Tagged: 2000 AD

John Ostrander: Back to the Future Tense

Legends of Tomorrow

There’s a lot of time travel going on in pop culture these days. The CW has DC’s Legends of Tomorrow where a rag-tag group of misfits travel around with Doctor Who, excuse me, Rip Hunter Time Master, as he tries to stop the immortal villain, Vandal Savage, from killing his family. Oh, and to prevent Savage from really messing up the world… but mostly to save his own family.

In general, I like time travel stories and have ever since I saw The Time Machine (the 1960 one with Rod Taylor, not the 2002 version with Guy Pearce). A great variation on the H.G. Wells story was Time After Time, where H.G. Wells (played by Malcolm McDowell) comes to (then) modern day San Francisco chasing Jack the Ripper (David Warner) and encounters the ever adorable Mary Steenburgen.

I like time travel stories in movies, books, comics, and so on. One of the best – and funniest – time travel comics I read was an eight pager by Alan Moore in 2000 AD. Witty and brilliant. Time travel stories can be difficult to pull off well, however. They need to be internally consistent and should jibe not only with the facts but the tone of the time era. That’s easier when the setting is the future or when the story has future travelers coming into our present.

The Back To The Future movie trilogy did this pretty well. The first and third movies were great; the middle one – meh. I don’t dislike it as much as some people do but it’s not quite at the same level. However, it does have a classic time travel conundrum when our hero, Marty McFly (played by the ever adorable Michael J. Fox), has to go back to the same era he was in during the first film and not meet himself. It’s done cleverly and is internally consistent.

One of the tropes in a lot of modern time travel tales appears to be the traveler is coming back in time to undo something to save the future times. That’s the basis of the Terminator movies, Twelve Monkeys, the aforementioned DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and others. It reflects one of the age-old questions of time travel – if you could travel back in time, would you kill Adolph Hitler before he really got going. (One of my favorite episodes of my favorite time travel series of all, Doctor Who, is called “Let’s Kill Hitler.”)

There’s lots of reasons as to why a given time traveler can’t or won’t kill Hitler – it would result in someone even worse or that time is like a stream and if you attempt to divert it it will find it’s way back to what was changed. One theory of time (and why you can’t change the past) was explained on a recent episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. One of the group’s scientists explains that time is like a block of Jell-O; it’s homogeneous in that it actually is all happening at the same time and it is only our perception of time being linear that separates one second from another.

I wonder if the prevalence of this “going back in time to save the world” is part of our current zeitgeist. Maybe we sense or feel that something is going badly wrong and the future is coming back to our present to keep a very dystopian future from happening. The event may vary according to your own beliefs and perceptions. Maybe they’re here to stop Trump from being elected or maybe it’s Hillary. (My money’s on Trump, but that’s me.) Maybe it’s George W. Bush and the Iraq War; maybe it’s Ralph Nader because he enabled the election of Bush. Maybe it’s to stop the effects of climate change before it’s too late.  Your versions may vary; these are mine.

I think what it reflects is that we all sense that something is wrong even if we can’t agree on what it is. As usual, our pop culture speaks to that underlying fear, picks up on our gestalt, our group subconscious, and tries to give it form. Art can do that. It can give a physical form to what we feel, to what we can’t elucidate, and shows it to us.

Shakespeare, of course, said it better:

The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

  • Midsummer’s Night Dream. Act V, Scene 1

That’s also a form of time travel; words from hundreds of years ago still resonate and his voice still lives and speaks to us.

Or, as Doc says to Marty and his girlfriend at the end of Back To The Future III: “… your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one, both of you.”

Make it a good one, all of you.

Zenith: Phases One to Four by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell

Zenith: Phases One to Four by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell

Zenith is quite likely the best possible revisionist superhero comic series told in five-page chapters. That sounds like damning with faint praise, and there’s an aspect of that — those short chapters put Morrison and Yeowell’s work in a straitjacket that they can never get free from, denying them all but the most absolutely necessary splash pages and forcing every installment to move forward quickly and efficiently — but it’s still an impressive achievement, and a pretty good revisionist superhero in general. His stories originally ran in the UK comics magazine 2000 AD, in weekly installments between 1987 and 1992, which explains the five-page-chapters issue. All the stories were written by Grant Morrison, at that point the current snotty Young Turk of British Comics, and drawn by Steve Yeowell, who had no such easy hook to be hung on and so had to get by on hard work and talent. (Not that Morrison was lacking in either of those.)

Zenith supposedly is a slacker superhero, and these stories are old enough that Generation X (my generation) was the one filled with young lazy layabouts who couldn’t be bothered to work — whereas now we know that really describes millennials, who have the bad grace to be young now, when so many of us are sadly no longer so. (We may all know different in another twenty years, but we’ll need to think up a new derogatory nickname for yet another generation first.) Zenith isn’t really that much of a slacker; he does hesitate initially to jump into the big superhero plot of Phase One. but that’s over very quickly (no room for Hamlet-esque equivocation in five-page chapters), and he’s flying around and punching monsters almost immediately.

Phase One quickly introduces us to what we need to know, with a prologue of this world’s end of WWII: the Nazi superhero Masterman is about to kill the English superhero Maximan in Berlin when he’s temporarily stymied by a nuclear bomb that levels the city. (No spoilers: we see the not-dead Masterman by the end of the prologue in the modern day. As I said, short chapters means this has to move fast.) Fast forward two generations: there were a bunch of British superheroes in the ’60s, who broke free from government control, called themselves Cloud Nine, and eventually broke up. Half of them are now dead, and the three left alive have all lost their powers.

But two of the dead supers had a son, and that boy — Robert McDowell — is the 19-year-old pop star Zenith in the fateful year 1987. Zenith is self-centered and arrogant and the kind of prick that only the teenage international celebrity only-superhero-in-the-world could be. His agent tries to keep him on-task, poor man, but it’s clearly an impossible job. Oh, but here comes Masterman, reincarnated by a secret society that worships the Lovecraftian “Many-Angled Ones” from beyond space that which to come down and eat our souls. (As in Loveccraft, it doesn’t do to think too much about why cultists would want to destroy the entire world and have their souls eaten first.)

And it turns out that the three depowered superheroes are not as depowered as previously thought, and that Zenith will join the battle once we get through a few scenes of him being petulant and young and thick-headed. So Zenith and the most powerful of those remnant ’60s heroes — Peter St. John, a powerful telepath and hippie-turned-Thatcherite PM — defeat Masterman and the thing from beyond space that inhabited him, saving the world and paving the way for St. John’s ascension to running the Defense Ministry.

There are, of course, Dark Hints about Zenith’s parents, which come out in Phase Two. This one is the least cosmic of all four Phases, with a Bond-villain-style mad billionaire who has bankrolled the creation of new supers — though a connection with the One Scientist that created all of the UK’s supers for three generations [1] — and plots to destroy the current world with nuclear fire and build a new one with his pet superhumans. Zenith needs the help of a CIA agent and (once again) St. John to foil this one, but of course it is foiled in the end.

As usual for events that supposedly killed entire super-teams, we learn by this point that hardly anyone in Cloud Nine actually died or was depowered in the ’60s. Half of the team fled to one of the infinite alternate worlds — this might be the first time Morrison uses that idea, so Morrison fans take note — as part of a larger Plan, which the three left behind (St. John and the two that don’t do much) didn’t want any part of.  But that’s still to come.

Phase Threeis the big, gaudy Crisis of the Zenith universe, with supers from dozens of worlds gathering together with Zenith and St. John under the leadership of an alternate-universe Maximan to defeat the Llogior. (The Lovecraftian Many-Angled Ones having quietly rebranded themselves at some point while they were offstage in Phase Two, they will be known under this name from now on.) Zenith even meets his nice, heroic counterpart from another universe, Vertex, which allows for some tension near the end.

And, yes, the collection of superheroes vaguely familiar to British audiences of the late ’80s — and much less so to this American, or to anyone not deeply steeped in UK comics of the ’60s and ’70s — does save the multiverse, although some fall tragically along the way, to make it more meaningful. (And there’s at least one shocking betrayal, for the same reasons.) But Zenith has very little to do with it; he’s there, and he does punch a few things, but that’s about the extent of his involvement.

Finally, Phase Four came along after a two-year gap, and introduced color to the series. (I’m not sure if this is because 2000 AD finally went all-color around 1992, or if it had a color section for a while and Zenith was at that point considered worthy, or what. But this Phase is in full comic-book color, while the first three are pure Yeowell ink.) Now the Big Plan of the surviving members of Cloud 9 comes to fruition, and of course it has to do with conquering the world and the Lloigor and all the things every Zenith story is about.

And, once again, St. John is the one who actually saves the world, while Zenith is mostly just around for the ride. Morrison did continue to hint that St. John wasn’t what he seemed — hints that go all the way back to the final pages of Phase One — which would imply that a Phase Five would finally see Zenith battle St. John. (This is very much a minimalist superhero universe, despite the multiple universes in Phase Three; everyone comes from the same origin, and they keep fighting and killing each other — eventually, obviously, the last two standing will have to fight in the final battle.) But there never was a Phase Five; the Phase Four book ends with a late-Morrison mash-up story from ten years later that throws all of the toys up in the air and delights in the weird shapes they make coming down. There’s no sign that Morrison and Yeowell ever will, or could, continue this story in a conventional way: this is what we have, and this is all there ever will be.

As I said a thousand words or so ago, Zenith is inherently handicapped by being told in five-page chapters. Morrison was lucky enough to be writing in a time and for a magazine that was happy to have lots of captions, so he’s able to tell larger, more complex stories than you might expect given that scope — but, still, every chapter has to have a shape, and has to have some action or tension to close it, and that gives Zenith an inherently herky-jerky cadence, with confrontations and fights coming at predictable intervals and never lasting very long.

Yeowell is also handicapped by the space: there’s only so much superhero action you can draw when you need to have ten panels and at least that many captions on each page. He does get more than his share of striking images out of Morrison’s concepts, though, particularly in Phase Four (perhaps because the rising tide of the ’90s was privileging pictures over captions).

So this is another flawed masterpiece, much like its model Miracleman. I imagine that amuses Grant Morrison to no end.

[1] This is very much like Emil Gargunza, from Alan Moore’s slightly earlier Marvelman/Miracleman stories. The backstory of Zenith in general bears a lot of resemblances to Moore’s worldbuilding; Morrison substituted Cthulhu for Warpsmiths, pretty much, and went forward from there.

Mike Gold: Mad Max – Back In The Desert Again!

Today’s Zen question: Can a movie be called a sequel even if it has a cast that hadn’t been in the earlier three movies but it stars the same lead character and the worldview remains consistent with those movies and all four movies have the same director, but the last one was released 30 years ago?

Today’s Zen answer: Who the hell cares? Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolutely terrific movie.

I saw this epic with my ComicMix comrade Martha Thomases and our mutual pal, Michigan’s own Penelope Ruchman. It was the beginning of an amazingly astonishing pop entertainment day; I’d give you those details but you know how I absolutely hate to name-drop. I won’t speak for Martha or Penny except to say that Martha enjoyed the movie at least as much as I did and I believe Penny liked it even more. Yes, it really is the Gone With The Wind of action movies, except instead of torching Atlanta they trashed several megatons of George Metzger-esque decrepit vehicles traveling across the desert to… well, to nowhere. Action ensues.

And that’s about it for the plot. Usually, that is not a good sign. Here, somehow, it works. If somebody pitched this to me as a graphic novel I’d have rejected it – but on the screen, in George Miller’s more-than-capable hands, it soars. I did not notice one person in the crowded Manhattan theater leaving for food or a bathroom break. That’s better than “two thumbs up,” particularly when damn near the entire movie was set in the desert. You’d think people would need some water or soda or a Slurpee or something.

Tom Hardy is fine as Max. The role isn’t overwhelmingly dependent upon acting chops, but when needed Tom delivers. The true star of this movie, in every conceivable way, is Charlize Theron. She plays the other title character, Imperator Furiosa. She is the heart and the soul of the movie but, to the regret of a few morons, she and her women companions also carry the brunt of the action. They carry it right to your lap.

There’s a bit of a controversy contrived by these aforementioned morons about how Mad Max: Fury Road emasculates men. There is a phrase for this attitude: neurotic bullshit. If this movie made their balls shrivel up and fall to the ground, trust me: society is better off.

There’s a long-standing meme in Hollywood about how women can’t carry an action movie. Executives point to truly shitty movies such as Catwoman, Elektra, and Supergirl. It doesn’t occur to the cigar-chompers that if you rewrote these movies for a male lead, they would be just as shitty and only marginally more income-active. I have three things to say to these people:

  • Lucy
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Greenlight the fucking Black Widow movie already.

Mad Max: Fury Road was co-written by comics great Brendan McCarthy, of 2000 AD fame. Particularly of Judge Dredd fame. The parallels between the Mad Max series and Dredd are, well, overwhelming. Jus’ sayin’. I thought Mick McMahon should have received royalties for The Road Warrior, but it is a great movie. Just like Road Fury.

This movie was so relentless and so compelling that even George Eastman’s parents should be proud.

Go see it. But first, stop by the ridiculously overpriced candy counter and buy vast quantities of consumable liquid. This time, it’s actually worth the money.


Molly Jackson: Bow to the Almighty Dollar

Judge DreddThis past weekend was a big, major one with Avengers: Age of Ultron premiering, and, on Saturday, Free Comic Book Day. And geeks, in general, had a good, busy weekend. Events were popping up all around the country, celebrating geekdom.

It was also a huge money maker for geek companies. Marvel/Disney (as expected) scored big at movie box offices all over the US. Comic book stores opened their doors to new and old comic readers with free gifts as well as deals on their current stock. People were out and about spending money, which is good for the local community as well as big business.

All this spending of the almighty dollar.

Which made it all the more better when I opened up the FCBD 2000 AD issue and read the Judge Dredd story. This UK weekly had a futuristic story about certain people being banned from using certain building entrances set aside for the elite. Which is the exact same issue happening in NYC right now.

Science-fiction always has been used to highlight inequality and social issues throughout time, which is part of the reason I love it so much. Using entertaining media to educate people and share ideas is one of the best ideas humans ever had.

Still, I didn’t expect it to show up on FCBD. This is a day normally reserved to bring in new readers and give them a taste to whet their appetite. So taking a moral or ethical stance that could offend could be a risk. However, 2000 AD took a chance and I’m loving it. They show their platform through Judge Dredd, as well as other stories, and it’s an open-minded one. They are showing any and all readers who they are and what they stand for. This is what Sci-Fi is meant to be.

High-five to 2000 AD for using issues and dilemmas from “over the pond” to educate as well as entertain.