Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Zombies...Not The Worst Thing!

Do you like movies like Hunger Games, Divergent, Omega Man, Escape From New York and Mad Max?

Did you get a boot out of the Batman Epic , “No Man’s Land”?

And who doesn’t just love Zombie Apocalypse’s (or is that Zombie Apocalypsi?)

Or to paraphrase Buffy , “When the apocalypse comes, beep me”

Yes, post apocalyptic and dystopian fiction is all the rage these days and has been for a very long time. One of my personal favorites is Soylent Green (is people!)

And every so often we see documentaries that discuss real life possibilities like nuclear war, pandemics, or collisions with asteroids wiping us all out in a rather spectacular fashion. We are all reassured though that such events are about as likely to happen as me hitting a $ 350,000,000 lottery by picking the numbers by throwing darts. Which is to say not very likely.

BUT! Did you know that there WAS an event in 1859, that if it hit the planet today would literally plunge us back into the Dark Ages? Did you know that the odds of another event just like it happening within a century or less is a near certainty?

In September, 1859 amateur astronomer Richard Carrington observed a massive solar event through his telescope. He observed two patches of intense white light, solar eruptions that triggered coronal mass ejections (CME) towards the earth. Within three days a massive geomagnetic storm struck the earth, blowing out telegraph lines all over the world. Telegraph lines were seen to spark and operators received shocks. Scarlet auroras began to appear all over the planet so bright that night turned into day.

All the result of a solar flare with the power of 10 billion Hiroshima Bombs.

Fortunately the planet did not yet possess a worldwide electrical grid. Life went on with no long term consequence.

This has become known as a Carrington Event. They happen every so often. According to NASA there is a one in eight chance of such an event happening by 2020. And a near certainty within a century. We are not talking about 100,000 years here. It’s just around the corner cosmically speaking. The only question is “will we be in the way?”

So what happens if we DO get struck by a Solar Storm on the level of a Carrington event?
Let’s jump for a moment to July 2020…

A geomagnetic storm with the power of the 1859 event strikes the earth head on and lasts for several days effectively destroying the power grid of the entire planet with what is essentially a Solar EMP. When the electricity failed worldwide the following happened:

• Transportation systems failed
• Fresh water supplies became scarce
• Emergency services failed
• Police and military were compromised
• Government services became nonexistent
• Worldwide finance crumbled
• Communications and the Internet disintegrate
• Fuel oil and gasoline become unobtainable.

Within six months all the major governments collapse. The population is decimated by starvation, thirst, disease and exposure.

The fact is that a head on Carrington event would destroy our civilization. We would quite possibly never recover as a technological species.

Perhaps this is a common occurrence in the Cosmos and explains why starfaring cultures don’t seem to exist (at least not in these parts). Maybe their technology is wiped out by Carrington events.

So are we destined to go the way of the Dinosaurs?

Only if we are foolish. People are a lot smarter than Dinosaurs (with the possible exception of Red Sox fans!). We are entirely capable of shielding our essential technology from the effects of a Carrington storm. Most importantly we are capable of protecting the massive power transformers that are the very heart of our global power grid and are irreplaceable on any large scale.

We haven’t done that yet. Doing so would be EXPENSIVE!

But there have been a few events recently that one would hope is waking the decision makers up to the fact that some up front expense will save us all a ton of grief…if we are forward thinking enough to act.

We suffered a glancing hit in 1989 that caused power outtages in the US and Canada. In 2012 we had a near miss that, if it had hit us would have had an immediate economic impact of 2 trillion dollars and would have taken many years to recover from.

While there is no need to get one’s affairs in order quite yet, the lesson we can learn from this is two fold.

First, the Earth is a fragile, beautiful place. It is actually tiny on a cosmic scale and can easily be ravaged by solar events.

Second, we can protect this fragile, beautiful planet. We’re pretty smart that way….if we act.

A Carrington event is certainly not as sexy as a Zombie Apocalypse but it’s far more likely to happen…and sooner than later. Bear that in mind when Mockingjay II comes out.

That's 30!


Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Lonely Man - A Look Back At The Incredible Hulk

The Age of Comic Book TV has certainly arrived. With shows like Walking Dead, Arrow, Flash, Marvel’s Agents of Shield, (oh and Comic book Men) currently on the schedule and Supergirl and Daredevil set to make their debuts in the coming months, TV and comics have never been more closely linked.

Why just this week iZombie, the DC owned property has made a very promising debut. (It’ sort of Buffy meets Veronica Mars and worth a peek!)
Not only do we have a lot of comic related television, we have a lot of GOOD comic book related television. Dead, Flash and Arrow are all bonifide hits. And while Agents has had it’s fits and starts along the way, that show too is finding both it’s legs and it’s audience.
Even shows that were not directly tied to comics give the media more than a passing nod. The Big Bang Theory in particular nails the comic shop experience right on the head!

Yes, things have never been better for comics and TV. But of course that’s hardly a new thing. As far back as the 1950’s we had the classic Adventures of Superman. The 60’s through the 90’s saw shows like Wonder Woman, Batman, The Tick, Lois And Clark, Superboy and (ugh) Spiderman all hit the airwaves at one time or another. These shows had varying degrees of quality and success. But even the very best of them seem a bit dated by today’s standards…except for one;

The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk made it’s debut in 1978 under show runner Kenneth Johnson, known for shows like V, Alien Nation, and The Bionic Woman. It starred Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrrigno and Jack Colvin. The show ran in prime time for five seasons and spawned several made for TV movies. It has never been off the air in all the years since and is a mainstay on Netflix even now.

The Hulk would fit right in with the character driven “super” dramas of today. David (not Bruce) Banner as portrayed by Bixby is based more on Jean Val Jean from Les Miserables than on his comic book counterpart. The fact that he is relentlessly pursued by Jack McGee (Colvin) brings that parallel even closer. Johnson consciously based the reporter on the obsessed policeman Javert from the classic novel.

The relationship between Banner and the Hulk (Ferrigno) is explored in the manner of Jekyll and Hyde. Banner is not just a man who changes into a monster. He is a man who has the two sides of his nature constantly warring with each other. As portrayed by Ferrigno, the creature is more childlike and given to frustration than simply rage personified. The creature is also VERY MUCH David Banner in his compassion.

The Incredible Hulk is very much a tragedy along the lines of Les Miserables in that we know Banner is always and ultimately alone. From week to week, regardless of the circumstances, Banner moves on alone to his next stop along the road to redemption and the ever elusive cure.

In the wrong hands this show could have become maudlin and even silly. However the team of Bixby/Ferrigno, Colvin and Johnson was as talented as TV has ever had to offer. They played the material with respect and honesty. They felt for the characters and made us feel for them as well.

Perhaps the most remembered “character” in the Incredible Hulk is the music. Specifically “The Lonely Man Theme”. It is a forlorn four note motif played most often on solo piano. The piece takes the pain that Banner lives with day to day and gives it a voice that haunts everyone who hears it. It may be the single most memorable theme in Television History.

Comic Book fans have never had a better time than today for our beloved hobby and TV, but there has arguably never been a show that quite matched The Incredible Hulk.

That’s 30!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Fantastic...Challengers?!

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before…

Four adventurers, scientists, daredevils, ace pilots all survive a crash that should have killed them and are forever changed by the experience. Banding together they confront the weird, the unexplained and evil forces that could destroy the world if not for them.
This intrepid group is a cross between superheroes and adventurers, often exploring the unexplained just for the sake of going where no one has (ahem) gone before.

AND they were created by the King of Comics, Jack Kirby

Who ARE these four amazing people???

Obviously I’ talking about The Fantastic Four right?


I'm actually talking about a quartet created by the great Kirby several years EARLIER…
The Challengers Of The Unknown!

Challengers made its debut in the Showcase # 6, cover dated January/February 1957. Due to the delay in getting circulation data back on the comics of the time DC comics decided to create a try out title that would allow them to give new concepts a chance to catch on in their own title. Characters such as The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom and The Spectre all helped to usher in the Superhero revival of the Silver Age. In fact Showcase was so successful that a DC sister title, The Brave And Bold also began trying out new titles, notably Justice League of America and Hawkman.

Challengers fell somewhere between the adventure comics of the 1950’s and the growing trend to Superhero comics. None of the Challengers , Rocky Davis, Professor Haley, Red Ryan or Ace Morgan possessed superpowers, but all were extraordinary men. Each was an Olympic level athlete. The team had a daredevil, a scientist, a fearless daredevil and master skin diver. In so many ways the Challengers reads as a proof of concept for the Fantastic Four which would be so instrumental in launching the Marvel Age of Comics.

Obviously there are differences between the books. Not the least of which is the presence of Susan Storm in the latter title and the “fantastic” powers possessed by Reed Richards’ team.

Still three are as many similarities which can’t be ignored due to the simple fact that Kirby was instrumental in the creation of both titles in less than five years. Both groups are more adventurer than superhero. Both groups are banded together by a near death experience that changes them forever. And both groups are more like family than a group of like minded associates.
Visually both Challengers and Fantastic Four bear the unmistakable Kirby style. Kirby’s art is always in motion, the characters not just talking heads, panels easily broken. Kirby dynamism is evident in both titles.

Although Challengers never reached the height that the FF did (largely because Kirby migrated from DC to Marvel) the former title was a mainstay at DC for over twenty years and still makes occasional appearances today. They make a notable appearance in the Darwin Cooke created DC The New Frontier in both the comics and animated feature.

The Challengers have a solid place in the pantheon of Silver Age titles that revived the industry. For two decades the went boldly and fearlessly into the Unknown. They were the template for one of the most popular ongoing titles in comics history which had no small part in launching the Marvel Age.

Not a bad legacy!

That’s 30!