Monday, January 31, 2022

Marvel Unlimited: Signing Off

I have come to the end of my Marvel Unlimited subscription.  By conservative estimate, I would say I have read over 600 comic books over the past two years, average cost to me at 25 cents per.  That's a bargain by any standard.  I could hardly have asked for a better vehicle for my immersion in the Marvel Universe - got to spend some quality time with Star Wars comic books, too.  A big thank you to the Comic Book Herald for their reading guides as well.

To wrap up, a few awards...

Most Dependable Marvel Series: The Amazing Spider-Man

Most Dependable Star Wars Series: X-Wing Rogue Squadron

Best Story Arc: Daredevil: Born Again

Best Single Issue: The Amazing Spider-Man #121

Best Character: Wolverine

Best Team: X-Men

Best Writer: Frank Miller

Best Artist: Alex Ross

As I am dropping this feature, The Armchair Squid will have a new posting schedule, beginning next week:

Tuesdays: Family Adventures

Fridays: Star Trek

My Recent Reads

Age of Apocalypse One Shot
Cover Date: May 2005
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Alvin Lee

Blink #1
March 2001
Lobdell/Trevor McCarthy

Friday, January 28, 2022

Star Trek: The Perfect Mate

Episode: "The Perfect Mate"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 21
Original Air Date: April 27, 1992

Captain Picard and his crew are put in a complicated diplomatic position.  While transporting Kriosian ambassador to peace talks, they are surprised to learn they are also delivering Kamala (Famke Janssen), the promised bride in an arranged marriage with the Valtian ambassador.  First, there is the question of whether or not Kamala has a choice.  When she assures Picard she has accepted the role assigned to her, there is the matter of whether or not the men on board will be able to resist her considerable charms.  Most complicating of all is the fact that Kamala has taken a particular shine to our dear captain.

There have been many well-warranted criticisms of the sexual politics of the episode but even the harshest dissenters agree on one point: Janssen is outstanding in the role of Kamala.  Executive producer Rick Berman described her as the most beautiful women any of them had ever seen but she brings so much more to the part.  Her chemistry with Patrick Stewart, in particular, is undeniable.  Sure, he deserves some of the credit for that, too, but the Picard love stories are rarely so convincing.

Romance is a powerful narrative driver in television.  It always has been: Lucy/Ricky, Sam/Diane, Ross/Rachel, etc.  We as the viewers are meant to root for every coupling, no matter how dysfunctional, to succeed.  Every once in a long while, a pairing comes along that I actually believe.  There's a chemistry between the actors that allows for genuine, plausible affection.  Friends, for instance, briefly included a recurring character, Kathy, an ex-girlfriend of Joey's who ended up with Chandler instead.  I believed the Chandler/Kathy attraction more than I ever believed Ross/Rachel, Monica/Chandler or any other romance on the show.  I'm inclined to give all credit for that one to the actress, Paget Brewster.  Believable intimacy is definitely not Matthew Perry's strong suit.

I believe in Kamala/Picard.  The ending is deliciously Casablanca-esque and I feel the pain of both parties.

This will come up again with my favorite DS9 episode.  Stay tuned.

Acting Notes

Famke Janssen was born in Amsterdam in 1964.  She started at the University of Amsterdam in economics - "the stupidest idea I ever had," she has said - but transferred to Columbia to study creative writing and literature.

Her professional career began in modeling.  Physically, she's drawn comparisons to Hedy Lemarr, though for me, that Dutch accent could only evoke Audrey Hepburn.  "The Perfect Mate" was her first television acting job.  She was offered the role of Jadzia Dax in DS9 but she turned it down, not wanting to tie herself down to a series.  It turned out to be the right move as her film career took off soon after.  She was a Bond girl in GoldenEye then the big break came in 2000 when she signed on to play Jean Grey in the X-Men films.  That gig, of course, reunited her with Patrick Stewart.  She's taken a turn in the director's chair as well, leading 2011's Bringing Up Bobby, a movie she also wrote and produced.

She's been active in charity work, too, particularly in animal rights.  In 2008, she was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Squid Mixes: The D-Day Swizzle Chronicles

It's been a while since I've done one of these, mostly because of a delightfully crowded liquor cabinet.  But for this one, at least in the beginning, it'll be more a matter of fridge space...

One of our recent favorite cocktails is the D-Day Swizzle.  The most prominent flavor player is the cider so that is where our exploration begins.  At least in the beginning, I intend to limit our scope to Vermont-produced cider.  Delightfully, that gives us plenty of high-quality options to choose from.  First up...

Lo-Ball 16 oz. "Tall Boy" vs. Woodchuck Rosé

Woodchuck Cider, based in Middlebury, is the granddaddy of Vermont's mass-marketed cider industry, in operation since 1991.  The Rosé incorporates purple carrots for color.  The Lo-Ball "Tall Boy" is a collaboration between Shacksbury, a cidery based in Vergennes, and WhistlePig, a whiskey distillery in Shoreham.  It's advertised as a "barrel-aged highball cider."  

First we tried the ciders on their own...

Neither was especially appley.  The Tall Boy was drier.  I was hoping for more whiskey hints from the barrels but they weren't there.  The Rosé had more of a cherry flavor.

Winner and Current Champion, Sipping Cider Category: Woodchuck Rosé

In the cocktail, however, it was a different story.  We both preferred the Tall Boy.  With less sugar, the other ingredients featured better.

Winner and Current Champion, Swizzle Mixer Category: Lo-Ball 16 oz. "Tall Boy"

Monday, January 24, 2022

Marvel Unlimited: Age of Apocalypse Omega - Finally

I have reached the end of the main body of the Age of Apocalypse story.  Despite all my griping, it's not terrible.  Faint praise, I know.  But you have to understand how much the story structure drove me crazy: too many characters, too many threads going at once.  Now that I've gotten to the end, I'd rather have read each individual series separately, then read Omega at the end.  But I realize I am not every reader.

I prefer an overly complicated X-Men story to an overly complicated Avengers story.  Even with the cast of thousands, the X-Men franchise is built around a unifying concept in a way that the Avengers are not.  It always comes back to Charles Xavier, even when he's been removed from the narrative, and the mutant/human dynamic.  The characters have defined relationships with each other - enough for some soap opera romance elements, and I mean that in a good way.  The Avengers, on the other hand, always feels like a hodgepodge, a landing platform for every superhero - and villain - they want to keep but don't know what else to do with.  Sure, there's always the core trio: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America.  But even they don't play a prominent role in every story.  What else holds the overall concept together from one arc to the next?  

The Fantastic Four?  Reed Richards is way too annoying for them to ever be my favorite Marvel team, even though so much good has come out of FF: the Inhumans, Galactus, Silver Surfer, Jack Kirby's best artwork, the whole Marvel Silver Age philosophy, etc.

I only have a few days left in my Marvel Unlimited subscription.  Expect a wrap-up post next week.

My Recent Reads

Weapon X #4
Cover Date: June 1995
Writer: Larry Hama
Artist: Adam Kubert

The Amazing X-Men #4
June 1995
Fabian Nicieza/Kubert
X-Universe #2
June 1995
Scott Lobdell and Terry Kavanagh/Carlos Pacheco and Terry Dodson

X-Men Omega #1
June 1995
Lobdell and Mark Waid/Roger Cruz

X-Men Chronicles #1
March 1995
Howard Mackie/Dodson

X-Men Chronicles #2
June 1995
Mackie/Ian Churchill

Friday, January 21, 2022

Star Trek: Cost of Living

Episode: "Cost of Living"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 20
Original Air Date: April 20, 1992

via Memory Alpha

Lwaxanna Troi is getting married!  To keep herself amused while en route to meet her intended for the first time, she takes young Alexander Rozhenko underwing.  She encourages the boy to adopt her own carefree ways, directly undermining both Worf's parenting and Deanna Troi's counseling.  Meanwhile, parasites are devouring the ship.

A Lwaxanna episode and an Alexander episode combined into one?  What's more, they're enabling one another's most annoying tendencies?  Oh, joy!

Nope, I'm not a fan of this one.  Worth noting, though, it won two Emmys: costume design and makeup.

Acting Notes

via Wikipedia

Brian Bonsall (Alexander) was born December 3, 1981 in Torrance, California.  Trek was actually his second high-profile television gig.  In 1986, he was cast as Andy, the youngest Keaton child in Family Ties.  He won three Young Artist Awards for that part.  He made his big screen debut in 1992, starring in Mikey.

Bonsall retired from acting at the ripe old age of 14.  Since then, he's been active as a musician, most prominently as lead guitarist for the Ataris for a few years.  He's had more than his fair share of legal troubles, both assault and drug charges.  He is married with one child, born in 2019.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Squid Mixes: Champagne Julep

A champagne julep combines cognac, sparkling white wine, simple syrup, bitters and mint.  I got my recipe from the Cocktail Party app.  I used Prosecco for the wine.  The bitters choice offered: aromatic, chocolate, lemon, orange or Creole.  I went with lemon.

We love mint.  We even have some in the garden - easily harvested in warmer months, not so much now.  And we love whiskey.  So, you'd think we'd drink juleps all the time but not so much.  The champagne variation provides a brighter option than the standard - quite nice.  I can't say the bitters were much of a player.  Again, it might be fun to experiment with the different options.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

On the Coffee Table: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Title: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes collects short stories originally published in The Strand Magazine, 1892-93.  Some but not all editions include "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box."  Mine did not.

Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss) via Baker Street Wiki

There's some decent character development for Holmes in this run.  We learn he is a master of both boxing and fencing.  We learn he has a brother, Mycroft, every bit as brilliant as he is, though not as keen for the fieldwork required of an expert detective.  So he's an accountant instead.  My favorites of the collection are "The Adventure of the Silver Blaze," in which a race horse figures prominently, and "The Adventure of the Yellow Face," in which we see a rare attempt at Victorian Era social commentary.

Moriarty (Jared Harris) via Baker Street Wiki

Most important for the overall franchise is the book's last tale, "The Final Problem."  Holmes's greatest nemesis, Professor Moriarty, is introduced - an arch-criminal whose legacy includes Kingpin, Jabba the Hutt and Keyser Soze.  I like Moriarty and I appreciate his importance but at least in this initial appearance, I don't think he gets enough development.  In fact, to this point, I prefer the Star Trek character.  Worth noting: neither Holmes nor Data could best Moriarty.  But Captain Picard could...

Monday, January 17, 2022

Marvel Unlimited: Age of Apocalypse Omega - Almost

All of those #4 issues below mean I'm getting close to the end of the main story.  So, I'll need to decide whether I want to dip my toe into the prequels or the sequels before my Marvel Unlimited subscription runs out.

My money's on the prequels.

My Recent Reads

Gambit and the X-Ternals #3
Cover Date: May 1995
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Salvador Larroca

via Amazon

The Astonishing X-Men #4
June 1995
Scott Lobdell/Joe Madureira

Generation Next #4
June 1995
Lobdell/Chris Bachalo

Gambit and the X-Ternals #4
June 1995

X-Man #4
June 1995
Jeph Loeb/Steve Skroce

X-Calibre #4
June 1995
Warren Ellis/Ken Lashley

via Amazon

Factor X #4
June 1995
John Francis Moore/Steve Epting and Terry Dodson

Friday, January 14, 2022

Star Trek: The First Duty

Episode: "The First Duty"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 19
Original Air Date: March 30, 1992

Captain Picard is giving the keynote speech at Starfleet Academy's graduation ceremony.  While the Enterprise is en route, the crew learn that Wesley Crusher's hot shot flight team has been in a horrible accident.  Wesley has survived with only a minor injury, though one of the five-member team was killed.  In the investigation, the superintendent, Admiral Brand, suspects there's more to the story than the cadets are letting on.  She's right.  Will young Wes come forward with the truth?

It's a strong episode, perhaps Wesley's best story.  It's an important one for the future of the franchise, too.  The seventh season episode "Lower Decks" is a sequel of sorts, in turn inspiring the much later animated series of the same name.  "The First Duty" also brings Robert Duncan McNeill into the fold as Nick Locarno, the flight team's leader.  The character provided inspiration for the Voyager principal Tom Paris even before McNeill himself was offered the role.

Acting Notes

Jacqueline Brookes (Admiral Brand) was born July 24, 1930 in Montclair, New Jersey.  She got a BFA from the University of Iowa, then went to London on Fulbright to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

The bulk of her career was on stage.  In fine Trek tradition, her Shakespeare credentials are particularly extensive: The Merchant of Venice, Midsummer Night's Dream and Much Ado About Nothing among many others.  She made her Broadway debut in 1955 in Tiger at the Gates.  Screen credits are relatively modest though she had a four-year run (1969-73) on As the World Turns.

Brookes died of lymphoma in 2013.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Explorer

Title: Explorer: The Mystery Boxes
Editor: Kazu Kibuishi

via Amazon

As with his Flight series, Amulet creator Kibuishi created Explorer as an anthology series to showcase the sequential art work of others along with his own.  Perhaps the lesson of Flight (see here) led him to be more deliberate in establishing a theme for each installment.  Each of the seven stories in The Mystery Boxes involves just that, a mysterious box.  Obviously, each tale takes the idea in a different direction and therein lies the fun.

Most of the contributors are relative unknowns.  However, Raina Telgemeier (Drama, Smile, etc.) teamed up with Dave Roman to create "Spring Cleaning."  I appreciated the Japanese folk tale elements of Rad Sechrist's "The Butter Thief" and the Looney Tunes-esque zaniness of Johane Matte's "Whatzit."  The strongest, though, is Kibuishi's own "The Escape Option."  I find it reminiscent of Vonnegut and the final panel, which closes the volume, is stunning.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Squid Mixes: Army & Navy

The Army & Navy combines gin, lemon juice, orgeat syrup and bitters.  I got my recipe from the Cocktail Party app, which offers a choice of aromatic, peach, lemon, chocolate or cherry bitters.  I went with lemon, my Bitters of the Month for January.  It is a gin sour variant dating back to at least 1948.  Connection with either service branch or even the football game is unclear.

It's a tasty little drink.  The bitters enhances the lemon flavor and the always pleasing combination of that flavor with almond (though I still prefer lime).  It might be interesting to try some day with other bitters.

And following up on last week's post, it is cold season, therefore a great opportunity to play around with hot toddies.  As with the Army & Navy, the bitters enhanced the lemon very nicely.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

On the Coffee Table: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Title: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collects twelve short stories, originally published monthly in The Strand Magazine from 1891-92.  If the first three books are anything to go by, I prefer Holmes in short form: less exposition, more detective razzle dazzle.  Best of all, no long backstory tangents.

Each of the stories has been adapted to the screen since and they serve to establish both character and standard methods clearly.  In fact, you sort of get used to Holmes's way of thinking after a while, to a point where I solved several of the mysteries well before Watson had a clue.  That's not to say they're not still fun.  Furthermore, I appreciate the fact that some of the cases are not actually fully resolved.  Clever as he is, our hero is not infallible.

Forced to pick a favorite among the dozen, I'll go with the first: "A Scandal in Bohemia."  The story introduces Irene Adler, the rare worthy foil to Holmes.  Adler is popular in adaptations even though this is her only appearance in the original stories.  Violet Hunter in "The Adventure of Copper Beeches" is satisfying for similar reasons.  For a male writer of Victorian England, Doyle did surprisingly well by his female characters.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Marvel Unlimited: Age of Apocalypse Reign/Omega

A thought to ponder for those who know the story...

The premise of Age of Apocalypse is an alternate time stream in which Xavier was killed before he could form the X-Men.  Instead, Magneto does it.  He is a stricter but no less devoted leader.  Isn't Magneto, then, the key to the whole scenario?  Which prevented the rise of Apocalypse to absolute power: Xavier's leadership or Magneto's antagonism of that leadership?  Yeah, I know, the copout answer is both.

In other news...

X-Universe (fourth in the list below) started strong, bringing a living Gwen Stacy into the timeline - and she's a badass!  Unfortunately, from there, the Avengers and Fantastic Four were brought into a narrative that was already overstaffed.  I guess some people like their comic books this way.  I'm a little curious - though not curious enough - to know what it would be like to read this story taking each separate thread on its own.  The order I've chosen is in release order and that's as I intended but still, I wonder.  At the time, after all, some readers must have chosen not to read every single issue.

My Recent Reads

The Astonishing X-Men #3
Cover Date: May 1995
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Jeph Loeb

The Amazing X-Men #3
May 1995
Fabian Nicieza/Andy Kubert

X-Man #3
May 1995
Loeb/Steve Skroce

via Amazon

X-Universe #1
May 1995
Lobdell and Terry Kavanagh/Carlos Pacheco

Weapon X #3
May 1995
Larry Hama/Kubert

via Amazon

Generation Next #3
May 1995
Lobdell/Chris Bachalo

Friday, January 7, 2022

Star Trek: Cause and Effect

Episode: "Cause and Effect"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 18
Original Air Date: March 23, 1992

The Enterprise gets caught in a time loop.  Over and over again, the ship is destroyed, everyone aboard killed.  Fortunately, deja vu kicks in deeper with each repetition.  Together, our heroes figure out they can use Data to send a message into the next cycle.

It's a Groundhog Day story, though screenwriter Brannon Braga is quick to point out that "Cause and Effect" predates the Bill Murray flick.  The episode is a popular one for best-of lists but for me, it's merely okay.  I admire the production effort.  They made a point of creating subtle differences in what would otherwise be identical scenes.  It's a good Dr. Crusher story as she is the first to catch on to the loop.  Much of the story is told from her perspective.

My favorite part is Kelsey Grammer's cameo.  That scene was originally meant to include Kirstie Alley as well, reprising her role as Saavik - an extra treat for us Cheers fans.  Alas, her schedule didn't allow for it.

Acting Notes

Kelsey Grammer (Captain Morgan Bateson) was born February 21, 1955 in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.  He went to Julliard on a scholarship but was eventually kicked out for routinely skipping class.

Fortunately, he was plenty good enough to find his way to the stage anyway.  He had long runs with the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and the Guthrie in Minneapolis before he hit Broadway as Lennox in Macbeth, eventually taking over the lead.  

In 1984, Grammer got the role of a lifetime: Frasier Crane, Diane's jilted lover on Cheers.  After his guest-starring debut, Frasier would be on television for the next 20 years, establishing himself as one of the most prolific characters in the history of primetime.  Between Cheers, Frasier and a guest appearance on Wings, the role brought Grammer 16 Emmy nominations, including four wins.  As if that weren't enough, he also voiced Sideshow Bob, one of the best recurring characters on The Simpsons, a gig which earned him a fifth Emmy.  Oh, and he has a Daytime Emmy for Trollhunters, too, plus a Tony as a producer for The Color Purple.

Alas, astonishing professional success has been paired with a thoroughly tragic personal life.  His father was murdered.  His sister was raped and murdered.  Two half-brothers died in a scuba accident.  For years, he has been plagued by alcohol and drug addiction, disastrous marriages and legal complications.  The casts of both Cheers and Frasier staged interventions for him.  But apparently, no matter how much of a mess his life became, he could always snap into character the instant the director yelled "action."

via tenor

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Bitters of the Month: Lemon

Fee Brothers Lemon Bitters is definitely lemony and sweeter than most bitters.  My wife suggested it might go well in a hot toddy.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Nancy Isenberg

Title: White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
Author: Nancy Isenberg

via Amazon

My usual disclaimer: I honestly try to avoid both religion and politics here on the blog.  But sometimes it's unavoidable.  And in truth, Isenberg's book isn't about politics.  It's about a history we've chosen to ignore in the United States.  Here we go...

The American Dream is a sham.  Yup, that's more or less Isenberg's thesis and she makes her case quite convincingly.  Our government and economic structures are not built to encourage social mobility.  They never have been.  Don't believe me?  How about our ongoing debates over paying for healthcare and higher education, problems other industrial nations have sorted out?  Or how about reproductive rights?  Or consumer debt?  It's all about keeping everyone in their own social stratum.  The rich get richer.  The poor get poorer.  Everyone in the middle wonders why it's so hard to make ends meet.

It's nothing new.  Isenberg goes all the way back to the first white settlements in Jamestown and Plymouth.  Those with land had all of the power.  Everyone else was exploitable and expendable labor.  It's been more or less the same story ever since, through wars, Reconstruction, red lining and all the rest.

The stars, as it were, of Isenberg's historical narrative are poor southern whites.  They've been scapegoated and forgotten.  They've been exploited, seduced and duped politically.  They've been the primary targets of the New Deal and the War on Poverty.  They've been a voyeuristic attraction of our reality television-loving 21st century culture.  And they're still poor, neglected and undereducated.  And they're consistently fooled into voting against their own interests.

The story of America is the story of race.  Our country was built on the backs of not one but two genocides.  I don't think Isenberg would disagree with my assertion but she does offer a nuanced perspective on race, particularly in the South.  Even before the Civil War, the rich and powerful in the South used the fear of an empowered freed slave population to scare poor whites into supporting secession and, most importantly, becoming soldiers.  After all (and I honestly never thought of this before), the only people in the South who actually benefited from slaves were those who owned them.  Most people didn't.  And all those rich people needed someone to fight the war for them because they sure weren't going to do it themselves.  What's more, they were able to use the same fear to suppress the Black vote and cement Democratic Party control of the South for the next 100 years.

That's right, folks.  Let us never forget that the Dems were the segregationist party until LBJ signed the Civil Rights Bill.  Back to the book...

Without question, I've learned a lot from White Trash.  I have a new perspective on class in America.  I guess I've always naively believed that poverty is a bad thing and everyone else thinks so, too.  I mean, I know that many Americans live in denial of the fact that social class exists in our country.  I know that too many see poverty as a moral choice - "Get a job! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!" - rather than an inescapable reality of capitalism.  I always thought that was all merely a matter of short-sightedness.  

But Isenberg has shown me a darker truth: many believe that others deserve to be poor.  In order for some to have plenty, others must lack.  And those who lack are lesser humans - indeed, trash.  And it's not just a few "bad" people who see things that way.  It's enough to perpetuate the same cycles over multiple generations.  I don't want to believe it's true.  I want to think better of my country and its citizens.  But the evidence is damning.

So yes, you should read the book.  Just don't expect it to improve your opinion of humanity.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Marvel Unlimited: Age of Apocalypse Reign, Continued

As we enter the third round/month of these titles, some of the storylines are beginning to merge.  That feels like progress.

My Recent Reads

Generation Next #2
Cover Date: April 1995
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Chris Bachalo

via Goodreads

Weapon X #2
April 1995
Larry Hama/Adam Kubert

X-Calibre #2
April 1995
Warren Ellis/Roger Cruz, Renato Arlem, Charles Mota and Eddie Wagner

via Marvel Database

Factor X #2
April 1995
John Francis Moore/Steve Epting

via Comixology

X-Man #2
April 1995
Jeph Loeb/Steve Skroce

X-Calibre #3
May 1995
Ellis/Ken Lashley

via eBay

Factor X #3
May 1995
Moore/Epting and Terry Dodson