Lost in Translation


Recently, I had the chance to travel back in time to 1996.

Deep Space Nine (DS9) comic from IDW, Deep Space Nine: Fool's GoldUnfortunately, it wasn’t the useful kind of time travel—I wasn’t able to warn Young Me to steer clear of Dr. Scheer’s class, hook up with that cute girl down the hall, or commandeer one last case of my cherished, beloved Crystal Pepsi before they replaced it in the vending machine with Surge—but it was still a fun visit to those Sunday nights back in the dorms.

I was given a copy several weeks ago of the first chapter of IDW’s Deep Space Nine: Fool’s Gold. Even with IDW’s amazing track record for dusting off licensed characters that ought to have been a deep embarrassment to everyone involved and putting them to compelling, entertaining use, this is a book I normally would not have touched with a ten-meter dilithium space-pole. (Or whatever. Star Trek was great about trying to make things sound futury by adding a planet name and some technobabble. “He’s as sly as a Cardassian laser-fox,” and so on. There; I just added a rule to your drinking game.) I went ahead and tried Fool’s Gold, though, because Deep Space Nine once crept into my life like kudzu and became an integral part of my early twenties. I went from catching a random fourth-season episode with my friends one night and saying, with feeling, “What the hell is this?” (to be fair, that episode happened to take place in Star Trek’s alternate omnisexual S & M dungeon universe; everyone in the room that night would refer to the show as Deep Space 69 for the duration of its run) to religiously taping every episode and watching the series finale slowly swaying a lighter over my head. I mourned that show like a member of my family. Then The Phantom Menace starved to death my ability to ever get excited about anything again, and I didn’t re-watch or think about it for eleven years. Then Fool’s Gold fell in my lap.

The book does not offer a bold, fresh reinterpretation of the series for big Chris Pine fans. It does not blow the airlock off of everything you thought you knew about Star Trek, or make you really re-examine the way you always thought about Ferengi mercantilism. Simply, elegantly, it does something I’d argue is even harder than successfully pulling off any of those things: it tells a story that feels like an episode of the show. The characters act like themselves circa 1996 (or Stardate 5011—er, I mean, I never figured out how Stardates worked! I enjoy cars, and the foot-ball) and if I described the plot to a casual viewer, he would probably say, “I think I remember seeing that one.” For those four issues, I felt like I was back in front of the tube on a Sunday night, my roommate having unearthed a lost episode at the end of some VHS tape he found behind the minifridge.

Patton Oswalt Firefly comic, The Float.Like I said, I normally would never touch a book like this because in my experience, pulling off the feat of making the comic feel like an episode is harder than jumping Snake River Canyon on a motorcycle. On the other hand, maybe it's me. Maybe you can go home again, but I just don’t want to.

Typically, I have almost no stomach for the Continuing Adventures of, the Untold Tales of, or the “Expanded Universe” of anything I watched, no matter how much I loved it. It goes beyond issues like “do I really need to plumb the depths of the back story of that foam head that was in the Mos Eisley scene for six frames?” or “there’s no way an Ewok tribal council works that way.” The thing I liked about Indiana Jones and Star Wars was seeing Harrison Ford and Frank Oz and Alec Guinness say and do those things. Seeing a pencil drawing of what their performance might have been like and imagining John Williams scoring it, 99% of the time, holds less than no interest for me.

I really loved Firefly for the month and a half it was on the air. While I came for the writing, the thing that sticks with me looking back at the show now are the actors delivering that dialogue and the electricity they somehow captured on the screen. Recently, it was announced that writer/comedian Patton Oswalt will soon be writing a Firefly comic. I love Patton Oswalt; he is basically the first name I think of when I think of comedy; I do not know that I need to read his Firefly comic as long as I live. I imagine I will—if I gave Brightest Day a shot, surely this deserves one—but in a self-fulfilling-prophecy sort of way, I can’t help but predict some lingering disappointment with the whole affair. The absolute, grand-slam best case scenario ends with me sitting there thinking, “I traded this for V and Castle?” and shouting Chinese profanities at some faceless Fox suit.

Muppet Show comic book from IDWI know this is what will happen because of how much my interest in the Muppet Show comics has waned over time. I don’t have an unkind word to say about them, and I look forward to seeing if my Muppet-loving kiddo takes to them, but lately all reading them does for me is remind me how much I wish The Muppet Show was on television. Those guys sure could wring a performance out of a piece of felt, and the most hilarious illustration of physical comedy can’t fill that hole any more than whining about it can bring back Jim Henson. It’s like when you’re really hungry for a ballpark hot dog, but all you have is one of those fat-free diet hot dogs made out of turkey and shame. It’s almost better to eat nothing than to settle for that substitution.

Most importantly, as hard as it might be to accept among people who are on their third volume of Moon Knight, sometimes things are better when they end. For all its flaws, I thought the show Angel had one of TV’s most perfectly executed endings, and I never need to know what happened after those credits rolled. When I heard it was getting a “season six” in comic book form, I actually said, “Oh, no! That’s a shame.”

Am I the only one who thinks this way? Have I been denying myself hours of fun with my old fictional friends? Should I be lobbying BOOM! Studios even now for The West Wing: Season Eight? Has raising these issues bummed your buzz, and if so, why should this be different than any other column of mine?

 

 


Jim Mroczkowski has said it before, and he will say it again: it is a crime that Pepsi will bottle that liquid travesty, Holiday Spice Pepsi, every Christmas but cannot produce so much as another can of Crystal Pepsi for the discerning epicurean. Crystal Pepsi was transparent nectar; Holiday Spice is like drinking a goddamned potpourri candle. No way the market for that swill is bigger. There is simply no way.
 

Comments

  1. West Wing: Season Eight would make an AWESOME comic.

  2. I still say Angel has my favorite ending ever for a tv show. I wish i could go back and unread season 6. not worth it

  3. West Wing: Season Eight makes me want to know if there any good comics dealing with politcal intrigue

  4. There’s always the non-superhero stuff in Ex Machina…

  5. I curse the Pepsi gods for also taking Pepsi Throwback away from us. Though I can’t help but think that Jolt Cola will fill that hole…do they still even make that?

    And as bad as Holiday Spice Pepsi sounds, I bet it isn’t as bad as Coke Blak, which I assume is what human crap tastes like.

    I tried the continuing "comic adventures of…" route with the Army Of Darkness books that Dynamite puts out, and ran into the same problem that you described. The reason why I love the Evil Dead/AOD movies is because of Bruce Campbell’s on screen performance, and even though the comic series has the artistic likeness of Ash and I try to put Bruce’s voice ito my head while reading this, it just isn’t the same.

  6. Aw, I like Castle.

  7. Props for lavishing the love on DS9.  No TV show before since has had that much of an effect on me.  I wept like a baby at the close of the finale. 

    I fear reading the comic – it’s like you say, maybe you can go home again, but you just don’t want to.  Ben Sisko may one day return (probably has in those spin off novels) but I shall not be there to see it. 

  8. "It’s almost better to eat nothing than to settle for that substitution."

    Very, very true. The older I get, the more I realize that when it comes to beloved TV shows of my youth, it’s best to remember it fondly and move on. A friend of mine recently downloaded a bunch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episodes. We didn’t get two deep before we decided to can it and watch some Always Sunny. Forever more I’ll have a sour taste in my mouth for allowing myself to revisit a show I liked a lot, only to realize it appealed to my 8-year-old idiot brain for a reason.

    Same goes for shows-turned-comics. I was a huge Buffy fan back in high school, and I have to admit that I was excited for Season 8. We’re now 35 issues in, and while I think it’s swell, I have yet to recapture the warm and fuzzies the series used to provide me with. There’s just no substitute for watching Anthony Stewart Head clean his glasses in live-action, and you can’t draw Allison Hannigan’s adorable little twitches. 

    I think shows like this appeal to you WHEN they do for a reason. After a few years have passed, picking it up in a different format just isn’t the same. No matter how well it’s handled, it will always be an attempt to recapture the glory of the original. And in my experience, it’s healthier to hold said glory in your heart, and look forward to your next favorite show.

  9. This is awesome in article form.

  10. I’m holding on to my dream that Vertigo Crime will put out Cop Rock Season Two.

  11. This is a weird reference to make, but I want ‘The Unusuals’ back in my life!

    A cop drama/comedy about the NYC? How perfect would that be for a comic!? I have no idea who could publish it but if they get the right writer on board it could totally work.

    I feel the same way about the Muppets comic. It’s very well done and it brings me back to the old days of my childhood…..But it’s not the Muppets I want. I want a full blown Muppet Show again. Come on, if they will do a Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode then Henson Co. can shell out a few bucks for a new show!!

  12. I am definitely with you on "Angel".  Do you really need to know what happened to Butch & Sundance *next*?

    Though even as I say this, I’m excited to be pulling the second issue of the ‘Terminator’ miniseries written by on of Joss Whedon’s brothers.  And I say this as somebody who thinks the world would be better if there’s never been a sequel to ‘Terminator’ in the first place.  I am infinite, I contain multitudes.

     

  13. I used to be all about the cross-media stories, especially when I was in middle and high school. You don’t want to know how excited I was when I realized there were comics based on GARGOYLES, which I was completed obsessed over in 1995. (It mixed Shakespeare with animated creatures from Scotland who inexplicably didn’t have accents! Awesome!) True, the comics only last 11 issues along with a few random issues of DISNEY ADVENTURES, but it was still an exciting moment for me. I may have also bought the ‘Early readers’ books which adapted stories from the show’s first season.

    These days, I’d much rather have the second half of the second season of GARGOYLES on DVD than the comics that have come out in the last several years.

    Man, I loved that show. 

  14. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    You will read the SHIT out of my MATLOCK ongoing with artist TBA! 

  15. What do you guys think bill murray said to scarlet johanson at the end?

  16. I remember seeing a couple of pages from a Shield comic. Horrible.

  17. i have to say i totally agree. Especially with Buffy, i watched every episode of every season. I have em on DVD. I never wanted to read the comics. I hear great things about it, i know i should get into it, but its just not the same. I’ve flipped trough some books at the store and its like they recast everybody with different people and are calling it the same thing. I might be missing out, but i’m ok with that. The story is over as far as i’m concerned. 

     

  18. I’d take Castle over Firefly any day of the week.

  19. I would read the following if they became comics

    – Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers

    – Simon and Simon

    – Hermans Head

     

  20. Castle is hardly revolutionary TV, but there are few shows I have more FUN watching.

    I am ridiculously relieved to discover I am not the only one who misses Crystal Pepsi.

     

  21. JohnVFerrigno: We have got to do something about Crystal Pepsi.

    Also, I don’t mean to disparage Castle. It’s just that Castle is something I would watch if it happened to be on, whereas an airing of Firefly was something I counted down for every week and watched with half a dozen similarly eager friends. A party would spring up around it.

  22. Crusade, Journeyman, sarah connor chronicles comics please!

  23. If I could go back in time, I’d tell Joss that Serenity needed a different plot than "Objects in Space."

    I liked Serenity…but "Objects in Space" was brilliant.

  24. Good article, Jim. Timely (for me), too. A buddy of mine recently bought an iPad and, though he has never been into comics before, has been going nuts getting whatever is out there in App Land. He sent me an enthusiatic text asking if I knew there was a Firefly comic out there. When I told I did know about it and had heard it was good, he was incredulous that I hadn’t read it. You explained it much better than I did, so I’ll link him to this article, even tough our conversation was brief and ended a week ago. Thank goodness for the internet!