Sunday, July 05, 2009

SilverHawks Sunday IX: Journey to Limbo

Because it's not about the destination, man.The second part of the SilverHawks opener begins with a brief recap of the previous episode's events--namely Mon*Star's escape and Stargazer's call for backup. After the theme song and title card, we open with the Miraj--and the SilverHawks inside--just about to arrive at Hawk Haven. Quicksilver mentions that it's going to be their home "for the next few centuries," which means that these cybernetics impart some pretty serious life extension.

It brings up some interesting questions about the reasons for the SilverHawks' cybernetics. We know from the first episode that unaugmented humans can't survive the journey to the Limbo galaxy, but we're never told why. Is it because of the various hazards of space travel--stellar radiation, micrometeoroids, cosmic rays, hostile aliens, extreme temperatures, vacuum conditions, prolonged exposure to microgravity, etc.? Or might it be because of the time necessary? We don't get any indication of how long it takes to get from the Milky Way to Limbo. Even with translight travel, it might have been months or years since Stargazer sent his request. Now, I seem to recall that later episodes have travels between the planets that don't take that long, so it's certainly possible that the backup is swift, but it's an interesting thing to think about--especially when the pilot of the show's spiritual predecessor centered around the long timespans involved in interplanetary travel.

It's also worth considering that the SilverHawks are apparently expecting a multi-century tour of duty. We might not be too far out from space missions that require multiple years away from Earth, but hundreds of years is a somewhat more significant commitment. It must be prohibitively expensive to conduct this augmentation procedure and to send people to Limbo; otherwise, why only send a team of five to act as space police for a whole galaxy, and why require them to stay for such a long time?

The SilverHawks (except Bluegrass) leave the Miraj to "stretch their wings" and land in Hawk Haven's hangar on their own, followed by Bluegrass in the ship. Stargazer's voice over the intercom leads them up the turbolift, past the metallic main room, full of computers and equipment, down to Stargazer's office. The long metal hallway terminates in a plain wooden door with a smoked glass window, with Stargazer's name and title stenciled on in the style of a 1930s Private Eye office. That motif continues when we see his office, which has wood paneling and furniture, slightly stained walls and a tattered map of something behind an old wooden desk. The best detail is the normal office window, looking out onto the blackness of outer space, adorned by a crooked set of venetian blinds. In the Limbo Justice System, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups...The juxtaposition isn't subtle--nor is Stargazer's mix of suspenders and bionics--but it's a really clever touch. While I don't think it'll last, the show is set up to be a police procedural in space, and while "space police" isn't exactly an original idea, I've never really seen one done like a "Law and Order." If they revived SilverHawks as a movie or live-action series, I'd be interested in seeing this as the basic concept. And in casting Dann Florek or J.K. Simmons as Cmdr. Stargazer.

The introductions are (necessarily and thankfully) brief, and show off some of Stargazer's charm. He mentions that he's never been to the Planet of the Mimes, Copper Kidd's homeworld, and he says that Bluegrass seems a little young to be a colonel. Bluegrass replies that he's just naturally talented (with an "aww, shucks" to boot), but I think this is a nice way to tie in his relationship with Copper Kidd. If Bluegrass was particularly young as he made his way through the ranks, he probably got some flak and skepticism because of it. This puts him in a good position to recognize those same talents in Copper Kidd, since the Kidd's youth might make other people overlook his abilities. By taking Kidd under his wing and tutoring him, Bluegrass is providing the Kidd with a support structure that he might have lacked as he went through the process.

Stargazer begins the debriefing, using a viewscreen that's hidden behind a recessed bookcase, another nice touch (and reminiscent of "Get Smart," as I recall). He shows them Brin*Star, a planet (strangely enough) with a star-shaped hole in the crust, beneath which is the Mob's headquarters, which is nearly indestructible. This segues into a scene with Mon*Star and his snake-like henchman Yes-Man. With a name like "Yes-Man," I guess your career path is pretty much laid out for you from the start. Yes-Man informs Mon*Star that the SilverHawks have arrived (news travels fast in Limbo), and Mon*Star decides to give them a proper welcome. He heads to the transformation chamber, and it occurs to me that it's the first time we actually see it in the series. Yes-Man works the controls, which activate jets on the other side of Brin*Star, rotating the entire planet so that the star-shaped hole above Mob headquarters is aimed at the Moon*Star. Mon*Star's weird throne has some wicked claws that close in over his head as he begins the incantation, with some machinery focusing the Moon*Star's energy on him, and he begins the transformation sequence.

This suggests some interesting things about Mon*Star's power source. We saw in "The Origin Story" that he could transform without all this apparatus, but in that case, why build the machines? I suspect it has to do with the fact that the Moon*Star in the first episode was undergoing an energetic burst. That explains some of why Mon*Star was so desperate; if the burst is a rare or periodic thing, then it's not like any old glimpse at the star would give him the necessary power. Since he's going to need to transform more frequently than the Moon*Star bursts occur, he's built an apparatus to focus the energy, amplifying it to have the same effect as an intense burst. I'll be interested to see if the series is consistent on this implication; the ability to reuse this stock footage episode after episode suggests to me that they probably will, even if it's only by accident.

It's worth mentioning here that the transformation is quicker and not quite as impressive as the one in the first episode (probably because this two-parter was designed to be shown as one long episode on video and such, and that would have been particularly repetitive), and that he transforms Sky Runner from space squid to armored squid-based vehicle after the transformation as well. Mon*Star orders Yes-Man to "call all the boys together" and load up the weapons into the "space-limos" for the assault on Hawk Haven. I sometimes forget that this show is designed as a battle between police and Mafia analogues; maybe instead of a police procedural, it's actually "The Untouchables" in space. Sean Connery as Stargazer?

Tally Hawk, Stargazer's pet cyborg hawk (who I always thought was a bald eagle of some sort, but now I see the coloring's wrong for that), returns to Hawk Haven from space, and Stargazer introduces him. Like the SilverHawks, Tally Hawk is partly metal and partly real. Bluegrass asks if he does anything more than look mean, and Tally Hawk turns to the viewscreen, using his eyes to project footage of Mon*Star leaving to attack. Stargazer explains Tally Hawk's role: "He's a spy satellite, scout, interceptor," then gives Quicksilver the bracelet that has his control panel. Naturally, the red alert starts going off, as the Mob approaches and begins their assault.

Quicksilver sends Tally Hawk out first to counter the assault, and the bird does really well. It's clear that he's not just a remote-controlled airplane or anything; while the control panel has a button to "call him back," he's pretty autonomous (and effective) in combat. Could the SilverHawks program have evolved out of We3? Incidentally, the battle music in this scene is really cool.

With the full might of the Mob bearing down on them, it becomes clear that falconry alone isn't going to save the day. Quicksilver asks Bluegrass if he's ready. The Colonel replies, "Ready as a rooster in a henhouse!"

Now, I like Bluegrass, and I really would prefer not to make any off-color inbred hick jokes about him, but with a comment like that, I have to wonder...what exactly is he planning to do to the Mob?

Dude, it's like I can see the music!Stargazer, clearly talking about Bluegrass's guitar, asks, "Wanna leave that toy behind, Colonel Bluegrass?" Bluegrass responds, "you ever see a toy like this?" Why, yes I have. Two, in fact. He then demonstrates his guitar's ability to shoot...something or other. It's clearly a musical staff, but it behaves like a cross between a normal beam weapon and a Green Lantern ring. This sets up a nice bit of dialogue, though:
Steelheart: What was that, sheriff?

Bluegrass: E-flat, lady. E-flat major.

Steelwill: She's a sergeant, Colonel.

Now, I haven't pulled out my chromatic tuner, but I'm pretty sure that Bluegrass played more than just an E-flat...assuming he played that somewhere in the screeching hair metal riff that he played. You know, I'm not sure which is worse: that Bluegrass took the opportunity to fire his weapon in the main computer room, or that it didn't do any damage. You're right, Bluegrass, it's not a toy. It's a laser rock show.

The Mob is really starting to do some damage to Hawk Haven, and the Hawks join the fray in the Miraj. The Mob initially thinks they're retreating, but then the individual Hawks release from the Miraj and show off their maneuvers. They fire on Sky Runner, then scatter when Mon*Star fires back. Tally Hawk fires some eye beams at Mon*Star and actually knocks him out of his seat. Kind of bad for the main villain to be beaten by the team mascot in the first fight.

Tally Hawk was apparently just getting Mon*Star out of the way so he could go after Sky Runner. They fire at one another, then collide in a pretty big explosion that leaves them both smoldering and...uh, falling. Okay, they're pretty close to Hawk Haven, maybe they're caught in its gravitational pull. Still, I'm pretty sure smoke doesn't behave that way in space.

This little mini-fight is interesting, suggesting that Mon*Star and Stargazer's pets have the same kind of rivalry that their masters have, but I can't help but feel a little bad for Sky Runner here. In the first episode, he fought Mon*Star, resisting servitude, which paints him as a victim of sorts. Now, these aren't human animals like, say, Battle Cat, but at least Tally Hawk develops a pretty distinct personality over the course of the series. This is a nice character moment between two beings for whom characterization would be moderately unexpected.

The space dogfight continues, bringing us to the series' first battle of the bands. Bluegrass already introduced Chekov's guitar (part of his weaponized sound system, "Hot Licks"), and now we meet his rival. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Melodia:

It's like 1986 threw up on her.

Two-tone green hair, music note-shaped sunglasses, pink thigh-high boots, fingerless gloves, and a laser keytar. I love the '80s.

They fire music at each other ("You wanna jam, lady? Let's jam!"), with some spectacular results:
My God, it's full of stars.

But eventually the feedback causes an explosion that sends Melodia's space-limo spiraling. The SilverHawks clearly have the upper hand, as both limos are crashing onto Hawk Haven's rocky exterior. Buzz-Saw tears a pretty big gash in the bottom of the Hot Seat, and Bluegrass retaliates by shooting the robot with his guitar. The beam pierces right through Buzz-Saw, and blows him up. I take back what I said about the laser rock show--it just killed one of the main villains! Sure, he's a robot, and will likely be the villains' equivalent of Red Tornado, but that still seems unexpected and bold.

The battle continues, each of the SilverHawks taking on one of the Mob (more or less). Copper Kidd shows off his electric frisbees (a topic for a future post), and Mon*Star chases Quicksilver in circles. Eventually, Quicksilver lets a smokescreen out from his boot jets, and Mon*Star flies into it. The SilverHawks all fire into the cloud, and eventually Mon*Star calls for a retreat.

Stargazer strolls out and says "Nice try, SilverHawks." This comes as a bit of a shock initially--"villains retreating" is kind of the gold standard for victory in '80s cartoons--and Bluegrass says as much, but Quicksilver says that Stargazer's right: Mon*Star and the Mob are still free. The SilverHawks, remember, aren't your average '80s cartoon superheroes, fighting the villains until they give up and run back to their base. They're the police, and they just let the criminals escape. What would have been a victory for G.I. Joe or He-Man constitutes getting their shiny metal asses handed to them in light of their job, which is to capture the Mob. This presents an interesting situation; in these cartoons (as in most things), status quo is god. But in order to maintain the status quo, where our heroes are continuously chasing after the Mob, the heroes must consistently fail in their duties. This either sets the Mob up as the most competent villains in the '80s cartoon pantheon, or the SilverHawks as the most inept heroes, and I'm inclined to go with the former. The SilverHawks, by the nature of their positions, have the bar for victory set significantly higher than your average cartoon hero, and that presents a very interesting situation.

The episode ends, as most (if not all) of the subsequent ones will, with Copper Kidd and Bluegrass's training session. The Kidd is in a simulator shaped like the Hot Seat, practicing his flying. He narrowly avoids hitting a perfectly spherical crater-ridden object (I guess this is a holographic simulator), and Bluegrass asks him to name it. Turns out it's an asteroid, and while I wouldn't be entirely surprised by that, most asteroids in popular depictions are more elliptical. According to this article, older asteroids tend to be more spherical, so it's possible that this asteroid is just particularly ancient. Bluegrass then asks the Kidd to identify what asteroids are mostly made of, between stone, dust, metal, and ice--and he helpfully notes that there's more than one correct answer. Copper Kidd correctly picks stone and metal. So far, so good; I hope the subsequent ventures into science fact are as uncontroversial and straightforward as this one.

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