And you should see what they can do with those antennae.

#3 – First Officer’s log: I never thought it’d happen to me, but…

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If you suggested that I’m really only doing this whole thing for the Riker sex jokes, I would have a hard time arguing.

I’m maybe wasting material for a future comic in talking about this, but it’s not difficult to watch some Riker-centric scenes in TNG and come to the conclusion that his face is just a straight-up sex thermometer.  Like, any time Riker is smiling, he’s ready to go.  Whomever or whatever.  That smile is upstairs and downstairs.  Which makes those crestfallen moments when the smile wilts a little bit funnier.

You might object on the grounds that Riker smiles sometimes in scenes with no obvious erotic overtones.  I’m saying that’s a failure of imagination.  The man’s got some serious depths, psychosexually speaking.

Bill Striker laughs in the face of condoms.

#5 – Bill Striker laughs in the face of condoms

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A fact about me: I have DMed exactly one pen-and-paper RPG session in my life, and I was I think a junior in high school at the time, and I was not very good at it at all, but I had drawn up a bunch of random encounter tables for it, and also there was this spooky mansion and in the basement of the mansion was some weird complicated glowing magical trap thing that reacted to character alignment in a way that I thought was super clever but the players mostly thought was kind of confusing and annoying, and I stayed up till four a.m. running it for a bunch of gamer/theater friends and two of them ended up sort of making out under a blanket instead of paying any attention, which was kind of rough because I totally had a crush on one of them.

I haven’t really comported myself that much better as a player over the years, either.  One time, I stabbed a horse in the neck with an arrow?  To try and slow down some dwarves?  Basically it was like pushing over a bunch of Hell’s Angels bikes outside a bar, except in the Forbidden Realms.  So that was a thing.

Basically what I’m saying is I have a lot of respect for anyone who can manage to run a game.  I’m not sure Geordi knows what he’s getting himself into.

Riker: "My character can fly."  Wes: "Yeah, uh, well, I can fly twice as high!"

#9 – Seriously, the Enterprise crew go through datapads like toiletpaper

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I feel like the pro forma thing to do here is apologize for the obvious Reading Rainbow joke but (a) at least it’s out of the way (twice-over if you check the alt text on the comics) so we can all stop thinking about it and (b) seriously, Reading Rainbow is awesome.

I grew up on it as a kid, and something about the way LeVar delivered the whole thing was just great; I was a weirdly cynical kid about children’s media for whatever reason, and had trouble trusting overly earnest or twee stuff (I found Mr. Rogers, of all people, unsettling, though I think that was mostly the puppets and the weird falsetto voices he did for them because Trolley was fantastic and oh man the crayon factory filmstrip and I think I got lost a bit here) but for whatever reason when LeVar would start talking about books and how they were great that stuff just clicked for me. I hear I was an early reader, and Reading Rainbow didn’t hurt on that front.

And man, that title sequence. Earworm. I apologize, but not really.

But! Yes. Beyond the whole nostalgia kick, the neat thing is that RR’s a straight-up 21st century product now: you can get it on your dang iPad. With @levarburton and everything. Crazy future kids ebook reader. Some Roddenberry shit right there.

Wes doesn't have a lot of outlets on this ship.  And lately he can't even deck off.  It's trouble.

#12 – Oedipal underwear

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I know there’s a lot of jokes and or uncomfortable straight-faced discussions to be had about (a) the dilemma of being an adolescent boy with essentially no peer group on a sterile, surveillance-state environment like a warp-powered submarine and (b) the dysfunctional dynamics of spending most your time around your hot mom and your adoptive-but-actually-pretty-seriously-not father figure who sorta got your real dad killed, but:

Let’s talk about Counselor Troi. Specifically, about her duties as psychological counselor on the Enterprise. There’s about a thousand people on this ship, yeah? And she’s the ship counselor. There’s no clear indications in the show that she has staff; she’s The Ship’s Counselor, and that’s that.

How does she spend all that time chillin’ like a villain on the bridge? We see her actually counseling someone in a regularly-scheduled sit-down session like…five times? Maybe? In the entire run of the series. We see Picard specifically ordering some tea to drink more often than we see Troi doing what is ostensibly her vocation. She does plenty of little ad hoc “let’s just have a chat where I say observant things and we make expressions” moments mid-narrative but that’s not a J.O.B., that’s being there for your Bs.F.F.

A thousand crew members, let’s guess that maybe 30% of them need a monthly hour-long session (or a couple of half-hours, or a quick weekly check-in) for recurring mental health / evaluation / misc. counseling reasons. Most of it’s not dramatic, but it’s basic due diligence, crew-maintenance stuff that’s important in its own right, yeah? That’s 300 hours a month, or 10 hours a day and no weekends off. Plus drop-in hours. Plus emergencies. And that’s ignoring paperwork (PADDwork?), briefings with the senior officers, coordination with Bev’s medical staff, etc. Every single time she gets paged off screen, it should be interrupting a session or some bit of office hours.

After that, it would be prudent for everybody to insert it in their respective anal cavities and revolve.

#17 – Big Book of Idioms + Thesaurus = Data joke generator

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Data’s an impossible character who really only works in the sort of blindly optimistic and hand-wavey universe of Star Trek. I mean impossible in the sense that he just doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny because the needs of television writing and plotting won’t allow it. Which, to be fair, is true of just about everything in storytelling and in particular episodic, on-going TV shows, because the practical requirements of status quo force everybody’s hands in all kinds of ways. What makes the most exciting or interesting or challenging or shocking story in the short term doesn’t line up well with what makes for a sane production process over the long haul.

But Data shines a light on that more directly than most characters in Next Generation because he’s such a pure concept. Riker may be characterized by his ambition, his sense of adventure, and (though not to the degenerate degree I’ve been giggling my way through in this strip so far) his sensual/sexual drive, but there’s a whole lot of wiggle room even in those major character notes because he is after all a human being and full of complicated and contradictory urges. We can always plausibly discover secret feelings, held below the surface until a Very Special Episode. People have hidden depths.

But Data is by design not that sort of being; his robotic mind, his analytical nature, his explicit disconnect from and curiosity about the human condition (if curiosity is not too charged and subjective a description for whatever Data’s questing process is) is what defines him as a character, as a being alone in the universe. Not getting the humanity thing is his whole deal. His struggle to emulate basic emotions, to deconstruct and embrace even the superficial trappings of empathy, is what Data’s all about. If he has hidden depths, they’re as hidden from him as they are from everyone else, and he’ll tell you about the process of searching for those depths at the drop of a hat. No secret motivations, no undercurrent of selfish contradiction or fear or broken-heartedness: Data is deeply aware of the steady emotional wasteland that is his subjective experience of the world compared to organic humanoids, and is completely honest about it.

But he’s played by a human, and written by humans, and played against human(oid) characters, and ultimately he just doesn’t work in a Roddenberrian context if he’s not a more familiar reflection of humanity than his character sketch might suggest. The possibilities for the actual cold alien terror that is a fundamentally inhuman being in human form is fodder for lots of fantastic science fiction and horror storytelling, but it’s not really Star Trek then; certainly not a Star Trek protagonist. A truly dead-eyed, unfeeling ubermensch golem on the Enterprise? Not likely. (Consider for that matter that every close-up Star Trek examination of the Vulcans’ famously walled-off emotions is at least in part, and usually fairly centrally, an examination of the cracks in that wall and the turmoil lurking inside.)

And so we get to see Data not constantly, deeply unsettling everyone he meets but rather getting along with folks in a very successful way and only occasionally fumbling for acts I and II of a given episode; we see him struggling with language idioms in a way that makes for funny moments but doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense coming from a walking Wikipedia with an otherwise tremendously powerful language engine (while of course casually sticking the landing on other idioms so entrenched in contemporary English usage that the writers didn’t think to make them seem odd in the 24th century). Data should probably be correcting everyone else’s language usage, if anything; a robo-pedant, the guy who learned your language more recently than you did but is better at it.

And we see him being affectless except for when (a) a scene is about him trying to explicitly model human affect and emotion as an experiment or (b) a scene where something just slips a little and we see Brent-Spiner-the-human-actor a little bit even though there’s not anything story-centric going on there with Data’s emotional state. And the latter thing is totally fine if subtle background character development is a part of your storytelling technique, but that’s not really the mode Next Generation operated in so it’s hard to read it that way.

But yes, so, Data is Data and not The Terminator. And he’s awesome and I love him even if Spiner gets caught in the occasional frame looking a little too much like he’s got, you know, feelings and stuff. But it’s a reminder that Star Trek is more morality play than character study most of the time, and comprises a delicate balancing act in audience suspension of disbelief if the viewer isn’t going to go a liiiiittle bit crazy about it all.

And it makes for a lot of easy subversions of that balance.

Anyway, Data as Odo felt more like it was a little funny being stretched to an on-the-nose comparison as a one-off joke than like it’d be particularly funny to play out in the strip long-term, so, hmm! Back to the visual representation oral vacuum it is.

Not pictured: Counselor Troi attempting to sense the comet's motivations.

#22 – Comet Comet Comet Comet Comet Chameleon

17 Comments

Geordi, man, you got to corral those players. They’re not even staying in character! I know you’ve got pages and pages of notes on this setting already, but try to start with the key concepts maybe.

But, yes, seriously, what is with that comet in the opening title sequence of Deep Space Nine? Why is the first thing we see a comet about which nothing is, as far as I can recall, ever said? It’s not a plot comet or anything; it’s just a random bit of stellar flotsam, the sort of minor phenomena that Enterprise or Voyager or Enterprise Bakula Edition might chase down and scan but which DS9 would at best grab some long distance pix of if it was a slow day in the astrometrics lab.

Maybe it’s a metaphor? Like for the way Deep Space Nine embraces a degree of momentum, of continuing arc, which contrasts with the more episodic structure of the preceding Next Generation? Not that a comet drifting in a straight line is really a good non-trivial example of an arc. Plodding along in a dull straightforward path is kind of an unflattering self-assessment.

But then, oh, there could be gravity wells? Suns, planets, spatial anomalies? The perturbation of its path by stellar masses seen and unseen? I suppose that’s a good example of how an arc can come from nowhere, a twist in the road, an unintended shift in one’s path so that one ends up treading into strange territory even as one tries to presses ever forward and onward? Is this metaphor shaping up? I feel like we’re reaching here. Feeling like the ol’ grasp is being exceeded.

Another thing that I suspect: somewhere on a datapad (yes, yes, they’re called PADDs in the Star Trek universe, shut up), Geordi has written down lyrics to a song about Deep Space Nine. Maybe those’ll slip out at some point. Maybe just.

Data is putting on a brave face, but inside he's screaming at them all: "HIS NAME IS A PALINDROME!  ODO IS A PALINDROME!  HOW CAN NO ONE MAKE NOTE OF THIS!"

#27 – When a mace flies at your face / you must shift it

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Not pictured: Picard sobbing in the corner, trying to compose himself. Best that Geordi moved things along from that previous scene, I think.

But yes, so! Odo! Wes seems like a much more fun character to have play Odo than Data did, to me, and leaves Data with something more entertaining to do than roleplay having slightly more fractured relatability than normal, so that’s all good. (More on which soon, I promise.)

The shapeshifting thing: man, there’s a lot to talk about there. I think the elephant in the room for any critical viewer of Deep Space Nine is just how unbalancing that shapeshifting power is. It’s the sort of thing that falls squarely into superpowers, narratively speaking; there is so dang much you could accomplish with the concerted application of a little doppelgangin’ that it’s hard to understand why basically every problem on the station doesn’t get solved with “and then Odo shapeshifts into an x and does y, end of episode”.

(I mean, it’s not actually hard to understand why not; the show is called Deep Space Nine, not The Times And Crimes of Constable Odo, and you can’t have an ensemble show be the same plot and resolution every episode, etc. But it’s a Superman Is An Equal Member Of The Justice League sort of problem: using the magical wand to solve problems is such an obvious approach that if you repeatedly decide to e.g. not have the shapeshifter shapeshift, or to send Aquaman instead of Superman, it can get a bit silly. So you better hope your readers/viewers/fandom are willing to run with the silly.)

But it’s the perfect thing for some excited kid to come up with. As much as Wes is likely to be a handful for Geordi, I think he’s also the best thing that could happen to the game: he’s hungry for adventure, he’s got the relentless, unselfconscious imagination that kids have, and he wants to impress all the adults around him. He wants to Do The Awesome Thing, which, hell yes, kiddo. Doing the awesome thing is an awesome thing to do. Stare that whatever-that-alien-guy-in-the-DS9-pilot-was’ mace down. Shapeshift it. Shapeshift it good.

Data wants to emphasize that she is not literally a loose cannon, or a cannon at all.  This is very important to understanding her character as not-a-gun.

#28 – Major Kira if you’re nasty

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I’m guessing Data’s in for a little coaching on Monday.

Do you know what’s kind of dumb? I feel deeply conflicted, almost guilty, about presenting scenes from the pilot slightly out of sequence. I am writing a ridiculous comic about one fake TV show cast pretending to be another fake TV show cast, and have completely thrown out piles of continuity from the first show in favor of my own jokes, and yet I’m like OH NO BUT ODO CONFRONTS THE THIEVES AFTER SISKO MEETS KIRA and honestly I just don’t know what to do with myself. This is a confusing and frightening world we live in.

Not pictured: Ewoks celebrating Bajoran liberation on the forest moon of Endor.

#29 – WE’LL BE GREETED AS LIBERATORS

27 Comments

You know what you shouldn’t put off until the morning when you need to get the strip put together?

Finding screenshots of Data emoting.

I ended up pulling some new shots from Descent, Part II, the season seven opener where an emotionally-buffed Data teams up with his robot brother Lore to lead a squad of rogue Borg on a mission to LITERALLY DESTROY ALL ORGANIC LIFE IN THE GALAXY. (Spoiler alert: they do not end up doing that.)

And it’s got some at least grumpy, accusatory Data, but no real hotheaded scenery chewing, so I’ll need to go back to the well some time to expand Kira-by-proxy’s emotional vocabulary. But it’s something. Baby steps, Data!

A question unlikely to be answered in the text of this comic: when Data roleplays, does he speak in the made-up voice of his character, i.e. do the other crew-members get to hear him doing his best Nana Visitor impression? It’s established on Next Generation that he can do that sort of thing without difficulty, but would the other players enjoy that or just find it unsettling? I can imagine Troi throwing some husky growl into her Quark, so it seems like fair play, but maybe it’s a bit uncanny valley.

Do you think Data ever got used like a youtube player during social gatherings? Sure, someone could dig out a datapad or whatever and call up that funny “Captain’s Pooplog” recording that’s been going around on subspace, but why not just ask Data to stand there, mouth gaping, playing it back like a boombox? He’s super smart and a computer, it’d be faster than looking it up, yeah?