Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chronic Review: Terminator 1984 # 1!

Terminator 1984 # 1 (of 3?)
Dark Horse Comics

Script: Zack Whedon
Pencils: Andy MacDonald
24 pages for $3.50

It's very easy to screw up licensed books, because they are a double edged sword. On the one hand, you have a pre-baked audience clawing to get at any material related to their particular fetish. On the other hand, said pre-baked audience is often neurotically obsessed with any number of arbitrary elements of said fetish. Screw up Luke Skywalker's boots and see what happens. Someone will have a coronary.

Sometimes licensed properties try to stray a few paces away from the pure source for that reason. If you just get within shouting distance, you can still generally attract the attention of your base, without risking as much sacrilege. I think the Star Wars books fall under that category, currently. Maybe Dark Horse isn't publishing Luke & Han stories because it's all been done before. Who knows? I prefer the Buffy Season 8 formula, that dives right in and picks right up where the series left off. Terminator 1984 is the Buffy type of series.

The first issue happens during and after the 1984 Terminator film. You get to see some supplementary action with Reese, Sarah, and Cyberdyne as movie events unfold. You get to see some other stuff happening concurrently with a new character, Ben. He's a friend of Reese, apparently sent as backup that Reese never counted on. (Maybe I'd know more about the situation if I'd read Terminator: 2029, but I did not)

The fun thing about Ben is looking at our world through his eyes. When I look at the Dog & Pony show we've created with WAY too many goddamn people, I get depressed. Ben came from a place where machines have gutted everything, including most of the people. He thinks human excess is delightful. It's a refreshing take, actually.

Zack Whedon is pretty hip to what we want to see in a post-movie story:
  • What happens to Reese?
  • What happens to Sarah?
  • What happens to the Terminator?
  • What the heck is Cyberdyne up to?
This is not trigonometry, mind you, but sometimes this stuff does get screwed up. Thank you, Mr. Whedon, for not trying to get too cute with things. There's nothing wrong with giving the people what they want, provided there are a few surprises along the way, and the execution is professional. I see no cause for alarm on any counts for this comic.

Kyle Reese is still alive. He's still alive, and his friend Ben from the future is coming for him. Cyberdyne has Reese,has the T-800, and has the will to be a bunch of Machiavellian douche bags. Ben knows he can't complete his mission solo, so he tracks down Sarah Connor so they can go create mischief together. This is very solid, no-nonsense, action oriented plotting that really should satisfy anybody interested in that first movie.

My only concern story-wise is that as issue # 1 ends, we're looking at a Terminator story with no functioning Terminator. Now that could change very quickly, because if Ben made it back to 1984, there's no reason others couldn't as well. I'm not panicking. Frankly, if this series just deals with Ben & Sarah getting Reese back from Cyberdyne, that would be enough for me. But I wouldn't mind if another Terminator got loosed, either. Not one bit.

I'm a little confused about how many issues of this we can expect. There's nothing on the cover to indicate whether this is intended to be an ongoing or a mini-series. I looked up the title on the Lone Star Comics site, and issue # 2 seems to have been solicited as the second part of a three issue mini. No mention of this in the solicitation copy of issues #1 and # 3, however. Terminator 2029 was a three issue mini, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything.

In a different era, I think this would have made for an outstanding ongoing. Creatively speaking, it could still make for an outstanding ongoing. I have a soft spot in my heart for that original film, and this comic caters well to that soft spot. As long as this comic gets published with this quality, I think I'm on board.

Unfortunately, I'm going to put the over/under at 10,000 for orders on this book. I hope I'm off by about 20,000 copies and this thing gets a chance, but that really isn't how 2010 operates. The last mini-series launched at around 10,500, this one should probably do something similar.

Here's the scary part. Think about how many Terminator fans there are out there for a moment. Let's put it absurdly, impossibly low and say there's one million. Worldwide, that one million figure is absolutely laughable. And granted, not every single Terminator fan would be interested in reading the comics.

But if this book sells 10,000 copies, that's only 1% of my ridiculously conservative fan figure. Dark Horse is reaching less than 1% of its built-in fan base. The problem is three fold:

  • People don't know that comics are still published
  • People who know that comics exist don't know that Terminator is available
  • People who know that Terminator is available don't know how directly related it is to the original film, and that it's pretty darned good.
That's a lot to overcome. And just to be clear, I don't have my angry pants on regarding Dark Horse and their ability to get the word out. Maybe I should? My assumption is that if there were an easy answer, Dark Horse would be doing it. I think they genuinely would like to sell some Terminator comic books.

But it's scary how little sway we seem to have, how quiet our voice is. A fraction of a tiny fraction of Terminator fans seem to know or care that this comic is on the stands. It might be less than a tenth of a percent. And that's scary.

Just as a comic book, the first issue was good+ and not great. Very clean storytelling, where the characters, actions, and motivations are all clear. If you're a Terminator fan, I really think this is hitting you where you live. I'm really curious to know what a fan like Leroy Rivera of Comic Tube thinks of this, because it was pretty much born to serve him. For my money, Zack Whedon is covering all the bases, and with some skill.

- Ryan

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