Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Cylons, Vipers, and Booby-Traps

I was overseas when much of  Battlestar Galactica aired, so I missed most episodes during its original run. Perhaps because of that, I didn't usually read the Marvel comic book based on the show. 

With art by Walt Simonson through much of its run, Marvel's Battlestar Galactica has a good reputation for doing solid, entertaining Space Opera. I do remember purchasing and reading one issue of it and my memory of that story was a pleasant one. This was BG #16 (June 1980) and I recently scored a copy off Ebay. Revisiting the story, I once again reaffirmed that I had impeccable taste for good storytelling even at a young age. 

"Berserker" was written by Roger McKenzie, who co-plotted the tale with Simonson and possibly Bob Layton. It picks up with Galactica and the fleet having gotten away from the Cylons, but they are now running critically low on fuel.

There's a highly volcanic planet nearby, which Commander Adama hopes will have the fuel they need. But there's also a Cylon early warning satellite in orbit around it. The Galactica sends out jamming signals to keep the satellite from sending out an alarm, but this has the side effect of messing up their own communications. So when a flight of Vipers (the Galactica's fighter craft) disappear after flying off to check out another space craft, no one at first notices.
To make matters worse, the satellite is linked to the planet's core, so if they deactivate it, the planet blows up, which would in itself give them away to the Cylons. So a team of techs has to deactivate this booby-trap before deactivating the satellite. This means first deactivating a number of anti-personnel booby-traps BEFORE deactivating the planet destroying booby trap BEFORE deactivating the satellite itself.

Simonson's art is noteworthy in helping to tell the story clearly and give us exciting action. I'm particularly impressed, though, with McKenzie's script. We need quite a lot of information dumped on us to understand the story, but this is done concisely and logically. We're told everything we need to know, but in dialogue that has a natural rhythm to it and without ever slowing down the fast-paced story.

The scenes with the tech crew working on the satellite are nicely meshed together with the bulk of the story, in which a Cylon ship of a design never seen before mercilessly rips into the Galactica's Vipers. A flight of three Vipers is quickly destroyed. Captain Apollo leads another flight of three into batttle against it.

Apollo's two wingmen are downed. Apollo himself tries the "reverse thrust" trick that worked countless times on the TV show, but the Cylon pilot second-guesses him. With his Viper damaged and heading for a crash-landing on the surface of the planet, Apollo turns the fighter craft duel into a test of laser pistol marksmanship. He drains his pistol dry with that one shot, but it works. He and the Cylon both crash-land.

The Cylon pilot is itself (himself?) a new design, who conveniently explains that he's one of seven prototypes for a advanced warrior. The design was actually too successful, so the Cylon leadership exiled them to seven different remote locations. The super-Cylon is now delighted to finally have the chance to kill stuff.

Apollo, though, out-thinks the Cylon one more time, using the wiring from his otherwise-useless pistol to knock the robot into a pool of lava. In the meantime,the satellite is deactivated and the planet turns out to have the fuel needed by the fleet.

The super-Cylons were meant to return. Or at least this one was--the story ends with a reveal that Apollo's opponent survived its lava bath. He really would have made an effective re-occurring villain. But a search of the Marvel wiki doesn't reveal any other appearances during the series' remaining seven issues. So the super-Cylons are still out there somewhere, waiting.... waiting...

"Berserker" is indeed solid, entertaining Space Opera, taking the intriguing premise of the TV series and using the essentially unlimited special effects budget inherent in Walt Simonson's art work and McKenzie's tight, expertly constructed script to tell a truly exciting tale. 

Next week, we'll return to Earth and learn what happens when SHIELD needs a new agent and decides to recruit... Foggy Nelson?

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