Star Trek: Discovery has become essential television

Back at the start of Star Trek: Discovery (abbreviated to STD which will never stop being funny)  I was cautiously optimistic about it. We’re now nearly halfway through the first season and I think I can safely say this is the best bit of Star Trek we’ve had since Deep Space 9. This Cracked article covers many of the reasons why this series is head and shoulders above expectations, though I’d not say it was the ‘best ever made’ as the series has a long time to go with a second season confirmed and a third likely.

Every Star Trek series has reflected the times. The original series reflected much of the upheaval of the 1960’s, Next Generation was at times very 90’s, DS9 dealt with a post Cold War world and threats coming from religious fanatics which predicted the future a tad. Even Voyager and the mainly terrible Enterprise occasionally had some depth in them. STD is different because the crew aren’t perfect human beings, nor are they the cardboard cut-outs of the last few films.

Take Captain Lorca (wonderfully played by Jeremy Isaacs) who is the warrior the Federation needs in their war against the Klingons.

He’s also a psychopath who is out of control and has only been saved from being locked up because his admiral has been captured by the Klingons. So Lorca is free to scheme and plot.

Lorca though isn’t the main character. That’s Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham who starts as a first officer, before starting a war which is killing millions. It’s Burnham’s story we’re following which is STD’s strongest and weakest point. Strong because it means we have a character taking us on their story. Weak because it means the focus on the ensemble (I especially like Cadet Tilly) is lesser which is a shame as this is a strong support cast.

There are problems. The supporting cast are sometimes neglected, the scripts sometimes have holes in them and by keeping most of the action focused on the Discovery we have no idea of how the war is affecting the galaxy barring the odd passing mention. The positives outweigh the negatives. Star Trek needed a kick up the arse as well as being redesigned while still remaining familiar while still being Star Trek, and on the whole they’ve done that. Of course a section of fans are crying like the man-babies they are that ‘it doesn’t look like the Kirk era’, or ‘do we need a female lead’, but it’s easy enough to ignore most of this as wankers crying about a programme not being endless fan-service.

Then of course there’s the prudes and religious loons whining about the programme’s use of the word ‘fucking’.

But they too can be ignored.

Star Trek: Discovery isn’t perfect.It needs work, but a Trek series that I want to watch each week in 2017 is a nice thing, and I hope the programme improves and continues to try new things because this is what Star Trek should do. The series is being shown on Netflix here in the UK. Go try it out.

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What I thought of Star Trek: Discovery

The new Star Trek series, Discovery, has two shiny new episodes on Netflix and it really is interesting viewing purely for the fact it tries to do something different with the concept while at the same time ticking off as many boxes you’d expect from a Star Trek series as you can imagine in around 90 minutes.

Sonequa Martin-Green stars as Michael Burnham, the first officer of the USS Shenzhou, a starship commanded by Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou.

Martin-Green plays Yeoh’s first officer and this shift in focus from the captain to a member of the crew pays off right away in that Star Trek: Discovery feels different. We’re not having a story told through the eyes of a captain, but rather a first officer, and one that is related to the original series Mr Spock.  So from the start everything is familiar but slightly new, fresher and it feels better rather than just go through the motions which considering the jaw-dropping amount of executive producers on the programme it’s a wonder the show actually got made in the first place.

Thankfully the names of Nicholas Meyer (director of Star Trek’s best two films, The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country) and Brian Fuller (ex of Hannibal) show there isn’t just someone who gets what Star Trek should be, but someone who gets how to make a series work.

The plot revolves round the Klingons coming back after a century as T’Kuvma (a sort of Klingon ultra-nationalist like Nigel Farage but with a Mars bar stuck on his head) hopes to reunite all the houses of the Klingon Empire to take the fight to the Federation to stop them for corrupting the purity of the Klingon race. Very topical and done surprisingly well as we see the Federation at first avoid conflict before being dragged into battle but only reluctantly.

In the middle of this Martin-Green holds the thing together from just being another Generic Space Adventure, which at times this does creep into being. She manages to convey enough conflict between what’s best for her crew and how that contradicts Starfleet’s ethics well, and it’s that conflict that drives these first two episodes. Backed up by a strong performance from Yeoh and some nice supporting performances, these opening episodes establish the world we’re in and the central character. Having the Klingons as the central antagonist keeps that sense of familarity too, though I’m not keen on the redesign at all.

There are flaws. Apart from the main two characters everyone else barring Doug Jones’s lanky alien is a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out so when people start dying there’s little emotional attachment to them, and for a programme named after a starship, the Discovery doesn’t actually show up in these episodes then again the basic design is an abandoned one for a Star Trek film from 40 years ago. Neither does Jason Isaacs who makes anything better by just being in it.

Overall this is a nice start. Dark enough to keep a section of fans happy while still being positive enough to be called Star Trek. How it develops remains to be seen but all those folk hating on this because it had a female lead, or there’s a gay relationship (this is in future episodes I assume) are just the sort of people who don’t get that Star Trek is supposed to be an inclusive vision of the future. These people are essentially like the racist Klingon zealots in these episodes. Anyhow,this is good stuff and I look forward to seeing where it goes.

What I thought of The Divided States of Hysteria #1

Howard Chaykin’s latest comic is a tad controversial. For those of us who’ve been fans of Chaykin’s work for the last few decades this won’t come as a shock as after all, American Flagg! shocked people in the early 80’s with the amount of sex and violence in it. His revamp of The Shadow for DC Comics (full of sex and violence) that caused Harlan Ellison to attack it as a

a really offensive, ugly, mean-spirited, violently pornographic piece of work

Then there was Black Kiss. A comic full of sex and violence which caused Grant Morrison to call it a

adolescent homophobic mummy’s boy jerk-off fantasy drivel

Then there’s the stuff like Blackhawk or Time2 that was only mildly controversial, but you publish a Chaykin comic you know you’re going to get a mix of politics, sex, violence, and characters who are unlikeable as well as use racist, homophobic and all the transgressive things you imagine people can say. So if you know your comics you know what roughly to expect when picking up a comic by someone who’s spent nearly 40 creating shock as well as some exceptional comics.

Which brings me to The Divided States of Hysteria.From the cover it’s clear Chaykin isn’t fucking around and the synopsis on Comixology makes things clear too.

An America sundered. An America enraged. An America terrified. An America shattered by greed and racism, violence and fear, nihilism and tragedy…and that’s when everything really goes to hell.

There’s been a strand of deep, cynical satire (and remember, Chaykin is left of centre in an America where people like Hilary Clinton are considered ‘left wing’) that’s threaded Chaykin’s work from American Flagg! onwards which when it works is astonishing. When it doesn’t it feels like a scream. It is normally at least interesting, and this is an interesting scream at 21st century American politics, culture and society.

The comic starts with a telling of a terrorist incident that wipes out the President and his cabinet.

This is angry stuff. Chaykin is fucked off at what he sees as ‘self-obsession’, but I’ll wait to get to that in detail later. For all the anger and rage, this is a lovely looking comic and is certainly Chaykin’s best work artistically in years with his eye for design looking as good as ever.

Those though are panels from a black sniper in Chicago who is targeting white people. As said, Chaykin isn’t fucking around here as he makes the reader deliberately uncomfortable as although this part has gotten attacked on the internet, I wonder what would have been the reaction if he’d made the character white? This is the thing here; Chaykin is attacking identity politics head on in a way I’ve not seen in a comic published by one of the mainstream American comic publishers before but then we get to the stuff that’s setting Bleeding Cool alight and providing that site with lots of clicks.

This is the ‘transphobic act’ that’s set Twitter alight as a trans woman is violently attacked. However I think what also is riling people up is the commentary which is from the point of view of the trans woman.

Chaykin is sticking his fist into a hornet’s nest here but he raises a point. Trans women are treated appallingly by the ‘liberal media’ with a look at what people like Julie Burchill or Germaine Greer have said in the past, but Chaykin doesn’t treat the person here as ineffectual meat to be slaughtered but someone who fights back in the only way a Chaykin protagonist can do.

Unless you’ve by now be triggered into a safe space it is perfectly clear that The Divided States of Hysteria is a very, very dark satire which takes no prisoners but yet, for all the controversy its clear where Chaykin’s heart lies. He’s an individualist  whose politics seem to be consistently left of centre, but doesn’t fall into what would be called ‘left wing’ or ‘liberal’ in 21st century terminology. Chaykin explains himself in the letters pages and for some, it has only served to make things worse.

This is going to make hard reading for some on the American (and indeed, British) left as it contains some painful home truths. While some of us on the left were fighting for small things the likes of Trump, or Farage and his Brexiters went out, won elections and referendums and promptly fucked things up for not just our respective countries but the planet.  Now these small things needed to be fought for but many did lose the bigger picture trapped instead in small echo chambers where a man like Chaykin would be seen as a right wing lunatic, even if he’s clearly nothing of the sort.

Are there problematic things in The Divided States of Hysteria? Yes, there’s what looks like Islamophobia near the end of the first issue and the comic does seem to cross lines a lot between satire and personal attack, but it is as Chaykin said about American Flagg!, a liberal mugged by reality (it was actually former New York mayor Ed Koch that said that but still…). And this feels like Chaykin serving all the worst he sees in reality at his audience in a way many won’t be accustomed to as normally creators pull back, or create at least one entry-level character for the reader to identify with. There’s none of that here. Every character is either a murderer, bigot, racist, and on, but there’s nobody to like however Chaykin presents us with characters who liberals (with a small ‘l’ rather than Tim Farron’s lot) will normally side with. By presenting characters who are shits but due to identity politics will be seen by some on the left as automatically sympathetic, Chaykin is essentially forcing people to confront some very, very dark things within themselves.

Essentially he is trying to mug you with a big stick made of reality. It doesn’t work all the time and of course it is only the first part. It is also offensive and interesting in a way few comics from mainstream publishers ever are in a era where pandering to fans has muted creators vision. It is a comic not for the faint hearted but it is a return to form for one of the most interesting voices in American comics.

What I thought of Twin Peaks episodes 1-4

Twin Peaks has returned to an utter lack of advance knowledge of what happens in it, and this frankly is the best way to approach this new series so massive great honking SPOILER WARNINGS from now on. Also, if you haven’t seen the TV series you’ll be totally lost here. If you’ve not seen Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me then go see that as this draws upon a lot of that film, including even the deleted scenes. Basically go consume everything Twin Peaks before seeing this. Also it may be an idea to watch Lynch’s films too, even Dune as there’s visual references to all of Lynch’s previous works going on here. So, if you’ve done that crack on…

First up anyone who comes to this expecting quirky humour and weird, but still funny, characters will suffer a serious shock as the first two hours especially owe less to what people mainly think Twin Peaks is (quirky, funny, charming, sometimes scary, weird) to David Lynch unleashing his full creative forces. There are moments in the first two episodes especially that are some of the best images Lynch has even put on screen but there’s a lot of times when you the viewer will be made uncomfortable, and this is a good thing.

Far too many programmes end up pandering to keep viewers happy. There’s nothing of what one would expect of a Twin Peaks revival til near the end of the second episode, and the fourth episode features the sort of scenes (Andy and Lucy provide much of the fun quirkiness here) you may expect. Mainly though you’ll be bombarded with confusing, disturbing and sometimes grotesque images that actually helps tell what is a complex story.

The jist of that story is that Good Agent Cooper has been trapped in the Black Lodge for 25 years until Laura Palmer appears again to him as promised.

In the world outwith the Black Lodge, our world, the Bad Agent Cooper is doing bad things as this is Cooper’s doppelgänger inhabited by the evil Bob at the end of the TV series.

Evil Cooper involves Kyle MacLachlan wearing a dodgy wig while doing seriously vicious things to people, and here’s another thing (and I hate using the term ‘political correctness’) this is not a programme that restricts itself to current moralities. This is a programme where Evil Cooper is amoral and brutal, where middle aged men leer after younger women and where oddness abounds. It’s designed at times to challenge you and it will because we’re used to a level of sanitisation in our television but that’s not going in here and this is a good thing. We’re not seeing a toned down or restrained Twin Peaks here, we’re seeing something that will delight, astound, shock and scare you as much as the visuals and sound (I recommend watching this on earphones as the sound mix/design is amazing) is stunning.

The opening episodes deal with Good Cooper’s escape from the surreal world of the Black Lodge, Bad Cooper’s murderous plans, the slow introduction back into the community of Twin Peaks, and the FBI being involved which means a welcome return for some old faces. The plot hinges on Lynch’s fascination with duality and multiple personalities as well as the idea that evil can be a real force which in this case in Bad Cooper. I won’t bother explaining the rest of the plot beyond that as frankly, we’re only seeing part of it right now and the main jist is just what I’ve said. I won’t go into the nightmare monsters, or episode three’s brilliantly incomprehensible scenes, or the fact a plot point hinges on the words ”blue rose” which only makes sense if you’ve watched Fire Walk With Me, or the fun little cameos that pop up or even the fact there’s more Cooper doppelgängers than just Good and Bad Cooper.

What is brilliant is the pace in which Lynch and Mark Frost slowly unwind the threads of the plot and the pacing (unlike many programmes today) is at times, glacial but this isn’t something to forward through. This is about building up the creeping sense of unease in these scenes.

Twin Peaks is a welcome return. It gives Lynch a chance to create one huge story and hopefully resolve it in a way that suits him and Frost but it may not suit us which is fine by me. In an age where TV programmes are made to ensure fans are not frightened off, the new Twin Peaks isn’t scared to go onto ground that will scare people off but this is art mixed with horror mixed with so many genres that it can only be described as Lynchian and that’s a glorious thing…

What I thought of The Wicked and the Divine: 455 AD #1

This one-off issue is another break from the regular storyline that takes us from the 21st century back to 455AD when the Vandal army destroyed Rome, except all isn’t as we think and we see Julius Caesar go off to fight the Vandal army by himself.

Julius is in fact Lucifer and is essentially the last God standing.

Annake chides Lucifer for what he’s done, but he’s having none of it.

He also seems to have totally sussed Annake out for the manipulative God-killer she is.

However after declaring himself emperor and wishing Rome to be a better place, things don’t turn out as planned.

As Lucifer turns out to be quite, quite mad.

Things end up turning out as we know them too but this is a story to show just how far Annake will go to end the brief lives of the Gods and what happens when a God tries to live longer than their allotted lifespan. It’s a bleak, gory and depressing vision and one that is expertly written by Gillen and splendidly drawn by Andre Araujo. This is a nice compliment to the ongoing series but without the main series the story is weaker so don’t treat this as something you can dive into on it’s own.

What I thought of The Flash #22

It all ends and begins here! The DC Rebirth/Watchmen clustefuck hits a new level as the four-part ”The Button” storyline comes to a close with a cover featuring Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash promising the return of everything the New 52 cleaned out, but before we get there there’s a bit of matey banter between The Flash and Reverse-Flash, not to mention some prime product placement.

During all this Barry Allen mentions Hypertime, the Grant Morrison/Mark Waid idea that DC dabbled with in the 90’s to try to explain all the inconsistencies of their superhero universe.

Eventually the Reverse-Flash encounters the mysterious figure behind all of this (It’s Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen which we know anyhow), gets horribly killed and the Flash and Batman end up adrift in time and space heading towards an unknown voice.

That’ll be the Golden Age Flash.

However Barry and Bruce have no idea who Jay is because of that evil Dr. Manhattan chap and his big blue willy.

After Jay vanishes back into the ether, Barry and Bruce wrap things up while leaving things dangling, and talking about dangling, here comes Dr. Manhattan.

Which leads to the issue plugging November’s Doomsday Clock in which Superman and Dr. Manhattan will punch each other and ensure, once and for all, that nobody working at DC from Dan Didio to Geoff Johns actually read and understood Watchmen. As a roll of the creative dice this is a massive blank, but in terms of sales (and I speak now as someone diving back into the world of comics retail) this will sell books. They won’t be very good books but such is the power of Watchmen that it’ll propel DC along for a few years and then the novelty will have worn off.

See, Watchmen will continue to sell. It’s a classic book. Every time I read it I find something new in it. You will never, ever say that with Doomsday Clock. But hey, it’ll sell and in 2020 when this has all died down DC will try to work out what to do next and realise they’ve nothing left in their tank and creatively, they’ve worn out the bottom of the barrel but certain people will have kept their jobs which ultimately is what all this has been about…

What I thought of Zombies Assemble #1

The zombie genre is, well, like a zombie. It lumbers on and somehow keeps going even when the genre has well and truly been done to death. However, never underestimate the power of milking a dead horse and when mixed with Marvel’s Avengers cash-cow and the popularity of manga we have a hybrid here as these are The Avengers of the films, not the comics. So yes, a ”mixed bag” as you may say…

Part of the problem is that all the characters have that tedious wide eyed look that large chunks of Manga artists use, not to mention that they all look about 12. Anyhow, the story starts with Tony Stark’s birthday party which involves Steve Rogers dressing as a zombie to scare Tony, before (Ho Ho) a real zombie crashes Tony’s party and is dispatched by the Black Widow fairly quickly.

A virus breaks out turning people into zombies thanks to Tony’s R & D department, and (all the while everyone involved is talking like 14 year old kids)  who all seem to have been turned into zombies.

The vaguely teen Avengers then decide to stop a potential outbreak.

Somehow Thor becomes infected, and we’ve got a sort of zombie Thor.

The Black Widow is also infected so we’ve got two Avengers slowly decomposing. Yes, seriously, this is like a Garth Ennis script but without the spite and humour.

This, frankly, is shite. There’s a rich stream of manga or even unlicensed comic versions of films which can be fun, but this is just garbage. The art is bland. The writing is awful. The horror isn’t horrific. There’s pages where characters act like children. It’s bollocks, and that’s the best I can say about this exercise in self-abuse.