Monday, February 26, 2007

Battlestar Galactica—Dirty Hands

The Upshot from the Sci-Fi Channel: After an accident nearly kills President Roslin (Mary McDonnell), Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) defies Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) to demand safer working conditions throughout the fleet—and inadvertently makes himself the rallying point for a strike.

This was a disturbing and provocative episode on so many levels. A couple episodes ago in the Woman King, viewers got a hint of how ethnic differences from pre-Cylon attack society had carried over to create distrust and dissention throughout the fleet.

Dirty Hands carries the premise a step further and much more effectively by showing how the fleet is maintained and who it is who has to do the dirty work to maintain it.

We’ve had hints of this since the beginning of the show aboard ship—officers/pilots and enlisted deckhands/“knuckle-draggers”—but here we see that this informal but very real caste system is not just aboard Galactica.

In post-holocaust colonial society—where the human race stands at 41,400—one’s position in the fleet depends very much on one’s skill set and more often than not, one’s skill set is determined by which colony a worker comes from. Capricans are traditionally white collar while Aerelons are farmers and laborers.

Aboard the tylium refinery ship Hitei Kan, work conditions are particularly harsh—18 hour days have been the norm since the original attacks and where children make up the assembly line.

Amid the harsh work conditions with no relief in sight and as pleas by the ship’s foreman fall on the deaf ears of Admiral Adama and President Roslin, former Colonial President and current Treason Defendant Gaius Baltar (James Callis) is seeking to recast himself as a political dissident.

Copies of Baltar’s manifesto—“My Triumphs, My Mistakes”—(think “Mein Kampf”) has made its way smuggled from his jail cell to throughout the fleet to the laborers hungry for new ideas, desperate to be understood and resentful that they are not being heard.

Adama and Roslin are not especially sympathetic—they are ALL overworked but the fleet needs that fuel to survive.

We see Roslin twice shut down workers concerns. In the first case she orders the arrest of the refinery captain after he quotes Baltar’s manifesto. As Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) later comes to his defense, Roslin acts more the school teacher to a backward child—“uh-ah, we’re done”—which makes Tyrol do the once unthinkable and he considers Baltar’s position.

Tyrol visits Baltar in jail. In his “book,” Baltar claims he grew up as a farm boy on Aerelon. Desperate to improve his social standing, he worked to hide his Aerelon accent so he could “pass” as a Caprican and move up the ladder of advancement.

There is one set of rules for the aristocrats and one set of rules for the rest of us” is his thesis. Here we see Baltar with some iron—less mad scientist and more mad as hell.

We all know he’s a skunk but his words strike a cord. The most dangerous kind of liar is one who wraps his lies with the truth. We know at the heart of it, he is looking out for his own ass but as always but is Baltar lying or is he—for the wrong reasons—pointing out an Inconvenient Truth so to speak.

Roslin is not unbending following the Chief’s pleas she agrees to find others with the “appropriate background” to be sent to the refinery as fresh labor. But even this has unintended consequences as some of those drafted are kids like Danny who worked a summer on a farm but otherwise has no experience, yet no one from Colonial One selected for work detail.

When Danny is maimed by the machines in the refinery, Tyrol has had enough and calls a strike at the refinery and a work stoppage with the deck hands aboard Galactica until he can get a meeting with the President.

Tyrol is ready to pay the price himself but Adama comes down hard ordering Tyrol’s wife Cally (Nikki Clyne) arrested. Adama says he’ll have her and the deck gang shot for mutiny in a time of war if the strike isn’t stopped and badly needed fuel starts flowing.

To Adama, there’s room for fraking around. The fate of the ship, the fleet and the entire human race will someday depend on someone following an order they don’t understand or like without hesitation—there can be no room for debate or selective interpretation. So Adama will line up 10 Callys against the wall if he has to.

There’s more than a little irony here considering that just last episode Adama was working hard to save the lives of Tyrol and Cally.

The Chief blinks and calls off the strike. Then Adama sets up a meeting with Tyrol and the President. A tired and dirty Tyrol makes his case to Roslin and she listens.

More than that, she asks him to resume his former role on New Caprica as union leader and representative to the workers of the fleet. If the fleet is going to survive and arrive at Earth as a unified colonial society, they have to learn to get along.

Once again the Cylons are nowhere to be found and it is the human beings themselves who end up being the worst threat to humanity’s survival.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Brave & the Bold, the Birds of Prey and the Many Writers of Checkmate

This was a good week for books so here’s our take on the titles FanBoyWonder brought home for the week of Feb. 21.

The Brave and the Bold #1

The Upshot from DC Comics: The greatest team-up title of all time is back! A proud DC tradition is restored as writer Mark Waid and legendary artists George Pérez put Batman and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) on the trail of what could be the greatest weapon in the DCU! The trail leads to Ventura, the gambling planet…wanna bet what'll happen if they don't get their hands on the weapon?

As a young lad FanBoyWonder has fond memories of collecting the original Brave & Bold title. Back in the day it was illustrated by the late Jim Aparo for many years until the title folded after 200 issues in 1983.

It was a Batman team-up book that paired the Dark Knight Detective with and introduced readers to a wide array of heroes throughout the DCU from the Guardians of the Universe to Scalphunter to the Spectre.

Flash forward nearly 25 years and DC has brought back the team-up book with a new Brave and Bold—in a nod to the old days, Issue 1 has Batman teamed up with Green Lantern Hal Jordan but this isn’t a Bat-book nor will it be a series of one-off stories.

Veteran comic book writer Mark Waid and artistic great George Perez have collaborated to create several issue story arcs with a number of different hero teams passing the plot baton between issues—following Batman & GL, Green Lantern teams with Supergirl next issue to be followed by Batman and Blue Beetle.

On the merits, Brave & Bold #1 was a solid book both plot and artwise. Given the acrimonious history over the last several years between the two characters following Hal Jordan’s Parallax—it was a genuine pleasure to see Batman and Green Lantern get on so well even as their styles are a study in contrast.

Our favorite scene came in the Las Vegas casino with billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and working class flyboy Hal Jordan at the blackjack table together after Hal “recklessly” plays the long odds and piles up the chips. “I wish Barry had lived to see you with money,” Bruce deadpans—a cute moment reminiscent of the pre-CRISIS late Silver Age.

Birds of Prey #103

The Upshot from DC Comics: "Blood and Circuits" concludes, setting up the new Birds of Prey as a formidable espionage unit with a burgeoning roster of super-heroine specialists — which the new Spy Smasher simply cannot allow to continue!

We had gotten used to Oracle/Barbara Gordon never making mistakes, always being three steps ahead of everyone else—so it never occurred to us that she would lose, which is to say that she would be outmaneuvered, outsmarted and boxed into a corner.

There is a reason why Gail Simone one of the best writers in the DC bullpen and this issue has it all going on.

The new Spy Smasher is every bit the worthy adversary that Oracle has lacked until now—this time it’s personal. It turns out, Oracle and Spy Smasher are old college classmates—two of a kind gifted girl wonders—smart and athletic rivals.

Spy Smasher is confident to the point of arrogance but she has the goods to back it up not to mention the full power of the United States Government. Oracle has been operating outside the law and as easy as it is to dislike Spy Smasher and root for Oracle, Spy-girl has the law on her side.

This a compelling dilemma but Simone makes a critical error in a single panel of the story when she has Spy Smasher points a gun at the head of the hapless State Department feeb that she’s been bullying for the past two issues—because he didn’t bring her coffee quick enough. This instantly drains the character’s credibility making her unlikable and dangerous.

Meanwhile, it turns out Manhunter wasn’t working for Oracle but just using her and the team for her own purposes while the mafia princess that the Birds sought to rescue from a Mexican prison turns out to be a villain not a victim—when Oracle goofs, she goofs all the way.

As the walls close in, Spy Smasher gives Oracle a choice—work for her or get shut down, arrested and let shock and disgrace kill her father. This is Oracle’s Bane moment—Barbara surrenders and is broken and this book is only just getting started.

Checkmate #11

The Upshot From DC Comics: Part 1 of the 2-part "Corvalho" with guest art by SHADOWPACT'S Steve Scott! Fire, the Black King's Knight, tries to break free from Amanda Waller's blackmail in a move that will shake the agency from top to bottom!

We are of two minds about this issue: Our first impression immediately after reading the issue was that it was the best of the last several issues and that it’s finally starting to live up to its full potential.

What’s wrong? Well the fact that series writer Greg Rucka shares the writing chores with co-writers Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir. We’re frankly not sure what to make of this collaborative effort except that the book clearly benefits from the contributions of DeFilppis and Weir.

Then we realize the last time we thought the book was this good—during issues 6 and 7 which featured the Suicide Squad reunion—issues that it turns out were also co-written by DeFilippis and Weir.

On the merits of the issue, we had more character development with Fire in this single issue than during all of her years with the Justice League as the resident bimbo. More character development comes as we learn more about White King’s Knight Tommy Jagger.

He’s the son of the Judomaster (the original, not the chick by the same name and costume in Birds of Prey) who as you may remember was one of many killed during the melee that was Infinite Crisis #7.

Judomaster was killed by Bane who has gone Hugo Chavez and taken over the tiny island country of Santa Prisca thanks to Amanda Waller’s illegal and unauthorized use of the Suicide Squad to engineer election fraud.

We can see Rucka being behind the plot’s and spy intreque being but the improvement following the addition of co-writers makes it clear that he just doesn’t have a firm grasp of the characters.

52 Week 42

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!

We are left shaking our head after this issue. Just like the Steel/Luthor storyline, the saga of Ralph Dibny has played out for nearly a year only to be “resolved” this issue with an out of left field culmination which seems to contribute nothing to the final few weeks and the impending World War III event.

So we already knew that Ralph wouldn’t be the new Dr. Fate but Fate as we find out was nowhere to be had all throughout the whole storyline. Again we have another Supernova like monologue to explain to the bad guy and the reader how he knew all along what the score was.

This story started with such promise about a man shattered at the loss of his wife. Instead of a character finding a way to move on, we’re all lead on a wild goose chase. Ralph Dibny deserved better than this and frankly so have the readers who have hung in there all these months.

DC has already announced that it will kick off another weekly year-long series, Countdown, after 52 wraps up. While team 52 should be commended for the very effort of getting every issue out on time each week, the lesson that team Countdown and DC should learn is that you need both tell a compelling story AND meet the deadline.
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