Friday, April 30, 2021

Star Trek: The Loss

Episode: "The Loss"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 4, Episode 10
Original Air Date: December 31, 1990

Counselor Troi has lost her empathic powers.  The loss is presumed to be connected to the Enterprise's proximity with a deadly cosmic string and/or a swarm of two-dimensional lifeforms being drawn towards said string.  It's becoming part of the Next Gen narrative formula: our heroes confront two crises at once and thankfully the solution to one proves to be the solution for both.

"The Loss" is a popular choice for worst TNG episode lists but I think the common criticisms are unfair.  Perhaps that balances out all the Q episodes others seem to love a lot more than I do.  I'm not going to say it's a great one.  There are definitely issues.  The secondary narrative is tech-babble heavy, for instance.  But the issues I see are not the complaints I read about among the fandom.  A lot of them accuse Troi of being whiny...

Okay folks, it's time to have a come to Jesus regarding Deanna Troi.  I will concede this much: she is by no means the strongest character in the series.  Nor is Marina Sirtis the strongest actor in the cast.  It takes quite a while for her to look even comfortable in the role.  The same could be said for many of the principals but Sirtis definitely takes the longest.  All of that acknowledged, the character and the actor's struggles reflect deeper problems within Star Trek and science fiction in general.  Folks, it's time to get real about sexism.

30 years after his death, it has been clearly established that Gene Roddenberry was a deeply sexist man and the franchise he created often reflects that.  He had well-known affairs with cast members in the original series, including Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett who would, of course, eventually become his wife.  He hired a costume designer in Bill Theiss who unashamedly built his reputation on clothes which, especially for women, looked like they could fall off at any moment.  TNG was better but consider the fact that during the first season, Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar) left because she wasn't getting enough material, Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) was fired for complaining too much about the sexist stories and Sirtis herself was worried she would be let go.  The fact that those three are all women - indeed, the only three women in the principal cast - is not a coincidence.

Deanna Troi, over seven seasons, was never not a sexualized character.  Naturally, it starts with costuming.  The low cut, tight fitting jump suits are certainly flattering.  Sirtis is a beautiful woman and I would hope she's proud of that but she didn't dress herself.  The costumes send a message: this woman's sex appeal is the most important thing she has to offer the show.  Meaningful character development for her always lags behind most of the others because, it would seem, it's not necessary.  It takes work to bring sensuality or vulnerability to Worf, Data or even Picard.  For Troi, you've just gotta speak softly and show some cleavage.  Who cares if she has any dimension beyond that?

Sexism also runs deep among the fans.  It's gotten better over the years.  Interestingly, Japan has led the way, rather surprising from such an historically chauvinistic culture.  My daughter's generation has grown up with Miyazaki's strong female protagonists and the generally more sophisticated narratives of anime.  As such, the 21st century kids expect more and damn right they should.  But historically, the geek universe is a boys' world and the tolerance for female characters is limited, to put it kindly.  Internet debates over a female Doctor Who, a female James Bond, a Star Wars trilogy with a female lead are ridiculous.  Most of the fanboys (forgive the expression, Tony) are content to see a character like Troi contained within her glass box.  Wait, she's complaining about something?  Never mind the fact that anyone in her situation would be understandably upset for a long time.  She's on the show and she's hot.  Isn't that enough?  Why do I have to listen to her going on about this?

Unfair?  To the geeks, I mean?  I don't think so.  It's all part of a pattern.

Getting back to the episode, I do regret that such a complicated scenario as a sudden disability was so brutally oversimplified for the time constraint - much as Tony Stark was able to kick alcoholism in a single comic book issue.  I get that's a limitation of the medium but, to my broader point, we've seen this with Troi stories before.  In "The Child," she must process rape, unintended pregnancy, reproductive choice, childbirth, motherhood and the loss of her child all within one 42-minute stretch.  That's a lot to ask of a character, never mind an actor.  But we're only going to give this lady one or two featured episodes a season at most so we'd better pack a lot in to each one.

Interestingly, the writers considered making the loss of empathic abilities a permanent part of Troi's character.  Being a geek who fears change myself, I'm glad they didn't but I can't deny it could have been interesting - perhaps even spinoff-series-worthy.

Acting Notes

Kim Braden plays the role of Ensign Janet Brooks, a patient of Counselor Troi's.  She was born in London to Canadian parents, November 1948.  As she is a natural redhead, it's not exactly surprising to learn that she made her breakthrough as Anne Shirley in two BBC miniseries: Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea.  Now, there's a satisfying female protagonist!

"The Loss" is her first of two Star Trek appearances.  In the 1994 film Generations, she played Elise Picard, Jean-Luc's wife in an alternate reality.  Probably not coincidentally, Braden's husband, David Carson, was the director of that film.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Squid Mixes: Gin and Sprite

When out of tonic, one must resort to other options.  We do have some Sprite sitting around.

Lemon-lime soda serves perfectly well.  It covers the gin taste nicely.  Perhaps it is too sweet.  The bitter lemon from a couple months ago had more dimension - more natural flavor, maybe?  Tonic is still the go-to for me.  It's readily available at any grocery store and it's certainly cheap.  But Sprite made for a nice change of pace.

Perhaps a Sprite/7-Up blind taste test sometime?  That could be interesting.  I had a friend growing up who swore he could taste the "lymon" in Sprite and thus preferred it.  Ah, the power of marketing...  Or is that the power of lab-produced flavoring?

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Gabrielle Hamilton

Title: Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertant Education of a Reluctant Chef
Author: Gabrielle Hamilton

via Amazon

Gabrielle Hamilton is the chef/owner of Prune, a restaurant in New York City.  Blood, Bones & Butter is her memoir covering childhood to the professional success and personal struggles of middle age.  Her history is an undeniably colorful one.  Essentially abandoned when her parents divorced, she took to hard living quickly - snorted her first line of cocaine at age 13.  But what she lacked in personal discipline she more than made up for with a willingness to work hard.  She entered the restaurant business at about the same age and was hustling tables as a cocktail waitress in NYC by 16.  She found her way into catering which eventually led to her buying her own place, never having even worked the line in a restaurant kitchen before.  Along the way, there was college, a backpacking trip through Europe and an MFA in creative writing at Michigan.

Her restaurant is a successful one and it's impossible not to admire Hamilton and her uncompromising approach.  She writes beautifully.  The time in Ann Arbor paid off.  But I can't say I envy her.  There's a lesson in her story: life can be messy, even (especially?) for apparently successful people.  Her emotional life is disastrous.  As the book ends, her marriage is on the verge of falling apart and the warning signs have been evident from the beginning.  On top of everything else, she's a devoted mother and juggling work and family requires daily heroic effort.  I am confident in saying, it's more than I could handle myself.

Successful doesn't necessarily equal happy.

As such, the book, while well-written, is frequently difficult to read.  To her credit, Hamilton never paints herself as the victim, fully owning her contributions to her frustrations.  But still, for me it's a stressful read, like watching someone walk a tight rope over a deep ravine.  I would happily eat at Hamilton's table any time but as a friend, she would drive me nuts.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Star Wars Comics: The Early Adventures #1-4, The Freedon Nadd Uprising #2, Dark Lords of the Sith #1-2

Russ Manning, writer and artist for the first Star Wars comic strip, was born January 5, 1929 in Van Nuys, California.  He studied at the Los Angeles County Art Institute then drew cartoons for his military base newspaper during his US Army service in Japan.  His professional career in comic books began when he joined Western Publishing in 1953.  Before Star Wars, his best known work was Magnus, Robot Fighter, his own creation,  and numerous Tarzan comics.  

Manning died of cancer in 1981.  He is in the William Eisner Award Hall of Fame and even has an Eisner Award named after him: The Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award.  A few creators I have featured over the years have won it: Scott McCloud, Jeff Smith and Gene Ha.

My Recent Reads

Classic Star Wars: The Early Adventures #1
Originally Published August 9, 1994
Reproduction of a comic strip from 1979
Writer: Russ Manning
Artists: Manning and Rick Hoberg
In-Story Timeline: 1 ABY

  • Russ Manning wrote and drew the very first Star Wars newspaper comic strips, beginning in 1979.  While it predates the Goodwin/Williamson strips, it is set after them in the timeline.  Also important: these strips were published before the release of The Empire Strikes Back so essential story elements had not yet been revealed, likely not even to the comic creators.
  • Gambler's World begins.  This initial story ran from March 12 - September 8, 1979.
  • Luke and Leia (with droids in tow) are heading to Vorzyd V to disrupt the Empire funding gambling operation there.  Darth Vader sends a mysterious agent named Blackhole to stop them.
  • At their first casino stop, Luke hits big, twice, thereby drawing way too much attention.
  • On their way to the next one, they are captured by shadow stormtroopers and taken to the spaceport.
  • Artoo and Threepio witness the capture, then figure out which ship L&L are being held on: a Hrakian vessel.
  • As the issue ends, the droids run off to find a Hrakian to help sneak them on board.  Meanwhile, Blackhole begins his interrogation of L&L.

Classic Star Wars: The Early Adventures #2
September 1, 1994
Reproduction of a comic strip from 1979
Manning/Manning and Hoberg
  • Gambler's World continues.
  • In a bar, the droids find Branox, a drunken Hrakian pilot, and trick him into letting them on his ship, fortunately the same one L&L are on.  
  • The droids break L&L, and two other local Rebels, free and our friends manage to escape.

Classic Star Wars: The Early Adventures #3
October 1, 1994
Reproduction of a comic strip from 1979
Manning/Manning and Hoberg

  • Luke goes to meet the Vorzyd V contact, who also turns out to be the planet's president.  She has a plan to devert the casino money to the Rebellion through Luke but while they are discussing the plan, the group comes under attack and Luke has to make a run for it.
  • While he was gone, Leia and Artoo were kidnapped by "Freelies," a group of young toughs who have been trying to steal the droids for much of the story.
  • In the midst of Luke's rescue attempt, stormtroopers following Luke surround the Freelie base.
  • The Freelies fight off the stormtroopers and in the confusion, our friends are able to escape.

Classic Star Wars: The Early Adventures #4
November 1, 1994
Reproduction of a comic strip from 1979
Steve Gerber/Manning and Hoberg
In-Story Timeline: c. 0 ABY

  • #4 includes the entire run of Tatooine Sojourn.  The story ran from September 10 - November 5, 1979.
  • Tatooine Sojourn was the first Star Wars strip to appear on both Sundays and weekdays.  This contradicts my previous, erroneous assertion that Star Wars was a weekday-only strip.  
  • My humble apologies.
  • Luke is unhappily sent back to Tatooine to check on a mysterious space capsule.  The appearance of such capsules has coincided with recent Imperial attacks on Rebel bases so the Rebellion wants him to figure out what's going on.
  • He meets his contact Anduvil at Mos Eisley, of course, when she rescues him from being shot.
  • Anduvil explains that the arrival of capsules has also coincided with outbreaks of the deadly Bledsoe's disease which serves primarily to weaken worlds before the Empire attacks them.  
  • In an interesting twist, the Imperials have also manipulated the disease to leave astral maps on a victim's eyes which enable tracking of Rebel bases for those who know to look.
  • Luke, Anduvil and the droids eventually make their escape, blowing up the new Imperial base on Tatooine on their way out.

    Tales of the Jedi - The Freedon Nadd Uprising #2: Initiates of the Sith
    September 1, 1994
    Tom Veitch/Tony Akins
    In-Story Timeline: 3,998 BBY

    via Amazon

    • Republic and Jedi reinforcements arrive on Onderon to join the fight against the Freedon Nadd Uprising.
    • Satal and Aleema Keto crash land but they survive.  
    • Ulic and his people break the siege engines.  Ulic and Nomi finally meet, in the midst of battle.
    • The Ketos bring their Sith book to King Ommin who offers to translate it for them.  He also shows them his captive: Jedi Master Arca Jeth, whom he intends to convert to the Dark Side.
    • The Jedi attack Ommin's stronghold and kill him.
    • The Ketos escape with their book.  The Force ghost of Freedon Nadd also gives them a talisman and two Sith swords.
    • Arca is rescued.
    • The sarcophagi, which now include Ommin's, are finally evacuated to the moon Dxun.

    Tales of the Jedi - Dark Lords of the Sith #1: Masters and Students of the Force
    October 1, 1994
    Veitch and Kevin J. Anderson/Chris Gossett
    In-Story Timeline: 3,996 BBY

    • We meet Exar Kun, a Jedi apprentice training under Master Vodo on Dantooine.  He is powerful and troublingly curious about the Dark Side.
    • Aleema and Satal Keto form a Dark Side society called the Krath in the Empress Teta system.  The Ketos lead the Krath in a coup, killing their own father as well as the Mining Guild officials who run the system's economy.  Over dinner, they plan further atrocities.
    • Master Arca gathers his Jedi and sends them off to the Tetan system.  Ulic and Nomi lag behind so Arca can train Nomi in battle meditation.
    • Meanwhile, back on Dantooine, Kun defeats first fellow apprentices then Master Vodo in duels.
    • Vodo warns Kun that there's a part of the apprentice's heart that escapes the Light Side.  Arrogantly, Kun dismisses the warning.

    Tales of the Jedi - Dark Lords of the Sith #2: The Quest for the Sith
    November 1, 1994
    Veitch and Anderson/Gossett

    • The story is running on three, for the moment, separate threads: Exar Kun, Krath and Ulic/Nomi:
    • Kun:
      • Exar Kun arrives on Onderon, asking to investigate the Sith artifacts collected from King Ommin's Lair.  Master Arca, correctly, doesn't trust him and sends him away.
      • Undeterred, Kun goes first to Iziz, then to the Dxun moon where the Naddist sarcophagi are entombed.
      • On Dxun, the Forsce Ghost of Freedon Nadd urges Kun to take scrolls from his tomb.  The scrolls tell him, among other things, that facing extermination, the Sith wandered until they reached Korriban.  That's where Kun heads next.
    • Krath:
      • Satal and Aleema are quickly building an empire in the Empress Teta system.  Aleema is particularly gifted in using the Force to generate illusions.
      • They attack Koros Major, where the Jedi and the Republic aim to stop them.
    • Ulic/Nomi:
      • Our Jedi protagonists have joined the counterattack.
      • Nomi uses her own considerable psychic power to see through Aleema's illusions but it's not enough to fend off the brunt of the Krath assault on the Republic fleet.
      • Ulic is wounded.
      • While Nomi treats him, Republic Captain Vanicus orders a retreat.

    Friday, April 23, 2021

    Star Trek: Final Mission

    Episode: "Final Mission"
    Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
    Season 4, Episode 9
    Original Air Date: November 19, 1990

    Wesley Crusher has finally been accepted to Starfleet Academy.  For a last hurrah, Picard invites the young Ensign to accompany him on an away mission.  Unfortunately, their shuttle crashes and their symbolic expedition becomes a fight for survival.  

    "Final Mission" is Wes's final episode as a principal cast member on The Next Generation.  Wil Wheaton asked to be released from his contract in order to pursue other opportunities.  He would return as a guest star and also for one film but as a series regular, he was done.

    It's no secret, the Wesley Crusher character never quite worked.  It's not the actor's fault.  Wil Wheaton was Gordie Lachance in Stand by Me so I will always love Wil Wheaton.  The actor himself has written and spoken extensively about the flaws in the Wesley role.  Don't be too sad for him, either.  Wheaton holds an exalted position within Geekdom for life.

    In my opinion, the problem with Wes is that he was never allowed to be a real kid.  Creator Gene Roddenberry was too caught up in the idea of seeing himself in Wes and therefore pushed to make him special.  A wunderkind storyline emerged, one that justified Wes's undeserved place on the bridge but in reality, only made him more nauseating.  Even when he was allowed to be human, he was too sweet, too naive.  There was no edge to Wes.  It was as if the writers had never known a true, flesh and blood teenager in their lives.  And wardrobe certainly didn't do him any favors: the terrible sweaters the first season, then the ill-fitting Starfleet uniforms thereafter.

    Wes was never replaced so the principal cast of eight was reduced to seven where it would remain for the rest of the series.  In some ways, Jake Sisko follows in his footsteps in DS9 but Jake serves a different narrative purpose in the later series and, for that and several other reasons, works much better.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

    Acting Notes

    Nick Tate played the role of Dirgo, the pilot of the ill-fated shuttle.  He was born June 18, 1942 in Sydney.  His career began in Australian television.

    His best known gigs were the British series Space: 1999 and Australia's Sons and Daughters.  In the US, he made guest appearances on such series as The X-Files, Murder, She Wrote and Lost.  Film credits include Cry Freedom, Hook and The Great Gatsby.  Tate is also known for his voiceover work on high profile theatrical trailers.  You've undoubtedly seen one.  Here's the full list.

    Wednesday, April 21, 2021

    Squid Mixes: Diamond Fuzz

    When you have unusual ingredients on hand, it's a good excuse to be creative.  On a recent festive occasion, the only bubbly we had in the wine rack was a sparkling peach wine: Sweet Nancie Peach from St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw, Michigan.  We visited one of St. Julian's retail stores a couple summers ago and were quite impressed with this lovely product.  My wife challenged me to make a cocktail with it.  So...

    I found a drink in The New York Bartender's Guide called a diamond fizz, consisting of gin, lemon juice, sugar and champagne/sparkling wine.  Swap out the grape wine for the peach and you've got something new.  The fizz becomes fuzz in honor of the once fuzzy peach.  Voila, the Diamond Fuzz was born!

    It's quite a refreshing little concoction, I must say.  Sadly, another trip to western Michigan may be a while for us.  Even worse, St. Julian doesn't ship to Vermont!  So, we may need to find another source.

    Anyone know of a good sparkling peach wine?

    Monday, April 19, 2021

    Star Wars Comics: Classic Star Wars #20, Tales of the Jedi: The Freedon Nadd Uprising 1

    Yeah, not so many issues this week.  Marvel Unlimited is glitching at the moment and judging from the automated response I got to my complaint, I'm guessing not just for me - frustrating.

    My Recent Reads

    Classic Star Wars #20
    Originally Published June 7, 1994
    Reproduction of a comic strip from 1983-84
    Writer: Archie Goodwin
    Artist: Al Williamson
    In-Story Timeline: 0 ABY

    • This is the final issue of this series and also the end of the newspaper strip.  Overall, I definitely enjoyed it.  None of the stories are canon but they're still fun - a romp through an imaginary galaxy.  I'm always up for that!  I suppose I can see why Star Wars didn't ultimately succeed as a comic strip.  It's kinda like the saga we know, yet it's not quite the same.  Close wasn't good enough.  Even so, the quality of execution is perfectly acceptable, on par with the Star Wars comic books of the same era.
    • I still don't think I would have read it at the time even if it had been in my paper.  I've never been a fan of serialized comic strips, not even Spider-Man.  Others in my family enjoy them - my wife and my father bonded over Brenda Starr early in our relationship.  The only one that ever worked for me was the satirical Bloom County but I even found that one hard to get into until I read a collection.  Right, the story...
    • A New Beginning continues.
    • The glowing stuff is valuable spices.  Han and Luke manage to convince Raskar this is the "treasure" they were hiding, even though Luke had just discovered them on the sensors.
    • The group manages to escape the planet, now with a hull full of spices for Raskar.  They head to Ord Mantell.
    • Showdown begins.  The story ran from December 26, 1983 - February 5, 1984.
    • The group runs into a band of bounty hunters, also after the reward for Han.
    • Surprisingly, the turncoat Raskar comes to our friends' rescue.
    • The Final Trap begins.   The story ran from February 6 - March 11, 1984.
    • Vader sends an Imperial Probe Droid to the planet Verdanth in an ongoing search for the new Rebel base.  The Rebels send Artoo and Threepio to check it out.
    • On their way back to Hoth from their adventures with the bounty hunters, Luke, Han and Chewie detour to rescue the now imperiled droids.
    • Once in contact via the Probe Droid, Vader tries to extract the location of the base from Luke's mind using the Force.  Our man successfully resists.
    • Meanwhile, Han and Artoo - mostly Artoo - figure out how to destroy the Probe Droid.
    • Our friends finally go home and the series ends.

    Tales of the Jedi: The Freedon Nadd Uprising 1
    August 2, 1994
    Tom Veitch/Tony Akins
    In-Story Timeline: 3,998 BBY

    • We return to the story of Ulic Qel-Droma and his friends on Onderon.
    • The Beast Wars are over and the new rulers of Iziz, Galia and Oron Kira, wish to purge their world of Dark Side influence by sending away the sarcophagi of the former rulers: Queen Amanoa and Freedon Nadd.
    • However, during the ceremony, a group of "Naddists" attack, stealing the sarcophagi.
    • The word sarcophagi, the proper plural of sarcophagus, is used numerous times in the text.  This pleases me greatly.
    • Master Arca and Ulic go to King Ommin, Galia's father, long confined to life-support, for help.
    • It turns out, Ommin isn't so helpless at all and his own sympathies lie with the Dark Side, not the Light.  He rises from his bed and kidnaps Arca.
    • Ulic and Galia return to Iziz to discover the Naddists have taken over.  They and their friends retreat and call out to the Republic and the Jedi for help.
    • Among those who respond to the call are Master Thon and Nomi.  And so, the two previous threads of Tales of the Jedi come together.
    • While officials on Corsucant debate their own response to the crisis, Satal and Aleema Keto, heirs to royalty in the Empress Teta system, steal Dark Side relics from the Galactic Museum.
    • Together, they head to Onderon themselves, though they intend to take up with the baddies.

    Friday, April 16, 2021

    Star Trek: Future Imperfect

    Episode: "Future Imperfect"
    Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
    Season 4, Episode 8
    Original Air Date: November 12, 1990

    During an away mission, Riker falls unconscious.  When he comes to, it's 16 years later.  He is now captain of the Enterprise.  He's both a widower and a father.  A Romulan diplomatic delegation, led by Tomalok, is coming aboard to negotiate a peace treaty.  He doesn't remember anything of the time in between.

    Perhaps all is not as it seems...

    This may be the best Riker episode so far, not so much for the story itself which is mostly forgettable but for establishing the character.  Especially in the aftermath of "The Best of Both Worlds," it's time for Will Riker to come into his own.  There's a new confidence.  Even though he's not quite ready to accept being ship captain, it's not difficult to believe from the viewer's perspective.

    And the Jean-Luc/Ethan/Barash story is both sad and sweet.  As Elton John would say, "It's lonely out in space."

    Acting Notes

    Andreas Katsulas (Tomalok) was born May 18, 1946 in St. Louis, Missouri.  His most famous role was that of G'Kar on Babylon 5.  On the big screen, he is perhaps best remembered as the one-armed Sykes in The Fugitive.

    Katsulas died of lung cancer in 2006.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2021

    Squid Mixes: Matinee

    A matinee combines gin, green Chartreuse, sweet vermouth, orange juice and orange bitters.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  As with all Chartreuse drinks, the flavor is interesting.  I feel this particular combination brings out a minty flavor in the ever-surprising Chartreuse.

    Cherry Battle: Luxardo vs. Amareña Fabbri

    We feel strongly about our cherries; strongly enough that we're willing to spend more for good ones; strongly enough that when my wife starts to get nervous we're running out of our favored brand, she'll buy three more jars via mail order.  The cherry garnish is the essential denouement of the Manhattan cocktail narrative.  Getting it right matters.

    We've been in love with Luxardo's Original Maraschino Cherries for quite a while.  As such, I was rather surprised when my wife picked up a challenger: Amareña Fabbri, a Bologna-based product, whereas Luxardo hails from Torreglia, near Padua.

    First let's establish clearly, both products are lovely.  Plus, the Amareña cherries come in a very cool jar:

    The Amareña has a lighter syrup and a brighter, jammy flavor.  The Luxardo is richer with a bit more depth.  My wife preferred the Amareña, feeling it's nice for the Manhattan to have a lighter moment at the end.  Meanwhile, the Luxardo might be better on a hot fudge sundae.  I'm not so convinced.  I like the depth of flavor.  Plus, licking the spoon after adding the cherries (bartender's treat) is more satisfying with the Luxardo.

    I suppose I'm willing to try it for a while - not to say I couldn't put one brand in her drink and the other in mine.  We do, after all, have at least one more unopened jar of the Luxardo cherries in the cabinet.

    Winner and New Champion: Amareña Fabbri

    Monday, April 12, 2021

    Star Wars Comics: Tales of the Jedi #5, Classic Star Wars #17-19, Droids #1

    David Roach, artist for Tales of the Jedi #5, is based in Wales.  He got his start with a self-published fanzine called Hellfire in the late '80s.  In addition to Star Wars, he has worked on such titles as Batman and Judge Dredd.  Beyond comics, he has illustrated several books for Dungeons & Dragons.

    My Recent Reads

    Tales of the Jedi #5: The Saga of Nomi Sunrider, Part 3
    Originally Published February 1, 1994
    Writer: Tom Veitch
    Artist: David Roach
    In-Story Timeline: 3,999 BBY
    • Thon begins Nomi's Jedi training.  She still refuses to learn to use a lightsaber.
    • With the help of a holocron, he teaches her the history of the Force.
    • Finhead Stonebone and his goons arrive, intent on stealing Thon's adegan crystals for Bogga the Hutt.
    • Thon surrenders to them but telepathically convinces Nomi to use the Force - and the lightsaber he gifted her - to fight them off, freeing Thon.
    • Thon says the holocron prophesies that Nomi will be a great Jedi.

    Classic Star Wars #17
    March 1, 1994
    Reproduction of a comic strip from 1983
    Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson
    In-Story Timeline: 0 ABY

    • Race for Survival continues.
    • Luke gets the Rebel fleet safely past the solar flare but his use of the Force to do so draws Darth Vader's attention.  He knows it's Luke and for the first time, at least in the comic strip, he reveals that he is Luke's father.  (Bear in mind, not news for the readers, even at the time.  Empire had come out three years before.)
    • The Paradise Detour begins.  The story ran from July 11 - October 2, 1983.
    • After running past the solar flare, the Millennium Falcon must stop on an apparently uninhabited planet for repairs.
    • Except it's not uninhabited.  When Luke goes to check things out while Han and Chewie fix the ship, young Skywalker runs into an old friend, Tanith Shire!
    • But when he chases after her, he discovers she's another woman entirely, S'ybll.  Then she runs off and when Luke runs after her, he runs into the Night Beast instead.
    • Something weird's going on here...

    Classic Star Wars #18
    April 1, 1994
    Reproduction of a comic strip from 1983
    • A Paradise Detour continues.
    • S'ybll is a witch, one with shape-changing powers.  In a Grimm-esque tale, she attempts to coerce Luke into staying with her so she can drain hm of youthful energy for herself.
    • When he resists, she resolves to kill him, intending to entrap his rescue party - Han and Chewie - instead.
    • In the ensuing duel - S'ybill taking the form of Darth Vader - she is exhausted of energy and finally dies.  Luke is able to escape.
    • A New Beginning begins - ha!  The story ran from October 3 - December 25, 1983.
    • The Rebels set up their new headquarters on Hoth.
    • The Millennium Falcon is a late arrival because of the detour.  It appears they were followed out of hyperspace by a strange ship - an obvious cause for concern if the new base is to remain a secret.
    • As the issue closes, Han, Luke and Chewie head out to confront the trespasser.

    Classic Star Wars #19
    May 1, 1994
    Reproduction of a comic strip from 1983

    via Wookieepedia

    • A New Beginning continues.
    • The intruder is an old friend of Han's, Raskar.
    • Raskar makes no secret of the fact that he intends to claim Jabba the Hutt's bounty on Han unless our smuggler friend can make him a better offer.
    • Wishing to draw attention away from the new Rebel base, Luke concocts a plan: convincing Raskar that Han has stashed his reward money from the Rebellion on Hoth.
    • Held at gunpoint, Han takes Raskar and his goons down to Hoth where they crash land in an icy chasm.  
    • Our adventurers dig their way out through a cavern, where they discover something bright and shiny. 
    • We don't know what it is yet.

    Droids #1: The Kalarba Adventures 1
    April 1994
    Dan Thorsland/Bill Hughes
    In-Story Timeline: 5.5 BBY
    • We join Artoo and Threepio in a time before their encounter with Luke Skywalker and friends.  They live in the Kalarba system with the Pitareeze family as hired guardians of young Nak.  They are much abused by their mischiveous charge.
    • As much as I love R2-D2 and C-3PO, I'm not a fan of stories which focus on them.  Regular readers may recall that the droid stories were far and away my least favorite episodes in Clone Wars.  As such, I did not go into this issue with high hopes.
    • And yet, it's not terrible.  Mind you, I don't think this is a series I will follow any further.  Historically, those in charge of marketing the franchise see the droids (and also the Ewoks) as an easy in with younger kids.  The human lead is usually a child, in this case Nak.  The tales rarely hold up much interest for adult readers, nor do they seem intended to do so.  As keen as I always am to explore the galaxy far, far away, I don't think droid stories are the way I want to do that.
    • I am a little curious about the .5 part of 5.5 BBY but not curious enough.

    Friday, April 9, 2021

    Star Trek: Reunion

    Episode: "Reunion"
    Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
    Season 4, Episode 7
    Original Air Date: November 5, 1990

    Captain Picard, quite surprisingly and controversially, is chosen to arbitrate the selection of the new Klingon leader.  There are two candidates: Duras and Gowron.  One of them, however, killed K'mpec, the previous leader, slowly poisoning him.  Picard must discover which before making his decision.

    But wait, there's more.  K'Ehleyr is back and she has a son, Alexander.  What's more, Worf is the father and this is the first he's learned of the child!  Our favorite security officer takes on a lot in this story: reconnecting with his ex, encountering Klingons for the first time since his discommendation, gaining a son and almost immediately taking on primary responsibility for him, leading an investigation of a bombing attack, grieving the loss of his ex, avenging her murder and disappointing his captain.

    K'Ehleyr, episode director Jonathan Frakes
    and Worf on set via Memory Alpha

    Question: Are there babysitting services on the Enterprise?  At one point, it seems like Worf and K'Ehleyr leave Alexander by himself.  Maybe they made arrangements off camera?  Or is this part of a broader pattern of neglect?  Or simply a narrative oversight?  (Children are often "forgotten" on television)

    Obviously, this is one of the more important Worf stories in the series and, frankly, one of the most significant Klingon tales in the whole franchise.  Gowron is an important character moving forward, for both Next Gen and Deep Space Nine.  

    Acting Notes

    Robert O'Reilly (Gowron) was born March 25, 1950 in New York City.  His long association with Star Trek - mostly as Gowron but a few other roles, too - has been his highest profile work.  The eye thing helped him get the part!  

    Other credits include the Jim Carrey film The Mask and guest appearances on Cheers, Knight Rider and MacGyver.  He and his wife have triplet sons.

    I am generally disdainful of meme culture but these are too good not to share:

    Thursday, April 8, 2021

    On the Coffee Table: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

    Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
    Author: J.K. Rowling

    via Amazon

    It's Year 7 and Harry Potter is a hunted man.  Lord Voldemort's minions at the Ministry of Magic have declared Harry Undesirable No. 1.  As such, he can't even safely show his face at Hogwarts.  Fortunately, he has plenty to occupy his time.  Dumbledore, before his own passing, set Harry on a mission to find Horcruxes, objects in which Voldemort has implanted pieces of his own soul.  Unless they are all destroyed, the Dark Lord can never truly be killed.  Fortunately, Harry has help.  The ever faithful Hermione and Ron are both along for the adventure.

    This seventh and final book in the series is different from all of the others in many respects.  For starters, a lot of characters die.  Harry has encountered death before: Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore, etc.  But in Year 7, no one is off limits.  From early in the story, it becomes clear that the body count will be high and the emotional wounds significant, for both Harry and the reader.  Perhaps even more importantly, relatively little of the story is spent at Hogwarts.  Since Harry, Ron and Hermione are all essentially PNGs on the grounds, they spend most of the book on the run.  As such, Deathly Hallows feels like a more traditional quest adventure tale than the previous installments.  And yet even that narrative is different from the usual - takes quite a while to gain traction.

    And then there's the climactic scene...


    Regular visitors may already be aware that I'm not a huge fan of resurrection narratives.  As such, Harry's whole dying but not really dying so Voldemort can finally die deal would not have been my first choice had I been the author.  However, there is a feeling of inevitability to it.  A simple duel wouldn't have been enough.  There had to be a catch.

    !!!END OF SPOILER!!!

    Even in light of all this, I find the conclusion of the series to be satisfying.  There are moments of redemption for Dudley, Kreacher and even the Malfoys.  Neville finally comes into his own.  Everyone ends up pairing off appropriately.  And then there's Snape.

    The Snape story is the hidden gem of the franchise and the primary failure of the movies is the fact that not enough was done with it.  Chapter 33, "The Prince's Tale" is worth the entire series and I don't say that lightly.  Snape was the main reason I knew I would eventually read all of the books over again when I first finished 14 years ago.  One does read Snape differently from the beginning when one knows what's coming.  It's still not easy to like him but it is easier to understand him.  

    I have thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this wonderful wizarding world.  I also enjoy the ever expanding media universe it has generated.  For me, I doubt anything will quite live up to these seven original books but I appreciate the fact Rowling has left so much room for others to explore her creation.

    Wednesday, April 7, 2021

    Bitters of the Month: Hella

    This month, rather than testing flavors, I'm testing brands.  Hella bitters are produced by Hella Cocktail Company, based in Long Island City, New York.  As a gift, I got small bottles of their aromatic and orange bitters.  Obviously, head-to-head matchups would be required.

    Aromatic Bitters Battle: Angostura vs. Hella

    Obviously, Manhattans were the way to go here.  In fact, there is a recipe on the Hella bottle, though I stuck to my own proportions.  Both were perfectly nice.  The Hella was fruitier.

    Winner and New Champion: Hella

    This is no small upset, folks.

    Orange Bitters Battle: Regan's vs. Hella

    For this one, I followed the Old Fashioned recipe on the Hella bottle.  It wasn't exactly an equal fight.  The Regan's bottle yielded bigger "dashes" than the Hella bottle.  Well, that's on them, right? 

    My wife didn't taste much difference anyway.  I sensed more orange from the Regan's than the Hella but that might not have been the case if I'd been more precise.  Oh well.  All else being equal, the cheaper product wins.

    Winner and Still Champion: Regan's

    Monday, April 5, 2021

    Star Wars Comics: Classic Star Wars #14-16, Tales of the Jedi #2-4

    Tales of the Jedi was the first of many Star Wars projects for artist Chris Gossett.  Beyond comic books, he has provided art for several video games, including Apocalypse and Pitfall 3D: Beyond the Jungle.

    My Recent Reads

    Classic Star Wars #14
    Originally published November 1, 1993
    Reproduction of a comic strip from 1982
    Writer: Archie Goodwin
    Artist: Al Williamson
    In-Story Timeline: 0 ABY
    • Revenge of the Jedi continues.
    • Admiral Ackbar has a brilliant plan: the Imperial skimmers who pursue the Rebels are lured across the same lake where the Millennium Falcon is trapped.  The "worm beasts" which dragged the Falcon to the bottom of the lake release it in order to attack the skimmers instead.  
    • The Mon Calamari bring the Falcon back to the surface and the good guys escape.
    • Doom Mission begins.  The story ran from January 24 - April 17, 1983.
    • While preparing to leave Yavin IV to establish a new headquarter base on Hoth (non-canon), the Rebellion is launching fruitless attacks on Darth Vader's new battle cruiser.
    • General Dodonna's young, handsome son Vrad volunteers to lead the next mission, armed with the power gem attained a few arcs ago to penetrate the cruiser's defenses.  Luke is assigned to be Vrad's backup pilot.
    • The problem: Luke believes that Vrad ducked out of the previous attack, faking damage to his own ship to cover his desertion.
    • Luke confronts Vrad and the two brawl.

    Classic Star Wars #15
    December 1, 1993
    Reproduction of a comic strip from 1983
    via Amazon

    • Doom Mission continues.
    • Vrad admits his guilt to Luke in the midst of their brawl.
    • Luke wins the fight, without even going all Jedi.  Vrad pulls a blaster on him but backs down in the end.
    • On the mission, Vrad weasels out again.  He maroons Luke on a remote planet, then goes to cut a deal with the Empire to spare his life in exchange for the power gem.  
    • Fortunately, Han was wise to Vrad and was tailing them in the Falcon.  He rescues Luke.
    • Vrad has a change of heart and turns hero at the last minute, carrying out the mission to pierce the battle cruiser's shields.
    • In sacrificing himself, Vrad left an opening for Han to attack with the Falcon and damage the cruiser enough to delay the Imperial attack on the Rebel base.
    • Race for Survival begins.  The story ran from April 18 - July 10, 1983.
    • With the Empire closing in, the Rebels must evacuate Yavin IV and head to Hoth (non-canon).
    • After taking off himself in his X-Wing, Luke learns that General Dodonna, now grieving his son, ducked out of his transport at the last moment.

    Classic Star Wars #16
    February 1, 1994
    Goodwin/Williamson and Allen Nunis
    • Race for Survival continues.
    • While the Mon Calamari attack the Imperial fleet to provide cover, the Rebels make their escape from Yavin IV, heading to Hoth.
    • Luke is leading the main fleet while Han tests an alternate more dangerous route.
    • Han's leads past a solar flare and even he isn't crazy enough to recommend they try it.  But Leia chooses it in the end anyway.

    Tales of the Jedi #2: Ulic Qel-Droma and the Beast Wars of Onderon, Part 2
    November 15, 1993
    Tom Veitch/Chris Gossett
    In-Story Timeline: 4,000 BBY
    • The Nebulon Ranger crash lands in the Onderon wilderness.
    • We learn of Tott Doneeta's special Jedi superpower: he can communicate with animals.  Tott convinces some Boma to take the Jedi to the Beast Lord Modon Kira's citadel.
    • Turns out, Princess Galia staged her own abduction.  Ulic, Cay and Tott stumble upon Galia's wedding to Oron, the Beast Lord's son.
    • During the wedding banquet, Modon explains that all in Iziz is not as it seems.  The royal family has been under the influence of the Dark Side of the Force for 400 years.
    • Modon plans to attack Iziz and he wants the Jedi's help.  Ulic advocates for a more diplomatic solution.
    • That fails and the Beast Lords attack.
    • After some back and forth, the Beast Lords win with unexpected help from Master Arca.  Dark power is driven out of Queen Amanoa, though Arca warns that the danger has not entirely passed.

    Tales of the Jedi #3: The Saga of Nomi Sunrider, Part 1
    December 1, 1993
    Veitch/Janine Johnston
    In-Story Timeline: 3,999 BBY
    • New story, new protagonist: Nomi Sunrider.
    • Nomi is married to a Jedi Knight, Andur.  They have a daughter, Vima, and a protocol droid, A-3DO.  Noma and Vima are also Force-sensitive.
    • Andur's teacher, Chamma, sends the family to the Stenness system to deliver Adegan crystals to Jedi Master Thon.
    • Along the way, Andur is murdered by minions of Bogga the Hutt bent on stealing the crystals.
    • Nomi, who has to this point been reluctant to pursure Jedi training, picks up Andur's lightsaber and fends off the goons, killing two of them.
    • Nomi and Vima complete the delivery to Thon, though not before mistaking him as a mere beast of burden for Oss Willum who is actually Thon's apprentice.

    Nomi, Vima and Thon via Wookieepedia

    • Thon is an important revelation for the franchise: not all Jedi are humanoid! Thon is a Tchuukthai.  

    Tales of Jedi #4: The Saga of Nomi Sunrider, Part 2
    January 18, 1994
    Veitch/David Roach
    via Amazon

    • After ignoring her for several months to allow her to grieve, Thon finally takes up Jedi training for both Nomi and Vima.
    • Nomi accepts the training but with the understanding she will never use a lightsaber again.  She is still haunted by those she killed in the previous issue.  As she points out, Thon doesn't use one.  Why should she?  Thon asserts that it is likely her destiny to use one but accepts her condition for the time being.
    • Meanwhile, elsewhere in the system, an ore hauler is attacked by pirates led by Finhead Stonebone.  Unfortunately for the pirates, Bogga had been hired for security and his minions quickly capture the pirates.
    • Brought before Bogga, Finhead is coerced to take over the never completed job of stealing the Adegan crystals from Thon.

    Friday, April 2, 2021

    Star Trek: Legacy

    Episode: "Legacy"
    Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
    Season 4, Episode 6
    Original Air Date: October 29, 1990

    A Federation freighter crash lands on Turkana IV, Tasha Yar's homeworld.  The survivors are taken hostage by a dissident faction.  In their effort to rescue the crewmen, our Enterprise friends allies themselves with Ishara (Beth Toussaint), Tasha's sister and member of yet another faction.

    The episode provides a lesson in friendship for Data who quickly grows close to Ishara.  The question, of course, is whether he or any of the rest of our heroes can trust her.  Toussaint is strong in the role and her hair... definitely memorable.  Maybe even a little distracting.  I saw someone on the 'Net describe it as the "Jordache look" - of the era, to be sure.  Overall, I'd say the story is highly effective, a stronger Data story than "Brothers" in my opinion.  He learns and therefore grows.

    80th Episode

    After completing production on "Legacy," the cast and crew held a special party to celebrate The Next Generation's 80th episode.  The significance: Star Trek's original series only had 79 episodes.  True, the originals also boasted an animated series and, to that point, five feature films.  That acknowledged, there was no longer any denying that the new series was a success, capable of standing on its own merits.

    As such, this seems a natural juncture at which to take stock.  3+ seasons in, what is the new series bringing to the franchise and are the links to the original still meaningful?

    What's new?

    Without question, TNG kicks TOS's butt all over this place when it comes to both character development and world building aboard the Enterprise.  The former was clear from the first episode.  To be fair, character was a lesser consideration for the original series.  Nonetheless, the fact remains that we already know more about Geordi La Forge, TNG's least developed principal, than we do about even Captain Kirk.  As for the ship, we see parts of the Enterprise that either weren't included in previous models or weren't considered meaningful enough to explore.  

    And again, I can't overemphasize what Patrick Stewart brought to Star Trek.  Set aside the fact that Picard's leadership style is quite different from Kirk's and therefore allows for different stories.  This is about the actor's approach to the work.  Stewart has a strong intuitive sense of his role in a story, on both the micro- and macro-levels.  As I pointed out in another post this week, he can do a lot with a little.  Through two miniseries as Karla, he never spoke a word.  His scenes are unforgettable even though they're not really about him.  They're about George (Alec Guinness).  While Karla's presence is essential, Stewart understands he's there to support the protagonist's story.

    Similarly, in Star Trek, Stewart is equally effective when Picard is leading the story and when his is the supporting role.  His posture and, my goodness, his voice project undeniable presence on screen but he knows better than to fill up the entire space in every scene.  Few have ever led an ensemble television cast with such elegance.

    Is this still Star Trek?

    I believe Star Trek is, at its heart, about an approach to confronting "the other."  In the late 1960s, the United States was in the thick of both the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.  A message of tolerance within a story genre that had long perpetuated fear and distrust was bold and captivating.  Next Gen definitely carries on that more hopeful message.  But the world of the late '80s/early '90s - at least, the white part of the world - saw itself as more accepting.  Having a Klingon on the Enterprise bridge in 1987 was less revolutionary than having a black woman on the bridge in 1966.  I can say as an adolescent in that era that we were taught, in the more liberal families, not to see the differences in others.  They are less important than our similarities.  Once again, Star Trek challenged conventional thinking.

    Thanks to the stronger character development, TNG was better able to explore the role of the individual in a modern, pluralistic society.  How is it to live in two cultures at once? (Worf)  How does one balance obligations to family with one's personal ambitions? (Deanna and Beverly, though from different perspectives)  What are the rights of an artificially intelligent life form? (Data)  What role does one's specific disability play in shaping the self-identity of a disabled person? (Geordi)  

    In short, TNG is Trek on a more personal level.  In fact, this week's story is a good example. Questions about whether or not our friends are on the right side of the fight are less important than Data's experience of personal betrayal.

    The best news: there are still nearly four seasons to go.

    Set a course, Ensign.  Engage!