Thursday, June 28, 2007

52: 1-13

As 52 was coming out, I was uncertain whether I’d ever bother reading it. I’ll give pretty much anything that Grant Morrison writes a look, but I wasn’t sure if it would be worth my time to slog through a book that was only a quarter Morrison. I thought that I didn’t have that much attachment to the DC Universe, and this seemed to be a project mired in obsessive continuity and obscure characters. But, with the first trade coming out at $20 for 13 issues, I figured it was worth a look and I am extremely happy that I did.

Growing up, I was always a bigger fan of the Marvel Universe than DC. The DC heroes were icons, inapproachable godlike characters, not the more relatable street level characters of Marvel’s books. Plus, DC had such a lengthy, convoluted history, it was impossible to keep track of who was who and what sort of relationships they had with each other. I think the DCU lacked any sort of direction, but recent years have seen increased focus and cohesion that’s led to some interesting books. While it was obviously a highly controversial and not entirely successful work, I admire Identity Crisis for crafting a story that has consequences and is a bedrock event other writers can work from. Having read that book, I can understand Zatanna’s motivation in her series, as well as Ralph’s in this book.

I didn’t read Infinite Crisis, so I’m not sure about the details of everything that led up to 52, but I’ve come to realize that’s not necessarily a problem. The book that turned me around on the DCU, and is the clear predecessor to this book, is Seven Soldiers. I loved that series like I have very few other works of fiction. Each of the seven miniseries was a seminal work for me, creating a character who I really wanted to see more of. While the series is self contained to some extent, it’s awesome to know that these characters have lives outside of the four issue series. So, seeing five of the soldiers turn up in issue 1 was incredible, as was the Ali Ka Zoom cameo in issue five.

But, beyond the specific joy of the series, what I loved about the series was its take on street level superheroes. The soldiers were ordinary people, living in the shadow of the legendary JLAers. Morrison has talked a lot about making the DCU sentient, and part of that is developing it beyond just those central characters, showing what life is like for both ordinary people and for lower level superheroes. Seeing the treatment of Superman and other high level superheroes in that book made it easier for me to understand Morrison’s JLA. Those characters weren’t meant to be approachable or traditionally human because they’re not. They are icons, gods, and they’re going to be fighting the biggest foes, while Bulleteer battles Sally Sonic down on Earth.

The mission of Seven Soldiers was to develop obscure DC characters into viable vehicles for future stories. It worked for me, I’d love to see someone tackle ongoing books with any of those characters. 52 is doing a similar thing, by taking Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman out of action we get to focus on a variety of characters, ranging from low level JLAers to quasi villains and detectives. I was expecting the series to be entertaining enough, but right from the first issue I was completely hooked and I quickly sped through the rest of the issues.

What makes this series different from most comics today is that it’s not based on a film structure, i.e. one big story that will resolve itself at the end of six issues or so. Instead, we’ve got something that’s structured like Claremont’s X-Men meets a Robert Altman film, as we move through a massive number of subplots which gradually progress over the weeks. It’s closer to a TV series, and for an ongoing series, that’s what I like. I love long form narrative and, as a single 52 issue story, you don’t get much more longform than this. I also really like the way we move in and out of the characters’ lives. The weekly format meant hat they could not have a character appear for four issues, without four months of real time elapsing. The weekly format is ideal for stories like this, and I think they did a great job of utilizing it to their advantage.

But what about the stories themselves? As an ensemble series, some of the plots are inevitably going to be better than others, but there’s few clunkers here, nearly everything is compelling. I’ll start with the storylines that aren’t working so well. Steel’s family drama is soap opera in a bad way, with a lot of pointless angst. The character is meant to be an everyman, and that kind of character works best when placed in weird surroundings, as Morrison did with Buddy in Animal Man and Cliff in Doom Patrol. There, their normality served as an anchor for the audience to cling to while all the craziness was going on. Steel’s story is just bad melodrama.

The other plotline that isn’t entirely working for me is the Renee Montoya stuff. It’s not bad, it’s just not as fun as the crazy pop of the other storylines. It feels like they just wanted to give Greg Rucka something to do, and as a result had him put his pet character through this lengthy mystery. The noir voiceover is a bit cliché, and the relationship between Renee and Kate isn’t totally working. But, there’s some good moments here too. I like the moment when we first see Batwoman. As Rucka talks about in the bonus material, this was a moment that needed to be a splash page. Because the book is generally so compact and narratively dense, the splash page has real impact. I hate books that overuse splash pages because it drains it of any effect. In the closing run of Transmetropolitan, Warren Ellis would inevitably pepper each issue with full page shots of the city in the rain, and by using them so much, without any denser pages in between, they lost any meaning. It’s all about contrast.

My favorite storyline so far is the heroes stranded on the planet. We get to see Morrison writing Animal Man again, which is great. It was largely the character’s rather generic background that allowed Morrison to turn him into a blank canvas for the epic metafictional journey that was his run on the book. But, before he could tear Buddy’s world apart, he had to build it up and we see that reflected here. Not only does Buddy appear, we also get to see his wife and kids again. Ellen has thankfully ditched the awful 80s white afro she was sporting back then, though it’s odd to see her change, twenty years pass, and Buddy’s daughter remain the same age. But, on the sliding continuity scale, I suppose the adventures of Morrison’s run only happened a few years ago. I really need to reread that run, it’s been nearly four years.

The fun of the stranded planet stuff, and the series as a whole, is the way the series embraces the sometimes ridiculous nature of superhero comics and uses those narrative rules as the underlying principles of its universe. This is a world where someone gets stranded in space and we just accept that, it’s a world where people routinely come back from the dead, a world where strange occurrences happen and people just accept them as part of what life is.

Issue five is the best of the series so far, full of crazy Morrison stuff, like the giant Hawkgirl and the great page where Alan Scott describes the aftereffect of the rift closing. That’s a really dynamic page layout, which sets the stage for the stranded planet stuff. This is pure pulp fun, working in the same vein as Seven Soldiers, embracing the absurdity and fun of classic superhero comics but bringing more emotional reality to things. I love how Adam Strange has no eyes, and Buddy’s total disinterest in Starfire’s shower. Starfire wants to have fun, Buddy wants to get back to his family and Adam Strange is just trying to do his hero thing. It’s a fun dynamic with a lot of story potential. I generally don’t like when superhero comics bring in space because it usually leads to bad stories. But this is so fun, I’m giving them the pass.

My other favorite storyline is the troubled adventures of Booster Gold in the distant past. The idea of a time traveling superhero using his knowledge of past events to be at the right place and right time to save people is pure Morrison, raising all kinds of questions about the nature of the future. Is this an Invisibles style situation, where Booster actually was in the past and he’s just completing the time loop? I don’t think so, primarily because he’s already seen disparities between his account of the past and what actually happens. However, it’s also possible that they write history this way so that he will do the same things he did, thus ensuring that the current timeline works itself out. At this point, it’s unclear, but something is definitely up with Skeets.

Regardless of the future issues, Booster’s got a lot of interesting stuff happening to him. He is completely lacking in traditional morality, hoping only to make a name, and money, for himself. The corporate sponsorship jokes wear a bit thin, the omnipresent advertising on his jumpsuit telling us all we need to know. It’s been interesting to watch him go from ultra confident smooth talking hero at the beginning to rejected loner by the end of the volume. The incident with Manthrax is great stuff, it’s so tough watching Booster get betrayed, his scheme exposed and everything come crashing down. Even though he’s a scoundrel, we like him. I’m assuming he’ll eventually discover the true meaning of heroism, but for now we’re left with a series of brutal rebukes, most notably the great scene with him and Ralph Dibny.

Ralph has the DCU’s punching bag for a few years now, and he spirals out of control over the course of these issues. As I mentioned before, having Identity Crisis as a touchstone is critical to the success of his story here, we understand the pain he’s feeling and his desperation as he tries to find some way to get Sue back. There’s some over the top stuff in this story, but it all builds well to the climax of issue thirteen, where Ralph tries to go through with the resurrection ritual and winds up with a creepy moving wicker Sue. In this world, it is possible that they could bring her back, and Ralph’s incredulity at what his friends did is legitimate pain. That was good stuff, but I still feel like Ralph goes a bit too far over the top sometimes.

Another interesting thread is Lex Luthor’s metagene program. This is another very Grant-y concept, particularly interesting in light of how Grant presents Lex in All Star Superman. There, Lex was jealous of what Superman could do, and felt like Superman inevitably made regular humans less in comparison. Here, we see Luthor trying to level the playing field and make everyone a superhero. Why exactly is this such a bad thing? Is it simply that Luthor’s behind it and something sinister must be going on, or is it more that our heroes are worried that if everyone has powers, they’re no longer special. I’m reminded of the great moment at the end of Grant’s JLA run where everyone is given superpowers for a day and they form into an army that battles some massive alien force. Oracle says “All this amazing stuff you're seeing and feeling is what Superman feels like all the time. It's why he wants to save us.” Can Lex give that to the people, or is he simply exploiting the absence of Superman and Batman? I’d lean towards the latter.

The most interesting thread cropping up near the end of the Volume is Black Adam’s attempt to remake his world using his superpowers. Black Adam seems to be another spin on the Captain Marvel archetype, and there’s clear echoes of Alan Moore’s Miracleman work here. There, we saw Miracleman remake all of society in his image, can Black Adam do the same, and create a viable new world in his kingdom? I really like the dynamic between him and Isis. As Adrianna, she was completely subject to Black Adam, but when she transforms into Isis, she gains control and is able to lean Adam down a new path. I’d imagine things will end in some form of tragedy, since heroes can’t really change the world. If Black Adam does that, it’d make Superman look ineffectual in comparison. But, I love what’s going on there, the relationship between them, and the way she opens him up to new ways of being. I’m really curious to see where that goes.

And, the cover of issue twelve is one of the best depictions of superheroes in love since the sequence where Miracleman and Miraclewoman fuck in the sky in Miracleman #16, or Superman and Lois on the moon in All Star Superman #3. They just seem to be so much more than we are, they are something we can aspire to be. I really hope things do go well for them, we shall see.

Ultimately, what makes the series work so well for me is primarily the characters. Much like with Seven Soldiers, they’ve taken a bunch of B and C list superheroes and turned them into real people in crazy, fantastic world. Booster Gold may have ridiculous stuff happen to him, but he feels emotionally real. They make poke fun at the conventions of the superhero universe, but it’s all love behind this work. The creators clearly love these characters and hope to make you love them as well.

I also love the way it spans so many genres and styles within the basic superhero mold. We’ve got space opera, noir, classical epic and family drama. Superhero comics get a bad rap, as juvenile power fantasies, while works set in the real world, or historical periods are hailed as adult and worthy of awards and serious criticism. I think basing a work off a historical event, setting a story in the past is the easiest way to kill any sort of energy or emotion in the work. You have to work hard to overcome the feeling that this is something that happened and as a result is not of particular concern to me. There can be good historical works, but those films aren’t usually treated with imagination or wonder. They stick to preconceived notions of what is socially acceptable in fiction.

But jump over to a book like this, it’s brimming with crazy ideas and concepts. There’s so much story going into this book, so many interesting jumping off points for you to create your own things. I think people who read comics are more likely to conceive of fiction without traditional boundaries. Superhero comics can jump from the most absurd action scene to deep real emotion, the two are not mutually exclusive. What comics have done for me is make me accept that weird stuff can happen right in reality. If you can accept these spandex wearing heroes as real people in a real world, it’s not that hard to accept increasingly crazy things. Most people are way too quick to write off anything out of the norm as “weird,” but reading comics make you accept pretty much anything. That’s not to say that this necessarily leads to good stories, but with a film like The Fountain, you can see a filmmaker who was influenced by comics and had no problem juxtaposing wildly disparate elements into one work.

So, this work’s wild shifts in tone, style and genre all serve to show what only comics can do. Structuring the book for the weekly format increases its addictiveness, such that I was always looking forward to the next issue and am now counting the days until the end of July, when the second Volume comes out. It’s not as distinct or precise as something like All Star Superman, but it’s just so much fun, it’s almost easier to read. Reading a Morrison/Quitely work, I’m savoring and analyzing every page, here I’m hurring to get to the next and see what happens.

John From Cincinnati: 'His Visit: Day Two: Continued' (1x03)

This third episode confirms John From Cincinnati’s place as the best show on TV right now, and one of the strongest shows out of the gate ever. The thing that makes me love the show so much is the same thing that made Twin Peaks special, an intangible sense of atmosphere that makes each episode like a trip to a dreamy world of beautiful mystery. Most great TV is character based, telling large scale stories of peoples’ lives changing with time, and as the series moves forward it could get to that, but for now, what makes it great is just hanging out in this world, where it feels like anything could happen.

This episode follows directly after the powerful finale of episode two, exploring the impact of Shaun’s rebirth on the family and those around them. It’s interesting to watch the show’s structure evolve. We’ve got the core family, who are the center of everything, but they very rarely actually do anything. Particularly in this episode, nearly all the action was instigated by the increasingly large circle of odd hangers on who populate the world of Imperial Beach. John was the first to take an interesting in their lives, but at this point we’ve got the three hotel guys, Freddie and his sidekick, Linc and Cass, and now the Doctor.

Because they are the ones who act, I feel like I understand them better and in some ways care about them more than the Yosts. The Yosts are a blank vessel that they can put their hopes and dreams into. Everyone seems to either want to save the Yosts or use them, but we have no real sense of what the Yosts want. I think that’s a large part of what troubled critics and some viewers about the series, we don’t have any sort of traditional central character, it’s just a bunch of weird people going along. We can’t latch onto Mitch or Butchie as the moral center of the series, the role that Bulloch served on Deadwood. We don’t know who’s good or bad, or if good and bad even have any particular meaning on this show.

But, I think the odd ensemble structure works well, particularly as we get to know the characters better. Watching the earthquake at the end of episode two, I immediately thought of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts and its ensembles of semi-connected characters. Both the “See God” sequence and the final half pipe scene again unite disparate members of the ensemble for a climactic moment. Milch has created such vivid, unique characters already. Freddie’s rambling monologue about “Con Te Partiro” was hilarious, and I love that they took the time for a digression like that. It told us so much about the character. And John really started to work for me this episode, he felt like more like a real person and less like a narrative device.

This episode has three music scored setpieces, all fantastic in their own way, which provide the spine of the episode. The first is the escape from the hospital, set to the cover of “Con Te Partiro.” I like how they staged the escape from Freddie’s perspective, so we weren’t just observing the action, we were observing it through his eyes. I loved the lingering, stagy shots of Cass walking across the frame, then Mitch following in an identical shot. That was an artistic flourish that struck me. Then, the scene of Freddie and Palaka trying to distract the media while the Yosts escape was both exciting as an action sequence and really funny.

One of the interesting things about the show is the way only the peripheral characters seem to acknowledge the weirdness of what’s going on around them. The Yosts just sort of accept that Shaun is back, much like they previously accepted that this weird guy John had entered their lives. However, Bill has been aware of this weirdness, he’s the one who questions John and he’s also the one who thinks to bring Zippy into things. The Doctor is the first one to really ponder things, asking questions that no one can really answer. I believe he’s in the credits, so he’ll likely stick around to investigate more of these odd goings on.

As I said, John felt much more real and interesting this week. Before, he was mainly a sounding board for Butchie, but here we see him taking more initiative during his quest to “bone” Kai. John functions in a similar way as Anya or Illyria on Buffy, a not quite human who forces us to look at the world from a new perspective, and see the absurdity of our customs. This was used to comic effect in the “dump” plot last week, here it’s got more edge. The boning starts out as a joke, but becomes more and more odd as things go on.

Everything builds to the crazy scene in which Kai and John finally “bone” and he orders her to “see God.” It’s moments like this that make the show so special, no one else is doing work this idiosyncratic and uniquely powerful. This is Grant Morrison or Alan Moore territory, creating a world where crazy psychedelic experiences just happen and there’s always a larger metaphysical significance to the actions occurring in the narrative.

When Kai sees God, she seems to experience a collective moment of odd buzzing and pain, which she shares with Ramon, Butchie and Vietnam Joe. Speaking about the series, Milch said he chose surfing because waves are the closest we can come to representing the physical field of oneness that connects all things. This is a philosophical notion that has much in common with Morrison’s conception of the universe, that we’re all one organism, which needs to evolve beyond the misconceived notion that we’re actually separate.

So, in that moment do Kai, and the people she or we see experience that oneness? It’s notable that all the people she sees in the vision are people John has come into contact with. Is John there to open their minds to this new evolution? He’s talked a lot about how “The end is near,” so is it possible he’s talking about the end of our current world as the prelude to an impending leap of consciousness. I’d love to see that, and on this show, it’s quite possible. Mitch’s floating could be an expression of his increased consciousness, as is Shaun’s ability to heal.

Regardless, the moment had an odd trippiness to it, and was made even weirder by John’s total ignorance of human social custom. Kai didn’t want him to make her see God again, but he tells her anyway. He doesn’t understand the way things work, a deficiency that seems to get him into some trouble next week. We have a set of social customs that guide our behavior, an understanding of what is and isn’t acceptable. It’s difficult to watch someone just totally disregard those customs, as John does here. It exposes the essential falseness of the social system we’ve established.

Concurrent with this, we’ve got Mitch and Cass talking on the beach. Mitch has a lot of issues with Cissy, with the life he’s leading, and Cass serves as a sounding board for his problems. Mitch probably on some level senses something awry about her, everyone else has connected her to Linc, but Mitch just lets himself believe in the lies she’s constructing for him. He wants that escape from the troubles at home. While we see in the first episode that he and Cissy still love each other, it’s been nothing but tension between them these last two episodes. On a mythological level, Cass is a siren, luring Mitch away from his family to a false idea of happiness.

While the show has a lot of odd stuff, there is still the family drama at the core, and Shaun’s injury has strung out everyone’s emotions. He has no sense of what they’ve been through, but it’s nothing but tension between Butchie and Cissy, who are there without Mitch to mediate their troubles. There’s a lot of raw emotion here, and I think it works well. These characters aren’t as interesting as some of the peripheral figures, but they’re at least emotionally viable.

Butchie’s conversation with the Doctor about his implants was interesting. He recognizes that John can do strange stuff, and also finds it odd that he isn’t dopesick. It’s an interesting statement about addiction that Butchie is worried he’s not sick. The addict creates a cycle of trouble for themselves, if just stopping is this easy, then there’s no excuse for staying on the drugs.

Everything ends with Shaun returning to the half pipe in a scene that swells with meaning and power. Much like last week’s final moments, all the characters come together and we have the sense of a real mystical happening. John again tells Kai to see God, but this time it’s Shaun on the halfpipe, enjoying himself. The cover of “Feeling Good” is a perfect score and the sense of community surrounding the event is what makes it so special. I love the entire sequence, and was happy to see this week’s ending match the power of last week’s.

I can only think of a couple of shows that came out of the gate this strong, Twin Peaks being the prime example. That was a show that absolutely owned in its first three episodes, crafting a unique universe with odd, but well defined characters and a palpable atmosphere of mystery. John does the same thing, and luckily doesn’t have to deal with having a central mystery to answer. There’s so much stuff going on, it’d be easy to keep the show going for a few more seasons. Sadly, it’s already been written off as a failure, but I talked to a few people who have started getting into the show and if it could build an audience by the season finale, maybe we’ll get another year.

I know this may be seen as sacrilegious by a lot of people, but having seen six episodes of Deadwood and three of John, I’d consider John easily the better series. Deadwood is a great show, but it doesn’t have the totally unique voice of this one. I can understand why people hate John for “replacing” Deadwood, but just look at them as two separate show and be happy we’ve got something this great on TV.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers: To Live and Die in Starlight

Back in November, I watched the Babylon 5 pilot. Now, seven months later, I have finally watched the most recent Babylon 5 production, the uninspiring TV movie Legend of the Rangers. Worse than Crusade, worse than the other TV movies, this one does some things well that the show didn’t, but is missing practically everything that was good about the show. It’s a better production, more watchable than The Gathering, but it lacks any real artistic motivation. I see no particular reason for this movie to exist.

I’ll start with what’s good about the production. The effects and visual style are much stronger than what was in the series. The effects were rarely a huge concern for me, once you get into the show’s universe, you just accept that this is what the world looks like and there’s nothing we can do about it. Here, the effects look pretty good, though they still don’t have the realism of a Battlestar Galactica.

A bigger improvement is the visual style. The ship doesn’t look as much like a set and the camera has more energy. The aliens generally look more believable, not just a bunch of masks that were sitting around, and the alien guy with the weird hair was quite cool looking. The director was Mike Vejar, who did a bunch of B5 episodes, and he raised his game here. It’s a moody, atmospheric film. I would have loved to see this level of visual urgency on Babylon 5. The series generally looked almost like a theater prouction, with actors standing on what were clearly sets, this makes it more like real life.

On top of that, this episode is a much more traditionally engaging pilot than The Gathering. That episode was practically unwatchable due to the absurdly bad acting of much of the main cast. Those characters felt like they were written by someone who’d never actually seen humans behave. The characters on this show still don’t feel real, but rather than seeming completely inexplicable, they seem like they were written by someone who’s seen a lot of TV shows. They feel like characters, and at least that’s an improvement over feeling like actors standing on a stage, reading off cue cards. But, they are still far from feeling like real people.

And then gets to the central problem with the work. As the pilot for a TV series, you don’t expect to get to know everyone in depth, but these characters are so undeveloped we have to have a scene where they literally say their name and a vague line about their purpose. But, when you’ve got ten of these in a row, you don’t really remember them. I couldn’t tell you much about the characters from this show and I watched it yesterday. They weren’t memorable at all, and none of the actors brought the intensity that Peter Jurasik or Andreas Katsulas did to The Gathering.

The captain is perhaps the most generic captain character I’ve seen. He dislikes authority, always does his own thing, and oversees a ragtag crew on an old ship that no one else likes, but he has affection for. Am I talking about Han Solo, Mal from Serenity, Jet from Cowboy Bebop or David Martell from this show. He’s the same archetype as Sheridan as well, and like almost all JMS human characters, his only real flaw is that he cares too much about his people and is willing to go off the book. I’d like to see JMS write a really troubled human character, like Londo or G’Kar, because it’s only when we know that someone has the capacity to do bad that we care when they do good. That was the problem with the original series, with Crusade and now with this, the characters have nowhere to go arc wise. If they are already what they want to be, the only problems come from outside, and that’s not as compelling as internal conflict.

The rest of the characters don’t really jump out at you. Now, that’s always going to be an issue with pilot, but this one is 90 minutes, and really, you should care about someone. If the show ended with the ship exploding and everyone dying, I’d probably just be like, oh well, what can you do? JMS’s greatest strength is the way he develops massive plots that affect an entire universe. Watching an episode like “The Fall of Centauri Prime,” it’s profoundly sad because you can feel the weight of an entire universe dooming Londo to his imprisonment with the Drakh. Maybe in three years, someone here would reach that point, but generally speaking, people aren’t going to wait that long for payoffs. It astonishes me that Babylon 5 stayed on the air to even reach that point. I know I wouldn’t have made it through the first episode, let alone the first season if I didn’t have people assuring me it would get great.

In today’s TV world, I don’t think you have the luxury of time that 90s creators did. Shows like Seinfeld and The X-Files took a couple of seasons to find their voice, but when shows like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under are brilliant right out of the gate, it’s a lot harder to get the benefit of the doubt from the audience. And this show does nothing to earn that benefit of the doubt.

It surprises me that JMS would again run away from the greatest strength B5 could bring to a spinoff, its characters. It was great to see G’Kar again, even if he got nothing to do but make some lame jokes and deliver some exposition. The character has so much residual affection that the show picked up any time he was on screen, even though he has virtually nothing to do with the show. Would he even have been a regular? I don’t know, presumably not, but it would have been much worse without him.

But, if you’re doing a show with rangers, why not have Lennier on the ship? We never found out what happened to him and this would be a chance to explore that. If you’re going after new viewers, you could present him as just a troubled older ranger. Just putting a character in the show is about as much development as any of these others got. That’s such an obvious inclusion, and would have really helped get fans hooked on the show, I don’t see why JMS didn’t do it. While I was intrigued by the brief mention of Lyta, who’s gone now, this was so peripheral, the use of Babylon 5 seemed like a cashin.

This show barely even seemed to take place in the B5 universe. Minbari looked very different from what we’d seen, and this just didn’t jive with what we’d seen in Crusade. It makes no sense to undermine the central conflict of the show, the Shadow War, by presenting this new foe who claim to be so much tougher than the Shadows. Either those guys are lying, or JMS has completely screwed up continuity by inventing a major foe who never are mentioned in any of the other post series stories. It makes no sense.

So, let’s say they’re trying to reinvent the universe, cater to a new audience. Then why do they end the show with a trip to Babylon 5, without explaining the significance of the station. This is clearly meant to be a big dramatic moment, but if you were watching the show for the first time, it wouldn’t work at all. That implies that the show is targeted at previous viewers. But, in that case, why not really cater to them and give us more classic characters and not screw with the Shadow mythology.

While I liked the shooting style, I think the ship was quite poorly designed. It feels like a submarine, and the constant darkness makes the show feel claustrophobic. I’d have liked to see at least a couple of windows. The Excalibur was a much better looking vessel. I actually liked the first time they did the virtual reality weapons thing, the second montage was just overwhelmingly goofy, with her over the top expressions revealing the underlying goofiness of what was going on.

Ultimately, it was a watchable film. Everything was put together competently and the story flowed in a logical way. It felt very much like a pilot made to satisfy a network, full of action and attitude having younger characters. JMS seems to have abandoned everything that worked about B5, in favor of basically making the show TNT wanted from Crusade. There’s no intellectual subtext to anything here, it’s just straight up action and I see no future here. It’s better than a lot of first season episodes in terms of enjoyment, but it’s also completely superfluous and lacking in any kind of substance.

And from the point of view of developing the universe, it gives nothing really notable to the fans. I think the Lost Tales project is a much smarter way to do things. I don’t really need another series, but I’d love another hour with Londo, Lyta and others. So, it’s probably for the best this didn’t go to the series, and instead the universe got the chance for a new reboot.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that this is the final appearance for G’Kar. I feel like the greatest piece of the story that’s not yet told is how G’Kar got to the point where he killed Londo and the keeper. I imagine him and Vir as part of a small rebel organization fighting to liberate Centauri Prime once he finds out what happened with Londo. Their relationship was what made the series great, and it would have been incredible to see G’Kar finally realize why his friend has changed and go back to the planet to save him in the only way he could. I wish JMS had covered that in one of the TV movies or instead of one of the countless goodbye episodes at the end of the show. And now that Andreas is gone, we’ll never see it.

I’d be curious to see some interviews with JMS about the goals behind this project, and where it would have gone in the future of the possible series. All I can find is one anecdote where he talks about how a Colts/Patriots playoff game caused the show’s ratings to fall below expectations. But, this feels like such an odd, troubled project, I can’t imagine what was going on with him that led to its creation.

Well, it’s been a long journey, and it’s not over yet. I’m now caught up and ready for the Lost Tales film. I have to say, Sheridan is probably the character I’m least interested in following up on, we know everything about him. But, hopefully this will succeed and lead not only to a wide ranging series of B5 films, but also similar projects for other series, like, perhaps, just maybe, Buffy. B5 changed sci-fi TV with its introduction of long form arc based storytelling. Maybe it will change things again by opening direct to DVD as a legitimate vehicle for continuing cult series.