Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Marvel's Recent Number Ones

Earlier this week, we talked about DC Comics' first issue sins. Marvel commits its own. Far too many of their recent first issues (we're looking at the past three months or so) aren't really jumping-on points at all! Rather, a lot of these are part of some crossover event (or other plotline) already in progress, and if you're not following that story, it feels like you're missing something. Look, it's normal for new series to spin off from big events, but that's not what's happening here. Anyway, let's look at 9 new Marvel series to see which will be worth following monthly.
All-New Captain America by Rick Remender, Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger. I have no problem with the Falcon taking on Captain America's mantle, especially since he's not giving up the wings to do it. New ideas for action scenes, and so on. On a character basis, it's harder to say because the first issue is almost non-stop action. It looks nice (Immonen and von Grawnbadger are an excellent team), but aside from some voice-over captions and a flashback to Wilson's preacher father, there's not much to go on. The new Cap shares the page with the new Nomad, who happens to be Steve Rogers' super-fast grown son from the alternate dimension where I left Rogers when I quit the previous series very early on. The pair-up feels a little like Dick Grayson-Batman and Darian-Robin Lite. And they better not have just killed Batroc (though they definitely killed his accent, booo). The old Cap is in the background running the missions, in case you're actually a Steve Rogers fan. So a perfectly competent superhero action book, but it definitely means to continue plots from a previous iteration I wasn't reading.
Keep reading? Not enough there to keep me interested. People invested in the previous series will likely like what's going on moving forward though.
Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier by Ales Kot and Marco Rudy. WHAT THE HELL. Cap's OTHER sidekick/partner also gets a new series, already on its second issue, and it's completely bonkers. Now, I like Ales Kot well enough, and he's proven to be quite good at covert ops kind of stuff (Zero being the prime example), but this is complete lunacy. Normally, I'd be quite keen on the story of a covert agent going all around the Marvel universe - outer space, other dimensions, magical realms, etc. - on whatever mission took his fancy. But is this really the right character with whom to tell such a story?! Rudy's painted art has some incredible layouts, and is told in huge, if slightly muddy, splashes that somehow don't compress the story because the writing won't let it. It's not that the comic is dense, but rather than we keep jumping from one situation to the next. It's full of ideas, but they're disjointed. I'm interested in its energy, but keep pulling back because I don't understand how Bucky Barnes, a gritty realistic hero, can be involved in any of these adventures. I like the book, but not who it's about, if that makes any sense.
Keep reading? I liked both issues, and have half a mind to keep going, but everything is just a bit... off, you know?
Captain America and the Mighty Avengers by Al Ewing and Luke Ross. It's part of Axis, which is absolutely the worst way to start a new superhero series. Here's what I think I know of this event: The Red Skull decided to play Hate-Monger and whatever device he was using caused a moral inversion in various heroes and villains. The villains who gained a conscience are all getting mini-series, it looks like, which is fine. For the heroes who have temporarily turned anti-hero, it's not. This series should more appropriately be called Captain America VERSUS the Mighty Avengers, because Sam Wilson is Axised out of his mind, which will not only act as a turn-off for this series, but for his own where he's perfectly on-model (despite the fact that series AND Axis are both written by Rick Remender). And it's too bad Ewing is strapped with this false representation of the character because the series otherwise has several things going for it, including henchmen arguing with the now goodie Plunderer, a varied ethnic cast (in the Mighty Avengers itself), funny captions, and pundits using the Twitter arguments against FalCap right on the first page. I like what Ewing is doing in Loki Agent of Asgard, and this could have the same vibe. It'll just need for Axis to resolve itself before finding its real voice.
Keep reading? Doubtful. I shy away from all Avengers and X-Men books because they're always snagged in some event or other. That CA&TMA actually starts with such a snag is proof enough that I can't trust it to tell its own stories for very long.
Deathlok by Nathan Edmondson and Mike Perkins. Edmondson is always very good at doing covert ops stories. He has a handle on the lingo, does his research, etc. But seeing as I'm already reading his Black Widow, do I actually need another Edmondson covert ops book? I don't really know this Deathlok, and almost wish he was still a character who lived in the near future, which would distinguish it from similar books. Unlike a lot of other books reviewed in this article, however, Deathlok doesn't tie into other events (good) and shows a bit of his personal life (he's a single father to a teenage daughter; again, good). There's also the question of who he's ACTUALLY working for, which is a standard but intriguing mystery for this kind of book. Perkins' art is a bit soft and grimy for my tastes, but I like his layouts and how he incorporates Deathlok's HUD into the panels.
Keep reading? Maybe. But I'm not a fan of shoot-'em-up stories, which the first issue definitely was. So probably not.
Guardians 3000 by Dan Abnett and Gerardo Sandoval. With the Guardians of the Galaxy's star on the rise, and fans of the original iteration complaining that Star-Lord etc. weren't THEIR Guardians, it was only a matter of time before the 30th-century group got its own series. Dan Abnett is a great choice to write it because he's got lots of experience with SF superheroes, most notably The Legion and Hypernaturals (which I really liked). Right away, he makes the year 3014 distinctive with its own lexicon and crazy hyper-science, and taps into what I've always liked of the franchise back in the day, the way it uses Marvel Universe elements (Cap's shield, Tony Stark's A.I., Galactus' new herald, Annhililus' descendent, etc.) as fun continuity references. (I poached this approach for my 28th-century Justice Legion role-playing campaign.) Fans of the current Guardians may be a bit confused as to who these guys are, the only recognizable name Yondu's, but it's easy to catch up thanks to our point-of-view character Geena, who may just hold the key to what's really going on in the story, with twists that may yet redefine who some of the Guardians are.
Keep reading? To my surprise, yeah! Both issues were a lot of fun, which I think it what readers are now expecting from the Guardians name. (Is the GotG series any good, by the way? And Star-Lord, and Rocket Raccoon? I haven't sampled them.)
Hawkeye vs. Deadpool by Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli. Hawkeye is on such an intermittent schedule (6 months between issues 19 and 20), a second book in the same style isn't one too many. Obviously, it's not quite as sharp as the Fraction/Aja award-winner, but it has its moments. Deadpool isn't as meta as I want him to be, but there's one particularly hilarious moment near the end of #0 that takes the piss out of Hawkeye's avant-garde story-telling style that made me laugh out loud. And before I knew it, I'd read two more issues. Kate Bishop also features strongly, so that's nice. The comedy stems more from buddy movie banter, but I do wish Lolli's amusing and expressive art would be a little more consistent with its portrayal of Hawkeye's current struggle with deafness. Sometimes he needs Deadpool to pull his mask up so he can read his lips (and yuck, by the way); other times he must be able to read them when it's down. And then there are time when the characters say it's up and it isn't, or vice-versa. Not as clever as the parent series, certainly, but mistakes aside, still pretty entertaining.
Keep reading? Well I got this far (third issue) from a single joke in the first one, so... Keep going? All signs point to yes, though it's no substitute for the main Hawkeye book.
Spider-Woman by Dennis Hopeless, Greg Land and Jay Leisten. Is it damning with faint praise if I say the book wasn't as bad as I thought it would be? I liked Jessica Drew's recent appearances in Hawkeye and Secret Avengers, and Hopeless writes her much the same, a somewhat jaded superhero, all sass and no patience. She's funny, no-nonsense and generally pissed-off. I really like her. Greg Land, I dislike immensely, but he seems to reign in the worst of his proclivities, with few postures you'd be able to point to as traced over pornography. The real problem is the one discussed above: The series starts in the middle of the Spider-Verse crossover event. So Jess - and Silk, and various other Spider-Girls - is running around the multiverse from page 1, and if you don't follow the event, it's just the weirdest thing. Now, I'm enjoying Spider-Verse, that's not a problem, but just what will Spider-Woman be ABOUT once that wraps? Who will be in it with Jess, what will the focus be? Unknown. And THAT, more than Land's inability to make lips match up (page 16, panel 1) is the problem.
Keep reading? I'm following Spider-Verse, so yes, but once that's over, the book will have another trial issue.
Superior Iron Man by Tom Taylor and Yildiray Cinar. No Axis logo on the cover, but make no mistake, Tony Stark has been morally inverted. Superior is essentially Tony Stark if he'd learned nothing and was still the character we saw at the start of the first Iron Man movie. Does that appeal to you? It's actually not bad. Taylor's been making his living turning goodies into not-so-goodies in Injustice and Earth-2, but he doesn't have to go too far off-model with Tony. Mostly, it's techno-savvy, with lots of interesting applications for Iron Man tech and appearances by more heroic characters to balance things out. Unlike Bad Falcon, who's just an ultra-conservative parody, this Iron Man is funny, charming and the most despicable of capitalists. A hero(?) for the times. It shocks without being violent (I'm actually surprised), has something to say about our culture (not something deep necessarily, but I can't say that about every comic on the stands), and asks questions I want to see answered.
Keep reading? The "Superior" brand better not become diluted through over-use, but this series isn't a threat to its seal of quality. I'm back on the Iron Man wagon.
Thor by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman. Nope, I don't have any problem with a female Thor. In fact, I quite liked her, whoever she is. I'm glad we're two issues in, because the first isssue basically ends with her appearance. Not a lot to go on as we say farewell to Thor Odinson (in a particularly DC kind of way... whatever). So the premise is that no one can lift the hammer anymore, certainly not Thor, and it's abandoned on the Moon following the events of Original Sin. The Asgardians leave, a woman's hand reaches for Mjolnir, and lo and behold, she is worthy. Who is she? The second issue doesn't tell us either. That's fine, it's a neat mystery, and I like how she SPEAKS as Thor, but thinks as a human being, surprised at the information her Thor self imparts. So she's not normally a goddess, but she can survive on the Moon. Place your bets! It gives a human touch to a series that often lacks it, behind its wall of thees and thous, but there's plenty of Norse action too, with Frost Giants bursting out of the ocean floor and causing mayhem. I really liked Dauterman's art on Superbia, and he brings the same slick pencils, detailed action and quirky expressions to this book.
Keep reading? Yes, I definitely want to see who Thor really is, but beyond that, how she handles the joys and lows of being the Goddess of Thunder.

So Marvel fares a little better than DC does, usually by bringing a sense of fun to the table. Next week, we'll look at some books from less mainstream labels and publishers.

Doctor Who #957: In the Forest of the Night

"I don't want to see more things. I want to see the things in front of me more clearly."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.25 2014.

IN THIS ONE... A forest grows all over Earth overnight.

REVIEW: If you didn't like Kill the Moon, you will likely hate In the Forest of the Night. Because guys, not only is the Moon a dragon egg, but the Earth is protected by a magical forest that pops up anytime an extinction-level event is expected. Yeah, tell that to the dinosaurs. Frank Cottrell Boyce may be an award-winning novelist and screenwriter, but all he's done here is somehow repeat Peter Harness' points from KTM, and peppered it with Doctor Who's greatest hits. Like Kill the Moon, it's got kids taking part in the action, an annoyingly magical world view, Clara arguing that she's visited the future and it was fine, an appeal to the world not to kill the "monster" (a little girl calling everyone is even less likely to get Earth's cooperation than Clara in KTM, come on), and "doing nothing" as the appropriate solution. The Doctor has very little agency, in fact, useful mostly to puzzle out what's going on and what'll happen regardless. It's even got the Doctor throwing Clara's KTM point back at her about Earth being his home as much as hers (more osmosis). Greatest hits: A solar flare (Time Heist), a ridiculous metaphor for the TARDIS being bigger on the inside (The Robots of Death), there being no monster (Listen), the burning sky (The Poison Sky), and so on. Even so-called character development between Clara and Pink feels completely redundant, with Danny coming out with the same point that he doesn't want to be lied to. He has a nice speech about wanting to explore his world rather than go off to find new ones, but it's hardly enough to save the episode.

No doubt what will infuriate viewers is that, as in KTM, science has taken a vacation. This magical forest appears out of nowhere, disappears the same way, somehow covers the ground with dirt, is flame-proof, and so on. I'm equally perplexed that school kids can have sleepovers in museums, and that despite being a city of millions, cramped into a relatively small space, so few people come out of their houses. Never mind the fact the forest grew overnight... simultaneously all over the world, even where it was day, even on the oceans. And I certainly don't buy Clara refusing to save the children on account of their missing their parents. She lost a mother and turned out all right, didn't she? But while Kill the Moon worked on a thematic basis, In the Forest either doesn't or else hits its themes too bluntly. For example, the whole thing with the problem kids in class actually doing the reverse of what they're known for - literal Ruby (the bit with the x was actually funny) who seems dumb, but as the best sense of observation; the kid with anger management issues asking nice; the silent traumatized child opening up to the Doctor - is perhaps meant to echo the threat turning out to be Earth's savior. Well, okay, but it needed to be more integral to the plot. It just seems like a random weird thing with no explanation. And then there's the fairy tale motifs, which just seem like Boyce is doing Moffaty things because he's working for Moffat. The plot echoes such random things as Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rumpelstiltskin, Blake's Tyger Tyger, and Hansel & Gretel. Had the crisis lasted longer, I'm sure Clara would have lost a glass slipper. The point is, it's there if you want to see it, but aside from screaming "FAIRY TALE!" at you, it doesn't bring anything to the story. It's gratuitous.

But aw, a little girl looking for her lost sister - lost how?! - and then finding her at the very end of the episode in a bush - what?! - it's all so cloying and sentimental, and I feel nothing. Nothing at all. What's left? A neat directorial trick to show how news was reported all over the green world, a distorted view of the TARDIS interior, a few jokes, Danny's speech, kids more acceptable than the ones in Nightmare in Silver... Not enough to recommend. Because we also have a ropey sequence where the heroes avoid being crushed by Nelson's statue, a nearly incomprehensible voice for the "fairies", the TARDIS having a Star Trek computer voice (huh?!), and the Doctor dead set against kids taking their medication, which I must admit made me uncomfortable. A real mess.

THEORIES: Okay, so how do I make this episode make sense? By tying it in with Torchwood's Small Worlds. Remember the Torchwood fairies? (Wow, well that was an unfortunate turn of phrase.) They kidnapped little girls and turned them into fairies, flitting back and forth through time via natural spaces. They could manifest vegetable matter (rose petals, mostly) and were pretty mean and murdery. What if the tree spirits seen here are a different manifestation of the same beings? That would account for Maebh's missing sister and use of Maebh herself as a chosen one they could talk to. The fairies could be grabbing children as payment for the important service they offer, i.e. the protection of Earth from certain catastrophic events. With the temporal abilities, these creatures could conceivably manipulate time so vegetation could grow at an accelerated rate, and take those trees right out of time when the task was done. And if we were willing to accept the fairies in Small Worlds as scientifically possible (extradimensional beings, etc.), then we can accept the New New Forest. Possibly, they will evolve into the Great Forest of Cheem by the year 5 billion.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The season's low point, it features a magical plot and makes the same points other episodes did, only not as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Arrowed: Doom Patrol

The feature inspired by great cosplay and fan art where I imagine various DC properties taken to the small screen and wonder aloud just what their shows would be like. Today's pitch: Doom Patrol.
Cosplay by: Joanne (taken from Comics Alliance Reader Halloween Costume Spooktacular 2012)

While every proposed series comes with a large potential supporting cast, just as the actual TV shows do, neither those real or imagined have actually been about superhero TEAMS. The Justice League is big enough for the silver screen, but television can explore more obscure corners of the DCU. My choice: The Doom Patrol. Its got the right elements. A compact cast of superheroes with the potential for more. Lots of tortured souls to fuel the subplots. A conspiracy meta-arc as they discover the Chief engineered (or did he?) each of their situations, and perhaps foreshadowing of their demise as "doomed" characters. Powers and looks fairly easy to create on today's television budgets - a guy in a wheelchair, a size-changer, a clunky robot, and a guy in bandages (or skip right to Negative Woman to balance the cast). To this cast, we can eventually add (or replace them with if the show survives past their deaths) Mento, Celsius, Crazy Jane and the like. Bumblebee can be in it or not, but I love the idea of a superhero team with its own live-in therapist. Cliff would be the soul of the team and of the show, and the reason you'd keep watching no matter how damaged the rest of them got, or how bizarre the adventures.

I'd probably never take is as far as Grant Morrison did, but I would like DP to be WEIRD. The oddest villains. The strangest situations. Like Doctor Who at its darkest. From Morrison, I'd obviously take the journey into Crazy Jane's mind, the Painting that ate Paris, the romance between the Brain and Monsieur Mallah, Danny the Street, and all manner of plots poached from Borges and Lovecraft. Whatever happens, "doom" has to be an important factor. I'd be tempted to have the show start with their deaths, then flash back through several seasons of their prior adventures. You'd always know they were done more. Or perhaps take a page from the Tangent version, heroes from the future who have come back in time to prevent something terrible from happening, but soon lose the plot and might even be responsible for the doom that awaits us all (kind of like the much under-appreciated Sarah Connor Chronicles).

What would YOU do with the world's most alienated and traumatized heroes?

Doctor Who #956: Flatline

"You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.18 2014.

IN THIS ONE... Attack of the two-dimensional aliens while the Doctor is trapped inside a shrunken TARDIS.

REVIEW: New writer Jamie Mathieson has just had two fantastic ideas produced in a row, Mummy on the Orient Express and this. No, wait, THREE fantastic ideas, because Flatline features two ideas that could have worked separately, but he combined them to make the episode even more fun and incredible to look at. I'm not one to care all that much about special effects, but these are indeed "special". On the one hand, the two-dimensional aliens who can flatten things and people (that sofa sequence was indeed worthy of being shown twice) before they learn to become graffiti zombies ("wearing the dead" is certainly a motif this season). So unusual and even painterly. The "Boneless" made for excellent enemies. The idea shares a strand of DNA with Fear Her, except it's not complete bollocks, you know? And on the OTHER hand, we have the TARDIS shell leached of its dimensions, and the Doctor trapped behind a door now too small for him - just a face in box, or a hand crawling the ship to safety - it's crazy and awesome. These two problems are almost too much for our heroes, and they keep failing, staving off destruction until the next cliffhanger moment. It's quite exciting and urgent.

But what this twin dilemma actually does is force Clara to act as the Doctor's proxy, which is what we've been moving towards for a number of episodes now. Her taking on the role, even if he can talk to her (though the solution is all her, with the help of an artist; how often does art figure into Whovian solutions, as opposed to science or, uhm, the power of love?), gives her the chance to deconstruct the Doctor for us. Sometimes it's done in fun, and she takes pleasure mocking the show's tropes. Sometimes it's dead serious, and she assumes those attributes and ways of working she identifies with the Doctor as a coping mechanism. She recruits a companion, she gives the people hope, she shuts down the one man without imagination (amusingly, Fenton can't even make psychic paper work for him) who must be how the Doctor sees almost every human, and above all, she lies her head off. The Doctor lies; Clara lies. And at the end, she sweeps the fact that people have died under the rug, because "on balance", some survived and the world was saved. It's the Doctor who's pushed into the role of companion, shocked at Fenton's callousness, and perhaps at Clara's too. Has she learned the wrong lessons? Or has she learned the right ones too well? He thinks she made an exceptional Doctor, not a "good" one, because it's not "goodness" that makes you the Doctor. Well, that's a harsh evaluation from a notorious self-loather, more a comment on himself than on the monster he might have created in Clara. We know he's wrong anyway, because where the Doctor has often inspired someone to sacrifice themselves - call it the "Doctor effect" - and Clara does the same with Rigsy, she refuses to let him go through with it. The fact there's an easier way to accomplish what he's trying to is a factor, of course, but dramatically, it's a different take.

That he can step away from who he is, or from his reflection (Clara), to comment this way is the whole point of the episode. Trapped within ourselves, we're missing that "third dimension" that would allow us to see inside. The Boneless are echoes of this idea. By allowing Clara to become him, he can observe himself and finds what he sees disturbing. Ultimately, he must step back into the role of Doctor, and he does so almost literally with a blazing speech about the Boneless playing the monsters' parts thus summoning him to play his own, their opposite number and their destroyer. If it's a role - a mantle - could it be played by someone like Clara? There's a thread running in Season 8 that seems to test the waters for a female Doctor, and if Jenna Coleman, who DOESN'T have the casting for it, can pull it off, we could see an actress cast in the part when Capaldi has done his tour of duty. In fact, I'm CONVINCED of it.

THEORIES: The Doctor hacks Clara's visual cortex in this episode so he can see through her eyes. Then we see Missy, and she's looking at what might very well be the Doctor's POV on an iPad. Has the hacker been hacked? And is this how Missy keeps tabs on the Doctor? We're just a couple of episodes away from my exploring this issue fully. But now's not quite the time.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Incredible effects and clever ideas are just cherries on the sunday. A great episode for Clara and a fine audition for the concept of a female Doctor. Funny, exciting, insightful.

Monday, November 24, 2014

DC's Recent Number Ones

I haven't done this in a while, but that's because pressure on my schedule made it impossible to read any comics! Let's fix that with some articles discussing the new series that have come out in the past 3 or 4 months. Are any of them worth reading? Looking at DC Comics first, the company has gone through yet another round of cancellations and - quick! we need to bring the total back up to 52! - replacement series. It's also relaunched a number of books with new creative teams and directions; I'll be looking at the ones that made comic book news, at the very least. Following DC's usual trend, most of the new books are either Batman-related or about villains. Sigh. But I'll give them a fair shot.
Arkham Manor by Gerry Duggan and Shawn Crystal. If you haven't been following the Batman books, or at least Batman Eternal - and I have not - Bruce Wayne's lost the family fortune and Arkham Asylum's been blown up. Result: Wayne Manor has been taken over by the state and turned into a temporary replacement. When murders start happening inside the Manor, Batman goes undercover inside. It's Jail Break with all the "won't last long" that entails. The mansion as an environment is interesting in the temporal sense, with Batman's memories infiltrating the art, but yeah, the art... While I don't dislike the style per se, I'm wondering why flesh tones are all in chalk white or greenish gray, making everyone look like the Joker. I know Gotham is all night scenes and it must be hard to stay this side of anemic, but geez. But as with too many modern comics, the art just takes too much room, with far too many useless splash pages for the first issue to feel like any kind of story. Here was a chance for a cast of characters to be introduced and developed who could act as protagonists and antagonists, but it's just another Batman title, and he's a nihilistic, tooth-grinding, unengaging character in this. Why not call it a mini-series, which is what it really is?
Keep reading? Not enough meat on this bone. It's a grungy and ultimately short-term project.
Batgirl by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr. People screamed bloody murder when Gail Simone quit Batgirl due to editorial interference, but by then, I wasn't reading the book anymore. One flip through Simone's last (#35) reveals the sneering superhero action I don't much want to read. But then the Batman Family's editorial stewardship changed for the better, and it looks like DC is finally allowing changes in tone even within a specific family of titles. That's great. I LOVE the Batgirl relaunch. This is a low-tech Batgirl, obviously impacted by Batman Inc.'s bankruptcy (or whatever is going on over there), and I like the new costume (I fairly hated her New52 duds). Set across the river from Gotham, on a university campus, Barbara gets a full new cast of fellow students (and the now homeless - in more ways than one - Black Canary) and an anime-ish art style that suits both the action and the girl-friendly character stuff. This is a post-Sherlock Batgirl too, the series highlighting her brains with stylish deductive sequences, and her concerns are strictly 21st-century, with dating site fraud and anime convention fanatics as part of the techno-savvy mix. And in complete contrast to a lot of the books featured in this article, you get a LOT of story for your hard-earned cash. Pages with 8 panels or more abound, and each of the two issue that have come out tells a complete story in addition to catering to several subplots.
Keep reading? Yes, awesome. You've got me, don't lose me with Batman crossover shenanigans now!
Deathstroke by Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea. While I realize Slade made a splash in the Arrow show, that's still no excuse to bring him back again and again in the comics. This is his SECOND New52 series and I believe it's just as doomed to fail as the first. I mean, what's the story here? Each time we're introduced to a character, be they love interest or potable villain, they're savagely killed. And then maybe get back up, because everyone in this universe can apparently regenerate from getting the backs of their heads shot off through their screaming mouths. Who the hell cares then?! The only exception to the carnage is Wonder Woman's old mentor I Ching. Appearing in this turkey is still going to leave a taint. Only four pages aren't covered in blood, and if the last page is meant to intrigue us, well, it just looks like they're doing away with what's iconic about Slade's look, perhaps trying to inch him closer to the TV version. I don't know and I don't care. Tony Daniel's art is pretty and all, but he's got nothing new or interesting to offer readers story-wise.
Keep reading? Nope. But then, my interest in Deathstroke has always been less than zero.
Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl. You might be right in calling this book Batgirl's sister book, what with the same scripter, anime esthetic, and focus on young female characters. I don't think it's quite as charming or exciting though. The Academy has a certain Astro City vibe to it, showing us what it might be like to grow up in a creepy Gothic city like Gotham, where it's more than likely you have family members who worked for some madman or other. It's a world where the Bat-signal is on every night and the kids are sort of blasé about it. To my surprise, there's no obvious link with the kids we follow and well-known Batman Family heroes or villains. Best I can come up with is that the chemistry teacher appears to be Prof. Milo. Exactly. Think Mean Girls meets Veronica Mars, with the popular kids in some kind of Satanic cult, and you'll have it about right.
Keep reading? For the moment, but it'll need a couple issues more before I can decide. Is this more Locke & Key (yeah) or Harry Potter (bleh)?
Green Arrow by Andrew Kreisberg, Ben Sokolowski, Daniel Sampere and Jonathan Glapion. Losing Lemire and - let's face it, more importantly - Sorrentino may prove fatal to G.A. despite starring in a popular TV series. In fact, trying to bring it closer to the TV show in this relaunch hasn't done it any favors, except perhaps bringing in Felicity Smoak to replace the assistant Olie already had. She's a more interesting and recognizable character IF they can do her right. Not that the first issue of the relaunch (#35) really gives us much to go on. Frankly, I was bored with the story, which introduces mysteries I don't care about, and spends an inordinate amount of time on a visit from Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor paling around (ugh). But the art might have saved it. Sadly, the book's gone from one of the most sharply designed in DC's stable to ordinary superhero fare and Olie just a close shave away from looking exactly like Barry Allen. The series had momentum under Lemire. Now it's just running in place redundantly trying to be Arrow.
Keep reading? There's a panel in the book showing Luthor yawning. It sums up my reaction and explains why I'm dropping the title.
Klarion by Ann Nocenti and Trevor McCarthy. I loved Ann Nocenti's weird run on Daredevil, but I can't bring myself to connect to anything she's done since then, much less her work on the New52. Klarion the Witch-Teen (DC and Marvel should do a new Amalgam series and merge him with Loki) is another villain book, using an unfamiliar version of the character, set in an unfamiliar version of the Multiverse. Again, I feel completely disconnected from it. McCarthy does his best to create interesting technomagical worlds and unusual layouts, but there's absolutely no point of convergence between Klarion's universe and the New52. I feel strange for complaining about this, because I'd rather each title I read be in its own little section of the shared universe, away from crossover events, but in this case, it does nothing for me. It's not the world; it's the character. We're just thrown into the middle of things with no real explanation or background - Teekl is a dead creature in a jar, and so on - and there's no real hook to keep me interested.
Keep reading? No, but I could see this working for some readers. It has potential. I, however, didn't make it to the second issue, which is already out.
Lobo by Cullen Bunn, Reilly Brown and Nelson Decastro. You'd think it would be worth killing the old Lobo and introducing a new, Twilight model to actually make the character something new with actual story potential, divorcing him from his roots as a parody of 90s comics excess. You'd think. Instead, Lobo is a completely pointless exercise in beheading action. I don't even understand where the story is supposed to take place. Lobo is sent to kill the 8 deadliest assassins in the universe (so that's your first 8 issues then), the first of which appears to live on Earth (give or take miscolored clouds that look like lakes), but then it's all aliens and stuff. So is it NOT Earth? Is it Miri's Earth? Why is this series working with an original Star Trek budget?! The only interesting couple of pages are Lobo's dreams of Czarnia, in soft pencil, where he's some kind of romantic figure. Really not enough of that to warrant my even peeking at the second issue.
Keep reading? Definitely not. I dare say this was the most pointless Lobo comic I've ever read.
Trinity of Sin by J.M. DeMatteis, Yvel Guichet and Jason Gorder. Is it a new series, or really just a continuation of Phantom Stranger and Pandora, now collapsed into the Question's story? Feels like the latter, with each of the Trinity going through similar trouble, but not meeting until the end. Meanwhile, Siskoid doesn't know what to make of it because he wasn't reading either series before. I haven't been a fan of DeMatteis' writing for a while now, mostly because his prose is so pretentious and plodding. And I'm certainly not on board with the Stranger being Judas Iscariot. That just seems tasteless. Images range from the cool (the Swamp Thing equivalent of a tsunami), to slightly off-putting (Phantom Stranger holding a naked boy in his arms) to annoying (the artist's obsession with people and creatures being impaled). Ultimately, has this made me a fan of the Trinity of Sin? It has not.
Keep reading? No. So no change for me.
Wonder Woman by Meredith Finch, David Finch and Richard Friend. Brian Azzarello's WW story lasted too long, we can agree on that, but having recently read his final issue (#35), it ends with a beautiful statement about who Wonder Woman is, attacking directly the notion of her as a weak and unwritable character is she's at all interested in mercy, love and/or submission. It should have acted as a an essay on how to go forward with Diana. It did not. We all had a good eye-roll over David Finch's comments about Wonder Woman not being "a feminist exactly", and the appointment of his wife as writer, with her few T&A comics credits, didn't inspire confidence, but how did it actually turn out? Like the train wreck we thought it would, actually. In the story, we have Wonder Woman taking a shower for a page and a half, hanging with the Justice League so she can play second fiddle to the guys, and fighting Swamp Thing without provocation like the thoughtless fist she's now become (until the much smarter guys point out her mistake, naturally). If plotting isn't Meredith Finch's strength, then maybe scripting is? Well, Twitter had a good long chuckle at Diana's "What vegetative injustice was worth so many lives?!" 'nuff said. As for the art, I still struggle to understand why Finch is a star. His expressions are ugly (one Amazon looks like Gollum, for example), his Wonder Woman has spindly arms and looks tiny (from the nose, I'd say he's basing her on Sarah Michelle Gellar), and his splash pages make the story a short read indeed. But even if he starts missing deadlines (that's his thing), it's not like anyone can really salvage his better half's scripts.
Keep reading? NOOOOOOOO. We went from a well-respected writer, an awesome artist (on about half the issues) and a unique take on the character's world to a virtual unknown, a star artist with delusions of quality, cookie-cutter superhero action, and a Wonder Woman that better not be the template for what the movies end up doing with her. Just awful.

So a very poor showing from DC. The Batman Family of books are taking chances and a couple do pay off, but when trying to conform to more popular media (GA, WW), they fail abysmally, and those new villain books are pointless dreck. But that's my opinion, what's yours? In a few days, I'll do the same for Marvel's most recent #1s, don't fret.

Doctor Who #955: Mummy on the Orient Express

"Sometimes there are only bad choices. But you still have to choose."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.11 2014.

IN THIS ONE... 66 seconds on the clock before the mummy catches up to you aboard a train... in... SPAAAACE!!!

REVIEW: Remember that phone call at the end of The Big Bang? Well it seems like Doc11 and the newlyweds didn't go to the Orient Express in space to deal with that Egyptian goddess. Doc12 finally takes care of it here, in what is meant to be Clara's last trip aboard the TARDIS. He knew it was a trap all along, see, which isn't doing wonders for their failing relationship. Taken for its one-off qualities, Mummy (and yes, there's an obligatory "are you my mummy?" joke) is a a great little tale with a cool-looking, classic monster, complete with rules like the best monsters of the Moffat era do. The 66-second countdown (actually 67) the viewer can see is a great tension builder, as is the cramped set (this is more than just another Titanic in space thing), and the way the Doctor works it all out is brilliant stuff. He's a scientist, so he uses the scientific method, even if it means being rather cold and clinical. There's just no time for grief before the mummy attacks again. And ultimately, he makes good on his boast that he can defeat the monster in 66 seconds by placing himself in danger to save another. It means the resolution is quite quick, too quick, which isn't to say too easy. He just talks so fast, you need a repeat viewing to actually catch it. As it turns out, the mummy is another soldier - we've had many this season, including the train's captain suffering from PTSD - this one seeking an officer to put him to rest. And guess who Danny JUST tagged as an officer?

But it's the Doctor-Clara relationship that really stands out. They are each lying to the other. The Doctor desperately wants this NOT to be their last trip together and deftly plays on her addiction to excitment and danger. She calls him on HIS addiction, but she's the one who can't give up the life. Changing her mind, but not willing to admit she was wrong, she throws Danny under the bus and says quitting was his idea, and that HE'S changed his mind. All lies, but the kind the Doctor is more than willing to accept, if not believe. He's won this round, and the prize is Clara's continued company. Perhaps he understands humans more than he lets on and capitalizes on her sad smile (or emotional malfunction as he puts it). Perhaps he doesn't, as this Doctor tends to exhibit symptoms one associates with Asperger's (asp burgers? what's with the Egyptian theme?), but still understands Clara through her Doctorishness. It's through those traits that he secures her cooperation.

It's a terrific episode for Capaldi, not just in the crunch when he's being brave, clever, callous and calculating, but in the quiet moments too. He can't sleep in his cabin trying to calculate the odds of danger striking. He compromises Clara and forces her to lie to Maisie (she'll pull a Tennant and be so sorry by the end, which means more Doctor osmosis). He's got great dry humor (like the old ladies' job description). He touches on the lesson Clara just learned in Kill the Moon, saying bad choices still force you to choose, which obviously comes with a toll. The best scene, however, is the one on the beach, where the passengers' survival is ambiguous. He SAYS he saved them all, but by the time Clara wakes up, they've all be dropped off. Only Perkins, a pretty cool character with his own dry sense of humor (I'd like to imagine him as a recurring character, puttering around the TARDIS while the action is going on outside, but alas...), is present later to prove he's telling the truth. Maybe. But the Doctor's weak laugh makes us wonder. Is he telling the truth by couching it in a joke? I do that all the time! And if he lies to Clara, which I choose to believe he does, then she's doing the same thing he does later: She CHOOSES to believe him, because the reverse is intolerable and would effectively terminate their friendship. If it helps her to think he only ACTS like he's heartless, then that's what he'll tell her. And so they go off into the time vortex both lying to one another and to themselves. (Oh, and to Danny.)

REWATCHABILITY: High
- A lot of great moments, and it's all somehow wrapped in the season's motifs and themes. A great, great Capaldi episode.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

This Week in Geek (17-23/11/14)

Buys

When my downstairs neighbor ran his horror film marathon in October (31 horror films in 31 days), there were a few I knew I'd be getting for myself... and did. That's how Pontypool and Only Lovers Left Alive got into my collection this week, along with The Rocketeer and Season 1 of Young Justice.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Sherlock Season 3 is when the show decided to embrace that it was, in reality, a comedy. I don't mind that, though Sherlock's portrayal, especially on second viewing, is starting to get a little intolerable. He's always been a real git, but episodes 1 and 2 each have moments where I feel like he should just shut up. They're just trying to hard to sell his sociopathy and it turns into petty megalomania. There are many things that get me over that hurdle, however, including the infusion of several interesting characters. Mary Watson is an awesome addition to the program, smart and enigmatic, but also earthy, tragic and funny. Magnussan, the third episode's villain is effective and creepy. And I really like Janine, Sherlock's new... girlfriend? Plus, Sherlock's lovely parents and perhaps the hint of a third brother. Some great mind palace scenes here as well, as the show continues to set the style for brilliant detectives, pulling all the tricks that will become fashionable on TV later. The DVD includes three featurettes: How they filmed Sherlock's death, the fans' reactions and speculations, and the making of Series 3.

Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite made Mira Sorvino an unlikely Oscar winner, but it's her earnest character that does indeed steal the show. Allen plays a man obsessed with finding the mother of the son he adopted, and she turns out to be a prostitute and adult film actress, so his obsession turns to changing her life for the better. While the film must necessarily feature the healing power of infidelity (it's Woody Allen, what can I say?), it's really a story about friendship, and about helping others with no strings attached. It's heartfelt, but also very funny - Michael Rapaport as a possible match for Sorvino is especially amusing, even dumber than Sorvino's Linda. It's not an obvious thing to write and act characters that aren't very intelligent when you yourself are (just check out Sorvino's Harvard pedigree), but they pull it off. These are just people who don't think very much, and in a sense, that liberates them from anxiety about their respective situations. But because Allen IS an intellectual, he inserts a Greek chorus into the film that's pretty funny unto itself. A manifestation of his character's conscience, amusingly anachronistic commentators and Broadway dance troupe all rolled into one. It may well be one of my favorite Woody Allen films.

Only God Forgives may team Nicolas Winding Refn with Ryan Gosling again, but it's a team-up that lacks any of Drive's charm. Set in Bangkok, this tale of sex and violence looks gorgeous - the cinematography couldn't be any more intriguing and beautiful - but isn't in any way easy to follow. Refn almost tries to tell it with images only - the dialog is very spare - and many of those images only make sense once you've seen the entire thing. It's a mystery to be decodes, though the plot, about a series of revenges between Gosling's family and a Thai mob, is pretty basic. But though it follows a martial arts film structure, it's far from action-packed. I predict Only God Forgives will frustrate many a viewer going in with certain expectations. Still, worth it if only for Kristin Scott Thomas' monstrous character, looking and acting like a demonic Cameron Diaz; and for the discussions that might ensue with fellow viewers on the film's ambiguities. In the director's commentary and interviews, Refn discusses how those ambiguities were created by removing explanations from the script and letting the actors make choices for their characters. The DVD also includes about 20 minutes worth of behind the scenes footage.

I consider The Aztecs as one of the first Doctor's best adventures, with an unusually strong role for Barbara, and - surprise! - a nice little romance for the Doctor, wrapped up in a Shakespearean teleplay. Read all about it in the daily Who reviews #27 to 30. I just flipped the Special Edition DVD and thought I might discuss the extras. The first disc is almost exactly the same as the original release. The commentary track unites William "Ian" Russell, Carole Ann "Susan" Ford, and producer Verity Lambert, but they kind of need a moderator there to keep the conversation going. Production note subtitles shore up the necessary gaps in recollection. There's a nice making of in the company of the guest actors, an interview with the designer, a featurette on the restoration of The Aztecs and other stories (make sure to turn on the subtitles, otherwise it's all image comparisons with no commentary), a 6-minute docu-feature from Blue Peter about Cortex and Montezuma, a cute cocoa recipe with South Park versions of the Aztec characters, an unrelated TARDIS-Cam CG experiment, the Arabic soundtrack on one of the episodes, and a photo gallery. This edition adds 6 different introductions voiced by the guest actors when you press Play All (unless this was a feature on the original too and I never noticed). The second disc has one feature related to Aztecs, a one-hour documentary that tells the full story of Cortez and Montezuma - interesting if not exactly essential - but otherwise only bits and bobs with a connection to the first Doctor. Of course, the big reason to get this release is that it includes the newly-found third episode of Galaxy 4. Possibly one of the worst things ever on audio (bleep, bloop!), it's actually redeemed in part by the visuals. I've re-reviewed it at its original blogular location HERE. It's in context with a condensed reconstruction of the other three chapters. The disc also features a fun featurette on Doctor Who merchandise and toys, the very first Doctor Who comedy sketch from "It's a Square World", and a 4-minute interview with Gordon Flemyng who directed the Dalek films.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Tennant (2009)

Doctor Who #954: Kill the Moon

"That was me... respecting you." "Oh my God, really, was it? Yeah, well, respected is not how I feel."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.4 2014.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor takes Clara and Courtney to the Moon, and leaves them to make a big decision.

REVIEW: Did we learn nothing from Nightmare in Silver? Maybe something about not bringing kids along on adventures? No? Well, truth be told, Courtney makes a far better impression, though not a great one. Her inclusion, along with Hermione Norris (who, in Spooks, showed she was great at being hard-as-nails yet filled with regret, which is the essence of her character Lundvik here), creates a classic tri-generational dynamic between the three women the Doctor leaves to sort things out. They are the Fates, deciding Earth's. The concept of motherhood and the duty of care is certainly one of the themes, explicit in Clara's duty to a student and her anger at the Doctor's paternalistic abandonment, and implicit in their dilemma of whether or not to kill a giant baby. If this is partly about abortion (and that allegory doesn't stand up to scrutiny all the way through), then we should look at the Doctor's departure as strictly pro-choice, but should also compare it to Danny's absolute support of Clara in the epilogue - he's there for her, but won't interfere, while the Doctor simply wants nothing to do with the choice and offers no support system.

Of course, the episode also continues Clara's journey as a would-be Doctor. Left to her own devices, she must play God herself and, just as the Doctor would have, rejects the selfish choice made by humanity. But then, how fair is this choice? Billions of lives against a single one, no matter how unique? I think humanity - or at least, its governments; the way the lights go out in large chunks speaks to massive power shutdowns, not simple folks shutting off the living room lights - probably had it right by erring on the side of caution. Clara is caught between (in Fateful terms) the one who spins life and so chooses it (Courtney), and the one who cuts the thread and chooses killing (Lundvik), and must become the "allotter", the one who chooses how long the thread of life is. Ultimately, the giant chick must be allowed to spread its wings. Capaldi is a force to be reckoned with, sure, but Jenna Coleman is a terrific actress too and gets to show off her stuff here. The way the impossible choice wreaks havoc on her emotions is actually quite moving, and her anger at the Doctor at the end is powerful. As usual Doc12 gets his human psychology completely wrong, and disrespects her in trying to respect her. He's trying to push her out of the nest - that metaphor is à propos - but fails as a friend. It's Doc7 and Ace all over again. Perhaps the Doctor knew the Moon was fine, and certainly once the choice is made, his memory could "update" (confirming notions we've been discussing about unfixed points in history since at least World War Three) and he'd know its consequences. Maybe he traveled to the future and saw there was still a Moon there. It's not clear, nor is it meant to be. And the fact neither we not Clara can trust his statements is part of the problem for her.

While new writer Peter Harness shows great promise in the character and theme departments, he almost sinks the whole enterprise with so terrible, terrible science. His premise is absolutely ludicrous. It started off nicely enough, with a well-realized Moon thanks to the Lanzarote location (last seen in Planet of Fire), atmospheric lighting, and horror movie sequences in the vein of Alien. And then the Doctor identifies the moon spiders as giant germs with gravity shifting powers and it all goes to pot. We're meant to believe the Moon has always been a giant egg with a creature gestating inside, and that this creature - which I almost want to call the Great Bird of the Galaxy - not only doesn't create a tidal and meteoric double-whammy, but also lays an identical egg seconds after its birth, an egg larger than itself to boot, in time to keep The Moonbase and The Seeds of Death in continuity. It's absurd fantasy, which might have worked (even if the rest of the story wouldn't have) if it'd been set on another planet, but keeps pulling the viewer out of the experience this close to home. Speaking of The Moonbase, the giant germs offer the chance for Courtney to play Polly and kill monsters with cleaning fluid, but why would disinfectant have the same effect of giant germs it has on real ones? There's a question of dosage here. Not to mention that I doubt very much eggs get heavier as they mature. That this is now (or has always been) the reason humanity goes to the stars is, if you'll pardon the pun, over-egging the pudding, though it might just be for Courtney's benefit so she feels "special". And no matter how powerful Clara's departure scene is, hindsight has revealed that despite her absence in the trailer for the next episode, she's still with the Doctor in Mummy on the Orient Express, which cheapens it. Just another sin to add to the pile.

THEORIES: Has the Doctor left us to make "big decisions" before? Almost certainly. It perhaps explains why he didn't interfere with the 456 crisis in Torchwood: Children of Earth, or the subsequent immortality-for-all of Miracle Day. Think of Doc11's meeting with Homo Reptilia where he sat humans down at the negotiation table and left them to it. It's a similar idea. Of course, there are many more examples of the Doctor taking or trying to take that decision power out of our hands, but he was a kid back then.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It's good until the premise starts getting revealed. Too bad, because the thematic, literary and character-driven underpinnings of the episode are actually quite strong.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reign of the Supermen #555: Rainbow Superboy

Source: Superboy vol.1 #16 (1951)
Type: The real deal (since retconned)
"The Strange Costumes of Superboy" offers a whole month's worth of Reign articles when Superboy allows his oddest costume variations into a fashion show! And of course, each costume has a story to go with it! This fetching rainbow ensemble, for example, was born of necessity when a pretty young girl's explorer father was poisoned by a witch doctor for breaking a tribal tattoo. Just a regular day in Smallville/the Abrangi Territory. The witch-doc won't give up the cure until a rainbow appears in the evening sky on a day when there's been no rain (is this the Abrangi equivalent of hell freezing over?). Can Superboy do the impossible? Yes, and then some. He could paint his costume in rainbow colors, but I surmise its Kryptonian fabric would make the paint run off. He'll need a WOODEN uniform for this one!
And he could fly at superspeed to Pa Kent's general store and get some paint, but no, that would be too easy!
The best part is using a leopard's tail as a brush. PETA TAKE NOTE! And so...
Was it the SIMPLEST way to achieve this effect? Probably not. But this is about haute couture, not logic! Next week: A less colorful yarn (guys, this is a pun straight out of the comic, I don't feel guilty at all).

Doctor Who #953: The Caretaker

"The walls need sponging and there's a sinister puddle."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.27 2014.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor goes undercover in Clara's school to find and defeat an alien killing machine.

REVIEW: Writer Gareth Roberts was responsible for The Lodger et al. and one of the principal writers on the Sarah Jane Adventures. The Caretaker is a bit of a cross between those two. It's got the bantery comedy of The Lodger with the Doctor seeming increasingly out of place posing as a human (except replace 11's eccentricities with 12's), while give or take a crispy-fried copper (the Heaven arc must be catered to, with Missy now expanding and farming the work out to Capaldi's Thick of It colleague Chris Addison), the school setting, kid companion, and puppet-ish monster give the episode a distinct SJA feel. Sarah Jane Smith WAS reintroduced in School Reunion, after all - another episode where the Doctor goes undercover inside a school. In a sense, I'm a little disappointed because the opening sequence, which was used in the teaser trailer, seemed to promise something we didn't get. Clara juggling her life with the Doctor and her affair with Danny, eating twice in a row, arriving to dates disheveled, etc. could have led to her actively doing something about her hectic schedule, forcing a meeting between the two men in her life, or even hit a wall from the exhaustion. Instead, it's merely prelude to a comedy episode with a very thin monster, also only there to serve the relationship stuff (not that there's anything wrong with that), while Danny and the Doctor meet with no help from Clara. The spark and wit of the dialog makes it very fun to watch regardless, but there are excesses that are less forgivable, from disruptive Courtney becoming the first "companion" to upchuck on the TARDIS, to the invisibility watch which will never be seen again (the device is well used, but ultimately, a cheat), to Danny's completely ridiculous somersault (maybe the point is that he becomes a P.E. teacher at that point, just as the Doctor's solution to the Skovox Blitzer is to become its "officer"; each man turning into what the other thinks of him).

Strong thematic underpinnings also make this episode more than another silly romp. Identity continues to be a big thing. The Doctor changes his - barely! - first to that of a cantankerous school caretaker (never get angry in the middle of writing a KEEP OUT sign, it'll turn into GO AWAY HUMANS), then as the Blitzer's general. It's not possible for him to see Danny as who he is, calling him a P.E. teacher or a soldier even though he teaches maths and is NO LONGER a soldier (because Danny is black, he wouldn't be wrong to take this as a racist comment from an old man, but obviously, the Doctor is oblivious to this kind of thing). And he thinks Clara's boyfriend is another teacher altogether, Adrian, who looks and dresses like the 11th Doctor. Doc12 gives her a great look when she claims that's not her type, and while he has no romantic claim on Clara, it flatters him. But the most important "identity crisis" in the episode is Danny rightly identifying the Doctor as an "officer". Soldiers carry guns and go to their deaths, while officers shout orders and survive to fight another day. Anarchic troublemaker or not, the Doctor still identifies as a Time Lord, and thus a member of an aristocracy slumming it - in this episode, LITERALLY - with us puny mortals, compassionate but dismissive of our short lives and petty concerns. [We've discussed this idea several times on this here blog, mostly thanks to frequent commenter and the coolest Welshman I know, Madeley. This was his thesis and it was really great seeing it addressed on screen after 50 years of silence.] So what if the Doctor is an officer type? What he's really telling the Doctor is that he's a hypocrite. Danny also thinks, for a minute, that Clara is a space girl and the Doctor her space dad, an amusing reference to the Doc1/Susan relationship (which also featured Coal Hill), but something ELSE the Doctor becomes over the course of the episode, protective of Clara in a fatherly way. And Danny asks Clara who she is when she's with the Doctor, and who she thinks HE is. Who we are, really, is very much at the heart of this post-regenerative series of Who.

So let's talk relationships for a minute, since that's what this episode is interested in. The arc we've been following is less about Clara falling in love with Danny Pink - though she lets that out of the bag here - and more about the Doctor feeling her slipping away. The amusing opening sequence has him popping 'round with an invitation to something cool and exotic every time she's about to go on a date. He's trying to sabotage the relationship so he doesn't lose his... I'm going to use the word "tutor". On the one hand, Clara must keep comparing her exciting life to the normalcy of a human relationship; on the other, it forces her to lie to Danny, a man who hates lies and further, "doesn't do weird". To his credit, he doesn't ask her to quit - though he's definitely a "nester", which can be a problem when one's significant other loves to travel - but simply to tell him if the Doctor pushes her too far, as HE'S been pushed (whatever happened in his military career, it would seem to feature an order he hated following; killing wasn't for him). The Doctor is right to be afraid. Danny's hold over Clara is likely to be what makes him lose her.

THEORIES: Not so much a theory as a connection... The Brigadier was also a soldier who retired to become a maths teacher (in Mawdryn Undead). Is this foreshadowing for ANOTHER connection Danny will have to the Brig by season's end?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - In discussing themes rather than specific moments, I've downplayed just how fun the episode is - I love Capaldi's angry comedy, love to see those Malcolm Tucker moments creepy through - but I have to admit the story itself is pretty slim and includes elements I could have done without.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dating Princess Diana: She Will Judge Your Pick-Up Line

No folks, it's not always about these women's relationships with Superman, because they have other prospects (LIKE CAREERS AND AMBITIONS, DC!)...
But not all prospects were created equal. Wonder Woman WILL let you know if you're barking up the wrong tree. You better get the hint.

From Wonder Woman #33 (2014) by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang

Doctor Who #952: Time Heist

"How can you trust someone if they look back at you out of your own eyes?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.20 2014.

IN THIS ONE...
The Doctor and friends stage a timey-wimey bank heist, but beware the brain-melting monster.

REVIEW:
I'm surprised they never tried to do a proper heist episode before. Not that Time Heist is "proper" exactly. In a normal heist story, you'd see the preparation, then the action repeated with some nasty unforeseen twists. The way this episode is structured, you're not allowed to see the prep because the characters have all wiped it from their minds. So the twist is that they must figure out just what the prep WAS, who sent them to rob the bank, and rob it of what?! The direction never lets you forget its part of the heist genre though, using tons of cool, slick visual tricks which have been part of heist and con movies since at least the 60s - interesting dissolves, overhead camera angles, colorful lighting, screens within screens, smash cuts, smash zooms, and of course, a must, the smooth slow-motion walk-in by our heroes dressed in cool black suits. This more than anything makes Time Heist a fun ride, even once you know the answers.

More than a one-off genre piece, the episode also continues to explore one of the major themes of the season: Identity. The idea creeps in thanks to the character of Saibra, a shapeshifter who can't control her powers, cursed to lose herself in other identities. And what about the cyborg thief called Psi? He's wiped memories of family and friends so the authorities couldn't punish them for associating with him. Alone and without anyone to have a warm thought about, can he still be himself? Turns out both are on a quest to "find themselves". Then we have the bank's owner, Ms. Karabraxos (played by Spooks and Ashes to Ashes star Keeley Hawes, almost didn't recognize her), who serves as dual villain because she has a clone of herself in every facility, and thinks nothing of incinerating them when they fail her. That's some intense self-loathing, a feeling that will eventually (and it gets timey-wimey there) cause her enough regret that she'll contact the Doctor to undo at least one of her sins. The monstrous Teller (bad pun) that - oh my, body horror - turns potential thieves' brain into soup is no more than a slave who just wants to be left alone with its mate. And then Doctor? I guessed it before he did - did you? - he's the very "Architect" that sent them on this mission, a manipulative prick the Doctor is prone to hate. It's the self-loathing that gives it away, notably. Once again, we have the Doctor criticizing himself through someone else. Imagine, he thought up this plan, part of which was predicated on his ability to callously let his partners commit suicide (obviously, if the "shredders" were labeled as teleports, they might all have been inclined to ditch the mish).

The Danny Pink stuff is still weakest - he's far too cutesy at this stage in the game - but it does allow for some fun Doctor cluelessness, and even his competitive comment at the end, comparing the heist to a date, isn't meant as romantic triangle fodder. At this point, the Doctor must know why companions eventually leave him, and the more connections they make in their home time, the less likely they are to board the TARDIS looking for adventure. He doesn't compete with Danny, but with Clara's life. It's a sign of how dependent this newborn incarnation is on her. Loads of fun elements besides, including a montage of known rogues that includes Sensorites and Abslom Daak (DALEK KILLER!), the notion that the Doctor's power is being in charge (and I guess Clara's is making excuses for him), the whole thing with the eyebrows (a dig at Matt Smith?), and the ridiculous hypocrisy of the bank guards (they don't want to hurt you before they kill you, though the way they're put out of action is a redo of River Song's lipstick, isn't it?).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- Now this is how you do a romp! Cool direction and genre business, which respects its own rules and does things with it only Doctor Who can. Like Robot of Sherwood, it's fluff, but it goes for clever rather than silly.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reaganocomics: Courting the Rogue Vote

Ronald Reagan is a popular figure in 1980s comics, and while he has his detractors (as we saw last week), he also has his appreciators, as an anonymous commenter proved when he sent me this from Uncanny X-Men #201 (1986):
I bet this is one incident he won't be mentioning to Nancy! He just has to make sure the Secret Service wipes Rogue's lipstick off Air Force One's window before he takes his wife anywhere with it. Let's hope he doesn't forget while he's meeting with... Mystique?! Ronnie's problems are just beginning!

Doctor Who #951: Listen

"Question: Why do we talk out loud when we're alone? Conjecture: Because we know we're not."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.13 2014.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor hunts a hidden creature that may or may not exist. Clara may have a future with Danny Pink.

REVIEW: An impressive experiment that, like the Doctor's Not-Where's-Wally book, doesn't actually have a monster in it. It's treated like a monster story, but each and every manifestation of the Doctor's "perfect hider" has a reasonable explanation attached (often times, the Doctor is just keeping the myth alive because he so wants to believe it). We could call it the "secret origin of the Doctor", in a sense, exploring the paranoia-inducing nightmare that (perhaps) inspired his escape from Gallifrey, and taught him how to tame his fear. Too much time alone has made the memory resurface in this incarnation of the Doctor and it's become an obsession. The 12th Doctor's metaphorical education proceeds apace; his mission treated as a research project; the TARDIS acting as an open classroom (books, a blackboard, etc.). And of course, Clara is the teacher, evaluating the work and asking the questions, not because she's the dense companion, but because she's testing the Doctor's theories and conclusions.

It may be the origin of the Doctor, but it's really Clara's show. In addition to being the teacher, she's the substitute Doctor (a theme we've been following since the season opener), able to pilot the TARDIS now using a gooey open brain panel on the console (would you be surprised if I told you it's been there since The Snowmen?). When the show surprisingly takes us to the Doctor's childhood - adding more meaning to the events of The Day of the Doctor, no less - she gets to play the Impossible Girl again, having an impact on the Doctor's life (and proving in her dialog that she does have memories of that experience), becoming the "monster under the bed" AND a sort of muse of courage, imprinting values on the young Gallifreyan ("Fear is a constant companion" is a great line). (And if you want to go completely nuts, think about it, there's an echo of her everywhere in time, helping the Doctor, so if he feels like he's being watched, that's ALSO her.) In that touching moment, she literally becomes the mother figure she's been to him since the start of the season, and treats him no differently when she walks back into the TARDIS. "Do as you're told" has never been so lovingly said. Clara is also mother to Danny Pink, another person she visits in his childhood and on whom she imprints herself, possibly creating his whole identity as a soldier. AND it looks like her relationship with the adult Danny is meant to go somewhere, because she meets someone who can only be her own great-grandson, humanity's first time traveler, Orson Pink (I'll keep any spoilers for episodes down the line in the Theories section).

Between the wonderful Galiffrey sequence, the tension and creep factor of every scene in which the "Hidden" are meant to be present, the dialog that swings in and out of nursery rhymes, and the wacky TARDIS stunts (Doc on top, underwater, etc.), the Danny-Clara stuff never really had a chance. The various attempts at this one date are strictly "Coupling awkward", at least until Pink gets angry at Clara and shows his real self. He's stronger than he's seemed, won't be lied to (uh-oh) and won't stand for shenanigans (double uh-oh). And yet, everything points to their being made for each other. Their scenes together are amusing, especially if you like a good double-entendre, and Clara and her smart mouth are always entertaining. If some of these bits are weaker, it's because the rest is so interesting, touching, creepy, funny... I love the Doctor's "dad skills", the toy soldier braver than the rest for lack of a gun, the sound design, the lighting - have I mentioned how I love the way the lights go round and round while the TARDIS is in transit? Well, I do! - the Doctor sipping a stolen coffee cup, fear as a superpower... everything really.

THEORIES: [Spoilers can't be helped in this section] So how can the TARDIS go to Gallifrey 2000 years in its past when it's not even supposed to be in our universe? Unless it is? If Missy is a Time Lord, how did she get out of the timelock? Answer: Gallifrey is already out, just as she will later claim. That means it's accessible to the TARDIS again. But the Doctor can't go back and time to meet himself, and all visits (except in multi-Doctor stories) have been in a "Gallifreyan present". Except the Doctor isn't driving the ship, Clara is, and she isn't bound by his timeline. She can meet Time Lords out of order even if he presumably (still) can't. Since it's established with the visit to Danny's childhood that the TARDIS can follow Clara's timeline and jump tracks into another who's shared her life, it stands to reason it can also jump tracks into the Doctor's. Alternatively, it's Impossible Girl stuff and her timeline actually intersects the Doctor's naturally. She "existed" in the Doctor's childhood and so can bring the TARDIS there. Well, that's as maybe. The other big question this episode poses, in light of later episodes, is whether Orson will ever be born. Or is Clara pregnant by the series finale, and we just don't know it? If she doesn't have kids with Pink, this whole timeline collapses, which would be a real shame. I'm sad to say later events actually damaged my enjoyment of this episode as the Orson elements became "what might have beens".

REWATCHABILITY: High - The season's stand-out episode, offbeat, clever and heartfelt.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Who's Tommy Tomorrow?

Who's This? The space cadet on page 9 of Who's Who vol.XXIV.
The facts: A character called Tommy Tomorrow first appeared in Real Fact Comics #6 (1947) and then in #8, #13 and #16. His creation was credited to Jack Schiff, George Kashdan, Bernie Breslauer, Howard Sherman and Virgil Finlay (a lot of people for a 4-page story). But these first few adventures contradict everything that followed and are usually considered apocryphal. The first true Tommy Tomorrow story thus be identified as "The Interplanetary Aquarium" in Action Comics #127 (1948). He would remain a consistent feature in that book until #251 (1959), with an appearance in a Supergirl story in #255. He would then move to World's Finest Comics and stay there from #102 to #124 (1962). Most of the stories were crafted by Otto Binder and Jim Mooney. With such longevity, it's no surprise DC tried to spin him off into his own book, but a 5-issue try-out in Showcase #41-43, 46-47 the next year courtesy of Arnold Drake and Lee Elias, didn't work out for him. He would appear a couple times in the late 70s (DC Special #27 and Showcase #100), as a TV show on Earth-1 (for example in The New Adventures of Superboy #24)  and in the occasional reprint. The events of the first Crisis (actually, History of the DC Universe) would invent that connection to OMAC and Kamadi as a kind of postscript.
How you could have heard of him: Tommy was a featured player (more or less a villainous one) in Howard Chaykin's Twilight mini-series, and has had cameos whenever DC's space opera future has been evoked. The name turns up Stan Lee's Just Imagine series, Starman One Million says Tommy Tomorrow II was a prominent Starman, there's a Captain Tomorrow in the Trek/Legion crossover, and a Major Tomorrow of the Planeteers is referenced in Magog #7, but that's really the extent of Tommy's post-Crisis career. He's been an Easter Egg more than a character.
Example story: Action Comics #235 (1957) "The Interplanetary Joy Ride" by Otto Binder and Jim Mooney
Most Tommy Tomorrow tales have "Interstellar" or "Space" in their titles. And most, I dare say, take a very Silver Agey approach to the space opera genre. In this one, set in 2057 (which is a little more realistic than Tommy's original time line where he graduated from the Academy in 1988!), three unruly teenagers decide to play hooky, break into a spaceport, and steal a spaceship. You know, as bored kids might.
"Robo" (the others are Jonny and Hank) was "told" about the controls, so what could go wrong? It's the future, flying spacecraft through near (and as we'll soon find out, cluttered) space has become fairly intuitive. Ok, the kids almost hit a large freighter, but give Robo a chance. He'll get the hang of it. A report gets to Planeteer HQ, and it's Colonel Tommy Tomorrow's job to tow them back to port.
So either the Planeteers really are the interstellar equivalent of traffic cops, or rank doesn't carry very much privilege. In the meantime, the kids are having trouble with the ship, not so much the flying of it, but the random button pushing has unforeseen effects.
First, a robot guard meant to handle any crooks who might invade the ship, BUT ONLY IF THE CROOKS PUSH A BUTTON, pops out and starts arresting them, and then another button starts pouring on the chemical fire extinguisher. But no worries, both things are deactivated if you push the same buttons again. By the time Tommy finds them, they've got things under control and are up to some hijinks.
This is what humanity will do once it gets to the stars. Like artists are ever going to afford going off-world. Ha! When Tommy orders them back to Earth, the rabble-rousers instead flip him off. Tommy's solution is reverse-psychology. He tells them he has an important mission to perform, so they better not try to follow him because only expert spacemen can go where he'll go.
First he tricks them into landing on an erratically spinning asteroid and makes them sick.
But they don't give up, so he takes them to space's most dangerous publicity signage:
They survive this hazard, so he takes them to... well... a picture is worth a thousand words.
The future is a place where references to expander rays can be thrown out with careless abandon and towing a giant snowman into space is easier and cheaper than letting it melt. The kids try to bump its hat off for no other reason than "haw haw!", but get stuck when their fuel freezes.
Because this unholy snowman is COLDER THAN SPACE ITSELF! Now they don't have a choice BUT to give up, and Tommy tows them back to Earth. But he goes real easy on them. Check out this futuristic compassion:
Not only does he let them go with a warning, but he also sends them a board game later! That's some pretty evolved thinking for a 1950s character, focusing on reforming criminals rather than punishing them. Or is it more of that "boys will be boys" nonsense the writer was espousing earlier? What does it take for the space police to get those kids off my damn space lawn?!

Who else?
Skipped over Tobias Whale, too well known as Black Lightning's only villain of note; Tokamak because he was part of Firestorm's greatest ever arc when I was a kid, so I can't bring myself to think of him as obscure; and Tomahawk's Rangers, who don't particularly interest me. Besides, our next stop will almost certainly feature the American Frontier.