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Spotlight: Zoids – The Dark/Red Horn

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Rosso and his Red Horn

And we are back with another post about a zoid, readers! Technically, we will be discussing two different “mechanical combat units” today. They are both the same “species” and probably count as the same zoid, just with different color schemes. Visually, that appears to be the only substantial distinction between them.

Today’s subjects are the Styraccosaurus-type Dark Horns and Red Horns. Used by the Imperial Army, Dark Horns and Red Horns are the zoids piloted by anyone holding the rank of Lieutenant on up. They are not infantry creatures; you get to use them only when you move up in the ranks.

The cockpits for both zoids are in their heads, under those glowing green eyes. They can be outfitted with almost any type of arsenal, from machine guns to missile launchers to the trademark three-barrel cannon on their backs. They also have smaller guns attached to their chins, shoulders, and hips, along with radar equipment.

View the video below to see them in action, readers:

While not exactly fixed weapons, Dark Horns and Red Horns weigh a lot and are therefore relatively slow when compared to other zoids. The fact that they are so low to the ground doesn’t help, either. Nevertheless, Harry Champ from Zoids: New Century Zero was able to reduce his Dark Horn’s turning radius and increase its speed with boosters he had installed in the zoid’s hips. But those were eventually fried because he over relied on them during his battle with the Blitz Team. That’s really not surprising, since the guy had more money than brains and generally couldn’t find his way in out of the rain unless you pointed him in the right direction.

But it did prove that the Dark Horn and the Red Horn can have their speed increased. Most pilots do not go in for such drastic modifications, probably because they can’t afford them. We never saw this device used by the Imperial Army, which means the boosters either were not available in this time period on Zi, or they were too expensive to be bought and installed en masse. Either explanation works.

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The only time I ever saw a Dark Horn piloted well was in Chaotic Century. In the episode “Raven,” Van’s old nemesis gets his hands on a Dark Horn and uses it effectively against our hero and his friend, a Lieutenant in the Imperial Army (more about him later). Raven was able to catch a Dibison’s chin on the Dark Horn’s nose horn and, using the other zoid’s momentum and weight, roll it onto its side. He was also able to make the Dark Horn leap over Van’s Blade Liger while the other was running toward him. So the Dark Horn it capable of quite a lot. Most pilots, however, are utterly incapable of getting such amazing results from it.

We didn’t see too many Imperial Red Horns during Chaotic Century’s run. The one I remember best is the Red Horn Rosso piloted before upgrading to an Iron Kong. Rosso achieved his full potential as a pilot in a Storm Sworder, although he piloted his Iron Kong with special skill. In contrast to that, his ability with the Red Horn is nothing to write home about….

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…Except for the fact that it hints at his growing talent. While we don’t see Rosso do much more than shoot and charge in his Red Horn, it is never implied that he is a lightweight in combat. Looking at the picture of him below, you would think that was obvious; Rosso is not a shrimp by any stretch of the imagination. But that doesn’t mean he was, is, or will be a good pilot. “Size matters not” in the cockpit of a zoid; as long as you can reach the controls and work the pedals, you can pilot the zoid you are sitting in.

Rosso’s Red Horn had thick armor, especially on its nose. He was able to deflect the twin shots from a Shield Liger’s back cannon with it. The maneuver didn’t require him to do anything but turn the zoid’s head, and it didn’t so much as scratch the Red Horn’s paint. Under his control, the Red Horn was also able to break through a Shield Liger’s shield with a blow from its nose horn. After Raven, he is the only pilot I could point to as being exemplary in the command of such a “mechanical combat unit.”

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The last time I can recall hearing about a Red Horn was in Zoids: Fuzors. It appeared briefly during an arena battle, and its nose horn had been modified to act like Liger Zero’s Strike Laser Claw Attack. When activated, the forward part of the nose horn would glow yellow, charged with energy so it could slice through an enemy zoid’s armor. It seems like a rather ridiculous modification to me; the Red Horn’s and Dark Horn’s best assets have always been in the tip of the nose horn in my opinion. Having the front part of the horn slice through an enemy isn’t overkill so much as it is… Stupid.

All in all, Dark Horns and Red Horns were pretty effective tanks. Slow though they were, they could deliver in terms of fire and ramming power. Again, predator-style zoids are more my thing, but I don’t recall thinking Dark Horns and Red Horns were silly “mechanical combat units” to take into combat. They could be deadly when used properly, and their arsenal was never anything to scoff at, readers.

Well, that’s it for now. I have one more Zoids post coming up, and then we will all take a break before I do any more. You won’t see those zoids posts for a while, but they will be comin’ round the mountain, don’t you worry.

Catch ya later!

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Spotlight – Zoids: Chaotic Century – Fiona Elisi Linnet

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Yep, here is another Spotlight! post about a character from Zoids: Chaotic Century, readers! If I seem to be on a Zoids kick at the moment, the fact is that I want to get as many of my promised character and zoids posts done this year as possible. I’ve been falling behind, so there is some catch up to be done here. That begins today with this post, which focuses on Fiona Elisi Linnet, heroine of Zoids: Chaotic Century and love interest for its hero, Van Flyheight.

Fiona appears at the end of the first episode of Chaotic Century, “The Boy From Planet Zi.” Van finds her in the same room where he discovers Zeke. Thinking her pod contains another zoid, he is somewhat startled to find there is a blonde girl roughly his own age inside instead. Hilarity ensues as he brings her back to his home, the Wind Colony, in his new Shield Liger.

It quickly becomes apparent to both Van and the audience that this girl has amnesia – a very severe case of it. She doesn’t understand several common turns of phrase which Van uses, and she apparently has no idea what a name is, since she appears unable to identify herself every time he asks for her name. It also appears that she thought Van meant her instead of him, since he tells her at one point, “Watch my lips – it’s Van.

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Finally, she blurts out “Fiona” in response to his renewed request for her name, then follows it up with “Van” as she prepares to ask him another question. For a moment, our hero is almost apoplectic: “Look, I know my name is Van –”

Then it dawns on him that she said “Fiona” first, and he asks if that is her name.

“Who’s Fiona?” she asks, and Van states that she said the name first. “Really?” she says, sounding perfectly innocent and curious. “Does that mean I’m called Fiona?”

For the first five episodes, this is how their relationship goes, with Fiona asking questions that have answers which are blatantly obvious to everyone but her. It is funny but also sad – and, as we see later, dangerous. Because Fiona knows so little, her naïveté is extreme. At one point, she goes to free her captive friends, declaring her purpose loudly as she trots past one of the bandits holding them prisoner. Yes, she was that naïve. (Oh, by the way, you are going to love what she does with salt, readers. 😉 )

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Over time, Fiona loses this blithe innocence, though she remains decidedly pure in mind and soul. She also develops an affinity for computers and science (at least, all the sciences relating to the maintenance and well-being of zoids). It becomes apparent early on that she and Zeke share some kind of connection; you may have noticed that Fiona’s eyes are not a normal color. They are the same fuschia as Zeke’s, which is an early implication that she has a special bond with the organoid.

In fact, Fiona is not human, but a member of a near-human species native to Zi that vanished long ago. Known as Ancient Zoidians, Fiona’s people were the ones who developed/built the zoids everyone on the planet uses. But Fiona does not remember this until halfway through the first season of the show. Even then, she doesn’t recall enough of her past to figure this out herself. It is a friend of hers who points out that she seems to fit the descriptions of these early denizens of Zi.

If Van is the main selling point of the series, then Fiona is a close second. While she rarely takes the controls of a zoid and never goes into combat unless she is acting as Van’s copilot, she does have mettle and will fight – albeit in a manner that is “girly” – when she is threatened. To be honest, I would say that fighting was not her greatest strength anyway. Viewers don’t remember Fiona because she kicks butt; we remember her for her generosity, kindness, purity, and goodness.

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When it comes to her relationships in the show, Fiona’s innocence is what has the biggest effect on people. Where Van spurs others to be good with his determination and resolve to do what is right, Fiona brings out the gentleness and kindness in others with her innocence. Like Zeke, she is possessed of an inherent sincerity that makes good people automatically react to her with kindness. Where others might have mistreated her in order to “break her in” to the “real world,” Van and his friends instead work to protect her. And this is despite the fact that her initial simplicity often annoys them or makes their lives more difficult.

Her relationship with Zeke shows that she considers the organoid something of a twin brother, but in a different way than Van regards him. Fiona and Zeke are psychically tied together by a special rapport native to their two species, and so their personalities are very similar. The differences between them are mild, and mostly boil down to the fact that Zeke is more willing to enter combat – solo or otherwise – than Fiona is. When they combine their extrasensory abilities, the two can increase not only their own powers, but Van’s and his zoid’s as well.

The proof that Fiona’s greatest power is her innocence actually shows first in the episode “Memory,” where the two meet the mercenary Irvine. While lost in a sandstorm with Van, she accidently steps into a whirlpool of quicksand that nearly swallows her up. Having appeared out of the storm as if by magic, Irvine acts swiftly to save Fiona from being dragged under the sand. However, this kindness on his part appears to be temporary when he later holds her hostage in the same episode, thinking doing so will convince Van to hand Zeke over to him. Zeke dispels this illusion fairly quickly.

Despite these less than noble actions on his part, it is shown that Irvine is not immune to Fiona’s purity. When she puts him on the spot in the following show – “The Protectors” – Irvine has to admit that not only does he not dislike her and Van, he actually has a soft spot for them.

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I have to say, her friendship with Irvine was one of the best things in the series. It becomes obvious from “The Protectors” onward that she has the cool mercenary wrapped around her little finger. Irvine shows by small gestures and a few words that he really cares about Fiona. While there may be a bit of nostalgia on his end in this relationship (more on that in his post), it is made clear that he would throw himself in harm’s way without a second thought if Fiona were ever put in serious danger. In fact, from something I read about the manga for Chaotic Century, when a female bandit gave a veiled threat to Fiona, Irvine pulled his gun on her and stated she would be dead if she tried it. If that isn’t a sign of intense devotion to another person – and in a non-romantic relationship at that – then I do not know what is.

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Moonbay and Fiona’s friendship is a mixture of mother/daughter closeness and sisterly camaraderie. For the first dozen episodes, Fiona mostly follows Moonbay’s lead, as the savvy woman takes her under her wing. When not copiloting with Van, Fiona can often be seen as Moonbay’s shadow. She trails after her around the colonies and cities they visit, watches her repair the zoids, or helps her make dinner/break camp.

Fiona intervenes in Moonbay’s business dealings even less than Van does; she only shows anger at the older woman’s more mercenary tendencies once that I can recall. And while it may look like Moonbay treats Fiona as a pet or a servant early on, the reality is far different. She genuinely cares for the younger girl and wants to protect her. If anything, this may be the reason why Van and Irvine often leave her in Moonbay’s care; they can protect Fiona from outside threats, but they can’t teach her what it means to be a woman. Moonbay can, and she settles into the role of mother/older sister for Fiona with admirable ease.

It is also likely that her ability to repair/maintain zoids is what fostered Fiona’s own aptitude in these areas. Although she had another mentor in this field later on, following Moonbay around as she saw to the boys’ zoids probably reignited Fiona’s latent capabilities in mending or upgrading the living machines. It is one of the talents Moonbay is most pleased to see Fiona exercising later on in the series.

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Now we come to the most important relationship Fiona has in Chaotic Century. It is evident almost from the beginning of the series that she quickly comes to care for Van as more than a friend. She worries about him when she must stand aside to watch him fight, often murmuring his name during a confrontation or shouting it when she sees him get hurt. Where this would seem to be “softness” in a heroine in other stories, it is befitting of Fiona, who is gentleness itself.

More to the point, despite preferring to stay out of zoid combat when she is alone, Fiona shows no qualms about “flying RIO” with Van in his Ligers. Considering the danger to him in the cockpit, it takes nerve to sit behind him when he is in a battle. This shows that Fiona is not a coward or afraid of conflict; on her own, however, she does not seem to feel she has the ability to bring out the full potential of a zoid in combat. She would rather watch Van’s back during a battle than fight solo in her own zoid.

As stated in the post about Van, he and Fiona develop a psychic tie during the series. Fiona obviously initiated this link, since she is telepathic/empathetic. But it seems likely that, if Van hadn’t been open to such a connection, their bond would never have formed at all.

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This tie between the two is only activated in a noticeable manner when Fiona is specifically calling to Van or searching for him. On his own, Van cannot sense her as she can sense him, or call to her in a directly telepathic manner. In addition, if Van is hurt and lost somewhere far away from Fiona, she cannot pinpoint his location with perfect accuracy. Not until she gets closer to his position, at least. The less distance there is between them, the better her ability to locate him, generally speaking.

Should a film company get their hands on the rights to Zoids: Chaotic Century, I can see them trying to make Fiona more of a kick butt superwoman than a “stand and wait” heroine. I can also see almost any actress cast in her role demanding this change, too. This would be more of a tragedy than any changes made to Van’s personality, readers; Fiona is not strong because she can fight. She is strong in her innocence and the power it gives her to bring forth the goodness in others.

Having seen other female characters in following Zoids series that are more “kick butt” than “stand and wait” heroines, I can say with all honesty that I prefer Fiona to Rei Mii, Danbul, Lena Toros, and even Naomi Fluegel. Naomi was a pretty good combat pilot – not as good as Genesis’ Danbul or Rei Mii – but she wasn’t bad either. In the end, though, Fiona is superior to all of them because of her innate goodness and purity. She wins the argument hands down and is the unchallenged queen of Zoids heroines.

If any filmmakers change Fiona Elisi Linnet to make her more of a Femi Nazi character, I will be livid. You will never get me into a theater to watch a Zoids film (series) which makes Fiona less than the heroine she is in the anime, readers. So if the rights to Chaotic Century are in the hands of Hollywood (or its Japanese equivalent), watch your step, people. There is nothing more worrisome in your line of work than angry fans.

Well, that concludes this character post, readers. If you want to see Fiona Elisi Linnet and Van Flyheight in action, check out Zoids: Chaotic Century either at www.watchcartoonsonline.com (I finally have a free web address to give you!), or order the DVDs on Amazon.

See you on the battlefield!

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Spotlight: Zoids – The Guysack

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Well, here we are on Zi again, readers! Today’s subject is a Republican zoid, the Guysack. Before we go further, you pronounce it guy-zak, not guy-sack. I know, it is not pronounced the way it is spelled. If we were to list all the words that are pronounced in a different way than they are spelled, however, we would be here all day.

Okay, so the Guysack is obviously a scorpion-type zoid. Used by the Helic Republic’s infantry pilots, the Guysack’s cockpit is in its head. Most of these cockpits have orange canopies, but I did see one with an emerald canopy. Their traditional coloring is a sort of sandy brown, which lets these zoids blend in with the desert.

These are zoids which can burrow under and crawl through the sand dunes of Zi. Speedy and lightweight, every Guysack I have ever seen comes equipped with a gun in the end of its tail, where a real scorpion’s poisonous stinger is hidden. This is the zoid’s main weapon, but it can be outfitted with other armaments. Stinger, a mercenary character whom we will discuss in detail later on, owned a modified Guysack which came with extra guns on the tail and missile pods on the main body. I believe there might also have been some mini-guns attached near the zoid’s pincers. Despite this added ordinance, however, Stinger’s Guysack was faster than most of its brethren due to even more modifications he had made to it.

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Now those pincers in the zoid’s “mouth” really aren’t useful for combat, but the Guysack’s calws are not to be messed with if you can help it. They are wicked sharp and can do quite a bit of damage, something Zeke can tell you better than anyone. I never saw the Guysack’s claws used as much as they could have been, but I am fairly sure that they can cause a reasonable amount of damage to other zoids.

Most of the time we saw Guysacks in Chaotic Century, they were used as Sleeper Zoids – or “Sleepers” for short. Sleepers are zoids run by computers which use preprogrammed tactics to decimate enemy units. They have a certain amount of cunning when they are set loose, being able to lure enemies into hard-to-escape areas where they are easily surrounded and overwhelmed by the Sleepers’ (usually superior) numbers and firepower.

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Stinger’s red Guysack

While Sleepers do not have enough smarts to outthink a zoid with a pilot, the fact that there are a lot of them often makes up for their lack of intelligence. Also, Sleepers do not necessarily differentiate between transporters and enemy units. Van, Fiona, Moonbay, Zeke, and Irvine were all caught in a “Sleeper Trap” in the fifth episode of Chaotic Century, primarily because the Guysacks sensed the ammunition Moonbay was carrying had been made by the Guylos Empire. Because of that, their programming activated and they chased the gang into the ruins where they were based.

You can see how the heroes escaped this trap when you watch the episode, readers. Suffice it to say, Guysacks were not much more than cannon fodder throughout Chaotic Century. Even when they were piloted by characters that played important parts in certain episodes, they did not stick around long. Van stole Stinger’s Guysack and piloted it well, but his skill wasn’t enough to keep the mercenary from blowing it apart.

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Bole was not an impressive Guysack pilot. He somehow wrangled and got control of a wild blue Guysack before the first episode of the series begins, but he never does more than shoot or ram with it. Aside from beating up Zeke, he did not show any particular talent for piloting which makes the Guysack stand out.

However, none of this makes the Guysack a weak zoid. And while it was most often shifted to Sleeper or infantry duty, we did see it put to other uses. The Guysack could be modified to serve as a construction/excavation vehicle; the claws could be removed and replaced with a scoop for digging or moving rock and dirt. It was also possible to swap the claws for individual metal detectors/sonars and other equipment meant to scan below the surface.

All in all, I would say the Guysack was a largely underutilized zoid. Despite the poor management of the zoid in this series, I have a certain respect for this “mechanical combat unit” and wouldn’t mind using one in battle. I would certainly prefer the four-legged predator style zoids, but the Guysack has a lot to recommend it. It is not a zoid I would disrespect or refuse to pilot.

To see more of the Guysack, check out Zoids: Chaotic Century at your earliest opportunity, readers. While the Guysack appeared in Fuzors (with green armor), from what I remember, Chaotic Century will be the show where you will see it in action most often.

See you on the battlefield!

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Spotlight: Star Wars Rebels – Sabine Wren

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About four years ago, I heard through www.borg.com that Disney was going to produce an animated Star Wars series. It was to be set five years before A New Hope, and it would star a Jedi who had escaped the Purge along with a Force-sensitive boy who would become his apprentice. I have said elsewhere that I love Jedi, so it is no surprise that they were the “hooks” which got me interested in this story. For me, they at first overshadowed another great character in the series: Sabine Wren, the sixteen year old (at the beginning of the story) Mandalorian on the team.

Now, discussing Sabine Wren means mentioning the “Strong Female Character” stereotype Hollywood and the usual suspects are praising these days, because that is what too many people want to see in her. I have maintained in my “Strong Women” posts that what really makes a woman powerful is her ability to think on her feet. She cannot always be physically stronger than the guys; in real life, it is very rare to find a woman who could match a man in hand-to-hand combat – let alone beat him.

Just consider Natasha Romanoff from Marvel Comics/Marvel’s films. Even with the combat training she endured from childhood and her variant of the Super Soldier Serum, Black Widow relies on speed, stealth, and surprise when she fights. The whole reason she yells “Hang on!” into her comm piece during The Winter Soldier is to surprise the pirates and get them to come to her. She does not beat the men with her superior strength; she beats them by being faster and fighting smarter, thus proving my point that it is not physical strength which allows a woman to fight. It is how a woman uses her own innate strengths – willpower, intelligence, speed, and doing the completely unexpected – which make her strong.

This brings us back to Sabine, who had the benefits of a Black Widow’s training without the bad elements. Aside from the fact that she is allowed to be kind and retain her femininity, she never physically overpowers her opponents with superior strength. More often than not she uses speed and creative thinking to take down her enemies – most of whom are taller and stronger than she is – keeping them off balance and doing her best to avoid giving them an opening to grab her. Sabine also knows how to shoot; when physical speed and prowess are inadvisable, she goes for her blasters, which she can use very effectively.

One of the episodes where Sabine best demonstrates my point about strong women is “The Antilles Extraction.” In that episode, Sabine has to fight Governor Pryce, the Imperial ruler of Lothal, to escape captivity. Pryce is taller than Sabine, more muscular, and completely lacking in any kind of feminine grace or charm. (She quite frankly strikes me as ugly, face on or in profile.) Despite this, Sabine manages to defeat the older woman by outthinking her.

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There is something else worth mentioning here, a contrast of characters which will illustrate the difference between real strong women and the modern academy’s idea of what they want you to believe makes a “strong woman”: during their brawl, Pryce brags about her Imperial training, showing the depth of what she has sacrificed to become a part of Palpatine’s machine.

By this I do not mean the fact that she is willingly subjugating and destroying her own homeworld (Lothal). That is certainly part of it. But what I mean is that Pryce has sold her soul to the Dark Side. In so doing she has erased every mark of femininity from her bearing and visage, becoming less of a woman in the process.

Think about it, readers. Pryce does her best to look like the men she serves beside. Her manner is little different from Tarkin’s – colorless, stiff, cold, and distant. It is as though she does not want to be recognized as a woman. In fact, she does not; Pryce wants to be seen as a bigger, more important cog in the Emperor’s atheistic governing system. She has done everything but actually change her gender to look less like a woman and more like a man.

Sabine has done the exact opposite. Her armor is not designed to hide her femininity; on the contrary, it practically screams it to the galaxy. And, despite the fact that she keeps her hair short to fit under her helmet (and probably to keep people from grabbing it), she colors and cuts her hair in ways that make her stand out as a young woman (even that hairdo we see her wearing at the end of the series didn’t really undermine her femininity). Unlike many modern “examples” of so called “strong women” Sabine actually fits the role, demonstrating that a woman fights not out of anger or hatred, but to preserve the beauty and wonder she sees and loves around her. Truly strong women resemble Sabine, while faux strong women more often than not look like Pryce.

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This brings us to another point I want to make about her. While I am not a fan of abstract art – modern or in a galaxy far, far away – Sabine’s painting and artistic side have never bothered me the way they have other viewers of the show. Instead of following the “Strong Female Character” template demanded by the academic/journalistic complex, the Rebels’ writers created a heroine who is unafraid of being “girly.” This adds to her character and personality; she may make her living fighting, but being a warrior does not define who and what she is. It is a valuable part of her, but it is not the whole of her.

What really intrigued me about Sabine Wren, however, was her implied vulnerability. From the beginning it was clear that she ached with some past wrong, and I wanted to know what it was. We got some hints but they were frustratingly inconclusive. I nearly went nuts trying to figure out her past, but my sanity was saved with the knock out episode “Trials of the Darksaber.”

Still, Sabine’s speech in this show about how her family abandoned her bothered me a fair bit. Part of the rallying cry which nearly destroyed Western culture and the United States in the 1960s, and is being reprised yet again today, was that young people knew how to heal the world and all its ills better than their elders. The implication in this thought was that the youths of the time were being prevented from showing their brilliance and making the world a better place by the adults in their lives. A well-known catchphrase from the period states that teens and twenty year olds must “never trust anyone over thirty.”

Unfortunately, this attitude is still alive and well, reverberating down through the years into today in our culture. It is also present in a lot of modern literature, film, and television stories. So I worried at this problem in Sabine’s speech for the week leading up to “Legacy of Mandalore,” which gave me the missing puzzle piece for the answer to her explosive outburst during “Trials.”

Allow me to explain: Imperial cadets, according to Rebels, are accepted into Stormtrooper and officer’s training as young as fourteen. Sabine had to have been fourteen or even thirteen when she entered the Imperial Academy on Mandalore. This meant that she was suffering from a case similar to the one running rampant in the 1960s.

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One of the things every boy and girl, no matter how bright and talented, has at the age of thirteen/fourteen is a rather simplistic view of life. They are still young enough at that age to believe in their family and friends, wholeheartedly. They are also naïve enough not to recognize all the dangers lurking in their society and in the world outside of their culture.

Sabine was young enough to think she could run to her parents and tell them what the Empire was doing, thus spurring them to fight against it. If they did not listen to her, then she would start a glorious revolution against the Imperials with other young Mandalorians to free her people from their tyranny – which is, sadly, what many youths in the ‘60s and today are trained to imagine. Like these misguided young people, Sabine failed to realize up until “Legacy of Mandalore” that things do not work out so easily in real life.

Mandalore was thirteen or fourteen years past its last internecine conflict and a galactic civil war when Sabine broke the news to her people about the Empire’s treachery. Too much of Mandalore’s already limited population had perished in that pointless conflict and, on top of this, a Galactic Empire powerful enough to wipe out the Jedi Order – roughly a thousand knights strong – had just taken over the galaxy. Furthermore, said Empire had also easily commandeered Mandalore’s government, essentially conquering them without firing a shot. The Mandalorians who did not bow to the Empire in their hearts looked around at their losses, saw that more would result from another fight, and said, “We are not going through that hell again. Not now.”

Ursa and Alrich Wren knew this. Many of Sabine’s friends, who may have agreed with her, realized they were not going to get support from their clans or anyone else on Mandalore to start a fight with the Imperials. Sabine did not realize any of this – not completely, at least. She certainly did not see any of these things the way an adult would. Or she thought these obstacles could be overcome more easily than they were. After all, what is pain and loss to someone who is motivated by justice?

Sabine failed to realize that even those who love and respect justice can be tired or frightened. I think that, when she told her parents about the weapon she had created for the Empire, they believed her story. They knew she was telling the truth, that the Empire did not just want to rule them, it wanted to eradicate them. But they did not have the power to act on Sabine’s warning, so they tried to tell her to stop talking about it and wait for a better time to act.

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Naturally, their daughter would not and could not do that. Already guilt-ridden over the Mandalorians she had helped the Empire murder, the thought of staying silent long enough for the Empire to kill more of her people probably made Sabine sick. So she kept talking, leaving her family with no way to protect her while she stayed on Mandalore. That meant their only recourse was to force her to run away by calling her a traitor and a coward. Because she was so young, Sabine perceived this as “abandonment” when it was actually a last-ditch effort by her immediate family to protect her the only way they could.

I believe that if the Wrens had had a better way to protect her and begin a resistance to the Empire, they would have taken it. But their choices were to let the Empire kill Sabine or, almost as bad, make her run away from home. At least if she ran, she would be alive. Letting the Empire and the other clans kill her would mean they would never get their daughter and sister back.

And that, readers, is where “Legacy of Mandalore” comes in. Here Ursa practically admits to her daughter that she pushed her to run away to save her life. Countess Wren could protect Tristan and their clan with some fancy political maneuvering, though that meant her husband would have to go to Mandalore’s capital as a veritable hostage to ensure their good behavior. The only member of her family she could not protect if she remained on Mandalore was Sabine.

For five years, however, her daughter did not see this. Maybe she did not see it until her mother shot Gar Saxon to save her life. This is why she is so distrustful at the beginning of Rebels. It is also why she adopts Hera, Kanan, and Zeb as her surrogate family.

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In some ways, it is funny how Sabine’s adoptive family/crew is different from her real family. Hera, obviously, has been the mother for the crew from the beginning. Although the Twi’lek is “forged” for and by war, her general deportment is warm and nurturing. Even when Hera has to get sharp or shout, her voice lacks Ursa Wren’s steely bite and commanding snap. Their attitudes could not be more different, but Sabine loves and respects both women equally.

Zeb is not at all like Tristan Wren. I still do not know if Sabine is younger or older than her brother, but the impression I have is that Tristan is not her kid sibling. Zeb early on showed an older brotherly protectiveness for the young Mandalorian girl, usually by pulling her toward him in order to shield her from explosions. When the crew temporarily lost the Lasat in “The Honorable Ones,” both Sabine and Ezra ran up to him with the excitement which youngsters show when they greet an older brother feared lost forever. So Zeb has definitely filled the role of brother for her for five years.

Most impressive to me, if only for the fact that it was never shown enough, was the father/daughter connection between Sabine and Kanan. While it was nice to learn that Alrich Wren was responsible for his daughter’s interest in art, I was rather disappointed that he was never shown wearing Mandalorian armor. I could certainly see Alrich “fighting using his art” and being less severe than his wife but, to me, it would have been more fitting if he had been wearing armor upon his reunion with Sabine. The fact that he was not dressed for combat made him look a like a sap, which was highly unsatisfactory. (Of course, it’s not like the Empire would allow him to wear his armor on the way to his execution…)

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Kanan and Sabine’s relationship struck a better balance with me. I detailed my opinion of “The Protector of Concord Dawn” in previous articles about the series, and it still stands as one of my favorite episodes. Kanan, like Alrich, is willing to try things the “easy way” before resorting to shooting. However, when the blaster bolts start flying, he is equally ready to fire and fight back. This is something Sabine respects and loves him for.

The next time we see their rapport in a palpable way is during “Trials of the Darksaber.” Where “Dawn” showed the two working past their differences in order to understand each other better, “Trials” shows them at odds once again. Here Sabine is being asked to go to her people to win their support for the Rebellion. But this time, it is not a small band of Protectors or outlying clansmen she is being sent to recruit. This time, her “battle family” wants her to bring Mandalore and all its colonies into the Rebellion.

Sabine does not want to do it. She still feels abandoned and betrayed by her family; even though she wants to go back, she knows her people despise her as a traitor and a coward for running away, thinking at the same time that her family believes the same lie. But Hera insists she go, and in order to do that, she has to take the Darksaber with her.

Fuming over the order, Sabine nevertheless holds her hand out for the weapon, which Kanan refuses to give her. Though she states that she knows how to use blades, he insists that there is a difference between using a lightsaber and a regular sword. Before he will let her use the Darksaber, he wants to train her to use a lightsaber.

This increases Sabine’s anger. Not only does her biological family think badly of her, apparently so does her surrogate father. He does not believe she can handle a lightsaber, even one as old and storied as the Darksaber, without going through the baby steps first.

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And this is where Sabine’s youth shows itself again, tilting her attitude in favor of that misguided sixties mentality I mentioned earlier. Like Ezra in “Twilight of the Apprentice,” Sabine thinks Kanan does not believe in her and is trying to hold her back. In the folly of youth and the pain of her past, she does not realize Kanan is trying to protect her from herself. He can sense the pent up anger and pain she is feeling because, as he explains to Hera, the Force flows through everything and everyone – whether they can use it or not. If Sabine gives in to her dark feelings she will slip over to the Dark Side, perhaps becoming lost to them all forever.

Hera’s answer to his explanation and fears irked me somewhat, since she also played the “you don’t believe in her” card. That was not what was happening; Kanan believed in Sabine wholeheartedly, trusting her with more than he even trusts Ezra in some cases because her fighting skills and knowledge are sharper due to her lifelong training. His “problem” is that he fears to push her so far into the darkness inside her that neither he nor anyone else can pull her out of it again.

Nevertheless, Hera did have a point. The writers did not express it the way I would have, but she did have a point. What the writers were trying to have Hera say is: “I understand your worries, but that’s not what Sabine sees. She thinks you don’t believe in her, that you don’t believe she can handle the Darksaber. The only way she’ll stop thinking that you’re holding her back is if you push her. I’m sorry, but that’s what you have to do, for her sake. Forget about Mandalore for a minute, Sabine needs this. And you’re the only one who can give it to her.”

Sabine, of course, needs a wake-up call here as well. Ezra has to point out to her that she’s being stubborn; no one on the Ghost believes she is a coward or that she cannot handle herself. They have seen her in action and relied on her to watch their backs in battle. They know she is brave, honorable, and a true daughter of Mandalore.

What she has to do is stop thinking no one believes in her, while also acknowledging the fact that she’s lucky she has a real blood family left. Hera’s mother is dead, Kanan lost his Master and the entire Jedi Order, Zeb lost Lasan, and Ezra’s parents were murdered by the Empire. Considering all the pain and suffering she sees around her, she should be happy she has any family left – whether they believe in and love her or not.

Recognizing that Ezra is right, Sabine goes back to apologize to Kanan for her earlier behavior. When she does, he hands her the Darksaber, proving he is ready to do what he has to do to help her heal.

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An emotionally charged duel follows. Instead of supporting Sabine the way he normally does, Kanan hardens his attitude toward her, using the barbs he does not even throw at Ezra on her. To emphasize the taunts, he easily ducks and dodges her wider swings despite his blindness, tossing in some pointed shoves for good measure. If Sabine wants him to prove he believes in her, he is going to do it – by acting like he doesn’t.

Of course, all of this nearly does push Sabine over the edge. This is the same kind of treatment she got from her family. These are the same jibes and snide comments she hears in her head when she thinks back to her escape from Mandalore. These are the same lies she has had to live with for five years on a repeating circuit in her head. And they are coming out of the mouth of someone she trusts and loves.

Naturally, she blows up; flying at Kanan in fury as the pain, anger, and doubt she has held inside for so long finally bursts out of her. But before she completely loses herself to blind fury, Sabine stops. Some part of her recognizes that Kanan has purposefully given voice to the self-doubts which plague her for a reason.

That, I think, is why she halted when she did. With her anger and pain released the doubts fall silent, and she is no longer standing over an enemy. She is standing over the man who had to hurt her so she could let go of a past she was holding on to in order to avoid, essentially, growing up and letting go. The man who has, she now realizes, never done this to her before – and who did not want to do it to her – because he loves and believes in her as if she were his actual daughter.

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This is why Kanan can tell Ursa Wren she cannot see the woman Sabine has become. Like all mothers, Usra still sees her daughter as the baby she held in her arms, the toddler she took out for walks, and the child she had to protect with all the fierceness of the bear for which she is named. In part, she does not see Sabine’s maturity because she has missed five years of her daughter’s life. However, the main reason she does not recognize this fact is because she still looks at Sabine and sees her little girl, not a grown woman.

Kanan has watched Sabine grow over the years she has been away from her family. He has been her support – her surrogate father – since she left home. And even though he is blind, he saw Sabine change from a broken, haunted girl into a true woman and warrior in the space of a moment back in “Trials.” Ursa does not have that perspective until the end of “Legacy,” when she watches Sabine take on and defeat Gar Saxon in combat before honorably refusing to murder him even when he declares he will not yield to her.

This all adds up to make Sabine Wren one of the best characters in the new Star Wars timeline. It is also the reason why she is my third favorite character from the Rebels’ crew. I think she is a good addition to the Star Wars canon and that she would have fit nicely into the old EU. I rather wish we could have had her meet and befriend such original characters as Mara Jade, Mirax Terrik, and Iella Wessiri Antilles (what a girls’ night out that would have been!). Even so, I am glad to have “met” Sabine Wren. She is a heroine worthy of admiration and respect – a rare find in today’s fiction market.

Well, readers, that is all I have to say for now. Until next time, may the Force be with you!

MORE Favorite Animated Intro Themes

Here are a few more animated introductory themes for you to enjoy, readers! It has been a while since I saw most of them, but they are still entertaining cartoons. I certainly recommend them for the young ones in your life. 😉

Catch ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Transformers Prime

 

Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2015)

 

Rescue Heroes

 

Speed Buggy

 

Hong Kong Phooey

 

Tom and Jerry

 

The Superfriends

 

The Justice League

 

Young Justice

 

Batman (1990s)

 

Batman (2005)

Spotlight – Zoids: Chaotic Century – Van Flyheight

Last year I promised that I would begin doing Spotlight! posts about the characters from my favorite Zoids series, along with articles about the “mechanical combat units” themselves. Today, I am making good on that promise; here we will discuss the hero of Zoids: Chaotic Century – Van Flyheight.

Van is fourteen at the start of the TV series (the translators in Canada mistakenly have another character in the show say he is seventeen). Raised in the farming town of Wind Colony, Van’s father died five years before the series begins. Imperial soldiers came to the Republican colony when Major Dan Flyheight and a group of Republican soldiers were nearby. The commander of the Imperial division threatened to burn the village to the ground, but Dan Flyheight and his white Command Wolf, Zeke, took the entire unit down single-handedly.

So at the beginning of the show, Van is being raised by his older sister, Maria, in the Wind Colony. Every chance he gets, he sneaks away from her to explore the ruins of nearby military bases. Judging by their appearance, these bases long predate the current war in the show. Van does this to seek adventure and scrounge for scraps of salvage, despite his sister’s constant warnings that this is dangerous – not to mention her insistence that he do his chores.

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Van Flyheight

But come on, what fourteen year old boy who wants to be the greatest zoid pilot ever is going to listen when his big sister tells him to do boring chores? As the village priest tells her, “You can’t stop the boy from wanting to find a zoid of his own.” And that means she cannot stop him from running off to the desert.

Open, energetic, and easily excited (or offended), Van once again escapes his sister to go exploring in the first episode of Chaotic Century: “The Boy From Planet Zi”. But he gets more than he bargained for when a bandit named Bole begins chasing him in a newly acquired blue Guysack (scorpion-type Republican zoid – more on that another day).

Van escapes Bole by the skin of his teeth, hiding in the ruins. Then Bole’s compatriots/babysitters, Bianco and Nero, come to dig their young charge out of the rubble. Before they do that, they shoot at the ruins to trap Van inside so he cannot go running off to tell the villagers he saw them. That would bring the Republican Army down on the Desert Alca Valino Gang, and none of them want official trouble.

Inside the ruins, Van notices a heretofore hidden door which is now askew. He goes down the path to find a secret room with two green stasis pods inside. Accidentally opening the first, he encounters and befriends Zeke.

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Van Flyheight and his organoid, Zeke

More information about their first meeting can be found here and here, readers, if you want to start watching the series. Even all these years later, I absolutely love this show, and Van is a big reason why.

Despite the fact that he starts out reckless, hotheaded, and callow, Van quickly wins a viewer’s affection with his willingness to pick himself up and dust himself off. His kind, selfless nature make up for his naïveté and impulsive behavior. Over time he matures into a stronger boy, eventually becoming a great young man you still want to cheer on.

While it seems like mere luck that Van lives long enough to become the “greatest zoid pilot ever,” there is actually a lot of raw talent backing him up. Van has the potential to be a great pilot right from the start; he is perceptive, inventive, and quick-thinking. All he needs to learn at the beginning of his career as a pilot is how to put that together with his fighting skills instead of charging blindly into a battle.

It must be said that no one viewing the show would love zoids very well without Van Flyheight. A boy “with a strong fascination with zoids,” Van loves the mechanical animals almost as much as he loves those who are related to him or who are his friends. The entire reason he and Raven, his archnemesis through most of the show’s run, begin their feud is because the latter takes pleasure in brutally destroying zoids.

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Raven vs. Van Flyheight

And when I say brutal, readers, I mean brutal. Van rightly calls Raven’s attacks evil, but we would not really notice how evil they were if not for our hero’s instinctive reaction to Raven’s fighting style. This brings another characteristic of his to light; much like Captain America/Steve Rogers, Van has a heightened sense of right and wrong. He may not be able to explain how he knows the difference between good and evil on occasion, but when he sees some wrong being committed – no matter how small it may be – he instantly recognizes it and acts to correct the transgression.

Of course, some will ask how I can say this, given Van’s penchant for sneaking away from his sister and disobeying her. First, it is important to remember that I did not say Van was a saint. I said he was good – about as good as Captain America, though he may be a few bars lower on the scale. Besides, avoiding chores does not make anyone a criminal-in-training; it certainly seems that Van was obedient most of the time. And who knows where we would be if he had not snuck out to play in the desert every once in a while? Zi would be worse off if he had stayed home, I can assure you!

This exemplary standard of goodness in Van has a profound effect on those he meets. They are impressed, either immediately or over time, by his innate goodness, his determination, and his no-quit attitude. We see this most in the first adult friends he makes outside Wind Colony: Irvine and Moonbay.

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Irvine

Irvine and Van meet in the episode “Memory.” A wandering mercenary who fights or “protects” for money, he is in the area when Van and Fiona get lost in a sandstorm. On the hunt for an organoid to increase his power and strength, Irvine decides to try and steal Zeke from Van. You would think this would make them enemies and, for a while, they certainly are not friends.

But Irvine is not yet so far down the Dark Path that he is immune to Van’s inborn decency. Before you know it, he is traveling along with Van, Zeke, Fiona, and Moonbay. Though he says several times he is just waiting to find an opportunity to steal Zeke, it quickly becomes apparent this is no truer than Han’s statement in A New Hope when he says he is only interested in the money. Van’s goodness awakens and enhances Irvine’s, bringing it to the fore and making him a better person. The two eventually become brothers – not just in the sense of being fellow pilots of high skill, but in the fact that they watch out for, care about, and protect each other.

Moonbay fills the role of mother for Van in the beginning, a little like Hera Syndulla does for the crew in Star Wars Rebels. But where Hera is calm, cool, and very hard to ruffle, Moonbay can and will raise her voice in fury when someone ticks her off. Like Irvine, she has also become jaded by “real life” and she has a mercenary streak. More than once we see her wheeling and dealing on the side to earn more money than others think she needs. Van only directly confronts her once during one of these deals when she almost pulls a genuine swindle, telling her that he “can’t explain it using big fancy words but… [he] sure know[s] the difference between right and wrong!”

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Moonbay

In reality, Moonbay is not much of a mercenary. She just loves traveling, which means that she needs enough money to support herself – not to mention the rest of the gang while they are roving along with her. As a disciplinarian, she is able to get more and better results out of Van than Maria for the simple reason that she is not his older sister. She treats him like the kid he is and tells him off when he deserves it – sometimes with a punch, if she feels he has earned one. At the same time, Van’s goodness keeps Moonbay honest and makes her strive to be better, even if she won’t necessarily admit that out loud.

Zeke remains Van’s best friend and fellow combatant throughout the series. The two are devoted to each other, almost like twin brothers (as opposed to the older brother/younger brother relationship Van and Irvine share). Much like Van, Zeke seems to be possessed of an inherent gentleness and goodness. Where others might have beaten this out of him, Van’s natural kindness enhances Zeke’s and keeps him innocent.

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Van and Fiona

Finally, we come to the relationship Van has with Fiona Elisi (Alicia?) Linnet, the Ancient Zoidian girl he finds in the same ruins where Zeke is hidden. When Fiona is released from her stasis pod, she initially has no memory of who she is or where she came from. She cannot remember her real name (Elisi Linnet), only the name “Fiona.” Despite being irritated by her constant questions in the first two episodes, Van immediately works to help Fiona, taking her to his village so she can be safe.

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While they start out as friends, over the course of the show the two obviously fall in love. Though we only see them kiss once (when Fiona has to talk to Van via a psychic image and/or hologram), the rapport between the two is not that of a brother and sister or of two friends traveling together. It is most definitely romantic, and in the best kind of way. This is made blatantly clear in episodes such as “A Voice from Afar” and “New Liger,” where Van can hear Fiona’s voice in his mind. The two early on show signs of developing a romantic bond, which seems to be the basis for the psychic tie that arises between them.

But the relationship which has the most profound impact on Van’s character is one we never see. This is his bond with his father, Major Dan Flyheight. Though we never watch them interact on screen, Van’s dedication to becoming “the greatest zoid pilot ever” is due entirely to his admiration of, and his love for, his deceased father.

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Dan Flyheight

We only see Dan Flyheight once in a flashback in the episode “The Distant Stars.” However, that brief glimpse shows us where Van gets not only his piloting skills, but also his kindness, gentleness, and strong sense of right and wrong. Dan’s last words – his last thoughts – are for the two children he will leave behind, showing that the strength of Van’s love for his family and friends was learned at his father’s knee. He even names his best friend Zeke after his father’s zoid. In a world where the power of the father is laughed off and derided as unnecessary, Van proves the exact opposite with his fond remembrance of the father he lost too early.

The plot for Zoids: Chaotic Century is the joys and travails not only of a boy becoming a man, but of a page becoming a knight. Van is needed now more than ever for viewers, boys and girls both. Girls will learn what really makes a man by watching this series, while at the same time boys learn the virtues which will be their guides and friends throughout their lives.

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If, as is possible, someone intends to make a film (or a series of them) about Zoids: Chaotic Century, they HAVE to get Van Flyheight right. If they do not do that, then the movie(s) they make will be worthless, or very close to it. Along with Captain America, Aragorn, Optimus Prime, and Sir Galahad, the one character in the universe who you CANNOT mess with is Van Flyheight, readers.

But you do not need to take my word for it; just visit the posts I have about the show to see what will be lost if Van is not brought to life properly. Or, better yet, hunt down Zoids: Chaotic Century’s eleven DVDs on www.amazon.com and watch the show yourselves. If you hate it, I will be surprised. If you love it – welcome to Zi, readers! We’re happy to have you on the battlefield!

Catch ya later! 😉

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Avengers Assemble – A Long Way from Home

Ahoy, readers! Ar ye ready to sail in uncharted waters? Avast! It is time we be spinning tales of those famed heroes from Earth, the Mightiest of Champions – the Avengers!

You will see why I played around with the pirate lingo when we reach the end of the post. 😉 Normally, piratical speech is not my thing. It is used way too much these days for effect – or as a form of mockery for pirate tales – which means it tends to irritate me. So when one of Avengers Assemble’s episodes played around with the vernacular, I had to grit my teeth from time to time. It was either that or cover my ears, and since I wanted to keep track of the story, I put up with it.

The first episode we will discuss aired before Christmas of 2017. Titled “New Year’s Resolutions,” it starred Tony, Cap, Howard Stark and – at long last – Peggy Carter, voiced by Haley Atwell herself. Yay…!

Mostly. Sorta. Kind of.

Okay, okay, I had major problems with Peggy’s portrayal in the cartoon. The writers had her showing Steve up too much and generally did not let her be the Peggy I saw and enjoyed in Captain America: The First Avenger. I am guessing this has something to do with her depiction in her own series, Agent Carter, which leaned heavy on the Femi-Nazi and light on the story/character.

From what little I know of the series Agent Carter, Peggy came across as an angry, “let-me-prove-I’m-just-as-good-as-the-men” character, something which was certainly not the case in The First Avenger. It was more than a little sad to see her get short shrift in this episode, which I had been looking forward to viewing for some time. Peggy had her moments here, but they were few and far between.

Thankfully, “New Year’s Resolutions” was not all bad news. The interplay between Tony and Howard in this episode almost made up for Peggy’s disappointing deportment. We actually got to see the younger Stark bond with his father WITHOUT being a total brat or jerk about it. It was an unexpectedly sweet touch to what otherwise would have been a depressing, watered-down show.

Speaking of pluses, watching the four beat Kang was pure fun. And Arno Stark got to show up as Tony’s descendant rather than his hidden, younger brother. There was no Arno-should-have-been-Iron-Man stupidity here, for which I am very thankful. Although I must admit, I would have liked to have heard the thirtieth century Stark toss out a zinger or two, just to show the genes had not faded over the millennium between him and Tony.

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All of this is to say that “New Year’s Resolutions” is an episode worth watching, despite its substandard treatment of Peggy Carter. Now if Marvel would just do what I asked and give the Avengers an adventure that took place on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, showing the team celebrating the holiday, I would know we were making some progress here. (No, I am not holding my breath while waiting for them to do that.)

Next we come to “The Eye of Agamotto, Parts 1 & 2.” By a stroke of good fortune, I got to see Doctor Strange before these episodes came out. Strange has never been anywhere near my Favorite Marvel Characters’ list, so the film and his appearance in the shows served more as filler material than anything else for me. But the fact that I got to see the movie meant I was prepared for Strange’s changed look; prior to the movie, he had long hair in Assemble. It is now shorter and much more practical.

Part 1 one of “The Eye of Agamotto” showed the Avengers – Cap, Hawkeye, Falcon, Black Panther, and Carol Danvers – defending a SHIELD storehouse from HYDRA agents. Well, mostly defending it. The bad guys got away with whatever magical doohicky they wanted, but Cap and Panther succeed in tracking it down.

Unfortunately, said gem is already in the hands of Strange’s arch nemesis, Baron Mordo. (The artists did a good job making him look like his film counterpart.) This is Panther’s first encounter with a bonafide sorcerer, but he handles himself pretty well here. We also see him getting calls from his little sister, Shuri, who has to ring him up for Wakandan business at the most inopportune times. It gets so bad that he shunts her calls to voicemail.

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So when she shows up on his and Cap’s six unannounced, it nearly ends in disaster. Declaring that “no one puts [her] on voicemail,” Shuri insists on tagging along for the adventure, triggering the traps Mordo set up with a bracelet gizmo she designed herself. She has to help T’Challa and Steve best Mordo after the latter uses a spell to steal Cap’s powers.

T’Challa does well in this episode and so does Steve – for the most part. While I enjoyed seeing Shuri at long last, the writers could not resist plugging the “girl power” motif during this adventure. It was not simply annoying, it was Matronizing, and obviously so. I can handle Shuri having a list of degrees which nearly circles the world, but that should not be what makes her interesting. She comes from a culture of warriors, people! For Pete’s sake, her brother’s personal bodyguard corps is made up entirely of women so that peace can be maintained among Wakanda’s tribes. I do not think they have any of our “problems” with “women’s representation.”

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Shuri

In this episode, Shuri is used to pantomime the idea that “brains beat brawn” – especially if they are female brains to men’s brawn. No, Marvel writers. No, no, no, and no. Women are not physically strong enough, as a general rule, to overpower men, yes. Having Shuri outsmart Mordo was great, yes. But if you want her to be T’Challa and Cap’s equal, show her not as a snobby, easily offended young woman looking down her nose at them, but as a young woman who can roll with the punches when she cannot dodge ‘em. The writers did not do that properly here, which rankled. Badly.

Other than this irksome theme, we got a good show which demonstrated the strength of Cap and Panther’s friendship, and which showed Steve being his usual, gracious self. It also put the spotlight, however briefly and dimly, on Shuri, which is great. All in all it was not a bad romp. It could have been better, but it was not bad.

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Part 2 of “The Eye of Agamotto” was very entertaining, and it made up for the lousy element in Part 1. Following their previous adventure, Cap and Panther bring an odd sorcerer back to Avengers’ Compound after he tells them he needs to see Stephen Strange. We only see them doing this after a cute exchange between Hawkeye and the Hulk, as the archer is busy going through receipts for the damage Big Green dealt out – accidentally or on purpose – while doing his job. (I am surprised the piles of receipts were not bigger and taller.)

Strange arrives at the Compound while this is going on, launching an attack against Cap and Panther while they are trying to land. It takes him awhile, but he eventually manages to explain that he was not shooting at them per se. Whatever or whoever is with them has some bad magic which is making the Eye of Agamotto that Strange wears go bonkers.

Turns out, the man Cap and Panther met at the end of the last episode is Agamotto himself. He’s come back to get his eye (guess what the Eye of Agamotto is in Assemble, readers), and casts a spell which knocks down Cap, Panther, Hawkeye, and Kamala Khan. At the same time they get knocked out, evil shadow duplicates of them appear to attack Strange and the Avenger who depowered to avoid getting magicked – Hulk/Bruce Banner.

You will want to see this episode for the ending alone, readers. It is a hoot, a scream. About halfway through I was laughing so hard that it is amazing I could keep up with the dialogue for this show. I mean it – this episode was pure, undiluted fun! Strange and Hulk even became friends by the end of the show. Bonus points!

After these episodes came the first four “Secret Wars” installments which gave the season its name. The first episode here was “Beyond.” At the start of the show, the Avengers arrive in Central Park when a glowing crack appears in the ground. Then they try to fall back as it widens and white light erupts from it. Seconds later (as far as anyone can tell), the team wakes up in a desert at night. Right on cue, Avengers Tower rises out of the sand next to them. Naturally, they go inside to see if this is really their old home, finding it is and that everything inside is in perfect working order.

During their investigation, they also find an uninvited guest. Having spread a feast on the table for them, he invites them to sit and chow down while he explains everything. No one sits down, of course, or starts eating. They just demand to know who this guy is and what the Sam Hill he has done to them.

For those new to the Marvel universe(s), this unwelcome guest is the Beyonder. He is far different from the Beyonder I met in the 1990s. That Beyonder was not a sick, twisted megalomaniac – at least, I did not think he was. I do not know what he is/was like in the comics, so I cannot say how true his appearance in either series is to the original material, but the Beyonder in the ‘90s was a sight nicer than this guy. Another difference here, aside from his personality, is that this version of the Beyonder uses advanced technology for his little experiment. In the ‘90s he was some cosmic magician who could snap his fingers and do almost anything he wanted.

You are probably getting the idea that I was expecting to see the Beyonder this season. I certainly had a suspicion he would appear; the ‘90s “Secret Wars” arc of the Spider-Man TV series was one of my favorites. Like the original Star Trek episode The Savage Curtain, the animated ‘90s “Secret Wars” saw the Beyonder send Spider-Man to an alien world that had never known evil. The Beyonder introduced some of the worst villains from Earth to this world, then dispatched Spidey to choose a team of superheroes to stop the bad guys, proving once and for all whether good was really stronger than evil.

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Secret Wars – ’90s Style!

Spidey and his team won, of course, but it was this storyline which made me expect to see the Beyonder in Assemble. I was looking forward to seeing him again, though in light of the 2015 sham “Secret Wars,” I was worried about what would become of our heroes in the cartoon. Now I see that I should have been worried about the Beyonder, too. But maybe he was originally an evil super genius bent on satisfying his curiosity at all costs, making this portrayal of him a return to the norm. I don’t know which it is, though, so I will leave this subject alone now.

Anyway, after pinning our heroes to the walls with his tech, the Beyonder explains that he has taken pieces from different worlds and dimensions to create a new planet he calls Battleworld. (Battleworld comes from the 2015 “Secret Wars” and, from what little I know of that travesty to comicdom, Beyonder’s description here sounds about right for that Battleworld as well.) Like in the ‘90s, he is apparently trying to determine here whether good or evil is stronger.

The big problem with his plan in Assemble – aside from the fact that he took everyone from Earth, Asgard, and every where else without a by-your-leave – is that the longer the separated chunks are away from their homeworlds/dimensions/what-have-you, the more unstable those realms become. So, if the pieces are not returned to their proper places (and fast), the whole universe/multi-verse is going to explode and die. Not a pretty picture for our heroes, to be sure.

“Beyond” sees the team spread out to learn the layout of Battleworld and begin finding a way to put everything back together again. The particular part of Battleworld where Avengers’ Tower is situated is called Egyptia. Why it is called this I do not know, unless there is another realm/dimension/thing out there called Egypt. So far, Egyptia just seems to be a distorted Egypt from Earth.

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Back to the show; Cap and Widow are the ones reconnoitering Egyptia. Finding a pyramid in the middle of the dunes, they go to investigate and run into a bunch of sand mummies/zombies. Things look grim for the home team but, luckily, the wandering super genius known as Iron Man drops in to save the day. The Beyonder took part of the dimension he was trapped in for his Battleworld. That part of the “planet” is called No-Tech Land, presumably because most modern machinery does not work there. This allows Tony to reunite with his friends, and the high jinks and battles ensue before he, Cap, and Widow rejoin the rest of the team at the Tower.

“Underworld” is the follow-up episode, and it begins with Loki raining on the reunion by declaring he wants to join the Avengers because the Beyonder wrecked Asgard for his little experiment. Predictably, the answer to Loki’s request is a lot of lightning bolts, repulsor blasts, arrows, and punches – none of which land, sadly. “Capturing” him, Thor, Tony, and Hulk learn that Loki is the one who told the Beyonder Earth’s location, giving them more reason to be angry at him. But since parts of Asgard are now mushed into Battleworld, and because Loki has personal knowledge of the Beyonder, Tony states that they need him and the four head out to New York City.

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The reason this episode is called “Underworld” is because NYC is under a rock – literally. When Beyonder ripped it off of Earth, he put the city underground. And beneath New York, he put a bunch of Asgardian rock trolls. So when the Avengers show up, they have to defend the New Yorkers who were transported along with their city from the rock giants.

Loki does his whining “why-do-we-have-to-save-the-humans” routine, but turns into a big help when the Enchantress shows up. He almost sacrifices himself to fix the Bifrost, which is underground with New York, but Thor stops him and they escape. Then the Beyonder shows up and Hulk jumps at him to do his smashing gig –

…Only for the Beyonder to split the Hulk and Banner personalities into two people with his tech. Did not see that coming, and I have to say, it worries me. Bruce came out the worse for wear either before or after 2015’s “Secret Wars.” I am pretty sure he went nuts, and I know who “killed” him (you are in so much trouble for that, by the way, Marvel writers), so I worry that we will see something similar in Assemble. If what I think may happen does occur, then the “writers” running Marvel are in even BIGGER trouble with me.

Aside from this one worrying point, this show was a hoot. Hulk had the most fun here at Loki’s expense, and the only thing I want more than to see Hawkeye finally give the Trickster what he deserves is to watch Hulk pick on him. As for Loki turning “hero,” I predict that that will not last long. There may be a little good in Loki, but the problem with that is it is too darn small a piece of good. The bad outweighs the good, and while the Trickster of Asgard may be an open and shut case of “hope over experience,” I believe the Avengers should temper hope with sense by keeping their hands close to their weapons.

Next we have “The Immortal Weapon.” This episode was good, clean fun, and it actually gave me something I have been begging the writers for since the series started: a new hero. Iron Fist at last makes his debut in Avengers Assemble here. Though he is voiced by the same actor from Ultimate Spider-Man, Iron Fist is unquestionably an adult in Assemble. It was nice to see him again; he got short shrift from season three of Ultimate Spider-Man onward, and it is good to have him back in the spotlight no matter how briefly he appears.

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Anyway, among the many things the Beyonder stole from Earth was K’un-Lun. But unlike New York, K’un-Lun is above ground and it is peaceful. Everyone is going about their daily business as if nothing has changed, puzzling Falcon and Black Panther, who have been sent here to pick up an item to repair the destroyed Bifrost. Things get even more confusing when the two explain to Iron Fist that they need Heimdall’s sword to help rebuild the Bifrost and set everything right. For no apparent reason, Danny attacks the two, stating emphatically that they cannot take the sword.

Neither Avenger listens when Iron Fist repeatedly states that taking the sword will unleash a great evil. So both are surprised when Falcon retrieves the weapon and Dracula pops out of the stone where it was embedded. (Nice sword in the stone reference, Marvel jerkfaces.) Turns out, Danny could not explain why the sword had to stay put because Dracula cursed him so that he could not say his name, period, in relation to anything. If anyone had asked Iron Fist about Bram Stoker’s novel, it is likely that Danny would not have been able to name the book because of the curse.

But Falcon and Panther, who have been having the “I’m-not-a-kid-anymore/I’m-a-king” argument from the start of the show, did not stop to put two and two together. Danny gets a really good scene when this argument starts back up again, putting one hand to his face and shaking his head, before telling the two to knock it off and get their act together. Tension is added to the show when the three learn of a familiar alien substance that has bonded to Dracula to make him immune to sunlight. The vampire king plans to find more of these familiar substances to make an army of daywalker vampires, but our heroes put the kibosh on the plan.

Really, this episode was nigh flawless. I had no real reservations while watching it or after it ended. It was a fun caper with no dark portents for the future of the series, and it gave all three heroes a chance to shine brightly for a change. This one earns a big, wholehearted “YAY!” from this viewer.

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Finally, we have “The Vibranium Coast.” This is the show which gave vent to the piratical turns of phrase you encountered at the beginning of this post, readers. Ant-Man and Kamala Khan are headed to the Vibranium Coast – the one part of Battleworld, so far, which does not appear to be related to Earth at all – to pick up the Vibranium Tony and Loki need to rebuild the Bifrost and fix everything.

Scott is nervous about the job, feeling the pressure of not messing the mission up royally, while Khan continues to be her annoying, useless self. She misidentifies a pirate ship as Atlantis or another place, and the first misidentification should not have popped out of her mouth. For Pete’s sake, even on Battleworld, Atlantis would have to be under water. Most Atlanteans cannot breathe air or stay on land for long periods of time, and so far, the Beyonder has not demonstrated a desire to wipe out the populations of the places he steals all in one go. If they die over time, he will shrug it off, but the fact that NYC and K’un-Lun still have inhabitants shows he wants live specimens for his “experiment,” not cities full of dead bodies.

But we digress. Scott and Khan’s jet is shot out of the sky by the ship and the two are picked up by Typhoid Mary, who lays on the pirate act and lingo real thick. I have to say, my first introduction to Typhoid Mary did not make me like her. She reminds me too much of Harley Quinn, the Joker’s sidekick from DC Comics. Whether that is the intention of the writers or not, the fact is that her resemblance to the Joker’s apprentice wins her no favors with me.

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Despite this, Typhoid Mary actually made this zany episode palatable for me. Having Red Skull and Crossbones playing pirates makes them seem silly, until you are faced with the even crazier Typhoid Mary. After her, anything else out of the ordinary looks mild. Her part in the story took the edge off the foolishness of seeing Red Skull be called “Dred Skull,” the master of the “Dred Skull Sea.” 😉

Ant-Man did not do badly in this show, which was a real improvement over his first four episodes this season. He got to be smart, manly, and funny without compromising his character or his masculinity. That alone would make this episode worth watching, but with Typhoid Mary’s craziness thrown in the mix, I suggest you check out the show for the laughs, too. There is also a GREAT scene at the end which had me in fits because it was so perfect. You should definitely watch this episode, readers. It is FUN!

However, despite this glowing review, I must admit that I had my usual problems with Khan here. The writers are working overtime to make her appeal to viewers, and it is not helping. Aside from a few verbal mistakes, Khan does not trip or fall flat on her face the way a normal rookie would in this show. Scott’s and the other Avengers’ care for and kindness to her are great for them, but it does nothing to make Khan more appealing or enhance her part in the series.

If you put Inferno or Firestar or Spectrum in her place in “The Vibranium Coast” as the new rookie on the team (no matter their age), it would work better because the writers would not be bending over backwards to make the audience love them the way they are for Khan. Seriously, everything they do for Khan is pure political pandering, and it shows. Somehow, in this episode, she is the only Avenger present who knows how to use swords, all because her parents let her take fencing lessons?!?

That does not fit with what little I remember reading about the concept behind Khan’s creation. There it was stated that her parents are terrified of letting her anywhere near a boy her own age, forget an adult man. So why would they suddenly let her take fencing lessons? In fact, why is she even allowed out of the house in normal clothes? Shouldn’t she be wearing something more traditional? And why not let her use her powers or natural skills to duck and dodge swordstrokes? If she is so great, then why do the writers have to give her the simple, Feminista out of, “And she can fence, too!”?

The more the writers set her up to be an uber woman settling into her place in the Avengers, the less interesting she becomes, just like her namesake. Khan adds nothing to the Marvel universe(s) or Assemble.

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Dust

Dust was more interesting because she was actually allowed to make mistakes, worry about her traditional upbringing and her career as an X-Man, and learn to stretch her wings. Khan is not allowed to even voice such fears or problems in the show; she has no vulnerabilities – other than a penchant for geeking out when she meets a famous hero/villain – and it makes her dull as dishwater. She is useless, plain and simple, and she is getting on my nerves.

I do not expect the Marvel writers to change Khan and make her more interesting, readers. I expect them to double down on her portrayal with a vengeance. They cannot be wrong, while we peons are always wrong and should hate ourselves for it. (Bah.) If they want to think that way and try to financially survive while they are doing it, then they can knock themselves out. Nothing anyone says to the contrary will stop them.

This leads to my final points. For the most part, as is obvious from this article, I enjoyed these episodes. However, the higher you fly, the farther you can fall. It is quite possible that whatever comes next will be an absolute disaster for fans of the true, the good, and the beautiful who love not only Assemble, but Marvel in general. We could end up with a serious mess on ours hands when the next installment of Avengers Assemble: Secret Wars rolls around.

We could just as easily rise to new heights with only little pinpricks of annoyance (and irritating, politically correct sham characters) to bother us from here on out. While I hope for that, I intend to try and follow my own advice to the Avengers about Loki: be prepared for experience to trump hope again. When it comes to mortal man, experience is something to be remembered, even when hope begs for “just one more chance” to get things right.

I have my keyboard ready, Marvel. I am still watching you. Mess up, and expect to see me say something about it. Because if you play “the heroes and heroines are actually villains and the villains are heroes” card too much more, you will go out of business. I do not want that for you, but you are sure acting like that is what you want. Do not think I will avoid speaking my piece about it. You should know me better than that by now. 😉

‘Til next time, readers – Avengers Assemble!!!