Sunday, January 26, 2014

Introducing the Gutter Talk Recommended Reading List Page

Okay, so I've got this friend who sometimes asks me to recommend comics that I think he should read.  For him, and for anyone else who may chose to heed my wisdom, I have worked up a list of some of my favorite comics.  This list appears on the new "Gutter Talk's Recommended Reading List" page which you can access via the handy link just under the header up there at the top of this page.
The comics on the list that I've written about previously on this blog are linked to.  I'll be adding to this list from time to time as I think of more comics that belong on it, and I'll add links for comics already on the list should I get around to writing about them. 
By the way, you may notice that on the list Keith Giffen's Legion of Super-Heroes is marked with asterisk.  This is because I haven't actually read the entire run.  It remains uncollected and has proven rather difficult to track down in the back issue bins I've scoured across the great city of Columbus, Ohio.  Nonetheless, based on the few issues of the series I have read, I'm prepared to go out on a limb and include it on this list.
The floor is now open for debate.  Leave a comment below and let me know what you think of the list, and don't be shy about telling me where you think I'm wrong.   I'd like to hear what you would have included or left off.  Keep in mind, though, that the list is very much a work in progress. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"You Have Missed This." Some Disjointed Thoughts on Sherlock's "The Empty Hearse"

What follows is less a review of the series three debut of Sherlock than a snapshot of my reactions upon watching the episode.  First off, I have to ask: Am I the only one who liked Watson's moustache?  Honestly, I think he should have kept it, no matter what Sherlock said.
"The Empty Hearse" is my favorite episode of the series yet.  In terms of characterization, it represents the show's high water mark.  We get to see new sides to both of the Holmes brothers and are introduced to a delightful new addition to the cast in the person of John's fiancee Mary.  I hope that the writers of Sherlock do better with the character than Conan Doyle did.  He just didn't seem to know what to do with her, and very quickly shunted her into the background, ultimately revealing that she had died during the time between "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House," when everyone thought Holmes was dead.  
It seems that being "dead" for a couple of years has made our Sherlock more human.  He still doesn't understand human nature and has problems empathasizing with others, but he at last seems to at least realize the importance of making the attempt.  The original stories didn't have a lot in the way of character development.  While Holmes is a  wonderfully realized character, he never grows or changes.  Throughout the stories of the Holmes canon he remains basically the same as when we and Watson first meet him in "A Study In Scarlet."  Sherlock's Sherlock, on the other hand, is evolving and I like him a lot more after seeing this episode.
I loved the interaction between the Holmes brothers, especially the scene where they attempt to one up each other at a game of "deductions."  I suspect that the somewhat more sympathetic portrayal of Mycroft this time out had quite a bit to do with the fact that Mark Gatiss, who plays the elder, smarter Holmes sibling, wrote the episode. 
I'm not sure what exactly the Empty Hearse, the group of Holmes fans and conspiracy theorists contributed to the episode, other than an attempt to justify a title that had nothing to do with the content of the episode, kind of like a Bob Dylan song.  The title is, of course, a play on "The Adventure of the Empty House," the story in which Holmes came back from self imposed exile.  This episode bore little resemblance to that story, other than having Holmes returning to London after a couple of years mopping up the remnants of Moriarty's criminal empire.  
I always have thought that Watson, in "The Empty House," accepted Holmes' resurrection perhaps a little too calmly.  John's reaction in "The Empty Hearse" rings a bit truer, if much more violent.
We shall most likely, I suspect, never be told the real story of just how Sherlock faked his suicide in "The Reichenbach Falls."  Even Sherlock's own account at the end of the episode is suspect.  That's fine, for as John says when Sherlock reappears, its not the how that's important, but the why and that is more than sufficiently explained.  Besides, I get the feeling that not even co-creators Stephen Moffatt and Mark Gatiss have a clue how such a convincing suicide could have been faked and decided to just sort of gloss over it.  Honestly, I don't mind since the rest of the episode was so well done. 
You know, I never thought that a Sherlock Holmes story would remind me of Grant Morrison's Animal Man, but the resolution of the terrorist bomb threat evoked comparisons in my mind to end of Morrison's Invasion crossover in Animal Man #6.  I won't say much more in order to avoid spoilers, except that both "The Empty Hearse" and Animal Man #6's "Birds of Prey" place their characters in similar jeopardy and resolve the danger in pretty much exactly the same manner.  
On the other hand, the scene where Sherlock meets Molly's new boyfriend evoked a more personal memory for me.  Molly's new man, as her friends quickly notice, closely resembles Sherlock, right down to the clothes.  Well,  during my final semester of college, several months after my relationship with my first girlfriend ended, I ran into her and her new boyfriend.  The encounter, though friendly, was awkward on several levels.  After all, she was with another man and I was exiting one of the school's two all female dormitories on a Sunday morning after having spent the night in the room of one of the residents.  Like Molly's friends, I was tactful enough not to mention it, but I could not help but notice how much this new man resembled me, right down to the way he was dressed.  In a strange way, that made me feel a little better about the break up.  Well, that and the fact that, as I said, I, too, was seeing someone else by that time.
It was a nice touch that the couple briefly appearing as Sherlock's parents were, in fact, the real life parents of Benedict Cumberbatch.  As far as I know, we never met any member of Holmes' family other than Mycroft in the original tales, and I don't think their parents were ever even mentioned.
Finally, the one moment in the episode that actually had me cheering was right at the end when Sherlock grabs the deerstalker cap, puts it on and goes out to meet the press and "be Sherlock Holmes."  
After this episode, I am looking forward more than ever to the remaining two episode of this series of Sherlock.  Moreover, I hope that this time we aren't kept waiting for another two years for the next batch.

Two TPBs of Note Coming From DC in May

This May will finally see the release of the far, far, far overdue collection of the first twelve issues of John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake's brilliant take on DC's original Ghostly Guardian as Spectre Volume 1: Crimes and Judgments (although it is listed among DC's solicitations for April).  If you're at all interested, here's a link to a post I wrote about this book when it was first announced back in August. If you missed this excellent series when it was being published some twenty years ago and have failed to snap it up from the  back issue bins in the ensuing two decades, now is the moment to make up for lost time and discover one of the best comics DC has ever produced, especially since I'm guessing that if this volume sells well enough, the company will have no choice but to do what they should have done way back in the 1990s and release the entire series in trade paperback.
Also due in May is Showcase Presents Super Friends Vol. 1, a 448 page trade paperback reprinting in black and white the first 34 issues (out of a run of 47 issues) of the somewhat belated (the comic debuted in 1976 while the TV show began airing in 1973) comic based on Hanna-Barbera's Super Friends Saturday morning cartoon series, which was, in turn, very loosely based on Justice League of America
While the stories in this volume are generally deemed to exist outside of mainstream DC continuity, that seems to have been something that was decided retroactively.  Unlike later TV tie-in comics, the late E. Nelson Bridwell approached the tales in this book as if they were, in fact, taking place in the DC Universe.  The stories contain numerous references to events and developments in other DC titles of the day.  This series did have a lasting effect on the DC Universe.  It is in these pages that many of the international super-heroes who would go on to comprise the membership of the Global Guardians are first introduced, many in the same issues that introduced the Wonder Twins into the comic a few months ahead of their TV debut.  The Guardians would go on to play a major role in Keith Giffen's Justice League tales, particularly in Justice League Europe.  Continuity concerns to the side, the main selling point of this volume is over 400 pages of fun, all-ages super-hero adventures written by Bridwell with art, for the most part, provided by the legendary Ramona Fradon.
By the way, note the cover of the Showcase Presents volume, which was originally commissioned for a tabloid sized Super Friends one-shot that preceded the ongoing series.  For the most part, its by Alex Toth.  However, you'll notice that the Superman head is by someone else (it looks like Curt Swan, if I'm not mistaken, which would make sense as he was the primary Superman artist at the time.)  DC  once again, as they had on Jack Kirby's Fourth World comics a few years earlier, felt the need to "fix" Superman's face to bring it in line with their other Superman titles.  That's somewhat odd, in this case especially.  After all, Toth had done the character designs for the cartoon so it was his version of Superman, and the other Justice Leaguers, that people were presumably buying the comic for.  Also, if I'm remembering correctly, they left the Superman faces inside the comic alone, so I'm not sure what the thinking was behind meddling with the Man of Steel's visage on the cover.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

DC Solicitations Confirm April Release of New Volume of "Secret Origins""

From the "Great Minds Think Alike" Department:
"What this DCU needs more than a Secret Origins title is a "Lost Years" one, filling in the blanks of what happened between the origins and the stories of September 2011.--J. Caleb Mozzocco on Everyday Is Like Wednesday on Tuesday, echoing a point I made on Saturday.
Anyway, as I reported, or, perhaps more accurately, repeated (from an item on Bleeding Cool) on Saturday, DC will indeed be releasing the first issue of a new volume of its venerable Secret Origins title in April.  Confirmation of this came Tuesday with the on-line release of the publisher's solicitations for the month.  As I predicted in my previous post, the new series will follow in the tradition of its two past incarnations and commence with an account of Superman's beginnings.  Also included in the debut issue will be the post Flashpoint origins of Supergirl and original Robin Dick Grayson.

Monday, January 20, 2014

New "Gutter Talk" Poll: Who's Your Holmes?

With Sherlock returning to American TV tonight, I thought now would be a good time to spout off about my opinions of the most recent portrayals of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's greatest creation, and to ask you for yours.
To cut right to the chase, I am not happy with the recent trend of portraying my favorite fictional detective as a complete asshole. 
The movie with Robert Downey Jr. in the title role is the worst offender.  I must admit that I have yet to watch the entire film.  There came a point about a third of the way through where I'd had enough and stopped the DVD.  Thus, having not seen the end of the flick, I don't know whether at some point the real Sherlock Holmes ever makes an appearance.  I can tell you that the boozing, brawling bastard played by Downey was most certainly not him.
I find the portrayal of Holmes as an ass, or a "dick," as Watson calls him in "The Reichenbach Falls," in the BBC's Sherlock to be more forgivable.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  The first and most important is Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as the title character.  He comes closest of all the latter day Holmeses to capturing the true essence of the character, and his Holmes comes across as likable despite his more unsavory qualities.   I'd like to see Cumberbatch take on the character in a more traditional Victorian turn of the 20th century setting.
The modern setting is the other reason I can tolerate Holmes being more of a jerk on Sherlock than he ever was in Doyle's stories.  The world and society are a lot different today than they were when Holmes was created.   Society is a bit less refined, ore coarse, today than it was back then.  Thus, I can how someone with Holmes' gifts coming off age in the early 21st century rather than the middle of the 19th could be far more lacking in social graces than the character was shown to be back in the original texts.
Meanwhile, Johnny Lee Miller in CBS' Elementary does a fine job of portraying a copy of a copy of Holmes.  Overall, I find the show closer in tone to Law & Order: Criminal Intent than to the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.  Likewise, the character of Sherlock Holmes as presented on Elementary seems to be less derived from Doyle's characterization than it does from CI's Detective Robert Goren as brought to life by Vincent D'Onofrio, who has referred to Goren in interviews as  "a modern-day Sherlock Holmes."  Still, I much prefer Miller's watered down interpretation to Downey's total misinterpretation. 
To my mind, the finest filmed interpretation of Sherlock Holmes remains that of the great Jeremy Brett, who portrayed the master detective in a series of adaptations of Doyle's original stories on British television back in the 1980's.  A happy side effect of the recent resurgence of interest in the character is that my local public television station is re-airing these classic adventures.
So, those are my opinions.  As I said above, I am interested in yours.  That's why I'm running a poll asking the question: Who is your favorite new Sherlock Holmes?  The poll will be up for one week, and at the end of that time, I'll be back with my opinions about the results.  I also welcome, as always, your comments and look forward to reading them.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Also In April--"Amazing Spider-Man" Returns

It has been some time since I purchased or read a new Spider-Man comic.  However, I am tuned in enough to the zeitgeist that I am aware of the whole "Superior Spider-Man"/Doc Ock in Peter Parker's body story line that has been the character's status quo for the past year or so.  Nobody, I'm sure, was naive enough to think that this state of affairs would last forever.  Thus, in a development that will shock absolutely no one, I read recently on the Hero Complex blog that Peter Parker returns to life and his super-heroic career in April and does so in a brand new Amazing Spider-Man #1.
This will be the third ASM #1 that Marvel has published in the character's fifty two year history.  The first was, of course, the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko original from 1962.  The next one came in 1998 when Marvel tried to revive the ailing Spider-Man franchise in the wake of the almost universally poorly received Clone Saga.  The second volume of Amazing Spider-Man lasted for 58 issues until the series was returned to its original numbering with #500. From that point, the series continued until last year's 700th issue, although #'s  700.1 through 700.5 have popped up in the interim between then and now.
Considering Marvel's tendency to screw around with the numbering of its series in order to try and produce at least a temporary bump in sales, I predict that this latest volume of Amazing Spider-Man will last exactly 49 issues.  By then, it will be time for another trumped up anniversary issue and the series original numbering will re-emerge yet again with #750.
Check back here in two to four years, depending on what kind of games Marvel plays with the scheduling, to see if I'm right about this one.

New "Secret Origins" Series Likely On The Horizon for April

Recently, I ran across an interesting news item on Bleeding Cool.  Although I've been unable to find any confirmation of this information from any other source on-line, let alone DC Comics itself, that really doesn't matter, at least as far as this post is concerned.  What is important for my immediate purposes is that I have an opinion on the matter that I wish to share with the world.
Secret Origins is a venerable title with a long and storied history in the annals of DC Comics.  It first appeared on a 1961 giant sized one-shot reprinting several then fairly recent origin stories, including those of the Flash, the Challengers of the Unknown, and Martian Manhunter among others.  
The first ongoing Secret Origins series appeared over a decade later in 1973.  This series, which lasted a mere seven issues, like the earlier one-shot, consisted entirely of reprints of previously published material.
After another decade and change, in 1986, following in the wake of its continuity altering maxi-series Crisis On Infinite Earths, DC launched a second regular Secret Origins  series.  Unlike the earlier editions, this series consisted of new material retelling the classic origins of iconic DC characters taking into account changes brought about by the Crisis.  In one instance, the series debuted a new character, the "Golden Age" Fury, meant to take the place of the Golden Age Wonder Woman, who was retroactively wiped from existence when Earth-2 ceased to exist as a result of the Crisis, as the mother of the Infinity, Inc. member also known as Fury. 
Anyway, as reported on Bleeding Cool, it appears that DC is set to launch a third volume of the venerable title this coming April.  Like its immediate predecessor, which existed to clarify and codify the changes of Crisis On Infinite Earths, this rumored new Secret Origins series would feature original material relating the origins of DC Comics' stable of heroes taking into account the changes brought on in the wake of Flashpoint and the re-creation of the DC Universe as the universe of the New 52.  I would assume that the series will begin, as the previous two volumes of Secret Origins have, with a retelling of Superman's beginnings.
This is, as far I'm concerned, a step in the right direction.  At this point, the history of the New 52 DC Universe remains somewhat unclear.  We have had a few stories, such as Grant Morrison's run on Action Comics, the initial storyline of the new volume of Justice League, 2012's spate of Zero issues, and the currently ongoing "Zero Year" in Batman, that take place approximately five or so years ago, at the beginning of the current age of heroes, and then a big black hole between those tales and the ones set in the present day.  A new Secret Origins series would go some way toward filling in that gap.
However, I really think that what DC needs is something more along the lines of 52.  I don't mean a weekly series, though if some anbitious creative team wants to give it a go, they're welcome to try.  You'll remember that in the wake of Infinite Crisis, DC bumped its timeline forward a year, and 52's ostensible purpose was to fill the readers in on what had happened during that missing twelve months.  Something like 5, though I hope DC could come up with a better title, is needed to fill in the missing time between Superman and the Justice League's early days and now.  Hopefully, the new Secret Origins, if it does indeed materialize, will go beyond the basic origin stories tell some of those heretofore unrevealed stories of the "lost" years.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Russell Johnson (1924-2014)

This coming September will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 debut of Gilligan's Island.  Unfortunately, Russell Johnson, the actor who portrayed Roy Hinckley, better known simply as The Professor, in the classic sitcom, as well as the two animated spin-offs and three sequel TV movies, will not be around to celebrate this milestone with the shows many fans.  Johnson, who turned 89 years old this past November 10, died on Thursday.  
Though obviously most famous as The Professor, Johnson enjoyed a career that spanned from the early 1950's well into the 90's and included dozens of movies and TV guest appearances.  Aside from Gilligan's Island, he may be best known for his role in the classic science fiction film This Island Earth, in which he played a character quite similar to The Professor.
Johnson's death leaves Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann, and Tina Louise, who was Ginger, as the only survivors from among the crew and passengers aboard the S.S. Minnow on its fateful three hour tour.

"Talented Newcomers"

Something struck me as rather odd while I was reading the Bullpen Bulletins page in an old issue of The Incredible Hulk, and it wasn't the fact that  for some reason I was taking a break from re-reading one of my favorite comics to read a page of self-serving hyperbole, especially from a period when Marvel didn't really have a whole lot to blow its own horn about.  It was actually a somewhat peculiar turn of phrase I encountered in one of the items on the page.  I forget exactly what issue it was, but it was from 1994 during the period when the Hulk was leading the Pantheon and the book was being drawn by Gary Frank.  Anyway, the item in question was a promotional blurb touting an upcoming series called Conan The Adventurer which was to written by Roy Thomas and drawn by "talented newcomer" Rafael Kayanan.
"Talented newcomer."  Those are the exact words used.  I have a slight issue with that wording.  It isn't the word "talented."  I suppose that's a matter of personal opinion, although I've never been much of a fan of Kayanan's work.  It's calling Kayanan a "newcomer" that seems to me somewhat strange.  
By 1994, Rafael Kayanan had been working in comics for over a decade, including relatively lengthy runs on The Fury of Firestorm (beginning in 1984) and Captain Atom, taking over both of those books from Pat Broderick.
Upon thinking about this for probably longer than I really should have, I've concluded that this is a case of Marvel attempting to pretend that other comics publishers didn't exist.  Most of Kayanan's work up to that point had been, as I noted above, for DC.  He'd also done some work for independent publishers First and Eclipse as well as an outfit called Tiger Comics.  His first work for Marvel had come only about a year earlier.  So, as far as Marvel was concerned, I suppose that at that point in time it was technically accurate to refer to a ten year veteran of the comics industry as a "newcomer."
I'm still not convinced about the "talented" part, but that's just me.  Actually, though, that cover from the first issue of Conan the Adventurer isn't half bad.  In fact, its one of the better pieces of art I've seen by Kayanan.  Maybe he just preferred the sword and sorcery stuff to super-heroes, so he put more into those comics.  Perhaps I'll check out an issue or two his Conan work if I happen to come across it in a quarter bin at some point in the future.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Gutter Talk's 2nd Annual, Rather Quite Late, Year In Review Post

[Before we proceed any further, it is my bloggerly (like that word? I just made it up just now) duty to inform you that the sections of this post concerning Doctor Who contain spoilers pertaining to the recent fiftieth anniversary special.  If you've not yet seen it, proceed at your own peril.]
You might be wondering why my 2013 Year In Review post is so late, coming as it does nearly 1/26 of the way through the New Year.  The first and most important answer to that is quite simply that I am lazy and I tend to procrastinate.  
My lack of ambition notwithstanding, nonetheless I have always preferred, on my various blogs over the years, to put off doing my Year In Reviews until the year is actually over.  You never know when some earth shattering, game changing bit of news is going to occur on New Year's Eve, leaving all the other  bloggers who wrapped up their post mortem on the year the week before Christmas slapping their foreheads and making Homer Simpson noises.  To be sure, that didn't happen in  2013, but one of these years it will and I shall be hailed far and wide as prescient and a visionary.
Enough preamble, on, at last, to the business at hand:
On a personal note, I did somewhat better at keeping up the blog in the year past, with 88 posts compared to a mere 58 in the twelve months previous.  However, as is my typical pattern, I sort of slacked off in the latter half of the year.
Since September, my contributions to this blog have mostly been limited to my weekly reviews of Star Trek: The Animated Series.  These have turned out to be some of my most popular and well received posts, so you can rest assured that I shall, as promised, be resuming the series with the second season of six episodes come September.  Its perhaps worth noting that, other than my observance of it here, the fortieth anniversary of the debut of the animated version of Trek went largely unheralded by fandom.  On the other hand, I am fairly certain that such shall by no means be the case in two years when the original series reaches its fiftieth anniversary year.  
One anniversary that did not slip by unnoticed by fandom was the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who's debut on November 23, 1963.  I feel that the anniversary episode, "The Day of the Doctor," was one of the best Who episodes since Series 5, which I consider the best of Stephen Moffatt's term as show runner.  The only real flaw in the episode is that I feel that Moffatt dropped the Zygon invasion plot about five minutes too soon, just short of an actual satisfying resolution.  Of course, the Zygons were not the point of the episode.  The real point was to lay to rest once and for all the specter of the Time War and to absolve the Doctor of his guilt for the supposed destruction of Gallifrey.  Retroactively making it so that Gallifrey was never really destroyed may seem to some a bit of a cop-out, but Moffat pulled it off in an emotionally satisfying manner and without contradicting anything that the series has established in the eight years since its return to the airwaves in 2005.  
The year in Doctor Who not only saw the end of Matt Smith's reign as the Doctor, but gave not just one, but three regenerations, and all within the space of little more than a month.  The on-line short "The Night of the Doctor" brought back eighth Doctor Paul McGann to show his transformation into John Hurt's "War Doctor"; the anniversary special ended with Hurt turning into the ninth Doctor; and, of course, there was the the Christmas special, featuring Peter Capaldi's first appearance as the Doctor, or his second if count his brief cameo, in extremely extreme close up, in "The Day of the Doctor."
Turning, finally, to the ostensible niche of this blog, the world of comics, it would appear that my powers of prognostication are perhaps not as prodigioous as I pretend. That bit of somewhat strained alliteration refers to the fact that in my previous Year In Review post, I forecast that when I sat down to write the post that you are reading right now I would be reporting the demise, sometime during the previous year, of DC's creator owned, mature readers imprint Vertigo after two decades of existence.  Unheeding of how it my affect my self-esteem, it turns out that the venerable imprint is  still chugging along.  However, it was announced a few weeks ago that the line will soon be losing its latest flagship title.  Bill Willingham's popular and long running Fables is due to cease publication with its 150th issue, due to appear on comic store shelves in just over a year. 
Meanwhile, a prediction that I ventured to make back in 2012 has, indeed, proven accurate.  Dark Horse's license to produce comics based on the Star Wars franchise is set to  expire in the upcoming year, and it has recently been announced that Lucasfilm's new owners, the Walt Disney Corporation, which also, not coincidentally, happens to own its own comics publisher, will be, as I foretold at the time of Disney's aquisition of the Star Wars property,  shifting the Star Wars license back to its original home at Marvel Comics.  Of course, you don't have to be Nostrodamus to realize that it makes more sense for Disney to produce Star Wars comics in-house if they, as they, in fact, do, have the means.
The past year saw the deaths of a trio of notable artists of the Silver Age of comics.  
Carmine Infantino's passing I noted when it occurred this April past.
Veteran Superman artist Al Plastino, who expired in November, had recently been in the news due to a legal conflict over some original artwork from a 1963 Superman story that he had wished, at the time, to be donated to the John F. Kennedy Library, but which, obviously, never ended up there.
To my mind, Plastino will always be the artist who was called in to "fix" Jack Kirby's Superman and Jimmy Olson faces during the King's run on Superman's Pal: Jimmy Olsen in order to bring them more in line with the look of the other Superman titles.  I also was somewhat surprised to learn when I read Schulz and Peanuts, David Michaelis' biography of the Charlie Brown's creator, that, back in 1978, Plastino had been in line to take over Peanuts if contract renewal negotiations between Schulz and his syndicate went sour.  It is my understanding that Plastino actually worked up about six weeks worth of Peanuts strips, just in case.  I've never seen them, but I've heard that they were fairly awful.
In November, the comics world also bade farewell to Nicholas Viscardy, better known to fans of his artwork on Aquaman, Teen Titans and The Brave and the Bold, among other titles, not to mention countless DC covers during the 1970's, as Nick Cardy.
Finally, speaking, as I was earlier, of anniversaries, I cannot believe that, being the huge fan of the Doom Patrol that I am, I failed to realize, and thus to mark the occasion on this blog, that 2013 had been the fiftieth anniversary of the team's debut in My Greatest Adventure #80, cover dated June 1963--which, of course, means it may have been on newsstands as early as March. In belated recognition of this milestone, I refer you now to this post from the very earliest days of this blog detailing the publication history of the Doom Patrol series around the time of the debut of the title's most recent incarnation, as well as all of the other posts I have composed about the team over the life of this blog.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Star Trek: The Animated Series Episode 16--"The Jihad"

With the hindsight of four decades, you could choose to see "The Jihad," the final original episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series' first season, as a precursor of things to come in television drama.  It almost seems to a prototype of the season ending events that have become the norm over the ensuing years.  The episode does, if only in retrospect, seem to be reaching for the type grand epic spectacle that characterizes many modern series' season finales.  The stakes are much higher than in a typical episode and there are "guest stars" aplenty.  For the most part, however, the new characters are voiced by the series' regular cast, most notably James Doohan, who has no lines as his regular character Scotty but takes on two "guest star" roles, although occasional Trek writer David Gerrold lends his voice to one character.  Of course, if this were a season ender of a more recent Trek series, it would be a two parter with the viewers forced to wait until September for the predictable conclusion.
Kirk and Spock are summoned by a member of the Vedala, the oldest known space faring race in the galaxy, to a council of representatives of several alien races.  There is the reptilian Sord, worm-like multi-armed Em/3/Green  (the character voiced by Gerrold) and Lara, who looks mostly human except for her funky eyebrows.  Rounding out the group is Tchar, prince of the Skorr.  The Skorr are a race of bird people, one of whom was previously seen hanging out in front of the Guardian of Forever back in "Yesteryear."  
Tchar explains that a sacred relic of his people, the Soul of Alar, has been stolen.  The Soul is a glowing piece of Op-Art sculpture into which was transferred centuries past the brainwaves of the deceased prophet Alar, the religious leader who transformed the Skorr from a savage warrior race into the civilized people they are today.  While the theft of the artifact is, for the moment, being kept a secret, should it become known, Tchar reveals, the Skorr would launch a bloody jihad, a holy war, against the entire galaxy.  Thus the mission of this motley assemblage, should they choose to accept it, is  to journey to the "Mad Planet," a world of unstable geological and weather shifts, where the Soul is known to be stashed, and recover the relic.
Instantly transported by the Vedala to the "Mad Planet," our heroes immediatedly encounter all sorts of obstacles, including equipment failure and an erupting volcano, before finally reaching the citadel which houses the stolen sculpture.
The final obstacle they encounter is Tchar himself, who has been working against them fromt the beginning.  It is, in fact, Tchar who stole the Soul of Alar for the express purpose of starting a galaxy wide jihad, by which means he intended to restore his people to what he envisioned as their former warrior glory.   Needless to say, Tchar is defeated, the Soul of Alar returned to the Skorr, and holy war is averted.  Furthermore, the Vedala time travel Kirk and Spock back to the Enterprise a mere two minutes after they left as if none of this ever happened.
While "The Jihad" is atypical for a Star Trek episode, its story is hardly original.  It is, in fact, fairly representative of a typical "quest" story or even a more contemporary "caper"film.  A collection of archetypes; in this case the cowardly thief (Em/3/Green), the hunter/tracker (Lara) and the warrior prince (Tchar); are gathered together and sent off in pursuit of some McGuffin, with dire consequences portended to be in the offing should they fail.  That pretty much describes the plot of Lord of the Rings, doesn't it? To be honest, its been over three decades since I read the books, and I fell asleep while watching the first film and haven't even attempted to watch the others.
Even Tchar's reasons for his crime are heavily cliched and would show up later in Star Trek: The Next Generation as motivation for quite a few rogue Klingons.
If this  weren't a Saturday morning cartoon, its quite probable that the cowardly theif Em wouldn't have survived the adventure. What is surprising, given the time slot, is Lara's aggressive coming on to Kirk, offering the promise of making a few "green memories."  ("Wink Wink Nudge Nudge KnowwhatImean? KnowwhatImean?") Its an interesting reversal of the usual situation of Kirk seducing the alien space babe.  The good captain refuses on the basis that they need to concentrate  on their mission.  However, you've got to wonder if he might feel a little uncomfortable being pursued  so aggressively rather than being the pursuer.  The whole Lara/Kirk dynamic is really the only noteworthy aspect of an otherwise routine and by the numbers episode.  
As I noted above, "The Jihad" was the final original episode of the animated Trek's first season.  Six more originals were produced for the show's second season, and I do intend to review them.  However, I'm going to be sticking to my conceit of posting the reviews forty years to the day after their original airdate, so this is the last Star Trek: The Animated Series review for a about nine months.  NBC's 1974 Fall Saturday morning schedule, including the animated Star Trek's second season opener "The Pirates of Orion," debuted on September 7, 1974.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Star Trek: The Animated Series Episode 15--"The Eye of the Beholder"

In addition to their primary duties of exploration, scientific research and final frontier diplomacy, the crew of the USS Enterprise seemed to spent quite a bit of time functioning as an interstellar missing persons bureau, tracking down lost or missing starships and their crews.  This time out, Kirk and company are on the trail of a six member Federation scientific research team who have gone missing in the vicinity of the planet Latra VII. 
Beaming down to the planet, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy encounter a wide variety of environments and strangely familiar creatures and soon deduce that they have landed smack in the middle of some sort of interstellar zoo.  In short order the trio are captured by the keepers of the zoo, highly intelligent, telepathic creatures which resemble giant pink slugs, and taken to join the surviving missing researchers in the zoo's human exhibit. 
An attempt to escape leads to a Latran child being accidentally beamed aboard the Enterprise.  There, the youngster learns all about the Enterprise and the Federation.  Upon returning to the surface, he convinces his elders that the humans are an evolving intelligent species that does not belong in their zoo.  The Enterprise crew members and the rescued scientists are then sent on their way.
The writer of this episode, David P. Harmon, also contributed two episodes to the second season of the original series, "Obsession" and "A Piece of the Action," which, by the way, also begins with the Enterprise checking up on a missing starship.  In addition to his work on Star Trek, Harmon enjoyed a long and varied three decade long career as a television writer that spanned from from the medium's earliest days up to the 1980's.  He wrote in genres ranging from science fiction and cartoons to sitcoms to westerns and crime dramas. I find it amusing that the same man who wrote one of my favorite Trek episodes, "A Piece of the Action" is the same man who wrote the TV movies "Rescue from Gilligan's Island" and "The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island", which,even by the admittedly low standards of Gilligan's Island, are fairly awful. 
The animated Star Trek took full advantage of the freedom allowed by animation to create exotic alien creatures and landscapes, expanding the universe of Trek by opening it up to include a variety of non-humanoid aliens.  Alongside the Phylosians of "The Infinite Vulcan" and the Vendorian from "The Survivor", the Latrans and their zoo complex are a prime example of this. 
However, Filmation's constraints of time and budget resulted in extremely limited animation, and the "action" in this episode seems exceptionally static even when compared to other episodes in the series.  Unfortunately, this has the effect this time of dragging down what is otherwise a clever and imaginative first contact tale and making it rather difficult to watch.