Posts Tagged ‘Aleins’

90s Space War SF Programme’s Christmas Message of Peace

January 1, 2022

One of the things I’ve been doing over the Christmas season is watching videos of the old Science Fiction series Space: Above and Beyond on Guy With Beer’s channel on YouTube. Created by X-Files’ writers Glenn Morgan and James Wong, the show followed the adventures of a flight of American space marines fighting a future war between humanity and race of aliens known as the Chigs. Humanity was moving out into the Galaxy and was unaware of intelligent alien life, until the Chigs launched an unprovoked attack on two human colonies. The series heroes were the Wild Cards, whose members included an Asian-American, Paul Wang, a Black female engineer, Damphousse, whose father was the chief engineer in a nuclear power plant; Nathan West, an aspiring colonist for one of the attacked planets. West had been due to go there as a member of a colonising party with his girlfriend, but had lost his place due to an affirmative action programme that gave it instead to a group of in-vitros. These were artificially gestated humans developed to serve as slave labour and an unfree police force. Although now free, they were subject to massive prejudice and widespread discrimination. One of the other members of the Wild Cards, Cooper Hawkes, was one. He had escaped from the In Vitro facility after being told he was due to be killed because his natural born officers regarded him as a failure. He had been arrested by the cops simply for depending himself after a group of natural born humans tried to lynch him simply for getting a job on their building site. The judge at his trial sentenced him to join the marines. Leading the squadron was another woman, ‘Queen’ Vansen. The squadron was based on the space naval vessel, the Saratoga, commanded by Commodore Ross, a Black man, while their immediate commander, Colonel McQueen, was another in vitro. This followed the general pattern of Science Fiction of the time. Like Star Trek, it looked forward to men and women of different races working together in harmony and equality, where they were simply accepted without comment. The issues of racism, prejudice and discrimination was dealt with through the In-Vitros. Behind the scenes was the Aerotech Corporation, the space conglomerate leading the colonisation missions, which may have known far more about the Chigs than they let on. As does a blind American politico aspiring to be chief of the UN. She’s leading a peace initiative to the Chigs and their allies, the AIs, androids created as a police force, who rebelled after someone typed a virus into the computer system governing them with the message, ‘Take a chance’. When she is about to award West with a medal for protecting her against an assassination attempt, he asks if her if the rumours are true and that they knew the Chigs were out there. She says nothing more, but drops the medal on the floor and turns away from him.

The Chigs, a nickname because in their space armour they resemble Chiggers, burrowing tropical flees, remain a mystery until the very end of the series. They remain constantly hidden in their armour. Any attempt to remove it results in them dissolving into a green goo. There are hints of what they look like – the odd clawed, three fingered hand and arm is seen, but their faces are not revealed until the last two programmes when their envoy finally comes aboard the Saratoga to discuss peace terms and finally removes his mask to reveal his true alien features. They’re methane breathers, who come to a moon of their world to incubate their eggs in a special brood chamber. Allied to them are the AIs, who found sanctuary with them after escaping Earth following their defeat by the humans. These run the prisoner of war and forced labour camps, torturing their prisoners and attacking and stealing fuel and vital minerals from mining worldlets in the Oort Cloud. Both the Chigs and the AIs are utterly ruthless, killing without mercy, including the wounded.

The series only lasted for one season of 23 episodes, which seemed to be the lot of the vast majority of SF shows that weren’t Star Trek, although Farscape managed to go for four, plus the three part miniseries, The Peacekeeper Wars, and Babylon Five lasted five seasons. At the time I wondered if it was inspired by the success of the film Starship Troopers directed by Paul Verhoeven. Based on the book by Robert Heinlein, this was about a future war between a militarised humanity and the Bugs, a race of intelligent alien insects. In this future society, only those who had done their military service had the right to vote and enter politics, a view which Heinlein himself held. Verhoeven subverted this by satirically portraying them as Nazis, based on his experience of growing up in the occupied Netherlands. Heinlein also really did believe that war was ennobling experience. But I also wonder if it was partly inspired by Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, about a thousand-year war between humanity and another alien race, the Taureans, which sees one of the recruits, who hasn’t aged thanks to relativistic time dilation, returning to a vastly changed society in which he has no place. It was SF’s treatment of the alienation and maltreatment by the armed forces many squaddies experienced in Vietnam. Space: Above and Beyond, by contrast had no explicit message about war either pro or contra. Rather it was about about a people doing their best to defend their country and planet against a ruthless, genocidal enemy. During this they see their friends die. Paul Wang, initially very religious, loses his faith due to what he has seen and done. There is the constant danger of hospitalisation and permanent trauma from PTSD. And Wang is tortured into making a propaganda video by the AIs, a tactic used by America’s enemies.

The series’ Christmas show had a rather more positive storyline in keeping with the season. It was clearly inspired by the Christmas truce between Brits and Germans at the start of the First World War, as it showed in contemporary footage in a historical flashback. The Wild Cards are sent out on sortie in one of the space Armoured Personnel Carriers. They are discovered and attacked by a Chig squadron, which abandons them for dead. Their ship is disabled and left drifting in space. The radio is damaged so that they can hear the Saratoga looking for them, but not respond. And to cap it all there’s a comet headed right at them.

They are saved when messages in garbled English started coming in for them in Morse code. These messages tell them how to repair their spacecraft enough so that they can put themselves in orbit around the comet instead of getting smashed by it. They’ve been drifting further into Chig territory, but the comet will take them away from it and back to the human lines. It looks like the person sending these messages was not human, Which means he was a Chig.

The programme ended with a written message from the cast and crew of Space: Above and Beyond wishing everyone peace during the holiday season. I thought the series had a lot of potential and was disappointed when it ended. At the time it had the same figures the X-Files had when it started, and there were rumours that it was cancelled so the X-Files could get Morgan and Wong back, but this was denied. My favourite episode was ‘Who Monitors the Birds?’, telling the story of how Hawkes escaped from the in-vitro facility. He had been marked as a failure because he observed birds flying, and had asked the commanding officer training them to be killers, ‘Who monitors the birds?’ When the officer replies, ‘I( do’, he asks, ‘But who monitors you?’ Hawkes is sent on a highly secret mission to assassinate a senior chig general. This goes wrong and his partner is killed. he therefore has to roam the planet fighting to get to the extraction point. During his journey he runs into a Chig trooper, and is about to shoot him when he sees him watching a flying, bird or bat-like creature. Hawkes pauses long enough for the Chig squaddie to move on. He later runs into the same alien again running away from a Chig patrol. They’re about to shoot each other, but put down their guns momentarily to swap dog tags and go their separate ways. Hawkes nevertheless has to shoot him during their next encounter, which naturally upsets him. Punctuating his adventures is a strange woman, appearing as a corpse with grey skin and the marks of decay. She has designs on his body and tries to thrust her attentions on him. At other times she grabs his head to show him the Chig patrols coming for him. And after he pushes her away, she vanishes into thin air. She’s silent or inaudible throughout, except at her final appearance when she says ‘Till next time then’. She is never explained, and you’re left wondering if she’s an hallucination, another alien or what. At the end of the story, Hawkes rips up the contract he was offered, in which he would gain his freedom on killing the alien general. I think it works as a stand-alone story, and is in its way a classic of SF TV, like many episodes of Dr. Who and Star Trek.

Although it was made well over 20 years ago, the series’ seasonal message still remains relevant at this Christmas season. We need peace now as much as ever, with Iran and Israel seemingly gearing up to attack each others’ nuclear facilities, tensions rising with China and with Russia over Ukraine.

May we look forward to peace this year and an easing of tensions, as programmes like Space: Above and Beyond have wished at this season.

Cartoonist Kayfabe Review’s Jack Kirby’s ‘Eternals’ #1

July 7, 2021

This might interest those of my readers, who are into UFOs and the theories about ancient astronauts. Cartoonist Kayfabe is a channel on YouTube hosted by two independent comics creators, Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg, which reviews and talks about comics. In the video below, which they put up yesterday, the pair review the first issue of comics legend Jack Kirby’s book, The Eternals.

Published in the 1970s, this was based on the theories of Erich von Daniken, that humanity had been visited in antiquity by aliens, who had been worshipped as gods. In Kirby’s strip, the aliens were the Celestials or Space Gods, immense giant humanoids wearing weird armour or spacesuits, rather like the world-devouring Galactus of Marvel’s Fantastic Four comic. In the strip the Space Gods had come to Earth in the distant past, genetically engineering humanity’s pre-human ape ancestors. The result was three species of humanoids, the Eternals, humanity and the Deviants. The Eternals possessed immortality and superpowers, and were taken by humans as gods. One of the Eternals is called Ikaris, which is clearly a version of Icarus, the character from Greek myth. While the Eternals were generally benign and largely aloof from human affairs, the Deviants were actively hostile. Their genome was unstable, with a result that they were monstrous in form and envied and hated Eternals and humans for possessing a stable body plan and good looks. One of the Deviant characters was a man, who looked human, and so was hated by the rest of the Deviants and forced to compete in lethal gladiatorial contests for their amusement.

I first came across the Eternals as a back-up strip in the British version of Marvel’s Star Wars comic. From what I remember, the first tale had Ikaris, in disguise as Ike Harris, leading a party of human explorers into an ancient South American temple. The temple is, in reality, a monument to the Space Gods, who then return to Earth. The temple becomes their landing site, with one Space God standing sentinel over it. This then becomes a forbidden zone to the three other species. The Celestials have come to judge their experiments, taking fifty years to make their observations and gather information. If humanity or the other races fail the test, the Space Gods will exterminate them.

Kirby was a master of cosmic art, and this strip shows how skilled he was at drawing beings from outer space of immense power. The various ancient astronauts depicted in the temple’s carvings and statuary are clearly influenced by the art of the ancient South American Indian civilisations such as the Aztecs and Maya. This very much follows the views of von Daniken and similar authors, who interpreted a carving of an ancient Mayan king from the temple of Palenque as portraying an ancient astronaut piloting a space capsule.

There have been a multitude of comics about flying saucers since Kenneth Arnold made his sighting of a group of mysterious objects over the Rockies in 1947, which launched the modern UFO phenomenon. The Eternals is an example of how a similar, related theory – ancient astronauts – also entered popular culture in comic form. I don’t think the strip actually lasted very long. Either I stopped reading it, or the strip disappeared from Star Wars comic after a few issues. Despite this, the characters have remained part of the MCU and a film based on the strip, which I’ve blogged about previously, is currently being filmed, trailers for which have been released. Kirby’s art is awesome, and the strip marked Jolly Jack’s return to Marvel after a period with DC. I think Kirby had left because of his dispute with Marvel and Stan Lee over who had created many of the most iconic Marvel characters. Although he had returned, there still seems to have been considerable resentment against Kirby at Marvel. Piskor and Rugg comment on the overwhelmingly hostile tone of the letters Kirby’s editors at Marvel chose to publish in the comic.

I really enjoyed the first Eternals story and its premise, though I think I got bored with it as the tale went on. I shall be very interested indeed when the film finally comes out, as I’m currently in two minds whether I want to see it. It could be very good, and it’ll be great to see Kirby’s designs for the Space Gods appear on the silver screen. It’ll also be interesting to see what effect, if any, it has on the paranormal milieu. Will it lead to a revival of von Daniken and the ancient astronaut theory?