Star Trek Saturdays #11

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #11!

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This week’s episode is “Miri” and while it has some odd moments, it’s still pretty good.

We open with, in what’s possibly the shortest cold open this show has had so far, the Enterprise finding an exact replica of Earth in space while tracking an Earth-type distress signal. How’s that for a hook?

A landing party of Kirk, Spock, Yeoman Rand, McCoy and two redshirts beam down and find themselves in an abandoned city. From the architecture, Spock guesses that this city is just like Earth in…the 1960s! McCoy then says, “Now, this is marvelous. The most horrible conglomeration of antique architecture I’ve ever seen.” This tells us 2 things about episode writer Adrian Spies: 1. He resented the show had a cheap budget for shooting on location. 2. He really hated the architecture. Oddly specific gripes, but OK!

Anyway, after being attacked by a strange deformed man who then dies right in front of them, the team hears noises coming from one of the buildings. They investigate, look in a closet and find Miri, a normal-looking girl who is completely terrified of them.

If Miri looks familiar to you, it’s because she’s played by Kim Darby, best known for playing Mattie Ross in the original True Grit. I’ll get back to her later.

Miri initially freaks out and refuses to tell them anything, but Kirk, being as nice and polite as possible, calms her down. She tells them how the “grups”–grownups–became ill and went insane and the “Onlies”–children–learned to hide from them. McCoy realizes that this world was decimated by a plague; Kirk manages to convince Miri to take them to an abandoned hospital where they learn more about the disease–specifically, that it started out as an attempt to slow down the aging process, aging cells 1 month every 100 years, but it only worked on children while making anyone past puberty go completely insane, become disfigured and die.

The landing party, minus Spock because he’s half-Vulcan, all become infected with the disease, which manifests in the form of really nasty scabs. Add that plus Miri developing a crush on Kirk and the rest of the Onlies led by Jahn (Michael Pollard) trying to sabotage them and things get interesting…

For a planet-focused episode, this is very strong, proving that Trek‘s appeal lies in its characters, not its specific space theme. Of the many kid actors in the episode, Darby and Pollard are easily the standouts. Darby manages to somehow pull off both being a relatable young girl and a completely alien, feral being at the same time. Pollard–who was actually 27 when this was made, but has a young face–is a creepy, captivating leader, using sheer charisma to get his point across and to help draw the viewer away from the weaknesses of the other kids..

Totally 12 years old, isn’t he?

The  virus the crew contracts actually makes them behave irrationally, which results in some strong outbursts from Grace Whitney as Rand and especially DeForest Kelley. The scabs are crude-looking but they look nasty so they do their job.

Miri disease advanced.jpg Pretty nasty stuff.

This episode does have one big issue that I couldn’t ignore: the way Kirk behaves towards Miri. I get he’s trying to be friendly and, even considering that Miri is actually much older than she looks due to the disease, but their scenes together are just…off-putting. Seriously, watch this episode,  get to one of Kirk’s last lines, then tell me you’re not a little skeeved out.

Otherwise, this episode’s OK. Spies makes the backstory of this virus believable and structures the mounting tensions very well. Vincent McEveety, directing yet again (according to Memory Alpha, he directed this episode in a wheelchair due to having broken a leg), helps deliver that tension, setting things up so that the opposing parties of the away team and the kids are seperated from each other for most of the episode, which makes it all the more powerful when they do confront each other. Give this one a watch.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

Top 5 Comics of 2012

Hey folks, how was your Christmas? Mine was great! I got to see my new baby cousin, the first season of Homeland, and over $100 in Barnes & Noble gift cards!

Speaking of books, if you’ve been following here for a while, you’ve probably noticed by now that I like comics. A LOT.

But rather than try and count down my top 5 comic book issues of the year (because that would be really hard and several people are much better suited than I for such work), I figured I’d just list my top 5 favorite ongoing series. OK? OK, here we go…

#5–Superman/Superman Family Adventures

In talking with a friend about Superman recently, I mentioned that DC policy thus far has been to rotate the creative team every six issues, which equals out to the length of one storyline generally.

“So, basically, ” he said, “it’s an anthology?”

I said yes at the time but now I think it’s more like each arc is an episode of a TV show: each team is telling their one largely self-contained story (the current crossover being the exception), with their own style, while still contributing to one vision. It’s not always the most interesting or captivating book, but it’s entertaining and has got plenty of shots of Supes fighting the good fight, which I like.

Family Adventures, while having that whole episodic feel– each issue is self-contained, but there’s obviously some big plan being cooked up by Lex Luthor–is still a bit of an anomaly. I honestly never thought I’d be buying a kids comic, let alone one drawn and written by the dudes behind the famously-drawn-in-crayon Tiny Titans series, but when I saw the buzz it was getting, I had to check it out.

Man, is this book fun. Clean drawing, simple yet brilliant stories, really fun tweaks on the Superman mythos, like, say, Otis from Superman: The Movie becoming the Parasite…this book is great. Check it out for sure.

#4–Action Comics

Because it’s written by famed author Grant Morrison–best known for turning out the incandescently amazing All-Star Superman and being incredibly damn weird–Action Comics had the biggest hype arguably of anything going into DC’s New 52 relaunch because people were wondering which version of Morrison would show up. Well, with one issue left to go in his stated 16-issue run, I’d say by and large it’s been the one who can turn out amazing; at his best, Morrison writes high-concept stories that still feel understandable to the neophyte while celebrating the love of the longtime fan. Although the run hasn’t always been perfect (a head-scratching two-part story with the Legion of Super-Heroes comes to mind), it’s always been intriguing and the backup stories by Sholly Fisch have done a great job filling out the world and its inhabitants. This run will no doubt be discussed by comic book scholars for years to come.

#3–Captain America

If you had told me I’d be reading a Marvel book in 2012, even with the roller-coaster of awesome that was The Avengers, I’d have laughed. See, by and large, here’s how the storytelling policies of Marvel and DC Comics work. DC tries to make stories about gods (Superman, Wonder Woman) and god-like humans (Batman, Green Lantern) very simple and straightforward; Marvel, on the other hand, tries to make stories about simple humans with powers (Spider-Man, Wolverine, etc.) as complex and interconnected as possible.

Laugh at DC all you want for having rebooted 3 times in the past few decades, but they understood that their continuity had gotten too complicated for layfolk to understand; Marvel, on the other hand, has a “sliding timescale” policy similar to the newspaper comics comic books sprung from: i.e. the stories are always set in the present, but everything that has happened to their characters, unless stated, has always happened, creating a giant web of context that’s darn near impossible to navigate.

So why do I like the new Captain America so much then? Because it takes place outside of that web. In the first issue, Steve Rogers, investigating an abandoned subway line that’s mysteriously begun operating again for S.H.I.E.L.D., boards the train–which turns out to be full of monsters–and is whisked away due to another dimension, escapes his captor, the fanatic Armim Zola, and with a genetically engineered baby of Zola’s design, wanders the alien landscape trying to figure out a way home and how to survive. So yeah, it’s The Road but with spandex, basically.

John Romita, Jr’s art is well suited to the surreality of “Dimension Z” as it’s called, as well as the flashbacks to Rogers’ ’20s Bronx childhood that Rick Remender’s scripts call for. Speaking of Remender, while I’ve never read anything of his before, this is great: his pacing and the way he constructs his scenes are great; only 2 issues in and I’m already reeling from a cliffhanger that cries out to be delivered in a splash page, but isn’t. Instead, it’s a wide panel at the bottom of the page. It’ll cost you only $7 to pick all 2 issues of this up and I’d heartily recommend it.

#2–Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye

I’ve been a fan of Transformers since I was eight but I’d been holding off on diving full-throttle into the current comics because of the strange way they were published but this series allowed me to dive in with full force. The great thing about this book is that, like Captain America, it’s largely set apart from the rest of what’s going on.

Here’s the setup: the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons is over, with the two sides back on Cybertron trying to rebuild their damaged planet. Meanwhile, Rodimus–the guy in the middle there–has gone off  with several other Autobots to try and find the fabled Knights of Cybertron–the first inhabitants of the planet who were sent off on a mission of piece eons and eons ago, fyi–and persuade them to come back. But shortly after takeoff, they accidentally go through a wormhole and wind up roaming the galaxy all by themselves. Of course, it only gets crazier from there…

Key to the series is the astonishing artwork of Alex Milne for sure but the real star is the script power of James Roberts. Although everyone who works in comics nowadays is a fan-turned-pro, Roberts is particularly special: a founding member of the huge Transformers UK fanfiction community, Roberts eventually wrote Eugenesis, a novel-length fanfic that actually has astonishing literary skill behind it, believe it or not, and sunk about 1000 pounds of his own money into putting it into print. Eventually, when IDW Publishing had picked up the license, he was tapped to write a few stories here and there and then given full control of this book. What makes his writing work for me is that he imbues all these characters–some new, some established characters–with enough personality and charm that they stand on their own, even if you aren’t familiar with them. As somebody not familiar with the ’80s Transformers continuity, this is a big help for me and I look forward to this book every month.

But there’s one I look forward to even more…

#1–Saga

I had heard of writer Brian K. Vaughn (Y: The Last Man for Vertigo and Runaways for Marvel) and artist Fiona Staples (Marvel’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents) but I had never read anything by them until I saw the first issue of this science fiction series for $1.99. I picked it up as an impulse purchase, but one look at the terrific worldbuilding and gorgeous gorgeous artwork and I was hooked. Just look at this stuff:

If her art doesn’t get nominated for anything big next comics award season, I’ll hate everything.

At its heart, this is a star-crossed lovers story. Marko–the ram-horned guy–and Alana–short-haired chick who, although you can’t really see it, has wings–are soldiers on different sides of a bitter interstellar war. Alana hails from the technologically-advanced planet of Landfall, while Marko comes from the magic-using people of the planet’s moon Wreath: the two planets have been in endless conflict but when Alana, a prison guard, and Marko, a prisoner, fall in love, bust out and have a baby named Hazel (who narrates the series as an adult), the war gets a new focus. In addition to their own peoples hunting for them, they also have bounty hunters on their trail and Prince Robot IV from the Robot Empire following them. So yeah, pretty tense yet typical stuff. But Vaughn’s terrific scripts and Staples’ amazing art make this stand out from the rest.

The series only has 8 issues right now because it started in March and, after the first story arc, the book took a 2-month break to allow the two to rest and for Staples to get ahead on artwork. But the first trade collection is out now and it’s only for $10 so you have no excuse, people. Check it out.

Well, that was fun. Given my update schedule, I won’t post another one of these until after New Year’s Eve, but hey, I know y’all won’t mind.

Star Trek Saturdays #10

It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #10!

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This week’s episode is “Dagger of the Mind” and it’s an interesting twist on an old story: the perfect prison with something sinister going on behind the scenes. This, of course, isn’t something new to fiction in general or even science fiction, but it’s neat to see how Trek took it on.

Our story opens with the Enterprise beaming supplies down to, and receiving a crate from, the Tantalus Penal Colony on the planet  Tantalus V. However, the crate the Enterprise has received has been emptied of its contents and replaced with a stowaway, one Simon Van Gelder.

Van Gelder (Morgan Woodward) subdues several crewmen and storms the bridge, violently declaring that “I won’t go back there!” He’s subdued by Spock with a Vulcan nerve pinch and placed in sickbay; he begins explaining how he was tortured by Dr. Tristan Adams, the head of the colony, but is wracked with pain and unable to continue. Kirk contacts Adams and discovers that Van Gelder is actually a doctor himself and a colleague of Adams who injured himself at work. Kirk, required by Starfleet laws to investigate, beams down with ship’s psychiatrist Helen Noel (Marianna Hill) who has some interesting memories she tries to bring up of Kirk at the science lab Christmas party.

(insert your own va-va-voom noises here)

They beam down, meet up with Adams (James Gregory) who shows them the neural neutralizer, a device that wipes one’s mind and allows select memories to be implanted. He tells them that Van Gelder used the device on himself without supervision and wound up in the severe condition they found him in. But Kirk and Noel aren’t so sure about that…

This episode is distinct in that it’s the introduction of the Vulcan ability of mind melding, although it’s not called that here. Spock has to use it in order to help make Van Gelder more lucid so they can understand what it is he’s trying to tell them.

That’s also the point where I was actually able to appreciate Woodward’s acting the most. For the most part, he plays to the backlights, shouting and raving, in a performance that makes the show feel like the serials it evolved out of rather than the serious drama it was intended to be. He’s not that great. As Helen, Hill not only looks good but is able to hold her own against Kirk as far as bravado goes; definitely a go-getter. Gregory is more of a subtle villain as Adams, a lot more quiet than the villains one usually associates with this sort of story.

Kirk has some nice heroic moments, McCoy and Spock develop their bond further and Nimoy has a couple of instances where a simple facial expression provides a killer comedic beat. Mix all that together with some nice, tense directing by Vincent McEvetty, returning here from “Balance of Terror” and a keen, well-paced script by S. Bar David (real name: Shimon Wincelberg) and you have a nice little episode. Recommended.

Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.

Thoughtful Friday

So, ever since the whole Sandy Hook tragedy, I’ve been delving back into my semi-fixation with keeping up with current events; I’m not hooked on following the odyssey of the tragedy itself or the history of the shooter (I ain’t sayin’ his name. Deal with it.) but I feel, once again, a need to understand what’s going on with the world in general.

But regarding the tragedy itself and the response to it….well, once again, the whole “it’s the violent movies and video games that are to blame! Not the MILITARY ASSAULT RIFLES WE LEGALLY SELL ON THE STREETS but it’s Hollywood! Really!” has come up again. And I am so damn sick of it.

We had this happen after Arizona; we had it after Aurora. Now we’re having it again. Aside from where I stand on the whole issue of censoring art in general (kind of against it, honestly), this particular high horse of blaming Hollywood violence–led by the NRA, a group that, as Sean O’Neal so brilliantly, cuttingly reminded us today, exists to sell weapons of violence to people–for tragedies like these is not only abhorrent and insulting to the victims of such tragedies, it is stupid. Just. Plain. STUPID.

While yes, it can be argued that entertainment–particularly television–has gotten far more darker and grimmer than it used to be, you have to remember that one of the functions of art is to be reflective of society. And if you hold that conceit to be true, then couldn’t it be extrapolated that our art has gotten darker because our WORLD has gotten darker as a result of decisions humanity has made?

In that regard, Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, etc. are products of the times in response to the times, just as the folk revival of the 1960s was a response to the warmongering of Vietnam. And yeah, while I will concede that more stringent measures need to be put in place so my now 2-year old cousin won’t have any access to  Call of Duty: Shoot All Them Turrorists when he’s 8, I also realize that that is a VERY different thing from making games like that banned all together. I may not like the worldview that CoD and its ilk represent (a jingoistic, militaristic, paranoid, nationalistic one IMO) but I will adamantly defend their right to express it.

Because guys, that’s what democracy is all about in the end: protecting the guy next to you, even though he may disagree with you.

Home again, Home again

And we’re back! Exams are over and I am back home in Illinois!

What have I been doing? Watching TV, mostly. See, my uncle lent us the first season of Suits and White Collar. Don’t care about the latter, but the former is a GREAT show; expect a review soon…

My friend, freshly back from an internship in Kansas City, KS, has been helping me get through the first season of Fringe, knocking another entry off my TV Bucket List. Expect a review of that too!

And comics; Lord, did I buy comics today! $50 almost…this is what I bought:

  Saga 

  Captain America #2 - Comic Book Cover 

For those of you that don’t read them funny books, those are, from first to last, Masks #2, Saga #8, Action Comics #13-15, Superman #13-14, Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #12, and Captain America #2. Those are pretty much all the monthly books I buy–well, Superman Family Adventures, too, but I forgot to buy those today–and although there is a comic shop by me, I have yet to check it out. Hence, the splurging.

Oh, that last thing? Well, that’s a trade paperback actually–volume 6 of Chew, which is one of my favorite anythings of anything. That will be reviewed as soon as possible.

Back to TV a second: yesterday, I found series 5 of Doctor Who for $20 on Blu-Ray at Best Buy, so I snatched it up. Tonight, I go to set up my Blu-Ray player to my folks’ semi-new Samsung LCD HDTV so I can watch it…and I realize that I somehow forgot the power cord. Yeah. Bit of a setback, there.

But hey, I still got comics, so that’s what matters.

‘Til Friday!

Into the Dark (for a while)

Hey folks, ordinarily Star Trek Saturday would be at the top of the page instead of this, but I have exams this week and while I thought I’d be able to get to the episode, it’s just not going to happen.

So real sorry but we have to go dark this week. I’m sorry to have to do this but it needs to be done; this semester’s exams are gonna be a challenge. But I should be back next week, all recovered and ready to bring you that Trek episode, my thoughts on the new season of Doctor Who and a whole lot more!

So until we meet again, live long and prosper!

Webcomics…in print!

I did something a little bit differently for Cyber Monday this year; rather than giving my money just to Amazon, I figured since I subscribe to 21 webcomics, I should throw some of my money their way for all the free laughs and awesomeness they give me every day.

Luckily, a lot of webcomic people offered some pretty great deals. The two I took advantage of were the 10% off David Willis–who I’ve talked about before–offered at his store; I bought the first collection of Dumbing of Age, my current favorite webcomic and Dave Kellett, author of the hilarious humor strip Sheldon and the sci-fi epic Drive, who I can’t believe I haven’t even mentioned yet, who offered the seventh print collection of Sheldon for $1! It’s such a good deal, it’s almost criminal.

Both of these books arrived yesterday and I’m really happy with my purchase; sure, all these strips are free on the web, but seeing them and rereading them in print does add a little something, believe it or not.

Image of Dumbing of Age Book 1 (Credit: Dave Kellett/David Willis. Will be replaced with actual photos soon)

Little extra bit of awesome: found out a few minutes ago before writing this post that the Sheldon book is actually AUTOGRAPHED; how awesome is that?!?

I will show you a photo of that autograph as soon as my webcam decides to work for me…