This week, we continue the list I began last month, celebrating anniversaries of some of the more significant genre works. Care to share in some nostalgia?
This sci-fi/”philosophical fiction” novel was by the legendary Philip K. Dick. I never actually read it, but years ago I did watch the 1982 movie adaptation, Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford. (I have not seen the 2017 sequel, Blade Runner 2049.) The character of Rick Deckard is probably Ford’s third-most famous role, after Han Solo and Indiana Jones. I enjoyed the dirty, dystopic look of the movie, the dangerous, fugitive androids, and the action scenes. (Couldn’t tell you how faithful the movie depictions were to those in the book.) For some reason, though, the ethical and philosophical questions just never appealed to me, so I’m not a big fan of Blade Runner. However, I realize that a lot of people are, and the film has become somewhat of a cult classic within sci-fi fandom. The novel was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1968 and thirty years later won a Locus Poll Award, placing 51st among “All-Time Best SF Novel(s) before 1990”. Interestingly, the novel has also been adapted for radio, audiobook, theater, and comics; there are three book sequels, as well, written by K.W. Jeter.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1948, 1953, 1968): 70, 65, & 50 years
This one is a bit unusual, in that there are actually three connected anniversaries. Seventy years ago (1948), 30-year-old Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story titled “The Sentinel” for a BBC competition. He lost, but the story “introduced a more cosmic element to Clarke’s work.” (It was eventually published in 1951 with the title “Sentinel of Eternity”.) Five years later, Clarke had a short story titled “Encounter in the Dawn” (aka “Expedition to Earth”) published in the magazine Amazing Stories. These two stories are considered the primary bases for much of 2001: A Space Odyssey, though elements were also borrowed from several of Clarke’s other writings.
2001 was a concurrently-developed, joint project with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick and Clarke collaborated on the screenplay, and (at the same time) they originally worked on the novel together, too. But, for a number of reasons, Kubrick ended up focusing on the film, while Clarke focused on the book (and retained sole author credit). Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece was released in May 1968 to mixed reviews, but it developed “a cult following and slowly became the highest-grossing North American film” of the year. Since then, it has become widely recognized as one of the top films of all time. As per Wikipedia, the film “deals with themes of existentialism, human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and the existence of extraterrestrial life. It is noted for its scientifically accurate depiction of spaceflight, pioneering special effects, and ambiguous imagery.” And who can forget that theme music, eh?!
Clarke’s novel was published in June/July that same year. There are many differences with the film, since Kubrick deviated in places from the early drafts that the novel is based on. Some were due to creative/stylistic differences, while others were more practical (i.e., because of the difference in media). Naturally, the novel has more emphasis on narrative and is able to flesh out some things that are left somewhat vague or mysterious in the film, which “is a mainly visual experience where much remains ‘symbolic’.” Three sequel novels were written, but only the first of them, 2010: Odyssey Two, has so far been made into a film (1984).
Only a pair of anniversaries this time. Pierre Boulle’s original La Planète des singes novel was published in 1963, with an English language version close on its heels. Within a few years, the book was adapted for the silver screen, and the first Planet of the Apes movie debuted in April 1968. It spawned four sequels, then a short-lived TV series, followed by a short-lived animated series based on the original movie. I don’t think I ever watched the animated show, but I loved the movies and the live-action series as a kid/teen. Wonderful performances by movie & TV stars like Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell (who returned for the live-action show), Kim Hunter, James Franciscus, Maurice Evans, and James Whitmore, all lent an air of respectability to what could have been considered goofy kids’ stuff. Plus, the writing was pretty good, and the action and adult themes (e.g., slavery, bigotry, nuclear war) made the content pretty grown up.
I finally read Boulle’s novel about 10 or 12 years ago and enjoyed it. You might, too. But, don’t expect it to be the same as the films. Many of the same elements are there, and anyone familiar with the films and/or TV series will quickly identify versions of the characters and events they know. But, there are also many serious differences. It makes me wish that a new and more faithful adaptation of the novel might be made. Maybe one day. Meanwhile, not only can we still enjoy the old films and TV series, but we have the terrific new series of PotA films — three, as of this writing. (We won’t talk about the 2001 movie by Burton and Wahlberg, though it had some positive points.) I think it might also be time for me to read Boulle’s novel again….
Avengers (1963): 55 years
Confession time: Originally, I was going to celebrate Spider-Man’s debut here. But, then I remembered that The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1963) wasn’t the first time Spider-Man appeared. That was in Amazing Fantasy #15 the previous year.
But, the Avengers, “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, did debut with the first issue of their own title in 1963 (cover date Sept.). They might not be quite as iconic as ol’ Webhead, but given the team’s popularity these days, they certainly merit the attention. I was a “Marvel Zombie” from my pre-teen days, and the Avengers was one of the earliest books I collected and one of my favorites. I mean, how could you not love a team that included Iron Man, Captain America (as of issue #4), and Thor, among others? Even the Hulk was a founding member, though he quit at the end of issue #2 and would go on to fight against them on occasion. The team’s ever-changing lineup meant readers got to see many superheroes (including the occasional rehabilitated villain), new and old, work and fight together. They also had some of the most fearsome arch-foes, like the Masters of Evil, Kang the Conqueror, and the Kree. I haven’t kept up with the Avengers in recent years, but I do have a lot of great memories of roughly 3 decades’ worth of stories. Plus, of course, we get to see them live-in-action in the theaters these days. Avengers Assemble!
While Iron Man #1 didn’t premiere until 1968 (directly following the Iron Man and Sub-Mariner one-shot), the character of Anthony Stark and his armored alter ego actually made their debuts in Tales of Suspense #39 (1963). I’ve written about the character briefly before. Tony was equal parts brilliant and screw-up, playboy and warrior, arrogant jerk and kindhearted philanthropist. He had the rugged good looks and engineering genius, with all the money and toys a guy could ever want, yet he was insecure and battled his own “demons”. In other words, he was very “real” — a flawed hero, but not an anti-hero — and that’s part of what made him so interesting. I don’t think Robert Downey Jr. quite captures the character I remember from the comics, but I do enjoy finally getting to see him on the big-screen. If only they would see fit to add Mrs. Arbogast to the cast…. (In fact, I have a story idea that could do that, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)
X-Men (1963): 55 years
As with the last two entries, I was a huge fan of the Uncanny X-Men waaay before the first movie (2000). I wasn’t around for their 1963 debut, but I did start collecting them back in the ’70s. Again, they were one of my favorites, possibly even edging out both Avengers and Fantastic Four for favorite team title. I started reading it shortly after the best X-Men lineup debuted — Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Banshee, Phoenix, and, of course, Professor X. Those were some classic stories with classic art, by creators like Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Terry Austin. Ah, those were the days…. There was just something about Marvel’s (not so) Merry Mutants, the “outcasts” of the Marvel universe, that appealed to me. They had some of the coolest powers and costumes, and the stories were well-written, with characters that became increasingly complex — sometimes for the better, sometimes not — over the years. Good times!
Alright, folks! I’ve rambled on long enough. Hope you enjoyed Part 2. I’ll talk about some really old stuff in Part 3 next month….