Random Musings: Deadman Lives

Standard

Deadman

Boston Brand was an arrogant and (self-proclaimed) self-centered circus aerialist who worked without a net at the struggling Hills Circus. His “gimmick” was that he performed as “Deadman”, dressed in a red costume and wearing a white full-head mask that suggested a bloodless corpse.

Because of his nightly flirtations with death high above the ring, Brand was the biggest attraction at the circus.

Until the bullet from a high powered rifle sent him plunging to the sawdust far below.

And that’s when Boston Brand’s story really began.

Now a ghost, Boston Brand is granted the power by the spirit Rama Kushna to “walk among men until you have found the one who killed you.”

Later, that mandate would be altered at Brand’s request to his remaining as he is to strike a balance between good and evil.

Deadman soon discovers that he can posses the bodies of the living and he begins the hunt for his killer. His only clue: the man wore a hook in place of one of his hands.

Co-created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino, Deadman was a DC comics character who first appeared in Strange Adventures #205, cover-dated Oct. 1967. His hunt for “the Hook” and those behind him continued through Strange Adventures #216 and was also addressed in The Brave & The Bold #s 79 & 86.

And that latter issue was where the storyline of Boston Brand’s quest for answers ended. According to Andy Helfer, the writer of a 1986 Deadman miniseries, the storyline had been truncated due to the cancellation of the Deadman storyline in Strange Adventures. The story in The Brave & The Bold #86 was thrown together to give readers some kind of conclusion, but more had been planned.

I first encountered Deadman as a back-up feature in Adventure Comics in 1979; but it wasn’t until a 1985 seven issue Deadman miniseries that reprinted those Strange Adventures and Brave & The Bold tales that I learned how Boston Brand’s story began.

The 1986 miniseries picked up from the events of Brave & Bold #86/Deadman #7 (necessarily ignoring some tales published in the interim) and answered some of the lingering questions, such as why Deadman couldn’t possess the body of The Sensei, leader of the Society of Assassins.

In the original storyline, Boston Brand ultimately finds the Hook and learns why he’d been killed:

Hook and the Sensei

According to editor Dick Giordano, interviewed in issue #6 of the reprint series, that had always been the intention, because A) Deadman had been conceived as a limited series with Boston Brand finally confronting his killer (“but we liked the character so much we tried to keep him running for as long as we could.”); and B) they realized that after a year of Deadman almost finding “the Hook”, readers would become tired of the device.

As Giordano put it, “even the Fugitive finally caught up with the one-armed man.”

The truncated storyline revolved around Boston Brand’s investigation into the Society of Assassins and the Sensei’s plans to destroy the mystical land of Nanda Parbat. Like I said, that thread wouldn’t be picked up until 1986; but in the interim, Deadman continued to make appearances in various DC titles over the years as he strove to carry on his mission of striking a balance between good and evil.

In at least some of those stories— such as those in Adventures Comics in 1979— his “base of operations” is the circus, where his twin brother, Cleveland, is now a performer.

Why did Mr. and Mrs. Brand name their twin boys after cities thousands of miles apart? Was this a family tradition? Did they have a sister named Piscataway? An uncle named Albuquerque? An explanation was given in issue #5 of a 2002 Deadman series. The boys were conceived while the Brands were en route from one city to the other. As Boston told another ghost, it was their parents’ way of giving them roots.

Boston Brand’s ability to possess (just about) anyone makes him pretty powerful, but he’s not infallible. Sometimes he almost gets the people he’s possessing killed. During his hunt for the Hook, Deadman takes control of a circus hand named Pete to investigate whether a rival aerialist, the Eagle, had been responsible for his murder. In the process, he learns the Eagle was responsible for some robberies, which, in turn, gets the possessed Pete discovered. Deadman-as-Pete climbs to the top of the Ferris Wheel with a murderous Eagle in pursuit. A fight then ensues.

Why didn’t Deadman take control of Eagle’s body before he reached Pete? Probably because he didn’t think of it.

And, from the points of view of writer Jack Miller and artist Neal Adams, it’d have made for a shorter and less visually exciting story.

While he does feel some understandable angst at his situation, Deadman isn’t above having a little fun now and again. In one instance, he takes control of a con artist named Madam Pegeen, who “reports herself” to the police:

Deadman having fun

An amusing sequence near the end of a 12-issue storyline in Action Comics Weekly in 1988 had Deadman and an entity who claimed he was the Devil face off at a diplomatic function in Washington, D.C. “The Devil” and Deadman took control of, respectively, Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan and then Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev.

The 1986 mini series concluded with Deadman having a new raison d’être above and beyond the general “balancing of good and evil” bit. This was addressed in passing in Action Comics Weekly, but was very much the focus of the 2002 series, which, unfortunately, only lasted nine issues.

That series was itself preceded by a five issue 2001 miniseries called Deadman: Dead Again.

Deadman was also the focus of a 1989 two-issue miniseries called Deadman: Love After Death, which concerned his star-crossed romance with another ghost; and a 1992 two-issue mini series called Deadman: Exorcism, in which an insane Boston Brand causes all manner of trouble. Frankly, I could take or leave those two stories.

The character has made various other appearances over the years, including a 2011 “alternate history” miniseries called Flashpoint: Deadman and the Flying Graysons.

Deadman was and is a unique character and his initial adventures have been collected in trade paperback form in Deadman Vols. 1 & 2. If you’re interested in mysteries and/or tales concerning the supernatural, Boston Brand’s story is worth checking out.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Eagle is a first-rate political thriller

Standard

Eagle

A Democratic U.S. senator of an ethnic background seeks the White House, with many believing he hasn’t a chance against his Washington insider primary opponent.

Barack Obama in 2008?

No, Sen. Kenneth Yamaoka (D- NY) in 2000.

Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President is a 2,000+ page manga by Kaiji Kawaguchi (English adaptation by Carl Gustav Horn), published between 2000 and 2002. The story of a dark horse candidate’s quest for the presidency is collected in 22 monthly volumes of C. 100 pages each and five compendium volumes, ranging from 400 to 600 pages each.

Yamaoka, who announced his candidacy a month before the New Hampshire primary, is challenging Vice President Albert Noah, the man everyone believes will secure the nomination. Japanese reporter Takashi Jo has been asked to cover the senator’s campaign, despite politics not being his field, and much of the story is told through Jo’s eyes.

I’d meant to read Eagle for years. When I finally did (I read the compendium volumes), I found it to be an excellent, page-turning story of political intrigue.

Jo soon learns the surprising reason why he was chosen to cover the Yamaoka campaign. He’s also given total access, with only one caveat: don’t publish anything until after the election.

Kenneth Yamaoka is a third generation Japanese-American who went to Vietnam after his older brother died there and almost died himself. Ever since, he’s been working toward one goal: to become president. Jo learns these facts from the senator, his family and his staff, each with a different perspective on the man and his ideals. But he also learns that however idealistic Yamaoka might be, the senator is also ruthless. Blackmail, bribes and other political shenanigans are all part of the Yamaoka playbook.

Of course the Noah campaign isn’t above taking the low road, either. Especially when it becomes clear that Yamaoka presents a real threat to Noah’s own political ambitions.

The term “graphic novel” is often used to describe comics in hardcover or trade paperback format, whether the story be initially published in said formats or collected individual issues. In most cases, the word “novel” is a bit of stretch. But at more than 2,000 pages, Eagle fits that description beyond any doubt. As the story of Yamaoka’s quest for the presidency unfolds, we not only meet his family and members of his campaign staff (seen primarily through Jo’s eyes), but also members of the Noah campaign and other political players. These include influential African American New York Mayor Gilbert Blackburn, who has been in office 20 years and whose support is being courted by both the Yamaoka and Noah campaigns; the incumbent president, Bill, and his politically ambitious wife, Ellery, who want to influence the next administration; Republican candidate Richard Grant, senator from Colorado, former astronaut and lt. general, USAF Reserves; Yamaoka’s former CO in Vietnam, General Kerrigan; Yamaoka’s old-money father-in-law, William Hampton; and ordinary citizens who see Yamaoka as either a hope or a threat.

The more Takashi Jo gets to know Kenneth Yamaoka, the more he wonders about the man. True, the senator is charismatic and able to win over previously hostile audiences, but how far will Yamaoka go to become president? How far has he gone to get where he is now? Jo, who has become anything but an objective, neutral observer, has information that could derail Yamaoka’s campaign; but should he use that information? Will he?

In an interview printed in Vol. 2 of the compendium editions, Kawaguchi said he wanted the story to have a realistic feel. That it does. Had Kenneth Yamaoka and Albert Noah actually existed and been competitors for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000, their primary battles might well have unfolded in much the same way as those political chess matches depicted in Eagle.

The medium of comics— like books, TV shows and movies— can include any number of genres. Americans have only recently begun to understand that, while the Japanese have known it for decades. As Horn writes in the postscript of the first of the compendium volumes, manga (the Japanese term for comics) are “comic books as mass media, comic books that compete with top-rated TV shows for the eyes of a hundred million people.” He also writes that in Japan, comics are the mainstream media.

If you like a well-written political thriller, you can’t go wrong with Eagle. That it happens to combine words and pictures doesn’t make it any less of a page-turner.

.

Thoughts on Bill Cosby:

Last year, before the allegations against Bill Cosby became part of the public discourse, I wrote a blog entry about his comedy (it was actually a re-run of one I’d written years earlier for the previous incarnation of this blog). Since then, it’s become more and more apparent that the allegations against him are true.

All the people he’s entertained; all the good he’s done for charitable causes are immaterial. He needs to be punished for his crimes, whether it be in criminal court, civil court or by some other legal venue.

As I said last year, Cosby was my favorite stand-up comedian (I first listened to his records when I was in my teens). His routines were hilarious and one of the great things about his humor was that he told stories, not jokes punctuated with punch lines.

I’m currently writing the fourth novel in a thematically-linked series. In the first book (yet to be published), which is set in 1990, one of the main characters is a fan of Cosby’s comedy. I recently decided to change the three references to Cosby’s comedy albums in that book to comedy albums in general, with discussion of a specific Cosby routine being swapped out for one about a specific Bob Newhart routine, instead. Even though the book is set long before the general public knew of any controversy about Cosby and even though he’s only mentioned three times (and only with respect to his early comedy albums), it felt wrong to keep those references, given what we now know about him.

At some point down the road, maybe I’ll listen to Cosby’s comedy albums again. After all, his routines were funny and it’s important to separate a person from his or her work. I have several comedy records by various individuals, many of whom never went on to become well-known TV stars. Whatever their personal lives were like, their work should be judged on their own merits. Same with creative people in any field.

While Cosby the voice on those records is hilarious, Cosby the man behind the voice has proven himself to be beneath contempt. And he brought his downfall on himself.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Anya’s Ghost

Standard

Anyas Ghost

Anya Borzakovskaya is a teenage Russian immigrant trying to fit in at a private school. She’s embarrassed about her background, having lost her accent as soon as possible, and tells Sean, a boy on the basketball team whom she likes, that her last name is “Brown.” And she wants nothing to do with a boy named Dima, a fellow immigrant, who, in Anya’s words, acts like he’s fresh off the boat.

Her relationship with her family isn’t much better. She finds her younger brother, Sasha, annoying; and her mother doesn’t seem to understand that teenage girls in the U.S. don’t want to put on weight.

Her life changes when she cuts through a park, lost in her angry thoughts, falls into a dry well and meets Emily Reilly.

The late Emily Reilly.

That’s the situation in the graphic novel Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

Emily can’t go very far from her bones, so lucky for her Anya accidentally scooped up one of Emily’s finger bones into her backpack when someone heard her cries and threw down a rope.

Or was Anya taking the bone along an accident?

Already shaken up by falling into the well, seeing a skeleton and meeting said skeleton’s ghost, Anya is shocked to discover that Emily has followed her home. She considers this ghost a pest— until Emily helps her with her biology test.

Anya subsequently decides to let Emily stay a little longer.

She has finals coming up, after all.

Anya and Emily soon become fast friends, with Anya sometimes spending more time with Emily than with her flesh and blood friend, Siobhan. And Emily helps Anya gain some self confidence.

Over time, however, Emily undergoes a personality change. She starts smoking a ghost cigarette and she’s developed a bit of an attitude. But by the time Anya discovers Emily’s dark side, it appears that she hasn’t a ghost of a chance of getting rid of her phantom friend.

Anya’s Ghost— which won the 2012 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Young Adults (Ages 12–17) and the 2012 Harvey Award for Best Original Graphic Publication for Younger Readers— is an enjoyable story with engaging characters. Yet another example of how comics offer a wide variety of subjects and stories beyond the traditional superheroes. Anya is sympathetic throughout; and over the course of the book, she learns important things about both herself and others.

I also like that the story has Anya discovering A) that not everything can be found on Google; and B) the resources of the public library. Ironically, it’s Dima who shows her how to use the microfilm machine, something she’d never heard of. I suspect that’s true of a lot of teenagers these days.

Anya’s Ghost is published by First Second Books and well worth seeking out.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: The Man of Tomorrow

Standard

His name is Clark. He’s been called the Man of Tomorrow and he has strength and skills far superior to the ordinary man. He generally operates out of a large city, but also has a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic. And he fights on the side of justice.

Who is he?

Yes, exactly right. Dr. Clark Savage, Jr.

Doc Savage.

Doc Savage

What’s that? Kent? Clark Kent? No, he came along later.

Doc Savage— one of the major stars of the pulp magazine era— debuted in Doc Savage Magazine (cover-dated March 1933) on Feb. 17, 1933, while Clark Kent debuted in Action Comics #1 (cover-dated June 1938) around April 1938. Interesting to note that not only did they both have a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic (maybe it was a timeshare), but a 1934 house ad for Doc Savage described Doc as a “Superman.”

Doc Savage Superman

Doc, whose adventures were primarily written by Lester Dent (as “Kenneth Robeson”), was also known as the Man of Bronze; while Superman, of course, was the Man of Steel.

The “Man of Tomorrow” designation (a description later given to Superman) came from Dent himself, according to Will Murray, the literary agent for the estate of Lester Dent, in the introduction to the Nostalgia Ventures reprint of the story “The Fortress of Solitude.”

Doc Savage Magazine ran until the summer of 1949, but Doc returned through reprints by Bantam Books from the 1960s to the 1990s. More recently, reprints have been published by Nostalgia Ventures; and as of 2009, under series editor Anthony Tollin’s Sanctum Books imprint. These reprint volumes (more than 80 to date) include two novellas (some restored to their original length from abridged versions that ran back in the pulp era), essays and other material.

(Pulp adventures of the Shadow, the Avenger and the Whisperer are also being reprinted.)

Then there’s the comics and radio adaptations.

In his introduction to the “The Fortress of Solitude” (Oct. 1938 and reprinted in Vol. 1 of the Nostalgia Ventures series), Murray also writes that while the American public wasn’t quite ready for unearthly superpowers, “Doc Savage was everything an aspiring hero could dream of becoming.”

Murray also writes that Doc Savage “took Depression-era America by storm. Within a year he was on radio and later had his own comic books.”

Doc Savage Comics was first published in 1940 by Street & Smith Publications. Over the decades, various other companies, including DC, Dark Horse and Marvel, published tales of Doc’s adventures.

As to his radio adventures, they first aired in 1934, though no recordings are known to survive. According to Martin Grams, in his book, The Shadow: The History and Mystery of the Radio Program, 1930-1954 (page 87), Doc was played by Carl Kroenke, who later played the Shadow (Street & Smith owned both characters). A later series ran for six months in 1943, according to Grams (page 226).

In 1985, The Los Angeles-based Variety Arts Radio Theatre serialized the 1934 adventures “Fear Cay” and “The Thousand-Headed Man” in seven parts and six parts, respectively and broadcast the stories over NPR. Radio Archives.com provides those adventures in both CD and download formats, along with various extras.

Radio Archives.com offers the 1985  adaptations of two 1934 Doc Savage adventures.

Radio Archives.com offers the 1985
adaptations of two 1934 Doc Savage adventures.

So who is Doc Savage? What’s his story? According to the narration of “The Man of Bronze” (March 1933 and reprinted on page 7 of vol. 14 of the Nostalgia Ventures series), “Clark Savage, Jr. had been reared from the cradle to become the supreme adventurer.” The narration goes on to tell us that Doc’s father started him on an exercise routine when he was hardly able to walk.

His mental routine had “started with medicine and surgery. It had branched out to include all arts and sciences.”

That’s Doc’s fictional or “in-universe” background. But in an essay in Vol. 8 of the reprints (pages 123-127), Murray writes that Doc (and likewise the Shadow and the Avenger) was inspired, in part, by Richard Henry Savage (June 12, 1846- Oct. 11, 1903), a soldier, diplomat, engineer and writer. He was also admitted to the New York bar in 1890. Murray describes the real-life Savage as “one of the most colorful figures of the late 19th century.”

Richard Henry Savage

Murray also argues that to whatever degree the real-life Richard Henry Savage influenced the fictional Dr. Clark Savage, Jr., it was foisted on Lester Dent.

Doc’s first name, like that of Mr. Kent, comes from actor Clark Gable.

In a 1953 essay, reprinted in the foreword of Vol. 14 of the Nostalgia Ventures Doc Savage reprints, Dent described Doc as both a physical and moral superman. “He had the clue-following ability of Sherlock Holmes, the muscular tree-swinging ability of Tarzan, the scientific sleuthing of Craig Kennedy and the morals of Jesus Christ. He was an ideal, surrounded by five assistants who were human enough to temper his severity.”

These five assistants— each an expert in his own field— were Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks (AKA “Ham”), “the most astute lawyer Harvard ever turned out”; Lt. Col. Andrew Blodgett Mayfair (AKA “Monk”), “one of the foremost chemists in the world”; Col. John Renwick (AKA “Renny”), “a leading engineer”; Major Thomas J. Roberts (AKA “Long Tom”), the “electrical wizard”; and William Harper Littlejohn (AKA “Johnny”), geologist and archaeologist.

Doc, of course, is superior to each of them in their respective fields.

His cousin, Patricia Savage, also occasionally takes part in his adventures.

Just another day in the life of cousins Doc and Pat Savage.

Just another day in the life of cousins Doc and Pat Savage.

The above descriptions of Doc’s “Iron Crew” (reprinted on page 30 of Vol. 1) come from the story “The Fortress of Solitude.”

We also learn that Ham and Monk (who “looks like a gorilla”) are “sparring partners” because of a series of practical jokes they played on each other back in Word War I.

In that same 1953 essay, Dent also wrote that the intent was to keep Doc, whom he described as a “gadget man”, as “scientific as possible, without becoming pseudo-scientific.”

According to Dent, Doc Savage also contained a number of technological marvels, long before they came into general use. These included wire recorders, telephone-answering machines, sonic detectors and proximity fuses.

To quote the Joker in Batman (1989), “where does he get those wonderful toys?” Well, Doc, like Bruce Wayne, isn’t hurting, financially. He has access to a hidden, Mayan gold mine in Central America.

From page 62 of “The Man of Bronze” reprint story: “This was the legacy his father had left him. He was to use it in the cause to which his life was dedicated… striving to help those who need help; punishing those who deserve it.”

Artist James Bama depicted Doc wearing a tattered shirt. It’s a dramatic image, but you’d think with all his money, Doc could afford a new one.

Doc Savage generally operates out of the 86th floor of a New York City skyscraper— implied to be the Empire State Building— and via a pneumatic tube system can travel to a “waterfront hanger boathouse” on the Hudson River.

As to the Superman parallels, Murray writes in his introduction to “The Fortress of Solitude” reprint that it wasn’t so much Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as it was later editor Mort Weisinger (though Siegel and Shuster were obviously aware of Doc). “It was under Mort Weisinger’s editorial guidance that Superman was given his Fortress of Solitude,” Murray writes. “The year was 1949.”

Doc is in many ways a law unto himself. A box on page 25 of volume four of the Nostalgia Ventures reprints tells us that “rather than turn [a criminal] over to the law, Doc Savage sends the individual to an institution he maintains in upstate New York. There, the lawbreakers are subjected to a delicate brain operation, which eliminates all knowledge of their past lives. On recovery, the criminals are given a course of training which converts them into upright citizens, with a useful trade for gaining a livelihood.”

Bit Draconian, huh, Doc?

Of course, in his early days, Superman was also far from the “Big Blue Boy Scout” he’d later become.

Pulp novels were very much of their time and have more than a few shortcomings. Some novels (and characters) have long since been forgotten, but not Doc Savage.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Revisiting Babylon 5

Standard

Babylon 5 season 1 box set

Science fiction is often called the literature of ideas and that was especially true of Babylon 5, a superb five-season novel for television, which ran from 1993-1998.

Yes, novel for television. It was written with the structure of a novel and was intended to run for five seasons.

It was also the first American TV series to take such an approach; and series creator J. Michael Straczynski wrote 92 of the 110 episodes (or about 84 percent), ensuring that the storyline hewed to his vision.

He also spent years trying to get the series made, a testimony to, as Straczynski himself put it, never surrendering dreams. One of the earliest references to Babylon 5 I’ve come across is in an interview with Straczynski in Starlog #136 (Nov. 1988, pg 58).

Among other things, Babylon 5 explored the relationships between individuals and among governments before, during and after a major war. One of the themes of the series is the importance of creating one’s own future and of determining one’s own destiny. As Straczynski says in his commentary for the season three finale, “individuals have power; individuals have strength.”

The story takes place from 2258 to 2262, primarily aboard the space station Babylon 5, located in neutral territory. Here, five interstellar dominions converge: The Centauri Republic, The Earth Alliance, The Minbari Federation, The Narn Regime and The Vorlon Empire.

The Babylon 5 station.

The Babylon 5 station.

Babylon 5, the last of the Babylon stations (the first three were sabotaged early in their respective construction phases; Babylon 4 disappeared 24 hours after it became operational), was built 10 years after the Earth-Minbari war, which nearly saw the human race annihilated. But just when the Minbari had Earth on its metaphorical knees, they mysteriously surrendered.

As the series begins, the Narns, once enslaved by the Centauri, are trying to make a name for themselves; the Centauri Republic, by contrast, is in decline; the Minbari seem to be ignoring signs that the prophecies of their greatest leader, Valen, are coming true; the Earth Alliance is becoming more isolationist; and the Vorlons—

Are an enigma

And unknown to most, a sixth race— known only as The Shadows— is on the prowl. And their presence is a very bad sign.

Some governments rise; some fall; some (including the Earth Alliance) are torn apart by civil war.

The characters also change over the course of the series. At first glance, Narn Ambassador G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas) appears to be the primary antagonist. But as G’Kar himself says, “no one here is exactly what he appears.” By the end of the series, he has changed in ways he probably couldn’t have imagined when he first came aboard the station.

And who could guess that Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik)— an apparent buffoon, a gambler and an overall has-been at the series’ start— would end up with so much blood on his hands?

G’Kar and Londo at odds.

G’Kar and Londo at odds.

Neither the Shadows nor the Vorlons are necessarily what they appear, either. To paraphrase something Straczynski said in an online forum when the show was on the air, the Shadows are the nominal “bad guys”, but their representative, Mr. Morden (Ed Wasser), is polite and charming. The Vorlons are the nominal “good guys”, but Vorlon Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain) all but terrorizes telepath Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson) and has an inquisitor (Wayne Alexander) all but torture Minbari Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan).

The always polite Mr. Morden has just one question: “What do you want?”

The always polite Mr. Morden has just
one question: “What do you want?”

The less-than-polite inquisitor, Sebastian, Interrogates Delenn.

The less-than-polite inquisitor, Sebastian,
Interrogates Delenn.

We also see the rise of a dictatorship on Earth. One aspect of it is an organization called the Night Watch. Initially presented in terms some might find palatable, it’s not long before it becomes much more sinister. Security officer Zack Allan (Jeff Conaway) joins Night Watch for the extra 50 credits a week, but he soon begins to have “buyer’s remorse.” Especially when Night Watch members are authorized to read E-Mails and look into individuals’ past associations.

Of course, those who were paying attention when Night Watch was introduced would have noted this phrase by another representative:

“Peace can be made or broken with a gun, a word, an idea, even a thought.” (emphasis mine)

Even when Night Watch was showing its “nice” face, it was still hinting at its true nature.

A Night Watch representative recruiting new members.

A Night Watch representative recruiting new members.

Then there’s Interstellar Network News (ISN), a once legitimate media outlet that becomes a propaganda arm of the EarthGov dictatorship. In the fourth season episode “The Illusion of Truth”, Captain John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) allows an ISN reporter access to the station because he knows the man’s going to do a story anyway. But, as he later tells Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian), “we kept anything we said down to short, declarative sentences to make it harder to take us out of context.”

Yeah, good luck with that. The ISN broadcast (which takes up the second half of the episode and provides a juxtaposition between what viewers of the TV show saw vs. what people in that fictional universe saw on the news that day) is a hatchet job. Actual dialogue in some scenes is replaced by the reporter’s blatant lies in a voice-over; and rather than show the reporter asking the actual questions he addressed to Sheridan, ISN instead inter-cut shots of the reporter asking different questions— while in another room— with Sheridan’s answers. This gives the answers a different context.

In Vol. 9 of the limited edition Babylon 5 Scripts of J. Michael Straczynski (page 26), Straczynski said few people noticed that inter-cutting, “which of course is exactly why and how people get away with this sort of thing.”

He also said the episode has become required viewing at media and journalism classes at several major universities.

As it should be.

It’s not all gloom and doom on Babylon 5, however. There are many moments of humor. In the teaser of “Babylon Squared”, Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) and Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) trick a half-awake Ivanova into believing she slept through breakfast (“I’ll notify your next of kin,” Sinclair subsequently tells Garibaldi).

Sinclair “hypnotizes” a half-awake Ivanova.

Sinclair “hypnotizes” a half-awake Ivanova.

In the season two episode “The Geometry of Shadows”, Ivanova seeks to understand the reasons for fights among the Drazi— who’ve split into factions wearing green and purple scarves— so she can try to mediate the conflict. What’s the point of contention?

Turns out the scarves are selected at random, literally taken from a large barrel.

“Green must fight Purple; Purple must fight Green. Is no other way,” a Green Drazi says.

“Just my luck,” Ivanova replies. “I get stuck with a race that speaks only in macros.”

Later, Ivanova tries to get the Drazi to understand how asinine this is (especially after the two factions begin killing each other).

“Don’t you understand? This is insane. It doesn’t make any sense to go around killing each other over a piece of cloth.”

Ivanova attempts to mediate with the Drazi.

Ivanova attempts to mediate with the Drazi.

The Drazi situation reminds me of the Bloom County strip from July 6, 1982, where a soldier in the Falklands War says “they want our rocks. These are our rocks. I will die to protect the honor of our rocks.”

Babylon 5 was also rare among science fiction TV series in that it explored religious themes and beliefs. Ironic in some ways, because Straczynski himself is not religious. G’Kar is deeply religious; the Minbari are very spiritual; Ivanova is Jewish; and Sinclair was educated by Jesuits.

Also, characters often find themselves in situations where they must decide whether or not to forgive. As Sheridan notes in the episode “Passing Through Gethsemane”, “Forgiveness is a hard thing, isn’t it?”

When the Prime Time Entertainment Network (PTEN) collapsed, cable network TNT picked up Babylon 5 for the fifth season (and aired re-runs of the previous seasons). To introduce its viewers to the series, TNT broadcast In The Beginning, which told the story of the Earth-Minbari war as narrated by an elderly Londo Mollari.

If you’re going to watch (or re-watch) Babylon 5, I believe it’s best to start there. Then go on to the 1992 pilot movie, The Gathering (which was re-edited in 1998, with a lot of important character bits— and other things that should have been there all along— restored), and then the series.

Yes, starting with In The Beginning means you’ll know things viewers the first time around didn’t learn until much later; but while you’ll know, for example, that Londo one day becomes ________, you won’t know how or under what circumstances.

And finding that out is part of the fun.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: More Flash time travel thoughts

Standard

Eobard Thawne and Harrison Wells
In the March 31 episode of The Flash, “Tricksters”, we learn in flashbacks that Eobard Thawne (Matt Letscher) killed the real Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) 15 years ago, subsequent to his murder of Nora Allen. He also used a device to change his appearance so he looked like Wells.

This revelation answers the question of why Wells’ DNA wasn’t at the scene of Nora Allen’s murder. The real Wells was never there (and, presumably, the device that let Thawne impersonate Wells didn’t just change his outward appearance, but his DNA as well).

A teaser for upcoming episodes shows Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and Arrow’s Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) finding a skeleton. My guess: It’s the real Harrison Wells.

The flashbacks start with The Flash (Grant Gustin) chasing the Reverse Flash, whose destination appears to be the Allen home 15 years ago. It appears the Reverse Flash’s intent was to go back in time and kill Barry as a child, only to find himself stranded. So, ironically, he found himself having to wait until Barry grew up so he could orchestrate events to make Barry the Flash and then somehow use the Flash’s speed to get home.

Eobard Thawne stranded in the 21st century.

Eobard Thawne stranded in the 21st century.

It also looks like the Reverse Flash is the one who removed the younger Barry from the house. Why? To kill him? Why not do it in the house? To add to the confusion, the two speedsters were in the living room; the younger Barry was initially in his bedroom, but came out to investigate. If young Barry had been the target, wouldn’t the Reverse Flash have headed straight for the bedroom, where a child would likely have been at that time of night?

Also, what happened to the Flash back then? Why didn’t he chase after the Reverse Flash when the latter ran off with the young Barry? Or, for that matter, if he didn’t continue his pursuit, why didn’t he rush his injured mother to the hospital?

I think the moment the Reverse Flash ran off with the young Barry, he “overwrote” past events and the Barry of the original timeline ceased to exist. Just as Barry himself overwrote the events of a day or so when he tried to stop the tidal wave.

Right about then is when the Reverse Flash lost his super speed, by the way. Though, young Barry wasn’t with him, so he must have dropped him somewhere and kept going until he ran out of super speed. Again, why?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Flash carried off his younger self. If so, the end result is the same. He overwrote the past and the older version suddenly disappeared, leaving young Barry standing in the middle of the street however far away he’d been taken.

Leaving aside the question of which of the speedsters carried young Barry from the house, the fact remains that there’s no indication the Flash remained active in the past.

The real Harrison Wells with his fiancée, Tess Morgan.

The real Harrison Wells with his fiancée, Tess Morgan.

As for the Reverse Flash, after becoming stranded in the past, he stalked the real Dr. Wells. He didn’t choose Wells at random, however. After causing a car crash that killed Wells’ fiancée, Tess Morgan (Bre Blair), the Reverse Flash told Wells that in the history he knew, Wells and his wife activated the particle accelerator in 2020, but that he— Thawne— couldn’t wait that long. Though, given that he had to wait until Barry grew up anyway, what’s a few more years?

Presumably the particle accelerator also malfunctioned in the original history, giving a slightly older Barry his super speed. Whether Barry ever interacted with the real Dr. Wells in the original timeline is impossible to say. Even if he had, the circumstances would have been different, because in the timeline we know Wells/Thawne had an agenda in mentoring Barry.

In the same episode, Barry also revealed his identity to both his father (John Wesley Shipp), who was taken hostage by the Trickster (Mark Hamill), and Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett). He made the latter revelation because he and Joe needed Eddie’s help in convincing Iris West (Candice Patton) to give up searching for her colleague who was killed by the Reverse Flash. Eddie told her his investigation found that the man had moved to Brazil.

In the April 14 episode, “All Star Team Up”, Arrow’s Felicity Smoak and Ray Palmer (Emily Bett Rickards and Brandon Routh) guest starred. So did Amanda Pays, making her second appearance as Mercury Labs’ Tina McGee. Pays, of course, played a character of the same name in the original 1990 Flash series opposite John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen.

In Arrow, Ray recently began operating as the Atom (though this iteration does not (yet?) shrink to six inches or smaller). In one scene, Felicity, Barry, Caitlin, Cisco and “Dr. Wells” watch the Atom fly in.

Caitlin: “Is that a bird?”

Cisco: “It’s a plane.”

No, it’s an inside joke. Brandon Routh played Superman in Superman Returns.

The Atom.

The Atom.

Meanwhile, Cisco is having flashes of memory from his fatal encounter with the Reverse Flash in the previous timeline (not unlike sound from a previous recording bleeding through a re-recorded audio tape). At the end of the episode, he tells Joe, Barry and Caitlin that he remembers that Dr. Wells is the Reverse Flash (adding weight to what Barry had just told a disbelieving Caitlin) and that he remembers Dr. Wells killing him.

In an earlier scene, Dr. McGee told Barry that after the car accident, Harrison Wells— once a close friend— became a completely different person. According to the teaser for tonight’s episode Barry will either realize (or deduce) that it’s literally true.

Question: Why has Eobard Thawne, in his persona of Harrison Wells, helped Barry capture and contain dangerous metahumans? Two reasons: He can’t risk any of them harming or killing Barry before he can use Barry’s super speed abilities to return to his own time and if there comes a time when Barry could pose a threat to his plans, he could release the captured metahumans to keep Barry occupied.

Another question that remains to be answered is whether Barry will learn that another version of himself was in his childhood home; not his future self. Even if he does, I doubt it would dissuade him from trying to go back and save his mother.

How do we know that it isn’t Barry’s future self? Because, again, the Reverse Flash has already experienced those events.

Also,  to what degree has Eobard Thawne’s 15 year impersonation of Harrison Wells changed him? He has to keep Barry close and safe for his own purposes, but he also genuinely seems to care about Cisco, Caitlin and others. The fact that Thawne allowed himself to get close to any of his colleagues during his impersonation of Dr. Wells is curious. Why not maintain a cool, professional detachment? Why did he “bond” with Cisco, watching an old silent film? Could Thawne have come to identify so much with his Wells persona and life in the 21st century— where he is effectively a hostage— that he’s affected by some ironic form of the Stockholm Syndrome?

Perhaps, but he wasn’t affected enough to let Cisco live in a previous timeline. Still, would he have risked exposure to save Cisco’s life in circumstances were Barry wasn’t around (and Cisco wasn’t investigating the Reverse Flash)? I think the answer to that is a definite maybe.

Even so, I don’t think we should expect the Reverse Flash to have a “road to Damascus” moment of revelation and attempt to set things right by changing history so Nora Allen never died. Even if such a thing were to happen, it would only be because the Reverse Flash had realized he’d created a new timeline and he’d need to restore the original to return to the 25th century he knows. In short, any act of altruism would be a means to an end.

Barry and “Dr. Wells.”

Barry and “Dr. Wells.”

Still, it’s curious that in his persona of Dr. Wells, Eobard Thawne has been grooming Barry Allen to be a hero. If all he needs to get home is the Flash’s speed, how Barry uses that speed is incidental.

It’s ironic that the Reverse Flash’s attempt to change history and eliminate his enemy led him to become stranded centuries in his own past. Whatever the cause of their enmity in the original timeline, you have to wonder if he had wished he’d never met the Flash.

I’ve no idea if such a scenario would ever happen, but suppose the Reverse Flash met someone who could return him to his own time, only at the cost of the permanent loss of his super speed? Would he accept the deal? It’d be more ironic if that were the only way he could get home.

I’ve no doubt that Barry will get justice for his father, falsely imprisoned for his mother’s murder; but whether he exposes the truth about Eobard Thawne or goes back and changes history remains to be seen. Either way, I feel certain some close approximation of the original timeline will be restored.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Déjà vu all over again: fallout from the recent time travel in The Flash.

Standard

Flash runs alongside himself

In last week’s episode of The Flash, “Out of Time”, Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) discovered that his employer and mentor, Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), was Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash, the man who’d killed Nora Allen 14 years earlier. And was himself killed by Wells/Thawne as a consequence.

Meanwhile, Mark Mardon, AKA the Weather Wizard (Liam McIntyre), targeted Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) for revenge in the death of his brother in the pilot; and as part of that vengeance unleashed a tidal wave on Central City. In his efforts to stop the tidal wave, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) ran so fast he traveled back in time to a moment near the start of the episode.

As I predicted, there weren’t two Flashes running around in this week’s episode, “Rogue Time.” Instead, Barry had “overwritten” his past self and the events of the past day or two. How did that change things?

First, since he knew about the Weather Wizard’s intentions, Barry was able to capture and imprison him before he could even get started with his plan of revenge.

Weather Wizard: “Curses, foiled again!”

Because the Weather Wizard never launched his attacks, Barry’s boss, Captain Singh (Patrick Sabongui), didn’t receive a crippling injury.

Captain Singh injured.

Captain Singh injured.

Captain Singh: “That’s a relief.”

Also, since events now took a different path, Cisco never investigated how the Reverse Flash escaped from containment and thus didn’t make his discovery and get himself killed.

Cisco: “Hooray, I’m not dead.”

On the other hand, in the new timeline he was captured by Leonard Snart, AKA Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), who tortured Cisco’s brother, Dante (Nicholas Gonzalez), to make Cisco reveal the Flash’s true identity.

Cisco: “Darn it!”

And while Cisco is still breathing in the new timeline (ironically, Dr. Wells gave him a pep talk in the same room where he killed him in the original history), newspaper reporter Mason Bridge (Roger Howarth), who was investigating Dr. Wells, wasn’t so lucky. In the altered timeline, Dr. Wells somehow learned about Bridge’s investigation and, as the Reverse Flash, punched a hole through his heart at super speed.

Bridge: “Ouch!”

For his part, Barry, who’d again confessed his love for Iris West (Candice Patton) in the original timeline— and been told she felt the same— was surprised to find she didn’t share those feelings in the altered timeline.

Barry and Iris.

Barry and Iris.

Barry: “Rats!”

The reason, Dr. Wells theorized, was a major emotional event in the original timeline. That, obviously, would have been the attacks on her father.

At the episode’s end, Barry had somehow become suspicious of Dr. Wells, telling Joe that Joe might have been right about everything about him.

Dr. Wells: “Uh, oh.”

As for Captain Cold knowing Barry’s identity, Barry made it clear that if word got out, the Flash would make Captain Cold’s life an unpleasant one.

Captain Cold: “I probably shouldn’t make him angry. I don’t think I’ll like him when he’s angry.”

Flash confronts Captain Cold.

Flash confronts Captain Cold.

So, was it a bit of a cheat— one along the lines of the abhorred “it was all a dream” ending— to re-set the events of last week so that Cisco wasn’t killed and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) never discovered that— at the very least— Dr. Wells didn’t need his wheelchair?

No. Because A) the viewer knows the truth about the Reverse Flash and B) Barry is himself now suspicious of Dr. Wells, which will no doubt lead to a season-ending confrontation.

In another character development, Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett) punched Barry at a crime scene after Barry’s meeting with Iris. He later apologized, saying it’s not like him to hit anyone. He and Iris were also led to believe (by Caitlin) that Barry’s “emotional outburst” was a side effect of the lightning strike all those months ago.

The other day, I saw a trailer for upcoming episodes. In it, Eddie shoots two fellow cops. Presumably those actions will turn out to be as uncharacteristic as his punching Barry. The question remains what causes him to do these things?

The Flash remains a smart and fun show and next week’s episode should be especially fun as Mark Hamill reprises his role of the Trickster from the 1990 Flash series.

The Trickster then.

The Trickster then.

The Trickster today.

The Trickster today.

Well, sort of. While the previous show isn’t acknowledged within the fictional universe of The Flash, for obvious reasons, photos and video clips of Hamill’s character when he was younger are taken from his appearances in the 1990 series.

Hamill, of course, is well-regarded for his portrayal as the voice of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. In some ways, his performance as the Trickster could almost be seen as a “trial run” for his later Joker portrayal.

On the subject of time travel, I mentioned earlier this year that I doubted Eddie Thawne was the Reverse Flash because he doesn’t mess up day-to-day details someone from the future might not know. How do I explain Dr. Wells not having that problem? He’s been in our century for 15 years. Plenty of time to get acclimated.

Yes, Eddie could have, too, if he’d arrived from the 25th century 15 years ago. But Eddie’s also 20 years younger than Dr. Wells (assuming the characters are the same ages as the actors). It’s doubtful the producers ever considered having the Reverse Flash be a teenager; so if he had been Eddie, we would have found that, like Barry, an adult Eddie would have eventually traveled back in time to that fateful night.

The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.