Monthly Archives: January 2016

Spotlight: Transformers – Optimus Prime

The Original Optimus Prime

The Original Optimus Prime

A friend of mine is very into the Transformers franchise. I would be remiss if I did not admit that part of this fascination is my fault; I was – and remain – a fan of the Transformers mythos myself. I have not abandoned the franchise, though I must admit, I think my enthusiasm for it has cooled a fair bit. The writers for Transformers, whether they are working on the TV shows or its other media, seem to be writing things higgledy-piggledy these days. It makes the stories somewhat confusing.

Anyway, my friend’s favorite Transformer is the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime. (This post is written about that character in part to please my friend.) I can relate to my friend’s love of the Autobot leader, in a small way. He was never my favorite Autobot, but I could not imagine any other leader for the Autobots than him.

I first got to know Optimus, really and truly, through the Japanese series Transformers: Armada. It came out around 2001, having been translated into English in Canada, much as the Zoids series were. Though Transformers is an American story idea, it is very popular in Japan as well. The Japanese have created at least four TV series for the franchise (that I know of).

The voice actor for Optimus Prime in the Armada series was Gary Chalk. A Canadian actor, Mr. Chalk’s voice was the one that I thought fit Optimus best. Since hearing Peter Cullen voice the character again, Mr. Chalk has slipped into second place.

I bring up Mr. Chalk because, as I said, he was the Optimus I knew and loved for – ooh, goodness, eight or so years. He voiced Optimus over three TV series that I watched almost regularly when they came out: Transformers: Armada, Transformers: Energon, and Transformers: Cybertron. (I lost interest in Energon after one episode, and so I stopped watching it. Armada and Cybertron I watched from beginning to end.)

Voices are something which has always enthralled me. I can remember, when I was five years old, listening to people on TV, on the radio, or in the room just because I liked the sound of their voices. The words blurred together and became meaningless as I simply sat and listened to the tone and resonance of their voices.

In the case of Mr. Chalk’s performance as Optimus Prime, his calm, gentle, fatherly manner in Armada struck me deeply. I came to regard him rather like I regarded Professor X of the X-Men. But my affection for Optimus was and is much deeper and warmer than it has been or ever will be for the Prof. (Sorry, Charles.)

That brings me to the point of this post. I do not know how others view Optimus Prime, but he seems to have the same sort of publicity problem these days that Cap does. Once, he had no such trouble at all, but I will mention that in a bit.

Since the 1984 series, Optimus Prime has transformed into a red, white, and blue truck. The truck model has varied – he was Freightliner in the original series, but over the years he has also transformed into firetrucks, Peterbuilts, and now a Western Star with six outrageous smoke stacks in Transformers: Age of Extinction. But his paint scheme has never shifted from his original red, white, and blue – even when the red dominates the other two colors.

This tells me that Optimus was conceived as a ra-ra America kind of character. To some degree, the writers have left him that way. His paint scheme is still red, white, and blue, after all. The only other character in a modern franchise that wears the same colors and is as popular is Captain America. Just like Cap, Optimus values friends, freedom, and fidelity above all else. He is a kind, compassionate leader who respects life. And not just Cybertronian life; Optimus has always taken special interest in and care of the humans who interact with the Autobots and Decepticons in the franchise serials.

Peter Cullen, the voice actor for Optimus Prime in the original series as well as the new shows Transformers Prime, Transformers: Robots in Disguise, and Transformers: Rescue Bots likes to tell the story of how he became Optimus Prime. Mr. Cullen says he based Optimus’ voice after the voice of his older brother, a veteran U.S. Marine captain who served in Vietnam.

The day that Mr. Cullen was to audition for the part of Optimus Prime, he spoke to his older brother, Larry. When Larry was told his younger brother was going to voice a truck, both Larry and Peter Cullen got a laugh out of it. Mr. Cullen has since admitted that at the time they “had no idea” what they were in for. After having their good laugh, Captain Cullen sobered and asked his brother to portray the character not as a typical shouting Hollywood hero, but as someone “strong enough to be gentle.”

His older brother’s request stayed with Mr. Cullen, and when he read over the script for the first episode of Transformers, he said it was like hearing Larry Cullen speak. So he imitated his brother’s voice, adding a dash of John Wayne just to make it interesting, and Optimus Prime rolled into the hearts of viewers everywhere. Children all over the U.S. wrote letters to Optimus Prime and sent them to the studio, which for some bizarre reason never passed the notes on to Mr. Cullen.

My point in bringing this up, readers, is the request Peter Cullen’s brother made of him: “Be strong enough to be gentle.”

I think that this is why I have always had a particular fondness for Optimus Prime. Even when Gary Chalk was voicing Optimus, the character did not lack for gentleness in his speech. Or at least, he did not in Transformers: Armada. In the latter two series, Energon and Cybertron, Mr. Chalk stopped imitating Mr. Cullen after a point. He did not lose much of the gentleness in his voice, but his characterization of Optimus became more… in tune with popular attitudes. This is something Mr. Cullen prefers to avoid when voicing Optimus Prime. I do not know why Mr. Chalk began reading his lines this way; I simply know that his voice changed over the years. Not by much, but it did.

It is this strength, this firm but gentle quality which Optimus Prime has that I remember and love most. This is the reason I have never lost my particular love for the character, though I have lost my patience with his, ummm…..handlers. (Mr. Cullen has never been among those, thankfully.) When asked to voice Optimus in comedy skits, he has declined, stating he has too much respect for the character to treat him so trivially. It is too bad other, similar characters do not have performers who treat them so!!!

Optimus’ character is rooted in “Peace through strength.” He is a kind character who maintains his dignity in everything he does. Optimus Prime is not only strong enough to fight Megatron and the Decepticons; he is strong enough to be gentle to those weaker than himself, whether they are humans or Autobots.

This is not quite the post I hoped it would be, readers. I seem to have a great deal of trouble describing Optimus, much as some people have a hard time discussing Captain America. It is perhaps because they are so alike; there is never a doubt where Cap stands on an issue. Just as you never have to guess where Optimus will be standing in an argument – at the head of his Autobots.

I still regard Optimus the same way I did as a child. He is a father-type character, one whose strength of arms is equaled only by the strength in his spark. There is really nothing more to say.

Autobots, roll out!

The Mithril Guardian

Transformers Prime

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Spotlight: Zoids – The Organoids

Irvine's Command Wolf 2

Organoids: the most mysterious of all the zoids on Zi. I promised in my last Spotlight! post that I would describe just what an organoid was. I shall now endeavor to fulfill that promise.

Organoids are six to seven foot tall zoids. Somewhat larger or taller than a big man, they are physically stronger than most men. They are dragon-type beings with three claws on each “hand” and foot. Most organoids have head frills or horns of some kind, though there is one organoid who lacks these. He therefore strikes Western viewers as Tyrannosaurus-type, not dragon-type.

Organoids are exclusive to the Zoids: Chaotic Century series. No subsequent series has them. In Chaotic Century, they are originally thought to be “nothing more than…childish legends.”

Nevertheless, there are those on Zi in Chaotic Century who do believe the legends and spend great time and effort searching for organoids. Why?

Organoids were/are the personal companions to the Ancient Zoidians, a humanoid species which once inhabited Zi and whose survivors are almost indistinguishable from humans. The primary purpose of an organoid, however, is to increase a larger zoid’s power; drawing out the larger creature’s potential for the pilot to utilize.

This is achieved by the organoid fusing with the larger zoid. For an idea of what this entails, check out the video below:

To fuse with a larger zoid, every organoid glows, then launches into the air, usually by means of boosters installed in their backs. The glow must be some form of “phasing,” a time when the organoid is briefly intangible, in order that it may pass through the armor of the pilot’s larger zoid.

Organoids stimulate the evolution of larger zoids when the creatures’ pilots reach a skill level those zoids cannot keep up with. Depending on the leap in skill level, the evolution can take a few days or a month. At the end of that time, the zoid bursts out of the organoid-induced cocoon (which is usually formed out of light), ready for battle and very capable of keeping up with the pilot’s new skill level.

Also, when the zoid the organoid is fused to is destroyed, the organoid will bail out, taking the pilot with him. Sometimes the pilot is found standing next to the organoid, almost totally unhurt. In times of great danger, however, the organoid opens up its own body and uses it as a temporary stasis pod to protect the pilot. Depending on the circumstances, this can be very draining for the organoid, which may have to rest up for a bit before it can become active again.

The organoid’s ability to strengthen larger zoids, giving them more power and drawing out their full potential, makes these small zoids highly sought after by governments, bandits, and others who have a vested interest in control of others. Van and his friends had no end of trouble due to the fact that Van had an organoid. Many wanted to steal the little zoid from him, not realizing that organoids are loyal to only one person, two at the most. And their loyalty must somehow be earned; stealing them is not enough. You have to gain their trust and respect.

“Okay, back up,” I hear some of you say, “I thought zoids were dumb mechanical animals. Now you’re telling me these organoids choose their owners?”

Yes, I am. Because unlike most zoids, organoids are not dumb. Their speech mainly consists of growls, gestures, snarls, or roars, but it is possible for humans to communicate with and understand an organoid. Therefore, they are more intelligent than regular zoids.

We are only introduced to four organoids in Chaotic Century. Each organoid has its own personality and effect on the events of the series. With that in mind, I will now list these four organoids for you, readers. First up:

Zeke

Zeke

Zeke is the first organoid we meet. Silver with fuchsia eyes, Zeke lacks the head frills and horns of later organoids. This makes him more reminiscent to Westerners of a Tyrannosaurus Rex than dragon-type, as the translators for Chaotic Century and doubtless the Japanese story tellers and voice actors referred to him. I believe that he is called dragon-type in the English translation of the series because he has three claws on each “hand” and foot. Japanese dragons have only three digits on all their claws; Japanese lore holds that when dragons migrate away from Japan, they gain more claws. To me, this is the reason Zeke is referred to as a dragon-type zoid in the series.

Of all the organoids in the series, Zeke is the friendliest and kindest. He and Van meet in the first episode, where Van discovers the organoid’s stasis pod and inadvertently opens it, releasing Zeke. Zeke is nervous upon meeting Van, and when the fourteen year old approaches him to make friends, Zeke smacks him upside the head with his tail.

Van does not lose his temper over the blow, however, shrugging it off and saying that Zeke “has to prove he can take care of himself.” This reaction convinces Zeke that Van is not a threat. But when a bandit enters the building, searching for Van, he spots Zeke in the process and things get dangerous. The bandit demands Van hand Zeke over to him but, armed only with a live electric cord, Van attacks the zoid the bandit is riding in to protect Zeke.

Zeke is quick to return the favor when Van is thrown against the wall. This is what kicks off the friendship between the two, and their bond remains strong throughout the series. Zeke obeys Van, who always refers to him as his “best friend.” Zeke is also the only organoid who is consistently shown to be male. Van never says “it” when talking about Zeke, always saying “he,” “him,” “his,” etc. Many other characters, before they get to know him, call Zeke an “it,” though he never takes obvious offense over this.

Zeke is also shown to be protective of Van, the first episode being proof positive of this. Zeke considers Van his best friend as much as Van thinks of him as such. The two talk often – though naturally, we in the audience only understand Van’s half of the conversation.

There is one other person Zeke will take orders from, his Ancient Zoidian partner Fiona. Fiona, physically the same age as Van, is discovered in a second stasis pod in the same place where Van finds Zeke. However, she has no memory of her past, only remembering the name “Fiona.”

For that reason, Van dubs her Fiona. Throughout the series, Fiona exerts almost as much, if not more, control over Zeke than Van does. Her and Zeke’s bond is almost like that of siblings. Organoids were the constant companions, as far as we know, for all Ancient Zoidians. It therefore makes sense that Fiona would be more able to influence Zeke in some situations than Van could.

Like Fiona, Zeke starts out as something of an innocent. He is easily distracted by almost anything. A running gag in the series is his interest in moths and butterflies (he has been shown chasing the latter around from time to time). He is also the only organoid revealed to have a sense of humor, laughing when Van or one of his friends gets into a scrape. He is also the only organoid I know of who is ticklish.

Zeke can also be embarrassed, though this last does not occur often. This mood is demonstrated by beads of sweat on his head, sheepish growls, and occasional ducks of the head, as if he wants to hide his face in mortification.

Unlike Fiona, at least for the majority of the series, Zeke is also a capable fighter. He will jump to her and Van’s defense on many occasions, and has been shown to be protective of those close to them. This is demonstrated most notably in the second episode of the series, when he helps rescue Van’s older sister, Maria.

Of the four organoids, Zeke is the least threatening and most friendly. In combat or during tense situations, he is a stoic member of the team. At other times, he is as playful and oblivious as a five year old and quite as capable with children as any of the other characters. In some cases, he is even better with children than other characters are.

Shadow

Shadow the Organoid

Shadow is the second organoid seen in Zoids: Chaotic Century. Black, with blue eyes, four horns projecting from the back of his head, and with two large, bat-like wings in place of the traditional boosters, Shadow is the exact opposite of Zeke. This is because he belongs to Van’s archenemy Raven, who is the complete antithesis of Van and the Winter Soldier of zoid pilots.

Shadow never laughs, only growls with pleasure after taking down an opponent or causing some kind of damage. More so than Raven, he seems to enjoy the destruction he wreaks on others. This has been shown to disturb Raven, whose primary desire is simply to destroy zoids.

Like Raven, Shadow is a savage in a fight. Though he never clashes with Zeke in direct combat, I would say the odds of such a battle are not in Zeke’s favor. Shadow can take down armed adult men in seconds, and destroy zoids in less time than Raven. Also, Raven does not rely on Shadow much in a fight, whereas Van is initially very reliant on Zeke in a combat situation. Both boys have the raw potential to be great pilots, but Raven is the only one of the two who had official training before the series began.

Because of the difference in their skill levels, Shadow is more independent than Zeke. He usually sits on the sidelines to watch Raven battle; when Raven decides the organoid needs exercise or, when Van later proves to be more able to challenge Raven’s skill, then he calls on Shadow to fuse with his zoid.

Despite the fact that Raven appears to consider Shadow as nothing more than a tool, it is eventually revealed that their bond is deeper than even Raven suspects or knows. Shadow is quite protective of Raven, even willing to die for him. Though bloodthirsty and happy to cause carnage in battle, Shadow is quite loyal to Raven and sees him as more than a master or source of fun. He really does consider Raven his best friend, though it takes Raven much longer to return the favor.

As a way to explain this, I will tell you how Raven became Shadow’s master. Shadow was initially a wild organoid, wilder than Zeke or any other organoid in the series. It took something on the order of five men to bring him, struggling all the way, into the room where Raven was waiting.

In order to tame him, Raven tackled Shadow to the ground and wrestled with him, until the organoid realized he had met his match. After that, he stopped struggling and allowed Raven to rip his collar off. He followed Raven wherever the other went after that.

It may be this wildness which is responsible for Shadow’s love of battle and destruction. Like a tamed wolf, he is loyal to Raven and obedient to him. To all others he bares his teeth and snarls, or ignores them as inferiors. They are nothing, Raven is everything. Also, battle is a constant in the wild. Half-feral as he is, Shadow would respond to a fight or challenge to battle with the instincts of a wild animal. He is only docile to Raven; to all others, he is a wild and dangerous creature not to be approached on even a dare.

A fit companion for Raven, I have to say.

Ambient

Ambient

Ambient is a red organoid with green eyes. He has five horns projecting from the back of his head and a small, hook-shaped spike on the bottom of his chin. Also, like a Stegosaurus, he has four silver spikes on the end of his tail. These are flexible, and he will not hesitate to use them in a fight.

Ambient is partnered with the mysterious red-haired, green-eyed Hillz. Hillz’s mission is hidden for most of the second half of Chaotic Century, and so I intend to reveal as little about it as I possibly can.

Ambient is even more bloodthirsty than Shadow, and twice as dangerous. He is less wild and more controlled than the black organoid, however. Therefore only by his actions in combat do we understand him any better.

He seems, like his master Hillz, to hold all those around him as inferiors. He only meets Zeke directly once, when the latter bulldozes into Ambient to save Van, caught in combat with the deadly red organoid. But Ambient has traded angry growls with Shadow, and it is clear that the two have no love for each other.

The only thing Ambient desires is destruction. Anything that furthers those goals is quite acceptable. He does not seem to take pleasure and joy out of much, except for the “honor” of being “chosen” to – well, that is telling too much.

Ambient’s power is to tap directly into a zoid’s core and draw out its full potential instantly. This is the power of most organoids, apparently, but Ambient appears to be especially proficient in this area. He is not an organoid to be trifled with, nor should he be challenged by just anyone. He is too dangerous for that.

Specula

Specular the Organoid

The one organoid consistently called “it” throughout the latter half of Chaotic Century, the timbre of Specula’s growls suggest to me that this organoid is female. Taller and thinner than most organoids, Specula has blue armor and gold eyes. Specula has one horn projecting from the back of her head, with two silver horns on her cheeks which are reminiscent of an insect’s mouth pincers. Having seen her do battle with Shadow, a shorter organoid, I can say with all surety that Specula is not physically a match for many other organoids, though she can certainly overpower humans.

Specula’s mistress is Reese, a blue-haired, blue-eyed psychic with a special grudge against Fiona. Why? Well, you will have to watch the series to learn that!

Specula shares Reese’s psychic talents and can even increase them. Reese takes great pleasure in using her telepathic talents to manipulate others; a joy Specula seems to share. This earns Reese the moniker “the Blue Devil” in the series, and for a while she certainly lives up to this name!

Later, after Reese recovers from injuries sustained in battle, she believes Specula is dead until the organoid puts her head through a hole in the roof and gives an affectionate growl to say hello. So it appears that Specula does have some warmth in her, but that it is stored up and directed toward Reese alone.

Interestingly, Specula’s name is Latin. It means a variety of things, including “summit” and “bit of hope.” But you will have to watch the series to know why I mention this!

Specula, like all organoids and their chosen partners, is shown to be protective of Reese. When Reese needles Ambient, the organoid is not pleased and shows his anger by growling. Specula responds in kind, rumbling a warning in no little anger at the red organoid. Strong or not, she will defend Reese to the bitter end.

The Gojulas

Well, readers, this has been a rather long post! I will sign off for now but be back with another zoid soon enough, I assure you! Until then –

I guess I’ll catch ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Quotable Quotes #11

Man only likes to count his troubles, but he does not count his joys. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. – William Shakespeare

To err is human; to forgive divine. – Alexander Pope

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle. – Plato

The poetry of the earth is never dead. – John Keats

Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water-bath is to the body. – William Shakespeare

Scratching is one of nature’s sweetest gratifications, and the nearest at hand. – Michel de Montaigne, French essayist.

Don’t let schooling interfere with your education. – Mark Twain

One must be poor to know the luxury of giving! – George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)

Hope, deceiving as it is, serves at least to lead us to the end of our lives by an agreeable route. – Francois de la Rochefoucauld

Character, in great and little things, means carrying through on what you feel able to do. – Johann Goethe

Love built on beauty, soon as beauty, dies. – John Donne

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. – Buddha

Quarrel? Nonsense; we have not quarreled. If one is not to get into a rage sometimes, what is the good of being friends? – George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)

In most of mankind gratitude is merely a secret hope of further favors. – Francois de la Rochefoucauld

Captain America: Civil War, Trailer 1

 

The first trailer for Captain America: Civil War is out, readers! I have been thinking about this trailer a fair bit, obviously. This is not a prognostications post, like the ones I wrote for Age of Ultron. It is more of a free flowing speculation post.

I have to say that this Civil War trailer is very good, with lots of high-powered action. But it is also a painful thing to watch. I literally had to swallow tears watching it the first few times. Occasionally, it still leaves me depressed and upset.

For those out there who crassly sneer about this, reminding me unnecessarily that this movie is dark and going places the other Marvel films “feared to tread,” I have a reminder for you. It is not good to revel in another’s pain. We are too often tempted with that, sadly. I see no reason to cheer on the war of wills between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark.

As I have said before, I am firmly on Captain America’s side in this war. Tony has a rather lousy moral record; he has been known to socialize with weapons dealers like Ulysses Klaue, as well as being a debaucher and a self-centered jerk with an ego the size of the moon. He is not someone to support on matters of such importance.

In contrast, Cap has never faltered. His moral compass has never wavered, and despite the chatter on the Internet, I do not believe he ever will, even in Civil War. The Russos have actually supported my gut feeling, since they have stated the obvious: Cap’s sense of morality is part of his superpower. If it was just his super soldier serum which made him so interesting, he would hardly be more beloved than any other Marvel hero. And we all know that he is the most beloved of Marvel’s characters. Even Spider-Man falls just shy of the affection most Marvel fans have for Cap. Spidey is just easier to market than Cap is these days.

One of the most important things revealed in this Civil War trailer is that Cap does not want this war. Having never read the comics, I cannot vouch for those, but he does not want a civil war in this film.

What makes me so sure he does not want a Civil War? A little line which made it into the trailer. “I’m sorry, Tony,” Cap says. “You know I wouldn’t do this if there was another way. But he’s my friend.”

Cap does not say with these lines that he is throwing away his new friendships for his old one with Bucky. He is choosing both. He sacrificed his life to save the world at the end of WW II, and he will live with that sacrifice for the rest of his life. But Bucky’s life was stolen from him. And, in Civil War, people are trying to take his life away from him again. As his friend, Cap will not stand for that. He will not let Bucky’s life be stolen from him a second time, especially for a crime he did not commit.

Tony’s response to Cap’s statement, however, is absolutely horrifying. “So was I.”

Was. Was! Cap did not say, “You were my friend, Tony.” He said, “I wouldn’t be doing this if there was another way.” He is not rejecting Tony’s friendship; he is not discarding him or the Avengers for Bucky. He is trying to protect them all, as well as give his childhood friend a chance at making a new life for himself in relative safety.

But Tony does not see it that way. He is discarding Cap, along with his desire and attempts to keep them all together and free, rejecting his friendship. His three word line immediately made my throat constrict and my heart sink. Of all the mistakes Tony has ever made in the films, this has to be the utter worst. Cap understands that friendship and freedom trumps everything. Tony does not, and it is going to cost him.

From what we can see in this trailer, it appears that Bucky is framed for a murder, and thus he is being hunted down. This, along with some international incident following a battle involving the Avengers, will be what kicks off Civil War.

Well, I think it is possible that the international incident and Bucky’s supposed crime happen at nearly the same time. It appears that Civil War could open in medio res, or in the middle of things. Avengers: Age of Ultron did the same thing. If Civil War opens in the African market we have seen clips and set photos of, then the international incident may take place in Wakanda.

If that is the case, then “Bucky’s” target could well be Wakandan King T’Chaka, father of soon-to-be Black Panther T’Challa. T’Challa is said to “be in the beginning phases of taking on the Black Panther mantle” in Civil War. The title of Black Panther is passed down through the Wakandan royal line. Every ruler of Wakanda, as I understand things, has worn the title of Black Panther. The role of the Black Panther is similar to the role Cap played in WW II: protect the nation from outside aggressors.

Why?

Wakanda, from what I know of it, is a postage-stamp sized fictional African country in the Marvel Universe. It is highly advanced, more so than any first world country, because it is built smack-dab on top of the biggest – and possibly the only – deposit of vibranium on Earth. The Wakandans’ understanding of vibranium is what makes them such a technologically advanced nation.

It is also why they are xenophobic in their contact with the outside world. As we know, vibranium is the strongest metal on Earth (equaled in the comics only by adamantium, which is heavier and more easily acquired). In fact, for most of Marvel history, the world had no idea Wakanda existed until around WW II. Knowing how dangerous vibranium is, the last thing the Wakandans wanted was the metal falling into the wrong hands. They take it very personally when someone steals even a sliver of the metal. How Klaue made it out of Wakanda with as much vibranium as he had in Ultron borders on the magical; he should not have been able to get that much vibranium out of the country. No wonder they branded him “Thief” in such an unpleasant manner.

There is also a mystical element to the Black Panther mantle. Becoming the Black Panther, after having received the title properly, means that the person using the title gains all the strength, agility, speed, and senses of a real panther. T’Challa’s ability to keep up with – and apparently outpace – Cap and Bucky is probably related to this.

Also, T’Challa’s suit in the film should be made almost entirely out of vibranium. I do not know if it is an entirely vibranium suit in the comics, but it would make sense if it was. It is the strongest metal on Earth in the films; it is only reasonable that the Wakandans would use it to make a suit for the person charged with protecting their country and its deposit of vibranium.

In the comics and cartoons, T’Challa’s suit has claws built into the gloves. These claws are made of vibranium and are able to scratch through anything, just like Wolverine’s adamantium-coated claws. Vibranium and adamantium are two of the Earth metals that can harm the Hulk in the form of blades. T’Challa also has a series of vibranium daggers hidden in his suit in some cartoons. He may not have these in the film, but it is possible that he might have a set of vibranium daggers in Civil War.

If Bucky is blamed for T’Chaka’s assassination (or attempted assassination), then it would make sense for T’Challa to join up with Tony in Civil War. He wants justice, or revenge, for his father’s death. This means we will very likely see T’Challa facing off against Cap, and since vibranium is the only thing that can harm itself, it is possible that Cap’s shield will have some scratches put in it during the movie. However, since T’Challa is prince of the nation which owns all the vibranium on Earth, he can repair it once everything is sorted out at the end of Civil War.

I do not know exactly why Natasha has sided with Tony Stark in Civil War. I know she was on the pro-Registration side in the comics, but her motivations there are also a total mystery to me. Especially since she was apparently a non-combatant in the comic book war (how did that happen?).

The Russos have said that Natasha is trying to keep the Avengers from being disbanded. This makes sense, considering the fact that, if the Avengers were disbanded, she would have nowhere to go. Being an Avenger grants her a certain amount of immunity. At the end of Winter Soldier, she faced down the D.C. bureaucrats and told them how many buns make a dozen. They did not like that, and they have the power and ammo to bury her well below six feet under. So not only does being an Avenger give her purpose, it protects her from powerful people who see only her dark past and would gladly lock her up to die in the “Pit of Despair,” if you will. So siding with Tony would seem to her, perhaps, to be the best way to save the Avengers and herself. Self-preservation could very well be her motive for joining Team Iron.

That does not mean she is not conflicted during Civil War. She and Cap are good friends, and where Tony appears to believe that Cap is abandoning them all for his old war buddy, Natasha does not seem to share that sentiment. After all, she has been in Steve’s shoes. Her best friend was mind-controlled into helping Loki invade Earth. She would have gone through Hell to get Hawkeye back. Can she expect any less from Cap, who has proven that not only will he go through Hell to get Bucky back, but he will let Bucky beat him nearly to death as well?

As an added dilemma, Hawkeye sides with Cap in the upcoming war. The why is easy to guess: he worked for SHIELD only as long as his family was kept out of their files, and he has stayed with the Avengers in order to keep his wife and children safe. Someday he will have to let someone else have his job – one of his sons, or a stranger. But until that day he will fight to protect his family and the world they live in. Registering with the U.N. means that they will want to know everything about him. And it is hard to believe that the U.N. would not put his family in a database somewhere once they learned about them.

Clint does not want that. He will stand up to those in authority when they begin abusing their power, and these fictional Sokovian Accords are a blatant abuse of power. If the government can tell the Avengers who to target and who not to target, then they will end up with the same situation they faced in Midtown Manhattan in The Avengers. The World Security Council, likely a committee from the U.N., was quite willing to wipe out NYC with a nuclear warhead in The Avengers. Now that the latest weapons are people with super powers or “specific skill sets,” they are trying to make them the new “nuclear deterrents” completely at their command.

Except the Avengers are people, not weapons or tools. And people do not like being enslaved, under any circumstances.

Remember when I said that Clint had issues with authority in the comics? Well, it looks like he is about to take a very great issue with the government in Civil War. He has already proven he will break with his orders when he believes those orders are wrong. That is why Natasha is even alive, let alone an Avenger. And if he accepted SHIELD’s offer of a job only on condition that Fury erase his family from digital and analog existence, then Fury either wanted him in SHIELD very badly, or Clint is one hell of a negotiator. And by that, I mean he told Fury, “If you want me in SHIELD, then you had better make sure no one finds my family. Because if they do and something bad happens to them as a result, I will not only hunt down and kill those who hurt my family, but you, too.”

We do not get to see much of Hawkeye in this Civil War trailer, but I did notice two things about him in the brief scenes where he appears. One, when Cap and his team are apparently staring down Team Iron, Clint does not look happy. Neither does Cap, interestingly. Normally they each wear the expressions of men ready to wade into the fight fists swinging. This time, Cap and Clint both seem thoroughly sick at the idea that they will be going up against their friends and fellow Avengers. They do not want to, but their friends are not going to give them a choice.

Second, in one of the scenes following Team Cap charging into battle, two people can be seen running across what might be an airport tarmac. Since one of those people is holding a bow, it is safe to assume that person is Hawkeye. The second person is, on closer inspection, shown to be the Scarlet Witch.

This raises some interesting points. We know that Clint and Wanda established an understanding in Age of Ultron, but we also know her older brother died saving Clint’s life in the same movie. It is possible that Clint now feels responsible for Wanda, that he believes he should stay close to her and take care of her, since her older brother died to save him and is no longer present to see to her welfare. He might feel like he owes Pietro this and will therefore try to keep an eye on Wanda in Civil War.

Where this will lead, I can hardly guess. It has been suggested that Wanda may go a bit berserk in this movie. Elizabeth Olsen, the actress who portrays her, has dubbed Wanda a “wild card” and says the Scarlet Witch is “conflicted.” She says Wanda feels like she is connected to the Avengers, but at the same time, they are not her family. She certainly has a rapport of some sort with the World’s Greatest Marksman, and a bond with Captain America. And she has been an Avenger long enough now to get to know Falcon, War Machine, Vision, and Black Widow fairly well.

But they are not her family. In that respect, she is adrift in the world. Pietro was her anchor to reality, as she was his anchor to calm and reason. Despite the nobility of his sacrifice, she will feel Pietro’s loss keenly, and therefore may be inclined to leave the team. Also, Olsen hinted that the Scarlet Witch’s powers have grown since Age of Ultron. In the comics, this was one of the factors which led to her loss of sanity. Even with her brother alive, she ripped reality apart and rebuilt it. She also killed Hawkeye in this event. Twice.

All this could spell danger for Hawkeye in the upcoming film. Hopefully, Wanda will not roll off the deep end in Civil War and hurt him. Olsen’s statements, however, hint at some mental unsteadiness for the Scarlet Witch, and this opens some rather worrisome doors in my mind.

We also see in this trailer that Falcon is still “doing what [Cap] does, just slower.” In the trailer he says to Cap, “I just want to be sure we consider all our options. ‘Cause people who shoot at you usually wind up shooting at me, too.”

I think what Sam is really saying here is this: “Look, I am with you all the way. But are you sure there isn’t another way out of this mess? Because when things go bad, you won’t be the only one getting shot at. You’ve got me (and the others) watching your back. We’re going to get shot at, too, and we’re going up against the other Avengers at the same time. The Law of Averages says someone will get hurt or killed. You can’t make this decision based on sentiment and emotion. Have you really thought this through?”

Of course, Cap has. And barring a miraculous light bulb exploding into brilliance over Tony’s genius head, he has no other option but to go up against Iron Man. Sam and the others know that. If they choose to follow him, then they will all be in the same boat.

And, short of some unexpected betrayal in Cap’s ranks, this proves that Team Cap is made up of people just like Steve Rogers. Sam and the others on Team Cap all value friendship and freedom uber alles, or over all. They will follow Cap through Hell if that is where the battle takes them, because they are his friends. It will not be just because the U.N. wants to run their missions. It will be because they value Cap’s friendship, and friendship is based on loyalty, which means that you stay faithful to your friend no matter what. “And say my glory was I had such friends.” – William Butler Yeats

Then there is Bucky. Bucky is certainly an appealing, sympathetic character. And he is in an interesting – and precarious – position in Civil War. As a former HYDRA operative, Bucky naturally has an enormous amount of intel on the organization. In the hands of the U. S. government and the Avengers, this information could bring the plague-like organization down.

HYDRA has to know this. They also have to realize that the government, or the sensible people in it, would want Bucky captured and alive in order to gain all the information he has on HYDRA. There is no way, under normal circumstances, that U.S. military leaders would want Bucky dead. He is too valuable as an informant on HYDRA, even in his current beleaguered state.

Hence, it appears that HYDRA has assassinated someone in Civil War and pinned the murder on Bucky. They thereby instigate an international manhunt for him so that he will be brought in dead and useless to their enemies. It would be great if they could get him back and make him their tool again, but they might have already tried that and found him less than docile. Crossbones is said to taunt Cap with the fact that Bucky remembers him in a different trailer. To me, this suggests HYDRA has tried to get Bucky back and failed.

So that leaves them with only one option: eliminate him.

Sebastian Stan has been asked what Bucky will be like in Civil War, and he has said his relationship to HYDRA is a complicated one. That Bucky sort of owes them for saving his life. Not really, I think, since they simply saved him in order to turn him into a weapon. They stole from him, and while that certainly does not make them like his second family, it does mean they have a relationship.

This, of course, raises the question of what type of relationship. I do not believe it is a happy or a familial relationship. Bucky has turned his back on HYDRA and on being a weapon. However, even with his mind control and brainwashing broken, old habits die hard. He is not going to forget the skills HYDRA taught him. He simply cannot. They are built into his muscle memory; if he is fiercely attacked, even by run-of-the-mill thugs, his muscles will react automatically because of his training and years of experience as an expert assassin.

This also means that, like Wolverine, his instinctive reaction in a pitched battle will be to go for the jugular. As long as he keeps his emotions in check and maintains some rational control of himself in combat, Bucky should be able to keep his attacks from ending in the death(s) of his opponent(s). He can rationally choose not to follow through on a blow, making it a knock out or an injuring hit rather than a killing strike.

But he is not yet emotionally and mentally stable enough, it appears, to keep complete control of his instincts in such a conflict. If he is incensed to the point that his emotions and instincts override his rational thinking, anyone attacking him is courting death, the same way they would be if they sent Wolverine over a mental cliff.

This theory is given some credibility in the scene where Bucky goes to rip out Tony’s arc reactor. It does not matter that the arc reactor no longer supports Tony’s heart, it still supports his suit. And if it gets fried while being yanked out, it could short out the suit in such a way that Tony is badly injured or even killed. This could be what happens to Rhodey, though it is hard to tell from the trailer whether he is alive, dead, or injured and unconscious. (Someone suggested War Machine’s arc reactor was ripped out mid-air, because he is seen lying in a crater in the ground. It may be that the Scarlet Witch, Falcon, or even Vision is responsible for Rhodey’s apparent crash in that scene.)

There are probably several ways to take out Tony’s suit with Bucky’s particular skills and assets, while at the same time not hurting Tony. But Bucky’s immediate act is to go for the most vital place in Tony’s armor. His first instinct is for the jugular.

And thanks to HYDRA, he will be battling this instinct for the rest of his life. Just like Wolverine, his instincts can be tempered and controlled. However, due to his conditioning, he will remain highly unsociable and appear cold to others. He has experienced too much pain for mild annoyances like broken toasters and stubbed toes to set him off, but at the same time, he has also had much good ripped out of his hands.

And so his attitude in pleasant surroundings or events will remain gruff, distant, and always guarded. Past experience with HYDRA has driven home to him the fact that happiness is fleeting and fragile. It only takes one evil person to kill many, and he will always be on the lookout for evil, even if it does not show up. He knows it exists. He has seen it many times and he will therefore remain vigilant and ready for it to strike, something most civilians do not consider.

Thanks to HYDRA, Bucky knows safety is an illusion at worst, a veneer at best. It can be ripped away in seconds by a bullet or a knife. He is a target for both. He can be happy, but he will always guard that emotion carefully, so that if the world goes to hell in a hand basket, he will be ready for it.

This is the legacy of HYDRA’s manipulating him: in some respect, they will always own part of him. And there is absolutely nothing he or his friends/allies will ever be able to do about it.

All this leads to one point: Bucky will have to die in Civil War. Now since Sebastian Stan has a nine picture deal with Marvel, I do not think his death in Civil War would be real. It would probably be faked, so that he could go underground and try to make a life for himself. Doing this would get HYDRA and the government off his back – for a space, at least – and give him time to try and do something good with his life.

It would be interesting if he was “assassinated” in place of Cap, who in the comics was “killed” at the end of the Civil War story arc. (His “death” in the comics even made the actual six o’clock news.) He could wear Steve’s uniform and be “killed” in his place in Captain America: Civil War.

Who would “kill” him is open to debate; Hawkeye and Black Widow both have the skills to make sure the shot appeared real. Bucky could certainly pull off a convincing death scene after that. But Crossbones or Baron Zemo could be the ones who plan to assassinate Cap – though what they would gain by making a martyr out of him, I have no idea. This would mean the Avengers would have to somehow ensure the HYDRA bullet did not actually hit its mark, but make it appear that it did. I am sure they could all work something like this out, if the writers decided to go with this plot. It is how they saved Fury, after all.

Speaking of our villains, we have not seen Baron Zemo in any of the trailers so far. Since he is playing the HYDRA heavy, we all know where Crossbones will be in the movie: he is the muscle-bound goon and the public face for HYDRA’s foot soldiers.

People keep asking where Zemo is. I think the answer is rather obvious; he is the man behind the curtain. We know from The Winter Soldier that HYDRA did not simply infiltrate SHIELD. They wormed their way into the U.S. government. Senator Stern was a HYDRA man. And just because the World Security Council threw wine in Pierce’s face does not mean that the U.N. has the same spine. In fact, that scene was the first hint that anyone on the WSC even had a spine.

Zemo and HYDRA could very well be the force behind the U.N.’s Sokovian Accords. Cui bono – who benefits from a civil war between the heroes? Cap and Tony are not going to get much out of this war, which like all such conflicts, is anything but civil. The answer is as plain as day: in an Avengers’ Civil War, only their enemies benefit. And HYDRA is the main enemy for the Avengers in these films. They have the most to gain by registering the heroes and binding them in red tape.

It has also been revealed that Thunderbolt Ross will be the U.S. Secretary of State in Civil War. The Russos have said he has gone from hating the Hulk to hating all super-powered people in general. That is not a great leap of logic, really; Bruce and the Hulk were untouchable as long as they stayed with the Avengers. Bruce and “the other guy” helped save the world. Who could hunt down a hero like that without suffering a huge amount of political and popular backlash?

I would guess that Ross has it in for the Avengers in part because they shielded the Hulk and Bruce for so long. Though Bruce is once again on the lam, if he were to go back to the Avengers, he would still be “safe” at first base in popular opinion. So Ross’ interest in taking the Avengers down and putting them under the government’s thumb may be a tactical strike: take out the Avengers, and there is no safe haven for Bruce. Popular opinion, fickle as it is, cannot protect him if he has no base and friends to put a roof over his head and food in his mouth.

There is also the slim possibility that, in his hatred for the Hulk and now the Avengers, Ross has made the proverbial deal with the devil. He could now be a HYDRA man, too. In the “mainstream” comics and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon series, Red Skull briefly hid in the U.S. government as the Secretary of State Dell Rusk (Red Skull mixed up). If Ross is Secretary of State in Civil War, then it is quite a nod to these stories and could be a great hint at his role in the film. Ross may be doing the political heavy lifting for Zemo in the U.S. government, nipping at Tony’s heels and hemming the team in on all sides politically so Zemo and HYDRA can strike the finishing blow.

There is one last thing to say about this trailer. As with Age of Ultron, fans are trying to raffle off certain Avengers for death in Civil War. Whedon sideswiped everyone with Quicksilver’s noble sacrifice in Ultron, but it is getting increasingly hard to suggest which Avenger could die in Civil War. The four “main” Avengers in the film – Iron Man, Cap, Black Widow, and Hawkeye – all have contracts which bind them to several future Marvel movies. None of them could convincingly be killed off, unless Marvel wanted to play the “mostly dead” or resurrection cards on their film audiences. They would have to play those cards very believably; Coulson is so far the only character Marvel has seen fit to resurrect, and fans reacted by saying, “Well we knew he wasn’t dead!”

That leaves the other characters in a bit of a pickle, right? Maybe not. Tom Holland, our new Spider-Man, is contracted for three films beside Civil War. Anthony Mackie fought hard to get into the franchise; he will not be giving up his role as Falcon anytime soon. Elizabeth Olsen has no idea whether she will be in future films or not, though she has hinted that Wanda survives Civil War. People are suggesting that Vision will be in the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and I find it hard to believe that the writers would kill him off so soon.

I have no idea how expendable Rhodey is. That clip of him with his arc reactor ripped out does not inspire confidence in his survival. But it could be a trick of editing; he might survive after all. Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man has a sequel in the pipes, so he is not going to die. And T’Challa has a solo movie coming out in 2017.

Hawkeye’s family could certainly be killed in the movie, however. There is a precedent for this in Marvel’s Ultimate comics, in which Natasha Romanoff murdered his family in cold blood. It does not seem likely that she will be responsible in the movies if this were to occur, though as with all things, we cannot rule anything out until we see the film. Even if she is not the perpetrator, that does not protect Clint’s family. Of course, maybe Sharon Carter will be the one to die.

Although, someone did slow down the trailer at the part where Bucky goes to rip out Tony’s arc reactor and they read his lips to try and find out what he was shouting. Now, the fan who did this would not say what he thought Bucky was shouting, but he felt it confirmed Steve Rogers’ death. We all know Steve’s coming back in the Infinity War films, so it is possible that Cap’s death in Civil War is a set up. A set up Bucky and Tony might be in on. But we will not know what exactly is up until we see the film May 1, 2016.

So raffling off particular characters for death is rather foolish, in my opinion. It does not prevent me from wondering about who may die. I just cannot see any way to safely guess who the unlucky superhero might be.

Well, readers, time to go. These are my thoughts and speculations about Captain America: Civil War. More may be revealed in the forthcoming trailers, and Marvel may yet tip its hand. That is unlikely, but it is possible. So until the next trailer comes out…

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Star Trek: The Janus Gate Trilogy by L. A. Graf

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With all my focus on Marvel Comics lately, I have let a few of my other favorite stories go by the wayside. (What do you mean, Mithril? You have all but ignored them! Insert eye-roll here.) A while ago, I wanted something light to read, so I went to my bookcase, pulled a volume from the shelf, and read it.

That book was Star Trek: The Janus Gate – Past Prologue by L. A. Graf.

L. A. Graf is the pseudonym of two writers – Julia Ecklar and Karen Rose Cercone – who write, or wrote, fiction based on the original Star Trek series and its following series. Once, there was a third writer (Melissa Crandall), but she did not stay to write more than one book with the other ladies. L. A. Graf is supposed to stand for “Let’s All Get Rich And Famous!”

Obviously, the writers have had some success with that. 🙂

Star Trek was/is one of my favorite TV series EVER! I can remember watching reruns of original Star Trek episodes from a very young age; I think I was five or six when I saw it first. I have always enjoyed Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, and I eventually learned to pay attention to the rest of the Enterprise Seven: Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov. After a while, I ended up reading novels based on the original Star Trek series. (Star Trek: The Next Generation, is not high on my favorites list. Neither is DS9, really; Voyager and Enterprise are sequel Trek series I do like, however.)

The Janus Gate trilogy, made up of Present Tense, Future Imperfect, and Past Prologue, takes place after the first season episode The Naked Time. In that episode, the Enterprise landing party is infected by a virus which killed a Starfleet research crew on planet Psi 2000. The virus makes those who receive it go mad; sometimes by releasing rage and psychopathic fury, sometimes by making the person go “La, la, la!” and doing crazy things, such as showering in sub zero temperatures with their clothes on. Depends on the person who gets it.

The book trilogy picks up at the end of this episode when, to escape the dying planet, the Enterprise is sent hurtling three days back in time. Since going on to their next assignment while the Enterprise is technically headed to Psi 2000 (the dying planet) would completely muck up the time stream, Kirk decides to take the Enterprise back to a different planet, where he had left three research teams before going on to Psi 2000.

Before I go any further, I must warn you that Star Trek books, or some of them, have no bearing on the original TV show/original film timeline. They are, as fans like to say, non-canon stories which were written to amuse the fans and the writers. After all, the Enterprise in the original TV series is supposed to be on a five year deep space mission. CBS, the TV station which produced and showed Star Trek in the 1960s, hated the series and tried to kill it after two seasons.

That did not work, as Star Trek fans flooded the studio with letters demanding that the series remain on the air. CBS relented long enough to allow a third season of Star Trek, but they cut the show’s funding so much that the special effects for season three were very poor. Star Trek did not return for a fourth season.

But that is not where the story ends. CBS prevented Star Trek from carrying on beyond three seasons, true, but the series has never been off the air since it was killed. Though finding the reruns on TV now is next to impossible (for me, anyway), I can recall when the original Star Trek series would play on TV.

For an unsyndicated series – that is, a TV series with less than a hundred episodes – to remain on television for as long as Star Trek has is amazing. In the 1960s and even today, TV shows in the U.S. are not rerun on television unless they are syndicated – that is, unless they have a hundred episodes or more. Star Trek, and now Joss Whedon’s series Firefly, are enormous exceptions to this rule.

This is the reason – or one of the reasons – for all the original Star Trek novels. We Trekkers and Trekkies like our original series too much to let anyone kill it, and if no one is going to tell the stories we want to hear, then we will tell ‘em ourselves. Preferably while being paid bucket loads of money to do it, but only a few lucky people actually manage to get that.

Someone in the publishing department messed up when they printed The Janus Gate trilogy, because the blurbs on the backs of books one and three – Present Tense and Past Prologue – describe the wrong story and refer to actual Star Trek episodes from the original series. The blurb on the back of book two, Future Imperfect, is mostly accurate.

With these digressions out of the way, we can now get back to business. L. A. Graf books always focus on the three “lower level” officers from the Original Star Trek series: Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, and Ensign Pavel Chekov. This is part of the reason I enjoy L. A. Graf’s books so much. I do have other favorite fan fiction novels for Star Trek, of course. L. A. Graf books, though, are the ones I keep my eyes peeled for.

The Janus Gate fits into L. A. Graf’s modus operandi, focusing mainly on Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov, though Kirk gets very good “screen time,” too. That is always a plus!

The first book of The Janus Gate trilogy, Present Tense, picks up immediately after the events of The Naked Time. Kirk brings the Enterprise to the barren planet Tlaoli 4, where he left three research teams before going on to Psi 2000. Contacting the lead team, Kirk finds out that Team Three went spelunking – against orders – and has been missing for several hours.

Kirk also learns from Team One that the reason they broke with his orders was because they found the wrecks of at least nineteen starships buried in Tlaoli’s scoured surface. Afraid the Enterprise could suffer the same fate, Team One sent Team Three to investigate nearby caves where something was draining the research teams’ power from their equipment, and even from their shuttlecraft!

With the power drain likely stranding Team Three in the caves, Kirk decides to move in and rescue his people, sending down a landing party from the Enterprise. He also orders “primitive” equipment such as chemical batteries and carbide lamps to be sent along with the rescue team, so they at least have light and an alternate source of power for their phasers, communicators, et al. Kirk will lead the team, and he calls on several others to join him. The people he wants are short, so that they can fit into the caves’ tight spaces. That lands Uhura on his spelunking team, and Chekov ends up in the landing party because he knows how to make maps by hand.

Once in the caves on Tlaoli, Kirk’s team cannot find the research team. Finally, the spelunker on Kirk’s team, Zap Sanner, figures out where the leader of Team Three would have gone. He does this after Kirk and the others’ use of their phasers to light the dark caverns so he can see more of the cave system.

However, despite the use of the chemical batteries, the phasers, communicators, and tricorders are still losing power. No one can figure out why and, with a stranded team of their fellow officers somewhere in the caverns, they do not take time to work out the why. Sanner throws a rope ladder down the crevasse where the research team went. But then Chekov, who is going down first, slips and falls into the hole before you can say “Moscow.”

Kirk, who was next in line down the ladder, goes to rescue the Russian kid. He drops down the crevasse and lands in icy water, having forgotten it was there. Swimming to shore, he finds a disoriented and somewhat hypothermic Chekov already there. The ensign seems bemused, as if he is suffering from déjà vu. Worse, he has lost the maps he was making. Now he has to write them up again from memory. Yay.

Further exploration of the caves ends in the discovery of the lost Team Three. But when the Enterprise tries to beam up both parties, the ship experiences an immense power loss. It takes everything Sulu and Scotty have to get the ship back into a safe orbit above Tlaoli. In fact, they end up throwing the ship away from the planet.

When the transport Kirk and his people are expecting does not occur, they settle on trying to find another way out of the caverns. Research Team Three leads them to an “ice cave” which may have a back door out of the cavern system. When Kirk goes to help Chekov take a measurement of the cave for the new maps, he suddenly stops. “Do you hear that?” he asks the young ensign.

Then, without warning, he and Chekov vanish from the cave.

This leaves a startled Uhura in charge of the landing parties. As she gets them out, they discover some flame-like blue energy wafting around the ice cavern. It is only visible in the pitch dark. Unsure just what it is, but assuming it is some kind of transporter device, Uhura gets the team back to the cavern where they found the research team – and they find Chekov, totally unhurt but equally miserable. However, there is no sign of Kirk in the cave with him.

Questioning him, Uhura and the others learn that Chekov remembers nothing but falling into the crevasse and its icy waters. He has no idea where the captain is and does not recognize anyone except the members of his own landing party, and them only by face, not by name.

Eventually, the team makes it out of the caves and back to the base camp. Gambling that the power drain on the equipment here has not been terrible due to distance, they try to contact the Enterprise. Unknown to them, Sulu has already made two runs to Tlaoli’s surface to pick up the remaining researchers and bring them back to the ship in a cargo shuttle with a shielded engine.

Also, on the way out of the caves, Chekov found human tracks and a handprint. This proves that someone – hopefully Captain Kirk – got out of the caves ahead of them. In hopes of attracting the captain’s attention and leading him back to the base camp, Uhura allows the two weapons officers in the group to set up a beacon. However, despite the distance, the equipment at the camp is losing power. Before Uhura can decide whether to shut down the beacon or keep it on, Sulu lands the cargo shuttle Drake at the camp, having found the location more easily thanks to the beacon.

McCoy, who arrived with Sulu in the shuttle, spends the rest of the night operating on an injured member of the spelunking crew. Meanwhile Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov muse on how to find the captain. Uhura reluctantly lets Sulu take the shuttle back into the air to do aerial recon to find the captain, while Chekov and two others follow him on the ground.

It does not take Sulu long to spot Kirk. He gives Chekov and the others his signal, only to disappear in a flash of light when his shuttle collides with the strange energy field that made Kirk and Chekov vanish.

Uhura is horrified by this turn of events. But the geologists in the landing party figure that, if Kirk and Chekov are still on Tlaoli, and since they found Chekov in the caves, that is where Sulu will be. Where the shuttle went – well, that they will find out sooner or later. Uhura lets Chekov and his team search for the captain while she takes McCoy and Sanner back into the caves. There, they find Sulu in one of the pillars of rock in the cave – only to realize the pillar is a travertine-encased, alien healing device. But it is healing a Sulu who is twenty years older than the pilot they know!

Elsewhere, hunting down the captain, Chekov gets a similar shock. He finds and corners, not a great starship commander, but a rebellious fourteen year old James Tiberius Kirk!

Back in the caves, Sulu comes to and Uhura tries to get him to calm down. It takes a few minutes, but eventually Sulu realizes he is not only out of place, he is out of time. When they question him, McCoy, Sanner, and Uhura learn that in this Sulu’s timeline, the Gorn have invaded the galaxy and are on the verge of destroying the Federation. Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov were on a mission to stop the Gorn when the Tlaoli device picked the younger Sulu up to replace his older self.

Trying to find out just when he is, Captain Sulu asks who the captain of the Enterprise is. In the process, he names Captain Kirk’s former first officer, Gary Mitchell, as a previous captain of the ship in his timeline.

Uhura and McCoy share a blank look, then explain that Mitchell is dead and James Kirk is captain of the Enterprise.

Now it is Sulu’s turn to give them a blank look, dropping the bombshell that he has never heard of a James Kirk commanding any ship in Starfleet. In fact, to the best of his knowledge, no such man ever existed.

Well, now that I have basically spoiled the first book in the trilogy for you, readers, I will have to tell you to pick up the three volumes yourselves and allow you to take the adventure on your own. Suffice it to say that I greatly enjoy these books, as we get a look at how the three “lower level” Enterprise officers learn about the great friends they are going to become through their adventures in the original TV series.

Temporal mechanics being what they are, we readers have the best chance of remembering the whole adventure. After all, since the trilogy is set in the first season of the original Star Trek series, L. A. Graf cannot go jumping around that much! Still, the trilogy is a fun sci-fi story and a grand illustration of Uhura’s, Sulu’s, and Chekov’s characters.

I have to warn you, the ending for the trilogy, Past Prologue, is a heartbreaker. It is very, very hard to see what happens to the older versions of Sulu and Chekov at the end – but at the same time, it makes me so darn proud of the two of them!

Sooner or later, I may get around to reviewing my other favorite Trek fiction here, readers. Until then, “Live long and prosper!”

The Mithril Guardian

Mid-Season Trailer for Star Wars Rebels

YIKES!!!  Season Two of Star Wars Rebels looks like it is about to heat up!  There will be an actual visit from Yoda this time around, a cameo of what seem to be Sentinel Jedi (!), and Ahsoka finally reveals who her master was – to Ezra, at least!  This season of the show is definitely in the vein of The Empire Strikes Back.

Take a look for yourselves, readers!!!