Thursday, May 28, 2009

Game called on account of deadites.

New content soon, never fear. For now, exult in the sheer awesomeness(NSFW language, headphones advised):


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The revision decision.

Greg Hatcher has an article up on Comic Book Resources in regard to the reboot/revamp trend in comics and what it all means:

'After all that, I still don’t have an answer for Mr. Bosnar. Not really. Why do people keep tweaking a perfectly good concept? Why mess with a good thing?

The best I can do is a guess, and here it is: times change and audiences get bored. Sooner or later, even the most popular series runs out of gas. So the only reason to do any kind of a revamp or a relaunch is because you think you can get a bigger audience. The only reason.

However, and here’s the part that drives us all a little nuts — unlike other entertainment franchises, superhero comics are aimed at an audience of hobbyists who regard these stories not so much as light entertainment, but rather as historical dispatches from an alternate universe. What I see when I look at the history of all these different versions of Green Lantern is this — the common factor to all of them is writers laboring under the lunatic misconception that this fictional entertainment really is history.

That’s a handicap that forces creators to twist themselves into knots to get over. Unlike, say, the James Bond movies which have reinvented themselves a number of times without any thought to what came before, or licensed Star Trek books and comics that contradict one another right and left, comics fans insist that their superhero relaunches must all somehow acknowledge and account for everything that’s been done up to that point.

So you can’t just do a new Green Lantern series from scratch, not the way Julie Schwartz did it in the late ’50’s. No matter what fresh angle you might bring to the idea, first you have to somehow doubletalk your way into a rationale for doing it. Maybe it’s having Hal Jordan go nuts so you can replace him with Kyle Rayner, or having Kyle step aside and Hal come back from the dead so he can be GL again and not the Spectre. That’s where these incredibly pedantic, minutiae-driven series like Green Lantern: Rebirth come from. We can’t just start with “Brand New Day,” we have to have “One More Day” first.

DC seems to think so, anyway. Honestly, I doubt that it’s really the case. Fans have shown that they’ll go along for the ride and never mind continuity if it looks to be a ride worth taking: DC’s New Frontier, Marvel’s Ultimate books, All-Star Superman.

Maybe the question isn’t so much, why keep tweaking the good idea? Maybe the question should be, why not just do the new version instead of first killing yourself trying to appease all the fans of every previous version ever?'

Interesting stuff, and it articulates a lot of thoughts I'd had about the contemporary superheroics to be found at the Big Two. The rest of the piece focuses on the history of Green Lantern as an example, and makes for a fun and thought-provoking read.


Monday, May 25, 2009

My trouble with quibbles: The Star Trek Review.

'In the 23rd century... ' -opening text, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Let's get the obvious out of the way right from the beginning; I loved this movie. Truly, madly, and deeply did I fall into utter twitterpation with J.J. Abrams love letter to the original Star Trek series, so much so that it has taken me weeks to sit back and try to look at the film with any degree of critical distance and objectivity. I've explained in previous posts my deep affection for The Original Series and the first six Star Trek films, so upon hearing of this revamp I did what any reasonable, level-headed Trekkie would do: I loathed it outright. The initial teasers did little to improve my mood; it seemed we were destined for an 'Xtreme' take on Trek starring Chris Pine as a James Kirk by way of Johnny Knoxville. I was highly, highly nervous as I sat down Saturday, May 2nd to watch a sneak peak of the film. By the time the credits had rolled, I was utterly charmed by the film, crowing it's praises to my friends and incredibly stoked about the prospects of what the franchise had in store with its new paradigm. I kept mum for over two weeks, which for a pop-culture junkie loudmouth like myself is a feat of herculean inner strength and character. Seriously, you have no idea how much I wanted to blab my guts at length and in great detail. I deserve a gold star, or at least one of those scratch 'n sniff stickers(the one with the bunch of grapes that reads 'Grape job!' would be nice).

As I said I let the film percolate in my brain for weeks after seeing it a second time opening night with my friends. Now that I've given it some appropriate distance we're going to dig into the depths of this film; what worked, what didn't, the whole gamut from the awesome to the absurb. If you've got the stones join me on the pad in transporter room two. Set phasers to stun.


The Cast: Whoever did casting for this film should get an extremely generous bonus from Paramount and Bad Robot alike. This is as damn-near a perfect recreation of the original seven characters' chemistry as could be expected from a recreation/remake/reboot of a classic television property. I think only the Brady Bunch movies got this level of eerily, spookily accurate in some instances. Now, admittedly not everyone is a perfect fit. Chris Pine still needs to grow on me a bit as Kirk, though from what I saw in the film there's serious potential. He's got that cocky swagger, that sly cunning, and of course the (slightly) smug charm that epitomizes one James Tiberius Kirk. He's not an exact recreation of Shatner, but over the course of the film he made the character his own.

For eerie recreations I think you'd have to go no further than Zachary Quinto's Spock and Karl Urban's Doctor McCoy. Quinto is almighty spooky in his resemblance to a young Leonard Nimoy and Urban nails Deforrest Kelly's mannerisms and cadence with an accuracy that made me grin from ear to ear. I hadn't realized just how much I missed McCoy in my Star Trek until that moment. I don't think Urban was doing an impersonation so much as an homage, but that's a moot point. What matters is that the original trinity of Trek is recreated with an attention to detail that bodes well for the future of the franchise.

Zoe Seldana makes for an Uhura who's competent as well as comely, and John Cho and Anton Yelchin fill their more limited screen time as Sulu and Chekov with bits of business that make them entertaining to watch. Simon Pegg gets the worst of it, as we have to wait about two-thirds of the film before Scotty makes an appearance, but once he's there he adds some levity to a film that may have been getting a bit full of itself to that point. He's underused, but what is there lays the groundwork for the heroic miracle-worker we all know and love.

Bruce Greenwood makes for an awesome Christopher Pike and I think it's a shame that we didn't get more with him in command of the Enterprise. I realize his purpose for this film was basically to warm Kirk's chair for his inevitable rise to the captaincy, but he was an effective character that had a confidence and command that I think should have stayed in place for at least another movie. We'll get into my thoughts on that as we segue into the negative aspects of the film.

It was fun to see Leonard Nimoy play Spock (or rather, Spock-Prime) for what could well be the last time, though for all the nostalgia his presence brings to the film and how it adds a touch of class of the handoff from old continuity to new, there are questions and problems raised by his presence that I'll address in the negative section.

The Look: Seriously, the film looks amazing. The Starfleet vessels look like a mix of the original series and something more realistic. I'm hesitant to invoke the relaunch of Battlestar Galactica, but the ship design and their usage in space, particularly some of the camera work in keeping track of them, looked great. Nero's mining ship looked suitably menacing, whilst Spock-Prime's odd little ship looked at once futuristic and fantastic.

The centerpiece of the entire movie is, of course, the Starship Enterprise, and she looks as beautiful as you could imagine. Care was taken by the special effects team in honoring the best of the original television series and the films, and it shows. It's not an exact replica but the spirit of the initial design is there. I loved the look of the bridge, the corridors, the transporter room, and sickbay. Engineering. . .well. . .let's leave it for later.

Vulcan and Earth are the worlds at the center of this film, and each looks epic in scope. Vulcan is a harsh, sterile desert world that is so harcore it has buildings that hang down from the bottom of cliffs like stalactites. Tell me that's not hardcore. Earth is a utopian paradise, where Starfleet and the Federation have led to an idyllic world replete with female officers in miniskirts and hot green coeds. What's not to like?

The transporter effects are wicked, the phasers looked at once classic and badass, and the uniforms looked functional but true to the tunics and slacks of the original show. It looked like the Star Trek universe, or at least a fresh take on the old familiar jazz riffs. I ate it up.

It is a prequel, yet it isn't: Time travel in a Star Trek film? That's as groundbreaking and revelatory as the correlation between water and moisture, but the time honored cliche actually works in creating an alternate timeline that allows for new adventures to be told within the classic framework free of previous continuity. As templates for a soft reboot go you could do a lot worse, and it was actually nice to see the characters work all this out for themselves rather than have it exposition-dumped to them by some omnipotent being or some other such plot device(of course, that left Quinto with the unenviable task of providing said exposition dump but hey). This isn't to say there aren't some problems that arise from fiddling around with the space-time continuum, but we'll get to those soon enough.

So yes, some reasoned and salient points on how this movie kicked some ass, and while I was watching it I was 100% on board for both viewings. Let me maintain that I still like the film and enjoyed it immensely, but after a while I found that the more I thought about it, the more I found hard to swallow. Let's talk about


Nero: What a complete and utter waste of time and space this character was. Don't get me wrong, Eric Bana does his best with what little he's given to work with here but the character suffers from a terminal case of Not-Khan Syndrome. He's got no character, he's just an evil cipher that sits on his throne on his mining ship and is evil for it's own sake. Sure he's reeling from the dual loss of his homeworld and his wife and child, but we don't get to see any of that, his motivation barely gets referred to except in passing, and the character just makes decisions and has methods that to any sensible person in the audience seem utterly moronic:

1) Nero finds himself thrust through a black hole(something that should kill him all kinds'a dead, see below) and finds himself over a century in the past. Now let's think about this for a minute. You're over a hundred years in the past with foreknowledge of what's going to happen to your doomed planet in the future. You mean to tell me Nero just sits on his hands and doesn't inform the Romulan Empire? He doesn't think to set course for the Neutral Zone and warn his people, or to provide them with the amazingly badass technology of his mining ship/spooky-looking death fortress that would surely make the Romulan Star Empire the supreme military force of the Alpha Quadrant?

2) Okay, so you don't go to Romulus. You're pissed as hell at Spock and want him to pay. Well, if that's the case why do you then wait twenty-five years to commence your attack on Vulcan? Why not just roll on up to the planet within a couple days journey at high warp and lay the planet to waste before Spock can A)be born or B) can even be in a position to thwart your evil plan? Is this some weird form of obsessed lunatic chivalry? What, it wasn't sporting to go after Spock at a point before he can stop your plan or be too late to save your world?

3)Nero's mining vessel has a completely nonsensical design to it, and I don't mean in terms of improbable space design, I mean health and general safety. There's water on the floors, platforms from one area to another with no discernable stairwells, poor lighting, and absolutely no guard rails or means to keep you from plummetting to your death. Also it starts out badass and impressive by destroying the U.S.S. Kelvin as well as the Starfleet task force sent to Vulcan, but then becomes completely hapless in the face of the Enterprise and Spock-Prime's teeny little science vessel. What's that about? Also, using their drilling rig to place the Red Matter is also stupid as hell. Why use the drill to slowly bore into a planet's surface when a well-placed disruptor blast could do the same job? Why does the black hole have to be in the planet's core? I'm reasonably sure that if you have something that can create a black hole and then place said black hole next to a planetary body, that world is pretty much screwed, to say nothing of anything in the immediate vicinity. Which brings me to my next point.

4) If you're going to use a drill with a long, dangling cord, maybe take the oppurtunity over the course of the twenty-five years you spent waiting and plotting your revenge to oh, I don't know, armor it up? God almighty, you think if Darth Vader had noticed the exhaust ports on the Death Star he'd have gone 'No, leave that horribly vulnerable spot there for the next twenty years or so. I honestly can't see them ever being a problem.' Oy.

Science Doesn't Work That Way, Even In Trek: What the hell is Red Matter, and who thought it'd be a good idea to use a black hole to stop a sun from going nova? That's like dousing someone on fire with gasoline in an effort to put them out. It makes no frickin' sense. Surely there'd be some way by the late 24th century to get a sun's core to level out. I mean, at the very least Picard should be able to get Q on speed-dial and ask for a favor.

'Yes Q, I will wear the pink bunny suit to all my diplomatic functions for an entire year. Yes Q. Just fix the sun of Romulus. Thanks.'

Time Travel. It will make you insane: In a way, I might have almost preferred a full reboot of the franchise if it meant that the following roadblock wasn't sitting in my path. Once I thought about it, the entire film becomes a retroactive act in frustration. I think the only thing worse than being a writer of speedsters like the Flash has to lie in writing anything that deals with time travel, especially in Star Trek.

Spock-Prime is trapped in the past with Nero, but the thing is, Spock has time travelled before. Like, a lot. So much so he even devised a way to do it. So why doesn't he slip Young Spock the computations for time travel, then have the Enterprise and a fleet jump back in time and ambush Nero before he can destroy Vulcan and leave only 10,000 Vulcans left alive? And don't feed me that 'needs of the many' bullcrap because you can't tell me either Spock wouldn't want to at least save his mother. Or for that matter, travel forward in time to just before Romulus's sun goes nova and apply the Red Matter properly. Don't tell me it couldn't be done, it was just lazy writing. You could even do it and argue that the presence of the Red Matter in the past created an alternate timeline, which would allow for the creation of the 'new' Trek while leaving the 'old' Trek universe intact.

Don't play the time game unless you plan to play with it right and map out all the consequences accordingly. Otherwise you end up leaving your plot full of more holes than a block of swiss cheese.

Engineering: What the hell was up with those engineering sets? I get it, we're supposed to think of the Federation starships as more naval-seeming vessels with a kind of lived-in atmosphere, and on the Kelvin that worked fine as it seemed to be an older Starfleet vessel. But the Enterprise is the flagship of the fleet, the benchmark and testbed of all sorts of advances in starship design. You're going to tell me there's a frickin' boiler room on board the most advanced ship in the fleet? Really? Okay. . .does it run on shovel-fulls of dilithium coal? Also, points to my friend Yrol for pointing out the laughable Galaxy Quest-like chompers that Scotty almost gets fed to after he and Kirk beam back to the ship. What was the point of that thing save to create peril? Compared to the sleek, lovely set pieces of the bridge and sickbay it was just jarring. Hopefully the sequel will improve the design to something a bit more futuristic-looking.

Here, have a captaincy: Kirk goes from cadet to commander to captain of the Enterprise in essentially a period of 24 hours? You're kidding right? We couldn't have maybe established the crew as coming together on the Enterprise with Kirk and Spock maybe working their way up the ranks and earning battlefield commissions to their classic roles? No? We're going to do it in like a day? Say what you will of Shatner's Kirk but at least he worked his way up the ladder to a command rather than having it handed to him as part of some kind of nebulous 'destiny' tripe. I get that the film wanted to waste as little time as possible getting everyone established in their classic crew positions, but still. We couldn't have done a couple quick cuts ahead in time? I mean, Nero waited twenty-five years, I'm sure he could've waited a little longer. . .

Don't misunderstand me, I thought this film was a helluva lot of fun to have at the cinema. But it's not without it's flaws, and in a way I'm kind of glad for them. Star Trek has always been a little hokey, and if the film sometimes fudges a bit in its quest to entertain I'm hardly going to loathe it for trying. My hope is that the filmmakers take the lessons of what did work and didn't and parlay it into a sequel that blows the doors off of all our expectations. Reccomended.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The future is history: the Terminator Salvation review.

'[Saying the message that John made him memorize] Sarah, thank you. For your courage through the dark years. I can't help you with what you must soon face, except to tell you that the future is not set...You must be stronger than you imagine you can be. You must survive, or I will never exist.' -Kyle Reese(Michael Biehn), The Terminator(1984).

With that cryptic missive a franchise was born. The Terminator was a lean, mean little science fiction B-movie that featured killer robots from the future attempting to ensure their ultimate victory by destroying their ultimate nemesis before he was even born. A clever conceit that sustained the franchise through the inevitable sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Like every red-blooded fan reared during the heady days of the 1980s I love the Terminator franchise and the lore that grew up around it; from the films, spinoff comics, video games, even paperback novels. The notion of a future where mankind's machines turn on their masters and bring about a bleak dystopian future that is ultimately reclaimed by the inevitable triumph of humanity under the leadership of one man who taught mankind to stand up for itself. . .well, it's a heady mix. It's one of the oldest stories really. Substitute any conquering horde for the terminators and any evil king for Skynet and you've got the basic recipe for any number of epic tales.

The twist that makes the Terminator saga distinctive however, is that the series incorporated time travel. Yes, in the future John Connor may be the ultimate badass who'll save humanity from the machine, but what if you killed his mother before he was even born? What if you killed him as a child, before he'd learned the skills and lessons of a seasoned warrior? The first two films played on that idea, though the third tended to go off the rails a bit with the revelation that the nuclear holocaust of Judgement Day was 'inevitable'. If there is no fate but what we make for ourselves, how can that irrefutable proof of the human spirit's triumph over nigh-insurmountable odds be justified against the inescapable certainty of armageddon for human civilization via nuclear holocaust and a war with homicidal machines? Needless to say Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, while having entertaining moments, is not really the franchise at its finest.

[Oh, and before anyone thinks to ask: no, I haven't watched The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I'm going to be dealing with the franchise's film incarnation. The series may well be entertaining but it could undercut some of the points I'm trying to make here and really, do we need any more time travel confusion in this article? Yeah, I didn't think so.]

Let's talk about what worked in the film before we get into the flaws:

The Good:
-The Cast: Top to bottom there wasn't a moment with the cast that felt out of place or hokey. Christian Bale plays John Connor with a mixture of determined resolve and a resigned weariness. He knows this future, has fought long and hard to avert this future and his destiny, but he couldn't escape it. He's become a seasoned warrior fighting in the Resistance on the front line, so much so that the elite command from their hidden stronghold don't garner the same respect Connor has earned leading from the front lines. There's also a fear in the portrayal, a fear that the knowledge he's been given via his mother's warnings is dwindling down to nothing, that all too soon he's going to have to succeed or fail based entirely on his own experience and knowledge, rather than that of his 'future' counterpart. Bale shines in this role, and the film is made enjoyable by his presence.

Anton Yelchin is no Michael Biehn, but there's enough of that cleverness mixed with desperation the original character had to make him interesting and likable. The disbelief got suspended fairly quickly once we met him, though there were elements to his character that were a bit perplexing (i.e. bad writing, but we'll get to that).

Sam Worthington's character of Marcus Wright is also an intriguing addition to the overall Terminator saga, allowing us to see a potential missing link between certain threads in the overall tapestry we hadn't thought about before. I'm keeping this spoiler-free, so we can't get into too much detail, but the character was engaging. I liked him a great deal.

The rest of the cast are all adequate in doing what they do, but for the most part they're largely action figures, meant to get us moving along in the plot and not really meant to be dwelt on or cared about overmuch. Bryce Dallas Howard makes a great Kate Connor, but I missed the Katherine Brewster character of the 3rd film (yes, I actually missed something from Terminator 3. Try not to faint) as she seemed a bit more dynamic there. Any film that has Michael Ironside delivering his trademark growl and being all elder badass is no bad thing, and Ivan G'Vera's weary but warm General Losenko--while not being in the movie much--struck me as an interesting character that got some serious short shrift in the film.

Oh, and there's a surprise guest appearance in the film that is simply too awesome not to at least mention in passing. Prepare to have your jaw drop.

-The Visual Aesthetic: Say what you will of McG's talents as a director, he at least made an amazingly vast and epic-looking film. The scenes of a post-apocalyptic world, washed-out of life and color where humans and machines battle tooth and nail for survival are striking. There's a scene in the film where Marcus moves amidst the ruin of the HOLLYWOOD sign and looks out over a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles that was pretty damn breathtaking in scope.

The film is dedicated to the memory of the late, great special effects wizard Stan Winston, and it's clear that the effects team were doing their ample best to pay tribute to him. The designs of the terminator models, the hydrobots, the Hunter-Killers, the cy-killers (trust me, you'll know them when you see them) all have so much care and work put into them that you can't help but be impressed. While there are a number of CGI effects shots in the film, I was impressed by how many practical effects there were too, particular in some of the shots of the terminator endoskeletons. Work was put into making this film look amazing and that care and craft shows in the finished film.

-The War Against the Machine, or Humans Vs. Killer Robots: This film delivers on a promise made in flashbacks peppered throughout The Terminator, and through brief flashes in the sequels. The war against Skynet is brought home in this film and it is as badass as we thought it'd be. Hunter-Killers soaring over ruined cities, humans firing rounds into skeletal-looking robots while the wind and dust whip around them, the struggle to survive by either standing up and joining the Resistance or trying desperately to bury yourself in the sand and hope the mechs don't find you. This is the film we've been curious to see for years and at last, after years of enjoying well-balanced action meals you get to the sugary-sweet dessert that is this film.

So yes, there are some positive aspects to the film that make it an enjoyable enough piece of entertainment. But wait, didn't I say I had some critical problems as well? Yes, yes I did. Strap in kids, the ride gets bumpy from here:

-Prequel-itis, or Time Travel makes the brain hurt: As I remarked on Facebook a little while back, this movie is a six-stepper. While you're watching the feature and are in its universe you are utterly enthralled, but I guarantee once its over you and your friends will not get six steps to your car before your brain catches a loose thread from the plot and proceeds to pull the whole thing apart.

[Get some aspirin before you read this. Seriously.]

As I said, I will not spoil this review. But consider this; the entirety of the film is predicated on a number of underlying assumptions:

1) Skynet and its terminators will attempt the wholesale slaughter of the human race.

2) John Connor and his Resistance will ultimately overthrow them.

3) Skynet will send three terminators back in time to attempt to kill John Connor in the past.

4) John Connor will send back Kyle Reese and a reprogrammed T-800 to stop two attempts, with Katherine Brewster/Kate Connor sending back a second rewired T-800 (one that in fact kills John Connor near the war's end).

The above list is what's know as predestination paradox. For this future to come about, certain events must happen. Cyberdyne will build Skynet, the military will uplink it into their global defense grid, Skynet becomes self-aware and bombs humanity back to the stone age, John Connor, etc. It holds up well enough until you realize that this film cannot go any other way than the route determined by the previous three films. Skynet has knowledge of the future too, and is attempting to nip the whole thing in the bud by eliminating Kyle Reese. After all, if he doesn't go back in time to save Sarah Connor, he and Sarah won't get all hominahomina and John won't be born at all! It's win-win for Skynet right?

Uh, yeah, but if there's no need to send that first terminator back in time, then it doesn't get demolished, Cyberdyne Systems doesn't get the shattered arm and the neural processor chip that they reverse engineer and thusly lay the groundwork for Skynet's own creation. By killing Reese, they essentially overwrite all of reality and the future of Skynet blinks out of existence. Cue rainbows and puppies in abundance.

Ipso facto, that first terminator must be sent to 1984, Kyle Reese must go back in time and John Connor must be born or else the whole house of cards falls in on itself. You could argue that maybe, just maybe, Cyberdyne Systems might've discovered the means of creating Skynet on their own, but given the cyclical nature of time travel as depicted in the first two movies (and Cameron's original vision) I doubt it. The notion of Judgement Day being an inevitability flies in the face of the human determinism of the first two movies.

Of course, one could also posit that Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation are an alternate timeline wherein the events of Judgement Day were in fact predetermined, while The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day are the 'original' timeline. . .

[Toldja you'd need the aspirin.]

Simply put, the film relies on A to lead to B, then C, and then D. It wants us to consider this film to be an extension of what comes before. If that's the case, then jeopardy is lost as we already know good and well how this film will turn out. With that in mind this film is entertaining but ultimately irrelevant. You'd be better served renting the first film for 3-5 bucks at Blockbuster or on Netflix and saving yourself a wait in line. Only those who really, really have an urge to see killer robots on the rampage will go to see this flick. Again, it's not bad but what's it ultimately for save to be another video-game-on-god-mode type of movie without any sort of peril? I mean first Wolverine, then this. Say what you will of Star Trek (and we'll get to it in due time) at least it found a neat way to sidestep its status as a prequel and work as its own entity.

-Logic and this movie's lack of it:
You're engaged in a war against a machine network that has access to mobile weapons platforms, flying death craft, orbital satellite monitoring networks and global positioning software that makes the cameras on SCUD missiles look like your grandfather's bifocals. So why, in the name of God and man, would you be hanging out on a rooftop in broad flippin' daylight?! Or fly around in helicopters and jets that can be tracked, outmaneuvered, and overtaken by autonomous vehicles that have no consideration for speed(as they've no pilots to risk injuring)?Or line your perimeter(your vast, open-ground perimeter out in the middle of the countryside with no real discernible cover or bolt-holes) with explosive magnetic mines? Mines that will explode and create a heat signature that could be detected from orbit that might as well say HEY SKYNET WE'RE RIGHT HERE, COME AND KILL US in giant letters of flame? And these are the competent Resistance fighters. Riiiiight. . .

The first Terminator film showed us a humanity that had gone underground, hidden in the subways, the underground parkades, the sewers and the tunnels in their effort to dig in and survive. You don't go out in the day unless you have to, you keep low at night and you don't make a move unless you've got everything planned out well in advance. The machines are smarter, faster, and stronger than an ordinary human being and they will kill you with grisly efficiency. The Resistance of the earlier films fought smart. In the new movie. . .ehhhh. . .not so much. To be fair, the ultimate bolthole of the Resistance leadership is a pretty clever idea, but on the whole the Resistance's tactics just seem idiotic.

-The Other Officer Rule: The OOR is a time-honored cliche whose origins (at least as far as I know) may be traced back as far as classic Star Trek. Simply put; should a protagonist with military rank encounter a similar character of rank greater than or equal to his own, that officer will either be:

A) A massive prick

B) Weak and spineless

C) Cold and efficient

D) Batshit insane

E) Combinations of the above (AB, BC, CA, BD, and oh-dear-lord-help-us ABCD).

Nowhere is this rule better illustrated than in the character of General Ashdown, played by Michael Ironside. While his presence in the movie lends a note of sheer badassery, it's sabotaged at the same time by his being slotted so handily into the Other Officer role. He and General Losenko, along with a couple nameless extras, are the 'real' leadership of the Resistance. They give the orders and coordinate the organization as a whole, while Connor is a soldier in the field. Which sounds great, but they exist for no other reason than the Police Lieutenant in an action flick. He's there to drag Connor in, bust his balls, make the unpalatable decisions of war, and seem a bit more morally ambiguous than Bale's stalwart and true hero. It makes no sense, save to somehow make Connor look more heroic because there are lines he won't cross. Losenko seems a more approachable figure, almost a mentor to John, but he's never really given anything to do and lacks the balls to stand up to any of Ashdown's decisions. Hence, he falls into B, while Ashdown is a mixture of A and C.

Is Terminator Salvation worth a look? I'd say yeah, though maybe make it a matinee showing. It's not going to flip everything you know about the franchise on its ear, and its certainly not lacking in flaws, but it is an entertaining popcorn movie that delivers some action and adventure in a dystopian future. If you're looking for a couple fun movies that give you a yin-yang feel, I'd say do a Star Trek/Terminator double-bill. Utopia for the half-fulls, dystopia for the half-empties. Therein lies balance.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Every saga has a beginning.

“Tragedy is like strong acid -- it dissolves away all but the very gold of truth.” -D.H. Lawrence
Ten years. Can it really have been so long since George Lucas took fans back to that galaxy far, far away and brought about the second renaissance of Star Wars fandom? It seems unreal to think that such time has past, that indeed the saga as a whole has been completed. Sure, there was the brief appearance of the Clone Wars movie and subsequent television series, and there's the promise of a live-action series set amidst the period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope (or, as I still call it, Star Wars). So it can be forgiven if the day has a bit less significance for the more casual of pop culture/science fiction fans out there, given the prevalence of Lucasfilm material on the airwaves and easily at hand on DVD.

1983 saw the apparent conclusion of the Star Wars saga. Return of the Jedi brought Luke Skywalker full circle and had the scarred young hero face down his father and his father's dark master and redeem him, bringing him back to the light and reuniting with his long-lost sister. Also, the Empire got its collective ass handed to them by a combination of daring pilots, intrepid commandos, skilled naval leaders, and a band of tribal teddy bears. When the credits rolled on Jedi, even the most diehard fans presumed that was it. The story had ended.

Still, the franchise lived on. In VHS videos, toys, games, comics, and with the release of Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire novels and Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy's Dark Empire comics series in 1991 the galaxy far, far away found itself given new life. For all the excitement the newly born Expanded Universe (as the fans have come to call it) brought about it would be another eight years before Lucasfilm would produce another lightsaber epic.

To understand just why this film had the impact it did, you have to understand the world as it was back in 1998/99. The Internet was only just beginning to come into it's own as the central hub of geek information and speculation it is today. In those halcyon days if the average Star Wars geek wanted information on the (then rumored) production in the works, he'd have little choice but to slog through shows like Access Hollywood or even (shudder) Entertainment Tonight. So it was that one fall night in 1998, when my brother and I waited through an entire episode of teasing from the bipedal smiles of Access Hollywood for the merest glimpse of the Phantom Menace trailer. The images of the mounted Gungan warriors moving through the mists of the Naboo forest made our jaws drop in much the same way as I suspect that Star Destroyer's arrival in the original film blew '70s SF fans away. And then the rest of the trailer played, and we were hooked. Utterly.

Flash-forward in time to May 18th, 1999. My brother and I have waited patiently. Toys? Purchased. Novel adaptation by Terry Brooks? Obtained. The last day of waiting seemed an eternity, but when midnight rolled around and our tickets for the show were in hand we bolted to the Uptown theatre in Red Deer, Alberta. Waiting in line for what felt an eternity we sat and fidgeted and literally willed that last half-hour out of existence. The sheer joy in the room as the 20th Century Fox fanfare pounded through the speakers, giving way to the glittering green logo of Lucasfilm, the roar of the crowd at the sight of the familiar:

a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

If converted to electricity it would have powered Tokyo for days.

I saw The Phantom Menace seven times in the theatre. Ryan would have preferred we'd seen it at least 10 together, but the fact of the matter was that by the fourth or fifth viewing the film just didn't blow me away as it had previously. I chalk this up to a number of factors, but I think it comes down to something a lot of fans took umbrage with at the time; it wasn't what they'd expected. Or rather, it was a Star Wars movie, just not the one they thought they'd be getting.

Sixteen years of anticipation, of supposition, of pondering just what the next move would be. Where would the saga go after the tale of Luke and Vader was told? I think a lot of the older fans didn't expect a look back, or a vision of their ultimate villain as a young slave caught up in the machinations of the virtuous and vile alike. They didn't expect a rigid, dogmatic Jedi Order that had become hidebound by its own rules, nor did they appreciate the notion of the idyllic Republic being seen as a corrupt body that allowed evil such as Palpatine's to flourish. They didn't expect C-3PO to have such strong ties to the Skywalker clan, nor did they expect to find that the mother of the heroes of the second trilogy to be nearly ten years Anakin's senior. It took a step back, it showed the truths behind the idealised story Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke in that hut on Tatooine. There's a shadow cast on the film despite it's nearly beat for beat echoing of the original Star Wars film. The optimistic ending doesn't hold true, given the foreknowledge we have of the protagonist's ultimate fate. By the time the end credits roll by and we hear Vader's labored breathing over the sweetly wistful strains of John Williams' Anakin's Theme, we know we've seen the beginning of something far different than any Star Wars we'd seen before.

Simply put, the Original trilogy is a heroic epic. It is the reclamation of hope from despair, the triumph of good over evil. The Prequel trilogy is a tragedy. It's the story of how paradise was lost. The Phantom Menace sets the stage for Anakin's fall from grace, introducing us to the key player's in his fall and showing us the galactic tapestry upon which he and Palpatine will warp and corrupt the face of the galaxy. Menace is a story of political maneuvering with adventure story trappings, whereas Star Wars/A New Hope is an adventure story with some war story trappings. The two are distinct entities within the greater series as a whole.

This is not to say the prequels are flawless; Lucas himself admits he doesn't have the best ear for dialogue and the less said of the capering of one orange Gungan the better. Still, for all his foolishness and subsequent brooming offstage Jar Jar Binks does help to engage the younger viewers in much the same way Wicket W. Warrick did with children of my generation. The fact that his blind idealism and hope for the future(and his desire to be admired) inadvertently pave the way for the formation of the Empire adds to the overall tragedy of the prequels.

The Phantom Menace dares to be different than what came before it. Is it perfect? No. But it is a relevant film and a worthwhile pattern in the greater Star Wars tapestry that is all too readily dismissed by those who aren't willing to appreciate it. To do so is to only focus on one half of the story as a whole, and to deprive oneself of the essence of the full heroic cycle. Do you need the prequels to enjoy the Star Wars fans you enjoyed as a child? Perhaps not. But without those first three films, the Original trilogy lacks contrast, and yes, even some depth. Because for all our proprietary claim to Lucas's vision, it is his story to tell. To focus solely on one half of the tale while dismissing the other can be done, but its a deprivation that can only leave the overall experience a diminished one. I encourage anyone who may have dismissed the prequels to give them a second look. They're not perfect films, but they do have something to say, and their contribution to the greater saga of Star Wars deserves to be heard.

May the Force be with you,


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

From the Read Pile #1:

DC Comics
Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Renato Guedes

Of all the costumed crusaders out there dispensing two-fisted justice, Superman remains my absolute favorite. He's the original, the template for just about every superhero that's come down the pike since Action Comics #1 first hit the stands in June of 1938. He's got the best powers, the best supporting cast, and the best mythology built around him in comics history. He's the pioneer of an entire genre of comics, the dominant one in the West for over 60 years. He is, in short, the best.

However, I confess that for all my admiration of Superman as a character I haven't actually read much of his comics of late. Oh I'd read trade paperbacks starring Superman, such as SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT, SUPERMAN: RED SON, or JSA: THE LIBERTY FILE (all of which will be getting reviews in the coming months), but his actual ongoing titles I hadn't followed with any degree of regularity since about the period of the Reign of the Supermen back in the '90s. It wasn't for any one reason, though if pressed I could argue that I felt that in the period since his death and return Superman's books had been in something of a holding pattern. Sure, there was the illusion of change; his marriage to Lois Lane, the whole 'energy being/electric-blue/man of teal' arc, the various crossovers and annuals assuring me that things would never ever be the same again, but it struck me that the greatest chances being taken with the character and his portrayal were oftentimes the ones outside DC Comics canon.

Still, the fact remains that as a Superman fan I wasn't reading Superman comics. Mentioning this fact to a friend I was taken to task on this and questioned about it. How could I be a fan of the character if I didn't follow his books? A bit irked by the notion, I made sure that the first chance I got I would purchase one of the Man of Steel's titles and read it for that simplest and purest of motives: irritated spite. While on my trip to Seattle I stopped by a local comicbook store and immediately grabbed the first Superman comic I could find, a copy of SUPERMAN #686. In retrospect, the lead character's lack of presence on the cover and the World Without legend above the eponymous title and beside the S-shield, as well as the Featuring Mon-El and the Guardian should have been the tip-off, but I was too eager to be righteous to care. I plunked down the $2.99 and made a note to read the book immediately. This was going to be great, my first Superman book in years!

And of course, he wasn't in it.

So eager had I been to reclaim my title as Superfan (get it? Heh. . .okay, we'll never do that again) that I'd walked blindly into the midst of the World of Krypton arc. There are others more qualified to explain the ins and outs of that storyline, but the basic gist is that a colony of lost Kryptonians have established themselves on an artificially constructed planet within Earth's solar system. Superman has gone to New Krypton to ensure the people of his birth world stay out of trouble, but he left the planet (and the city of Metropolis) in the hands of some friends of his; the aforementioned Mon-El and the Guardian.

The Guardian is a bit easier to explain, so we'll start with him. He's a clone of a hero from the golden age named Jim Harper, a top-level athlete and old-school crimebuster who rocks a blue and gold uniform and carries a shield, now upgraded for the 21st century with the ability to fly (think a souped-up version of the hoverboards from Back to the Future Part II and you're in the ballpark). Harper's been tapped by the city of Metropolis to head it's superhuman law-enforcement division, known to most as the Science Police. He's the seasoned pro of the book's new status quo.

Mon-El is a bit trickier. I make a vow every time I do these reviews not to allow the dreaded 'c-word' (continuity!) to rear its ugly head in my pieces, but it's damned hard not to talk about. . .that stuff. . .when dealing with Mon-El. The basic story is this: space explorer Lar Gand hails from the world of Daxam, a world that is amazingly like Krypton(so much so that its been theorized that one is a colony of the other), so much so that Daxamites on Earth gain powers that are identical to that of Kryptonians(flying, super-strength, invulnerability, laser vision, the super-senses suite, etc). The only hitch is that instead of the usual Achilles heel of Kryptonite, Daxamites find the lead in our environment to be a deadly poison. So while they can juggle tanks, a Daxam native can't deal with a #2 pencil(always good to keep one handy, just in case of maurading Daxamites). Gand crash-lands on Earth, and the lead exposure gives him partial amnesia. He meets a young Clark Kent who initially theorizes that Lar must be a survivor of Krypton too. Selecting the day and his Kryptonian house, Clark names his long-lost 'brother' Mon-El. Gradually the lead poisoning worsens though, and the truth is uncovered. To save Mon's life, Clark uses his father's Phantom Zone projector to send the dying astronaut into the otherdimensional void of the zone to keep him from dying. Which is kind of like pushing someone off a cliff to keep them from burning to death, but hey, comicbook logic. Within the zone, Mon/Lar drifts for years, unable to do anything but watch the world go by as an intangible, inaudible, and invisible wraith. Through circumstances much too convoluted to get into here, he is released from the Zone with a cure for the lead poisoning. He's the young hero with a lot to prove in the book's new status quo.

Essentially the book is a depiction of Mon-El's first day on the job as Metropolis's new protector, with Guardian acting as his mentor and guide to a world he's only really experienced secondhand through the Zone. We also get bits of flashbacks as Superman prepares to leave Earth for New Krypton, giving everyone a chance to get ready for things once he's left. By book's end, we've established Mon-El as the new hero of Metropolis in a brawl with the supervillain Rampage, and Mon's civilian identity of Jonathan Kent as the newest member of the Science Police. A new character, Billi Harper (descendant of the original Jim Harper/Guardian I) is a potential love interest for Mon/Lar/Jon (oof), and John Henry Irons (aka Steel) acts as a link to the book's eponymous hero, acting as the voice of the Man of Tomorrow in his absence. It's basically the pilot for a new series-within-a-series.

Let's start with what I liked and then we'll segue into the stuff that irked. The art is really, really good here. Guedes has a style that is at once pseudo-realistic without taking me out of the four-color fantasy world that is a superhero comic. His depictions of Mon-El flying are really striking and he gets the look of all the main characters down pat. His style blends the kind of 'NYPD Blue Meets Justice League Unlimited' theme they seem to be shooting for in this book and I dig where it's coming from.

The initial premise kind of threw me, but after reading this first issue I have to say I'd like to see more of where this is going. The idea of heroes working to keep Metropolis safe while Superman is away dealing with the latest crisis du jour is an intriguing one, and I like the idea that in his absence it takes at least three heroes and an army of power-armor wearing cops to do what Superman does in basically an afternoon. Mon-El is a breath of fresh air in that he is a Superman archetype that doesn't have any heroic experience and needs a support base to help him. Guardian is kind of the Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon character; wondering if he's past it but he's still got a job to do and he'll be damned if he doesn't do it to the best of his ability. Jimmy Olsen will act as Mon-El's link to the world at large, pointing him toward more global crisis using the resources of the Daily Planet, while John Henry Irons will provide the kind of superhero mentoring for the 21st century that Guardian can't. It's an interesting setup with a lot of different ways to go. I'm almost sorry this'll all be swept away when Superman returns.

The use of Superman in the issue as kind of a nebulous figure, letting everyone know his game plan, what to expect from Mon-El, what to expect from his absence, was a nice touch too. The fact that we never really get a full-on look at Superman in the book is a neat little tease as well. Basically, if you want to see Superman, you need to pick up a copy of WORLD OF KRYPTON #1. He isn't going to be here anymore, this book belongs to Mon-El and the Guardian now.

So yes, very strong first outing. Now on to the things that rankle a bit:

The dialogue. Oh lordy. James Robinson is one of my all-time favorite comics writers; his work on STARMAN alone warrants its own lengthy diatribe(and will get one, I promise. Just have to finish the next More on Moore bit and we'll tuck into it), but for the love of God what the hell happened? Robinson's prose always leaned a bit toward the florid, but lately it's just gotten annoying. Take this bit of Superman dialogue I lift verbatim from a dialogue between Superman and Steel:

'I know you've not worn the armor as much of late. . .'

That's the line. Now can you see Tim Daly, George Newburn, or Christopher Reeve's voice reciting that piece of stilted verbiage? Not really. Ian McKellen maybe.

It's just so clunky. There are some easy fixes for this:

'I know you haven't been wearing the armor lately.' (see?)


'I know you haven't been wearing your armor as much.' (it can be done)

Or even

'You haven't been wearing your armor much lately, I know.' (clumsy, but still)

Seriously DC, I will edit Robinson's dialogue for free. Contact information available upon request. A mere page later when talking to Jimmy Olson Superman sounds relatively normal, but the inconsistency is jarring nonetheless.

Another little thing, and it is a tiny nitpick at best, is the use of Rampage. Dr. Karen 'Kitty' Faulkner was an employee of S.T.A.R. Labs who--in the grand comicbook science tradition--got exposed to some eldritch energies and was transformed into a mohawked, musclebound marauder. She was recently featured in a couple episodes of Justice League Unlimited as a baddie, but for the most part she's been depicted as a woman who, while initially going loony, had her transformations and 'hulked-out' persona under control a la one Jennifer Walters. So why is she depicted as a supervillain? This may bring up the c-word (continuity!), but did I miss something? Either Robinson didn't do his research or they just threw her in to be 'random muscle mass for Mon-El to fight'. It struck me as lazy writing.

Still, these are minor quibbles at best. On the whole the book was enjoyable, and promises to lead into an entertaining storyline that I'm interested in following over the long haul.

Rating: 4/5

Until next time,


Monday, May 11, 2009

The Monday Funk:

Remind me again, what was everybody doing?

Oh yeah. . .


Ps. Kung-Fu Panda is made of equal parts joy and win. If you haven't seen it yet, I reccomend it highly.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

On Star Trek.

Star Trek fandom has become the lazy man's punchline, the ultimate identifying characteristic of being a nerd. While I'll admit the more hardcore Trekkies don't make it easy for the rest of us I have a deep and abiding affection for Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future, one that will never fully leave me. It's been as much a part of the backdrop of my life as Star Wars, comics, and the works of Jim Henson. The optimistic message of Trek shapes my worldview, no matter how jaded and bitter the desert of the real may make me at times.

Star Trek is the last gasp of the notion of a utopian future in contemporary science fiction, at least in my experience. For the most part science fiction has settled into the notion that the future will be either

A) Very much like the present with some differences


B) A dystopian nightmare from your bleakest imaginings.

Most SF falls between either of those two poles with very little deviation. Created as it was in the early 1960s, Star Trek embodies all the hopes America had in the post-war boom; that their might would solely be used for right, that their United States (Federation) would be an inclusive, idyllic paradise where people would be judged by who they were and what they could contribute rather than on things like race or class. It was a world where--miracle of miracles-- we didn't blow ourselves up in a pointless struggle for land or resources and instead united as a common humanity and took our place among the stars. It wrapped these hopes and ideals in an (admittedly) clunky space opera wrapper, but scratch the surface of Klingons, tribbles, and the stilted cadences of William Shatner and you'll find something there that far outstrips the phasers beams and warp factors.

Star Trek--at its core--is about friendship and the family you make of your friends. That simple and profound truth is the emotional core that I think has allowed the franchise to endure for over forty years. The adventures of the intrepid crew of the Starship Enterprise have run the gamut from the epic( Star Trek II, Star Trek VI) to the silly (The original series' masterpieces that were 'Shore Leave' or 'Spock's Brain') but beneath all of the done to death quotes and the endless reams of paper, the hours of fanboy discussion dissecting the minutiae of each episode or film is the simple truth that the Enterprise crew are a family of friends bound together by an intense loyalty and devotion. No where is this more profoundly illustrated than in Wrath of Khan as Spock sacrifices himself for the good of the ship and his crew, or in The Search for Spock when Kirk sacrifices everything he's ever held dear on the chance that he can save his friend. I think a lot of Star Trek fans live vicariously through that bond, imagining that the day will come when we have friends who--upon hearing we're in any kind of need--drop everything and come running. That we can stand shoulder to shoulder with good company and be counted one of them. It's a pleasure I know I indulged in for a long time before coming to know the people I do in my life.

All things change, given time, and Trek was no exception. The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise. . .the concept has morphed and changed and grown over the years. In some cases the original premise was expanded upon (TNG), while in others it was challenged (DS9). . .though for the most part the concept seemed to have run its course and begun to feed off of itself in a weird kind of holding pattern (Voyager, Enterprise). Star Trek: Nemesis seemed to be the final nail in the franchise's cinematic coffin and I found myself to be largely okay with that. Nothing lasts forever, and if Star Trek had had its run I was content with all the cool that had been given admidst the dross.

When word came down the pipeline that J.J. Abrams was planning to do a prequel to the original series, my reaction was conservative at best. I hate to think of myself as falling into the trap of being an old fan that don' cotton t'nun'a that fancy new stuff, but I admit I didn't have much faith that it'd be any good. So when chance (and a good friend) put tickets to an advanced screening of the new film in my hot little hand, my reaction was hopeful but braced for the worst. With an underlying mantra of 'pleasedontsuckpleasedontsuckpleasedontsuck' spinning in my brain, Ryan and I saw it bright and early Saturday morning.

I won't spoil it, save to say that this film charmed the hell out of me and even impressed Ryan, a non-fan of Trek if ever there was one. This is a Star Trek film to drive the point home of why this franchise is fantastic, and it's a film I can't wait to see with my pals. It'll be a great get together with old friends and new. See you at the movies.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hero Tune-Up: Aquaman.

He talks to fish.

That's the first thing that comes to mind when you consider one Arthur Curry, also known by his heroic moniker of Aquaman. He can swim, and he can talk to sea animals. How in the name of holy hell do you build an impressive superhero out of that?

This isn't to say it can't be done. Writer Peter David is most famous for his seminal run with the character, taking what was essentially a D-lister mainly around to fill out the ranks of the Justice League and making essentially a flying (or rather, swimming) Conan archetype; bearded, long-haired, scowling and with a mean-looking hook for a hand he was about as against the traditional archetype best known from the Super Friends cartoon as you can get. It was so good, David was removed from the book and replaced with Erik Larsen, who then proceeded to drive Aquaman's book into a downward spiral from which the character has never recovered. The character is best known as the archetypal, smiling blond-haired hero in the orange shirt, green gloves and pants with that 'A' on his belt who'd be seen riding giant seahorses with his trusty sidekick Aqualad. It's a fond enough memory, but that very nostalgia has proven to be poison to the character. They've even tried to reboot the franchise with a 'new' Aquaman in the form of Arthur Joseph Curry, a clone of Aquaman's son whose adventures were chronicled by Kurt Busiek. While an admirable attempt, the book sufferred from one of the fatal illnesses of all superhero books; the more complex the origin, the greater the difficulty in winning over new readers.

Okay, I started off a bit strong on the continuity and people who don't make a habit of memorizing the DC Encyclopedia or back issues of Who's Who are likely looking at the screen in utter befuddlement. Let me spin the backstory of Aquaman for you quick. Take it away Wikipedia:

'The Modern Age Aquaman is born as Orin to Queen Atlanna and the mysterious wizard Atlan in the Atlantean city of Poseidonis, was abandoned on Mercy Reef (which is above sea level at low tide, causing exposure to air which would be fatal to Atlanteans) as a baby because of his blond hair, which was seen by the superstitious Atlanteans as a sign of a curse they called "the Mark of Kordax." The only individual who spoke up on Orin's behalf was Vulko, a scientist who had no patience for myth or superstition. While his pleas were to no avail, Vulko would later become a close friend and advisor to the young Orin.

As a feral child who raised himself in the wilds of the ocean with only sea creatures to keep him company, Orin was found and taken in by a lighthouse keeper named Arthur Curry who named Orin "Arthur Curry" after himself. One day Orin returned home and found that his adoptive father had disappeared, so he set off on his own. In his early teens, Orin ventured to the far north, where he met and fell in love with an Inupiat girl named Kako. He also first earned the hatred of Orm, the future Ocean Master who was later revealed to be Arthur's half-brother by Atlan and an Inupiat woman. Orin was driven away before he could learn that Kako had become pregnant with his son, Koryak.

Orin then returned to the seas mostly staying out of humanity's sight, until he discovered Poseidonis. He was captured by the city's then-dictatorial government and placed in a prison camp, where he met Vulko, also a prisoner of the state, who taught Orin the language and ways of the Atlanteans. While Orin was there he realized that his mother was also being held captive, but after her death he broke out and fled. Eventually, he made his way to the surface world, where under the name of "Aquaman" he became one of several superheroes emerging into the public view at the time.'

I'll be honest with you and say that I've been dragging my heels on this article, mainly because the above impression of the character had colored my thinking. Let's face it: Aquaman is a terrible idea for a superhero, at least looking from the outside in. Two-thirds of his adventures place him in an environment that makes it difficult for writers to create traditional superhero adventures. The last I checked, Atlantis/Poseidonis didn't have a First National Bank or Art Museum to serve as the stage for the Penguin's latest caper. And standing shoulder to shoulder with the Justice League? I'm sorry, but to someone completely new to comics it has to look ridiculous. I mean, Aquaman makes the Atom look cool. At least you can see him get smaller. Aquaman's strong, sure, he's durable, but he doesn't fly or shoot energy bolts or really do anything visually striking that'd make him stand out in the League if they're fighting anywhere that water isn't. As much affection as we may have for him, Aquaman is a terrible superhero.

I went through a couple cans of Red Bull mulling this over, trying my best to find some way I could make the character work in the contemporary DCU. And despite all my considerable fanboy powers and abilities, I found myself completely and utterly stymied. I was about ready to throw in the towel, pacing around my room, when my eyes lighted on my bookshelf and I caught sight of a familiar title. The Once and Future King by T.H. White. And like a bolt from Zeus, it hit me.

The reason Aquaman doesn't work as a superhero is because he isn't one.

Orin, King of Atlantis, is a hero of epic fantasy. He's a warrior-ruler of the old school, who possesses amazing strength, the ability to withstand the crushing depths of the ocean, and to swim its depths in a manner that resembles flight. He rules a people who have lived at the bottom of the ocean since time immemorial, and he rules with a benign and just hand. With his contemporary origin he's a mix of Tarzan and Conan, with just a bit of Arthurian lore for seasoning. He's Gilgamesh with actual gills! A warrior king who can fly(okay, swim, but the visual is apt), has super-strength, and can command the creatures of his realm to carry out his will. That's a pretty impressive resume.

With this in mind, the stories practically write themselves. Need an enemy to fight? Eldritch evil from the depths, water breathing serpent men from Lemuria, discovered and led by his evil half-brother Orm, aka the Ocean Master. The traditional sea-serpent is also good, plus mad sorcerors seeking to return Poseidonis to the old days of the Wizard Lords. You can throw in the odd appearance by villains like Black Manta to appease the fights in tights crowd, but with Aquaman you have the chance to tell some a different kind of heroic narrative, one more in keeping with Sword and Sorcery than the traditional Mutants and Masterminds.

Of course, the problem with a completely alien society like Poseidonis is that we don't really have anyone that acts as our touchstone, someone from the world of the more or less plausible that helps ground the hero and make his adventures somewhat more approachable. I touched on a similar problem back in my Martian Manhunter piece; you need a companion who has a viewpoint similar to ours. Perhaps S.T.A.R. Labs has successfully petitioned to have an undersea installation installed, and Arthur acts (begrudgingly) as a liason between his people and the surface dwellers? Or, taking something they tried from another run of Aquaman, say the latest crisis du jour has created a batch of former surface humans who can only survive underwater, the population of an average size coastal city. With nowhere else to go Superman suggests to Arthur that he take them in, at least until such time as the League can find a cure. Seemingly an easy enough situation, but rife with storytelling potential. How do these contemporary Americans feel about suddenly going from a democracy to a monarchy, from living within a high-tech society to a neo-medieval one? To say nothing of the normal perils of the ocean, where live a wide variety of creatures you want to watch out for and respect. And this is to say nothing of the citizens of Poseidonis, who view the 'newcomers' with everything from genuine curiosity to superior disdain to just flat-out hatred, imploring their king to exile the 'barbarians', or at the very least segregate them. So with a new viewpoint character (say a journalist who'd written a particularly scathing piece on how useless Aquaman was) in tow, Aquaman brings these people to a world they've never seen before, showing them both the majesty of the ocean depths and its fragile beauty, threatened by human and inhuman deviltry alike.

With just a few tweaks to the premise, a book that's always struggled to define itself against what it isn't could celebrate and embrace what it is; a sprawling epic adventure of flashing blades, 'flying' heroes, and ancient evil. It'd be Robert E. Howard meets Jacques Cousteau, and it would firmly establish Aquaman as anything but a smiling milquetoast. Riding a giant seahorse? Lame. Riding a giant seahorse while wielding a flashing sword, decapitating sharkmen cultists with a fierce she-devil swimmer fighting at your side? Badass.

Which is no less than the Sea King deserves.