Friday, February 26, 2021

Star Trek: The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2

Episode: "The Best of Both Worlds, Part 2"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 1
Original Air Date: September 24, 1990

via Tim Lynch Star Trek Reviews Wiki

The story begun in last week's featured episode concludes.  The previous episode (and season) ended with Picard being captured by the Borg, then incorporated into the collective as Locutus, to serve as spokesman for the Borg in their presumed conquest of Earth.  Riker - now acting-captain of the Enterprise - must now square off against his former friend and boss and hope that his people can find a weakness in the seemingly irresistible enemy.  Interestingly, the writers themselves weren't even sure how they were going to conclude the story after Part 1.  They didn't see any vulnerabilities in the Borg either.  Fortunately, inspiration came over the summer in time for the new season.

A few worthy notes:
  • Riker's decision to stay aboard the Enterprise is retroactively justified when the USS Melbourne, the ship he would have commanded, is destroyed by the Borg at Wolf 359.  It's not the first time in the series this little narrative trick has been employed - kind of a lazy resolution to the problem, to be honest.
  • That same battle will have important implications for Deep Space Nine, TNG's first spinoff series.
  • Part 2 is generally considered to be the weaker of the two episodes but I prefer it.  As noted last week, it has important implications for the development of Picard.  Over the long run, I feel Jean-Luc's efforts to come to terms with what happened to him represent the most meaningful fallout from this story.  As such, I feel that "Family," the next episode, is actually more interesting.  That one, in turn, helps lay the groundwork for an absolutely stunning DS9, Season 7 episode.  But I'm getting way ahead of myself...

Acting Notes

via Charmed Wiki

Elizabeth Dennehy (Lt. Commander Shelby) was born October 1, 1960 in Jacksonville, North Carolina.  She is the daughter of legendary actor Brian Dennehy and his first wife, Judith Scheff.  She trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.  In addition to Trek, she has made guest appearances on such shows as Guiding Light, Seinfeld and Charmed.  Her films include Clear and Present Danger, Gattaca and Red Dragon.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Squid Mixes: Gin and Bitter Lemon

Our Bronx Cocktail explorations leave us with quite a lot of surplus gin to work through.  Unlike whiskey, or even vermouth, I'm not up for drinking the stuff straight.  Mixers are essential.  While tonic water is the standard and perfectly acceptable, something different once in a while is also nice.  Plus, in the further interest of pantry clearing, we do have some bitter lemon soda sitting around.

The combination is quite nice.  In fact, I might go so far is to say it's better than gin and tonic.  I guess I prefer lemon to quinine.  

Monday, February 22, 2021

Marvel Immersion Project: Thor #378-382

My Recent Reads

Thor #378
Originally Published April 1, 1987
Writer: Walter Simonson
Artist: Sal Buscema
  • The Frost Giants attack Loki's castle.
  • Loki realizes his disadvantage and runs away from them, throwing the still unconscious Thor in their way as a shield.
  • Loki pleads with Iceman, his captive, to help but Iceman refuses, instead cranking up the cold to further strengthen and draw the attention of the giants.
  • Loki falls to the giants but the now revived Thor comes to his rescue, shamed by the mistaken belief that Loki has acted bravely whereas he himself has not.
  • Thor defeats the giants, though he feels ashamed by the fact that it was due to the new armor, not his own bravery.  Thor certainly does have a fragile ego!
  • After retreating, the giants plot their next attack, planning to target Loki's son, Jormungand.

Thor #379
May 1, 1987
Simonson/S. Buscema
Fin Fang Foom via Marvel Database

  • The giants travel to Norway to awaken Jormungand, son of Loki aka the World Serpent and Dragon of Midgard.  Instead, they find Fin Fang Foom (it really is Jormungand in disguise but they don't realize it yet).
  • The giants goad FFF into fighting Thor.  The dragon goes to New York to find him.  They meet in the park, though FFF doesn't recognize Thor.
  • The two reveal their true selves (Jormungand in a beautiful full-page panel) and the battle begins.

Thor #380
June 1, 1987
Writer and Artist: Walter Simonson
  • Visually, the issue is stunning, each page but the last a single, full-page panel. 
  • Storywise, it's pretty simple:
    • Thor and Jorgungand battle.
    • After their final, brilliant clash, Jorgungand is dead and Thor's armor lies empty.

Thor #381
July 1, 1987
Simonson/S. Buscema
  • The frost giants discover Thor's armor.  He's still in there, but reduced to jelly.  They beat up on him for a while.
  • But Loki summons the Destroyer who starts beating up on Thor, only to realize he isn't fighting back.  Impressed, he tries to absorb Thor's undying spirit.  Thor's spirit fights but Destroyer prevails.
  • Destroyer puts on all of Thor's gear and even picks up Mjolnir.  He teleports away.
  • Featured: the Avengers, including some new team personnel.
    • Black Knight
    • Doctor Druid
    • Hawkeye
    • Mockingbird
    • Wonder Man
  • Meanwhile, Utgard-Loki (based on Útgarða-Loki of Norse mythology) is planning to lead the giants in an attack on Asgard.

Thor #382
August 1, 1987
Simonson/S. Buscema
  • Walter Simonson's last issue.
  • The Destroyer, now in Thor garb, arrives in Hel and starts, well, destroying everything.
  • Hela summons Thor and restores him, intending to kill him to stop Destroyer - death works in mysterious ways.
  • The jokes on her.  As Thor returns, he triumphs and Hela lifts her curse over him.
  • Thor then returns to Asgard and defeats the giants, though he lets Utgard-Loki go when he promises to lift Loki's curse over Asgard. 
  • All is back to normal, just in time to pass the story on to the new creators.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Star Trek: The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1

Episode: "The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 26
Original Air Date: June 18, 1990

The Borg have invaded Federation space, and sooner than anyone expected.  The Enterprise and her crew must stop them.  To add to the stress, Riker has been offered his own command aboard the USS Melbourne and questions arise as to why he has been reluctant to take this obvious next step in his career.  An ambitious lieutenant commander, Shelby, is on board to help with the Borg crisis and she is not shy about pointing out Riker's shortcomings.

"The Best of Both Worlds" has been called by many not only TNG's best but even one of the best American television episodes of all time.  I'll admit that it's good but I'm not quite on board with such extraordinary praise.  In fact, I'm not even sure it makes my short list for the series.  One reason is that, full disclosure, I've historically struggled to stay awake through the entire thing.  While that may be more a coincidence than a reflection of quality, it's not exactly a point in favor.  The impact of the season-ending cliffhanger was also minimal for me the first time I watched it as I knew there were still several more seasons and movies to go.  I will acknowledge, though, that the story is probably the most important one for the series and certainly for the character of Picard even if it may not be my personal favorite.

I promise to stay awake through all of it this time!  Perhaps I will reserve my final judgment until after "Part 2."


Thoughts on Season 3

General Impressions

The Next Generation found its footing in Season 3.  The best episodes qualify as genuine classics and, just as importantly, the worst aren't nearly as clunky as what we'd seen before.  Beverly Crusher came back which was an excellent development.  It looks like we're in it for the long haul.

Favorite Episode: "The Offspring"

This is, in fact, my favorite episode for the entire series.  Data becomes a father and experiences his most quasi-emotional growth as a result.  It was the second of a particularly masterful three-episode run for the series.  Massive credit goes to guest star Hallie Todd, first-time screenwriter Rene Echevarria and first-time director Jonathan Frakes.

Least Favorite Episode: "Evolution"

"Evolution," the season premier, is a Wesley episode - not a good starting point.  Plus, I found the guest star, Ken Jenkins, rather annoying.  But like I said, even the worst aren't so bad anymore.  "Evolution" has some fun Guinan development.  Speaking of...

Favorite Recurring Character: Guinan

Get used to seeing her in this space.  Her "You're not supposed to be here" line in "Yesterday's Enterprise" is one of Trek's all-time greats.  My only regret is that they couldn't use her more often.

Favorite Blast from the Past: Sarek

Mark Lenard returned as Sarek, Spock's father, in the episode "Sarek."  This was a big deal for the series, big picture.  Gene Roddenberry, wanting the new series to stand on its own merits, was reluctant to allow even references to the original show.  "Sarek" was the first crack in that resolve.

Favorite Guest Actor, One-Shot: Hallie Todd

Tough call.  Dwight Schultz is a strong runner-up.  (As with Moriarty in Season 2, Barclay doesn't qualify as a recurring character yet.)  But performing Lal, Data's android daughter, was the taller order.  From the moment she first feels pain to when she says her final touching good-bye, she achieves a mesmerizing range of emotion, all within the convincing restraints of the character.  Oh, and when she grabs Riker to kiss him!  It's a brilliant performance.


While "The Best of Both Worlds" is ultimately more of a Riker story, it marks the beginning of Picard coming into his own.  He was the leader of the show from the beginning.  Now he gets to spread his wings.

We'll get the last major personnel move soon, too.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Squid Mixes: The Bronx Cocktail Chronicles

A Bronx Cocktail combines gin, orange juice, dry vermouth and sweet vermouth.  It's a drink whose heyday is long past but it's one of our house favorites, especially with fresh OJ. I use slightly different proportions from Eric Felten's in How's Your Drink?  He favors a 6:4:1:1 ratio for the ingredients listed above.  I double the vermouths.  Particularly for this current exercise, I want to taste them as much as possible without threatening the other flavors.

And so we enter the world of gin.  This could take a while.  Unlike the other liquors we've tasted so far, gin offerings are vast on Vermont's liquor store shelves in all price ranges.  As such, I anticipate a long and non-linear path in our gin explorations.  Let's get to it.

Fleischmann's vs. Beefeater

Fleischmann's has been our go-to for a while.  I will admit this up front: we've been slumming it with gin for years.  We're not exactly martini people, by which I mean gin is by no means our liquor of choice.  So a weak gin generally suits us fine.  Why pay more for something you don't really want?  Yes, I realize this presents an awkward contradiction as we embark upon our journey.  But this is why we seek to learn, right?

Beefeater, on the other hand, is quite a strong gin so this was an easy choice for both of us.  Less is more.

Winner: Fleischmann's

Fleischmann's vs. Barr Hill

Barr Hill is a local Vermont product.  It's unusual for the fact that it is made with honey in addition to the juniper berries.

My wife preferred Barr Hill, finding it a smoother flavor, the extra sugar perhaps taking the edge off of the gin.  This presents a different sort of dilemma.  Barr Hill is a lot more expensive.  A 750 ml bottle of Fleischmann's costs $5.99 in Vermont.  Barr Hill costs $35.99.  So, even if Barr Hill is better, is it six times better?  No.  This necessitates two categories moving forward.

Winner and Champion, When It's on Sale Category: Barr Hill
Still Champion, Staple Category: Fleischmann's

Burnett's vs. New Amsterdam Stratusphere

My wife thought the Stratusphere tasted metallic.  It's also more expensive.

Winner: Burnett's

Burnett's vs. Barr Hill

This time it was Barr Hill that was deemed more metallic.  To me, it just tastes more ginny.  I guess I simply prefer a lighter gin - not actually a surprise.

A beat B, B beat C and A is in C's price range.  So...

Winner and Undisputed Champion: Burnett's

Seagram's Extra Dry vs. Prairie Organic

Yup, Prairie is a Minnesota-based distiller specializing in spirits made from organically grown ingredients.  It's good, too, possessing a more floral taste than the old war horse, Seagram's.

Winner: Prairie Organic

Beefeater 24 vs. Bombay Sapphire

This was a battle of gins in colorful bottles: the 24 in red, the Sapphire, of course, in blue.  Both have classic gin flavors, my wife describing the Sapphire, in particular, as like an old country club gin.  The Sapphire has a nutty taste whereas the 24 is sweeter.

The 24 comes from the 24 hours during which the gin is infused with 12 botanicals, including both Japanese and Chinese tea.

Winner: Beefeater 24

Beefeater 24 vs. Prairie Organic

Prairie was more floral, 24 more piney.

Winner: Prairie Organic

Burnett's vs. Prairie Organic

Burnett's tastes less woody.

Winner and Still Champion: Burnett's

Gordon's vs. Gilbey's

It's a battle of the G's, and two of the cheaper brands on the shelves.  Gordon's wins.  It was the fruitier of the two.

Winner: Gordon's

Burnett's vs. Gordon's

My wife didn't really have a preference, though she did feel the Burnett's was less piney.  All else being equal, price is the deciding factor.  Burnett's is cheaper per volume.  So...

Winner and Still Champion: Burnett's

"Maybe I don't like gin," my wife said.  We've been edging towards this conclusion, for both of us, for a while now.  Eleven brands into these tests (count 'em), it's pretty clear we both shy away from the stronger gin flavors.  

The question, then, is where to go from here.  Do we switch to another gin-based drink?  My wife suggested gimlets though I might advocate for a new direction.  Orange season won't last forever anyway and Bronx cocktail quality is likely to decline when it ends.  Or do we move on to something else entirely, simply leaving this particular experiment by stating that Burnett's is our best so far?

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Title: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Author: J.K. Rowling

via Amazon

It's Year 6 for Harry Potter at Hogwarts and, per usual, our hero has quite a lot going on.  He is mourning the death of his godfather, killed right in front of him.  He's pretty sure his nemesis, Draco Malfoy, is up to something but no one takes his concerns seriously.  The Minister of Magic and the new potions teacher are both too eager to bask in his glory.  His two best friends can't seem to get along, largely because only one of them realizes they're in love with each other.  He has added responsibilities as Gryffindor's new quidditch captain.  He's coming to terms with his own romantic feelings for Ginny, his best pal's sister.  Oh, and the Dark Lord has made crystal clear that he wants to kill Harry.

Yes, I can see how it would all add up to a pretty stressful time.

This, the penultimate installment of the series, is a crucial one.  With each new book, the narrative has darkened.  Harry changes a lot, too.  Frankly, it's hard to like him sometimes as he drifts deeply into his moody teenage years.  I've always liked that aspect of the story.  Rowling allows all of her characters to grow up realistically.  Sometimes, in general, she lets Harry drift too close to perfection but she finds ways to pull him back into the believability range.  His miserable behavior on dates is a good example of this.  Early on in Half-Blood Prince, Harry has a rather unfortunate run in with Draco and definitely gets the worse end of it.  While by the end of the story, Harry's suspicion is vindicated, in this particular instance it's hard not to feel that our man kind of had it coming.  He was the one spying on a private conversation, after all.

Half-Blood Prince is an important book for three characters in particular: Ginny, Snape and, of course, Dumbledore. 


As discussed previously, Ginny is my favorite character in the Potterverse.  I love anyone who is disinclined to suffer the bullshit of others and Ginny even has some great moments putting Hermione in her place.  Ginny and Harry finally find each other and while minimal text is devoted to the relationship once it finally happens, one can feel Harry settle into himself.  It's wonderfully satisfying.

The Snape story is the hidden gem of the entire franchise and Year 6 is key.  The confrontation between Snape and Harry at the end of the book is revealing - far more so than Harry can see himself in the moment.  While Harry is firing spells at his soon to be former professor, Snape casually fends them off and taunts our man.  Except that he isn't taunting.  Snape is chastising him for everything he's failed to learn yet.  He's still teaching Harry!!!  That, my friends, is seriously badass.

The other bit Harry fails to grasp in the moment: at any point in the encounter, Snape could easily have killed him.  But he didn't.  Stay tuned.

Obviously, this is an essential Dumbledore story.  The ending is important, of course, but more so is the vulnerability he shows to Harry up until that point.  We all know Harry loves his headmaster.  Now it's clear that he's been loved right back.


On to Year 7, the final book of the original series.  A lot of people don't like the way the HP story ends and I suppose I understand why.  It's when the tale becomes, seemingly, just another quest adventure like so many other thousands.  But I contend that it's different because of everything that comes before.

Year 7 is shrouded in a deep sadness, one earned through great loss - losses we've experienced along with the protagonist.  This sadness separates Rowling's story from Tolkein's or Lewis's.  In Middle Earth, the darkness is impending but it hasn't arrived yet.  In the original Narnia story, there is a strong sense of what has been lost but we didn't experience the loss along with the characters.  At Hogwarts, we've earned Harry's sadness and that makes all the difference.

Obviously, we'll talk about this more soon.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Marvel Immersion Project: Thor #373-377

I will be moving on from Thor soon so it seems appropriate to offer a few thoughts on the series in general.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Thor movies rank high among my favorites.  I would, in fact, go so far as to say that Loki is the best character in the MCU thus far.  As such, my expectations for the comic books were high.

I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm disappointed, exactly.  I can't deny the quality of the work.  But I frequently find myself wishing the Thor story were different from what it is.  When he's on Earth, I long for Asgard.  But then sometimes he stays in Asgard too long.  And if he were always in Asgard, what would be the point in pretending he's part of the broader Marvel Universe?  But then when he's on Earth, how is he appreciably different from any other superhero?

You see my struggles.

I guess what I really want is for Marvel - or anybody - to create a more faithful comic book chronicle of the original Norse myths.  In fact, I'd love to see such a rendering for world mythology in general: Greek, Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, African, Native American, Celtic, Babylonian and on and on.  Maybe if I suddenly come into a lot of money, I will fund such a project.

I have one more stop before maybe taking a break from Marvel for a while: the original Secret Wars series.  Stay tuned.

My Recent Reads

Thor #373
Originally Published November 10, 1986
Writer: Walter Simonson
Artist: Sal Buscema
  • This issue and the next are both part of the Mutant Massacre crossover event.
  • Thor revisits his New York life as Sigurd Jarlson.
  • He also runs into Puddlegulp and other froggy friends in Central Park.
  • Puddlegulp tells him of a massacre in the sewers so Thor goes to investigate.
Blockbuster via Marvel Database
Harpoon via Marvel Database
Vertigo via Wikipedia

  • Amid many Morlock corpses, Thor discovers Angel - currently of X-Factor, formerly of the X-Men - being held captive and tortured by the Marauders: Harpoon, Blockbuster and Vertigo.

Thor #374
December 10, 1986
Simonson/S. Buscema
  • Back in the sewers of New York, Thor must fight off the Marauders before he can rescue Angel.  
  • Thor prevails and now must carry Angel out of the sewers.
  • Featured: Sabretooth, another of the Marauders.
  • Thor meets the enigmatic Artie Maddicks, an X-Factor trainee.
  • In a fight with Blockbuster, Thor's arm is broken.  Thor doesn't realize it yet but Hela has cast a brutal curse upon him (she does tell him by the end of the issue):
    • His bones will break easily, then never heal.
    • Then he will never die.
  • Thor and company meet up with Cyclops and Marvel Girl (??!! - I guess I missed some important developments) of X-Factor.  Cyclops creates a sling for Thor's arm and they take Angel off his hands.

Thor #375
January 1, 1987
Simonson/S. Buscema
Man-Beast via Wikipedia
Wrecker via Marvel Database

  • Loki's latest trick: turning innocent, unassuming Earth mortals into old Thor villains, specifically Man-Beast and Wrecker.
  • Once Thor defeats each of them, Loki's illusion is revealed and Thor is powerless to prevent the mortals from dying.
  • Thor also has to be careful because of Hela's curse, though Tony Stark has built him an armored arm to protect the broken one.
  • When Thor arrives in New York, he finds he must battle Absorbing Man, though he assumes it's another Loki-created fake.
  • Alas, no.  This time it's the real thing.

Thor #376
February 1, 1987
Simonson/S. Buscema
  • Thor realizes it's the real Absorbing Man.
  • However, Loki has one more trick.  He creates a fake Titania who attacks Thor.  Thor kills her only to discover the ruse as another innocent mortal lies dead at his feet.
  • Absorbing Man, however, believes it was the real Titania.  Apparently, he loved her and now he's enraged.
  • Using Mjolnir, Thor transports Absorbing Man to another dimension.
  • Finally victorious, Thor staggers towards Avengers Mansion where he knows he can rest.
  • Instead, he collapses in the street, right in front of astonished reporters.
  • On the last page, Loki releases a powerful spell upon Asgard.

Thor #377
March 1, 1987
Simonson/S. Buscema
  • Thor recovers in Roosevelt Hospital.
  • Upon release, he heads to Pittsburgh to rent a steel foundry for a week (as one does) in order to forge new armor for himself.
  • While at work, he is attacked by the Dark Elves, led by Grendell, an ancient warrior elf long presumed dead.
  • Meanwhile, in Asgard, Loki kidnaps Iceman - currently of X-Factor, formerly of the X-Men - in order to harness his cold energy to restore the Frost Giants to their full size.
  • Also, the spell Loki released in the last issue is causing fever among the gods of Asgard.
  • In a surprise move, Loki rescues Thor from the Dark Elves bringing him back to his own castle where he can observe Thor's likely long suffering for his own amusement.
  • When Loki finally turns off the cold, the Frost Giants turn on him.
  • To be continued.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Star Trek: Transfigurations

Episode: "Transfigurations"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 25
Original Air Date: June 17, 1990

Our heroes rescue the badly injured survivor of a crash only to find that he has no memory of his life before.  In time, we learn this John Doe is undergoing a transformation to a higher life form and the law enforcement of his own world are hunting him down to prevent that.  The best part of the episode, however, is a secondary narrative in which Geordi gains confidence in matters of love, due in part to Worf's hilarious advice.  Their funniest exchange:
Geordi: But what would I say?

Worf: Words come later.  It is the scent that first speaks of love.

Geordi: Thanks, Worf.  That helps a lot.

Thematically, the primary narrative is well-traveled territory for Star Trek"Charlie X," the second-ever episode for the original series, explores the idea of a being evolved beyond his own species.  This, however, is the first time we get a front row seat to the transformation itself.  I'm not exactly blown away by the story.  The Christ-figure elements - healing, resurrecting, glowing - are eye-roll inducing.  The dinner conversation between Beverly and Wesley over her beyond-professional interest in John is uncomfortable, especially in comparison with similar and more effective scenes between Ben and Jake in DS9 - better writing, better character development and better acting will do that.  However, I appreciate the low tech approach to John's transformation at the end.  He is wearing a fluorescent orange jumpsuit which glows in special film - clever and every bit as effective as CGI.

A treat for the DS9 fans: in "Transfigurations," we first learn of Chief O'Brien's passion for kayaking on the holodeck, as well as his tendency to separate his shoulder while doing it.

Acting Notes

via Memory Alpha

Mark LaMura (John Doe) was born October 18, 1948 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.  He studied at Kent State, St. Joseph's College (Indiana) and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  LaMura portrayed Mark Dalton, a principal character on All My Children, for eleven years.  However most of his television work was guest appearances, including 30 Rock, Law & Order: SVU and The Sopranos.  

LaMura passed away in 2007 from complications due to lung cancer.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Squid Mixes: Happy Apple

A happy apple combines gold rum, apple cider and lemon juice with a lime twist.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  I didn't quite have enough gold rum so I supplemented with light.

This was a good pantry clearer.  I had plenty of leftover cider from the wassail and it was good to kill the gold rum bottle, too.  The drink was nice: a little tart.  I quite like that but my wife would have preferred something more appley.

Bitters of the Month

I tried this Old-Fashioned recipe from Cook In/Dine Out as it incorporated Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters.  It was also an unusual recipe for the fact that it was stirred in a mixing glass with syrup rather than prepared in the glass with sugar.  It's a perfectly nice drink with a mintiness from the bitters.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Marvel Immersion Project: Thor #367-372

During the stretch featured this week, Sal Buscema took over as primary artist for Thor.  He was born Silvio Buscema January 26, 1936 in Brooklyn, New York.  He is the younger brother of fellow comic book artist John Buscema.  In fact, he got his earliest work in the industry inking his brother's pencil work.

After high school, he worked as an advertising artist and a jeweler before being drafted into the Army.  He spent 21 months as an illustrator in the Army Corps of Engineers.  Afterwards, he continued to do illustration work for the government as a freelancer.  

Sal finally followed his brother to Marvel in 1968.  He has worked on numerous titles over the years and won several industry awards.  He is probably best known for a ten-year run as artist for The Incredible Hulk.

My Recent Reads

Thor #367
Originally Published May 10, 1986
Writer and Artist: Walter Simonson
  • Balder arrives in Asgard for his coronation.
  • The celebration is brief indeed.  Immediately after the ceremony, Kurse jumps on stage and breaks Balder's neck!

Thor #368
June 10, 1986
Writer: Simonson
Artist: Sal Buscema
  • Wouldn't you know, it wasn't really Balder but Malekith in disguise.
  • Thor and the Warriors Three set off to find out what happened to the real Balder.
  • Thus begins an appealingly Grimm-like tale.  Thor encounters an old woman who tells him of three damsels in distress, imprisoned in a castle.  
  • We soon learn, through Loki's magical snooping, that Balder had encountered the same woman and had, in fact, found the damsels and freed them from a terrible troll.  In gratitude, the women seduced him and made him forget all about going to Asgard...
  • At issue's end, Thor enters the castle and encounters the same charming three women, not yet aware of what happened to his friend.

Thor #369
July 10, 1986
Simonson/S. Buscema
  • Fortunately, Thor doesn't fall for it.  
  • He discovers Balder and frees him from the women's spell.
  • Thor reveals their true identity as troll hags.
  • Together, Thor and Balder destroy the trolls including the old woman who started all the trouble.  Turns out, she was the troll mother in disguise!

Thor #370
August 10, 1986
James Owsley/John Buscema
  • This month, we get a cross between a Grimm fairy tale and an Old West pulp novel.
  • It is 1875 in Danville, Texas.  Our lead is a gambler who's just been thrown out of a saloon for cheating at cards.  His name is Sundance, a handsome redhead: obvious homage to Robert Redford.
  • An old man hands Sundance a claim ticket and tells him that if he brings it to a man on a white horse, that man will give Sundance $100.
  • Turns out the man on the white horse is Thor and the story's big baddy is really Loki.  
  • Loki had stolen the apples of Idunn which the gods must eat to retain eternal youth.  
  • Together, Thor and Sundance defeat Loki and regain the apples.

Thor #371
September 10, 1986
Simonson/S. Buscema
  • Balder is crowned King of Asgard, though he refuses to sit in Odin's throne.  He's had a smaller one built for himself.
  • In a tale building up as a secondary narrative in the last few issues, Thug Thatcher, recently released from prison, manipulates Ruby, an old flame, into helping to break out Brad Wolfe/Zaniac, too.
  • Brad kills Ruby, then Kellen, Thug's accomplice, kills Brad.
  • The creatures inside Brad escape his body as he's dying and invade Thug instead, making him the new Zaniac.
  • Now Thug/Zaniac is out to get Jane Foster, Thor's old Midgard flame.
  • Thor himself isn't in this story much.  He does have an encounter with Justice Peace, one that will have greater significance in the next issue.

Thor #372
October 10, 1986
Simonson/S. Buscema

via Wikipedia

  • Thug heads to Jane Foster's house, where she's sitting in the living room with her husband.
  • Meanwhile, Thor and Justice Peace have their second showdown in Ruby's kitchen after having discovered her and Brad's dead bodies.
via Marvel Database

  • Justice Peace (JP) reveals he's been sent from the future by the Time Variance Authority (similar to Trek's Department of Temporal Investigations?) to kill Zaniac before he can assassinate the Mayor of Brooklynopolis in their own time period.
  • Now working together, Thor and JP still arrive too late to Jane's house.  She lies dead in her husband's arms.
  • Obviously, they have to go back in time, this time with the aid of Mjolnir.  
  • This time, they destroy the Zaniac creatures (but perhaps not all of them?) before they can inhabit Thug.  Jane is saved.
  • In a heartwarming wrinkle, Thor brings Ruby's now orphaned sons to Asgard where Volstagg promises to raise them as his own.
  • Apparently, Thor can wield some special magic with Mjolnir to put children to sleep.  Now, that's a superpower!

Friday, February 5, 2021

Star Trek: Ménage à Troi

Episode: "Ménage à Troi"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 24
Original Air Date: May 28, 1990

The Enterprise visits Betazed for a trade conference.   While they're in the neighborhood, the Ferengi Daimon Tog takes a shine to Lwaxana Troi, Deanna's mother.  When she spurns his advances, he kidnaps her, along with Deanna and Will Riker.  However, the combined cleverness of Lwaxana, Will and Wesley Crusher, all is made right by story's end.  Plus, Wesley earns a field promotion to full Ensign (grumble, grumble... never should have been on the bridge to begin with... grumble, grumble...)

Okay, I'm starting to appreciate the point of Lwaxana episodes: comic relief.  Also, in light of our current family binge of DS9 (almost to the end of Season 6), it's interesting now to see this early stage of development for the Ferengi.  In late TNG Season 3, they're still 60% villains, 40% clowns.  The status of females only improves minimally during the time in between.  It's fun, too, to see Ethan Philips, the future Neelix on Voyager, in the role of Farek, a Ferengi doctor on Tog's ship.

Acting Notes

Frank Corsentino played the role of Tog.  Corsentino was born July 13, 1941 in Los Angeles County.  Most of his work was on television, including guest appearances on Gunsmoke, The Odd Couple and Starsky & Hutch.  Film credits included Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Simon, King of the Witches and Moonchild.  This was the second of three Trek appearances, each as a different Ferengi character.

Corsentino passed away January 7, 2007.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Reframing Organizations

Title: Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership
Authors: Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal

via Amazon

Reframing Organizations is another leftover from my Master's program, completed last summer.  Bolman and Deal first presented their idea in the 1970s: a four-frame model offering different perspectives for looking at the way organizations function.  There are perils in taking on such a book as "pleasure" reading.  It's nearly impossible to read without thinking about work, the very thoughts one is often trying to escape through pleasure reading.  As such, I did my best to consider the frames in terms of Star Trek instead.

Will Riker sees the Enterprise through the Structural Frame.  Everyone has a job and if everyone does that job properly, everything is hunky-dory.

Jean-Luc Picard prefers the Human Resources Frame.  While responsibilities are important, healthy relationships are essential to smooth operation.

Odo and Quark of Deep Space Nine (DS9) view the world through the Political Frame.  At the end of the day, everyone's looking out for their own interests.  Effective leadership begins with understanding the struggle for limited resources which results.

Worf and Kira (DS9) favor the Symbolic Frame.  Organizations - and societies - thrive with a sense of belonging and common purpose.  (Both characters's struggles stem from living with those whose meaningful symbols are different from their own).

I will readily admit that my analogy oversimplifies both the frames and the Star Trek characters.  But it gives us a starting point.

Despite being packaged as a text book, Reframing Organizations is a genuinely engaging read.  The authors offer case studies from a wide range of organizations: McDonald's, Harvard, Amazon, NASA, etc.  The differing group structures of team sports - baseball, football and basketball - provide apt metaphors for the Structural Frame in particular.

I'll spoil the ending.  The most effective leaders are those who are able to consider an organization through multiple frames, ideally all four.  Admittedly, there's a self-serving element to these "findings."  All successes are attributed to using the frames effectively.  All failures are blamed on failure to do so.  But the broader point is well made.  There are different ways to look at a problem.  The fact that individuals can read the same situation differently is important to understand.  Once you see that, it's easier to come up with a variety of solutions to one's challenges.

Makes perfect sense.

Getting back to my analogy, Benjamin Sisko navigates the frames beautifully.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Bitters of the Month: Whiskey Barrel-Aged

Fee Brothers produces a version of its aromatic bitters which is aged in whiskey barrels.  I would say the flavor is closer to Peychaud's than to Angostura: a hint of licorice, though there is a taste of cinnamon which brings it towards Angostura territory.  As for the whiskey aging, there is a smoky peatiness.  If I were more interested in trying the aromatic bitters without the aging, that could be a revealing comparison.  Perhaps some day.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Marvel Immersion Project: Thor #361-366

My Recent Reads

Thor #361
Originally Published November 10, 1985
Writer and Artist: Walter Simonson
  • Thor leads the Asgardian warriors to Hel in order to free the mortal souls trapped there.
  • Thor challenges Hela to a one-on-one battle.  If he wins, the mortals go free.  If she wins, Thor forfeits his soul to her.
  • Thor wins but Hela leaves him with disfiguring scars across his face.

Thor #362
December 10, 1985
Walter Simonson
  • Thor and his troops make their escape from Hel.  Hela sends her forces after them.
  • Skurge the Executioner is the hero of this tale.  He stays behind to defend the bridge Gallerbru while Thor and company get away.  Not a single demon sets foot upon the bridge.  Skurge is slain.
  • Cameo: Magma

Thor #363
January 10, 1986
Walter Simonson
  • Part of the Secret Wars II story, a crossover event.
  • At this point, the series goes off the rails a bit.  #363 is, at least in part, the continuation of a Power Pack story.  The Power Pack, first mentioned last week, is a little kid superhero team.  In their previous issue, the Pack defeated but did not destroy Kurse, a Dark Elf.  Now Kurse is revived and out to get Thor.
Kurse via Marvel Database

  • Thor has returned to Earth to bring back the mortal souls he'd rescued in Hel.
  • Together, Thor, Beta Ray Bill and the Power Pack prevail over Kurse.
  • The Beyonder, of the Secret Wars stories, had been boosting Kurse's powers - and diminishing those of Thor's and Bill's hammers - over the course of the fight.  Afterwards, he is convinced of the goodness of Thor and company.  At Thor's request, the Beyonder refrains from destroying Kurse and sends him instead to Asgard to help in the broader battle against Malekith.
  • Meanwhile in Asgard, the Althing approaches, a conference in which Odin's successor, presumably either Thor or Loki, will be named.  Obviously, Loki cannot allow Thor to return from Earth if he can help it.
  • After the fight with Kurse, a woman, transmuted by Loki, kisses Thor and turns him into a frog.
  • Yes, you read that correctly.

Thor #364
February 10, 1986
Walter Simonson
  • That's right, Thor has been turned into a frog.
  • As a frog, he gets caught up in a turf war between the frogs and rats of Manhattan.  
  • He hatches a plan to enlist the help of the alligators in the Central Park sewers.
  • When he finds the alligators, however, he discovers that they are under control of the Piper.
  • Okay, the frog/rat story isn't as terrible as it could be.  The Power Pack idea was worse.  But I can't help feeling for the poor kid in 1986 who plunked down 75 cents of his/her allowance for a Thor comic book only to find it's all about frogs and rats instead.
  • Somehow, despite being a frog on Earth, Thor shows up at the Althing!

Thor #365
March 10, 1986
Walter Simonson
  • Thor is still a frog.
  • The Thor in Asgard is actually Harokin, cleverly and effectively disguised as Thor - Heimdall's idea.  Confused, Loki demands that the ceremony be delayed.
  • Later, Loki discovers the ruse.
  • Thor and his frog army triumph over the rats with the help of the alligators.  The frogs offer to make Thor their king but he knows he must return to Asgard.
  • Thor returns to the alley where he'd left his goats and chariot.  
  • When the rats attack him, he manages to lift Mjolnir and become... Thunder Frog.
  • Okay, as unimpressed as I am by this whole story line, I have to admit, I kinda love Thunder Frog.  I might need to find a t-shirt.

Thor #366
April 10, 1986
Walter Simonson
  • The Althing resumes which presents a dilemma.  The real Thor has not yet returned and Heimdall and Harokin know they must give up their ruse before permanent harm is done to Asgard should the imposter be chosen.  None of that will matter if Loki is able to carry out his own schemes.
  • Finally, Thunder Frog/Frog Thor/Thor Frog/whatever returns and carries Loki away so they can duke it out in relative privacy.
  • Thunder Frog prevails.
  • What's more, Volstagg, off on his own adventure in search of a cure for his ailing daughter Hildy, manages to destroy - essentially by accident - the enchanted sword Twilight, simultaneously curing Hildy and lifting the frog curse from Thor.
  • Though Loki is defeated, Thor stops short of humiliating him by exposing his machinations.  However, Thor renounces his own right to the throne, citing his responsibility to protect Earth.  Instead, he endorses Balder for the job.