A Different Perspective on Fireball XL5…

2019-10-04 VenusZuniRevision

Granted today isn’t a Saturday and even though some of what follows has previously seen print, what I’m writing today isn’t really a Saturday morning re-run. It’s no secret that I am a big Gerry Anderson fan and of all his productions Fireball XL5 is my favorite …but as I check my stats each day it appears that the adventures of Steve Zodiac and company are highly favored by a sizeable number of my readers as well.

…and as it can be a little difficult at times to pick out all the XL5 blog posts I’m putting together a dedicated portfolio for the topic with a link on my blog’s task bar to make it easier to access. The portfolio will include most of the polished conceptual work I’ve come up with along with selected text – including this rework of a Fireball XL5 review I did for Amazon.com several years ago:

 Fireball XL5 is one of Sir Gerry Anderson’s earlier “sophomore” shows produced before he hit it big with Thunderbirds and the prime-time live action shows like Space: 1999. It is not nearly as well-polished; indeed most commentaries refer to it has possessing a “naïve charm” but out of all his work it is hands-down my very favorite.

 Why?

 Great music: If the opening credits aren’t the best ever in the history of broadcast TV then they should at least be in the top ten. Classical brass orchestra music underlies Steve and Venus boarding the ship, then as the engine fires up the music breaks into a dirty bad saxophone measure as it accompanies Fireball as it is hurtling down the launch track and leaping into the sky.

  All ages appeal: I can share these shows with my grandkids without them getting either terrified or bored. There are lots of explosions and action, but any suspense in an episode is usually brought on by some sort of count-down rather than having some psycho armed with an ax chasing people through an old house.

Great eye candy: For the conditions under which it was filmed, Fireball XL5 is visually stunning. Even though I liked the stories the budding artist inside of me was fascinated with the design aspect. Despite the slim budget the quality of their work made it very evident that the model makers and special effects crew would be going on to bigger and better things – most big-budget work like the Bond movies

Positive message: As I mentioned before, Fireball XL5 doesn’t leave kids scared at the end of the episode. These shows were pre-Star Trek and pre- Lost in Space and at that time most other science fiction on the tube consisted of the rare ‘50s sci-fi movie shown at odd hours – and to be honest I didn’t care for most of those shows. The plots usually revolved around the monster (there was always a monster) killing and/or eating the secondary characters one by one until the hero saved the remaining crew members by killing the monster.

None of that victim crap with Steve Zodiac. First off, Fireball XL5 (the ship itself) looked, flew and fought like a freaking F104 Starfighter rather than wallowing around helplessly like most other cinematic spacecraft at the time. Colonel Zodiac wasn’t above packing heat himself and dropped more than one alien foolish enough to try and see who would blink first – though I found it odd that his sidearm was extremely versatile, being able to fire any kind of ray or projectile the script required in a particular scene.

The only problem I had with the show as the stilted manner in which the marionettes moved. Personally my innate obsessive-compulsive behavior prevented me from a simple suspension of disbelief so I concocted a back-story about a galaxy-wide epidemic that left victims with arthritic joints – which caused the aforementioned stilted and stiff movements – but to each his own.

Out of the entire series Invasion: Earth is my favorite episode – for a very special reason. I belong to a very select group of people called The Fireball XL5 Club. It doesn’t sound like it would be that exclusive, but this particular Fireball XL5 Club is made up of people who were watching the show when the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 hit. It was this specific episode that was playing – but for years I didn’t know how it ended; as the tremors hit our TV tipped over, pulling the plug out and cutting the episode off with about ten minutes to go. I spent the next twenty years wondering how Steve and the gang handled the vaguely Oriental-sounding invaders but then I found a fourth-generation bootleg VHS that carried me over until A&E released the DVD set.

I love the show and I while I wouldn’t have changed a thing “back in the day” it’s been fun to tweak details and exercise creative muscles. From the first time I saw Jim Ringo’s armored bat-suit worn by Michael Keaton in the 1989 Batman movie I’ve been a fan of tweaking details. For example in today’s post I’ve re-imagined Zoonie not as a goofy sidekick but rather the vital crew member Zuni, ready to lend the muscle where needed, but retaining the original character’s good nature, just as my “Chris Rock” post yesterday put Lieutenant Ninety in a much different light.

Fireball XL5 Re-boot: LT Ninety

He gave us orcs, ents and halflings but I’ve always thought the phrase ‘the story grew in the telling” to be one of the most magnificent creations John Ronald Reuel Tolkien gave to the world. For me it neatly describes the convoluted trails the process of creation can follow…and my reimagined Lieutenant Ninety is an excellent example of that concept.

As I’ve written elsewhere FIREBALL XL5 is the Gerry Anderson program that I will always love the best. I’ve designed new vehicles and uniforms that echo the classic design and I’ve even compiled a list of suggested actors for a rebooted live-action series, but as I was reviewing that list it occurred to me that I’d come up with a group of people similar in composition to Ivory Soap (99 and 44/100 Caucasian). That prompted me to make some changes, not as a measure of political correctness but to stay close to Sir Gerry’s vision which was much more diverse than usual for the times.

…so out went Rob Schneider and in came Chris Rock.

I also wanted a dress uniform for the World Space Patrol and was favoring the long-tailed mess blues that the United States Army used up until recently, but it was a photo of Levar Burton as LT Geordie LaForge wearing that contrived piece of craptacular tailoring that passed for a Starfleet formal dress uniform that snapped the last creative Lego in place for me – add an outsized fedora and a couple of chains and –voila – you have a zoot suit.

It’s a concept that might not be all that far off as what goes around usually comes around. I swore in 1973 that I’d be wearing bell-bottom pants for the rest of my life, and I’ve seen halter-tops cycle in and out of women’s fashion a couple of times. Who’s to say that a “reet pleat” won’t be the height of military fashion in 2119?

2019-10-03a LT Ninety 2019-10-3b LT90 Color

Bladeship Model

bladeship

I designed the bladeship to be Starfleet’s primary Special Operations support vessel – a concept that kicked off a short but brisk discussion that recently spread across WordPress and Facebook.  Essentially an SR-71, an AC-130 and a submarine rolled into one ship, the bladeship was central to an (unfortunately) unpublished special operations supplement I wrote for FASA’s Star Trek role-playing game back in the day. The fact that at the time I was also serving as the battalion S2 (intelligence) for the 1st battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (ABN) UTARNG was most definitely a factor in the whole project

The aforementioned discussion got me thinking about all the work that went into the project and how it could be of enough interest to support a couple of posts. Unfortunately, I started the original bladeship project thirty-four years and seven houses ago, and as I learned in the army “three moves equal one fire” …so I’ve essentially been burned out twice since 1985.

I still have  some “stuff” left, including this Styrene and Bondo ® model built in scale to the original AMT USS Enterprise model. As I think about this I’m pretty sure I’ve already written a post or two  about the bladeship but A) it’s been awhile and B) the pertinent files have proved to be elusive.

Jadex: Newest Member of the Herculoids

JadexHerculoids

Relax!

No need to dig out the old Hanna-Barbera VHS tapes – there is no “Jadex” among the Herculoids, at least anywhere outside of the Deitrick household. My Star Pupil and I spent last Saturday morning doing what Saturdays were made for: watching cartoons. We spent a lot of time with the old H/B action shows like “Herculoids”, “Jonny Quest” and “Space Ghost” and once I was able to muzzle the internal critic complaining about the absence of all three Laws of Thermodynamics we had a good time

We were at most seven minutes into our session when it became evident the team needed an extra member bearing a strong resemblance to my Star Pupil.

XL5 Rework…with color added

xl5colorrework

I ran the black-and-white version of this drawing in 2016 but never got around to adding color. I’ve yet to decide if it was artistic vision that prompted a white fuselage or if I was just to lazy to work up all the reflections and shadows in a metallic look. I’m also not totally sold on the inset Gemini-style windows in Fireball Jr. Even as a ten year old I had a hard time buying off on a big bubble canopy but this configuration seems awfully cramped.

UFO: 1908 Moonbase Commander

The only thing better than the stuff Sir Gerry Anderson and his crew thought up is tweaking the details. I love retro-designing vehicles and costumes and when I was dusting some of my “trophies” in the sitting room I got the idea for a uniform for the Moonbase ladies had SHADO been organized in 1908 instead of 1980.

2018-12-03 UFO Moonbase 1908

 

 

Unto the Third and Fourth Generation

Working with my Star Pupil doesn’t always entail slaving over the drawing board. This picture documents one of the many breaks we take in between drawing and sculpting,  though you could refer to this as yet another study session.

Art history –  because we are analyzing a classic television program…

Unto the third and fourth generation

I definitely I learned a lot from this session – as in discovering  the degree to which my hair has gone  thin and white…

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.