Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Squid Mixes: May Day

A May Day combines gin, bitter citrus apĂ©ritif (I used Campari), lemon juice, simple syrup, rhubarb bitters and sparkling white wine with a lemon twist.  I got my recipe from Cocktail Party.  I assume the name of the drink is a play on the surname of the inventor, bartender Jane Danger.

The flavor is bright.  The rhubarb comes through with a tangy sour.  The Campari brings the pink color and a bitter finish.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Smiley's People

Title: Smiley's People
Author: John le Carre

First, a moment to acknowledge John le Carre's passing in December.  Born David Cornwell in 1931, he was an active MI5 officer when he published his first spy novel in 1961.  Many of his characters, including both George Smiley and Bill Haydon, were based on people he knew in the service.  He was never shy about expressing his political opinions, an outspoken critic of both Brexit and Donald Trump.  He died of pneumonia at the age of 89.

via Wikipedia

Smiley's People is the seventh George Smiley book and the third and final installment of the Karla Trilogy.  It begins, at least from George's perspective, as a murder mystery when one of his agents, General Vladimir, is killed in London.  Except it's not exactly a conventional case because whodunnit is obvious and therefore irrelevant.  The KGB (known in-story as "Moscow Centre") did it.  The more important question is "Why?"  What information did Vladimir have that the Soviets - or was it just one Soviet? - was trying to bury?

It takes a while for various narrative threads to weave together and Smiley's victory, when it finally comes in the end, is quiet and anti-climactic.  A man crosses a bridge, drops a cigarette lighter on the ground and gets into a car.  No big shoot out.  No fanfare.  George doesn't even seem comfortable with the duly earned pats on the back.  It's just over.  Such is le Carre's style and as ever, it's thoroughly believable.

Smiley's People includes a more modest travel itinerary than The Honorable Schoolboy, mostly hovering around England and Central Europe.  Le Carre does offer a loving portrait of Bern, Switzerland, a city where the author himself lived as a student.

Apart from George, the character who benefits most from the author's masterful development is Karla, Smiley's Moscow Centre nemesis.  We rarely see much of Karla in any of the books.  In fact, he never gets a spoken line in the BBC adaptations.  But we learn quite a lot in this final tale about his history, his motivations and finally, his vulnerabilities.  On screen, it's the perfect part for an actor who can make a lot out of a little, Patrick Stewart in the TV version. 

There are more George books.  The Secret Pilgrim is next up.  It's on the wish list but it could be a while for me.  The TBR shelves are overflowing at the moment.  However, there may be more le Carre in the near future...

Monday, March 29, 2021

Star Wars Comics: Classic Star Wars #9-13, Tales of the Jedi #1

Al Williamson was the artist for the Star Wars newspaper comics for several years in the early 1980s after having done the comic book adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back.  He was born March 21, 1931 in New York City, though he grew up in Bogotá, Colombia until the age of 12.  From the 1950s through the '70s, he found work on the science fiction, fantasy and horror titles of EC Comics and Warren Publishing, including a long run on Flash Gordon.  George Lucas requested him personally for Star Wars, having been impressed by his earlier work.  After Star Wars, worked primarily as an inker for Marvel for the next two decades.

Williamson passed away in 2010.

My Recent Reads

Classic Star Wars #9
Originally Published May 1, 1993
Reproduction of a comic strip from 1982
Writer: Archie Goodwin
Artist: Al Williamson
In-Story Timeline: 0 ABY
  • The Night Beast continues.
  • Unfortunately, Chewie proves no match for Yavin IV's underground monster.  Nor is anyone else.
  • Apparently, the planet's previous inhabitants fled and left the beast to defend the world for their eventual return.  
  • Using the Force and droid assistance, Luke manages to communicate with the beast a means of reconnecting with its former masters.
  • All is well.

Classic Star Wars #10
June 1, 1993
Reproduction of a comic strip from 1982
  • The Return of Ben Kenobi begins.  The story ran from May 17 - July 25, 1982.
  • A man who looks an awful lot like Obi-Wan Kenobi comes to the aid of rebel-affiliated weapons smugglers on the planet Aridus.  Word gets to Luke so he rushes to meet him.
  • But of course, it's not really Ben.  Darth Vader has hired an actor, had him surgically altered, given him some basic training with the Force and provided a few high tech cheats.  All of this is an effort to draw out Luke, of course.
  • Luke is fooled but the imposter is moved by our young hero's misplaced devotion.

Classic Star Wars #11
July 1, 1993
Reproduction of a comic strip from 1982
  • The Return of Ben Kenobi continues.  
  • The Kenobi imposter has a change of heart at the last moment.  After leading Luke into Vader's trap, he sacrifices himself in order to save young Skywalker.
  • As he dies in Luke's arms, he confesses that he was not the real Obi-Wan Kenobi.
  • The Power Gem begins.  The story ran from July 26 - October 3, 1982
  • In order to have a chance against Vader's new battle cruiser, Leia believes the Rebellion needs to get ahold of a power gem, once used by space pirates to attack larger ships.
  • Han and Chewie, being the closest thing to space pirates in the Rebellion, are sent off on a quest to find a power gem.  Small problem: no one is sure they actually exist any more.
  • The two head to Junkfort Station where they find a lead.  From there they head to a world where seemingly the only power gem in the galaxy is held.  Its owner, Raskar, holds gladiator tournaments for those who wish to take it off his hands.
  • Naturally, Han enters Chewie into the competition.

Classic Star Wars #12
September 1, 1993
Reproduction of a comic strip from 1982
  • The Power Gem continues.
  • Through their usual trickery, Han and Chewie manage to win the gem and defeat the reigning gladiator champ, all without ever setting foot in the arena.
  • They don't get to enjoy their triumph for long.  Upon returning to Rebel Base, they learn that Luke and Threepio never made it back from their last mission...
  • Iceworld begins.  The story ran from October 4 - November 14, 1982.
  • While evading Imperial Tie-Fighters, Luke and C-3PO crash on a snow-covered world.  From a distance, their wreck is observed by a single rider mounted on a tauntaun...
  • I will admit, I got chills when I realized the planet was Hoth.  Remember, this story (0 ABY) is set three years before The Empire Strikes Back (3 ABY).  The Rebellion is still headquartered on Yavin IV but they're scouting for a new locale.  Iceworld was indeed one of the first stories offered with an explanation for how Hoth became the new hideout.  The story is not canon - not much if anything from the newspaper strips is - but it is not contradicted by any canon material either.  So, it could have happened this way.
  • The tauntaun rider, Frija, rescues our two heroes and brings them back to her home.  Her father is none too happy.
  • Dad, a former Imperial Governor, doesn't want anyone knowing where he and his daughter are.  He commands Frija to tear Threepio apart for scrap and to throw Luke out in the snow.  Thankfully, she refuses.
  • Luke regains consciousness.  He and the Governor tussle.  With the help of his lightsaber, Luke quickly gains the upper hand.

Classic Star Wars #13
October 1, 1993
Reproduction of a comic strip from 1982-83
  • Iceworld continues.
  • Frija and Luke return to the ship in order to salvage its communication equipment.  The Governor and Frija's com system is also damaged but Luke is hopeful that there's enough left between the two to combine into a single working unit.
  • The Governor, now recovered, follows the two and attacks Luke.  Frija jumps in the way, sacrificing herself.  Luke defeats the Governor.
  • Luke soon discovers father and daughter were both droids, intended as decoys to distract from their human counterparts.  
  • As Frija dies, she thanks Luke for bringing meaning to her life, however briefly.
  • Luke buries the two droids, then reports to Rebel Command, requesting rescue and recommending Hoth as a new base planet.
  • According to canon, established 25 years later in Earth time, Hoth was among a list of worlds recommended by General Dodonna for the new base.  While it's not mentioned, there's nothing to say a previous visit and recommendation by Luke didn't factor in the ultimate decision.
  • Due to the Hoth connection and the genuinely touching story of Frija, Iceworld is probably my favorite arc so far in the Classic Star Wars series.
  • Revenge of the Jedi begins.  The story ran from November 15, 1982 - January 23, 1983.
  • This particular arc offers two points of broader franchise interest:
    • Revenge of the Jedi was an early working title for the film that would eventually become Return of the Jedi.
    • It is the story which introduces Admiral Ackbar!
  • Once again, the tale is not canon.  However, that doesn't change the fact that the newspaper comic offered fans the first glimpse of an important new character.
  • While the Rebellion is in the midst of preparing for evacuation from Yavin IV, the Emprie attacks Laakteen Depot, a remote outpost.  The Mon Calamari, Ackbar's people and the Rebellion's new allies, come to join in the fight.  Their fleet is shot down, though several escape pods, including Ackbar's, make it to the planet Daluuj.
  • The trouble isn't over.  There's an Imperial training outpost on Daluuj.  When the Millennium Falcon arrives to find the Calamari, an ambitious Imperial Commander pursues.
  • Han lands his ship in a lake near the Calmari.  The ship is soon dragged underwater by huge aquatic serpents.
  • So, they've found Ackbar and his entourage but there's no way to get off the planet.  Meanwhile, the Imperial fleet is closing in.

Tales of the Jedi #1: Ulic Qel-Droma and the Beast Wars of Onderon, Part 1
October 1, 1993
Tom Veitch/Chris Gossett
In-Story Timeline: 4,000 BBY
  • Tales of the Jedi was genuinely groundbreaking.  It was not only a departure from the Skywalker Saga but was set millennia before the original movies.  Resisted at first but ultimately pursued with George Lucas's blessing (and story approval), the series established a broader history for the Star Wars galaxy - a mythology within the mythology.  Tales of the Jedi initiated its own epic, now referred to as Tales of the Jedi: Knights of the Old Republic.
  • With a new story comes a new protagonist.  Ulic Qel-Droma is a young, proud and impulsive Jedi.  Ulic, his brother Cay and Tott Deneeta are all sent by their Jedi Master Arca Jeth to protect the Onderon system, new members of the Galactic Republic.
  • Arca tells the history of Onderon, now embroiled in a centuries-long war between the city dwellers of Iziz and the nomadic Beast Riders surrounding them.
  • Almost immediately after the Jedi arrive in Iziz, the Beast Riders attack.  While the Jedi fend most of them off, commandos break through and kidnap Queen Amanoa's daughter and heir, Princess Galia.
  • The Queen is furious with the Jedi and sends them off immediately to rescue Galia.  The Jedi quickly comply, though Tott senses something is amiss.
  • In the issue final frame, Ulic's ship, the Nebulon Ranger, is shot down by Beast Rider torpedoes.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Star Trek: Remember Me

Episode: "Remember Me"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 5
Original Air Date: October 22, 1990

via Memory Alpha

Wesley's warp bubble experiment goes horribly wrong.  His mother, Dr. Beverly Crusher, ends up in an alternate reality.  What's more, her universe is shrinking and all the people she knows are gradually disappearing.  Worst of all, she's the only one who seems to notice.

The idea for the story is fantastic, reminiscent of a line from Hamlet: "Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and call myself the king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."  I love the idea of a shrinking universe with inhabitants who have no concept that it was once larger.  It's not half bad as a Beverly episode either.  But there's a weakness in the narrative: you guessed it, too much Wesley.

Wesley created the problem so Wesley must solve it.  He gets help from an old friend, The Traveler (Eric Menyuk), who somehow sensed that Wesley needed him.  The devoted will remember that The Traveler was the one who, back in Season 1's "Where No One Has Gone Before," elevated Wes from mere wunderkind to Chosen One.  Interesting as the Traveler is in and of himself, his presence stretches the tolerability of the Wesley character concept.  Again, young Mr. Crusher's tour is almost over so tying up the loose ends is meaningful.  But for me, this wrinkle ruins an otherwise promising story.  In development, the Traveler was a late add-on for the episode and it shows.

Acting Notes

Eric Menyuk was born November 5, 1959 in Brookline, Massachusetts.  He graduated from Vassar in 1981.  He was considered for the role of Data before it was given to Brent Spiner.

If anything, Menyuk's bio gets more interesting after his retirement from acting in 1998.  He went to law school (Loyola Marymount).  Motivated by a son with special needs, his area of specialty is children's education rights.  As he points out in his professional bio, he is one of few lawyers with his own action figure.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Squid Mixes: Alaska

An Alaska combines Chartreuse, gin and orange bitters with a lemon twist.  Some recipes call for yellow, others green.  My recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide chose green.  The drink's etymology is unknown, as is its connection with USA's 49th state.

This one's good.  I think it helped that I used a lighter gin, Fleischmann's, than I did with the Rocky Green Dragon.  The orange bitters also brought the much needed citrus notes the other lacked.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Star Wars Comics: Dark Empire #6, Classic Star Wars #4-8

I have come to the end of Dark Empire this week.  It was a strong first offering for Dark Horse and one that definitely had an impact on the franchise moving forward.  As I pointed out last week, I prefer the style of the newspaper comics featured in the Classic Star Wars series but I appreciated the ideas explored in Dark Empire as well as the darker atmosphere.  Speaking of Classic Star Wars...

Archie Goodwin was the writer for numerous Star Wars stories, both in comic books and newspaper strips.  He was born September 8, 1937 in Kansas City.  Interestingly, he got his start in the medium as a drawer rather than a writer - magazine cartoons as well as comic strips.  He got his first regular work with Warren comics where he was also editor-in-chief for a time.  He contributed to their still running Vampirella stories.  He free-lanced with both DC and Marvel over the years and served as editor-in-chief briefly for the latter.  In addition to his work on Star Wars, he co-created both Luke Cage and the original Spider-Woman.

Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin via Wikipedia

Funny side story: Goodwin coincidentally shared a name with a character from the Nero Wolfe mysteries.  Archie is Wolfe's "legman" and the narrator of the stories.  When the writer Goodwin's first stories were published, the publisher warned him against using Archie Goodwin as a pen name because of the connection.  When he explained that it was in fact his real name, said publisher was delighted to use the story in its promotional materials.

Goodwin died in 1998 after a long battle with cancer.

My Recent Reads

Dark Empire #6: The Fate of a Galaxy
Originally Published October 20, 1992
Writer: Tom Veitch
Artist: Cam Kennedy
In-Story Timeline: 10 ABY

via Wookieepedia

  • R2-D2 saves the day in the battle with the Devastators on Mon Calamari.  He has a code that effectively shuts them all down.  The Rebels win the battle.
  • The stolen holocron reveals an ancient prophecy to Leia, a prophecy which appears to include both her and Luke.  
  • The Emperor shows up in his Star Destroyer.  He demands the return of both Leia and the holocron.  
  • She agrees, though she resists the Emperor's possession of herself and her unborn child.  
  • She battles Luke and, though he resists, she manages to convert him back to the Light Side.
  • Luke defeats the Emperor in a duel, slicing off his hand.  Everybody's always losing hands in this saga!
  • Luke and Leia escape, just as the Destroyer and, presumably, the Emperor himself, dissipate in a Dark-Side storm.

Classic Star Wars #4
November 3, 1992
Reproduction of a newspaper comic strip from 1981
Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson
In-Story Timeline: 0 ABY
via Wookieepedia

  • The Darth Vader Strikes story concludes.
  • With the help of his new friend, Tanith Shire, Luke and the droids escape from Vader's ship, though Luke and Vader sense each other's presence...
  • The Serpent Masters arc begins.  It ran initially from July 27 - November 1, 1981.
  • Tanith's escape plan isn't the greatest.  She brings Luke and the droids to her homeworld Ophideraan where her father and the rest of their community is enslaved by, you guessed it, the Serpent Masters.  Tanith herself has managed to live a relatively free life by serving the Masters as a smuggler.  
  • Unfortunately, it would appear is now likely to become a slave, too.

Classic Star Wars #5
December 1, 1992
Reproduction of a newspaper comic strip from 1981

via Wookieepedia

  • The Serpent Masters continues.
  • Indeed, both Luke and Tanith are enslaved.  The droids are knocked out of commission.
  • Luke tries to escape but without being able to control the flying serpents which the Masters ride around, there seems little hope.
  • Wouldn't you know it, Artoo has the answer once again.  He figures out how to imitate the signals the Masters use to control the serpents.  As such, Luke is able to ride one.

Classic Star Wars #6
January 1, 1993
Reproduction of a newspaper comic strip from 1981

via Wookieepedia

  • The Serpent Masters concludes.
  • Luke and friends not only manage to escape.  They also free all of the slaves.
  • Luke, Tanith and the droids meet up with Han, Leia and Chewie at Kabal, just as that planet is coming under unprovoked Imperial attack.
  • Luke and Tanith have a teary goodbye - at least, it's teary for her.  
  • Our regulars escape together from the planet on the Millenium Falcon.
  • Deadly Reunion begins.  It ran initially from November 2, 1981 - January 3, 1982.
  • Our friends evade capture but are unable to jump to lightspeed.  In an effort to find a quiet place to make repairs, they follow the signal of a homing beacon.  
  • Alas, it's a trap.

Classic Star Wars #7
February 1, 1993
Reproduction of a newspaper comic strip from 1981-82

via Wookieepedia

  • Deadly Reunion concludes.
  • The mysterious Dr. Arakkus has drawn our friends to a lost ship graveyard.  Now, they are all trapped by the gravitational pull of a dwarf star.  The Falcon can't get enough thrust to break away.  
  • Fortunately, Han comes up with a clever plan and they get away.
  • Traitor's Gambit begins.
  • In a Bespin-like story, our friends find shelter with presumed allies on the water world of Aquaris.  
  • Turns out, Han knows Silver Fyre, the world's leader, from his smuggling days.  And he's not inclined to trust her as much as Leia does.

Classic Star Wars #8
April 1, 1993
Reproduction of a newspaper comic strip from 1982
Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson and Allen Nunis

via Wookieepedia

  • Traitor's Gambit concludes.
  • Our friends go on a hunting expedition with Silver.  Han ends up in Silver's boat.  As much as I enjoy space operas, I do enjoy an underwater adventure from time to time.
  • Han still doesn't trust Silver, though it turns out her second in command, Kraaken, is the Imperial spy.
  • The prey is a giant octopus, though the beast turns the table quickly, nearly killing Luke, Han and Chewie.  Silver saves them all from a watery death.
  • Leia, meanwhile, confronts Kraaken as he tries to steal data files from the droids.  She outsmarts him, and everyone else, too.  
  • Our friends return to the rebel base just in time to help thwart an Imperial attack.
  • The Night Beast begins.  It ran initially from March 8 - May 16, 1982.
  • During the previous battle, an Imperial bomber crashed into part of the base, though it was believed no harm was done.
  • But some underground beast was awakened in the crash.
  • In the celebratory party, Leia accepts a date with General Dodonna, neatly avoiding the Han/Luke dilemma for the time being.
  • Festivities are interrupted by loud noises, among them Wookiee growls.  Chewbacca has gone to tussle with the unknown monster.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Star Trek: Suddenly Human

Episode: "Suddenly Human"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 15, 1990

via Memory Alpha

The Enterprise responds to a distress call.  Five Talarian teenage crewmen are rescued from a shipwrecked vessel.  Except that one of them isn't Talarian.  He's human.  Turns out, young Jono was born Jeremiah Rossa.  He is the grandson of a Starfleet admiral and his parents were killed in a Talarian raid when he was a small child.  He was raised as a Talarian by Endar, the leader of the invading forces who killed Jeremiah's parents.  The question now is whether or not Jono should be returned to his human family or if he should be restored to Endar's care.

It's an interesting story, though a frequently uncomfortable one.  The initial Starfleet position - and that of the captain and most of the crew - is that Jeremiah should be returned to his human life.  Obviously (at least from their perspective)!  Allegations of abuse complicate the matter, though those allegations are eventually discredited.  This situation does come up in the real world from time to time.  Remember Elian Gonzalez?  The six-year-old Cuban refugee who arrived in the US in 2000 essentially unaccompanied?  The position of many: of course, he should stay here.  Obviously, a life in Florida is clearly preferable to one in Cuba.  One small problem: the boy's biological father, still in Cuba, wanted him returned.  At the risk of starting an argument, I'll make my own feelings clear.  Of course the boy should return to his family.  No matter the geo-political ramifications, it was the best decision for the sake of the child.

The controversy in "Suddenly Human" is much the same.  Obviously, it's better (from our heroes' quite troubling perspective) to be human than Talarian.  One very important difference: Jono, according to Talarian law, is old enough to decide for himself.  Jono wants to remain with the only family he's ever known.  Endar is prepared to respect his choice and defend his right to make it, with force if necessary.  It's not so clear that Picard will, especially after Jono attacks Picard in his sleep.

Fortunately, in my opinion, wisdom comes to Picard at last in the end and the boy is returned to his father.

Acting Notes

Sherman Howard (Endar) was born Howard Lee Sherman on June 11, 1949 in Chicago.  Trained at the American Conservatory Theater, the vast majority of his high profile work has been on stage.  Screen credits include Day of the Dead and the role of Lex Luthor in the TV series Superboy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Squid Mixes: Waterloo

A Waterloo combines bourbon, Dubonnet rouge, Grand Marnier (or Cointreau) and orange juice with a cherry for garnish.  I got my recipe from Drinking French by David Lebovitz.  He invented it as a response to a Napoleon cocktail that was disappointing.  Get it?  Napoleon?  Waterloo?

My wife described the drink as "very interesting," noting a bitterness I would describe as woody.  It undoubtedly comes from the bourbon.

The drink also brings to mind this song.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Star Wars Comics: Dark Empire #1-5, Classic Star Wars #1-3

Wow, it's been nine years since I last wrote about Star Wars comic books!  Let's just say I expected it to get back to them a lot sooner.  I guess I got busy with other things.

In 1991, Dark Horse Comics picked up the baton for Star Wars after four years of radio silence for the franchise within the medium.  Dark Horse carried the license for the next 24 years, publishing dozens of series set in the galaxy far, far away.  Marvel now owns the rights to all of the Dark Horse series and, lucky me, they're available to read online via Marvel Unlimited.

I do not promise that I will read every issue of every series.  Indeed, the skipping around has already begun.  Years ago, I tried Marvel's Droids and Ewoks series from the '80s.  Both are god awful and I have no intention of reading any more of them than I already have.  You can't make me!  In fact, the Ewoks series is so bad that the Star Wars licensing people essentially disowned it, not even allowing Marvel to use the Star Wars logo for it any more.

There is tremendous variance in the canonic value of the Dark Horse comics.  Not surprisingly, much of the material has been superseded since by the films.  I'll note discrepancies where they're important but I won't let them get in the way of an engaging read.  

I have to say that after all my recent immersion in Marvel, Star Trek and Harry Potter, digging into Star Wars still feels like coming home.

Tom Veitch is the writer for the Dark Empire series.  He was born September 26, 1941.  He got his start in the underground comix movement of the 1970s but eventually found work with both Marvel and DC.  He is a published novelist and poet.  He was also, for a time, a Benedictine monk.  

My Recent Reads

Dark Empire #1: The Destiny of a Jedi
Originally Published December 12, 1991
Writer: Tom Veitch
Artist: Cam Kennedy
In-Story Timeline: 10 ABY
  • The first story out of the blocks was Dark Empire, set six years after Return of the Jedi.
  • A quick note on the Star Wars timeline:  year zero is the Battle of Yavin, the one at the end of A New Hope in which the first Death Star is destroyed.  Everything before the battle is BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin).  Everything afterward is ABY (After the Battle of Yavin).
  • The calendar is based on the Corsucant solar cycle: 24-hour days, 368-day years.
  • Back to the story.
  • The Rebel Alliance has established a New Republic covering most of the galaxy but the old empire is not entirely dead.  The remaining Imperial Forces are fighting a civil war among themselves.
  • The rebels are still harassing them, too.  Luke and Lando (and Artoo) are shot down over Imperial City during a raid.  Han, Leia, Chewie and Threepio rush to save them.
  • The band is back together!  But not for long.
  • Something is amiss.  Luke senses something or someone is still wielding the Dark Side of the Force within the former imperial palace.  He insists on staying to check it out, alone.
  • The others - especially Leia - want to stay to help Luke but he says it's too dangerous for any but himself.  So they go.
  • Except Artoo.  R2-D2 always stays with Luke.
  • A few important developments in the intervening six years:
    • Han and Leia are now married.
    • In this storyline, they have two children - mentioned but not named in the issue.
    • Leia is now a Jedi Knight, as trained by Luke.

Dark Empire #2: Devastator of Worlds
February 18, 1992
  • The Dark Side has a new weapon: World Devastators.  Currently, they are attacking Calamari, Admiral Ackbar's home world.
  • Luke finds the source of the trouble he sensed in the previous issue: Emperor Palpatine.
  • But wait, didn't he die at the end of Return of the Jedi?
  • Yes, but he cloned himself.  This story is, in fact, where the idea of Palpatine's resurrection in The Rise of Skywalker originated.
  • In a surprise move, Luke joins the Emperor this time.  We know from Luke's thought bubbles that he feels he must challenge the Dark Side from within.

Dark Empire #3: The Battle for Calamari
April 21, 1992
via Amazon

  • Lando, Wedge Antilles (remember him?), Leia, Han and C-3PO are fighting the World Devastators.
  • However, Leia is worried about Luke.  She has been having visions about him.  She convinces Han that they must go rescue Luke.
  • First stop: Nar Shaddaa, a spaceport moon orbitting Nal Hutta, Jabba's birthplace.  Han considers Nar Sahaddaa "home" and believes he has friends who will help them, including Ninx, a mechanic, and Salla, a pilot and Han's old flame.
  • The bounty on both Han and Leia has increased substantially since they killed Jabba so they must be cautious.
  • A beggar woman, Vima, recognizes Leia as a Jedi.  Apparently, Vima was once a Jedi herself.  She gives Leia a gift.
  • In the last frame, Han's house droid Zee-Zee informs him that Boba Fett has come to see him.

Dark Empire #4: Confrontation on the Smugglers' Moon
June 23, 1992
via Amazon

  • Alas, not all of Han's old pals have been so loyal.  Mako, the traffic controller on Nar Shaddaa, sold him out to the bounty hunters, led by Boba Fett who somehow managed to survive the Sarlacc pit.
  • Leia and Han make a run for it and manage to escape Nar Shaddaa with help from Ninx and Salla.
  • The Millenium Falcon now travels to the Emperor's ruling city where our friends hope to rescue Luke.
  • Han, Leia, Chewie and C-3PO surrender themselves to the imperial guards so they'll bring them to Luke.
  • Leia confronts the Emperor who now believes he possesses both Luke and Leia.  She tries to kill the Emperor and he shoots his Force Lightning at her, stunning her.
  • Han attacks Luke, believing he's become just like Vader.  Of course, Luke gains the upper hand quickly and urges Han to trust him.

Dark Empire #5: Emperor Reborn
August 18, 1992
  • This issue introduced the holocron to the Star Wars universe.  Holocron is short for holographic chronicle.  A holocron is a sort of artifact/bible/instruction manual for the Force.  Eventually holocrons would be part of the lore for both Sith and Jedi within the Expanded Universe.  They never appear in the films but they do feature in the Clone Wars television series.
  • Palpatine has a Jedi holocron which he shows off to Leia, his new captive.  
  • When she escapes, she steals the holocron.
  • Meanwhile, Ninx and Salla break Han and Chewie out of their detention cell - it could hardly be Star Wars without a jail break.
  • Everybody makes it on to the Falcon to get away, including Luke.
  • Psych!  He's just a Force projection.  Luke's still with Palpatine.
  • And he breaks into Palpatine's clone room just as Palpatine is about to transition to a new clone.
  • Luke destroys all of the incubators and the clones within them... except for one.
  • One is all Palpatine needs.  He gains the upper hand in his subsequent duel with Luke.
  • News flash: Leia's pregnant.  And Palpatine knew before Han did.

Classic Star Wars #1
August 1, 1992
Reproduction of a newspaper comic strip from 1981
Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson
In-Story Timeline: 0 ABY
  • As part of its Classic Star Wars series, Dark Horse compiled and colorized the newspaper comic strips which ran 1979-84.
  • I honestly can't remember whether or not The Washington Post carried the Star Wars strip when I was a kid.  They must not have by the time I discovered the comics section of the paper because I'm sure I would have noticed. 
  • This first issue compiles the first part of The Bounty Hunter of Ord Mantell which ran February 9-April 19, 1981, based on a Han Solo line in The Empire Strikes Back.  The story takes place between A New Hope and Empire.
  • While on a scouting mission, Luke and Leia are kidnapped by the bounty hunter Skorr and his sidekick Gribbet on, you guessed it, Ord Mantell.  Skorr's real goal, though, is to use his hostages to ensnare Han.
  • Archie Goodwin has a much better sense of the Han Solo patter than Veitch does.  I prefer Williamson's artwork to Kennedy's too.

Classic Star Wars #2
September 1, 1992
Reproduction of a newspaper comic strip from 1981
  • The Ord Mantell story concludes.  Surprise, surprise, our heroes get away.
  • Next up is Darth Vader Strikes which ran April 20-July 26, 1981.
  • Vader has a new plan of attack against the Rebels but one of his own admirals intends to betray him.
  • Han and Leia are growing closer and Luke is jealous.  I guess he doesn't know about the whole sister thing yet.  Of course, a reader in 1981 wouldn't either (though one might easily have guessed).

Classic Star Wars #3
October 20, 1992
Reproduction of a newspaper comic strip from 1981
  • Darth Vader Strikes continues.
  • Turns out, the traitor admiral - Griff - is a ruse devised by Vader to lure the Rebels into planting a spy.
  • Truth: Vader does have a new battleship.  He's using Admiral Griff and the Rebel spy plan to draw out other admirals who are disloyal to Vader and jealous of the favored status he has with the Emperor.
  • Luke volunteers for the mission, in part to get away from the Han/Leia situation.  He becomes a droid mechanic aboard the new battleship.  R2-D2 and C-3PO tag along.
  • Our handsome young hero draws the admiration of the flirtatious Tanith Shire, a beautiful supply tug operator.
  • Griff makes direct contact with Luke and recruits him into the bogus plan to sabotage the new battleship.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Star Trek: Brothers

Episode: "Brothers"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 8, 1990

Data gets called home by his "father," cyberneticist Noonian Soong.  Soong finally has Data's emotion chip ready.  There are a few complications:
  1. In order to get home, Data - essentially unaware of what he's doing - must hijack the Enterprise.
  2. This disruption interferes with a desperate need for medical attention.  Young Willie Potts is suffering from parasites accidentally ingested on shore leave with his brother Jake.  There was an unfortunate practical joke involved.  This becomes an important parallel story with the primary narrative because...
  3. Lore unexpectedly responds to the homing command as well.
"Brothers" tends to do well on best episode lists but it doesn't do much for me.  It involves children and it includes Lore.  Those tend to be non-starters for me with Star Trek.  I've noticed patterns regarding the episodes other people seem to like that I don't: they tend to be either Data- or Q-focused stories.  We'll talk about Q again when he comes back so let's focus on Data for now.

I've addressed the basic problem before: Data doesn't grow.  It's an obvious shortcoming of the character parameters, I realize.  As such, Data stories tend to be more about philosophy than character.  Star Trek is often like that (more on that soon) but especially after such meaningful development for both Picard and Riker over the past three episodes, this feels like a let down.  Yes, we get more Data background and that's fun.  But Data doesn't change.  Apart from the revelation that Lore isn't dead (great...), the broader narrative hasn't moved forward at all.

There are exceptions to my bias, of course.  After all, The Offspring remains my favorite episode for the entire series.  But it's worth noting, Data himself is not the reason why.

Acting Notes

Cory Danziger (Jake Potts) was born February 7, 1977 in Los Angeles County, California.  He was a well-regarded child actor, achieving Young Actor Award nominations for his work in The 'Burbs, Married to the Mob and the Beauty and the Beast television series.  As an adult, he has been an entrepreneur within the visual and performing arts realms.  His projects:
  • Co-owner of SceneFour, focused on the release of collections of visual art created by professional musicians
  • Co-founder of Original Lefty's, a clothing line
  • Co-founder of Guitar Dojo
  • Partner in Bootsy Collins's Funk University, an online bass guitar school

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Squid Mixes: Rocky Green Dragon

A Rocky Green Dragon combines gin, green Chartreuse and Cognac.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  You'd think there'd be a great story behind such a colorful cocktail name but I couldn't find anything.

My wife found the gin to be a bit much - I used Prairie Organic for this one.  A lighter choice might have worked better.  Also, as much as we both enjoy Chartreuse, she felt this cocktail suffered from the lack of a citrus "top note" like lemon or lime juice.

This is why we experiment.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Marvel Immersion Project: Secret Wars #7-12

I'm moving on from Marvel soon.  All of those Star Wars comics on Marvel Unlimited beckon.  Before I go, a quick acknowledgement of the highlights from my tour over the past year+, not necessarily in order of preference:
  • The Amazing Spider-Man, always but especially The Deaths of the Stacys
  • Frank Miller's Daredevil
  • Silver Surfer and Galactus
  • Alpha Flight
  • Wolverine - certainly the character and especially the original solo series
  • The Inhumans, especially Black Bolt
  • Howard the Duck
  • Man-Thing
  • The Beatles' appearance in Strange Tales #130
via Wikipedia

Mike Zeck was the lead artist for most of the Secret Wars series.  He was born September 6, 1949 in Greenville, Pennsylvania.  He attended the Ringling School of Art in Florida - yup, named for that Ringling family.  Most of Zeck's work has been with Marvel but he's dabbled with DC as well.  Apart from Secret Wars, he is best known for his art in Captain America, Master of Kung-Fu, The Punisher and Spider-Man.

My Recent Reads

Secret Wars #7
Originally Published November 10, 1984
Writer: Jim Shooter
Artist: Mike Zeck

  • Spider-Woman is introduced.  Marvel has actually had several Spider-Woman characters over the years and this one is the second, alias Julia Carpenter.
  • I have to admit, I'm not too impressed by the series at this point.  I'll share crucial details as/if they come up but for now, it's pretty reasonable to sum up once again with...
  • The fighting continues. 

Secret Wars #8
December 10, 1984
via Spider-Man Wiki

  • Spider-Man gets his black costume.  This is actually the most important long-term narrative development for the series - yup, a new costume.
  • I find myself descending into snark in regards to Secret Wars.  It's not a terrible series.  However, it is lacking in dimension - all style, precious little substance.  Dare I say, it's more like DC than Marvel.
  • Gasp!
  • Okay, there are a couple of rather interesting storylines running which I have not, to this point, addressed.  Both are important as the series nears its end:
    • Thing's powers keep flicking on and off - Ben-Thing-Ben-Thing-etc.  Neither he nor anyone else understands why. (Though we later learn Reed has suspicions - 'cuz he's like that.)
    • There is a race of humanoid beings on the planet whom our heroes encounter.  One of them, Zsaji, is a healer and also quite a beautiful woman.  Her healing powers are essential to the story.  So is the love triangle that develops between her, Johnny Storm and Colossus.  At the moment, Colossus is getting the worse end of the deal.
  • Something I've realized in this series: Reed Richards, Scott Summers and Captain America are all essentially the same character.  Or at least, they all serve the same basic narrative function within each team.  They all employ the same arrogant approach to leadership, too - Cap least annoyingly, Reed the most.  There are other parallel characters within the teams: Thing-Wolverine (Beast, originally)-Hulk, for instance.

Secret Wars #9
January 10, 1985
  • The fighting continues.

Secret Wars #10
February 10, 1985

via Marvel Database

  • #10 might be the most interesting issue in the series as it includes a detailed Dr. Doom backstory, including the story of his mother, the witch Cynthia Von Doom.
  • Galactus, prevented by the heroes from eating Battleworld must consume his own worldship.
  • The energy generated by this meal is somehow absorbed by Doom who is now more powerful than ever.
  • Doom defeats the Beyonder and, removing his mask (gasp!), declares the Secret Wars over.

Secret Wars #11
March 10, 1985
  • Doom has stolen the powers of the Beyonder and, among other things, the scars on his face have healed.
  • The other baddies believe that Doom has betrayed them so, of course...
  • The fighting continues.
  • Doom assures the good guys that his intentions are benevolent.
  • Colossus finally confesses his love to Zsaji and she seems to reciprocate.  Nightcrawler worries about the implications for Colossus's relationship with Kitty Pride (Isn't she like 15 at this point?!!!) back home.
  • The heroes vote unanimously that they must still fight to destroy the new more powerful Doom, despite his claim of reform.  Colossus is the final clinching vote.
  • The instant the decision is made, there's a blinding explosion and everybody dies!

Secret Wars #12
April 10, 1985
  • Okay, not really, obviously.  As we learned from The Princess Bride, there's a difference between all dead and mostly dead.  Colossus barely survived because he changed to his armored form at the last moment.  He revives Reed who is also merely mostly dead.  Together, they bring back everyone else.  But boy, Doom sure made his point!
  • Long story short, the good guys win and everybody gets to go home.  Surprise!
  • Molecule Man turns a Denver suburb into a spaceship (long story) and flies all of the baddies home.
  • Reed reveals he's had the power to get everyone home all along.  Gee thanks, Glinda.
  • Spider-Man makes a ruby slippers joke.  
  • Zsaji dies.  For real.  Colossus is heartbroken.
  • The Thing decides to stay on Battleworld for a while.  Since our last check in, he's discovered he can switch back and forth between Ben and Thing at will and he wants some time to himself to figure things out.
  • She-Hulk takes his place on the Fantastic Four during his sabbatical.
  • In a thought bubble, Reed notes his suspicions but decides not to share his theory with Ben.
  • Gee thanks, Glinda.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Star Trek: Family

Episode: "Family"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 2
Original Air Date: October 1, 1990

"Family" is the unofficial Part 3 of the Best of Both Worlds arc.  The Enterprise docks in Earth's orbit for repairs after the encounter with the Borg.  In his own efforts at recovery from the trauma of abduction, Jean-Luc decides to visit his childhood home on a vineyard in France.  He hasn't been back in 20 years and it doesn't take long to piece together that a difficult relationship with his older brother Robert (Jeremy Kemp) is a major reason why.  Meanwhile, Worf's adoptive human parents (Theodore Bikel and Georgia Brown) visit him aboard the Enterprise and Beverly finds a holographic message her husband Jack made for Wesley before Jack died.

As I wrote last week, Picard's recovery from his brief though brutal assimilation with the Borg is the most interesting aspect of the story in the long term.  We learn a lot about our captain in "Family."  What begins as an uncomfortable visit with his brother ends with genuine tenderness.  For the first time, we see Picard shed his hero garb and allow himself a moment of human vulnerability.  It heals, bringing him closer to his brother and, indeed, closer to us.  His recovery will last the rest of his life but we are witness to an important first step.

The Worf story is sweet.  Bikel and Brown are wonderful, entirely believable as the well-intentioned, often over-bearing, endlessly loving parents.  They are worried about their son as he deals with his own personal trauma, his recent discommendation by the Klingons.  They worry they haven't done enough for him as parents, though Guinan, of course, sets them straight.  Worf holds them at arm's length for most of the story but in the end, he too is able to show his appreciation.

We're nearing the end of Wesley Crusher's tenure as a principal character.  As such, giving him a chance to come to terms with his father's passing is appropriate.  This tertiary plot is the weakest of the three but still has its merits.

Acting Notes

Jeremy Kemp was born Edmund Jeremy James Walker February 3, 1935 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England.  He studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

Kemp's most prominent TV role was Brigadier General Armin von Roon in two popular miniseries, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.  Guest appearances included The Greatest American Hero, The Fall Guy and Murder, She Wrote.  His films included The Blue Max, Top Secret! and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Kemp passed away in 2019.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Bitters of the Month: Rhubarb

I first had rhubarb at The Philosopher's Island when I was 13.  It was picked fresh from the garden, then baked in a pie.  I'm pretty sure I've only ever had it in pie since - maybe a crumble.  Kind of a strange texture but the flavor's fine.

Of course, texture isn't an issue in liquid form.  Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters showcase the vegetable's tangy sweetness.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Marvel Immersion Project: Secret Wars #1-6

Secret Wars is often credited as the first comic book "event."  It was a 12-issue limited crossover series pulling together as many heroes and villains as possible from the Marvel universe.  Mattel had bought the license for Marvel-themed merchandise and they wanted a promotional series to coincide with the toy release.  In truth, there isn't much to the story: basically a battle royale between the goodies and the baddies.  And interestingly, the toys didn't sell very well.

However, the comic books themselves flew off of the shelves: the best-selling series in 25 years.  The impact on the industry was huge.  Nearly four decades later, crossovers are still the norm for both Marvel and DC.  Plus, some of the toy innovations in turn became permanent features of the Marvel comic book landscape.

Jim Shooter, lead writer for Secret Wars, was born September 27, 1951 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He has been working professionally in comic books since he was 14 years old.  In 1978, he became Editor-in-Chief for Marvel, a position he still held when he decided he himself was the best choice to write Secret Wars.  
While he is given loads of credit for putting the troubled company back on track, Shooter was a control freak and drove a lot of Marvel's best talent - Steve Gerber, John Byrne, Roy Thomas - to DC and elsewhere.  In fact, it was with Secret Wars that the biggest trouble began.  Marvel fired Shooter in 1987.  He went on to become Editor-in-Chief for Valiant Comics.

My Recent Reads

Secret Wars #1
Originally Published May 10, 1984
Writer: Jim Shooter
Artist: Michael Zeck
  • A group of good guys - Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four - and a group of bad guys - Dr. Doom, Magneto, Galactus, Doc Ock, etc. - have been plucked from their usual dwellings and dumped on a distant planet, Battleworld.  A mysterious being called the Beyonder has brought them together to fight one another, presumably for his own amusement.
  • There are a few new faces - for me, at least in the comics - on both sides.
    • Good guys:
      • Rogue
      • Lockheed
    • Bad guys:
      • Ultron
      • Bulldozer
      • Piledriver
      • Thunderball (The last three, along with Wrecker, comprise the Wrecking Crew.)
  • A few interesting wrinkles:
    • The two sides were summoned to separate camps.  Surprisingly, Magneto ended up in the good guy camp.
    • Galactus, interstellar behemoth that he is, doesn't take much notice of the others.  He tries to attack the Beyonder (unseen) on his own but fails.  

Secret Wars #2
June 10, 1984
  • Magneto breaks off and finds his a third fortress, essentially creating his own individual faction.
  • The fighting continues.

Secret Wars #3
July 10, 1984
Volcana via Marvel Database

  • Titania and Volcana make their first appearances, both on the bad guy side.  Mattel requested some new female characters.
  • Magneto captures the Wasp and holds her prisoner in his fortress.  He tries to charm her over to his side.  It appears to work.
  • On the good guy side, everyone misses their wives and girlfriends.
  • Spider-Man has a tussle with the X-Men.  He suspects them of breaking off to form their own faction.  He's kind of right, though their intentions are good.
  • Molecule Man drops a mountain on top of the Avengers.
  • The fighting continues.

Secret Wars #4
August 10, 1984
Shooter/Bob Layton
  • Haha!  Wasp was just fooling Magneto.  When the X-Men arrive at M's fortress, she turns on him.
  • Thanks to Hulk's strength and Iron Man's ingenuity, the Avengers are able to escape from under the mountain which had been dropped upon them.
  • Kang dies.  Doom kills him.
  • The fighting continues.

Secret Wars #5
September 10, 1984
  • Galactus summons his worldship, as big as a solar system.  Apparently, he plans to eat Battleworld.
  • Magneto is brought back into the good guy fold.  The X-Men initially bristle under Magneto's orders but Professor X convinces them it's in their best interest to cooperate.
  • Dr. Doom finds his way aboard Galactus's ship where he finds the tools he needs to defeat everyone, Galactus and Beyonder included.
  • The fighting continues.

Secret Wars #6
October 10, 1984
  • After escaping from Magneto and the X-Men, Wasp finds herself on her own.  She encounters Lizard and the two develop a refreshingly trusting relationship.  Lizard is, after all, a more nuanced character than most of the other baddies.  They both get picked up by The Wrecking Crew, in Wasp's case, after they've knocked her unconscious.
  • While on Galactus's ship, Dr. Doom encounters a very woozy Klaw and brings him into the fold.
  • Storm and Charles quarrel over who is in charge of the X-Men.  Charles wins.
  • Galactus has nearly finished his planet eating machine.
  • The fighting continues.