Saturday, January 28, 2006

Sci-Fi Friday round up--Black Market & Red Shirts

Stargate SG-1-- Stronghold

The upshot: Teal’c is abducted by Bal as part of his plan to brainwash members of the Jaffa council and short-circuit their first step toward freedom and democracy so he can reassume his leadership post and direct them to fight The Ori, prompting SG-1 to mount a rescue mission.

The upshot says it all. Of course Teal'c is rescued and democracy is secured. The episode’s secondary story is more interesting, if somewhat superficial. Mitchell pulls some strings to get his buddy and fellow Air Force pilot Major Bruce Fergusson, who is dying, into a military hospital with access to alien healing technology.

It turns out the Fergusson had taken a wound meant for Mitchell allowing Mitchell to take his slot in the Stargate program. Ultimately there’s nothing to be done but as a favor to a dying friend, Mitchell shares his experiences as SG-1’s leader via the Galaran memory device introduced a couple episodes ago (See our review of SG-1 Collateral Damage, Jan. 15).

A touching act of kindness but then the writers go and spoil it by doing something stupid—Mitchell has to leave his friend to join Teal’c’s rescue mission and leaves the top secret alien memory device with him unsecured.

I can suspend my disbelief only to a certain point…I can imagine a memory transfer device or outer space travel, but I can’t believe this little plot boner—most people won’t even leave their watch or wallet in their room during a hospital stay (shaking my head). All in all, an amusing waste of time.

Stargate Atlantis--Grace Under Pressure

The Upshot: McKay crash lands a puddle jumper into the ocean, trapped as it sinks deeper and deeper as the Atlantis teams races to the rescue before it’s too late.

Everyone’s favorite wacky Canadian scientist Dr. McKay is the focus of this episode and does a good job of carrying it. At the episode’s start whatever was a standard sci-fi cliché which I call the “Star Trek Red Shirt” named for all of those nameless extras on the original Star Trek who portrayed security guards who die quickly and with little fanfare other than to advance the plot.

The latest Red Shirt was the jumper pilot Griffin (no first name provided). He at least got in a few lines of dialogue and a hit of some personality before he sacrificed himself by sealing McKay in the back of the jumper before the ocean broke the windshield and flooded the cockpit.

Alone, in the dark and sinking 20 feet per minute, McKay is near panic as his events are out of his control. As he works for figure out a way to free himself from his watery grave, SG-1’s Lt. Col. Samantha Carter (special guest star Amanda Tapping) appears from out of nowhere.
It’s soon clear she is a projection of his subconscious giving a whole new meaning to the term wet dream (yes, I really did say it).

Sheppard and Zelenka modify another jumper, find and rescue McKay and figure out a way to convert the jumper’s cloak into a shield..something that will no doubt come in handy in a future episode. Good episode.

Battlestar Galactica--Black Market

The Upshot: Newly cured from her cancer, President Roslin sees the fleet’s supply lines strained and the black market out of control and tasks Admiral Adama and Captain Adama/Apollo to stop it.

Halfway through its second season and some six months in the show’s timeline since the Cylon attack, BSG continues to keep raising the stakes and blur the lines between sci-fi and reality, as in how humans would really act in post-Armageddon civilization—some good, others not so good.

Following Roslin’s order to clamp down on the black market, Col. Fisk, the new commander of the Battlestar Pegasus, is murdered by henchmen of the fleet’s own Tony Soprano, Phelan, played effortlessly by Bill Duke.

Turns out Col. Fisk was part of the black market and got greedy and got whacked. Apollo is charged with heading the murder investigation. It becomes clear that the black market is rampant and widespread.

Making another guest appearance is Richard Hatch as Councilman and former terrorist Tom Zarek. Brought on initially as a peace offering and gimmick, the Apollo from the original BSG and the current Apollo have developed a good on screen rapport.

“Did you really expect some utopian fantasy to rise from the ashes,” Zerek asks Apollo, explaining how the desperate things have become in the fleet.

Meanwhile, tension between Roslin and Dr. Baltar, who is also the Vice President of the Colonies, mounts. During her near-death delirium, Roslin remembered seeing Baltar on Caprica with the Cylon Number Six. She doesn’t know what we know—that Baltar, unwittingly is responsible for the Cylon genocide—but it confirms what she’s knows in the gut...he’s no good.

Roslin offers Baltar a “one time only offer” to resign as vice president and a “second chance” in exchange for his saving her life. He refuses. The confrontation is all about what’s NOT said...and what is yet come.

The black market investigation becomes personal for Apollo when a gang of black-market thugs kidnaps Shevon — a prostitute with whom he has developed an intimate relationship — and her young daughter, Paya. The gangsters threaten to kill Shevon unless Apollo abandons his investigation.

It comes to a head when Apollo confronts Phalan aboard his ship...and to everyone’s surprise, including Phalan, Apollo shoots him dead. Apollo strikes a deal with the smugglers to keep essential supplies moving but to cease and desist the trafficking of children and in return he’ll leave them be.

It’s hard to find the moral high ground when we’re all standing in the mud,” says Phalan before he gets shot. Even as the last dregs of human civilization fight to survive, it turns out the worst threat to humanity comes where there isn’t a single Cylon in sight. --CW

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Infinite Crisis #4 –the Post Mortem

There is this scene in the middle of that cinematic classic “Conan the Destroyer” (now playing endlessly on one of the numerous HBO cable channels) where the future governator of KAL-lee-forn-a abruptly interrupts some chatter between two wizards by shouting “Eee-nough talk!” the whips his dagger into some guard’s neck—signaling the start of the head-taking, ass-kicking, & sword-fighting.

The film’s transition from dialogue to action was about as elegant as Green Lantern Guy Gardner at a Smith College Womyn’s Studies seminar.

That’s sort of what Infinite Crisis #4 felt like for me. Enough with the set up, do not pass go, proceed directly to the mayhem.

Standard spoiler warning—If you have not yet seen Infinite Crisis issue 4, read at your own risk. That said: I won't bother giving a soup to nuts review of IC4. For that check out this review from IGN , as well as this play-by-play from Mile High Comics’ Newsarama,

Maybe I'm in the minority here but for all of the careful planning, after the Countdown, after the various mini-series build up--Villains United, OMAC, Day of Vengeance, The Return of Donna Troy and the Rann/Thanagar War, as well as the upcoming One Year Later story line, why does DC Comics’ signature event of the year (perhaps even of the decade) read and feel like a half-baked rush job?

The plot: IC #4 does start to convey a sense of urgency following the painfully slow, multi-pronged build up of the previous three issues, but urgency seems artificial.

The art: In a word—inconsistent. The art credits for IC #4 list Phil Jimenez, George Perez and Ivan Reis as pencilers and Andy Lanning, Lary Stucker, George Perez, Mark Campos, Oclair Albert, Jimmy Palmiotti and Drew Geraci as inkers. There are simply WAY too many cooks in the kitchen.

While pages by George Perez are up to his own flawless standards, the pages by primary artist Phil Jimenez--a Perez protégé normally quite able in is own right--seem incomplete. It looks more like Jimenez is merely doing some breakdowns while long-time collaborator Andy Lanning does the finishes—but it doesn’t look finished, it feels unclear and fuzzy.

If the art of IC #4 were on the television, Perez’s art would be high definition while the rest Jimenez’s and Reis’ pages would be UHF—out of focus no matter what direction you twist the rabbit ears (am I showing my age here???)

Getting to the action, the issue opens up withthe city of Bludhaven’s destruction at Slade’s orders—Nightwing readers can figure out why. But it just seems for shock value with shades of the destruction of Coast City during the Reign of the Supermen story arc of a dozen or so years ago.

Next we have Alex Luthor giving a captive Power Girl (and the readers) a nice plot summary as to how the various aforementioned Countdown mini-series fit into his grand plan to bring back Earth-2…and more??? It was nice of him to do so because this poor confused fanboy was starting to need a map and a compass to connect the various and separate plot points.

What I didn’t like: When Power Girl asks “Why?”, Alex tells PG that after his studies of this universe and all others for countless years "I have learned that no matter where they are or what reality they come from, when a Luthor stands next to a Superman [Kal-L in this case]--they will always be at odds."

I don't buy it. In the original CRISIS, Alex Luthor was the sole survivor of Earth-3, the son of Alexander Luthor, that earth's only hero and of the Earth-3 Lois Lane. As the universe died around them, their last action was to rocket their only son away from destruction to safety (sound familiar?).

Other notes: During the CRISIS, the Monitor retrieved the Luthor child and observed him grow from a baby to adulthood within a space of days with anti-matter powers. So Alex is not a fully formed personality no matter how long they've been in limbo. I’m willing to give Geoff Johns the benefit of the doubt thus far, but it’s disappointing to see a character once so noble be dramatically rewired. I hope there is some back story or explanation to come.

What I really liked: The interchange between Batman and Nightwing. It was a humbling moment and a long time in coming for the Dark Knight when he both realizes and admits that his own hubris has isolated him while his son (Note: Bruce Wayne legally adopted Dick Grayson) has retained the trust and respect that he squandered. It really was a father son moment.

The Main Event: Since they reappeared from limbo, Superboy-Prime has had a jones to “talk” with his “doppelganger,” Superboy—Conner Kent/Kon-El, who is a clone of both Superman and Lex Luthor. SBP appears on the Kent farm, confronts Kon-El and goes from zero to crazy in two panels.

The only explanation he provides is that Kon-El isn’t Superboy, SBP is. Where SBP proceed to play kick the clone across Kansas. Before you know it, various members of the Teen Titans, as well as the Doom Patrol and the Justice Society are on hand to take on the irrational, crazed Kryptonian.

Not knowing his own strength, SBP kills a slew of useless characters including Pantha and Wildebeest. Not sure if Red Star is killed or just if he froze real good. Risk from Dan Jergens’ short lived Teen Titans literally has his arm ripped off.

Then the three Flashes—Jay Garrick the original, Wally West and Kid Flash Bart Allen, whisk SBP away. Jay can’t keep up and falls back while Wally and Bart proceed to take SBP into the Speed Force--the point past the speed of light for super speedsters where they assend to a pure energy form beyond our earthly plane.

It was a touching moment to see Barry Allen pop up from the other side of the Speed Force and his first (and final) meeting with Bart his grandfather. All that’s left is Jay Garrick to declare that the Speed Force is gone.

What a waste. In the original CRISIS, Barry Allen sacrificed himself to save the universe. Why did Wally and Bart go and for what? To give the mini-series a gimmick….they killed one Flash last time, this time they knocked off two.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the IC has been shipping on time, but not at the expense of good storytelling. During the original CRISIS in 1985, Perez with Dick Giordano and later Jerry Ordway banged out 12 monthly issues, including two double-sized issues, on time every time and each page was quality art with a cohesive story.

If I am being too critical or picky it is because my hyped up expectations have not yet been met by the product. I’m still excited and eager for the next issue, but I’m hoping and expecting better for my $3.99 worth. --CW

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sci-Fi Friday roundup--Stargate Atlantis & Battlestar Galactica

Stargate Atlantis –Critical Mass

The Upshot: The Atlantis team races against time to thwart detection by the Wraith and destruction by a Trust/Goa’uld planted bomb somewhere in the city of the Ancients.

The writers at Stargate Atlantis must be paying attention and watching the quality television that is Battlestar Galactica. That’s to a timely message relayed from Earth, the Atlantis team is warned just in time against using the Stargate lest they activate a big bomb.

This episode is a bit of a whodunit, but it also highlights more interaction between Earth and Atlantis. Last season, they were our there all on there own. Now, they’ve got their own space ship, The Daedalus, commuting back and for between the Milky Way and Pegasus galaxies.

With an infiltrator in their midst, Dr. Weir and Lt. Col. Sheppard focus on obnoxious pony tailed scientist guy who is all hot air. Of course he is too obvious. But as the bomb is ticking and the situation gets desperate, Weir gives the Okay to Ronan to torture Dr. Ponytail for the disarming code that he as the saboteur must have.

But before the order can be carried out, Weir and Sheppard figure out it’s Col. Caldwell, commander the Daedalus, and he’s been possessed by a Goa’uld. They subdued Caldwell, got the code, disarmed the bomb and the two Wraith cruisers nearby are never the wiser…still thinking that Atlantis has been destroyed. At the end the doctor says he can even remove Goa’uld out of Caldwell….no muss, no fuss.

However, Weir is troubled that she gave the green light to torture someone she admittedly doesn’t like. More disturbing is the prospect of other infiltrators that may have been planted.

Still in its second season, Atlantis shows its potential for growth here. Still no where near the caliber of BSG, Atlantis shows signs of trying to move beyond its limitations.

Battlestar Galactica –Epiphanies

The Upshot: The dying President Roslin orders the abortion of Sharon’s human/cylon fetus as cylon sympathiers commit acts of sabotage while demanding peace with the cylons.

Ok…I’ve been sick as a dog this weekend and should have posted as soon as the episode aired but a very good episode. Who said there’s no cure for cancer? Just ask BSG’s resident mad scientist.

I’ve been wondering since the mini-series how they would paint themselves out of the corner that was Roslin’s terminal breast cancer. As the moment of decision nears, we are treated to a glimpse of Roslin’s life before the Cylon attack when she was the education minister.
In flashback sequences, we see an underused Colm Fiore as President Adar who Roslin served as a member of his cabinet and as a secret lover.

Meanwhile, Dr. Baltar, as vice-president readies to assume the presidency the Number Six Cylon in his head returns even as he meets up with the flesh and blood Number Six who he helped escape from the Pegasus, as the leader of the new cylon peace movement.

Meanwhile, Baltar both saves the day by finding something in the cylon fetus’ blood that cures Roslin cancer, then crosses the line big time when he delivers a nuke to Number Six as a sign of his “good faith” to the Cylon separatists.

In her delirium, Roslin remembers seeing Baltar and the cylon Number Six together and she realizes that he’s a traitor. Should make for an interesting episode next week.
This show just gets better and better.
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