Sci-Fi Saturday #2
Welcome to Sci-Fi Saturday, a new column that is devoted to all things science fiction: film, television, comics, novels, video games, and local Metro Detroit events. If there is a topic you'd like to see covered in an upcoming column, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
This week, I watched episode 2 of season 1 (ST: TOS), titled "The Man Trap." A fun side note: I sat down to figure out how long it would take me to watch the entirety of Star Trek from start to finish (every single episode of every single iteration of the show, including the animated series, excluding the films). If I continue at my pace of one episode per week you can expect me to be finished in just over fourteen years (based on the *current* number of episodes). So check back here on October 2nd, 2032 to read my thoughts on the finale of Star Trek: Discovery, season 1.
"The Man Hunt" is my first Captain Kirk episode, and at this juncture I think he'd probably beat Captain Pike in a fistfight but would lose to him in a game of chess. This is also the first episode with Uhura, Sulu, and Bones, so the show is starting to feel more like the Trek that I'm familiar with through general pop culture knowledge. I will admit that I miss Majel Barrett as the First Officer and those rad velour uniforms, but I can see how the changes made between the pilot and this episode improve the show.
In "The Man Hunt" the Enterprise crew is performing a routine stop at a scientific outpost, providing medical care and supplies to the husband and wife team working the remote planet. The wife - Nancy - happens to be a long-lost love of Bones, or so we think. Eventually it is revealed that the real Nancy was killed by a creature who has shape-shifting capabilities and has assumed her form. The husband/scientist - Dr. Crater - has let the creature live because it is the last of its kind and he cannot condemn an entire species to death, even if he is aggrieved at the loss of his wife. The creature, who needs inordinate amounts of salt to survive, boards the Enterprise disguised as a crew member and kills several people by draining the sodium from their bodies before Kirk et al discover what is happening. Having taken the form of Nancy again, the creature begs Bones to save her from Kirk, who is prepared to avenge the deaths of his crewmates. Bones hesitates, torn between his attraction to a woman he once loved and the knowledge that it isn't *really* her. Ultimately, Bones kills the creature to prevent it from killing Captain Kirk. A rare species of furry, fugly salt-loving space monsters is now extinct, and Bones has learned a very important lesson: never trust your ex-girlfriends.
Jokes aside, this was an interesting episode, and it made me realize a few things about Trek that I hadn't thought of before: 1) the show is basically a space melodrama; and 2) the campiness of the effects, costumes, sets, etc. helps offset what might otherwise be overly sanctimonious storylines and dialogue, at least for me - someone watching with the benefit of hindsight and an acculturation to today's CGI and VFX. Although I'd assume that the effects get a bit more sophisticated as the show progresses, I can't imagine that even in 1966 this sentient, moving plant-creature looked to the audience like anything other than a hand in a tutu:
Seriously, though, Beauregard the plant-that-is-definitely-a-human-hand-in-a-silly-glove was my favorite character in this episode. 10/10 for Beauregard, 8/10 for everything else.
[Where I collect the most interesting and science fiction-y headlines from the last week]
Scientists find evidence that there may be a "mortality plateau" for humans - it seems that at 105 years old, human mortality risk levels out and aging effectively 'stops'
Filed under "D" for "Duh": report finds that domestic abusers are increasingly weaponizing smart home technology
Japanese spacecraft lands on asteroid shaped like a D8 after a three year journey; nerds the world over rejoice
Scientists use an atomic scale version of the Newton's cradle (you know, the desk toy with the swinging, clacking balls?) to study quantum thermodynamics
This week I am reviewing the 2015 comic mini-series Space Riders from Black Mask Studios. The first volume of the series, titled Space Riders 1: Vengeful Universe collects issues 1 through 4, in addition to some variant covers and pin-up art. Volume 2, subtitled "Galaxy of Brutality" is available for purchase as of last month, but this review will solely focus on the first collected volume.
Written by Fabian Rangle, drawn by Alexis Ziritt, and lettered by Ryan Ferrier, Space Riders tells the story of the crew of the Santa Muerte, a space vessel shaped like a human skull, operated by Capitan Pelligro, Yara, and Mono, under the auspices of the E.I.S.F. (Earth Interplanetary Space Force). E.I.S.F. soldiers (mercenaries? officers? agents? their exact role isn't entirely clear) are known colloquially as "space riders," hence the title of the series. In these four issues, we get a brief glimpse at the backstory of Capitan Pelligro, who was double-crossed by a former shipmate named Hammerhead, who stabs him through the eye and nearly kills him in the very first pages. Following this injury, Pelligro is suspended from duty for one year, and then conditionally reinstated by the E.I.S.F. with a new crew - Yara, a feminine robot who has a complicated history with Pelligro, and Mono, an anthropomorphized mandrill (red-assed baboon, to the layman) with a dark past and deep connection to his religion. Pelligro and his crew become embroiled in a battle with ancient galactic evils, which isn't entirely resolved by the time the fourth issue wraps up.
The things that work about this series work *really* well: primarily here I'm thinking about the art style, coloring, character design, and print quality. The Jack Kirby influence is obvious, even to a comics reader with minimal interest and experience with comics before the "modern age" (1980s-now). Every page of this volume is bursting with neon colors and high contrast palettes (I particularly love the teal and fuchsia combinations), and I don't think there is a single straight line in the 112 pages. Panels are bordered with thick, sketched lines that waver and wiggle against the weathered background of the page, giving the book a pulpy, lowbrow quality that reinforces the story's themes and motifs. Characters, settings, vehicles, and weapons are all designed for maximum coolness - the Santa Muerte, for example, would probably be the least aerodynamic spaceship (excuse me..."skullship") in the galaxy, but you have to admit that it looks rad. Pelligro looks like if Tom Hardy and post-eye-gouging Thor from the MCU had a baby and raised it to be an astronaut. Yara is a combination killing machine and teen boy fantasy of a sexbot. Mono's suit is cut to show off his bright red ass, because why put a baboon in a spacesuit and hide its most visually interesting feature?
Although most panels and pages are filled with bright colors, shaky line work, bombastic action, and great visual depth, Ziritt's thick, bold inking style helps the work maintain legibility. The panels where the Santa Muerte travels through a wormhole are particularly striking to me, because they are effectively psychedelic and weird without being headache-inducing or visually overwhelming. Black Mask also deserves a lot of credit for ensuring that the print quality of the collected edition conveys the feeling of reading a low budget pulp comic - the standard thick, glossy pages ensure that every fine detail is printed clearly, but the wrinkles, creases, staining, and aging of the pages is still apparent. If nothing else, this is a beautiful book to hold and to look at.
Unfortunately, that is about where the positives end for me. I wish I loved the storytelling, dialogue, and character building as much as I love the art, but Rangle's style is a bit too much for me. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me knows that I cuss a. fucking. lot. But Rangle's dialogue reminds me of the undergrad students I teach when I tell them that cursing in writing can be an effective way to get a point across. Those bitch-assed bastards just can't fucking control that shit. And that's a hint at what Rangle's dialogue is like. I can't help but think that Pelligro would be a far more effective and interesting protagonist if, rather than compound-cursing his way through situations, he just glared and stabbed and very *occasionally* quipped.
In addition to the dialogue issue, it feels like Rangle is trying to fit ten pounds of story into a five pound bag here. I'm a firm believer in building characters by letting them act and react within situations - long-winded "let me explain why I am the way I am" monologues have never much appealed to me. But in this case, Rangle has moved too far in the opposite direction. There is no character development, just character reaction. Caroming from space battle to space battle, we see no relationships building between the crew members; instead, we get a few lines of dialogue to handwave the loyalty between Yara, Mono, and their captain. Pelligro says to them: "Y'all have earned my trust. Mono, you were first. I had you defend our ship from those Vikers all by your lonesome. Yara was up next. You took care of them tribal creatures like a true warrior. After 'ol Hammerhead took my eye, I wasn't sure I could ever feel right about new shipmates. But you've both done good by me. You've both passed the test." This is the only explanation in 112 pages of how/why Pelligro - a seemingly reckless captain - manages to maintain order among his far more level-headed crewmates. Their loyalty to him exists without explanation, and his trust of them is explained unsatisfactorily.
Without giving away too much of the plot, I will say that a quite literal deus ex machina is used to tie up Pelligro's story in issue four, which still leaves a lot of territory unexplored and the main "villain" of the series uncaptured and unpunished. I'm not sure if Rangle and Ziritt always intended to produce a second volume of Space Riders, but either way, volume 1 doesn't quite work as a standalone series. I do plan to read the second volume and I hope that with these Rangle will add more depth to the relationships between Pelligro, Yara, and Mono, and that he'll take the opportunity to slow down and take a "less is more" approach to completing the story.
Overall, I would give Space Riders a B. The dialogue and pacing don't quite work for me, but the art alone makes this book well worth the $12.99 price tag. Available to buy on Amazon and (probably) your local comics shop.
[Where I share upcoming and ongoing SF-centric events in the Metro Detroit area]
"Star Wars and the Power of Costume" special exhibit at the DIA, now until September 30th
Sunday, July 1st:
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Detroit Film Theater, 3 PM [FREE]
Tuesday, July 3rd:
Fantastic Planet (1973), Detroit Film Theater, 3 PM [FREE]
Thursday, July 5th:
The Thing From Another World (1951), Detroit Film Theater, 3 PM [FREE]
Friday, July 6th:
The Time Machine (1960), Detroit Film Theater, 3 PM [FREE]
Free planetarium shows at WSU Planetarium, 7-8:15 PM, 8:30-9:45 PM
Saturday, July 7th:
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Detroit Film Theater, 3 PM [FREE]