Captain America: Civil War – Helmut Zemo

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I really struggled when writing this post, readers, not because I doubted my own convictions – I believed from the start that Zemo was evil. Marvel, while turning a great deal in its comic book universe(s) upside-down and inside-out at the moment, was not going to change that fact for Civil War. Zemo has been an antagonist for too long; we all knew he was going to be the villain. My problem is the excuse implicit in the storyline that people would use to defend Zemo’s actions in the film.

Zemo’s grudge against the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War is based on his family’s dying when, in the previous Avengers film, Ultron raised half of his small country into the sky before trying to smash it into the Earth to destroy mankind. Zemo was smart enough to put his family up in a house outside the city before this occurred. Naturally, he did not anticipate the city getting lifted off the ground and bits of rock falling from it to land on top of his home.

There are people who would defend Helmut Zemo’s hatred for the Avengers and his diabolical plan to destroy them. Their arguments, in effect, would say, “But his family was killed! He was mad with grief! What right do you have to call him evil?! All he wanted was retribution for the deaths of his family!”

Retribution is not ours to seek any more than revenge, for which retribution is often a synonym. It is wrong and only causes more pain for more people. It breeds an endless, vicious cycle of violence, death, and darkness for everyone in the world. As for Zemo’s being “mad,” the proper understanding of its meaning is someone who is a danger to himself because he cannot take care of himself. It is not someone who stalks a group of people for a year and then tries to kill them. Zemo does not clinically qualify as “mad” or “insane.” But he does clinically qualify as evil.

How do we know this? He tells us. Zemo condemns himself in his own words, basing his choice on hatred and jealousy. After telling T’Challa about the deaths of his family, he says, “And the Avengers? They went home.” He says this as though it makes everything he has done and all those he has killed worth the cost. While I hate to break his soap bubble, I must ask: just what is it that Zemo expected the Avengers to do after destroying Ultron, saving humanity, and preserving the lives of as many of the civilians still in the city as they could?

What more, in short, could they have done to make him their friend? They could have gone back to the city after the battle and helped with the clean up.  But would that have won them Zemo’s respect? Would he have felt better if Thor, Cap, and Iron Man had helped him dig his family’s bodies out of the rubble? Would Zemo have felt better if they had helped him to bury his family? Would their tears over his loss have made him feel avenged (pun intended)? Since Zemo was ready to commit suicide after accomplishing his “mission,” this seems highly unlikely.

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You are probably wondering why I am making such a fuss about this, readers.   I take issue in this case because the writers did so, in order, I believe, to show how empty Zemo’s philosophy is.  I am also making an issue of this because those who professionally review films – the docents of decency, the perpetually petulant masters of modernity, and other “reformers” of reality (a.k.a. the culture Nazis) – have made this a tenant of their belief system. This belief and their system are both solipsistic and false.

How do I know this? There are several ways. Why, for instance, did the writers have Zemo deliver the above lines in these specific words and in this tone?   What is the big deal about the Avengers going home when their job (save the world) is done? How is it a crime for the Avengers to swoop into a certain place, stop the bad guys, and then go home to recover, the way that policemen and soldiers do? Just what is wrong with that picture, readers? Enlighten me, please; what is wrong with this situation?

The fact is that there is nothing wrong with it – absolutely nothing. The Avengers went home after Age of Ultron because they did not come to Sokovia as conquerors. They came as defenders of both Sokovia and mankind. No one – Avenger, commando, politician, civilian – could have predicted Ultron’s plan to raise the city and make it a destroy-the-human-race meteor. It was a surprise to everybody.

Before the city lifted off it was swarming with drones trying to kill those left in the city. The Avengers were busy protecting these people, leaving them precious little time to discern Ultron’s mad scheme let alone to chase down every bit of flying rubble coming off of the metropolis.

The team’s main concern was to stop Ultron and thereby save mankind. This included protecting the residents of Sokovia from homicidal drones. Intercepting debris from the airborne city was not a consideration due to the necessities of combat against overwhelming foes. It was not due to indifference and it was most certainly not due to selfishness on the part of the Avengers.

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Yet Zemo is unconcerned with these very obvious facts. Why should he? It is clear to him what happened. The Avengers showed up, destroyed the maniacal machine, and went home to a heroes’ welcome.   They did not care about his people or his family. They cared about getting the glory for saving the world. That was their plan all along, as evidenced by the fact that they did not return to Sokovia to clean up the mess, nor did they prevent the disaster from occurring in the first place. In fact, they are responsible for the entire debacle; Tony Stark created Ultron. If he had not done this, then everyone who died in Sokovia would still be alive. The evident conclusion one must reach is that the Avengers do not care about anyone but themselves – right?

No, it is not. We know it is not, readers, because we have walked beside these characters through ten plus films. We have seen them selflessly put their lives on the line to protect the masses. We know that the Avengers truly care about saving as many lives as they can. They are as altruistic as one could wish of mortal man. Even Tony Stark, who is still too self-centered, remains willing to put his life on the line for strangers he will never meet. The Avengers are in the fight because it is the right thing to do, and most of them would be quite happy to skip out on the fame they have gained while doing their jobs. They cannot escape it and so they ignore it as best they can.

This is how we know that Zemo’s profile of the Avengers is mistaken and selfish, not to mention blatantly foolish. It is not because we like the characters or are attached to them that we believe they are heroes. We are certainly attached to them, and we definitely like them. But that is because they have proven time and again that they are willing to do heroic things to protect others. It is hard not to like someone for that.

Considering his background, you might think that Zemo might understand that combat is not a place where one feels “an overwhelming sense of control,” to quote Nick Fury. You might even think that Zemo could recall battles which had not gone according to plan, where people whom he and his team were supposed to protect were killed in spite of their best efforts. You might also think he would recognize that the Avengers were in that same boat in Sokovia and thus they could not be held accountable for the loss of his family.

Here we come to the important distinction between Zemo and the Avengers: Zemo led a “kill squad.” He and his men were not just commandos; they were government-sanctioned assassins. This makes it likely that Zemo and his men had little care for the lives of others. The exceptions would have been the lives of those closest to them, such as Zemo’s wife, son, and father. He may not have a problem murdering a family in another country but he would have a problem with whoever killed his family.

This is not the Way of the Avengers. When the Avengers kill, they do it to save lives. They do not do it lightly or enjoy it when the time comes to pull the trigger. They do not lose sleep over it, but if they can avoid dealing out justice on the battlefield they will spare their enemies – although they may later wish that they had not done so. They could have killed Loki in the Tower at the end of The Avengers, readers. Thor was not exactly feeling chummy with his adopted kid brother at the time and, in The Dark World, he threatened to kill Loki himself if he was betrayed.

The team had all the logic in the world to convince them to finish Loki then and there, but they chose not to do this. They instead sent him to Asgard to stand trial and receive Odin’s judgment. Despite their moniker, the Avengers are not prone to dealing out what most people would think of as revenge. They stop – or ‘Avenge’ – evil by defeating the bad guys, and by saving as many people as they can when the crisis blows up in an unforeseen manner.

One of the reasons why Zemo decides to destroy the Avengers is he is used to killing. As an assassin he became accustomed to the idea of being judge, jury, and executioner. What is more, he came to like playing these roles.

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There are four things he did which prove this. One, Zemo killed a former HYDRA operative and a psychiatrist without blinking an eye.   Two, he detonated a bomb outside the U.N. building in Vienna without any qualms about the innocents who would be caught in the blast. This was in spite of his claim to the HYDRA agent that he would not enjoy using “bloodier methods” to get what he wanted.

Three, after he had control of Bucky Barnes in the German base, Zemo ordered him to kill the soldiers who came to put the Winter Soldier back under restraint. Without orders Bucky might very well have just stood there until Cap and Sam arrived to calm the situation. But to further destroy Bucky’s already blackened record, Zemo ordered him to kill these men in cold blood. He stood by and watched these men die, then feigned a bad injury to lure Cap and Sam into the room so Bucky could attack them. I can just feel the remorse radiating from him in these scenes where he used “bloodier methods” to get what he wanted, can’t you, readers?

Four, Zemo expected Iron Man would kill Bucky and then Cap would kill Iron Man. Or he believed that Cap and Iron Man would kill each other after Bucky was dead. Why did he think this? He said he studied Cap and the rest of the Avengers, did he not? Enough to realize suddenly that there was a bit of green in Cap’s blue eyes, he said. So why did he not expect Cap to save Bucky, while at the same time avoiding killing or truly harming Tony Stark?

For a professional such as Zemo, this kind of miscalculation is astounding. He is a practiced killer; if he wants to take down a target or convince a target to kill himself and another person, he has to study his prey very carefully. He had a year to study the Avengers and plan how he would kill them, or convince them to kill each other. So why, when you come to the most crucial point, did he fail to suspect that Cap would prevent Tony from killing Bucky, while at the same time not murdering Stark himself?

The reason he failed to completely destroy the Avengers – to kill them all or convince them to kill each other – is that he does not understand them. He did not, does not, and will never comprehend them as long as he maintains his choice to do evil rather than good. This is shown most plainly by his underestimating Captain America, the Galahad of modern literature. He expected Cap to react to pain and loss as he would. But Cap is not like other men; he is different. Where most men can achieve only a “good” status in this world, Cap has achieved a “great” status. This is not perfection but it is very, very close to it.

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Now some of you are going to say, “But what about Steve’s vow to kill every HYDRA operative after Bucky fell off the train in the Alps? That was revenge!”

No, it was not. What Cap specifically said was that he would not stop fighting HYDRA “until every HYDRA agent is dead or captured.” (Emphasis mine.) This means that he would capture and imprison those members he could, and kill those who resisted. He said and did this for the same reason the British wiped out the Thuggees, murderers who worshipped the Hindu death-goddess Kali. HYDRA is no better than the Thuggees; they need to be exterminated so that innocent people intent on living peaceful, happy lives will be safe to live and work as they choose.

Nothing that Cap said or did after Bucky fell from the train in The First Avenger was vengeful. He was not motivated by a desire for payback. He wanted the world to be free of the evil that was HYDRA so that Bucky’s sacrifice – and the sacrifice of thousands of other men on both sides of the war – would not be in vain. So that the world would be free of HYDRA’s evil once and for all.

By his own admission, Zemo was not trying to free anyone in Civil War. He was trying to destroy a team of people who routinely put their lives on the line to protect mankind from the evil without and within it. He wanted revenge, not justice. He wanted payback, not freedom. He was and remains willing to let the entire world fall into death, destruction, and slavery so that he can feel he has revenged the deaths of his family.

Readers, what is so admirable about Zemo’s choice? Why should we, as viewers, sympathize with a character that is willing to condemn the whole human race to an evil fate just so he can feel vindicated on behalf of his dead loved ones? Should we sigh, wipe away a tear, and say, “Yes, we feel your pain,” or “We understand you,” to a character who would throw away every human life on the planet to satiate his lust for blood? No, we should not. But this is what some people want us to do for Zemo.

I will not do this. I will not commiserate or identify with a character that would gladly doom millions to death and millions more to slavery in order to get vengeance for his family, who were unfortunate casualties in a battle. As Rocket Raccoon pointed out in Guardians of the Galaxy, “Everybody’s got dead people. That’s no excuse to get everyone else dead along the way.”

Zemo has no excuses for his choice to destroy not only the Avengers but the people they protect. He wanted to throw the rest of the world under the bus to fulfill his desire for vengeance. No one has the right to do that. But that is what Zemo tried to do with the world population when he targeted the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War.

Later, at the end of the film, we watch Martin Freeman’s character, Everett Ross (no relation to the General turned Secretary of State), visit Zemo. He begins gloating to Zemo about how his master plan has failed.

Like Thunderbolt and the U.N., Everett Ross believes that Zemo’s master plan has gone down in flames whilst the United Nations’ own has succeeded. They have four of the six members of Team Cap incarcerated while Iron Man, War Machine, and Vision are leashed and awaiting orders. Black Widow, Captain America, and the Winter Soldier are wanted fugitives who will soon be found and locked up with their friends. The private police firm known as the Avengers is now legally under the direct control of the bureaucrats and politicians in the United Nations. Zemo, meanwhile, is locked up and out of the way. Yes, their plan has worked flawlessly whilst Zemo’s has not.

Slowly, Zemo smiles and says, “Did it?”

At these words we get to watch the smile gradually slide off of Everett Ross’ face. (It is such a satisfying thing to see!!!!) Zemo is correct to point out that his plan did not entirely fail. But the fact is that Zemo’s plans did not accomplish his true goals.

None of the Avengers are dead, as Zemo desired. Their strength is halved, but they are all alive, and this makes a future reconciliation possible. Zemo does not see this because, as stated above, he sees the Avengers through a glass darkly. He cannot comprehend the gulf between his mind and their souls. Part of his plan has been accomplished; the Avengers are no longer what they were. They are weakened, and severely so….

But they are all alive.

The Avengers’ advantage over Zemo is their heroism; it will defeat him every time. Like the phoenix of old, like the sun on a daily basis, the Avengers will rise again. And they will be whole and stronger than before when this happens.

Evil will never win the war, as Zemo believes he has. He has won a battle. But the war was won a long time ago, and the Avengers are on the winning side. Even the arrogant ones, such as Tony Stark, will be victorious in the end. Their strength is not their own. It comes from Another, and He is watching over them, as He watches over all those who serve Him. He is their strength. As long as Zemo stands against the Avengers, he stands alone against Him, the irresistible and unconquerable. He will win, and Zemo will lose.

‘Nuff said, readers. ‘Nuff said.

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Book Review: That Fine Summer by Ella Manuel

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That Fine Summer, by Ella Manuel, is a short children’s book set in Fox Cove, Newfoundland. Never heard of Newfoundland? I am not terribly surprised; The Rock, as her people call her, is not the most popular tourist destination in the world.

Newfoundland was discovered by Norsemen and colonized by them at the turn of the Dark Ages, if my memory serves me correctly. But it was not until after Christopher Columbus discovered America that a more permanent colony was set up. Over time English, Scottish, and Irish settlers came to Newfoundland to make their living on the bountiful cod, as well as the natural wealth of the rugged island itself. By the twentieth century, Newfoundland was its own island nation. I do not know the year, but Canada eventually annexed the island through Confederation.

I believe That Fine Summer is set before Confederation, back when Newfoundland was an independent country. In this short novel, Mahala “Malie” Jacobs marches out to her Grandfather’s house in a right fury. When asked what the matter is, she tells him that her mother has made her wear a new dress and a new set of shoes first thing in the morning.

Mahala is a tomboy who likes to go fishing and sailing, things she can only really do with her Grandfather. Her mother, her grandfather’s only child, wants Mahala to act and dress like a proper lady. The only things the two agree on are that they love each other, they love Grandfather, and they are ardent piano players.

That evening, Mahala’s mother springs another unwelcome surprise on her daughter. She tells Malie that they are going to St. John’s, the capitol city of Newfoundland, for the summer.

Malie is thunderstruck. She does not want to go to the city. She wants to stay in Fox Cove with her grandfather, fishing, exploring the beaches, and just having fun in her own native place. She has had it all planned out for the last few months.

This leads to an explosive family argument, and Malie goes to the person who understands her best to solve the dilemma: Grandfather. Grandfather talks to Mahala’s mother and convinces her to let Malie stay with him throughout the summer… That fine summer.

I’ll not spoil the rest of the book for you, readers. It is a sweet little story, with lots of local color and language. If you do not understand the Newfoundland slang, the BREAKWATER edition has a short glossary of Newfoundland expressions included in it. But between the jigs and the reels, the story should be easy for children to read and understand.

Have fun fishing for this book and learning about The Rock, readers!

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Spotlight: Zoids – The Liger Zero

First of all, I would like to extend a humble thank you to those who have dropped by to check out the Zoids posts I have written. I started writing them because I love zoids and could find very little about them on WordPress. They are a niche series and market, and this means they are not particularly popular. But every time one of you clicks on a post about a zoid, I feel that I have connected, however briefly, with another fan of this amazing Japanese series.

Today’s zoid is not from Chaotic Century, my favorite series, but from two of the series which followed it. This zoid is the Liger Zero, the main or “hero” zoid in Zoids: New Century Zero and Zoids: Fuzors.

The Liger Zero is a cat-type zoid. With a body more streamlined than the Shield Liger’s or the Blade Liger’s, it does not immediately strike us as lion-type. Since ligers are the offspring of male lions and female tigers, it makes sense that all Ligers in the Zoids’ franchise would resemble lions. Other cat-style zoids in the stories are too different from lions for me to believe that good ol’ Liger here is anything but lion-type.

The Liger Zero’s cockpit is in his head, behind those glowing orange eyes. Liger Zero – or Liger for short, according to his pilots – is a very rare type of zoid. He is one of the few Ultimate X zoids on Zi. What is an Ultimate X? Well, according to New Century Zero, Ultimate Xs are zoids with built-in black boxes known as organoid systems. The writers chose this gimmick for their pilots instead of using an actual organoid running around by the pilot’s side to make them and their zoids more special.

This organoid system allows each Ultimate X to learn and adapt to an opponent’s moves. Once defeated, the zoid’s organoid system analyzes the battle to learn which maneuver brought it down. When an Ultimate X engages a previous foe who defeated it in a prior battle, it strikes in the opponent’s documented weak spot or retaliates with a more powerful move of its own.

This makes the Liger a very cool zoid, but it also means that the bar for the pilot he chooses does not have to be particularly high. Yes, I said the Liger Zero chooses his pilots. He has an organoid system built into his zoid core, and as my post on the organoids of Chaotic Century pointed out, organoids can choose their “owners.” The Liger works on the same principle; he is not dumb – as in mute – as most other zoids are.

New Century Zero, as I stated in the post Ready, Fight!, revolved around battles between prizefighters that were largely mediocre. Only a few characters in the show actually had the potential to become champion fighters, and they were held back by their lack of real competition. In my opinion, the pilot for the Liger Zero in this series was not one of these potential champions. Bit Cloud was funny and perceptive, but he did not have the fiber necessary to become a star pilot in the true sense of the term. Most of his success, I would say, is due entirely to the Liger’s ability to learn and make up counterattacks on his own.

In the course of New Century Zero, the Liger Zero’s white armor could be removed and three other armors put on in its place. The picture below gives you an idea of what these armors look like:

All four of these armors had specific uses. The first armor was the white “basic unit” plating. This had no weapons except for a double barrel gun set between the Liger’s forelegs. Though Bit added a sniper rifle to the Liger’s back while he was “wearing” this armor in the second episode of the series, the weapon was later removed. The Liger’s greatest asset while wearing the “basic unit” armor was his Strike Laser Claw attack. When Bit gave the word as the Liger charged forward, the zoid’s forepaws would begin to glow with bright yellow energy.

Once within striking range of another zoid, the Liger would leap and pull back one of his paws – left or right, it did not matter which. Both paws were charged with energy, but the Liger could only strike with one paw at a time. In this way he – and all other Ligers – resembles a real lion. Lions can only raise and strike with one forepaw at a time. They cannot use both in a lion-to-lion battle, perhaps not even while hunting. They can only strike with one forepaw.

The Strike Laser Claw, as I said in the post about the Shadow Fox, can easily cut through the “skin” of lightly armored zoids. Zoids with moderately thick armor can be taken down by this attack as well and, though it will not finish larger zoids with thick armor, the Strike Laser Claw attack will still do noticeable damage that can lower their combat ability. Bit ended several of his initial battles by using the Strike Laser Claw maneuver to finish off an opponent. This was the beginning of the Blitz Team’s winning streak.

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The next armor, also from New Century Zero, was the Jaeger armor. This armor was blue with white highlights and it was very aerodynamic. Light though it was, it could take a decent amount of damage in close quarters fighting, mostly because the zoids it was designed to fight were lightly armored as well.

The Jaeger armor’s primary purpose was to boost the Liger’s speed. This it achieved flawlessly, allowing the Liger to keep pace with Jack Cisco’s Lightning Saix. While Bit used the Jaeger armor on other opponents from time to time, its main purpose was to even the fight when the Blitz Team was scheduled to do battle with Cisco and his Lightning Team. The Jaeger armor did not come equipped with any weapons save the boosters on its back. When the Liger wore that armor, he was the weapon.

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The third armor for the Liger Zero was the Schneider armor. Orange with blue and white highlights, the Schneider armor came equipped with seven blue blades. Two were attached to the Liger’s sides and would fold up on his back, like a Blade Liger’s blades. Bit did not usually rely on these; his main attack when he put the Liger in the Schneider armor was the Buster Slash.

The Buster Slash was accomplished by the Liger extending five blue swords from his “mane.” These would flip forward to surround his head. One blade flipped down from the Liger’s forehead while four others would fold forward from his “cheeks.” These, like the blades on the Liger’s back, would charge with energy as the Liger ran toward his opponent. One hit with this maneuver was generally all Bit and the Liger needed to bring down a competitor.

The Schneider’s Buster Slash feature was a very powerful attack. Only a couple of zoids and their pilots were ever able to defeat it, and because of the Liger’s “black box,” their victories were short-lived. Bit and the Liger would eventually overcome a number of these defeats by using the “Seven Blade Attack.” Lowering the five forward blades, the Liger would then lower and extend the two swords on his back. These he would point forward from his sides, as a Blade Liger does when he is “shooting from the hip.”

This would allow the energy flowing through all seven blades to merge into a crackling, shield-like sphere of blue energy covering the front half of the Liger’s body. If the blades did not defeat an opponent, then the overwhelming energy produced by the seven charged swords would. Though Bit rarely used the Seven Blade Attack – and I doubt his true piloting ability – I have to admit this Attack was a beautiful thing to watch. It caused massive damage to opposing zoids and ended the battle with finality. The Schneider armor did not come equipped with any guns, just as the Jaeger did not. Aside from their built in weapons, the Liger could still use the Strike Laser Claw while “wearing” the Schneider or the Jaeger armor.

The fourth armor more than makes up for these armors’ lack of firepower, not to mention the “basic unit” armor’s small chest cannon. The fourth armor, known as the Panzer unit, was camouflage green and loaded down with guns. Lena must have envied Bit for this armor; he never had to reload it, so Dr. Torres was never pestered by anyone but his daughter for more ammunition and artillery. Bit was quite satisfied with what the Panzer already had.

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The Panzer armor came equipped with two Hybrid cannons, each of which had two muzzles. These were mounted along the Liger’s sides and reached from his shoulders almost to his hips. The recoil on these cannons was so great that the Liger would go skidding backward several hundred feet after firing them. Meanwhile, missiles of every stripe and size that could possibly be inserted within the armor lay in wait for Bit to fire off his “Mega Bomb” attack.

When Bit fired the “Mega Bomb,” these missiles streaked out of hidden compartments throughout the armor. Using this attack, the Liger could destroy multiple targets at once, or almost obliterate a single opponent in one fell swoop. For gun and ammunition enthusiasts, the Panzer was the cream of the Liger’s crop of alternate armors.

Despite the power of the Panzer armor, Bit rarely used it. Because it held such arsenal, the armor was very heavy. It severely limited the Liger’s mobility. Combine this with the immense power the armor had to draw from the Liger for it to function, and it meant that the Panzer armor would make the Liger’s systems overheat to a dangerous degree. If Bit did not jettison the armor a few minutes after using it, he could very well kill the Liger.

And so, after using the Panzer armor in combat, Bit would have to jettison the Liger’s fourth skin on the battlefield. Heat shimmers would rise from the Liger as he stretched and shook off the sense of confinement. This was no big deal if the Liger had just dealt the final blow to his challenger. But if he had not done this, then he and Bit would be left completely vulnerable to attack. Without his armors the Liger Zero is literally naked; stripped bare with no defenses except his Strike Laser Claw. And even that may not work without a set of armor on his chassis. So while the Panzer was a great asset, using it carried too many risks most of the time. This was Bit’s reason for holding the armor in reserve after refusing to use it for most of the series.

The next two alternate modes the Liger Zero possessed were used in the Zoids: Fuzors series. I did not particularly enjoy Fuzors for the simple reason that it involved more meaningless prize fights with characters that had little talent for actual combat. Plus, the series ended mid-way through here in the States, and so I never saw the show from beginning to end.

I was also somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of separate Zoids fusing together. It felt a little too much like they were taking a cue from Transformers, where two Autobots or Decepticons could combine into one fighter. The organoids fusing with a larger zoid never bothered me; maybe because they did not change the zoid’s outward appearance on most occasions. But actual zoids in Chaotic Century and New Century Zero had never combined into one “combat unit” previously. I cannot say precisely why, but the concept never did sit well with me.

This is why I do not remember much about the two alternate modes of the Liger Zero in Fuzors. The first alternate mode was the Liger Zero Phoenix. A zoid which had never been seen before and which was something of a legend, the Phoenix was a wild zoid who did not usually mingle with the tame or piloted zoids.

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Liger Zero Phoenix

Despite this, she eventually decided to partner with the Liger Zero and his pilot RD. That is correct, I said she. Throughout the series the Phoenix was referred to time and again as “she”, the first combat zoid ever to be declared female. The Liger Zero was always spoken of in the male sense, as were several other zoids in Chaotic Century. While the organoid Specula was called “it” a number of times in that series, I personally considered her to be female. The Phoenix’s gender was therefore not terribly surprising or upsetting for me.

I do not remember too much of the Liger Zero Phoenix’s capabilities in battle. I think the combined power of the two zoids allowed the Liger some limited flight capabilities and I believe it super-charged his Strike Laser Claw attack. There was also a lot of fire in the arena when RD had Liger Zero and the Phoenix combine into one; she was the bird of fire, after all. I think she may have added some flames to the results of the Strike Laser Claw attack.

This partnership did not end well. In one battle, RD got in over his head and the Phoenix was destroyed. At least, her zoid form was. You know the old legend about how the phoenix is reborn from the ashes, right? Well, after Phoenix’s death, RD went into an emotional tailspin. On his journey to find meaning in his life after getting his partner killed, he met a young, dark-skinned, dark-haired girl named Venus. She was a bright, chirpy little thing who was wise beyond her years and had feathers in her hair.

She also had the ability to commune with zoids, something RD discovered when he woke up to find her conversing one-sidedly with the Liger. (Liger’s growls do not translate into English, readers.) With Venus’ help, RD found a new Fuzor partner for the Liger, the Jet Falcon. The two combined into the Liger Zero Falcon and were a pretty impressive team – by Fuzors’ standards. I am not up to speed on their capabilities, but they were not to be sneezed at, from what I recall. And the Jet Falcon was referred to in the male sense, in case you were curious.

RD and Venus parted ways after this, but when they did he noticed that one of the feather’s the girl wore had fallen on the ground near his feet. Picking it up, RD was surprised to find it looked like a phoenix feather.

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Liger Zero Falcon

This is as much proof as we ever get that Venus was in fact a reborn Phoenix, but in human form. I cannot say the idea is terribly unappealing; it was one of the few things I liked about Fuzors. After all, the legends never say whether the phoenix is reborn as a phoenix, and the Japanese writers obviously decided to have some fun with this assumption on the part of viewers. It was a very innovative story device, in my opinion. Color me impressed.

Well, readers, this is all the info I have on the Liger Zero. If you want to know more, check out Zoids: New Century Zero and/or Zoids: Fuzors. If you would rather skip watching the series, try the Wikipedia files on them instead. Neither of these series were my favorite show, and I must admit that I rank Fuzors even lower than New Century. But this is not the fault of the zoids, and they are always worth watching, even when their pilots are not.

So, in the spirit of the Zoidian desert, readers, I will “see you on the battlefield!”

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Book Review: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

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In the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow, Poland, there is a special tradition. Every hour of every day, on the hour, one of the firemen of Krakow goes to the tower in the church and plays a special hymn on the trumpet. This hymn is called the Heynal, the Hymn to Our Lady. You can hear it in this video here:

If you listen carefully, you will notice that the hymn ends abruptly. It actually ends on a broken note. Why?

In thirteenth century Poland, the Tartars were invading. They were almost at the gates of the city of Krakow when they heard a song. It was a boy in the brick cathedral of the Church of Our Lady Mary, which at that time was outside the walls of the city. All the other buildings around the church had been burned by the invading Tartars. Only the church remained standing.

The boy was blowing the Heynal on his trumpet, as he had sworn to do in times of emergency. He knew doing this would get the Tartars attention and let them spot him. But it was his duty to play the Heynal on the hour, and the time had come for him to play. So he played.

And a Tartar took aim and fired at him, killing him with the arrow. This left the broken note of the Heynal, as the boy died before he could finish the tune. All who play the hymn today end the tune on the broken note, in memory of the boy who died fulfilling his duty to country, God, and church. Even during the years when the Communists had control of Poland, the Heynal would be played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary.

In the twentieth century, a student and teacher named Eric P. Kelly heard the Heynal being played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow. The melody enchanted him almost as much as Poland did. And it inspired him to write The Trumpeter of Krakow.

In later centuries, after the Tartars were driven out of Poland, the Heynal was played not only on the hour, but to alert the city to the danger of fire. The watchman who would play the Heynal on the hour during the day or night (they rotated shifts, of course), would ring the bell and play the hymn to warn the city of invasion and other such dangers. But for the most part, during the fifteenth century, it was to warn against fires.

Krakow had a lot of wooden buildings at the time. One little set of sparks in the right place at the right time and – whoosh! There goes a third of the city up in smoke.

Pan (Mr.) Andrew Charnetski, his wife, and his son Joseph are headed into Krakow one day in July of 1461. Joseph is sitting on the back of the cart with the last possession of his family besides the cart itself, the horses, and the clothes on their backs – a pumpkin. The Charnetskis lived in the Ukraine until their house and property were burned to the ground by raiders.

Now they are headed to Krakow, on a market day. The road to the city is full of farmers headed to market with their goods, as well as with those coming to buy those goods. The Charnetskis are the only refugees of any import in this story.

As Joseph sits on the back of the cart, watching the world go by, he suddenly sees a man riding toward them. Getting his father’s attention, Joseph dives at once to catch hold of the animal’s reins when the stranger commands him to mind the horse. Young though he is – Joseph is fifteen – the youth senses something amiss with the stranger. There is something dangerous, something evil, in his expression.

The man introduces himself to Pan Andrew and talks to him rapidly in a low voice. Whatever he says, Pan Andrew does not like it. In fact, though no one can tell from his expression, the stranger’s words frighten him. He tells the man to be off, but the stranger is stubborn. He then asks how much Pan Andrew will take for the pumpkin.

Pan Andrew tells him it is not for sale, despite the fact that the man offers him far more than any pumpkin ought to be worth. When Pan Andrew continues to refuse to sell the pumpkin, the stranger draws his sword –

But Pan Andrew is better. He knocks the man off of the cart and to the ground. Thinking quickly, Joseph turns the man’s horse and slaps its rump, sending it running. He jumps aboard the cart and his father takes off, leaving the stranger cursing and shouting in the mud beside the road.

The family makes it to the city safely. On their way in Joseph hears the Heynal as it is played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary. Pan Andrew promises to tell him the story of the broken hymn later on. What poor Pan Andrew does not yet know is that all is not well in Krakow. Pan Andrew goes to see his relatives but finds his cousin has been killed in a feud between the tradesmen and the nobles. This leaves the Charnetskis with no place to stay, no money and, worst of all, no protection.

If you want to know what else happens in the story, readers, you shall have to chase down a copy of The Trumpeter of Krakow yourselves. I have whet your appetite, I hope, for this charming story. Someone I know read and went into raptures over the book a long time ago. I waited a long time to read the novel, unfortunately. Perhaps, if I had read it earlier, I would have enjoyed it more than I did.

Poland is left in the dust these days. For twenty years it did not even exist; it was divided between Germany, Russia, and Austria. By far Austria treated the Poles better than the Germans or the Russians. Poland has suffered much throughout her long history.

However, as the Japanese say, “Fall seven times, stand up eight!” Poland has suffered, but she has always stood back up at some point. It is time she was recognized for this strength. This post and, perhaps, others will help to put her back in the world consciousness, where she belongs.

God go with you, readers!

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The Fool’s Prayer by Edward Rowland Sill

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The Fool’s Prayer

by Edward Rowland Sill

The royal feast was done; the King
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: ‘Sir Fool,
Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!’

The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.

He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the monarch’s silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: ‘O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

‘No pity, Lord, could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin; but Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

‘ ‘Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
‘Tis by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.

‘These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.

‘The ill-timed truth we might have kept-
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say-
Who knows how grandly it had rung?

‘Our faults no tenderness should ask,
The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunders-oh, in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.

‘Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!’

The room was hushed; in silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
‘Be merciful to me, a fool!’

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Book Review – Star Trek: The Covenant of the Crown

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Any Star Trek fan worth his salt will be able to tell you about the episode The Trouble with Tribbles. Tribbles, overgrown living puff balls, are soft, furry, harmless creatures that breed faster than rabbits. One of the things which make this episode so interesting is that it was written by a fan of the original series. That fan’s name is David Gerrold. And he wrote and sold The Trouble with Tribbles to Gene Roddenberry and the rest when he was twenty-three years old.

But Howard Weinstein did one better. He wrote a short, fan fiction story for his high school science fiction magazine called “The Pirates of Orion.” Later, in 1973, when Star Trek was made into an animated television series, Weinstein rewrote the story and sold it to the series creators. It became the first episode for the second season of the animated Star Trek series, retaining its title. Why is this important?

Howard Weinstein sold the story to the studio when he was nineteen and in college. That’s why it is important; he was the youngest writer for Star Trek ever, a position he may still hold. I cannot say for sure that he does, but it seems reasonable to assume this. At least, of the original fan base, he is the youngest writer they ever had, fan or otherwise.

Anyway, his love of Star Trek gave him the desire to become a science fiction writer. “The Pirates of Orion” was his first major success. The Covenant of the Crown, a novel set in the Star Trek universe, was his second.

In this story, McCoy is hiding in his room, curled up on his bed. Why?

It’s his birthday. And he is feeling old.

Captain Kirk is trying to talk him out of the room, and he finally convinces McCoy to get up and move by saying he wants the doctor to bait Spock while the Captain plays chess with him. They head down to the rec room on deck seven, Kirk opens the door….

On a dark room.

Thrusting McCoy into the room, Kirk watches the lights turn on and the crewmen pop up from behind the tables and chairs, shouting, “Surprise! Happy Birthday, McCoy!”

With this mission successfully completed, Kirk stands off to the side with Scotty to watch the festivities. Then he and his Chief Engineer feel the Enterprise kick into a higher gear. They make for the comm. as Spock calls Kirk to the bridge.

Star Fleet Command has called the Enterprise to Starbase 22 for a secret mission. Eighteen years ago, the planet Shad was thrust into a civil war due to Klingon meddling. Why? Shad is home to an ore known as Tridenite, a clean, efficient source of energy. The planet supplies twenty other planets with this vital ore. Half those planets are Federation, the other half are neutral. And they are all right next door to the Klingon Empire.

If Shad falls to the Klingons, they can take the entire sector because they will have control of the Tridenite.

Eighteen years ago, Lieutenant Commander James T. Kirk convinced Shad’s King, Stevvin, to escape Shad to protect his wife and daughter. It was supposed to be an exile of a few months, but it turned into an exile of eighteen years, during which time the queen died.

But the king and his daughter are alive. And with the Loyalist forces on the brink of winning the war – and falling apart as they try to divide the spoils before they even win – it seems it is time for the king to go home.

And he wants to; he really wants to go home. And Kirk wants to take him and his daughter home, to make up at least a little for leaving them stranded on an exile planet for eighteen years.

There is just one problem. The king’s daughter has a diabetic-like condition. She needs shots of a special serum, or she will die in a matter of hours. She is not physically as strong as she could be as a result. And the king himself, Stevvin, is dying.

Bonus points, McCoy and the king’s daughter start doing the Romance Two-Step. And if that did not complicate matters, throw in a few Klingon agents and a traitor in the King’s entourage, and you have a story filled with intrigue, romance, and danger. A little humor is added as Chekov tries to lose ten pounds he gained invisibly.

The Covenant of the Crown is a very good Star Trek story. With forewords by Howard Weinstein and David Gerrold, it also offers a window into what Star Trek fandom used to look like.

If you can, readers, find yourselves a copy of The Covenant of the Crown. If you do not like it, I am sorry to hear that. But I think it is a fantastic, fun story. It is at least worth one reading.

Live long and prosper!

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El Dorado by Edgar Allan Poe

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El Dorado

Gaily bedight,
   A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
   Had journeyed long,
   Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.
   But he grew old—
   This knight so bold—
And o’er his heart a shadow—
   Fell as he found
   No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.
   And, as his strength
   Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow—
   ‘Shadow,’ said he,
   ‘Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?’
   ‘Over the Mountains
   Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
   Ride, boldly ride,’
   The shade replied,—
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’
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