Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello again Readers Mine, and welcome to another installment of "Tuesdays with Mollari!" This is the place where I natter on about the greatness that is Babylon 5, and the various adventures associated with writing a book about the show. We're calling the project Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5, and we're looking at a publication date in the fall of 2017, but we may manage to be ready to go earlier. Our publisher is ECW Press out of Toronto, and this will be our second book with them, following Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad (available wherever fine books are sold, and probably in some other places too!)

First off, I want to give a big Centauri shout out ("VALTOOOOOOO!!!!") to the UK's own John Joshua. You'll remember in my last post about the B5 comics, I mentioned that I have been unable to obtain a copy of the tribute mini-comic Beyond the Rim. Well, the day that post went live, John e-mailed me and offered to send me hi-res scans of his copy, which were in my inbox the next day. That was really, really awesome, and you can bet we'll be thanking him in the book and sending a signed copy across the pond come the day! Thanks very much, John!

Marshall Teague as Nelson Drake in "Infection" (1.04).
Babylon 5 is rightly hailed for bringing the long, or grand arc to television, but not every episode was so directly dedicated to advancing the overarching stories of the series. Straczynski balanced his grand arc with episodes that were far more traditional and episodic, where a problem arises, is dealt with by the protagonists, and at the end of the episode things pretty much reset to the status quo. Babylon 5 even did this differently, however, as the series had a memory, and viewers were often asked to remember events in previous episodes in order to fully understand what was happening at a given point in the show. Even seemingly non-arc episodes.

The formula of grand arc/season arc/and episodic storytelling would be refined a few years later in Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003), and fans of that show would coin the term "monster-of-the-week episode" to denote an episode that really did nothing to advance the larger season or series arcs, and were almost entirely focused on Buffy and the Scoobies taking down a random threat o' the week. So when I began to sit down and write the episode guides for Dreams Given Form I expected to use the "monster-of-the-week" phrase relatively frequently when dealing with episodes like "TKO" (1.14), "GROPOS" (2.10) "Grey 17 Is Missing" (3.19), etc. I figured these would be relatively short write ups along the lines of "well, a few titbits for the larger story were scattered here and there, but basically this one is a monster-of-the-week" and then move on.

The thing is, it is turning out that I'm wrong. Thus far, in any given episode written by J. Michael Straczynski (an important caveat), information that is either deeply relevant or even fundamental to the larger arcs is included. Take "Infection" (1.04) for example. At first it seems like a placeholder episode, but when you look at it critically with an eye to the entire series, several really important things become clear. Interplanetary Expeditions (IPX) is introduced in this episode. Non-human biomechanical technology is first mentioned (Shadows, anyone?). The fact that Earth is looking for alien tech to turn into weapons is dropped into a conversation, and this is the episode where JMS introduces his recurring themes of ideology, militarism, and fanaticism v. science, faith, and lawful armsbearing. All in this easily overlooked episode about a guy who gets gobbled up by bad CGI and tries to kill everybody for the thinnest of reasons.

Again and again, the intricacy of JMS's plotting and storytelling, the sheer painstaking details of his arc continue to astound me, and I am reminded of why I study television. That's it for this go-round, folks. For all of the latest B5 and pop-culture news that comes across my screen, be sure and follow me on Twitter or Facebook, and check out our bi-weekly column, "The Ten Percent" over at Biff Bam Pop! Until next time...

Hold the Line!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello Readers Mine! After yet another hiatus, I have returned! (Seriously, you should follow me on the various medias of sociability if you want daily doses of me. Linkage to the top right of this page.) This week, I thought I'd take a closer look at a sometimes disparaged part of Babylon 5's groundbreaking transmedia storytelling: the Babylon 5 comics!

Babylon 5 numbers 1 - 11, DC Comics, 1994-1995.
As season 2 of Babylon 5 kicked off, so too did the briefly-lived regular Babylon 5 comic book series from DC. Issue 1, "In Darkness Find Me" was written by Straczynski, while issues 2 - 8 and 11 were plotted by JMS with Mark Moretti and Tim DeHaas fleshing things out. Issues 9 and 10 were scripted by David Gerrold, and are considered only semi-canonical, but feature Garibaldi and G'Kar in a race against mechanical death which requires them to sacrifice their clothing a piece at a time, so you don't want to miss 'em.

The comics fill in some important gaps in the larger B5 plot, and also connect with some of the canonical novels. Issues 1 -4 detail Sinclair's adventures on Earth after his recall, and during his first few months as Earth's ambassador to Minbar, with issue 1 taking place between "Crysalis" (1.22) and "Points of Departure" (2.01) and 3-4 between "Revelations" (2.02) and "The Geometry of Shadows" (2.3). The events in this first comic arc also ties into the canonical novel To Dream in the City of Sorrows, by Kathryn M. Drennan, who also wrote the episode "By Any means Necessary" (1.12), and was married to Straczynski from 1983 - 2002.

Issues 5-8 take place before "The Coming of Shadows" (2.09), and provide details about Garibaldi's first meeting with Sinclair and more details about his encounter with the Shadow vessels on Mars as seen in "Messages from Earth" (3.08). Issue 11 "Silent Enemies" even drops a bit of foreshadowing about the horrific past of Talia Winters, the culmination of which is revealed in "Divided Loyalties" (2.19). The details surrounding Garibaldi's first encounter with Shadow vessels is especially interesting as the issues were published between 5 and 8 months before "Messages from Earth" first aired, though the episode may well have been plotted/written/in production at the time JMS plotted the comics. Straczynski's famous long-rage plotting of B5 again allowed him to take advantage of transmedia storytelling in ways that broadened the canon and deepened the story, making the comics canon, rather than the usual licensed-but-unofficial storytelling common in the comic adaptations of SF shows like Battlestar Galactica (the original series) and Star Wars.

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales mini-comic.
Besides DC's monthly series, in 1998 JMS also wrote the first issue and plotted the rest (with Peter David completing the scripts) of the three-issue miniseries In Valen's Name, which takes place after "Into the Fire" (4.06) and recounts the final fate of Babylon 4 and fills in some of the history of Valen and the previous Shadow War. Finally, in 2007, a special mini-comic, "Beyond the Rim," was released with the Babylon 5: The Lost Tales DVD when purchased from Best Buy. "Beyond the Rim" is a kind of tribute to Richard Biggs (Dr. Franklin) and Andreas Katsulas (G'kar), and recounts the galaxy-spanning adventures of the two men after the time of Babylon 5 and between G'Kar's return from deep space with Lyta Alexander, but before his final meeting with Londo on Centauri Prime.

On a side note, I was able to get a really great deal on the floppies of both the monthly DC series and In Valen's Name (thanks Atomik Comiks!), but I have as yet been unable to acquire a copy of the Lost Tales mini-comic. So if you have one you might be willing to part with for a reasonable price, let me know!)

The Babylon 5 comics are thus not a side-note, but an integral part of the Babylon 5 universe that allowed JMS to greatly expand his overall narrative, and bring new stories to fans who remain hungry for more tales to this day. Who knows, with talk of a big-screen B5 reboot, and JMS's own award-winning comic writing experience, we may yet be treated to a further expansion of the four-color canon. I certainly hope so. Until then, and until next time -

Hold the Line!