Review: ‘Aftershock and Awe’ — SPACE: 1999 Graphic Novel
Aftershock and Awe
By Andrew E.C. Gaska, Gray Morrow and Miki (Awe)
and Gaska, Miki and David Hueso (Aftershock)
Creative Director and Letterer: Andrew E.C. Gaska
Art Director: Chandra Free
Cover Art: Gray Morrow and Miki (Awe) and David Hueso (Aftershock)
Co-Writer: Erik Matthews (Aftershock prologue)
Designer: Anna Shausmanova
Cover Designer (Aftershock): Yumi Nakamura
Editor: Mike Kennedy
Production Manager: Scott Newman
Developed by: BLAM! Ventures LLC
Published by: Archaia Black Label
DIGITAL FORMAT: $2.99 per issue
PRINT: Hardcover Graphic Novel, 168 pages, $24.95 list
It’s always dicey when a publisher takes on an existing work and attempts to “re-master” it. The goal is always to bring the classic work into the new millennium and capture a new, modern set of readers while, at the same time, still satisfying fans of the underlying work. It’s a path riddle with potential landmines: change too much and anger the longtime fans; change too little and that coveted new audience will be lost in translation. Luckily, Andrew E.C. Gaska, BLAM! Ventures, and Archaia Entertainment (as licensees of ITV Global Entertainment) have dodged all of those problems and come out with a damn good graphic novel series, Aftershock and Awe, based on the British cult-classic television series, Space: 1999.
It was 1975 when Space: 1999—Martin Landau and Barbara Bain’s first series after their stints on the wildly popular Mission: Impossible—premiered in American syndication. Created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the series centered on the Moonbase Alpha and what happens to the 311 men and women manning it when a cataclysmic disaster rips the moon from the Earth’s orbit. Drawing its inspiration more from 2001: A Space Odyssey than Star Trek, it was heady stuff for the mid-1970s. And having learned from the merchandising juggernaut that Star Trek was then becoming, ITC Entertainment—the syndication entity at the reigns—made sure that this space epic burst onto the scene with a plethora of tie-in merchandise: Eagle Transporter models, Moonbase Alpha play sets, commlock walkie-talkies, lunch boxes and a set of comic books inked by the late, great Gray Morrow.
The original comics—published by Charlton Media Group—are still prized by avid Space: 1999 collectors because of the stunning artwork by Morrow and the generally well-told, albeit generic SF, stories that came 3 per issue. While most stories were not based on the episodes of the television series, the first issue included the story “The Last Moonrise,” a 6 page condensed retelling of the pilot episode teleplay, “Breakaway.” And it is this particular comic that Gaska and his team decided to tackle first when reinventing the graphic novel life of Space: 1999.
With Awe—which will be the first half of the 168 page hardcover compendium of Aftershock and Awe due in stores this November—Gaska and company tackle “Breakaway,” the tale most familiar to 1999 fans, in a two-issue spread currently available digitally through Comixology. Gaska wisely released these issues first, as stand-alones, presumably to get the 1999 fan base on board with his bold, new vision, and possibly to coincide with Alpha: 2012, a Space: 1999 convention held this past September in the Los Angeles area.
Gaska retained most (if not all) of Morrow’s original artwork from that first issue and augmented it with material from a Power Records retelling. It is a deftly done reimagining, Gaska and team softening (but not wholly losing the charm of) the 1970s style coloring and bringing that artwork into the new, distinctly 21st century style that graphic novel fans of today expect. The colors are bold, but darkly muted when appropriate, ominous when need be. And while they stick fairly closely to the original script of the televised episode, Gaska, artist Miki and art director Chandra Free weren’t satisfied with simply recoloring or reissuing a classic work. They truly reinvented it.
Whether fans of the television series or just extremely good researchers, Gaska and his team add to the story with new, original artwork, new dialog and characters who are familiar to long-time fans but will seamlessly blend into the story for those new to the franchise. And they do it all expertly.
A two issue arc, Awe adds numerous new elements to the story and the team did their homework very well. Cleverly, each issue is given an “opening credits” title treatment that mimics in the best possible way the “This Episode” conceit that opened every episode of Space: 1999‘s first season. Additionally Gaska and his team have incorporated dialog that was filmed for the pilot episode but unaired, and they also insert into the “Breakaway” storyline characters who appear much later in the television series, creating a bridge between that story and the episodes of the series that follow. What this manages to do for fans is to breathe new life into a story they can practically recite verbatim by utilizing characters whose future histories they already know: Tony Cellini, Tony Verdeschi, Shermeen Williams. This also serves to give fans a glimpse of what Gaska could offer in terms of dovetailing original stories in with existing television series cannon should the graphic novel continue on past the compendium. And it isn’t a clunky blend. Gaska and his team know the characters and their voices; so they feel as if they had always been in the original comics.
Another new feature is something Gaska does in an attempt to link the first season of the series to the second. Anyone familiar with the show will know that the tone and quality between season one and season two were drastically different, the latter being significantly “Americanized.” In the second season, each episode started with a “Moonbase Alpha Status Report” spoken by Bain’s character, Dr. Helena Russell. In Awe, Gaska and team draw a thread between those seasons by telling the story via alternating “diary entries” from John Koenig (Landau’s character), Commander of Moonbase Alpha, and Victor Bergman (played by Barry Morse in the series), resident scientist and unlikely philosopher. For fans, this creates a continuity that was sorely lacking between the two seasons of the series. For readers completely new to the world of 1999, it all feels exactly as if it belongs there.
Awe has been followed up by the first issue in a three-issue arc of Aftershock, and this is where the BLAM! team’s creativity really gets to soar. First off is the very slick new cover artwork which utilizes all the imagery familiar to fans but gives a dark and foreboding reality to this new “series.” The interior artwork and story are all brand new, familiar features of the series woven in to make sure the new storyline stays well-related to the original. Although darker in tone than Awe, it all fits well within both the graphic novel and television series continuity.
In an alternate reality where JFK was never assassinated and Presidents Ronald Reagan and Kim Jong Il were driven from power for causing World War III, the “Space Race” was accelerated in an effort to maintain world peace; thus, Moonbase Alpha was born. Through clever use or flashbacks and flash forwards, Gaska, Miki, David Hueso and the rest of the design team, create the Earth—relatively absent from the television series—in that time period leading up to and beyond the accident that propels the moon out of orbit and the devastation that falls upon the Earth thereafter. Gaska creates an entire slate of characters—new to the 1999 world—and connects them through bloodlines or plot points to all the characters the fans already know. We meet Haley Carter, the illegitimate daughter of Moonbase Alpha’s chief astronaut, Alan Carter. We’re introduced to the smarmy Commission Simmonds (played by Roy Dotrice in the series) and learn of his earthbound life before Moonbase Alpha. We discover the dark secrets of war hero Admiral Walker, a new character whose current activities don’t appear to line up with his historic reputation. Slowly a web of lies and corruption is formed, giving Aftershock new bite, contemporary relevance, and a very modern sensibility that shines light on the events we watched unfold in the Awe storyline. Perhaps the accident on the lunar surface wasn’t all it appeared to be. It’s political and social intrigue at its very best.
Stylistically, Aftershock is much darker, much more angular than Awe and it is a testament to Gaska’s team that they are able to pull it off, making both storylines fit together effortlessly despite the tonal shift. Again, much of this is due to the intertwining of the new storyline with that established by the television series. As an example, in both the television series and the Awe adaptation, Commissioner Simmonds when he arrives on Moonbase Alpha stated to Commander Koenig, “My office tried to query you on your Emergency Code Alpha One. You didn’t seem to be available.” It’s a little detail but Gaska zeroes in on it and, in Aftershock, gives us the reasoning that Simmond’s office tried to query rather than Simmonds himself placing the call. We get backstory that not only fills in some blanks in the series continuity but which also manages to propel this new story forward. Likewise, Gaska reintroduces us to the Mark IX Hawk fighter, a ship utilized in only one episode of the television series, but one for which Gaska and team have created a whole history, and it may be a sordid one. And like all good storytellers, Gaska ends each issue of Aftershock and Awe with a cliffhanger that makes you wonder just where he is headed with future issues.
In the end, BLAM! Ventures has come up with a winner. For fans of the television series (of which I am, admittedly, one), they’ve taken a story I’ve loved for decades and breathed new life into it through their attention to detail. This isn’t a quick drive-by recreation, not some slapping on of a franchise name to all new material. It’s an A-class reinvention and it is Gaska’s respect for the details in the source material that helps him bring new cannon into old and make it work exceptionally well. It’s believable because the BLAM! team understands and appreciates the original and pays homage to it rather than simply exploit it.
What does it mean to readers unfamiliar with the 1999 franchise? From a creative perspective, Aftershock and Awe is slick, exciting and filled with an impressive amount of depth character and of perspective. The artwork is top notch; the story telling is gripping; the ride is damn good. Do you need to know 1999 to enjoy it? Not at all. Yes, Gaska painted in a lot of material that would ring true to the fans, but he was also careful to make sure it was all seamless. Readers new to the franchise would be hard pressed to differentiate the new from the old.
So, fans. . . sit back and enjoy. And, if you’re a graphic novel fan who has never heard of Space: 1999, give it a shot. You don’t have to know the original to appreciate this exceptional work. And who knows, it might intrigue you enough that you’ll want to discover that which what came before. I know I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.
A note about this review: The reviewer read the available issues of Aftershock and Awe on an Apple iPad (using the Comixology app) and in advance, special print editions. The digital versions translate very well to the iPad with smooth transitions and vibrant colors. Navigation and download on the Comixology app is fast and easy. For the advance print issues, production values are high, with quality paper and printing.
–Paul G. Bens, Jr