The Return of Gabriel Hunt

I got this email from Gabriel Hunt editor Charles Ardai not too long ago and have been meaning to share it. Great news for Gabriel Hunt fans.

Friends —

The other day I got a message from a fan of the Gabriel Hunt books asking why there haven’t been any updates in such a long time. The answer, alas, is that for the past several months we haven’t had any news to share. The publisher we work with to put out the Gabriel Hunt books, Dorchester Publishing, has been going through some tumultuous times (picture them being chased down a grassy slope by blowgun-wielding natives, trying desperately to hold on to their flapping fedora), and as a result our series wound up being abruptly suspended one title short of completion (picture Gabriel Hunt frozen in carbonite).

But.

I’m happy to report that things are finally starting to thaw. The last Gabriel Hunt adventure to hit book stores in our original mass-market paperback format (those little paperbacks that fit in your jacket pocket), Hunt Among the Killers of Men, is about to become the first ever to be released in the larger “prestige” trade paperback format… [It was released on June 6, about a week after I got the email. Did I say “not too long ago”? That was a lie. -Michael]

Then in August…our sixth and final (for now) title, Hunt Through Napoleon’s Web, co-authored by the talented and charming Raymond Benson, will finally see print for the first time, also in trade paperback format. You can already pre-order it on Amazon.com [at the link above -Michael] and from other fine retailers.

And the plan is for the first four Hunt adventures to follow in subsequent months, so that before long you’ll be able to have a full set in uniform editions.

Now, will there ever be a seventh Hunt adventure? Well, as a good friend once told Gabriel, never say never again. (Picture Sean Connery in a turtleneck…ah, never mind.) But things have been so tumultuous (natives, blowdarts) that we simply don’t know. I have confidence in the ever-resourceful Mr. Hunt, so I wouldn’t count him out just yet. But after penning six adventures in a little over 18 months, I don’t blame the man at all if he requires a little time off to recharge. I like to imagine him on the grounds of the Hunt Foundation’s private estate in Bali, sipping from a rum cocktail, while a gorgeous linguist lounges beside him in a tiny sarong. There may be more adventures ahead, but for now we can let the man enjoy one of his rare moments of downtime.

Best,
Charles

Mysta vs. The End

In Mysta’s final printed adventure (Planet Comics #62) she fights two different battles. She has to help Garro fight a giant robot that’s attacking the undersea farms of the planet Aqua, but meanwhile, back on Earth, her secret identity is being questioned as the result of a standard security audit.

The underwater adventure is cool with the giant robot and two different factions of fish-people, but from the perspective of the overall series the interesting part is Garro’s quick inclusion of Mysta in the mission. At the end of the last one he implied that he didn’t want her participating anymore, but as soon as another crisis arises, he calls her in. He’s conspicuously quiet too about evaluating her performance at the end of the Aqua mission, so what are we to make of him?

Assuming that I was right in guessing that he’s in love with Mysta and starting to worry about her, perhaps he’s realized that his sexist comment to her after the last mission was inappropriate. I don’t mean in a Political Correctness way, but just in a I Like This Woman and Want Her to Like Me Too way. Though – unless there was an off-panel apology we don’t know about – he’s handling it by pretending he never said it and hoping that Mysta will follow suit. If that’s the case, Garro’s a complete douche.

Something else that may inform the situation though is Mysta’s being referred to throughout this story as Technician 3. In the last adventure, her title was Technician 106, which seemed to be an ID number of some kind. As this story opens, she’s called Technician Grade 3. That sounds like a job title, but it’s immediately truncated to just Technician 3 as the story progresses and used in the same way that Technician 106 was used earlier. Has she gotten a promotion? Like, a really huge promotion? If 106 and 3 refer to grade levels…well, maybe Garro’s found a way to apologize after all. Not a cool one, but then Garro’s not a cool guy.

As for the security audit, the woman conducting it figures out right away that something’s not right about Mysta. We finally learn Mysta’s cover name in this story: Ana Thane. The problem is that Mysta’s apparently done a lousy job of creating that cover, because there are no records of such a person existing. It’s hard to believe that Mysta would have screwed up that badly, so I’m suggesting another theory: that Bron, desperately wanting Mysta to give up her extended undercover mission and return to the Moon, hacked into the Safety Council’s servers and purposely erased whatever background Mysta had created for Ana. Frankly, I wish he’d succeeded.

Unfortunately for Bron, he didn’t realize that the auditor is a corporate tool and an idiot who’s too afraid of making waves to report any discrepancies she finds. Her exact thought is, “If I tell[…]Garro he’ll think I’m looney! Perhaps I’d better just close the files on this case.” And so she does. Mysta’s secret is safe.

Since this was the last Mysta story that Planet Comics published, we’ll never know what eventual plans they had for the character, but I’m not sure that’s important. I enjoy trying to explain the twists and turns and inconsistencies – creating my own subplots in the process – but I don’t seriously think that the writers had long-range plans for the character. The series feels very much like they were making it up as they went along. That’s part of its charm, not a criticism, but it does leave it to the reader to create his or her own ending for Mysta’s story.

Sleestak likes the idea of Mysta’s giving up her Moon fortress for good and settling down more or less permanently in her role as a Safety Council technician, “allowing humanity to once again control their own destiny.” That’s a great ending from Sleestak’s perspective, because he’s tended to see the early Mysta as a harsh gatekeeper who controls scientific knowledge through her own strength and technological superiority. He’s always acknowledged that her motives were good, but disagreed with some of her draconian methods.

Something about Mysta’s first appearance made me want to like her more than that though. Maybe it was the tragedy in her origin: how she was stolen from her crib (along with a male baby) by a scientist who then raised her and her “brother” on the Moon while he poured all the world’s knowledge into their brains, how the God of War possessed her “brother” and forced him to kill their “father”, and how Mysta had to then kill her own “brother” in self-defense. I think that got to me in a way that made me want to give her the benefit of the doubt as her story unfolded. Even when I questioned some of her choices, I wanted to support her as much as possible.

Which means that I’ve seen her as less manipulative than maybe Sleestak has. If he’s right, I hope with him that she’s leaving that behind as her series ends. But if Mysta’s mission has always been noble – and executed as nobly as possible – I’d love for her to come clean to Garro, move back to the Moon with Bron, and work openly with the Safety Council to continue keeping the universe safe.

Planet of the Apes (TV series; 1974)

Blastr recently included the Planet of the Apes TV show on their list of 5 Awful Movie-Inspired Sci-Fi TV Shows. I read that list before I’d dug very far into watching the show for myself, but even then I knew that I disagreed with them. For the record (and if you don’t feel like clicking links), here’s what writer Krystal Clark said about it:

How many different ways can you show us a world dominated by apes? By the time this show hit the air there had already been five Planet of the Apes movies. Not two or three, but five that harped on the same premise! This show, along with the animated series that was released the following year, really beat a dead horse. (Or should we say ape?) They beat it, skinned it and burned it alive before they finally let it go. (Oh wait a minute, we forgot Rise of the Planet of the Apes is heading to a theater near you! Sigh.)

You’ll notice that Clark never actually says what’s wrong with the show. In fact, she’d never have to have even seen it to write that paragraph. (I’m not saying that she hasn’t seen it, just that you can’t tell it from reading her “criticism”.) Her first sentence is a rhetorical question that assumes an incorrect answer. It assumes that not only is there a limit to the number of stories you can tell in the Planet of the Apes universe, but that that limit is decidedly less than six. That’s ridiculous.

The five movies all have their individual flaws, but none of those flaws have anything to do with repeating earlier films. In fact, one of the biggest strengths of the series is that each installment presents a snapshot of a different period of the planet’s history. That allows for different tones and themes from film to film.

In response to my Battle post, Mitchell Craig commented that “the series should have stopped after Conquest, but this last film just spins its wheels.” I don’t disagree. As I wrote in reply, there’s no demanding need for the story that Battle tells. It’s possible to watch only the first four films and get a satisfying, complete story about the history of this world. But on the other hand, I enjoyed Battle. Even if it’s ultimately unnecessary, I’m glad they made it, because I love the PotA world and love watching stories set in it, so long as they’re good stories. For all it’s flaws and inconsistencies (and there are lots), Battle has a good story at its heart.

That’s where I’m at with the TV show too, although it’s a much better creation than Battle. In fact, I enjoyed it more than any of the individual films. It’s exactly what I wanted from a Planet of the Apes series: humans being chased by talking apes every episode with some social commentary drizzled on top. It’s an entertaining adventure show immersed in the best parts of the PotA world, but without the self-importance of the first two films.

The premise is simple, two more astronauts (three actually, but the third dies in the crash) go through a time warp and arrive in the ape-dominated future. Alan Virdon (Ron Harper, who also played Uncle Jack in the third season of Land of the Lost) and Pete Burke (James Naughton, who’s currently on Gossip Girl) are discovered by the ape council. The apes’ leaders know that humans once dominated the planet, but they’re keeping that information secret from the general population. Afraid that the astronauts’ presence will subvert ape domination by proving that humans can be intelligent and valuable, the council decides to kill the two men before anyone finds out about them. Fortunately, Virdon and Burke are helped to escape by a sympathetic chimpanzee named Galen (the pleasantly ubiquitous Roddy McDowell).

Like most adventure shows from the ’70s and ‘80s, Planet of the Apes has an overarching plot that drives the series without dominating it. Other examples are David Banner’s searching for a cure while being pursued by Jack McGee in The Incredible Hulk or the A-Team’s constantly being hounded by the military for a crime they didn’t commit. In the first episode of Planet of the Apes, Virdon retrieves the flight recorder from his spaceship before the apes blow the vessel up, hoping that one day he’ll find a functioning computer with which to analyze the data and reverse-engineer a way home. It’s a long shot, but he’s got a family back in his time and the hope of returning to them keeps him going. Burke – a ladies’ man with no family – isn’t any happier about being stuck in the future, but is fatalistic about their chances of returning home. Galen, now a fugitive from his own people, just wants to be supportive of his new friends.

Virdon’s quest keeps the trio moving from place to place, but there are only one or two episodes that even mention the recorder disc. Most of them simply feature the three characters’ encountering a new village and having to deal with whatever situation’s going on there. Usually, the ape council’s gorilla squad – led by General Urko (Mark Lenard, who’s even better in this than he is in Star Trek as Spock’s dad, and that’s saying something) – shows up in hot pursuit of the trio, increasing the stakes and the tension.

I’m so fond of the show that I’d be inclined to ignore its inconsistencies with the films. I would be, that is, if there weren’t explanations that make it easy to reconcile the show with the movies. I can’t take credit for all of these – Timeline of the Planet of the Apes was very helpful – but most of it’s easy to figure out.

The only glaring contradictions are all established in the first episode and I mentioned a couple of them in the post on Battle. There are dogs present when – according to Conquest – dogs are supposed to be extinct. Also, Virdon and Burke find a book that has a photo of a thriving New York City from a couple of centuries after it was supposedly destroyed.

There’s another apparent problem, and a glaring one, but a closer look at the series reveals that it’s explained right there in the show. That’s all the talking humans. Humans are treated by apes the way African slaves were treated in the United States during the nineteenth century, with no rights and barely any acknowledgment that they’re even sentient, but they’re not the speechless brutes we see in the first PotA film and Beneath. However, the title sequence to the show reveals that it takes place almost a century before the first movie, plenty of time for humanity to degenerate into Nova and her pals.

How then to explain the presence of an orangutan councilman named Zaius? That’s also easy. Like Galen – a name that Staz Johnson reminded me also appears in the first movie – it must be a common ape name. Like John or Michael. If the extreme time difference wasn’t enough to differentiate the characters, the TV show also makes it clear that it takes place on the West Coast, complete with maps and specific mention of San Francisco. The Planet of the Apes move (and – I assert – the rest of the film series) clearly takes place on the East Coast.

Which reminds me of the answer to something I wondered about at the end of Conquest: how widespread Caesar’s rebellion was. If all you’re watching is the movies, you have no clue what’s going on in the rest of the world outside of the New York area. According to Timeline, the various comic book series fill in those gaps (even explaining that the worldwide nuclear war was in response to the ape rebellion instead of human vs. human), but the TV show also helps explain things. It shows a culture very similar to those we saw in the films, but very removed from the movies’ events. There are no references made to Caesar or any other elements from that series and perhaps the apes in the TV show aren’t even aware of them.

Back to the contradictions that need explaining: the dogs aren’t that hard to explain either. Obviously the world-wide plague that supposedly wiped out all canine (and feline) life wasn’t as universal as everyone thought. It’s not a radical thought that some animals may have survived. And as for 22nd century New York, Timeline suggests that perhaps what’s depicted in the book we see is an artist’s interpretation of a future New York rather than an historical depiction of the real place.

All said and done, there ain’t a thing wrong with this show. The three leads are extremely likable and pleasant to watch. Virdon’s the level-headed, capable, and inspirational leader. Thanks to his growing up on a farm (and still living on one as an adult in Texas) he knows a lot about agriculture and handling animals, subjects that come in very handy in his ape-planet travels. Burke starts the series off as something of a complaining hothead, but he mellows out after a couple of episodes into someone who’s still interesting and vibrant, but not negative. He’s totally the guy you want watching your back and he and Virdon make a great team. It also helps that there’s a ton of chemistry between the actors.

That’s something that can also be said of them and Roddy McDowell. There’s a reason that McDowell’s the king of Planet of the Apes. Even though he’s instantly recognizable in his chimp make-up thanks to his distinctive voice and some recurring mannerisms, he played three entirely different characters in the Planet of the Apes world and played them as entirely different characters. Caesar is not interchangeable with Cornelius, who is also not interchangeable with Galen. Cornelius and Galen are close (even to their both working for orangutan council members named Zaius), but Galen’s much more adventurous and loyal to his human friends than Cornelius. And in spite of his fugitive status, Galen’s got a greater sense of humor too. He’s absolutely charming.

Unfortunately, there were only fourteen episodes of the show. Wikipedia blames its being scheduled against Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man for its low ratings and quick cancellation and that sounds reasonable to me. Those were crazy popular shows.

It did return later though in the form of a series of five TV movies in 1981. Each film was actually two episodes from the original show, but presented with a framing sequence in which Galen told the stories to an unseen human, another time-traveling astronaut who had arrived in Galen’s era. In these scenes, Galen explains that Virdon and Burke eventually did find a working computer and were able to get home. That opens up a whole other can of worms about why they didn’t warn the people of their time, but we can close it up again without too much trouble. After all, if humanity didn’t learn its lesson after Cornelius’ story in Escape (I mean seriously, the pet plague he described occurs and the government does nothing to stop people from bringing apes into their homes as replacement pets?!), why would people in the ‘80s change anything based on Virdon and Burke’s stories? I love the idea that Virdon and Burke eventually made it back, so I’m accepting it, but obviously no one believed their tale.

The Drawings of Steranko

It’s no secret that we love Jim Steranko around here, so I really appreciated getting an email from John Gandour who designed the Drawings of Steranko website. John pointed out several cool features on the site including a screensaver/wallpaper gallery, sections on Red Tide, and a gallery of other artists’ Steranko homages. It’s a cool, beautiful site to kick around on, so go visit.

Mysta vs. Cargo X25

In Planet Comics #61, the Safety Council quarantines suspicious cargo and learns that its concerns are justified. When their scans accidentally activate the regrowth of miniaturized demon-birds and uncover a faux terrorist plot, Mysta leaps into action.

There are a few interesting things in this story. First of all, Mysta’s secret identity finally gets a name, sort of. It’s Technician 106. That’s all the identification that Garro seems to know her by, which makes me wonder if he’s really just that disinterested (or pretending to be) or if that’s all the identification that the Safety Council allows. Also interesting is Garro’s attitude toward her at the end. Though Mysta/Technician 106 has proved herself over and over again on missions she’s undertaken with Garro, he dismisses her contributions to this one and says, “Leave such things to men, who can handle them.”

Here’s my theory: Garro’s falling for her and is trying to cover it by refusing to use her real name (I bet he knows it; whatever her cover name is, I mean). He’s started worrying about her on these missions, which explains – though doesn’t excuse – his sexist remark.

Meanwhile, Bron’s still holding things together solo on the Moon. He seems to have gotten over his resentment of that situation though and appears to be resigned to his new role. However, he’s obviously in love with Mysta and wishes she reciprocated his feelings.

I’ll come out and admit to being a Brysta ‘shipper. Though Garro and Mysta are clearly interested in each other and we’ve got kind of a Moonlighting/Castle dynamic going on with them, they’d make a horrible, dysfunctional couple. I’m crossing my fingers that Mysta realizes what a faithful friend she has in Bron. (Sleestak has an equally valid take on Bron’s isolation on the Moon that recalls his previous career as a criminal, but I’m hoping it’s romance, not force, that’s keeping him there.)

Another interesting thing is that Mysta calls her machine-man Robot II in this adventure. The robot’s changed a lot since his first appearance in the series, but I think this is the first time Mysta’s acknowledged that it’s actually a completely new model.