Thursday, October 14, 2021

Saga Of Annihilation!


Forty-three years ago almost to the month, I and several other college students in a media-related course were invited to our professor's home for an informal gathering with his family to watch the premiere of the new "Battlestar Galactica" television series on ABC. With the amount of press the show was receiving, coasting as it did on the reception of the wildly successful "Star Wars" film a year and a half earlier, there was a good deal of curiosity as to the show's concept as well as the quality of its production values considering its multi-million-dollar price tag--and our professor, who enjoyed cataloguing such media events and related trivia, had his VCR all set up to record the three-hour special. (There's no telling what he eventually did with all those videocassette tapes he must have amassed by the time VCRs finally bit the dust, but he no doubt enjoyed the run while it lasted.)

Things didn't end well for Galactica as a weekly series (at least where ABC was concerned)--yet Marvel was still able to reap some benefits from the show, the first being an adaptation of part of its premiere, "Saga of a Star World," for magazine publication in its Marvel Super Special publication, which hit the stands a month later.

Like its handling of the Star Wars adaptation in 1977, Marvel was contracted to bring Galactica to comic form before the film's actual release--which meant writer Roger McKenzie and artist Ernie Colón were obliged to take their cues from the production's script in order to craft their story. This time around, however, readers would notice a greater amount of discrepancies between what they were reading and what they'd previously viewed on their television sets, which McKenzie would detail in a letters page column after the subsequent Battlestar Galactica comic book was underway:

Circumstances which practically left the Super Special hanging out to dry. Yet the essence of the show is more or less intact in the work that McKenzie and Colón provide, with McKenzie even making some noted improvements here and there. For instance, what a difference an exclamation point makes in a key scene where Capt. Apollo loses his brother to the enemy, as a Cylon warrior's voice--which would ordinarily sound perfectly modulated at all times--is instead able to ramp the scene's tension level and provide these metal warriors with an air of ruthlessness, the better to convey the Cylons' urgency to prevent the two-man Galactica patrol from reaching their fleet with the discovery that the peace treaty is a sham.

The aftermath of the final attack is fairly accurate, though the order to evacuate the colonies comes from Apollo and not his father, while the setting is different as to Adama's information regarding the mysterious 13th tribe of humans.

Meanwhile, Baltar, the Council member who sold out his fellow humans in a one-sided bargain to set himself up as their ruler, suffered a grisly fate for his betrayal.

As I recall from the premiere (and which my professor could likely attest to), this scene played out just as pictured here--though when the show was picked up for a series where the character of Baltar would continue, the scene was edited for later releases of this episode so that, just as the Cylon guard's knife was drawn, the Imperious Leader halted the strike and instead had Baltar removed for later public execution, only to relent in a later scene and direct Baltar to lure the humans into a well-laid trap.

Five months later, Battlestar Galactica #1 is launched--though with its first issue lifting much of its content from the earlier Super Special (including, to my own disappointment, the issue's splash page), the new material which McKenzie mentions would come in the form of the issue's cover by artist Dave Cockrum, with McKenzie and Colón supplementing previous scenes with revisions to correct the discrepancies mentioned earlier. And so by issue #5, the groundwork has been laid for the book to chart its own course*, albeit with the same destination.

*Marvel's contract with Universal Studios reportedly prohibited any further adaptations of the TV series beyond the three-hour premiere (which comprised the first three episodes).

In contrast with the Star Wars comic, which ran for nine years and 107 issues, Battlestar Galactica fell well short of that mark at just under a two-year run, though churning out a respectable 23 issues at monthly distribution. Compare that to a few other comics of the day which had their own problems sustaining readership:

  • The Champions (17 issues)
  • Doctor Strange Vol. 1 (15 issues)
  • Luke Cage, Hero For Hire (16 issues)
  • Black Panther (15 issues)
  • The Eternals Vol. 1 (19 issues)
  • The Eternals Vol. 2 (12 issues)
  • The Inhumans (12 issues)
  • Silver Surfer Vol. 1 (18 issues)
  • Super-Villain Team-Up (17 issues)
  • Omega The Unknown (10 issues)

And while McKenzie and artist/writer Walt Simonson took care of the bulk of the book's plotting, there were a few other notables pitching in their talents:

Roger McKenzie, Bill Mantlo, Tom DeFalco, Walt Simonson, Steven Grant

Walt Simonson, Carmine Infantino, Ernie Colón, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema, Klaus Janson, Pat Broderick, Jim Mooney, Brent Anderson

So where did the comic leave things? Well, other than an arc involving piracy which was wrapped up, the Galactica and its fleet of survivors are able to plot a direct course to Earth, thanks in part to an offhand observation by a certain warrior whose talent for lucky breaks manages to come through when it's needed.

(clockwise) Actors Maren Jensen, Dirk Benedict, Richard Hatch, and Lorne Greene

(Check out that state-of-the-art computer!)


Big Murr said...

Still awash with Star Wars fervor, I actually got suckered to pay money and watch the premiere of Battlestar Galactica in the cinema. Well, I only say "suckered" in hindsight. At the time, the movie was no Star Wars, but it weren't bad. The special effects were a treat on the big screen as compared to my 20" tv at home.

Too bad those SFX were subsequently repeated (over, and over, and over) in the series until all delight was wrung right out of them.

It's interesting that the pilot/premiere of both the original and the 21st century remake of Battlestar Galactica gave me a decent charge of excited anticipation. And then the ensuing series quickly became, for me, an indifferent "take it or leave it", "watch it if (literally) nothing else is going on" activity.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha - they did that in the UK too Murray, and I was also conned into paying to see Galactica in the cinema.
Did you have Blake's 7 in Canada by chance? At least that was a free let down...

Comicsfan, Luke Cage lasted well past #17 - his comic just switched to a bi-monthly schedule, and changed sub-title to Power Man, with #18.

Now I didn't bring it up to be THAT guy - although I am looking forward to getting my PPoC no-prize (; - because you made a good point about the difficulties Marvel had establishing new titles in the 70s, and its interesting to me that Luke Cage was one of their few original new characters that actually DID last in his own comic.
In fact, the only other one I can think of off hand to make it past #20 is Howard the Duck.

Generally, Marvel's hits in the 70s were adaptations (licensed or public domain), like Conan, Tomb of Dracula and Star Wars.
Supposedly Star Wars actually saved the company, so Galactica's performance was probably a big disappointment for them.


Anonymous said...

PS Aaargh - as soon as I posted that it occurred to me Spider-Woman made it well past a twentieth issue, so that was a third Marvel character (although she had the advantage of the "Spider-" prefix, and after #20 it was the '80s).

It is a curious thing about 70s comics though.
Marvel came up with new characters that would go on to be popular, but... if a Wolverine #1 had come out in 1975 would he have lasted much longer in a series than, say, Black Goliath?


Big Murr said...

Unlike Doctor Who and a couple-three other Brit SF shows, Blake's 7 never made it over to Canadian programming when I was young. Even after the entertainment world opened up with VCRs, DVDs, cable channels and etc, I never had incentive to chase down the series. Reviews/opinions were always too mixed to light a fuse of interest.

Picking and creating titles must be a perpetual crapshoot that surprisingly doesn't make Marvel staff have a breakdown and become supervillains. I'm just thinking that Conan and Dracula were not really not red-hot properties in the 1970's, but they both went on to be critically acclaimed sales juggernauts for Marvel. I'm going to stick with my main assertion that if the creators actually have enthusiasm and lively interest for the title they're working on, the fans bask in the wonder. If it's a matter of "What's my assignment this week, chief?", we can smell the disinterest, no matter how professionally done.

Colin Jones said...

Sean is being mean about Blake's 7 as usual!

VCRs were extremely rare in the UK in 1978 because they were massively expensive (around £1,000 each). They took off in the early '80s when the prices came way down.

The best thing about Battlestar Galactica was the Cylons with their robotic voices and that single red "eye" that constantly moved back and forth.

Colin Jones said...

Red Sonja only lasted for about 15 issues and Machine Man didn't last long either.

Anonymous said...

Murray, I certainly agree its better for a comic if the creators are enthusiastic.

But I don't think that related to sales, or rather not in a clear cut way. Sure, Roy Thomas and Gene Colan pushed for Conan and Dracula respectively and did good work, but look at Marvel's poor sellers - Warlock, Jungle Action-era Black Panther, Killraven... whatever you think about them you can't say Jim Starlin, Don McGregor, Billy Graham and Craig Russell weren't into what they were doing and making an effort.
And of course Omega the Unknown was a pet project for Steve Gerber (presumably green lit because HTD proved he actually could come up with an original hit).

I suspect there are a number of reasons - newstand economics was probably a big factor (it was clearly a problem at DC too) - but its a bit of a tangent to the post, so I don't want to go on too much. Interesting topic though.

Colin, I won't be gratuitously mean about Blake's 7 here again. Promise.


Comicsfan said...

Come to think of it, sean, I've been corrected before about the Luke Cage book, so I deserve to get roasted about it. Maybe this time it'll sink in. At any rate, I'm having a Colonial viper deliver that no-prize to you as fast as its turbos will get there. (You do have a landing strip at your residence, right?)

Murray, you make a more than fair point about the overuse of stock footage in the original Galactica series. You'd think a series that cost that had that much money to spend per episode could spring for SFX that didn't require quick cutaways with their every miserly use, wouldn't you?

Colin, it's too bad that Cylon eye slit didn't fire red eye beams like our boy Cyclops--I mean, why have the Cylons sport side-arms just like their human enemies?

Anonymous said...

No worries CF - at my place the palm trees move aside to allow access to the landing strip, right next to the entrance for the underground monorail.


Colin Jones said...

Ms. Marvel was cancelled at #23 and She-Hulk was cancelled at #25.

Anonymous said...

Colin, I looked those up, and Savage She-Hulk #1 is cover dated Feb 1980, so imo its an 80s series. You're right about Ms Marvel... but I submit that making it three issues past #20 does not fundamentally affect the general point.

But if you absolutely insist I will share my PPoC no-prize with you. Because as you know that is the kind of accommodating, easy going person I am.


Colin Jones said...

Sean, you're too kind :)

You're right that She-Hulk was mostly an '80s series but the first issue was launched in November 1979 (Nov 13th 1979 according to Mike's Amazing World Of Comics) so the She-Hulk is officially a '70s character.

And you forgot about Ghost Rider too. He was a '70s character whose comic lasted way past #20.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I forgot Ghost Rider too. But its an interesting one, because there was a Ghost Rider #1 in '67 from Marvel.
True, that was the old western version, but is the 70s one really a completely new character if his comic has the same name? Tell you what Colin, I'll let you have that one too.
But you're still only getting half the no-prize.