Saturday, October 25, 2014

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

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

Lois Lane: Feminist icon. Am I right?!

Babylon 5 #110: The Wheel of Fire

"You know the Vorlons used telepaths as weapons during the Shadow War, but what no one stopped to consider was that, in a war, you have a certain number of small weapons, a certain number of medium size weapons, and one or two big ones. The kind of weapons you drop when you're out of small weapons, and the medium weapons, and you've got nothing left to use." "Someone like that would be the telepathic equivalent of a thermonuclear device. A doomsday weapon." "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Garibaldi."
IN THIS ONE... Lyta gets arrested, Garibaldi and Lochley admit their addictions, G'Kar is mobbed by followers, and Delenn is pregnant.

REVIEW: The DVD set took this title as its own, probably because it sounded good and generic - it's not that obvious why this story would be called that - because it comes too late to be the season's "hinge". Rather, it's one of those character-building eps where we try to visit everyone. I don't mind that at all. There are still two big threads and they dovetail together. One is Garibaldi finally getting busted for being drunk on the job, a thread that threatens to turn the show into a PSA for alcoholism, but which is narrowly saved by the performances. Yes, even stilted Jerry Doyle gets one or two moving moments, as does Scoggins as Lochley. The writing lets them down however, with Garibaldi initially coming off as Sheridan's little boy, and Lochley getting reams of uninterrupted text, like she's on the fast track to character development, cuz y'know, she's new. Still, her assessment of Garibaldi as a control freak needing permission/excuses to get out of control is a sound one, and we have to wonder if his running off to Mars with Lise is anything more than an escape from his failures on Babylon 5.

Lyta's story is the stronger thread, though to tell you the truth, I'm dead tired of her self-serving whining about everyone's lack of gratitude. Despite some advancement over the course of the season, she's still something of a non-character ("What are you?" indeed), one on whom JMS can hang just about anything, i.e. make her responsible for funding terrorism. I guess Byron be damned, she's a lot more militant than we realized. And why shouldn't she be? She was built to be a Vorlon weapon, and as we learn here, a telepathic WMD to boot. The scene where she makes everyone in the room copy her movements is excellent - as is the 1-2 Sheridan-Lochley combo that gets her under control - and there's every sense, by the time her agreement with Garibaldi is revealed, that he's made a deal with the devil. I don't know if the show will be able to make good on the promises made about their two-year plan, but I wonder if JMS' idea for a PsiCorps series would have featured former B5 stars as the antagonists.

Meanwhile, G'Kar returns to the station to find zealous pilgrims waiting for him, and his homeworld demanding her return to either bless their government or take the throne himself. He ends up leaving with Lyta to explore the universe, and perhaps pacify her own zealotry. Before he leaves, he gets a nice scene with Franklin, though I raised my eyebrow at their talk of sentient life being the puzzle God cannot solve. Why? Because we've gotten a lot of God talk over the course of the series - sometimes sounding like what Garibaldi calls "fortune cookie wisdom" - and I'm wondering if it's all meant to be "meta". JMS is an atheist after all, so is his characters' God really himself? Because characters/stories as unsolvable puzzles certainly resonates, even if it's a bit egotistical for the writer to give himself this role so literally. Anyway, the episode also makes Delenn pregnant, which was only a matter of time. Begs the question though: Doesn't Sheridan remember (or trust) anything from his experience in the future?! It's really weird. Brain damage or something? And while we check in on everyone, how about Londo? Yeah, that wasn't necessary at all, was it?

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Delenn becomes pregnant with an impossible-ish hybrid baby only months after Jadzia Dax does. Delenn will have better results.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - That came off as more negative than my actual feeling watching it. There are some very good moments here; they could just have been even better.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dating Lois Lane: There's Baggage

Guys, everyone has baggage. It's what makes each person quirky and interesting. So if you're aware of all the baggage and still think that person is AMAZING, well, you know your course. And that's why Superman ended up marrying Lois Lane.

Also: He's pretty much the reason for her baggage. AmIright?

(Panel from Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #26, July 1961.)

Babylon 5 #109: The Fall of Centauri Prime

"When we first met, I had no power and all the choices I could wish to make. Now I have all the power I could ever want, and no choices at all. No choices at all."
IN THIS ONE... Centauri Prime is devastated and Londo falls under the spell of the Drakh.

REVIEW: While a lot of this was inevitable - we knew Centauri Prime had to fall (and not just because of the title), Londo become an Emperor with a Keeper on his back, and so on - how Londo reacts and how Peter Jurasik plays it makes up for a lot of the predictability. His narrative having been written by the new-and-meh-I-guess-kind-of-improved Drakh (no, I don't like them better), he's painted as the hero who wrested control of the Empire from a mad dictator, but he BECOMES a hero when he chooses to allow the Drakh to put a Keeper on him (eww, the Drakh grow them in their own bodies? and by eww, I mean cooool) rather than let them nuke Centauri population centers. From there, Londo essentially isolates himself from everyone he loves or respects - much as the Regent had under similar circumstances - sends them away (to safety), forgoes public appearances, and though it's under Drakh orders, pulls out of the Alliance he co-founded, feigning outrage. At the end end, we have a Londo who is so far removed from himself - the fun-loving social animal - that it wouldn't have been any more tragic if he'd died. And in a sense, he has. How else should we interpret the ghostly giant hologram of him addressing his people? Very few episodes left, but his story's essentially done. I can't imagine needing to see him again.

One thing I will miss, however, is his relationship with G'Kar. Here they have a heartfelt moment where G'Kar says he could never forgive the Centauri for what they did to the Narn, nor the Narns forgive the Centauri, but that he could forgive Londo. And that's all Londo ever really wanted from G'Kar, isn't it? In an episode that expressly references how war breeds war - the destruction of Za'ha'dum and exile of the Shadow agents, weapons caches of fallen regimes falling into the wrong hands, etc. - G'Kar becomes someone who finds a way to interrupt the cycle of violence. And that's key to the peaceful universe we know exists a million years hence.

And I'd want to end the review there, because that's really everything I care to remember about the episode. I certainly don't want to think any more than I have to about the Lennier-Delenn scene where, just before they think they're going to die, he admits his love for her only to live on in awkwardness. Delenn gives him a few outs so he can save his honor and dignity, in the Minbari way, but we've been down this path before with Marcus and Ivanova, and the whole "what happens in hyperspace stays in hyperspace" conversation goes on way too long. When everything's been said and the scene keeps going, well...

- "Resolving" the Delenn-Lennier relationship is an unwanted element in an episode that's all about arcing Londo, and doing so in a beautifully tragic way.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

6 Stupidest Secret Wars II Moments

After talking up the original Secret Wars on Monday, you knew I kind of had to look at the sequel, right? The awful, awful sequel? Looking at it again, it's pretty bad, though I don't dislike the ending. I'll talk about it at the end of this post. For now, all you need to know is that Al Milgrom isn't as well suited as Mike Zeck or even Mark Bright for the art on a big crossover event. That the series spends all its time visiting each and every book in the Marvel line, recapping those side-adventures as it moves along (for purposes of keeping my sanity, I did not look at any of these). And that Jim Shooter's story involves the god-like Beyonder coming to Earth to learn what it is to be human, becoming a gangster in the process, then a "too helpful" hero, until Mephisto tries to kill him while all of Marvel's "big cosmic concept" characters stand around like they're regular folks. We often cut to scenes of SW1 favorites Molecule Man and Volcana playing house (she has an apron on at all times and they play Trivial Pursuit with the neighbors) whose power will be needed in the end game. Secret Wars II is in no way a "secret war". So what are, to my mind, the stupidest moments in the series? Here they are chronologically.
The Beyonder's dress sense. If you remember him as a disco god with large shoulder pads, man cleavage and a wet jerry curl, you should realize THIS was his first idea. I guess we lucked out in the end.
Spider-Man's bathroom tips. Throw the dignity out the window, there's this famous (or infamous) scene where Spidey potty trains a god. The early issues of this 9-ish mini were full of stuff like this. Not selected for this list: The Beyonder trying to buy a prostitute with a gold bar.
The Beyonder gets really fat. But it doesn't matter. He can burn it right off. Guys, Jim Shooter contributes to body image problems at least one more time when he turns a man's older, stouter wife into a petite young thing and oh, they're so happy now! I'm not sure that played right in 1985 either!
The Beyonder dates Dazzler. So he falls in love with Dazzler (because disco god, obviously, although she's in her Let's Get Physical phase) and forces her to date him. When it doesn't work, he turns her into a goddess. When she rejects THAT idea, she falls to her death and dies. So he has to resurrect her and move on. Why would I kid about something like this?
The Beyonder puts the moves on underage mutant Boom-Boom. But it's okay! He can make her look older! Or prettier! Or with fewer body image problems! Thankfully, she rejects him too. That's two pretty similar issues in a row, Shooter!
The Beyonder kills and resurrects Death herself. So along the way, he makes a friend (yes, it's the least believable thing in SW2, I know) and the Beyonder takes this guy Dave to dinner. There's a third guest - Death. And the Beyonder has a poison cup that will destroy Death forever. Convinced this is a good thing, Dave hands the cup to Death and she drinks it. Except now everybody's mad because why bother with living if you don't need to water the flowers or eat the cows? (Molecule Man's words, not mine.) So Dave decides to sacrifice himself and become the new/the same Death. Uhm... does Thanos know about this?

Now, the finale is pretty good (give or take a sequence where the Beyonder clones the New Mutants). The Beyonder clones himself a human body and leaves his power in a big hourglass so he can see what it's really like to be mortal. He freaks and runs to his hourglass several times, finds the perfect human/Beyonder formula, gets his lair crashed by the entire Marvel Universe, and they kill him as a baby growing in the clone machine. Sadness. But his energies reach back to his pocket universe and spark a Big Bang where from nothingness a full universe just like our own is born. Kind of salvaged it. If I'm very generous about it.

But perhaps I missed your own favorite bone-head moment?

Babylon 5 #108: Thirdspace

"Well, maybe it's a learning experience for you." "If it is, it's a hell of a painful one." "Ain't no other kind."
IN THIS ONE... An ancient Vorlon artifact opens a door to a universe ruled by genocidal aliens.

REVIEW: Broadcast in the summer separating the two parts of "The Fall of Centauri Prime", Thirdspace actually takes place some time during Season 4, in between the Shadow and Earth Wars. Continuity is actually a little fugly, but if you're willing to accept the station had this big thing happen to it which was never mentioned again, and the odd wrong uniform snafu, then the telefilm is a cool, if disposable, done-in-one story with gorgeous effects, a creature designed by praised SF artist Wayne Barlowe, and gives the audience a chance to see Ivanova again. The trouble with a story that takes place in the recent past is figuring out how to make it relevant without contradicting anything. There are two key revelations on this front. One is the Vorlons' big mistake - their Tower of Babel - in trying to enter another universe and almost unleashing the apocalypse on the prime universe. The "artifact" used to do so was lost in hyperspace and been found again, an interesting parallel to the Shadow technology now floating about and causing problems. As above, so below, you might say. The other reveal is loquacious Zack telling Lyta he's in love with her, a bombshell she isn't aware of because the artifact or Vorlons have taken her over. He thinks he's been rejected and that's that, no continuity trouble. Apparently, this was a last-minute addition required because the movie ran short, but it's the kind of thing it should have been doing more of - building up characters that had been neglected while the larger stories were going on.

Taking to heart the fact it's a movie gives the production permission to wow us with visuals and plenty of action. We see maintenance bots and construction Furies like never before. The artifact is this huge, ancient thing that begs to be opened - Sheridan the benched explorer comes back to the surface, and Delenn teases him, but in the end, he WILL be the first/only man to go inside. There's some dogfighting involving the long-forgotten raiders, strange shared dreams of alien cities (could have done without Vir's sex stuff though, thankyew), etc., but the key sequence is of course the big blow-out at the end. It's at once ridiculous and epic to see Sheridan, in nothing more than a spacesuit, navigating through the massive battle. Once again, his solution is to nuke the problem, but at least there's a strategy to getting that done. How a blast that destroys the ships in its wake only pushes a spacesuited guy away like that isn't too believable, but it's not like they can kill off Sheridan, right?

Ivanova gets enough to do that we're not left unsatisfied, playing her as a fine commander, smart detective and good fighter. (What's wrong with most of the fight choreography, though? That huge brawl on the lower decks felt rather limp.) The oft-neglected Lyta also gets a big role, even if she's really playing out some Vorlon programming much of the time. I suppose it's a good episode generally for telepaths (apparently Vir has the gene too). One of these is Deuce, William Sanderson's criminal character from Grail. Cool to see familiar faces like this. Less successful is Shari Belafonte as Elizabeth Trent, a character that works fine as an over-ambitious foil for Sheridan who leaps to conclusions without justification because, well... because she's apparently read the script. Surprisingly, she isn't killed by the end of Thirdspace, but instead makes a 180 degree turn. Something about questioning her ethics. Well fine, I suppose that helps sweep the incident under the rug so that it doesn't get referenced again. So shush.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It looks cool and works as a one-off, one that might even work with audience who know little-to-nothing about B5, but it's produced in such a way that it can be isolated from the greater story very easily. Which means it's entirely jettisonable.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hey Kids! Guess What Book I Just Got in the Mail!

That's right! Rob Kelly's Hey Kids, Comics! Can't wait to crack it open!

My thanks to Rob for sending me one seeing as Canada's Amazon doesn't yet carry it!

I mean, is it Canada, or Can't, Nada?

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...

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.

- 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.

- 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)


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.

- 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.