Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Whole Damn Thing--COWBOY BEBOP #3

Hi amigos! All 300,000 bounty hunters in the solar system--how y'all doin'? It's time once again for another installment of Witless Prattle's comprehensive coverage of the entirety of Cowboy Bebop. This week, we look at the end of the first "season" (more or less) of Bebop, and move on to the second half, and have a quartet of episodes wherein things are not what they seem.

In other words, just another week of episodes, really.

"So what else could it be but a horrible alien, huh?"

I used to hate this episode because it seemed to go on and on and it seemed like a stock horror plot with a dash of "Alien" grafted on to "Bebop." Didn't help that it came after "Ganymede Elegy," which I loved so much.

This was a few watch-throughs before I twigged on to the fact that for the most part, plots don't mean shit in Bebop, and they're merely vehicles for characters, and this episode was meant as a character showcase.

So let's knock the plot out the way: Spike's left something in the fridge for a year, and it comes to life, gets out, and starts biting everyone on the Bebop. Spike eventually gets the fridge out of the ship so we can have a 2001: A Space Odyssey homage, and Ed eats the purple blob thing.

The real goal of "Toys" is to shine a light on each of the characters as they deal with some "empty time."--a long hitch of traveling in space, boredom has set in--well, before the blob thing gets loose. Jet loses his shirt (literally) gambling with Faye (who, as is her wont, cheats) and delivers the first of four lessons that frame the episode. Jet's lesson is that anyone who goes in for getting rich quick is going to pay a high price in karma, which he's just paid, of course. Whether he includes Faye in this I leave for you to speculate.

Faye's lesson is that nothing good ever happened to her when she trusted someone, which will make oodles more sense when we start looking at her character in more detail in the later episodes. Faye also gets bitten by the blob thing in the bathtub, because the blob thing was not able to tie her up, I guess.

Ed's lesson is "If you see a stranger, follow him." This is pretty cut and dried, because that's exactly what Ed did when she came aboard the Bebop. Bear in mind, of course, that Ed is even more strange than the collective rest of the Bebop crew. She has no more luck with the blob-thing than anyone else, but then again, it really isn't the point.

Spike's lesson is the last one we hear, and the one that closes the episode, is perfectly in keeping with his character's ongoing repudiation of the idea of any mysticism/predestination/etc. We saw him not take the shaman's warning seriously in "Asteroid Blues," say him scoff at the words of Wen in "Sympathy for the Devil," and so his lesson is the eminently practical admonition that you shouldn't leave things in the fridge.

On the face of it, it's obviously a wink to the audience not to take any of this all that seriously, though if one is so inclined, one could look at it as foreshadowing as if you keep something in your past secret, it can easily come back to bite you later.

Not that that kind of thing ever happens on this show, right?

"I have no luck with them--I'd rather be an armadillo"

Man, the first two scenes of this two parter are murderously awful. They may actually be the shittiest in all of Bebop, but I don't like to dwell on the negative. The Indian mystic stuff is so agonisingly on the nose (even moreso because its reprised at the end of part 2) and has none of the counterpoint stuff that "Asteroid Blues" had, so we're meant to take it seriously, and there is no damn way that one can take at all seriously any more than that My Little Pony episode where they tried to talk about Manifest Destiny.

This is then followed by an equally embarrassing scene of leaden exposition where we are reintroduced to Vicious and Lin, who fails to make an impression in any meaningful way (which is a shame, as he's somewhat more important) because the exposition chews it all up. Here's what I know--Vicious is dispatched to Callisto to broker a drug deal with a man he knows. Lin is sent along because the heads of the Red Dragons don't trust him and go on and on about how Vicious is a snake and Vicious tells Lin he should be prepared to betray him and can we please get on with this?

OK, back at the Bebop, Faye has ripped off the ship and run off with all their money. Naturally, Jet wants to get the money back (Faye he can take or leave) but in the process of getting that plot off and running, Spike hears the name "Julia," and heads off for Callisto, but not before having a knock-down drag-out fight with Jet, who throws him off the ship and we're left to fret that their bromance may never be the same now.

The fact that, in trying to track down what "Codename Julia" is, Spike runs into a transvestite named Julius and there's that whole weird scene where Gren (our nominal main character) tells Faye that if you don't say "take care" when someone sneezes you turn into a fairy really makes me wonder about the subtext of this episode, at times.

We get a good fight wherein we learn that comparing Spike to Vicious will cause him to murder your ass, and he finally faces off with Vicious, but rather than their protracted fight as they had in "Ballad of Fallen Angels," Lin steps between them and shoots Spike dead.

Oh, and Faye finds out that Gren has boobs, because Faye is unable not to be nosy.

We get an explanation for some of this in part 2, which is good, as this episode has really been struggling not to be shapeless. Gren is trying to set up a trap for Vicious, because Vicious saved his life when they were soldiers on Titan and Gren thought that meant they were buddies, but Vicious actually set him up for charges of treason and led to him getting moobs. Concurrent with the man-boobs, Gren is also terminally ill in that oh-so-Japanese way where you look really weak and wan and cough up blood occasionally--it's a good non-specific symptom, and they're a real big believer in it. In any event, Gren is trapped by the past and declares he's both at once, and neither," which on the surface seems to refer to his extra attributes, but in a larger sense, he exists as a distillation of the Bebop crew and their driving struggles to escape their pasts.

There's a nice callback to the end of "Ballad of Fallen Angels" with Spike having feathers (black, this time) raining on him as he wakes up--Lin shot him with a trank dart and we get a few more nuggets about Spike's past--his eyes are two different colours and his left eye sees the past. Spike lays out his plan to leave the Red Dragons to Julia and asks her to come with him, but she can't. Vicious says to someone "I'm the only one who can keep you alive and the only one who can kill you," which is true for more than one person in this series, I'd wager.

Anyways, never mind all the foreshadowing for a bit, we must get on with things. Gren knocks out Faye and ties her up because it;s been two episodes and the withdrawal was killing them. Gren stages a drug deal to give him a chance to face Vicious and ask him why he sold him out, but Vicious sneers that "there's nothing in this world to believe in" and gets Lin killed, because when your mentor's name is Vicious, you kind of expect that and they'd telegraphed it so blatantly my neighbours complained about the excessive foreshadowing and asked could I turn it down please.

Anyways, we get a good fight in the skies above Callisto, Gren gets killed but wants to be sent out to space to return to his past again and the god damned Indians are back to tell us that the falling star is the tear of a warrior and . . . hey, you know what? The song that plays over the credits, "Space Lion" is actually pretty damn good!

Right, well. "Jupiter Jazz" has the makings of a good episode of Cowboy Bebop. So why is it two? It feels extraordinarily padded, and while it has some good dramatic beats and foreshadows a lot of what's to come for everyone, since you don't really know any of that until you get there, you have a two-parter that feels a bit bloated and overlong and the stuff you do learn isn't doled out evenly enough to keep it all lively. I don't hate it . . .but there are a lot of other episode's I'd just as soon watch.

"This is either an idiot or a genius!"

Someone has enacted an insanely intricate plan to punish the manufacturers of the astral gates that make hyperspace travel possible.

If ever there was one episode which blatantly undermined it's own plot, it's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Here is an episode which, while it's going on, basically proves that it's plot is inconsequential when it reveals that the person who planned out this incredibly baroque plot to get back at them . . .is now too senile to really even remember that he did it.

Not only does the plot stand revealed as an intricate but ultimately pointless endeavour, but it actually negates itself. One should admire that kind of gusto, I think, really. There's a really good bit at the end where you get the idea that Spike kind of admires Hex (the literal and figurative chessmaster behind the gate plot) because in completely forgetting his past, he's able to live with a freedom he can't even imagine. It's a subtle thing, but if this episode is truly "about" anything . . .it's probably that.

Also--Ed claps with her bare feet, because of course she does.

I also like that in the future you will have an entire space colony dedicated to growing and smoking marijuana, and I'm certain that will probably be the next Harold and Kumar movie or something.

In any event, that's the end of this week's installment! Join us next week when we get more Faye backstory (in a way that may or may not involve her being tied up--it's hard to know, really) in "My Funny Valentine"; Jet gets into a plot so noirish it might as well take place at midnight in a coal mine in "Black Dog Serenade"; EVERYONE GETS HIGH and also Pam Grier in "Mushroom Samba"; and we end where we begin with "Speak Like A Child." Until then, why don't you go and have a sandwich?

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I know you guys probably think I'll find any sort of driftwood from the 80's and write some long-winded blatherskite about how it was an unappreciated gem and blazed a trail for what came next in SF or cartoons or whatever, and it's true, I have done a lot of those lately.

However, because my goal is as much confusing my regulars as anything, the subject of the inaugural edition of the Turkey Shoot is Silverhawks. You may know it as Thundercats' unloved middle child back in the oh-so 1980s. I know it as one of the most brain-meltingly bland shows I have ever seen, and I once watched M.A.S.K. all the way through.

Despite all this . . .I don't hate it. Probably because I'm completely fascinated that one could grind 65 episodes of it out without having a single driving idea through the whole thing, perhaps it's just nostalgia (I had pretty much all the action figures, which I loved because they were shiny and I was 11 and was also apparently part magpie) and perhaps it's because the very absence of anything to talk about makes this something of a challenge to me.

But before we start tearing it down, I will totally stand up for it's totally bitchin' intro:

Let's get right down to it, then--In the galaxy of Limbo, hard-boiled desk jockey Stargazer has imprisoned the evil Mon-Star, keeping him in a dark cell because if he gets a look at the Moon Star of Limbo, he hulks out, kind of like when Goku looked at the moon and became a big pissed-off monkey. Why he looks like Getter Dragon is anyone's guess.

Anyways, Mon-Star naturally gets to look at the star and breaks out of prison, gets his mob back together, and starts rebuilding his empire of organised crime. Now here's the first problem I have with this--because Mon-Star is constantly sold as a Bad Motherfucker even when he's not in super mode, but uhm . . .all he wants to do is like, rob casinos and shit? The Mob is a big problem with this show--for all that they're hellaciously powerful and could easily roll over the whole galaxy, but they set their sights so low that it means precious little that the Silverhawks bust up their plans.

So let's meet the Mob, shall we?

BUZZ-SAW--Buzz-Saw, as you'd guess, is made up entirely of dildos. Oh, wait, no--he's made of saws. He has no personality and yells a lot and I remember I had the toy of Buzz-Saw one time. He came with an attack bird called Shredator, which needs to be my new band name, I think.

MUMBO-JUMBO--The Mob's brick, Mumbo Jumbo is a bull who walks like a man. Yes, this is where the WWE got the idea for Mantaur:

Well, actually, I don't know that they did, but there is so little to say about the guys, one has to do something.

HARDWARE--Is this where Rob Liefeld got the idea that everyone needed like 90 dozen pouches? I don't know. Hardware is the gadget genius of the Mob, and can somehow dream up intricate technology which works just long enough to fill 20 minutes, allow, the Mob to get defeated narrowly by the Silverhawks, and then never think of trying it again, because this is just how cartoon villains roll.

MELODIA--I have no idea what one of the Misfits is doing working for an intergalactic crime boss, but there it is. Meldoia has two jobs on this show--be the opposite number to Bluegrass and also be annoying. Melodia fires blasts of evil music from her keytar, which she has because it was the 80s

WINDHAMMER--In addition to being the name of a 1970s progressive rock group, Windhammer is also ridiculously powerful, and, if this show had any kind of relationship with actual science, utterly useless. Because Windhammer controls weather, which means jack shit when half your battles take place in space. Of course, because this is Silverhawks, Space has air and they wave any concerns about it away by claiming her creates "space tornadoes." To which I say "bullshit."

MO-LEC-U-LAR--Speaking of being mind-bustingly powerful and underachieving all the same, Mo (I am not typing that crap out again) can transform himself into any person place or thing, and he can be like, a perfect replica of it. Naturally, he uses this ability to rob banks.

YES-MAN-If Peter Lorre was a rattlesnake, he would be Yes-man. Essentially, he's just Mon-Star's simpering lackey. This is all I have to say about fucking Yes-Man.


Well, you bloody well walked right into that one, didn't you?

Anyways, Stargazer is all like "Oooh, shit just got real," and so asks earth to send him a squad of agents who can fight the mob and allow him to sit on his lazy ass and yell at them for being lazy. Earth complies because anything to shut Crazy Cyborg Grandpa up and send in our heroes, the Silverhawks:

QUICKSILVER--Quicksilver is the leader of the Silverhawks, which means he gets suckered in and captured by the bad guys most often. Quicksilver is the straight-arrow leader of the group and is honest and fearless, which would make him the core member of the team . . .er, if 90% of the rest of the Silverhawks didn't have the same damn character trait.

STEELHEART--The team chick, and the character who you'd have hoped most would break out. Steelheart is the straight-arrow second in command of the group and partner to her brother Steelwill, who is an idiot, which in this case actually counts as character development. This is all I really have to say about Steelheart.

STEELWILL--Steelwill is a former football player, and as I said before, an idiot. He's also a mechanical genius whenever the team needs gadgets and the people writing the show have forgotten than Copper Kidd was supposed to be the mechanical genius. Steelwill is nominally the team brick. It really doesn't matter.

COPPER KIDD--Copper Kidd comes from The Planet of Mimes, which needs to be exploded with a Black Egg if you ask me. Also, no one will get that reference, ever. The Copper Kidd is the resident gadget genius of the show except when they forget and make Steelwill the gadget guy. He talks in irritating musical whistles because that is something space mimes do, I guess.

There are times I wonder aloud which fictional character was more annoying--Snarf, Scott Trakker, or Copper Kidd. Then I reach for the loaded pistol I keep in my desk, stare off into the middle distance, and wonder what have I done with my life, really?

BLUEGRASS--Groups of cyborg intergalactic cops consisting of former football players and space mimes need only one thing to become unbeatable--a ridiculous hillbilly with a magic guitar. Bluegrass pilots the Maraj, which is actually a slick-looking spaceship. Bluegrass can't fly, but can detach the forward part of the Maraj and fly around shooting things with his guitar with the cockpit door open because there is air in the galaxy of Limbo and Silverhawks does nothing more consistently than piss in the eye of Science.

Even more ironically, the little "it's not just a toy ad, look we're teaching you about astronomy!" bumpers feature Bluegrass training Copper Kidd to fly the Maraj. Or, well, that's the conceit. He really just annoys him with questions about planets in the solar system, which goes about as well as, oh, let's say, the science in Gamera Vs. Guiron.

Later on, it's discovered that the core five are. . .well, pretty bland, as you've probably twigged on given how hard it was to make jokes about them. So they rolled in 4 more Silverhawks, who ended up taking over the show (seriously--near the end you barely even see the core five do anything) Not that the new Silverhawks were any great shakes (they were better than the New Thundercats, but that's like saying for a midget, someone is awfully tall) but they seemed like complex multi-layered characters compared to the core five:

HOTWING--Hotwing is pretty cool, as he's got magic powers which are so ill-defined that he could, conceivably, wipe out the mob and solve every problem before the first commercial break. So to prevent that, they really just seem to forget about him completely for dozens of episodes at a time. Hotwing has no real personality either, and I wish I could make that into a keyboard macro, as I am so very tired of typing that now.

FLASHBACK--Flashback is big and green and has an accent that seems to wander all over the continent of Europe. Flashback can time travel, and while the series seems to recognise this is one hell of a plot-wrecking power, not unlike Hotwing's, their inability to keep anything consistent really undermines it. It's kind of cool when Flashback's first introduced and he has to work against the Silverhawks in order to save them, and gives things a unique tension, but no one really seems to give a shit after awhile.

CONDOR--Condor's actually kind of cool, even if the voice actor has a heck of a time keep him Humphrey Bogart-esque voice consistent. Condor is a former partner of Stargazer, but unlike Stargazer, who just sits behind a desk and bitches all the time, Condor actually gets to step out and kick some ass. He has little depth as a character, which I know is hard for you to believe on a show with a complex and multilayered as a cast as this. But at least he's cool. That goes a long way with me.

MOON-STRYKER--Moon-Stryker is supposed to be the hot new rookie of the Silverhawks, and the only reason given for this is that he is able to remember that he can shoot lasers out of his shoulder (the core five seem to have forgotten it's even a thing) and, unlike the core five, can hit what he aims for. Moon-Stryker also has a turbine fan at his waist which is supposed to make him more capable of directed flight than the Silverhawks otherwise are (as they tend to glide. In sapce. Where there are no air currents.) However, it really looks like he has a waist mounted band saw at groin level.

I have to admit, the idea of a crotch saw probably easily makes him the most dangerous Silverhawk in an extremely ridiculous way. However, as he has no personality to speak of, and never dry-humps one of the mob to death, it's terribly difficult to care about it one way or the other, but he's the last of the Silverhawks, which makes me very happy because my soul is trying to escape--talking about them is that deadly dull.

Not least of which because this show has nowhere to go, and doesn't even bother disguising it. Is the goal to put Mon-Starr back in prison? Well, they do that two or three times, as I remember. In fact, all of the Mob at some time or another get throwing back in prison, only to escape, because Limbo's prison system is like Arkham Asylum. Even Thundercats, which had much the same problems as this show (except I could probably pick out the Thundercats in terms of character traits way easier and I had to struggle for the Silverhawks) occasionally did something to up the stakes or mildly change up the status quo and managed to run for about 90 some episodes as a result.

This? Kinda just goes on. And on.

So there you have it, our inaugural Turkey Shoot, wherein I prove to you that nostalgia isn't what it used to be. Join us next time, as I'm sure I have something else lying around here that is in need of deconstruction.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

So We're Told, This Is The Golden Age

Beginning a new feature here at the Prattle, wherein we take a look at the Justice Society of America's heyday--the glorious 40's when things clearly meant very different things than they do now:

I don't like where this is going . . .

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Whole Damn Thing--COWBOY BEBOP #2

Hi amigos! All 300,000 bounty hunters in the solar system, how y'all doin'? It's now time for Big Sh--oooh, almost got too caught up in the bit. This is Witless Prattle's continuing coverage of the entirety of Cowboy Bebop, because you demanded it. Both of you. This week, we continue on, and imagine my surprise when I was watching these and taking notes that damn near every single episode pivots on the themes of "time" (don't worry--there are plenty of eye motifs also) I don't know if it was intentional, but it runs right through all five of them, and that's good, as it gives us something to talk about.

So let's get right down to the heart of this thing.

"A baby hipster--very cool!"

I'm sure Spike's odd little flashback wherein he apparently got an artificial eye will in no way shape or form really ever be germane to anything, will it? This whole episode seems like yet another "The Bebop crew gets roped into some weird plot that has a bounty attached to it and solve the immediate problem, but fail to collect the bounty" thing, but damn if it isn't positively drenched in foreshadowing from the first scene on.

Spike and Jet are taking in the music of a kid named Wen, who has an amazing facility with the harmonica, specifically in the realm of blues. Jet's into it, as he's been singing the blues since the day he was born, so he says (and given what we see of Jet's past, that may not be much of an exaggeration) They're also trying to take down a bounty of course, but that goes pear-shaped, as usual, as they get wrapped in old business that is intimately tied into some of the backstory of the Cowboy Bebop universe.

You see, about 80 years before the show began, they fired up the first hyperspace gate and blew up the moon, creating a constant shower of debris that rain down on Earth without fail and also, for reasons even Jet has trouble wrapping his head around, "froze" Wen as a young boy. Worse still, he can't die, and he's turned into a bit of a nutcase.

Meanwhile, Faye makes a point to Ein about how women need to be pampered whilst wolfing down a can of dog food. You may feel free to apply your own reading of that scene here.

Jet later tells her that "Betrayal comes easy to women, but men live by iron codes of honor." Faye asks him if he really believes that and Jet says he's trying to. This scene means little for this episode, but it's as revelatory about Jet as it gets, and we're not gonna long wait to see that.

Wen is a very literal metaphor for time and how messed up you get if you're "stuck" in one point in time. Recall that Vicious was caught up in the past and kept dealing in ways that just weren't right anymore, and in not dissimilar ways, Wen is also caught in a destructive pattern, where he can't die, and he's lived way too long, and he's gotten a bit indifferent to anyone but himself.

To his credit, spike shoots him in the head. It doesn't take alas, and Wen already shot him in the arm, which leads to a scene where Jet's patching him up and spike apologises . . .but for what we're encouraged to speculate.

The guy who got Spike and co. roped up in this mess, a man named Giraffe (who was trying to save his friend Zebra--neither black nor white, as the plot of this episode is") has a ring with a very special stone, a stone that can return time to Wen.

There are about a dozen ways in which to do this, but Spike knows what makes good drama, and gets one single bullet made and tags Wen in the head, and just so we tie in the whole "devil child" motif that's run through the whole episode, there's a big fire roaring around them when he does so.

Fortunately it works and Wen goes all Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on us, whispering to Spike that he feels "heavy" and yet at peace (this will be contrasted later with the final song in the show. . .I did say this was layered with foreshadowing) and Spike flips Wen's harmonica up in the air and shoots it with his finger whispering "bang."

Ah, that's odd. Oh well, I'm sure it won't be important later.

This episode is not that bad, really, but works much better if you've already seen the series once. If you haven't, then it's a passable mystery with a few good hooks and a very grim noirish style to it that really keeps the episode moving along. It's nothing that hasn't been done before, but . . .well, that's not really the point.

"It's called heavy metal. It's quite soothing."

First things first: This song is rad as all hell:

"Heavy Metal Queen" is all about how a space trucker named V.T. is all sorts of awesome. She can kick ass with the best of them (In this case Spike, running a few gears lower this time because he's got a vicious hangover) and can pilot a space truck through a collapsing asteroid. He name means "victory dance" (sorta) for Christ's sake.

But less explosively, she's on her second life, much like spike. Her husband was an infamous bounty hunter who died, and then she became a trucker. Likewise, Spike was a criminal who became a bounty hunter. V.T.'s done all she can, to the point of hiding her real name so much that it's turned into a game for people to guess her name.

The interplay between the two of them is the dramatic heart of the episode (while the action is totally bitchin, it's framed by V.T. and Spike's interaction) V.T. hates bounty hunters and initially wants nothing to do with Spike when she finds out he's one. Spike did all he could to not be like Vicious (He'd "bled all that kind of blood" away, after all) and yet. . .it's V.T. who saves Spike when he recklessly ejects himself into the hard vacuum if space and nearly gets himself killed and it's Spike who figures out V.T.'s real name--"Victoria Terpsichore" ("Victoria"="Victory" and Terpsichore is the muse of dance. The More You Know . . .) while one of Bebop's themes is that your past is not so easy to outrun with a simple change of address, in this episode, we have a more benign version of that.

This is part of a subset of Bebop episodes throughout the run that are character studies wherein the main cast is paired up with a one-shot character and we're invited to examine the both of them working together (or against each other) in such a way as to allow us the luxury of comparing and contrasting them. Of course, there's still plenty of great action and atmosphere here and the episode is well worth a look.

"He was a great guy. Exactly like the person you thought he was."

Well, for those of you keeping track of all the eye imagery in Bebop, this episode is about as on the nose as you could get short of 22 minutes of Spike kicking a giant eyeball. We start with Spike stopping a hijacking (after being rudely awoken--I like this his sleep blindfold has eye painted on the outside) and runs into Rocco, who is so blown away by Spike, he annoys him into teaching him some of his fancy moves (and Spike takes the opportunity to drop a little Burce Lee on him) and more importantly, gets Spike to hold his MacGuffin for him, and draws Spike into the plot, which is full of eye and vision metaphors.

Rocco, you see, has a sister who's been blind because of a rare condition which affects people on Venus. He's stolen a plant from the group of thieves who were looking to sell it for huge amounts of money, because it can be synthesized into a cure for her blindness.

There's a couple of hooks here--we have all the eye imagery and important plot elements hinge on a music box (this will be important later) Rocco's fate is foreshadowed by a shot so long it must be deliberate of Spike looking at a sign that says "Observation: You can see one off" moments after they talk.

Rocco appeals to Spike's mercy and compassion, Spike insists he's all out. His actions this episode give the lie to that. Rocco's sister, Stella, after meeting Spike says there's something beautiful inside him (just like her brother) Spike says he doesn't beleive that.

Rocco's attempt to help his sister gets him killed, and we have an intriguing bit where he wonders if he and Spike had met earlier would he have turned out different (again, time and timing at play) which, given what we already know about Spike, could be taken many different ways, I imagine.

The final scene, where Spike visits Stella in the hospital is rather sad, but features an interesting line from Spike, which was the quote of this episode, and it's a telling idea--that what a person "looks like" has as much (maybe more) to do with the image the seer has of the person than actually seeing them.

This is actually a much-beloved episode by people other than me. I find myself wanting to like it more than I actually end up liking it. It has some good ideas and is rather thought-provoking, but it never quite clicks together for me.

"Always alone."

In which Spike answers a question before he asks it, and the Bebop gets a new crew member.

Here's more eye imagery--specifically the HAL-like "eye" of MPU, a satellite that apparently got self-aware, then got bored and starting drawing the Nazca lines on South America out of . . .nostalgia? It's not entirely clear, but then it's not meant to be. The actual answer is much more intriguing, but we'll get to that in a bit.

We learn a little more about what happened to Earth after the gate accident--apparently it rains moon-rocks there like, all the damn time, and everyone on Earth is a little strange, not least of which Edward herself (it blows my mind that the English voice actor for Ed was also Gaz on Invader Zim. Talk about establishing two opposing poles. . . ) who is a genius hacker despite the notable handicap of being absolutely insane.

It's Ed who makes contact with (and names) MPU, whose habit of going all Banksy with the laser satellites surrounding Earth and who becomes their means of communicating with the crew of the Bebop, who are there to collect the bounty on MPU (which goes up in smoke, because satellites aren't sentient, according to the police. I hate when I lose money due to issues of philosophy) in the best tradition of these kinds of capers, no one on the Bebop really gets the idea of hacking, which allows for Jet to get this zinger off on Faye:

"It may have been that way when you were young, but that was a long time ago."

Yeah, it seems like not much of a sick burn, but if I wrote it down in my notes, that meant it was probably some kinda foreshadowing.

Tying into our theme for this week, MPU is trying to recapture the past Earth and the strange drawings he used to see from up in orbit. You're not really a Bebop character unless you're trying to live in or escape from some period of time, are you?

So the Bebop crew "captures" MPU more or less and in trying to puzzle out what a satellite was doing drawing things in the Earth, and Spike answers quite plainly: "It was lonely, so it drew itself some friends." Think about that and then look at the scene where, as he did the previous two times, Spike's complained about a new crew-member on the Bebop. I refuse to believe this isn't intentional.

We get another great line from Faye about how "some promises are made to be broken--in fact, most of them are." Which tells you a lot about how she views promises (yet she's frequently bailed out Spike and co. even when it wouldn't possibly profit her. Funny, that)

This is the intro of Ed, and Ed episodes tend to follow their own surreal childlike logic, and this episode is no exception. There's a weird sense of playfulness to the episode (bitchin' action scene with Spike flying in to capture MPU notwithstanding) and the whole thing has a breezy gentleness to it--since the bad guy's not really bad and he doesn't really get caught either. Plus, Ed will slowly be driving nearly every member of the crew crazy, so there's that to look forward to as well.

"I live and wander with a group of weirdos"

I wonder sometimes is Jet Black isn't the most tragic character in the entire show. Oh, we'd like to think it's spike, or it's Faye, but consider this: Jet continually does the right thing over and over again and he seems to get nothing but misery out of it. We'll see more of this in "Black Dog Serenade," but this is the first really detailed look we get into his past and his life.

Of the quintet of episodes this time around, this is the one most blatantly about "time." Part of that has to do with the pocket watch Jet carries, frozen on the moment in time where the woman he loved, Alisa, left him.

Bit on the nose, sure, but then the whole episode is about being frozen in a moment in the past. Jet's great gift--he's nicknamed "the Black Dog" because one he gets his teeth into something he never lets go--is also the thing that causes him the most pane in this episode--he's stuck in this moment, and the reason Alisa left him was because he was so rigidly overprotective, she felt like a child.

I'm not sure she exactly traded up, but that's kinda pointless to the larger themes at work. That theme, as well as time, is futility. Faye puts it best when describing her suntanning routine thus:"Beautiful skin can only be maintained by tireless efforts which are ultimately futile." That she's telling Ed this while Ed tries to unsuccessfully fish and Jet fails to get much closure from the whole business with Alisa.

While he does ultimately toss the pocket watch in the water, understanding at last that time can't stand still, that this knowledge gives him any peace at all is unlikely. While we move on, and can ultimately let go of things, the notion that it gives you any kind of "closure" is probably wishful thinking, and more likely, as Jet says, "little by little, a part of you just goes numb."

And on that rather down note, we're going to leave it there. Join us next week when we learn some valuable lessons in "Toys in the Attic:; groove on through the mid-season finale (kinda) in "Jupiter Jazz, Parts 1 and 2"; and get caught in a landslide, no escape from reality in "Bohemian Rhapsody." See you in 7.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


To no one's shock, these are ridiculously late because that's how things work here. But here, for the benefit of several, here's two issues I janked from my new comics pile today:

BATWOMAN #4--Erm. Much as I wanna like this, I can't really say I did. It's not that Flamebird gets "fridged" or whatever the term is, it's just how unnecessary the whole thing feels. Flamebird runs off half-cocked, gets nearly stabbed to death just so she can give up Kate's name to Cameron Chase and the various plots (save for Kate and Maggie getting together) just kinda stop so we can get that plot beat done. And because that's all we have going on here, it makes it feel even more arbitrary.

Do we need Flamebird? Really? She's been trailing along as a continuity artifact for decades and she's only ever hauled out to mess stuff up for the main character of the book or be played for a joke, and if that's the case, why fucking keep using her? No one likes her, she's not an interesting character (she's at best like the Booster Gold of the Teen Titans set, and all her bellowing about "I was a Titan" only looks foolish because all that got pitched out with the reboot, dinnit?) and the role could be filled by anyone, so why do we keep going round and round like this?

I'm being hard on the book, and it's not as if it's taken a dip in quality (looks beautiful, really) but this is the first time that the storytelling really fell down and we spent a month in Plot Convenience Playhouse. I hope the last two issues of this arc are more true to form, because this was really thin soup.

JUSTICE LEAGUE #4--Reading this book is like the movie Groundhog Day. New character shows up, acts like a jackass, falls in with the team when more para-demons come in, lather, rinse, repeat. This time, it's Aquaman's turn and it has absolutely no impact because FOUR PEOPLE HAVE ALREADY DONE THIS SCHTICK. THERE IS NO NEED TO DO IT A FIFTH TIME AS IT MAKES THE ENTIRE CAST LOOK UNLIKEABLE AND NOT LIKE PEOPLE I WANT TO SPEND MONEY READING ABOUT.

Sorry for the caps lock, but fucking really, y'all. Even early Image comics weren't this shrill.

Oh, and Cyborg gets all . . .cyborg-y. For something that takes up so many pages, it sure does feel like an afterthought.

That said, the double page spread where Darkseid farts so hard that the Justice League is blown away was an interesting artistic choice on the part of Jim Lee. Didn't add to the drama, but so few gods of evil announce their presence with bombastic flatulence that I felt like it was quite the novelty.

I . . .really am not crazy about the backmatter stuff which implies that damn near every evil scientist is working at S.T.A.R. Labs. Trying to impose this kind of rigidity out of the gate on your superhero universe seems. . .intentionally limiting. Plus, that's six pages where Darkseid could have been farting and blowing shit up.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Whole Damn Thing: COWBOY BEBOP #1

. . .well, it was the clear winner of my "what shall I review next?" contest (with two whole votes. My majorities are generally silent) so I guess we have to do it. Plus, at a neat seven weeks, this'll hold us until we get to Mad Men's 5th season starting in March. Here, for your entertainment and edification, we here at Witless Prattle will be covering the entire run of the rather awesome anime (awesome especially for people who generally don't like anime) Cowboy Bebop.

First, a brief word about how I'm going to be covering this: Typically, I tend to do long rambling intros with information about the character and the background of the series and all that. Not going to be doing it this time, as half of what makes Cowboy Bebop so good is that you're not really given a whole lot of backstory about the world or the characters.

Rather than that feeling like half-baked storytelling, it's . . .not, really, and I'm going to attempt, and in all likelihood fail to explain it. You're given certain impressions of the main cast, and expected to make up your own mind about it. The goal is not to give you the kind of backstory you could pull off a Wikipedia entry, but to give you a sense of the person, and as you watch Bebop, draw your own conclusions about what's what.

Typically, I hate that kind of thing, but they make it work here. It's not unlike Blade Runner, wherein the story behind the story is

Oh yeah, another programming note. I reserve the right to stop the reviews at any time and draw your attention to certain selections in the soundtrack. Because it is (along with the soundtrack for FLCL) an amazing soundtrack, full of multiple genres, and it easily transcends genre and indeed its parent anime and can fully be enjoyed on its own.

I have a LOT of Bebop music on my MP3 player.

Okay, let's get right to the heart of this thing!

"This is all very mystic and all, but do you have anything to eat?"

First things first, we need to address this stuff at the start--There are two kinds of people: Those who think "Tank!" is an absolutely banging thing to play over the intro to your TV show, and assholes:

After a flashback which is terribly stylish but doesn't mean too much to us [yet] we meet our heroes, Spike Speigel, the lanky green-haired guy who might remind you of Lupin III and Jet Black, who may remind you of Daisuke Jigen (If you have no idea who either of those people are, it's not that important, just recognising the general reference for both characters) Spike and Jet are broke and hungry, being that they're bounty hunters in space and while they're pretty good at their job, they have a tendency to cause so much damage in the doing of it that any profits.

One of the things you don't really notice about the series as a whole until you've seen it through a time or two is the recurring eye motif that's sprinkled throughout, from the eye-shape of the exit to the hyperspace gate, the iris in the intro, to the way this episode's villain, Asimov uses his super-drug Bloody Eye--by spraying it into his eye, which somehow gives him, well, kinda-superpowers.

Asimov and his girlfriend have picked an out of the way place to compete a Bloody Eye deal, but really, the plot's not super-important, except as a vehicle for the characters to do their thing. In this case, it's to give Spike a big showcase and let us in on some things about him which we won't be able to contextualise until we're a bit further along.

For now, all we have are an allusion he makes that he was killed by a woman before, no one seems to know when he's joking or not (which he uses frequently in this first brace of episodes to cause people to underestimate him) and my God does he kick a lot of ass. He's the only person that Asimov, all hopped-up on eyedrops can't murder outright, and is so good, in fact, he actively seems to be messing with him in various moments.

Ultimately though, as frequently happens in Bebop, the situation spirals out of Spike and Jet's control, and there's an intriguing callback to the prophecy of "being killed by a woman" that unspools in a way not precisely as you'd expect.

This is a pretty good intro to the series. It gives you a clear picture of these characters and what they do, even if the "why" is not entirely clear. It rolls along at a pretty fierce clip, has some amazing action scenes, and the music is pretty damn awesome. You won't be able to make much sense of the clues about Spike until you've seen the final episode, but really, you have to approach Bebops as being more a story of the journey and not the destination, as after 26 episodes with these people, a lot of the heavy lifting about what it all means is going to be left to the viewer to draw his own conclusions.

Oh yeah, and the song over the end credits, "The Real Folk Blues," was what made me fall in love with this show.


If "Asteroid Blues" was a slick but very thin noirish episode, "Stray Dog Strut" goes pretty much in the direction of pure comedy. Essentially, it's Spike chasing after a dog and a guy who looks like Kareem Abdul-Jabar for 22 minutes. It's dressed up with a lot of hugger-mugger about the dog in question being a "data dog," which sounds impressive, but is rather light on actual facts.

The data dog in question is an adorably precocious Welsh Corgi named Ein, who takes an immediate liking to Spike (much to Spike's irritation) and seems to be pretty adept at getting himself out of scrapes. Ein becomes the first new crew member on the Bebop (Jet's ship) and thus begins a recurring theme of them getting new crew members who don't profit them at all, and even though they complain the whole time . . .Spike and Jet never really seem to get around to throwing them off the ship.

For the second time in as many episodes, there are attempts at prophecy or divination that don't quite come off as you'd imagine, partly because they're so vague they could mean anything, and also because by the time the person finally spits it out, it's not the future anymore.

"Stray Dog Strut" is generally lighthearted, and even the soundtrack underlies that, featuring ska-style music over the final chase and the brassy tune, "Want It All Back" that plays over the first:

If you go into it looking for a frothy stylish caper show, you'll get a lot out of it. Just be aware that this kind of mood whiplash is the norm for this show.

"Somehow, I don't think Charlie Parker'd be quoting Goethe."

Enter Faye Valentine, the Fujiko Mine of the show, if you're still doing the Lupin III comparisons. Frequently, and most especially in this episode and the one following she's as much an ally as an affable adversary--she's perfectly willing to snooker the Bebop crew out of a fat bounty as she is to beg them for help when she ends up broke and stranded--Faye being up to her eyeballs in debt is a common theme with her.

Faye doesn't have a past as such, or not one she's willing to share (or, as we discover later, entirely comprehends) except we know from her dealings with Gordon the casino boss this episode that she's assumed to be the legendary Poker Alice. Faye points out if she was, she'd be 200 years old, which is . . .not really a denial. Later on she claims to Spike and Jet that she's a gypsy, which is not technically true, and yet . . .

The caper this time out is that Faye is hired by Gordon to cheat at cards and get a special poker chip--one which contains a smaller microchip with the ultimate decryption program on it (Hopefully the irony of a program which is designed to reveal all things kept secret on a show where the amount of things kept secret could fill a small building if you printed it out is not lost on you) Spike very helpfully swallows the chip and keeps it out of Faye's hands (he can cough it up at will, which he demonstrated earlier in the episode, in a nice subtle touch) and they try to sell it back to Gordon for a higher fee than Faye's bounty.

The denouement of this takes place in space, and features one of the coolest things about bebop--here's a show that understands that space has three dimensions and there is no real "up." This is shown off in a very elaborate action climax which features Spike fighting in an EVA suit on Gordon's ship while the Bebop is inverted above/below (depending on your perspective) it. Pretty gnarly.

While Faye hasn't technically joined the Bebop crew yet, she's been drawn into their orbit, which we'll see play out in the very next episode. This episode continues the early run of the show's predilections for flashy, stylish action sequences that offer plenty of opportunities for the cast to strut their stuff and it plays really well. We're getting a few crumbs of clues about who they are, but there's still a few pieces to put into place yet . . .

"I don't know and I have no opinion."

Spike and Jet try to stop a group of environmental terrorists from turning everyone into primates with a genetically engineered virus. Faye helps for purely mercenary reasons, and naturally ends up with nothing because that's just how these things go.

This is the first instance of something which happens again in the movie--while trying to collect on a bounty, Spike and Jet get snatched up in something that is wayyyyy above their level--in this case, biological warfare.

I should also add that the head of the Space Warriors terrorists, Twinkle Maria Murdock, is this year's recipient of the Daisy O'Mega Cool Yet Ridiculous Name Award, even if she is a stuck-up bitch who ends up not being a smart as she thought she was.

Spike, however, gets to show off why underestimating him is such a dangerous thing, as his initially reckless attempts to open up an ampule of the virus, which seems like it would be a hatefully dangerous thing to do, but he's actually doing it to watch Murdock's reactions to it--thus, he knows it's dangerous enough for her to worry about, which comes in handy later.

We get a cool space battle (in hyperspace!) as well, the denouement of which fills us in a little on how hyperspace works in the Cowboy Bebop universe. I quite like that we get little bits of world-building like that with such economy.

Faye also joins the crew in much the same way that Ein did--with Spike and Jet bitching about it the whole time. Also as with Ein, while she gets on their nerves, they don't seem in so much of a hurry to throw her off the ship (the punchline of this episode notwithstanding) which says as much as what they do.

" . . .you sing off-key."

And now here's the episode that starts answering a lot of questions about Spike, and as with the best kinds of those episodes, it brings up twice as many questions.

The teaser from last episode makes explicit a recurring motif of Spike's--that he's living a dream he can't wake up from. This will ultimately hit a critical mass at the finale of the series, but we're a way's away from it, and this is only the leading edge.

A man named Mao Yenrai, who works for the Red Dragon Syndicate, is murdered just as he makes peace with a rival syndicate by a man named Vicious, who, and I may be reaching here, is Linkthe Goemon of the show, with a little Captain Harlock thrown in. Vicious is a horrifically amoral killer who takes a quiet glee in killing people. More on him later.

Before he dies, Yenrai gets off a good line about how times have changed and the kind of bloodletting that Vicious deals in have to stop, which is a good bit, and ties into this episode's recurring bloody imagery and the notion of characters who are locked in specific times, which applies neatly to about 80% of the cast, now that I think about it.

There's a bounty out for Yenrai, and Spike's resolved to go after it. Jet balks at it, wanting no part of anything that dangerous, but Spike's still resolved to go. It's obvious there's something else at work here, but Spike isn't talking. When Jet presses him on it, Spike reflects the question by asking how Jet got his artificial arm. Neither is willing to answer the other, which is kind of the problem underpinning this episode.

As Spike's leaving, Jet notices that he dropped a card--the Ace of Spades.

Also known as the death card. Ah well, probably means nothing.

Faye, coming in at the 11th hour and not really caring about their tiff, looks at the dollar signs for Yenrai and, in trying to collect the bounty, meets up with Vicious and gets herself captured. I've not mentioned how often Faye gets handcuffed or is otherwise in some kind of bondage, so let me make a note of it here, as I'm sure someone out there reading this is probably into that, so let me point it out here: Faye spends a lot of time in bondage of some sort. There.

Spike, meanwhile, follows the trail to a woman named Annie, who knows him, and is more than a little shocked to see him still alive. She claims that Yenrai never thought he was dead and we get the impression that he was some sort of mentor for Spike and what's more, we learn that Vicious has a history with both men, and that Yenrai took Vicious in and "made him everything he was." Vicious kind corroborates this, but seems to imply that he lost respect for Yenrai because he because "a beast that lost its fangs." Whatever that means.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Faye calls in Spike and Jet, and Jet's all like "Screw you, you got yourself captured." but Spike decides to go for her for reasons of his own, one assumes. I should add that the tracks that plays as Spike walks to the church where the showdown takes place, "Rain" is another awesome track

The subsequent fight in the church is pretty awesome as well, partly because the setting of the church really elevates the scope of the fight and provides a really slick Gothic backdrop to things, but mainly because it's a substantially different fight that we've seen before, because Spike is overmatched from the beginning, takes more than a few share of hits, and when he finally fights Vicious, we're put on notice that this guy is Bad News, because he's the only one we've seen thus far who can hang with Spike and ultimately beat his ass and toss him out the window, considering how easily Spike runs rings around most of the bad guys so far, it's a big deal.

As Spike tumbles out the window, we get a series of flashbacks (punctuated by shots of, you guessed it, Spike's eye) which gives us some picture of Spike and Vicious' backstory--they were allies, there's a woman involved, and apparently Spike "died" as a result of all this, but how much of that is fact and how much of it is conjecture is, well, I did say that a lot of Bebop was you putting the puzzle pieces together.

We finish up with Spike, bandaged to the point of mummification hassling Faye, who shreds a pillow over his head (giving us a rain of feathers which calls back to the episode title) and leaves the Ace of Spades on Spike's head. Not that that probably means anything.

While the previous 4 episodes had been slick and action-packed, they'd been a bit samey and stingy and a little formulaic. It's this episode that finally gives us a peek at what's going on and raises the stakes in a real way. It's the first great episode of the series, and an ideal place to close out our inaugural edition of this feature.

And that's gonna do it for this week. Join us next week when Spike declares war on lids in "Sympathy for the Devil"; we have an extended debate over the proper way to make a prairie oyster in "Heavy Metal Queen"; Spike gets an apprentice of sorts in "Waltz for Venus"; the final member of the Bebop crew arrives in "Jamming with Edward"; and Jet gets mad at his watch in "Ganymede Elegy." See you in 7!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Read This--DAREDEVIL #3 (2011)

I have a relationship with the character of Daredevil much like my relationship with Batman. It is one characterised by a sort of benign neglect--I have been aware that many people are writing Daredevil and Batman stories, I just never saw much of a need to actually, y'know, read them.

Most of this was due to the fact that a lot of very good Batman and Daredevil stories came out in the moment of my personal golden age (12 years old) and they had such a lasting impact that they made following up an impossible act to follow (not least because everyone who came on after seemed determined to do a mannered cover version of those seminal works which typically only carried the surface elements forward while missing things like subtlety and craft) but most because I felt like I'd gotten everything I needed in those stories and there wasn't a great deal of curiosity on my part to read more.

And, it seems, in the case of daredevil, I didn't miss much, as everyone followed the recipe of "make the title character's life a grinding hell" to ever more diminishing returns. Oh sure, there were the occasional bits of new takes to be had--the times daredevil started beating indestructible robots with sticks, fighting demonic vacuum cleaners, and a few other bits of business, but not much air got in, as the Frank Miller cover band ground on and on.

Near the middle to late 90's an attempt was made to do something a little different. Joe Kelly and Karl Kesel tried to take Daredevil back to something like his original conception as a devil-may-care man of action, and while it got pretty good notices at the time, it was scuppered as soon as Kevin Smith came on, and no expense was spared at the time by the new regime slagging off the old and getting back to the Frank Miller fanfiction.

In any event, the time to Try Something Different, seems to have come again. Mark Waid's Daredevil has been getting some pretty positive notices, and I decided to pick up an issue and see what it was all about. In an added ironic touch, in this issue, Daredevil fights Klaw, who was the guy he fought in the first issue of Daredevil I ever bought.

It's . . .good. It's got an interesting plot hook that manages to tie the villain into Daredevil's civilian milieu, the use of Klaw is rather novel, and the whole thing zips along at a clip so swift as to be virtually unheard of in this day of dragging everything out as long as possible. It's really well done, actually.

Will I come back for another issue? I don't know. I was really never that high on Daredevil and I can't say I really followed it with any great consistency. But I would like to read the early issues in trade (and plan to buy said trade), and I would say that if you like Daredevil and would like to see that it doesn't always have to be Frank Miller fanfiction, this is well worth a look.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Democracy In Action Thwarted By My Undemocratic Inaction!

Well, being that it's 2012 already and I totally sat this one out, I figure I should bring it back one more time to see what y'all think I should cover for this year. For those of you (OK, all of you, myself included) if you wanna see it in more detail, here's the link to the original post, explaining all about the candidates in detail.

And here's out current standings as we left them half a year ago.:

BABYLON 5--zero votes
CRUSADE--1 vote
MAD MEN (Seasons 1-3)--zero votes
DEADWOOD--zero votes
COWBOY BEBOP--2 votes.

We'll try one more time to see about getting some votes together! I really am sorry about dropping the ball like this, y'know.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Just Sayin'--No Room For Panic

Well, 3 days into the new year and we finally talk about comics.

Once upon a time, there was this movie, and everyone went to see it. A lot of people loved it and it was really influential. There was a time that everything that came out in that movie's genre took its cues from that movie. That movie got two sequels and everyone like the two sequels to that movie, and they liked those movies (collectively) so much they were still chattering on about how they wanted more nearly 25 years after that movie came out.

"More," they said. "Give us MORE!"

And then came the news that there was going to be more movies. Even better, they were going to be set before that movie so now, finally fans of that movie would be able to see how it all began. All the questions would be answered, and the long wait would soon be over and there's be more.
And more is always better, isn't it?

Oh, I'm getting off-point. Anyways, the day finally came when the prequel to that movie came out. And what, pray tell, was this movie, this surely worthy successor to the movie that had been so widely seen, widely loved, and so influential?

I think it was called The Phantom Menace.

"What the hell is THIS shit?" they said.

Think about that as you follow those Bleeding Cool leaks, won't you?

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Man, it's great when circumstances collude to provide content.

Back not so very long ago (but ages in Blogtime) during the inaugural edition of this little feature, longtime friend of the Prattle, the illustrious Diana Kingston-Gabai pointed out that while Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers may have it's charm, it's a hell of a hurdle to its credibility when the main characters are riding robot horses in the intro whilst synthesizers blare.

And I had no comeback for this, except to shrug and say "well, it was kind of what you had to do then." And it kind of was, because at the end of the day, you had to sell toys, that was what you were there for, and that was all the sponsor cared about (well, that and taking the curse off the people who were pointing and shouting at them for being History's Greatest Villains for creating 30-minute adverts that kids seemed to want to watch without needing guns put to anyone's heads)

It's pretty cool in a sense--provided you hew to a handful of directives, you could pretty much do whatever you wanted., and by the end of the golden age for this kind of stuff (let's set the date at 1987. I said 1988 last time, but I'm only human--born to make mistakes.) the people creating them had worked that out, and you got stuff that was a bit more ambitious than the usual fare--stuff like Galaxy Rangers, Spiral Zone, and today's subject Captain Power And The Soldiers of the Future (which I will refer to as Captain Power until I forget to) which I was lucky enough to be gifted the full series on DVD for Christmas.

Circumstances conspired to make this happen, is what I'm saying.

Nominally, Captain Power was made to sell toys, of course, with a cool gimmick--essentially, the vehicles are light guns and you pointed them at the strobing targets on the screen and racked up points. The TV show could strobe back at you and if you took enough hits, your jet exploded. Kinda.

It seems pretty daft now, but at the time, it was pretty slick (and the Phantom Striker is just an awesome design. If anyone wants to snag me one on eBay, I will speak highly of you), and led to a lot of puffery in press about how this was a bold new frontier in TV which would allow us to truly interact with the programs we were watching (otherwise known as every damn article ever written about every innovation in television ever.) even though it was the same damn technology as an NES Zapper, and we'd had those for two years already.

But if you're around 11, this shit seems major, especially when they sell it to you by completely fucking with your head, as they do in the teaser commercial:


I'd like to think the whole notion of "breaking into the TV signal" came about because this guy had been in the news not so very long ago. I have no proof, but any time I have the opportunity to post a link to it and possibly cause nightmares is an opportunity I would be a fool to pass up. This has been one of those opportunities.

You might be able to detect, ever so subtly, that this is a little different from the typical way toys are being huckstered. We'll get to that in second.

Concurrent with the toys, a TV series was mooted. This would be live action (a rarity back iLinkn those days) and would feature CGI character interacting with human characters. Take note: this is 1987, so the CGI is naturally incredibly recognizable because it's so goddamned shiny and looks exactly like something done with the bleeding edge of computers in 1987 (for some perspective--we'd only just moved to 3.5 diskettes and that was seen as a quantum leap. Think about this) so we're really trading on the novelty at this point more than anything else.

Now, remember, all his is in the service of selling toys, or so the verdict on high says. Bear this in mind as the intro tries (heroically) to hard sell you on this.

Right so--it's the future, everyone's dead, some rather dodgy CGI is hunting down the final pockets of humanity and making their faces melt into video effects, and the only hope are five guys, and their leader's helmet doesn't even fit properly. Plus the show is called "Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future," which as even J. Michael Straczynski, who worked on the show, said was "the worst title in the history of anything."

Much as we may hate to admit it, he kinda has a point.

So, with all that against it, why are we talking about it? Because despite all these handicaps, it's basically Terminator: The Kid's Show. Because despite the mandate to sell toys, and the ropiness of the production, the people writing it are actually trying to do an honest-to-god grown-up SF show.

The problem is that that doesn't really exist yet. More on that later, let's actually get into the details of the story, shall we?

In the far-ish future, all combat is done by machines and directed by computers, which has led to essentially a permanent stalemate. To break the stalemate and provide a more evenhanded control over military forces Stuart Power and Lyman Taggert build Overmind (not that one. Also not the Overfiend, thank god) Naturally, calling your computer "Overmind" is totally not going to be a regrettable choice should said computer lose his shit and turn against humanity.

Taggart, impatient with Overmind's development, plugs himself into the machine, and this makes him insane and makes Overmind lose his shit and turn against humanity. Taggart gets blown up and is rebuilt as Lord Dread, leading to people remembering Captain Power (if they remember it at all) as "that show with the guy who looks like the Borg" and Dread starts a fascist cult of Dread Youth (in a show with total war, mass slaughter, concentration camps, did you not think they wouldn't play the Nazi card too?) while Overmind digitises whatever humans are left, with the intention of collating them and finally deleting them.

Let me stop here and point out again that this is a kids show, and humanity has already fucking lost. The new normal is a fight for whatever can be salvage out of the ruins. The planet is totally fucked, there's barely anyone left, and . . .well, go by toys kids, and try not to think about how much of a brainfucked Rorschach blot of Cold War paranoia this is.

Stuart Power kinda anticipated this, and so was creating the Phoenix Program, which boils down to special digitizer-resistant power suits. And there's maybe seven of them. To fight an enemy that has the entire planet in its grasp. He also--and man, how lucky was this?--was training his son Jonathan (because only people named "John" get to fight to fight the machines in post-apocalyptic hellscapes) on the mathematically insignificant chance that Overmind would go nuts and wage a war of extinction on humankind. Jonathan gets his power suit and forms the backbone of the Soldiers of the Future, who deserve a ROLL CALL! right about now don't they?

CAPTAIN POWER--The leader of the group, Power is also the nexus of this show's schizophrenia. Because Power has to be the bold square-jawed hero and profess something other than a grim determination to survive at any cost, Power carries the bulk of the show's heroism, which is good in theory--lead character, right?

The problem is, he's also painfully naive and I think he gets betrayed, tricked, suckered, or trapped like 5 times in the first disc of this series alone. He's also upstaged by Pilot as a character in just about every way, but we'll get to her in a bit.

"HAWK" MASTERSON--Like Mr. B Natural, Hawk new Jonathan's father and worked with him on the Overmind and the Phoenix Program. Essentially he's Team Dad and has a role beyond being the guy who has the same laser fight with Soaron in the sky every third episode or so (seriously, this show reuses footage a lot) which is good.

"TANK" ELLIS--You may remember Tank from being the big guy with the hammer from Conan the Barbarian or as laFours from Mallrats, and of course, I would be the kind of anorak who would know this. Even on the DVD they joke about his role in movies was to be the big strong guy who gets killed before he has to talk (his accent is awfully thick, as the show demonstrates) Tank is the team's Big Strong Guy, a genetically-engineered supersolider from Babylon 5 (no, not that one. Not yet, anyways) He's apparently supposed to be leading a life of peace, which explains him shooting people all the time.

"SCOUT" BAKER--Our stealth specialist, Scout has a lot to do, but doesn't get near the level of character development he should, which is a shame, as the one time he does (in the final episode) he really sells the anecdote about his family. Scout was pretty awesome, and I wish he'd gotten more time.

"PILOT" CHASE--Hey kids! Here's the breakout character of the show, and she's a chick! Pilot is the most awesome of the Soldiers, not because she's super-powerful or more competent than everyone else, but basically because she's the only one with a real character arc on the show, and I am going to spoil the shit out of it right now.

Before she was recruited, she served in the Dread Youth, which is exactly what it sounds like. Power finds her and convinces her to defect, but it leads to a recurring thing wherein she's called out for it, meaning the survivors don't trust her because of what she was, and the Dread Youth (who want to be digitised because Dread conflates it with religious enlightenment) think she's a traitor. Plus she has a crush on Power (God knows why--maybe she digs guys she has to bail out of danger all the time) which means that she's ill at ease on three sides and never really seems comfortable in her own skin.

This all comes to a head in the series finale, which frankly blew my young 11-year old mind. Left on her own in Power's base, Dread's forces overrun the base and Pilot holds them off long enough to save everything the Power team needs and blows up the base with her inside it. We're given pretty explicit direction that this was not just because she was wounded and couldn't get clear in time--that she wanted to kill herself.

This is the other thing people remember if they remember this show at all--because kid's shows did not end with lead characters committing suicide. It was a lot like the end of Blake's 7, which ended on a note even bleaker than this one.

I should point out two things:

Yeah, the command structure is incredibly confusing. Also, man, what a great idea it is to go up against a numerically superior force in shiny metal suits, huh?

Oh, and he's the bad guys, for balance:

SOARON--One of the Bio-Dreads who function as the field commanders for the Troopers, Soaron was the first creation of Overmind, and the beginning of the war against humans. Soaron initially seems like a generic second-in-command, but gradually gains something of a distinct personality as the show evolves, as his personality matrix is evolving unaccountably and he has a rival with the other field commander . . .

BLASTAAR-- No, not the Living Bomburst. Blastarr is the commander of ground forces for Lord Dread as is a major-league asshole. Has more guns than I am able to count and in the best Imperial Stormtrooper tradition, can't hit a bull in the ass with a steam shovel. Treats Soaron like shit because Blastarr's the new and improved model. Despite his braggadocio, Blastarr is not as smart as he thinks he is and is forever getting himself blown up and trapped underground.

LORD DREAD--Lyman Taggart plugged himself into Overmind and, well, neither of them has been the same since. Taggart came out with a headful of nonsense about "the perfection of the machine" (yes, he was editor for Wired magazine) and, after getting blown up a bit later, got turned into a half-robot. Despite selling out his own people and leading a genocidal war against them, Overmind doesn't trust him, and halfway through the season creates a robot lamed Lackki to function as a snitch.

Yes--a robot stooge named Lackki. I love this show for things like that.

OVERMIND--The problem with all these "war against the machines" high concepts is that giant computers are not, in and of themselves, visually very interesting. Overmind, being a weather balloon inside a hula hoop on top of a dry ice machine, is yet another attempt to overcome this obstacle. I leave it to you to determine if they succeeded.

This show was pretty unique in that the entire season has the rough shape of an arc. Essentially, the season is all about Power and co. finding about Dread's Project: New Order (no, not them.) which is Dread's plan to finish off humanity and start building his perfect world. Dread being dread, this involves poisoning them, digitizing them from orbit and raining fire on them from space.

And in perhaps the perfect encapsulation of this show and it's not-quite-kid's show-ness, Power succeeds in stopping it. Unfortunately, he does it a whole two episodes before the end of the season, which means the final two episodes (the one where Pilot dies) are a savage counterattack by Dread, who manages to pull an Empire Strikes Back and put Our Heroes backs against the wall only a little bit after what should have been his final defeat.

That kind of dichotomy--selling toys vs. telling a dark SF story--is the heart of what makes Captain Power such an interesting little historical curio. It doesn't really succeed in all it attempt to do, but the mere audacity in attempting to do them is itself interesting.

And obviously, as Captain Power is kind of forgotten 25 years later, it didn't really work. Part of it is, well . . .it's a bit of a feathered fish. Too grown up to really grip the kids, too kiddy to be taken seriously by grown-ups.

But it's still a snapshot of a transition that was happening at the time. One of the reason I look so close at shows like this is that the writers doing them really wanted to be writing grown-up SF television. But it didn't exist yet. So you did your time on the kid's shows, selling toys and trying to add your own personal touches here and there.

So what changed? Well, Star Trek: The Next Generation pots of money, and the powers that be started seeing there was really money in SF shows. So by the late 80's there's a bunch of SF (and SF-esque shows) shows on the air and by the turn of the decade, there's going to be even more--3 Star Trek shows, Babylon 5 (which had a good chunk of the people behind the scenes at Captain Power working on it), et al. Concurrently, the kids shows that ruled the 80's die off, barely remembered except by anoraks like me.

Captain Power gives us a great look at what that transition in action, and what the road ahead was going to look like. I can't say it's worth tracking down--it has aged horribly, and you are always acutely aware while watching it that it's not quite one thing or the other. But it certainly doesn't want for ambition, and if you wanted to see what kind of transition was happening during that time, well, it's worth a watch-through once.

Plus--hey, robot snitch named Lackki. Who doesn't like that?