Tagged: Science Fiction

Book-A-Day 2018 #102: Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1954 by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson and various artists

So the big Hellboy story is over — it’s been over longer than most people think, as I argued when I wrote about the second volume of Hellboy in Hell. But Hellboy is still a valuable piece of intellectual property, with a potential movie reboot still kicking around in the background somewhere. So there has to be some Hellboy product coming out on a regular basis, to help keep the lights on at Dark Horse and to keep Mike Mignola busy.

Well, maybe that’s too cynical a view of things. Hellboy is an interesting, fun character, and his history contains vast swaths of space and time to throw additional stories into. It’s not impossible that Mignola and his collaborators are really, really enthusiastic about all of those possibilities and that Mignola is taking on such a large number of collaborators and doing a whole lot of unrelated one-off stories because that’s precisely what the Hellboy universe needs right at this moment. The world is vast; all things are possible. And it’s clear that Mignola and team are enjoying what they’re doing.

So what we have here is Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1954 , containing four miscellaneous stories all taking place in that year and all written by Mignola with Chris Roberson, his current major writing collaborator (following John Arcudi). Two of the stories were two-issue mini-series, another was a single issue, and the fourth appeared in a giveaway comic for Free Comic Book Day in 2015.

(Similar volumes covering the years 1952 and 1953 came out previously.)

The four stories are all entirely separate, which is nothing new for Hellboy: even now, probably a majority of the books featuring him are made up of miscellaneous tales of investigating (and then, inevitably, punching to death) some mysterious folkloric thing in some odd corner of the world. The best of the short pure-Mignola stories relied on folklore and atmosphere rather than tying everything into the standard Hellboy mythology, and it’s good to see that most of the stories here follow in that vein.

We lead off with a two-parter, “Black Sun,” drawn by Stephen Green in the traditional dark and moody style of other-hands Hellboy-universe stories. I tend to think of that look as being codified by Guy Davis in B.P.R.D., but a lot of people (the Fiumara brothers, Duncan Fegredo, Ben Stenbeck, Tyler Crook, James Harren, and even Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba) have worked in that vein on various Hellboy-related stories over the years and done good work. “Black Sun” features both Nazis and flying saucers, and is the most core-mythology of the stories here.

Moodiest (and probably best) is the single-issue story, “The Unreasoning Beast,” with art by Patric Reynolds. It has a monkey in it; I probably shouldn’t say more than that.

The other two-parter is “Ghost Moon,” set in Hong Kong. Brian Churilla draws this one, and I found the style to be brighter and more open than most Hellboy stuff. Some of that may be Dave Stewart’s colors, but he colors nearly everything in the Hellboy universe, so it must be a deliberate choice here. This is another story using real-world folklore, but I found it a little pat and obvious.

And last is the shortest piece, “The Mirror,” drawn by Richard Corben. Corben’s grotesques work pretty well for Hellboy, though I personally like his work best in small doses. This is more a vignette than a story, but it’s a nice vignette.

We all know that this book exists because a lot of us like Hellboy and want to keep reading stories about Hellboy, even when there’s no compelling in-story reason for those stories to continue. If that describes you, you’ll probably like this book: it does that Hellboy thing, in the extended-universe manner, and does it pretty well. But if you haven’t gotten into the Hellboy thing yet, go back to the pure Mignola stuff and start there.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #100: The Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow

People will tell you that The Ghost in the Shell is a single story, about a cyborg cop in a complex future Japan and her pursuit of a mysterious AI called The Puppeteer. They are lying to you.

Oh, that thread is here, and the very last installment here sees the conclusion of that story. It’s a plausible lie, like all the best ones.

But Ghost in the Shell is three hundred and fifty pages of comics, across eleven long chapters, and most of those chapters are individual episodes of our heroine murdering lots of people because the government tells her to. Puppeteer comes in during one of those murder sprees earlier in the book, and then returns in the aftermath of yet another kill-that-guy mission for something like an ending.

There is a lot of pseudo-philosophical talk about brains and bodies, and a whole lot of skiffy bafflegab — which I think was not translated as crisply and clearly as it should have been — about the cyberpunk details of the technology here. But that’s not nearly as unique as Ghost‘s boosters pretend it is — or as coherent.

Of course, we do have to remember that Ghost started serialization in 1989 and was collected in 1991 — cyberpunk wasn’t new at that point, true (in fact, I think “Vincent Omniveritas” had declared it dead several years before), but Ghost showed that cyberpunk was going global and infiltrating new media. If you think of it as an ’80s cyberpunk comic, Ghost is pretty good — it has a complex, lived-in world, lots of interesting technology turned to criminal and/or destructive purposes, and a deeply jaundiced view of anyone in power. Masamune Shirow might have been working on the other side of the world, in a different language, and a different medium than the first wave of cyberpunks, but he could see what was important in that mode and turn it into the stories he wanted to tell.

The street finds its own use for things, as they say.

In this case, it’s the story of a cyborg mass-murderess, who is our heroine because she kills people the government aims her at, and we still thought that was good enough in the ’80s. (She does get in trouble near the end for her bloody work, but only because she was unfortunate enough to do it where a camera could see it — the killing itself is never questioned for a second, by anyone in the book.)

As you might guess, I found it a lot to swallow. Oh, not that a government would have a secret assassin — that’s traditional enough in this kind of story. Maybe a bit that she’s part of a big squad with a code number ending in nine — explicitly shown to be one of a series of similar teams with mostly non-overlapping opportunities for mass murder  — which implies a level of bloodthirstiness that seems unlikely to be sustained for very long, even in a country as full of targets as Japan. Mostly because Major Motoko Kusanagi never really becomes a person: she’s a collection of standard manga reactions and poses, there to be in the middle of the action and do Cool Stuff. Her entire personality is “dangerous sexy manga chick.”

Again, 1989 was another world — Japan doubly so, manga triply so. But, coming to Ghost in the Shell now, it does not look terribly impressive.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A- Day 2018 #98: Saga, Vol. 8 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

I should probably stop writing about Saga through the lens of my own expectations. I want it to be a single story that started with the birth of one child in this space-fantasy universe, and to have it end well in a way that wraps up that story. But it’s becoming more and more clear that creator Brian K. Vaughan instead sees Saga as a universe to tell stories in, and that those stories will all be somewhat related to that central family.

So I’m looking for a unity that isn’t here, and will never be here: Saga will run as long as people keep buying it (or until artist Fiona Staples decides she wants to do something else; I can’t imagine this continuing without her), and it will be a normal comic-book, full of issues that are separate stories or add up to an “arc” of three or six issues. Eventually, it will stop, for whatever reason, but the whole of Saga is not a single story and there’s no way to make it one at this point.

I’m sad about this, because there are enough serialized adventures in comics already and not enough stories, but no one asked me. I do hope I can draw a line under than thought here, and leave it buried: it’s not a useful framework for looking at Saga going forward from here. (And I see I keep saying a variation of the same thing every time I write about Saga, which must be tedious on your end: see my posts on volumes one , two , three , four, five , six , and especially seven for my repeated cataloging of pointless objections.)

So: here’s Saga, Vol. 8 , collecting another chunk of six issues. The first of these even seems to be an attempt at an introduction for new readers, that old standby of serialized comics. Let me just note that “new-reader friendly” is only important in a medium where going back to the beginning is infeasible or impossible: Netflix has built a big business on letting people binge from Season One Episode One.

Anyway, this volume is the story of an abortion. Well, it’s described as an abortion, repeatedly, but the baby is dead in the womb — in a mystical, woo-woo kind of way that means that child is also a ghost running around nearby — which means the medical procedure is actually quite distinct from an abortion. One suspects Vaughan might be trying to make points, or just be provocative for the sake of being provocative. The big events at the end of the last volume left that child dead in the womb, and apparently it’s not simple to just get him out. (If anything were simple, it wouldn’t be Saga.)

I find it harder and harder to write about the Saga volumes at this point: I’m trying not to give away who needs an abortion, even though that’s blindingly obvious to any semi-serious reader of the series. But I feel like the plot details of part forty-three of an umpty-ump part story shouldn’t be splashed around; I think most readers will want to get here under their own power. And, more seriously, Saga is becoming more and more soap-opera-ish with each issue: I forget precisely which TV-head is the guy running around in this issue (Count something? the Duc of NBC? Crown Prince Cyborg MCMLXXVI?), and I can’t remember where Lying Cat got to (she’s not in here at all), and I’m only vaguely invested in the some-other-horrible-person-has-captured-The-Will-and-has-now-learned-our-heroes-exist-oh-woe plotline.

Look, these are sturdy, well-built characters. They inhabit a big, complicated universe. Staples can draw any damn thing Vaughan can throw at her, and make it look both real and retroactively obvious. Many of the relationships here are ones readers care about and are invested in. But Saga seems to be still proliferating, and the initial burst of energy that was so enticing is slowly expanding into that big universe, like the Big Bang, and is cooling and becoming less excited as it goes.

Hmm. I guess I can’t stop talking about the same issues with Saga every damn time. Oh, well. Saga has gone from being a thunderbolt of energy and passion to a solid, entertaining space adventure comic. It’s still very nice, but it’s not what it was.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #90: The Nemo Trilogy by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

One of the core joys of comic books for the past fifty years has been playing with other people’s toys. I’m not hugely in sympathy with that impulse myself, but I can recognize that a lot of people want to do it, either directly (by writing comics) or indirectly (by reading those comics and arguing about how it should have been done).

Alan Moore, I’m coming to think, became a famous and respected comics writer because he has that urge on a level previously unknown to man: he wants to play with everyone’s toys, all at once, together, making some massive Lego set that takes over his living room and forcing his family to quietly leave and go live with relatives. (My metaphor may be breaking down slightly.)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen stories are clearly the strongest expression of that love: they take as many other people’s fictional characters as possible — those from authors safely dead and their works in the public domain, so their current corporate guardians can’t cause problems — and mash them together in various permutations.

(Lost Girls, on the other hand, is the fictional equivalent of taking the clothes off GI Joe and Barbie and making them kiss, then pretending they’re having sex.)

I finally caught up with a League offshoot recently — the three short graphic novels Moore wrote for League collaborator Kevin O’Neil to draw about “Princess Janni Dakkar,” the daughter of Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo. The three Nemo book, like the rest of the League stories, are entirely filled with other people’s characters and settings and ideas: that’s the point of that universe. It’s Moore’s only personal Amalgam universe, with all of the bits that he likes of every fictional world he’s ever enjoyed.

And so these books are stuffed with other people’s characters and ideas — so many of them that you have to be a pop-culture scholar to know who all of them are. Since I’m not Jess Nevins — there’s already one of him! — I’m not going to go that deeply into the specifics. (Though I might be better read than I expected, since I recognized the Thinking Machine from his real name — the benefits of a childhood spent read everything that came to hand.)

The trilogy covers most of Janni’s life — she’s young and energetic in Heart of Ice , set in 1922, middle-aged and concerned about her family in The Roses of Berlins 1941, and a dying, haunted old woman by 1975 for River of Ghosts . The three books are closely connected by the same antagonist — H. Rider Haggard’s Ayesha (aka “She”), the immortal white African queen. I call her the antagonist and not the villain because Janni sets the whole thing in motion by stealing what seems to be the entire wealth of the exiled Ayesha at the beginning of Heart of Ice.

Of course,  Janni is in the old family business — she’s a pirate. And if one sets up as a pirate, one can’t be surprised when other people take offense to their things being stolen. It’s not quite true to say that one unwise attack blighted the rest of Janni’s life, since this is a horrible 20th century full of monsters and villains (not least Janni and her fellow megalomaniacs and criminals, who seem to run roughshod over everyone else and may actually rule the world! bwaa ha ha ha!), but it certainly didn’t help.

So Heart of Ice tells the story of a badly planned expedition to Antarctica, to what Moore does not exactly call the Mountains of Madness. Janni’s rapidly shrinking forces, who I think are all minor British adventure heroes of the 19th century, are harried by a group of American “science heroes” hired by Ayesha’s current benefactors. The group is led by a thinly veiled Tom Swift, here under a veiled name because trademarks are far more durable than copyrights.

Then The Roses of Berlin sees Janni and her husband, Broad Arrow Jack, fighting their way into a Rotwangian nightmare Berlin to save their daughter and her husband (the second generation Robur) from the evil clutches of the worse-than-Nazis, who are inevitably allied to Ayesha. And, again, Robur and “young mistress Hira” were engaged in war on Germany when they were captured — the enemies in these books may be horrible and cruel and entirely wrong for this world, but they’re equally sinned against by our putative heroes.

Finally, an obsessed Jenni chases rumors of a reborn Ayesha up the Amazon to the obligatory den of hidden Nazis and their robot bimbo army in River of Ghosts, bringing an end to the story of Janni and Ayesha, though the Nemo family will live on, for potential sequels.

At the end of it all the world is still, as far as we can see, run by the villains of popular literature, and there’s no sign it’s anything but horrible for anyone who isn’t the star of a story Moore liked as a child. We did have three gorgeously-drawn adventure stories full of wonders and terrors, and a game of spot-the-reference that many of us will have enjoyed a lot. But it all does feel faintly pointless, as if Moore can write these everybody-else’s-characters-fight stories in his sleep, and is now doing so.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #86: Descender, Vol. 4 by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen

At some point, writing about an ongoing series becomes gibberish to the uninformed and spoilers to the slightly behind. (Maybe not both at exactly the same moment, but both eventually.) I’d like to think that can still be a long way off, that I can spin out interesting things to say about the fourth volume collecting a SFnal comic, but it’s not me that will be the judge of that.

A lot of plot has come before we hit the first page of Descender, Vol. 4: Orbital Mechanics — by the way, does that title feel like it’s just a random skiffy-sounding reference? asking for a friend — full of character and incident and shocking revelations and worldbuilding and all that good stuff. (See my posts on the first and second and third volumes for more details of the good stuff.)

We’re also into serious split-the-party multi-threaded plotting here: as we begin, TIM-21 is running away from TIM-22 on Machine Moon, while Telsa and Quon are trying to escape that same place, seeing as how they’re meat-based organisms and the robots take a dim view of that. Meanwhile, Andy has reunited with his now-cyborged ex-girlfriend Effie and is back on 21’s trail. That sounds like they’re all going to get together, doesn’t it?

But no — writer Jeff Lemire has plenty more complications to work through in this space-opera universe, so any tearful (or gunfire-filled) reunions will have to wait for a while. We’re still in frying-pan-into-fire mode here, as nearly all of the characters we’re supposed to like are in worse positions by the end of the book. I have to admit I wonder how long Lemire can keep that up: eventually, everybody is going to get killed or the last-second escapes will get silly. But, for now, there’s enough stuff going on in this universe to keep it all plausible.

Artist Dustin Nguyen is still chugging along here — I particularly like his use of color in this book to indicate mood and environment. It’s a seemingly small thing that can be very effective, particularly when one person is making all of the art.

I still hope that Descender has a specific story to tell, with a real ending — that it’s not going to just spin out complications for as long as people will buy it. The only way to tell that will be through time; we’ll have to wait and see. For now, this is still an excellent space opera in comics form.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #65: Kaijumax, Season Two: The Seamy Underbelly by Zander Cannon

It’s taken two library systems to get me caught up on Zander Cannon’s giant-monsters-in-prison comic series, and that seems a lot more complicated than it should be. But any system that gets books you want to read into your hands is, in the end, a successful system — so I’m not going to complain.

Cannon is following the Classy Cable TV style here: six-issue mini-series, each basically self-contained, coming out about the same time each year. I expect that gives him time to do some other comics work as well, and (more importantly) time to plan the next series and promote the book of the last series, as comics is getting more and more disconnected from the just-put-something-out-in-pamphlet-form-every-month business model. (And, let’s be honest: that model was good for the companies that owned the companies and characters, but not so good for anyone else in the pipeline.)

So: here is Kaijumax, Season Two: The Seamy Underbelly . Electrogor, the nice guy who looked like our main character back at the beginning of the first season, has broken out of prison with Green Humongo, and the two of them are hiding out with Red Humongo, who is Green’s brother despite their having completely different origins. But the cast of characters is much wider than just our two fugitives, and they’re scattered all over the place — I’d say “around the world,” but one of them spends substantial time on what I’m pretty sure is the moon.

Cannon has backed his way into something like a racial allegory, though he has an afterword where he denies that was the point, and explains that the parallels came as he turned “giant monsters in prison” into something more than just a joke idea by trying to take it seriously. I found it an interesting strand of the story — kaiju as a minority group, dispossessed and discriminated against, and the family dramas between the cop kaiju brother and the criminal kaiju brother. I’m not part of the racial group that the kaiju mostly reference, so I can point to that element and note it, but readers who are closer to a real-world version could have very different responses.

Anyway, there’s a big cast, sprawling around the world and elsewhere, of cops and criminals, jailers and jailed, corrupt and honest, and those who cross all of those categories. It’s a fairly dark moral universe for both the kaiju and those they call “squishies.” (Cannon plays it monster-movie style, but there has to be a lot of death in the background of Kaijumax. Every monster in prison represents at least a few thousand dead humans, maybe more.)

And it’s a noirish cartoon version of every monster movie ever, too: giant piloted robots and giant self-aware robots, lizards from the depths of the ocean and Lovecraftian beasts from between the stars, demons and mad scientists and scheming sons. It’s only because the monsters are so apt to get addicted (to nuclear power, to fictional monster-drugs) that this world even still exists.

Season Two is darker than the first one, almost paradoxically, since this is the storyline taking place almost entirely outside of prison. But prison is where things are relatively simple, right? You follow the rules (official and unwritten), you keep your nose out of places it shouldn’t be, you keep your head down, and you do your time. There’s no place to keep your head down in the wider world, and everywhere your nose is could be a place it shouldn’t be.

You have to be able to take Kaijumax seriously to enjoy it — to accept the premise, admit the science is severely bent at best, and appreciate the models. If you can do that, it’s a fine comic about loyalty and friendship, good and evil, what you have to do and what you can do, and, as the first book put it, terror and respect.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Saga Volume Seven by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan

Trust is a tricky thing in stories: you have to trust the person telling the story will do a good job to keep rewarding that person with your attention.

Brian K. Vaughan had my trust and hugely lost it, in his Ex Machina  series with artist Tony Harris, and I’ve been giving each of his projects the side-eye since then, watching to see if the same thing would recur. That’s probably not fair, and it might have made my posts on the earlier Saga books — volumes one , two , three , four, five , and six — less useful than they could be.

But there’s an essential tension in a standalone, ongoing comic book: is this one story, or is it a series of stories? Most comics tell several stories in a row: sometimes simply, with a story in each issue, and sometimes complexly, across dozens of issues of dozens of titles for two months to then abruptly stop and pick back up with the next big crossover. But Spider-Man or JLA or Marvel as a whole is not a story — they’re walls made up of separate but interconnected stories.

Saga, though, has always presented itself as a story. A story told by a grown-up Hazel, some time in the future, which presumably explains how she can tell us things that happened in secret far away to other people. A story with a single through-line: how this family got through a galactic war and (we hope) found peace. So we’re expecting more than just twenty-some pages of action each month; it all has to add up to the story of this family.

And the longer a story goes on, the bigger the ending has to be to suit it. (Ask George R.R. Martin.) With the issues collected in this Volume Seven , Saga is now forty-two issues long — that might be half of the whole, or more, or less. We don’t know. The debt of that ending is continuing to grow, and will grow until we get to it.

Is it a good sign or a bad one that this volume collects a complete arc, with a definitive shape? (Does that make it a story, or a chapter?) This is some of the strongest work in Saga since the beginning, as if Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples cracked their knuckles and said “OK, we got the family back together — now it’s time to fuck shit up.” That’s a good sign, whichever way you fall on the story question.

In the end, I think I land on a slightly different set of questions: is Saga still compelling? is it still moving in the same direction? does it seem to have not just a vector but real velocity on its path? are these people still real and true to themselves?

And, from these issues — or this chapter, or this Volume Seven, call it what you will — the answer to all of those questions is still yes. So I’m still on board, though I would like to have a sense of how big the story will be overall. All stories have to end, even the good ones. Even this one. Stories that don’t end aren’t stories, they’re just things that happened.

And I want Saga to be a story. It has the potential to be a great one.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Bad Machinery, Vol. 7: The Case of the Forked Road by John Allison

The Mystery Tweens are solidly becoming Mystery Teens in The Case of the Forked Road , which means the boys have all seemingly lost 50 IQ points and keep punching each other for no reason. [1] So any mystery solving will be left to the girls, this time out.

Since this is a volume seven, before I go any further, there are two notes. First is that you don’t need to know anything going into this book. Well, OK: these are kids in a secondary school in Tackleford, the oddest town in England. You can pick that up from the book, and it’s all you need to know. Also, this is a collection of a webcomic , so you can always read as much of it as you want online.

But, if you do want to know more, let me direct you to my posts about Bad Machinery books one , two , three , four , five , and six . You may also be interested in the pre-Bad Machinery comic Scary Go Round , also set in Tackleford, which led to the comic-book format Giant Days, of which there have been several collections so far: one two three four .

The book version of The Case of the Forked Road, as usual, is slightly expanded from the webcomics version, with some pages redrawn a bit and others added to aid the flow. It also begins with a new page introducing the main characters and ends with several related old Scary Go Round pages — both of those introduced and narrated by Charlotte Grote, Allison’s current troublemaking smart-girl character (following a string of such in the past).

As usual, Allison is great at capturing speech patterns and the half-fascinated, half-oblivious attitude of teens — the girls discover a mystery this time, in the suspicious activities of a elderly lab assistant they call “Grumpaw.” But they have no idea what this guy’s name is, and have to go through convolutions just to get their investigation started.

They do, of course, and eventually find a fantastical explanation to the question of Grumpaw and the mysterious and strangely ignorant schoolboy Calvin. And the dangers they have to deal with this time out are directly related to the stupid violence of some male classmates. (Though the cover shows that it’s not the boy Mystery Teens; they stay offstage most of the time, and are useless when they’re on it.)

Allison writes smart stories that wander interestingly through his story-space and gives his characters very funny, real dialogue to say on every page. And I think his stories are best when he draws them himself: his line is just as puckish and true as his writing. That makes the Bad Machinery cases the very best Allison books coming out now.

One last point: if you’ve complained that previous Bad Machinery volumes — wide oblong shapes to show off the webcomic strips — were physically problematic, then you are in luck. The Case of the Forked Road is laid out like normal comic-book-style pages, just as these strips appeared online. So you no longer have that excuse, and must, by law, buy Forked Road immediately.

[1] If you think this is some kind of sexist nonsense, my currently sixteen-year-old son can tell you a story of some of his fellow students on his recent trip to Germany and Italy. These young men got into trouble because they were throwing some “hot rocks” around — as you do when you discover some rocks that are warmed by the sun, in a nice hotel in a foreign county — until, inevitably, windows got broken. There are boys who avoid the Enstupiding and Masculinizing Ray of Puberty, but they are few and beleaguered, and the general effects of the ray hugely debilitating.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Dennis O’Neil: Alfred Bester’s Squinkas

Read any good squinkas lately?

If you’re a comic book editor, you’d better hope you have, though, if you did, you probably called them, these squinkas, something else. Scripts, maybe.

I was introduced to the word, squinka, by a gentleman who certainly was an editor, one of the two or three best I ever worked for in a career of something like 50 years (which just goes to show you what can be achieved if you manage to breathe regularly and often. Ooops! I just let it slip – the secret of success in the writing dodge. If the writer refuses to breathe, the rest of it is irrelevant.)

Before beginning his long and illustrious stint behind a desk at DC Comics, young Mr. Schwartz was a literary agent whose specialty was peddling science fiction stories to the pulps – fiction magazines that were garish and cheap and widely available. Even after Mr. Schwartz migrated to DC, he maintained an interest in science fiction, which was occasionally manifest in the kind of comics he produced, the kinds of stories he liked to tell, and the questions he asked, often about the folk he knew from his agenting days, when imaginative tales were tainted with disreputability. They were, you know, trash.

That calumny didn’t seem to bother SF partisans much. Writers continued writing, editors continued editing, artists continued picture-making and gradually, the taint faded and then, somehow, the aficianados began to number in the millions and the production costs of the film versions of this trash climbed into the eight-figure neighborhood.

Rewind back to comics’ youth, when the medium was week-by-week and month-by-month inventing itself and creators might not have their tool kits in order. To be specific: they might not have had industry-wide formats or even names for everything they produced.

Motion pictures had been telling stories for some 35 years and had developed a vocabulary – necessary to facilitate communication, if for no other reason. But these here funny books? They were the new kids on the block. Their ancestors were arguably the aforementioned movies, newspaper comic strips and those naughty pulps, all of which shared certain similarities with the comic books. But they weren’t the same, not by a stretch.

So, I’m guessing, somebody saw a hole and decided to fill it. Neologisms anyone?

But the new word wasn’t very healthy. It didn’t last long. I never heard anyone, in or out of comics, use it. By the time Roy Thomas brought me into the comics herd, it had come and gone. I wouldn’t know that “squinka” had ever existed if I hadn’t stumbled across it in a collection of stories, articles and essays by Alfred Bester titled redemolished. Bester was, among other things, the recipient of the first Hugo, an award given to the creator of outstanding works of sf and, believe it or not, one of Mr. Schwartz’s clients. And a comic book writer; Green Lantern comes to mind.

I don’t know if Mr. Bester ever said “squinka” in his dealings with comics editors. Now days, nodding to his television colleagues, he might just say “script” and run for the subway.

Dennis O’Neil: What Is Star Wars?

Heinlein_Waldo&MagicIncWe ended last week’s dissertation by asking if superhero stories are science fiction. You remember? Good. I cherish your acuity. And, acute citizen that you are, you have already broadened the question to include pulp stories and entertainments like the Star Wars franchise.

Let’s focus on that, for surely we are all familiar with it. The Star Wars saga has spaceships, ray guns, bizarre aliens and even a girl who is clad in a harem costume for no other reason, apparently, than that she’s awfully cute: all stuff that used to be staples of science fiction, especially the pulpy kind. But I don’t recall those words – science fiction – being used to describe anything Star Warsian. And the stories themselves contain no references to real world (universe) science or extrapolation from current reality. In fact, the storytellers go out of their way to deny any such connections: the first movie begins with the words “Long, long ago in a galaxy far away…” In other words, dear moviegoer, you can hunker back in your seat and forget about measuring what’s happening on the screen against what’s possible. Dammit, just enjoy!

But here a conundrum puts us in mud. If something looks like science fiction and acts like science fiction, don’t those qualities, in fact, make it science fiction? You’re asking me? (Perhaps I should have tried harder not to doze during those eight a.m. philosophy classes, though I don’t know if Thomas Aquinas’s metaphysics would contribute much to our discourse.) As noted above, a conundrum, and one with no ready solution.

We know that civilization would be well-nigh impossible without classification, codification, grouping the chores that absorbed Linneaus and Aristotle and their ilk. We have to know what things are and we have to have names for them if we want to talk about them, which we do. Let us unequivocally approve of calling things names and giving those names precise meanings. None of which tells us what Star Wars is.

I’m hardly the first to address this problem. A few decades ago, around 1940, well before Star Wars, someone coined the term “science fantasy” for Robert Heinlein’s novel Magic Inc. Maybe that’s as close as we can come, right now. As the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction tells us, “science fantasy” has never been clearly defined. So maybe we’re stuck with it.

But...bleech! Generally I feel kindly toward oxymorons and that’s what I believe this is, but something about it irritates me. It’s clunky, right? Can’t we do better by Star Wars? Find a new classification? Or… hmmmm maybe we’re in the process of evolving past our need to classify. And wouldn’t that be interesting, and significant, and just possibly scary?

Maybe they’ve already done it, those inhabitants of a long ago in a galaxy far away.