Tuesday, February 20, 2018

You’re Dead. (Mort)

“You may be a barroom gambler
And cheat your way through life,
But you can’t cheat that little black train
Or beat this final ride.”
-Woody Guthrie, 2014

Just this once, EVERYBODY DIES!
Of all the Terry Pratchett novels, it is perhaps fitting that this is the one that gets tangled up in his project like a poor, unsuspecting piece of bread daintily swimming in a duck pond. Though it is not my favorite novel set within the Discworld1, it is nonetheless the better suited given the thematic interests of this blog. As with many of the early Discworld novels, the novel’s core is taking a rather silly fantasy convention2 extremely seriously.

Given this, several possibilities could arise. What if, for example, Death took a holiday?3 Who works at Death’s house?4 And, of course, does Death have any relatives?5 But the question at the heart of the book is “Given that Death is a physical being and thus something someone does, what would happen if the Grim Reaper took on an apprentice?” Not a lot of good, as it turns out, though it would be wrong to say this had a completely negative effect. For starters the apprentice decides to make the rather dumbfounded decision to not let the princess die when she’s supposed to6. This, in turn, led History to get a bit vexed over the whole affair7 and forcing its vision upon the world, whether the Disc likes it or not8.

This of course leads us to the question: how do you get out of dying? Not in the sense of a near death experience like almost tripping into the path of a moving train or watching Jack and Jill. Nor do I mean having a dream where you die, only to wake up. No, what I’m talking about is the experience of dying and inexplicably not being dead a few weeks later. The book posits this is done by having some allies on working within the system of sending souls to the next life, but that tends to be difficult for systems like the one the Discworld runs on9. One could try to make friends with the person typically running the whole shebang, but that tends to be difficult as they’re10 a bit of a shut in who, like many self employed people, only goes out for work and family11.

But there are other ways out of dying. Let’s look at the driving vision history wishes to impose upon the world. In the original scheme of events, Princess Kelirehenna was supposed to have been assassinated by her uncle, the Duke of Sto Helit, via the subtle methodology of a crossbow accidentally being aimed in her direction and fired. It was written that this action would in fact be the greater good12. While the history of Queen Kelirehenna I would be one typical of a monarch, the reign of King Duke of Sto Helit13 would unify the lands into a glorious future.

Some of you may be thinking that if such a future is in the cards History wishes to deal the Disc, then we must accept them and let Kelirehenna die for the greater good14. But if one has any knowledge of history and History, you would of course know that unifications of such a magnitude at the speed of a single generation hinging upon which member of a royal family is sitting on the throne is typically resolved by a series of bloody massive bloody wars, and those that are “prosperous” tend to be the ones with the same skin color, language, and slightly less money in possession than the ruling class while everyone else dies horribly painful deaths.

Suffice it to say, the Great Man Vision History wishes to impose on the world is rather shit for most people. The alternative the book provides is… another fucking monarch. Discussing Pratchett’s infatuation with the monarchy in general and “the right kind of leader” specifically is for another project15, but what’s equally interesting is how those Death tasks to fill the role of the Great Man who will unify the lands and bring prosperity for a hundred centuries aren’t in the mold of Great Mans.

Consider: firstly you have a commoner so unimportant that nary a person bothers to say his name, calling him “lad” or “boy” or something along those lines. Next you have Igneous Cutwell, perhaps the closest thing the group has to a Great Man in that he works in profession of Wizardry16. However, Cutwell is simply a first level wizard and not a very good one at that17. And of course there’s Ysabell and Kelirehenna, both of whom are quite explicitly not Great Mans. Sure, they both come from a royal bloodline and they have both been touched by forces outside what most would call the natural world18, but the fact remains that they are both clearly not Great Mans because they aren’t men19.

If one were to be generous, one could argue that these people who have no idea how to be the Great Man of History, will in turn try to unify the world through means other than the ones done by the Great Mans before them. Perhaps they’ll take a more diplomatic approach and try to unify the peoples20 of other cultures via trade and communication. Perhaps weddings will occur and their children will reign peacefully. Or perhaps they’ll just say screw it and invade all the other countries for the greater good21.

But the thing is, we don’t know what will happen next. Sure, we could make educated guesses as to what will happen next, but those aren’t necessarily what will happen in the end. If one is a student of history, as opposed to History, one begins to notice that the various branches of is and will be tend to happen due to the most inexplicable of circumstances22. There is no vision of History that can account for the adlibbing nature of life, for all things are happening at once. The story of the Princess who didn’t happens at the same time as the tale of Death the Fry Cook and that of a litter of kittens who drowned in a barrel. Life is full of inexplicable, contradictory events, not all of which are covered in History.

And life is better for it. For if life could be simplified to a mere formula of “And then the rotten king slaughtered the foreign barbarians, bringing about an age of enlightenment and peace to the lands for many centuries to come”, then it would be very dull indeed. The Life Blood of Life23 is these contradictions to the grand scheme of things. These out of context moments that invade what should be a straightforward narrative of the rise of Kings and Great Mans, but instead turn the story into something completely different.

Agents of History will try to repress alternative views of history that go against History, refocusing the facts to fit their views. But history has a way of being more convoluted, contradictory, and interesting than that. So maybe that’s how you get out of dying: you have to be more interesting alive than dead. And history is known for finding even the most mundane of things extremely interesting. After all, you’re still here, aren’t you? Our very existence shapes the history of all things, despite what History has to say. It can be as large as burning a house down or as small as opening the door for someone with too much in their hands. By existing, we shape the narrative of life. The most unimportant of things have an impact, even an ok book like Mort.

(Next Time: The Interconnectedness of All Things)

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[Photo: Hide and Q Directed by Cliff Bole Script by C.J. Hollad and Gene Roddenberry]

1) Reaper Man
2) Hold on, the Grim Reaper1 actually exists?
1.     “Grim” is a slight misnomer. Far more accurately would be to refer to him as “The Melancholic Reaper” or “The Reaper Who Feels Ennui” or “Bill Door.” Regardless, these are all shorter names compared to his official title: “The Stealer of Souls, Defeater of Empires, Swallower of Oceans, Thief of Years, The Ultimate Reality, Harvester of Mankind” and so on.
3) While the novel does briefly get into the implications of this question, it is handled more in-depth in Reaper Man
4) A rather rubbish1 wizard called Albert.
1.     This refers more to his character rather than the quality of his magic.
5) No, but he has an adoptive daughter by the name of Ysabell.
6) Though the rational is quite understandable: she was kind of hot.1
1.     It should be noted that the lad isn’t as rubbish as this implies. Immediately after noticing this aspect of his attempt to save the Princess’s life, he decided to not treat Princess Kelirehenna like some prize to be won but rather as a person.
7) Contrary to what one might assume given History is a sentient force within the universe, humanity does indeed have free will. It’s just that History would’ve preferred it if they didn’t, much like how many a director don’t care for any and all adlibbing. Like said directors, History tends to respond by beating everyone else into submission, only to be circumvented at the last moment by the editor.
8) Though in truth, the Disc was mostly indifferent to the affair.
9) The system works thusly: a single anthropomorphic personification takes on the shape of Death and sends the souls of the dead off to the next life. The exception to this is for rats, wherein the anthropomorphic personification takes on the shape of Death of Rats.
10) Pronouns for Death have always been difficult. Sometimes Death takes on the usual form of a skeleton in a black robe, other times they’re a Goth girl with an umbrella, and, on occasion, they’re some weirdo in a pair of skis working for the God of Evil despite being more of a neutral force within the universe. For the purposes of this blog, we shall refer to Death with the gender-neutral pronoun of They/Them/Their.
11) Even then, you might be out of luck as Death spends the majority of the story easing their way into being human via attaining the dream job of many an English Major: Fry Cook.
12) The Greater Good.
13) They really didn’t give him a name, did they?
14) The Greater Good.
15) Such a project would most likely written by a better writer than I, like Jed Blue.
16) Indeed, wizardry is notable for birthing many a Great Man such as Alberto Malich and Rincewind the Not-Dying.
17) This is more of a problem of “I’m perfectly fine where I am, no need to go any further” than “I think we can all agree we’d all be better off if I wasn’t a wizard.”
18) The latter via having her death being prevented, thus causing History to work extremely hard to rewrite things to fit its vision, whereas the former is the adoptive daughter of Death.
19) History tends to be very specific in terms of what it wants and has been known to rant about the evils of SJWs when that doesn’t happen.
20) As an aside, there’s a bit in the book that’s terribly racist wherein a clearly Asian culture has their Grand Visser die and the leads are extremely impatient with all of their “O holy emperor” and “Most gracious ally” and so forth. It’s just a black spot on what’s an overall quite good book and makes one suspect that my optimistic reading won’t happen due to an imperialist’s impatience.
21) The Greater Good.1
1.     Shut it!
22) One need only look at the Assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which began as a series of failed assassinations including one humorous bit wherein the assassin who was the closest to killing Ferdinand tried to escape via jumping off of a bridge. Sadly, he didn’t account for the shallowness of the water and broke his leg. As the police were circling in on him, the assassin tried to take a cyanide tablet, but it was expired so he just puked a lot. The only reason Ferdinand was assassinated in the first place was because one of the assassins who did escape tried to cheer himself up for the utter failure of the day with a sandwich at a shop nearby where Ferdinand’s car would break down. Life is strange, as they say.
23) This is not to be confused with the Life Blood of Rassilon, which kills those who drink it. As Rassilon himself put it when questioned about it “Why of course you call it “Life Blood.” If you go around calling it “Poison” or “Death Blood,” no one would be fool enough to drink it. Now have this healthy beverage, I call it…” and the rest is lost to history, but no doubt would’ve been called the Healthy Beverage of Rassilon.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Peace, Calm, Happiness. An Ending. (A Stronger Loving World)

TW: Discussions of Rape.

A STRONGER LOVING WORLD: The closing words of John Cales’ spoken word piece “Santies”. The full quote as cited in Watchmen is “It would be a/stronger world,/a stronger loving/world, to die in.” Given the piece is about the tragic and abusive relationship between a woman and her mother ending in the woman’s suicide, this was most likely chosen because it was a good quote to end on rather than its lyrical implications (though said implications do help Moore’s reading that Watchmen came about during a bad mood called the 80’s).

Perhaps one of the most famous structural tricks of the entire comic, a series of six pages consisting of solely one panel each depicting the wreckage of New York, with the slightly bleak detail of all the lovers (be they familial or sexual) coming together in their deaths. And yet, it is perhaps the easiest sequence to adapt into a feature film, should one be dumb enough to do so: a 35 minute Tarkovsky shot starting from the squid and ending with the cover. Less talked about is the transition back into the 9-panel grid, which starts out with a set of three widescreen panels before returning to the grid proper.

A rather unsubtle bit of foreshadowing, albeit one that’s easy to miss after six pages of overwhelming horror.

DAN DREIBERG: Adrian, your assassination attempt: you couldn’t have planned it! What if he’d shot you first instead of your secretary?
VEIDT: I suppose I’d have had to catch the bullet, wouldn’t I?

For all his proclamations that he isn’t a “Republic Serial Villain,” Veidt is very much Adam West Batman.

VEIDT: No one will doubt this Earth has met a force so dreadful it must be repelled, all former enmities aside.

As with many a utopian (especially those with an eye for empire building), Veidt’s solution is to use (or in this case invent) a race of barbarians who plot to tear down the walls of society and conquer us the way we conquered others.

In perhaps one of the more humorous implications of Watchmen (which one imagines won’t be picked up on in Doomsday Clock), the possibility arises for a future story wherein Bubastis reconfigures herself into a blue lynx unstuck in time, pondering the pointlessness of existence.

Many people claim that Dr. Manhattan is the sole superhero with superhuman abilities. And yet, here it is shown that Veidt can catch bullets, with an emphasis placed on the seemingly slow motion of his body, the only moment in the comic that highlights a character’s movement in this way with the rest of the comic opting for a more static, almost photographic, style of action (one of the many reasons why a film adaptation of Watchmen would never work).

VEIDT: …And yet that failure overshadows every past success! By default, you usher in an age of illumination so dazzling that humanity will reject the darkness in its heart…

As with many a utopian, at his heart Veidt is an optimist about human nature, believing that when given the opportunity, humanity will join their gods in the sun. This may to contradict his plan that seems to hinge on the belief that humanity’s base nature prevents this enlightenment, but more likely it’s an attempt to push humanity out of its anthropocene phase towards the jetpacks promised by the dreams of Heinlein.

An argument in a more general overview of Watchmen could be made that, out of all the characters, Laurie is the one who is the most visually astute, being the one who finds a gun in a relatively hard place to find as well as being the first person to notice Dr. Manhattan looming outside waiting for the dramatically perfect moment to strike. Why else would he opt to punch his hand through the window as opposed to simply tapping Veidt’s shoulder?

DR. MANHATTAN: What’s that in your hand, Veidt? Another ultimate weapon?
VEIDT: Yes. Yes, you could say that.

One of the more talked about aspects of the comic is the relationship between reality and fiction; the ways in which ideas should be used as inspiration to be a better person rather than to go out at night and punch people in the face. This scene is one of the more subtle invocations of this theme, highlighting the ultimate power of watching television.

For all that analysis of this sequence rightfully focuses on Rorschach, it should be noted that for the sequence to work, Laurie would have had to jump behind Dr. Manhattan for no discernable reason. And while such unreality wouldn’t work in a film (even though the sequence is essentially a zoom in to Rorschach), you can get away with it in a comic due to its ability to jump from image to image.

DR. MANHATTAN: Logically, I’m afraid he’s right. Exposing this plot, we destroy any chance of peace, dooming earth to worse destruction. On Mars, you demonstrated life’s value. If we would preserve life here, we must remain silent.

Let’s look at these arguments in regards to keeping Veidt’s plan a secret one at a time. Dr. Manhattan essentially argues a consequentialist position, highlighting how if the truth were revealed, life would be destroyed. And if we hold life to be valuable, then we must prevent it from dying out completely. Of course, his assessment of life on earth is the potential miracle within every form of life to create life via procreation, effectively making his viewpoint one akin to reproductive futurism. Problematic to say the least, especially given two of the victims of the Squid were queer women.

LAURIE JUSPECZYK: Never tell anyone? W-We really have to buy this? Jesus, he was right. All we did was fail to stop him from saving the Earth. Jesus.

Laurie’s argument effectively hinges on the failure state of the protector fantasy. For those unaware, the protector fantasy refers to a vision of superheroes that isn’t so much a power fantasy, but rather one that wishes to protect those around them from harm, due primarily to a trauma that pushed them into being a superhero. Much like Superman, Laurie’s trauma is more of a subconscious one than a conscious one, that being her mother’s rape at the hands of her father. One such harm would be that of change, which, as playwright Tony Kushner notes in his play Angels in America, is extremely painful. Thus a failed protector fantasy would be that of someone who allowed change to occur (given this blog, I should note that Spider-Man is essentially a history filled to the brim with stories about him being a failed protector fantasy, including the comic this blog is ostensibly about). I should point out however that just because there’s change doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. To invoke Octavia Butler, the goal of change isn’t to let it happen but rather to shape it. And given that the architect of this change is one who compares himself to Alexander the Great, Rameses, and Ozimandias, I wouldn’t say the world has been saved.

DAN DREIBERG: How… how can humans make decisions like this? We’re damned if we stay quiet, Earth’s damned if we don’t. We… okay. Okay, count me in. We say nothing.

As a later part of the scene will highlight, Dan’s logic is akin to that espoused by Jim Gordon and Ellen Yindel in The Dark Knight Returns, wherein things like Batman, Pearl Harbor, and a Giant Squid teleporting into New York City, killing millions are too big of ideas to be comprehended by people who aren’t great men of history, thus they must toe the party line or doom the world. Moore would most likely be aware of this aspect of the work as the final issue of that series came out two months before the first issue of Watchmen was released. Like many people of the time, he probably wasn’t aware of Miller’s more fascist leanings, but the implication of that line of thinking is clearly a large part of the concept of the superhero.

Which brings us to Rorschach’s response. This is one of two mask designs to appear in the comic and each have their own meanings. For all his protests to the contrary, when all the streets are filled with death, all the dead and the abused look up and shout “Save us” he responded with a hand to help. Because as the panel where this mask design appeared previously states, “There is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished.” Rorschach’s objectivist viewpoint pushes an extremely black and white worldview such that he could never compromise, save in death. Rorschach, who perhaps best represents the protector fantasy archetype, actively tries to undo this change (thereby changing the world again) and bring about the apocalypse (for more on the relationship between superheroes and the apocalypse, read Jed Blue’s The Near Apocalypse of ‘09). Essentially while the other mask represents moments in the comic where Rorschach makes a shocking discovery, this mask design represents a rejection of a viewpoint where cruelty is deemed to be the correct choice and it’s trolley problems all the way down. In other words, “Fuck you, I’m Superman!”

VEIDT: Hmm. Now what would you call that, I wonder? “Blotting out reality” perhaps? Ah well… in all likelihood it’s of no consequence. As a reliable witness, Rorschach is hardly… how shall we put it… “Without stain”?

More evidence that Veidt is extremely Adam West Batman.

LAURIE JUSPECZYK: No. I mean I need you. Need you now. Dan, all those people, they’re dead. They can’t disagree or eat Indian food, or love each other… Oh, it’s sweet. Being alive is so damn sweet.
DAN DREIBERG: Laurie? Wh-what do you want me to do?
LAURIE JUSPECZYK: I want you to love me. I want you to love me because we’re not dead.

Given the entirety of Alan Moore’s career, this is perhaps the most crucial conversation to understanding his positionality. In V for Vendetta, Moore talks about the one inch you must never give up, the thing that you must keep close to yourself. He calls the inch “integrity,” but there is more to it than just that. When citing it, it was in the context of a queer woman coming out to her parents by introducing them to the woman she loved. Love then is key to that one inch, and what Laurie values in this moment. Love can be seen echoing throughout the work of Alan Moore from the beautiful Mirror of Love to the wondrous polyamory of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 3: Century to the mystical implications within Promethea. Indeed, it can also be found in Watchmen, from Dr. Manhattan’s revelation of the nature of humanity to the bleak joke of the lovers reuniting in their deaths at the tendrils of the squid to something we’ll get to in a later bit.

RORSCHACH: Of course. Must protect Veidt’s new utopia. One more body amongst the foundations makes little difference.

I have grown to the understanding that the difference between a utopia and a dystopia is whether or not you’re the Child of Omelas. To be a good Utopian then is to try to find the children and make it so they’re no longer in their cages. There is little proof that Veidt cares to do this (especially given the advertisements for his utopia focus on an Aryan ideal), making his world inherently dystopic for a large majority of people.

This is probably my favorite moment in all of Watchmen. Something that’s so small and seemingly insignificant, yet implying so much. (Since I have no where else to put it, I might as well give my thoughts on Watchmen: it’s very much a middling work of Alan Moore’s, which speaks more to the quality of Moore than of Watchmen. Equally, I’m always going to have a slight remove from the comic, as it was one of the comics I read when I was first getting into comics [ironically, because of the movie, which I liked at the time, but have since grown distant from] but it wasn’t the one that exploded my brain into loving the genre [that would be Transmetropolitan]. And the person I was back then had… mostly dull tastes that genuinely liked how Geoff Johns ripped people’s arms off and couldn’t see why Alan was so PO’ed at Before Watchmen. So I’m not sure if my mixed feelings towards the book are due to the book itself or who I was back then.)

DR. MANHATTAN: …But yes, I understand, without condoning or condemning. Human affairs cannot be my concern. I’m leaving this galaxy for one less complicated.
VEIDT: But you’d regained interest in human life
DR. MANHATTAN: Yes, I have. I think perhaps I’ll create some.

As Phil Sandifer (the writer this post is most indebted to) noted on Tumblr a while back, Swamp Thing #56 explores the possibility of a god like being creating human life, and the comic found the results to be less than promising.

VEIDT: Jon, wait, before you leave… I did the right thing, didn’t I? It all worked out in the end.
DR. MANHATTAN: “In the end”? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.

In perhaps the second cruelest irony of Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan’s response invokes, of all things, the opening lines of Spider-Man and Zoids #18: Grant Morrison’s first issue on the comic: “Yeah. I guess the fighting never ends, does it? It never ends.” The character who says this is named Phil, which might make this even crueler. (Though one could argue that line is prefigured by Simon Furman in The Transformers (UK) #99, where Optimus Prime says "But it's not the end is it? It's never the end. It just goes on and on- one battle blurring into the next," making the implications less stinging.)

DAN DREIBERG: “Nite Owl and Silk Spectre”. Sounds neat.
LAURIE JUSPECZYK: “Silk Spectre’s” too girly, y’know? Plus, I want a better costume, that protects me: maybe something leather, with a mask over my face… Also, maybe I oughtta carry a gun.

The cruelest irony is that here, Alan Moore accurately predicts the aesthetic of Rob Leifeld.

This is a bit of a hornets’ nest. On the one hand the storyline of “rape survivor falls in love with her rapist” is a toxic one to say the least. On the other hand, there’s an equally toxic view of perfect survivors and Sally Jupiter cannot be said to be the moral center of Watchmen. Indeed, Jupiter herself is a somewhat problematic figure within the comic, so for her to fall in love with someone as terrible as Blake could work within the structure of Watchmen. But while I think it works on its own, in the end I don’t think this fully works in the context of the story. It feels a bit like redemption of the character, not the least of which due to this being the final word on Blake within Watchmen (save for the recurring image of the bloody smiley face, but that’s more Rorschach’s moment than Blake’s). Though I think my main contention with this moment is that the scene is juxtaposed with the previous note, which has Laurie blatantly try to emulate her father’s costume and style of crime fighting, making it pretty easy to read this moment as Blake being redeemed by the love of two women he hurt. But love isn’t enough. You have to actually change yourself.

(Next Time: How the Hell Did Peter Parker Survive a Bullet to the Head?)

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[Photo: Supergod #1 by Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny]

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Embarrass Me in Front of My Friends! (Haven)

Pretty much the main reason I wanted to do a Spider-Man blog.
Star Trek was never part of my childhood. I’d heard about it, but I never actually sat down to watch the series until the Abrams movies were announced. I can certainly see the appeal of the series, and I do genuinely love some episodes of the shows, but it never felt like it was the series for me. Maybe it’s because my aesthetics tend to push me towards episodes that are typically seen as unpopular like Sub Rosa, Dark Page, and Night Terrors. Maybe what I want out of Sci-Fi isn’t the dull parts of Heinlein with five pages worth of “scientific explanations” for how a ship works. Or maybe it’s because I view Star Trek as a “comfort food” series rather than the paragon of what Sci-Fi ought to be.

So when it comes to approaching Haven from the “infamous” first season, I’m going to have a bit of an atypical reaction to what I presume was the mainline opinion. I thought it was fine. It’s not my favorite episode of Star Trek or my least favorite, but it was still a good watch. The story’s a bit simple: an arranged marriage brings the arrival of a family member of the crew whom they have a somewhat terse relationship. But it still works thematically and narratively without ever betraying Star Trek’s ethos of a utopian society without conflict. The character interactions were a lot of fun, in particular Tasha Yar’s glee at finding out about the Betazoid attire worn at weddings. Some of the characters feel a bit off (Data in particular is more callous in his fascination with humanity than I’m used to), but you get the sense that the writers understand the characters as opposed to writing archetypes of other characters.

The main highlights of the story are Deanna and Lwaxana Troi. Many a fan have berated Deanna for being a crap character, citing how she always states the obvious, is completely useless in many of her stories, and is only there to be ogled at. And while there is a level of truth to those claims, the claims are a bit stretched. The thing about Deanna Troi that attracts me to the character is that she’s immediately aware of what’s about to happen. Take for example the climax of the episode. Though out of focus, Marina Sirtis is able to convey Troi’s disappointment (and, even more subtly, relief) at Wyatt’s unspoken rejection and farewell with only her eyes.

Indeed Sitris is perhaps one of the better actresses in a cast filled with amazing actors. But Sitris has been tasked with one of the hardest characters to play on the show, one who has to simultaneously show the emotions of the room as well as her own. This has caused numerous difficulties with the theatrical style Sitris was trained under, hence numerous later episodes featuring Deanna Troi being possessed by an alien force. But Sitris is able to play the part so well that she doesn’t get a rival in skill and subtlety until Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecter (indeed, Hannibal is perhaps the best comparison point for Troi in regards to this episode. Both are therapists who only wish the best for those around them and will do whatever it takes to help others find their true selves. This includes willingly breaking a vow so someone else could be with their true love [as is in the case of Haven] or psychologically torturing someone they love until they embrace their serial killer nature [as is the case of Hannibal’s relationship with Will Graham and most of his other patients]).

Less subtle, and all the better for it, is Lwaxana Troi, daughter of the Fifth House, holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed, and Deanna’s mother. To say she’s overbearing would be akin to saying getting shot in the face is painful. While her belief that empathetic honesty is one that is healthy compared to most modern modes of behavior, she’s a bit too blunt with her openness. Not in the typical way of “foreign people don’t get our customs” that a lot of Sci-Fi tends to go for, but the more casual “oh by the way, your husband fantasizes about me” that at once needs to be said but at the same time should be said more gingerly.

At the same time, her bluntness (and talkative nature) brings out an understanding of the universe and all its implications unparalleled by anyone else in the show. This is in no small part to Majal Berret, who seems to naturally get the role Lwaxana (especially given the role was written with her in mind, famously pitched as “you don’t even have to act”). She gets to the core of the interconnectedness of life (which I’m not going to talk about yet because Dirk Gently came out within the circle of October/November 1987) and how the best thing to do for one another is to be true to ourselves, while also improving that true self to be better. This can range from accepting that love doesn’t last forever and letting go to leaving the life you knew behind for one that lives only in your dreams.

Which brings us to a problem with Star Trek: the female characters. This isn’t to say they’re bad characters per say. Indeed, on paper none of the main cast of Star Trek are bad characters and all of the actors and actresses performing them are all brilliant (this is to the degree where both Miriana Sitris and Denise Crosby [Tasha Yar] were actually supposed to play the other’s role, and they still pull off playing roles they weren’t cast for well [for the most part, there are times when Sitris, for all her unsubtle subtlety, is straining at a desire to be more unsubtle while Crosby has a tendency to play the part a bit too soft for the moment {though this is at times to her advantage, as her seductive bits in The Naked Now are the best parts of that episode}]).

Rather, the problem comes from a lack of giving these wonderful female anything to do. For the most part, they are window dressing in their own story. Infamously, it was declared that Star Trek was about Picard, Riker, and Data in response to Crosby requesting to do more than just have three lines. This, in turn, lead her to quit the show out of frustration and for Tasha Yar to be murdered in such a half assed way as to be indistinguishable from a no name character dying.

And even though Haven itself is an outlier within Star Trek through its nature of being a story about women and their relationships with each other, it still hinges on a narrative about men: that of Wyatt and his dreams, effectively sidelining their relationship for his story. If I were to be unsympathetic, I’d say this was due to the writers’ inability to actually write about female positionality to this scale and a lack of desire to do so regardless of ability. However, this may very well be due to the implied audience of Star Trek (and, subsequently, superhero comics): middle-aged boys.

While the writing staff of Star Trek isn’t making this assumption at this point, the producers of the show were, and would continue to do so no matter how much evidence comes to light that literally the exact opposite is true. There are several reasons for this assumption: a desire to keep Sci-Fi in a box marked “cult,” sexism, nostalgia for older science fiction shows. But perhaps the biggest reason for this shift towards “older” male audiences would be that of capitalism.

We’ll go into more detail on this in a later post, but suffice it to say, our circle of October-November 1987 is less than 10 years away from the comic bust of ’96, wherein the economic decisions of the comic book industry in general (and Marvel Comics in particular) nearly destroyed the entire industry. One of those decisions was to put the entire market in the hands of middle-aged boys who could buy merchandise and comics to such a degree as to alienate every single other audience in the market.

One such audience would be people interested in stories other than “hard men doing hard things hardly,” which is what a lot of Star Trek was into near the end of its run. Whereas early on in the series’ run where it was interested in being about exploring a strange and mad universe (thus attracting a wider audience more receptive to stories about women rather than just stories with women in them), late Star Trek got wrapped up in a stupid war that was frankly the aforementioned dull bits of Heinlein.

This was hampered even further by the fact that, much like the comic book industry at the time, the writers were stuck between two impulses: Our heroes are bad asses and Our heroes are compromised in their efforts to preserve humanity. Suffice it to say, they weren’t good enough to pull this off. Indeed, I have only found two writers in the comics industry that could pull off such a pitch, one of who wouldn’t enter the industry until 2013.

This is a problem for a number of obvious reasons, not the least of which being a cognitive dissonance when attempting to watch late era Star Trek, not the least of which being numerous cases of fascist apologia to such a degree as to commend genocide. In perhaps one of the notable choices of late era Trek was the decision to have Betazed invaded and conquered in their big thesis episode. This is notable as this is the home world of Deanna and Lwaxana Troi.

The implications of this are staggering. Given the episode of Star Trek we’re meant to be talking about, this is a flat out rejection of the ethos of empathetic truth, especially given the episode in question is about the necessity of covering up a conspiracy to start a war between two worlds as means of helping a third world destroy foreign barbarians. In other words, empathy, the act of understanding the positionality of others, is rejected in favor of fascism, a political viewpoint that hinges on exterminating the other. And this is considered to be one of the best episodes of Star Trek. To top it all off, the conquest happens off screen, implying a lack of importance for the values of the Betazoids.

To say this is a summation of why my interest in Star Trek has always been at a minimum would be an understatement. When I watch Sci-Fi, I don’t want stories about how terrible it is to be a white guy or how good is a lie that must be told lest the barbarians tear down out gates. I want stories about people healing, becoming their truer selves, and helping others improve. I want to explore strange new worlds and watch people fall in love while burning down cruel and unjust systems. I want stories about building utopia and working to prevent distopias. I want something that isn’t po-faced about how “serious” we ought to take the man in the rubber suit.

For all my misgivings, I’d much rather have something like Haven than late era Star Trek. At the very least, there’s a sense of strangeness to the universe, a humor to the script (for all his callousness, Data is a riot in this episode, with his level of humor being matched this season solely by putting him in a deerstalker and giving him a pipe), and a love for those experiencing the story. And there are many episodes, even in the late era, that embrace the ethos of this episode; one that many a fan claims is what Star Trek is all about. But they are fewer than the ones that don’t. I wish Star Trek would embrace it’s true self more often than it does. Alas, it seems to only want to be a faint echo of something we should have given up on long ago.

(Next Time: When Time Reverses and Teacups Come Together…)

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[Photo: How to Kill a Computer Directed by Misuko Kase, Script by Kazunori Ito, Storyboards by Toshifumi Takizawa, Deep Dream by Sean Dillon)