Monday, January 7, 2019

V #6

V #6

They weren’t our friends

Writer – Cary Bates
Penciller – Carmine Infantino
Inker – Tony DeZuniga
Letterer – Carrie Spiegle
Colorist – Michelle Wolfman
Editor – Marv Wolfman
July 1985

1980’s television was the era of the miniseries and V was definitely one of the biggest. 

The story concept was simple: recast the rise of fascism in 1940’s Germany as an alien invasion of reptiles who hide their true intentions for humanity. As the aliens seize power, they subjugate the media and turn humans against each other with offers of power or wealth. A resistance breaks out to expose the alien’s real motives: the destruction of the human race.

V aired as a two-part television miniseries in 1983 from American writer, producer, and director Kenneth Johnson. Johnson’s goal was to take Sinclair Lewis’s political thriller It Can’t Happen Here and apply the appropriate level of space paint on it to enable him to sell it to the heads of NBC. The network was chasing those Star Wars trilogy dollars still and had already rejected Johnson’s first attempt at a more “down-to-Earth” take of the same novel.

The two-parter, with its hamster-swallowing reptile aliens hiding behind Mission Impossible-caliber head masks, was a big hit even with its cheesy special effects and soap opera sets. One of the better scenes occurs when Abraham Bernstein, a Holocaust survivor, shows a group of kids defacing propaganda signs hung by the aliens how to spray paint each with a large “V” for victory. Even old cheesy tv sci-fi can punch you right in the feels.

And it was so successful that it garnered a second miniseries later that year called V: The Final Battle. The intro to that show gives a great recap to the first series and good background for reading this comic. Like all things on television that get good enough ratings, V: The Final Battle proved to be mislabeled. Series creator Johnson left over creative differences while V:TFB was in production, but the die had been cast. The three part follow-up series was a success and an ongoing TV series ordered.

It’s here that the future of V started to break down. At a cost of one million dollars per episode, V was the most expensive television series to be produced at that time. It brought back all but one of the original the cast members left alive, found a way to remove the red dust Macguffin that killed off the bad aliens in The Final Battle, and set up new humans willing to sell out our future for pieces of alien technology, thus carrying on a struggle between the two races. All should have been good, right?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called it “one of the worst TV sci-fi experiments ever.” They cited the use of stock footage, cast members bailing or being killed off for little reason and so forth, and labeled it “a silly loathsome mess.”

And they weren’t alone.

Despite the high budget, the ongoing was working on half the hourly budget it had for the miniseries. That translated into half the shoot time, half the special effects, costumes and everything, according to Executive Story Consultant David Ambromowitz. And obviously half the time to vet the story being told. The twenty episodes of the first season were the only ones to make it in the can. By then the costly series was sitting outside the top 30 in the Nielsen ratings and NBC dropped the axe on the second season.

It remained popular with sci-fi enthusiasts like Gordon Briggs, who provides a nine minute recap of the entire V experience HERE. Attaining a modest cult status means a property will always be revisited at some point down the line. So, we had ABC revamp the property in 2009 for a series that lasted two seasons…but only 22 episodes…at that mark the show ended far less in terms of actual screen time than the original miniseries and the original TV series.

As for comics, DC got the property right as the ongoing TV series was ramping up. With the writing skills of Cary Bates, the exceptional Carmine Infantino (with occasional issues by Tod Smith) on pencils, and the inking pen of Tony DeZuniga (Alfredo Alcala subbed in one), the book had the right boost to make it to 16 issues. Issues 17 and 18, the final two issues of the series were penned by Paul Kupperberg and featured Denys Cowan and Dick Giordano doing art. Not a slouch in the bunch there and the book was pretty popular with fans of the show. By the final issue however, the comic had outlasted its licensed property. It is rumored that NBC shuttered DC’s ability to continue producing the book.

But all things fall into the Crapbox, including this issue number 6 of V. I’m going to be honest that I wasn’t a big V fan. Sure, we ALL tuned in to watch the alien Diana eat a guinea pig on TV. That stuff is just insane. But the soap opera quality of the acting didn’t sit well with me and I got bored in the long pauses between shootouts. I was a teenager and my attention span varied from property to property. What can I say?

Thus it is lucky that I get to revisit the show via the Crapbox as it has a bit of promise. It’s not going to beat out modern-day movies, don’t get me wrong. But absent a nostalgia factor, there might be some interesting bits happening during V’s running time. Once I find it streaming somewhere that is.

Our issue opens with some promising Carmine Infantino space art, something that makes me pine for some of his Marvel Star Wars stories. This is a cargo ship headed for one of the 50 giant Visitor motherships. It contains something very special.

This one contains two hidden humans: our series lead Mike and his alien resistance friend Willie, who are sneaking aboard the mothership on a rescue mission. They’ve got a friendly guard running interference outside who scares his companion guard from thoroughly searching each box. He does so by bringing up the name of Diana, the dark-haired leader of the “evil” Visitors.

To find out who the pair are on the ship to rescue, we turn back down to the planet. Here we eavesdrop in on Julie and an unidentified resistance member watching a newscast. The reporter tells of Earl Meagan, a world-renowned astronomer who is attempting to broker peace with the visitors. Problem is he has gone missing since meeting with them and as Juile explains in thought bubbles, the astronomer might be a bit cray-cray. 

As Juile slips off to do something foolish, we turn to our favorite duplicitous pair of aliens, Lydia and Charles. They “work” for Diana, the head bad alien, but are constantly undermining her and foiling her plans to make her look bad to their hire ups. Here they are discussing the brain washing that Diana is using on Dr. Meagan and are acting kinda catty to their boss.

Meanwhile, back on a completely different part of Earth, father Tyler Bates is reunited with his son Kyle. Unfortunately, their reunion takes place in a cell of a Visitor mad science prison, where the two are bound to be headed for some crazy anal-probe experiment. Stay strong, dudes!

Thankfully, it looks like rescue for them is just around the corner. And I mean that literally, as resistance extraction team Ham and Chris have been following a tracker put on the elder Bates. Which is lucky, as it looks like the father/son duo might end up like the unfortunate veal shown in that bottom panel if they were kept with the aliens for any length of time.

And if you’re feeling like the story is rocking around from place to place too quickly, you aren’t necessarily alone…but I have good news for you. We are going back up to Diana’s mother ship for quite a bit. First Mike and Willie leave their crates, making sure no one suspects they were occupied. 

While poking around, they trip some alarms, of course. However, the alarms are being monitored by Lydia and Charles. Lydia is able to convince Charles to let the humans take a stab at rescuing the good Dr. Meagan so Diana loses face. 

Not her literal face. I know that happens in this show. But not that. Figuratively.

Meanwhile the Doc’s conversion is going pretty slow as, just like the milkshake machine at every McDonalds, the blasted contraption is broken. 

And while Diana gives strict instructions to fix it fast and then give Dr. Meagan a full blast of the conversion system, the entire communication is overheard by Mike and Willie in one of the ships ventilation shafts. The pair begin to discuss why they worry about the Doc so much. Appears he might be harboring a microscopic nuke on the back of his neck.

Yeah, don’t think of the physics of this one, just go with it. He has a mini-nuke on his neck. They can do that. Because science and stuff.

And it would seem like toasting the head of the alien command and her giant mothership would be a good thing, even at the cost of an astronomer or two (Sorry, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson!). I’ll let Mike explain his convoluted logic…

…the lives the Visitors are already taking is pretty extreme, fellas. And to prove that point, we jump back over to Tyler and Kyle. They are about to be given an injection to end all injections…

…except Ham and Chris make the scene in time to bust them free…

…and end up paying this trio of alien scientists a visit. 

Seems like the three of these chaps are about to try a dose of their own medicine…literally. However, there were only two subjects, yet they had three serums…hmm…how does that add up?

More on “Misfits of Science” in a moment. First, we turn back to Willie and Mike. Seems they get cornered by a lizard alien guard..who promptly gets them behind closed doors and hands them his gun. 

With this chap’s help, our pair of spaceship stowaways have Dr. Meagan loaded on a transport out in no time. 

Of course, as Mike and Willie head for the Earth, we find out that this helpful lizard dude was actually Charley. I suppose our rescue was proceeding too slowly for their liking. Diana soon gets word of the good Doc’s escape and a pursuit begins…

Meanwhile our resistance fighters save everyone from the experimental camp…

…leaving the mutating mad alien doctors an explosive little surprise behind…

I have to state that I like how the book doesn’t pull a lot of punches. It’s no sillier than the actual TV show looked to be and it is packed with a bunch more action. I’m enjoying the issue in spite of my misgivings about the property it is based on.

And on we go to wind up the final plotline of this issue. Julie has taken a Visitor craft to rescue Dr. Meagan when she happens upon Mike, Willie, and the good doctor coming back from the mothership. The sedative on Doc wears off a few moments before she contacts them.

Unfortunately, they haven’t had time to disarm the bomb and the Doc isn’t inclined to let them. He konks Mike on the head and takes his gun while the two ships dock. As a stalemate is reached, Diana’s fighters make haste to their position.

Diana doesn’t care about retrieving anyone but Dr. Meagan, making Mike, Willie, and Julie possible collateral damage. And the good doctor is still determined to take out Diana and her mothership.

As the trio leave the doctor with the other ship, he turns right into the oncoming three fighter craft. 

And of course, as soon as they turn tractor beams on his ship, the bomb goes critical. This takes out the good doctor and all three Visitor attack craft. Julie is devastated. 

Diana is thwarted. And Dr. Meagan is seen as a martyr to the peace process, driving thousands more to rise up against the Visitors.

Neat ending to this one. Bates and Infantino really had something here and if I see anymore of these, I’m sure to scoop them up. I don’t believe the series has been traded and I’d be shocked if it ever will be. Until never, the Crapboxes are the only places you can find these.

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