Saturday, March 04, 2006

Battlestar Galactica –Lay Down Your Burdens part 1

The upshot: The accidental discovery of a habitable planet sparks debate in the midst of the presidential election between President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and Vice President Gaius Baltar (James Callis) of whether the fleet should colonize the planet or continue seeking Earth. Meanwhile, Starbuck (Katie Sackhoff) leads a rescue team back to Caprica to look for survivors of the Cylon attack and occupation.

Standard spoiler warning…don’t read until Monday night’s encore airing at 11 p.m. E.S.T.

Despite the hype, we knew better than to expect a blockbuster this episode since the 90-minute season finale is next week and the producers would want to save the good stuff for then. Just as well as we liked the little things about this episode.

It opens with Roslin nervously prepping for her presidential debate with Baltar aboard Galactica in Admiral Adama’s (Edward James Olmos) quarters. They share a nice scene of playful banter and laughter and it’s nice to see how far their relationship has come from reluctant peers, to adversaries to close friends. Watching them laugh together was a most welcome light moment to this often dark series.

Also, whether designed or not, Roslin has been absolutely ebullient since she was cured of her terminal cancer (by her political opponent and secret Cylon traitor Baltar no less). Since her opening scene during the original BSG miniseries, we’ve only known Roslin as the leader thrust into office during the Cylon attack who was dying and determined to do right during her limited time.

With her life expectancy now significantly expanded, it will be interesting to see how her character grows as she is no longer consumed with the thought of her impending demise.

As Starbuck leads her team of raptors back to Caprica, one raptor gets lost on the first jump and finds the planet which seems capable of supporting human life. Roslin and Adama quickly judge the planet to be nothing more than a “rest stop” but Baltar grabs the issue to bolster his flagging presidential bid…and with the advice of Tom Zerek (Richard Hatch) he begins to gain traction in the polls.

Meanwhile in a separate but well executed side plot, Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) nearly beats Kallie to death when she discovers him sleeping in the hanger and he awakens in the midst of a nightmare.

A priest played by Dean Stockwell—continuing BSG’s trend of top-shelf guest stars—counsels Tyrol to get to the bottom of his problem. The priest is a real hard-ass as he gets Tyrol to open up about his recurring nightmare.

The interplay between Stockwell and Douglas is pure acting. Just two men sitting across from one another at a table inject pure drama. After a fair amount of quality acting from both actors, the priest surmises that Tyrol is afraid that he is a Cylon and doesn’t know it…just as his one-time lover Sharon was.

We were glad to see that while Tyrol is working to get over her, there remains emotional fallout. There are no simple answers or quick resolutions on this show…Gods bless ‘em.

BSG has turned another sci-fi trick on its head by taking the traditional “B” plot—or the secondary plot that provides an interlude for the main story—instead of it being the usual throw away time killer, it has more often than not been more compelling and provocative opportunity at character development or plot advancement.

Meanwhile, Starbuck and her team of raptors make it to Caprica (although not without losses) and her team finds the resistance, including Anders, the lover she left behind during her previous return to her home planet.

There isn’t much time for a reunion as the resistance had Cylons right behind them and faster than you can say “toaster” they are under fire and cut off from their escape ships and that dreaded… “To be continued…” flashes on the screen.

We can’t wait.

Stargate Atlantis – Inferno

The Upshot: When lava destroys the stargate while the team is off world, they find themselves trapped as an unstable super volcano prepares to blow.

The team goes to a planet where the natives have requested their help to fix the Ancient technology they have in their possession, including an Ancient battleship. The natives accidentally trigger a chain reaction which causes the planet’s dormant volcano.

As the volcano gets ready to blow, it’s a race against time to get the ship fixed before the planet does a Krypton. This show isn’t BSG when it comes to character development but Lt. Col. Shepherd (Joe Flanagan) and Dr. McKay (David Hewlett), everyone’s favorite wacky Canadian scientist, have developed a near-comic rapport as Shepherd tweaks McKay’s ego in order to get them out of life-and-death predicaments.

Of course they get out but the episode is good in maintaining the suspense level till the end. They escape with the Ancient ship, which will come in handy for next week’s season finale as a Wraith hive ship is headed for Atlantis.

Stargate SG-1 –Crusade

The upshot: Vala returns, sort of, to warn Earth that the Ori are preparing a massive invasion of our galaxy.

Vala (Claudia Black) has been stuck in the Ori galaxy for a while; she got pregnant by unknown means, and has had to hide in plain sight from the Ori. The episode is spent recounting her tale…just setting everything up for next week’s season finale.

Meanwhile, we wish they did more with the Russian demand for their stargate back (the U.S. had been “borrowing the gate found by the Russians since the U.S. gate was destroyed a few seasons back) as they have gotten a better offer by the commie Chinese.

But the problem was resolved quickly, with a bribe of the next space ship off the line. We see this as a missed opportunity to inject some real world politics into a show that after 9 seasons, despite taking place in present day…not some far away future, has increasingly become detached from reality…or at least the feeling of reality.

Super-switch, Guy Power and JSA OYL

Here's a rundown of FanBoyWonder's pics and pans for the week of March 1. We are still digesting the events of Infinite Crisis #5 and we will be posting our comments on the issue soon.

Adventures of Superman # 649

The upshot from DC: The conclusion to the 3-part "This Is Your Life, Superman!" Relive the climactic adventure of Earth-2's Man of Steel as his world falls apart during the events of the original CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS.

How do you say “bait and switch” in Kryptonian? We were expecting the origin of Kal-L, the original Superman from Earth-2. We don’t think it was an unreasonable expectation given the advertised plot summary, the title of the three-part story arc “This is Your Life” and the covers.

The story that we have are force-fed by Joe Kelly makes no sense—there is no cohesive plot flow. The reader is shown what is supposed to be alternate versions of key points in the histories of the two Supermen—we guess Kelly; doesn’t give us much of a clue.

As in parts 1&2, part 3 featured “various” artists of wide ranging style. Solid or even coherent art could have salvaged this train wreck of a story but the art not only doesn’t help the reader, it actually compounds the confused story.

As the story cuts from Earth-1 to Earth-2, the two Supermen—Kal-El and Kal-L—are nearly indistinguishable from one another—including during the Earth-2 segments where they got Kal-L’s “S” symbol wrong—how or why did this ever get past an editor?????

The real shame here is the missed opportunity to showcase and reacquaint readers with the original Last Son of Krypton. Given that Kal-L is the focal point and the catalytic agent in Infinite Crisis, it seems like a no-brainer to us.

We now know how South Park’s Stan and Kenny felt when they wanted their money back from Mel Gibson after viewing The Passion.

Green Lantern Corps Recharge #5 (of 5)

The upshot from DC: In the exciting conclusion of GREEN LANTERN CORPS: RECHARGE — which leads directly into the new monthly ongoing series GREEN LANTERN CORPS — veteran Lanterns and raw recruits stand shoulder to shoulder in a last-ditch battle to save Oa from the clutches of the evil Spider Guild of Vega!

Green Lantern Guy Gardner saves the day! Nuff said.

During Green Lantern: Rebirth we were glad to see Guy get his power ring back and now thanks to writers Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons this character has come a long way from the buffoon that Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis made him in Justice League and even the evil good-guy that he was under Steve Englehart in Green Lantern.

Thanks to his heroics in rallying the Corps to repel the Spider Guild, Guy is promoted to first prime of the Corps’ honor guard—he’s the wild card who will be sent wherever he’s needed to aid GLs in need. Very cool!

The art by Patrick Gleason and Prentis Rollins was also quite serviceable. We hope they stay on the new extended series.

We were further heartened to see the return of the Green Lantern Corps—the second attempt at resurrection in as many decades—but this time it looks like it will take.

The new Corps is a more strictly organized peace-keeping organization—now double the size of the original 3,600 Green Lanterns assigned per space sector (that’s 7,200 GLs for any Ivy League fanboys reading this).

We also like that the power ring’s design malfunction against anything yellow is a weakness that each Green Lantern can overcome through their mastery of their ring and of their fear—as well as the renewed emphasis of the power ring as a quasi-sentient computer.

We are not so hot about the as-yet unexplained shift in the mechanics of the ring from requiring a charge from the power battery once every 24 hours for unlimited emerald energy use to a finite percentage of power held in the ring without a time limit.

While the change makes sense—both mechanically and editorially—given the number of times in the past months that a GL has run out of power or run low on power during different stories, the most powerful weapon in the universe should be able to hold more juice than a cell-phone battery.

This is something worthy of further exploration during the upcoming new GLC series.

If you missed this mini-series, pick up the trade-paperback when it comes out. It’s a keeper.

JSA #83

The Upshot from DC: It's One Year Later…and the JSA has been torn asunder! Legendary JSA writer Paul Levitz, award-winning artist Rags Morales (IDENTITY CRISIS, WONDER WOMAN) and inker Dave Meikis (HOURMAN) deliver a moving 5-part tale of heroes picking up the pieces of their lives as they face of against one of their deadliest enemies! Featuring flashback sequences illustrated by Luke Ross (JONAH HEX)!

Current DC Comics Vice President (i.e. a big shot) proves he hasn’t been too busy running the company to keep up current events with the world’s first super team.

Levitz, who is pinch-hitting for series regular writer Geoff Johns, demonstrates a seamless grasp of the characters—particularly the new characters who weren’t around during his time writing the JSA in the 1970s such as Stargirl, Mr. Terrific and Jakeem Thunder.

He not only keeps up with current events but as issue #83 takes place One Year Later, he deftly provides reader the small hints of character growth that has occurred with these characters in the twelve months that the reader has missed.

Old JSA baddie The Gentleman Ghost is haunting members of the JSA with skeletons in their proverbial closet. This issue is a little slow because of the set up as this is the first of a 5-part story arc, there is a definite sense that things are just getting started.

Outsiders # 34

The upshot from DC: It's One Year Later…and The Outsiders are finished. Done. No team by that name exists. Unless they're coming for you…

We will admit to our well-formed (and deserved) bias toward writer Judd Winick.

His usual M.O. is on display in this issue—his sanctimonious preaching on social issues masquerading as plot and character development, his penchant to superimpose the same personality traits on every character and his John Byrne-like inclination to unilaterally hijack shared characters and let other writers deal with the fallout (just ask Devin Grayson or Tony Isabella or even current Nightwing writer Bruce Jones).

The current line up of the Outsiders One Year Later is Nightwing as leader, Katana, Grace, Captain Boomerang (Junior), Thunder (Black Lighting’s daughter) and Metamorpho.

Up until now we had stuck with Outsiders because of Jade (the daughter of the original Green Lantern) and later for Captain Marvel Junior (we are dismayed and more than a little frightened that DC has entrusted Winick with penning a new Captain Marvel/SHAZAM limited series—the damage he could do the character is incalculable).

But Jade is dead and Captain Marvel Junior is gone…and so are we. As much as we love Nightwing, we’re just going to read his book and pretend the Outsiders is just a bad dream.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

R.I.P. The Flash – 1987-2006 part 2

We continue FanBoyWonder’s homage to the two decade run of The Flash featuring the Wally West character as the third generation Fastest Man Alive. Part one, with the title’s first writers, Mike Barron and William Messner-Lobes.

In part 2, we’ll deal with the contributions of writers Mark Waid and Geoff Johns. When Mark Waid first took over writing chores from WML in 1992, he was know more for his work as a DC Comics editor than anything he’d done as a writer.

FBW first got a hint of Waid’s writing chops when he scripted Flash Annual #4—Flash’s part of the God-awful and now quaint Armageddon 2001 event of 1991—and he managed to crank out a quality story from a dumb story premise.

However, when Waid picked up the writing baton from WML, it would begin his near decade-long association with Wally West where he would return the character to greatness, reintroduce the Flash legacy, crank out some of the best Flash stories ever told and introduce the Speed Force, the source of Flash’s speed.

Waid hit the ground running with a four part Born to Run flashback story arc, a sort of Kid Flash Year One in Flash 62-64. Waid re-told and modernized Wally West’s origin while not substantially altering it—yet he still managed put his own stamp, a lesson Judd Winick could learn.

Later that year in Flash # 73 would team Wally West with the original Flash Jay Garrick—newly returned from exile with the rest of the Justice Society—for a very special Christmas issue. On the last page of the issue featured the holiday surprises to end them all—a seemingly returned from the dead Barry Allen.

That led-to the six part Return of Barry Allen, Flash 74-79. Waid fooled us all into believing Barry Allen had returned from the dead. Turns out it was just a time-traveling, memory lost Professor Zoom. Wally was forced to confront his fear of replacing Barry as the Flash and in doing so finally became his own hero.

Waid also introduced Impulse, Bart Allen—the current Teen Titan Kid Flash, who is Barry Allen’s grandson—a refugee from the 30th Century. He also completed the turnaround of Wally West by restoring the legacy of super-speedsters with Jay Garrick, the original Flash, Johnny Quick, his daughter Jesse Quick and Max Mercury—the former Quality Comics hero.

During the Terminal Velocity storyline, Waid addressed the coincidence of the nearly identical origins of Barry and Wally (i.e. lightning striking a cabinet full of chemicals) by introducing the Speed Force—the source of all of the all of the speedsters’ velocity.

Of course, Waid also had some clunkers like The “Dark Flash” storyline. Walter “Wally’ West was a counterpart from alternate timeline who wasn’t able to save his Linda Park from dying and he briefly took the place of our Wally West.

Nearly a decade later, Waid was all tapped out but he left behind fine legacy of solid Flash stories.

When Geoff Johns took over for what was supposed to be a six-issue fill in story arc, he quickly made the book his own. For us, his early Flash stories didn’t really strike a cord—but upon reflection and re-reading we are seeing that they stand up over time.

Johns really hit his stride with the introduction of Zoom, Wally’s West’s own Reverse Flash. Hunter Solomon, one-time Flash friend, received his powers when he attempted to use the Cosmic Treadmill to travel back in time and prevent the worst day of his life.

The result was a nemesis who didn’t get his powers from the Speed Force but instead from stepping outside of time. Zoom assaulted Wally’s pregnant wife Linda, causing her to miscarry their twins.

In issue 200, Johns gave fans a nice treat with a meeting between Barry Allen and Wally West via time travel. Hal Jordan as the Spectre granted Wally a wish by using his magic to restore Wally’s secret identity to the world. We always believed his public identity was a mistake and we were glad to see Johns correct it.

Johns' best Flash story came in the aftermath of Identity Crisis as Wally came to grips with Barry Allen’s role in the JLA’s mind wipes of Dr. Light, the Secret Society of Super Villains and of Batman when he tried to stop them.

In Johns’ last story arc, Rogue War, he left the book on top. The reformed members of the Rogues Gallery and the rogue Rouges go to war with the Flashes—Wally West, Jay Garrick and Kid Flash Bart Allen caught in the middle. Add to the mix two Zooms and a time traveling Barry Allen and a clever way to save West twins from miscarrying and you’ve got some darn fine reading.

At issue 225, Johns left the book having completed Wally West’s return to respectability. If only the powers that be at DC had the wisdom to shut the book down then and there.

The good bye had been a bit easier to swallow given the crappy fill-in issues following Geoff Johns departure from the title. For the last five issues we were forced to endure fill-in writer Joey Cavaleri insult us with a throw away plot.

Hilary Goldstein of, summed it up quite nicely in her review of Flash issue 230,

"This wasn't the way to end things for the Flash. The [Vandal] Savage story arc was a throw-away, a "baddie of the week" tale that serves as the temporary resting place for this series before a relaunch later in the year.

“While Flash gets his due in Infinite Crisis #4, you would think that knowing this was the final story of the series, DC would have provided something that tied up a few loose ends or at least featured a more interesting character. It would have been wiser to end things with Geoff Johns' "Rogue War" than let the series limp out like this.”

We couldn’t agree more Hilary.

It was a great run Wally, thanks for the ride!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Justice League Unlimited—Patriot Act

The Upshot: When a powerful menace threatens Metropolis, Green Arrow must lead a group of non-powered superheroes such as Vigilante and Shining Knight to save the city.

Stinging from his reassignment following the Cadmus/Luthor debacle, Gen. Wade Eiling remains convinced that the Justice League and meta-humans in general present a clear and present danger to society. So Eiling forces his way into Cadmus labs, steels and injects a confiscated secret Nazi “super soldier” formula and transforms into a monster that looks not unlike the Shaggy Man from the comics.

Eiling smashes his way out leap frogs to Metropolis in search of Superman to prove in his warped logic that the League can’t protect humanity but he can.

We are disappointed with JLU’s interpretation of Eiling but it’s not entirely their fault. In the pages of Captain Atom, Gen. Wade Eiling was a suburb villain—perhaps even craftier than Lex Luthor. However, in the pages of JLA, Grant Morrison turned him into a stereotype military war monger who was dying and transferred his consciousness into the Shaggy Man android body.

Meanwhile in the Watchtower, Mr. Terrific, now in charge of monitor duty, assigns Green Arrow, Vigilante, the Shining Knight, Stargirl and S.T.R.I.P.E. to fill in for Superman for the city’s heroes day parade.

When the Shaggy General leaps in looking to fight Superman, the only line of defense is the roster of non-powered heroes. S.T.R.I.P.E. hangs in there longer than anyone would have expected but he eventually gets a good pounding as Eiling smashes, while Stargirl gets a few good hits in but she’s also taken out.

Mr. Terrific beams in some back up in the form of The Crimson Avenger and Speedy, GA’s former sidekick… “partner” Speedy quickly corrects. Even their quantum arrow can’t take out this monster.

The Shining Knight is nearly beaten to death but he remains unbowed as a group of normal civilians place themselves in Eiling's path as human shields. A chastened Eiling leaps away, still convinced he’s in the right…as the madmen are inclined to do.

We were especially glad to see the Knight get some long overdue exposure, and the surprise appearance by Speedy represents the closest thing to a JLU/Teen Titans cross-over that we’ll ever get. We think it would be even nicer for Nightwing to make an appearance but we’re not holding our breath.

As we keep count, Patriot Act marked the 7th of the remaining 13 JLU episodes.

Next week: The Great Brain Robbery. A mystical accident leads to the swap of the Flash's and Lex Luthor's minds.

Battlestar Galactica –Downloaded

The upshot: The reincarnated Cylons Number Six and Sharon (now known as Number Eight Cylon model) who shot Commander Adama become heroes of the Cylon back on Caprica but have trouble coping with their roles in the destruction of humanity. Meanwhile, the human-Cylon hybrid child of the other Cylon Sharon and Helo is born on Galactica.

Spoiler Warning—We really, really mean it—if you are planning to catch Monday night’s encore of BSG, don’t read any further and spoil the holy frak moment during the first two minutes of the show.

As the viewer has been told in past episodes, the when a Cylon dies, their consciousness (or their soul for more spiritual folk) is transferred and downloaded into an identical body elsewhere.
“Downloaded” begins with the reincarnation of the Number Six Cylon (Tricia Helfer) who seduced and tricked Dr. Baltar into granting her access to the defense mainframe of the 12 colonies, allowing for the Cylon sneak attack and the resulting nuclear holocaust and genocide.

This was an interesting look at the previously unknown Cylon society and a further glimpse of their plans for Caprica now they have eliminated most of the humans from the planet (but for the resistance…which we see later in the episode).

The Holy Frak moment comes moments after Number Six comes to back to life in a Cylon reanimation chamber. She had previously been with Baltar at his home during the nuclear attack. She awakens frightened and disoriented…and she sees Baltar.

This moment had us out of our chair as we believed Holy Frak…Baltar is a Cylon…but no—even more clever, Number Six and only Number Six can see Baltar…holy ironic reversal.…she is the ONLY one who can see her head.

Lucy Lawless returns to BSG as the Cylon we now know as Number Three who is the apparent leader of the group. She dispatches Number Six to help Cylon Sharon, who was shot aboard Galactica and reborn on Caprica. Once programmed as a sleeper agent and unaware of her Cylon roots, Sharon is having trouble adjusting to the truth.

Number Three reveals that if Sharon can’t get it together soon, they will be forced to “Box” her or to put her memories into cold storage. During their chat, Sharon tells Number Six that Baltar is not only alive but he is Vice President of the Colonies.

During an attack by the human resistance, Sharon and Number Six realize that Number Three plans to “Box” the both of them anyway. Why? Because they are both “heroes of the Cylon” and in a culture based on unity, war heroes present a threat to the collective agenda—especially of those war heroes have come to question the wisdom of the attack on the humans.

They kill Number Three and resolve to use the time while she downloads into a new body to affect change among the Cylon.

Meanwhile aboard Galactica, the other Cylon Sharon gives birth to a baby girl. President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) is pained in trying “what to do with the baby” but she knows that allowing Sharon to raise the child would be out of the question.

Even Roslin isn’t tough enough to order the death of a child that’s at least half human. So at her orders, the baby’s death is faked and the child is given to a mother who had just lost her own baby—unaware of the child’s true origins.

With the child believed dead, the Cylon agents aboard the fleet won’t make a play for the baby but even Roslin knows that her action will return to bite her on the ass at some point. The seeds of many future plot twists have been planted in this episode.

Stargate Atlantis – Michael

The upshot: Dr. Beckett’s attempt to transform a Wraith in to a human has disastrous consequences.

This was an unusually provocative episode of Atlantis. Connor Trinneer—who is the most recent Star Trek alum to take refuge at a sci-fi franchise that’s still on the air—plays the wraith who is tricked into thinking he is human as part of the team’s experiment to test a Wraith-to-Human serum as a potential bio weapon and defense against the Wraith.

We were actually feeling sorry for and maybe even rooting for the Wraith. He asks point blank what makes being a Wraith better than being a human. Even brushing aside the moral implications of superimposing one race’s genetic makeup over another, realistically it was a dumb plan…how long did they think they could fool him into thinking he was human?

Worse, he escaped and was picked up by more Wraith who now know that Atlantis wasn’t destroyed. The season finale is coming.

Stargate SG-1 –Arthur’s Mantle

The upshot: Carter and Mitchell find themselves trapped on another dimensional plane, unable to be seen by anyone. They go after an assassin using a similar cloak who is striking out atthe Sodan.

We thought this episode looked familiar and turns out we did see it before—in 1992 but it was on Star Trek: The Next Generation –“The Next Phase” where Geordi LaForge and Ro Laren are in an accident that forces them slightly out of phase—causing them to become undetectable to everyone but each other.

We suppose after a decade on the air, original ideas at SG-1 are hard to come by and it wasn’t a full rip off of TNG although we knew going in that of course they would find a way out of the jam.
The folly did reveal the existence of a weapon able to kill ascended beings, including the Ori, so the day wasn’t a total loss.
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