Talking about comic books, TV shows, movies, sports, and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Force in Focus: Carrie Fisher

Originally, I was going to return to reviews of Marvel's Star Wars this week, but then Carrie Fisher died on Tuesday.

To say 2016 has been a rough year in terms of celebrity deaths is nothing new; there's memes aplenty saying as much, and it's become a familiar refrain whenever yet another death hits the news. There's some truth to that notion (it does seem like an awful lot of big name celebrities with a knack for establishing personal connections with their audiences died this year), but at the same time, celebrities die every year, and once "2016 is the worst!" entered the zeitgeist, every subsequent death suffered from confirmation bias in a way that didn't necessarily happen in earlier years (and, of course, there's no guarantee 2017, and 2018, etc. won't be as bad or worse; modern pop culture is getting older, and the human parts of it older with it, and that means more and more deaths of people whose work we love). But Carrie Fisher's death hit me harder than most, simply because she's been, as Princess Leia, a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

As a heterosexual male, the easy comment to make is that my first celebrity crush has died, and there's some truth to that; I couldn't tell you exactly when my sexual awakening occurred, but Princess Leia was definitely one of the first characters to which my young mind said "I find her attractive", even if I didn't fully understand entirely what that meant, yet. But that's also doing the character (and Fisher) a great disservice, because Leia was so much more than a sex symbol.

I'd say Princess Leia is the character who taught me that women can stand side-by-side with men and kick just as much ass, but because of Leia, that wasn't ever really something I needed to be taught; it was just a fact of reality from the get-go, like water being wet and air being breathed. Leia is the first of the central trio of characters we meet in A New Hope, and her earliest moments involve her getting Artoo off her ship with the MacGuffin plans, blasting some Stormtroopers, and dishing out sass to an intense & ominous Darth Vader.

She proceeds to stand up to Imperial torture, and when Luke & Han show up to rescue her, she does most of the rescuing, grabbing Luke's blaster from him, firing off a few shots, and finding a way out of the detention cell. Star Wars is famously built on the structure of stories of old, but from the very beginning, Leia is upending and re-contextualizing those stories. She's the archetypal damsel in distress, the princess the hero needs to rescue from the castle of the evil monster to prove his worth, but in this story, when the hero arrives, the princess quickly takes charge, grabs his weapon, and rescues herself.

That's an incredibly strong statement for the film to make, and at a time when the modern action genre was about to be born from the steroid-enhanced musculature of male actors like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, there was Carrie Fisher, leading the Rebellion and firing guns right alongside every other character in the Star Wars films (all of whom were, for the most part, men). Only Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley can stand up to Leia in terms of offering a female counterpart to the male action stars of 80s, and while Ripley is an incredibly strong character in '79's Alien, she doesn't really become an action hero until Aliens, a few years after Fisher's first bow as Leia.

As Leia, Carrie Fisher taught at least two generations of men and women that women can stand shoulder to shoulder with men in science fiction and action-adventure stories, that princesses can rescue themselves, that femininity and toughness are not mutually exclusive. On top of that, she was a tremendously talented writer and mental health advocate, working tirelessly to shine a light on a disease that works so hard to stay in the dark. But for me, her most lasting impact will always be that of Princess Leia, a character that means so much to so many.

Gone, like so many, too soon, she is one with the Force now, a princess and icon forever. Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher, and thank you.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

X-amining Wolverine #61

"Nightmare Quest!"
Late September 1992

In a Nutshell
Wolverine is approached by Wraith as he assembles their old Weapon X teammates.

Script: Larry Hama
Art: Mark Texeira
Lettering: Pat Brosseau
Coloring: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Wolverine wakes up from a nightmare involving Sabretooth & Silver Fox to find the commercial flight he's on has been redirected to the SHIELD helicarrier. Once aboard, Nick Fury informs him that someone with significant pull needs to speak with him, and a helicopter brings Wolverine & Jubilee down to the ground, where John Wraith is waiting. Wraith tosses a Shiva head at Wolverine, which triggers a memory involving Wolverine, Wraith, Sabretooth & Mastodon in Cuba. Wraith then takes Wolverine & Jubilee to his home, where an elderly Mastodon is dying, the age-suppression factor given to him and all the other members of the Weapon X project failing. Worried it could affect any of them, Wraith says he's assembling the old team to try and figure out how to stop it, and Wolverine is shocked and enraged to learn both that Silver Fox is still alive, and that Wraith has Sabretooth chained up in his basement.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

X-amining Ghost Rider #29

"Biting the Hand That Feeds You!"
September 1992

In a Nutshell
Wolverine & Ghost Rider battle the Image-esque Next Wave.

Writer: Howard Mackie
Penciler: Andy Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Blaze & Ghost Rider defeat a group of muggers, watched by Wolverine & Beast, who have followed Ghost Rider from New Orleans, concerned that Ghost Rider may not be fully recovered from his Brood possession. Meanwhile, the head of Penner Security Associates meets with Agent X, the leader of a group of super-powered agents looking for greater control over their missions and larger cuts of the profits, a demand that is resolutely denied. Agent X then meets with his associates, Turk & Snare, and the trio attack Penner,When an innocent bystander is caught in the crossfire, it catches the attention of Ghost Rider & Blaze, along with Wolverine & Beast in turn, and they attack the three mercenaries, who dub themselves Next Wave. Eventually, the heroes prevail, and Wolverine is convinced that while Ghost Rider is experiencing some profound changes, he's still working for the same purpose as ever.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Milch Studies: NYPD Blue, Season Eight - The Wrap-Up

I can remember actually being relieved when I discovered David Milch wasn’t going to be running Blue for its eighth season.  At the time, the archly constructed, idiosyncratic dialogue was getting on my nerves, and I figured giving the characters more realistic speech patterns would be a welcome relief.  (I didn’t know at this point that the dialogue was at least partially inspired by retired detective Bill Clark.)

Now, re-watching the episodes, I find myself missing Milch’s scripts.  I appreciate the poetry in those uniquely crafted sentences a lot more today, and recognize the amount of work Milch was putting into those words.  A character couldn’t just say, “Are you nuts?”, he had to respond “You think I been occupied by some strange spirit?”  (Sipowicz’s answer when Diane asked him once if he’d like a carton of yogurt.)  This year, the characters do speak as real people, but many of their lines are simply bland.  Milch dialogue, as cumbersome as it might’ve been at times, brought an identity to the show and a demand of the audience to pay attention to each riddle of a sentence.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Force in Focus: The Star Wars Holiday Special

As you may or may not know, earlier this fall Saved by the Bell Reviewed, the weekly podcast that Dr. Bitz and I co-hosted along with two Oregonian cartoonists, finished its run reviewing every episode of the series (along with some extra stuff).

Shortly after that wrapped, we launched a new podcast, A Very Special Episode, which takes the Saved by the Bell Reviewed format of crass TV analysis and applies it to a wider swath of pop culture, examining "very special" episodes from across TV (rather than looking at just one show), as well other media. Earlier this week, in light of the holidays and the release of Rogue One, we dedicated our latest episode to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, a 70s-style variety show featuring Chewbacca's family and phoned-in appearances from the principal Star Wars cast, alongside everything from a blackface cooking demonstration, a performance from Diahann Carroll specifically intended by the creators to be as much like softcore porn as network censors would allow, and large swathes of time in which the only dialogue being spoken is a series of unintelligible Wookiee growls and howls (without subtitles).

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Unstacking the Deck: Marvel Masterpieces Series I

Skybox 1992

Vital Statistics
100 cards (including checklist), 5 "spectra" chase cards, 5 "Lost Marvel" bonus cards.

Cardfronts are full bleed, with a small gold border and the character's name in gold. Cardbacks are lanscaped, listing the character's real name and first appearance followed by biographical data. To the left of the bio is a picture of the comic on whose cover the character first appeared (which can be different than the comic the character first appeared in, if they didn't appear on the cover of that issue).

Categorically Speaking
No categories or subsets for the cards in this set, just 99 cards featuring heroes and villains in vaguely alphabetical order.

Firsts and Other Notables
This is the first set of Marvel Masterpieces, a subset of Marvel trading cards that is still technically being released today (the most recent set was released in 2016, but the series took several years off - notably between 1996 and 2007 - and I've never even seen any of the cards from the later sets). It represents Marvel's "prestige" card set (in sports card terms, this is Upper Deck to the regular Marvel trading cards' Topps or Donruss), in that each of the cards features full bleed art, glossy images, thicker card stock, and comes packaged with fewer cards per pack than the other sets, at a higher price point per pack.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Milch Studies: NYPD Blue, Season Eight - The Cast & Guest Stars

Before the launch of the seventh season of NYPD Blue, David Milch announced he’d be stepping back from the show.  Few believed him, and with good reason.  Even though Mark Tinker was added as an executive producer to help with the burden, Milch stuck around for the entire year as showrunner and has a writing credit on most of the episodes.  Milch was intrinsically linked to the show, and the idea of him casually walking away seemed unlikely.

Milch made the same announcement before the start of Season Eight.  And he meant it this time.  (This makes the Season Seven finale more poignant, especially in regards to Sipowicz and the crisis of faith displayed in the episode.)  With the nebulous credit of “Executive Consultant,” Milch still had an official title on the show, but the majority of his time was spent developing his new CBS series Big Apple.  What exactly Milch contributed to this year remains unclear.  The dialogue clearly isn’t his -- as Steven Bochco declared when he returned to daily duties on the show this season, “That's Milch-speak… We don't know how to do Milch-speak, so we have to do some other kind of speak. There's no question the tone of the show is altered because of that.”

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Force in Focus: Rogue One

Unlike The Force Awakens, which I saw three times in the first 24 hours of its release, I've only had a chance to see Rogue One once as of this writing. So my thoughts on it are less formed; details haven't cemented themselves in my head, I haven't had a chance to watch it in more detail without being as focused on plot & character beats while wondering what was coming next, etc. So with that caveat in place, here's some thoughts on stuff I liked and didn't like about the movie, at least after my first viewing.

Spoilers, obviously. If you haven't seen the movie yet, probably skip this.

Friday, December 16, 2016

X-amining Wolverine #60

"Counting Coup"
Early September 1992

In a Nutshell
Shiva attacks Sabretooth as Wolverine grieves for Mariko

Writer: Larry Hama
Pencils: Dave Hoover
Inks: Keith Williams
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Colors: Kevin Tinsley
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Watched by Gambit, Jubilee & Yukio, Wolverine continues his vigil at Mariko's grave, fighting his grief and urge to lose control. In New York, Sabretooth is attacked by Shiva at a wrestling match. On a nearby subway, muggers confront John Wraith, who are in turn harassed by a group of Skinheads, but Wraith scares off both groups. In Japan, Matsu'o tests out his new hand, ignoring the pleadings of his ninjas to leave the country before Wolverine extracts vengeance. Sunfire arrives at Mariko's grave, passing along his government's request that Wolverine peacefully leave the country. In New York, Sabretooth manages to destroy one Shiva robot, but is attacked by a second. He is saved by Wraith, who destroys that robot and teleports away with Sabretooth. In Japan, en route to the airport, Wolverine catches Matsuo's scent. He tracks him down, defeating his ninjas and destroying his new hand. He then slices Matsuo's face, telling him that rather than kill him, he is simply going to return each year to mutilate him further, taking a slow revenge on him.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

X-amining Excalibur #54

"Curiouser & Curiouser"
September 1992

In a Nutshell
Captain Britain battles the Crazy Gang

Writer/Penciler: Alan Davis
Inker: Mark Farmer
Letterer: Michael Heisler
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Terry Kavanaugh
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

As Kitty removes Kurt's cast and the pair mourn Rachel's absence, Captain Britain, along with Meggan, Cerise & Kylun, arrive at a small village, called there by Dai Thomas to help investigate the sudden disappearance of all its inhabitants. Suddenly, Meggan catches a psychic impression of the villagers and runs off, diving down a rabbit hole, pursued by her teammates. Emerging on the other side, Captain Britain finds everyone trapped in some variation of the Alice in Wonderland story, including the missing villagers. Spotting members of the Crazy Gang, he attacks, believing them to be behind the kidnappings. But with Meggan's help, they explain that their intentions are not nefarious, and that the combination of missing Technet member Joyboy's power with the Crazy Gang's Red Queen's power has created a world where everyone is happy & content, including the villagers, who were invited there by the Crazy Gang. Captain Britain reluctantly agrees to leave everything as is, so long as the Crazy Gang doesn't stray from the village. Meanwhile, at Braddock Manor, Kitty & Alistair are investigating Widget when he suddenly activates and disappears in a burst of light.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

X-amining X-Men (vol. 2) #12

"Broken Mirrors"
September 1992

In a Nutshell
The mysterious past of Xavier's father comes to light.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Art Thibert
Art Assist: Dan Panosian & Trevor Scott
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Rosas/Javins
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

At the Ryking Hospital, longtime patient Carter Ryking attacks the staff with his mutant energy powers, having been agitated by news reports of his father's death. At the X-Mansion, Psylocke leaves to visit her brother while Jubilee trains in the Danger Room, only to have her session interrupted by an angry Wolverine. Having been researching his own past, he came across Xavier's files about his fathers past dealings, and Wolverine is suspicious of the similarities with his own findings. As Carter escapes from the hospital, Wolverine & Xavier discuss their pasts, and seeing news of Carter's father's death, Xavier decides to start his investigation there. At the funeral of Alexander Ryking, who worked with Xavier's father, Carter attacks the crowd. Xavier attempts to stop his old childhood friend, but instead, Carter kidnaps him, intending to take him to the Almagordo research facility where their fathers worked. Later, Val Cooper discusses the situation with the X-Men, and Wolverine surmises Carter's destination. Cyclops tells Val the X-Men will handle this themselves, and Val agrees, even as she insists that Almagordo has been a graveyard for decades.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Force in Focus: Shadows of the Empire Action Figures

From the beginning, action figure licensing has gone hand-in-hand with new Star Wars movies. So when the Shadows of the Empire initiative attempted to create all the usual tie-ins associated with a new movie (despite not having a new movie to tie them into), a line of action figures had to have been a no-brainer for LucasFilm. Thankfully, Kenner had, in 1995, relaunched their long-stagnant line of Star Wars figures under the "Power of the Force" line, so the groundwork was already in place for a line of Shadows "tie-in" figures.

The end result is small sub-line under the "Power of the Force" umbrella, consisting of five individual figures, two multipacks containing a pair of figures each, and three vehicles (one of which contained an additional figure not found elsewhere).

Chewbacca in Bounty Hunter Disguise
Dash Rendar
Leia in Boushh Disguise
Luke Skywalker in Imperial Guard Disguise
Prince Xizor

Boba Fett vs. IG-88
Prince Xizor vs. Darth Vader

Boba Fett's Slave I
Dash Rendar's Outrider
Swoop Bike w/Swoop Trooper

Friday, December 9, 2016

X-amining X-Factor #82

"Sittin' by the Dock of the Bay"
September 1992

In a Nutshell
X-Factor battles the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants

Writer: Peter David
Penciler: Rurik Tyler
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Kelly Corvese
X-Titles Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

As local police & immigration officials discuss the situation with the Genoshan mutants seeking asylum, Sauron is revived by the life force of a drunk who strays too close to him. Overhearing the discussion, he decides to contact his Brotherhood teammates about some potential new recruits. Meanwhile,Val is admonishing Jamie for this handling of the Rhapsody situation, but Alex intervenes, saying Val needs to submit her criticisms through him. Their argument is interrupted by the phone. Just then, Lorna returns from the hospital and learns X-Factor has a new mission. Elsewhere, Strong Guy says goodbye to Shrew, her testimony complete with no sign of Cyber. At the docks, an immigration official argues with the Genoshans, saying the situation in Genosha is better now, so the US can't grant them asylum. Suddenly, they're drawn outside by the sound of a fight, as the Brotherhood arrives and attacks the soldiers in the name of the Genoshans. Shortly thereafter X-Factor arrives, and manages to defeat the Brotherhood. Meeting with Prodigal, the Genoshans' leader, Havok reiterates that Genosha is a changed, better, place now, and to prove it, he and the rest of X-Factor will accompany the would-be refugees back to Genosha.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

X-amining X-Force #14

September 1992

In a Nutshell
X-Force escapes SHIELD while Cable & Domino attack Tolliver.

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Guest Penciler: Terry Shoemaker
Guest Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Kevin Tinsley
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Having survived the destruction of X-Force's base, Cable teleports himself and Domino to Graymalkin. Meanwhile, X-Force & the remnants of Weapon: Prime emerge from the wreckage of the base, protected by Cannonball's blast field. Just then, SHIELD troops arrive to reinforce Weapon: Prime, but led by Cannonball, X-Force is able to overpower them and capture their IPAC vehicle for themselves. Putting in a call for medical help for the injured agents as well as Bridge & Kane, X-Force leaves, with Rictor joining them now that Cable is out of the picture. Elsewhere, Gideon's scientists decides to proceed with phase 2 of their experiments on Roberto. Aboard the IPAC, X-Force debates their next move, eventually deciding to hide out at Warpath's old reservation for the time being. Just then, Crule attacks, determined to kill Cannonball. In Italy, Cable & Domino sneak into oneof Tolliver's bases, expecting to surprise him, but instead, they find Deadpool & Tolliver waiting for them, along with the real Domino, and Cable realizes the Domino with him is a fake.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #292

"...the Morlocks Take Manhattan!"
September 1992

In a Nutshell
The X-Men battle the Morlocks

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Layouts: Rurik Tyler
Penciler: Tom Raney
Inkers: Josef Rubinstein & Al Milgrom
Letterers: Lois 'n' Tom
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras
Mr. Broadway: Tom DeFalco

As the Morlocks spill out into Manhattan, Bishop, Colossus & Jean Grey attempt to contain them. Back at the mansion, Mikhail attacks Iceman, turning his body from ice into water. In the Morlock Tunnels, Professor X discovers that the Morlocks' frenzy is being caused by one psychic, scared Morlock child, while on the surface, Bishop's efforts are impeded by the arrival of the police, who want to arrest him. At the mansion, Mikhail seemingly destroys Iceman, scattering him, while Callisto searches Storm's attic to reclaim her leadership vest. In Manhattan, Storm recovers from her claustrophobia attack and prevents Bishop from harming the cops, while Xavier manages to work with the Morlock child to calm the riot, sending the Morlocks back into the tunnels. At the mansion, Mikhail reveals he hasn't killed Iceman, for he still cannot bring himself to take the life of another, something Callisto says they'll have to work on.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Force in Focus: Shadows of the Empire

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Shadows of the Empire, LucasFilm's ambitious 1996 multimedia Star Wars project. The general idea behind it was to tell an official story set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (storytelling ground that had been relatively untrod even in '96), with all the by-then usual trappings of a movie release: a tie-in novel, comic book series, soundtrack, video game and action figure line. The catch being, there was no movie, and the story was all told through the tie-ins themselves (though chiefly through the novel).

It was a reasonably clever idea (at one point, LucasFilm even cut together a trailer for the "film", using pre-existing footage, and showed it at a few conventions, before eventually pulling it for fear that fans would get confused and expect a movie), one which showcased the growing multimedia might of the Star Wars brand in the mid-90s and helped stoke interest in the franchise ahead of the 1997 Special Editions and The Phantom Menace in 1999. The Silver Age of Star Wars had begun in 1991 with the release of Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire, reviving interest in the brand after the franchise had more or less gone dark in the late 80s. That renewed interest eventually led to subsequent novels, a new comic book universe via Dark Horse, and a revamped action figure line from Kenner. Shadows of the Empire, then, could be viewed as the zenith of this brief era in Star Wars history, when the franchise was becoming more and more popular despite the lack of any new stories being told via film.

Friday, December 2, 2016

X-amining Wolverine #59

"Unnatural Resources"
Late August 1992

In a Nutshell
Wolverine, Terror & Jubilee rescue a logging executive's daughter from eco-terrorists.

Writer: D.G. Chichester
Penciler: Darick Robertson
Inker: Joe Rubinstein
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Colorist: Ariane
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Terror & Jubilee use a nearby river to freeze the spike in Wolverine's chest long enough to prevent it from exploding as they pull it out. Later, Wolverine gives himself a haircut in order to infiltrate the group holding Alice Hoff without being recognized. With the help of Alice's boyfriend Jake, leader of the Nature Defense League, Wolverine attracts the attention of Johnny Bloodcede, leader of the group holding Alice. Smelling Alice on him, he runs off to find her while Jubilee & Terror take care of Bloodcede's gang. Wolverine discovers Alice tied to a tree, and manages to free her just as Bloodcede knocks down the tree. In the aftermath, Wolverine pays back Bloodcede for the explosive spike, then reunites Alice with her father. Before leaving, Wolverine advises the father to consider changing his ways, not because of what happened to his daughter or pressure from groups like the NDL, but because there's something to be said for simply doing business with more than profit in mind.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

X-amining Spider-Man #25

"Why Me?"
August 1992

In a Nutshell
Spider-Man & Captain Britain battle Arcade

Writer: Terry Kavanagh
Penciler: Chris Marrinan
Inker: Mark Stegbauer
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Kevin Tinsley
Editor: Danny Fingeroth
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

When Spider-Man receives a mysterious note asking for help, seemingly from Captain Britain, he spends his recently-acquired bonus traveling to England. Once there, he's attacked by first a gargoyle and then Juggernaut. Defeating Juggernaut, he's attacked in turn by Captain Britain and Excalibur, who see him as Juggernaut. When they realize they're being tricked, Nightmare & D'Spayre appear, claiming to be behind the illusions. In the ensuing battle, Phoenix is injured, and while trying to revive her, Spider-Man briefly adopts the Phoenix force. But when his blast reveals Nightmare & D'Spraye to be robots, Captain Britain realizes his "Phoenix force" is just a mechanical trick as well. Just then, a cadre of Spider-Man villains attack. After defeating them, Spider-Man & Captain Britain realize they're being played, and Captain Britain figures out they're unknowingly wearing virtual reality helmets. They track the helmets to an imprisoned Arcade, and with Meggan's help, get him to confess to having attacked the pair of heroes.