Friday, September 25, 2020

Star Trek: The Bonding

Episode: "The Bonding"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 5
Original Air Date: October 23, 1989

The Bonding (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha

Worf leads an away team to investigate a planet once inhabited by Koinonians.  A long abandoned explosive detonates and Marla Aster, a member of the team, is killed.  Picard must break the news to her now orphaned son Jeremy.  Worf wishes to reach out to the boy and invite him to join in the R'uustai, a Klingon bonding ritual.  To complicate matters, an alien entity has appeared aboard the Enterprise in the form of Jeremy's mother.

As previously stated, I am not a fan of Trek stories about children.  It's the one theme they handle more clumsily than time travel.  On the other hand, I love Worf stories.  This is not the last time these two opinions will come into direct conflict in the same episode.  That said, I admire the confrontation with grief.  It's a good episode for Worf, for Troi, for Dr. Crusher, for Picard and, most interestingly, for Wesley.  Obviously, Marla Aster's death brings up memories of his father's death in similar circumstances.  The more the writers got away from the wunderkind story line and the more they allowed him to be a real person, the better his character worked.  "The Bonding" is a good example.


Acting Notes

Susan Powell | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha


Susan Gay Powell (Marla Aster) was born July 12, 1947 in Pitt County, North Carolina.  She has had a long career in television including appearances on The Six Million Dollar Man, B.J. and the Bear and T.J. Hooker, starring William Shatner.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Squid Mixes: Bolero


A Bolero combines light rum, Calvados, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters over ice.  I got my recipe from the New York Bartender's Guide.  I preferred it to last week's drink, though it still wasn't as appley as I wanted it to be.

Calvados ain't cheap.  If I'm putting it in a drink, I want to taste it.  I wondered if balance was the issue.  Maybe less rum and more Calvados?  Or maybe I should try the Calvados on its own.  So I did.

In truth, it's really not so appley, at least not what I would have expected.  Maybe Normandy apples taste different from their North American counterparts - likely, I suppose.  It mostly tastes like a brandy in that the sugar predominates.  It might be interesting to try it side by side with Cognac to note the differences.

As long as we're on the subject of Bolero, you really should watch the following if you haven't yet.  Julliard students, faculty and alumni collaborated for an amazing, socially-distanced performance of Ravel's masterpiece:




Vermouth Battles: Boissiere vs. Cinzano

Cinzano is an Italian product, originally produced in Turin dating back to 1757.  It was the favored vermouth of the famed lothario Casanova.  Today, Cinzano is owned by Gruppo Campari, based in Milan.  In our final battle, the old war horse takes on our reigning champion, Boissiere.


We both preferred the Boissiere in the Manhattan test.  In my opinion, it interfered less with the other ingredients.  That said, the Cinzano was quite pleasant, providing a fuller mouth-feel.  More sugar, perhaps?  I'm not sad to have a bottle around for a while.

Winner and Champion: Boissiere

Next up: Bitters Battles

Monday, September 21, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Uncanny X-Men #128-131 and Iron Man #120

This is my last week with the X-Men for a while.  Assuming I stick with the Comic Book Herald reading list - and there's no reason to suspect I won't - I will be back and will in fact pick up exactly where I'm leaving off now.  However, it's time to visit a few other series, starting with Iron Man.

The Claremont X-Men run is every bit as good as advertised.   As Marvel teams go, I have always preferred the X-Men to the Avengers (though I will concede the Avengers movies are better).  And yet, when I jumped on to the X-Men train in #94, I experienced the same frustrations I had with Avengers #89-97: too many characters, too many fight scenes, just too much.  Give me a simple narrative with a small group of relatable characters.  That is the heart of every truly great story ever, no matter how elaborate the trappings and good luck trying to convince me otherwise.  There was so much going on with the Avengers that I barely cared about the outcomes and I worried the X-Men would be the same way.

Chris Claremont settled things down when he became head writer for the series.  Even following a character cast overhaul, the X-Men were a family again.  Stories became simpler and thus more engaging.  Plus, Claremont was committed to developing the female characters.  By #131, Jean Gray is the most powerful and enigmatic team member and Ororo isn't far behind.  In short, I've grown to care about the X-Men - first time I've felt that way since Spidey.


My Recent Reads

Uncanny X-Men #128
Originally Published December 10, 1979
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Byrne
  • When we left off last week, Proteus, now in the form of his just slain father, Joe MacTaggert, now holds Moira as a human shield in a stand off with the X-Men, seemingly intent on doing her harm as well.
  • At last, the X-Men defeat Proteus.  Colossus delivers the killing blow.

 

Uncanny X-Men #129
January 10, 1980 
Claremont/Byrne
  • Major personnel development: Banshee leaves the X-Men, preferring to stay with Moira at Muir Island.
  • Upon returning to Westchester, the X-Men are delighted to find that Charles is back as well.
  • Scott and Charles have words over their differing leadership styles.  It's interesting to see that relationship evolving.
  • With principal characters leaving the story, obviously we need to add some new ones.  Cerebro (the mutant tracking system) identifies two new mutants, one in Chicago, another in New York.  Are they potential recruits or potential threats?  Obviously, the X-Men need to find out.  They divide forces.  Charles, Storm, Wolverine and Colossus head to Chicago, Cyclops, Phoenix and Nightcrawler to NYC.
Kitty Pryde - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • We meet Kitty Pryde, a 13-year-old girl who has been experiencing strange headaches but doesn't yet know they're related to mutant powers.  Charles and company arrive at her parents' home to recruit her to the School for Gifted Youngsters.  But there's competition...
Emma Frost | X-Men Wiki | Fandom
via X-Men Wiki
  • A Ms. Emma Frost is trying to recruit Kitty to her own Massachusetts Academy.  Unbeknownst to the others, Emma Frost is also the White Queen, a leader of the Hellfire Club.
  • When the X-Men take Kitty out to the malt shop, they are attacked and captured by Frost's Hellfire Knights.  
  • Kitty escapes and in so doing, discovers her powers: walking through walls.

 

Uncanny X-Men #130
February 10, 1980
Claremont/Byrne
  • Meanwhile, Cyclops, Phoenix and Nightcrawler head to a Manhattan disco but can't find their mutant target.
Sebastian Shaw (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • The interest of the Hellfire Club has been drawn here as well.  We meet the group's leader, Sebastian Shaw.  Where there is a White Queen, apparently there must also be a Black King.
  • Here our old friend Jason Wyngarde is drawn into the story.  He is also a member of the Hellfire Club.  He promises Sebastian that he will take care of Jean Gray himself.
  • For several issues now, Wyngarde has been causing Jean to fall into a timeslip where she finds herself in a late 18th century-scape, also with Wyngarde.  He does it again.  This time, the alternate time Jean and Jason get married.  When she comes out of it, they are kissing in the disco.  Scott sees them.  Oh dear...
Alison Blaire (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • As it turns out, the target is the club's singer: Dazzler (aka Alison Blaire).  Her powers allow her to do funky things with light.
  • Kitty Pryde calls the X-Men car phone for help with the Chicago situation.  Nightcrawler answers and promises aid, though he has more pressing matters to attend to.
  • The Hellfire Knights attack the disco.  Fortunately our friends, including Dazzler, get away.

 

Uncanny X-Men #131
March 10, 1980
Claremont/Byrne
  • Cyclops, Phoenix, Nightcrawler and Dazzler arrive in Chicago just in time to rescue Kitty from Hellfire Club minions.
  • The New York group now rescues the Chicago group, who had been captured by the Hellfire Club.
  • We meet two other Hellfire Club members:
Harry Leland - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
    • Harry Leland (aka Black Bishop)
Donald Pierce - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
    • Donald Pierce
  • Phoenix defeats White Queen in psychic battle.
  • The Dazzler declines to join the X-Men, preferring to get back to her singing career.
  • Kitty, on the other hand, eagerly agrees to attend the School for Gifted Youngsters.   With some brainwashing help from Phoenix, Kitty's parents consent.

 

Iron Man #120
March 10, 1979
Writer: David Michelline
Artist: John Romita, Jr. 
Iron Man - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Iron Man #120 kicks off the Demon in a Bottle arc in which Tony Stark, along with all his usual superhero business, confronts his alcoholism.
  • As we join the story, Stark is riding in an airplane and ordering his fourth martini.  The plane is suddenly hit by a flying tank.  Stark rushes to the bathroom, changes into his Iron Man suit and saves the day, bringing the plane into a relatively safe water landing.
  • The tank was thrown by our old friend Namor.  Iron Man and Namor battle, first on land, then underwater.
War Machine - Wikipedia
War Machine via Wikipedia
Bethany Cabe (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Cabe via Marvel Database
  • Meanwhile, back on Long Island, word of the plane crash gets to Jim Rhodes (aka War Machine) and Bethany Cabe.  They rush to the airfield to help.
Justin Hammer (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Also meanwhile, we meet Justin Hammer who can apparently, from his remote location, control Iron Man's armor.  As the issue comes to a close, Iron Man's sealing plates have failed and water rushes into his armor, threatening to drown him.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Star Trek: Who Watches the Watchers

Title: "Who Watches the Watchers"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 16, 1989
Who Watches The Watchers (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
As our story begins, the Enterprise is headed to Mintaka III to resupply an anthropological outpost.  Before our friends arrive, an accident causes the outpost's camouflage to fail.  Unfortunately, two of the pre-Warp Mintakans see the outpost and complications snowball quickly.

"Who Watches the Watchers" is TNG's first great Prime Directive story.   For casual viewers, the Federation's Prime Directive (PD) forbids interference with other cultures and it is particularly strict regarding cultures who do not yet have contact with interstellar life.  Up to this point in the franchise, the PD is generally no sooner mentioned than broken, leaving one to wonder if anyone really takes it that seriously.  The approach here is different.  The PD is violated early - albeit by accident - and the rest of the story is devoted to damage control.

When one of the Mintakans witnesses "miracles" in sickbay and observes the reverence others show the captain, he concludes that Picard must be a god.  As a result of the misunderstanding, the primitive, though logical and scientific, society slips into superstition.  Picard's challenge is convincing them of the limits of his superior technology.  He succeeds, though it's easy enough to imagine the setbacks for the Mintakans if he hadn't.


Acting Notes
Kathryn Leigh Scott (Nuria, a leader of the Mintakan community) was born Marlene Kringstad, January 26, 1943 in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.  At age 19, she moved to New York to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  She also found work as a Playboy Bunny.

After graduating, she landed a job with the soap opera Dark Shadows, the series with which she is most closely identified.  Over the four year run of the show, she played four different roles.  She has lived an interesting and varied life since.  Apart from acting, she launched a publishing company in 1985: Pomegranate Press, Ltd.  She has also written several books, some non-fiction - mostly about her career, including a history of the Playboy Bunnies - but also three novels, including a horror and two mysteries.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Squid Mixes: Apple Daiquiri


An apple daiquiri combines light rum, Calvados, lemon juice and sugar syrup with an apple slice garnish.  I got my recipe from the New York Bartender's Guide.  The result was nice, though I thought it could have been more appley and my wife would have preferred less lemon.  She did say it might be nice with nutmeg and/or cinnamon - like apple pie perhaps?

Calvados is an apple or pear brandy from Normandy.  The brand I used, Boulard, is apple-based.  David Lebovitz uses it a lot in his Drinking French recipes so I picked up a bottle.  At the store, I learned I've been pronouncing the word incorrectly.  I'd always assumed the second syllable was emphasized, as in Spanish.  But no!  The first syllable carries the emphasis and the second A is a schwa.  It's Calva for short.  That's easier to remember.


Bitters of the Month: Cherry

After we settle on a favorite vermouth (we're close), we'll play with bitters in our quest for the perfect Manhattan.  The standard choice is Angostura, though both orange and Peychaud's are acceptable alternatives.  Anything beyond those would be venturing into house-tailored cocktail territory.  As such, trying out cherry bitters in this context is getting a little ahead of the game for me but I needed a reasonable test of the bitters anyway.

My concern, after tasting the cherry bitters with gin alone, was that while there was certainly cherry flavor exhibited, it might not hold up so well with stronger ingredients.  Whiskey is a nice base liquor for such a test.  It always holds its own, yet it also leaves room for the other players to express themselves.  In this case, I have to say there really wasn't much cherry flavor.  The aroma was there but the taste itself too subtle.

My wife suggested that the bitters might help to enhance the flavors of other cherry-based ingredients - perhaps worth exploring someday.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Uncanny X-Men #123-127

Artist John Byrne was born July 6, 1950 in Walsall, Staffordshire, England.  His family emigrated to Canada when he was eight years old.  He enrolled at the Alberta College of Art and Design but dropped out before graduating.
John Byrne (comics) - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
In addition to X-Men, Byrne made significant contributions to Fantastic Four and, later, Superman for DC and Star Trek for IDW.  He has a couple of important creator-owned titles to his name as well, including Next Men (previously featured quite a long time ago here) and Danger Unlimited.

Without a doubt, Byrne is the most sophisticated artist I've seen in this exploration since Jack Kirby.  However, as strong as the work is, Byrne does not have the most stellar reputation as an easy person to work with and has not been shy about throwing fellow creators under the bus publicly.  His reputation has even earned him lampoons within the medium.  Both Booster Cogburn in Destroyer Duck and Johnny Redbeard in Savage Dragon are based on Byrne.

Both Byrne and Chris Claremont were inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2015.


My Recent Reads

Uncanny X-Men #123
Originally Published July 1, 1979
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Byrne
  • Spider-Man makes a cameo, running into Scott and Colleen on the streets of New York, just moments before the couple are captured by Arcade.
  • Arcade throws the X-Men into a pinball machine of horrors called Murderworld, challenging them to find their way out before it kills them.
  • Colossus is brainwashed by a KGB agent and becomes the Proletarian.


Uncanny X-Men #124
August 1, 1979
Claremont/Byrne
  • We get the backstory on Arcade.
Hulk - Wikipedia
Hulk via Wikipedia
  • Among the challenges Arcade sets for the X-Men are Magneto and Hulk in robotic form.
  • The X-Men fight their way out of Murderworld but Arcade escapes.  Colossus reverts back to normal. 


Uncanny X-Men #125
September 10, 1979
Claremont/Byrne
  • This is mostly a development issue rather than having a self-contained story of its own, sort of like a Thursday episode of a television soap opera.  But then, we get a touch of Friday cliffhanger at the very end.  The develoments:
    • Moira is testing out Jean on Muir Island and theorizing about her Phoenix powers.  They are observed from the shadows by an unknown foe.
    • Light years away, Charles is also starting to worry about Jean and, also bored by not being allowed to do much while among the Shi'ar, makes a plan to go home.
    • We learn Jason Wyngarde has been using his own psychic powers to mess with Jean emotionally.
    • Moira discovers Mutant X has escaped!  All on Muir Island are in great peril.
    • The Beast returns to the Westchester mansion and reveals to the X-Men that he and Jean survived the encounter with Magneto in Antarctica!
    • Scott calls Muir Island.  Lorna answers the phone and tells Scott of the security situation with Mutant X.  The last thing he hears is her scream.


Uncanny X-Men #126
October 10, 1979
Claremont/Byrne
  • The X-Men are finally re-united at Muir Island after over a year (in publication time) of separation.
Proteus (Marvel Comics) - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Mutant X, also known as Proteus, has escaped.  Moira explains his powers: he possesses bodies to use as a host, killing them once he leaves.  When his victim is a mutant, he absorbs his/her abilities.  Moira drops one more bombshell: Mutant X is her son, Keven MacTaggart.  The X-Men split up to find him, expecting he'll head to a city where he can find a large number of hosts.
  • Wolverine is the first to catch up with Mutant X, who is thwarted by the Adamantium in Wolverine's body.  Metal is his one weakness.  
  • Nightcrawler joins the fight, causing Mutant X to use his reality altering powers.  Strom enters, too, though Mutant X still gains the advantage.
  • To be continued.

Uncanny X-Men #127
November 10, 1979
Claremont/Byrne
  • Moira scares Mutant X away from the fight above, shooting at him with metal bullets.
  • Mutant X escapes and possesses two more bodies on his way to Edinburgh.  Moira suspects, correctly, that he is heading there to confront his father, Joseph.
  • Moira makes it to Joseph first and warns him.  Joe, her long-separated yet still possessive husband, is a royal prick.  So we the readers are not exactly disappointed when...
  • Proteus hunts down his father and kills him.
  • On the down side, he possesses his father's body and now goes after Moira.
  • The X-Men finally catch up with Proteus who takes Moira as his hostage, initiating a stand off.
  • To be continued.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Star Trek: The Survivors

Episode: "The Survivors"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 9, 1989
The Survivors (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
The Enterprise responds to a distress call too late.  The entire planet of Delta Rana IV has been completely devestated - all life gone.  However, one tiny square of green land survived with one house and one elderly couple still living inside: Kevin and Rishon Uxbridge.  Our friends seek to unravel the mystery of why these two were allowed to survive.

"The Survivors" is a good episode, one of the best of the entire run, in fact.  I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't watched it but it is deeply satisfying.  One's reaction is equal parts sympathy and horror - the sort of delicate balance only people like Jean-Luc Picard are able to navigate with delicacy.  It's a Deanna Troi story as much as it's anyone's and a strong one at that.  She is tortured by Kevin's chosen mechanism of shielding the truth from her empathic capacities.

I'm happy to discuss the ending in the comments with anyone who cares to do so.


Food Notes

This is a pretty serious story but there are moments of levity, like this little gem from Worf:



Acting Notes

John Anderson (Kevin) was born October 20, 1922 in Clayton, Illinois.  He served in the Coast Guard during World War II.  He went to the University of Iowa for graduate school, earning a degree in drama.
John Anderson (actor) - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
Anderson was a well-regarded character actor for four decades, meaning he scored numerous guest appearances on television but not many principal roles.  He bore a resemblance to Abraham Lincoln, a part he played three different times.  Among many others, he made multiple appearances on Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone and MacGyver.  His most notable big screen role was as California Charlie, a used car salesman, in Psycho.

Anderson died of a heart attack, August 7, 1992.