Obscure But Good Indie Comics: Buck Godot

buck-godot-01Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire came out in the early eighties from the wondrous and hilarious comic artist/writer Phil Foglio.  Most people are familiar with his phenomenal webcomic Girl Genius.  I was first exposed to his work in Dragon magazine around the same time where he did the What’s New comic strip.  I became addicted to both his humor and his art style immediately and have loved it ever since.

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Phil and Kaja Foglio. Sexy thangs.

Buck Godot started out in the comic anthology Just Imagine before the strips were collected in a Starblaze trade paperback.  Most of the action and situations take place on the planet “New Hong Kong” where there are no laws.  Buckminster “Buck” Godot is a mercenary/private investigator/bodyguard from a heavy gravity world, meaning his strength and endurance are far above human normal.  He’s very competent, despite being a borderline (or more) alcoholic.

The action and dialogue are fast and hilarious.  The pattern of jokes buck-godot-03reminds me of Marx Brothers, although with more of a bite.  Phil’s artistic style is . . . unique.  It’s cartoony, both in basic layout as well as the dynamism of animation.  Several people have aped his style since, although they never quite succeed.  I actually did an assignment at the Joe Kubert School where we were supposed to imitate an artist’s style.  I did a Stanley and His Monster strip in Phil’s style, just because I enjoyed the shit out of it.

Putting aside style and dialogue, Buck Godot has some sharp science fiction writing.  He has an entire universe of fascinating races and technologies.  One of the more interesting ideas is a race of robots called The Law Machines.  These robots declared laws across all human planets, which were voted on by the inhabitants, making some planets more buck-godot-04restrictive than others.  The shtick about New Hong Kong is that a hacker got into The Law Machines’ system and had one law: there are no laws on New Hong Kong.  As you might imagine, this makes it a bit of a wild west.

New Hong Kong is the setting for most of the action until later in the series where Buck travels to The Gallimaufry as a bodyguard for the Madame Louisa “Lou” Dem Five.  The Gallimaufry is a city-sized space station that acts as an embassy/United Nations for all races.  The first two parts of Buck—Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire and buck-godot-05Psmith–are good, but The Gallimaufry is great.  Buck must solve a galactic conspiracy involving The Winslow, which is a McGuffin/creature which Phil introduced many years ago based on a stuffed animal(!)  It’s sentient, unique and indestructible as well as being quite silly.

The Gallimaufry is dense.  Phil packs a lot of information and plot into 8 issues of a comic buck-godot-07while putting in a lot of jokes and sight gags.  The final joke is side-splitting, but I won’t spoil it.

Hard copies of volumes #1, #2 and #3 are difficult to find these days but they have been available online in the past at http://www.studiofoglio.com/ and hopefully will be again.  Otherwise you’ll have to scour eBay or Amazon to find a copy.  If you can find copies, snatch them up and enjoy.

The Borderlands: A Good Lovecraft Movie

the-borderlands-01The Borderlands is a creepy little piece of cinematography out the United Kingdom from 2013.  The alternate title it was released as was Last Prayer.  I saw it a couple of years ago after it was recommended on a Lovecraft site or social media group (I don’t recall which.)

(Fair warning: this is technically a ‘found footage’ movie, but a pretty good one.  If this sub-genre annoys you, this one is still worth your time.)

No, I don’t mean the unrelated video game.  And before you correct me, yes, I know H.P. Lovecraft never wrote it.  When I say “A Good Lovecraft Movie” I mean a movie with Lovecraftian elements or themes.  The Borderlands definitely qualifies, although it’s not immediately apparent, but by the end of the movie you can’t escape those themes.the-borderlands-02

The premise starts simply enough.  Three investigators from the Vatican travel to a small town in the British countryside where a priest has recorded what he thinks is a miracle in his old church.  There’s a skeptical old priest named Deacon (with obvious unresolved issues with his faith,) a technician named Gray (strictly there for tech support and to film the proceedings,) and a somewhat obnoxious and overbearing older priest named Amidon (with past the-borderlands-03conflicts with Deacon.)

This trio investigates both the town and the church in question.  Right from the start there’s something just off about the townspeople.  Not hostile, per se, but standoffish and paranoid, even beyond the normal reticence of backward villagers.  Everyone is defensive about the church.  At one point the locals burn some livestock alive near where the trio is staying.

Meanwhile the church is displaying some odd behaviors, but nothing that proves or disproves the local priest’s claim.  The priest eventually commits suicide after a low-key creepy scene.  Investigating further, they discover that the church is incredibly ancient and the land is mentioned in several old, ominous legends.the-borderlands-04

The movie has some nice, unnerving scenes in it that reinforces the feeling that something here is not quite right.  That—and the climax which I won’t spoil here—make this a movie Lovecraft would have approved of.

I’m unsure if the writers/producers meant the title to echo The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson (a writer followed by Lovecraft.)  There are some eerie elements which overlap, so this might be a deliberate nod to that otherworldly book.

the-borderlands-05The movie isn’t perfect.  It has a slow, deliberate pacing which might put off the less-dedicated watchers.  Some plot elements are a bit contrived and the characters occasionally veer towards the clichéd.  Trust me, however, unlike other ‘found footage’ movies, there’s a definite, horrifying pay-off.

Go dig up a copy and give it a chance.

 

The Resurrected: A Good Lovecraft Adaptation

Original cover

Original cover

Back in my army days in the early 90s, I stumbled upon an H.P. Lovecraft VHS movie at the PX called The Resurrected.

I noticed it was an adaptation of a Lovecraft novella called The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (previously adapted as The Haunted Palace in 1963.)  Most of the Lovecraft adaptations I’d been previously subjected to had been hideous–and not in a good way.  Still, I recognized Dan O’Bannon’s name as the director and was intrigued.  I snagged the copy and killed a Saturday afternoon at the barracks to watch it.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t bad.  I had read the original novella many years earlier but only vaguely recalled it, so I wasn’t sure how close to the original it was.The Resurrected 02  The movie had a strength that none of the previous movies had–it was written and directed with respect towards the original author’s work.

The novella was set in the 1920s/30s and a lot of the elements were updated to the 90s.  The first actor I noticed was John Terry from the famously cheesy fantasy movie Hawk the Slayer circa 1980 (I movie I plan on talking about later.)  John plays the private investigator protagonist John March.  The second actor I noticed was the amazing Chris Sarandon (from Fright Night, The Princess Bride and Child’s Play) who played Charles Dexter Ward/Joseph Curwen.

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Chris owns  this role and is easily the best actor in the movie.  John Terry does a passable job, but the rest of the acting is a bit uneven.  Might have been O’Bannon’s unfamiliarity with directing, as he was primarily known as a screenwriter.  Chris plays both roles to the hilt and takes pain to be gloriously and theatrically evil as Curwen, but never overplays his hand, even as he drifts close to scenery-chewing.

The Resurrected 05The basics of the plot are that the scientist Charles Dexter Ward is acting insane and his wife hires John March to investigate his activities.  Charles found an old trunk from a distant ancestor known as Joseph Curwen from 1771.  Joseph passed down some ‘ancient scientific knowledge’ (pro tip: in anything by Lovecraft, ‘ancient knowledge’ is generally bad news.)  They also find a The Resurrected 06painting of Joseph Curwen and he’s the spitting image of Charles.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot, as spoilers abound.  I will mention an amusing side note about the production I remember reading about in the early 90s.  During a shooting next to a river, one of the prostheses of a mutated body got away from them and floated downstream. It was found by locals later, where it scared the living shit out of them (yes, these things amuse me.)

The Resurrected 07I re-read the novella a few years later, and to be honest, O’Bannon’s screenplay is superior.  Even without the updated elements, the novella is clunky and not Lovecraft’s strongest.  This tightens it up without losing the tone.  If you like Lovecraft, do yourself a favor and dig up a copy.

Wendy Pini: An Artist Who Needs More Love

Wendy Pini 02Back in my youth in the early eighties, I ran across an indie comic at a science fiction convention.  It was called Elfquest.

I had never seen a comic like this before.  It was in a larger format, was detailed black & white and didn’t have superheroes or any characters I was familiar with.  The style was also . . . well, it drew me in as soon as I looked at it.  It was done by a husband and wife team named Wendy and Richard Pini.  I snapped up the first issue, went to a quiet corner and read through it.  Then I went back and grabbed all the issues I could afford (#1-6.)  I read through the first six issues over and over for the next few months, wishing I could get my hands on the following issues (this was before the rise of comic shops throughout the country.) I started drawing obsessively by copying her art.Wendy Pini 03

A couple of years later I found a new, local comic shop (B&D Comics) and found the rest of the issues up to that point.  I was astounded yet again at not only the artwork, but the writing and storytelling.  Keep in mind that at this point, independent comics were in their larval stage and anything other than Marvel and D.C. were considered ‘odd’.  I entered the D&D addiction around the same time and Elfquest and D&D went together like bullets and guns.  For a couple of years I was elf-crazed.

Moreover, all of this was done by a girl.  A girl!  Hell, I was only vaguely familiar with females at the time, and in a purely theoretical fashion.  I was incredibly shy and introverted and in Middle School–a hellish combination.  Here was one of these mythical female creatures doing amazing writing and drawing in a genre I loved.  What sorcery was this?

Wendy Pini 04Other Elfquest books started appearing on regular bookstores in malls during this period.  Not only were they pretty and glossy, but were in color.  A few years later and Marvel Comics starting reprinting the comics in a standard comic book format.

(The story goes that Wendy and Richard went to Marvel and pitched Elfquest to them and were turned down flat.  Years later after they had exploded in the indie market, Marvel approached them to allow them to reprint Elfquest in their Epic line of creator-owned comics.  I can only imagine how satisfying that felt.)

I digress, however. Elfquest is amazing, but I want to talk primarily about Wendy.  As the years passed, I picked up more information about her.  About her “Law & Chaos” project, for instance.  She had tried to put together an animated movie of an Elric story, all by herself.  For those unfamiliar, Elric was the brooding, elvish anti-hero of Michael Moorcock. The project failed, as you might have imagined due to the massive efforts required to make even a short animated film, but does show the awesome level of commitment this woman had to her artwork.

Wendy Pini 05What truly shows her dedication to her craft is the flawless narrative artwork she has.  Her primary goal in her artwork is to tell a story–and she does it flawlessly.  One of my biggest beefs with newer comic artists is the lack of clear storytelling.  Sure, they can put together pretty pictures, but you often don’t understand the story without the dialogue.  A good artist should be able to tell a story without a single bit of dialogue.  Wendy could do it and make it look easy.

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A page with virtually no dialogue from EQ issue #5

That kind of narrative art is rare these days.  The comics look great but too many artists are so busy making gorgeous illustrations that they neglect to tell a clear story, wherein you never doubt where the characters are or what they are doing.

Despite the success of Elfquest, Wendy gets little recognition from the comics industry.  When I was in the Joe Kubert School, I showed some of her artwork to one of the instructors.  He looked through it in astonishment and said something to the effect of “This is great!  Who is this person?”  My jaw dropped.

You can drop names like Todd McFarlane, John Byrne, or Jim Lee and you’ll get tons of fanboy recognition.  Wendy Pini?  No, not so much.  Not sure why.  Because she’s a woman?  Maybe.  Or maybe because her unconventional subject matter, including the Masque of the Red Death.

Wendy Pini 01On a more amusing note, I found out just a few years ago that she used to dress up like Red Sonja for a show she did with Frank Thorne at conventions called “Sonja and the Wizard”.  Amazing how much the woman captured the part!

Do yourself a favor and read through her works and give her some support.  She’s earned it a dozen times over.

 

 

 

 

Stephen Fabian: An Artist Who Needs More Love

Stephen Fabian 01Many years ago, while stationed in Wildflecken, Germany, I bought the 2nd Edition AD&D new boxed set of the Ravenloft  role-playing game campaign setting.   I was exposed to artwork from an artist heretofore unknown to me: Stephen Fabian.  These were in the days where game companies couldn’t really afford to get much in the way of color interior artwork.  All of it was, with rare exceptions, black and white.  This didn’t mean there weren’t some damn fine artists putting out illustrations, but most game designers were smaller companies who didn’t have a stable of artists who could paint interior illustrations on a whim (and computer illustrations were purely theoretical.)Stephen Fabian 02

Along comes Stephen Fabian.  He had done illustrations for TSR (the creators of D&D before being absorbed by Wizards of the Coast,) but the Ravenloft setting allowed him to really shine.  For those unfamiliar, Ravenloft is a world setting for D&D that is essentially a combination of dark fantasy and Gothic horror.

Stephen Fabian 04Most of the other artists employed by role-playing games came from a more comic-book tradition.  Fabian, on the other hand, was very much a pulp illustrator.  He did very little line work, and instead he used solid whites and darks with gorgeous gray washes.  Where washes weren’t used, he would use stippling instead of hatching.  The moody and dark tone worked perfectly with the setting.

I had never seen anything like it before and fell instantly in love.  I snapped up every Ravenloft supplement I could find, and Stephen’s illustrations were a big reason.

Stephen Fabian 03 Stephen set a new standard in an era of very little experimentation in rpgs, as did the Ravenloft setting (most younger gamers have no idea how much Ravenloft shaped a lot of monsters they’re familiar with, especially undead–but that’s another subject.)  Stephen’s stark,eerie style struck just the right note.  He was also fond of graphic flourishes, such as stylistic borders and icons relevant to the subject material.  It turned mere game books into pieces of art.  He even did the illustrations for an entire deck of cards in the Tarot tradition called the “Tarokka” deck.

I discovered later that Stephen was no newcomer to the illustration field, and had been doing illustrations to fantasy and science fiction since the sixties.

Stephen Fabian 05He’d done illustrations for various pulp writers, such as Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and A. Merritt and older writers such as William Hope Hodgson.  I dug up whatever artwork I could find and ordered an art book from Bud Plant.  His scope of work was impressive and he had been favorably compared to Virgil Finlay.  Virgil’s influence on Stephen was apparent and it definitely fit with his pulp style.

I haven’t seen many new projects since his memorable run on the early Ravenloft products.  He’s been nominated for a Hugo Award and in 2006 received the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement.

Stephen Fabian 06If you’re at all a fan of classic illustrations styles, pulp styles/subjects and an eerie, ethereal style, you should check out Stephen Fabian’s artwork.

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Fabian 07 Stephen Fabian 14Stephen Fabian 08 Stephen Fabian 10Stephen Fabian 09 Stephen Fabian 11Stephen Fabian 13

H. P. Lovecraft: The Dunwich Horror and ‘Getting’ Lovecraft

Dunwich Horror 01H.P. Lovecraft has achieved a modern cult status among horror fans through several sources.  I find a great deal of the people who talk about him, haven’t actually read his original material.  They’ve been exposed to the whole Cthulhu Mythos from other media.  Pop culture has created an entire Cthulhu brand name.  Just this evening I discovered that there are “Cthulhu Mints” at a local candy store.  I’m sure plenty of people have seen Cthulhu plush toys.

To be fair, Lovecraft isn’t the most accessible writer.  His style is ponderous, verbose and filled with arcane adjectives.  I can sympathize.

 

His horror fiction isn’t really ‘scary’ per se (with a couple of exceptions.)  What he does excel at, however, is creating a disturbing mood.  A feeling of uneasiness that he crams down your throat by seeing the events through the eyes of another character, who is often willfully ignorant of weird events, because they’re unable or unwilling to acknowledge the events.  They go through mental gymnastics to escape the awful truth.

His strongest works, in my opinion, are The Colour Out of Space, The Shadow Out of Time, and The Dunwich Horror.  I tend to enjoy Dunwich the most, since he takes the ‘unseen horror’ to a new level.  It, like Colour, it takes place in a backward, rural society in New England.  The claustrophobic nature of this insular society is a staple of Lovecraft.

Dunwich Horror 02I, like many people, got my first education in Lovecraft via role-playing games.  In the old 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Deities and Demigods books there was a set of the Cthulhu Mythos, illustrated by Erol Otus.  The mythology was put into an AD&D product for some reason, even though it doesn’t really fall into the ‘high fantasy’ or ‘heroic fantasy’ line of fiction.  Although, interestingly enough, the Conan sword and sorcery series does technically take place in the same universe as Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors.  This is actually not as strange as it sounds, as there was a definite aura of nihilism and dark horror in the original Robert E. Howard books.  The two authors were actually pen pals and swapped ideas.

In any case, Lovecraftian fiction mixing with Tolkienesque elves, dwarves and halflings doesn’t work easily.  It certainly didn’t give me a decent understanding of Lovecraft, nor was it easy to find copies of Lovecraft’s stories at the time.  Ergo, I ended up with a distorted view of his works until many years later when I actually read them.  Even then, I didn’t start to ‘get’ Lovecraft until I read The Dunwich Horror.

Dunwich Horror 03Lovecraft has two great strengths that were brought to the fore in Dunwich: establishing a disturbing background and keeping the horror hidden for most of the time.  In this case, it was impossible to see the final horror and its worst aspects are seen through its deeds in a slow, increasing fashion.  Even throughout its rampage, Lovecraft keeps building on what else is worse out there.  There are terrible things out there and they’re quite literally incomprehensible.

If you take Lovecraft’s monsters out of their element, they don’t work nearly as well.  Is a shoggoth horrifying?  Sure, but not nearly as much without its build-up in At the Mountains of Madness.  Lovecraft’s setting and mood sells them, the same way he sells Wilbur’s brother in Dunwich.  When I put down the book, Lovecraft’s ‘package deal’ clicked.  I got it.

Sadly, I only see a minority of fandom out there who ‘get’ it.  Modern fans are used to seeing the horrors in great, High-Definition, 3-D detail.  Lovecraft understood that the human mind will always come up with a worse horror without seeing a thing.  Once you see the horror, no matter how awful, at least you know what you’re up against and can try to deal with it.  The unseen, cosmic horrors of Lovecraft are beyond that.  You simply can’t deal with them because you only catch glimpses of them.  The horror comes from what they do or (more often) what they suggest about the nature of reality.

Dunwich Horror 04Lovecraft isn’t for everyone.  If you have a low tolerance for a kind of fatalistic nihilism, you’re liable to avoid Lovecraft.  There aren’t any heroic efforts or happy endings.  The best the protagonists usually do is merely escape the ancient horrors that still lurk within the outer dark, or a brief pause before the ultimate doom wipes mankind from the face of the Earth.

It’s also difficult to translate Lovecraft into Hollywood movies.  They’ve been mostly quite bad, with such crap as Die, Monster, Die!, The Haunted Palace, The Necronomicon and–unfortunately–The Dunwich Horror.

Dunwich Horror MovieIt’s worth seeing–once–at least for the oddball nature of Dean Stockwell and Sandra Dee in a Lovecraft adaptation.  It’s not a completely terrible movie, but it’s definitely a terrible Lovecraft movie.

There have been better Lovecraft movies, but I plan on talking about them in a future post.

The Lords of Dus by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Lawrence Watt Evans BasiliskThe Lords of Dus were the first fantasy novels I ever read by Lawrence Watt-Evans–way, way back in the early 80s.  I’d seen the four novels sitting on the rack at Waldenbooks for a while and finally decided to give the first one, The Lure of the Basilisk, a try.

Lawrence hooked me right from the start.  He had a way of making even the mundane interesting as his inhuman protagonist “Garth” tried to navigate a human world.  (Apparently he named the character “Garth” because he had only slits for a nose like the character “Simon Garth, the Living Zombie” from Marvel Comics.)  The character is far different from most fantasy antagonists up to that point, as he was entirely inhuman–an “Overman” that had been created by magic as soldiers in ancient wars.

What truly hooked me, however, was that unlike most of the fantasy epics I’d read before, Garth didn’t have some mystical ‘gift’ or ‘insight’ that allowed them to pluck a magic sword or toss a magic ring.  No, he just cobbled together solutions out of whatever makeshift plans or ideas he could come up with.  He got things done, but it was usually messy and haphazard.  Like Indiana Jones’s line from Raiders of the Lost Ark: “I’m making this up as I go.”  It did turn out later that Garth had a mystic ‘destiny’–but the destiny kinda sucked and it was completely unwanted.

This was the norm for Lawrence’s characters.  Courtesy of stumbling and seeking, they found their ways through tough situations by improvisation, stubbornness and wits.  The solutions usually weren’t perfect, but they would get them done.  This is what endeared me to him, and still does.  He has definitely influenced my style of writing and character development.

Lawrence Watt Evans Altars Lawrence Watt Evans Sword Lawrence Watt Evans Book The series incorporates a lot of fantasy cliches but manages to turn them on their head in most respects.  Mystic destiny?  Yes, but it’s mostly an unwanted curse that will kill a lot of people.  Rescuing a maiden?  Yes, but as an Overman, Garth has zero romantic interest in her.  Great quests?  Yes, but they’re never what they seem and wreak havoc on innocents.  A powerful wizard as a patron?  Yes, but he’s an apathetic nihilist.  Etc., etc.

If you crammed together elements of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, Moorcock’s Elric, and some wry snippets of L. Sprague de Camp’s characters, you might get a rough estimate of what this series is like.

It’s well worth reading.  If you like these, you’ll enjoy the Ethshar series by Lawrence.

 

 

Roger Zelazny and The Chronicles of Amber

This is my first post in a long time, and I apologize.

Amber-Nine Princes in AmberAmber-The Guns of AvalonAmber-Sign of the Unicorn

Amber-The Hand of OberonAmber-The Courts of Chaos

Okay, I wanted to talk about a subject and individual I care deeply about–The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny (May 13, 1937 – June 14, 1995.)  Usually the response I get from people–especially younger ones is: “Who?  What?”

This is rather depressing since I consider him one of the 20th century’s greatest masters of fantasy.  He has one of the most unique styles of anyone I know and came up with an entire genre of fantasy which had nothing to do with elves, dwarves, hobbits, etc., yet remains virtually unknown outside of fandom.  The closest he’s come to real fame was a horrible movie adaptation of his 1967 novella, Damnation Alley which he later expanded into a novel for the movie.  There was also the attempted adaptation of his novel Lord of Light which was never produced due to legal problems, but elements of the film, including concept drawings by Jack Kirby were later used by the CIA in an operation to smuggle people out of Iran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979.  The fake movie was renamed Argo and a film concerning the events was filmed in 2012.

Other than those undistinguished blips, he’s virtually unknown outside of fandom.  This is a crime, since the man was brilliant.  Foremost among his achievements is the creation of the Amber series of novels.  This is a fantasy series which is breathtaking in scope and yet a personal squabble between family members.  It starts out fairly straightforward and then spirals off in directions which you never would have guessed.

What I usually say to people when I try to describe it is: “It’s a family of Machiavellian demigods fighting a war for the seat of creation–and that’s just the first book.  After that, things get really interesting.”

I consider my writing most strongly influenced by Zelazny and if I could be half the writer he was, I would consider my life complete.

What made me bring this up and make a blog post about it was the news that apparently, after many, many decades, it appears that The Chronicles of Amber is going to make its presence felt on television.  I am both delighted and horrified by the prospect.  Delighted, in that maybe there will be a chance for this man to received the accolades he’s due, yet horrified that they’ll screw it up.  I am glad to see Robert Kirkman of Walking Dead fame producing, so that fills me with some optimism.  I know George R.R. Martin considers Game of Thrones inspired by Amber.

But don’t wait for an Amber series.  Go out and read them yourself.  There are ten of them in two story arcs.  The first five are generally considered superior, but I thoroughly enjoyed all of them.

Haven’t updated in a while . . .

Apologies with my long hiatus.  Been rather busy doing other things.  Ten chapters into a new book The Clockwork Cavalier.  It’s a steampunk novel that emerged from a fairly simple premise/concept.  A variation on ‘a boy and his robot’ done with a clockwork automaton.  Actually had two false starts on novels.  I got several chapters into both my horror novel Hell’s Subdivision and an urban fantasy/horror called Lodestone.

Just put a bunch more paintings on the color gallery.  Should have a few more in a few days.  Here’s one:

Fire in the SnowI have another idea for a ‘Moment of Coolness’ and hopefully I can find a video clip for this one.  Every one I’ve looked up has been conspicuously missing.

Moments of Coolness #3: Wrath of Khan first skirmish

Okay, for you youngsters out there you might not realize how groundbreaking Wrath of Khan was.  You just see the repeated jokes with Shatner screaming “KHAAAN!” and not think much more of it.  See, thing about it is, back in 1982 when it was first released, it hit like a bomb.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture had come out three years earlier and was a snoozefest.  Sure, it looked pretty and it was pretty cool seeing all the characters back together after over a decade but essentially it was just Paramount trying to capitalize on the sudden boom in interest in Sci-fi movies after Star Wars had taken the world by storm.  Suddenly they were a bankable commodity instead of ‘B’ movie fodder.

Anyway, I wasn’t exactly chafing at the bit to see the sequel.

I changed my mind in a hurry.

First thing that hit me was that they were wearing uniforms–that looked like military uniforms.  They weren’t wearing t-shirts or leotards–they were in uniforms.  Second thing was that the ship and sets had a definite look of grim, military purpose to them.  They weren’t day-glo lit and friendly–they meant business.  Third, the movie had a definite brutality that had been lacking.  People bled, burned and died in some hideous fashions.  It hearkened back to the more martial episodes of TOS like “Balance of Terror” except it was taken to the next level.

I think these elements sparked my interest in military sci-fi and such authors as Pournelle, Drake, Weber and others.

The opening skirmish with Khan encapsulates all these elements perfectly, along with some grim humor and cleverness.

Lastly, in what might seem a trivial matter to a generation brought up on CGI effects, was the problem of the special effects.  There hadn’t been an actual space combat in the new ST universe and no one was quite sure how they were going to do it.  Everything was filtered through the behemoth known as Star Wars at the time.  It had to be as interesting and as flashy as SW but it had to be true to the source material.  How were they going to do the phasers?  How would the ships move?

The special effects crew outdid themselves and it set up a new standard.  The power of the scenes still holds up even after 30 years.