From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 11

Here’s the latest issue of the quarterly ‘Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter’ for your (hopeful) enjoyment and entertainment. (For the first 10 installments, follow the ‘Mr. Zeus Posts’ link at the top of the page.)

“Close Call!”

I have mentioned in the past that I work out in my basement, both for exercise and as a stress-reliever. I have also mentioned that I sometimes will change things up by flying — very fast — to the middle of nowhere and letting loose — punching, pounding, digging, stomping on very large rocks, the ground, etc. I’ve even been known to carve large objects into a hillside or rock quarry. On one occasion, though, I got sidetracked and never made it out to the “badlands” for my “work out”. And I’m very glad I didn’t, ‘cuz I met my “neighbor” (though he lives a couple hundred miles away) for the first time, and he has been a good friend ever since.

I’ll call him “Joe” in order to maintain his privacy. Joe is a rancher with many acres of property out in Texas. (Montana, too, but he rents that out.) On the evening we met, he and his ranch hands were rounding up some cattle, and I hovered above (and out of sight) to watch. A thunderstorm was rolling in, and they were trying to get the animals — at least 1000 of them — back to the barns before it hit. I kept an eye on the stormclouds and realized that they were moving pretty fast. I also noticed that the cattle were being led across an old, dry creek bed at the foot of some hills with some leftover snow at their tops. I’m no outdoorsman, but something I’d read or seen made me think that the cattle were in danger of being caught in a flashflood, if they didn’t get well away from that creek bed.

I landed around the bend so as not to spook the animals or the men, then I walked up to the nearest hand and asked him who was in charge. Joe rode over and I quickly explained who I was and what I saw. I suggested that I probably had enough time to fly all the cattle — two at a time — at superspeed back to the barns. But, after two trips, I could see that the poor critters were really freaked out, and Joe agreed that we shouldn’t traumatize them if we could help it. The storm was thundering and almost on us, and I suddenly got an idea… Long story short, I managed to dig a big trench half-way around the two nearest hills, buying Joe and his men enough time to get the rest of the herd across the creek bed and around to the other side of another (large) hill before my makeshift moat overflowed and the water rushed down the creek bed. It was raining pretty hard by then, but the barns were only a half mile away, and the lightning & thunder gave everyone — including the cattle — extra incentive to move faster.

Afterward, Joe invited me inside to dry off by his fireplace. We shared a couple of beers and really hit it off. In fact, I drop by his place whenever I can, now. Weather permitting, we typically sit on his porch and admire the view, while talking about whatever’s on our minds. Sometimes it’s business (his or mine), sometimes it’s personal. We talk about sports, politics, religion & philosophy, law enforcement, current events,… whatever. Joe is about 20 years older, so he treats me sort of like a son, which is fine by me. (His son died of cancer as a child, but he has a daughter in grad school.) I love listening to his stories about ranching and serving in the Army and just life in general. He’s a common-sense kind of guy, and very sharp — streetwise, which is an odd term to apply to him, since he doesn’t care for the city. I’ve spent many evenings with Joe, just “jawin'” and listening to his wise words. (Btw, his wife Judy is an awesome cook and a smart, terrific lady, too.) When Joe’s 80-year-old father, Big Jim, joins us, that’s the best! Jim is a real trip, very funny, and also one of the wisest men I know.

“A Man of Many Words”

Someone asked me the other day about my reading tastes and habits. A bit of an odd question for someone like me, since most people assume I don’t have much brains — or intellectual curiosity — to go with the brawn. I’m no genius, but as most of my fans know, I do read on various topics. It’s a practice I started as a kid, slacked off on for a few years, then resumed when I became a superhero. In the past, I have recommended that superheroes get a foundation in various subjects to help with solving crimes, perfecting one’s abilities, dealing with tech, etc., and that involves reading.

I still do some reading along those lines, though I’m not at the moment. I’m pretty busy (see below), but I always try to set aside time to read during lunch (assuming I’m not eating with someone else) and for an hour or so before bed. I also long ago developed the habit of keeping a book with me — either hard copy or audiobook — when running errands or going to an appointment of some sort, when I might have a few minutes of waiting around. Why waste time twiddling my thumbs or flipping through magazines when I could be reading a good book, maybe even learning something? In addition, I usually listen to an audiobook or an educational lecture/podcast while working out in my gym.

What do I read? Well, on the non-fiction front I typically have at least a couple books in progress, sometimes three or four. Topics include American and world history (including biographies), politics & culture, theology, philosophy, popular science, and recently some on writing fiction. Right now, I’m reading a biography titled Churchill: A Study in Greatness by Geoffrey Best. It’s a tad dry in places, but any history buff will enjoy it. Churchill was a fascinating guy! I’m about half-way through a collection of essays by renowned economist Thomas Sowell, too. (Can’t remember the title at the moment.) It’s not as boring as it sounds. Sowell was a columnist for decades, and he wrote about all sorts of political and cultural issues. Very smart man! (His books on economics are actually pretty good, too, and geared more for the average reader.) I’m also just starting a book by Christian speaker/apologist Greg Koukl called The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between. Rather bold and intriguing title, eh? Koukl has a very engaging style and conversational tone, as he explains the basics of the Christian worldview as a picture of reality. So far, I’m impressed.

As for fiction, I read a mix of crime, spy thriller, mystery, action/adventure, sci-fi and fantasy. Over the past couple years, I’ve been re-reading some classics from Isaac Asimov, Philip Jose Farmer, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, and other science fiction legends, as well as getting into some newer stuff — at least, new to me. So, for example, I recently read Asimov’s The Naked Sun (second time) and Haldeman’s The Forever War (first time), and I started series by David Weber, Robert Sawyer, and Kevin J. Anderson. I am now reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the first time. (Yes, I occasionally read young-adult fiction.) I’m a bit late to the party with the whole Harry Potter craze, since I’m finally finishing the series 10 years after the last book came out. Gotta say, though, I find them highly entertaining! Meantime, I am listening to an audiobook edition of Rules of Vengeance by Christopher Reich. It’s my second book by Reich, and he’s a nice addition to my “collection” of favorite authors. However, my other new discovery, which I enjoy even more, is Gregg Hurwitz. The first book of his I read — well, listened to — was Orphan X, which was excellent. It spurred me on to try one of his older works: The Crime Writer. Very different plot and protagonist, but also very good. If you like the above genres, then you’ll probably like Hurwitz’s stuff, too.

“Q & A”

You might remember an earlier issue of the newsletter where I answered a few questions that people at cons and book signings had been asking me. Of course, people (like, you guys) ask me questions by mail, too. So, I figured I’d round out this issue by responding briefly to a few of those here for everyone’s benefit….

Q: What do you do in your “down time” to relax? (Peter S. from Chattanooga, TN)

A: To be honest, I don’t have much down time, lately. I’ve told you about some of the activities I’m involved with (e.g., part-time crimefighting, working on ILEAD’s Hero Training Program, writing, public appearances, etc.), and they keep me pretty darn busy. But, as I explained above, I do quite a bit of reading — both fiction and non-fiction. My gym workouts are “down time”, I suppose, but hardly relaxing. Occasionally, I find time to chill out with a movie or TV series. (Confession: I own every single Star Trek series and movie on DVD. Also, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica.) In fact, I have been known to host movie parties with friends at my place.

Q: Do you do any work for the environment? (Warren Z. from Portland, OR):

A: I assume you are talking about ecological stuff, protecting wildlife and things like that? Well, I have been involved in a number of clean-up operations following natural disasters — from hurricanes to oil spills. I am concerned about some ecological/environmental issues, but I’m not an activist, by any means. Also, my position is more conservationist than environmentalist. (See this brief explanation of the difference.)

Q: What injuries have you sustained while “adventuring”? (Kelly P. from Fort Hood, TX):

A: Several, but most mend within seconds, minutes, or hours (depending on severity), thanks to my enhanced healing ability. Also, my near-indestructibility makes is pretty darn difficult to damage me. So, for example, high-caliber bullets or explosives at close range might slightly bruise or scorch my skin, but not enough to slow me down, and that stuff heals really quickly. The more serious injuries were a few broken bones (e.g., 3 toes, left ulna, both femurs, 3 fingers, right thumb, 4 ribs) and some internal bleeding/damage from doing battle with the strongest and most powerful foes (e.g., CrimSun, Visigoth, Summerset, the Gargantosaur).

Stay strong!

Another issue hot off the presses!

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Top 5 Cancelled TV Series That I Miss

hulk-sadNow, this is a tough one. There are so many great TV series — even just limiting to sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure — that have been cancelled, whether after a pretty good run or axed before they could gain an audience or much momentum. I’m sure we’ve all experienced on multiple occasions when we started getting into a new show, only to have it get cancelled. Sometimes, you wonder if it’s even worth trying a new show for fear it’ll just get the axe after a season or less (e.g., “Almost Human”, “The Event”). On the other hand, there are series that air for several years, and even if they suffer a bit in quality towards the end, you’re still sorry to see them go (e.g., “Stargate SG-1”, “Fringe”).

As you can imagine, then, my list of potentials for this post is a long one. But, in my effort to keep it manageable (and not attempt a Top 20+), I decided to focus on those series that aired roughly between the years 2000 and 2010. So, imagine, if you will, that it is circa 2012, and I am daydreaming about some of my favorite shows of the past decade that are no longer on the air (unless you count reruns in syndication, of course). Can I narrow it down to 5 favorites? Well, in no particular order, …

1) Let’s begin with “24” (2001-2010). As Stephen King once said, it was “a genuine New Thing Under the Sun, not really a serial at all, but the world’s first überseries.” The ticking countdown clock, the “events happen in real time” pacing, the dire threats by all manner of terrorists and other “bad actors”, the controversial torture and other moral dilemmas that our heroes — Jack Bauer in particular — both inflicted and endured, etc. It all made for an engrossing drama with healthy helpings of heart-pounding action. While it is true that our hero was less heroic in the last few seasons, and certainly more weighed down by personal loss and a clouded moral compass, than he was during the first few seasons, I still missed the show. I was hoping for a fresh resumption of the story. We got it in 2014’s “24: Live Another Day”. But, it only lasted 12 episodes and left many unanswered questions re the futures of our beloved characters — especially Jack and Chloe.

Little did we know that the show would indeed get a new start, namely with the current “24: Legacy”. I have already written about this, expressing my disappointment that neither Jack nor (presumably) Chloe nor almost any of the other familiar faces will be in this incarnation. But, I have enjoyed the first 3 episodes — the 4th having aired earlier this week — and am hoping that it continues to build in intensity with the twists-n-turns, betrayals and manipulations, that its predecessor was known for.

prison-break-poster2) “Prison Break” (2005-2009) was another favorite I liked during the same period. I thought the characters, main plot, various subplots, etc., were all very enjoyable. And the characters were all cast perfectly — from the Scofield/Burrows brothers to the super-creepy “T-Bag”. Watching Michael’s plan to break out with his brother (and a few tagalongs) unfold, despite setback after setback, was a lot of fun to watch. After beatings, fires, riots, deals, and betrayals, they managed to do it, but being on the run came with its own set of problems, of course. The shortened 3rd season had Michael back in prison, this time without inside knowledge and a pre-planned escape. On the plus side, we saw him improvising and relying on his wits and intellect, which are when the character shined brightest. Season 4 saw Michael reunited with many of the others and on a very different mission, ending with the TV movie, “Prison Break: The Final Break”.

I confess, I am one of those who was disappointed with the way the series ended. Not that it wasn’t realistic. But, it was just… unsatisfying. And that’s why I was thrilled when I found out a couple years ago that “Prison Break: Sequel” was in production, with nearly all of the original cast returning — even at least one who was thought to be dead. Yessss! You better believe I am looking forward to its debut this April.

3) I could not do a post like this without including everyone’s favorite space-Western, the short-lived “Firefly” (2002-2003). For a show only given 14 episodes to leave its mark, it has an unexpectedly large and dedicated following — “Browncoats”, as many of them prefer to be called. And everyone has their favorites — from the brave and dashing Captain Mal to the enigmatic and unstable River Tam. Our renegade crew of “heroes” did their best to survive in an often hostile ‘verse, taking risky transport jobs and (mostly) evading criminals and authorities alike — always with liberal doses of humor and romantic adventure. It was so different from any other series (that I can think of, anyway) and executed so well, that I still don’t understand why it was given the axe only part way through its first season.

It was great to get the Serenity movie (2005), which picked up with the crew of the eponymous ship and a few plot threads left hanging from the series. The movie was fairly satisfying, yet sad on more than one level. (Fans know what I’m talking about.) So, it’s not surprising that fans have been talking for years and asking about the possibility of “Firefly” returning to TV or possibly another movie. Rumors abound. Would any of the cast be up for it, 12+ years after the movie? A couple of them have expressed interest, but most have moved on and/or feel that it would be a bad idea to try to recapture the magic. Fox has recently indicated that they might be interested in reviving it somehow, but only if creator Joss Whedon was “fully on board for the project.” However, Whedon is a very busy guy, plus he has stated repeatedly that he has no intention of returning to the world of “Firefly”/Serenity.

What about a reboot with new cast? Much of the show’s popularity with the fans was the terrific casting of, and chemistry between, the various characters. It would be nearly impossible to find that again. No, except for maybe a sequel movie with the original cast, I think it’s best to just leave it alone. We’ll have to be satisfied with repeated viewing of our “Firefly” DVDs. (Sniff!)

4) I loved “Alias”! I really did. How could you go wrong with a cute girl — excuse me, smart and attractive young woman — as a tough-yet-vulnerable student-cum-superspy? Jennifer Garner’s “Sydney Bristow” was a younger, prettier, less cynical, American version of James Bond. Sort of. The show may have involved globe-hopping superspies fighting evil organizations, but it wasn’t a Bond ripoff. Bristow was a different sort of character, and she was surrounded by a supporting cast of very interesting and talented individuals — both the actors and the characters they played. (Incidentally, in case you weren’t aware, Victor Garber (“Legends of Tomorrow”) played Sydney’s dad and Gina Torres (“Firefly”, “Suits”) had a recurring role as a rival operative. Many other stars and soon-to-be stars appeared on the show, and Bradley Cooper’s “Will Tippin” was arguably his first major (breakout?) role.)

alias_poster58The plots were quite entertaining, whether they involved internal “politics” or field missions, shoot-outs with rival agencies or chasing down mysterious, archaeological artifacts. Viewers got to watch Sydney dress up and play all sorts of different undercover roles, using superspy tech, doing superspy stuff, and generally kicking butt and taking names. She was a strong, independent woman, yet one who was equally at home (if not moreso) just chilling out alone or with friends as she was sneaking into a secure location and fighting off armed baddies. In retrospect, the show had elements of not just James Bond but Jack Bauer, Indiana Jones, and, umm… Kim Possible! And I still miss it!

I haven’t heard of any plans to revive the show/character, but I’d certainly be in favor of it. Even a mini-series or just a TV movie. Garner still looks great, and I’d bet most of her former co-stars do, too. Well, assuming that never happens, I’m gonna have to hunt down those “Alias” DVDs….

5) Finally, “Star Trek”. Not any particular ST series. I just miss having a new Star Trek to look forward to every week. Reruns are fine. (Though, I admit I haven’t watched any for a few years.) But, the end of the last Star Trek TV series (which, unlike some people, I mostly enjoyed), “Enterprise”, seemed kind of sudden and, again, unsatisfying. I was glad to see the Star Trek reboot in theaters, even though they turned out to be somewhat disappointing — a subject for another post. But, the franchise really needs to have a presence on the small-screen. After all, from 1987 to 2005, we fans had nearly 20 years of almost continuous Star Trek, spanning 4 live-action series, sometimes two at once. We were spoiled! Now, it has been almost 12 years with no new Star Trek on TV.

But, as you all know, that is about to change. Starting this May, “Star Trek: Discovery” will air on CBS All Access. All fandom holds its collective breath, hopeful yet wary, to see if the latest attempt to renew this incomparable franchise will live up to expectations and fill that hole in our entertainment schedules. (Not to mention, give us plenty of new characters to talk about and merchandise to buy.) Fingers crossed…

So, with three out of five wished-for series here or on their way, I count myself pretty lucky! Whodathunkit just 5 years ago? What about you? Any old shows you’ve been jonesing for, wishing there was a new season on the way? Let us know below…

P.S.  Just for the heck of it, here are five more (and more recent) cancelled shows that I would love to see resurrected from the TV graveyard: “Almost Human” (2013-2014), “Covert Affairs” (2010-2014), “Revolution” (2012-2014), “Fringe” (2008-2013), and Leverage (2008-2012).

Merry Christmas 2016!

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” … After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was — the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure.”  — Matthew 2:1-2,9-10 (HCSB)

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Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

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Throwback Wednesday: B5, Star Trek, & Star Wars

Given that I ran out of time to write a “normal” post this week, I got the idea for this one from the “Throwback Thursday (TBT)” posts you sometimes see people do on Facebook. But, I’m gonna give you 3-in-1. (I actually do a “Top 10” every December on my other blog, but I’ll keep this one more manageable.)

You may have noticed that I have grouped certain kinds of posts onto dedicated pages (with links), which I have linked to below the main blog image above. But, there are many that don’t fit any of those categories. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight three of my personal favorites, with excerpts of text from each post. You may notice something they have in common: each one presents several ideas for rebooting or continuing a major sci-fi franchise. If you missed them the first time around, or just don’t remember reading them, I hope you enjoy these posts (again?).

“On Reviving Babylon 5”

Babylon 5 station + logo“The “Babylon 5” series (1994-1998) is generally acknowledged as one of the best science fiction shows in TV history, and it’s certainly one of my all-time favorites…. Recently, I discovered that JMS is considering a reboot of “Babylon 5”. A reboot?! Don’t do it, Joe! … I’m a little leery about returning to the B5 universe, even by its creator, given the lackluster attempts made shortly after the original series went off the air…. But, given the right concept and talent involved, it could be another hit. With this in mind….”

“Multiphasic Trek Update, part 2: TV Trekkin’ for a New Generation”

star_trek_logo_20090511_750w“Ever since “Enterprise” (and maybe before), Star Trek fans have been hoping, wishing, and praying for a new Star Trek series to be produced by a major network…. Now, in case you somehow haven’t heard, a new show has finally been approved by the powers-that-be and scheduled to debut in January 2017…. Unfortunately, we have practically no details, even on what direction they may go with it, so there is plenty of speculation and wishing…. I have come up with a few ideas of my own for the upcoming series (though others may have had them, too, I suppose), spanning different eras….”

“Ideas for Star Wars Anthology Series Films”

star-wars-logo-art“Since we all — well, not ALL, but a LOT of us — are psyched for the upcoming Star Wars movies and speculating about what they might be about, I figured I’d throw out a few (not entirely original) ideas for the “Anthology Series” films. There is definitely a lot of material to mine for these spin-offs and opportunities for expansion on what fans are already familiar with, since they are “standalone” films that are not directly connected to the new trilogy (i.e., episodes, VII-IX)…. The third film in the Anthology Series has long been rumored to be a Boba Fett origin story…. But, this movie hasn’t been confirmed, as yet. So, here are a few other people/things that could be explored, assuming Disney/Lucasfilm decide to stick to prequels….”

Hope you got a kick out of ’em, and maybe they sparked a few ideas of your own! (Feel free to share below.) ‘Til next week…

Happy 50th Anniversary, Star Trek!

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Fifty years ago today (9/8/1966), the pilot episode of Star Trek (“The Man Trap”) — technically, it was the second pilot — aired in primetime. It began an incredible legacy spanning well past the initial 3-year run — including several spinoff series and movies — that has inspired, encouraged, and spread joy to millions of fans! (And don’t get me started on all of the Trek-related merchandise…) Truly an amazing phenomenon!

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Thank you to Gene Roddenberry and all of the writers, producers, directors, cast and crew over the decades — not to mention the studio execs who took some bold chances — for providing us with a myriad of fantastic characters, alien races, planets, starships, future tech, and the storylines in which they play. You continue to challenge and delight us.

Here’s to 50 more!!

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Of Starships and Warp Drives

Star Trek again? Yep. I hadn’t planned it, but I didn’t want to miss a trending topic by delaying this post by a couple weeks or more. Besides, this is a three-fer….

So, have you all seen Star Trek Beyond, yet? I haven’t, and I’m not sure when I will, tbh. But, except for certain soundtrack choices, I’m hearing/reading mostly good things from casual fans and die-hard Trekkies alike. “Good action!” “Brings back some of the old Star Trek feel!” “Nice homages to the original series.” Etc. Sofia Boutella’s “Jaylah” character seems to be gaining a following, too. If you have seen it, you might want to check out this post by my friend, J.W. Wartick: ““Star Trek: Beyond”- A Christian perspective-Humanism, Unity, and Fear of the Unknown”

From what I’ve heard, the scene that reveals Sulu’s being in a same-sex relationship (“marriage”?) was different than the one I reported on a few weeks ago. It is also relatively innocuous. (Apparently, there was a kiss shared between Sulu and his partner, but that part of the scene ended up on the cutting room floor.)

USS Discovery

USS Discovery

As you are probably aware, there was a bit of news about the upcoming Star Trek TV series at the recent Comic-Con 2016. Specifically, a brief promo video revealed that the show will be called “Star Trek: Discovery” and provided a look at the eponymous starship. This produced at least a couple areas of controversy. First, when given the typical 3-character abbreviation, the new show becomes “STD”. Since this is a common abbreviation for “sexually transmitted disease”, you can imagine the sort of humor — often mocking and/or crude — that resulted. Personally, I think I’ll use “STDisc”.

USS Enterprise (Phase II)

USS Enterprise (Phase II)

The second thing people are talking about is the design of the USS Discovery (NCC-1031). As can be seen in the above pic, it has the familiar saucer section and the Federation’s usual warp nacelles. But, whereas larger Federation ships usually have a quasi-tubular secondary hull, the Discovery’s is triangular. Some have noted the similarity to Ralph McQuarrie’s Enterprise designs for the never-realized “Star Trek: Phase II” back in the 1970s, and io9 reports producer Bryan Fuller admitting there is some truth to that being an influence. Others have pointed out that Klingon ships often have an overarching triangular design. I even read somewhere — can’t remember where, nor if it was official or rumor or something in between — that the setting/plot involves Klingons and the Federation working closely together, including collaborating on the design (and crew?) of the USS Discovery.

Many people online have expressed their dislike of the design, ranging from mild disappointment to outright disgust. On the other hand, many others have said either they like it or they don’t care, as long as Star Trek comes back to TV. I haven’t decided for myself, yet, and am willing to let it grow on me. (That sounds uncomfortable!) Besides, the secondary hull reminds me of the iconic Star Trek delta. The fact that the ship isn’t named “Enterprise” doesn’t seem to be a big deal, either. But, given when in the (prime) Star Trek timeline the show will be set, the ship really had to be called something else.

On a related note,… have you ever wondered how the Federation’s warp drives worked? I mean, many true-blue Trekkies have checked this stuff out in the old Star Trek engineering manuals, maybe even memorizing a good bit of it. I never got into it that much, but I have occasionally wondered how the nacelles, plasma, warp core, dilithium crystals, etc., all worked together to move ships through space at such unfathomable speeds. Well, Kevin Anderton just published a short piece at Forbes (which you should definitely read) with the following infographic. Not too detailed, but it explains the basics. Nicely done!

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Should Sulu Be Gay?

Yes, it’s another Star Trek post.

John Cho as Sulu

John Cho as Sulu

As you may or may not have heard, both regular and social media have been abuzz lately about the sexual preference of a certain, well-known Star Trek character. Specifically, last week the actor (John Cho) who plays Lt. Hikaru Sulu in the current Star Trek films announced that the upcoming Star Trek Beyond will reveal that the character is gay. However, Cho said the idea was “not to make a big thing out of it,” so a scene was written in which “Sulu is pictured with a male spouse raising their infant child.” I’m not sure if this means there is a photo/hologram of them together or a live scene.

Personally, I am socially conservative and not pushing or looking forward to any LGBT+ characters in Star Trek movies or the new TV series (which Bryan Fuller has already indicated would be the case). But, given the current “climate” and the influence of the LGBT lobby, I know it is inevitable. Assuming there is good characterization and a minimum of, er, physicality — this is a family-friendly franchise, after all –, I can deal with it.

The move was supposed to be in line with creator Gene Roddenberry’s “progressive” leanings, as often reflected in Star Trek TOS & TNG plots, as well as a tribute to the original Sulu actor, George Takei, who came out back in 2005 and is known as an LGBT+ activist. But — surprise, surprise! — Takei, while appreciating the spirit in which it was done, publicly decried the decision as being misguided. As he was quoted in The Hollywood Reporter,

“I’m delighted that there’s a gay character. Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.”

The actor knew that co-writer/”Scotty” Simon Pegg and director Justin Lin were talking about having an LGBT character, probably Sulu. Takei had said he would like to see a new LGBT character in the film. “Honor [Roddenberry] and create a new character. I urged them.” He thought they were in agreement; he was mistaken.

Not surprisingly, Pegg “respectfully disagree[s]” with Takei’s position and defended his choice in The Guardian.

“We could have introduced a new gay character, but he or she would have been primarily defined by their sexuality, seen as the ‘gay character,’ rather than simply for who they are, and isn’t that tokenism? …[We] loved the idea of it being someone we already knew because the audience have a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by any prejudice. Their sexual orientation is just one of many personal aspects, not the defining characteristic.”

Zachary Quinto, the current Spock, is also quite disappointed with Takei….

“As a member of the LGBT community myself, I was disappointed by the fact that George was disappointed. I get it that he has had his own personal journey and has his own personal relationship with this character, but… as we established in the first Star Trek film in 2009, we’ve created an alternate universe.”

George Takei

George Takei

I can see where Pegg and Quinto are coming from, especially with the added factor that the current films take place in the “Kelvin timeline”. But… Takei gets it. As I have been saying regarding reboots and adaptations of longstanding characters, respect the source material. That includes keeping a character — or, at least, a primary one — true as much as possible (at least, regarding major traits) to its original envisioning by the creator. Even if the creator is OK with some changes, respect the longtime fans. (Hear that, Lee Child?!) If you want a cool character to be a different race, religion, body type, personality, sexual preference, etc., then create one. Leave the established characters alone! Or, as Takei put it regarding this particular, iconic character,

“Be imaginative and create a character who has a history of being gay, rather than Sulu, who had been straight all this time, suddenly being revealed as being closeted.”

You tell ’em, George!

Is This the End of Star Trek Fan Films?

“This is getting ridiculous! I support the fans. Trek belongs to all of us.”  — Justin Lin, Director of Star Trek Beyond

[Note: I had something else planned for this week, but the recent news on this front seemed to beg for commentary. So,…]

Several weeks after Lin made the above statement, JJ Abrams announced that CBS/Paramount had dropped their suit against Axanar Productions, which presumably included permission for the independent studio to move forward with Star Trek: Axanar. Abrams seemed to think so, anyway, saying, “fans would be able to continue working on their project.” I lauded CBS/Paramount (though with slightly cynical reservations) for making the smart move and allowing the fans to non-competitively continue having fun playing in the Star Trek universe.

CBS_Paramount_TelevisionWell,… seems we may have spoken too soon on that one, since Comic Book Resources reported in mid-June that negotiations were still, slowly moving forward. Technically, “the copyright-infringement action remains pending.” As if that weren’t enough of a concern, a week later CBS/Paramount released their new “Guidelines for Avoiding Objections,” within which “amateur fan filmmakers [can] showcase their passion for Star Trek.” This would presumably affect not just films but series (e.g., “Star Trek Continues”). Though this might sound reasonable, the general response has been… mixed, with some smaller groups being OK with them, but those with larger productions (e.g., Axanar Productions, Farragut Films) being… less than enthusiastic.

The problem is that the guidelines are, as Axanar producers have called them, “draconian”. Now, if it were me, I could live with things like keeping the production non-commercial (i.e., totally non-profit, from unpaid actors to a ban on selling tickets or production-specific merchandise) and including an official disclaimer. (From what I can tell, fan productions generally adhere to this, anyway.) I can even see disallowing “Star Trek” from the title, while requiring a subtitle that includes “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION”, though that will be a *big* problem for “Star Trek Continues”, et al. I also don’t have a problem with insisting that fan productions be “family friendly and suitable for public presentation,” though banning alcohol & tobacco seems like politically-correct overkill, especially since they have been seen in official Star Trek movies & series. These and other efforts to retain copyrights/trademarks and the good reputation of the “Star Trek” brand are understandable.

The “draconian” requirements, however, include:

“The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.”

This limits fan productions to one-offs even shorter than a “short film”. Given the greatly restricted time length, fundraising is also limited to a $50,000 maximum per project, including all platform fees.

Plus, there’s this beaut:

“The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.”

Why forbid professionals from lending their talent and expertise to a fan production, if they are willing to do so for free?! (Is this prohibition legal?) As long as the majority of those involved in the production are amateurs, what is wrong with throwing a couple professionals into the mix once in awhile? Also, if someone was ever an “extra” on an official Star Trek series or movie, would that make them ineligible to ever work on a fan-made project? Would it matter if they were paid or not? What is CBS/Paramount afraid of?

star-trek-logo

Demands like these seem designed to kill webseries like “Star Trek Continues” and “Star Trek: New Voyages” and fan films like Star Trek: Axanar, and that’s just stupid. These and other fan productions haven’t and won’t eat into the profits of CBS/Paramount, and no one thinks the poorly-done ones have any affiliation with CBS/Paramount. Productions by fans who put so much time & effort into them are labors of love, tributes to a treasured franchise that keep the fans excited and engaged. They are expressions of creativity, hope, and joy. Throwing up roadblocks like the above, especially in light of the relatively loose (though unofficial) guidelines that fans have been allowed to operate under for years, only frustrates and angers otherwise loyal and enthusiastic fans… like me.

The announcement of the new guidelines was couched in terms to make it sound like they will help and encourage Star Trek fans to make their own, amateur productions. Or, as they put it, “show our appreciation by bringing fan films back to their roots.” On the contrary, many efforts that could have been wonderful will now be aborted, and CBS/Paramount only make themselves look like tone-deaf, paranoid, insecure bullies in the process.

Artist Appreciation Day: Alex Ross

For sometime, now, I’ve been wanting to post something in tribute to my favorite comic & graphic novel artists. There are quite a few — both “regular” artists and “painters”, some of whom specialize in covers and some who do mostly interiors and others who do a lot of both. Since I don’t really follow the current batch of “new artists” (i.e., since I stopped collecting 7 or 8 years ago), my faves have been around awhile. But, I don’t have encyclopedic knowledge of all their work and didn’t want to take a ton of time researching individual careers. Plus, I wasn’t sure how much you, my readers, would tolerate of my reminiscing, etc.

Aaaanyway, I finally decided that, once in a while, I would just pick one of my favorite artists to honor with a post dedicated to them — minimal text + an assortment of sample images displaying their talent. Who better to start off with than “the Man” himself, Alex Ross? He captures both the physicality and the psyche/emotions of his subjects *so* well that really does bring them to life! Simply awesome!! The tough part is choosing which ones to feature here…

With Ross, I suppose it is only natural to begin with the limited series that gave him his big break — “Marvels” (1994). I grabbed this image because it shows all four covers (plus Ross in the upper right corner), but he also did the interiors.

Marvels covers - Alex Ross

And he only got better from there, as evidenced by his next big project (inc. interiors), which garnered him even more avid fans and critical accolades alike: DC’s “Kingdom Come” (1996). Hard to believe that was 20 years ago! Unfortunately, we can’t see all four wraparound covers, but this poster is still pretty cool…

poster-kingdomcome

For a little compare and contrast fun, here’s a diptych showing classic line-ups of DC’s Justice League and Marvel’s Avengers…

JLA Avengers diptych - Alex Ross

Here’s a nice triptych of DC’s “Trinity”…

DC Trinity triptych - Alex Ross

Before I leave DC, here’s a popular piece of everyone’s favorite Joker and Harley Quinn doing the “Tango of Evil”…

Joker & Harley, Tango of Evil - Alex Ross

I had to get Spidey, the Fantastic Four, and a couple “editions” of the X-Men in here, too…

Special TV Guide cover

Special TV Guide cover

 

Fantasticfouralexross-500x500

Original X-Men

Original X-Men

 

Classic, Uncanny X-Men

Classic, Uncanny X-Men

And, we’ll wrap up with a few sci-fi faves…

Star Trek TOS - Alex Ross

star-wars-1-alex-ross

(Original Battlestar Galactica, riffing on classic Star Wars poster)

(Original Battlestar Galactica, riffing on familiar sci-fi/fantasy poster pose)

I’d love to display more (e.g., Daredevil, Hulk, Iron Man, Astro City, Squadron Supreme, etc.), but I gotta stop somewhere. Hope you enjoyed the unauthorized Alex Ross gallery. If you have the dough, go buy some of his prints at alexrossart.com.

Have a Great Day (or Night, as the case may be)!

Star Trek Virtual Tours and Starfleet Academy Experiences

If you are as big a fan of Star Trek (especially TOS) as I was growing up, then you probably fantasized at one time or another about roaming the corridors of the Enterprise and checking out all of those familiar places from the show (e.g., the Bridge, Engineering, Sickbay, Captain’s quarters). Well, to a limited degree, you can now take a virtual tour of the NCC-1701, thanks to the “Star Trek Continues” crew and the guys from Matterport, an immersive 3D scanning technology.

Kirk and Dr. McKennah on STC

Kirk and Dr. McKennah on STC

Of course, regular readers of this blog are probably aware of the excellent “Star Trek Continues” (STC) fan-production, since I have reviewed the first 4 episodes and mentioned it a couple times elsewhere. Their attention to detail in reproducing the original DesiLu sets from the 1960s has been uncanny. Fortunately for us, last year they allowed Matterport to bring their special camera on-set, which took and merged “still images with a virtual 3D model of the space created from infrared data”. The Matterport servers then rendered a 3D virtual tour of the sets for you and I to enjoy!

Just as with Google Street View and the like, you can direct the camera, as it were, to move, pan around, zoom in (sort of), etc. As of now, only the Bridge, Engineering, and the Main Deck — including Captain’s quarters, Sickbay, a briefing room, Auxiliary Control, even a Jeffries tube — are available. Hopefully, as more sets are built, they will be added to the “tour”. (Fwiw, when you circle around, you also see the lights, ladders, cables, unpainted wooden frames, etc., from “behind the scenes”.) Hey, it may not be the same as actually being there, and, yes, it can be frustrating in its limitations. But, it’s still fun for us Trekphiles! (Here’s a game to play: while exploring, spot how many times you can see the silhouette of the Matterport camera.)

I’d love to be able to embed the three parts of the virtual tour right here, but I’m not sure I can (or would be allowed). So, I’ll just direct you here: “Take A Stunning 3D Tour of the TOS Enterprise Sets With Star Trek Continues and Matterport Technology”.

Speaking of fan-productions, in case you haven’t already heard, Paramount/CBS dropped their suit against Axanar Productions, so the Star Trek: Axanar fan-film is a go! According to JJ Abrams, most of the credit goes to Star Trek Beyond director Justin Lin for convincing the powers-that-be to back off and play nice. Without being cynical, I will just say that, with the controversy over their reboot films and the latest about to be released, plus a new ST series in the offing, Paramount/CBS (and Abrams and Lin) don’t need another reason for fans to be annoyed (or worse) with them. Smart move on their part!

One of the sets at Starfleet Academy - Ottawa

One of the sets at Starfleet Academy – Ottawa

As long as we’re talkin’ Star Trek… If you are in the vicinity of Ottawa, ON, or New York City, this summer, you might want to check out Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience. It is an interactive and educational “exhibit”, where visitors/cadets attend “Career Day” at the Academy. They will “visit nine zones focused on the training center’s specialties: Language, Medical, Navigation, Engineering, Command and Science. [Yes, I realize that is only six.] Cadets then will be assigned a specialty and a demeanor based on their individual training.” They’ll also earn about real-world emerging technologies with a Trek connection.

The exhibit opened up at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa a few weeks ago and will be there until Sep. 5, 2016. The NYC version will be at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, opening on July 29, 2016, and continuing through Oct. 31, 2016. Both locations will have additional Star Trek-themed props, costumes, and programming to celebrate the franchise’s 50th Anniversary. (Check links for details.) Wish I could go!