Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Babylon 5 #107: Movements of Fire and Shadow

"If you run into trouble..." "I'll walk out of it. More dignified that way."
IN THIS ONE... The Drazi and Narns attack a defenseless Centauri Prime. Delenn's ship is heavily damaged in hyperspace. Lochley defends her jump gate. Franklin and Lyta discover who's really behind the attacks. Londo gets out of his jail cell and finally sees the Regent.

REVIEW: The mid-season finale reveals why the Alliance worlds used to be a League of NON-Aligned worlds. Simply put, nobody in their right minds would ever want to align with any of these jerks! Here they are, at war with the Centauri, and they won't even combine forces, share proper information or work on common strategies. Only the Drazi and Narns manage some cooperation, but it's to go against the Alliance charter to bomb civilian centers on Centauri Prime. Looks like Sheridan made himself President of something like the United Nations, with little to no power over individual members. Meanwhile, the Centauri are running offensive and defensive teams because the former are really Shadow agents working from their own play book, lending credence to ministerial claims that Centauri is just defending itself from aggressor species. We know this to be true, of course, but it's kind of hard to believe the arrogant Defense Minister isn't an agent too. He's too blatant a villain.

With war raging once again in the Babylon 5 universe, we're getting a steady supply of eye candy like in the days of old. Lots of ships, explosions, etc., you know the drill. And that's maybe why it doesn't excite like it used to. We've had bigger, or at least, more personal and more open-ended stakes before. Still, nice of the show to give Lochley something to do after disappearing for a number of episodes. She just gets to stand in C&C and give orders to protect the station's jump gate, but she does it well and with the right urgency. Because this is a cliffhanger episode, they're also setting up other emergencies, like Delenn's ship getting badly damaged and Sheridan flying to Centauri Prime to try and stop rogue Alliance members to kill everyone there. Especially since the Regent has, under shadowy orders, sent the defense fleet away. Presumably, if the Drakh or whoever (we see the Gray-like guys too, checking on Londo's suitability, which makes me wonder if those jokey Gray aliens in Season 1 were Shadow agents) do away with "free" Centauri, they'll have full run of the Empire and its resources. I suppose we're meant to feel sympathy for the Regent, but to me, he's still that caricatured home decorator and I don't care at all. Knowing the Keeper will jump to Londo soon removes all the suspense the situation might otherwise have had.

Londo leaves his cell, but doesn't get assassinated or anything, and the Shadow agents do what they want with him even while he's in there, which means G'Kar doesn't even have to be there, sadly. I'd rather he wasn't, if JMS is going to spring further revelations about how stinky Narn farts are, or whatever that was about. (It's not even the only cringe-worthy moment in the episode. I also dislike the bit about the underthings Sheridan bought Delenn and that she won't wear. Icky.) The thread that best sustains our interest is Franklin and Lyta's mission to the Drazi homeworld on Vir's behest to find out why the Drazi haven't been returning the bodies of the fallen Centauri. Lyta unleashes some righteous fury on the Drazi, going so far as making one attacker commit suicide (and Franklin stays friends with her, well, I guess he'd have to). Jeepers! Just so happens she's the only person in the galaxy who could identify the gross pods found aboard Centauri ships, driving them in lieu of crews. To be continued in an episode with a title that leaves little to the imagination...

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE:
The scorched planet strategy would also be used by the Founders on Cardassia, which has a similar set-up to the agents of Shadow/Centauri Prime.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- For what's essentially Babylon 5's last big cliffhanger, it's really not that great. Some ill-judged comedy, some irritating characters, and too little suspense.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Who Are the Terrible Trio?

Who's This? The animal-headed threesome on page 23 of Who's Who vol.XXIII.
The facts: The Terrible Trio - Fox, Shark and Vulture - plagued Batman and Robin with their land-water-air crimes for the first time in Detective Comics #253 (1958), with a follow-up in 321 (1963). A different group with that name antagonized the Dark Knight in Batman 313 (1979); one of the members was Lucius Fox's son. They were created by Dave Wood and Sheldon Moldoff.
How you could have heard of them: In Matt Wagner's Doctor Mid-Nite mini-series, they were responsible for causing the hero's day blindness, fighting G'nort in GLC Quarterly #5, and more recently appeared in Detective Comics #832 and wound up in Arkham Asylum. They've also appeared in three Batman animated series - BTAS, The Batman, and Brave and the Bold (the one with Bronze Tiger).
Example story: Detective Comics #253 (1958) "The Fox, the Shark, and the Vulture" by Dave Wood and Sheldon Moldoff
Gotham City Airport: Citizens are saying goodbye to a plane taking a museum collection on a world tour when the guards get gassed by a man with a vulture's head!
That is an unusually stable plane, folks. The guards don't have seats and priceless artifacts are standing still in glasses cases or on tables, no problem. So... why did we have to invent bubble pack, anyway? Commissioner Gordon turns the Bat-signal on and away the Dynamic Duo goes, Robin in the Batmobile and Batman in the Bat-plane. This is the first appearance of the Terrible Trio, but they act like they know all about them. What gives? Well, Batman flashes back to three days ago when an earthquake shook the Gotham Bank and they arrived to late to prevent the Trio from getting into their mechanical mole!
Racing down the tunnel, Batman and Robin were thrown a bomb by the Fox, from the back, and almost perished. Almost, but not quite.
They survived by sticking their heads into broken drainage pipes, obviously. While Batman was going down memory lane, the Vulture was parachuting out of the plane with the loot and making his way to the Fox's mole machine. Batman scares them by sonic booming to bits a giant bottle atop a factory (because Silver Age Batman stories must ALL contain a giant prop of some kind) and believing the army was after them, they burrowed out of them before picking up the treasure. Batman and Robin use a metal detector to follow the mole to the shore where it makes contact with yet another fantastic machine, this time the Shark's eel ship. Eel? Uh-oh.
You can't operate in Gotham City without a gimmick, so it's pretty obvious the Trio commit crimes that are Air, Land and Sea-related, then escape using Air, Land and Sea vehicles. The next crime thus has to be Sea-related, because Land and Air were the last two. (Unnecessary flashback to yet another crime in which the Shark used a swordfish ship to sink a millionaire's yacht. The pattern was obvious without it.) Batman hopes to lure them in with a story of ancient Egyptian relics transported by ship, and the Trio bites on the hook, so to speak. They'll be all over that shipment... after a little bit of R&R in their awesome hideout. Who doesn't love a diagram?
The next day, the S.S. Cairo is under attack by the Shark's pilot ship craft. It sticks to the underside of the hull where the Trio can cut an airlock and enter the ship.
Commissioner Gordon is on that ship, and it starts flooding, but sailors close the door to the hold, so everything's going to be all right. Erm, if you say so. Back at the Lighthouse, the Trio celebrates its newest successful crime and inspect their goodies, but...
Those aren't real mummies! Fighting ensues and the Dynamic Duo makes fast work of the Trio and their themed traps. Going up each level, only the Vulture and his remote-controlled robot birds. No problem, sayeth the Batman.
You really needed it to be a working lighthouse, eh? Look how that worked out. If you can. Because you're blind now. All that's left is for Gordon to show up to arrest them. Case closed.

I'm actually surprised the Terrible Trio didn't appear more than it did. After all, thematic crimes are Batman's bread and butter. Maybe the alliterative name made some writers think they were actually terrible. Maybe their individual names were appropriated by other characters, both at DC and elsewhere. Maybe the band just broke up. I don't know. But I think they would have made interesting crime lords in later eras.

Who else? Thriller might have been next, but I reviewed the whole series as part of my Old 52 feature. But we are going to do a team next.

Babylon 5 #106: And All my Dreams, Torn Asunder

"Now we gave you a promise, and we are bound by that promise, and damn you for asking for it! And damn me for agreeing to it! And damn us all to hell, because that is exactly where we are going! We talked about peace. You didn't want peace! We talked about cooperation. You didn't want cooperation! You want war! Is that it? You want a war? Well, you've got a war!"
IN THIS ONE... War breaks out between the Alliance and the Centauri.

REVIEW: Some interesting direction makes the first act of the episode work quite well despite it being a recap of things we already know. Props to director Goran Gajic for intercutting the "courtroom drama" with Londo waiting for the inevitable then. Gajic also seems to have an interest is visual symbols, drawing attention to Sheridan's other shoe dropping - as the full force of what's about to happen hits him - and the candle snuffing itself out, only later revealed in text as the symbol of life in Minbari culture. I also like how drunken Garibaldi is often perceived through the distortion of his favorite glass. Gajic also gets some strong, emotional performances from his players - Delenn's tearful praying, Sheridan losing his cool when it becomes obvious his dream is not shared by the majority of Alliance members, and the sweet farewell between G'Kar and Delenn. Less successful, though in its way quite effective, is the arrogant Centauri Minister, smiling whenever he talks of war or blocks someone's access to others. Infuriating, which is the point, but perhaps a little one-dimensional.

With the forces controlling Centauri Prime pushing a war-like agenda, the situation quickly escalates from embargo to hostility to open war. It's uncertain if Sheridan's plan would have worked even if Garibaldi hadn't been sleeping at the switch - things seem a little too instantaneous for that and the firing starts long before reinforcements could ever have hoped to arrive - but when you have a single guy handling intelligence, and that guy has no staff, and that guy is going through a personal crisis, well. You'd think the Alliance would have more resources than the STATION has been shown to have (like it's own C&C, perhaps using the war room), but no, Garibaldi is listening to Ranger calls alone in his room, with no back-up. A contrivance to make his screw-up even more massive. Hopefully Zack WILL say something. The episode gives him one of his strongest scenes to date, refusing to take Garibaldi's crap and calling him on his alcoholism. So whatever Garibaldi says, at least this shows JMS knows what's what and doesn't believe his own character's bull.

In many ways, this is an episode about burning one's bridges. Londo is isolated from the Council, then the Alliance, then the station, and finally the Centauri court, sharing a cell with G'Kar over security matters. G'Kar is right to say Londo may be the only man who can stop this war, but that's exactly why enemy agents have to freeze him out. Garibaldi, through his actions and mistakes, is burning his own connection to Sheridan and the rest of Babylon 5. They just haven't dropped the torch on it yet. Or the candle.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Despite its contrivances, the episode features some strong acting moments. We're starting to feel the end here, or else characters leaving the station as they so often have before would not require such gravitas.

Monday, October 20, 2014

10 Favorite Secret Wars Moments

The recent announcement that Marvel would do another Secret Wars event - which I'm unlikely to care about, as everything "Secret Wars" beyond the original has sucked (unless you're a fan of Peter Parker teaching the Beyonder how to use a toilet) - has had me thinking about the granddaddy of all superhero events quite a lot lately. I realize Marvel Super Heroes' Secret Wars was born from the need to sell an action figures line, and was in some ways just a big year-long brawl, I still love it. And on (frequent) occasion, I still like to pit my favorite heroes and villains against one another on some patchwork Beyonder planet, hosted in my mind. So I thought I might go through Secret Wars once more and give you, in chronological order, my 10 favorite moments from the series.
Magneto thrown in with the heroes. I always thought this was a strong idea. If the Beyonder put characters in camps based on their desires - altruistic, selfish, and Galactus - then Magneto very much should be with the heroes. He's not in it for himself, he's fighting for his people. This is before Magneto started getting more sympathetic play in Uncanny X-Men and it shows. He's quick to turn on the heroes, though the X-Men eventually join him in an all-mutants camp. Well, all the human heroes really WERE jerks to him.
Molecule Man drops a mountain on the Hulk. MM is one of the characters who most benefited from the series. He's always been powerful, but that meant he was seldom used, and so still wore a goofy Silver Age costume, and was usually too easily defeated. Exploring his character in Secret Wars made sense of all that, and gave him at least one cool moment, when he drops a whole mountain on the heroes. The Hulk holds the whole thing up, saving everyone from a crushing death. It's awesome.
Molecule Man won't be bullied anymore. MM again? Why yes. He has all that power, but no confidence, and falls prey to the jock-like bullies of the Wrecking Crew. When he finally has enough, it's a fun moment of wish fulfillment for puny comic book nerds everywhere. Especially the bit where his gorgeous new girlfriend Volcana chips in.
Hawkeye - just a normal guy / Monica Rambeau brushes Rhodey off. Ok, I'm cheating by putting two moments here, but they're right next to each other. My REAL favorite moment is the one where Hawkeye expresses his insecurities to Spider-Man, forced to make new arrows from raw materials or face becoming useless. I've always liked this characterization of Hawkeye, where he's just a regular guy with a singular talent, somehow managing to hold his own in a world of superhumans. That everyone thought the Iron Man in this series was Tony Stark (that is to say, a veteran hero) was one of the funnier bits in the series, especially when it led to miscommunications like the one above.
Galactus tries to eat the Beyonder planet. How does Galactus win the Secret War? By eating the planet and everyone on it, of course! He doesn't actually manage it and instead eats his awesome ship the size of a solar system, but Dr. Doom steals his lunch! Yeah, things get cosmic and cool in the third half of the series.
Doctor Doom dissects Klaw. A small thing, but I love the loopy, Ambush Bug-like Klaw and how Doom cuts him up into solid sound slices. By the end, he's just a head without a brain pan, and still yucking things up!
Doctor Doom vs. the Beyonder. Using Galactus' power, Doom goes up against the Beyonder itself... and wins! Doom becomes God, essentially. Finally, power to match his ego. If you're a fan of Dr. Doom (and why wouldn't you be?), this surely fits among his greatest hits!
The Enchantress whips (up) a bathtub elemental. When things get rather Doom-sided, Molecule Man turns the patch of planet that is a Denver neighborhood into a space-worthy life raft and takes off. It's during this journey that the Enchantress uses and abuses a sassy water elemental, conjured up from a 4½-room apartment's bathtub. Hilarious.
The kernel of doubt. Dr. Doom has used his god-like power to destroy all the heroes. Game, set, match. Except Klaw tells a story, an improbable but still possible story in which an alien healer (who had a relationship with Colossus and the Human Torch during their brief stay) finds the dead heroes and heals Colossus, leading to a chain of events that resurrects the whole team using alien tech. Improbable, but Doom doesn't control his new wish-fulfillment powers well enough to prevent his imagination to actually make it happen! And then the resurrected heroes attack his HQ... Literal deus ex machina FTW!
Captain America wills his shield back together. When the heroes got hit by the god-blast, Cap's shield is broken. But because the Beyonder World has innate wish-fulfillment characteristics, he uses his intense willpower to restore the whole from fragments. Sure, it just restores the status quo, but it's very well done.

I might have skipped your own favorite moments. Comments section to the ready!

Babylon 5 #105: Darkness Ascending

"Barring an act of God — and since I don't believe in God, that kind of narrows the odds a bit — by this time tomorrow, we're gonna be at war with the Centauri."
IN THIS ONE... Lennier gets proof the Centauri are the mystery raiders. Garibaldi gets a visit from Lise. Lyta makes a deal with G'Kar.

REVIEW: Okay, plausible deniability is a better argument than what we've previously heard for Delenn not telling Sheridan about Lennier's secret mission, but really, would anyone believe the husband wouldn't know what the wife was doing. The perpetually-in-bed couple (yes, again), are too close, in relationship and power, for this to be a proper excuse. Delenn somehow turning this around to say Sheridan is equally at fault for NOT sending Lennier on a secret mission would make more sense if it had ever been an option. I mean, the guy left to train with the Rangers and is still in training. It just doesn't work. And because Delenn didn't treat him as an equal partner, he went and interfered with the mission, causing Lennier to go rogue (because Delenn > Rangers... surely this isn't the prophesied betrayal?) and almost die. Lennier does get the evidence and survives, all by his lonesome (give or take a carbuncle ship's A.I.), which in a sense is unfortunate because it turns the promising character of Montoya into a glorified day player with only expedient plot points to serve up. Evidence of Centauri ships is not evidence of Centauri per se - as a Centauri minister is quick to point out to Londo - but a big ol' base being in on it is more damning. Londo goes from out of the loop to pretty obviously cut out. We know him to be guiltless, but his lack of agency as he faces these charges reminded me of Emperor Turhan (assassinated in The Coming of Shadows), a sympathetic king whose ruthless court is actually in control. There's a touching moment of kindness when Delenn gives Londo a hug, her first and likely her last, making the point that she certainly doesn't believe he's responsible, but for political reasons, she will have to give up their friendship, such as it is. Will war break out and is that why Centauri Prime was left vulnerable to Shadow agents according to War Without End?

The coming conflict is prefigured in an opening dream sequence with Garibaldi feeling trapped on a destroyed station. How Lyta fits into things - just another dream or is she really dream surfing? - is anyone's guess at the point, but I'll choose the former for now. As she shows later, she has too much integrity to invade others' minds without their permission. Call it another symbol of Garibaldi's fears and anxieties then. Something else he can't trust, and perhaps foreshadowing of the telepaths acting in a Vorlon-like capacity in the coming conflict. It's also a contrast to his own feelings of inadequacy, which have sent him back to the bottle. Lise crashes his party and gets some pretty loopy drunk logic from him. He drinks because he NEEDS to lose control after the trauma of being mind-controlled. Look, anyone who says they can do without alcohol for the weekend and proceed to dump the object of temptation into the sink is lying to you and themselves. And in fact, he can't. They go to that fancy Fresh Air restaurant and his spikes his coffee (after an extended sequence of the snobby waiter refusing to serve him a cup of coffee WITH dinner... what the hell?). Dialog-wise, Garibaldi is on full expository recap mode.

And Lyta? She's carrying on Byron's quest for a telepaths' homeworld, but much more sensibly. It's the old activism vs. lobbying argument, and the latter seems to be getting better results. Not with Earth corporations who have contracts with the PsiCorps, but the Narns don't have telepaths and much more to gain from making a deal with her group. She takes G'Kar up on the offer he made way back in the pilot, offering DNA for money and ships so they can find a proper homeworld. Pervy JMS can't help but remind us the original offer had a leering G'Kar suggest the DNA could be harvested through mating, which Katsulas seems a little uncomfortable with. Thankfully, the scene isn't entirely poisoned with talk of Lyta's pleasure thresholds, because the new G'Kar is more interested in her integrity than her lady parts.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- The plot is advanced suitably and most of the performances are strong, but there are way too many contrived scenes and expository dialog.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This Week in Geek (13-19/10/14)

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Like many, I wasn't too keen on Oliver Queen being a killer in Arrow's first season, but I understood it for what it was - a journey to BECOMING Green Arrow - and my trust paid off in Season 2. This is a BIG season, one that throws the shackles of being just like Revenge to finding its own way, and not being afraid to grow the world tremendously. Green Arrow doesn't have a huge (or impressive) rogues' gallery, but they've combined it with the Teen Titans' (by way of Roy Harper) and the Suicide Squad. Let's just say it leads to one of the most action-packed finale I've ever seen on a TV show. I'll probably always hate the comic book Deathstroke forever, but Slade Wilson is actually a pretty badass villain in the series. Oliver gets a mask and a conscience and some more trick arrows, but other characters aren't immune to change. Fortunes go up and down, and some may not make it through at all. Very cool stuff on the whole. The DVD includes several deleted scenes, a gag reel, and the featurettes we might have gotten on Season 1 if the package had had a little more to it - a half-hour on the Arrow's journey, and shorter bits on the special effects and wire work - plus an ebulient ComiCon panel and a "recap" episode that basically makes John Barrowman narrate clips from the first season. I guess that last one depends on how recently you watched it.

Those responsible for The Thick of It try their hand at American politics in the same basic style with Veep, which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Vice-President of the United States, a position that, like the ministerial appointment in The Thick of It, holds very little power. Let the absurdity of the system be revealed! To its credit, Veep doesn't try to recapture its older cousin precisely. There's a Malcolm Tucker figure, but he wields none of the fear, for example. And the show looks much slicker despite a similar documentary feel. That makes it its own thing, with its own unique characters, and they're FUNNY. (Don't worry, even if there's no Malcolm, there's plenty of imaginative cursing.) I'm hooked and already have Season 2 in hand. The DVD includes one or two commentary tracks on each of its 8 episodes, plus a couple of in-character PSAs and their in-character outtakes, as mandated by the episodes. Also, a making of, a long montage of deleted scenes and outtakes.

Only caught a couple of Halloween-flavored horror films this week, and neither were strictly horror either. Under the Skin, about an alien who comes to Earth to steal men's skins (or something) is an interesting art house film, but I'm not sure I'd call it an "entertainment" exactly. It's the kind of thing you want to call a tone poem, with abstract visuals and sounds to best present the alien's perspective. Scarlett Johansson plays it well, and must, per force discover her own humanity from wearing a human skin, but much of the action is repetitive, and involves non-actors who mumble in a thick Scottish accent. A lot of longueurs interrupted by nudity. And yet, there's something there, if you're in the mood for it. The DVD has a large number of short featurettes, about every aspect of the production, making up a longer making of documentary.

The other was the Korean serial killer-themed thriller I Saw the Devil, which fits the horror genre because of how gory the violence is (think Ichi the Killer), but is essentially a supercop revenge story in which the good guy adopts the villain's methods, terror and torture, to achieve his goals. If the film is trying to say there's evil accessible in everyone, the opposite isn't exactly true. Like many villains in Asian films, the serial killer is absolutely irredeemable and disgusting. There's no empathizing with that guy when the cop goes crazy, which I think is a weakness. Another weakness is that I Saw the Devil is at least 20 minutes too long. Lots of twists of fate, but it feels like we hit the climax and then have to suffer through another act. The cinematography is quite luscious and the action scenes well-choreographed, but be warned the horror is predicated on violence done to women. It's a horror trope I'm getting a little tired of, even when the intent is to make you squirm.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. The Readiness Is All - BBC '80

Babylon 5 #104: Meditations of the Abyss

"If I take a lamp and shine it toward the wall, a bright spot will appear on the wall. The lamp is our search for truth, for understanding. Too often we assume that the light on the wall is God. But the light is not the goal of the search; it is the result of the search. The more intense the search, the brighter the light on the wall. The brighter the light on the wall, the greater the sense of revelation upon seeing it! Similarly, someone who does not search, who does not bring a lantern with him, sees nothing. What we perceive as God, is the byproduct of our search for God. It may simply be an appreciation of the light, pure and unblemished, not understanding that it comes from us. Sometimes we stand in front of the light and assume that we are the center of the universe. God looks astonishingly like we do! Or we turn to look at our shadow, and assume that all is darkness. If we allow ourselves to get in the way, we defeat the purpose; which is to use the light of our search to illuminate the wall in all its beauty... and in all its flaws. And in so doing better understand the world around us."
IN THIS ONE... Lennier's training takes him into space. G'Kar gets a new eye. The Drazi bug Londo's quarters. Vir gets promoted to Ambassador.

REVIEW: It's a character-building episode that tunes in to various lives, and is directed by Michael Vejar, so I'm pretty happy with this one. The Lennier thread takes up the bulk of it and provides the action beats, so let's start there. When it begins isn't my cup of tea - Delenn being sexually harassed in some brown sector dive, her thin reasons for keeping her meeting with her former aide a secret from Sheridan, and AGAIN seeing the First Couple in bed together, which JMS is completely obsessed with - but Lennier as way-too-competent Ranger trainee is pretty cool. We finally get to see what it's like inside a Minbari fighter, and he aces all the tests thrown at him, both those planned and those provided by a recruit who got into the Rangers for the wrong reasons. The organization really is a kind of sophocracy, where wisdom rules, and the solutions brought to bear by both Lennier and Captain Montoya are great examples. Obviously, I could do without whiny recruit Findell, but his attitude helps highlight what is actually pretty great about the Rangers.

There's wisdom elsewhere as well, what with Franklin crashing one of G'Kar's talks. The light metaphor reproduced above is a very nice parable, though I wonder about the less successful river metaphor that tags the scene. The acolytes are puzzled by the former, but accept the latter without explanation. Is it a cultural touch stone? Or is JMS saying once again showing "followers" of a religion as literal-minded nitwits craving platitudes? If so, G'Kar lets them get away with it this time. Just feels like there should have been more dialog there, perhaps between the Narn prophet and Franklin. Not that I mind ambiguity now and then, mind you. Very nice make-up work on the eye replacement by the way, and video effects as well - there really is a camera inside that eye. Vejar likes to add a lot of cool factor to scenes like this (note also the lighting in the Minbari fighters, and something as simple as our POV coming out of hyperspace; "MARIA" painted on the side of the White Star looks like a CG guy getting over-zealous though).

As for the Centauri stuff, it's meant to fill the episode's comedy needs and move the political story along. The Drazi make paltry spies, and Londo has some fun torturing them. Vir gets his due - he will always be one step behind Londo in position, it seems - but only "deserves" it once he gets the respect he craves. It's a bit over-played - look at that comedy snarl - but it's Vir unleashing his wrath on a fruit stand with a sword, what's not to like? Putting an end to a long string of indignities has certainly been a long time coming. Speaking of indignities, we also catch up with Garibaldi at the very end. He wasn't in the episode much because he's super-drunk. At least he's a happy drunk these days. I'm sure misery will soon follow.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- Some great zen wisdom in here, and direction to match. Not perfect, perhaps, but makes good use of a large segment of the cast, and adds to our overall understanding of the B5 universe.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Reign of the Supermen #550: Nightmare Superman

Source: Infinite Crisis computer game (2014)
Type: Alternate Earth (non-canon)
Has no yet appeared in the digital comic (that I know of), so here's his story straight from the game's website. He's actually pretty cool AND uses actual Phantom Zone canon from the Bronze Age.

Without warning, dozens of Phantom Zone portals shimmered into existence across Metropolis, and moments later hundreds of 'phantoms' began pouring out. Those touched by the phantoms faded from reality, and became phantoms themselves. Desperate to halt the invasion, and needing protection from the phantoms' touch, Superman retrieved an 'ecto-suit' built by his father Jor-El, and flew into one of the portals.

Within the Phantom Zone Superman battled Aethyr, a being unknowable and incomprehensible. Those who looked upon it were driven mad. Aethyr had slumbered within the depths of the Zone for millennia, but the arrival of hundreds of Kryptonian prisoners had slowly awakened it. Enraged, Aethyr enslaved the prisoners' minds, and drove them to seek those responsible for disturbing it: The House of El. As Superman and Aethyr battled, Aethyr weakened and eventually retreated to his eon-long slumber to heal. As it retreated back into the Phantom Zone's depths, the portals it had created winked out of existence. The world saved from the phantom invasion, Superman barely escaped through one of the portals.

Superman's victory, however, was a hollow one. While he had battled Aehtyr, every living soul in Metropolis had been transformed into a phantom. Their tortured minds cried out to him, and Superman's sanity – already in tatters – snapped. His mind unhinged, he now wanders his beloved Metropolis, the 'king' of a city of phantoms.

Nightmare Superman's battle in the Phantom Zone altered him, imbuing him with Phantom Zone energy. His broken mind believes he is still protecting Metropolis, and he mistakes innocents for villains long defeated. This has led to the deaths of many souls that have crossed his path.

Babylon 5 #103: The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father

"Much as it might offend their sense of perspective, not everything is about Babylon 5."
IN THIS ONE... Told from the PsiCorps' point of view, Bester tracks a telepathic killer to the station.

REVIEW: This season's "change of pace" episode (and I note the DVD DID change the opening sequence to match this time) treats the show as if the Psi Cops were its protagonists. While I'm not always convinced of their "world" - the Orwellian signs on the walls are rather obvious and silly - the net effect is to make the Babylon 5 personnel the "villains" and Bester and his fresh recruits the heroes. It's more than the premise, it's also in how it's played. Bester comes off as a tired old veteran, wise and gracious in how he lets Mundane jerks be mean to him. The few B5 characters we do see (Zack and Franklin) are smug, callous, and arguably racist. This holds up until the end when the show loses its nerve and has Franklin play up his ethics, and the Psi Cops ditch a Mundane out an airlock in hyperspace. You ALMOST had me.

The real shame is that the sympathetic interns accompanying Bester couldn't be better written. Both are little more that groupies, however. The guy, Chen, isn't given much to do except be rash (because young men are rash). The girl, Lauren, is so star-struck by Bester, she tries to seduce him. He refuses, still in love with the telepath in cold storage on B5 (and married to boot), and handles it rather graciously, but she comes off as a pure twit. Is this what JSM thinks of female interns in general? Of female fans? Or is he going back once again to his experience in a cult, and playing the PsiCorps as Yet Another B5 Cult(TM)? Whatever the case may be, the whole thing creeps me out. If at least they were used to expose a lot of cool stuff about the Corps, but showing orientation videos seems a terrible use of Bester's time. The cool stuff is limited to the creepy effects on the psi-battle (but the tentacles put us in mind of the Shadows and are probably misleading) and the hidden ship in hyperspace (but is that ever going to be anything?).

As for the plot about a telepath with split personalities, one of which is a P12 murderer, it's fine, but not great. Split personalities are a hack device, as far as I know still dubious in the eyes of science, though in a telepathic context, it could have been made to work. The idea that the rogue Harris could steal a skill from a victim - and may I say, the victim gets the strangely gory end of the stick, yeesh - opened the door to a foreign personality infecting a telepath, creating the schism. They miss the boat by an inch. It doesn't help that the actor portraying Harris isn't as strong as he needs to be, nor is the mystery very mysterious. We realize what's going on long before Bester makes the leap.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - A pretty negative review, but it's born from disappointment, because this idea had legs. It's not a bad story for Bester to go out on, but it's completely disposable.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Babylon 5 #102: The Ragged Edge

"I have always said this about you: nothing so improves your company like the lack of it. Perhaps you can make some money from this: Ten credits for you not to be there for an hour, a hundred credits for you not to be there for the day. And for you not to be there for the rest of your life, well, they could never afford it."
IN THIS ONE... Garibaldi fails to secure a witness to the mystery raids. G'Kar's book becomes a bestseller.

REVIEW: They didn't wait long to show Garibaldi screwing up from drinking. A string of bad decisions makes him lose the one lead the Alliance had to the identity of the mystery raiders plaguing the shipping lanes (and at this point, the Alliance's political survival hinges on their proper defense). He doesn't bring best bud Franklin around for fear of his drinking habit being discovered (the sponsor is about to get sponsored). He sleeps while his old friend and contact is killed. And the witness he's trying to contact is killed before he talk. The universe throws Garibaldi a bone in the shape of a Centauri uniform button, ripped off a mystery cultist, which momentarily throws suspicion Londo's way, but G'Kar defends his friend and would rather keep him out of the loop lest the Centauri P.M. get assassinated for his outrage and prying. Sound choice. Or it may lead to tragedy, we'll see.

The Garibaldi sequence provides plenty of action, but also our first look at the Drazi homeworld, which is basically the universe's Maghreb, a Mediterranean feel and cramped streets. Not necessarily what I would have chosen for them, but there you go. The talk of traditions that aren't necessarily helpful today is embedded here - the thing about buttons being on different sides for men and women blew my mind, by the way - and takes on more meaning as we go. The palace button Garibaldi finds is part of this (that's some pretty bad covert work, right there), but the G'Kar subplot is too.

While he was away, Ta'Lon started distributing "the Book of G'Kar" and it's become an overnight sensation, to the point where G'Kar has become a religious icon. But are they enamored of the man, or the message? G'Kar refused the political leadership of his people, in part because they were talking revenge as soon as they were free from Centauri, but as a writer, he's had a more positive impact. Now thousands are flocking to his call for peace and tolerance. Ta'Lon has to convince him to heed the call. According to his own philosophy, he should be bringing HIS particular talent to the cause, and that's as a teacher, just as Ta'Lon's is to be a warrior. Despite Londo's claims that the best way to appreciate G'Kar is when he's not there, he soon gets a number of followers. But not everyone has the benefit of having been "touched" by a Vorlon, and we're quickly shown a follower with a literal understanding of the Book, whom G'Kar just as quickly puts in his place. To be successful, G'Kar will have to create a new tradition without it losing all its relevance, as so many do. I think I'm going to like this thread, especially if it's written with this much acerbic wit.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Seeing cloaked cultists attack Garibaldi sent my mind right back to the pah-wraith monks on Deep Space 9. G'Kar as a religious figure recalls the Sisko, of course.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- Well-written, with barbs pointed at politics and religion alike, while also doing a good job of making Garibaldi screw up.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Movie Flash No Relation to TV Flash (and Why It's Probably Better That Way)

Yesterday, someone asked me if Grant Gustin, TV's newest Flash, would be appearing in the Justice League movies (i.e. Man of Steel 2 AKA Superman vs. Batman AKA Justice League Year Zero, and whatever lies beyond). I then said - on an open mike, no less - that I didn't know. I should have read Variety's website that morning because the information IS out there. Seems Ezra Miller has been cast as the movie Flash, due to cameo in whatever Frankenstein's movie they're making and in a Flash solo film in 2018. No relation to the hit TV series, thanks.

And though it would certainly have been cool if the live-action DC Universe had been one single reality, where Gotham really is the prequel to everything, and the Flash and the Arrow could show up in Justice League movies, I think Marvel's Agents of SHIELD probably showed us why this wasn't such a great idea. Before SHIELD fans start stamping their feet and protesting that the show's gotten better, or whatever, let me first say I'm not talking about quality here. The real problem was that the show started out making choices based on what was best for the films and not the TV series. It kept itself from introducing characters that were film-worthy, and worst of all, had to wait for Captain America: The Winter Soldier to come out and for people to digest it before heading into certain directions. The reverse could have happened to (and yet may), where the show's going well, but everything must be interrupted or sent into another direction by movie events.

So imagine a TV DCU that's a slave to the movies (because of course it would be, and not vice-versa), where the Flash can't meet Firestorm because they've suddenly decided to keep him for the bigger budget film, so that subplot goes nowhere... Or indeed, where those heroes who are currently badass solo stars would end up in a subservient role to the big guns (which will still happen, but they won't have years of badassery under their belts). No, better to keep things separate and autonomous. (Hey, how about making the movie guy Wally West to change things up?)

Babylon 5 #101: Phoenix Rising

"Every race to develop telepaths has had to find some way to control them, through laws, religion, drugs, or extermination. We may not be pretty, but we're a hell of a lot better than the alternatives."
IN THIS ONE... The telepath insurrection comes to a violent end. Garibaldi, unable to kill Bester, falls off the wagon.

REVIEW: I suppose I could be snarky and say the best thing about this episode is that it finally puts an end to the whole Byron saga, but it's got rather more going for it than that. Chief among its strengths is Bester, in rare form, toying with an "Asimoved" Garibaldi who wants to wring a confession out of him, or else kill him, but manages neither because of psychic blocks. (Advice: Next time, record the conversation yourself, without permission.) While I don't know how "lost" Garibaldi looks in his scene with Franklin later (if you're going to put it in the dialog, make sure to get the appropriate performance from the actor), this ultimately sends him back to the bottle. Pure despair? Or a surprise twist in which alcohol breaks down the walls Bester erected? (Maybe I'm thinking about the compound's effect on the Keeper here, but the logic might hold.)

Byron's connection to Bester is no real surprise, as there seemed to be something personal driving the PsiCop all along. Bester was the monster who made Byron commit atrocities against "mundanes" and turned him off violence forever. But not against calling us "mundanes". Cough, cough. It's hard to care because Byron is such a non-character - he just does things that are required of the plot or quotes great writers; perhaps being in other people's heads means having no thoughts of your own - but at least we get sequences with badass-looking PsiCorps Starfuries. If Byron isn't much of a character, his groupies gone bad are even more badly sketched in. The boss sports an even more egregious mullet, basically because we need as many long-haired telepaths as possible in the story to make the super-obvious "twist" work in the scene repeated from The Deconstruction of Falling Stars. I'm sorry, that was a superficial comment. But then, there's little that ISN'T superficial about these idiot who commit terrorist acts in the name of a peacemonger, and start shooting at everyone, even their valuable hostages, if they so much as speak. JMS' expertise is talkers. He writes his brutes as blunt weapons incapable of multiple dimensions.

But while most of the episode sustains some kind of interest, everything goes off the rails at the end. Not the peace Byron manages to broker. That works well enough. The culprits will be punished, but not by the PsiCops, and all the goodie telepaths will get to leave. But there's the matter of the terrorists surrendering... armed to the teeth! That's just stupid, and of course, it leads to another bloody fire fight. And then Byron and his group choose immolation rather than give themselves up, with a long speech leading up to it, giving ample time for everyone in the room to either escape or prevent them from committing mass suicide. Except no one ever interrupts anyone on Babylon 5. Byron's death would be tragic if it wasn't so welcome. Now we can look forward to seeing his name on graffiti across the entire galaxy. Remember Byron. Remember Byron. You know, I'd really rather forget all about him and his overwrought plot line. And they haven't remembered a damn thing about him if they're already committing sabotage on Earth in his name at the end.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Thanks to Bester, not a complete dud. The melodramatic ending tries its best to kill any good feeling you might have though.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Random Thoughts on the Flash

I was waiting to see Barry Allen's appearances in Arrow Season 2 before sitting down to watch The Flash pilot episode, which explains why I'm a little late to the party. I liked the show, generally, and hope to explore Central City a lot more over the coming years. Here are some things that crossed my mind while watching:

1. Between Arrow, Gotham and the Flash, DC-live action has found a winning formula, I think. Offering long-running soap/mystery arcs, strong stunts and action, and loads of Easter eggs for comic book fans in a slick, pretty people package. The trick now is to make each one distinguishable from the other, lest they become the CSI/NCIS/Law & Order of the superhero set. If Gotham went darker and more violent than Arrow, Flash goes the other way, with a lovable loser as protagonist, more Peter Parker than Oliver Queen or Bruce Wayne, and a focus on super-powers rather than street justice.

2. I could have done without the "murder of Ma Allen" element, but given Geoff Johns' involvement, this was inevitable. Because the fans know who the Reverse-Flash is supposed to be, the show counters with two characters who could turn out to be Professor Zoom. This gives Barry a long-term goal, more to free his unjustly-convicted father (played by the 1990 TV Flash, John Wesley Shipp, cool!) than to get revenge. More interesting is the shared origin of all the powers. Smallville initially tried something like this with the stupid Kryptonite poisoning angle, but here, the explosion of an experimental particle accelerator works quite well. The Flash's original stories were about science, with villains representing forces of nature/physics just as much as the Flash was. The explosion gives the show license to create all the Rogues, but also characters like Firestorm (announced), Killer Frost (in play) and Vibe (him too).

3. While I waited for Barry to finish his run in Arrow, you don't really need to. The pilot works without it, and it's even strange to think Barry takes off for Starling City somewhere in there, near the beginning. It's not mentioned. And poor Felicity Smoak, how can you carry on a relationship with the Fastest Man Alive if he's got a massive crush on Iris West on his own show?

4. The costume's fine, and I don't have a problem with it, but I'm not enamored of some of the effects in running scenes. When he moves faster than we can follow, it's cool. When the camera stays on him and the background speeds by, it looks a little cheesy and green screeny. I'm sure these issues will sort themselves out over time.

5. They didn't wait before giving Barry a support system of people who know his secret identity. As with the 1990 show, there's a whole science team helping him learn to use his powers, just like Tina McGee did back in the day (I hear Amanda Pays is set to appear some time, perhaps as the same character?), and Captain West, Iris' dad and Barry's de factor father figure, is already on his side. They slowly brought people in on the secret on Arrow, so there's no reason to repeat the whole cycle. Let's just set up the board and go from there.

6. For a simple "assistant", Barry is a really brilliant CSI (he's his own Felicity), with Sherlock-like graphics appearing as he analyzes clues. Well hey, it's a fun device, even if it's derivative at this point. On the whole police/detective front, I could do with a busier police station, but did smile at the Weather Wizard's crime - just bank robbery. That's the kind of crime the Flash should be dealing with.

7. Some people have complained there were too many night scenes, making the action dark and murky. I don't think it was too bad, but since the show is filmed in Vancouver just like Arrow, I'd like them to keep the two worlds distinct by making Starling Vancouver at night, and Central Vancouver during in daylight.

8. I say Central City, but an aerial view and references to Keystone City - the Golden Age Flash's city and later, Wally West's - is right there across the river. So there are Twin Cities to explore, and they hopefully each have their own character.

9. If Arrow is cool by virtue of all the DC characters showing up or getting referenced, The Flash goes into overdrive with the Easter eggs. Is it too much? Not for a pilot, because a lot of it is seeding future events. Grodd's open cage. The aforementioned Reverse-Flash. All the name characters that, as was done with Arrow, are destined to become metahumans. And that squee-inducing (and much-spoiled) reference to Crisis, an event that will forever be connected to the Flash and that also hints at Barry perhaps one day breaking the time barrier. Throw in Linda Park, am Arrow cameo, company names from the DCU, a magazine called Science SHOWCASE, winks to the 1956 Flash origin and classic Flash stunts, and you've got a lot of fun stuff for the fans that won't have wider audiences scratching their heads.

While none of the DC-related shows on the air fill me with passion, all of them are fairly solid action thrillers coated in comic book candy. I don't consider any of them revelations or must-see TV (which is why I DVD-wait Arrow), but they entertain me, feature mostly likeable actors/characters (Flash doesn't have a "Laurel" at least), and keep my interest. I can probably be counted on to watch the first few episodes at least, and to buy the DVD next year if I don't get very far.

Babylon 5 #100: A Tragedy of Telepaths

"Well, with everyone now on the same side, perhaps you're planning to invade yourselves for a change. I find the idea curiously appealing. Once you've finished killing each other, we can plow under all the buildings and plant rows of flowers that spell out the words 'too annoying to live' in letters big enough to be seen from space."
IN THIS ONE... Lochley calls in Bester to end the telepaths' stand-off. Londo and G'Kar rescue Na'Toth from a Centauri cell.

REVIEW: I think JMS just sold me on Captain Lochley and all it took was an episode that actually focused on her getting the job done instead of arguing with the rest of the cast. In her opening log, she provides a recap of recent events, played - in a neat directorial trick - under her morning routine. I say morning, but I'm sure it starts in what we think of as night. And though she's as grumpy as Ivanova used to be, she bears the fatigue and frustration with more grace. Her solution to the telepath problem is going to suck, she knows it, but she acts anyway. Calling Bester - cocky, cocky Bester - is just about the only thing she can do at this point, and hopefully it's not what starts the heralded telepath war. Before he gets there and throws his arrogance around, she nevertheless makes one last plea for peace, putting herself in danger to do so, gunless, ballsy and shrewd. That it doesn't work isn't an indictment... and maybe it does work. All depends what Byron does next.

The mystery raiders subplot proceeds apace, and though we've got enough pieces to put the puzzle together, Sheridan doesn't. The Alliance aliens are ever worse off, letting their paranoia and the secret attackers' planted evidence turn them against one another. Sheridan and Delenn's solution get them in hot water, but it's a sound use of the Alliance charter. Didn't any of these alien races read the documents they were signing? Did any of them have their hearts in the right place? Or were they all strong-armed by a "show of force" like Earth was? Maybe some of that stuff in Deconstruction of Falling Stars wasn't so far off. The Alliance does act like a fascist regime in some respects, even if it's to enforce peace. It's all too precarious for them to just let certain races get thrown out, but really, if they're not going to respect the Alliance's ideals, you might as well throw them out, or they'll keep causing trouble. Nice speech from Garibaldi to explain why everyone's out to take Sheridan down too. We name wars rather than periods of peace because we're thrill junkies, who tag destruction as momentous events.

As usual, the best parts are on Centauri Prime with the show's two best characters. It's fun to see G'Kar enjoying himself, taking Centauri culture down a peg or twelve, but it's just a precursor to a test of his friendship with Londo. An innocuous clue (fresh spoo, of course) leads them to find Na'Toth (remember her? and yes it's the original) in a cell. Royal bureaucracy being what it is, Londo claims there's no way to free her until he's Emperor. A flash of the old G'Kar, angry and outraged. But soon enough, their partnership is repaired, and perhaps made a bit stronger, by Londo figuring out how to smuggle forgotten Na'Toth off the planet. He uses some of his pull as Prime Minister, sure, but most of it is possible through the precise application of his very own super-power - inappropriate boorishness. It's a pretty great escape sequence.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Between putting Lochley on the map for me, some political wrangling, nice speeches, and a sweet Londo-G'Kar plot, this episode is far from a "tragedy".

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Titan's Twelfth Doctor Comic - Advance Review!

A couple months ago, Titan was nice enough to digitally send me preview copies of their 10th and 11th Doctor Who comics which I was more than happy to review (Tenth, Eleventh). I liked them a lot, and with their respective continuities over and done with, the creative teams were able to introduce their own companions and send their respective Doctors into adventures that couldn't be interrupted or contradicted by events on the telly. The Twelfth Doctor's comic book adventures will be in stores TOMORROW, and again Titan sent me a preview copy. Can it do as well with Capaldi-Doc with all the extra constraints? Let's see...

"Terrorformer"
Writers: Robbie Morrison (another 2000 A.D. alumn, known for co-creating the Nikolai Dante strip)
Artist: Dave Taylor (has done work on Force Works, Batman and Judge Dredd)

The big question is: Did the creative team get enough information to give us an on-model 12th Doctor and 12-Clara dynamic, seeing as the series has only been on for six weeks? Well, there's even a reference to Danny Pink, so it seems so (though probably added at the lettering stage). In fact, Doc12 as a quietly threatening, impatient eccentric is pretty well-rendered, right down to the ambiguity of his callousness. The Doctor considers Clara "the Teacher" which follows the thread established in the first half of Series 8. So on that front, I'm happy. The art is rather less "on-model", but that's a matter of taste. To my mind, the characters have such strong features, they should be much easier to render accurately, but I can't draw; what do I know? Still, the TARDIS itself could be a bit better.
Taylor does well enough otherwise, so no real complaints, creating an interesting alien world and its fauna, amazing technology, and the required creepy robot. When he lets his imagination fly, he goes into overdrive. When doing pre-fab characters and things, the energy and consistency are lacking.

The story itself takes its time setting up a terraformed world going wrong - think of the Genesis Planet from The Search for Spock - but gives us a lot of scenes with the Doctor and Clara, showing their characters, and throwing wit into every speech balloon. It's a good use of this multi-parter's first act, acting as an introduction to a Doctor who hasn't had as much play yet as his two previous selves. The strength of the concept shines through immediately. While you might read an 11th Doctor story and think it could have been written for Ten, there's no mistaking the 12th for any other modern iteration. Or any classic one, for that matter. Morrison pitches the script just right. We'll have to see if the plot is as worthy when it runs its course.

Titan has winners in each of its three Doctor series, and I'd be more than willing to see what they do with other Doctors (or spin-offs), perhaps as mini-series.