Thursday, April 30, 2009

Muppet Babies, Barry Allen, and Ultimate Spock's Brain: The New Star Trek Movie

I've been putting this one off for awhile, because I know I'm going to come off as a cranky old curmudgeon. But time is pressing, the release is almost upon us, and I've got to get this off my chest:

I'm not terribly enthusiastic about the new Star Trek movie.

Which is pretty stunning, if you know me. I've been deep into Trek as long as I can remember. As a youth I had the stardates for every episode memorized (caveat: there were a lot fewer episodes back then, and I've long since lost that capability...). I was first in line in my town to see Star Trek The Motion Picture and ST2 and ST3 and...I own the freakin' Klingon Hamlet, for heaven's sake!!

And yet, despite the cool looking visuals and killer buzz, J.J. Abrams film pretty much has me going "Meh." Out of all my geek friends, I'm the only one who's not ultra-jazzed about it.

Why? I've crystallized a few thoughts, in no particular order.


For decades now, whenever a new Trek movie is in the offing, there were reports that Paramount was fast-tracking a "Star Trek: Academy" movie, with new actors playing younger versions of of stalwart crew. I don't know how much of that was ever true, ever got close to actual production. But it was out there every time, so often and so debated that the concept feels incredibly dated now, even though they've never done the concept--it has a very "been there done that" feel to me.

The thing is, though, the concept was never even worthwhile in the first place. Never mind the continuity problems (because that worked out so well for Young Sherlock Holmes, didn't it?). How much value is there in seeing our heroes before they were any good at their jobs? Hey, let's do an X-Files movie starring teen Mulder and Sculley!! Before they were experienced or competent or had even met (oops, there I go again)! Hey, for Season 8 of 24, let's instead go back in time and do the adventures of Jack Bauer as a young rookie agent!

Maybe I am just being curmudgeonly. But seriously, whose favorite version of the Muppets is Muppet Babies?


Star Trek III, while generally an entertaining film, was a disastrous creative step for the franchise.

In the Wrath of Khan, the story of our characters progressed. Heroes died, new characters joined the family. Star Trek was a living, breathing organism that could evolve, grow, change.

And then Star Trek III came along and said, "Nope, we can't have that. All that crap about aging gracefully? Never happened!"

Don't get me wrong...I'm not sad they brought Spock back to life. I love the guy, and they set it up well enough. But look at it this way: if, after giving a character the absolutely PERFECT death, they can't keep him dead, then you know our characters are immortal, and you know the status quo is never going to change. It was Flash:Rebirth 25 years early.

And the new characters? Carol Marcus was written out--and suddenly all of the big discoveries behind Genesis were David's. David was killed off. And Saavik was neutered, the part given to a (sorry) lackluster actor and all the things about the character that were appealing in ST II were absent from ST III...Saavik was just a generic Vulcan. That's it, clean slate. All new characters promptly and summarily removed. Back to the Big 7, and no more distractions from the never-changing status quo, thank you. It's the template for Brand New Day.

Yes, I know you can't blame the script writers for various casting difficulties. But from this point on, no change was allowed. New characters were immediately written out or killed off or revealed to be the traitor (really? The new person on the bridge is the traitor? Never saw that one coming...). The crew would be the original crew, period, that's it. Perpetual stasis. The franchise became almost reactionary in its resistance to change. And once that became rigid doctrine, this kind of parody came into vogue...and was sadly all too true:

And despite the television successes of the sequel series, that's where the film franchise is today. We've got a ridiculously rich tapestry of 600+ episodes with a vast panorama of characters, time periods, and cultures that have been introduced since TOS was put out to pasture. And I'll grant you, some are more successful than others, some less. But despite everything to choose from, Abrams and company go zooming straight for the "young Kirk and company" idea to relaunch the franchise. It's like someone going into Baskin-Robbins and not bothering to look at any of the flavors, but just going straight for the chocolate--every time. Yeah, maybe the chocolate is good, but every single time?

Maybe that's what the public wants (although Star Trek: First Contact outdrew the later original crew films, so I don't think the numbers dissect quite as neatly as a lot of people think). That's obviously what the studio wants. But me? I like to sample other flavors, too. But, sadly, I'm betting we'll never get Entertainment Weekly sidebars asking us to re-cast TNG or DS9 for a 20 years we'll be asking, "Who can we get to portray Chris Pines' role?" And I'll still be asking, "Again with the Klingons?"


I was out of comics for a few years when Marvel introduced the Ultimates line. When I got dragged back in, I didn't quite understand the concept--what, you want to clean up all the continuity and make things new-reader friendly, but WITHOUT having a Crisis, while still publishing the original comics you've now declared reader-unfriendly? Seriously, you launch a line whose very existence is a stern critique of your existing output? Doesn't that make things even more confusing? (A clerk at my LCS tried to convince me that Marvel's secret plan was to eventually cancel all of the Marvel-616 titles and make the Ultimates titles their only titles...obviously, that wasn't the case).

While I never read any of the Ultimate books any too regularly, whenever I did I got slapped around with cognitive dissonance. Wait a minute--that's not Doom's origin!! Hold on--Hulk did what?

I'm not a big fan of reboots in general...I'm even less a fan of reboots that try to arbitrarily change things just because. And although I haven't seen it yet and am withholding true judgment until I do, I get the sense that this new movie is "let's reboot just because we want to show all the characters together when they're young and sexy." I mean, sure, on a fan-fic level that could be sorta kinda fun (maybe). But to throw away everything that's been done before--for that?

I also get the sense that if you tried this with other franchises you might get eviscerated by the fans. Hey, let's do a Tolkien reboot so we can work Frodo and Aragorn into The Hobbit!! Hey, let's redo Episode IV so we can show Lando and Mace Windu hanging out at the Cantina! (Dammit, I've just given Lucas another idea, haven't I?) But Star Trek fans mostly seem all right with this. Maybe it's just me.

The other reason is, what the Ultimate Universe became. And again, I was hardly a diligent consumer of that product. But from what little I read, much of the Ultimate marketing strategy became "Let's titillate Marvel fans by dolling out Ultimate versions of their favorites!!" To an outside viewer, the solicits seemed to be a constant parade of "Look, this week we give you Ultimate Vulture! And Ultimate Galactus! And Ultimate Cable and Ultimate Stryfe!" It was same old same old under new make-up. Why go to all the trouble of creating a new universe for your characters when you're going to just re-do the same stories, same villains, just with a "twist?" (Dude, Ultimate Cable is really future Ultimate Wolverine!! Radical!!) It's just a newer version of What If without the Watcher's punchline at the's just re-arranging the chess pieces. Where's the new ideas, the new characters, the new stories?

I'm not saying this to slam the Ultimate books--again, I've read very few of them, and I'm sure many were fine comics. But did the world need an Ultimate version of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends?

And I fear this might become the future of the rebooted franchise. How long until someone starts asking Abrams when we get "his version" of Khan? Or the new "Shore Leave?" Or the "updated to attract modern audiences New Trek Tribbles?

Because I fear that, like the Ultimate books, we're going to end up retreading the same ground. I'm not confident in J.J. Abrams' ability to be a long-term shepherd for the franchise. I've watched Fringe sort of try to not be an X-Files clone while, sadly, telling the same Monster-of-the-Week stories and not doing too much else, story-wise. And now that the publicity mill is already churning about when (not if) his next Trek movie will be, I'm not terribly confident that we're going to get new, unique stories, but instead just re-visitations and re-imaginings of old stories.

Which is a shame, because I think that there's a lot of new stories and new directions to take. That, at it's best, Star Trek was able to reflect and comment on what the tenor of the times was, and there's a lot a new Trek could do to comment on the zeitgeist of the 21st century. But I fear that this reboot will have none of that, and instead we're now on the road to "Ultimate Spock's Brain."

I will keep an open mind. I'll be there opening night, and several more showings, too. And I'm sure the movie will be competent and pretty and fun and exciting, and I'll probably even like it and buy the Ultra-Edition Blu-Ray, and then 6 months later buy the Ultra-Ultra Special 2 Disc Extended Special Version Blu-Ray, because that's the kind of sucker I am.

But for the first time in my life, I'm not really dying with anticipation for the new Star Trek movie.

I hope I'm wrong.

And Abrams...would it hurt you to have a subtitle for the title? Just calling it Star's kinda arrogant, like only yours counts...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Literary Gift

From a back cover blurb on Dynamite's Sherlock Holmes #1:

Why, yes, Jeph Loeb, Sherlock Holmes is a "brand new wrapper" for a Victorian mystery story. Because Batman inspired Sherlock Holmes, obviously. And any good Holmes story is just a gussied-up Batman story.

If he wrote a blurb for a Tarzan book, it would probably read "It's a Ka-Zar story with a brand new wrapper!"

Yeah, I'm being overly harsh and picky, but Loeb is (supposedly) a professional writer, so if he can't express his ideas better, well, he deserves the scorn. And then there's Heroes...

In the interest of fairness, here's the full blurb:

P.S. It was a pretty good issue, although I don't buy the characterization of someone that we're shown at the end. Although it's certain to be "all is not as it seems," so judgment is officially withheld.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You See, In The 1970's, Truckers And Monkeys Were Popular, So...

Wait a minute...there was only ONE thing more fun than watching B.J. And The Bear?? I can think of several billion, including many painful diseases...

Many, that model better have had a tiny monkey to put in the passenger seat...and a tiny Sheriff Lobo!!

Terrifying memories from my childhood courtesy of Master of Kung Fu #108 (1982). The sad part? The show was already canceled by the time this ad ran...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Manic Monday--WWS-MD?

Last week in New Avengers #52, Spider-Man threw a royal holier-than-thou snit fit because the renegade Avengers are using a...ahem..."borrowed" Quinjet.

So, this is obviously a hugely important bit of character development, right? Bendis spent over 2 pages having Spidey protest the Avengers using a stolen Quinjet.

There we have have it, then. We clearly know What Would Spider-Man Do in such a circumstance.

Hey, what's this sitting here? Why, it's Secret Invasion #1, from a year ago!!

Hmmm, that sure looks like Spider-Man actively participating in a physical assault on Black Widow... in order to steal a Quinjet. And not a syllable of whinging about how this is wrong, or how "stealing is stealing," or worry about it coming back to bite them in the ass.

And look, it was also written by Bendis.

Gee, maybe that pre-Secret Invasion Spider-Man really was a Skrull.

Or maybe, just maybe, when it comes to the Avengers, Bendis is a hack who never let's the characterizations he himself has established get in the way of whatever "clever" bit of dialogue he wants to do in the current issue.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where The Hell Is Batgirl?

Back in February at the NY Comic Con, Dan DiDio and company announced that there would be 8 series "starting" in June spinning off of events in Battle For Simon Cowell: Batman, Detective Comics, Batman & Robin, Red Robin, Batman: Streets of Gotham, Gotham City Sirens, The Outsiders...and Batgirl.

Soon afterward, we started getting announcements of creative teams and preview artwork and other dribbles of information...but nothing for Batgirl.

Then the June solicits were released, and no Batgirl. All the other promised series were there, but no Batgirl. But nobody (myself included) seemed to notice in all the hoopla for Morrison and Quitely, etc.

Well, no biggie, right? It's just getting started a little later than the others.

Then, last week, the July solicits came out. And again, no Batgirl. Not a mention, not a hint.

So, what's the deal? Batgirl was announced with all the others, but in the intervening time, the title hasn't even had a creative team announced.

Is DC just waiting until the end of Battle for Simon Cowell (and Oracle: The Cure) for the big reveal of who the new Batgirl will be? They don't want to spoil it, and they don't want to release "blank" solicits like Marvel did for Purple Reign?

Or is the new creative really, really slow, and DC just wants to have a few issues in the bank before they start soliciting it?

Or, has DC reconsidered, and we won't be getting a Batgirl series after all? Given the complete and utter lack of follow-up information, that's become a serious possibility.

So that's the question of the week--Where the hell is Batgirl?!?

UPDATE: Dan DiDio told Newsarama on 4/29 that Batgirl "will be hitting shops in August." Still no creative team, though...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Marvel 1989 Week--Iron Man #241!!

And so we reach the end of Marvel 1989 Week.

One of the constants of this week has been (relatively) radical change. An all-new, all-different line-up of Avengers; a crazy-ass different line-up in the FF; retcon city in the X-Men as they try to clean up their continuity muddles (no, she was a clone who became the Goblin Queen!! Really!!); and Hulk completely changing his circumstances.

But the more some things change, the more others stay the same:

The Mandarin...Marvel's most metro-sexual villainAhhh....comfort food.

Brought to us by:

Our creatorsAs I discussed in Marvel Week 1978, Dave Michelinie and Bob Layton had two great runs on Iron Man, an this is during the second.

Where's Iron Man at in 1989? Well, he had just finished the "Armor Wars" storyline (which, interestingly enough, was never called Armor Wars at the time. The stories were all titled Stark Wars. It was only later when they were collected or referred to that they took the title Armor Wars. You learn something new everyday here at Slay Monstrobot!).

Stark had learned that some of his tech plan were stolen, and Iron Man went on a rampage to destroy the armors of everybody, good guy or bad guy, who was using it. He was kicked off the West Coast Avengers, hunted by the law (hmmm, this is seeming familiar...). He (rather convincingly) faked his own death, and Tony Stark was somehow able to persuade everyone that the old Iron Man had been acting on his own, and now a new guy was inside the armor. Really. Trust me. Plus, it was a pretty good excuse to get rid of the damned ugly red and silver armor...

Man, the people of Marvel-616 are gullible maroons, aren't they?

But back to #241, where we start in media res:

Big Trouble in Little ChinaWe don't know what's going on yet, but we do get to see Iron Man catch the perp. Except...

Iron Man...good at stopping them, lousy at capturing themOK, that was kind of unusual. What's the scoop?

The narrowest, emptiest road in Hong KongWhat, you mean Stark Enterprises didn't already have a branch in Hong Kong?!?

Jim Rhodes ignore lanes--he owns the road!!Hmmm...You're in China, dealing with a "shadowy figure" who controls everything, his group is called the Hand, and his minions wield enormously powerful rings. And all you can muster is "familiar"?? Geez, sometimes I think Tony Stark is the Hal Jordan of the Marvel Universe.

Meanwhile, back to our villain, who's about to give us a S.P.E.C.T.R.E.-style killing of a disloyal minion:

Sell enough GRIT, and you, too, can have these rings
Whereas zapping an unarmed man is way full of honor
All we are is dust in the wind, dudeYeah, that's the Mandarin, all right.

Stark also has to deal with a stalker:

Alcoholism in 1978, stalkers in 1989...Michelinie was always ready with the hot button topicsIn a few issues, she shoots him!! Holy J.R. Ewing!!

It's time for a meeting with our strangely different Mandarin--who is now a pretty sharp dresser:

Every body Zhang Tong tonight!!
LOVE the suitIt turns out that an accident with his "mento-intensifier" ring mostly wiped his now he's a Gordon Gekko style 1980's evil dude, with an evil proposal:

Godfather meets Wall Street meets Marvel
The Mandarin pays good benefits...So, Mandarin sets out to kidnap some of Tony's sending out motorcycle-riding monks wearing super-powered rings!!

Somehow, this scene should have been much, much cooler
Artist representation of what happened to Terrance HowardAnd then the Mandarin preps his people for the inevitable Iron Man response:

Well, it's much more interesting than Frank Miller's HandAnd they ambush him (so much for fighting with honor, eh?).And get creamed.

Iron Man respects equal opportunity in beatdownsAnd apparently, they've never seen Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Wait for it...
Wait for it...
Elmer season! Fire!But of course, it's all a ruse:

Falls for it every time!!Which leads to a full-page cliffhanger business proposition!!

I'll have my agent call yours!Uh, Tony, technically, maggots don't spawn, you see, they're the infant version of...oh, never mind. Next?

Two issues from now: BIF!POW indeed.

SPOILER ALERT: Stark wins, and...gets his permits to do business in Hong Kong. Really? That's what we were fighting over??

Earlier I mentioned Iron Man's faked death. Here's one letter writer's reaction:

Please don't print any more issues
So...don't bring Tony Stark back to life, and don't give anybody else the armor?What's your suggestion, Joe Engledow Jr. of Abilene, Texas? Cancel the mag? Than who's going to print your letter? Joe must have been pretty ticked by what was coming up in the near future...

Should I point out that they're running letters about #230 in #241?? Talk about snail mail...


Well, technically, not in the Marvel Universe...

Gotta love the apple on Captain Manhattan's beltIt was the last gasp of the New Universe, as D.P. 7 reached issue #30 (only 2 left before cancellation). The New Universe was sort of Marvel's New one was really buying it. Various peeps have tried re-jiggering it, playing around with aspects of it, but nothing seemed to catch fire. Even the then-magic touch of John Byrne couldn't turn things around. Marvel readers just didn't want non-616 superhero titles. Perhaps they would have done better today...

D.P.7 was one of the better and more consistent of the New Universe titles, benefiting from the same team for all 32 issues--Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Night Fights--Fantastic Four 1989 Style!!

It's Marvel 1989 Week here at Slay Monstrobot, but that leaves us with a peculiar problem. There just aren't a lot of good one panel punchfests available from April 1989. Some good fights, but no really impressive rock 'em sock 'em single panels. So we go with the best I've got--Mantis vs. the Master of the Priests of Pama:

Don't need no oaths of celibacy now, eh?

Maybe Spacebooger can figure out why Mantis was facing the Priests of Pama and the Cotati in an issue of Fantastic Four...

Unexpected Kung Fu mayhem happens in Fantastic Four #325 (1989), by Steve Englehart, Rich Bucler, and Romeo Tanghal.

A few brief notes about this issue after the post-fight jump.


We're talking about this issue:

This was the very last issue of Steve Englehart's nearly two year run on the FF.

[CORRECTION: Commenter Aardsy alerts me to the fact that Englehart actually stayed on board for the next 8 issues, but used the pseudonym "John Harkness" because he was pissed at Marvel's editorial demands for the title]

And he was racking up some big, radical (but not destined to be long-lived) changes. Reed and Sue left (only to later join the Avengers for 12 nanoseconds). Crystal rejoined the team briefly. And Sharon Ventura, aka Ms. Marvel, joined the team.

In due course yet another dose of cosmic rays transformed Ben into an even craggier Thing, and Ms. Marvel became a...well, She-Thing.

And she and Ben became romantically involved, which led to cringe-inducing scenes like this:

Watch those hands, Ben. Kids, please DO NOT let your imaginations run wild.

The Human Torch's flame was permanently stuck on and in overdrive, thanks to the magicks of the Inferno crossover event:

And, this being Steve Englehart writing a Marvel title, you just know who's going to show up--Mantis and Kang!!

Anyway, there's lots of fighting and stuff, The Silver Surfer shows up, and Englehart ends his run on a happy and joyous note:

No, she's not dead, she's just transferred her mind to the Cotati level of consciousness to find her kidnapped son and...oh, never mind. Next issue Reed and Sue come back, they fight a revamped Frightful Four, and in 6 months Walt Simonson would take over.


Speaking of the Silver Surfer...

Englehart was writing that one, too, so of course Mantis and Kang were showing up. But this issue had him facing off with Ego, the Living Planet, which gave us a pretty cool double-pager by Ron Lim and Tom Christopher:

Cosmic, bro.