Thursday, July 30, 2009

Just(ice) when I thought I was out...

So, if DC were trying to get me to re-subscribe to a Justice League book, they could do a lot worse than combining Mon-El and Mark Bagley.

And Congorilla's involved too. Damn it, I could have used that $3 a month.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Revenge of the Fallen

On one hand, the title is a reference to my triumphant return from being in Internet limbo. On the other, it's a reference to my ridiculously late review of the second Transformers movie, which I saw the weekend it opened (or perhaps the week after). It's been a busy month or three. Spoilers ahead.

So since it has been so long since I saw the film, and since I'm still pretty busy, I'm just going to lay this out in bullet points.
  • Starting with the good: the effects, as usual, were very good. I think I would have liked to see a little more use of the alternate modes for most of the robots, but in general the effects were great.
  • One thing I really liked about this is the way it corrected one of the first film's major mistakes: failing to characterize the Decepticons. I thought Starscream and Megatron got some great character moments this time around, and the Fallen was pretty well fleshed-out as well.
  • Optimus Prime was fantastic. Every moment that he was around was classic. He had great dialogue, his characterization was spot-on, and he got to have some epic fights. Optimus was the highlight of the film. I think the best bit, besides his death-battle, was when he told the government agent flat-out that he and the Autobots would leave if they were presenting a danger to Earth.
  • Which brings me to another positive: the homages. Now, honestly, I haven't watched any G1 Transformers cartoons in quite some time, but I thought there were some plot points that really mirrored some of those early G1 stories. Obviously Prime's death and the Matrix stuff were reminiscent of the original Movie, and Soundwave sounded a great deal like his classic self. But besides that, I thought Optimus's promise to leave if asked was fairly reminiscent of "Megatron's Master Plan," where the Autobots leave Earth after being (falsely) convicted for terrorist acts. Moreover, "Decepticons find a powerful ancient weapon in a pyramid" was also the plot of the G1 episode "Fire on the Mountain." Even Jetfire's sacrifice hearkens back to the various versions of Jetfire (Armada in particular) which could become armor for Optimus Prime. I'm going to assume that this is all intentional, and I approve.
  • And, well, I don't approve of too much more than that. My first complaint, I think, is the amount of military porn. It seemed like there were way too many shots of nameless military personnel ordering things over radios, apparent stock footage of jets flying places, and army guys fighting with some robots wandering around in the background. I actually liked the army guys in the first movie; they were characterized in fairly broad swaths, but they got some good moments and some great dialogue. This time around, I wasn't even sure that Tyrese was back, since he had something like two lines (and neither was "left cheek!"). Major Lennox got in some good scenes, but everyone else was green-shirt filler. Which wouldn't have been such a problem if they weren't apparently the primary focus of the film.

    More succinctly, as I said to someone in the week after seeing it, I thought that "Revenge of the Fallen" was a pretty good G.I. Joe movie. Sadly, I think it'll turn out to have been a better G.I. Joe movie than "Rise of Cobra."
  • The plot felt really, really disjointed; a lot of this was due to setting issues. The movie jumped around from place to place--Japan, Washington, Egypt, the Moon, and so forth--far too much for any kind of coherent continuity. I swear, the traipsing about in Egypt was done solely for the "Hey, remember that other movie Shia LeBouf was in, wink wink?" factor.
  • That excess of settings might not have been quite so bad if not for the terrible excess of characters as well. Sure, we got lots of new Transformers, but I'd be hard-pressed to name most of them--the filmmakers apparently were too. I think maybe a third of the new Transformers got names, and far fewer got characterization to any degree. Lack of distinguishing characteristics was a problem with the Decepticons in the last film; in this one, it plagued the Autobots at least as much. Very few characters got an opportunity to shine at all. And the ones that did, aside from the ones I mentioned before...well, we'll get to that later.
  • I felt more than a little cheated by Alice, the creepy stalker girl who turned out to be a creepy stalker Decepticon. So far in the series, we've seen that Transformers can take the forms of just about any electronic device, but until that point, it was only electronic devices. Now, I've heard there's some backstory which says she scanned an Alice in Wonderland animatronic robot, but that's lame. Find me an Alice in Wonderland robot that looks like that, and I'll find you a really creepy Imagineer. If the movie were going to introduce Pretenders or Beast Warriors, as this kind of sets the precedent for, it should have been alluded to before we met Alice.
  • The scenes with Alice are a good opportunity to bring up one of my biggest problems with the movie. Now, the last film had some strong language, lots of violence, and some T&A, but I wouldn't feel too terrible about watching it with my kid brother. When my parents were going to take him to see this one, though, I strongly advised against it. The amount of lewd humor, T&A, and strong language made me uncomfortable. Okay, the wrecking balls on Devastator were pretty funny, bur I could have done without Jetfire's parachute incontinence. And I certainly could have done without Wheelie humping Megan Fox's leg. Honestly.
  • What's with the obnoxious sidekicks? Wheelie was pretty close to unnecessary, Sam's roommate was useless and whiny (Sam was mostly just whiny this time around), the Decepticon doctor's strange accent made him incomprehensible (and he wasn't the only 'bot with intelligibility issues), and so forth. But it seems like I'm forgetting something relevant here.
  • Oh, yes, the twins. So, the filmmakers picked two Autobots to dominate the screen time in this installment, and then made the bold moronic choice to turn them into robotic minstrels. Now, I'll give Bay & Co. the benefit of the doubt and assume that Mudflap and Skids weren't intentionally really horrible racist stereotypes; I imagine that it was more the Jar-Jar effect, where obliviousness and ignorance conspire to create offensiveness. The "we can't read that" bit didn't help, even if it was pretty clearly implied that none of the modern Transformers could read the ancient language. It was just one more thing to toss onto the unfortunate heap.

    Anyway, not only were they stupid and offensive, but they were incredibly obnoxious as well. Now, I've been a fan of Transformers for a good long time, through the original Wheelie, through Nightscream, through RiD Ultra Magnus, through oodles of annoying characters, and I have never, ever been more disappointed to see a Transformer not die than when Mudflap shot his way out of Devastator's head. Honestly, it'd be as if Jar-Jar were the one to cut Darth Maul in half. Why on Earth would you give the Scrappy a Crowning Moment of Awesome?
  • Hey, how about that climactic battle? You know, the one that was over in thirty seconds? Where the world-destroying superweapon was taken out by a single shot and Optimus tore the Fallen's spark out with almost no effort? Yeah, I could have done without three or four minutes of twin banter and airplanes flying places, if it meant we would have gotten less of an anticlimax.
  • Overall, I was disappointed. I thought the first film was great; about the only misstep there was that the Decepticons got too little characterization. This time around, it felt more like they were trying to do too much of too many things, and consequently there was very little substance. I just hope the third one doesn't confuse "more" with "better."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pronoun-free Personal Update

Spent today moving. No Internet--posting from phone. Start new job tomorrow. Hopefully get cable and Internets hooked up this week. SilverHawks postponed. Out in street, inspected defaced building: silhouette picture in doorway, man and woman, possibly engaging in sexual foreplay. Didn't like it. Makes doorway look haunted. Posting to resume soon. Hurm.

Friday, July 24, 2009


I've been buying Power Girl's series out of curiosity. I like Amanda Conner, after all, and I've generally liked the take on the character which has predominated since those first issues of JSA Classified. And in general, I've liked the book (for the two issues I've read, anyway). The second issue even serves to reintroduce the Ultra-Humanite into the DCU. He's popped up a few times here and there in stories like the Lightning Saga, but he hasn't been a major player since he died in the JSA: Stealing Thunder story arc. Unfortunately, Gray and Palmiotti seem to have forgotten that the Humanite has this history, and have decided to give him a new, contradictory, and cloyingly sympathetic origin.

Now, I think I've been pretty good in recent years about not being a continuity wanker. I do my best to not mind the little inconsistencies anymore. But I'm also a firm believer in letting characters and stories live up to their full awesomeness potential, and I think this particular retcon goes against that principle. The Ultra-Humanite is a superintelligent mad scientist and one-time Nazi with a penchant for transferring to new bodies whenever the old ones wear out. He's been, at different times, a decrepit old man, a hot actress, an albino gorilla, and Johnny Thunder. In terms of sheer awesome origins, he's only a few points shy of Marvel's Nazi scientist made of superintelligent mutant radioactive bees.

And in terms of story opportunities, this one's rich. Here's a long-time JSA villain who killed an early member of the JSA, who has once possessed a beautiful woman's body and is looking to possess another, and who is the counterpart of a villain who routinely battled Superman on Earth-2. Power Girl is a one-time JSA chairman, a beautiful woman, and the cousin of Earth-2's Superman. Somehow, though, none of this gets mentioned in the Power Girl issue. Instead, we see that Humanite grew up sickly in what appears to be the modern day (if only because his lab assistant, Satanna, has dreadlocks and a midriff shirt reading "C U Next Tuesday," which would look out of place in the early 1930s, and because another technician mentions PETA, which was founded in 1980) and experimented for a lifetime with brain transplantation so that he could escape the prison of his physical form. Eventually, he was forced by his impending death to transfer his brain into an albino gorilla, and so goes the status quo.

I can't quite decide what the biggest problem with this new origin is. It's problematic in that it reduces one of the DCU's oldest villains to yet another sympathetic, misguided genius (the Nazi gorilla mad scientist quota is becoming dangerously low). It's problematic in that it disregards much of the JSA's history--even their recent history, since "Stealing Thunder" happened only a few years back and set the current status of the Thunderbolt and Jakeem. It's problematic in that it turns a story that should be resonating with the relevant history between the two characters into a story that resonates only with the idea that people only see Power Girl for her body. It's problematic because the story they've told would have worked better if they'd replaced Ultra-Humanite with The Brain and Monsieur Mallah. It's problematic because, aside from perhaps the surgery and the robot assault, the story could work just as well if the villain were Jericho.

But I think the biggest problem is that this is a good creative team, working on a story with a lot of potential. I'm enjoying this story, but I think I'd be enjoying it a lot more if it used the potential it's squandered with an unnecessary and unnecessarily standard supervillain origin.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

SilverHawks Sunday XI: Odd Cyborg Out

All the SilverHawks have individual quirks--Quicksilver controls Tally Hawk, the twins have a telepathic link, Copper Kidd has his cool frisbees--but they all had the same basic abilities: wings, boot jets, heel talons, shoulder lasers, face masks, etc.

All except Bluegrass. He has no wings, he never uses a mask like the others, he doesn't have shoulder lasers, and I don't recall him ever displaying boot jets or heel talons. Heck, his name doesn't even fit the scheme; while every other SilverHawk has the name of a metal in his or her codename, Bluegrass gets a variety of plant. Of the original SilverHawks characters, only Commander Stargazer shares these different attributes, and that might be due to his status as an earlier model.

Bluegrass, naturally, has individual traits to make up for these differences. I mentioned his weaponized guitar and sound system, Hot Licks, which seems to be a considerably powerful, if overly stylistic, weapon--at least as powerful as the SilverHawks' shoulder lasers. He is the team's pilot, which means he does most of his flying in the Miraj, or in the Hot Seat, the Miraj's detachable cockpit (and I believe it houses or interfaces with the Hot Licks system). He's no slouch, but he's perhaps a little overdependent on external devices for his abilities.

I can't help but wondering why he has these differences. Looking at a list of typical U.S. police rankings, and assuming they have some application to the police force of the distant future in another galaxy, it would seem that Colonel Bluegrass is the highest ranking member of the SilverHawks, likely just under Commander Stargazer. This is in line with Stargazer's comment in the second episode, though somewhat odd given Lieutenant Quicksilver's position as de facto team leader and general protagonist. It's possible that ranks become fluid in the mean streets of the Limbo galaxy and Bluegrass recognizes Quicksilver's natural leadership skills, or that Quicksilver is a field leader despite being a lower rank. Or something else; it's pretty unlikely that there'll be a canonical answer.

Given all that, though, it's possible that only the lower-ranking officers are the ones issued the personal weapons and modes of personal transport. This isn't entirely unreasonable; aside from some adventures that we never (as I recall) see, Stargazer basically has a desk job. Bluegrass sees his share of action, though, and they sent him to Limbo knowing what part he'd be playing on the team, so it's not as though he was being groomed for a desk job himself.

On the other hand, it's possible that the powers that be deemed that Bluegrass's de facto position as heavy weapons specialist (given that he's the pilot and the only one with specialized weaponry) made built-in weapons and flight capability unnecessary. This makes sense at first, but it seems to me like giving a soldier a bazooka and not a pistol. Sure, his guitar is pretty cool, but if he ever happens to not have it for one reason or another, he's kind of out of luck. Whatever organization is behind the SilverHawks must be operating on a pretty thin budget if they can't afford a set of just-in-case lasers for guy who's piloting their most advanced spacecraft. Then again, they're staffing an entire galaxy with a police force of six people and a bird (apparently a five-person increase from the previous assignment), so that might actually be the case. I'm not entirely sure that I'd be willing to entrust my body, my health, and the next few hundred years of my life to an organization that's so eager to cut corners.

There's also the possibility that something about Bluegrass's construction is designed to enhance his piloting abilities or to give him some kind of connection to Hot Licks. This is the most charitable explanation for the SilverHawks' parent organization, but I'm not sure how well-supported it is by the series. It'll be interesting to see if other characters pilot the Miraj or operate Hot Licks ever, since that would give us some idea about the validity of this theory.

The good news is that Bluegrass isn't totally alone in his least, not permanently. Eventually we'll meet wingless Condor, who has his own jetpack. In the meantime, Bluegrass remains our little anomaly.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Didn't this used to be a comics blog?

I've stuck with Superman through the thickest and the thinnest. As I've mentioned before, I've been buying every regular Superman title on the shelves since 1993. I've seen the demise of Adventures and Man of Steel, I've seen the rise and fall of Man of Tomorrow. I've read countless miniseries, from "Day of Doom" to "Metropolis" to "Superman's Nemesis Lex Luthor." I've stuck through good runs (Greg Rucka's incredible turn on Adventures, which got moderately derailed by various Crises) and bad (Steven T. Seagle's run on Superman, wherein every use of a superpower was accompanied by a caption naming said power). I can't tell you how many massive story arcs and crossovers and world-changing events I've seen (World Without a Superman, Fall of Metropolis, Trial of Superman, Final Night, DC One Million, Electric Superman, Our Worlds At War). I've been reading the New Krypton storyline, which excites me a great deal, and I'll be reading the Codename: Patriot storyline, which I'm not sure I could be less interested in.

In short, I can't think of many things that would cause me to actually drop a Superman book.

But I swear to Rao, if James Robinson kills Steel again, it might mean the end of my subscription to Superman1.

I've not been too impressed with Robinson's run so far. I haven't found too much to dislike specifically (though I can't recall if anyone's discussed yet what relationship the Science Police has with the Special Crimes Unit, and that bugs me), and hey, Mon-El, so there's at least some incentive for me to keep reading it, but there's nothing here that has blown me away like Starman did. Heck, that's a significant part of why I'm not buying "Cry for Justice"--not only has the JLA lost my interest recently (thanks, DC editorial!), but Robinson's recent work just hasn't done anything for me. That, and the art looks like it was done entirely with screenshots from "Mortal Kombat/DC Universe."

So really, Robinson's run is suffering from the crime of being mediocre. But this most recent turn, with the plot to kill Steel with bugs me. It bugs me because I really like John Henry Irons, and I'd like to see him be a major supporting character in the Superman books. It bugs me because there is a startling lack of people of color in the Superman family. It bugs me because this latest issue really had the feeling of greatness for awhile there. It took some shortcuts (all it took to shut up Fox News-style blowhard Morgan Edge was Jim Harper's word? Why hasn't anyone on the Science Police noticed Kent's absence?) but Mon-El's world-traveling superheroics, told in brief vignettes, were the stuff of genius. Every page could have been a full issue, if not a miniseries, and I would love to see someone explore those in greater detail. Heck, I'd do it for free.

So to end the issue with "by the way, Dr. Irons, you're worm food" left me with a sour taste in my mouth. I hope this is just the setup for (yet another) Crowning Moment of Awesome for Steel, but the current state of comics (and Robinson) have me concerned that it'll just be more fodder for Blackest Night.

1. In all honesty, it probably wouldn't. I'd stick it out just to see if it was some kind of stunt, but I'd be very cross about it. In other words, I'm a lying addict.

SilverHawks Sunday X: Memories

With the week I've had, It's going to be a short installment. But, given that we're ten weeks in--and I haven't missed one yet!--it seems like a good week to take a time out. So, to those countless thousands who've been following this series, I ask a question:

How many of you watched this show?

I don't mean it to be confrontational, I'm just curious if this series is nostalgia bait for anyone else. Whether you watched it on Cartoon Network in 2000 or in syndication in '86, I'm curious how many people are coming to this series with a background in Limbo Studies.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


It's 7/09/09, at least for a few minutes more, and while that date might not be as Trek-significant as I'm sure January 7, 2001 was (and not even quite as good as 7/09/01 would have been), it seems like the perfect occasion to reminisce on Seven of Nine, everyone's favorite catsuit-clad Borg drone. I would have liked to have posted my ramblings on "Scorpion, Part 1" today, but it also happens to be one of my busiest weeks on record, and the only Internet access I have right now is through my phone.

So I'm writing this to get in under the wire of the moderately significant date, and I'm planning on having a little Borg retrospective weekend, but there won't be much from my end until Friday afternoon. So here's the audience participation moment, true believers: What's your favorite Borg moment or episode? Leave your responses in the comments!

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.

Where Lots and Lots of People Have Gone Before

I'm going to begin with a disclaimer: I've been writing this review for weeks. It rambles and meanders, probably even more than most of my posts. It's also a large part of the reason for the low content mode of the last several weeks. I'll be glad to finally have it posted.

It's been a very long time since I've considered myself a Trekkie or Trekker of any sort. I liked TNG and DS9, though the former had its share of terrible episodes seasons and I never saw the first few seasons of the latter because there was no UPN in my area. I remember being underwhelmed by "First Contact," though thinking back it seems the majority of my complaints were driven by nitpicky continuity geek stuff, so I should probably give it another shot. "Insurrection" was the last Trek movie I saw in theaters, and it was nothing more than a particularly pedestrian episode of Voyager stretched out over two boring hours. "Nemesis" was targ-dung, and I'm glad I didn't pay to see it on the big screen. I never really cared for Voyager, especially after it became "The Seven of Nine Show starring Reset Button;" I gave up on "Enterprise" after the first episode with its ridged Klingon forehead and its awful, awful theme song. Eventually, I started watching the series again (because my roommate talked me into it) and laughed and cried through the vast majority of season 3. The show whittled away at any remaining passion I had for Trek, until blue alien Nazis made me give up on the show, and Star Trek, for good.

And that included the most recent film. When I heard that Star Trek was going back to the prequel well again, even after the dismal failure of Enterprise*, I scoffed and cursed Berman and Braga, who had seemed to be doing their level best to run the series into and beneath the ground since the start of Voyager. I remember hearing vague rumors over the last couple of years about them doing Kirk and Spock at the Academy, which sounded pretty silly--but throw in Uhura and a talking Sehlat and have them form a band and travel around in their shuttlecraft solving space-mysteries, and I'm in for it.

Anyway, nothing made me even remotely interested in the new film until the trailers started coming out. I've generally liked J.J. Abrams, and while the trailers were cool, I was comfortable waiting for the DVD. Until the reviews started trickling in, and started suggesting that this would actually be a good Trek movie, which this universe has not seen in quite some time. I went to see it about as quickly as I could (a week or two after its opening), and again a week or so later. Needless to say, I liked it. I liked it quite a lot.

I think the thing I most liked about it was the way it focused around the characters, around building characterization for the main cast. The plot was peripheral, and I can see that as a complaint, but really, it's the same kind of space opera story that we've seen a thousand times: Big Bad with planet destroyer MacGuffin out for revenge against the protagonists. There are some wrinkles here and there, but the story was really just a vehicle for Kirk and Spock to become friends, given their similar-but-different pasts. It was a little too convenient that the characters would all end up together--and in command!--on their first mission aboard the Enterprise, and the Spock ex Machina planet was a little more convenient yet, and those are legitimate complaints--places where the plot actually felt like it was merely a vehicle to get the main characters where they needed to be. Even if it is (and most plots are, aren't they?) one goal of good writing should be to make the progression feel natural, and not like the audience is being led around by a ring through its collective nose.

I'm going to digress for a moment or two more on those complaints about the somewhat supplementary nature of the plot. They remind me of a tone-deaf review I read a few years back about the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Greatest Story Never Told." The conceit of the episode was that the big guns of the League were dealing with an attack by Mordru, leaving the less prominent members to deal with cleanup and crowd control. Booster Gold, our focal character, chafed under the apparent insignificance of the assignment. Ultimately, Booster gets the chance to be a real hero, even though his adventure goes unnoticed and unappreciated due to the larger battle going on around them. We only see and hear little bits of the fight with Mordru--Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman merged into a single entity, Elongated Man saving the day, and so forth. It's one of my favorite episodes, largely because it showcases the character work (and incredible writing, with some particularly good humor) that made the DCAU so wonderful, so beloved, and so enduring.

This reviewer disagreed, disliking Booster Gold for largely unstated reasons. He would much rather have seen the League's epic battle with Mordru, and seemed to think that the episode's title referred to that story. I have to wonder how anyone could miss the point so blatantly; we've seen the big guns of the League team up to battle apparently insurmountable odds and come out on top before. The first two seasons of Justice League are largely made up of episodes just like that, as are each of the season finales. Epic battles are a dime a dozen in superhero media; quirky stories that have a tight focus on character building for supporting cast members, not so much. Getting the battle in snippets and secondhand storytelling ultimately has the same effect as the old horror standby of never clearly showing the villain or monster. Just as the murder scene you fill in yourself is always more frightening than the one that's meticulously laid out on-screen, the battle you imagine that somehow leads to buildings coming to life and Elongated Man's stretchiness defeating Mordru is going to be far cooler than anything they could have reasonably depicted in 22 minutes. Such a battle, if it were the A-plot of the story, would have been a clich├ęd mishmash, pure eye candy, with no real room for characterization. It would have been the animated equivalent of a big crossover event, with all the depth and quality we usually associate with such stories.

Bringing that back to the point: we've seen plenty of flashy explosion-ridden epic battle space operas, even in the fairly recent past. In fact, I don't think it would be unfair to describe the last two or three Star Wars films as precisely that. Star Trek is clearly trying to set itself apart from that crowd by giving far more attention to the characters and their relationships than to the standard situations and technobabble that could be coming from any interchangeable cast of characters. I really liked that every main character got some time in the spotlight, and in particular got some character development. That's important, but often glossed over, with an ensemble cast, particularly one this large. As far as I'm concerned, Star Trek is at its best--in fact, it may be that it's only good--when it focuses on characters and relationships rather than technobabble and sci-fi space opera. That's one way in which it's also distancing itself from the last couple of Star Trek series and films, and even from the introductory installments of just about every Star Trek iteration. "Encounter at Farpoint" notwithstanding, it's worth mentioning that both Next Generation and the Star Trek film series began with stories written for previous series that just had the names changed. Abrams and Co. seem to be trying to get away from the sci-fi properties that are populated exclusively with two-dimensional archetypes.

Which isn't to say that it's completely unlike either the older series--or Star Wars for that matter. One of the major themes of the film is how tragedies change and affect people. The destruction of Romulus turns Nero from a common miner into a single-minded vengeance-driven terrorist**. Losing his father turns Kirk into a brash and rebellious hothead who has serious authority issues. Spock's loss of his mother and homeworld make him tense and desperate. Spock Prime's triple loss--his timeline, his homeworld, and his failure to save Romulus--inspires him to work toward rebuilding Vulcan and continuing his work as a peacemaker. This isn't quite as topical or as obvious as the themes the original series used to explore, but I think it's in the same vein, and I hope it continues.

I think the film also did a good job of conveying Roddenberry's optimistic, moderately utopian view of the future--particularly surprising, given the destruction of two worlds. I think that figured heavily into the film's visuals; the bright, pure whiteness of the Enterprise interior wasn't just a contrast with the dank, dark interior of the Romulan ship, but it also served as a kind of visual shorthand for a bright and positive future. I'll be honest, I didn't really notice the overuse of lens flares until the second time I saw the movie, but even then it reminded me of the same effect used in DC One Million for the future heroes' costumes--visual shorthand for futuristic and impressive. It's a nice way of demonstrating that, unlike so much modern sci-fi, this isn't going to be a crapsack world full of dilapidated technology. Quite literally, it's a future so bright, you'd have to wear shades.

Which I think, again, feeds into the contrast between the Enterprise and the Romulan ship. The dark, jagged, smoky green-lit interior of the Romulan craft reminded me of nothing so much as the enemy ships in Star Trek: Nemesis***. One of the more apparent meta-themes of the movie seems to be getting away from the dark and cynical future that has become increasingly apparent through the last several Star Trek films and shows (as represented by a visitor from that future). Even the decks of the Enterprise-E, Voyager, and the Defiant had a tendency to get excessively dark during red alert and battle situations, and the Enterprise never really felt like that in this film.

The filmmakers made some allusions and choices, though, that I think demonstrate what parts of Star Trek and sci-fi in general they'd like to emulate--referencing the "good parts," I suppose. I've mentioned Star Wars a couple of times now, and one of the things I think this Trek did very well was something that was omnipresent in the holy trilogy: background aliens. One of the reasons those shots in Mos Eisley and Jabba's palace were so damn cool was because they were full of weird-looking alien people who weren't given any significant parts or backstories or explanations, just hanging around doing normal things like normal extras. That attention to detail is part of what made the Star Wars universe feel so big and so diverse and so rich; it's something that the endless Expanded Universe texts, elaborating on every character who ever appeared for more than two frames in exquisite detail, have diluted quite a bit. Star Trek did much the same thing, with the big-eyed doctor who delivered Kirk Cameron's baby Kirk and the alien helmsman who appared briefly****. Those elements serve to flesh out the universe, enhancing that feeling of immersion and depth.

One allusion I particularly liked, besides the obligatory references to classic lines ("Are you out of your Vulcan mind?" and such), was the way Nero was essentially Spock's Khan. Both Khan and Nero have royal names, both vowed revenge on their respective targets for the deaths of their wives, both went after their targets' family members, both used mind-worms to wrest information from Starfleet officers, and so forth. It really underscores the point that this is Spock's movie*****.

Back to the details, I didn't (unlike some) mind "red matter." It was phlebotinum in pure, spherical form, clearly named after "dark matter," and implying some kind of strange, exotic, probably quite dense or unstable form of matter. I did have an issue with the idea that a supernova could destroy a galaxy; that was just sloppy (for more on the real astronomy, see what Phil Plait had to say). Overall, I think a lot of the film got a pass based on rule of cool--particularly Sulu's pocket katana. Silly? Sure. Awesome? Damn straight.

One final****** detail I'd like to mention is the way that the writers have apparently anticipated all the fan outrage and time travel fix fics that will be spawned by the reboot. This point sparked a lengthy and geeky conversation with my mother, who generally hates change. On the other hand, it gave me the second opportunity******* in recent memory to say "you're not thinking fourth-dimensionally" and to draw this diagram:


So I guess it was a wash. Point being, this reboot is doubly great, because it not only preserves the original Star Trek universe, but also makes it clear that they can't just go back and set right what once went wrong. The first point is potentially debatable--it could be argued that the new Trek reality supplants the old one--but Word of God and one of Trek's many established sets of time travel/alternate universe rules suggest that the new universe is an offshoot of the original, a divergent quantum reality, so that the original universe also continues to exist unabated.

The latter point, I suppose, requires some explanation (though I'm sure quite a lot of folks have reasoned it out the same way). We have the original Trek timeline, which proceeds as we know it up to the point where Spock Prime******** and Nero get pulled into the singularity. This spits Nero out in the past (or more likely, in the 2233 of a parallel-but-identical timeline), where he immediately destroys the U.s.S. Kelvin, killing George Kirk and causing this timeline to diverge from the original one*********. When Spock emerges twenty years later, it's into this already-altered timeline. This means that Spock Prime emerged into an already-altered timeline, changed by the events of twenty years prior. Spock Prime could go to the future and stop the supernova from obliterating Romulus, but it wouldn't change anything. The Nero who destroyed Vulcan wasn't the Nero of this timeline; like Spock Prime, he came from the original universe. The only way********** for Spock Prime to get back to the original universe would be for him to go back to the point of divergence and stop the event that spawned the alternate timeline. In other words, he has to arrive at the precise moment that the Narada exits the singularity and stop Nero from destroying the Kelvin.

Which shouldn't be a problem, right? I mean, how many ways are there to time travel in the Star Trek universe? The slingshot around the sun bit seems to be the most popular, but I'm sure Spock Prime also remembers where the Guardian of Forever is, and there's the Bajoran Orb of Time and several other options as well.

But once he's back in the past, waiting to meet and beat Nero, what then? The Narada is a hundred years more advanced than anything Starfleet has right now. We've already seen it effortlessly destroy six Federation starships in the span of a minute or two. What could Spock Prime possibly do to stop it? He'd have to go back with an entire fleet, and even then there's no guarantee he could win. First, he'd probably have to share some of his knowledge of advanced technology, and just because he knows about things like quantum torpedoes doesn't mean he knows how to construct one. And even if he does know how to construct one doesn't mean that Starfleet has the ability to build one yet. Frankly, I wouldn't feel comfortable trying to ambush the Narada (remember, they have to destroy--or at least disable--it before it can destroy the Kelvin, and probably before he can bring Capt. Robau onboard) with anything less than a Defiant or an Enterprise-E (even then, I'd want some serious backup), and those ships are pretty close to cutting edge in a hundred years' time.

Regardless, Spock Prime would need years to prepare an assault force with any hope of defeating Nero before the timeline could be altered. Doing so would require him to gain significant support from the Federation (even though he's a quantum anomaly, whose plan may, for all they know, result in the destruction of their universe), develop a ridiculously complicated plan (at least, as far as the time travel aspect goes; the "blow him up" portion of the plan is pretty straightforward) with a huge amount of advanced experimental Starfleet ships and resources, and all to an unclear end, because even if they succeed, it's not certain what will happen. Will they just spawn a third quantum reality? Will traveling back to the future bring Spock Prime back to where he needs to be (and if so, will he be able to stop the supernova in time to keep this from becoming a repeating cycle? Or would doing so just create new problems? What will happen to the fleet he takes? Will they be able to get back to their quantum reality, or will they become like Spock Prime is now, adrift in a universe not their own? I don't know about you, but if I were the President of the Federation, I wouldn't be wasting time and manpower on a plan with so many unknown risks.

And if I were Spock Prime, I'd be setting course for Farpoint Station at the earliest convenience.

So, to conclude, I really enjoyed the new Trek movie, and I hope it's the start of a long and excellent film series. The movie captured a lot of the traits and tropes that make for good Star Trek and good sci-fi in general. The new universe even offers some interesting new opportunities to revisit old stories and enemies, if it comes to that. While I'd like to continue seeing new stories with the familiar settings and mostly familiar characters, I'd be lying through my teeth if I said that there wasn't a part of me who would like to see Kirk and crew face the Borg ninety years ahead of schedule. But that's a plot for another film, hopefully at least five or six films hence. All I know is that I'm looking forward to the sequel, and that for the first time in a very long time, I'm excited about Star Trek.

One last thing: you may have noticed that my little fan background schpiel at the beginning really didn't touch on the original series much. That's because, well, I haven't ever watched much of it. Most of my knowledge of TOS has come from cultural osmosis and reading the Star Trek Encyclopedia. But the new movie has piqued my interest, and I've started watching more Trek--especially original Trek--than I have in years. What this all means is that I'm thinking about a new weekly event, Trek Tuesdays, where I'll be blogging about some Star Trek episode or idea on a weekly basis. If you've been reading this blog for any time at all, you know what problems I have with punctuality and commitment, and you know that this would be the first time I've ever had two regular features going at the same time. I can't guarantee when it'll start, but at the very least it'll give me an excuse to post more frequently, and on more than just SilverHawks. I've got something special planned for this week (astute Trekkies might be able to predict what), and then we'll see what happens.

End log.

*Yes, I know, four seasons is hardly a dismal failure from a ratings and marketing standpoint. I suppose I'm talking in terms of fan reception and overall quality.

**Incidentally, this was (in my opinion) the main theme of "V for Vendetta"--desperate situations can drive people to do and become things they never would have imagined or condoned. Evey is driven by circumstances to prostitution, then eventually to terrorism; V is driven to terrorism through torture and experimentation; even Susan describes how the government was driven to fascism by nuclear war.

***The green lighting and steam and jagged features also evoked the "real world" of the Matrix films and the settings of the Alien movies. Star Trek seems to be trying for high contrast with the major themes of modern sci-fi.

****Based on the back of the Animated Series box, I assume he's based on a character from the cartoon.

*****There's also the fact that there's two of him.


*******The first was when I was teaching "A Sound of Thunder" and trying to explain why they couldn't just go back and stop themselves from going back in time in the first place.

********I know it's standard practice in sci-fi and comics, but naming the original entity/timeline/whatever "Prime" grates against that scientist/mathematician part of me. See, in science and math, the "prime" designation is attached to the copy. If I draw some figure A, then draw a copy of that figure reflected over some line, I label the second figure A', pronounced "a-prime." On the other hand, "prime" comes from the Latin primus for "first," which I guess means that it's the science/math usage which is erroneous. This concludes my most recent war of inner geeks.

*********By the way, if you're a time traveler looking to alter the future, "destroy the first thing you see when you get to the past" seems like a pretty good strategy.

**********Okay, not the only way. Presumably, he could be transported during an ion storm (a la "Mirror, Mirror") or he could pass through a quantum fissure (a la "Parallels"), or something, but there's no guarantee he'd end up in the right universe. I suppose they could analyze his quantum signature and somehow try to get him back, but again, that seems like a bit of a crap shoot.***********

***********You know, this asterisk stuff is for the birds. From now on, I'm using superscript numbers.