Monthly Archives: December 2017

Deep Ice: If they’re more advanced than us, they should be nearer the Creator (DC Comic’s Elseworlds: Superman: War of the Worlds, Pages 1-18)

Whatever that is off-panel to the left must be hella interesting if Supes is looking at that instead of the tripod.

It’s two weeks to Christmas and we still don’t have the tree up, so it is a minor miracle that this post is going up at all, which is why I am stretching a 64-page comic book to 3 articles.

It is 1998. Ted Kaczynski pleads guilty to the Unabomber bombings. The winter Olympics take place in Nagano. Disney opens the Animal Kingdom park. Bear Grylls climbs Everest. Matthew Shepard is mortally beaten in Wyoming, the photogenic youngster’s tragic death helping to bring about a wave of hate crime legislation. Actor Phil Hartmann is murdered by his wife. Windows 98 is released. I go briefly crazy some time in November. And, in a statement I may have to revise depending on how long it takes me to write this article, for the last time until the present day, a US President is impeached.

Titanic makes a literal billion dollars and wins a fuckton of Oscars. Saving Private Ryan comes out, and will do similar things. The Big Lebowski comes out. So does Wild Things, Lost in Space, Les Miserables (the 1998 one with Liam Neesen and no singing), the killer asteroid movies Armageddon and Deep Impact, Godzilla (the 1998 one with Matthew Broderick), The Parent Trap (the 1998 one with Lindsay Lohan), My Dinner With Andre, Bride of Chucky, The Faculty, Star Trek: Insurrection, You’ve Got Mail, and What Dreams May Come. All these things happened in the same year. Weird, right?

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 enters its final season. Star Trek Voyager… Happens. This is the last season I watched consistently. This year’s Power Rangers is Power Rangers in Space, the finale of the “Zordon Era”, and the last season to be part of an ongoing multi-season storyline until 2011’s Power Rangers Samurai. The reboot of Doctor Who starring Hugh Laurie finishes its second season and starts its third. Doctor Who is pretty much dead again, seemingly forever this time. Seinfeld airs its legendarily bad series finale. Dawson’s Creek premieres, a handy thing if you’re a college freshman who wants an excuse to hang out with all the girls on your floor in the apartment of the upperclassman with a 27″ TV. Other premiers this year include the wonderfully bizarre time travel adventure series Seven Days, the American version of Whose Line is it Anyway, seminal gay sitcom Will & Grace, supernatural craze-expander Charmed, and beloved girl-power cartoon The Powerpuff Girls.

Brandy dominates the Billboard charts all summer with “The Boy is Mine”. Armageddon and Titanic cough up chart-toppers as well with Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing” and Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”. R Kelly’s “I’m Your Angel” sees the year out, but somewhere mixed among all that, Barenaked Ladies become a household name south of the 49th parallel thanks to “One Week”.

The dude in the lower left who just can not handle this shit is possibly my favorite character in the history of comics.

Meanwhile, sixty years earlier, it’s 1938. I hardly need remind you that in October of 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater adapted War of the Worlds. I mean, I hardly need tell you again, since I’ve told you like a million times already. But you know what else happened a few months earlier in 1938? I mean, you’ve surely worked it out since it’s in the title of the article. But yeah, back in May, National Allied Publications released issue 1 of Action Comics, introducing audiences to a strange visitor from another world who was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

So in 1998, when a whole lot of stuff was going on in the Superman world to celebrate the Man of Steel’s sixtieth, Roy Thomas and Michael Lark put together a story for DC’s “Elseworlds” line, depicting alternate versions of their beloved characters. Superman: War of the Worlds asks us to imagine a world where the intrepid reporter that was first on the scene when a strange meteor lands in a small town near Metropolis (The name isn’t given in the text, but sharp-eyed readers will notice the train station identifies it as “Woking”) isn’t Carl Philips, but Lois Lane, and her fledgling photographer, Clark Kent.

The opening comingles the introduction of War of the Worlds with the classic Superman backstory, with direct homages to both. “No one would have believed,” we are as usual told, of the intelligences greater than man yet as mortal as his own which scrutinized the Earth in the early decades of the twentieth century, but here, it’s not only the Martians, but also the far-distant Krypton. Because this is the golden age version of the story, Krypton’s destruction is caused by it simply having reached the end of its life cycle — a more advanced case of the fate facing the Martians.

The parallel between Mars and Krypton adds a slightly sinister note to the arrival of Kal-El on Earth. Though we learn nothing concrete of Jor-El (the narrator seems to be speaking from the viewpoint of a human historian in the near-future, though even knowing the name “Krypton” is inexplicable in that case), the narrator presumes that he must have views humans “as inferior animals…. as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us.”

I am surprised that they decided to model Pa Kent on Melvyn Douglas, but I wholeheartedly endorse this decision.

Baby Kal is found by the Kents, a slight divergence from Superman’s earliest appearance; in the earliest comics, he was said to have been raised in an orphanage. The Kents aren’t given first names, consistent with mainstream Superman history, where the Kents don’t get their canonical first names until the 1950s. As he grows, the Kents discover young Clark’s abilities, which are the reduced Golden Age power set: the ability to leap an eighth of a mile rather than fly, skin that is impervious to anything short of “a bursting shell”, and the ability to outrun a train. His powers are attributed to a million years of evolution beyond that of Earth humans, rather than any particular influence of a yellow sun.

Pa Kent warns Clark to hide his powers, lest humanity be scared of him, while Ma encourages him to help humanity, “when the proper time comes”. Again, this all tracks with the various versions of Clark’s upbringing in this era. It is the death of his parents (Until the ’70s or so, the Kents were generally depicted as already elderly when they adopted Kal-El) which prompts Clark to head out to the big city to try to find a way to use his powers to benefit humanity, and by an amazing coincidence, this occurs simultaneously with “The great disillusionment”, as the Martians launch their invasion fleet.

 

Below the fold? Citizens Oppose Tax.

A montage of Clark taking in the splendor of Metropolis makes for some nice syncretism with the “infinite complacency” of man going “to and fro about this globe about their affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter.

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Tales from /lost+found 141: Song of the Space Whale

1×19 May 2, 1997
SONG OF THE SPACE WHALE (Serial 13, Episode 1)

Setting: Inside a Space Whale, 24th Century
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Christopher Liam Moore (Tova Veer), Nancy Youngblut (Taleen), Kate Mulgrew (Janeway)

Plot: The Doctor parks the TARDIS in deep space to do some stargazing via the TARDIS’s planetarium dome. Too late, Lizzie sees an approaching object, which turns out to be a Space Whale: a gigantic creature adapted to live in the vacuum of space, feeding on the energy fields of radioactive materials and derelict space probes. Mistaking the TARDIS for an energy-rich asteroid, the creature swallows it, and its energy-extracting abilities disable the timeship. The travelers discover a breathable atmosphere when the TARDIS crashes in a cavity inside the whale, and emerge to find themselves in the town of Megaptera, a shanty built out of the remains of the many spacecraft and debris consumed by the whale. Despite the protests of the Megapterans that escape is impossible, the Doctor tries to find a way to move the TARDIS far enough from the whale’s stomach to restore power. Eventually, he succeeds in finding a passage to the whale’s blow-hole, where he discovers evidence of a second settlement. Before he can return to Megaptera, the whale sneezes, expelling the Doctor into open space. He is saved from suffocation by a ship which has been tracking the whale, commanded by the hard-bitten Captain Janeway. She has been hunting the whale for many years, considering it a navigational hazard to the space lanes. The Doctor believes she mostly wants to harvest the whale’s organs for their energy processing abilities. He tells her about the Megapterans, but Janeway is resolved to kill the whale at any cost. When she attempts to fire a killing shot at a weak spot on the whale, the Doctor sabotages her ship with his sonic screwdriver. Enraged, Janeway orders the Doctor executed, but the frightened whale attacks the ship, disabling it. In exchange for his life, the Doctor offers to repair the ship, but is unable to restore power before the space whale swallows it whole.

Deep Ice Addendum: More Saddleback

It’s almost Christmas, and also almost my son’s birthday, and also just past my wife’s birthday, so here’s a filler article: more fun panels from the Saddleback illustration of War of the Worlds.

Here’s the text from the back cover, by the way:

Do UFO’s really exist?
Could creatures from another planet visit Earth?
In The War of the Worlds they do exist and the visitors from the planet Mars come to Earth with not so friendly intentions—to destroy our civilization!

Greengrocer’s apostrophe theirs.

I love that this abridgement included “Dude who is mostly concerned about the insurance.”

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said there were an inordinate number of panels about horses.

I love this unnamed military guy. Very GI Joe.

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