Tag Archives: why?

Book Review: Cobra War, Book 1: Cobra Alliance by Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn is the author of many books, including Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, Star Wars: Dark Force Rising, and Star Wars: The Last Command. He is the author whom Star Wars expanded universe readers have to thank for Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn, not to mention Mara’s marriage to Luke Skywalker. He wrote Star Wars: Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future specifically to “get them together.”

This is how I became acquainted with Mr. Zahn’s writing, reading his Star Wars fiction. But I have read some of his other work. And today’s post focuses on a book from one of his own series, the Cobra serials, set on worlds humans have colonized.

Cobras are humans who have been mechanically modified to be living weapons. Becoming a Cobra is completely voluntary; no one is forced to become one. When one chooses to become a Cobra, they undergo a procedure which implants various guns and other technology in the men’s bodies. Thus they are able to infiltrate enemy lines and orchestrate guerilla attacks, then disappear again when they have wreaked some damaging sabotage or other operations. A Cobra has the perfect cover; how are you supposed to tell him apart from a normal human man? Their implants are so well placed they do not obviously stick out.

Most Cobras are male. But there is one exception. Jasmine ‘Jin’ Moreau Broom is a Cobra. She has been for several years. What is more, she is married to another Cobra and is the mother of three (now grown) children: Merrik, Lorne, and Jody. Merrick and Lorne have followed both their mother and father into the Cobra service; Jody is working on a science project to help colonize the one Cobra world that seemingly cannot be conquered by regular terraforming means. And Jody is in a real hurry to do this.

Why?

Well, you see, readers, the Cobras have a problem. “Making” Cobras and training them to do their jobs is expensive. And Cobras need something to fight. They react rather forcefully when attacked, even by low level criminals. Their implants really do not distinguish well between a punk with a knife and a Troft soldier. (Trofts are the sentient, bird-like aliens in this series. They have something of a peace treaty between themselves and the Cobra worlds, not to mention Earth and its other colonies. But there are some Trofts who would like to resume hostilities with the humans – NOW.)

Naturally, with most of the Cobra worlds tamed, there are politicians who want to stop paying for them. They want to either cut the funding for the Cobra programs or stop ‘production’ of Cobras altogether. Jin, her husband Paul, their children, and the rest of her family are all rather put out with this push to decommission the Cobra program. After all, the best defense is a good offense, something they are well aware of.

Then this problem is compounded by a second dilemma. Years ago, when Jin was a newbie Cobra, she went on a mission to another human-colonized planet – but not a member of the Cobra worlds – called Quasama. The mission was a failure. Jin’s whole team died when their craft crashed and burned; she alone survived. The locals were a bit of a pain and it was basically luck that got Jin offworld. Now, a mysterious message has arrived, asking her to return to Quasama.

But doing so is an act of treason. After her mission, all contact with Quasama was forbidden. Jin, however, has to know what is going on. With only Merrick to accompany her, Jin sneaks back to Quasama –

And finds that war has come to that planet – from the Trofts! And the aliens’ next targets are the Cobra worlds!

Cobra Alliance is a GREAT book. Like all of the work I have seen Zahn do, he does not skimp on detail. He is the one sci-fi writer I have read who is extremely exact in his science. I do not know how feasible any of the technology in his stories is, but he describes it very well. I guess it comes from his majoring in the technological sciences. Research probably helps him, too.

Another plus for this book is that Jin is an amazing, wonderful character. I cannot help but compare her to Princess Leia Organa Solo. She reminds me very strongly of our favorite Princess – with lots of guns and tricks hidden in her body instead of Force-sensitivity and a lightsaber! Jin is a marvelous character. I think she is one of Zahn’s best characters ever!

            Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

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Poker – Gambit Style

Gambit

Hello, Marvel Writers!

Bonjour.  C’est la vie, as the French say.  And the Cajuns of Louisiana – which brings us to the next Marvel character under discussion here: Remy LeBeau, a.k.a. Gambit.

The first introduction I had to Gambit was in the 90’s television series.  His back story there is one I have often found to be a likeable twist of storytelling: a thief (or other sundry character) joining a team of good guys to be reformed into a real hero.  It was great to see Rogue and Gambit fight – as much with each other as with the bad guys!  Because of her powers, Rogue wouldn’t let Gambit get close to her, but it was clear that he really did love her, and vice versa.

Now that you see how the TV series shaped my opinion of the character, imagine my consternation when I began reading about his comic book history.

Much of it makes very little sense to me, I admit: the few X-Men comics I have are fragments of story arcs, and the ones that include Gambit have him pretty close to what I saw in the TV series.  So the winding maze of his life events in the comics are lost on me faster than a cat would get lost in a pile of yarn.  The two things that did jump out at me were: a) his assistance in the slaughter of the Morlocks (aside from one small girl he purposely rescued), and b) his expulsion from the X-Men.

To both, all I can say is, “What?  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?”

Gambit has always had a soft spot for children (as shown in how he treated Jubilee in the TV series) which has been more likeable than his tendency to flirt with every lady he meets.  If there is a list out there of the top ten flirts in Marvel Comics, I hereby nominate Gambit for first place!

To get back to the point, I can easily see Gambit working to protect a Morlock child from death; but aiding and abetting the killing of countless other Morlocks, several of whom were also undoubtedly children?  That’s not the Gambit I came to know.  He wouldn’t have helped; he’d have turned on his employer (Mister Sinister, I believe it was, in these comics) first, and died before he got too far into the tunnels rather than commit murder.

As for his expulsion from the X-Men, it’s uncharacteristic of the X-Men on its face.  The X-Men have accepted Wolverine as a teammate, Archangel, Emma Frost, and even Mystique at one point.  Wolvie’s record is far from clean; Archangel has been used by several bad guys to kill numerous innocents, and more perhaps when he’s ‘lost’ himself in misery or pain; Emma Frost is constantly shifting between good and bad, and DO NOT get me started on Mystique.  So after accepting these and other less-than-good citizens of the Marvel universe into the fold, suddenly the X-Men decide that Gambit’s not good enough for the team, after all he’s done for it?  That’s a bit out of character, isn’t it?

And sending him back to work for Sinister is just plain wrong.  Once bitten, twice shy.  Sinister is trouble, and being a thief for as long as he was, Gambit would know better than to risk his neck by running with a man who wouldn’t think twice about slitting his throat.

To top it off, the whole fiasco has thrown a giant monkey wrench in the romance that he and Rogue had going.  Talk about a sad thing.  After Jean and Scott, Rogue and Gambit were two of the X-Men who deserved to be together romantically.  Getting them married would also have been a big plus, and a way overdue event for the team.

Why do this to Gambit at all?  Was it to make him a more complex, or appealing, character?  He was already both with his easy manner, which hid a genuine distaste for his past actions and a desire to leave them behind.  Was it to make him a really dark, really noir protagonist?

Why?  All it’s done is to ruin him as a hero.  Gambit was an intriguing member of the team for his remarkable desire to be good cloaked in nonchalance.  Now he morally resembles the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

With all due respect, fellow writers, he really didn’t need a slime bath.  He was just fine the way he was, and readers are going to miss the old Gambit, as they are going to miss other wrecked characters, several of whom I have listed in other letters.

So au revoir, fellow writers!  The aces are in your hands. All we True Believers have got at the moment are a set of black eights.

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Troubled True Believer)

To All Current Marvel Comics Writers – Why?

Hello, Marvel Writers!

Excelsior!  Stan Lee thrilled a lot of people with his home state’s motto, usually using it as a way of signing off.  It means “Ever Higher!” and his characters have always reached higher, even when he stopped writing their adventures.

A recent comer to the comic book forum, I have found several storylines that I enjoy, many of them the earliest stories.  The more recent stories of the past twenty plus years – well, that’s what I’m writing about right now.

You see, I don’t enjoy several of them, and I don’t understand why some of them turned out the way they did.  For starters, let’s look at Avengers: Disassembled.  For the first time in Marvel history, the Avengers all quit at once.  Poof.  Even Captain America, the hardiest member of the team, the one who never gives up, hangs up his costume and leaves.

Why?

Wouldn’t it have been better to have the team bat the notion of disbanding around for a few issues instead?  They would definitely have fought over the notion, having come to such crises points several times before and rebounded; it certainly seems that Cap, the most dedicated Avenger, was none too pleased with throwing in the towel after the Scarlet Witch tore everything up in the House of M stories (I don’t quite understand why that happened, either).  They could have eventually come to a consensus where they said, “Okay, we’re disbanding.  End of story.” 

But, horror of horrors, aliens land and attack (or some other great crisis occurs) the exact day that they are supposed to dissolve their fighting partnership, and they have to go and stop them (or it).  This would definitely restore the get up and go of several of the heroes, though others would and could still quit.  Wouldn’t that have been better than the whole team vanishing into the ether of regular life, even if it was only temporary? (When I say temporary, I mean for whatever length of time in the comics that the team was scattered.)

I don’t like the notion of all-out war between heroes and heroines, either, such as those that have occurred first in the Civil War story arc and more recently in Avengers vs. X-Men.  In the former, why would any hero even consider revealing their identity to the world, whether required by law or not? 

Several of them have suffered from one thoughtless lift of their mask, where a hidden enemy saw and recognized their face.  Or where something they said gave their secret identity away.  Spider-Man has suffered from this more often than others, as the demise of Gwen Stacy attests.  That Dr. Doom knows the real identities of the Fantastic Four, as do a multitude of other villains, means that they must constantly be on their guard.  How would Spidey, as Peter Parker, a young man with little money and resources, detect any traps laid for him at his residence before it was too late to avoid them, the way that the FF can?  Can Tony Stark even smile at a waitress anymore, without her becoming the target of some super villain who gets it into his head that maybe she’s become Tony’s latest date?

On top of that, Civil War saw heroes actively attempting to kill each other.  Iron Man and Cap, trying to destroy each other?  It makes no sense.  Why would Iron Man try to kill a friend who had saved his life a thousand times, and whose life he had saved in return nearly the same amount of time?  To quote Mr. Spock, it would be extremely “illogical”.

And why would Cyclops accept the arrival of the Phoenix Force coming to Earth (again)?  After what it did to Jean Grey, the love of his life?  But if she’s finally packed her bags for Marvel’s great beyond, then he would be left with little reason to keep fighting; was that the theory behind this part of the story?

As for putting Wolverine in charge of the X-Men, isn’t that out of character?  The Wolverine of old was a loner, loyal as a hunting hound but not a pack dog.  He went his own way for his own reasons, and preferred that people stayed out of his business.  Who is this newer, gentler man with six adamantium claws of carnage?

What has happened?  Why are stout heroes suddenly dancing on the thin grey line between light and dark?  Why is Iron Man siding with the government, a government he will not build weapons for, against his fellows to get them to obey an unjust law?

Why is Cyclops turning into a murderer?  Why is Hawkeye dating almost every lady he meets?  Why did Mary Jane Watson suddenly go to join Gwen Stacy in the great beyond?  Why would Black Widow side with a government repeating the mistakes of a government she ran from not so long ago?  Why would Mockingbird finish her divorce with Hawkeye after such a long time away from the world and people that she loved?

Why would the Scarlet Witch go crazy?  Why would Gambit suddenly be found not only to be a thief, prior to joining the X-Men, but also aiding and abetting genocide of the Morlocks before that time?  Why would Storm forsake the love of her husband, the Black Panther, for her loyalty to an obviously unstable leader of the X-Men?

Why?  I don’t ask this merely for the sake of what these characters once were.  I ask for the sake of what they will one day be.  Several now stand on the brink of falling into total darkness, becoming guilty of the same crimes as their adversaries.  Would the Captain America of old have ordered Wolverine to kill Hope Summers to prevent the arrival of the Phoenix?  No, I don’t believe he would.

What kind of tone are these stories setting for the readers?  I have laid a hand on none of these comics, but every time I read about the characters’ latest exploits (and in some cases, crimes) I turn off the computer downhearted.  In my earlier research, I was tempted to forsake the comics altogether. 

Why, you ask?  Because there was no hope in them.  There was no thought that while the days may get darker, somewhere at the end of the battle things could be rebuilt.  That in the end, life would return to some modicum of happiness and beauty.

Yes, some of the heroes may not live to see that time.  But would that make them stop fighting for it?  I think not, for the simple reason that it was worth fighting for in the first place. 

When I read something, I want to be entertained, that’s true.  But I also want hope and the greater good reaffirmed in what I read.  In these story arcs, I see little hope or good; only continuation that spirals into darkness.  The world is dark enough.  Can’t a little light, even through the prism of the stained glass window of Marvel comics, let a smile chase away the fears, scars, and tears?  If only for a little while, wouldn’t it be worth it?

I know that there are some out there, reading this open letter, who are saying, “That’s not true, those were good story arcs!”

I ask in return, “How?  What gain do they give?  Do they make you smile and cheer for the heroes?”

They are what the audience wants, someone in the cybernetic ether shouts.  They’re what the audience needs, another cries, Reality.  The original stories were for a simpler time.  We’re living in a new age!

Are we?  A simpler time, they say.  What made it so simple?  Perhaps it was that they, the original readers and writers, knew that the world was made up of people who needed light during the darkness of toil, of fear, of war or other catastrophes outside man’s control.  They knew that the best way to make life a little easier, if only for a moment, was with the sunlight of hope and goodness.

Have we lost that?  I don’t believe we have.  I don’t believe, as some may think from reading this letter, that Marvel’s heroes will turn to dust if they continue on these paths.  I do believe, however, that unless these stories change and the heroes regain their footing in moral conduct, they will be the worse for wear and that some may never return to the pages of Marvel Comics in any good light.  To me, that would be a sad loss, one I hope does not come to pass.

Finally I have one final question for you, fellow writers.  What now?  Do you go on the way you have, or change direction?

For my part, I say, “Excelsior!”

Sincerely,

Mithril (or, a Troubled True Believer)