Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars’

Barry Norman’s 1977 Review of Star Wars

April 29, 2022

Here’s a blast from the past to cheer up fans of Star Wars and who miss the genial, avuncular tones of film critic Barry Norman on their TV screens. I found this little snippet from Film 1977 on YouTube, in which Norman looks at, and actually likes, Star Wars. He states that it has become the biggest grossing film in history, as it was when it first came out, although it’s since been overtaken by Titanic and Avatar. The film contained the right mixture of romantic adventure, including the knights of the round table and Science Fiction. Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi is described as a kind of elderly Sir Galahad with the film also starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. But, adds Norman, the real stars are likely to be the two robots, R2D2 and C3PO. He also mentions how the film was already becoming a merchandising phenomenon. The action figures wouldn’t be out by Christmas, but a whole range of other toys, including ray guns, would. He quotes one Fox executive as saying that it’s not a film but an industry.

The film’s success took writer and director George Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz by surprise. Lucas spent years writing and re-writing the script before it was ready for shooting, and the film was initially rejected by two studios. Even more amazing is that it was shot on the low budget of £6 million – which was obviously worth a lot more in 1977 than it is now – and that the special effects and many of the live action sequences were created by British special effects technicians at Elstree. But none of the film’s massive profits will be coming back to them, unfortunately.

Before Star Wars, Lucas was best known for his film American Graffiti, but the seeds of Star Wars are in an earlier film he made as a 27 year old graduate film student, THX1138. And now, two films later, at the age of 32, Lucas is so rich he need never work again. But there’s no point being jealous, says Norman, adding ‘Damn him!’ He nevertheless concludes that Lucas is a good director who deserves his success.

The review rather surprised me, as I can remember Bazza complaining in the 1980s that there wasn’t a cinema for adults, and Star Wars, while a family flick, was aimed at children. The review surprised me even further with the statement that Lucas is a good director. I think he was, at least in the first trilogy. Unfortunately the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, caused some people to drastically revise their opinion of Lucas as a director. Mark Kermode, reviewing it for BBC radio, declared that Lucas ‘couldn’t direct traffic’, which is far too harsh. I’m not a fan of the The Phantom Menace, which is rather too juvenile for my tastes. But it definitely wasn’t the Nazi propaganda flick poet and critic Tom Paulin claimed it was in a bug-eyed bonkers segment for the Beeb’s Late Review. And watching the next two prequels on DVD, I found that they recaptured some of the wonder and excitement I’d had watching the original trilogy as a child in the ’70s and ’80s.

As for Bazza, his retirement from the show and death a few years ago has, in my opinion, left a hole in the Beeb’s film criticism. Yes, Kermode and Mayo are good on Radio 2, and Kermode’s series a few years ago on the essential elements and plot structures of various film genres was very good. The Beeb did try bringing in Jonathan Ross and then a couple of female presenters, one of whom I believe was Claudia Winkleman, to replace Bazza on Film –. Ross was responsible for the Incredibly Strange Film Show on Channel 4, in which he reviewed some truly bizarre and transgressive movies. At least one of these was by John Waters, the man responsible for Hairspray amongst other assaults on the cinematic sensibilities of the mainstream American public. I was afraid when Wossy took over that he’d drag the show downmarket. But he didn’t. He was knowledgeable and intelligent, offering reasoned criticism and insight. Nevertheless, neither he nor the two ladies could match Norman and his quiet, genial tones giving his opinion on that year’s films. Bazza was so popular, in fact, that 2000AD sent him up as an alien film critic, Barry Abnormal, in the story ‘DR and Quinch Go To Hollywood’. This was about a pair of alien juvenile delinquents trying to make a movie from a script they’d stolen from an alcoholic writer after he’d passed out and they thought he was dead. The film stars Marlon, a parody of a certain late Mr Brando. Marlon is illiterate, but his acting is so powerful, as well as the fact that no-one can understand a word he says, that people so far haven’t actually figured that out. Marlon dies, crushed by an enormous pile of oranges after trying to take one from the bottom of the pile. Which Dr and Quinch film and release as ‘Mind the Oranges, Marlon!’

It’s good to see Barry Norman giving his surprisingly positive views about Star Wars, 45 years, and many films, as well as countless books, comics and toys later. Star Wars is, I believe, very firmly a part of modern popular culture, as shown by the way it’s casually discussed by the characters in the film Clerks and the Channel 4 TV series, Spaced. And Norman himself, though having departed our screens years ago, is still fondly remembered by fans of his series, even if we didn’t always agree with him.

And why not?

Model Millennium Falcon Levitating over Sand Dunes

March 11, 2022

This is another awesome video about unorthodox flight technology, although here it’s magnetic levitation rather than ionic propulsion. From the ‘Glen Makes’ channel on YouTube, it shows a diorama of Han Solo’s spaceship, the Millennium Falcon, hovering above sand dunes being made. The spaceship’s held up by magnetic levitation. It’s an amazing piece of work.

The possibility that magnets could be used to levitate objects has been around since the Middle Ages. One of the legends going round medieval Europe, for example, was that Arab natural philosophers had used magnets in the construction of Mohammed’s tomb, so that it appeared to float in the air. And then in the 18th century Swift, in Gulliver’s Travels, has a country of scientists float around the world on an island held up by a giant magnet. Gullliver’s Travels is a satire against some of the policies and attitudes of the times, and I think this part of the book is a dig at the Royal Society.

Looking at this and other technologies, I think there’s great potential for them to be used in high art. One of the sketches I found recently in one of the books of SF art I’ve read was of a similarly floating obelisk on an alien world. Something like that could be made for real, I feel. But instead what passes for official art is Conceptualism, though I think that’s been rather passe since its heyday in the ’90s. And compared to the artistic possibilities opened up by technology, it just seems even more banal than ever.

But applause and respect to this expert piece of modelling and its maker!

Alex Belfield Spreading Fear and Suspicion about Armed Windsor Castle Intruder

December 28, 2021

I hope everyone’s had a great Christmas and/or holiday season, depending on their religious beliefs or lack thereof, despite the threat of another lockdown. Still, if it saves a few lives from the Coronavirus, it will have been worth it no matter how awkward and difficult it is for the rest of us. I really shouldn’t be giving the mad right-wing YouTuber Alex Belfield any more publicity, but I caught one of his videos today commenting on the intruder, who tried to get into Windsor Castle with a crossbow to kill the Queen. According to the news, the would-be assassin was a 19 year old man, Jaswant Singh Chail. Chail said that he wanted to kill her to avenge the 1919 Jallianabagh massacre, in which British troopers fired on unarmed protesters in the Punjab. He also wanted to avenge everyone who had suffered racist persecution. Chail is believed to have mental health problems, and his father has said something about him hopefully getting the help he needs. As the lad has also declared that, in addition to being a Sikh, he’s also a Sith called ‘Darth Jones’, I think his father and the arresting authorities are probably right. But not so Belfield. He has said he finds it interesting that Chail’s been diagnosed as mentally ill following his intrusion, and thinks that there is an elephant in the room we’re not being told about.

This seems to me to be wrong and potentially dangerous. I might be reading him wrong – I hope I am – but it looks like a piece of dog whistle racism.

I don’t believe for a single minute that this is the case. I realise that there is good and bad in every people, but the Sikhs I’ve met weren’t any kind of angry fanatics. I used to work with a Sikh lad, who was very spiritual and wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a goose. In fact, he was worried about the sectarian tension and violence between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in India. A few years ago I was on the bus and there was an older Sikh man in full traditional costume, turban, orange sash and robes standing near the driver, and the two were laughing and chatting. When I was studying religion as part of my minor degree at College back in the 1980s, as part of the course on sociology of religion we had to go to a different place of worship and observe what was going on. I’m an Anglican with Roman Catholic relatives, so they simply took me to the local Catholic church for mass. One of the girls in the class was taken by her sister to a Sikh wedding. The girls were Christians, but were nevertheless made very welcome by the people there. As far as I can remember, the last time there was mass protests or disaffection in the British Sikh community, it was in the 1970s when the government brought in the law that bikers had to wear helmets. I think some Sikhs protested because it made it difficult for them to wear the turban. And that was very definitely decades ago.

So no, I don’t believe there is more to it than an angry young man, who’s spent too long brooding about an historical injustice and no doubt his own experiences as a victim of racism. He may not be serious about the claim to be a Sith. ‘Darth Jones’ sounds like a spoof of a Sith name, rather than something genuine sinister like Darth Sidious, but I don’t think there’s any more to it than a grotesque sense of personal grievance.

It really does look to me like he was a disturbed loner, and any suggestion that there’s more to it is just dangerous fear-mongering.

Six Robot Animals from Festo Robotics

December 17, 2021

Here’s another fascinating little video about robots. It’s not just humanoid robots that the cybernetics companies are developing, quite apart from the machines that aren’t intended to resemble people, like the industrial robotic arms. They’ve also been developing robot animals. Boston Robotics did it with their ‘Big Dog’ robots, which were intended as carriers for the American army. The project eventually failed because the noise from the machines’ electric motors would have been too loud for the stealth needed on combat missions. The machines, however, do strongly resemble dogs. Festo Robotics have taken this further and developed robotic versions of various animals, as this video from Inventions World on YouTube shows. The machines are a flying fox; jellyfish; a wheelbot, that can curl up and roll along before uncurling itself to walk on crab-like feet, somewhat like the robots that Obi Wan Kenobi and his teacher first encounter aboard the Trade Federation’s craft in the first Star Wars prequel, the Phantom Menace; a bird; butterflies; and a kangaroo. Well, actually the last one is more like a wallaby. It’s not as large as an Australian kangaroo. But this one clearly has some intelligence, as the video shows a young woman telling it turn round and move to a different place by pointing. I think she’s able to control it through a device wrapped around one of her arms.

These are amazing machines, beautiful and graceful. I wonder what a whole ecology of such robots would be like. There have been attempts to depict such an environment. There was a short-lived strip in 2000 AD, ‘Metalzoic’, set in the far future when humanity had been ousted as the dominant creature on Earth by robots with the ability to reproduce. There was thus a whole ecology of robot animals, and the strip followed the adventures of a group of robot cave people as they sought out the God-Beast, a robot mammoth which contained the master programme controlling this mechanical world. And a few years before that, Valiant ran a story in their ‘Spider’ strip, in which the brooding genius and his minions were forced into fighting another evil genius, who had created his own synthetic robotic environment on his secret island. ‘The Spider’ was a British strip that had zilch to do with Marvel’s Spiderman. According to the Bronze Age of Blogs, now sadly closed down, ‘The Spider’ was a criminal mastermind, who had decided to fight other criminals because they were too stupid or otherwise beneath him. You wouldn’t know it from reading the strip, as until art robot Kevin O’Neil introduced it in 2000 AD, artists, writers and letterers weren’t credited in British comics, but the writer on the strip was Joe Siegel, one of the co-creators of Superman! These machines would also have delighted the Futurists, although I fear they had a darker, more violent purpose for them. One of their manifestoes called for the creation of biomechanical animals to train boys in war. I’d rather have such creatures made for the sheer delight of their invention and their graceful beauty. The bird in particular reminds me of one of the characters in M. John Harrison’s science fantasy novel, The Pastel City, who makes robot birds. As a result, his castle is surround by flocks of them. Perhaps as the technology advances we might expect similar robots along with the other robotic toys now available.

Blue Man Group Give Young Fan State of the Art Artificial Arm

December 5, 2021

Here’s something a bit more positive for a Sunday morning. The Blue Man Group are a group of musicians, who use the personae of blue aliens to explore music and culture from the standpoint of slightly confused outsiders. Yesterday I put up a video of the Blue Man Group performing with Kuka industrial robots. In this video, they meet a young fan, Wyatt, who’s a Heavy Metal fan. Wyatt’s autistic and had an arm amputated as a baby. The group has been working with a company specialising in the manufacture of artificial limbs, Limbitless Solutions. They produce artificial arms in various styles as desired by the user. And Wyatt wanted one in the style of his heroes, which they were delighted to give him.

This is obviously a good advert for the companies involved in the creation of the arm, but it shows the amazing advances that have been made in recent years in the creation of the such artificial limbs. There’s a similar company over here in Britain, which was set up as a spin-off from the robotics department of the University of the West of England here in Bristol. This also produces artificial limbs in various styles, and was in negotiation to create arms like those of C-3PO and other Hollywood robots. This is where robots and prosthetics are becoming works of art as well as practical machines, and it’s great to see them benefiting the people who need and rely on them.

Jodorowsky and Waititi Talk about the Prospective Incal Movie

November 10, 2021

Yesterday I put up a video from Quinn’s Ideas discussing the filming of the French SF comic The Incal by New Zealand director Taika Waititi. The comic was created by the Chilean-French surrealist film director, Alejandro Jodorowsky and French comics legend Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud. I found this video on YouTube by Humanoids Inc. in which Jodorowsky and Waititi talk about the movie. I think Humanoids Inc. must be the current legal title of Les Humanoides Associes, which was the name adopted by the group of French comics creators behind the influential SF comic Metal Hurlant of which Jodorowsky and Moebius were a part.

The video begins with an extract from Frank Pavich’s 2013 documentary, Jodoroswky’s Dune in which Jodorowsky explains that after the failure of his attempt to film Frank Herbert’s Dune, he took his material and put into the Incal, which became his Dune. It moves to the present day, where Jodorowsky says that if he was forty, he’d be angry and depressed that someone else was filming The Incal, because he’d feel that it had been taken away from him. But as he’s 92, he can’t – physically can’t – do it himself. Jododrowsky nevertheless seems to have confidence in Waititi, but declares that the film director is God. He controls everything in a movie. And he’s not interested in directors who are only concerned with making money, but with those who want to change the world. Well, this was his attitude when he set about filming Dune in the 1970s. He says in Pavich’s documentary that he wanted to make a movie like the coming of a god. The video then moves on Waititi, who says that he always finds something new in The Incal when reading and re-reading it. He was attracted to the book because it deals with fundamental questions about who we are and what we’re all looking for, and he likes the idea that the hero bumbles about, not really knowing what he’s doing. He compares him to Jack Nicholson’s character in Chinatown, who similarly doesn’t really know what he’s doing and has a clownish appearance due to the plaster across his nose. The Incal’s hero is also bumbler but at the same time the most important man in the universe.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is one of the great unmade films. The ideas and concept art developed for the movie not only produced Jodorowsy’s series of Incal books, but also his The Metabarons. They also influenced later films like Star Wars and Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. This could be a great, stylish but weird film, given Jodorowsky’s roots in surrealism and the source material. It’ll be interesting to see how it all turns out.

Taika Waititi Adapting Jodorowsy’s ‘The Incal’

November 9, 2021

Here’s another piece of fascinating SF news from Quinn’s Ideas on YouTube. Apparently the New Zealand director, Taika Waititi is adapting Alejandro Jodorowsky’s SF comic/ graphic novel, The Incal. Jodorowsky’s a Chilean-French surrealist film maker and comics writer, among whose bizarre cinematics works is The Holy Mountain. I can’t remember if it’s that film or one of his others that contains a battle between Conquistadors and Incas played by frogs in period costumes. Jodorowsky tried to make a version of Dune in the early ’70s. This would have starred his son, Brontis, as Paul Atreides, Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha. The concept artists included Salvador Dali, H.R. Giger and Chris Foss. The film was never due to the producers pulling the funding as costs escalated. However, as Quinn explains, Jodorowsky used some of the material and ideas he had developed for the movie and, with French comics maestro Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, turned it into The Incal.

There are three books in the series, Before the Incal, The Incal and Final Incal. The Incal was the first published with art by Moebius, who did not draw the other three books although the art is still good. Jodorowsky’s Dune, although never made, nevertheless inspired a series of other movies including Star Wars and Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. The books follow the adventures of John De Fool, whose name is quite intentional and who is a fool figure while simultaneously being the most important person in the universe. The book’s are about his quest to obtain the Incal of the title, the most valuable object in the universe. Quinn wonders if the character of Fry from Futurama may also have been inspired by him. Futurama’s artwork is similar and Fry is also a fool. Quinn states that The Incal is very strange and not for everyone. In addition to it, Jodorowsky also created the Metabarons comics, which contains rather more of his Dune material. Quinn states that he knows Waititi best from his comedy films. One of these was the vampire comedy, What We Do In The Shadows. He therefore wonders how he’ll get on with the more serious material in The Incal, although this also has elements of comedy. Quinn also makes the point that it’s a great time for SF film and television, with Dune in the cinemas, Asimov’s Foundation on Apple TV and the news that Dan Simmons’ Hyperion is also being adapted.

This is interesting news, though I do wonder just how similar The Incal and the Metabarons are to Frank Herbert’s novel. I suspect that while they were inspired by Dune they’re actually very different. From what I understand of Jodorowsky movie, it would have been significantly different from Herbert’s book. And while I hope that this goes ahead, I also wonder how successful the film will be amongst anglophone audiences. Moebius and The Incal are well-known amongst comics fandom. BBC 4 screened a documentary about the great French comics artist a few years ago and I remember how, way back in the 1990s, his international cache was so strong, Marvel persuaded him to draw the Silver Surfer strip for them. However there is the problem of whether audiences outside France will be familiar enough with the comics to want to see the film. The film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was based on the long-running French SF strip, Valerian. This was a flop, and it has been suggested that one of the reasons it did was that international audiences simply weren’t familiar enough with the French strip to be interested. I’m not sure how true that is, as I think the film should still have been able to draw in audiences on its own merits even if most people didn’t know about the source comic. The Incal, however, might be in a better position in this regard as I think more SF fans across the world have heard about Jodorowsky and Moebius. Jodoroswky is involved with the film in any case, and so it should be very interesting to see how Waititi translates it to the big screen.

Image of the Dystopian Future: A Chinese Rooftop Slum

November 5, 2021

I’ve been reading a number of books on SF art recently. One of these is Prentis Rollins’ How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias (Monacelli Press 2016). Rollins is a British artist, who has worked on a number of comics for DC and Marvel, as well as various a couple of graphic novels. The book’s subitled’ Create the Futuristic Humans, Aliens, robots, Vehicles, and Cities of Your Dreams and Nightmares’.

The first section of the book gives some basic information on drawing – the face, proportion, anatomy, perspective and so on. But much of the book is his own pictures of various science fictional scenes, which can be roughly assembled into a future history. These show cities devastated by nuclear war, roving tower blocks on tank treads, humans exploring alien landscapes, and the aliens monuments they discover, spaceships, human and alien, and land vehicles, including the trucks of the future. One picture also shows a secret time machine hidden in a bunker in Surrey, alternative histories, like a noble British steampunk family, a war robot created to fight the Vietnam War, new Martians evolved from human colonists, but which don’t look remotely human, meeting the terran emperor. Finally there is a picture of Earth’s distant, utopian future, in which the landscape is dominated by a huge city unlike anything now built.

Each picture is accompanied by Rollins’ own description of how he completed them, taking you step by step through the process by which he transformed his pencil drawings into the superb finished art. He also shows still from some of the great SF movies and TV that have inspired him. This includes Star Trek and Star Wars, Metropolis, Georges Melies’ A Trip to the Moon, and the Alexander Korda’s 1936 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ Things to Come.

One of the suggestions Rollins makes in the book is that as the global temperature continues to rise, humanity will move higher into the atmosphere to escape the heat. This will result in a network of Earth-girdling buildings strung out on miles’ high skyscrapers. But before that happens, there will be more familiar high-rise slums like this one he depicts for Shenzen in 2100. The Earth’s population has expanded massively, with people crammed into such high-rise cities. Water is desperately short, so it is used only for drinking. There is none to spare for putting out fires, which are left to burn themselves out.

It’s a chilling prediction, and one that is alas all too credible. Especially as Rollins shows the photos he took of contemporary Hong Kong which he used as reference. I’m putting this image up because I feel that it could come true despite international talking-shops on climate change and the environmental crisis like COP26. An event at which our own prime minister showed once again what I bumbling clown he is. David Attenborough, who had the misfortune to be seated next to him, and Greta Thunberg are right: we need solid action on climate change. But we aren’t going to get it from Boris.

Prentis Rollins’ book is a great collection of SF art from the imagination of one of the comics industry’s many great artists. Like many artists, Rollins also uses computers as well as pencil, pen and ink, and I think this may be a little beyond some aspiring SF artists. But the art is great, and should fire the imaginations of its readers and inspire them to create their own great SF works in their turn.

Quinn Looks at the Rave Reviews for Dune

September 5, 2021

Here’s a bit of fun to kick off Sunday. Quinn, the man behind the aptly named ‘Quinn’s Ideas’, is a Black American SF/comics writer and creator. He has a taste in classic SF tales of star-spanning galactic empires extending over centuries and millennia, intelligent stories that are part of the tradition of SF as ‘the literature of ideas’. Books like Asimov’s Foundation series, Dan Simmon’s Hyperion and especially, Frank Herbert’s Dune. Dune has now been adapted by Denis Villeneuve, the French-Canadian director behind Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival. Dune opens in America the end of October. I think it might the 20th, but I’m not sure. However, the critics have seen it, and the reviews are in. They rave about it!

Quinn wonders if his audience can tell that he can hardly contain his excitement. Well, it is noticeable. He’s almost shaking with joy and expectation. The critics have loved the film, including the musical score by Hans Zimmer. Amongst the praise, one critics compares it to the moment audiences first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. This is high praise indeed! 2001 has dated, but it still one of the great SF films of all time. I was a junior school kid when I first saw Star War, and it completely blew me away. Michael Frayn, the literature professor and broadcaster, said in an interview about his favourite movies that he saw it, and the first moments immediately seized and amazed you. This was the moment the star destroyer appeared in pursuit of the princess Leia’s rebel ship. It appeared and grew and continued growing.

Quinn hopes the film lives up to this hype, as he wants it to be remembered as the cinematic version of Dune, not the 1980s David Lynch version. This took liberties with the book. One of these was the portrayal of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. He was presented as a stupid, screaming madman. As Quinn says, the Dune miniseries was much better, although it had a much lower budget and the costumes were ridiculous. I have to differ from him here. I do agree with him that the Dune miniseries is an excellent adaptation, especially in the portrayal of the Baron. He’s closer to the character in the book, camp, but intelligent, subtle and cunning. I don’t know about the book, but the miniseries made him a kind of Shakespearean villain. He hated the Atreides because of the way that House looked down upon his family for generations. It recalled the line from King Lear where Edmund rants about how he is marginalised and excluded because he is a bastard, and so excluded from the throne. The Baron in the miniseries also versifies, celebrating his coming victories in rhyming couplets or haikus. Where I disagree is that I don’t think the costumes are ridiculous. I think the costume designer took his inspiration partly from 16th century Europe, shown in the uniform of the emperor’s Sardaukar shock troops, and also east Asia. The Harkonnen armour looks very much like it was inspired by Japanese samurai. Of course, it’s space age version of sixteenth century and Japanese armour and fashions. The costume of the guild ambassadors with their curiously curved headgear looks like it was inspired by some of the weird hats in Moebius, such as the one worn by his hero Arzach. I do, however, dislike the Fremen costume. I realise this is supposed to be clothes worn by harassed, persecuted desert-dwellers, but it’s tough rough and crude. The traditional clothes worn by modern desert peoples, like the Bedouin, are of much better quality even though these peoples may also be poor. I also found the miniseries’ version of the still suits, which collects the characters waste fluids from sweat, urine and faeces, and reprocesses them into drinkable water so that they can survive in the desert, disappointing. But then I don’t think they could ever match up to the stylish suits in the David Lynch movie.

I’m really looking forward to the new Dune movie, and hope to see it at the movies here, lockdown permitting. The trailers look superb and selected critics, including Quinn himself, were invited to special screenings of the first ten minutes of the movie. This massively impressed them. I’m a fan of both David Lynch’s Dune, which I consider to be a flawed masterpiece, and the miniseries. But I really hope Villeneuve’s version lives up to the hype. As Quinn’s commenters point out, what impresses the critics and the ordinary person in the auditorium are two different things. Blade Runner 2049 impressed the critics, but audience were much less impressed. It may be the same with his Dune, though I sincerely hope not. Any way, here’s the video he posted, so judge for yourself from his comments.

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?