Episode 39 – “Friday’s Child” and the Klingon western you probably haven’t been dreaming of

One of the most important things to remember when watching many of the more action packed episodes of Star Trek is that the show was really building off of the western format. Star Trek’s opening crawly, Kirk anxiously awaiting the moment when the Federation would explore new and uncharted worlds, is an intergalactic echo of the Manifest Destiny. Yes, there will be diplomacy and peace but sometimes, Spock might have to shoot a guy with an arrow.

“Friday’s Child” is a deeply bizarre episode that only becomes less so when you realize the environment it was crafted in. In The Next Generation, this same idea would have been explored in a more diplomatic way, focusing on the way Picard would deal with the opposing force and reach a peaceable but beneficial solution. This, however, isn’t Picard’s Enterprise and Kirk is always playing a more dangerous game.

The Federation and the Klingons are competing for a mineral rich planet occupied by a tribe of violent locals. McCoy deals with them initially but Kirk and a rapidly slain red shirt set the tribe against Kirk. Its a pretty taut sequence, with the Klingons clearly manipulating the upstart chieftain and diplomacy seeming increasingly like a disappearing option. Where I was waiting for Kirk to have to find proof that the Klingons were up to no good, the whole episode becomes an elaborate western chase, with McCoy taking a pregnant local with them.

There’s really not a whole lot to say about “Friday’s Child” after that. Kirk and Spock defend McCoy and the woman, even though she eventually gives birth and betrays them. It is, however, a notably violent episode. Kirk and Spock are both shooting villagers with arrows and cutting off the requisite passes. The Klingon emissary turns on the tribes and starts wiping people out with phaser blasts. McCoy smacks a woman in the face. Its all really odd and the episode doesn’t even attempt to justify what’s going on or why the characters are behaving the way they are.

“Friday’s Child” is the kind of odd episode where the interesting parts that it presents are surrounded in dull, plodding escape sequences and fights. At this point, its kind of just the kind of episode you put up with while waiting for the really good stuff.

Random Notes

This is probably one of the funnier red shirt deaths as of yet, partially because there’s nothing really to establish why the Klingon is, y’know, a Klingon.

“Look, I’m a doctor, not an escalator.”

I thought about “Krull” a lot during this episode.

Next Up: We’re halfway through the Original Series so we’re taking a break to watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Get excited, or just, y’know, find a very comfortable place to sit for a long time.

“You know what a grifter is, flame face?” – Liefeld gives a solid issue of Grifter but is it enough?

I despise Rob Liefeld. I think he actively dumbed down comics, jump started the collapse of the industry in the ’90s and has never written or drawn an issue that’s worth reading. That’s what made him taking over Grifter such a shame for me. The first 8 issues were an intriguing Bourne-meets-alien invasion action series, filled with awesome shoot outs, great escapes and memorable character interactions. It wasn’t the best new thing out there but it was fun, different and a neat new series.

Liefeld’s takeover was noticeable. Suddenly, Cole Cash was shooting aliens upside down from snowboards, his psychic powers were suddenly at damn near Jean Grey levels of power and his supporting cast was suddenly filled with meat head gun nuts and  katana wielding girls in bikinis.

I don’t think issue 12 really assuaged my negative feelings about Liefeld’s direction for the series. There are a lot of sudden twists that don’t have any impact, the action sequences just aren’t much fun, the messy panels that are intended to make the sequences more intense give the book an unprofessional look and Lord Helspont’s plan still doesn’t make a ton of sense. I mean, isn’t Synge just an elite daemonite? Why would he work for Helspont?

Frank Tieri, who doesn’t get a credit on the cover for unknown and entirely unfair reasons, still rights some really great grizzled dialogue for the narcissistic killers that populate the book and I’m a sucker for the kind of escape sequences that take up much of the back half of the book. It makes for one of the better issues of Liefeld’s run on the series but it really isn’t enough. I’m sticking with Grifter to see what he’ll do in a second arc but how many options really are there?

Its really a shame what has happened to the most wanted man in the DC universe. What started out as a series about a low key hero having to do the impossible has turned into a universe spanning super hero tale where a guy with a gun has to fight an enemy that Superman couldn’t take down. For now, it might be time to start getting excited about Grifter joining up with Team 7 for the new Third Wave series and leave this one behind.

“Seven words spoken in the dark” – Becky Cloonan gives a strikingly different take on the dark knight

Marvel has had a long tradition of analyzing their classic characters from the perspective of civilians. It generally provides interesting insights into the characters as well as the universe as a whole. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ exceptional Marvels series defines the trend, examining the Golden, Silver and Bronze ages of comics through the perspective of a Daily Bugle reporter.

Scott Snyder has demonstrated a love for all periods of Batman lore and Batman 12 shows his willingness to examine the dark knight from a very different angle. After 11 issues of battling owls, assassins,  Gotham itself and a man claiming to be his brother, Batman gets a break in an issue that takes readers back to the first issue of Snyder’s series.

More than anything, Batman 12 is going to be remembered for Becky Cloonan’s stellar artwork on the issue. Being the first woman to ever illustrate Batman is certainly a long anticipated event and she does an incredible job. Her trademark clean lines, expressive faces and attention to body language and character interactions are all on display and it may be one of the most visually unique books of the Batman books.

Snyder’s script doesn’t disappoint either. Bringing back high school electrician Harper Row, who saved Batman from the Maze of the Owls back in issue 7, we get to understand the world of a girl who sees Batman as a sign of hope in a dying city. After being invited to the gala event that started off the first issue, Harper leaves disillusioned, thinking that Bruce Wayne doesn’t understand how to save the Gotham that she knows. The rest of her nights are spent fighting gay bashers who attack her brother and researching her hero, the Batman.

I don’t know that this is an issue we would have gotten had the Court of the Owls arc been stretched for another issue but its certainly an interesting take on how Batman is viewed and its a reintroduction to a character that Snyder seems to have plans for. Overall, picking this one up is about picking up a piece of history and its one of the most visually compelling super hero books you’re going to buy this year.

“You’re already wearing the ‘R'” – Peter Tomasi brings Batman & Robin back in a big way

Batman & Robin was probably my most anticipated book of the New 52. After Grant Morrison and Judd Winnick’s great redefinition of the partnership, putting Dick Grayson in the cowl and Damian Wayne as Robin, I wasn’t sure that I wanted Bruce to be partners with his son. Morrison’s use of Dick as a second Batman in Batman Incorporated and in the Leviathan Strikes one-shot seemed to hint that this could have been an option.

Instead, Peter Tomasi, mostly known for his work on the Green Lantern Corps books, gave us a very traditional team up between Bruce Wayne and his son. The first six issues were good, maybe even great, with Damian continuing to fight back against his upbringing in the League of Assassins as well as the killer who trained Bruce. It was a taut, involving mystery that didn’t feel like a retread in any real way.

That all changed after the lackluster Night of the Owls crossover. In issue 10, we’re greeted by a new villain, the terrorist Terminus, as well as a promise from Damian that he intends to prove to Dick, Jason and Tim that he is the best and most worthy Robin. That was where the real trouble set in. For most of Morrison and Winnick’s runs on Batman & Robin, Damian was forced to struggle with who he was, deciding whether his role was one of protector or a narcissistic killer like his grandfather. There was a psychological weight to his decisions and having him go through a meaningless challenge of the Robins made the earlier character work feel moot and unimportant. What’s worse, he directly challenges Dick to prove himself as Nightwing, undoing all of the mutual respect the two had developed in the earlier run of the series.

This week’s twelfth issue seemingly puts an end both to Terminus as well as Damian’s need to challenge the other Robins. As Batman shows that his greatest contribution to Gotham isn’t the damage he’s done so much as the people he’s saved, Nightwing, Red Robin, Red Hood and Damian all work together, fending off gangsters and saving civillians. Watching these distinct characters, all in very different places of their superhero careers, bounce off of one another is a lot of fun and the ending, in which Dick both salutes and makes Damian see who he really is, feels earned and appropriate for both characters.Batman & Robin 12 reminded me of what I liked about this series so much in the early issues. Sure, there are still problems with the characterization of Damian and I wish this second arc would have been drawn out a little longer but Tomasi has managed to balance action, great story and dialogue to make one of the most compelling, fun reads of the year.

Summer Classes: Angel season 1

The last thing you want to do over the summer is catchup on things you’ve put off but sometimes, you need a couple of extra hours. So this summer, we’re debuting a new feature “Summer Classes,” where I explore my massive pop culture blind spots and write about my trip experiencing them. Here, I start the first season of Joss Whedon’s spinoff series, “Angel.”  

There really was nowhere left to go with Angel. After his return in the third season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” he became a tedious extra, left to do little but brood and occasionally fight monsters. He didn’t really have much of a reason to still be there and the writers  consistently had to figure out new reasons why Buffy would still stay with him. By the time he realizes that he has to leave Sunnydale late in the season, the writing was already on the wall that we were going to be seeing much less of the character.

Let me say this immediately. Of all the Buffy characters that could possibly have merited a spinoff series, Angel was among the least worthy. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense why he was given his own show but even now, it seems like a pity that the honor didn’t go to Spike, the true breakout character of the show. Angel’s broody, quiet, reserved and suppressed. Essentially, he’s a slightly less whiny Buffy. Why would we possibly want that?

The first 5 episodes of “Angel” don’t even try to answer that point. What we have instead are a series of vastly stand alone episodes, setting some pieces together and introducing the major and minor players. Cordelia is thankfully back, giving some actual levity to the darker show and we meet Drunk-Irish McPlot-Device, also known as Doyle, and inevitable love interest, Kate. Whedon’s been long known as a creator who’s able to flesh out characters but everyone new here is little more than an archetype. Its vastly the same problems that I had with Firefly but we’re just starting out here.

What initially sets “Angel” apart from its source material is in style and tone. Moving the show to LA naturally gave the series a noir-ish feel, particularly having Angel and company setting up a detective agency. It leads the whole endeavor to have a more episodic feel. Where Buffy is always hunting and patrolling, running into threats that are intevitably connected to the season’s big bad, “Angel” so far just deals with the women who inevitably come running. Call it sexism, call it a genre homage or call it lazy writing but there sure are plenty of women who are oh so scared of the big bad men in these first few episodes.

The second issue is tone. It was clear from the series premier where Angel stops a rape attempt that rapidly becomes a vampire attack that this was going to be a considerably darker show. From there, the darker, more profane tone shines through. Cordelia thinks that a producer wants to have sex with her. A beaten woman is threatened at gunpoint by her crack addled boyfriend. A vampire torturer reveals that he’s also a pedophile. A boy is sealed inside of a wall by his insane mother. I’m not saying that “Buffy” never got mature, and the fourth season particularly made the show a much smarter more adult series, but Angel feels much more like a show aiming to shock. When its done well, particularly in the hard to remember “Rm w/a Vw,” the more mature content makes for a compelling monster of the week episode but it feels messy in the sex-murder demon worm filled “Lonely Hearts.”

My biggest issue so far is that the cast is just too damn small. Even from the first episode of Buffy, we had Giles, Willow, Xander, Cordelia, Angel and more. Nothing felt too somber just because there were more people to bounce off of. I’m sure, by the end of the season, Angel Investigations will be filled in with more employees but for now, it feels empty and bereft of the character that a full cast can bring.

On its own, I don’t know that these first few episodes would do anything for someone who isn’t already thoroughly into the Buffy-verse. Each is a fairly standard standalone adventure but do nothing to show off what Whedon’s supernatural shows can do well. Surely, its too early to really pass judgement so we’ll have to really just wait and see.

Next Class: We’ve got 6 more issues of “Angel” before the end of the week which will put me at the half way point.

Batman vs. Radioactive Man – Tony Daniel closes his shameful run on Detective Comics

Perhaps the strangest part of the New 52 is seeing the sharp contrast between the best books of the relaunch and the worst. In a sea of titles that have helped to redefine what superhero comics can do, the titles that continue to stay stagnant.

Tony Daniel’s run on Detective Comics may be DC’s biggest failure of the relaunch. Handing the reigns of their trademark title to a creator who was mostly well known as an artist in the grotesque Image style seemed like a colossal misstep, even after Daniel had worked with Grant Morrison on Batman R.I.P. and Battle for the Cowl, seemed like a strange choice. Making matters worse, Daniel didn’t even attempt to make a book that was anything more than adequate at best.

Its hard to even describe the style that has characterized Daniel’s work on the title. Its episodic, fragmented, violent nonsense, seemingly drawing more from Image heroes such as Spawn and Midnighter and the atrocious All-Star Batman then the great stories both Scott Snyder and Grant Morrison have been turning in. There’s nothing wrong with telling a very different kind of Batman story; its just that over the course of 12 issues, Daniel hasn’t been able to tell a good one.

Its clear that Daniel has been trying to do just that. His first arc mixed an obscenely violent story about the Joker having his face cut off with the Penguin setting up a new nightclub in a way that did justice to none of Gotham. The plots were ludicrous, unsatisfying and messy. I had to go back and reread all of his issues just to tell you as much as I have, and I’ve already forgotten most of what he’s written.

Daniel’s last Bat-book will be the Detective Comics Annual coming out later this month but Wednesday’s Detective Comics 12 is his last real book on the title. There, he concludes his messy science story, bringing back Mr. Toxic and reintroducing Professor Radium, while having both of them being clones for some totally nonsensical reason. Its a mess of an issue, where we’re supposed to have grown to care about a tragic villain we’ve never really met, keep up with a bunch of science jargon that just barely makes sense and a brutally disappointing ending leads to an issue that could kindly be described as a waste of paper.

The backup story isn’t bad, written by future Talon scribe James Tynion IV, but it is unnecessary. I know a lot of people have been wondering about what had happened to the Joker’s face and undoubtedly DC wanted to tease out the upcoming Death in the Family arc but it feels like we should be seeing this in, y’know, Snyder’s Batman book.

I have always hated telling people that there’s no reason to read a certain title. People are going to like what they’re going to like and there are people who’ve surely found something worthwhile in Daniel’s run but for me, this has been an awful run and a blemish on DC’s solid relaunch. I can only hope that the next writer can do something with the dark knight but for now, lets all just try to forget that Daniel’s run has never happened.

 

 

“Feel again the placeness of this place” – What the hell is China Miéville talking about in Dial H #4 and why it doesn’t matter

It’s sort of incredible how little plot development China Miéville has made in four issues of his spacey, nihilistic superhero story. We’ve had a lot of scene setting, very little time with our heroes, even less time with the fascinating main character and almost no explanation as to who the villains were or what they were hoping to accomplish. He plays a lot of cards in the newest issue, setting up X.N.’s plot as well as Squid’s betrayal but he sets the tone of what will surely define the rest of the series in the heroes and villains’ encounter with Abyss, a physical manifestation of entropy.

Miéville has obviously drawn extensively from Grant Morrison’s mind expanding work in series such as Flex Mentallo, Doom Patrol and the loopy dialogue of Arkham Asylum. The Abyss encounter has an intoxicating, thoroughly bizarre feel, filled with lines that ring with promise rather than statements of intent. As the avatar unleashes his vengeance on Squid and X.N., it intones in measured, slightly growing fonts, “Long in deep it will not there will be none I am blindness. IT GLOWS YOU GLOW COME.” It took me a couple read-throughs of this issue before Abyss’ presence makes some modicum of sense but it is a thing of truly bizarre wonder.

The rest of the issue is suitably heroic, somewhat uncharacteristically for Miéville. Without a working dial, Squid encourages Nelson to claim to be a hero as chaos rules in the streets so that he can attempt to rescue the elderly Manteau from the nullomancer X.N. Yes, its all a twisty mess of broken alliances, alternate dimensions, powers that exist beyond human comprehension and witches that turn into mech suits but there are few mainstream comics right now that have this same sense of auteurism.

When Squid and Nelson plan the breakout, its hard to imagine that Miéville isn’t attempting to make a greater point about the nature of what it is to be a superhero. In Squid’s eyes, a chaotic world demands that any man or woman can put on a cape and save the world. All he has to do is prove to Nelson that he has a reason to do this. Watching Nelson’s reunion with Manteau shows how far the suicidal fleshy waste of the first issue has changed and it makes Miéville’s work stronger, despite the perceived slow start.

I have plenty of friends who have thought that the fact that most of my comic reading is in superhero books has blinded me to the real creativity in the genre. I’ve never thought this was the case. The potential for true creativity in all manner of comics, regardless of genre is boundless but only available for those that are willing to experiment with it. As Grant Morrison prepares his exit from monthly superhero stories after Action Comics 16 and Batman Incorporated 12, we’ll be left with nearly no true auteurs superhero comics. For now, Miéville isn’t just one of the few choices, he has the potential to be one of the best.