're called Power Rangers." So I guess it's officially a thing, now.

 I will not try to persuade you that it's because its good. Occasionally, Power Rangers has risen above its remit and done some pretty impressive work. Sometimes it's the visual representation of what an abscessed tooth feels like. Generally, it's exactly what it needs to be--30 minutes dedicated to pushing toys and sticking to a basic formula: Monster appears, Rangers fight it, blow it up, monster grows the Rangers summon their giant robot and destroy it. At its best it moves at such a relentless pace and plucks the nerves that respond to superhero stuff at its most basic level, that young and old are going to be engaged with it on some level.

 Plus it had been awhile since I'd done a week-long event post, and while writing about Power Rangers for seven days straight is sure to erode whatever cred I had, the jokes on you guys--I never had any cred to begin with. And yes, I'm aware that Linkara already does this kind of thing and goes into things at a much higher level than I probably will. Plus, my perspective is liable to be a bit different. Plus, I say "fuck" a lot more.

  Also, maybe it'll get "Power girls tits" off my top search results finally.

 And since I've written 200 some words already and not even gotten to the preamble, I better get moving. I sort of missed the golden age of dubbed Japanese live-action shows on TV--stuff like Johnny Sokko, Ultraman, Spectreman and the Space Giants. Apparently, before I was around, it was not uncommon for producers stateside to buy a Japanese TV show, dub the whole series with three people in a room, and syndicate the hell out of it in the name of wringing some of that interest that kept impressionable 4 year olds filing into Godzilla movie matinees.

 The closest I'd come to seeing anything like that was seeing Dynaman redubbed into hilarious insanity on the late, lamented Night Flight (another topic for another time) The attached Youtube clip will give you an idea of what it was like, but to get the full effect, watch it at 3 in he morning when your sense of reality is starting to grey out. While I thought it was hilarious, I also dug the fact that it was people in costumes fighting monsters with giant robots. That it was very similar to Voltron (another team of guys fighting monsters with giant robots) probably gave me a certain affinity for that kinda thing.

 Plus, around about 1993, it was a horrible time for action cartoons on TV. Most all the shows from the 80's were long gone, and those that has survived were pretty nerfed and sacrificed a lot of their action quotient for comedy and well, nothing had really hit immediately. Things were in the process of changing (Batman the Animated Series had just started and there were a few other things ticking over) but these were the end of the dry years, by and large. So when Power Rangers came around, it was quite a welcome return to those bygone days of kicking people in the face, dangerously irresponsible levels of violence, and transparent toy advertising, all done on the cheap.

 OK, now, let's actually get into the mechanics of the first iteration of Power Rangers: All the action footage (at first) is from a Japanese show called Zyuranger. It's not terribly good--I know; I've seen it. The action footage is then framed by some Saved By The Bell-esque stuff filed stateside so that people will not recognise this is a Japanese show, except 1) they totally do 2) I'm not sure how this ever worked out to be cheaper than just dubbing the show, but whatever. I should also point out that you can see the join between the two footages perfectly, because Power Rangers is shot on video and the sentai shows are shot on film. The old-school Doctor Who fan in me appreciated that. But the main thing to take away is that occasionally, in trying to reconcile two different cultures into a gestalt entity . . .crazy shit ensues.

 SUCH AS (but not limited to) The Rangers fight an evil clown who turns people into cardboard with fairy dust, who is actually a giant pineapple/octopus monster, because of reasons. Or the time they fight a giant monster pumpkin whose superpower is that he has awesome raps (I am not exaggerating these) and there's also someone called "Mister Ticklesneezer," which is just nasty.

 So the plot of Power Rangers is thus: Released from a garbage can in space, Rita Repulsa, decides it's time to conquer Earth in the most inefficient way possible: By sending one monster an episode down to Earth to just screw with five specific teenagers (and to a lesser extent, one town) Rita apparently is taking the long view and was inspired by Wowbagger in the Infinitely Prolonged.

 Zordon, a giant floating head in a tube who'd apparently been hanging around with his robot life-partner Alpha-5 (who sounds like a certain Irken invader) recruits five demographically acceptable teenagers "with attitude" (which was the early 90's version of "extreme" for you younger folks out there) who, in the best tradition of that phrase, have nothing of the kind. There's mall-rat gymnast Kimberly; gifted nerd (and crush-object of a friend of mine) Billy; Serene asian girl Trini; ladies man/master of Hip Hop Kido (man, twenty years later, that phrase still hurts to type) Zack; and Blast Hardcheese stand-in Jason. Together they turn into Japanese actors and fight monsters and pilot giant robots and loiter at juice bars and be pro-social in that kind of bland early 90's way that so many kids groups (like the goddamned Planeteers) were

 While all this is passable entertainment and the kind of thing you'd happily absorb at 7:30 in the morning before school, it's not really appointment television yet. No, that comes in a few episodes in when Tommy shows up. Tommy is utterly badass, and concomitant with his appearance, the fight choreography in the American scenes goes up quite a bit, but also he doesn't really conform to the character stereotypes that the first five did (though as time goes on, they will sort of grow out of those) Tommy is press-ganged into being the Green Ranger--like the others, but evil.

 And the Green Ranger looks badass, and cements his badassedness by kicking the shit out of the Rangers for five damn days straight. This is a major deal for several reasons: 1) up until now, the Rangers never lost 2) multi-part episodes never happened on this show (boy will that change soon enough) and 3) Green Ranger is pretty unrelenting: Day 1 has him destroying the Rangers' base, leaping into their giant robot and knocking them out of it, beating them down hand to hand, and finishing them off with an EX Hadouken. By the end of 5 days he's wrecked the base again, destroyed the giant robot (it got better) kidnapped Jason, got his own giant robot (who loves candy-coloured smokestacks and jazz flue)  and kicked the Rangers' collective asses so hard I can't precisely remember how many times he does it.

 So they turn him face, because, like Steve Austin, a heel run that hot means people will cheer for you no matter how evil you pretend to be. So Tommy becomes the sixth member of the Power Rangers, and so begins Power Rangers' crazy-ass popularity.

 This is good and bad. Good in the sense that a show that was due to run 40 episodes and was basically tossed on to TV would ultimate run 20 years, which is good for the long-term. Bad, in a very short-term way: Zyuranger, like all the Super Sentai shows that proceeded and followed it, was a finite series--when their year-long run is over, they're done, finish (which is why you're able to take so many chances in those--given a fixed end point, things can build to climaxes, characters can die, etc. The best Super Sentai shows build to tremendous finales, and pretty much anything is possible) and a new show starts in its place, using the same general idea--people in costumes fighting monsters--but usually in a different context and a different tone. Things have changed as crossovers and team-ups are more popular in Japan, but all the same, a line is drawn under it.

 Such a fate befalls the Green Ranger's counterpart in Zyuranger--his Japanese counterpart is actually killed off (well, a couple times in the course of the series--it's complicated and this post is long enough) and the Red Ranger inherits his powers for the final battle. Not really realising that Green Ranger was gonna be that popular, the producers finished out the initial 40 episodes. . .and then had to walk back certain aspects, and here, Power Rangers becomes a bit more than just an adaptation of a Japanese show, as in working harder to spackle over the joins, it kinda forces it to become something else.

 The producers actually contract the Japanese company to produce 25 more episodes of footage they can use, bringing back the Green Ranger, and all of a sudden, there are a lot more American footage fights start happening, which will eventually end up better than the ones they were doing in Japan (sadly, twenty years on, neither show seems to have them any more, dammit) and now there's going to be a second season of the show.

 There was no more footage of Zyuranger to go around, so the producers turn to to next super sentai series, Dairanger, (which is better than Zyuranger by a lot) and take the mecha footage from it (leading to the Rangers having to utter stuff like "Triceratops Unicorn Thunderzord Power!" just to get their giant robot out), de-power the Green Ranger, and make him into the White Ranger, and create their own new master villain in Lord Zedd, who is. . .fucking evil looking--all chrome and viscera and glowering and stuff. He ends up being a little too scary (as things usually seen on a Slayer album cover don't typically wander into kid's shows), so he's softened, to the point where he and Rita get married (The absolutely hilarious and utterly demented spectacle of Rita and Zedd's Jewish wedding, populated entirely with monsters is my fondest and most "what in the actual fuck is this?" memory of the second season) and the two of them bedevil the Rangers some more.

 Oh, Jason. Zack, and Trini leave the show, and are replaced by Adam, Rocky, and Aisha. Despite what you may have heard, Adam is not Vash the Stampede. I don't know how these rumours got started. The second season kinda spins its wheels for the rest of the time--it's . . .OK. If the goal is just to keep the train rolling and the money spinning, you'd be a fool to upset the apple cart, wouldn't you? There's a movie somewhere about this time, and it's. . .if you wanted to see a movie in 1995 use CGI that was state of the art in 1988, well, they did that.

 Season 3 starts with yet another power-switch, as Season 2's robots get trashed, along with their powers, and they all get ninjas powers, yet still dress in the dinosaur themed outfits because branding rather than reality, dammit. Thankfully they don't have to yell out anything like "Triceratops unicorn thunderzord wolf ninjazord power," because really, we'd be here all day.

 I didn't watch much of Season 3, so my immediate memories before I watched the DVDs were 1) oh God, that fight song they play when they fight the Tengas is never going to get out of my head, ever. 2) The American fights are pretty awesome and 3) I think I've reached my saturation point with this--it's getting hard to follow, and when Power Rangers is getting unworldly in its continuity, there is a problem. There were a lot of multipart episodes this season, all of which seemed to change the dynamic of the show, and I had a real problem with coming in in the first or second part of the stories, and couldn't make heads nor tails or what was happening.

 Revisiting them and watching them in the right order, they're. . .pretty damn good. They take a lot of chances this season, and the bad guys actually make substantial progress in beating the Rangers in numerous ways over the course of the season. Plus, I was amazed that they set up the season/series finale and the new series like, twenty episodes or so before the finale even got here. This is not a show that usually does that kind of foreshadowing.

 Anyways, Kimberly actually has a whole arc in the middle part of the season, where she nearly gets killed/loses her powers/gets replaced by an Australian girl who used to be a cat (as you do) and the bad guys finally HALT THE FLOW OF TIME and turn the Rangers into kids, and for a couple episodes, the Power Rangers don't even appear in their own show. The Rangers bring in alien Power Rangers from another planet (man, if only they'd remembered they had reinforcements before now. Woulda helped a lot, huh?) to dep for them while they collect MacGuffin #215 to fix all this, and also, actually use more than 5% of the footage from this year's Super Sentai, Kakuranger (bringing the footage percentage to 20%) I laud them for taking chances with it and shaking it up, though I wonder if the problem wasn't that things got shaken up too much and there wasn't a "normal" for sufficiently long enough to shake up in a way that stuck.

 I'll pause for a moment and let you reflect as to whether that's an ongoing problem in superhero comics as well.

 In any event, the Rangers succeed, kinda--they're resorted to normal, time is back on track, but their base is finally destroyed (*snerk*) their powers annihilated, and their alien buddies forced into retreat.  The series closes on a note where things just plainly don't look good, and since it's the end of the series, this downturn might stick after all. . .

 . . .oh hey, all those weird-minute-long mini-sodes they show between re-runs make it look like they're building to something new--I wonder what all that's about? I guess you'll just have to find out tomorrow when we look at where they go from here. Join us Monday when we look at Power Rangers Zeo, which features Tommy getting dumped, triplets, team-ups, awkward recasting, steampunk, Scottish robots, drunken robots, Louie Kaboom, and a musical episode (sorta) Join us then, won't you?

Saturday, August 11, 2012


 The odd thing about The Great Darkness Saga, long considered one of the most immortal Legion of Superheroes storylines, is how at odds with the style and flow of the book. It's a great story, it has a great epic sweep, insanely high stakes, and is pretty action-packed, and is tied in at an almost rabbinical level of Legion of Superheroes lore (of which there is a lot) but what comes out most plainly at me is how utterly odd it is, given that Legion of Superheroes is not a superhero book, really.

 Oh, it has superheroes in it, but it's pretty much a romance comic in superhero drag. I was quite stunned in re-reading it decades later that really all of the action bits are pretty well dashed off before the issue's halfway over and then it's straight up soap-opera stuff: job stresses, relationship troubles, marriages, romantic misunderstandings, and, as with all romance comics, bundles of panels featuring women with their hand to their faces, a single tear spilling from their eyes.

 I'm not saying this as though it's a bad thing--hell, the most popular books in the industry at this time had adopted the X-Men "keep the soap-opera going at all costs and make that the bits that people come back for month after month" storytelling model--but I can't think of a book that all but pushed the superhero stuff to the bare minimum of the equation like this one did.

 My enormous Great Darkness Saga HC covers Legion of Superheroes #284-296 and the first Annual, and it's a very interesting slice of the book. The actual Great Darkness Saga only runs about 4 issues, and has been released with just the 4 issues, but in doing so, you really take the story out of context, and that's kind of a shame, as it's an interesting snapshot of a book at the peak of its popularity only scant moments before DC, motivated by greed, ends up tanking the book and catering to a mere handful of anoraks exploring ever more obscure continuity backwaters, most infamously making Element Lad gay because only gay dudes have man-fros. (I. . .guess? There's some real hair-related gay panic in DC comics) and then having to walk it back and taking a concept that collapsed so utterly in upon itself and having to take this thing out and sell it again to someone new while having no idea how to do that.

 But at the time of this story, Legion is riding high, and from the bits and bobs of this story, apparently very busily trying to get out from under the very weird 70's days of the book (you know, the time that Cosmic Boy was wearing a bustier and shit) and making it a bit more of its time (inasmuch as a book written in the early 80's about the 30th century can really be of its time) and point itself in a new direction while still keeping the critical bits of the Legion lore in play.

 Which is why Great Darkness is such a weird story. It uses a lot of current-day DC Universe backstory (which Legion almost never did apart from you know, Superboy) which it can;t even be fussed to explain (there's a hilarious editor's note that says, essentially "You know what? We can't explain the New Gods stuff either") and . . .man, there's something about the notion that the book is not willing to explain all that much (and if they're not willing to tell you that much, you can for damn sure imagine you're on your own trying to figure out who the hell the Heroes of Lallor are supposed to be) which is a . . .well, it's an interesting choice, as the writer of the piece, Paul Levitz, is basically throwing a story that turns on every bit of Legion Lore and characters accrued to this point and the whole Fourth World stuff at you, not really pausing to explain any of it and yet . . .

 . . .and yet it kind of works on this base level in that you're presented with something built up as suitably apocalyptic and if you go in knowing none of it, it still plays as "epic," because it's treated as an epic thing, and that comes across on a base level, even if the rest is not really known. Crisis, actually works on that level for the uninitiated, in fact; the less you know about DC universe lore, the better it plays, but that's another write-up.

 It's interesting that the story works so well, with everything against it (not least because this kinda stuff doesn't really happen in soap operas, does it?) and given it's rather anomalous circumstances, it's no wonder it stands out so. Even if it didn't work, it would probably be an interesting failure (as the sequel story was, sadly enough) but that it does with so much against it, it's kind of even more intriguing.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Just Sayin'--JUSTICE LEAGUE #11

So, uhm, Geoff Johns is really over-obsessed with this notion that you need your families tragically massacred to be a good superhero, huh?

It's weird, because I read this, and I was re-reading X-Tinction Agenda and thinking of how Jim lee's stuff really supercharged a generation of fanboys twenty plus years ago, and I look at what they're doing now and how. . .dull . . .it is. Seriously: 11 issues in and its still age after page of everyone being assholes to each other and occasionally fighting each other (which means that they've fought Parademons and themselves. In one year's time.)

 Why, of all the things to let Jim Lee draw, do you let him draw this? If the point of the new-52 stuff was to bring in a new generation of comic fans and put your best foot forward (let's be charitable and say that was their intent) why is it this? Were the silent generations of comic fans after me crying out for a book full of ciphers who argue all the time and some dickhead wannabe supervillain who talks to his dead family and goes around killing supporting cast members because of reasons far too inscrutable to be explained because all Geoff Johns really cares about is wringing every drop of blood out of this whole "defining element of tragedy" folderol.

 I'm not going to say that X-Men or anything like that was high art or anything, but it actually gripped your shit and engaged you, even if it was only on the base "this is cool!" level. This was so bland I didn't even notice the flip-over to Geoff Johns Black Adam Fanfiction--er, the Shazam backup. It's all of the same unvarying mood, so there wasn't anything to separate it out. This comic is as blank as a fart.

Monday, August 6, 2012


 So can we safely say that the X-Tinction Agenda crossover was the flashpoint moment where the 90's became The Nineties and all the good and bad that entailed was unleashed upon an unsuspecting comics world? I suppose we can, as both in form and in content, X-Tinction (abbreviated in the name of preserving my typing fingers and my sanity) pretty much wraps up the 80's for the X-Books and signals a definite change in direction.

 I've talked before about The X-Books changing direction in the past, and how it can sometimes work very well (and save a book from its own worst tendencies) and how it can just screw up everything. X-Tinction . . .does neither of these. But before we get too deep into that, let's run the clock back a bit, something this X-Tinction Agenda hardcover I picked up during yet another liquidation of Marvel's trade/HC stock allows us to do.

 In 1988, during the bi-weekly summer run of Uncanny X-Men, Chris Claremont did a 4-part story in issues #235-238 that introduced the island nation of Genosha, which was, and still is, a pretty on-the-nose extrapolation of South Africa and it's then-current policy of apartheid. Genosha was an inhospitable island nation that had raised itself to the pinnacle of technological superiority by enslaving its mutant population, making them more or less mentally retarded, forbidding them to breed, isolating them, and manipulating them genetically to whatever the Genoshans required to keep their economy going (this isn't, I should add, actually what apartheid is, as that was minority oppression of the majority--Genosha, we are commonly told, has a small mutant population) The Genoshans keep their slave labour project a tightly-guarded secret and hunt down and retrieve any mutant who tries to escape, which, in a roundabout way, is how the X-Men come to the place.

 While all too often Claremont's stories can be a bit too on the nose and mawkish when it comes to trying to land the "mutants and metaphor for the Civil Rights struggle," revisiting these issues, I was really surprised by how good and strong they were for late-model Claremont. The issue of Genosha is handled with some nuance and complexity (the son of Genosha's head scientist, whose girlfriend has been enslaved, tries to rebel, and is told several times as his eyes are being opened to it, he is no less guilty for ignoring the truth of Genosha than the people who actively engaged in it) and very darkly puts the X-Men out of their depth, putting them in real jeopardy for what felt like the first time in a long time (after the Fall of the Mutants, wherein the X-Men were "dead" and gadding about the world as "legends," it was very hard to get them credible opposition, outside of the latest big crossover) and it's got some things to say and it doesn't shy away from the darker implications (hell, Rogue, after being depowered is nearly raped, which was. . .not quite as commonplace in comics as it is today and was handled with real conscience here, I thought) It also had, in a subplot left dangling too long (it is late-model Claremont we're talking about here) that the X-Men basically lay waste to the country and get all Authoirty on them, telling them if they don't get their shit together and behave, they'll be back.

 Naturally, we had to sit on that story for two years (give or take a few instances where the Genoshans showed up essentially to just shake their fist and say "ooh, I'll get you wascawwy X-Men!") because of the Siege Perilous, the Shadow King, and associated crap, but then it was 1990, long past time for another X-crossover, and time enough to tie up the whole Genoshan thing, hence: X-Tinction Agenda.

 I can't really say the X-Tinction Agenda is that great a crossover. Part of it might be that taken as a whole, the main takeaway from it is "this didn't need to be nine parts" and "reading alll nine parts, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense." But no fear, neither did Fall of the Mutants (and whatever version of that they'd picked, it never would have) But X-Tinction is very interesting because things are shifting. It's a writer-driven crossover being done with two artists who want everyone to stop talking and get to the fighting.

 Here is, so far as I know, as coherent a summation of X-Tinction as I can muster: manipulated by Cameron Hodge, long-running dangling X-Factor plot thread and also-ran in the Evil Human Bigot sweepstakes, gets in the ear of the Genoshan president and cons her into essentially declaring war on the X-Men who are in the process of getting everyone back together (finally) His motives change about five or six times in the course of the crossover and he doesn't seem like he's in all that much of a rush to turn into Warlock or kill all mutants or whatever he's supposed to be doing. Eventually, in the final issue of the crossover, the X-Men finally kill Hodge and a few people die and none of this is gonna matter in about ten issues, except that Genosha is never really "saved"--it just exists in a state of "permanently fucked" for most of the 90's until, in a rare good idea from the late 90's X-Office, they give the country to Genosha, but fail to do anything with it, and in the next decade, Grant Morrison blows it up.

 The main selling point of this is Jim Lee tearing up Uncanny X-Men, filling pages with tons of dynamic action, hyper-detailed battle mechs, and pacing everything at this relentless breakneck speed. Unfortunately, he's only doing a third of the art. Rob Liefeld, fresh from giving New Mutants a shot in the arm, lasts for about two issues that he could be charitably said to have drawn ("sketchy" hardly does it justice, but what can you expect from someone with this going on in his head all the damn time?) Art on X-Factor's third of the crossover is handled by Jon Bogdanove and Al Milgrom, and while Bogdanove is a good fit for certain characters, X-Factor (itself slouching through its publication life in search of a point) was not one of them, especially not by comparison. The X-Factor bits are a right slog to get through, not least because there is an almost Liefeldian inability to understand what the hell is supposed to be going on on the page. As the final chapter is an X-Factor issue, you can imagine how that messes with things.

 So, if it's so misbegotten, why look at it? Well, because it plainly sets the stage for what to come. In less than a year, Claremont will be out, Lee, Liefeld, and the Image guys will be the new vanguard for the next decade, and the tone of the X-Books will change dramatically. And this is the flashpoint. It's not great, it manages to show the reason why a change was needed and the worst excesses of the next generation that illustrate that while change is necessary, it's not guaranteed to be good, but without it, things get stale, and the audience starts wandering off in search of something more vital.

 How lucky we are that no one's tried to arrest change in superhero comics or anything like that, huh?