Saturday, July 13, 2013

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Star Trek: The Animated Series: "Mudd's Passion" (November 10, 1973)

STARDATE: 4978.5

The U.S.S. Enterprise visits the Arcadian star system and the mining planet Mother-lode in search of the con-man Harry Mudd (Roger Carmel), who is wanted in the Federation for fraud and swindling.  Harry surrenders rather than face the wrath of the miners when they learn that he has falsified the results of the love potion he is currently peddling.

Once aboard the Enterprise, however, Mudd provides a sample of his love potion to Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett), who soon uses it on Spock.  The “love crystal” has its desired effect, and transforms Spock into a love-sick, emotional basket-case.

When Chapel and Mudd become trapped on an M-class planet inhabited by giant rock creatures, Spock’s new-found emotions could cost them their lives…

As a series that so often distinguishes itself as an avenue for mature, cerebral, sci-fi storytelling, it’s always a shame to witness a Star Trek: The Animated Series installment like “Mudd’s Passion,” which is a sequel to “Mudd’s Women” and “I Mudd,” but which treats its subject matter -- a love potion -- in a highly juvenile fashion.  

In particular, the episode resolution, which finds giant rock dinosaurs falling in love with each other after exposure to the “crystals” is rather childish and silly.

Equally insulting, however, is the depiction of Nurse Christine Chapel.  T

This episode seems to forget that the character is a professional woman, and a Starfleet officer to boot.  No matter what her romantic feelings for Mr. Spock, it hardly seems likely Chapel would work with a scoundrel like Harry Mudd simply to make the science officer fall in love with her.  

Similarly, Chapel essentially slips a fellow crew-member an illicit, untried drug, and again, that seems like a court-martial offense.  What if the crystals had killed Spock?  What right had she to impose her will on him, using a dangerous substance?

I’m not a stickler for characters acting “perfect” (a la The Next Generation), but Chapel’s behavior in this episode is absolutely terribly, and unworthy of a Starfleet officer.  Yes, she makes a mistake, but this mistake is also a considerable lapse in judgment.

In toto, “Mudd’s Passion” doesn’t even cohere very well as a narrative.  Chapel and Mudd just happen to leave the Enterprise for a planet inhabited by giant rock monsters?  

And there just happen to be two of them (and a male and a female, at that?)  The word “contrived” doesn’t begin to cover the nature of this particular story.  It's all designed to be funny, and charming, but again, just transmits as kind of insulting.

Despite such problems, "Mudd's Passion" does boast some virtues.  For one thing, this episode provides a great, rare close-up view of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s amazing shuttle deck, and fleet of shuttles.  

And for another, the episode attempts to make the wholly worthwhile point that you can’t make one change in a person without that change having a kind of domino-effect.  

The love potion works all right, but the period of love it generates is followed by a period of intense hate.  

Like everything in life, there is a cost to getting (by force and manipulation) what you think you desire most.  

Next week: “The Terratin Incident.”

Friday, July 12, 2013

Cult-Movie Review: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

When George Lucas first assembled Star Wars (1977), he pulled together a number of famous film inspirations for his successful pastiche.  These sources included  early space operas such as Flash Gordon (1936), Frank Herbert's epic novel Dune,  and Akira Kurosawa's great film, The Hidden Fortress (1958).

Clearly, there was something canny in this creative approach. 

By re-combining old movie DNA into a new and more technological form, Lucas successfully forged a swashbuckling adventure both recognizable and new; a mythic hero's journey that boasted both a sense of universality and a feeling of individually. 

Ironically, Lucas later sued the makers of the TV series Battlestar Galactica (1978) for undertaking roughly the same endeavor: re-shuffling the creative card deck (with elements of Star Wars, Star Trek, Space:1999, etc.) and coming up with something new and fresh in the process. 

Yet after Star Wars' release and rapid emergence as the biggest blockbuster ever, the outer space movie pastiche actually became de rigueur in the marketplace for a few years, from roughly 1978 - 1980. 

The Black Hole (1979) featured some familiar ingredients from the Jules Verne Captain Nemo story, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  Glen Larson's Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979) combined elements of the popular James Bond film franchise, previous space operas, and even a bit of the 1970s Burt Reynolds persona. 

And last but not at all least, Roger Corman's production of Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) -- finally to be released on Blu Ray and DVD in July of this year -- also mined some of the same territory that had first inspired George Lucas, namely the oeuvre of Japanese director and former painter, Akira Kurosawa (1910 - 1998).  

One of the most influential and admired filmmakers of the 20th century, Kurosawa was an unrepentant formalist,  famous for deploying dynamic film techniques not merely to record or capture action, but to vividly express the feelings behind the action; hot-blooded feelings such as terror, rage, and exhilaration.   So popular was Kurosawa's colorful, exciting approach to film making that the Japanese film import soon displaced Italian neo-realism as the preferred mode of expression amongst American goers of foreign films in the 1950s.

While co-writing the screenplay for Battle Beyond the Stars at the close of the disco decade, celebrated wordsmith John Sayles gazed back at two important earthbound sources, both of them related explicitly to Kurosawa's film canon.  In the first instance, he re-fashioned Seven Samurai (1954) as a space opera.  And in the second instance, Sayles looked also to the American remake of Seven Samurai, the western The Magnificent Seven (1960), to craft his story of warfare and honor. 

Of course, one cannot discount the importance of Star Wars in Battle Beyond the Stars' creative equation either. 

The film's setting is outer space and the primary antagonist, Sador (John Saxon), is armed with a weapon that can destroy planets -- the "Stellar Converter."  That fearsome device clearly harks back to Lucas's Death Star. 

And just as the Jedi Knights of Star Wars subscribe to beliefs related to "The Force," so do Battle Beyond the Stars protagonists, the Akira (nudge, nudge), adhere to the high-minded philosophical teachings of something called "The Varda."

Made on a fraction of Star Wars budget -- a meager 2 million dollars -- Battle Beyond the Stars is also rather famous today because successful filmmaker James Cameron worked on the film as both a production designer and art director, granting the Corman movie a very distinctive and cohesive look in the process. 

But sci-fi fans of the 1970s and 1980s today remember (and honestly, adore...) this Jimmy T. Murakami  pastiche for other important reasons as well.  The film features a rousing score by James Horner (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan [1982], Aliens [1986]), and boasts a good sense of gallows humor to travel alongside its well-developed sense of heart.

When these impressive qualities are combined with the heightened, almost mythic nature of the re-vamped Kurosawa story, the result is pure sci-fi nirvana, and Battle Beyond the Stars remains a perfect, if light-weight, space opera for the silver screen.

"All of our wealth is in our culture..."

Battle Beyond the Stars occurs in deep space, in the far future.  A vicious warlord of the Malmori, Sador (Saxon) plans to seize control of the peaceful planet, Akir, a small world of "stone" and one small "green spot."  

Peaceful Akir possesses "no known defense capacity" and will make for easy pickings should the inhabitants not accept Sador as their new master.  Threatening to annihilate the planet with "the most powerful weapon in the universe," the Stellar Converter, Sador promises to return during the upcoming harvest and conquer the entire planet.

At first, the Akirans are uncertain of how to proceed, but a courageous elder, Zed the Corsair (Jeff Corey) suggests that since the Akirans cannot fight, they must hire mercenaries to fight for them.  He offers his antique ship, Nell, to a young man, Shad (Richard Thomas), so he can undertake just such a quest. 

Aboard Nell, Shad takes off for nearby Hephaestus Station, seeking weaponry and assistance, but is forced to escape from the mad, cybernetic Professor Hephaestus (Sam Jaffe) with no such equipment.  Instead, he teams up with Hephasteus's brilliant and lovely daughter, Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel).  She has never been around other organic creatures before, and decides to help Shad plot a strategy of defense against Sador.

Continuing on his journey, Shad makes several more unusual allies.  These include Cayman (Morgan Woodward), a lizard-man who desires to settle a score with Sador, Space Cowboy (George Peppard), a lonely Earther hauling goods across the solar system and far from home, The Nestor, a bored hive mind, and the legendary gunslinger, Gelt (Robert Vaughn), who just desires a meal and a safe place to sleep.  Along the way, Shad also encounters the brash and impulsive Saint Exmin (Sybil Danning), a gorgeous Valkryie warrior looking to earn honor and glory in combat.

While Cowboy organizes a terrestrial defense force on Akir and falls for a lovely local inhabitant, Lux (Marta Kristen), Shad and the mercenaries engage Sador's hammerhead dreadnought in space, with their lives -- and the future of Akir -- on the line.

"Forms must prey on other forms to survive."

The line of dialogue highlighted above ("forms must prey on other forms to survive") is a perfect and knowing metaphor for Battle Beyond the Stars' storytelling style, approach,, and narrative methodology. 

Indeed, this is a movie that survives, and actually thrives, by preying on other movie forms, namely the Kurosawa film, the Western tradition, and the swashbuckling Star Wars.  In fact, that line of dialogue above might actually be the most efficacious definition of the term pastiche ever put to celluloid.

From both Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, Battle Beyond the Stars takes it central premise: a group of peace-loving locals must hire outside mercenaries to protect themselves from a conquering intruder. 

In Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and Sturges' The Magnificent Seven, the peace-lovers are simple farmers or the inhabitants of a border town, and the invaders are marauders or bandits.  In Kurosawa's film, the mercenaries are ronin (samurai without masters), and in the western film, they are gunslingers for hire. 

All these character types have been transplanted, of course, to a more "cosmic" scale for Corman's production.  The Akir must not defend a simple village, but a planet itself.  Sador is not just a leader of roving bandits, but a warlord capable of destroying  whole worlds if they don't bend to his whim.  And the mercenaries are a motley crew of alien races, each with memorable and unique physical characteristics; each as colorful and dynamic as Chewbacca, Han Solo, Greedo or C-3P0

In each of these three similar tales, there are other commonalities to consider too. In all instances, the visiting defenders are initially greeted with trepidation, if not outright fear, by the local inhabitants. Despite the fact that these soldiers of fortune have agreed to guard the imperiled locales, they are still viewed suspiciously, and as dangerous outsiders.

Soon, the attitudes change, however, and in some incarnations of the tale, a romance even blossoms between a mercenary and a villager. In The Magnificent Seven, Vic (Steve McQueen) and Petra (Rosenda Monteros) become romantically involved, and in Battle Beyond the Stars, Cowboy and Lux commence a similar relationship.

In the many iterations of this story, the wise-man or elder among the villagers – Zed, here – also meets his maker before the action has been completed  Like Obi Wan Kenobi's death in Star Wars, it's a generational passing of the torch; a necessary step in the young hero's journey to maturity.

Perhaps the biggest change evident in the template of Battle Beyond the Stars involves the apparently upbeat nature of the ending. Sador is destroyed and Akir remains free.  And the dead but heroic mercenaries now become part of the planet’s collective memory, gaining a sort of immortality. In the Kurosawa and Sturges films, however, though some warriors survive the climax  there is nonetheless a more melancholy feeling following the final battle. Specifically, there is acknowledgment from the samurai/gunfighters that they did not actually win the war. Rather the farmers/villagers won…because their homes are saved and their lives can continue as before. Without such a place to call home, the warriors are not the real winners, for they still must wander the landscape and seek employment, not to mention real human connection.

In a very real sense, then, Battle Beyond the Stars effectively “preys” on the earlier incarnations of the Kurosawa story and Star Wars, down to many important details.  We get the set-up of Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven and the unclouded happy ending of the Lucas film.  I should add, as well, that the film opens with the famous Star Wars shot: a gigantic spaceship passing in front of the camera for what seems an eternity.  In this case, however, the Malmori warship cruises towards us, and then banks sharply, as if taking a hard turn.

Casting is another arena in which we can see Sayles, Corman and Murakami "preying" on previous movie forms. Robert Vaughn, playing Gelt, virtually reprises his famous role as Lee in The Magnificent Seven: that of a world-weary and lonely soldier of fortune who just wants a good night’s sleep and a hot meal. His performance is actually my favorite in Battle Beyond the Stars because it so clearly and blatantly harks back to one of the space opera's earthbound models.

If the character of Gelt and Vaughn's presence serve as a direct reflection of  one movie tradition that gave rise to Battle Beyond the Stars, then Cowboy (Peppard) is the audience's other point of easy identification.  Not only is he a native of Earth, but a movie fan himself.  He offers to show Shad some old movies (Westerns) at one point, and during what seems a hopeless battle even croaks "Remember the Alamo!"  Again, these are highly self-reflexive touches.  In a space movie based on a Western (based on Kurosawa's film...), we actually meet a cowboy who is a movie lover and who knows all the genre's rules and details.  That's important, since he finds himself living a Western transplanted to the final frontier.

The "forms must prey on other forms to survive" conceit here is also ingrained in the actual text of the film.  Not just in "meta" or post-modern references to earlier cinematic incarnations of the tale or in clever casting decisions, either, but in bedrock character traits.

For instance, Sador and the Malmori clearly prey on other forms to survive, both in terms of literal strategy and personal choices. Sador’s hammerhead warship travels from solar system to solar system, taking what the Malmori want and need. And on an individual level, Sador actually steals replacement body parts from other forms to prolong his physical existence. Late in Battle Beyond the Stars, we see him undergo replacement surgery in which he gets a new arm; one that formerly belonged to one of the Nestor.  Clearly then, Sador believes in "preying" on others to survive.

So, story wise Battle Beyond the Stars preys on the movies of the past (Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven and Star Wars) in order to cobble together-- Frankenstein-like -- a new and fresh original. The movie never feels like an incoherent hodgepodge, however, for two critical reasons.

First, and perhaps most importantly, the film's production design is both impressive and distinctive. Every world and alien race in the film merits its own individual look and lighting scheme. This visual facet lends Battle Beyond the Stars a veneer of verisimilitude, or at least cohesion.

In many films made today, we absolutely expect different worlds to bear different and distinctive looks, but we must remember that this is a low budget film of the year 1980.

To see how it could have been done – and poorly at that – one need only gaze at such contemporaries to Battle Beyond the Stars as the equally star-spanning Galaxina (1980).   That movie featured Western elements and otherworldly components, but came off as a cheap space western stranded on a studio back lot.

Not so here. For instance, Sador’s colossal control room is eternally bathed in a palette of cold blue light, perfectly befitting his callous, monstrous nature. And the Malmori ships have the grotesque, monstrous look of space lizards...frogs, perhaps.  There's a real icy, reptilian feel to the Malmori in Battle Beyond the Stars, and it's a result of how the characters are lit; and the way their technology is designed and presented.

On the planet Akir, we see something else.  The villagers all dress in muted shades of Earth-tones, and their homes seem to have grown right out of the ground as if terrestrial trees, or perhaps shells. The visual take-away is that the Akir are literally “grounded” people; ones who derive their strength and power from their sense of community and nature. Everything they have originates with their lifestyle, which is a strength in terms of spirituality but a weakness in terms of practical self-defense.  Again, think of the villagers or townspeople -- salt of the Earth-types -- in the earlier films.  The matte-paintings and visualizations of Akir suggest the same thing of this alien race.

The Nestor are another fine example of this high concept production/art design approach. They are highly advanced creatures who share one consciousness.  Everything from the Nestor costuming  to their control panels is white-on-white perfection, a kind of immaculate look for an immaculate, advanced mind, and one which, incidentally, also allows for the makers of the film to create a little Close Encounters-styled action, since the Nestor ship looks like a radiant white flying saucer or UFO.

You can apply this sense of cohesion of approach even as far as Hephaestus Station. This is a virtually abandoned world in which machines have been forced to cannibalize themselves over the years to continue functioning. Nanelia’s job, actually, is one of constant repair…but without fresh resources. The station miniature itself, as well Dr. Hephaestus's "costume," successfully evoke the idea of a world of no spare parts; one where every scrap of metal and circuitry is harnessed to keep the machines “living.”

The spaceship designs in Battle Beyond the Stars are truly wonderful and original too. Sador commands that vast “hammerhead” warship, and a hammer is a perfect symbol for this villain. His approach is literally to smash or bludgeon his opponents into submission. The frog fighters and Nestor ships I mentioned above, but Gelt too flies a wicked looking, sleek fighter that reflects his direct, no-frills approach to combat. Cowboy’s spaceship is also wonderful a kind of space-going junk-heap or pick-up truck with a Confederate flag decorating one side of the hull. Exactly what you’d expect from a space-going loner and throwback.

The most unique and awesome spaceship design in the film, however,  belongs to Nell. She’s the former property of Zed, and one of the few starships in motion picture history to actually feature breasts and nipples as hull formations.

In Star Trek, the Enterprise is frequently referred to as a "she" or as "her," but Nell makes the connection to the feminine...well, literal.  Nell is clearly a woman in spirit and mind, so the film goes one more step and makes her a female in form or body too, equipping her with large breasts as well as two familiar, up swept nacelles.

Without going too much into as dry a subject as sex roles in Battle Beyond the Stars, it is very intriguing that so many of the most exciting characters in the film are women. Nanelia is a brilliant thinker, St. Exmin a warrior for the history books, and Nell a loyal and devoted friend and also shelter. They each form a critical part of Akir’s defense along with the steadfast Lux, and in this fashion Corman's pastiche does “evolve” beyond the men-as-warrior stereotypes of the earlier films. This is an equal opportunity battle, and so much the better.

The second critical reason that Battle Beyond the Stars doesn't feel like a hodgepodge but rather a unified vision involves the characters' frequent and dramatic recitation of “The Varda,” the Akiran’s spiritual guide. In our culture, many of us would say something like, “the Bible tells us that...,” but in the future world of this film, it is “The Varda” that instructs and offers many insights and words of wisdom. “To fight creatures of violence, you must use creatures of violence. “The Varda says we can take life to save life.” “That which is not organic must not harm that which is,” and so forth.

What the Varda gives the film, impressively, is a strong sense of the Akiran people’s morality. They aren’t stupid peaceniks for the sake of dogmatic ideology, and they aren’t belligerent war mongers, either. They have simply found a way of life that works for them, and which answers for them the many questions of existence and “how to live” best.

In providing the people of Akir this philosophy or guide, Sayles’ script permits the audience to see how valuable the culture is, and what would be lost forever under Sador’s domination. Varda is akin to karma, or something like it, and it is the belief system that grounds and guides Shad through his adventures. We understand how the Varda concerns balance in all things, and helps one maintain composure in times of strife.  The application of the philosophies of The Varda grant Battle Beyond the Stars a strong sense of heart.  We understand, intrinsically, what powers the Akiran people; what they hold onto when times are difficult.

Another human, funny and oddly touching moment in Battle Beyond the Stars involves Sador’s realization that he has lost the war...and his life. He cries out – disappointed – that he will not "live forever." It’s as though Sador has never given consideration to the fact that he could lose a battle. And given his history, as the movie describes it, we can’t blame him. Sador, it is said, never quits and never loses.

Well, all good things come to an end, and all bad things too. But Sador’s strangely innocent and petulant death cry makes the Malmori  warlord oddly sympathetic and easy for us to relate to. Unlike the Akir and their Varda, Sador has no sense of balance or grounding except in conquest. He flies around space with his “hammer,” the Stellar Converter, and bends other worlds to his will. Why? Because he fears death -- as all of us do -- and constantly must take more from others so as to live more. He is a great villain, and the film’s spokesman for an anti-Varda philosophy, certainly.

Even back in 1980, it was clear that Battle Beyond the Stars special effects were a step down from what we saw in Star Wars three years earlier.

Many shots (particularly of the frog fighter ships) are repeated too frequently, and there isn’t as much ship-to-ship interaction in the battle sequences as one might prefer. The sound-effects are direct cribs from Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and if you are fans of those shows, you will find this element of the movie extremely distracting.

Yet the battles are aggressively edited, and the detailed miniatures are glorious examples of a bygone art form. What makes the action seem truly epic in the film,  therefore, is the great, evocative score by Horner. The score – along with the general good humor of the film – carry the viewer away in a sense of excitement and fun when things occasionally get iffy.

One thing’s for certain: In the adventure-minded Battle Beyond the Stars, you’ll never suffer the fate that the Nestor fear so dramatically. You’ll never be “bored to death.”

Quite the opposite in fact. Watching this movie again today will likely bring out the kid in you, and make you wish for the Battle Beyond the Stars model kits, action figures and sequels that never arrived.

Movie Trailer: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Collectible of the Week: A Star Trek Catalog

When I was in the fourth grade, I bought at the school book fair a book titled A Star Trek Catalog, edited by Gerry Turnball, and it changed my young life.  


In the pages of this book were the titles and synopses of all Star Trek episodes, as well as episodes of the Animated Series, and there was also a listing of fan-clubs, and even merchandise, meaning toys.   The book featured an interview with Gene Roddenberry, post-Star Wars (1977), and closed with the promise that Star Trek would someday return to our screens.

And of course it did.

But I loved this book (and then a year later, Allan Asherman's The Star Trek Compendium) because, well-before the Internet, A Star Trek Catalog assembled the important data on Star Trek in one place.  I remember memorizing the episode titles and descriptions and using them for reference during series reruns on WPIX in New York.  I began keeping a tally of which episodes I had seen, and which I hadn't.

I don’t know for certain, but I have the feeling that, at age 9, A Star Trek Catalog was my first experience with a TV-reference book.  I later read The Making of Star Trek, David Gerrold’s brilliant The World of Star Trek, and the equally great Gary Gerani book, Fantastic Television.  

But at first, it was A Star Trek Catalog that whet my appetite to learn more about a science fiction TV series.

I kept my original copy of A Star Trek Catalog for decades, though it was supplanted by the titles above, and others.  I finally threw away the book when the binding broke, and I was reading it in three separate sections.  But a few years ago, I found a copy at a yard sale in great condition, and I’m glad to have it back on my shelf.        

It’s probably not a book that is mentioned often as a great Trek reference book, and I understand that.  But A Star Trek Catalog was there at exactly the right time for me, and it is like a dear old friend…

Model Kits of the Week: ID4 (1996)

Board Game of the Week: The Goonies (Milton Bradley)

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Comic-Book Review: To Hell You Ride #5

The final issue of To Hell You Ride -- the Dark Horse horror comic-book from Lance Henriksen, Joe Maddrey, and Tom Mandrake which premiered last November -- concludes the five-part saga in an emotionally resonant, satisfying, and blazing fashion.   

All the various loose strands of the plot are picked-up, weaved together, and certainly, there is a surprise or two regarding how things end.  I won't linger on a synopsis at this point, especially since this is the last chapter.  Part of the joy of experiencing this valedictory issue involves your personal reckoning of the surprising twists and turns.

In terms of the denouement -- generally speaking -- the final pages of the story play fair with our expectations, and are entirely consistent with what readers already know of the major characters and their world.  Simultaneously, the last few pages offer a kind of psychic (and electric) shift in perception that blows the whole thing wide open and allows us to perceive the narrative's events in a new light.

Most dramatically, however, To Hell You Ride ends with an awareness that the horror genre -- at its zenith of quality -- functions best in 21st century society as a morality play.  

For our purposes today, the morality play isn't necessarily tied to any specific religion anymore, but rather serves as a societal allegory which concerns a protagonist making a choice that prompts him (or her) -- and by extension the audience -- to select the good life over an evil or corrupt one. 

If you follow the opening frames of the comic-book in Issue #1 ("White Man's Guilt") with the closing frames of the book in Issue #5, there is a book-end quality to the saga, as visuals repeat in familiar form, though with new participants taking on prominence in the frame.  This repetition of imagery suggests something cyclical, and the notion that that the authors -- having told their tale -- now step off the stage and leave matters to us, the readers.  Will we heed the lessons of To Hell You Ride, or continue on in the same vein we have been? 

Those lessons largely concern three deadly sins: greed, gluttony, and wrath.  These aren't just sins, they seem to be everyday aspects of our national culture and dialogue.

And those qualities too are an aspect of the historical morality play and its structure.  In particular, morality plays have long featured characters who are personifications of vice itself.  To Hell You Ride's rogue gallery of villains fits that description rather well.  The deceased Mayor Cubby Boyers (who we met in Issue #2, "The Alchemy of Snow") is avaricious to the point of gluttony, especially regarding material wealth.  His grotesque physicality itself is an embodiment of that gluttony.

Meanwhile, the central villain of the later issues, General Blackwash, personifies wrath, or uncontrolled, inordinate rage, violence, and hatred.  He is hate personified and unloosed on the Earth, willing to destroy everything in his path simply because ruin and carnage are always the end result of unrestrained, unthinking hate.

Even the general population of Shipps' mountain town is personified throughout the comics series in terms of its unsavory greed and gluttony.  These characteristics account, in large part, for the apparent curse that vexes the population.  These people are so inordinately greedy, selfish, and materialistic that they can't even detect how disrespectful they are to Mother Nature, to the land they exploit and use for their wicked pleasure.

Impressively, the final issue of To Hell You Ride suggests sacrifice as a counter-point to gluttony and avarice, and duty and responsibility (in Shipps) as the antidote to Blackburn's tornado of swirling hate.  The final image -- which suggests the cyclical, repeating nature of life (and which plays into the comic's non-linear time aspect) -- is explicitly about new shepherds being created after the catastrophe in Colorado, ones who act as both heralds and custodians for the land.

From the opening frames of Issue #5, To Hell You Ride drives the reader towards this final apotheosis of knowledge and wisdom.  The first step in that driving push is pulling together all the themes of previous issues.

First, we get an explanation of the series title itself ("to hell you ride" was once a warning from stage coach drivers), and then we move into one of the loveliest passages in the entire series, one that explains, essentially, quantum physics (or non-linear) time in the most romantic and lyrical, human terms imaginable. 

The passage starts: "Imagine that everyone you ever loved and anyone you ever will love..and everyone who helped you on your way...are with you now."  

I don't want to spoil the punch-line of that narration, but it's especially beautiful, at least for agnostics like me, who don't feel the need to forsake spirituality in toto simply because we don't belong to the club of Christians, Mormons, Muslims, and so on.

I see the explanation of the series title and then this romantic explanation of time and reality itself as clear markers in the narrative that the adventure is coming to an end, and a reminder of the thematic ground the four preceding issues covered.  

Another quote -- "once a curse is set in motion it will play out in its own way, in its own time" -- also harks back to earlier issues,  and reminds us of the (apparent) nature of the threat that has unloosed men like Blackwash on the land.  To Hell You Ride Issue #5 works so well, however, because it plays with some of the definitions in that above passage.  It does so -- like the curse -- in its own way and in its own time.  I would say the authors of this comic-book internalized that message perfectly.  They reveal one secret, one revelation at a time, and never before we, the audience, are ready to receive it.

The final issue also features a character called "The Trickster," pictured above (and on the cover), and he is a personality who may be more at home in a hero's journey quest than in a morality play.  But make no mistake, To Hell You Ride is that animal as well, only not in the obvious terms we have come to expect from the latest Hollywood blockbuster.  

The mythological Trickster archetype in literature can be either positive or negative in nature, but it usually appears at a moment of high tension, and can shift the narrative in one direction or another (often unexpectedly).  

That's the very role of the character here, and it's actually appropriate that it appears so late in the drama (in literally, the last act), because the final twist in the tale -- while not a gimmick -- is about a trick of the mind, a trick of perception.   Not long after the Trickster appears, a crucial change in viewpoint occurs in the story. This viewpoint shift is so effective (and startling) that it feels like scales falling from the eyes.

For me, To Hell You Ride #5 -- with all its call-backs both in imagery and language to previous issues, --threads the difficult needle of any story's final act.  It feels true and believable even while it achieves the honor of being described as "mind blowing."

I suspect that when readers (and prospective filmmakers) go back and read To Hell You Ride in toto, they will want to contextualize his comic in three ways.  First, as a deliberate revitalizing of some old tropes about Indian curses that makes them feel fresh again, and secondly, for functioning as a morality play of today, for the moment of right now.  The third aspect would be, of course, an understanding of the true nature of time and reality.  

Check out To Hell You Ride, issue #5, here, and let me know what you think when you're all done, when you've taken the entire journey. As before, I recommend reading all the issues together to get the full sweep of the narrative and to pick-up all the various and often deeply-buried clues.

To Hell You Ride Issue #4

This fourth issue of this inventive horror series finds Jim Shipps' quarantined town still under siege by the government’s black helicopters, and now by foreign nationals who have been authorized to kill Americans with impunity in order to contain the crisis. 

The contaminated snow which is responsible for the deaths and the consequent occupation has caused the town to become “divided against itself,” a metaphor, perhaps for America today, almost universally caught in the grip of fear.  That fear, interestingly, is termed an “addiction” in the comic, and addiction ties in with the saga’s running themes, I submit, about contamination and also avarice.   To Hell You Ride implies a modern society overdosing on fear, greed, and violence.

The same emergency has also created two breeds of people, notes the narration: The Insiders, who hide behind locked doors and are afraid of the snow, and the Outsiders who are afraid of the heat that the draconian presence of martial law now brings to them.  Instead of unifying as a single, strong force, the Insiders and Outsiders turn on each other with lethal ferocity.

Sheriff Shipps -- the Lance Henriksen character, essentially -- finds himself in an impossible situation here, attempting to preserve his town as it once was while all Hell breaks loose.  Armed mobs have begun wandering the streets, opening fire on others, and this issue witnesses the death of a major protagonist. 

Finally, the story ends with the ominous notation that “The End is Here,” a reflection of the fact that the final chapter of the saga is upon us.

One thematic conceit underlying this issue of To Hell You Ride is the nature of time itself.  The narration which opens the book notes that time is “not an arrow.  It does not fly straight from past to future.”  

Instead, the audience learns, “Time is a web…everything it touches sends out vibrations.” 

If this information is parsed in terms of story specifics, I take it to mean that the actions which occurred long ago -- and which initiated the curse -- have caused reverberations through time itself, climaxing with the town divided dangerously against itself in the present.  Everyone is suffering because of the actions committed long ago, when the land was sacrificed for the white man’s avarice.  That act was the rock thrown into the placid waters of time, and the shock waves have only begun to crash against the shores of “now.”

Intriguingly, this fourth chapter of the saga also introduces the “Spider,” the creature/being who strides atop the web of time, and I found this character to be a sinister reflection, oddly enough, of the other corrupt humans we’ve seen so far, in the story, namely Blackwash and the (now-deceased) Mayor Cubby Boyers. 

To write too much more about The Spider and the fourth issue’s narrative would ruin some of the surprises, but suffice it to say that To Hell You Ride still possesses the power to shock and awe, and to deeply unsettle.  There’s a pulse-quickening momentum behind the pages here, an inevitability that can’t be denied. 

As I read the tale, I kept thinking “the die is cast,” and (in the spirit of a favorite Henriksen movie, Pumpkinhead), that the curse is going to run its course, with all the damage that “course” entails. 

With that sense of inevitability in mind, the last frame of Issue #4 is very ominous because of what it portends for another protagonist, and I get the feeling that things are not exactly going to end well.

I’ll be eagerly anticipating the final chapter of To Hell You Ride, and remembering, specifically, the fourth issue’s words about death.

Death is not an end, only a change in shape, a shift in worlds.

I have a feeling that this particular nugget of wisdom will play powerfully in the finale…

To Hell You Ride Issue #3

The third issue of Dark Horse’s horror comic–book series from Lance Henriksen, Joseph Maddrey, and Tom Mandrake commences with the execution of a man -- a father -- in 1939. 

It’s a particularly empty and useless death, and that is likely the thematic point. An act of officially-sanctioned murder always destroys more than one life, and can satisfy blood-lust but rarely bring true justice.  In this instance, capital punishment actually sets the path for another life (and perhaps another and another…).  The unnecessary and unjust nature of this death also points to the fact that even in America, some citizens are considered moreequal” than others.  Others are merely…disposable.

To Hell You Ride’s story then shifts to present day as the catastrophic, biological “curse” we saw rear its head in Issue Two returns to gorily claim several drunken revelers in a hot tub.  I loved this out-and-out horror scene because it deals with several genre tropes (like “the breast part of the movie” convention) in very direct fashion, and then ends in visceral, sickening fashion.  This is a scene you could easily imagine on the silver screen, and it is really wicked fun.

Later in the issue, the same flesh-melting force rises again, destroying the corpulent Mayor Boyer immediately after he declares that his town is absolutely, 100% safe.  It’s an ironic moment, of course, and Boyer’s death reveals the authors’ effective sense of gallows or black humor.  Long-time horror comic fans will love this moment for another reason.  The idea of the unjust and avaricious getting their (supernatural?) comeuppance plays like a narrative element from a 1960s E.C. Comic.

As the story continues, the military swoops in with black helicopters, and attempts to quarantine the contaminated town.  The military captures and tests denizens… and even picks-off with snipers those who attempt to flee.  Leading this violent initiative is a malevolent force of darkness named “Blackwash.”  

Before the issue is done, Blackwash gets to utter the famous George W. Bush-ian line: “either you’re with me or against me. I have to protect the nation.” 

In (effective) response, kindly Jim Shipps -- the Lance Henriksen surrogate in appearance and nature -- responds that the people under fire by Blackwash are the nation.  How can violence perpetrated against the spirit and body of the nation be misconstrued as national security or protection?

This third issue of To Hell You Ride contains much more action and horror imagery than did the previous entries combined, yet it continues to develop several cerebral themes.  Specifically, the narrative features several parallel tracks of time.  The notion explored is that time doesn’t have a beginning or an ending, but rather a non-linear structure.  Here Two-Dogs, a character who speaks to his dead ancestors, notes that the idea of “changing fate” is one of white, or western culture.   Fate can’t be changed. Time doesn’t work that way.

The crucial word or idea of last issue, I felt, was “contamination.”  The land was contaminated by the greedy, by the oblivious, by the entitled and the indulged.  In this issue, it looks like the term contamination has been superseded by the word “empathy.” 

Empathy, of course, is the action of understanding; of being aware of or sensitive to someone or something else.  Empathy might also be described as the vicarious experiencing of the feelings and thoughts of another person of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

I highlighted the words in that definition I found most pertinent.

If we couple the authors’ focus on Mother Nature sending man “messages” with the idea of parallel time tracks, plus empathy -- the experience of another, either in the past or the present -- we begin to excavate the secret, beating heart of To Hell You Ride.   As as the definition makes clear, empathy is the quality of understanding without explicit explanation or enunciation.  That definition is, actually, the mode of communication of this comic-book.  Through powerful narrative voice and striking, spiky imagery, the comic tells its tale, but it doesn’t make obvious all the connections for the readers.

That’s our job. To pull all the threads together.

So far, this is how I see things.  Regarding the curse: those who have caused suffering…suffer themselves.  They are not immune to the pain they introduce to the world, and eventually it strikes them too.  You can’t unloose evil in the world without it boomeranging back on you.

I feel the story will develop significantly from this point in issue #4 and #5. Right now we are seeing a curse played out, but without all the details of what it is, or if it can be stopped.  This curse causes the suffering of those who don’t listen, don’t care, and don’t empathize with others.  But mostly, it afflicts those who have shunned, slighted, and mocked Mother Nature.  Those folks aren't listening to the messages.

I suspect this conceit will evolve and grow, and become even more pronounced as the comic winds to its shattering conclusion.  What I feel we will soon start to understand better here is how nature connects all of us (and thus the fabric in this tapestry), and how, through empathy, that “connection” can be something greater or better than mere “contamination.”

Of course, I could be wrong. I’m just reading the breadcrumbs as they drop, as these master storytellers lead us towards the horizon of understanding.   We'll all have a chance to review these analyses after the last issue, and the story is over.

To Hell You Ride Issue #2

As was the case in the inaugural chapter, To Hell You Ride #2 by Henriksen, Maddrey and Mandrake depicts its intriguing tale across multiple time periods.  One portion of the tale is set in the Colorado Mountains in 1974, and involves a Native American man named Six George who takes his own life…at the emotional expense of his son’s. 

Another track in the story is set in “Present Day” as that son, now grown-up, realizes he has been living in the equivalent of an “emotional coma.”  We also get hints of his capacity to connect with others -- though still buried -- through the presence of a new character named Mary.

Additionally, the authors depict another time track in this issue: a facet of the tale set in Vietnam during the year 1969, at the height of the war.  This latter flashback grants Lance Henriksen’s character -- the decent and honorable Jim Shipps -- more exposure than he has had in the story thus far. 

Finally, we get a macabre interlude -- one worthy of an X-Files prologue -- set on the ski slopes.  A skier undergoes a frightening, inexplicable, and gory transformation…

As we saw in the first issue, To Hell You Ride boasts an extremely powerful authorial voice, both in terms of words and trenchant imagery.  That trademark facet continues here, and some of the lyrical words -- especially when coupled with haunting images -- again prove impossible to forget.  “Bullets don’t have eyes.  They don’t know who they kill,” for instance.  The psychic punch of those words is considerable when matched with the accompanying art. 

Perhaps more on-point in terms of the overall story arc, there’s a wonderful passage later in the book that discusses the modern, morally-bankrupt culture which de-values the land, and which measures that culture against what it could be.  

That passage reads: “We speak when we should be silent.  We overlook nature, craving noise and activity, distractions and illusive forms of intimacy.  We act like we control everything.” 

These words lead into the grotesque interlude with the skier, and the most overtly horrific imagery we’ve encountered thus far in terms of the wider tale.  This is a great sequence in the book, primarily because the words concern the specific skier (and his attempt to control nature), and can be interpreted on a wider scale, about our culture as a whole.

I also noticed in Issue #2 that one particular term repeats at least three times: the word “contamination.” 

To be contaminated is to be soiled by something, to be rendered impure by it.  Contamination might also be deemed “absorption” of some quality that is negative.  The word, if memory serves, also appears in at least two different time periods in this issue of To Hell You Ride.  I must assume then that “contamination” is a key pillar of the larger narrative or theme.

In Issue #1, we learned about a universe of messages ignored, and the importance of being open to messages…whatever their form.  Issue #2, by contrast, veritably obsesses on this notion of contamination.  It could be contamination of the body or physical form (in relation to Six George and the unlucky skier), and it could also be the contamination of the land itself by the “new miners,” the decadent consumers and vacationers who descend upon Mother Nature with the express permission of a loathsome new character, the obese, avaricious (and constantly perspiring…) Mayor Cubby Boyers. 

Or, perhaps, we are sensing the tip of a deeper linkage here: how contamination of the land leads to contamination of the spirit, and of the culture.

At this point, To Hell Your Ride’s ultimate direction is still ominously and commendably opaque, yet rife with “messages” of the direction it may ultimately take.  But the shift this month to an obsession on “contamination” suggests that dark times and dark happenings are ahead. 

What I continue to enjoy most about To Hell You Ride is its powerful and rich voice, reflected in word and art, and its sprawling didactic tapestry, a tapestry whose strands inch closer together with each interlocking piece of the puzzle.

To Hell You Ride: A Review of Issue #1, and Interview with Lance Henriksen, Joe Maddrey, and Tom Mandrake

To Hell You Ride is the Dark Horse comic-book from authors Lance Henriksen, Joseph Maddrey and Tom Mandrake, and if the first issue is any clue, it’s a symbolism-laden, multi-faceted work that straddles genres, and offers trenchant social commentary on our modern world and human nature itself.

Moving with relentless speed, agility, and purpose -- not-unlike like a well-paced genre film -- the first issue of To Hell You Ride is an ambitious opening chapter to a story of epic scope. 

The tale commences in the Colorado Mountains during winter, in the year 1881.  Avaricious white miners seeking gold arrive on Native American land and brazenly interrupt an important ritual conducted by four warriors. 

In doing so, the miners unleash a timeless curse.  This curse is vividly presented in terms of imagery and words:  “Flesh runs away from bone…” 

This horrific prologue quickly and efficiently creates a mythology around a set of supernatural beings called “Watchers” and in addition to Native-American lore, there’s a bit of Lovecraft here too, particularly in the discussion of “The Old Ones.”

To Hell You Ride’s narrative then shifts to our present-day, and introduces our troubled main character, Two-Dogs, a Native-American man who deals with prejudice and a near-total lack of opportunity in a dead-end town.  He is counseled by a friendly sheriff and father figure, Jim Shipps.

Finally, the story’s third section is set during 1939, and it recounts a true story (expressed to Lance Henriksen…) about the surprise resolution of a grim murder investigation.

After reading the first issue, I have many questions about where the story is headed, and how the three time periods connect.  But most importantly, I want to read more. 

If you visit this blog with any regularity, you know that the brand of story that endlessly intrigues me is one that speaks to the issues of our times in a meaningful, artistic way, and doesn’t resort to spoon feeding us obvious lessons or conclusions.  For me, engagement multiplies when there are things to interpret; thing to think about and ruminate upon.

Delightfully, that’s the case here.  What I admire about the first issue of To Hell You Ride -- and hope to see continued in upcoming episodes -- is the comic’s very powerful sense of place (with a different palette representing each era), and its confident and yet wholly unconventional reliance on symbolic story telling.  The story’s narration is brilliant and distinctive in terms of the writing, but so much of the tale is also conveyed through canny visual representations.

For instance, the story dwells a great deal on messengers, and the idea of people receiving messages, but rather determinedly not listening to them.  These messengers might be animals, part of the landscape, or something falling from the night sky.

In recent weeks alone, we’ve seen in our culture how some people have steadfastly ignored facts regarding polls and statistics, and even created their own erroneous facts and statistics in their place…to their own electoral peril. 

And of course we saw the landfall of Hurricane Sandy, a “message” about climate change that so many people are still determined not to hear, despite the devastation. 

To Hell You Ride doesn’t tread into anything specific like that, but rather comments on the apparently universal quality of our species to look around and see only the things we want to see, even if Mother Nature seems to be screaming warnings at us.  We seem to want to fit the facts to our beliefs, not let our beliefs be dictated by the facts.

To Hell You Ride also connects that idea of ignoring important information/messages with a scathing commentary on human avarice or greed.  In an unequivocally blunt, even caustic author’s voice, the writers opine “Greed turns men into hungry rats.  They grow fat on the garbage of lust and illusion.” 

It’s a great line on its own, but also a searing, devastating line about our times.   Many in our culture today pursue wealth at the expense of the environment and the expense of their fellow man, and To Hell You Ride, again, seems to see this as a kind of universal flaw in our Western culture.  The Native American culture provides a strong contrast in terms of values, and indeed, that’s the point.  Again, and again, To Hell You Ride forges trenchant comparisons between cultures in terms of listening, in terms of respecting nature, even in terms of how society as a whole faces death, and the rituals surrounding death.

But you have to do some real thinking to connect all the dots here, and that’s a very good thing. The connection between “the messengers” and the men who have grown fat on “the garbage of lust and illusion” is one that requires consideration, and adds depth to the intriguing, three-point narrative. 

The first issue of To Hell You Ride covers an incredible amount of territory, including a commentary on religious and daily rituals that, perhaps, “mean nothing,” or perhaps mean everything.  What I enjoyed so much about the comic’s inaugural chapter is that even though it moves from one era to another, and offers meaningful commentary on our species on quite a few topics, it also feels admirably consistent and coherent.

There is a powerful voice at work here, a voice I believe I recognize --  partially at least -- from Not Bad for A Human…of absolutely no-bull-shit honesty and honest reflection.  That voice isn’t about politics or a partisan agenda, but about blunt, often hard-to-face truths.  And delightfully, it is coupled with scorching, unforgettable artwork reflective of the story’s themes.

And as you know, that’s the zenith for me in terms of aesthetic considerations.  Form must echo, augment, mirror, and reflect content.  The two quality elements must walk hand-in-hand so that the artistic experience is consistent and organic. 

Based on what I’ve seen so far, To Hell Your Ride reaches that apex.

I had the opportunity last week -- after reading an advance copy of To Hell You Ride -- to interview Lance Henriksen, Joseph Maddrey and Tom Mandrake about their original comic-series, and bring up some of the qualities that fascinated me most about their new work.

Part I: Origins

JKM: “Tell me about the origins of this story.  How was To Hell You Ride conceived?”

LANCE HENRIKSEN: “I went to Telluride in the 1970s. It was slightly dilapidated. Quaint but dilapidated.

And I remember sitting at a bar one night and having a beer, and I could see that it was hard for the people there.  I thought, ‘Holy Shit,’ this is the end of the world, literally, and that these people must be reincarnated miners and hookers from the old days. 

I traveled up to an old mining town in the mountains, where no one ever went anymore.  I was intrigued with the idea that they used to hold slave miners up there with just a few riflemen on the ridges, and I thought, ‘what a strange-ass place this is.’

And then I remembered that quote by Dylan Thomas:

I have heard many years of telling
And many years should see some change. 
The ball I threw while playing in the park
Has not yet reached the ground.” 

That quotation made me think of a curse on that land [Telluride]. I saw it as a curse that will come to fruition when it is ready.

That was the seeds of it, and it was just me sitting in a corner.  It stuck with me, and I decided to write it as a movie, because actors when they are out-of-work tend to write movies with a part in it for them.  So I wrote it, and I realized that the themes were there.  I created a mythology, a curse that would take place in the modern day for something that happened in the 1800s. 

As is the case in all good mythology, I saw it as a morality play.”

JKM: “Were you thinking about in it terms of genre?”

JOE MADDREY: “We haven’t had any explicit conversations about what genre it is. 

Lance just told me the opening scene, and he had it mapped out in his head, shot-for shot…the first seven pages of the comic.  He described it to me and I liked the mystery of it, and it sounded like a modern myth.  It clearly had a bit of science fiction in it.  There was a sense of foreboding in it, so there was an element of horror too.  The setting it made it seem like a bit of a western.

But we never pigeonholed it as a genre. We just talked about the story and the characters, and went from there.

Part II: Process

JKM: “Can you describe the writing collaboration between the three of you?

LANCE HENRIKSEN: “I don’t think of myself as a writer, to be honest.  I really think in pictures, and the words just blurt out.  There’s a really interesting phenomenon that was happening while we were working on this.  All three of us seem to be channeling ideas that seem to be coming out of nowhere.  The proof is that you get confirmation from real unexpected places.

TOM MANDRAKE: “There’s usually two ways that you can do a comic.  You can do a full script where the writers writes it, hands it in, and you draw it.  And then there’s the plot style, or what some people call the Marvel style, where the writer gives the artist a few pages of notes and the artist pencils them…and goes back to the writer. 

We’re doing it in a completely different way.  We’re all involved in talking about the story.  We start penciling it, and we make changes.  The three of us work very closely.  We’re constantly talking on Skype about this, and driving our editor crazy.”

LANCE HENRIKSEN: “Our collaboration is like a perfect marriage.  I hate to say that, because we still have three more comics to do….”

JKM:  “Tom, what’s your process so far as bringing the script to the page?”

TOM MANDRAKE: With the scripts, I’ll read them a few times and sit down and think about them.  Then about the third time through, I’ll sit down and start putting down little visual ideas in the margins of the script.  And I’ll start doing thumbnails.  I’ll usually throw in lots more panels than I end up with.  It’s a way to bring out the information. 

It’s not unlike editing a book: you put in a lot more stuff than you end up with, and start refining.  So I might have twelve panels a page when I start out, knowing full well I’m not going to end up with that. I’ll try to find the image which best expresses the story.”

Part III: Themes

JKM: I’d like to go over some of the great and really memorable writing in the first issue.  The book opens with a stunning line that implies something about our culture and its denial about or obsession with death.  “Indian graves are not meant to last.”

LANCE HENRIKSEN: “I hate the idea of autopsies.  Everyone in America gets autopsied.  I would rather wrap myself up in a blanket, climb a tree, and let it all fall apart.  Let nature take its course.  You don’t need crypts made of marble.  The Native Americans have a different point of view.  Theirs is aligned with nature, while modern man is trying to put us all in a vacuum can, for what reason I don’t know.

“I think the thing we tried to do is have respect for the Native Americans, and that’s why we called the first comic “White Man’s Guilt.”  It’s really about respect for what they did.”

JKM:”I have to say, I admire that To Hell You Ride is not your typical clichéd view of Native Americans, right down to the dialogue, right down to the art work.”

TOM MANDRAKE: I spend a lot of time trying to put in Native American elements in such a way that people who understand the culture are not going to look at the book and go “what an ass.” 

There’s way too much of that kind of thing over the years, just sort of a ladling on of Native American decoration without thought as to what it really represents.  We want to infuse this project with the culture, realizing it is not our culture.”

JKM: “Another line that jumps out at me, especially since so much of America is divided today by different belief systems: “What is sacred to one tribe is meaningless to another.”

LANCE: “You can’t escape the messages of the era, including war, and the Muslim vs. Christian thing.  All those things are going on around us, so these lines are part and parcel of our era.

When I was in Australia and New Guinea, I bought some artifacts, like masks from the South Sea Islands.  And one of the things I was told was that a crocodile mask from one tribe was so sacred that women were not allowed to lay eyes on it.  It had to be brought to the men’s hut, where men sit and discuss their tribe and what they need to do. 

But to another tribe, those objects -- like the mask -- are as useless as firewood.  Many tribes are not able to reach across the gulf and respect the other’s beliefs.”

JOE MADDREY: “That line [“What is sacred to one tribe is meaningless to another”] is something you’ve said to me quite a bit, Lance.  That’s one of your philosophies of life, and it fits naturally into your story.  The comic is about respect.  Being respectful of other religions and other cultures… to be respectful of nature; to be respectful of everything you co-exist with.  That’s a through-line.”

LANCE HENRIKSEN: “In the prologue, there’s the whole ritual about asking forgiveness for not protecting the sacred burial grounds. When the white man came along and interrupted it, they turned the ritual into a curse.”

JKM: “Tell me something about how and why your story exists in three time periods…”

LANCE HENRIKSEN: “There are some laws that we are using in the story.  One law is that the way Native Americans think about time is non-linear.  If something happened in 1881, the life of that thing is still happening now.  It didn’t end.  And now we’re just picking up on it, but it’s nevertheless a constant.  There’s no such thing as time, really.

JKM: I notice that the story is separated into three different times -- 1881, 1939 and the present -- and that each time period has a distinctive look.

TOM MANDRAKE: “We do it with color.  Color is becoming an extremely important tool in our time line.  We’re trying to establish color palettes for each time line, and that helps the reader to key in on which time period we’re in.  I have to make sure I don’t draw the wrong props in at the wrong time.  You have to watch for the wrong details.”

LANCE HENRIKSEN: “The transitions in the comic are seamless, John, absolutely seamless.  Wait till you see the second issue.

JKM: “The comic-book form seems ideally suited for this kind of narrative approach…”

JOE MADDREY: “To me, transitions in comics are even more interesting than transitions in film.  I love seeing how different writers and artists shift between scenes and time periods in comics.  The medium allows you to kind of flatten out different planes of reality.”

JKM: “Tell me about To Hell You Ride’s mythology of the Watchers. Is it something you made up, or something that you researched?’

LANCE HENRIKSEN: “It’s a creation.”

JOE MADDREY: “We’ve defined them as we’ve gone along, and we’ve found confirmation for them in a lot of other myths, from many different cultures.  We weren’t consciously searching out inspiration for these things, but we were hitting on something without realizing we were hitting on it.”

We are all paying attention to messengers.  A story doesn’t come out of nowhere.  It’s like talking about zeitgeist.  Elements of this story are floating around in the air, and you pick up on different aspects.  You don’t dream up anything from scratch.  We know the essence and the themes and what’s important, but we’re really open-minded, and have our antennae up so other details can resonate with us.”

JKM: “Messengers are very important in the story. They’re everywhere.”

TOM MANDRAKE: “The landscape [in the comic] is alive, and the appearance of animals is definitely important throughout the story.  There again is another thing.  Once you put your head into that space, messages do start coming to you. Once you open your mind, more and more information is sort of handed to you.  It’s floating in the ether.  This is a much deeper project than many I have been in involved with over the years.”

JKM: “I just have to ask: is the Sheriff Jim Shipps character our Lance Henriksen surrogate in the story.”

LANCE HENRIKSEN: “Yes he is.  You find out more in the second issue.”

TOM MANDRAKE: “I’m glad you were able to catch that.  It means I didn’t screw up.  To me, Jim Shipps was Lance the minute I read it. I don’t think it’s a mistake on the part of Lance and Joe.  Why not take advantage of such a great face?  He’s got a wonderful face for light and shadow to play against.

Part IV: Final Thoughts

JKM: “Lastly, why is this story important to all of you?  Why is it a tale that needs to be told right now?

JOE MADDREY: “To me, if you strip away the specifics of the story, the core of the thing is a pretty timeless myth.  What’s the purpose of a myth?  To try to give you a world view so that you feel like your life has meaning.  So that you are being creative and not destructive.

The story is coming from a very intuitive place for all of us.  It’s coming from a world-view and a belief, and that’s how you should start telling any story you believe in.  That’s how you start any story that’s worth telling.”

TOM MANDRAKE: “When you put your heart into a project, you want people to see it and feel that emotion.  The hardest thing to do in comics is get an emotional reaction from readers.  To have someone say your work means something to them is rare.  And when they do, it makes you feel wonderful.”

LANCE HENRIKSEN: “I’ll answer that question for you, John, when all five issues are out and we’re reading them over a glass of red wine together…”