Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ship of Crawling Death

I always liked Boomer--one of the supporting characters from the original Battlestar Galactica. He was in most episodes and probably followed only Starbuck and Apollo as the best fighter pilot in the fleet. It was probably Herbert Jefferson Jr's performance that made Boomer a likable and fondly remembered member of Galactica's crew, giving the pilot a aura of competence, courage and dependability.

So an issue of the Marvel Comics adaptation that gives Boomer center stage is something to welcome. Battlestar Galactica #15 (May 1980) did just this.

As was often the case, Walt Simonson and Roger Mckenzie came up with the plot, with McKenzie writing the script and Simonson doing the breakdowns. Klaus Janson did the finished art. Together, the three men created what is an effective and downright terrifying little horror story.

It begins with Boomer, his usual wingman Jolly and nurse Cassiopeia in a shuttle, with Apollo flying escort, checking out a derelict spaceship. They had picked up a faint distress single from the craft and there was always hope of finding fuel and food--both of which the human fleet are chronically short on.

But the mission gets scary fast. The ship turns out to be an old battle cruiser. When the humans approach, the ship's guns open fire on them, but then stop as soon as Apollo tries to get radio contract. But then the ship goes silent.

Boomer suits up, flies over and blows his way in through an airlock. But inside, he's attacked by a swarm of monsters. Liberal use of his laser and a few concussion grenades keep him alive.

Moving farther into the ship, Boomer finds a room full of human corpses. One woman, the ship's commander, is still alive, greeting the pilot with an encouraging "Get off this ship of death!"

She lives long enough to tell a pretty tragic tale. After the Cylons had destroyed the colonies, the Galactica gathered up whatever survivors could be found, forming the ragtag fleet that has been fleeing the Cylons ever since. But, inevitably, they had missed a few survivors.

These people managed to scavenge up a ship of their own, then set out to find the fleet. By the Cylons had left behind one last, brutal trap, seeding the colony planets with deadly germs. This had the effect of killing the crew and mutating vermin aboard the ship into the monsters that Boomer had encountered earlier. The crew had been dying one by one.

But we are not done with the tragedy yet. The woman turns out to be Commander Adama's wife, who had been presumed dead after the initial Cylon attack. Boomer is able to tell her that Adama is alive. He does tell her a fib when the conversation gets to her children. He opts not to tell her that her youngest son Zac had been killed.

She dies. Boomer sets the ship to self-destruct and fights his way back out. Then he tells another fib--informing Adama and Apollo that there had been no survivors.

This is a really strong story. The emotions are real and we are given some relief from the emotional downs of the story in two ways: First, Boomer's determination to live while fighting his way through the monsters is noteworthy. Second, Adama's wife is given a hope spot before dying by learning her family is still alive.

The Simonson/Janson artwork complements the story perfectly.

So this issue works as an exciting action-adventure tale, a horror story, and an effective character piece.

But it's another tragic story in a long line of tragic stories I've been reviewing recently, isn't it? Over the past month, we've visited several times with the Hulk to see him cheated of a happy ending on several occasions, then watched Jonah Hex get murdered, stuffed and placed on display. I didn't plan that, but we need to move on to something more upbeat.

So next week, we'll look at a team-up between Batman and the pulp character that inspired him--the Shadow. That should be fun and upbeat. A super-violent vigilante.... um... working with a character famous for his... er.. incredibly tragic backstory. So, yeah. ... fun.

Gee whiz.

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