Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Battlestar Galactica—The Woman King

The Upshot from Sci-Fi Channel: Capt. Karl Agathon/Helo (Tahmoh Penikett) suspects a doctor is murdering his patients aboard Galactica and news of Baltar’s (James Callis’) impending trial sparks unrest in the fleet.

Our apologies to FanBoyWonder’s faithful reader for the delay in getting this BSG review up but let’s give a nice round of applause (and the finger) to Mother Nature for providing much of the country—including the Metro Washington, D.C. area with a lovely snow/ice storm.

While unable to write anything until now, we’ve had The Woman King on the brain for a couple of days—all-in-all it was eye opening to see that racism and bigotry exists in the BSG universe.

At first glance we thought the episode’s “statement” came off as a little heavy handed but the more we chewed on it the more we realized that it wasn’t so much a statement than a revealing and yes painful admission that even the most noble of characters share prejudice in one form or another as their constant companion.

The object of the aforementioned prejudice is the burgeoning civilian refugee camp housed on the Galactica's starboard hangar deck, including many Sagittarons. Considered insular and backward by their fellow Colonial citizens—they are pacifists who refused to fight during the Cylon occupation of New Caprica and their religion doesn’t believe in medical care (think Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Helo has been charged with the thankless task of overseeing the refugees—“the Mayor of Dogville”—his peers playfully but cuttingly chide. The overcrowding is bad but to make matters worse, Dr. Mike Roberts (guest-star Bruce Davison), the civilian doctor overseeing the refugees, diagnoses a number of the Sagittarons with Mellorak sickness. The disease is curable if it's treated within 48 hours. Untreated, it's fatal and the Sagittarons don't believe in medical care.

To Helo’s growing frustration, the sickness spreads and refugees start dying, all because the Sagittarons refuse treatment. Then a distraught Sagittaron mother, Mrs. King, tells Agathon that her grown son died even after she allowed Dr. Roberts to treat him. Mrs. King believes that Roberts murdered her son and Helo soon finds cause to believe her…but he is in the distinct minority.

Helo takes the Sagittarons' case directly to Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) and Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos). Adama very coldly shuts Helo down, displaying muted but undeniable derision for the Sagittarions.

Tigh—who came to trust Roberts in the resistance movement on New Caprica—accuses Helo of always taking the wrong side in any fight, first with his Cylon wife now with the Sagittarions. In case you were thinking that Tigh may have been getting soft, we see here that he’s just as big of a pr*ck as ever.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Helo—he’s a man all alone in the world—not even his wife Athena (Grace Park) believes him, especially after Dr. Roberts successfully treats their baby girl Hera.

It all comes to a head when Lt. Dualla (Kandyse McClure) herself a Sagittaron by birth, is sick — after being treated by Dr. Roberts. All hell breaks loose as a now discredited Helo risks all to rescue Dee. Just as it looks like the hammer is about to come down on Helo, Tigh, of all people rides to the rescue---now believing that Roberts is a killer.

There are some BSG episodes we can watch over and over again and some we see once and that’s it. The Woman King is the latter. It was a powerful episode and painful to watch as otherwise good characters act less than nobly….in other words human.

More than anything, this episode proved beyond all doubt that the BSG universe is most definitely the anti-Star Trek. Racism and intolerance was alive and well between human beings long before the Cylon nuclear holocaust.

Tahmoh Penikett carried this episode and we’re glad he got some spotlight but a special note of praise to guest star Bruce Davidson for a masterful job as Doc Roberts. In equal measure, he played the guy everybody likes and trusts, the Doc with the God Complex (is there any other kind?) and the man hiding deep seated ethnic hatred.

While Helo and Doc Roberts faced off, this episode had other things going on. While Athena visited an imprisoned Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer) in Galactica’s brig, we finally see the return of the Imaginary Baltar—Yes! As Athena implores Six to cooperate as (the real) Baltar’s upcoming trial for high crimes and treason nears.

Speaking of the impending trial, the episode’s scene stealer was the two-minute exchange between President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and Vice-President Tom Zerek (Richard Hatch) as he warns Roslin that the impending trial will bring a “hurricane” of upheaval. Civil unrest on a massive scale, assassination attempts, media-scrutiny of Roslin’s every move and it will bring the entire fleet down. He advises Roslin to declare marshal law during the trial.

Roslin later notes that Zerek isn’t posturing, he’s clearly frightened, as he can seemingly see something coming that she can scarcely imagine.

But Gods bless Richard Hatch. Now wait a centon and hear us out. As the original Apollo on the original BSG, Hatch appeared early in life of the reimagined BSG in an inspired bit of stunt casting.

Hatch, who for years had sought to achieve a Star Trek: The Next Generation-like revival of the original Battlestar, had been a vocal opponent of the new BSG when new BSG producers Ron Moore and David Eick brought him on board—keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Hatch’s character Tom Zerek is an odd hybrid of Nelson Mandela, Timothy McVeigh and Gerry Adams. Imprisoned for 20 years, Zerek is a terrorist/freedom fighter/political activist who is despised by Adama on principle but someone who has earned Roslin’s grudging respect.

What could have easily been just a forgettable, one-off gimmick cameo proved to be the most clever moves of the show. Hatch took the role and ran with it and Tom Zerek has proven to be one of the most compelling of the guest/supporting cast members. Not only have we long forgotten that he was the first Apollo but Hatch more than holds his own with Oscar-caliber heavy-weights McDonnell and Olmos.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Magic Lightning Strikes Twice, 52 Fizzles but Nightwing Looks Great

Well FanBoyWonder got back from our business trip in warm and sunny and warm (did we mention warm?) San Diego just in time to get sick as a dog, thanks in part we’re sure to the sub-arctic temps in our neck of the woods.

But as we work to get back into the peak of health, here’s our take on what we picked up from our friends at Brainstorm Comics for the week of Feb. 7.

SHAZAM: The Monster Society of Evil #1

The Upshot from DC Comics: The much-anticipated 4-issue Prestige Format miniseries by Jeff Smith, the award-winning creator of BONE, brings the whimsical world of Earth's Mightiest Mortal to fully realized life! Young orphan Billy Batson finds himself wielding truly amazing magic powers — just in time to face an invasion of alien and earthly monsters!

We are really not sure what to make of this series. While FanBoyWonder loves all things Captain Marvel and while we can’t deny the skilled craftsman ship and labor of love that writer/artist Jeff Smith put into this book, the question we’re forced to keep asking is… “what is the point?”

Moreover, is this a relaunch, a re-telling of the Billy Batson/Captain Marvel origin? That would seem at odds with the great paradigm changing efforts going on in Judd Winick’s Trials of Shazam 12-issue maxi-series which has recast Billy/Captain Marvel in the job of the now deceased wizard Shazam with Freddy Freeman/Captain Marvel Jr. enduring his “trial” to win the Powers of Shazam a single trial/single power at a time.

So if Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil does NOT take place in current DC continuity (such as it is), is this an Elseworlds or perhaps even the prelude to an All Star Shazam book (we’re not fans of the All Star lines of books but All Star Shazam would not be a horrible idea)?

We don’t have much issue with the story itself. The reader can sense the obvious reverence that Smith holds for the World’s Mightiest Mortal. We’ve never been crazy about the school of Shazam that had Billy Batson and Captain Marvel as separate personalities switching places as the magic word is spoken but Smith has made it interesting.

This “much anticipated” mini-series has been “in development” for so long since it was first announced sometime around 2001 that we had not only forgotten about it but we were genuinely surprised when we saw it in store shelves.

We get the feeling that the powers at DC has forgotten about it too…or at least they had decided not to hold their breath waiting for Smith to complete his vision of the World’s Mightiest Mortal—hence the green light for Judd Winick’s Superman/Shazam First Thunder and later the Trials of Shazam.

This might have been better received if it had come out even a year earlier but now we have to distinctly separate visions of SHAZAM playing out and competing for the hearts and dollars of Captain Marvel fans like us.

52 Week 40

The Upshot from DC Comics: The month begins with one of the main players in 52 having everything — and everyone — taken away from him, and ends with messages from beyond the grave that will have a lasting impact on several DC heroes. Also, Ralph Dibny's fate — or is that Fate? — is at last revealed as he solves the greatest mystery of all. Plus, more Origins of the DCU!

For better part of a year we’ve been waiting to see this confrontation between Steel and Lex Luthor. The secret behind Luthor’s Everyman project was to devise a way to give himself super-powers and he has succeeded.

Luthor has Steel’s niece Natasha hostage and we await a showdown with his man-made Kryptonian-like powers. Of course Super-Luthor wipes the floor with Steel until Natasha the girl hostage figures out the “off switch” to Luthor’s meta-gene therapy and KOs the powerless Luthor.

Is this what we waited nearly a year for? A Luthor with super powers to match his incredible intellect is a fascinating concept that was introduced and disregarded in just two issues. There is so much potential here that was just wasted.

Moreover, we’re glad that Natasha and her uncle have kissed and made up but we’ve invested ourselves enough emotionally into this story line to feel cheated. It all started nearly a year ago with Natasha head-strongly betrayed her uncle and joined up with Luthor to gain powers that she hadn’t earned.

Then throughout the year she repeatedly and even violently spurned his attempts at reconciliation or even to get her to listen his pleas. She threw her lot in with Luthor and she allowed Luthor to use her as a wedge against Steel and she also indirectly and partly responsible for the deaths Luthor caused during this period.

All may be forgiven with Steel but not with us…especially if this storyline ends with “alls well that ends well.”

Nightwing #129

The Upshot from DC Comics: Introducing Bride and Groom — a marriage made in hell! Two new metas plague New York as an eerie competition begins: Who can achieve the most "kills" before their wedding day? But nothing is as it seems as Bride and Groom's citywide war affects those closest to Nightwing!

Let’s all give a nice FanBoyWonder welcome to Nightwing’s new art team Jamal Igle and Keith Champagne. While Dan Jergens brought much needed visual competence to this book—something badly needed—team Igle and Champagne bring artistic style.

FBW had occasion to meet Igle at Pittsburgh ComicCon last year back when he was still drawing Firestorm and we were most favorably impressed with his knowledge of DC history and his overall attitude.

In interviews, Igle has said that he and writer Marv Wolfman will be taking a more collaborative approach to Nightwing—something that will definitely benefit the book.

Five issues into Wolfman’s tenure, he continues a steady but slow ascension to undo the damage of Nightwing writers past. We’re not sure about this “Friendly Neighborhood Nightwing” that we’re seeing—we rather he be a more mysterious hero, we heartily approve of Marv’s efforts to give Dick Grayson a life beyond the Nightwing costume.

We really enjoyed the cameo appearance by Bruce Wayne (but NOT Batman) and Alfred. We got to see surrogate father and adopted son reunite and get along. In so many stories in different books we’ve seen Bruce and Dick at odds for so long, it was definitely a treat to enjoy a “family” moment without conflict or costumes.

We do request that Nightwing stop getting his ass kicked by every two-bit bouncer and d-list villain in the DCU but one step at a time.
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