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"Fleeing Cylon tyranny, the Galactica and her rag tag, fugitive fleet..."


Battlestar Galactica, vol. 1 - 3 2007 (HC & SC TPB) app. 110 pages each

Written by Greg Pak. Illustrated by Nigel Raynor, with Jonathan Lau.
Colours: David Curiel, with Captain Moreno, Insight Studios. Letters: Simon Bowland.

Reprinting: vol. 1 (Battlestar Galactica (Dynamite Entertainment) #0-4, vol. 2 (Battlestar Galactica (Dynamite Entertainment) #5-8, vol. 3 (Battlestar Galactica (Dynamite Entertainment) #9-12

Based on the TV series.

Additional notes: cover gallery; commentary, etc.

Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

I was originally going to review these TPBs one volume at a time, because I often take as my raison d'etre to review things just from the point of view of picking something randomly off a shelf. At the same time, these 13 issues weren't an on going series, but are in fact a mini-series set within the framework of the modern Battlestar Galactica series. So although it is broken up into three acts, sort of allowing for the three TPBs, it is ultimately meant to be viewed as a whole. So I could review each TPB, grumbling that there are plot elements left dangling -- or acknowledge up front that the three volumes are really meant to be read as a whole.

And that whole is pretty good.

The modern Battlestar Galactica TV series received almost universal praise from critics for its dark, gritty, provocative story telling, while also alienating a lot of fans of the original 1970s series, both for the way it has re-imagined the concept, and also (I think) for the undisguised contempt the makers of the new series expressed for the original in interviews. (A little graciousness on their part might've muted the acrimony). Personally, I have decidedly mixed feelings about the new series -- "mixed" being a polite way of saying it hasn't really worked for me, the ideas, the characters, the provocative and politically tinged story lines -- all things that are supposed to be its strong points -- to my mind often seeming poorly, even erratically developed and explored.

Still, on a whim, I picked up Dynamite Entertainment's first issue of their comic book spin off (#0, which was sold at the cheapo introductory price of 25 cents!)...and actually found myself intrigued.

In some ways, I'd argue writer Greg Pak has written a better series than the TV series. The characters are a little more human and sympathetic -- still identifiable as the characters on the show, but a little more likeable, a little more willing to express "sissy" emotions -- as opposed to the macho pissing matches that seemed to characterize the interplay in the series. Though given that the series has a large ensemble cast, many of the key characters barely appear (such as the Chief, or Tigh). Pak throws in plot ideas and cliff hangers that are intriguing, that actually make you go: hmmm, I wonder where this is headed (partly because he's willing to be a little more sci-fi than the TV series). There's also some nice relief provided by humour, something too often lacking from the dour series. The comics are still serious, still dark and emotional, but Pak makes time for some amusing banter and camaraderie. Making it all a little more well-rounded. Pak's handling of dialogue and interplay is highly effective, with a number of the scenes and exchanges lingering with you, without being overstated or heavy handed (a scene where the President tells a halting Adama she knows what his pauses mean but he then, moments later when she pauses, admits he doesn't know what her pauses mean).

The story begins with the Galactica and the rag tag fleet of human survivors (fleeing Cylons, etc., etc.) coming upon a graveyard of old space ships, only to find one of the ships is inhabited by humans -- some related to the characters, and all who are supposed to be dead! Is it a Cylon trick? Or a fulfilment of ancient religious prophecy? These questions are particularly challenging for Comdr. Adama and Starbuck...because one of the "Returners" in the Commander's dead son, Zak (and Starbuck's ex-fiancee). Meanwhile, a human terrorist group is at work in the fleet, and a plague breaks out that's carried by the Returners. And though Adama and others quickly assume the returners are a Cylon plot -- their presence threatens to divide the fleet, because others embrace them, either as long lost family, or as religious symbols. Nor does it help that, Cylon creations or not, the Returners themselves seem to believe they are who they say. And in a nice bit of homage, the comic even recycles an iconic image from the original 1970s series.

And that's just the opening act, in a story that takes a few turns, even leading us back to the core of Cylon territory itself. There's a lot going on, making for a fairly rich story. And though the obvious thought with the returners is: it's a Cylon trick, Pak keeps you wondering. And though Pak's tale isn't as overtly political as some episodes of the series, he actually manages to offer some more intriguing, and plausible, ideas. Whereas in the series they've had terrorists who are simply protesting the conflict (ooooh, those bad ol' peaceniks!) Pak's terrorists are under no illusions about Cylon intentions toward humanity, and their actions are designed to prevent the fleet from finding earth (its stated goal) fearing such an act will simply lead Cylons to the last sanctuary of humanity. An intriguing idea. And if there's a criticism of Pak, it's that like the source TV series, he can throw in ideas...and then not really deal with them. After all, maybe the terrorists have a point. Is the Galactica risking total extinction of the human race in their pursuit of personal survival, like a plague ship seeking to find a friendly port?

Like the TV series, Pak approaches the material as an ensemble cast, so in different scenes and "acts" different characters might seem more prominent. As mentioned, some are definitely short changed (I'm not sure the Chief appears...at all!) and even others can seem to have oddly small parts, such as Lee Adama who even though the Returner Zak is his brother, the emotional repercussions are more explored in Comdr. Adama and Starbuck. Comdr. Adama is fairly front and centre...as is Sharon/Boomer. Or, at least, a version of her -- and since Sharon was one of the more consistently sympathetic characters on the show, it's perhaps a good choice.

Admittedly, since this was written in the middle of the series' second season, no doubt there will be discrepancies in the logic and pseudo-science with later "official" revelations from subsequent seasons of the TV series, but those can be forgiven as Pak is working with what was known at the time. Of course, because this is an arc nestled within the overall series, there are a few references that might confuse someone unfamiliar with the show (it begins with a certain estrangement between Adama and his son and Starbuck) -- but not too much so.

The art by Nigel Raynor is kind of mixed at first, being a bit rough and craggy, where you can generally tell which character is which, even as his evocation of the actors themselves is more uneven (and his handling of the generic leading men type, like Lee and Helo, are pretty indistinguishable). But the art grows on you, and tells the scenes fairly well (though some of the space battles can be a bit confusingly staged). In fact, there are times when he actually seems to evoke some of the actor's body language...though that may've been a coincidence. Some comics-based-on-TV can affect a kind of stiff visual style, as the artist tries too hard to duplicate the actors, and the talking head poses. But not Raynor. In fact, despite my initial ambivalence, once you get into it, I'm finding I quite dig Raynor's art, his composition quite striking, his use of shadows moody and dramatic. In fact, the effectiveness of Raynor's art is most apparent toward the end of this series, where Jonathan Lau provides finishes over Raynor's layouts. The art isn't nearly as effective, though Lau may've been deliberately trying to evoke Raynor with a rough, scratchy style.

There are some weaknesses. Pak's plotting may be clever and sometimes unexpected...but in other ways, he'll set things up, then fail to properly answer them. A character might make an off the cuff remark that, belatedly, you realize was supposed to explain an earlier mystery...when you kind of figured it deserved a more dramatic revelation. Or toward the end, there are no less than two sequences which are explained as dreams...but in one case, it's not clear if it is, or whether that's just what someone wants someone to believe, while in the other, it's not clear when the dream was supposed to have started. And like the series, it revels in a kind of moral ambiguity, where the actions the characters often take can be morally questionable at best, but we are still supposed to like and admire them, 'cause the series isn't about right and wrong -- so its fans tell us. Yet, as I say, Pak maybe pulls it off better because we do sympathize with the characters more.

And Pak also plays with the theme (that I think the series had, as well) that the humans and the Cylons, though regarding each other as the "other"...are more alike than either admit, building to a clever final scene.

I did watch a fair amount of the TV series, even as it didn't fully click for me. But it's with that background that I can say that Pak does do a good job of evoking the series and the characters, so that a fan will find it all identifiable. Yet maybe goes one better than the series, in terms of characters and even plotting. Since the series itself featured a lot of on going plot threads and story arcs, by offering up this 13 chapter epic, he nicely captures the narrative feel of the series, too.

Unlike a lot of TV sci-fi, the modern Battlestar Galactica has offered little in the way of spin-offs -- only one or two novels, and with most of the comics done as kind of peripheral stories, often set before the series itself (perhaps because of the difficulty of trying to squeeze a stand alone original story into the serialized plot lines of the series). In that sense, this arc should be a pleasant treat for fans, as a "lost" arc of the TV series...and is worth a look for those like me who liked the potential of the TV series, but felt it never quite lived up to it.

This is a review of the story as it was serialized in the monthly comic.

Cover price: ___


Battlestar Galactica: Cylon Apocalypse 2007 (SC TPB) 100 pages

cover by Jim StarlinWritten by Javier Grillo-Marxuach. Art by Carlos Rafael.
Colours: Carlos Lopez. Letters: Bill Tortolini.

Reprinting: the four issues mini-series (1997)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

The short-lived 1970s SF TV series, Battlestar Galactica, has spawned a surprising number of comic book interpretations, with everyone from Marvel, to lesser known companies like Maximum and Realm, licensing the property over the years. With the popularity of the new, reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series, Dynamite Entertainment is not only releasing comics based on the new series, but also comics based on the original.

Cylon Apocalypse features the characters and milieu of the 1970s series, and has the Galactica and her rag tag, fugitive fleet coming upon a wormhole that might lead them that much closer to earth...except an entire Cylon planet stands in their way. But when they come upon Cylons destroying infected Cylons, they learn of a virus that targets only Cylons and might prove a potent weapon. (In a story that bears a superficial similarity to an episode of the new series -- though I suppose the idea of a "computer virus" is obvious enough).

Comics and TV writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach (he's worked on Lost among others) claimed he wanted this to feel like an episode of the old TV series, so despite a grandiose title, and the mini-series format, that's what it is. Nothing about the series' is irrevocably changed by the end. When I read the first few issues as they came out, I sort of liked it, and sort of thought it was a bit thin, a bit shy on twists and turns that could justify the serialized format (especially as I don't think it was released on anything like a monthly schedule). Re-reading those issues with the final chapter, I tend to like it more. It clips along, and though I could quibble here and there, there's a general feel for the personalities and flavour of the old series. Though there's not as much use of the characters as you might expect -- after all, if the readers are supposed to read this with a nostalgic affection for the old series, surely it's the characters as much as anything that is the appeal. But Boxey only appears in one scene, Athena and Boomer tend to just float about the peripheries of the scenes, etc.

The art by Carlos Rafael is reasonably appealing. He has a bold, clean-lined style that means the visuals aren't muddy or confused, and his scenes of ships in flight are often quite effective, particularly against a starfield that looks airbrushed. He does manage to evoke some of the actors, though whether that's just because we know who they are (Apollo has dark hair, Starbuck blonde) I don't know. Because there's a certain uniformity to the way he draws faces that wouldn't seem to lend itself too distinguishing the characters. My main problem with the art is that he tends to draw figures a bit blocky and, combined with the clean, simple line work, at times kind of evokes plastic action figures rather than flesh and blood people, as if you're reading an adventure of BSG action figures come to life rather than actors.

Ethically, Cylon Apocalypse is an awkward beast. More and more I realize the use of "metaphor" in sci-fi and fantasy is problematic. Here, are we supposed to take the Cylons literally -- as robot bad guys out to destroy humans -- or as a metaphor for real world -- human -- foes? Taking as the first, okay, this is just about the Galactica finding an effective weapon to use against their inhuman enemies. Taken as the latter, it's basically an endorsement of biological warfare! And, ironically, by having the characters -- briefly -- ponder the moral implications almost makes it worse, because then it's as if Grillo-Marxuach does want us to take it seriously.

In the end, Cylon Apocalypse almost works too well at being an episode of the TV series. It remains fairly light and inconsequential throughout, never quite rising to any emotional heights (despite a section where the characters think Starbuck is dead) nor offering a story that is much more than your usual "the Galactica must destroy another Cylon base" story, lacking any new or original characters -- "guest stars" -- to add some unexpected elements. And, ironically, by giving the humans this super weapon, it actually diminishes the threat -- instead of our heroes being the underdogs, it's the Cylons who seem outmatched.

Yet with that being said, it does succeed on that level -- if not as one of the best episodes, neither is it one of the worst. And because comics have an unlimited budget compared to TV, the action scenes can be a little more spectacular and innovative (they've added grappling lines to the characters' bags of tricks).

This is a review of the story as it was serialzed in the mini-series.

Cover price:


Battlestar Galactica: The Memory Machine 2005 (SC TPB) 160 pages

coverWritten by Roger McKenzie, Bill Mantlo, Tom DeFalco. Art by Rich Buckler, Walt Simonson, Sal Buscema, Pat Broderick. Inks by Klaus Janson
Colours/letters: various. Editor: Al Milgrom.

Reprinting: Battlestar Galactica #6-13 (1979 - originally published by Marvel Comics)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Additional notes: intro by actor Richard Hatch; covers.

Number of readings: 1

Published by Titan Books

With Dynamite Comics producing new BSG comics (of old and new TV series), Titan Books has released a couple of TPBs collecting issues from Marvel Comics late 1970s run. But instead of simply reproducing the comics in order, the first TPB (Saga of a Star World) presented the first 5 comics, then jumped ahead to #15 & 16, leaving the second TPB, The Memory Machine, to present an uninterrupted run from #6-13. Presumably it's because these 8 issues tease along plot threads that eventually reach a climax. So both TPBs can be read on their own, with the Memory Machine even taking on aspects of a graphic "novel" -- wow, comics editors thinking in terms of story! Who'd a thunk it?

As a side point, the first five issues of the comic adapted the pilot movie and one of the TV episodes (which wasn't necessarily a priority for me, since I've already seen the filmed versions), while the two later issues...I happened to have in my collection. So just from my point of view, the decision to break up the comic's run was an even better idea!

Anyway, this collection begins immediately following on the heels of the previous issues which adapted the TV episode, "Lost Planet of the Gods", wherein the Galactica and her fleet had come upon a kind of cosmic void. Whereas the next televised episode had moved on from that, these issues begin with the Galactica still trying to navigate its way out of the black space desert almost as though presenting a run of lost episodes. In the previous issue/episode, Commander Adama had glimpsed a star chart. So here he decides to enter a machine which might help him recall any details of the map that might lead them to their goal: earth. But things go wrong, and Adama is trapped in the memory machine, while the fleet faces a bit of a coup from the duplicitous Sire Uri, and some of the fleet's ships go missing in the void.

When I watched reruns of the old TV series a few years ago, I was surprised at the use of continuity -- unlike most series of its day, events in one episode might influence a later one. So the comics' decision to tease along on going plot threads is kind of appropriate.

Chief writer Roger McKenzie takes a break, so there are a few filler issues in the middle that progress these plots very little, a couple presenting out-of-continuity flashback tales. Then McKenzie returns to deliver a climactic three-parter, bringing a sort of closure to these issues. Except that it ends with a rather significant change to the status quo -- a change that wouldn't be rectified for another few issues of the Marvel run, which would've required a third TPB from Titan (and there's still no sign of a final collection from them).

Anyway...the result of all this is mixed, but generally enjoyable.

Written at the time of the original series, there is a certain clunkiness to the presentation and characterization -- McKenzie, et al, not having the luxury of hindsight to familiarize themselves with the personalities, often relying on short hand (Starbuck always has a cigar in his mouth!). Significantly, it improves as it goes along, with the final three-parter seeming the most evocative of the series' mix of serious drama with light-hearted swashbuckling (the earlier issues are more sombre).

And there is enough of an evocation of the characters that it's certainly not at odds with the series. And there's a nice bent toward emotional scenes and dilemmas for the characters, not just plot-driven stories. And with its limitless "budget", can present stories (and creatures) the series couldn't. The three filler issues, largely divorced from the greater story arc, have a decided "Star Trek" flavour to them, with hints of deeper themes and allegorical undercurrents.

Unlike Dynamite's more recent Classic Battlestar Galactica TPBs, which collect single story arcs, this offers a mix of multi-part stories and sub-plots with a few (relatively) stand alone tales -- from a flashback to Adama visiting a world overly reliant on robots, to one about a creature that can mimic various crew members, resulting in a surprisingly creepy/spooky tone (ala Star Trek's "The Man Trap"), even as it builds to an emotionally satisfying climax. But as such, no one story or plot thread has to be that great, because no one is meant to carry the collection on its own.

The art throughout is a bit uneven. Media tie-in comics can be problematic in the visuals; trying to evoke the actors even as the artist can't be too hamstrung by needing to capture their perfect likeness, and translating the talking head nature of TV to the more energetic, action style needed by still panels. The artists assembled are a perfectly respectable bunch and the art takes on a uniformity because Klaus Janson inks all but one issue. Which is its own problematic aspect. Janson is an inker who can be appealing -- he's certainly distinctive -- and can add a layer of mood and atmosphere to an image. But his thick brush lines can obliterate a lot of the penciller's work. Frankly, I find it hard to believe many (detailed) pencillers were happy to be told Janson would be inking their pencils and I could imagine knowing that might sap some of their enthusiasm for the gig.

Ironically, the late inker Vincent Colletta was apparently quite popular with editors for his ability to meet even the shortest of deadlines...and has largely been vilified by many artists (and fans) because the way he did that was by cavalierly simplifying the pencils (an artist might draw a detailed crowd scene...Colletta would ink it as a simple silhouette). Janson seems to be of a similar school but, for some reason, is respected, whereas Colletta was, as I say, criticized. Part of that is because Janson does bring a style at times (particularly in shading faces) but I remain ambivalent about his work, particularly here.

Still, when Walt Simonson comes aboard for the final three issues, the pairing works a bit better. Simonson's pencils can be a bit rough and messy anyway, yet can be compensated for by dynamic and energetic imagery.

This collection also has an introduction written by actor Richard Hatch, who played Apollo. But it feels as though Hatch just mailed off an essay he was already writing, talking about BSG and his reactions to the new TV series...but making no references to the comics!

Like the series it's derived from, The Memory Machine is a mixed bag, with some clunky writing and cheesiness, even as there are also some decent story ideas and moments of characterization. The art is uneven, but the very variety of material, and the appealing way a few sub-plots are introduced, then brought to fruition, is the sort of thing that -- to me -- makes a collection a nice "collection" (even if, as mentioned, there is another rather obvious thread left dangling).

An enjoyable little hit of nostalgia.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $19.95 USA.


Classic Battlestar Galactica 2007 (SC TPB) 128 pages

Written by Rick Remender. Art by Carlos Rafael.
Colours: Carlos Lopez. Letters: Bill Tortolini.

Reprinting: (Classic) Battlestar Galactica #1-5 (2007)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Additional notes: complete cover gallery (including alternate covers); four page preview of Battlestar Galactica: Cylon Apocalypse.

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

The 1970s SF TV series Battlestar Galactica has had a weird flirtation with popularity -- the original series only lasted one season...but did spawn a (generally poorly regarded) sequel (Galactica 1980). And although frequently knocked and derided, as a cultural touchstone it has endured, eventually spawning a new, critically acclaimed "re-imagined" series in recent years. And though fans of the new series -- and its makers and actors -- have joined the chorus of those ridiculing the original...one can't help but attribute some of their success to the popularity of the original (after all, we don't see too many re-imagined versions of Other World or the Powers of Matthew Star, do we?) Anyway, this ephemereal appeal -- popular enough that creators want to play in its sandbox, but with true mass success elusive -- has led to the more than a few comic book incarnations by various publishers...all still failing to quite score big sales success.

The latest company, Dynamite, is focusing mainly on milking the new series, but has turned its attention to the original version, as well. Though even here, it's hard to guage the success/failure ratio. Dynamite kicked off a Classic Battlestar Galactica comic -- seeming intended to be an on going series. Then cancelled it after five issues, implying sales were underwhelming. Except...those five issues tell a complete story arc, and Dynamite immediately launched into Battlestar Galactica: Cylon Apocalypse, a limited series. So was the first series cancelled...or was it only ever intended to be a five issue mini-series? (Dynamite also published a series based on the new TV show which, though seemingly marketed as an on-going monthly, in fact was a thirteen issue maxi-series). The fact that, so far, Dynamite seems to have shfited all its BSG efforts to projects inspired by the new series would seem to imply the sales weren't exactly stellar...though there's a Catch 22. The Classic Battlestar Galactica comics were actually more expensive (for the same page count) than the new BSG comics -- which alone might deter casual readers.

Anyhoo...

Written by Rick Remender and drawn by Carlos Rafael (the latter drawing the subsequent Cylon Apocalypse) this story arc takes place very early in the chronology of the original series (for hardcore fans, Serina is still alive...and she was killed off just a few episodes into the TV series). Fleeing the Cylons, the Galactica decides to send a tiny raiding party down onto a colony planet overrun by Cylons -- a planet whose national library is supposed to contain information that could help the fleet find earth. But things go wrong, and Starbuck and Boomer crash and are presumed dead. While the Galactica plans to cut its losses and move on, Starbuck and Boomer hook up with a motely gang of human resistance fighters on the planet -- their plan: to snag a Cylon troop transport and evacuate to the Galactica before it leaves the system.

And the overall result is pretty good.

Remender does a good job of catching the kind of contradictory flavour of the TV series -- mixing a Star Wars-style, gee whiz swashbuckler...with a surprisingly dark, downbeat tone that, I would argue, even the new series, despite its accolades, hasn't quite matched. When Starbuck and Boomer are on the planet, meeting up with the last remnants of human resistance, there really is a sense of apocalyptic despair...even as there are quips and daring escapes.

The modern notion in comics of multi-part stories (presumably intended for TPB collection right off the bat) has led to a lot of modern comics where minor plots are stretched out needlessly over multiple issues. And here, the plot isn't exactly an epic saga rife with twists and turns. There are no mysteries to be uncovered, no cryptic Cylon plan to be exposed. But neither does it strain its page count either. It moves along briskly enough, with a decent mix of action and character drama; fun and sobriety. Ironically, Remender sticks with the basic plot for so long, that when the story takes an abrupt turn toward the end, you're amazed he can cram this new plot direction, and resolve it, in one issue! There's an interesting, but problematic, way Remender has the colonists speak in rather stilted dialogue that is presumably meant to emphasize them as a another culture/country...but can make you think Remender has trouble writing dialogue, except the Galactica's crew are written far more naturally.

For Dynamite's inaugural "classic" Galactica story arc, the focus seems curious, with nominal lead, Apollo, basically reduced to a minor supporting part. At the same time, there are appearances by most of the familiar characters, albeit many in only a scene or two. Still, Remender does seem to have a decent feel for the character of Starbuck -- one of those pop characters who it's easy for a writer to presume he knows more than he actually does. Though his Boomer is a bit vaguer -- perhaps a problem with a character who was, himself, a bit ill defined originally, but I would argue in the TV series was meant to be the sobering influence on Apollo and Starbuck.

As mentioned, Rafael drew Cylon Apocalypse (which I'd read first). I had mixed feelings about his art there, but felt it was decent enough, telling the scenes with clarity. And my mixed feelings remain -- it tells the story well, but his figures can be a bit blocky and stiff. And he seems to have trouble drawing more than a limited number of character types. That's more apparent here because, unlike Cylon Apocalypse, there's a larger cast. He basically draws all the men the same, and all the women the same, then adds a scar or grey hair to distinguish them. His women are all raven haired, buxom beauties -- even when depicting characters from the TV show (when Apollo has a talk with Serina, in cleavage displaying nightie and with raven black hair, it's hard to remember she was played by Jane Seymour!) Ironically, his type of woman does in fact suit Athena (Maren Jensen) quite well, so that you really could believe he was trying to capture her facial likeness -- but, ironically, she only appears in a scene or two!

Rafael's depiction of violence is also a bit more graphic than in the TV series, with more blood and (in the Cylons' case) ooze than was the norm.

Although I had reasonably enjoyed Cylon Apocalypse, of Dynamite's two "classic" story arcs, this one emerges as the more successful. It seems a little richer in tone and its mix of elements (character drama/action, fun/grim) and with more "guest stars" to provide a little more "freshness" to the scenes and interaction.

Soft cover price: $__ CDN./ $14.99 USA


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