Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Buried Treasures: Star Fleet Technical Manual

Star Fleet Technical Manual (1975, Franz Joseph Designs, published by Ballantine Books)

Karen: Boy oh boy, was this buried treasure read cover to cover and ogled over and over! It's in
pretty bad shape today, which is why I had to take photos of the pages rather than put it on the scanner (the poor thing would have fallen apart) but that just shows how much it was loved. This is a first printing of a book that has been reprinted over and over again. It's famous among Trek fans for providing a look into the world of Star Fleet that went far beyond what we had seen on the TV show (and in 1975, all we had was the original series and the cartoon show, as well as a few novels). The great thing about this manual is that it is composed entirely as if it were in the world of the Federation; there are no references to "Star Trek" or the show. It's as if you are an officer in Star Fleet and have picked up your manual, with the relevant information you need to do your job.

Karen: One thing to remember is, that while we are inundated with Star Trek product today, in 1975, you really didn't have that much stuff available to speak of. Yes, there were some models and a few other things, but nothing like today, when you have Star Trek pizza cutters and bath mats. I mean, you could have Star Trek stuff in every room of your house if you wanted to now. And as for reading material, the James Blish novelizations of the TV shows, and "Spock Must Die", were about it. Stephen Whitfield's great "Making of Star Trek" was still two years away. So when the Star Fleet Manual came out, it was truly mind-blowing.

Karen: The technical manual was the brain child of fan Franz Joseph Schnaubelt, who sent some of his technical drawings to Lincoln Enterprises, Trek's merchandising arm at the time, and they were enthusiastic about putting together a product. And what a product it was. Trek fans went bananas and the manual sold like hot cakes, opening the doors for the flood of books, blueprints, and maps to come.Besides Joseph, there are many names recognizable to fans of classic Star Trek mentioned in the acknowledgements including Bob Justman, Walter Jeffries, Bjo Trimble, Irv Feinberg, William Thiess, Judy Lynn Del Ray, Stephen Whitfield, and of course, Gene Roddenberry. 

Karen: So what's in the manual? Well, a little bit of everything. It starts off with two memos: one from the United States Military command, about the strange "data sheets" found in the Omaha Air Force Base computers. The second memo is from Star Fleet Command, and refers to a Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Commander Spock and their accidental trip back in time to that military base, and the accidental transmission of documents to the air base's computer. This is a reference to the episode "Assignment Earth," when the crew traveled back to the late 1960s. So we have an explanation for how we came by this manual.

Karen: The first section of the manual is very text heavy, including the Articles of Federation,which looks a lot like the US Constitution: "We the intelligent life forms of the United Federation of Planets..." This is a very thorough document covering the organizational structure of the Federation.There's also two peace treaties, one between the Feds and the Romulans, and one between the Feds and the Klingons. I have to admit, this was the section I looked at the least as a kid.

Karen: Next up: Banners! Every star system has its own flag/banner. The UFP has their own, 40 Eridani, Epsilon Indii, Alpha Centauri -all the different Federation members. Next is a uniform color guide (the only color page in the book). I remember wondering how to pronounce "Tenne," a golden color. (It's tenny, by the way.) 

Karen: The next section  probably got the most attention from me -the Command section. Here, we see insignias, uniforms, and best of all, starships! The insignias, which always appeared on the left breast of the uniforms, were nearly impossible to make out on the show. Now, thanks to the manual, we knew that the command branch wore a small star, the science branch had a stylized circle,  and the engineering branch had a symbol similar to an 'e'. The braid that designated rank was also shown, making costuming much easier for fans as well. But the real treat of this section was the ships. On the show, the only Star fleet ships we saw were heavy cruisers like the Enterprise, almost certainly in an effort to save money. But here, besides the familiar heavy cruiser, we get three variations: the destroyer/scout, the transport/tug, and the dreadnought.While all variations on a theme, they seem like logical members of the same fleet. I recall at the time wishing I could get model kits of these ships, to hang up in my room alongside my Enterprise and Klingon cruiser. What's even more fun is the lists of the ships in each class. There are scores of ships listed, giving one visions of a huge fleet. 

Karen: There are more diagrams, for the shuttlecraft,  the typical stateroom on a cruiser (didn't you wonder where the bathroom was in Capt. Kirk's quarters?), and more importantly, the bridge of a heavy cruiser. If you wondered what each station was on the Enterprise, wonder no more. Now you could tell the Communications station from the Defense Sub-Systems Monitor. Important stuff, if you were going to serve on a starship. The command section was rounded out with schematics of the two versions of the phaser.

Karen: The Science section looks at the bridge science station, the tricorder, the galactic coordinate system, some warp drive calculations, and medical instruments. All good stuff, but not quite as exciting as starships!

Karen: The Support Services section examines the Communications bridge  station, the communicator, and the Engineering deck, warp engines, and transporters, including some versions never seen on the show. To round the book out, illustrations are included of Spock's Vulcan harp and the three-dimensional chess set over which Kirk and Spock sometimes enjoyed a friendly game. There are also blank graph pages at the end of the book for adding more information -which this young Trek fan did!

Karen: I still enjoy looking at the manual today. It seems rather simplistic now, compared to all the books that have come out since, but it has a charm all its own, and knowing that it was the book that started it all gives it a special status in my heart.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Greatest Hero of Them All - Action Comics 591

Action Comics #591 (August 1987)
"Past Imperfect"
John Byrne and Keith Williams

Doug: I was in a Twitter conversation with some of our followers a couple of weeks ago and we were discussing this series. The other guys remembered it, and we turned the talk shortly to Alan Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" I think you'll also get a sense of one particular scene from that tale, as we move through this one. Coming just about a year after Moore and Curt Swan bid farewell to the pre-Crisis Man of Steel, in this issue John Byrne would basically bid adieu to the Boy of Steel. Let's check it out.

Doug: When last we saw our heroes, Superman had been in fierce combat with some teenagers unknown to him. He'd fought four members of the Legion of Super-Heroes in a quarry outside Smallville. The heroes from the future had landed there after an adventure involving Superboy going rogue on them and paralyzing four of their teammates. Mistaking the Man of Steel for his younger self, the Legion took it to him largely out of self-preservation (with more than a hint of revenge). But as cooler heads eventually prevailed and explanations were given, the Boy of Steel did show up -- with his time-stasis ray. And he zapped these good guys as well! So we pick it up there with Superman and the four Legionnaires frozen. Superboy tells them that the Legionnaires must die, so that the universe may live! He hops down from the roof upon which he was perched, and explains to everyone that they won't be permanently harmed. He says he's taking them to his "master"... all except Superman. Superboy gets close to him and comments that this is not the Superman he will become. And then he piles up his teammates and flies away.

Doug: Superman feels his muscles slowly begin to "thaw", and recognizes that the stasis effect must have lasted quite a bit shorter than Superboy intended. Chance? Fate or not, Superman takes off after his younger namesake. It's only moments later that he spies the Boy of Steel with the Legion's time bubble, picking up speed. John Byrne really uses this issue to differentiate the old Superman mythology from the "new" and revised mythology. Superman thinks to himself that he must hurry -- the super-teens had told him of Superboy's strength and speed. Light speed. Superman thinks to himself that there's no way he could do that himself. As he gains on Superboy Superman knows what is about to happen -- Superboy will eventually reach a velocity whereby he can break the time barrier, and while pushing the time bubble. Superman gets just close enough to grab an adolescent-sized red boot, and hold on for dear life! As he worries about blacking out from the strain, something happens -- an explosion in the time stream!

Doug: Superman loses his grip on Superboy's boot and plummets to Earth. But Earth-when? Wouldn't you know it -- he lands back in Smallville, near where Pete Ross has been keeping vigil. Pete rides his bike over to the crater made by Super"boy", and calls to his friend Clark. We cut to outer space, where Krypto the Super-Dog is chasing meteors while going over the rationale for such activity in his Super-Dog brain. But the canine is distracted by his keen senses -- his master needs his help, and now! So off toward Earth rockets Superboy's dog. Sceneshift again to the end of time, where the Time Trapper is simply beside himself with the glee of his impending victory. And in that state of euphoria, the Time Trapper pats himself on the back at the genius of his plan -- the Pocket Universe (reproduced below for your scrutiny).

Doug: Back in Smallville, Pete helped Clark out of the crater he'd made when he'd fallen to Earth. But Pete can't get over how big his friend is, and asks him if he was exposed to Red Kryptonite. Superman thinks to himself that he's no idea what Red Kryptonite is... Superman looks at Pete, and thinks to himself that the kid sure looks like Pete, but everything is off a bit. There's no way Pete Ross ever knew about Clark Kent's super powers, and this Smallville doesn't look like it should. Pete walks his friend through the downtown area, saying he'll take him home. But Superman knows that the Kent homestead is a farmhouse, 20 miles away! They eventually make it to a small two-story -- the home of Jonathan and Martha Kent! But upon entering, the Kents are shocked and ask Pete just why he's brought Superboy to their home. Pete says not to worry, there's no time for charades -- he's known about Clark for years. Superman must feel like he's on drugs, because even though the Kents don't look quite like his parents, they "feel" like them. But in the midst of all the confusion, it's about to get worse. Suddenly a voice rises from stage left -- Superboy has found Superman. And as before, he's not happy.

Doug: I guess Superboy wasn't too concerned about his father's roof, because with one punch he launches Superman right through it and into the nighttime sky! Superman is still ascending when Krypto flies by. The dog wheels, heading back to help his master when he gets a good look at the human projectile. Dog and man have an interesting meeting of they eyes and senses. Superboy, though, is about to clear things up as he flies right past his dog and into Superman's gut. For the third time in this story, Byrne draws a line between old and new. First it was speed, then colored Kryptonite, and now it's strength. Despite the fact that Superman is nearly twice his age, Superboy brags that he is the stronger of the two. But Superman says that experience is on his side, and puts a move on Superboy that allows him to create separation. But Krypto is having none of it, and latches onto Superman's cape (what did Jim Croce say about that?). But as the dog tries to rend it, Superman gives a big tug of his own; the cape rips and Krypto goes spinning off into the distance, shocked that the fabric gave way (#4).

Doug: As the two Kryptonians battle in the sky, Krypto uses his X-ray vision to analyze the Super-imposter. And sure enough -- Krypto learns that he is indeed bona fide. Knowing then that there is only one way to save Superboy from a Superman, Krypto flies to the Kent house and to Superboy's cellar laboratory. Behind a secret panel, Krypto locates samples of all the known colors of Kryptonite, each with its own unusual properties. Using his paw, he pops open the lid of the Gold Kryptonite; John Byrne had now given readers a coda to the punch-to-the-gut ending of the Dog of Steel written just a year earlier by Alan Moore. Soon Ma and Pa Kent heard barking coming from the cellar. Lifting the doors, they found Krypto -- acting like a normal dog. Pa quickly deduced what had happened, and understood what Krypto must have intended.

Doug: Racing to the area below the battle, Pa Kent urged Superboy to fly clear so that he could play the ultimate trump card -- a container with nuggets of every known color of Kryptonite. But Superman landed and took the container from Pa's hand. Nothing in that cylinder was going to harm this Man of Steel (#5). Superboy is aghast that his enemy now holds the key to his (Superboy's) weakness. But Superman says wait just a second -- Superboy wanted it to play out like this.

Doug: Pa asks his son if all of this is true. Superboy confesses that he wanted Superman to beat him, so that he wouldn't have to betray the Legion. Superman says he knew that young Clark's heart wasn't in any of the goings-on, and that once he met the Kents he knew for sure that Superboy would never do anything to harm his friends. It's a big group hug, and then Superman says it's time to get after the Time Trapper. But the newly-revived Legionnaires say "uh uh" -- Brainiac says they cannot risk Superman getting killed by the Time Trapper, or lost at the end of time. He must remain in the 20th Century so that he can be its champion, ensuring that the Legion's future will eventually come to fruition. So a short time-hop later, and Superman exits the time bubble, safe and sound in 1987. And off the Legion goes, into the timestream and into the pages of Legion of Super-Heroes #38 (next Monday!).


Doug: I have a real split personality on this story. Part of me wants to love it, to regain the excitement that was DC Comics back from 1985-88 or so. But the other part of me looks at the tremendous collateral damage of the Crisis -- Barry Allen, Kara Zor-el, and of course Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. It certainly helps here that John Byrne has held our hands through these middle chapters, and indeed wrote the explanation of the Pocket Universe. I'm totally betrayed by the very notion of such a thing. Talk about a Bobby Ewing shower scene! Overall, the result of the decision to use the Pocket Universe as the out was just one huge corporate kick in the groin to readers/fans of the Legion, many of whom had been with the teens from the future since the dawning of the Silver Age. And you know what? What did all this end up being for? Eventually there were enough special stories, Elseworlds stories, new Supergirls, etc. that most of what the Crisis wrought has been put back in one fashion or another. And you know what I saw on Twitter last week? DC is considering a Crisis for their New-52 Universe. Imagine that...

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Spinner Rack: September 1978

Doug: Time does get away, doesn't it? It's again been a few weeks since we last took a turn on the Spinner Rack. Now that's rectified. The link below will take you to Mike's Amazing World of Comics, and the books cover-dated...

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