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Reviews of TV shows.

Spotlight: Thundercats – Tygra

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Last year, two posts about a pair of Thundercats characters appeared here at Thoughts on the Edge of Forever. The first one focused on Panthro, the second on Cheetara. A commentor on the second Spotlight! post requested that his favorite Thundercat be discussed next, and this blogger promised to write about that character in the New Year.

Well, while it is a day late and a dollar short, I hope JorgePr finds this post to be a satisfying review of his favorite character. Today’s Spotlight! focuses on the intellectual member of the Thundercats, Tygra. The team’s architect, scientist, inventor, academic, and moral authority, Tygra often came off as bland or uninteresting to most viewers. While this is an understandable reaction early on, to maintain it is to miss the very important contributions this Cat made to the team and the series.

Although his role in combat was not often as spectacular as Cheetara, Panthro, or Lion-O’s were, Tygra was a capable fighter. Using his bolo whip, intelligence, and native strength, he could think circles around most of his opponents with ease. The fact that his whip granted him invisibility only added to his combat capabilities, as it allowed him to sneak up behind or otherwise catch enemies by surprise. From what we saw in the television series, the only problem with this power came when Tygra had to swim. Water – whether it had been specially treated or not – rendered him visible to the naked eye. So in that sense, water was his weakness, a fact we will come back to later.

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Cat’s Lair, as designed by Tygra in the original series.

Due to his architectual expertise, Tygra was the Cat the rest of the team turned to when they needed something built. The designer of Cat’s Lair, the Feliner, and the Tower of Omens, his skill with artistic construction extended to more mundane items and sciences as well. When the Cats were shrunken to the size of insects, Tygra was the one who formulated the antidote. He was also the designer of the recording devices the group later employed to video themselves and their world for posterity. So while he wasn’t as mechanically inclined as Panthro, no one could say he wasn’t a good machinist, either.

Tygra also acted as the arbiter, recorder, and voice of final authority among the adult Thundercats. This was a position he achieved based on the virtues built into his character from the beginning. Clearly designed to resemble the tiger, where Panthro and Cheetara’s personalities were influenced by their physical attributes (strength and speed) his qualities had a different inspiration: the virtue of integrity.

Out of all the Cats, Tygra was probably the one with the strongest attachment to the Code of Thundera. While the others kept it in mind and allowed it to influence their daily lives and decisions, Tygra practically exuded a balanced spirit infused with Justice, Truth, Honor, and Loyalty. More than once, he cited or leaned on the Code to remind the rest of the group of their duties to the denizens of Third Earth or to emphasize the vital need for them to remember, honor, and adhere to their culture and beliefs.

Loyalty was probably his most obvious trait. Though he wasn’t afraid to call Lion-O or any of others to the carpet when they were drifting off course, he always did so in a way that was respectful and/or deferential. He was, after all, not rebelling against his Lord or his friends but trying to make sure they corrected their course before it was too late. Despite his vulnerability to mind-control, in the end Tygra’s devotion to the Code and his friends always won out over the evil influences.

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This brings us back to Tygra’s powers and limits. Besides his bolo whip, Tygra possessed a hereditary trait called “mind power.” This ability played a clear role in only one episode, where Lion-O had to undergo a series of challenges to earn the title of Lord of the Thundercats. However, small hints dropped throughout the series suggest that this psychic talent was one he used in minor ways on an almost daily basis.

From a noble House renowned for its talent with “mind power,” Tygra often had to rest and prepare for days before using his psychic abilities for anything major, such as the trial where he tested Lion-O by casting various mental illusions. Unlike Cheetara, Tygra was well trained in the use of his gift. He therefore could not receive psychic images, warnings, etc. the way that she could. This may have made him susceptible to subtle psychic manipulation since, on three separate occasions.

Each time Tygra was lured into betraying the Thundercats and/or himself. In two of these cases, though, he managed to overcome the perpetrator’s influence and return to normal. Due to his heritage and calm, controlled demeanor, it only makes sense that he was taught from a young age how to defend against telepathic intrusion at the same time he learned how to use his power to protect himself. This implies that he learned to specifically guard against or block explicit telepathic messages or attacks, making it harder for him to realize when he was being presented with a less forceful psychic lure.

I say this last because, in an entirely different event, he showed he could recognize and fight overt psychic attacks. When Mumm-Ra used special bracelets to put the Cats under his mental command, Tygra was the last Cat standing, having ordered Snarf away to find and warn Lion-O. Eventually overpowered, Tygra was able to resist the bracelet and Mumm-Ra’s influence for a short period of time, something neither the Thunderkittens nor Cheetara had been able to do when they were “captured.”

To this blogger, that implies that his psychic talent made spontaneous use or abuse of it difficult in the extreme. Where Cheetara’s sixth sense could not be trained or used regularly, Tygra’s ability could, allowing him to block explicit or open telepathic messages without really thinking about it. It is also possible that while he needed to rest up and conserve energy to use his “mind power” for big events, using it for minor tricks in combat took little to no effort. In the first episode of the series, Tygra appeared to vanish – without using his brand new bolo whip to do so. It appears, therefore, that he could and would occasionally use his power to make others believe he had disappeared without resorting to his main weapon during skirmishes.

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Clearly, although he is not my favorite Thundercat, I have an immense respect for Tygra. Or at least, I respect his original depiction in the 1980s cartoon. I am also happy that the comic book writers married him off to Cheetara in their book series. The 2011 reboot’s giving us a good picture of their relationship and his origin story were well done additions to his character as well. (Except for the implication that he was the last tiger on Third Earth. Come on, people!)

As for the rest of the reboot’s presentation of Tygra, there were some glaring problems – starting with the small fact that they made him seasick. The original series never made it perfectly obvious, but it didn’t take a genius to come up with the theory that water was Tygra’s Achilles’ heel because it made him visible. Reducing this vulnerability to a queasy stomach was one of the ways they chipped away at his character in the reboot.

Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. While his status as Lion-O’s adopted brother was good, along with his more confident air, the resulting rivalry between them – especially where it concerned Cheetara – was absolutely unnecessary. It only got worse from there, as the writers used Tygra to make silly jokes that did nothing to make the stories they told any better than they already were. In fact, the debased treatment of this great Cat was a demerit for the final half of the 2011 reboot, in this blogger’s opinion. They wasted both the story lines they had set in motion and, worse, the rich estate they had received from the original Thundercats series.

In an effort to make him more interesting, the writers tore his most powerful characteristic – integrity – from him. They didn’t respect his honesty or his loyalty, though they tried to show the latter on occasion. Most of this was due to the fact that the reboot never referenced the Code of Thundera at all. It reduced the fantastic, chivalrous society which held its nobles and itself to a high set of standards and made it like the writers’ conception of the modern world, only with fantasy trappings.

This isn’t to bad mouth the good things they did do in Thundercats 2011. While I have my issues with the series, it did have its moments. And since it gave Tygra some great/good scenes while adding to his story, the writers deserve credit for doing their best. I only wish they had done better – especially where Tygra was concerned.

Hopefully, a future series (and no, I am not counting “Soycats” as a new Thundercats series), will treat the franchise and Tygra better. Only time will tell. Until then, I highly recommend watching the original series. The first half of the 2011 reboot is also watchable – though if you do it with a fan of the original series, be ready to hear some complaining. While this blogger dislikes the latter series, it does have some good material in it. You just have to have the patience to find it.

Until next time, readers, I leave you with a hearty, “ThunderThunder

Thundercats – HO!

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Even MORE TV Themes to Remember!

Here are some more great television themes for you to enjoy, readers! It’s been a while since I saw several of them, but one thing is for sure: they are all worthy forms of entertainment for the discerning audience. That is a guarantee!

Have fun!

The Mithril Guardian

 

The Incredible Hulk

 

Wagon Train

 

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

 

Disney’s Zorro

 

Diagnosis Murder

 

Mysterious Ways

 

Bat Masterson

 

Have Gun, Will Travel

 

Green Acres

 

The Lone Ranger

 

Matlock

 

The Andy Griffith Show

 

Quincey, M.E.

Spotlight – Zoids: Chaotic Century – Moonbay

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Here we again return, readers, to the burning deserts of the planet Zi! Although there will be more Zoids posts coming out next year, this will be the final one until 2019. I wanted to cover the main cast for the show before the year was out, so it seemed best to shift my earlier plans around in order to give Moonbay her dues today. There will be more and different Spotlight! articles forthcoming in January, however, so don’t think I have forgotten any of my promises! 😉

That being explained, let’s stop beating around the bush and get to business. First encountered by Van and Fiona in the episode “Sleeper Trap,” Moonbay serves as the mother figure of their group during the first half of the season. In this way she is a little like Star Wars RebelsHera Syndulla. But where Hera is relaxed and laid back, Moonbay is feisty, fiery, and more than willing to tell off her hotheaded young charge, Van Flyheight.

Sharp-tongued and flirty, Moonbay has a good head for business and brooks no nonsense she herself does not commit. Though she can strike viewers as a bit greedy in her business dealings, the reality is that Moonbay is not a mercenary. Because she loves to travel and wants to preserve her independence, she needs to acquire a respectable influx of cash whenever she can get it. After all, it isn’t easy maintaining a zoid or buying supplies that will last over the course of long distance trips.

This is especially true after she hooks up with Van, Fiona, and Irvine, whom you can read about here, here, and here. Once she joins their party, Moonbay has three other mouths to feed and two extra zoids to maintain. Since the distances between villages and cities are rather long, that means more food has to be bought so the gang doesn’t run out of chow in the middle of nowhere.

The episode “Moonbay’s Waltz” demonstrates clearly that Moonbay is not the mercenary she first appears to be. In the course of this episode, Moonbay runs into an old sweetheart, a millionaire known only as McMan. McMan reveals he previously asked Moonbay to marry him, inviting her to a ball to introduce her to his family, but she never showed. Moonbay eventually admits that she ran away because she believed they were so different that a marriage between them would not work.

Thus one can see that the reason Moonbay is always looking for a big score isn’t because she loves money. She could have had more than enough if she had married McMan. The reason she is always bargaining for extra cash or, sometimes, swindling money from someone is so that she can support her footloose lifestyle. Being a carefree “transporter of the wasteland” is what she wants to do, and she will do whatever she must to ensure that she can keep going in this profession. Now that I think about it, she and Lando Calrissian would probably get along very well, not to mention have bucket loads of fun together.

In terms of fighting skill, Moonbay is actually pretty good at hand-to-hand combat. She does not do it often and, in a straight up physical competition, she would lose to a man in a few seconds. But when push comes to shove, she can and will fight. In the episode “Jump! Zeke!”, she took a Republican soldier by surprise, disarmed him, and held his arms pinned to his sides. Since he was about a head and a half to two heads taller than she was, not to mention broader, it is unlikely that Moonbay could have kept him prisoner for very long.

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But as she proved in the next scene, she only had to hold him for a few seconds. What she lacks in terms of physical fighting power Moonbay more than makes up for in her wits. Keeping the soldier’s arms pinned to his sides, she managed to broker a deal to help the Republican Army defeat an incursion attempt by the Imperial Army in the following installment, “The Battle of Red River.” The deal paid well at the same time it got her, Van, Fiona, and Irvine out of trouble for blowing up a Republican sleeper trap. Using her business sense, wits, and the element of surprise, Moonbay hauled the entire gang out of a nasty bit of legal trouble.

These particular skills extend to her piloting abilities as well. Moonbay’s primary zoid throughout the series is her fuschia Gustav which, though it has thick armor, is not much of a fighter. Moonbay was only able to install one set of twin cannons beneath an armor joint between two of the shell’s plates. Though Irvine once told her she should install more weapons on it, Moonbay pointed out that the zoid would be too heavy to travel if she did that. So she sacrificed greater firepower for mobility.

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As she proved, however, the Gustav can do plenty of damage when no one sees it coming. Using the zoid’s thick armor and hidden cannons, Moonbay could achieve a variety of attacks in combat. These ranged from bowling over two-legged opponents to firing two precise and incapacitating shots into an enemy zoid, disabling it at once. There were other occasions when Moonbay used the Gustav as a shield to protect herself and others from deadly explosions or shots as well.

Moonbay also became an excellent Pteras pilot. (More on that zoid next year – I promise!) She literally learned that skill on the fly, but proved to be a quick enough study that she and her passengers survived the experience. Due to her transporter skills, she also mastered the enormous Ultrasaurus later on in the series. A huge zoid that was basically a walking city/military base, once she was in the cockpit Moonbay grabbed the controls and didn’t let go. Despite constant reminders, she loudly and publicly proclaimed the zoid was “her” Ultrasaurus. Since she was the one piloting it ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, no one could really argue with her on that one.

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Moonbay in her “Legendary Fireball” attire.

Though it was only revealed in the standalone episode “Phantom,” Moonbay also had a “need for speed.” She was once a champion racer known as the Legendary Fireball. Eventually, she quit the racing circuit for some unknown reason, only to return to the track briefly in “Phantom.” Due to a mistake during the race she lost the competition and, as far as I know, that was the last time she raced.

When it comes to relationships, in the first half of Chaotic Century Moonbay is definitely the mother figure for the younger members of the gang. This is most apparent in her relationship with Van; as noted previously, she will happily tell him off when he misbehaves or does something foolish. Occasionally she adds force to her lessons, punching, elbowing, or shoving Van around to get her point across. The reason for this is because she is trying to drive home the point that he has to “look after [him]self,” as there will come a time when no one else can or will take care of him.

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Although their relationship is fraught with these kinds of confrontations early on, the fact is that the two do care about each other a great deal. Moonbay is not one to wear her heart on her sleeve, but she does admit that Van is “a pretty good kid,” and that she admires his determination to succeed no matter what. Even when he is older and more able to manage his own affairs, Moonbay still appears to consider him “her boy.”

This may have been shown best when she interposed her Gustav between Van’s downed Blade Liger and Raven’s resurrected Geno Saurer. Despite the fact that this resulted in a grave wound for her zoid, Moonbay didn’t regret the sacrifice when Van apologized in the next episode. While her reassurances didn’t alleviate his guilt, the fact that Moonbay blew off the severe damage showed she considered it a small price to pay for protecting him.

Her relationship with Fiona was less motherly and more sisterly. During the first half of the series the younger girl’s naïveté meant that she had to be watched over and protected more than a normal girl her age. When not “flying RIO” with Van in combat she remained with Moonbay, who took her under her wing. Slowly, through her time spent with the older girl, Fiona became assertive, gaining a decisiveness she had not demonstrated beforehand. Although she never became as feisty or fierce as Moonbay, the older woman did help instill in Fiona a strength of will that aided her later in life.

Forgotten Toon Girls: F is for Fiona

Moonbay also helped the girl relearn her way around zoids. As the go-to mechanic in the gang, both Van and Irvine relied on Moonbay to keep their zoids healthy. This was due not only to the fact that she was a good engineer, but because she knew a technique that would help zoids to “self-recover” faster than normal. Fiona often helped her on these occasions, giving her the opportunity to become Van’s personal mechanic later on. This skill also allowed her to aid scientists in upgrading his Blade Liger when she was older, which impressed Moonbay a great deal.

Another area in which the two were connected was in the way they worried over their men. As Fiona grew, she worried about Van more frequently because he began facing stronger and more deadly opponents. Knowing worry was useless, despite the fact that she often engaged in it herself, Moonbay did her best to support Fiona and help her relax before every big battle. The two were really close, shown by the fact that the only one Moonbay worried about more than Van was Fiona. If the younger girl was kidnapped or put in danger, Moonbay was instantly on the alert. Though she wasn’t much of a physical fighter, she would do her best to go after and rescue Fiona, no matter the danger to herself.

Finally, with regard to Irvine, Moonbay sincerely respected and liked the mercenary. Throughout the series they flirted with and teased each other; their behavior was so natural that sometimes a viewer could almost swear they were married. Being somewhat older than Irvine, she had more experience in certain matters than he did – namely the management of funds and the foresight necessary to finance a group that included herself, two growing kids, and one eighteen year old man who was used to living and fighting on his own. Where Irvine acted as the voice of combat experience during the first half of the series, Moonbay maintained the group’s social order and discipline. She made sure everyone ate on time, slept on time, and kept a tight rein on the way money was spent.

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This meant that the two rarely argued or interfered with the other’s role in managing the kids, especially Van. When Irvine told Van off for wallowing in self-pity or blaming everyone except himself for a mistake, Moonbay held her peace and let him do it, recognizing he was more effective in this area than she was. But when it came time to let the boy alone to think things through or to tell him the hard truth about how the world worked, then the mercenary would let Moonbay do the talking since she was the one who had more experience in such matters than he did.

None of this is to say that their relationship was without its rough patches. Irvine had to repeatedly tell Moonbay to jettison her cargo of Imperial ammunition in “Sleeper Trap,” since her pride in never failing to deliver goods to an employer was putting them all at risk. In turn, she had to verbally slap him upside the head after his Command Wolf was wrecked by Raven later on in the series.

These instances of violent disagreement were rare and brief. Moonbay and Irvine made a good pair, shown by the fact that together they “raised” Van and Fiona right. To be perfectly honest, I’ve always suspected that they married after the series ended; they clearly cared about one another a great deal. During battles where Irvine was thrown around or injured, Moonbay often shouted his name, the way that Fiona would cry out if Van was injured. And while the mercenary often stated that Moonbay could “take care of herself” and was “pretty good in dangerous situations,” he didn’t appreciate it when she was threatened.

A future romantic relationship between the two is conjecture on my part, though, since the series leaves their relationship openended from start to finish. But while the writers may not have intended for them to be more than friends, I prefer to think Moonbay and Irvine became a couple at some point. She certainly couldn’t get away with saying she and he were “too different” to make a good match – not after everything they had been through together!

The more I write about these characters, the less I am able to think of actors, actresses, and directors who could ably bring them to the silver screen. It’s more than likely that an attempt to put them in a live action film would fail completely. They’re perfect the way they are.

If a competent, respectful group of creators could be found to make a solid, beautiful film (series) out of the show, then I might be more hopeful. But as things stand I am much happier to have the anime than a film (series).

Which reminds me: if you want to see this great show yourselves, readers, it is available in its entirety on Amazon.com. For those of you who want to test the show out before laying down hard-earned cash for it, check out the English dub of Zoids: Chaotic Century here at www.watchcartoononline.com. Don’t quit if you find the first two episodes a bit draggy and boring; wait until you reach “Sleeper Trap,” “Jump! Zeke!,” and “The Battle of Red River” before you make a decision. I doubt you’ll be disappointed. 😉

‘Til next time, readers:

“See you on the battlefield!”

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Spotlight: Thundercats – Cheetara

Earlier this year, I posted this Spotlight! article about a character from one of my favorite TV shows. The series in question was Thundercats, and the protagonist we were discussing was Panthro, who was never this blogger’s favorite character. He was much more impressive than I realized at the time, but he’s never been my preferred hero in that universe.

Today’s topic, however, was and remains my favorite character in the original series. This would be Cheetara, the only adult female Thundercat present for the first season of the show. Another adult female Cat, Pumyra, was added later on, but we will talk about her another time.

At first, I admired Cheetara mostly for her ability to run fast. She once hit 120 mph on a morning jog and, I believe, could run much faster in combat. Based on the cheetah, some time ago yours truly learned that this heroine’s personality was also centered on speed. Unlike Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver and other characters who can run at fantastic velocities, though, Cheetara was a composed, calm humanoid cat woman. She lacked the fiery temper and/or juvenile attitude modern audiences often associate with people who run fast.

She had a sense of humor, though. It showed either in dry, witty comments or a smiling, “Right in front of you, [boys]!”, but this did not change the fact that she was the most ‘adult’ member of the Thundercats. The villains had to work really hard to rile her up, as did her teammates. Cheetara didn’t like being insulted any more than anyone else, but when she knew that someone was trying to bait her with derogatory comments, she shrugged the bad behavior or nasty remarks off. The male Thundercats tended to take such things more seriously, something that occasionally puzzled their female friend. She would become righteously angry if taunted by an enemy or when she saw an injustice committed, but otherwise she was very hard to ruffle.

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This naturally meant that Cheetara rarely slipped into hysterics or dramatics. So if she grunted or stumbled with pain or surprise, the rest of the adult Cats converged on her faster than ants on a picnic. Cheetara didn’t have time or patience for theatrics, so any sign of distress from her automatically signaled an imminent problem of some kind. Thus she was the team’s barometer for trouble; if she reacted badly to something – even if it was something they couldn’t see – then the male Thundercats instinctively began looking for whatever problem was headed their way.

In addition to her amazing speed, Cheetara’s main weapon in battle was her retractable golden bo staff. Stored in a wrist guard on her left arm, the staff could be pulled free at any time and extend it to its full length easily. Combined with her incredible momentum, the staff enabled her to cause serious havoc in enemy ranks. Like the other Thundercats’ weapons, Cheetara’s staff was both magical and technological, meaning she could pull off some very neat tricks with it. She could lengthen the staff into a pole useful for vaulting over obstacles or springing up to high places. Or she could thrust the weapon to the earth, causing it to fire off several dozen “copies” of the staff that would fly out to strike and batter her opponents. It really was a nifty weapon, readers. 😉

Another power she had that was equally interesting, though sometimes it could be deadly. This power was Cheetara’s “sixth sense,” a limited form of telepathy that occasionally allowed her to feel and “see” when another Thundercat was in trouble. It was never shown enough to satisfy this viewer, but the writers made good use of in nonetheless.

Cheetara’s limited telepathy wasn’t something she could truly control or use in spectacular fashion for most of the show’s run. Generally, her latent psychic power flared up without her conscious will or effort. The one time Cheetara was able to use it as a genuine superpower came when the Lunataks – bizarre, evil creatures native to Third Earth – were using a device to scramble her psychic power in order to cover up one of their evil schemes. Overcoming their manipulation, Cheetara was able to free the captured Thundercats with a burst of telepathic power straight from her heart, mind, and body. It was the most stunning display of psychic strength she ever demonstrated.

With all this going for her, readers, it’s not hard to see why this blogger considered Cheetara her favorite character. Over time, her speed became less impressive than her personality, and to this day she has remained my preferred Thundercat. Given my unvarnished opinion of the 2011 remake for this series, though, it seems natural to assume that I didn’t like her appearance in the reboot. In actuality, with regard to Cheetara, the 2011 series gave me very little to complain about. In terms of personality, the new version was pretty close to the original conception of the character. What changes were made to her behavior were so minor that they’re not even worth consideration.

Nevertheless, I did have a few gripes with the 2011 presentation of the character, primarily with her outfit. In the original series, Cheetara’s suit covered everything but her right shoulder and arm. Now, that’s not exactly a smart fashion choice for a woman who intends to enter combat on a semi-regular basis, but the fact is that her original suit protected most of her body. Thundercats apparently needed little to no protective outerwear on their homeworld, Thundera, so it makes sense that Cheetara and the others would retain some measure of enhanced durability on Third Earth. This is the only reason (aside from the animators’/writers’ taste in fashion) that I can supply for Cheetara’s original, one-sleeved costume.

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Her new suit in the 2011 reboot, however, has no such excuse. This costume was a ratty brown two piece with an exposed midriff and no boots. It was obviously meant to make the 2011 Cheetara look “cool” and “edgy,” a truly stupid move on the part of the new show’s writers. Even at her highest speed, wearing a get-up like that put her vital areas in serious jeopardy during a fight. More to the point, the original Cheetara would not have been caught dead in such a tattered uniform. She was never an “edgy” character in the original series and she didn’t need to be in the new one!

My other gripe was that the new writers for the show disposed of Cheetara’s latent “sixth sense.” That power had led to several interesting, thought-provoking episodes in the first Thundercats series, and it could have spiraled off in dozens of amazing directions during the new show. Some might argue that the affinity the new Cheetara showed for using Jaga’s magic was an homage to her dormant telepathy, but her “magic” powers were only demonstrated once in the reboot. To my mind, that’s hardly compensation for the loss of such an interesting trait, readers.

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Despite these complaints, the 2011 series did improve on Cheetara’s portrayal in one regard. In the original series it was hinted that she and Tygra, a male Thundercat based on the tiger whom we will discuss later, were a couple. Other episodes, however, blurred the line and implied there was a mutual romantic interest between her and Lion-O, the ruler of the Thundercats. This could get confusing from time to time, especially since the series’ creators and subsequent merchandise made it plain Tygra and Cheetara were an item. Although I genuinely despise the books, the one good thing that the comics based on the series did was to show the two had married and had a couple of Kittens. It’s about the only thing I give the comics’ creators credit for doing.

Though the reboot writers led Lion-O to believe that Cheetara was romantically interested in him, they later demonstrated that she had an unequivocal romantic devotion to Tygra. Aside from the attempted love triangle, this was a really good move on their part. While the 2011 series didn’t treat the two as well as it should have, it at least made their mutual attraction clear, allowing them to show their love for one another and to act on it. For that, the new show deserves some points.

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Well, readers, this has been fun. It’s nice to get back into the rhythm of these Spotlight! posts. I’ve been doing so many Zoids ones that, added to my month-long hiatus, I almost forgot how to set the stage for these articles! Stay tuned for a new, non-Zoids focused post soon. It should be a rolling-ly good one.

Yes, that was a veiled hint about the following Spotlight! topic. 😉 And it is the only one you are going to get for now, since I have to start planning that post. ‘Til then –

“Thundercats – HO!”

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Book Review: The Vulcan Academy Murders by Jean Lorrah

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Guess who’s back…. (Cue the eerie music.)

Yep, your humble blogging host is once again at work providing you with entertainment, readers! August was a busy month, so forgive me if I seem a little out of practice here. It should clear up once I get rolling.…. 🙂

All right, today’s focus is The Vulcan Academy Murders, by Jean Lorrah. Before I describe this story, I have to tell you that one of the things readers of Star Trek fiction should keep in mind is that most of it is non-canon. Part of this is due to the fact that those who write novels for ST can never seem to get on board with each other to figure out where they can slip their stories into the official timeline. Some write stories set in the exact same time periods; others create stories set in wildly different decades or eras. It can be a little confusing to the uninitiated at first, and it can be irritating to the more experienced readers as time goes on. (I speak from experience. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing in these fictional quarters!)

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The other reason is that, unlike Star Wars, Star Trek’s timeline is rather skeletal. Chronologically, you have Star Trek: Enterprise, followed by the original series, followed by the original films I-VI, followed by The Next Generation. Then they’re all capped off with Star Trek: Voyager – or they were, last I checked. So while there’s a lot of room for stuff to happen in between these different stories, since no one has bothered to define the cut off limits or to explain how many years have elapsed, authors who are Star Trek fans just shoot darts at the timeline trying to hit it. L. A. Graf generally sticks the landing, as mentioned in this review here, but others tend to throw wide of the mark.

Jean Lorrah is one of these authors. While she is clearly a passionate Trek fan who greatly admires the Vulcans, her grasp of the timeline appears to be a bit… vague. At the very least, she didn’t give readers much of a hint as to when her story was set; all I can say for sure is that it takes place before we see Doctor M’Benga aboard the Enterprise. Her writing style also left something to be desired. Don’t get me wrong – she doesn’t write badly. But she could definitely have been clearer in her descriptions.

Okay, now we can discuss the story. The Vulcan Academy Murders starts out with the Enterprise battling a Klingon warship, which does not survive the fight. But before it is destroyed, it does inflict some serious damage on Kirk’s vessel, specifically the Auxiliary Control for the photon torpedoes. The two officers on duty there – Pavel Chekov and Carl Remington – manage to fire the kill shots before succumbing to a gas leak caused by a lucky hit from the Klingons.

Chekov is fortunate in that he comes through the battle ill but intact. Remington, on the other hand, is in serious trouble. Though McCoy manages to save his life, the boy’s voluntary nervous system is completely paralyzed. He can’t move – not even to open his eyes. McCoy fears that, even if Remington pulls through this initial battle, he may remain paralyzed and in bed for the rest of his life.

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Spock’s mother, Amanda

With no other way to confirm his mental health, Spock performs a mindmeld to see if Remington is still self-aware. Confirming that the boy is indeed conscious and able to reason, he explains that there might be a viable treatment which will save Remington’s life and sanity. Spock’s own mother is undergoing the same experimental cure on Vulcan; as it turns out, she was suffering from a degenerative disease that occurs in humans when they have lived in alien environments for long periods of time.

Up until now, there has been no means of curing the disease. But a human doctor on Vulcan who had this illness developed a treatment for himself that saved his life. It’s working on Amanda now, and it should be able to cure Remington, too. Since Enterprise is in need of repair, Spock invites Kirk and McCoy to come to Vulcan with him and Remington for “shore leave.”

Once there, they learn that a Vulcan woman is undergoing the same treatment after an regrettable accident with some machinery. Leaving all three patients in their force-field encapsulated regenerative tanks, Spock, Kirk, McCoy, Sarek, and the two doctors in charge of the project go out to dinner. One of these doctors is the human who invented the cure, Dr. Daniel Corrigan. The other is his Vulcan partner and friend, Sorel.

Dinner is a fine affair, but just as they’re about to pay the bill and head home, Sorel stiffens and clutches his chest. He can sense that his wife, T’Zan, is in danger of death. Rushing back to the Vulcan Academy, despite their best efforts the guys are not able to save Sorel’s wife. She dies in the medical room.

Though Corrigan immediately blames himself for this, Kirk openly suspects foul play. Over the next few days, he begins investigating the matter, believing that someone wants to sabotage the cure. When Remington dies as well and a fire is set in the Academy, Kirk’s suspicion that a murderer is loose becomes the only logical explaination for the cascading disasters….

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…And that’s all the spoilers you’re going to get, folks! 😉 My lips are now sealed – though I will add that, when researching this book to see if it was something I would enjoy, one of the reviews I read was written by a woman who said she had figured out the villain by page fifty. This blogger was hoping to beat that record when she started reading, and she did. I fingered the killer on page 49 and, despite a period of doubt, was proved right by the end. Haha! 😉

While I liked The Vulcan Academy Murders, as I said above, I did have a few problems with it. The writing style isn’t my favorite, and though it became tolerable after awhile, it still grated on my nerves from time to time. I must say that the method by which the author described Vulcan telepathy and how they form romantic, psychic connections was done well. It was entirely plausible and believable.

But I really didn’t like the way she handled Kirk. In some scenes he was fine, but in others Lorrah seemed to be actively dumbing him down. That was annoying; I like Kirk. He’s the best of Star Trek’s captains, and anyone who disrespects him in a major way (such as by poor writing) gets on my bad side. So long as he is portrayed well by an actor or a writer, I’m happy. But if the writers make him less than he is, as Lorrah did on a couple of occasions here, that leads me to give the book an automatic demerit.

Despite these objections, The Vulcan Academy Murders is a good story. If ST fiction isn’t your thing, or if my minor problems with this tale have convinced you that you would not enjoy the story, then you will probably want to avoid the book. But if you like Star Trek, a good mystery, and want to see Kirk look somewhat stupid, then this book might appeal to you.

Until next time, readers: “Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning!”

Spotlight – Zoids: Chaotic Century – Irvine

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Here we are in the desert sands of Zi once more, readers! This will be the last Zoids post I do for a while; I plan on writing at least a couple more before the year is out, since I want to make good on my promise from this review of Chaotic Century. The main thing is that the ball is rolling on this project, and that means I should be able to keep it moving forward.

So without further ado, let’s turn to today’s Spotlight! Here we focus on the mercenary Irvine, whom we first meet when Van and Fiona become lost in a sandstorm while searching for supplies. Seconds after coming face-to-face with the Irvine’s Command Wolf, Fiona and Van take an automatic step back out of surprise.

For Fiona, this is a bad move, since she ends up in a quicksand whirlpool and is nearly sucked under the dunes. Without a moment’s hesitation, Irvine pops the canopy on his Wolf and fires out a cable which he holds anchored, allowing Fiona to climb to safety. He then makes dinner for the two as night falls, listening to Van’s open, friendly prattle but saying little about himself in return.

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Later, we find that Irvine wants to acquire an organoid so he can increase his fighting ability and strength. Setting his sights on Zeke, his first attempt at capturing Van’s friend ends in a two-on-one draw; this forces Irvine to retreat to fight another day. In the next two episodes he reappears, first as an unlikely (and disagreeable) ally in “The Protectors,” then again as a potential antagonist who becomes a fellow fighter in “Sleeper Trap.” He finally joins Van, Fiona, and Moonbay as a permanent member of the cast in the eighth episode.

While it appears that it is circumstances alone force Irvine into the position of collaborator for Van, these are not the only reason why he begins traveling with the boy. Despite his reluctance to admit it, he likes the kid. This is made clearest by his early kindess to Van and Fiona. It is totally unnecessary, after all; Irvine didn’t need to help them when he ran into them in the sandstorm. But he chose to do so, showing that he is not a villain at heart.

In terms of personality, Irvine begins the series as the voice of experience and temperance in battle. A sniper and an expert in all forms of stealth, he prefers saving his energy and using sleight-of-hand maneuvers to defeat the many enemies who go after him and his friends. Since he has hired himself out as an expendable target for some time, Irvine is well aware of what it takes to survive, and he does his best to drive this point home to Van and the others during the early installments of the series. His attitude during this time is often reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s “spaghetti Western” characters; Irvine is just too cool to blow his lid or charge off half-cocked.

But that’s in the first part of the series. From about the middle of season one onward, Irvine starts to show some of the traits viewers expect out of Star Wars’ Han Solo. In the second season these qualities become more pronounced, all but smothering his resemblance to Clint Eastwood. During the second season Irvine will rush into battle recklessly or cockily, something he often chided Van for at the beginning of the show.

This change in attitude could be due to the fact that Van quickly surpasses Irvine in skill, but it is hard to say for sure. It is possible that, once the boy no longer needs his enthusiasm checked, Irvine feels better about giving his own “wild side” more rein. This tends to cost him, as seen when Irvine banks on being faster than Raven’s new zoid which is large, heavy, and bulky. As he learns too late, this does not limit Raven’s speed at all. During the resulting fight, Irvine is injured badly while his Command Wolf is physically killed.

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If he had held back this defeat might have been prevented, though it is likely that the Wolf would have been seized and destroyed regardless. Either way, Irvine’s foolhardy rush at Raven shows that he does have a tendency to leap before he looks, just as Han does. It seems he kept this facet of his personality under better control when he was responsible for protecting and giving preliminary combat training to Van. Upon the other’s graduation to full-fledged pilot, however, he seems to have felt he could relax his own guard and show off a bit more than was necessary – or safe – for him.

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This leads us, neatly enough, into a discussion of his piloting skills. Clearly, when they first meet, Irvine is Van’s superior in combat, meaning he can defeat the boy easily. As time passes and the boy’s skill grows, though, he begins to outshine Irvine during the battles where they fight together against a common foe. While the mercenary’s piloting abilities continue to develop as the series progresses, they never again exceed his friend’s level of prowess. A born sharpshooter, Irvine’s talents are accented and sharpened when he becomes the pilot and owner of the Empire’s prototype Lightning Saix. Combining his accuracy with the zoid’s speed gives him a distinct advantage in combat that he does not hesitate to use.

In terms of his relationships within the series, Irvine quickly becomes attached to Van in an older brotherly fashion. Though he states at first that he is only traveling with the boy and his friends in order to steal Zeke, this is a thinly veiled excuse he uses to keep the others from pestering him. The simple fact is that Van’s innate goodness reawakens Irvine’s own desire to be the best person he can become. Eventually, Irvine drops all pretense of staying on just to find an opportunity to take Zeke. He stays because he knows that Van “is a pretty good kid” who is going to, somehow, someway, make a difference in the world. And that’s an adventure the older man doesn’t want to miss out on.

Now, you may remember that in my post about Fiona that there was some mention of nostalgia being a factor in Irvine’s relationship with her. This is because, as revealed in the episode “Run, Wolf!” that he is not an only child. He had a younger sister named Helena, but she died of a fever when they were both young. “Run, Wolf!” shows that Irvine never really got over this loss. It also hints that losing his sister may have been one of the driving factors in his decision to become a zoid pilot: he wanted to become stronger in order to prevent as many such losses in the future as it is humanly possible to do.

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This leads me to the conclusion that Irvine’s near-instant attachment to Fiona comes from the fact that she reminds him, to some degree, of his baby sister. His protective, caring, and gentle attitude toward her, along with his unwillingness to hurt her or see her be hurt (even when he is playing the bad guy) implies this is true. Their relationship does not change when Fiona becomes an adult. Although he may raise his voice when speaking to her, Irvine never says or does anything which could be seen as the slightest bit harmful to Fiona.

Another aspect of their relationship is shown here as well; when Fiona reaches adulthood in the second half of Century, she demonstrates that she still possesses a certain power over the mercenary. This is made blatantly clear in “The Black Lightning,” when Fiona begs Irvine to let another character attempt to save his Command Wolf. Though he clenches his fist in frustration, pain, and anger, Irvine does not – he will not – allow himselt threaten or hurt Fiona. She still knows exactly which buttons to push to make him listen to reason and to her, but she does not over-rely on this ability. Neither, it should be noted, does she abuse her power over him, something she could definitely accomplish if she chose to try it.

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Finally, we come to Irvine’s relationship with Moonbay. Having met her prior to the beginning of Chaotic Century, it is hinted that the two had a fairly memorable encounter. What it was is anyone’s guess, though, since the two only make brief allusions to this meeting in “Sleeper Trap.” After this show, it is never mentioned again. But while the two do a regular amount of good-natured, half-serious flirting during the series, I think it unlikely their first meeting was of a romantic nature.

This goes for their relationship overall; the writers for the show leave the question of mutual attraction between Irvine and Moonbay openended from beginning to end. Whether they were, are, or will become a couple is a question that is never answered. It is up to the individual viewer to decide, at the end of the series, whether they go their separate ways or tie the knot and stay together for the rest of their lives. (Because I am a romantic sap, I subscribe to the latter theory – although I could imagine them not marrying. That image is disappointing, though, so I don’t dwell on it much.)

While the two butt heads on occasion, for the most part they each act as Van and Fiona’s surrogate parents for the first half of the series. They also show a good bit of concern for each other and are able to talk candidly about their fears for/pride in the two kids they take on as pupils or surrogate children. Throughout the show they remain completely honest and upfront with one another – even when saying something the other does not want to hear.

No description of Irvine’s character would be comprehensive if it did not mention how he felt about zoids. Up until the episode “Deploy the ZG!”, Irvine seems to consider most zoids as nothing more than tools or weapons of war. The possible exception during this period might be his Command Wolf; as I said before (somewhere), the relationship between a pilot and his zoid is reminiscent of the bond between a cowboy and his horse. Where everyone else sees just another mechanical animal/stallion, the pilot/cowboy sees his best friend.

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This means that Irvine’s attitude toward zoids in general and his Command Wolf in particular undergoes a drastic change in “Deploy the ZG!”. Having snuck into the Republican base at Mount Osa in order to steal some equipment to do battle with Raven, Irvine discovers the base’s last, best weapon against the Imperial Army. This is a Gojulas – the “ZG” from the title – which the soldiers within Mt. Osa managed to cobble together in a last ditch effort to prevent the Imperials from taking over their capital city.

Now, the Republic did have other Gojulases in their arsenal. But since these zoids are fearsome, hard-to-overcome tanks, it appears that most were kept in the Republic’s capital as the ultimate, final means of defense for the Republic’s citizens. There were very few Gojulases on the front lines of the war at the beginning of the series.

So Irvine, who had never seen a Gojulas up close and personal, was awestruck when he stumbled on the one stored in the Mt. Osa base. That is where Colonel Kruger (more about him another day – I promise!) found Irvine and scolded him for losing his last battle with Raven. Immediately, the younger mercenary rounded on the man, but Kruger managed to calm him down by comparing his current attitude with the look of awe and excitement he had shown when he “first laid eyes on the Gojulas.” Kruger went on to give a memorable speech about zoids, which I have paraphrased and reused in my previous posts on this series because it explains the wonder of these mechanical animals so well.

Although his meeting with Kruger was brief, Irvine clearly took the old man’s words to heart, and revered him as a valuable teacher and fighter in later episodes. From “Deploy the ZG!” onward, the mercenary never again considers zoids to be mere machines. Instead he learns to see them the way that Van does. And after this episode, Irvine became as protective of his Command Wolf and his Lightning Saix as Han was of the Millennium Falcon.

If you get the chance, check out Irvine and the rest of the gang by either picking up the series on DVD through Amazon, or swing by www.watchcartoonsonline.com to learn all about zoids yourselves, because now I must keep my promise and “see you on the battlefield” another day.

Until then, “Catch ya later!” 😉

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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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