Graphic Novel Review: Sweet Heart by Action Lab Comics

My graphic novel pick this week is “Sweet Heart,” published by Action Lab Comics, written by Dillon Gilbertson, art by Francesco Iaquinta.

This is the kind of horror I live for. The kind of horror in which yes, there are monsters, but the scariest part is what humans are capable of – the complacency, the fear, the sacrifice.

Ellicott City, Maryland, is a town infested by monsters. The town has grown to accept the monsters. They don’t deny their existence, but they have learned it is futile to fight back, so they aim for survival, instead.

Everyone has their own private monster, a stringer or a bruiser. They’re after glucose, and they’re willing to wait a long time for this tastiest of snacks. The incorporation of the mythology into the reality of the town was very well done; they’re even part of the high school curriculum.

The story follows one family, first the story of Ben and his mother, both marked by monsters – “First Contact.” Ben has a daughter, Madison. Ben gave up, like the rest of the town, and resigned himself to his fate; but Maddie has never stopped fighting, never stopped believing. She doesn’t want to die the same way her father did.

I loved this story because it hit all of my favorites: slow-burn psychological horror with a dash of science to explain the magic of the supernatural, strong characters, a dark, atmospheric flavor, and small-town suspense.

What was most intriguing to me about this story was that Maddie’s biggest fight was not with the monsters, but with the townspeople themselves, and her own family. They loved her, but they also wanted to live, and they chose the path of least resistance to survival. The balance of that tension was brilliantly done. I felt the love of Maddie’s mother and grandmother, their fierce protectiveness, even as she had to persuade them of a better way to live. To me, that is superhero calibre.

The art, colors and lettering were all also gorgeously done, building the dark atmosphere and suspense well.

Highly recommend this book.

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Episode Review: Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Season 1, Episode 11 – Vortex

If you haven’t noticed, I most enjoy the episodes that deal with ethical quandaries and characters wading through moral dilemmas. Stories in which you have to decide whether you need to follow the rules, even if the rules are not fair. To me those are the stories at which the Star Trek universe excels. This is a great Odo episode that pits Odo in the middle of one of these ethical quandaries, an episode with a darker edge and gray frayed edges, and the episode that solidified Odo as my favorite character in the series.

I am sad to say that the Star Trek universe lost another one of its greats this last year. René Auberjonois died in 2019 at age 79. He was best known for his role as Odo on DS9, but he was first a stage actor, winning Tony awards, and he has also embodied more than 200 roles on screen. Additionally, he was a voice over actor for video games. Nobody could have played Odo like Auberjonois. He brought panache to the role, a particular flavor of curmudgeon, with a tinge of seediness and secrecy. I can tell his theatre background from the way he plays the character. I don’t like most of the acting on DS9 most of the time with this one exception. The actors who play Odo, Quark and Garak are top notch.

Back to the episode. “Vortex” kicks off with Odo in his usual spot at Quark’s bar. Strangely, not ordering anything, not even an orange juice, just sitting there, observing. I don’t know why Quark as a profit-minded proprietor allows one of his seats to go to a non-paying customer regularly like that, and to surveil him at that, but it’s all part of the game of the relationship between them, a wink, wink, nod, nod, shifting loyalties arc. A Rakhari man is sitting quietly at the other end of the bar. Quark deflects on how he knows him, saying a bartender talks to all his customers, who tell him their woes. Odo, naturally, suspects he is hiding something.

Miradorn twins Ah-Kel and Ro-Kel then enter the bar and set up a meeting with Quark. Miradorns are from the Gamma Quadrant, and twins on their world are inseparable, practically the same person. They want to sell a precious egg-shaped object to Quark, but Quark tells them that the buyer has backed out and he himself has concerns that the object is stolen. Odo has shapeshifted into a glass on the drink tray that Rom serves; Quark later lambasts Rom for failing to notice a fifth glass on the tray.

Trouble ensues. Croden, the Rahkari who was sitting at the bar in the introductory scene, takes the onlookers hostage at gunpoint in exchange for the object. Odo appears amid a struggle. Croden kills Ro-Kel. Security arrives to reinforce Odo, and Croden is detained in the brig. Ah-Kel is hell-bent on avenging the loss of his brother and wants to take the law into his own hands. Commander Sisko wants a trial.

In the brig, Croden calls Odo a “changeling,” informing him that he’ll tell him more about what he knows about others like his kind, if he can get something to eat. Odo dismisses him throughout, saying later to Doctor Bashir that the source is even less reliable than Quark. But he is nevertheless tempted as Croden tries to manipulate him into letting him escape. Croden says he has met others like his kind on an asteroid colony locked inside the Vortex. He lets him borrow a necklace with a green jewel that is shaped like a key. It can shapeshift into a key that will fit any lock. Doctor Bashir tells him that the jewelry piece has characteristics similar to his species. It is a kind of changeling.

Odo has always remained convinced that he is the only one of his species. He is law-abiding and follows the rules, and he is extremely self-righteous and judgmental, unyielding in his enforcement of the law. But Starfleet is just another overlord. First the Cardassians, then Starfleet. Another ass to kiss, so to speak. So long as Odo is left alone to do his job as he sees fit, he’ll follow the rules and uphold justice. But he has never quite felt like he belongs. Inward, he has always wondered if there are others like him. This inner conflict will foreshadow and inform many of his decisions throughout the series.

The Miradorns want Croden extradited, so instead of delaying like past episodes with an extradition hearing, Sisko obeys immediately. It turns out Croden is wanted for other crimes on his home world and the Miradorns want him dead. Odo is tasked with bringing the prisoner home. Along the way, they are pursued by Ah-Kel, who has murder on his mind. But Quark said earlier that Odo would never give up his prisoner. More hard rules. Or are they always firm?

On the shuttle ride over, Odo learns that even though dissembling comes second nature to Croden, his crimes are not what they seem. He is more of a political prisoner than anything else, forced to make impossible choices by an unfair regime. As Odo learns more about the possibility of a race of changelings existing in the Gamma Quadrant, he is confronted with an impossible choice.

Overall, this is a classic Odo character story and a good reflection of the best of DS9. The rules and the facts are not always what they seem, and sometimes they can be bent, but whether the characters were justified in bending those rules is up for debate.


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Episode Review: Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Captive Pursuit, Season 1, Episode 6

I know this will sound like sacrilege to some, but Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was never my favorite Star Trek series. I liked the characters, but I thought the writing was hit or miss, and I didn’t understand a Star Trek that was not centered around exploration. But I decided to give this show a second chance by rewatching it from the beginning. I will be recapping my favorite episodes. This was the first episode in which I finally started to feel like I was getting into this show. Some Star Trek series can be kind of slow burns.

“Captive Pursuit” is the sixth episode of Season 1 and it is a Miles O’Brien character study through and through. The episode starts off with Sisko responding to a complaint from a Dabo girl who is concerned that sexual assault is a clause in her employment contract. The Dabo girl then disappears for the rest of the episode. I suppose the purpose of this scene was to show a brief flavor of life on board a space station.

Next, a mysterious vessel arrives from the wormhole and is not one of the ships scheduled to arrive. It becomes evident that the ship is in trouble and needs help. The crew hails the occupant on board, but he does not want to leave his ship. It soon becomes apparent that this is a First Contact situation. This reptilian humanoid is DS9’s first visitor from the Gamma Quadrant. However, since O’Brien and the alien seem to make a connection, Sisko decides to dispense with First Contact protocols and set up a more personalized first meeting with O’Brien only. O’Brien will then help repair the alien’s ship.

The being and O’Brien soon form an awkward but charming friendship. The alien calls himself Tosk, but it is not clear whether Tosk is his name or his species. He seems to be on the run from something, always cagey and talking about his need to rush off, but appears too naive to O’Brien to have criminal intent.

It is discovered that Tosk is investigating the station’s security systems, so he is taken into custody. Odo shapeshifted into a picture frame and appeared in Tosk’s quarters to catch him in the act. I can think of all sorts of legal ramifications for a security officer who can break and enter at will without a search warrant or reasonable cause to do anything other than follow a suspect discreetly, but I digress.

We soon discover Tosk’s secret when other aliens emerge from the Gamma Quadrant in hot pursuit. They are also reptilian humanoids, but a different species. Tosk was sworn to an oath of secrecy about the intricacies of his species’ culture, and that’s why he wouldn’t talk. Tosks are bred by their captors to be prey in an elaborate hunt throughout the universe. They are bred with sentience to make the hunt more exciting. Both the prey and the hunters live for the adventure and romance of the hunt and yearn for deaths of honor.

O’Brien and Sisko are soon caught in a difficult ethical quandary. Do they interfere in another species’ culture, even if it does not respect the value of life? Or do they let Tosk be captured? Or is there some other way out, that bends the rules? That involves looking the other way?

For me, this episode finally captured the Star Trek ethos. Not only the spirit of exploration and discovery, but it also explored the moral gray areas that I love about Star Trek. Star Trek is fascinating to me in ways that Star Wars is not because not about black and white, good versus evil. It is about the choices we make when the rules are unfair, how we stay true to our integrity in impossible situations, and who we are as sentient beings relating to others who are different than us.

It was also a good O’Brien character study. I feel as if O’Brien often gets the short end of the stick in TNG and sometimes DS9. He’s the flat character, the character that is meant to be likable, but only if you like dad jokes and can relate to his family dynamics. The long suffering wife, the career ambitions cut short by a sense of duty, the “just a decent, hard-working guy” schtick. This episode gave O’Brien depth.

All in all, it was a good character-driven story and definitely worth a watch.


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