Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reign of the Supermen #526: Superman, Son of Luthor

Source: Superman vol.1 #170 (1964)
Type: Imaginary story, thankfully
"If Lex Luthor Were Superman's Father" DOES happen in continuity, but because Luthor only DREAMS of succeeding, the Superman he's trying to create by changing history remains imaginary. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This Silver Age classic starts with Luthor escaping from prison by faking a heart attack and tricking a doctor into making a formula that temporarily turns him into a giant. I did say Silver Age. In his lair, Lex uses a timescope to watch baby Kal-El getting shot to Earth from Krypton and he gets a brilliant idea. He goes back in time with his timeship, to the days before Jor-El and Lara were engaged, and posing as "Luthor the Noble", a cosmic cop from another world (and wearing an anti-grav belt to sustain Krypton's high Gs), tells everyone Kandor is about to be taken by Brainiac. No one believes him except Lara, who kind of swoons when he's proven right.
So Luthor pours on the charm and he and Lara become inseparable, touring the crazy SF sights of Krypton while jealously looks on. When he's out of town on an exploratory mission, Luthor uses his alone time with Lara to pop the question:
She says yes! And that's when the imaginary bits of the story kick in. Luthor sees it all unfold in his mind:
Ok, if I can punch holes into his plan here... First, why would the baby he has with Lara be called Kal-El? Would you let your wife give your son her ex's last name? No, that's ridiculous. And would that baby become Superman? His half-human DNA would certain depower him, for one thing, and instead of keeping history on track by sending him off on a rocket, why not bring him back to 1964 Earth with you and raise him as your own super-powered minion? Why even HAVE a baby with Lara? Wouldn't keeping her and Jor-El apart be enough to erase Superman from history entirely? Couldn't Luthor return to Earth before Krypton explodes to find a world with no Superman, and where a good Luthor with hair is puttering away somewhere? Couldn't evil Luthor then do whatever the heck he wanted? He wouldn't even have a criminal record! But that's all moot because just as he's about to put a wedding ring on Lara's finger, his anti-grav belt's batteries give out!
That's an especially lame deus ex machina, given that Jor-El was racing to get to the chapel on time to stop the wedding. He doesn't make it. There just happens to be a miracle. So Luthor is rumbled and his web of lies comes apart. He runs, flies back to the present while watching through his shipboard timescope how his relationship with Lara only made her realize it's Jor-El she really loved. Ah. Well, good thing she didn't go through with it, then. He materializes right in Superman's path and is sent back to jail. And the Man of Steel never found out how close his greatest enemy came to banging his mom.

Doctor Who #879: Dead of Night

"Stay where you are, or stand up tall and stride across the skin of the world."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.22 2011.

IN THIS ONE... The Oswald cult springs up. Rex and Jack have sex (with other people). Vera gets Gwen into the PhiCorp building because they've been stockpiling drugs.

REVIEW: There are a couple of annoying tics in the writing, this time around, and I don't know if they're part of a bigger mandate, or if it's the episode's writer specifically (but I expected better of Jane Espensen, an alumni of BSG/Caprica, DS9 and the Joss Whedon catalog). For one thing, it goes way overboard with the UK/US comparisons. Something like Gwen annoyed at the lack of fizz in her lemonade is amusing, but Esther turning into a universal translator in case duller viewers can't understand a British turn of phrase through context... ugh. One comment, fine. But it goes on and on. And it seems part of an overall writing strategy that treats the audience as idiots. Information gets repeated A LOT, quite beyond the fact these things have "Previously on..." and the longer "Next week" trailers I've ever fast-forwarded through. The DVD even starts each episode with a mini-featurette in which RTD and Barrowman tell you what you're about to see (which feel like they aired on Starz in just that way?). And yet, if you're pitching your story at people who've never watched Torchwood before, there's a moment that, without some kind of explanation, might lead that audience member to believe Jack was a child murderer like Oswald, which isn't exactly the truth, is it?

Where I recognize Espensen's strengths and interests is in the personal, emotional arcs of the characters. While there is "incident" in Dead of Night, it's much more about advancing relationships. Esther discusses her sister, which will become a problem later, but makes a poor Toshiko to Rex's Owen, in my opinion. Rex hooks up with Vera at the exact same time Jack hooks up with a bartender, both men wanting desperately to feel alive (steamy same sex relations intercut with its hetero equivalent? that feels kind of naughty on U.S. TV, for some reason). Jack drunk-calls Gwen, but she stops listening as soon as Rhys and her daughter Skype in. It's all quite pathetic and sad on his end. He's clearly trying to lose himself in something, and we're reminded of why when he encounters Oswald Danes. Jack's whole thing is his guilt about losing/sacrificing children (his little brother, the fairy, the 456 kids, his grandson) and he calls Danes on his bull about feeling forgiven. He doesn't and never will, so how can this child murderer? And he's right. Danes is spinning a web, manipulating public opinion, probably just to see how far he can take it. The way he describes his crime makes for potentially unbearable television, and perhaps that's why I don't completely buy the cult springing up around him. As audience members, we know too much.

And then there's the plot. Rex continues to be a one-man machine designed to piss people off, which is very annoying. The Triangle conspiracy doesn't have a lot of teeth at this point, so we're just going through the usual motions - interrogating people who can't say anything because they're too scared, tracking phone calls, etc. I like how Gwen makes sure she gets to play superspy inside PhiCorp, but the action itself is pretty timid. Again, this is stuff we've seen countless times, watching flash drives load material on computers while the clock runs out. The bigger picture is more interesting, with Jilly seducing both Vera (with a push from Rex) and Danes, and the latter changing his message to match PhiCorp's, just in time for legislation about getting a lot of the necessary drugs without a prescription because prescribers are already over-extended. It makes sense that the new world order would have you buying pain meds and antibiotics on your way home from work, along with milk and eggs. This is where the fiction brushes up against the real world, and where Miracle Day might have something to say about health care, pharmaceuticals and the extension of human life through medicine.

VERSIONS: The parallel sex scenes were changed for the UK broadcast. They removed Rex and Vera entirely(!).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Some good character moments, but the plot is less exciting, and the UK/US humor isn't as funny as the production thinks it is.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Questionable Friday: We're Not Evil, We're Just Well Organized

This week, St-Pierre asks "What's your favorite evil organization?". On account of my being Lawful Good, I can't go for any real world evil org, like the pharmacological industry or my provincial government, because that would be like implicit approval. And I do not approve.

So fiction it is.

It's fashionable today to say Hydra, but that's a fad. COBRA is the better choice, if also a rather obvious one. But look, what are my criteria here? Well...
1. Doing evil for evil's sake
2. Iconic uniforms and cool named characters
3. Mind-blowingly, stupidly, epic plots against the world
4. Potential for comedy

COBRA could hit the first three easily (while another front-runner, Wolfram & Hart from Angel, would do #1 better, but fail at #2 and the COBRA acronym does stand for Criminal Organization of Bloodiness, Revenge, and Assassination, which might be enough to clinch #4. However, there's one criminal organization that's really good at #4 without compromising criteria 1 through 3. Ladies and gentlemen, I present my very favorite evil org: AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics)!
Sure, they look silly with those eraser head helmets (see #4), but an organization in which every member down to the last henchman is a mad scientist? Come on! They were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (or HYDRA, depending on your point of view). They currently have their own country with no regulations about things Man wasn't meant to play with. In the Caribbean. Their greatest accomplishments include the Cosmic Cube, the Super-Adaptoid and the whole MODOK, Ms. MODOK, SODAM, MODAM line of super-genius mutations, an advance in acronym technology at the very least (and you have to be especially evil to name one of your creations SODAM in a Code-approved comic). Yellow jumpsuits or not, they're a very real threat.
But they're also hilarious. I don't know what it is about anonymous geniuses in yellow jumpsuits, but their appearances over the last few years have been universally hilarious. For me, the love affair began in all-ages books like Marvel Adventures' Avengers, which had a natural focus on comedy, but that portrayal continued in the mainstream books, most recently in Secret Avengers.

Images from Marvel Smart Ass' A.I.M. High series.

Doctor Who #878: Rendition

"If the devil himself were to walk this Earth, he'd need representation."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.15 2011.

IN THIS ONE... Jack poisoned on a plane. Vera joins a medical panel. Danes #Forgive. Rex and Esther are framed by the CIA. Wayne Knight and Lauren Ambrose join the cast.

REVIEW: It's the Gwen Cooper Show, and I'd watch that whatever form it took. Miracle Day episode 2 features the most memorable sequence of the entire series, and only partly because the "if you're the best England has to offer" "I'm Welsh [punch!]" bit was so heavily featured in trailers. (And it's awesome.) There's something about jeopardy at high altitudes, and having to work with what you've got, that's great for suspense. I don't really want to have to find out if Vera's fix for arsenic poisoning would work in real life, but it looks like Jack is following in the footsteps of another Jack - Bauer - suffering through injuries you couldn't possibly heal from in the time shown. I'm not really bothered. This is all about Gwen giving urgency to every scene, making chemical MacGyverism exciting. I love her complaining about America as soon as she steps out of the airport, just like Rex did about Wales in the previous episode, and her last line takes the edge off the tired grotesque of Lyn walking out with her head the wrong way around.

The other thread I'm quite liking is Vera's. Of the new characters, she's definitely the thinker, and through her more than anyone, we discover what impact unending life will have on the planet. She flips the way we do triage. She realizes first that non-corpses will become incubators for germs and viruses, which could mutate and cause drug-resistant plagues. She makes the case for pain management as an international emergency. News programs and CIA analysts vaguely discuss social and political ramifications, but Vera's scenes are more exciting and better thought-out. More SF shows should strive to do things like this, working out the real consequences the Big Idea would have (though obviously, the Big Idea is pure fantasy in this case). Vera's thread also connects to Oswald's now, through Jilly Kitzinger, the bubbly but sinister PR expert played by Lauren Ambrose. I've loved Ambrose since Six Feet Under, obviously, and her character adds a lot. She's the one spot of color in this whole thing, a blazing red figure in a monochromatic world, smiling through the Apocalypse. She's selling Vera a drug plan (so does this whole thing come down to money?), but also hopes to represent Danes after his tortured performance (and it is a performance) on live TV. Takes one monster to know another, seems like.

The weakest element is the CIA stuff. It's not bad, mind you, just weaker than the rest, perhaps by virtue of being well-explored ground already. Rogue CIA elements inside the CIA turning on the real CIA? Nothing Alias and Chuck didn't do already, guys. I sure hope the real CIA isn't like that. Still, I'm always happy to see Wayne Knight in something, and Dichen Lachman from Dollhouse makes a good assassin. Esther has a good, but not too flashy, escape from CIA HQ. She's resourceful, but it's not over the top. She mostly gets away because the CIA weren't trying too hard. Maybe Friedkin (Knight) thought she was too wet to do any real damage, and based on that scene in his office, I can forgive him for underestimating her.

THEORIES: Jack mentions Earth's morphic field as a possible cause of the mortality flip, which ties into some of the things that have been said (by me and others) about the Whoniverse in general. Specifically, it's been touted as the reason we "look Time Lord", and as a good reason for fighting a Time War and trying to capture Gallifrey. If Gallifrey is the first world to perfect time travel, and if the planet's morphic field resonates through all of time and space, in effect becoming the template for life everywhere, it explains why humanoid types are so prevalent, and why most planets have recognizable vegetation, atmospheres, etc. It also means that if the Daleks (or Sontarans, or whoever else has tried) invade Gallifrey, they could conceivably create a "Dalek universe", rewriting the whole of universal history. Miracle Day proves such a field exists around our planet, so it's just a small leap to say all planets' fields are linked in some way, especially with time rifts and such creating portals from one to another. Now, there is some controversy as to whether Miracle Day really fits into the Whoniverse, but that's something we can better discuss later, as the Miracle days drag on.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High
- About as good as Miracle Day gets. It's exciting, thought-provoking, and introduces some cool actors/characters to the action.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Who's in the Phantom Zone? Part 2

Who's This? And now for the second half of the Phantom Zone entry in Who's Who vol.XVIII.
As with Part 1, we're ignoring our usual format to briefly look at the first appearances of the 8 characters above, as a kind of primer on Phantom Zone Villains (and not-so-villains). Who were they and why are they important to the Silver/Bronze Age Superman mythos (if at all)? And did they somehow make it to one of the 21st century's continuities?

Who's Jax-Ur?
His first story was told in Reign of the Supermen, a tale from Adventure Comics #289 (1961) in which he posed as a super-powered Pa Kent. He would return in more modern Superman tales as one of Zod's cronies, appearing on the Superman animated series and in the Man of Steel movie as well.

Who's Jer-Em?
In Action Comics #309 (1964), Supergirl learned all about Argo City's demise. Turns out the flying city was placed around a yellow sun and its people enjoyed new-found super-powers. It was awesome until THIS old crank decided powers were Satan's taint (or the Kryptonian equivalent). Hypocritically using his powers to divert the city back to a red sun, the Argonauts lost their powers and sentenced him to 30 cycles in the Phantom Zone. Harsh? Yes, but not in hindsight. Seems like he stranded Argo in some kind of radiation belt that doomed its citizens. Supergirl's parents survived by shunting themselves to the Survival Zone (another Phantom Zone, out of phase with the prison dimension), but the process didn't take effect before they'd sent their infant daughter off in a rocket. Supergirl encounters old Jax-Ur in the PZ where he feels really guilty about the whole thing. He was about to commit suicide after being freed, in the Steve Gerber mini-series, when he was instead killed by fellow convicts.

Who's Kru-El?
Superman's evil second cousin was first seen in another Supergirl story, this one in Action Comics #297 (1962), when, along with Jax-Ur and Zod, he was freed from the Phantom Zone by an evil Kandorian. Kru-El knew all about the Kryptonian arsenal sent behind Superbaby by Jor-El, and rescued it from its ocean tomb, killed the Kandorian villainess with a disintegrator gun, and was eventually stopped and sent back to the Zone by Supergirl. He would appear fairly frequently through pre-Crisis continuity as one of the main four Phantom Zone Villains usually causing trouble. Presumably because his name is such a cheesy pun, he has appeared much less in post-Crisis continuity (like, twice maybe).

Who's Mon-El?
Another character discussed in Reign of the Supermen, with Zod, arguably the best known inhabitant of the Phantom Zone (at least, in comics fan circles). He's been a high-profile member of the Legion of Super-Heroes since the early 60s, the only character on the list to get his own entry in Who's Who, and even took over Action Comics for a while in the more recent past.

Who's Gra-Mo?
In a story revealing new details about Jor-El's life in Superboy #104 (1963), we find out the Kryptonian council runs a kind of Dragons' Den competition in which they decide just which inventions will become a part of the planet's social fabric. When Jor-El wins for the Phantom Zone projector, rival scientist Gra-Mo (whose invention was a servile android race) goes crazy and along with his "evil assistants" and tries to take over the planet. The damage they caused means the PZ projector can't be used to make them the first criminals in history to be banished to Zone, so the old suspended animation in orbit method is used. When Krypton blows up, they're pushed towards Earth and eventually come to blows with Superboy. He finally got to the Phantom Zone for his trouble, and I don't think he ever appeared again.

Who's Nam-Ek?
I.e. the weird guy with the unicorn horn. What's THAT all about? As revealed in Untold Tales of Krypton, Superman #282 (1974), he was a Kryptonian scientist who tried to give himself immortality by drinking an extract made from the healing horn of the Rondor, one of those crazy Kryptonian animals. His change in appearance was an unforeseen effect and that cost for immortality too high. Shooting the horn off didn't work, as it made him invulnerable to physical damage and illness. Isolated for too long because of his monstrous looks, he went kind of insane. Krypton blew up, and he survived. The story ends with him crying in space for all eternity. Except some pirate eventually picked him up, and he naturally gravitated towards the Last Son of Krypton and he too was rewarded with a trip to the Phantom Zone. His name's been used as a go-to for live action Superman stories when they've needed a Kryptonian with a strange appearance, as one of the Disciples of Zod in Smallville, for example, and as that big armored dude in Man of Steel.

Who's Quex-Ul?
In Superman #157 (1962), the Man of Steel is pressured (by phantom voices) to release this guy whose sentence of 25 cycles (18 of our years) is up. Once he is, he of course attempts to get revenge on the House of El for being falsely accused and condemned. But wait! It wasn't his fault after all! Somebody else poached those poor Rondors and then hypnotized him so he'd confess! Well, feeling bad about the Gold Kryptonite he'd prepared for Superman and Supergirl, he throws himself into it instead, saving the Survivors of Steel and rendering himself both powerless and somehow amnesiac. So Perry White put him to work in the Daily Planet production office. Seemed like the thing to do. He would eventually sacrifice himself to save Superman in The Phantom Zone mini. John Byrne used him (strangely) as one of the Pocket Universe Kryptonian villains Superman had to execute, and he returned on "New Earth" as one of Zod's sleeper agents.

Who's Va-Kox?
Who's Who misattributes this one's first appearance as Superboy #104, but it's actually Action #284 (1962) that Professor Va-Kox first shows. He was arrested and "jailed" for creating awful sea monsters, and if he ever gets out, you can bet your life he's going to ravage the Earth the same way. In every story he appears in, he's basically just hanging out with bigger names. Perhaps he's hoping Dr. Xa-Du or Jax-Ur's fame and success will rub off on him. Yeah, maybe not.

Who else? I was probably going to go western, but then I had any idea for a very different genre character.

Doctor Who #877: The New World

"Looks like someone changed the rules. Miracles got... easy."
TECHNICAL SPECS: All episodes from this one to The Blood Line are included in the Torchwood: Miracle Day DVD set. First aired Jul.8 2011.

IN THIS ONE... People stop dying and the CIA hijacks Torchwood back into play. First appearances of Rex Matheson, Esther Drummond and Dr. Vera Juarez.

REVIEW: Hey, no fair! Torchwood didn't come to Canada when it was partly financed by the CBC, why is it moving to the States now that Starz is paying the bills? All joking aside, the U.S. element is the weakest part of Miracle Day for me. The storyline will take us to different places around the world, but L.A. and D.C.? There's nothing exotic about those cities. Of the American characters, the only one I find remotely engaging is Vera Juarez, a smart, empathetic and beautiful doctor. Rex Matheson, on the other hand, I could never get into. We meet him as he's laughing about a woman's cancer, and by the time the episode is over, is shouting insulting cod-Spanish at his house keeper. What a jerk. Why is Esther Drummond friends with him? She's a nicer person, but a bit if a blubberer. Pass. And of course there's Bill Pullman giving an effective, creepy performance as Oswald Danes, a man who raped and murdered a child which is, for me, just a step too far. It's the "look how edgy we are" writing that sank the show's first season. Children of Earth's use of children was horrific, but couched in sci-fi-fantasy. This element is too true to life, and borders on bad taste. So yeah, Pullman's good, but he's not the villain "you love to hate" (as RTD said in an interview). There's no love element there.

The Welsh bits are much better. Gwen and Rhys have a cute baby and are living like survivalists on the coast, well away from anyone who would want Torchwood out of action or back in the game. We get to see P.C. Andy again, and Gwen's parents haven't been recast. There's the fun Gwen-Rhys relationship of old, along with the same old fights (I love the phrase "Captain Jack Bollocks"). And when all hell breaks loose, it's all about badass Gwen shooting helicopters out of the sky with a smiling baby in her arms. Very John Woo. Awesome and exciting. The trip to Wales is also the best sequence for Rex and Esther, a quick-cut montage with the two of them on the phone as Rex gets ever closer - smooth and continuous, and with some amusing fish-out-of-water banter. Wales has the awesome action beats; America has Jack and Esther surviving a great fall in a shallow fountain. 'nuff said.

I really should mention the whole premise of Miracle Day, shouldn't I? Everyone on Earth stops dying. A BIG idea, but of course, we've seen it before. Everyone's become Owen Harper, haven't they? The real draw is the reality of it. No one dying means overrun hospitals, overnight overpopulation, and a food shortage. It means awkward religious and scientific questions, and the creation of a new social class. How humanity deals with this phenomenon is what's interesting. Maybe that's why Vera's scenes are on the whole better than the other Americans'. She's investigating the consequences, not the cause. The other difference between Miracle Day and A Day in the Death is that they can go more extreme on the damage survived. The human bomb is particularly gory and freaky, living through his own autopsy with Jack on hand for some black comedy. And he thought he'd escape this fate by blowing himself up.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Cool Welsh side, blah American side.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stuff I Love vs. Stuff I Don't: Bossk Shops at the BBC Sci-Fi Army Surplus

Because they were filmed in the UK, the Star Wars films and Doctor Who have a number of hidden connections. One of these is a particular piece of costuming:
That's an astronaut from the first Doctor's last story, The Tenth Planet (1966) on the left, and Bossk, one of the bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back (1980). A modified version of the suit also appears in the 2nd Doctor era's The Wheel in Space.

Not that anyone would destroy a Star Wars action figure to make their own "Glyn Williams" figure, but it's an idea for a dedicated custom figure maker.

Doctor Who #876: A Good Man Goes to War

"A very old saying. The oldest. Demons run when a good man goes to war."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.4 2011.

IN THIS ONE... Rory rescues Amy, but the eyepatch lady still manages to kidnap their baby. River's real identity is revealed. First appearance of Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax.

REVIEW: Though The Big Bang could make that claim, this is really the first of what I call Moffat's "kitchen sink" episodes (as in everything AND the kitchen sink), where he throws all sorts of ideas at the screen without being able to explore them too closely. Here it just about works, but later, it becomes a problem for me. The conceit is that the Doctor's had this long life filled with adventure, so why not make overt references to those adventures even if the audience has never seen them. It builds on the Doctor's myth, but can leave some audience members confounded. A Good Man Goes to War, for example, presents with a number of characters as "faits accomplis" - the Cybussy-looking non-Cybus Cyber Legion, Madame Vastra the Victorian samurai detective lesbian Silurian and her gal Friday Jenny, Strax the hilarious Sontaran nurse, Lorna Bucket who met the Doctor as a child, and the Headless Monks (an absurd concept, but at least they rated a mention once before). Moffat also throws in River Song, Dorium the blue trader, the clerics previously seen in The Time of Angels, nameless Silurians and Judoon, and arc elements like the Flesh and the still-mysterious eyepatch lady. So much going on and lots of eye candy, it would be incredible if the story still stood up on repeat viewings.

But it does. Part of it is that the new ideas are so engaging. Madame Vastra had people asking for a spin-off within minutes of showing up. The juxtaposition of nurse duties and the Sontaran war code made Strax funny, but also touching (we think he dies at the end of this). We don't know how they originally met the Doctor or what chip he's cashing, but it doesn't matter because we like the characters. Even Dorium has a smarmy charm (we think he dies too). Part of it is the epic feel and all the POW moments. Rory is a total badass questioning Cybermen while their fleet blows up behind them. The Doctor appears out of nowhere on Demon's Run and takes the base over in less than 4 minutes. The poem read by River during the action scenes lends the whole thing the power of a legend. Getting caught out by the Flesh a second time. Seeing the Doctor's crib and finding out River is Amy's baby. It's one cool thing after another. And it probably needs to be. Once you see name Melody Pond, you should be able to guess she's River, but everything from there helps you doubt or forget that fact, and still plays as a kind of surprise. The first time you see it, anyway.

Take away all the bells and whistles, and at this story's core is the tale of two possible "good men". The title relates to the idea that River killed "a good man", which we can now infer is the Doctor if the baby is the little girl and the little girl is the astronaut and also grows up to be River. But the "good man" in this episode is really Rory. He's the husband and father coming for his family, he's the one Amy builds up as a legend, he's both the badass and the man openly weeping with a baby in his arms. The joke about Rory dying over and over across the series suddenly becomes a sense of dread (obviously, that sting is gone three years on). The Doctor doesn't want to call himself a good man, and I love the line about good men not needing rules. We don't want to find out why he has so many. His anger is so great, he doesn't know what to expect from it. In essence, though he's been commended for resolving the situation without bloodshed (which isn't really true), he only achieved his goal through bullying. And it's his growing reputation as the universe's most dangerous man that has created these events in the first place, just like the Pandorica. The cryptic prophecies smack of RTDism, but that's a relatively small complaint.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The DVD includes a prologue featuring Dorium warning the Headless Monks about who they might be angering after selling them a tiny Judoon brain (cheap shot).

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, 10 and 1 Things About A Good Man Goes to War, had so much to say, I kept going the next day in Who Is River Song? Take Two.

REWATCHABILITY: High - It's one big mind-blowing moment after another, and yet finds time for strong emotional beats for most of the characters.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Who's in the Phantom Zone? Part 1

Who's This? There's a two-page spread of the Phantom Zone's denizens in Who's Who vol.XVIII. We're looking at the first half today.
Instead of our usual format, we'll be quickly going through the 8 characters above's first appearance, as a kind of primer on Phantom Zone Villains (and not-so-villains). Who were they and why are they important to the Silver/Bronze Age Superman mythos? And did they miraculously make it to the 21st century in body or spirit?

Who's Aethyr?
This monstrous entity is late retcon from Steve Gerber's The Phantom Zone mini-series (which I could have covered instead of researching each and every character on here, and saved myself a lot of trouble, but it wouldn't have been much fun). It lives at the deep center of the Zone and creates nightmarish realities for those who dare venture into its domain. The name resurfaced on the Smallville show as the name of the female member of the Disciples of Zod. No relation.

Who's Ak-Var?
He was the Kandorian who took on the Flamebird identity and hanged with the bottle city's Nightwing. I covered that dynamic duo in Reign of the Supermen. He once stole a sunstone, was sentenced to the Zone, but was released after he reformed (is that a pun?).

Who are Az-Rel and Nadira?
And are they really called that, or have their names been switched? I can confirm they have. The man is Az-Rel and the woman is Nadira, as per the usual Kryptonian nomenclature. Apparently, there were enough name criminals in the Phantom Zone, so Steve Gerber added these two (just so they could get killed trying to escape) in his mini-series. Seems like some Kryptonians had super-powers (besides the stuff they would have gotten by moving to a planet with a yellow sun, I mean). Nadira used psychokinesis to invade people's nervous systems, while Az-Rel was a pyrokinetic who liked starting fires inside people's heads. The two sadists were caught by the Kryptonian Science Police fairly easily on account of their dim intelligence.

Who's Dr. Xa-Du?
Adventure Comics #283 (1961) marks the very first appearance of the Phantom Zone. In that story, Superboy receives a cache of tech from his father Jor-El (from space, naturally) and proceeds to try it out with catastrophic results. Among these gadgets is a Phantom Zone projector (and he'll spend half the story as a ghost trying to get back to normal) and a thought-helmet that tells him the story of two criminals sentenced to the Phantom Zone. The first of these (so the very first PZ criminal) is Xa-Du, who (GASP!) used suspended animation in one of his experiments! If a 30-year sentence seems harsh, please remember that he then couldn't take those people OUT of suspended animation. Oops! Grant Morrison brought Xa-Du back in his New52 Action stint.

Who's Faora?
A relatively recent addition to the Phantom Zone cast, Faora Hu-Ul first appeared in Action Comics #471 (1977), where she was the solo villain for a multi-issue story. She's the only PZ criminal who managed to figure out how to switch back and forth between her phantom and solid states. She wound up in the Zone for running some kind of concentration camp for men. Over the years, her name has been changed to Ursa (in Superman II) and Zaora (in Byrne's Pocket universe), but in 21st-century Superman books and the recent Man of Steel, it's back to Faora.

Who's Gaz-Or?
Adventure Comics #323 (1964) features a Legion story in which Phantom Girl enters the Phantom Zone to find the last PZ criminal still in there. Man, Gaz-Or has suffered. Superman let everyone else go eventually, but he's still a captive 1000 years later. What did he do to deserve that? He tried to destroy Krypton ahead of schedule with an earthquake machine. Tsk tsk. He was dying of old age and wanted everyone to die with him. Now he'll live forever... alone. IRONY!!!

Who's General Zod?
Who's asking? After all, we know him well enough to be sick of him by now. He's the best-known Phantom Zone Villain, in large part because of his role in Superman II and Man of Steel, but he's also been a big part of 21st-century Superman comics. Still fun to see how he got in there, and it's this crazy story about building an army of Bizarro duplicates of himself to try and take over Krypton. It was told right along Xa-Du's in Adventure #283, which makes Zod the second PZ criminal ever seen, and certainly the most persistent.

Who else?
The other half of the entry of course!

Doctor Who #875: The Almost People

"You're twice the man I thought you were."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 28 2011.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor's a Ganger and Amy's a Ganger and everyone's a Ganger!

REVIEW: Because this one ends with the shocking revelation that Amy is a Ganger feeling the phantom pains of the real Amy, about to give birth with the help of an eye-patched midwife somewhere and somewhen unknown, the two episodes that precede that epilogue are considered less than memorable. I still find a lot to like and even love, however. It's not QUITE as Twilight Zone as I remembered - the original crew aren't also (twist!) Gangers, for example - but it definitely scores points for making me paranoid even on subsequent viewings. Part of it is that some Gangers do pull some fast ones. The bad Jennifer kills a different Flesh Jen as part of her plan (which makes her a hypocrite), and of course, the two Doctors switch shoes to make a point.

That's at the center of this episode. While the humans and their Gangers go to war against one another, the two Doctors cooperate and accept each other's right to exist. They teach by example. While the humans can be expected to mistrust both Doctors to some degree, even the original, it's Amy who's tested most. She comes to regret her rejection of the fake Doctor - or rather of who she thinks is the fake Doctor - and it proves that there really doesn't need to be an ethical difference between a person and their Ganger. The "us or them" situation was created by the humans' reaction. The switcheroo actually gives the Doctor the first hint that Amy witnessed his death, proposes a red herring about the Flesh Doctor getting killed in his stead, and sets up the shocker that AMY is actually the Ganger, and the reason the Doctor went to the island in the first place. Like the Doctor, the character of Flesh Jimmy shows that a copied human bond is as good as the real thing. He ultimately isn't swayed to Jennifer's cause and takes Jimmy's place as "their" son's life. He's part of a number of "happy endings" the Doctor engineers, again to make the epilogue more shocking.

On the other end of the Ganger spectrum is Jennifer who rejects her own humanity and becomes a grotesque monster (similar to Lazarus, but much better and creepier). The grotesque doesn't stop with her; there's the pile of conscious but inert Gangers, the eyes on the wall (both a bit naff) as well. More grotesque still are her actions, a corruption of the soul that manifests as gross bodily mutation. She manipulates Rory and tricks him into putting everyone in danger. She visibly relishes killing another Jennifer, even one of her own species. The crucial clue is in The Rebel Flesh, Ganger Jennifer's story about getting lost on the moors, and imagining a "tough Jennifer" who would lead her home. Some kind of personality schism? Is Flesh Jennifer this "tough Jen"? Might the one she kills even be a Fleshy "weak Jen"? One personality killing the other? As with Rory's connection to artificiality (plastic/Flesh), writer Matthew Graham's script is just a little too subtle about this. It can be decoded, but it takes a couple goes.

SECOND OPINIONS:
My original review for the two-parter, Giving the Flesh Its Due, is actually much shorter than usual from lack of time. I kept to the essential themes.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Everyone remembers the shocker, but repeat viewings reveal a lot more depth in the 40 preceding minutes.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Top 5 Most Overrated Games

I was watching Dice Tower's Top 10x3 of most overrated tabletop games, and started thinking about the game *I* personally find overrated. The short list I came up with is rather unsurprising, but might act as a springboard for discussion. I say unsurprising because in a pique of uncharacteristic hipsterism, I usually went for the most well-known game in any given category. Seems like the mainstream tends to bug me. Note that when I started, I thought I might put some video games in the list, but given my weak gamer cred, I wound up sticking to games that can be played at the kitchen table.

5. Settlers of Catan
Yes, I'm gonna kill some sacred cows here. I don't disagree that Settlers was a trendsetter - most of the games I've chosen ARE! - and this isn't about games I necessarily DISLIKE, rather games people rate too highly, usually at the expense of better and more interesting games. Got that? Setting a trend secures your position in history, but others may follow that trend to the next evolution and outdo the original. So when it comes to Catan, well, why would I play that when someone I know has Small Worlds? Not that I need an excuse to refuse a game. I just don't find resource management games particularly interesting and almost any storyline is more interesting to me than trading in wood, stone and wool. The map is boring. The cards minuscule. I just don't get it.

4. Loups-Garous (Werewolves)

Or its full name, Les Loups-garous de Thiercelieux (The Werewolves of Millers Hollow). It seemed a revelation in party games when it first came out (and we were among the first to play in North America thanks to a French connection), but over time, it's become a tabletop plague. It's so awkward! Somebody needs to be moderator and can't really play. Some go way overboard so they can have fun and spin long-winded stories when you just want to get on with it. Players have to close their eyes or bow their heads to prevent cheating. Killed players just mill around the room, bored. Never mind the social havoc from players who feel slighted, sidelined or unloved. It's a rare game for large groups, but the novelty wore off early for me. Now, I can't keep in my dismissive groan when it's invoked.

3. Dungeons & Dragons
In the role-playing game category, it's got to be D&D. After all, a lot of gamers don't just rate it highly, it's the only RPG that rates AT ALL! And I hate that. I once had a bad experience after founding a university RPG club where gamers could meet. I owned and wanted to play different games; I didn't get any new players, only smirks. The game's market penetration is so deep, many gamers will never play anything else, or even know other options are available. It makes recruitment to other campaigns difficult, and can even create behaviors that are incompatible with other gaming styles. And I don't care which edition we're talking about, there are games that do whatever D&D does better. More realistic mechanics, simpler, more detailed, more fun, more clever, more flexible, more thematically coherent, less expensive, prettier... And plenty more genres than sword & sorcery. Too many gamers needlessly limit themselves to the Kleenex of role-playing games.

2. Magic: The Gathering
Same deal with the Collectible Card Game genre. Magic started the fad, but it's little more, in my view, than a jumped-up card game of War. My 8 of clubs beats your 6 of hearts, but with generic fantasy monsters. I started playing with everyone else, and very quickly sold off my cards to invest in CCGs like Star Trek and Illuminati that had an actual narrative. If Magic hadn't been first and came out today instead, I don't think it would make much of a splash. It's too generic, too much of a numbers game, and the tapping mechanic over which Wizards of the Coast went to court to protect? Please.

1. Cards Against Humanity

Apples to Apples for horrible people, I find Cards Against Humanity incredibly distasteful and facile. It's meant to be coarse and funny, but fails in my opinion because it tries to do all the work for you. With Apples to Apples, which run on the same idea without the Holocaust and porn jokes, with a rotating judge choosing a favorite among the options offered by other players, there's nothing stopping a horrible player from making the cards say horrible things. But he's got to work at it, and everyone's imagination has to come into play. With CAH, it's all horrible and in your face, and that drains the comedy out of it. It's also not as strategic or social a game, because the judge is expected to choose the most horrible option, and some cards are just more horrible than others. It wasn't your choice of a card that made it exceptional, just luck of the draw. If the judge DOESN'T pick the most horrible option, it's a let down. I've experienced it. I also find the idea of filling in multiple blanks, as often happens, to be really awkward. I don't think a lot of work went into the expansions either. The Canadian expansion has some of the same cards with the numbers filed off (like putting a Canadian city or a Canadian TV channel in place of the American original). Lame.

Well, that's my list. What's yours? Obviously, I stuck to geekier games and steered clear of the absolute mainstream. Honorable mentions go to every damn card game I've ever played (you know, with the regular 52-card deck), and the granddaddy of all boring games everyone has on their closet shelf, Monopoly. You don't need me to tell you those are pretty terrible despite their ubiquity. But you can go that road if you like. Comments section is that-a-way.

Doctor Who #874: The Rebel Flesh

"You poured in your personalities, emotions, traits, memories, secrets, everything. You gave them your lives. Human lives are amazing. Are you surprised they walked off with them?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 21 2011.

IN THIS ONE... A solar storm above a Medieval monastery causes "Gangers", body doubles made of "Flesh", to walk off and revolt.

REVIEW: Though Matthew Graham's two-parter is entirely overshadowed by the twist/revelation in Part 2's final moments, I think there's a lot to recommend before it happens. The whole idea of the Flesh is a great one. Not only is it useful for the greater arc (to make us believe it's the Doctor's out, but spoiler, it's what's going on with Amy), but it's also a metaphor for one of Doctor Who's stock plots and ethical lessons. This isn't the first time the Doctor has tried to make humanity play nice with "the alien", but that alien has never been so... human! It's easy to dismiss the Silurians and Sea Devils, but the Flesh are exact copies of the acid-mining crew. Or they can be. There's still some body horror stuff here, strange transformations and a reversion to gooeyness, but these false humans have all the memories and emotions of the originals. By fighting the alien, you're fighting yourself. We're all one, in the Doctor's ethos. In fact, it's sometimes quite difficult to know who is Flesh and who isn't, or if they might all be Flesh since before the TARDISeers ever showed up and it's all a big fake-out! Certainly, there are recent (unstable) duplicates, but are the originals actually originals? The episode makes you doubt everything and everyone.

When we spend time with known "Gangers", the episode takes on an existential tone. If their memories and feelings are real, do they have a real claim to the original's life? How traumatic would it be to find out you were really a Ganger, despite thinking of yourself as the original person? This will be explored further in The Almost People, but Sarah Smart gives a performance we can empathize with as Jennifer Lucas. Nurse Rory too, by the looks of it. To some, it looks like he's infatuated with her, but that wouldn't be like him at all. The look he gives Amy early on reveals, I think, that he's just trying to comfort a woman in pain, which is right up his alley. I like how he's grown a backbone and can now wave away Amy's arguments and impose his will on her. It's always been Amy on top, but there's a more equal partnership there, coming out of his accumulation of experience both as the Centurion and aboard the TARDIS. And of course, our bonding with Jennifer through him means it's all the creepier when she becomes an antagonist preaching violence for survival's sake.

While the themes are quite strong, there are still some odd things about the set-up. We're in the future, but the location is a 13th-century monastery. It just about works given the themes of creation and resurrection, and provides a Gothic environment that lends power to the horror, but it still seems like they're forcing a square peg into the round hole they had. The crew is mining highly corrosive acid? That's weird too. And the whole solar storm deal... On an alien planet (filled with acid), it might have been acceptable as a method of screwing with tech, but on Earth? What kind of weather event is this? Everything seems to point to an entirely different (alien/high-tech) location, not Earth. I've also got a bit of trouble with Rory spontaneously calling the sleeping (plumbed) crew "almost people". I thought it might be a Dusty Springfield reference he'd had on his mind because of the music, but my research hasn't  turned up anything. Just sounds a little precious, then.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Despite the strangeness of the set-up, a Gothic and existential horror piece that can only get freakier.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

This Week in Geek (7-13/04/14)

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Machete Kills brings you the same insane exploitaction the original did, this time plunging headlong into James Bond territory, and love it or hate it, a Moonraker parody (with too many Star Wars references for my taste, but I know I'm not typical in this). It plays pretty much the same as the first one, and I couldn't call one necessarily better than the other. If you liked Machete, you'll like Machete Kills. Same brand of inventive super-violence. Same anything goes attitude. Same animal magnetism you can't quite see on screen. Same wealth of guest-stars and cameos. If anything, the focus on fitting as many name actors as possible is even more present thanks to a personal favorite idea, El Cameleon, the hitman who can change his face. He's played by a wide variety of people. Machete in Space looks to have been filmed already, there's just too much "trailer" material from it not to have been, and I see no reason for not getting that one too when it comes out. Machete is a silly action franchise that never fails to entertain, in an Axe Cop kind of way.

Paid my Kickstarter money and got Off the Record with Gerry Conway, a 210-minute interview with one of the seminal superhero comics writers of the 70s and 80s on DVD. I thought I would watch it (or listen to it, it's the kind of thing you don't need to keep your eyes on, the camera is on Conway at all times, no comic art interruptions or anything) in several installments, but no. Conway is an entertaining speaker, open, insightful, honest with himself and full of memorable anecdotes, and I wound up watching it all the way through with rapt attention. A lot of attention is given to his greater works - notably Spider-Man (he killed Gwen Stacy, you know) - and how things worked at Marvel in the '70s. He's critical of today's mainstream comics, but not in a "good old days" kind of way; his arguments are sound. Really good stuff, which I'm happy to put on the shelf next to my Grant Morrison interview. Who's next? On a production level, it's a bare bones release with a homemade DVD menu. There is minimal editing to keep some topics bundled together, and my copy had a sound synching problem in the last 12 minutes. But as a fan-made document, I'm happy with it.

Our movie club decided to watch Clue, then play Clue, then play Kill Doctor Lucky. You know what? I'd never seen Clue, so here's my review. I knew the gimmick with the three possible endings, etc., but I wasn't expecting it to be this quirky and funny. It's a movie based on a board game, after all (or alternatively, a remake of Murder by Death, which I have seen and enjoyed). But the comedy does stand up, and it's fun to see the game's absurdities (that you wouldn't know how a person was killed or where sparks of forensic ineptitude, the secret passages, the color-coded names) used as comic fodder. The characters aren't all what I was expecting from their well-known appearances (Mrs. White isn't the maid, for example), so they did give themselves license to change things to make a better story. And the cast of actors is rather good, though my personal favorites are Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan and, obviously, the always surprising Madeline Kahn.
Theater: The graduating class of our local university's drama department  put on Alan Ayckbourn's How the Other Half Loves (in French translation) and we of course went to see it. It's a fun comedy of errors that juxtaposes two apartments on stage (above left, the actual students in rehearsal; right, the set from an entirely different production, but it kind of looked like that) and makes each of its resident couples share the space without seeing each other. A third couple comes into it, with a maverick staging sequence taking place simultaneously, but on two different nights, having dinner in each household simultaneously. Huge fun, laugh-out-loud funny, and it reminded me of Ionesco's La cantatrice chauve (The Bald Soprano), which I love. Marc-André Robichaud, as the forgetful, easily-distracted old fool Frank Foster, steals the show, though the script kind of wants him to. (Marc-André is only a third-year student, so he's set to be a star.) The rest of the cast is fairly solid to quite good, and provided a lively evening at the theater.

Comics in trade: I was expecting to review Kill Shakespeare: The Tide of Blood on Hyperion to a Satyr, just like I did the original 12-issue series that chronicled Hamlet's exile to a land inhabited by Shakespeare's other characters (as is the Bard himself), but he's just not the focus of the sequel. Romeo is. Having lost the love of Juliet TO Hamlet, he falls prey to the bottle, and seeking redemption, leads the cast of characters to Prospero's island. Prospero is cast as an evil wizard who wants to usurp his creator's power, but finds being a writer isn't as easy as it seems. Andy Belanger's art isn't as dark in this 5-issue arc - the panels are laid out on a white page rather than a black one for the most part - and I find the desaturation pleasing and airy. Writers Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col provide the same kind of fantasy, literate and filled with repurposed quotes, while practicing a certain amount of revisionism as well. It's not to be taken seriously by Shakespearean scholars, but at the same time also has something to say about literature. I'm awaiting the next chapter.

Audio: The First Sontarans by Andrew Smith is a perfectly fine 6th Doctor/Peri Lost Story from Big Finish, but I kind of wanted it to be more than fine. It has the Sontarans and Rutans, and an origin story for the former, but every fan theory about the Sontarans I've ever heard is actually more interesting than the one provided here (and that would have been canon had the script made it to our television screens as planned). It's certainly fun to hear Dan Starkey doing Sontaran voices, since he's become THE new series Sontaran (most notably as Strax, the goodie Sontaran), but the script just seems to skip around too much. We start in Victorian England and end up in space, the kind of 2-episode juxtaposition the 6th Doctor era was known for, certainly, but not my favorite structure. That said, it's a well-produced audio with fine performances, and even a little more thought than usual given to guest characters' back story and personal arcs.

The 2nd Doctor Lost Stories boxed set is a very odd package. On the one hand, it presents two stories that stand as documents representing that particular era (the late 60s). On the other, they don't play particularly well for a modern audience. It starts with Prison in Space (written by Dick Sharples and adapted by Simon Guerrier), a Doc2/Jamie/Zoe adventure that tries to outdo Galaxy 4's sexism in an egregious way. You've got your cookie-cutter society run by military-minded women who send men who get uppity to a space prison. Fine. Zoe is to be rehabilitated, might actually start a reverse-sexual revolution, and ends up across Jamie's knee, getting the reprogramming spanked out of her. See what I mean? The performances are fine, with Frazer Hines of course doing his great 2nd Doctor voice, et al., but that plot is so dated, it's a non-starter. If it had made it on television, it would be an embarrassment today. So as a historical document of what might have been, sure. Does it work as a story today? Not really.

If Prison in Space had been included with a stronger story (the 1st Doctor set contained both Farewell Great Macedon and The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance, which were both superlative), the 2nd's set might have been forgiven for it. Unfortunately, the other release is The Destroyers,  which isn't a Doctor Who story at all! It's really a pilot for a Dalek show, and only connects to the 2nd Doctor era because 1) it was written in 1966 while Troughton was the Doctor, and 2) Terry Nation's hopes for his creations resulted in the tyrannical pepperpots getting temporarily written off the show in that era. It features Sara Kingdom, a 1st Doctor-era character, who in the adaptation by Nicholas Briggs and John Dorney, is given the bigger role (Nation's space corps people are fairly interchangeable), so Jean Marsh can narrate the action and be a big part of it. I would listen to that woman read me the phone book, so I'm not disappointed in that sense. Where The Destroyers fails is that it's a Terry Nation script, and I've seen a lot of those before. Daleks, sure, but also matinée serial jeopardy, living jungles, the same old stuff he's always doing. And because it was an attempt to bring something to series, it ends with loose ends dangling in front of our faces. Is it even on continuity? There apparently wasn't enough interest for Briggs to turn it into a Dalek Empire-style series to try and resolve things.

Cleansed the palate with the first Jago & Litefoot audio, The Bloodless Soldier by Justin Richards. The series had its "pilot" in the Companion Chronicles' The Mahogany Murders, and I'd loved it. I wasn't the only one, and the two Victorian detectives (if we can call them that) are going on their seventh series now! Each series contains 4 stories, and The Bloodless Soldier the very first. Love the theme music, let me start with that, and I love the actors, great voices, etc. That's a given. On an intellectual level, it's interesting to see events that are indubitably set in the Whoniverse, but come off as supernatural because he isn't there to explain them. And the ending is likely darker than if he had. On an emotional level, our heroes are put through the wringer, and their friendship strengthened by it. Jago ISN'T relegated to the clown's role, even though he can be very funny. There are consequences to their adventures, and the duo can actually be quite touching. As strong an official debut as this is, I've still got a bone to pick with the title. The Bloodless Soldier is a fine evocative title, but doesn't seem to fit the werewolf story actually told. But if that's my only complaint...

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.i. The Gravedigger Scene

Doctor Who #873: The Doctor's Wife

"Are all people like this?" ""Like what?" "So much bigger on the inside."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 14 2011.

IN THIS ONE... Neil Gaiman writes Doctor Who. The TARDIS is personified as a Tim Burton character.

REVIEW: An episode about the true central relationship of the series since its inception, if the title is a misleading ploy from Mr. Moffat, it at least comments on the oldest couple in fiction - the Doctor and the TARDIS. Given voice, the magic box  reveals that she stole her thief, not the other way around, and that she loves him still, even if he does bring home an awful lot of strays. Presumably, only a writer of Neil Gaiman's stature could have been allowed to fiddle with Doctor Who canon this much, and the greater implications the TARDIS' revelations I can only address fully under Theories (see below). He throws an incredible array of ideas at the screen, from patchwork people made from Time Lord parts, to the possibility of a regeneration into a different gender, to flying a TARDIS console without a shell, to a sentient planetoid living in a bubble universe, to a return to the old console room... So much, that a lot of it ends up as background detail and is never fully explored, most notably what only seems to be the A-plot, with House's Frankenstein monsters.

One of the script's most satisfying ideas is that of recursion. At the center is the premise of a woman (the personified TARDIS) who experiences her entire time stream simultaneously, so makes comments out of order, and ends on "hello", but can also use this to fix problems before they occur, give answers before the questions need to be asked. The TARDIS' insistence that she stole the Doctor doesn't mean he's any less of a thief, so they are two thieves who stole each other. Again, recursion. We also find it in the Corsair's Ouroboros tattoo, and in the TARDIS corridors that all look the same and bend back on each other, not necessarily synched to the others. I once thought this was a major clue about Gallifrey's return (we know the end, but would see its start rather than its return), but alas, I don't think that's to be.

While the Doctor interacts with the true love of his life - and it's all quite fun, thanks - Amy and Rory are sent to hide in the TARDIS and fall prey to House's mental torture. Nothing is to be taken literally in this sequences, though they may well be literal. The TARDIS, as taken over by House, seems to become Schrodinger's nightmare, where timelines are created and collapse in a moment. However, there is evidence that points to it all being some kind of hallucination. If Amy finds an aged Rory, trapped alone in a section for millennia, a Rory that has come to despise her, it's really her anxiety talking. This has already happened - with the plastic Centurion - and she may think Rory really should hate her for making him wait so long. It's her nightmare given shape, telepathic circuits tapping into her darkest fears. And yes, Rory dies again, twice (drink!). Suranne Jones as Idris/the TARDIS is quite good and makes me forget her Mancunian Mona Lisa from Sarah Jane Adventures entirely. Matt Smith is too, of course. There's a bittersweet acceptance of what's happening coming from him, sad that she (as a person) is gone, but happy to have had this chance to meet her. He perhaps put too much relish in his order to effectively execute the House entity (is he becoming more ruthless? he seemed similarly happy to let River shoot the Silents), but love the final moment when he's asked if he has a room. No answer, but it's obvious. We're standing in it.

THEORIES: The greatest revelation about the TARDIS, to my mind, is that she's a predestination machine. From her point of view - and she's sentient enough to have one - there is no different between past, present and future. She is aware of her entire existence simultaneously. The past can be rewritten, just as the future can (we feel like we're writing it for the first time, obviously). To the TARDIS, it's all one and the same, so taking action can and does change the future, but it's like she's choosing from a number of possible futures. She doesn't take the Doctor where he wants to go, but where he needs to be. That's how she's chosen companions for him, and how she's taken him where the action is. She's telepathic, so she's either tapping into his heroic impulses, trying to save the universe just as her pilot is, or into the boredom that made him leave Gallifrey in the first place, steering him to the most exciting places possible. In other words, she KNOWS there are Daleks at her destination; its part of her written existence. It's the future she chose for him. The idea that she's even archived console rooms from the future means she already knows every incarnation of the Doctor too. This is the River Song paradigm magnified. But unlike River, she knows her own end too. When she opened the door to the Doctor all those centuries ago, she would have seen her entire, exciting future unfold, and chose to go on that track. Undoubtedly, every other Time Lord that passed by gave her a flash of something much less interesting (probably retirement and dismantling for parts).

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, 10 and 1 Things About The Doctor's Wife, manages to broach other subjects. There's so much here to discuss.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A beautiful high concept episode that manages to reveal things at the core of several characters.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Reign of the Supermen #525: New Uniform Superman

Source: Action Comics #236 (1958)
Type: The real deal (since retconned)
The story that dares ask "If Superman ever found it necessary to discard his famous super suit, what new costume would he adopt?" It's the Man of Steel's first major rebranding and it's a FASHION NIGHTMARE! It all starts when Superman lends his indestructible super suit to Professor Carlton so he can test his dangerous atomic robot called Metallo (not THE Metallo, he's a year out, but still the third entity in Superman's life to bear that name; it's pretty popular). Metallo III is a bust.
In the resulting chaos, Carlton - actually Lex Luthor in a Mission Impossible mask - switches out the super suit with an imitation. Oh, dastardly. Over the course of the next few hours, the suit gets ripped to shreds by the threats Superman inevitably faces! He returns to the Prof who confirms the explosion must have affected the super suit on an atomic level, but no worries, the scientific community is on it, they'll make a new suit for the rigors of superhero action. In the meantime, Superman goes WAY too far trying to rebrand.
I guess the armor, but did he have to change his entire shtick to a knightly theme? Metropolis is understandably confused. I don't know what the merchant navy thinks. A week later, Prof Carlton presents Superman's new uniform. Warning: May cause pinkeye.
They COULDN'T have made it red and blue? Or included the big "S"? No. These guys are scientists, not fashion designers! They like to label things! And tinker! That's why they've included more powers into the uniform. A built-in radio so Superman can hear police calls, winged boots for stealth flight so he can stop making that dreadful WOOOSH (a noise that apparently creates avalanches), gloves so he can stop worrying about Lois Lane finding his fingerprints pressed into hard steel (I know it sounds like I'm joking, but these are arguments right out of the comic!), and it glows in the dark too (great for leading ships out of fog). But wait, there's more! How about an Anti-Kryptonite Belt?
That's right. It protects Superman against that fake kryptonite Luthor just handed him. So over the course of the next few days, the new uniform seems to be a great functional success, though as a brand, it leaves a lot to be desired. What Superman doesn't know is that it's all part of Luthor's plan to make the Man of Steel go out of fashion. That's right. He's about to re-introduce Classic Coke!
Luthor, in the super suit, shows up to discredit this obvious poser in the yellow and purple, and lets cops shoot him for fun, seeing as the suit lends him some invulnerability. Can New Coke Superman prove he's the real deal? No, because he's suddenly being poisoned by the kryptonite hidden in his Anti-K Belt!
Superman lay dying when he suddenly flies into action and gets Luthor to blurt out the details of his scheme.
Silver Age characters are so used to explaining "what's really going on" that they just can't help themselves. So I'm looking at this page and I think I KNOW what's going on. It's ironic, see, because Luthor gave him those flight boots, and thus the means Superman uses to defeat him. Nope. That would be too easy and make too much sense. Here's the REAL explanation:
That's right. Despite losing his powers to Green K poisoning, he managed to tap out some super Morse code picked up by Jimmy's signal watch, who then translated an urgent but convoluted message and sprang into action, rigging a powerful magnet to the Flying Newsroom, finding Superman, dragging him up and dropping him on Lex. All before the charity event was over.

You don't have to believe it for it to be true.