Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Squid Mixes: Crusta

A crusta combines Cognac, triple sec, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and bitters - peach in our case.  Some sugar the rim, though I did not.  I got my recipe from Cocktail Party.  The crusta is one of the oldest cocktail templates: the earliest sour and an ancestor to the sidecar, one of our house favorites.

The flavor is wonderfully layered.  The cherry hit me first but it was the peach for my wife.  I accidentally used too much lemon juice - noticeable but it certainly didn't ruin the drink.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

On the Coffee Table: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Author: J.K. Rowling
via Amazon

It's Harry Potter's 5th year at Hogwarts.  Lord Voldemort is on the rise.  Harry dueled him at the end of last school year and lived to tell the tale.  His friend Cedric Diggory wasn't so lucky.  Unfortunately, apart from Dumbledore and a few loyal friends, no one believes Harry.  In fact, the Ministry of Magic is actively working to discredit both Harry and Dumbledore.  Meanwhile, Harry's having horrible dreams, from Voldemort's perspective.

Worst of all, it is the year of Dolores Umbridge.  She is the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and also the Ministry-appointed High Inquisitor at Hogwarts.  She's an authoritarian nightmare.  A student of mine is also reading the series and she reports that everyone in her fandom chat group hates Umbridge more than Voldemort.  In the years since the first time I read the book, I've worked for people like Dolores Umbridge.  It isn't fun.

Important developments in Year 5:
  • Order of the Phoenix brings Harry deeper into the adult wizarding world.  Over the summer he learns, while staying with Sirius, of the Order, the underground group of Dumbledore's supporters.  His parents were members of the original group.  The new band includes the Weasleys, Sirius, Lupin, Moody, Hagrid, Snape, McGonagall and a few new faces, including Kingsley Shacklebolt and Nymphadora Tonks.  
  • Luna Lovegood, a delightfully loopy Ravenclaw student, is introduced.
  • Ron has a couple of unexpected glory moments: becoming a prefect and, eventually, a reasonably capable keeper for the Gryffindor quidditch team.  Being happy for his friend becomes part of Harry's growth, too.
  • In Hogsmeade, we get to visit a teashop, Madam Puddifoot's, and a sleazy pub, The Hog's Head.
  • Harry's still a terrible date.
  • At Hermione's urging, Harry teaches several of his schoolmates Defence Against the Dark Arts, picking up the slack from Umbridge's worthless lessons.  The study group call themselves Dumbledore's Army.
  • The Weasley twins drop out of Hogwarts in spectacular fashion and open a highly lucrative joke shop with Harry's financial backing.
  • We learn why Snape is resentful of James, Harry's father.  And he's not wrong to feel that way.  It's not fair for him to torment Harry in retaliation but he's not wrong to hate James.
  • Neville Longbottom gets some excellent development.  We learn more about what happened to his parents and we see just how devoted he is to the cause of fighting the Dark Lord.
  • As noted previously, Ginny is my favorite character in the series.  Odd choice, right?  After all, she never gets much material, at least not until The Cursed Child.  Here's why I love Ginny: she's the student least inclined to put up with Harry's shit.  Even Hermione and Ron tend to tiptoe around him.  Not Ginny.  Not anymore.  There are some nice Ginny moments in Phoenix.  The first shot across the bow: she's the one who calls Harry out for being an idiot when he won't talk to anyone about his fears of being possessed by Voldemort.  Ginny points out that she's the only one he knows who actually has been possessed by You-Know-Who and knows how it feels - stops Harry in his tracks.  She also replaces Harry as seeker when young Potter gets kicked off the quidditch team.
Harry gets the summer off but overall, the story is definitely on a rising crescendo.

Before I go, I offer a few treats from our Harry Potter LEGO advent calendar.  We had Star Wars LEGO and Nightmare Before Christmas Funko calendars, too.  Harry Potter was the best of the three as it adhered to a specific story, the Yule Ball from Goblet of Fire.  Star Wars was more of a hodgepodge and Nightmare didn't include a particularly wide range of characters.  By my count, there were seven different Jack Skellington figures.

Left to right: Harry, Hermione, Ron, Cho Chang, Padma Patil, Parvati Patil

Beauxbatons' Carriage and the Durmstrang Ship

Luke, Harry and Rey discussing the burdens of the Chosen One narrative - note Golden Egg next to Harry on the couch.

Sally commiserating with the Patil twins over their lousy dates.

Ron complimenting Poe on his sweet new ride.  Poe thanks him for the Weasley sweater.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Wolverine #1-4, Thor #337-338

Wolverine's original solo series was one of the first trades I read when I entered the comic book hobby ten-ish years ago.  I loved it then and now, with deeper understanding of the broader Marvel Universe, I love it all the more.  In fact, I feel as if the comic books have been building up to this moment for a long time.

For starters, the project brought the company's best writer, Chris Claremont, and its best artist, Frank Miller, together.  Next, it provided a showcase for one of the franchise's most intriguing, and still relatively new, characters.  Could another of the X-Men have worked just as well?  I contend not.  They'd already killed off Jane Grey/Phoenix.  Perhaps Ororo would have been the next-best candidate.  But Wolverine offered something more, the sort of morally ambiguous character Marvel had been seeking to perfect for a long time.  Wolverine was a more relatable Hulk who never reverted back to Bruce Banner.  He's a hero who never quite manages to be a good guy.  He's delicious!

Furthermore, Wolverine (aka Logan) was the ideal character to make the most of Frank Miller's considerable talents.  As good as Miller's Daredevil issues are, it's the surrounding world that works.  The character himself leaves a lot to be desired.  Wolverine has an essential quality DD lacks: self-awareness.  DD is aloof while his friends and lovers do the worrying.  Logan's self-torment is a lot more interesting.

Bonus for me: most of the story takes place in Japan, a nation Logan, Frank Miller and I all love.  Miller's incorporation of Japanese aesthetic into the panels is absolutely stunning.  Funnily enough, what doesn't take place in Japan is in Canada, probably my second-favorite foreign country.

My Recent Reads

Wolverine #1
Originally Published September 10, 1982
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Frank Miller
  • We catch up with Wolverine in the Canadian Rockies where he hunts down both a rampaging bear and the irresponsible hunter who poisoned him.
  • Afterwards, he heads to Japan in pursuit of his true love, Mariko, only to find that she has been married off by her father to an abusive husband.
  • Lord Shingen, Mariko's father, captures Wolverine and challenges him to a duel with wooden swords.  Slowed by poison, our hero is easily defeated.
  • Dumped in a Tokyo alley, Wolverine is set upon by a mob.  All are killed by an as yet unnamed ally...

Wolverine #2
October 10, 1982
  • Wolverine's mysterious new friend is revealed: Yukio.
  • Together, Wolverine and Yukio fight off an attack by The Hand.
  • We learn Yukio is actually working for Lord Shingen who has hired her to kill Wolverine.  But who's side is she on really as she's clearly falling in love with Logan?
  • Wolverine and Yukio infiltrate a meeting between crime lord Katsuyori and Mariko's husband, Lord Yinshgen at a private kabuki performance.  They did not expect Mariko to be on-hand as well.
  • When the kabuki cast jump off stage to attack Yinshgen, Wolverine intervenes to protect Mariko.
  • Wolverine defeats them (and separately, Yukio offs Katsuyori) but Mariko is horrified by Logan's brutal violence.

Wolverine #3
November 10, 1982
  • The enigma of Yukio deepens.
  • The Hand attacks Yukio and Wolverine as the latter sleeps.  The Hand remind her of her commitment to kill Wolverine but instead, she kills them.
  • However, Logan calls her "Mariko" as he wakes.  She kicks the snot out of him and storms off.
  • Later, Wolverine discovers his friend Asano dead and realizes, in turn, that Yukio killed him and she was also the one who attacked Wolverine when he first arrived in Japan.
  • Wolverine and Yukio face off and he is determined to kill her, despite his developing feelings for her.  But The Hand ambush him and he must fight them off instead.
  • As the dust settles, Logan realizes that Yukio had killed some of the ninjas, too.
  • And now she's gone.

Wolverine #4
December 10, 1982
  • Separately but simultaneously, Wolverine and Yukio invade Lord Shingen's stronghold.  
  • Noburu-Hideki, Mariko's husband, makes a run for it with his wife but Yukio kills him.
  • Wolverine lets Yukio escape and with a kiss goodbye.
  • Wolverine and Lord Shingen finally have their showdown, this time with steel, playing to Wolverine's adamantium advantage.
  • Wolverine wins and kills Shingen.  He assumes Mariko will never forgive him.
  • Not only does she forgive him, she offers him the family's honor sword, believing Logan to be more honorable than her father.  He accepts.
  • The issue and the series end with the X-Men receiving an invitation to Mariko and Logan's wedding.

Thor #337
November 10, 1983
Writer and Artist: Walter Simonson
  • Here begins Walter Simonson's long and celebrated run on Thor.
  • Don Blake - Thor's human alias, a non-factor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - is out for a stroll in Chicago's Grant Park when he's kidnapped by S.H.I.E.L.D.
  • Col. Fury tells Blake that an alien ship is headed toward Earth at high speed and they need Thor's help.
  • Thor heads off to intercept.  He encounters Beta Ray Bill (strong candidate, worst super-villain name ever).  
  • The two battle.  Thor drops his hammer - Mjolnir, affectionately referred to as "Meow Meow" at our house - and unexpectedly reverts back to Don Blake.  Suddenly vulnerable, he gets flattened by Bill.
  • Upon crashing on Earth, Bill is confronted by Fury and company.  He picks up Blake's walking stick which is actually Mjolnir.
  • Apparently Bill is worthy, because he is able to pick up the hammer and thus becomes Thor.
  • Mistaking him for the real thing, Odin calls Bill/Thor away to Asgard.
  • In the midst of all this, we do get a visit to Asgard where we are reacquainted with Odin, Loki and others in Thor's supporting cast:
    • Sif
    • Volstagg
    • Balder
    • Heimdall
    • Lorelei (introduced in this issue)
    • Surtur

Thor #338
December 10, 1983
Walter Simonson
  • Odin is faced with a dilemma.  When he learns of Bill's role as guardian of his now destroyed civilization, he realizes that both he and Thor are genuinely worthy to hold Meow Meow... er, Mjolnir.  But apparently Asgard ain't big enough for both of them.
  • Odin sends both Bill and Thor to Skartheim to settle matters with a fight to the death.  
  • Bill wins but cannot bring himself to destroy such a worthy and honorable foe.  So, Bill is brought back to Asgard with Thor in his arms.
  • Featured: Hugin and Mugin, the ravens of Odin.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Star Trek: Allegiance

Episode: "Allegiance"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 18
Original Air Date: March 26, 1990

Merry Christmas!

Captain Picard is kidnapped and replaced with a doppleganger.  The real Picard is imprisoned in a cell with three other seemingly random abductees.  The doppleganger leads the Enterprise on an apparent suicide mission.  He also confesses romantic feelings to Beverly.

It occurs to me that Star Trek contrives these situations a lot: something weird happens and our usually restrained heroes reveal their true natures.  It strikes me as... lazy.  And it goes all the way back.  "The Naked Time" was only the fourth episode of the original series.  The entire crew is intoxicated and we find out what each principal most desires.  Job done, folks, we never need to delve too deeply into psyches again. 

My griping aside, "Allegiance" has its moments.  Patrick Stewart is stellar and the makeup work garnered an Emmy nomination.

Acting Notes

Stephen Markle plays the role of Kova Tholl a Mazarian and one of Picard's fellow captives.  Markle was born September 26, 1945 in Toronto.  Other TV guest appearances include Crossing Jordan, The Practice and The West Wing.  

He passed away November 6, 2018 from complications related to Parkinson's.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

On the Coffee Table: Charles Dickens

Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
via Amazon

A Christmas Carol is a story I have known well for almost my entire life.  I have seen stage plays and numerous film versions.  The Muppets' rendition is a family favorite (read here).  And yet, I'd never actually read the book.  

Our dear friend English Prof had a marvelous idea: a read-along via Zoom.  Yes, we're all tired of Zoom but it definitely has its place in this COVID Christmas season.  Never in human history has it been so easy to bring together loved ones from far-flung corners of the globe.  And perhaps we all appreciate the small comforts a little bit more in this troubling time.  I've actually been wanting to do a Dickens read-along as a family for years so this was a welcome opportunity to experience the work more intimately.  I think there were about 35 of us in on the call.  English Prof knows a lot of theater types so the readings were dramatic and engaging.  My daughter and I both took turns.

You know the tale, right?  Ebenezer Scrooge is a grumpy and miserly money-lender in London.  He's impatient and resentful towards everyone: his employees, his customers, indeed what few relatives he has.  And, of course, he hates Christmas.  On Christmas Eve, he is visited by spirits who teach him the true meaning of the holiday.  Upon waking, he is a new man, both generous and joyful.

It really is a beautiful book and wonderfully fun to read aloud.  Dickensian London is as miserable as ever, yet the story is hopeful.  It's gratifying to know how faithful the Muppet version is to the original text.  My daughter confessed she can't help thinking of the Cratchit family as pigs and frogs.  I assured her that Dickens would have wanted it that way.

I would love to make this an annual event.  My wife may take some convincing.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Squid Mixes: Monarch Martini

A monarch martini combines mint leaves, gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, simple syrup and peach bitters.  I got my recipe from Difford's Guide.  

Each of the ingredients smells amazing, which makes for an awfully good start.  Everything has a voice and the peach, especially, comes through nicely.  It's a very nice drink.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Uncanny X-Men #139-142

This is my last week with the X-Men for a while.  Next up is Wolverine's excellent original solo run (a re-read for me), then an extended visit with Thor.

Without a doubt, Claremont's X-Men tenure was fantastic.  I still can't say I have the same emotional investment with his characters as I do with Spidey's best but I can certainly appreciate why it's obligatory reading.  I'll be circling around back to these characters in time.

My Recent Reads

Uncanny X-Men #139
Originally Published November 10, 1980
Writers: Chris Claremont and John Byrne
Artist: John Byrne
  • Kitty Pryde joins the X-Men.  Ororo gives her the code name Sprite.  Naturally, Kitty makes a soda joke.
  • Wolverine goes to Canada to officially resign from Alpha Flight and brings Nightcrawler along for the trip.  Naturally, they and their Alpha Flight friends get caught up in an unexpected adventure.
  • Nemesis: Wendigo
  • Introduced:
    • Heather Hudson, wife of James as well as his eventual replacement as Vindicator and leader of Alpha Flight
    • Stevie Hunter, Kitty's dance teacher

Uncanny X-Men #140
December 10, 1980
Claremont and Byrne/Byrne
  • Wendigo is defeated.
  • Alpha Flight is disbanded by the Canadian government.
  • Meanwhile, at issue's end, the Blob escapes from prison, announcing he is a member of the New Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

Uncanny X-Men #141
January 1, 1981
Claremont and Byrne/Byrne
  • The story opens in a dystopian future, 2013 as it turns out.
  • The Sentinels rule the Earth, cracking down hard on mutants and those with mutant-like qualities.  Most of the X-Men, Avengers, etc. are dead.
  • Kate Pryde, previously Kitty, has survived and is our protagonist.  Wolverine is still around, too, as are Colossus, Storm, Franklin Richards (son of Reed and Susan) and his telekinetic girlfriend Rachel (later identified as Rachel Summers, daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey.  Umm... how?).  These six represent the core of the resistance.
Franklin Richards via Marvel Database

Rachel Summers via Marvel Database

  • They devise a plan for Kate to switch places with her 1980 self in order to prevent this horrible future from unflolding.
  • Back in 1980, while Charles and Moira are testifying before the US Senate in defense of mutant rights, the Capitol Building is attacked by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  The Brotherhood's roster (besides Blob, whom we met last issue):
    • Mystique
    • Destiny
    • Pyro
    • Avalanche

Uncanny X-Men #142
February 1, 1981
Claremont and Byrne/Byrne
  • The X-Men triumph.  They prevent the assassination of Senator Kelly, thus preventing the future hellscape anticipated in the previous issue.
  • On the final page, we meet Henry Peter Gyrich who will lead the President's anti-mutant operation.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Star Trek: Sins of the Father

Episode: "Sins of the Father"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 17
Original Air Date: March 19, 1990

Klingon Commander Kurn has been assigned to the Enterprise as part of the Federation-Klingon Officer Exchange Program.  Our own Commander Riker served aboard the Pagh in the same capacity in "A Matter of Honor."  After throwing his weight around and generally putting everyone on edge, Kurn reveals his true purpose: he requested the assignment so he could contact Worf, his long-lost older brother.  

Here the story takes an abrupt turn.  Worf and Kurn's father, Mogh, has been posthumously charged with treason.  Since Worf is the oldest son, Kurn urges him to challenge the accusation with Kurn standing as his Cha'DIch, or second.  If the challenge fails, both will face what would have been Mogh's sentence: death.

Without a doubt, Next Gen has been on an awfully strong run over the past three episodes.  "Sins of the Father" is yet another popular choice on best episode lists.  I assert that they are, in fact, the three best installments of the series to this point.  The story represents a transition on several fronts:
  1. Our first visit to the Klingon home world.  The sets and costumes are fantastic, earning an Emmy for Art Directors Richard D. James and Jim Mees.  
  2. Crucial development for Worf, arguably his most important episode.  In the end, he demonstrates he is willing to sacrifice his own honor for the sake of the common Klingon good.  Hereafter, both writers and actor approached the character differently.
  3. The dangling narrative threads at the end left little doubt that a return to this storyline was inevitable.  To this point, the producers had been resistant to the idea of continuing story arcs.  With "Sins of the Father," that door was kicked open.
As good as it is, the episode has an obvious narrative flaw: the story of the officer exchange is left unresolved.  Kurn's stunning revelation, while awesome, lets everyone off the hook far too easily.  It would have been interesting to see how the mounting tensions might eventually play out.

Once again, food is an essential window to culture as Kurn navigates dinner aboard the Enterprise.

Acting Notes

Charles Cooper plays the role of Klingon Chancellor K'mpec.  He was born August 11, 1926 in San Francisco.  He had a long, 50-year career.  Most of his credits were television guest appearances.  He did particularly well with western series, including Cimarron City, Lawman and The Rifleman.  Big screen credits include The Wrong Man, A Dog's Best Friend and Valet Girls.

This was the second of three Trek appearances for Cooper, always as a Klingon.  He played the part of General Korrd in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and would return as K'mpec in Season 4's "Reunion."  Cooper passed away November 29, 2013.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Squid Mixes: The Sidecar Chronicles

The sidecar cocktail was invented during World War I.  The history is a bit murky as to where exactly but either London or Paris.  In the beginning, the recipe called for Cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice, though variations since have allowed for other brandies and other orange liqueurs.  At our house, we have generally favored Robert Simonson's recipe from 3-Ingredient Cocktails.  He likes the original combo.  The International Bartenders Association (IBA) standards, on the other hand, stick by the Cognac but allow for the more general "triple sec."  For our experiments, I am choosing to keep our usual Cognac as brandies in a comparable price range are generally sweeter and we don't want that.  As with The Champs-Élysées, I also have no desire to fuss over lemons.  So, that leaves the orange flavoring...

Orange Liqueur Battles: Cointreau vs. Grand Marnier

We begin with the heavyweights.  Cointreau is produced in Saint-Barthélemy-d'Anjou, France.  The Cointreau brothers Adolphe and Edouard-Jean began selling their orange liqueur in 1870.  In 1990, the family-owned company merged with Rémy Martin to form Rémy Cointreau, a publicly traded entity.  

Grand Marnier's first distillery was built in 1827 in Neauphle-le-Château, France.  The current flagship product was first produced in 1880.  The brand is now owned by the Campari Group in Italy.

Head-to-head, Grand Marnier is simply more orangey, both in color and flavor.  It is smoother and the combination with Cognac is less baby aspriny than one gets with Cointreau.

Winner: Grand Marnier

Orange Liqueur Battles: Grand Marnier vs. Bols Triple Sec

Bols has been our preferred lower-shelf triple sec for some time.  The Dutch company claims to be the oldest distillery brand in the world, extant since 1575.  The triple sec is but one of 30 different flavors produced.

We both preferred Grand Marnier - simply more flavor by my reckoning.  Interestingly, my wife said she prefers the Bols to Cointreau: less harsh.  I feel with a gentler orange flavor in the Bols, more of the lemon comes through - not a bad thing.

Winner and Champion: Grand Marnier

So, here's our Sidecar All-Star Team:

Salignac Cognac
Grand Marnier

Next up: Bronx Cocktail

Monday, December 14, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Uncanny X-Men #134-138

This week's run includes the Dark Phoenix Saga and, arguably, the most significant death in the Marvel Universe.  While Gwen Stacy's death is more important from an industry perspective, Jean Grey's is more impactful in-story.  

It's also a shame.  Without a doubt, Jean Grey/Phoenix had become the most interesting character in the Claremont/Byrne X-Men saga.  Female characters in general rose to prominence with Jean leading the way.  Was her death a narrative necessity, making room to develop the newer characters?  Did the Scott/Jean romance need to end in order for the broader story to move forward?  Maybe.

It's comic books so she comes back.  Eventually.  It's still a shame in the short term.

My Recent Reads

Uncanny X-Men #134
Originally Published June 10, 1980
Writers: Chris Claremont and John Byrne
Artist: John Byrne
  • Cyclops isn't really dead.  Phew!
  • The X-Men finally overcome the Hellfire Club and, more importantly, Jean Grey frees herself from Jason Wynegarde/Mastermind's psychic control.
  • But Jean's evolution continues in disturbing directions.  She's back on the X-Men side but there's still more than a touch of evil lurking within her, perhaps even growing.  When she breaks free of Mastermind, she basically performs a brutal, psychic lobotomy on him.
  • On the final page, Jean reveals herself as Dark Phoenix and the X-Men's hovercraft, transporting them all back to New Mexico, explodes in midair.

Uncanny X-Men #135
July 10, 1980
Claremont and Byrne/Byrne
  • The X-Men survive the explosion but Dark Phoenix still kicks the snot out of them.  
  • Dark Phoenix is far more powerful and far more dangerous than anyone, least of all Jean, suspected.  Dark Phoenix flies out into outer space.  She gets hungry.
  • She enters and devours an entire star, sending it into supernova.  The 5 billion inhabitants of the surrounding planets are all killed instantly.
  • Oh, boy...

Uncanny X-Men #136
August 1, 1980
Claremont and Byrne/Byrne
via Amazon

  • The Shi'ar, led by Empress Lilandra, are understandably alarmed by the whole solar system annihilation scene.  They are determined to destroy Dark Phoenix.
  • Dark Phoenix returns to Earth where Jean Grey's family and her fellow X-Men must come to terms with the new and terrifying powers she possesses.
  • Dark Phoenix battles the X-Men.  Crucially, Xavier duels her psychically and with the human side of Jean Grey's help, manages to suppress Dark Phoenix, at least for the moment.
  • At the end of the issue, all of the X-Men are mysteriously transported away.

Uncanny X-Men #137
September 1, 1980
Claremont and Byrne/Byrne
  • The X-Men appear on a Shi'ar starship, many light years away from Earth.  
  • Empress Lilandra declares that Dark Phoenix must die.
  • The X-Men object, naturally.  But then, Lilandra tells the story of the genocide exacted against the D'Barians, the inhabitants of the worlds destroyed in #135.  
  • Now, everyone is conflicted.  Where does Dark Phoenix end and Jean Grey begin?  Are they even separable?  Can Jean fairly be held accountable?  The Shi'ar say yes.  The X-Men are prepared to fight on her behalf.
  • Xavier demands a duel of honor between the X-Men and the Imperial Guard to determine Jean/Dark Phoenix's fate.
  • In the midst of the battle, which the X-Men are clearly losing, Jean transforms into the the terrible Dark Phoenix.  The X-Men have no choice but to turn against her.
  • Jean demands that they destroy her but the X-Men refuse to do so. 
  • Left with no other choice, she turns a laser cannon upon herself and dies.

Uncanny X-Men #138
October 10, 1980
Claremont and Byrne/Byrne
via Amazon

  • The story begins with X-Men old and new standing over the grave of Jean Grey.
  • Most of the issue is devoted to Scott recounting a thorough X-Men history up to that point.  I've seen such issues in other series, too.  While my initial reaction is always that they're unnecessary, I must remind myself that accessing these stories in 2020 is a lot easier than it would have been in 1980.  Now, it's literally all at my fingertips.  Then, I would have been limited to what was currently sitting on the rack at the grocery store.  Back issues would have required a bit more work.  So, an occasional catchup issue was essential.
  • Important development happens on the last page of the issue: Scott Summers leaves the X-Men at the same moment Kitty Pride arrives at the mansion.  One story ends just as a new one begins.  Such is life.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Star Trek: The Offspring

Episode: "The Offspring"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 16
Original Air Date: March 12, 1990

Data becomes a father.  He has built an android with a positonic brain like his own, transferring some of his own neural pathways to the new entity.  He names her Lal and he claims her as his daughter.

The news is shocking to Data's friends.  Picard is initially appalled that he wasn't consulted before Data embarked on the project.  Data defends his rights as a sentient being seeking to procreate and in time, the captain accepts Data's point of view.  The higher powers at Starfleet take a bit more convincing.

"The Offspring" is my favorite episode.  Lal's lightning quick journey from birth to emotional being to demise is amusing, touching, frustrating, inspiring and ultimately heart-breaking.  The final exchange between Data and Lal is one of the most moving passages in the entire franchise:

Lal: I love you, father.
Data: I wish I could feel it with you.
Lal: I will feel it for both of us... thank you for my life.

Data stories tend to do well in best episode rankings.  I have to admit they don't always work for me.  No matter the shifting dynamics around him, Data is a static character.  Others grow from the experience.  He learns but is ultimately unchanged.  "The Offspring" is an exception.  Data is always reaching to be more human and this is the story in which I feel he comes closest to reaching it, or at least appreciating the value in the aspiration itself.  Are wishing to love and loving really so different?  Yes, they are.  But the wish is a huge step forward.  In the end, Data physically embeds aspects of Lal's experience into his own brain.  In effect, he grows.

The episode is important for a couple of behind the scenes personnel reasons.  It is the first episode directed by Jonathan Frakes.  While I like to poke fun at Frakes's handsome woodenness on-screen, he has been both successful and effective behind the camera.  He is one of only two people - and the only cast member - to direct both a TV episode (22 of them, actually) and a movie (2).  "The Offspring" was an awfully good start.

"The Offspring" is also the writing debut for Rene Echevarria.  It was the beginning of a long association for Echevarria, a writer, producer and story editor for numerous TNG and DS9 episodes.  Not coincidentally, he has written several of the episodes I like best.  He brought a broad emotional range to Star Trek with ripples felt well into the current century.

Acting Notes

Hallie Todd (Lal) was born Hallie Jane Eckstein, January 7, 1962 in Los Angeles, California.  She was born into a show biz family.  Her mother, actress Ann Morgan Guilbert, would be familiar to fans of The Dick Van Dyke Show.  

In fact, mom was pregnant with Hallie during filming of the show, the physical manifestations cleverly hidden through costuming.  Todd's father, George Eckstein, was a writer and producer.  Todd got her training at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts.

Most of Todd's credits have been on television.  She had principal roles on Brothers, Going Places, Life with Roger and Lizzie McGuire.  In addition to Trek, she made guest appearances on Growing Pains, The Golden Girls and Murder, She Wrote.  More recently, she makes films with her husband and daughter, both writers, for their family-owned production company: In House Media Film Partners.

She has also written two books: Being Young Actors and Parenting the Young Actor.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Squid Mixes: Boilermaker

A boilermaker is an easy sell for me.  For starters, it couldn't be simpler to make:  fill a shot glass with whiskey, then drop it in a glass of beer.  I love a whiskey-infused beer - they're made of the same stuff, no reason they shouldn't go together.  Ever had Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale?  That is a beautiful substance!  Oddly enough, we don't own shot glasses - not yet, anyway.  Fortunately, we do have a 1 oz Pyrex glass and it worked just fine.

I have a funny boilermaker story.  As I think I've written before, I got my copy of The New York Bartender's Guide as a gift my senior year of college.  My roommate and I had a lot of fun playing around with the recipes.  For our boilermaker, we used Heineken Dark and Jack Daniels.  When I told my father about it later, he was absolutely horrified.

"So let me get this straight," he said. "You took perfectly good beer and perfectly good whiskey and ruined them by putting them together!"

Oh well, you can't please everyone.

This time, I used von Trapp Brewery's Bohemian Pilsner and Jim Beam Black Bourbon.  I don't know if my father would approve but I thought the combination was lovely.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Marvel Feature #12, The Death of Captain Marvel, Uncanny X-Men #132-133

This week, I finally wrap up Captain Marvel before jumping back to the X-Men, picking up right where I left off here.

Overall, the Captain Marvel story is pretty good.  I appreciate the influence on the last two Avengers movies and the culminating graphic novel offers moments of genuine poignancy.  I would say that I appreciate Jim Starlin's stunning artwork more than the narrative itself.  However, I understand the importance of this arc to the Universe as a whole.

My Recent Reads

Marvel Feature #12
Originally Published November 10, 1973
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Artists: Jim Starlin & Joe Sinnott
  • The Thing and Iron Man team up to brawl with the Blood Brothers.

"The Death of Captain Marvel"
February 3, 1982
Writer and Artist: Starlin
  • Mar-Vell succumbs to cancer, a result of inhaling toxic fumes in his battle with Nitro in Captain Marvel #34.
  • This story has a cast of hundreds, both friends and foes alike coming to pay their respects to the fallen hero.  The assembled mourners create a scene not so different from the end of Avengers: Endgame.  
  • It would be exhausting to list everyone but one character deserves special mention: Elysius, Mar-Vell's longtime lover who holds near constant vigil at his bedside.
  • This poignant story brings up a lot of interesting questions about superheroes in general, most importantly: why don't the heroes take on more real-world problems like cancer, poverty, famine, etc.?  Their last-minute efforts aren't enough to save Mar-Vell but perhaps if they'd been working on a cure all along...
    • Comic books and the worlds they chronicle are meant to provide an escape for the reader.  It's easier to give the enemy a name and a face than to confront more complicated issues.  Some try, of course: Silver Surfer, for instance.  But the usual, dependable formula doesn't allow much room for it.
    • Nonetheless, at least in this story, some of the heroes regret this fact.

Uncanny X-Men #132
April 10, 1980
Chris Claremont and John Byrne/Byrne
  • No longer certain of their mansion's security, the X-Men head to New Mexico where they hang out with former X-Man Angel.
  • Scott and Jean re-connect atop a desert butte.  Scott discovers that among Jean's new powers is the ability to telekinetically suppress Scott's optic blast.
  • The gang heads back to New York to confront the Hellfire Club.  
  • Jason Wyngarde regains his psychic control over Jean and introduces her to the rest of the Hellfire Club as their Black Queen.  He also reveals to Scott his true identity as Mastermind, previously only suspected.
  • Battles ensue.  Cyclops, Colossus, Storm and Nightcrawler are all captured.  
  • Only Wolverine remains free.  As the story ends, he emerges from the sewer below, ready to take on the Hellfire Club all by himself.
  • This issue is the first appearance for Tessa (aka Sage), though she is yet to be identified as such.

Uncanny X-Men #133
May 1, 1980
Claremont and Byrne/Byrne
  • Wolverine battles the Hellfire Club guards.  This is the first issue in which his quick-healing powers are revealed.
  • First appearance for Senator Robert Kelly.
  • Scott attempts to connect with Jean in order to snap her out of Wyngarde's hold over her.  He is foiled by Wyngarde.  The two men duel on an astral plane.
  • Wyngarde wins, apparently killing Scott in the process!
  • To be continued.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Star Trek: Yesterday's Enterprise

Episode: "Yesterday's Enterprise"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 15
Original Air Date: February 19, 1990

Our Enterprise - Enterprise D - encounters a temporal rift where they meet a ghost ship from the past: Enterprise C.  The chance meeting has dire consequences, shifting D into an alternate history stream in which the Federation is mired in a long and brutal war with the Klingons.  C must be sent back through the rift to its own time 22 years before in order to set things right, even though it probably means certain death for the crew of the C.

Not quite complicated enough?  Tasha's back.  In the alternate history, she's still alive.

This is my third time through The Next Generation.  I feel there are five episodes that stand out above all the others, two from Season 3 and three from Season 5.  "Yesterday's Enterprise" is the first.  Yes, it's completely convoluted and it deals with time travel, something I usually can't stand in a Trek story, and there are holes in the plot and good grief, what is Wesley doing on the Enterprise in the middle of a war?!!!  In the end, none of that matters.  This one works.  Beautifully.  From the moment they enter the alternate stream to the moment they leave it, the narrative flow is outstanding.

Major kudos to the design team.  The set and costumes for the alternate time stream are stunning, reflecting a darker reality, similar to what the original series accomplished with "Mirror, Mirror."  The return of Tasha feels like an unnecessary additional contrivance initially until her confrontation with Guinan on Ten Forward.  Guinan's "You're not supposed to be here" line is an absolute knockout, right up there with Mark Lenard's "In a different reality, I could have called you friend" from "Balance of Terror."  This is why you have Whoopi Goldberg in your cast.

Question: is next week's episode even better?

Food Notes

This brutally serious story does get one moment of levity in the very beginning: the prune juice exchange.

Acting Notes

Christopher McDonald plays the role of Lt. Richard Castillo, helmsman of the Enterprise C and Tasha's tragic love interest for this story.  McDonald was born February 15, 1955 in New York City.  He graduated from Hobart College.  

McDonald has been a highly successful character actor, appearing in such films as Thelma & Louise, Happy Gilmore and 61*.  In television, he was a regular on Family Law and a recurring character on North Shore, Veronica's Closet and Good Advice.