Dec 162011

“Earth below us, Drifting, falling,
Floating weightless, Calling, calling home.”

Major Tom (Coming home) is  most famous song (other than the original of course) to feature David Bowie’s sci-fi character Major Tom. From Schilling’s 1983 sci-fi themed album Error in the System.  A worldwide number one hit, it offers a different take on the original character who escapes the crass commercial world from 1969′s Space Oddity, although far closer to that than Bowie’s later interpretations in Ashes to Ashes and Hallo Spaceboy.

“Trying to relax, Up in the capsule.
‘Send me up a drink.’ Jokes Major Tom.
The count goes on”

The driving rhythm of dueling guitars and synths makes this song an auditory winner.  The songs plot is still drawn from Space Oddity, although it more revolves about Major Tom’s desire not to be in space, or “heaven’s high” as it were, but is ultimately in getting home,  and back to the wife he loves(hence the subtitle.)

“Far beneath the ship, The world is mourning.
They don´t realize, He´s alive.
No one understands, What Major Tom sees.
Now the light commands This is my home… I´m coming home.”

Schilling would make a career out of sci-fi themed music, although none would be as successful as Major Tome.  His next album, Things To Come (the title itself taken from H.G.Wells) had the single, the ominous Terra Titanic (which offered shades of Zager and Evans in it’s lyrical content.)

Recently, of course, the song has been covered, most notably and recently by Shiny Toy Guns in 2009 (you may remember their version from a certain Lincoln MKZ commercial) and by William Shatner for his 2011 Return album.

Dec 132011

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving,
and revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
that’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
a sun that is the source of all our power.”

The Galaxy Song, written and performed by Pythoner Eric Idle is one of those rare sci-fi songs that actually gets the science right while it’s entertaining with a clever ditty.  Eric of course had written most of the best Monty Python songs, along with creating recording with the faux Beatles parody band The Rutles, but this tune for 1983′s The Meaning of life is a high point (although another Meaning of Live song, The Accountant’s Shantys is similarly amusing and nearly as instructive.)

“The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know, 
Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.”

The song takes us from the Earth to the galaxy the ends of the universe, before bringing us back to the whole, ironic and amusing point.

“So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure, How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space, ’Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.”

(Of course the whole point is to have the woman donate her liver while she’s still using it, but that’s another story.)

Dec 122011

The war against Deimos is over and our creator is secure in his comic’s success to move the series to what will be a much longer arc of stories.

The Secret of Skartaris has a three part narrative (plus an epilogue) all packed into an efficiently if well drawn package – a six page piece of illuminating exposition sandwiched between two action pieces. Now, this might not sound enticing, but it does set the stage for this new narrative, and all parts are decently illustrated.

For the action pieces, Grell offers us two prehistoric beasties for him and Tara to take on. The first is another appearance of the ubiquitous (at least int he center of the Earth) Tyrannosaurus Rex for a second appearance in the series. The second is a pack of Hyaenodons (another nod to Burrough’s Pellucidar, as the main character had one as a pet there.)

But it is the middle section (as well as the epilogue) that is of the most interest. After dealing with the Tyrannosaur, Travis and Tara come across a computer center, which is still operating after untold centuries. It reveals that Skartaris was settled by colonists from legendary Atlantis. It also reveals that Tara’s home city houses a massive high tech computer which is still monitoring a worldwide network! Although Tara doesn’t seem at all aware of it’s existance.

This leads ultimately to the issues epilogue,where they come across a train that Morgan thinks they can ride in style back to Shamballah. However, his theory turns out to be very wrong, as he ultimately find out. Should have really listened to his far mor cautious better half. But Morgan is a born explorer. He just can’t help himself.

“You’re not getting me inside that thing,” Tara tells Morgan flatly.

Yep, after only getting back together with his love last issue, they are separated again. Will he get back to her? Or even back to Skartaris ever again? Considering where he’s found himself?  Can he even get back to The Hollow Earth after this?

“Witness if you will, The somewhat pitiful figure of a man: Lieutentant Colonel

…Morgan the Raider… Travis Morgan, U.S. Air Force…Grell, as usual, offers his character his ironic humor in narration, in rather a Rod Serling Twilight Zone sort of way:

…Morgan the Liberator…
…Morgan The Warlord!
Travis Morgan, adventurer, warrior, wanderer, has just com… home!”

And we get a lovely, Kirbyesque full final page to enjoy!

Next: Home is a four letter word (yes it certainly is!)

Dec 042011

“The clash of steel upon steel shatters the stillness of a jungle clearing!  It is a sound that can chill a man to the bone, or turn his blood to fire — the ringing battle song of the WAR GODS — a sound desined to becoma f familar theme int he saga of The Warlord.”

Thus opens the official first issue of The Warlord from February 1976, entitled This Savage World (a homage to Grell’s title for the original version of the series). Having left last issue with Morgan and Tara fleeing Thera we find them practising swordplay in the jungle with a nice full page piece of artwork. What follows is visual recap of the events from First Issue Special #8, and then we see that Morgan has advanced in his swordfighting skills, which are now better than Tara’s.  She however, pulls a trick on him and still ends up on top (rather sexily, I might add) with a knife to his throat.

“Always expect the unexpected,” she warns him. “In my world, one mistake can cost you your life.”

And her words ring true, as they end up facing a series of what you might call unexpected encounters: A Tyrannasaurous Rex (who steals their dinner), A Satyr (who’s music casts a spell on Tara), and a band of pretty persistant Slave Raiders (Viking-like warriors who capture the two to take with their considerable haul through the jungle and desert towards the dreaded slave market at Bal Shazaar.

Thankfully Morgan is still wearing his dog tags and uses their titanium chain to cut his way though their slave collars.  But… he is caught before he’s finished and must scramble to get Tara free.  Once he does, however, he realizes that she needs his sacrifice to ensure her escape.  So he smacks her horse on it’s rump then stays and fights (we get a decent fight scene here on a narrow natural stone bridge over a chasm) until overwhelmed by the raiders superior numbers?  Do they kill him?  Well… no.  That would have made for a pretty short series.  But they do the next best thing… they tie him to a thick  tree branch and leave him to die.  Something the Raider leader finds amusing.  Morgan, not so much.

Interestingly enough, Grell provides researched background for his own Hollow Earth series in the letters column, quoting Rear Admiral Bird, and supplying a brief bibliography from Hollow Earth theorists like William Reed’s (1906s Phantom of the Poles) and Dr. Raymond Bernard (1969s The Hollow Earth) as well as Willis George Emerson (The Smoky God).  As crackpot theories go, this one really did persist until quite recently.

Next: Arena of Death (Yep, Morgan gets to go full on Spartacus!)

Nov 292011

 ”In the savage world of Skartaris, life is a constant struggle for survival. Here, beneath an unblinking orb of eternal sunlight, one simple law prevails: If you let down your guard for an instant you will soon be very dead.” -  intro to each monthly issue of The Warlord.

The early to mid-seventies was a very interesting period in the history of American Comic books, especially DC Comics.  Now, while DC at the time was best known for it’s classic collection of iconic Superhero comics, notably Superman, Batman and Wonderwoman along with the Superhero Teams like The Justice League of America and The Legion of Superheroes, they were in the midst of developing beyond that realm, with imaginative series like Jack Kirby’s post apocalyptic series Kamandi:The Last Boy on Earth, The horror series The Swamp Thing (drawn by the legendary Bernie Wrightson) and another popular if against the grain series called The Warlord, written and drawn by young up-and-coming artist Mike Grell (who also created independent comics like Starslayer and Jon Sable, not to mention the Tarzan comic strip.)

Wikipedia simplistically describes The Warlord as a Sword & Sorcery comic, but it has more in common with the Sword & Planet genre of science fiction pioneered by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the world most of the series is set in, Skartaris (a Jules Verne reference from Journey to the Center of the Earth), is clearly derived from Burrough’s Pellucidar, as it is set in a ‘hollow earth’ setting which features in such novels as At The Earth’s Core, and features a modern man who finds himself in a primitive world.  The series, however, by no means limits itself to the formula typically presented in Sword and Sorcery or even merely Sword and Planet.  The series, while of course is filled with sword fighting, magic and supernatural creatures, also includes highly advanced technology (often disguised as magic) as well as a wide range of paleozoic creatures with a repeated eye on social commentary as well (not to mention it dips it’s feet into fable when it cares to.)

It addition to this, the titular warlord, former Airforce pilot Travis Morgan is joined at various times by strong female characters who are often portrayed on an equal footing with him (as you can see demonstrated above from the cover of the very first Warlord comic from 1975.)  Morgan himself is still pretty unusual for a mainstream comic creation.  Unlike most heroes in the comics, who are, at most, 30 something adults, Morgan is a middle-aged man with grey/white hair and a goatee.

Why is this series worth taking a look at, given it’s vintage?  Well, there’s quite a bit of The Warlord in what we are seeing in media genre these days, not to mention over the past decade or so.  Sowrd and Sorcery has been popular recently on TV (Xena, Beastmaster) and in the movies (Conan, Soloman Kane) there is a well financed John Carter of Mars movie on the horizon, as well as other elements of the series reflected in popular sci-fi television, such as:

Hmm… this character look seems kind of familiar (Stephen Lang from Terra Nova)

Atlanteans (Stargate Atlantis); Highly Advanced, almost Magical Technology (All the Stargate series, Sanctuary); Hollow Earth Theory (Sanctuary, again); Ancient Romanesque and other Medieval type societies (Game of Thrones, Spartacus: Blood and Steel), Dinosaurs(Terra Nova); not to mention a bearded middle-aged action hero with a penchant for oratory (Terra Nova, again) who likes to take on bloodthirsty dinosaurs armed only with a knife; and the occasional fairy tale creature and storylines to boot (Once upone a time, Grimm).  If any show would fit just about the whole gamut of what we are seeing these days.  If there’s any Comic book series I’d still like to see as a TV show, The Warlord is it (although honorable mentions would go to Kamandi and Marvel’s most brilliant Batman knockoff, Moon Knight.)

Over the next few while I’ll be reviewing the series issue by issue, offering up thoughts on this classic groundbreaking comic book series.


Jul 012011

*Spoilers Warning*

As with Sanctuary, I find that Fringe is often a frustrating show to watch, although for different reasons.  While Sanctuary is occasionally weighed down by goofy plots, lame leading characters and often forced slapstick level humor, it rarely tries takes itself too seriously.  There’s no real attempt by the show and it’s writing to put itself in our world.

Fringe on the other hand, while it often engages in similar levels of sci-fi mind expansion, it tends to take itself very seriously (Despite the awesome presence of John Noble to help put things in perspective.)  The acting is generally of high caliber, the storylines engaging, the threat as outlined in the series, convincinly terrifyling.  But still, there are moments that throw me out of episodes on a regular basis.  And season 3 was no exception (the most egregious will be noted in “low points*)

Whereas this season started with the engaging regular flip between both worlds, it’s solidified in the run to the end with Peter and his doomsday machine.  Peter, or as I call him ‘Perry Mason Jr.’ (Joshua Jackson is more and more turning into a dead ringer for Raymond Burr), has always been a weakness in the show.  The shows writers have flailed around in obvious attempts to develop him as a character, yet failing, then falling back to using him to support the development of the series two true narratives, that of Olivia and that of Walter.  So I found the whole doomsday machine arc to fit poorly with the flow of the season.  It felt like a square peg fitting into a round hole.  And his character couldn’t support it.

So when he just disappeared, all of the emotion that should have been engaged, simply fell flat.  I was more affected by the images of the two Walters and the two Olivia’s about to interact.  Weird.

It felt like a red herring, really, just to get us to that point, both anti-climactic and a cliffhanger at the same time.

Although while not a really game changing ending like Sanctuary’s or Primeval’s or Supernatural’s, it did succeed in getting me ready to see what’s coming next year, hoping they still manage to hang onto it’s gradually dropping audience.

Low Points: Ridiculous plot point: every single sheep have died off on the alternate Earth.  Anna Torv’s dreadful ‘old man voice’ to show she’s possessed by William Bell.  Goofy mythology around the doomsday machine.  Bad drug science (seriously, you die in a LSD trip and you wake up?!), the ‘Reanimator’ episode.

High Points: sequence of episodes around Olivia’s escape from the alternate Earth, episode ‘ The Plateau’ evoking M.A. Foster’s Morphodite Trilogy’s ideas, retro Fringe ‘Subject 13′ both touching, unsettling and important turning point.

Rating: 4 out of 5