Star Trek: Generation X

Re-run Saturday: The controversy surrounding Star Trek: Discovery has made this post as pertinent as ever. Even back in the fall of 1987 I had to wonder why Gene Roddenberry and company just didn’t start over with a new series/clean slate, but I’ve since learned that licensing issues are at the heart of the problem. Creators don’t want to be constrained by canon but they want to capitalize on the built-in appeal of the original series. Something-something about having your cake and eating it too.

David R. Deitrick, Designer

 

(This doesn’t have nearly the bite it did when I first wrote it almost 20 years ago. It was a little harder to get material “out there” in 1995 than it is now and while every editor that read it liked it, they were all too leery of Paramount’s legal department top publish it, notwithstanding the court’s support for fair use via parody/satire.)

 

Reporter #1

Paramount Studios announced that it has taken the unprecedented step of re-filming its most recent Star Trek feature film in a form more marketable to a particular target audience.

 

Renamed Star Trek: Generation X, the film was repackaged in response to lagging sales in licensed Star Trek properties among consumers in the 19-28 year-old age bracket. Recently, our reporters visited the set and spoke with Executive Producer Rick Vermin.

 

(Cut to movie set)

 

Interviewer #1

Mr. Vermin, there has…

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Amazon Review: Star Trek/Legion of Super-heroes Cross-over Book

TrekLSH Cover

Despite their common use of  visual communication comic books and television shows are not always a good mix. While it is true comic adaptations can work well enough, the product of mixed genres can quickly become as corny and contrived  as the classic 70’s SNL skit What If : “What if the pioneers crossing the plains had to fight dinosaurs but the Man from U.N.C.L.E. went back through time to help them out”?

Luckily the DC/IDW Star Trek /Legion of Super-Heroes cross-over book avoids that trap. Jeffrey and Philip Moy have succeeded admirably in blending the  intense  color and dramatic styling of a superhero book with the late 1960’s visual splash of the original Star Trek series.  More importantly Chris Roberson’s plotting and dialog fits neatly into either books’ universe and he includes just enough fan-favorite Easter Eggs  from both properties to treat  the reader without being patronizing.

…and I will die a happy man after seeing Brainiac 5 and Mr. Spock quibble.

All in all it was a very readable book. I’d planned on stretching it by reading just once chapter at a time, but I had so much fun I got through it all in one night and was left wishing there were at least four more volumes in a series after this one.

The Star Trek/LSH book makes a pretty nifty addition to any  graphic novel library and I highly recommend it. If pressed to make a complaint it would be that I didn’t get to work on the project myself (I painted the dealer-incentive covers for IDW’s Wrath of Khan adaptation) As both a Trek and Legion fan I would have settled for $67 and an old hockey trophy for a chance at working on some as cool as this book.

Amazon Review “The Protectors”

(I make no secret of the fact that I am a fan of Sir Gerry Anderson’s work, both live-action shows like UFO and the Supermarionation programs like Thunderbirds.  The following is a piece I wrote for Amazon reviewing one of his lesser-known productions)

We don’t go out to eat often but when we do there is always a lively discussion involving restaurants and menu selections. My Beautiful Saxon Princess is a gourmet, savors her meals and is quick to try new tastes. To me food is fuel and I’m not one to experiment –when I acquire a taste for something like a cheeseburger I’ll order it quite often and feel no need to change.

It’s a similar situation with The Protectors, a Gerry Anderson production that offered neither marionettes nor nubile young women wearing purple wigs and silver suits seemingly applied with spray paint – it’s definitely an acquired taste. Starring Robert Vaughn, Nyree Dawn Porter and Tony Anholt, The Protectors is one of that vanished breed of television programs that the British did so well: The half-hour action adventure series. It ran from 1971 to 1973 and  chronicled the activities of a loose network of agents that travelled across Europe fighting crime, defeating terrorism and generally being twentieth century Lone Rangers.

With only 22 minutes to work with there wasn’t much time for character development, though we did know that Harry Rule (Robert Vaughn) still cared very much for his ex-wife, Nyree Dawn Porter’s Contessa enjoyed the privileged life of widowed nobility but also held a very subtle candle for Harry Rule, and Tony Anholt managed to show loyalty and likeability though the façade of Paul Bouchet’s Gallic pride. Despite their brevity the stories were engaging , with occasional innovations in plot and camera work that were pioneering for early Seventies. For example the  pilot episode involved sky-diving but there were some interesting shots made via car mirrors that focused your attention in a very effective albeit low-tech manner.

If I had a complaint it would be budget. Sir Gerry wasn’t given much to work with and money was cut even further with the second series, causing the loss of the strength and wit of the Contessa’s chauffer Chino (played by Anderson regular Anthony Chinn).  Directors were also careful with location shooting, limiting Continental segments to Copenhagen, Paris, Venice, Malta or coastal Spain. At  each of these locations the crew would film exterior footage for several episodes then they would fly back to London for interior filming and editing. To the producers’ credit they spaced the shows out avoiding back-to-back adventures in the same city, but on a rainy day you can zip through your DVDs and piece together what was shot when. I particularly enjoyed the location shots as they let me see the real Europe rather than an idealized version as portrayed in shows like The Avengers that were tailored to appeal to what Americans thought the UK was like rather than how it really was.

So now we’re down  to my regular closing question: Does The Protectors consist of the finest visual literature?

No.

Is it fun?

That would be a resounding, echoing “YES” – but a qualified “yes”. The Protectors might not be everyone’s favorite, but if you have an appreciation for well-written short form video, a desire to see an honest glimpse of Europe forty years ago, or have a hankering to hear Robert Vaughn  deliver dialog in the way only he could, then The Protectors is the cheeseburger for you.

(Episodes of The Protectors are available from Amazon in both DVD and streaming format. YouTube clips are pretty sparse but I managed to find one episode – not my particular favorite of the lot but enough to give you an idea of what the series is like.)

Thank You, Gareth Hunt

NewAvengersTV

With chronic pain issues, sleep does not come easy to me, so I find that most of my television viewing happens late at night. There’s been some debate on the practice with most researchers coming down on the side of “NO” but I find that spending some time with Mike, Emma, Harry and Steve helps me simultaneously unwind from the tensions of the day and focus my attention away from the endless discomfort.

Mike, Emma, Harry and Steve?

Try Mike Gambit, Emma Peel, Harry Rule and Steve Zodiac – all characters from classic British adventure programs like the Avengers, The Protectors, and the dozen or so programs like Fireball XL5 or Space 1999  produced by Gerry Anderson, also a product of the United Kingdom.  While I thoroughly enjoy various domestic American classic television shows I find this particular group of British programs from the 1960’s and 1970’s to be (pardon the weak joke) just my cup of tea.

…but something else hit me last night as I turned off my little bedside DVD player. I had been watching one of the last episodes of The New Avengers and for some reason the thought occurred to me “No one intends to make only thirteen episodes of a TV series”. Everyone hopes that their show will be the next M*A*S*H or The Big Bang Theory with at least a decade-long run. Nobody plans to fail – but it happens.

For example – take The New Avengers in 1976-77.

I won’t say the show failed, but it wasn’t a smashing success either. It did gain enough of a cult following to generate brisk DVD sales when A&E released sets of both seasons in 2004.  It was put together by Albert Fennel and Brian Clemens, the producers of the original mid-60s series but New Avengers got much the same reaction as the younger sister of the hottest cheerleader in school – it was judged by an impossible standard. The show was always struggling for money and because of that it had to move production twice, first to France and then to Canada – which confused viewers even more so the show never made it beyond two seasons of 13 episodes apiece.

…but I like it, for the same reason I like my other “Brit” programs. The plots are interesting, the dialog witty and the “stronger” elements of the shows (sex and violence) stay within my comfort level. Bear in mind that genealogy on both sides of my family very quickly traces back to the British Isles so there is a family connection of sorts for me. It also gives me a chance to see a part of the world that I am intensely interested in but ever less likely to visit as time goes by.

However, it is the human element that interests me the most. In my creative career I have worked on several properties (belonging to both other parties and myself) that gave all the indications of being extremely successful…but weren’t. It’s hard to deal with; for example I spent most of 1996 devoting all my spare time to a proposal for a line of collectible figurines to be sold in gift and card shops.  The idea involved ethnically diverse mermaids based on sea creatures from those pertinent ethnic areas and I shopped it around to a dozen companies which was no mean feat in pre-Internet days. The project was well-received and garnered many compliments for the concept and quality but it was ultimately turned down – -everyone wanted a pre-sold property with a book series, television show or toy line already in place.  They all wanted to lead from the middle of the pack so that by appealing to the lowest common denominator they could avoid any risk.

It was hard to accept and I had to move on with my life – but as I was looking at The New Avengers DVD case the other night I had an insight. I had just watched one of the last episodes in which the character Mike Gambit is trailing a suspect. Even though at the time Gareth Hunt knew the show wasn’t going to continue, he turned in a solid professional performance – and I really had to respect that. I also felt a bit of kinship as well:  While shows like The New Avengers, The Protectors and UFO have their own set of fans, they are quirky and definitely do not appeal to the lowest common denominator…but their creators still gave their best.  .

I understand that better than I did when I was young – and while most of those creators have passed on, I still feel like they deserve some recognition for their creativity.

Thank you Mike, Emma, Harry and Steve…or should I say Gareth Hunt, Diana Rigg, Robert Vaughn and Paul Maxwell  – and the series’ creative teams – for giving your best shot despite the outcome.

 

Dame Diana in Black & White

DameDianaLineArtWhat can I say?

“Diana Rigg” is what I can say!

I was thirteen years old and just becoming aware of my Anglo-Saxon heritage when series 4 of ‘The Avengers” hit the airwaves, which for those of use in Alaska meant two weeks after the rest of the country. We’d received very little in the way of advance promotions ; with the recent premiere of “Batman” I was cringing inwardly as I anticipated this  new British show to be a camp rendition of Marvel’s super-team.

…but from the first few minutes watching Steed and Emma stride across the giant checkerboard I knew this show was going to be good, especially the “talented amateur” Emma Peel.

The drawing  came about as a part of a 22-page self-promotional comic I did a couple of years back but it turned out much too nicely to stay buried in a binder on my shelf.

Enjoy!

 

 

John Steed

2016-02-02 Steed

My original plan was to get this portrait finished and posted during the week following Patrick Macnee’s death, but you know that saying about roads, hell and good intentions. The important thing is I’ve finally finished it – albeit with Lori’s steadying touch. She is so good with faces that the studio rules specify that no likeness leaves the premises without going through her.

(…and on the other hand no building, vehicle or other perspective-intensive subject  has to go by me!)

I think it turned out looking  pretty good…and when you take into consideration the other >bleep<  I am pestered  with right now it turned out exceptionally well.

Next step: assembling this into the long-awaited  Avengers mixed-media project!

The Lieutenant (NBC 1963-64)

Few people realize that Star Trek was not the first television series that Gene Roddenberry created and produced. The Lieutenant aired during the 1963-64 season and was every bit as thoughtful and well-written as the original adventures of Captain Kirk and company. It was also just as piercing on a sociological level; one hard-hitting episode dealing with race relations was rejected by the network, but Roddenberry ran it anyway and caught h*ll for the decision later on. That incident was the real reason Trek was such a hard sell; it was just as much Roddenberry-as-loose-cannon as the subject matter that made the NBC  suits  drag their feet.

It’s one of my favorites – it’s a show about the unique challenges of a peace-time military which I could definitely identify with. It was also one of the few common interests my dad and I had. Even when I was only ten years old we existed on the same planet but lived in different worlds – but we watched every episode together during that first run. A lot of my troop-leading philosophy came from listening to my dad’s comments while we watched The Lieutenant – he had only been out of the navy four or five years after retiring as a chief petty officer in the navy so the experience was still fresh.

I bought the entire series on DVD but many of the episodes are on YouTube or other network sites.