Friday, October 31, 2014

The 14th Doctor Shops for Companions

Happy Halloween everyone! We had our party (well, ONE of our parties) a couple of weeks back, but I waited this long to show you some of the costumes for timing's sake. Did I say TIME? Since the theme this year was television, I opted for a slightly meta costume(that's my thing), that of a FUTURE, post-Capaldi incarnation of the Doctor (of course).
My mission, to find a companion among these rejects from the days of television past and present. Cue the TARDIS sound effects, I'm going to be materializing all over the place.
So how about Daphne from Scooby-Doo? She's a lithe ginger girl, which is right up the Doctor's alley, and pretty much used to the monsters. She might not be able to sustain the shock of finding out these monsters AREN'T old men with fright masks though.
Why not fill the TARDIS with life? My Doctor joins the cast of Pokemon on an adventure to find the lost Pikachu.
Oh there he is. But now I've lost the kids. Oh well... NEXT!
Spinelli from Disney's Recess might be a bit young for companion status (and I feel like my Capaldi self already went down this avenue), but it's her confrontational and willful manner that made me strike her off the list. It's all been said with Ace.
While conducting the search, the Doctor comes across fellow Time Lord Miss Frizzle who tried to hijack his TARDIS thinking it was hers. The Magic School Bus looks nothing like this, Miss Frizzle! I don't care if the key fits in the lock!
Most readers here will not get this reference - JOIN THE CLUB! - but Poudy & Chabot are Quebec's equivalent (read: rip-off) of Wayne's World on Musique Plus (so: French Canada's MTV). Stoners. The Doctor doesn't want to travel with stoners.
WHAT DID I JUST SAY?! NO STONERS! Even cute ones. Even Donna and Jackie from That 70s Show.
OH NOESSSS! Not a companion, but some evil clown/alien with a sonic opera scream! If my Doctor was going to have to fight such menaces, he would need to get a more upscale, battle-ready companion!
The Canary from Arrow? It's all becoming a little too "sonic", isn't it? And besides, Olie isn't done teaching her not to kill.
River? Oh wait, wrong River. That's River TAM, not River Song. Still badass, but a bit of a loose canon. I wonder, can I even MEET River Song at this point, or has my Matt Smith self used up all her days? That would be a tragedy.
Mikasa Ackerman seems well suited, though it probably means the Doctor has to go up against those grotesque Titan giants. Not that I've ever even watched that anime. But who's next? Freakin' Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion?
No, it's Ryu from the short-lived television version of Street Fighter, based on the much longer-lived video game franchise. Ow, my eyes!!! Watch where you throw that Hadoken!

You know what? I'm going to keep looking. There's no reason I should pick the first (or even thirteenth) stray that comes my way.

Babylon 5 #116: War Zone

"This is my command. I'll do whatever's necessary. If that means turning the entire galaxy upside down and shaking its pockets to see what falls out, then that's what I'll do. I'm not subtle. I'm not pretty, and I'll piss off a lot of people along the way. But I'll get the job done."
IN THIS ONE... Captain Matthew Gideon is given the job of commanding the Excalibur to find a cure for the Drakh plague. Introduces the cast, etc.

REVIEW: Same universe, new show, how's it rate? Well, the pilot is all about putting the pieces together, though some of that (recapped) was done in A Call to Arms. We already know the Excalibur, not that we see much more of it, a few of the characters - Dureena has had a slight make-up and attitude adjustment, the latter making her impish more than angry, I don't think it's an improvement; Lochley, though she has yet to be made a member of the team; Galen the techno-mage, acting as a kind of guardian angel figure; and, in a way, Dr. Sarah Chambers, familiar only because the same actress played a different officer in the TV movie - and the Drakh (to save on make-up, they gave the troops the bone mask from their original appearance, but without the weird effect, they look pretty terrible). As far as the premise goes, the episode starts minutes after the battle to save Earth ends, and we're soon pursuing and fighting a stray Drakh ship, fresh from the seeding of Earth with a time-delayed plague. That problem - and Earth isn't really taking it with any kind of grace - could become a story-telling one if the production isn't careful. It's a lot like Voyager's, in that the crew is after something specific, but can't ever get it. So each episode gets mired in Gilligan's Island syndrome, where each inroad becomes a cul-de-sac. This was reportedly imposed by TNT and imposed on JMS who hoped to end that particular arc and move on to other things halfway through the second season, but as we now know, that was never meant to be. At least he narrowly misses that Gilligan feeling by having the crew find something that will HELP Earth researchers without being some kind of magical cure. Another carry-over from A Call to Arms is, sadly, the discordant music and sound design, pulling another blazing battle (and no ugly zoom-ins in Crusade, thank you) with only music and no voice or effects tracks. It's an experiment that just doesn't work, turning the action into a montage that takes all the energy and urgency out of it (cool though they might LOOK). Throw in a similarly atonal opening sequence and you start to see why it didn't pick up a host of new fans.

Gideon is our hero, and I have a lot of good will for Gary Cole generally. His no-nonsense attitude isn't unlike Sheridan's, though he's a lot less personable. I like that he was chosen because he was "dangerous", essentially a maverick, and that LIKE Sheridan and Sinclair (and indeed, a lot of B5 characters), he's an outsider. Suddenly, those qualities that probably kept him marginalized in Earthforce, are just what's required. He knows what he wants and won't let anything or anyone stand in his way, including his image-conscious superiors who soon prove THEY couldn't possibly carry out the mission. Other new characters include brilliant archaeologist and linguist Max Eilerson, another contrarian cut from the same cloth, and Lt. John Matheson, Gideon's first officer, a sensitive telepath following some "new rules" post-whatever it is Lyta did to the Corps. Obviously, things are all very new so these characters are just sketched in. Gideon gets most of the attention, including a flashback sequence that's taken right out of the Sinclair story - the captain floating in space and getting his life saved by Galen for unknown purposes only now coming to the fore, a special destiny.

As he confronts Galen, he is asked First One-type questions spoiled in the opening sequence, this time devoid of a sort of knowing wink I raised an eyebrow at: There are answers to "Who are you?", "What do you want?", and "Where are you going?", but at "Who do you serve and who do you trust?", the closing credit for creator J. Michael Straczynski seems a worse ego trip than his name on the back side of Babylon 5. In the actual scene, Gideon admits to not knowing, and that proves to be the correct answer. Galen will help because Gideon has no master but the quest itself. Not the chain of command, which he has already brazenly gone against, and not any vice the Drakh can exploit. As the plot progresses beyond the initial set-up, we'll see whether others in the cast are as steady, or if Gideon himself will doubt and falter. If the show lasts long enough for us to find out.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: In Star Trek too, the station-driven show was followed by a ship-driven show, but the idea of a specific long-term mission to save Earth would actually be used in Trek's future (or past, depending on how you look at it), in Enterprise's third season.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Recaps a lot of points from A Call to Arms, and reuses its austere soundtrack, two reasons why it falls flatter than a series opener otherwise might. At this point, I'm interested in Gideon if no one and nothing else.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Random Thoughts About Constantine

As we approach Halloween, and since I did the same with the Gotham and Flash pilots, here are some stray thoughts I had watching the premiere of Constantine, which a part of me really would rather see called Hellblazer. Ah well.

1. I know it's because I JUST watched Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell, but a lot of the story and feel of the show seemed to come right out of that film. A real Sam Raimi vibe, with white-eyed demon possession à la Evil Dead, slightly extreme action gags, and proper gross horror visuals/jump scares. And a girl running from an insubstantial demon who wants to take her soul? That really is Drag Me to Hell.

2. Matt Ryan as John Constantine is fine, even if his accent tends to vacillate, he has the right amount of callous wit. But the LOOK is almost too comic booky. I don't know if it's the red tie, or the faux-blond hair that might as well be a wig (maybe it is, I don't know), but it feels self-conscious and posed. It sort of pays off when a mysterious woman is seen drawing him at the end, but that's not really the point.

3. Obviously, the show has to take place in the U.S. and have a mostly American cast. Atlanta is shot as Atlanta, and that's an interesting city we're not used to seeing on film. It, and the surrounding woods, could be anywhere at this point though, especially given the relative lack of Southern accents. The one exception, Jeremy Davies from Justified as one of Constantine's Newcastle group doesn't appear to be a regular. Hopefully  Papa Midnite will put a little more local spice in the stew in coming weeks.

4. Constantine may or may not be part of the same universe as DC's other shows - Arrow, Gotham and Flash - but either way, it may open up the mystical corner of the DCU wide open. The pilot wasn't as overtly Easter Eggy as, say, the Flash's was, but we did get to see the Helmet of Fate, and that's BIG. A quick glance at the IMDB listing shows Jim Corrigan set to feature in a number of episodes. No word yet as to whether or not he becomes the Spectre. You know who else I'd like to see show up? Freakin' Jason Blood, that's who.

5. I imagine most television viewers who are familiar with Constantine will have come across him through the Keanu Reeves film. It's definitely part of the show's DNA. In line with that, John is visited by an angel who forces him to do things he doesn't want to do (and who will be a recurring character), and there are scenes where the world of spirits becomes visible, though not to Constantine himself. That all reminded me of the movie a lot. And that's fine. Not a great movie, but it had some good ideas. Maybe they'll be better exploded as a serial. Already, there's some heavy foreshadowing about a war of Heaven and Hell coming to Earth.

6. I'd heard Constantine wouldn't be allowed to smoke on TV, but I was gratified to see him butt one out at the start of a scene. Being a smoker is just such a big part of his character.

7. Overall, it was a lot better than I expected. The horror beats were surprisingly effective, especially for a network show. John himself was at once sympathetic and a cool bastard. The way an ancient demon is differently powered by the existence of modern technology is pretty interesting. And they drop enough mystery to feed whatever arcs they want to make the character follow.

To be honest, I've been horrible at following ANY weekly TV show, and when I recommend something, what I really mean is, I'm probably gonna buy the DVD and watch it all in one go. That's as true with this as with the other three DC shows.

Babylon 5 #115: A Call to Arms

"You're asking the impossible." "Then I am asking the right person."
IN THIS ONE... The Drakh attack Earth with a Shadow death cloud, and only Sheridan and his team, aboard a new ship called Excalibur, stand in their way.

REVIEW: The most relevant of the B5 movies (unless you count The Gathering), A Call to Arms manages to give us a full adventure set 4 years after Season 5 that's really meant to set up the Crusade spin-off. It will introduce several members of the its cast, the new breed of ship it will use, and by the end, the quest that ship will be on. But I don't want to judge any of that - at least, not in that context - until I get to Crusade (which is just tomorrow, folks, not much waiting). In the context of this film, the Excalibur has an interesting design and characters like Galen and Dureena do their jobs well enough. It all comes across as the start of a D&D campaign as well, and I'm less enthusiastic about that. Beyond the ship's Arthurian name, the techno-mages have returned, and Dureena belongs to something called the Thieves' Guild, and various characters are brought together "magically" so they can go on a quest together. Magically and not, obviously. The visions Sheridan gets are dumped into his head via the Intersect (any Chuck fans in the crowd?), but same difference.

None of the movies beyond In the Beginning used all the main characters, but this one seems particularly bare. Sheridan's the hero, but there's not even a glimpse of Delenn; Garibaldi is forced to trail a rogue Sheridan for most of it (though it's fun how little he empathizes with his cowardly employee); and Zack and Lochley man the station, no one else required. I'm not complaining about a guest-star like Tony Todd, he's always great, and he's someone who's final sacrifice you can feel. Not a star at the time, but interesting to see him here is Carlos Bernard who would play Tony Almeda on 24 (he's the guy with the glasses; didn't recognize him at first because he doesn't speak in a constant whisper). But Dureena the super-thief (she of the weapons gag), and Todd's Captain Anderson and his crew are scarcely replacements for tried and true B5 characters we actually want to see. So is it up to the villains to sustain interest? The Drakh will probably never be more than bargain basement Shadows, but so long as they're using Shadow technology, they're a credible threat. We revisit the devastating planet weapons from the Shadow War, in particular a death cloud that destroys all life on a planet. Cue big battle in Earth orbit, etc.

So why didn't I feel the excitement of the Shadow War or the Earth Civil War, which this battle tries to combine? Familiarity breeds contempt, perhaps, but I don't think that's it. The sound design certainly has something to do with it. The atonal, discordant music used throughout the telefilm is distracting and irritating, but takes the air out of the space battle completely. There's something about the new ships that makes fight choreography a little hard to understand - I got lost in all those horizontal lines - and a murky null-field as a backdrop is, necessarily, murky. It's not bad exactly, but it's nowhere near the level of Thirdspace's final battle, and there's a relative lack of urgency when everyone stands around while a WMD bears down on Earth and lets Dureena talk and talk. Some good moments, certainly, but my attention wandered (to things like the tantalizing mention of the "telepathic crisis", which surely refers to Lyta's revenge on the PsiCorps).

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: A Call to Arms is also a Deep Space Nine episode title. Tony Todd has, of course, played several roles in Trek, including that of Worf's brother and of the grown-up Jake Sisko. Babylon 5 contributor Peter David created adventures for a Starfleet crew on a ship named Excalibur in the New Frontier novels (which, come to think of it, is more B5 than Trek in approach). As for taking an untested and unready ship out of spacedock, that's really Captain Kirk's jam.

I'll concede it's a Medium-High if you're going to watch Crusade, but it all left me a little cold, to be honest.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sexy Sexy Nick Fury: Tributes and Controversies

It literally took me decades to understand that this page, depicting Nick Fury (let's call it) "interacting" with his girlfriend La Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine from the Assistant Editor Month-produced X-Men Annual #7 (1983)...
...was in homage to a similar sequence from Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD #2 (1968):
Now, the interesting story is that Jim Steranko's Nick Fury work was frequently censored by Marvel because it was too sexy and suggestive. The tribute page from X-Men tries to repair the damage, as if to say "we assistant editors are in charge, there will be no censorship". So for example, Steranko had the cleavage he drew on Val erased, so the tribute gives her loads of it (oh my teenage oats!). Then there's the phone, which was redrawn by another artist to be ON rather than OFF the hook. I suppose the console drawn by Michael Golden there is off, but what the heck was Marvel thinking? And finally, there's the last panel of Nick and Val in an embrace - the tribute page will make it quite clear they're having sex - famously changed to something much MORE suggestive, a big gun in a holster. Oh myyyyyy. Steranko apparently thanked his editor for that one. For comparison's sake, here is the original Steranko layout:
So what do you think? Too sexy?

Babylon 5 #114: Sleeping in Light

"Babylon 5 was the last of the Babylon stations. There would never be another. It changed the future... and it changed us. It taught us that we have to create the future, or others would do it for us. It showed us that we have to care for one another, because if we don't, who will? And that true strength sometimes comes from the most... unlikely places. Mostly though, I think it gave us hope—that there can always be new beginnings... even for people like us."
IN THIS ONE... 20 years later, Sheridan calls all his friends to his death bed, then goes out to meet his fate on the eve of Babylon 5's destruction.

REVIEW: Objects at Rest could afford to be anticlimactic, I suppose, because they always had this SERIES finale in their back pocket, and it's moving as all get-out. It's 20 years after the Earth Alliance has been founded, and so 20 years since Lorien told Sheridan he had 20 years to live. His reaction to all this is VERY Sheridan. The man who would not give a farewell speech when he left the station continues to avoid the tears by inviting all his old friends to dinner, having fun, then promptly leaving Minbar to die alone in space, calling it a "Sunday drive". Delenn, the consummate Minbari, engineers this for him, because she's forever in the service of others. But of course, both characters break down no matter how much strong a front they put up, and in a scene that visually might as well be the wedding we were denied - Sheridan in black, Delenn in white - tears are shed. Their love affair continues to be epic, symbolically linking each other to light, the image of a rising sun the last thing Sheridan thinks of, and Delenn's daily reminder of her husband. It's just beautiful. No matter how prepared she is for his departure, there is still deep grief there, as a simple shot of her in bed suddenly clutching at a pillow testifies to.

On his way to meet a destiny outlined long ago by Kosh, Sheridans stops by the station, on the eve of its decommission. Just empty sets now. And his last walk through its halls is quietly affecting. Zack is still there, just as he promised in Objects at Rest (a rare weak element of this finale though it's really the previous episode's error, him repeating the same words; it's all too on the nose). Sheridan won't see the station scuttled, but the rest of the cast will. After they've had the chance to get one last look around, JMS himself walks onto the set and shuts off the lights, an indulgence I will certainly accord him. And though it's technically anticlimactic to see the station destroyed just because it's outgrown its usefulness, when prophecies always led us to believe it would be the work of its enemies, it's definitely a great pay-off to the series, a huge, beautiful explosion with grand music, as every type of ship in the Alliance moves away. Gorgeous and moving.

Elsewhere, Sheridan has disappeared. He's been taken by the First Ones, on the Rim, and it's all very ambiguous, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Some things we're not meant to understand, and I'm glad to see a little of the mystery the Vorlons and Shadows usually brought with them back in the series. Sheridan's place as a mythical figure is thus assured - feels a lot like the end of the Lord of the Rings - and it mirrors Sinclair's own disappearance. I suppose in another reality, this is where Sinclair would have gone back to become Valen, I'm not sure. It's lovely how Ivanova gets the final speech, and it's a great summation, lovely to have her in the finale at all, thanks to really having been shot as part of Season 4. Between the opening scenes and the final montage, we get a sense of what's happened to these characters in the intervening years, and where they're going next. Ivanova has the success she always wanted and embarks on a new adventure as leader of the Rangers after becoming as pointless as her old station in Earthforce, and yet, she still has a thought for Marcus when absent friends are toasted. Vir has grown more hair and best of all, more grace, though Centauri decadence continues to impede his Empire's progress as evidenced by what can only be called sexual addiction. Maybe Zack can keep him in line (uhm, ok?). Garibaldi is, ironically, the best off, with a thriving business as a happy family. Franklin, his best friend after Sinclair was gone, is merely adjunct to this, but I'm not sure what else they could have done with the character. In these finale moments, where life continues, the episode shrugs off its funereal tone and allows itself a funky curtain call for the crew, and again, it's an indulgence we should permit. Babylon 5 isn't technically over (Crusade and some TV movies still to come), but its 5-year saga is, and it could hardly end on a more emotional and epic note.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Makes it all worth it. It's big, it's powerful, and it just hits all the right notes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Who Are Thunder and Lightning?

Who's This? Super-powered twin brothers on page 26 of Who's Who vol.XXIII.
The facts: Not to be confused with Black Lightning's daughters who used the same names, these would-be Titans had appeared in only two stories when their Who's Who entry came out, and they're the ones told under History, in New Teen Titans #32 and #36 (both 1983). They would soon appear again in Teen Titans Spotlight #16-17 (1987), sharing that second issue with Magenta, then a year later in New Teen Titans #41. They've appeared occasionally in Titans comics, in the mid and late 90s, for example.
How you could have heard of them: During Infinite Crisis, the brothers were subdued by the League of Assassins (in Villains United), then by Bane in Salvation Run, after which they are seemingly killed. New52 versions have appeared as members of the Ravagers, not that you're expected to have read that. They have also been featured on the Teen Titans animated series.
Example story: Teen Titans Spotlight #16 (1988) by Tony Isabella, Chuck Patton and Al Vey
What better place to start than a Spotlight book where we might see what potential these guys, normally placed in a strictly supporting role, really have? At this point, they're working at STAR Labs as super-powered, fully costumed, security guards. But as we'll see, darn near everyone working at STAR Labs has super abilities of some kind (haven't you been watching the Flash TV show?). Of course, because these guys are nominal Titans, they need something to feel angst about. It's that they don't control their powers very well.
In the immortal words of Chef Gordon Ramsey: "You could have killed someone!" Lightning realizes this without a Scotsman shouting at him, of course.
Here we introduce the psychic bond the former Siamese twins share. They speak inside each others' heads. It's a big day for them at STAR because after dealing with runaway machinery, they're immediately called to another lab where the Atomic Skull is trashing the place.
So many different blast colors, the colorist kind of loses track of them for a bit. There's yellow with red for the Skull, orange-yellow for Lightning, blue for Thunder, and green (absurdly) for former Kid-Flash love interest Frances Kane AKA Magenta's magnetic powers. She's there as Dr. Alysua Damalis' assistant and patient. Who knew STAR did psychology too? In fact, Damalis is trying to integrate former STAR Labs employee Albert Michaels and the Atomic Skull into a single persona with drugs and hypnosis.
Told you everyone had powers over there. Thunder and Lightning are all like, "Zuh?!" so Frances takes them to the cafeteria for a little debriefing. "Titans together!" as they say.
My favorite bit in the comic is Thunder's intensity after Frances says she considers herself a freak and wants nothing to do with being a superhero. That's why Dr. Damalis is helping her repress them.
So young and earnest there. Our young heroes today could learn a thing or two from Thunder. Damalis picks the story up where Frances leaves off, and we learn that she's a specialist in "Superman psychology" and that she considers every superhero and supervillain out there to be struggling with mental health issues, from Batman to Booster Gold, Guy Gardner to Sonar... and perhaps Thunder and Lightning themselves?
After almost shooting down a helicopter that very morning, Lightning is interested in therapy, but his brain-buddy Thunder refuses. But I guess the psychic link is going to make him get therapy whether he likes it or not. Things get really strange on the psychologist's couch...
...and Thunder busts in to stop whatever Damalis is doing. The psychic bond wasn't in their file, but now that she knows about it, she brands the brothers a threat to her plans: Turning superhumans into sleeper agents! You can imagine where this goes from here. She triggers Magenta, and there's a big fight etc., but it all happens in the next issue. Needless to say, it's really Magenta's story so Thunder and Lightning don't do so well. Let's just leave it at that.

With their element-based powers and the STAR Labs connection, I wonder if these guys might eventually be tapped for inclusion on the Flash series. Those seems key components...

Who else? Looking ahead, there's lots to do in the next volume of Who's Who, so we'll skip over Thunderbolt (had several series since the Charlton days) and the Time Commander (I discussed his appearances in Brave and the Bold on this very blog already). Volume 24, here I come!

Babylon 5 #113: Objects at Rest

"When I had to learn English, one of the most difficult words for me was 'goodbye'. There is no corresponding word for 'goodbye' in Minbari. All our partings contain within them the possibility of meeting again: in other places, in other times, in other lives. So you will excuse me if I do not say 'goodbye'." 
IN THIS ONE... Franklin, Sheridan and Delenn all leave the station for good. Lennier betrays the Rangers.

REVIEW: Essentially plotless for its first half, the season (if not series) finale is all about ensuring replacement cast for an imaginary 6th season, a point made clear when Sheridan and Delenn leave, with a surprisingly poignant ensemble shot where Lochley and Sheridan share a salute from across open space. In a way, I wish The River of Souls had (in addition to a good script) used this full group - Lochley, Dr. Hobbs, Ta'Lon, Vir, Number One and Zack - as it really were a preview of what would have been to come, would have never come. I further wish the episode had ended on this moment, as I'm not at all interested in the Lennier subplot and his promised "turn". As a betrayal, it's a timid one. He almost lets Sheridan die, then returns to save him, though of course the Action President has already gotten out of the jam alone. Delenn going on about how she suspected he had feelings for her when she actively KNOWS is irritating, and the diary device to explain it to everyone else is unnecessary and a seems out of character. They forgive him his trespass anyway, so who cares?

On goodbyes... Doc Franklin's goodbyes are practical and understated, which is a surprise because G'Kar says goodbye AGAIN, this time to Ta'Lon, naming him ambassador in a very strange sequence where the director makes the Narn appear like a ghost while Ta'Lon is watching him on a screen, presumably because the speech was a bit long and they needed to keep us interested. Unfortunately, it's still too long. Much better is Delenn's farewell (partly quoted above), which refuses to be final. Along with the salute, it's where this episode best lives. It's difficult for a final episode to avoid a certain amount of meta-text, and stories on film/video will forever be accessible. As such, this can't be goodbye, especially since already filmed material is still to come. Similarly, the lump in the actors' throats is their characters. Sheridan does not give a farewell speech at this point, but rather waits to get the final word at episode's end, through advice he records for his unborn son, coming full circle to the first advice his own father ever gave him. Here it gets a little TOO knowing, with the whole bit about "you have to fight for what you believe in" largely and obviously mirroring JMS' own struggle putting this atypical series on the air. Again, for me, the episode ended 20 minutes earlier.

On looking to the future... Londo shows up on Minbar for a surprise dinner, which at first made me bristle because I felt his chapter had been closed in The Fall of Centauri Prime. But this is looking ahead some 16 years hence, because Londo leaves Sheridan and Delenn's son a gift that is really a trap, a Boy's Own Keeper(TM). I imagined this being dealt with in Sleeping in Light, but research shows, it's a story for the novels. That's disappointing. In my innocence, I first saw the Imperial gift, usually given to the Emperor's heir, as a way for Londo to put the Alliance in eventual control of his world, thus defeating the Shadow agents. Certainly, he would have told them more if he'd been allowed to get drunk (it dulls the Keeper's senses), but alas, since alcohol is poisonous to the Minbari, it's a dry planet. The shot of Londo, overlooking Minbar as he once did Narn, is nice and ominous. And we go to Mars to see Garibaldi setting up a new board out of all the disgruntled whistle-blowers in his new company, a mirror of his own character. A nice touch - they wouldn't have been loyal to the old guard - even if it's unlikely to work in real world terms.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium with moments set to High - There are some moments here I wouldn't ever give up, but after I'm satisfied and teary, it keeps going and loses me.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ronald Reagan's First Comic Book Appearance

Though today, the DC Universe shies away from the presenting real politicians in its stories, it wasn't always like that. JFK appeared a number of times in the early 60s, for example. One of the most represented presidents in the history of comics was Ronald Reagan however, who showed up, at both DC and Marvel, a heck of a lot. I've got half a mind to tag this post and make it a recurring feature, because there's just that much material throughout the 80s. But what was Reagan's very first comic book appearance? Well, barring any of his films getting a comic adaptation I'm not aware of, it must be this from Brother Power the Geek #2, 1968:
As Governor of California, Reagan brands Brother Power a threat!
In the end, the true culprit is found and brought to his office (because that's what would happen in that situation #realpolitik), but it's too late...
...Brother Power has already been launched into space, there to remain forever because his book was already cancelled.

Is there a demand for more Reaganocomics? I'd be happy to oblige if I can.

Babylon 5 #112: The River of Souls

"Faith is good. But sometimes faith is blind."
IN THIS ONE... Martin Sheen guest stars as a Soul Hunter looking to get a whole race's souls back from an archaeologist. Meanwhile, an illegal holo-brothel has sprung up in Brown Sector.

REVIEW: So the night before the season finale (Objects at Rest; let's call Sleeping in Light the SERIES finale), they broadcast THIS piece of crap that takes place 6 months later. Bizarre, until you realize how anti-climactic it would have felt AFTER it. Essentially, we're seeing what the show would be like after everyone of note has left. It's just Lochley, Zack and Corwyn, with a special guest appearance by Garibaldi sporting the worst goatee in the series (and that's saying something), with a Doc Franklin cameo. Not that I mind Lochley getting a little more play, and Zack has really grown on me, I admit. To give the TV movie its due, it's definitely director Janet Greek's best effort. I've often felt that seeing her name attached to an episode meant it would be a poor one, flatly directed, but I'm reassessing that. In The River of Souls, you won't see much of a "river" EXCEPT in her direction, as the camera (and CG camera) will often be involved in smooth, long, single takes, flowing and following the action. We also get some quality guest-stars like Ian McShane (of later Deadwood fame) and Martin freaking Sheen (although I think he's wasted doing alien intonations and wearing a prosthetic that limits his expressions).

Whether or not the Soul Hunters really were as popular as the production says they were, it seems a bit late to follow up on the thread at this point. It's another alien artifact story, like Thirdspace, but much more contained. Interesting to see the ancient mausoleums the Soul Hunters keep the taken souls in, and the idea of a whole world taken just as it was about to transcend the physical - as we know can happen in the B5 universe - is an interesting one, even if it's used to do a "haunted station" story. The holo-brothel (more on this below) element is obviously there to give escaped souls a physical presence, at least for a while. Sheen's Soul Hunter is unique in that he's ready to accept the possibility his people made a mistake and comes off as sympathetic, and his sacrifice is unsurprising. Ultimately though, the episode hinges on a lot of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, and debates we've heard before.

The real irritation is the holo-brothel subplot. Not only does Joel Brooks dish out another of his supposedly-funny-but-annoying characters (I blame the scripts, not him), but we spend too much time in his company as girls in negligés walk around the set. When the souls take over the holograms, it turns into a peep show, one that hardly makes sense if the holograms have no actual substance. And then it's revealed the brothel has been illegally using Lochley's image (calling it public domain) as one of its "holo-hos" (the production's word, not mine) forcing Scoggins to get undressed (come on, Joe, try to keep it in your pants). To the CHARACTER'S credit, she's got too thick a skin to really let it get to her, and only arches an eyebrow when she finds out it's mostly been used by women. On the WRITER'S level, a writer who has allowed it to be suggested (by Gaiman in Day of the Dead) that Lochley might have been involved in prostitution as a young adult (done things she's "not proud of" to survive), it seems like this should have been more disturbing to her. Lochley has some good scenes with the brothel's over-tanned lawyer (I think B5 had some real make-up problems when it came to covering those up), but the pay-off is also the pay-off to an absurd and unfunny scene (which, according to the commentary track, JMS found EXTREMELY funny... this guy) in which Corwyn gives Lochley a "love-bat" that spouts feel-good psychobabble when you hit something or yourself with it. It's dumb and makes me think Corwyn is  a real creep, which I'm sure wasn't the intent. Just embarrassing. But we need the scene, see, because at the end, Lochley has reprogrammed it to tell the lawyer he's an idiot. Oh, ow, my sides hurt. Groan.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Looks like Quark has started a holosuite franchise in the B5 universe (and getting Lochley's image was a lot easier than getting Kira's). Its operator, Jacob Mayhew, is played by Joel Brooks who played an equally annoying producer of illusory entertainment on Deep Space Nine's Move Along Home.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - While I'm glad for the spotlight to be on Lochley, a normally disposable story with admittedly strong guest stars is sunk by the writer indulging his baser impulses, i.e. creepy voyeurism and bad jokes only thinks are funny.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

This Week in Geek (20-26/10/14)


Rob Kelly of the Aquaman Shrine sent me his book Hey Kids, Comics! for a tiny favor I did him, for which I am forever grateful. As for purchases, I got a few DVDs including China Beach Season 4, and for my possible indie(ish) SF movie marathon, John Dies at the End, TiMER and The Double. More on that later, I should imagine.


DVDs: More Halloween fare this week, but to cleanse the palate after heavier art house films, we're dipping into horror-comedy. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil was up first, an extremely fun slasher flick parody in which the creepy hillbillies are the rather sweet heroes and the college kids become victims of their own fears and paranoia. How the Three's Company-level misunderstandings pile up just as quickly as the bodies do is very funny, and takes the edge off the gore that is necessarily part of the slasher tropes being turned on their heads. It's by the makers of Zombieland, so if you enjoyed that, it's more of the same tone. Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk show a lot of heart in the central roles, and their "scream queen", Katrina Bowden (you know her as Cerie in 30 Rock) is open-faced and likeable, even if she dresses, well, like an escapee from one of the films being lampooned. If you haven't gotten onto this particular pick-up truck, I heartily recommend you do so.

ParaNorman is a fun Halloween-themed movie for the whole family by the fine folks at Laika, the current kings of stop-motion animation (now I regret not making the time to see the recent Boxtrolls). It's about a kid who sees ghosts and whose destiny is to prevent a witch's curse from causing havoc once a year in his Salem-like town. ParaNorman doesn't talk down to its audience and freely embraces its classic horror roots, providing scares even for older kids and plenty of laughs, tension, mystery and thoughtfulness for older older kids (that's you and me). And it just looks beautiful. What they can do with stop-motion these days, it's incredible, and I much prefer it to computer 3D animation. I do have a question about the voice casting. It's not something I particularly care about because big names do not necessarily translate as distinctive voices, and there are few big names here (John Goodman and Anna Kendrick are the biggest, with Elaine Stritch and Tempestt Bledsoe in there for the more nostalgic among us), but it looks like the characters were "cast" to be recognizable actors who do not resemble their namesakes. Norman's chubby friend is a dead ringer for Jonah Hill, for example, and the zombie judge is either John Lithgow or Jack Palance. Other faces and "performances" look really familiar in the same way. I wonder if Laika used them as models and/or hoped to get some of them to do the voices.

Meanwhile, Teeth is a black comedy about, well, vagina dentata. There's this teenage girl who is part of the Purity movement who, when she finally loses her virginity, discovers she has teeth in her vagina that, accidentally and sometimes not so accidentally, allows her to bite penises (or whatever) off. It's the ultimate rape revenge fantasy movie, and not as exploitative as it might sound. In other words, it shouldn't work, but it does and yes, I'm recommending it. Jess Weixler in the central role of Dawn is actually quite effective, even if the aggregate feeling brought by shlockier cast members takes Teeth over the top in terms of melodrama. This is, after all, a universe where our protagonist must be consistently threatened by sexual assault so she can use her powers. To me, this was Buffyesque. Not only is it about a young blond girl who gets strange powers, but it's also a thinly-veiled metaphor for adolescence. Dawn's first time is horrific and bloody and she never sees the guy (alive) again, which certainly plays on the reality and anxiety of teenage sex. The more sex she has, the easier things become, the more control she has, and the more she learns to use her sexuality as a weapon. Teeth is actually about something. Who would have thought. It's also absurd and viciously funny, played straight, though the knowing direction puts a definite grin on it.

With its second season, Veep came into its own, getting further away from its roots in The Thick of It. The British version of this show is about an ineffectual system breeding ineffectual people. I would say Veep is about a very effective politician, continually hamstrung by an ineffectual president, administration and staff. Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Selina Meyer gets a more important role in policy-making this season, tackling hostage rescues and government shutdowns, among other things, but she gets screwed by politics and the media, so her victories tend to be Pyrrhic at best. And because we're dealing with more serious subject matter, the show gives itself permission to be more dramatic as well, and some realities hit the VP quite hard. She never does go to the United Nations like the DVD cover suggests, but I'd love to see it. Speaking of the DVD, it includes cast and crew commentary tracks on 4 our of 10 episodes and deleted scenes for each. A step down from Season 1's package, but still adequate.

Gaming: Been a while since we played Fiasco, so I introduced four new players to the game (two of which played the same, schizoid character). The playset - Transatlantic, a luxury cruise ship set in 1932. Nothing bad ever happened to a boat that size, right? I got to play a wealthy invalid, heir to a pickle fortune, who fell in love with at least one of the schizoid's personalities, though she was really trying to get out of a loveless marriage to an obsessed and brutal detective on the trail of an Indian prostitute/thief whose father my character had drowned in brine when she was a child. Melodrama much? It's Fiasco - you gotta go for it. I especially liked the climax, with the lovers holding on to wooden wheelchairs as a rogue wave hit the ship and winding up on top of a chimney, but as Sir Oswald Cumberpickle stood up in a rage after seeing his beloved's husband-induced black eye and shooting at the bastard down below, his legs gave out again and he slipped. Mary/Catherine grabbed his hand, but her wheelchair started rolling forward... It was "I'll never let you go" from Titanic all over again. It only went down hill for the characters after that... (While it was fun, a part of me does wish I'd taken the "Cultists" relationship option when I had the chance and gone full Cthulhu on this scenario. Maybe next time.)

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Zeffirelli '90

Babylon 5 #111: Objects in Motion

"I believe that when we leave a place, part of it goes with us and part of us remains. Go anywhere in the station when it is quiet, and just listen. After a while, you will hear the echoes of all our conversations, every thought and word we’ve exchanged. Long after we are gone, our voices will linger in these walls for as long as this place remains. But I will admit that the part of me that is going will very much miss the part of you that is staying."
IN THIS ONE... Garibaldi and G'Kar both suffer assassination attempts at their going-away parties. Number One takes the former's job.

One last assassination attempt story for the road? I'd be rolling my eyes something fierce if it weren't for the fact they actually made this one work. Every time there's been an assassin on the station in the past, it's only highlighted how bad security was. Not here. Zack really is more competent than Garibaldi ever was. The killer doesn't look like one, which makes him harder to spot, and he's playing a bit of a chess game with our heroes to get at his target. I'm not sure how sound Sheridan's plan to draw him out is - is a crowd really the most "controlled" environment? - but the killer gets a link to monitor security, something Zack notices thanks to a crucial clue, and which is used against the assassin. Well done! And then in the chaos of the arrest, a Narn fanatic pulls a gun on G'Kar and Lise ends up getting shot as a result. Thought for sure Zack would buy it there, nice feint, and Lise'll be fine too. Usually, these deals end with some limp stand-off after the would-be killer just strolls in. It's a huge improvement.

By turning the assassination attempt into a DOUBLE assassination attempt, the episode ties every thread together rather nicely too. Number One returns to the station with the tip-off and ends up getting Garibaldi's old job (I was actually surprised she wasn't more of a cast member after her introduction in the Mars rebellion stuff). Garibaldi, though on the road to recovery (I like Lise in these "detox" moments, so willing to support her future husband but matter-of-fact about it), has already decided to go to Mars to help run his wife's company, but of course, the "board" has too much to hide and lose, and try to have them both killed. Garibaldi uses Lyta to extract information from the assassin and Number One's contacts to get dirt on the board - both women a vested interest in seeing the Big G in charge, after all - which is all he needs to make those corrupt businessmen resign. It's fun.

Unlike most shows, Babylon 5 is using a NUMBER of episodes to make its goodbyes, which has its virtues, but can come off as a touch overwrought as well. G'Kar has made at least one goodbye per episode for the past three episodes now, and though Katsulas is always good in them, it is starting to feel a bit redundant. Especially when Sheridan is involved in both his farewell AND Garibaldi's equally teary goodbyes. At least the melancholy is counter-balanced by action beats (the main plot), political stuff (Free Mars' problems with Earth Alliance red tape), and lighter moments (Franklin and Number One's booty call).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Though B5 has pulled one of its stock plots out of storage for this one, it's thought out rather better than in the past, and as we head into the very last stretch, everything seems more important than ever.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Reign of the Supermen #551: Lois "Clark Kent" Lane

Source: Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane #26 (1961)
Type: Disguise (+ bonus impostor)
What could drive Lois Lane to dress up as Clark Kent? Well, some things are a slippery slope. And the Silver Age was slippery indeed. It all began when everyone was out of the office one day, and Lois had to answer Clark's phone... with his voice!
So now Clark's been given a rendezvous he can't possibly get to, so obviously, Lois must scoop him by raiding Jimmy Olsen's disguise trunk and indulging in a bit of cross-dressing. There's nothing wrong with that!
Except as soon as Clark--what's the feminized version of Clark? Clarkette? Clarka? Clarke? Linda?--reaches the abandoned lighthouse (in the Superman universe, there's no need for lighthouses anymore because everyone's become dependent on last-minute rescues), she gets knocked out!
When the police call her office to check on her story (is she under arrest or something?), Clark answers and throws her under the bus!
Sorry Lois, but it's kind of hard for you to deny you've been acting peculiar. Have you READ your series? Anyway, the next day, Lois is spending her high-salaried time opening up fan mail for one specific article people particularly enjoyed with her gold letter opener, a gift from the extremely high-salaried police commissioner for her help capturing "Killer" Meigs (CRUCIAL CLUE: He swore revenge!). I know a lot of journalists and yes, I can vouch for all this to be an accurate portrayal of the profession. But then...
Caught with a knife and a slashed picture of Superman, her colleagues come to the only possible conclusion, that she's gone mad. Clark immediately offers to bring her to a psychiatrist he knows, which becomes even more urgent when he finds poison in her purse, something she apparently kleptoed from a police safety lecture the day before. "In my condition, I might unknowingly take a deadly pill!" Yes, get some help, Lois!
After listening to her talk about Superman for a few minutes and staring at her intently, Dr. Blake offers a sound diagnostic: She's having a nervous breakdown on account of Superman refusing to marry her. OF COURSE. Also, if she doesn't do something, she'll soon start to hear voices and end up in a mental hospital. BECAUSE THAT'S HOW MENTAL ILLNESS WORKS. Good thing there's a cure: He has her read a book about Ben-Hur so she can shift her admiration to a different hero. Psych students TAKE NOTE! And she enjoys the book loads, it seems to be working. But the next morning, Clark and Lucy show up to find the book was just blank pages. She imagined it all. (So Dr. Blake mistakenly gave her a blank book? Who even HAS a blank book?) They leave, because that's what you do when your friend/sister is having a breakdown, and immediately, Lois starts hearing voices.
Lois does what anyone suffering from hallucinations should do: Go out for a drive. Uhm... So what's REALLY going on here? The truth:
That's right, this is "Killer" Meigs' revenge scheme, going after Lois' sanity from behind bars. To accomplish this he's bugged her home, car and office and set up an intercom to do the voice thing. But he's also kidnapped Clark Kent, replaced him with a double, counted on the fact Lois would go to the lighthouse in Clark's stead, counted on Lois having a knife in hand when she went to the stock room, put poison in her purse, sent her to a fake psychiatrist, gave her a book printed in disappearing ink... The most surprising thing, though, is that Superman wasn't behind the whole thing. Still, he did kind of sacrifice Lois' well-being for his secret identity. I mean, she's been driven to suicide just because he couldn't think of a way to discreetly use his powers so he WOULDN'T be taken by a couple of bargain basement thugs.
So Lois finally clues in that it's all a fake because Clark paid tribute to his dead father in his Father's Day article?! Uhm... That seems like a nice thing to do. But it breaks the spell, so dupe-Clark (I gave you two fake Clarks this week, you better show gratitude) has to suicide her out a window. Because this is the Silver Age, the thugs are murdering Clark at the same exact time, freeing him to last-minute-rescue Lois as Superman.

Lois Lane: Feminist icon. Am I right?!