Random Musings: A look at Fantagraphics’ Prince Valiant reprints

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Prince Valiant

Comic strips have been part of newspapers for so long that people probably never give them a second thought. Those of us who read the comics have favorites we never miss, while skimming or skipping over others.

I’ve always tended to skim or skip over Prince Valiant. As long as I can remember, it was presented in the Sunday comics as just a few panels, but if it still appeared in its original full-page form, I might have read it on a regular basis.

Yes, at one point many— if not all— comic strips each took up an entire page. Prince Valiant was one of those; and thanks to Fantagraphics Books, you can read the early years of Prince Valiant as it originally appeared.

To date, Fantagraphics Books has released 13 oversize (14” x 10”) volumes (with a 14th due in November) of Hal Foster’s celebrated comic strip. Each volume covers two years and according to the cover blurb in Vol. 1, these editions are shot, for the first time, from Foster’s own pristine engraver’s proof.

Harold Rudolf Foster (1892-1982), debuted Prince Valiant on Feb. 13, 1937. According to an essay by Brian M. Kane in Vol. 1, he’d previously worked on a Tarzan strip. Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst was, “So impressed with Foster’s work on Tarzan that he promised Foster complete ownership of any comic strip he developed.”

Kane also writes that the saga of Prince Valiant was described by the Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII, before his abdication in 1936) as “the greatest contribution to English literature in the past 100 years.”

Prince Valiant, or Val, is the son of the deposed king of Thule. He eventually became a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table and acquired a sword— Flamberge— forged by the same mage who created Excalibur.

Foster continued to do all the writing and illustrating on the strip until May 16, 1971, when he handed the reins to John Cullen Murphy. Foster would still do layouts and write and color Prince Valiant until Feb. 10, 1980, according to Kane.

Vol. 1 also includes a 1969 interview with Foster by Fred Schreiber in which Foster called Alex Raymond, creator of Flash Gordon, a great influence. “He was such a wonderful delineator of character,” Foster said. “I admired his work very much.”

Vol. 1 opens with the King of Thule fleeing from his enemies in a fisherman’s lugger and attempting to find harbor along Britain’s chalk cliffs. “The half-savage Britons opposed their landing”, the narration from the debut strip tells us. Eventually, the storm-tossed ship is “pounded on the treacherous sands” at the mouth of the Thames.

The Feb. 20, 1937 strip tells us that after some fighting, and a retreat up the coast toward the north, the king and his people are given the choice of fighting a losing battle or settling on an island far out in the fens.

The king chooses the latter.

For young Prince Valiant, in the Feb. 27, 1937 installment, it’s a “new world that promises mystery and great adventure.”

Val grows up quickly. By the March 20, 1937 strip, he’s depicted as a young adult; and by April 24, he’s ready to set out beyond the fens and see what awaits him. That one strip— which covers events of more than a year— also concerns the death of his mother. The narration tells us, “The fens that had caused his mother’s death have lost their fascination.”

Val encounters both a former childhood friend and Sir Launcelot (Foster’s spelling). Sir Launcelot’s squire soon learns that people who make Prince Valiant angry shouldn’t. Val’s an impetuous lad.

Which gets him into a lot of trouble.

Some time later, having captured and tamed a wild horse (and made his own saddle and other accoutrements), Val befriends Sir Gawain and comes to Camelot.

Soon after he arrives, he gets into a fight and is forced to stay behind while almost everyone else goes off into battle. That’s right. He’s essentially grounded for fighting and can’t go off to fight.

Not only is Val impetuous, he’s also clever and resourceful. When Gawain falls victim to a trap in which he’s to be held for ransom, Val single-handedly rescues him.

In a later adventure, Val uses a fearsome disguise, darkness and the overactive imaginations of the outlaws who have seized a castle belonging to a pretty girl’s parents to rout the villains.

Seems even Arthurian-era criminals are what Batman would later famously call a superstitious, cowardly lot.

In another adventure, Val distracts pirates.

By singing.

In Volume 2, Val’s father reclaims his throne after being in exile for 12 years and Val himself is knighted by King Arthur. While Val returns to Thule for a time, he soon leaves to have adventures as a knight errant. These include several confrontations with the Hun. And, it seems that in driving some of the Hun from the Venetian plains, Val, Tristram and Sir Gawain unknowingly helped in the building of Venice. (July 28, 1940).

The final installment of volume 2 (Dec. 29, 1940), finds Val on a storm-tossed ship. The captain had intended to rob and murder him. Didn’t work out too well for the captain.

So far, I’ve only read the first two volumes, but I’ll read subsequent volumes at some point. While the knights in armor genre isn’t a personal favorite of mine, I still enjoyed reading those early installments of Prince Valiant.

I’m still not sold on the small-scale modern version, even though I did notice— and was amused by— the appearance in one installment in recent years of two characters who looked suspiciously like Laurel and Hardy.

The odds that we’ll ever return to the days of full-page comic strips are infinitesimal. Thanks to Fantagraphics Books, however, we can enjoy early Prince Valiant in all its full-page glory.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Revisiting the Village with the Prisoner

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Prisoner title card
“I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered!”— the Prisoner (Patrick McGoohan)

One of the best television series ever made was The Prisoner, which addressed such issues as the rights of the individual, the electoral process, education, identity and the nature of freedom. It also didn’t provide easy answers or “pat you on the head” moralizing sermons. This 17-episode 1967 series co-created by and starring the late Patrick McGoohan forced viewers to not only consider such issues, but also to think for themselves. Something most people weren’t used to doing, especially when seated in front of a TV set.

On the surface, the series concerned an unnamed man (presumably a government agent) who is abducted to a place called the Village following his resignation. He seeks both to escape and to find out which side of the Iron Curtain runs the place. Everyone in the Village is identified by a number, with the public face of the Village’s power represented by “Number Two.” A new Number Two appeared in each episode (though two actors, Leo McKern and Colin Gordon, made repeat appearances in the role). The Village seeks to break the Prisoner’s spirit so he’ll accept that he’s “Number Six.” Those in charge also want to know why he resigned, information Number Six refuses to divulge.

The Prisoner was filmed in the Italianate resort of Portmeirion in Wales (which I visited on July 17, 1988), though the location wasn’t identified until the final episode. The Village’s pleasant and appealing exterior hid a sinister undercurrent.

Portmeirion

Portmeirion, site of the Village. Copyright 1988, Patrick Keating.

The mix of architectural styles also would make it difficult for the characters to determine exactly where they were.

The series establishes three contradictory locations for the Village, leaving viewers to wonder if those contradictions were mistakes owing to the speed of TV productions or if, in-universe, there was more than one Village, with its “guests” occasionally moved from one to another while unconscious in order to frustrate any attempts at determining where they were.

The series was also a metaphor, so the actual location of the Village isn’t that important when you think of it from that point of view.

As I said, The Prisoner explored a number of issues. In the episode “Free For All”, McGoohan, who wrote (as “Paddy Fitz”) and directed, addressed political campaigns and how they’re covered in the media. Number Six is maneuvered into running for the office of Number Two. He finds the idea of elections in the Village amusing.

“Elections? In this place?” he asks Number Two (Eric Portman), who replies that the Villagers make their choice every 12 months.

“Are you going to run?”

“Like blazes, the first chance I get.”

“I meant run for office.”

Free For All

“Free For All.”– Number Two (Eric Portman) encourages Number Six (Patrick McGoohan) to begin campaigning.

In that episode, we’re treated to banal campaign promises (Number Six literally promises winter, spring, summer or fall); and in a meeting of the outgoing council, the council members just stand there as Number Six demands to know who elected them and to what place or country they owe allegiance. And all “proposals” of the council are “carried unanimously” by Number Two as the council stands mute.

That episode also finds Number Six “interviewed” by Number 113 (Harold Berens), a “reporter” for the local “newspaper” who supplies his own answers to his questions.

To give just one example:

Number 113: “How are you going to handle your campaign?”

Number Six: “No comment.”

Number 113: “Intends to fight for freedom at all costs.”

Seconds after the “interview” is over, Number Six discovers that the edition of the paper just then coming off the press contains the story, “No. 6 Speaks His Mind.”

By the way, in the fall of 1988, I took a class on the presidency and suggested to the teacher that we screen and discuss “Free For All” in class because of its commentary about the election process and how candidates are sometimes covered in the media. He nixed the idea, arguing it might somehow have a negative effect related to the then-current election.

I’ve always found that argument ludicrous. A fictional election on a 1960s British TV show was going to somehow adversely affect American college students voting in a presidential election two decades after the show aired? Let’s stay real, shall we?

Education was another issue addressed in The Prisoner. In “The General”, the Speedlearn “educational” process imparts information directly to the cerebral cortex, but those who take the three-year course “Europe since Napoleon” in three minutes— and have the information “indelibly impressed upon the mind”— can only parrot back the exact information beamed into their head. People who take the “course” learn when the Treaty of Adrianople took place (September 1829), but when Number 12 (John Castle) asks Number Six what it was, Number Six can only give the date.

“Wrong,” Number 12 says. “I said what, not when.”

To number Six, those who are “educated” through Speedlearn are “a row of cabbages.”

“Indeed,” Number Two (Colin Gordon) replies. “Knowledgeable cabbages.”

But how knowledgeable is someone when that “knowledge” is so limited?

In 2009, the cable channel AMC broadcast a six hour mini series reinterpretation of The Prisoner in cooperation with ITV. It starred Jim Caviezel as “Six” and Sir Ian McKellen as “Two.” I may discuss the remake in a subsequent entry. One thing I liked about it is that it told its own story and went in its own direction, rather than trying to retread the same ground McGoohan explored.

If you enjoy thought-provoking TV shows, The Prisoner is well worth checking out.

Be seeing you.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Star Trek’s ongoing adventures

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Star Trek Continues

An old bumper sticker read “Star Trek lives.” In this 50th anniversary year, with a new movie set to come out next week and a new TV series next year, that would certainly seem to be true.

But Star Trek’s new adventures aren’t only in those media (or even in books and comics). There have also been a number of fan-made productions. I’m going to talk about two of them today.

The fan productions have gotten some attention lately because CBS/Paramount issued new rules regarding what they can and cannot do. Both Peter David (PAD) and Jerry Chandler have addressed that issue. I’ll also touch on it, briefly, but my main focus will be on those productions themselves and on how Star Trek has become analogous to Shakespeare.

As to Paramount’s new guidelines, as PAD says, fans are “damned lucky.” When I first heard about fan films, several years ago, I was surprised Paramount was okay with their being made. And in his blog, PAD pointed out that the studio wasn’t always so agreeable. He said that at a convention he attended in the 1970s, “Paramount lawyers actually came into the dealer’s room and confiscated peoples’ fanzines from right off their tables.”

The fan productions I want to discuss are Star Trek: New Voyages (formerly Star Trek Phase II) and Star Trek Continues. I think the latter is better, overall, but both productions have produced good stories.

The title Phase II is a reference to the proposed 1970s Star Trek TV series that was scrapped when Paramount decided to make Star Trek The Motion Picture instead.

Both series have attracted Trek alumni as well as actors from other science fiction franchises.

In New Voyages, Captain Kirk was initially played by James Cawley. He’s now played by Brian Gross, whom I prefer of the two.

Star Trek New Voyages

Star Trek: New Voyages, with Brian Gross as Captain Kirk.

Gross has appeared in a nine-minute vignette called “Going Boldly” and the episodes “Mind-Sifter” (based on a fan fiction short story published in the 70s) and “The Holiest Thing”, in which Kirk meets Dr. Carol Marcus. I thought “Mind-Sifter” was the better of the two.

While I prefer Gross over Cawley as Kirk, the Cawley-led episode “World Enough and Time”, which guest-starred George Takei, was quite excellent.

Star Trek Continues, which stars Vic Mignogna as Kirk and features Chris Doohan— son of James— as Scotty, literally picks up where “Turnabout Intruder” ended and is airing “fourth season” episodes. The first, “Pilgrim of Eternity”, features Michael Forest reprising his role of Apollo from “Who Mourns for Adonis.” Another, “Fairest of them all”, is a sequel to “Mirror, Mirror”, set in the mirror universe.

There are other Star Trek fan productions as well, some set on the Enterprise and some set on other ships. One, which I won’t name, leaves room for improvement. But the people involved seemed like they were having fun.

Which is kind of the point. The various fan productions are all being made by people who love Star Trek.

But they don’t own the rights to Star Trek. And, as Jerry points out:

The filmmaking tools that are available to just about anyone these days means that anyone who wants to can make a film… Computer programs on the market allow you to edit easily enough, and making FX on your laptop these days can result in rendered scenes that would have amazed even some pros 20 years ago.

Is it any wonder CBS and Paramount are imposing some restrictions?

Both PAD and Jerry point out that people can create their own characters and universes, leaving them free from any restrictions. Some people may do that. Some will produce new Star Trek fan productions within the guidelines, perhaps hoping they’ll eventually be loosened.

Others have expressed their belief that Star Trek should be in the public domain.

What that last group doesn’t understand (or doesn’t care about) is that under current copyright law, a creative work remains under copyright for the life of the author, plus 70 years (with a “pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.”)

If Gene Roddenberry, who died in 1991, had written Star Trek as a series of novels, they’d still be in copyright.

In 1790, copyright was for a mere 14 years, with a 14-year renewal. Personally, I think the current system (for individuals) is better. The length shouldn’t be extended, however.

But such lengthy copyright protection should only apply to people, not corporations. After some reasonable period, Star Trek (in all its TV and film incarnations) should go into the public domain. Certainly by 2066.

Until Star Trek becomes public domain, fan productions will just have to accept the restrictions of playing in someone else’s sandbox.

Now what’s this Shakespeare connection I mentioned?

It’s very simple. I suspect that Star Trek will be like Shakespeare’s plays, with performances and adaptations going on for years and centuries to come. The current fan productions and the new films are just some examples. They were hardly the first.

Back in the mid-90s, I read about a Star Trek stage play I’d intended to see, but never did. What I remember from the review at the time was that— in a knowing nod to how things were on the original series— fight scenes were performed by stunt performers who looked nothing like the actors.

I doubt that was the first Star Trek-inspired play, either.

And while Shakespeare is rightly acknowledged for the quality of his work, he did write for the masses. Had the technology existed at the time, he’d have been a TV writer. So the analogy isn’t coming from out of left field.

Had Shakespeare been brought through time to the 1960s, I wonder what sort of Star Trek episode he’d have written.

Probably a Tribbles episodes set in the mirror universe.

And speaking of Shakespeare, for those who feel any adaptation of Star Trek has gotten it wrong, I remind you of a scene from Sandman #13, “Men of Good Fortune”, in which Morpheus has one of his once-a-century meetings with the immortal Hob Gadling in 1789.

“I saw King Lear yesterday,” Hob says. “Mrs. Siddons as Goneril. The idiots had given it a happy ending.”

“That will not last,” Morpheus replies. “The great stories will always return to their original forms.”

Whatever adaptations lay ahead, Star Trek, at its core, will always be about exploring, seeking out and boldly going.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Revisiting Max Headroom

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Max Headroom DVD

If you remember the sadly short-lived Max Headroom from 1987, it’s worth revisiting that 14-episode TV series on DVD. If you never saw it, you should.

Set “20 minutes into the future”, Max Headroom takes place in a dystopian environment where TV networks comprise the de facto government and off switches are illegal.

Edison Carter

Edison Carter.

Edison Carter (Matt Frewer), hard-hitting reporter for Network 23, is injured in a motorcycle crash while investigating a story that could prove embarrassing to his bosses. The last thing he sees, as a gate to a parking garage comes down, are the words on the gate: “Max Headroom.”

Carter is too dangerous to let go free, but too high-profile to simply “disappear”; so Network 23’s CEO agrees to have his memory downloaded to a computer. The idea is that a computer-generated avatar will continue to give his reports and no one will know the difference.

It doesn’t go as planned. The computer generated version, whose first words— and subsequently his name— are “Max Headroom”, does not look quite like Carter. Max also develops something of a satirical bent and believes TV is real. In one episode, he continually asks why no one’s doing something about the “bloodthirsty” main character in an action show.

With some help, Carter gets out of the jam he’s in and continues to do his job (with some degree of interference from his own bosses) throughout the run of the series. He’s aided by Theora Jones (Amanda Pays) a controller at Network 23. Another ally (mostly) is wunderkind computer hacker Bryce Lynch (Chris Young), who actually caused Carter’s accident while engaged in a hacking battle with Theora. He’s also the one who created Max.

Edison, Murray and Theora

Edison and Theora with their producer, Murray.

The iconoclastic Blank Reg (W. Morgan Sheppard), who operates an underground TV network, also helps Carter on occasion.

As for Max, who is running loose in Network 23’s system, he proves to be both a ratings darling for the network and a bane. He’s known to insult the sponsor (as well as the network executive) on the air, for example. And it’s not always fun for Carter to have a sometimes tactless part of himself loose on the airwaves, either.

Edison Carter meets Max Headroom

Edison Carter meets Max Headroom.

There is a lot of satire in Max Headroom, which is probably why it didn’t last very long. Much of it centers around the television industry. Not only are TV networks in charge (and not only are off switches illegal), but throughout the series, people’s lives are shown as revolving around their televisions.

Max Headroom is something of a dichotomy. It’s both of its time and timeless. On the one had, the show has dated, given the 3.5 inch floppy disks used as storage media; no hint of the Internet as we know it and television being depicted as the home entertainment medium. On the other hand, despite the series being set “20 minutes into the future”, the set design looked backwards as well as forward. The “keyboards” of at least three character’s computers are manual typewriters. There’s also a stand-alone manual typewriter on the desk behind Theora’s work station.

When you consider that the series aired in 1987— by which time personal computers had come along and every office probably used either those or electric typewriters— it’s interesting to see both a stand-alone manual typewriter and one used as a computer keyboard. So the producers weren’t simply extrapolating what the future would look like based on then-present trends; they were presenting us with various levels of technology linked together. That helps keep the show from becoming too obviously dated.

For the record, since computer-generated effects were very primitive compared to today, the character of Max Headroom was created by putting Frewer in heavy latex make-up.

If you like good TV programs— ones that are willing to challenge the medium itself— Max Headroom is worth a look.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating:

Random Musings: A review of Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

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Flashpoint paradox

Last week’s season finale of The Flash ended with Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) going back in time and preventing his mother’s murder at the hands of the Reverse Flash. The implication is that season three will be similar to a 2011 DC Comics storyline called Flashpoint.

Any adaptation of Flashpoint next season will, of necessity, be on a smaller scale than in the comics, because only a handful of DC’s characters have been introduced— or even mentioned. In short, don’t expect the appearance of certain “flying mouse” from Gotham City.

However, DC Entertainment did release an animated movie inspired by Flashpoint in 2013: Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox.

Before we get to that, a few comments about The Flash. As I’d predicted, Zoom’s (Teddy Sears) prisoner was the real Jay Garrick. I also thought it was fitting and proper that he was portrayed by John Wesley Shipp, the original TV Flash from the 1990 series.

Real Jay Garrick

The real Jay Garrick.

Shipp also played Barry’s father, Henry. I’m sure some people feel it’s too coincidental that Jay should be Henry Allen’s alternate universe doppelganger, but Shipp was still the most appropriate actor for the part.

Speaking of other universes, it’s somewhat apropos that Supergirl lives on an alternate Earth, because the characters’ roots trace to separate, but related, companies. In 1938, the company we now know as DC Comics introduced Superman in Action Comics #1 (Supergirl would debut 21 years later in Action Comics #252). In 1940, the (Jay Garrick) Flash debuted in the anthology Flash Comics (along with Hawkman), published by All American Comics.

Granted that by the time Barry Allen debuted in Showcase #4 in 1956, DC and All American had merged, but he would never have existed if not for Jay Garrick. So Barry’s roots trace to All American Comics.

Ironically, Green Arrow, who does share the same TV universe with The Flash, was part of a separate comics universe (first appearing in DC’s More Fun Comics #73 in 1941).

The connection between the two companies is that Jack Liebowitz was a partner in both.

Two weeks ago, Zoom, who’d been impersonating Jay and feigning friendship with Barry and his allies for the first part of the season, killed Henry in front of Barry in a re-creation of his mother’s murder. But Barry’s time-traveling actions could mean Shipp (and Henry) might be back next year. As might be Michelle Harrison, who played Barry’s mother.

Or it could turn out Nora Allen got hit by a bus days after the failed attack. Time travel always has unexpected consequences.

Whatever Flashpoint-style direction The Flash takes next season, I’m sure Barry’s decision is going to go all “Monkey’s Paw” on him. It certainly did in the animated film.

At his mother’s grave, Barry Allen (Justin Chambers) still feels guilty about not preventing her murder when he was a child, telling his wife, Iris (Jennifer Hale), that if he’d just run a little faster that day, he could have been there. Iris tells him there’s nothing he could have done.

A short time later, the Flash, with the help of the Justice League, stops Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash (C. Thomas Howell), from destroying the Flash Museum (and most of Central City). Thawne reminds the Flash that he can’t save everyone.

“Not the ones that matter to you.”

Reverse Flash mocks the Flash

Reverse Flash mocks the Flash.

When Batman (Kevin Conroy) asks if everything’s all right, Flash says it’s nothing he can’t run off.

And he does just that.

After the opening credits, Barry wakes up at his desk, surprised to discover that Captain Cold (Danny Jacobs) is a hero, “Citizen Cold”, battling Captain Boomerang outside the “Cold Museum.”

(By the way, speaking of alternate timelines and parallel universes, we learned in The Flash that “Mayor Snart” is in charge of Earth 2’s Central City. Some people assume that’s Leonard Snart, Captain Cold on Earth 1. Maybe, but why couldn’t it be his sister, Lisa?)

Barry is confused by the fact that he’s lost his speed and even more confused when he encounters his very-much-alive mother.

That’s the good news.

The bad and the worse news is that the world is ending. One-time allies Aquaman (Cary Elwes) and Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) are now deadly enemies— as are Atlantis and Themyscira, home of the Amazons. What’s more, their war killed more than 132 million people when Atlantis sank Western Europe and the Amazons invaded Great Britain.

Aquaman vs Wonder Woman

Aquaman vs. Wonder Woman.

In this reality, Thomas Wayne (Kevin McKidd) became Batman after the death of his son, Bruce— and the loss of his wife, Martha, in a robbery years ago. This incarnation of Batman is a violent alcoholic who’s more than willing to kill.

Cyborg (Michael B. Jordan) tries to recruit Batman— the best tactician on the planet— to join a team of super-powered individuals fighting to stop Aquaman and Wonder Woman.

Barry, meanwhile, is trying to understand how his mother is alive and his wife is married to someone else. Seeking answers, he drives to Gotham City and Wayne Manor, only to discover an empty husk. In the Batcave, he encounters a very angry Thomas Wayne who doesn’t appreciate this stranger’s casual use of his son’s name.

Somehow Barry still has his ring, but when he ejects his Flash uniform to prove he’s telling the truth, Thawne’s uniform emerges instead. Barry concludes that Thawne did something to change the past and left his uniform as a mocking “calling card.”

Barry and the Thomas Wayne Batman

Barry and Thomas Wayne.

He seeks Batman’s help in recreating the accident that gave him his powers and begins to “remember” the events of the new timeline. In a series of flashbacks, we learn that Aquaman and Wonder Woman had been lovers— until she’d killed Aquaman’s furious wife, Mera, when the latter confronted her.

We also see an enraged Thomas Wayne beating the mugger who’d killed Bruce, while Martha Wayne had a much different reaction.

In the present, in London, someone who can move extremely fast saves Lois Lane (Dana Delany) from Amazon warriors.

Barry is successful in restoring his speed, but he can’t run fast enough to break the time barrier.

He does, however, convince Batman to join Cyborg’s team. En route to London, Batman shows Barry a transmission from Lois Lane that depicts a yellow blur. Barry realizes it’s the Reverse Flash and both men wonder why Thawne let himself be seen, much less helped Lois.

In London, Thawne reveals himself, telling Barry he let Lois see him because it would draw Barry to him.

He also says he didn’t alter history; Barry did.

“Think, Barry. Isn’t there some little thing, some little good deed you might have done?”

“I saved someone.”

“Yes.”

Barry begins to remember. “I saved her. I saved Mom.”

“That’s right.”

Barry says it wouldn’t have changed events that happened before her murder, such as the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne and Superman’s arrival (his ship crashed in Metropolis and he was imprisoned by the government). However, Thawne replies that it did.

“Break the sound barrier and there’s a sonic boom,” he says. “You broke the time barrier, Flash. Time boom. Ripples of distortion radiated out through that point of impact, shifting everything just a tiny bit. But enough. Enough for events to happen slightly differently.”

“I just wanted to save her.”

Thawne mocks Barry, saying he didn’t save JFK, but instead saved his Mommy.

“And in a supreme act of selfishness, shattered history like a rank amateur,” he says. “Turned the world into a living hell moments away from destruction. And I’m the villain?”

As nuclear Armageddon begins, a mortally wounded Batman kills Thawne, giving the Flash full access to the Speed Force. He gives Barry a letter to Bruce and tells him to run.

Barry stops his younger self

Barry stops his younger self.

Barry stops his younger self from changing history and wakes up in his office to find everything restored to normal.

At his mother’s grave, he tells her he finally understands the serenity prayer she’d tried to explain to him as a boy.

The murder of Nora Allen is a relatively new bit of Flash history, first introduced in Flash: Rebirth in 2006. However, her death in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox happens under slightly different circumstances than in the comics. For one, Henry Allen isn’t blamed; he’s not even mentioned, leaving viewers to assume Nora had raised Barry alone.

The movie is something of a mixed bag. I liked the basic story and the ironic idea that Barry’s efforts to change things for the better only made them much worse. I also liked that Bruce Wayne was able to read a letter from his father, thanks to Barry.

On the other hand, we’re never told whether Aquaman and Wonder Woman had once been heroes in this alternate reality. Granted, an 81 minute movie can’t cover everything in a comics series, but it would have been nice to have gotten a better idea of how the two antagonists had interacted with the rest of the world before their war.

It’s also extremely violent (in one scene, Wonder Woman holds up Mera’s severed head), with a fair amount of blood spilled, so you might not want to let young kids watch it.

Overall, though, it’s an entertaining film.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Addressing the God question on Supernatural

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Sam and Dean encounter Chuck

The current season of Supernatural (the 11th) finds Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) going up against the most powerful “Big-Bad” they’ve yet faced: God’s pissed-off sister, Amara (Emily Swallow), also known as the Darkness, whom God locked away at the dawn of creation. The brothers released her when they successfully removed the Mark of Cain (which acted as a lock) from Dean’s arm. Now she’s out to destroy everything.

Amara

Amara.

Two weeks ago, in the episode “Don’t Call me Shurley”, viewers received confirmation of a long-held theory: Novelist and prophet Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), who wrote a series of in-universe novels about Sam and Dean (which will become known as “The Winchester Gospels”) is actually God. Chuck, who had been a semi regular in seasons four and five, had last been seen in a cameo appearance last season in the 200th episode, “Fan Fiction”, in which a high school theater group puts on a play about the books.

The former angel Metatron (Curtis Armstrong), now stripped of his Grace, finds himself in a bar, with Chuck. He recognizes the bar as one of God’s particular constructs and figures being there with a “hack writer” is his punishment for trying to take over Heaven and his other crimes.

Then Chuck reveals the truth of his identity to Metatron, who had been the “scribe of God.”

God, who prefers being addressed as “Chuck”, told Metatron he “put on the Chuck suit” because he likes front row seats.

“I figured I’d hide out in plain sight, you know,” he says. “Plus, you know, acting is fun.”

He also says he’s writing his autobiography and needs Metatron’s help as editor.

Chuck and Metatron

Chuck and Metatron.

Metatron points out the autobiography’s lack of details, such as no mention of Amara.

“Who cares about her?” Chuck asks.

“Um… me, for starters. I assume you’re aware that she’s out and about. Tanned, rested and ready. I mean that’s why you’re back, right?”

“This isn’t her story,” Chuck replies, looking none too pleased at the mention of Amara. “It’s mine.”

Metatron also suggests the autobiography have less about God’s time as Chuck and more than just a few paragraphs about the archangels.

“Don’t you think they deserve a few extra words?” he asks. “Especially your favorite— Lucifer?”

“He wasn’t my favorite.”

Metatron points out that Lucifer helped defeat Amara and that God trusted him with the Mark of Cain.

“And when you asked him to bow down before mankind—”

“He refused.”

“He rebelled,” Metatron says. “And in doing so, kind of wrecked Christmas.”

Lucifer passed the Mark, which has a negative influence, including making its wearer want to kill, on to Cain, who later gave it to Dean. Last season, Death (Julian Richings) implied that the Mark’s influence played a role in Lucifer’s rebellion.

Metatron says if Amara is off limits, fine, “but you know that every great hero is defined by his or her villain.”

“Lucifer was not a villain,” Chuck replies. “He- he- he wasn’t a villain.”

Lucifer, currently possessing Castiel’s (Misha Collins) vessel, escaped from the Cage earlier this season. Sam and Dean talked with him under “controlled circumstances” to see if he would agree to help defeat Amara. They initially thought they’d successfully kept him imprisoned, but later learned that a doubt-filled Castiel had said yes to Lucifer possessing his vessel because Lucifer said he could defeat Amara. Castiel, who has become so dejected by recent experiences, hasn’t made any efforts to reject Lucifer.

In the meantime, Amara has captured Lucifer, who underestimated his own strength, and is torturing him (and Castiel).

At one point, Metatron asks why God created life. Chuck says he was lonely.

“Your sister wasn’t company enough?”

“I am being. She’s nothingness. It’s not exactly the makings of a fun two-hander, you know.”

When Metatron points out that God didn’t stop at one archangel or a handful angels, but made worlds, Chuck says he was stupid and naïve. He thought if he could show Amara there was something more than them, something better, she’d change.

“But every time I’d build a new world, she’d destroy it.”

He subsequently takes Metatron to a lake at the base of some mountains, saying nature is as close as he got to something as good as or better than himself or Amara. He also says nature’s smart enough to know that sometimes there’s no fixing things.

“Sometimes you’ve just have to wipe the slate clean.”

Metatron points out that if Amara wipes the slate, all of God’s work will be lost forever.

“We should take a stroll, then,” Chuck says. “Enjoy it before it’s all gone.”

Chuck tells Metatron that nature is divine but human nature is toxic, adding that the worst part about humans blowing things up is that they do it in his name.

“And then they come crying to me, asking me to forgive, to fix things. Never taking any responsibility.”

“What about your responsibility?”

Chuck replies that he took responsibility, by leaving. He also took responsibility for Amara by locking her away.

“Barely, I might add. And, who let her out?”

“Sam and Dean Winchester, but they’re trying to fix that.”

Chuck points out that the world would still be spinning with Demon Dean in it.

“But Sam couldn’t have that, could he? So how is Amara being out on me?”

“It’s not, but you’ve helped the Winchesters before.”

In their defense, Sam and Dean had no idea what the Darkness was. If Chuck was so concerned about not releasing her, he could have stepped in at the time.

When Chuck says it’s Amara’s time to shine, Metatron asks why he’s writing a book no one’s going to be around to read. He subsequently realizes Chuck started writing the second Amara came back.

“No wonder you’re on a deadline,” Metatron says. “Now I understand why you’re masquerading in that sad little meat suit. For the same reason you created this nostalgic bar to write your masterpiece in— you’re hiding!”

Chuck had said the bar was the safest place ever created. Metatron points out that he created it to keep himself safe from Amara.

“You know, I was a crappy, terrible god,” Metatron says. “My work was pretty much a lame, half-assed rewrite of your greatest hits. But at least I was never a coward.”

After tossing Metatron through the doors of the bar, Chuck says he’s not hiding. He’s just done watching his experiments’ failures.

“You mean your failures, Chuck,” Metatron replies.

Metatron said his attempt to be God was a pathetic cry for attention— from Chuck.

He also demands to know why God abandoned everyone.

“Because you disappointed me,” Chuck said. “You all disappointed me.”

“I know I’m a disappointment, but you’re wrong about humanity. They are your greatest creation because they’re better than you are. Yeah, sure, they’re weak and they cheat and steal and destroy and disappoint, but they also give and create. And they sing and dance and love. And above all, they never give up. But you do.”

Metatron’s argument is reminiscent of Gabriel’s to Lucifer in season five.

Chuck starts typing again. Metatron’s reaction suggests his words have fallen on deaf ears.

While Chuck and Metatron interact, Sam and Dean are investigating a case in Hope Springs, Idaho involving a heavy fog— Amara’s doing— that causes people to kill friends and family.

Newlywed Deputy Jan Harris (Sonja Bennett), affected by fog, killed her husband. Before the sheriff kills her, she tells Sam and Dean that Amara has a message. The fog isn’t an infection, it’s showing the truth, that the light was just a lie.

Deputy Harris

Deputy Harris.

“It will all be over soon,” the dying deputy says. “He’s not going to save them. It’s all going away, forever. But not you, Dean.”

As the fog rolls in from mountains, Sam and Dean scramble to get people inside the sheriff’s office, away from the fog.

Sam is infected, but Dean isn’t. Unexpectedly, however, the fog lifts and Sam’s infection is gone.

What’s more, Dean finds a brightly-glowing amulet in Sam’s pocket. The amulet, which Dean had owned years ago, was supposed to glow in God’s presence, but never glowed at any time Dean owned it (Chuck told Metatron he’d turned it off).

Sam and Dean go outside, where they find everyone who’d died restored to life. They walk down the street until they come to Chuck.

“We should probably talk,” he says.

Last week’s episode, “All in the Family”, picks up at that point. Despite the glowing amulet, Sam and Dean don’t accept Chuck at face value.

Until he teleports them to the Men of Letters bunker and the ghost of the prophet Kevin Tran (Osric Chau) appears behind Chuck and confirms his identity. Chuck then gives Kevin, who’d been trapped in the veil, an “upgrade” and sends him to Heaven.

Chuck and Kevin

Chuck and Kevin.

As Sam sits silently, Dean, who says he means no disrespect, question’s Chuck’s inaction over the millennia

“There’s so much crap that has gone down on the Earth for thousands of years,” Dean says. “I mean plagues and wars, slaughters. And you were, I don’t know, writing books, going to fan conventions. Were you even aware or did you just tune it out?”

“I was aware, Dean.”

“But you did nothing. And again, I’m not trying to piss you off. I don’t want to turn into a pillar of salt.”

“I actually, I didn’t do that.”

“Okay. People pray to you. People build churches to you. They fight wars in your name and you did nothing.”

Dean crying

Dean wants answers.

Chuck replies that he was hands-on for ages.

“I was so sure if I kept stepping in, teaching, punishing, that these beautiful creatures that I created would grow up. But it only stayed the same. And I saw that I needed to step away and let my baby find its way. Being over involved is no longer parenting. It’s enabling.”

Dean, replies that it didn’t get better, but Chuck says that from where he sits, he thinks it has.

“Well, from where I sit, it feels like you left us and you’re trying to justify it.”

“I know you had a complicated upbringing, Dean. But don’t confuse me with your Dad.”

Chuck considers Dean's words

Chuck considers Dean’s words.

Chuck tells Dean and Sam the only reason he came off the sidelines is because the Darkness is relentless, a force beyond human comprehension.

He also say she’s warded herself against him; he has no idea where she is.

“I’ve always had faith in you,” Chuck says, looking at Sam. “Even if you didn’t return the favor,” he continues as he turns to Dean.

When the boys bring up Lucifer, Chuck describes him as his greatest hope and bitterest disappointment.

“You think if I could have trusted him for a moment, I would have put him in the Cage? And I wasn’t going to mention this, but thank you so much for springing him.”

Chuck assumes that as bad as Lucifer was, he’s probably worse after all this time in prison and he could have formed an alliance with Amara.

The episode had its amusing points, as is often the case in Supernatural. Dean tells Sam that Chuck sings “crappy old folk songs” in the shower and that he told him to cool it three times.

“You told God to cool it?” Sam asks.

“Yeah. I sleep.”

The episode also established that a new prophet, chemistry professor Donatello Redfield (Keith Szarabajka), has been activated. Sam and Dean take him back to the bunker to meet Chuck.

Redfield, who’d been an atheist until then, asks if that was going to be a problem. Chuck is fine with it, saying it’s part of the whole “free will thing.”

Donatello meets Chuck

Donatello meets Chuck.

Metatron also contacts Sam and Dean. He tells them Chuck is going to meet with Amara, but he’s not going to take her down. He gives them Chuck’s manuscript, but says it’s not an autobiography.

“It’s a suicide note.”

Chuck meets Dean at a playground, where he’s watching kids in a sandbox and describes them as endlessly optimistic.

“The wind blows over his tower, he rebuilds,” Chuck says. “Always gets me.”

“If that’s so, why are you bailing?” Dean asks. “When you see Amara, you’re throwing in the towel?”

“You think I’m a dick. What do you care?”

“Because before you went M.I.A., you did a lot.”

Chuck says “throwing in the towel” is what he calls strategy, adding that Amara’s beef is with him.

When Dean asks how dying is a blueprint for successes, Chuck says he won’t be dying; he’ll be caged.

“I trade myself for everything I created,” Chuck says. “It goes on.”

Dean tells him Amara told him personally that she’s going to eliminate God, then destroy everything he’s created. He also say humanity aren’t some toys to throw away.

“I think you owe us more than that.”

Dean confronts Chuck

Dean confronts Chuck.

“If my plan doesn’t work, then humans will step up,” Chuck says. “You, Sam, others that are the chosen will have to find a way. That’s why I saved you years ago. You’re the firewall between light and darkness.”

Dean tells him taking on God’s sister is way above his pay grade.

“Bottom line, it’s you that has to take her out,” he says. “And look, and then after that, get a condo in Cancun. I don’t care.”

For her part, Amara continues her torture of Lucifer. He tells her she may defeat God, but she’ll never beat him.

Lucifer being tortured

Lucifer being tortured.

Dean concocts a plan to rescue Lucifer and convince Chuck to use him to fight Amara. He’ll distract her while Sam, Metatron and Donatello carry out the actual rescue.

Lucifer refers to the three as “Larry, Curly and Moe” and recognizes Donatello as the new prophet.

“One minute you’re nobody and then Shazam you’re Joan of Arc. Let’s hope this ends better than that.”

Rescuing Lucifer

Sam and Donatello rescue Lucifer.

When Sam asks if Lucifer’s on board with working with God, given their past history, Lucifer asks if he looks like one of Amara’s fans.

Because of his injuries, Lucifer can’t teleport them out, so Sam and Donatello physically carry him out while Metatron stays behind to cover their escape. He tries without success to fight Amara, then in the moment before she destroys him, he begs her to spare the universe.

Metatron's last stand

Metatron’s last stand.

When Amara prepares to destroy the Impala containing Sam, Donatello and Lucifer, Chuck teleports the car into the bunker.

“Occasionally, I do answer a prayer.”

Chuck tells Lucifer he’s changed. Lucifer says the same.

“Well, still, I’m pretty much the same,” Chuck says as he heals Lucifer’s wounds.

What will happen next? Amara will be defeated, somehow. But will Chuck lock himself away with her or continue to live in the world. The former would be the better choice, both dramatically and thematically.

I’m sure before he goes (one way or the other) Chuck will evict Lucifer from Castiel’s vessel, but will Lucifer’s presumed help in stopping Amara be enough to earn him a pardon? Or will Lucifer follow in the footsteps of other “villains”,  like Metatron, the demon “Meg” (Rachel Miner) and the angel Gadreel (Tahmoh Penikett), and sacrifice himself for the “greater good.”

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Books review: These are the Voyages.

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These are the Voyages

Marc Cushman’s three volume series These are the Voyages: TOS provides an in-depth look at the original Star Trek, with one book dedicated to each of the three seasons.

Cushman, who published the books between 2013 and 2015, received key documents directly from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and associate producer Robert H. Justman in the 1980s. He used those as well as his own interviews and previously published books, magazines and newspaper articles to assemble his books, written with Susan Osborn. Every one of the 79 episodes (including the first pilot, “The Cage”) is explored in detail. Those details include the evolution of the episodes, when various drafts of scripts were written and by whom, production dates and costs, samples of contemporaneous reviews and Nielsen ratings for the broadcasts (and reruns, where applicable).

I recently purchased all three volumes in hardcover directly from the publisher, Jacobs Brown Press, and was surprised to find that my copy of volume one had additional material (both text and photos) that wasn’t in a softcover version I’d gotten from the library. Both were described as the “revised and updated edition” and both had the same information on the indicia, yet softcover versions of books are usually published after the hardcover ones and thus are more likely to have any updates.

In the introduction to volume three, David Gerrold, who wrote the episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”, said Cushman is issuing corrections when mistakes have been discovered. I wouldn’t call the volume one I received a correction; it just had additional information.

I’m still in the process of reading these books, but what I have read shows that they’re well written and researched. They go into more detail than many of the plethora of previous books about Star Trek, in part because of the documents from Roddenberry and Justman.

One bit of information that may not have been in previous books about Star Trek is how much of a debt the series owes to one woman, the one who could arguably be said to have gotten the show on the air: Lucille Ball.

Lucille Ball?!?

Yes. According to Cushman (Vol. 1, pages 41-42, 109), she didn’t initially understand the focus of the show; but even after learning it wasn’t about USO performers, she gave the go ahead— against the advice of some of her board members— because she, as owner of Desilu studios (formed by herself and her former husband, Desi Arnaz), was willing to take a chance.

I do, however, have a few minor complaints. First, none of the books have an index. Volume two contains quotes (on separate pages) from Samuel A. Peeples, who wrote the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and actress Sherry Jackson (misspelled as “Sherri”), who appeared in the first season episode “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” If at some point down the road, I find myself trying to remember what either had to say in volume two, it’s going to be a bit of an effort to track down the quotes. An index would help with things like that. Plus, it makes it easier to find specific references.

Gary Lockwood, for example, is quoted in chapters related to “Where no Man Has Gone Before”, which would be relatively easy to find; but any quotes from him that are scattered throughout the three books would be harder to locate.

My other complaint concerns Cushman’s endnotes. Some appear to be missing. Using Lockwood as an example again, some of his quotes have the endnote 109-3, but there’s no such endnote in the back of the books, just 109, a 2011 interview with Cushman; 109-1, an interview in Starlog #124 in 1987 and 109-2, an interview in Trek Classics from 1991.

As another example, quotes from Roger C. Carmel, who played Harry Mudd, have the endnote 29, but does that refer to 29-1, 29-2 or 29-3?

Another complaint regarding the endnotes is that page numbers aren’t given for book and magazine sources. It’s not too bad with some magazines, since they usually have tables of contents (Some quotes from Bruce Hyde, who played Lt. Kevin Riley, comes from Starlog #112. The table of contents for that issue tells me Hyde’s interview is on page 60). On the other hand, neither The Making of Star Trek nor The World of Star Trek have indexes, making it hard to find quotes in them.

By contrast, Cushman’s I Spy: A History Of The Groundbreaking Television Series has both an index and endnotes with page numbers for his sources, where applicable.

These shortcomings to These are the Voyages shouldn’t be a deal breaker, however. If you’re a Star Trek fan and/or interested in television production, these books would be a welcome addition to your home library.

Copyright 2016, Patrick Keating.