When we last left our intrepid blogger (me) two weeks ago and four weeks ago, he was blogging (very roughly) about the superhero genre, pre- and post-Watchmen, and the kind of light that Alan Moore’s Watchmen shone onto superhero comics, as well as the core elements of the planetary romance form. I was setting up this conversation about what a Watchmen-like treatment of planetary romance would look like, both the pretty parts and the ugly ones.
This is a fun exercise and it’s quite possible that I’m way off in what I construct next, so if I am, please offer up your ideas, views, suggestions. Debate is good!
And, I’ve been ending on a cliffhanger, like any good pulp. So now, here’s Part III, What a Watchmen Treatment of Planetary Romance Might Look Like….
We’ll need a hero, a youngish white male paragon to travel to another world, because that’s the core of the form. And let’s have the aliens of this world be as close to humans as possible in physique and psychology, otherwise other assumptions become much harder to play with.
While Carson traveled to Venus, Carter to Barsoom, and Rogers to the future by themselves, we may need companions for the hero, like Flash Gordon did. And for later grist for the dramatic mill, it will probably serve us that one is a strong, well-characterized, complex woman, preferably from another political viewpoint or culture.
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When we last left our intrepid blogger (me) two weeks ago, he was blogging (very roughly) about the superhero genre, pre- and post-Watchmen, and the kind of light that Alan Moore’s Watchmen shone onto superhero comics. I did this because I think Moore did something very special and I wondered if it could be done to other fields, especially planetary romance.
I ended on a cliffhanger. And now, Part II….
I said last time that most of the traditions of the superhero genre were born in a very brief period between 1938 and 1945. In fact, the elements of the superhero tradition come part and parcel from the larger pulp tradition, which contained westerns; gritty and occasionally lurid detective stories; and planetary romances like Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, John Carter of Mars, and Carson Napier of Venus.
The planetary romance tradition was powerfully tailored to its key market: white male American teens and men. If you were an under-appreciated teen with hero or power fantasies, pulp was your thing.
The heroes were young, white, smart, good looking, physically able, self-deprecating, and commanding. They confronted immediate perils (like a monster) or vast dangers (like an invasion), often single-handedly, or from a position of inspiring leadership.
And the opponents the hero fought were most often one-dimensional, morally-destitute cardboard placeholders for savage (non-whites) in our world, a view consistent with racial views of the late 19th century.
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When I was a kid, hurling rocks at dinosaurs and running away, there were not many otherworldly shows on TV. Battlestar Galactica ran for two years and then Buck Rogers for about the same, with some incomprehensible Land of the Lost or Dr. Who thrown in at seeming random. Saturday mornings were a rich source of imagination, with Tarzan, Space Academy, Jason of Star Command and Flash Gordon, but unfortunately, in my day, Saturday mornings were only on Saturdays.
Every so often though, I’d find Space 1999 in the TV Guide; it was pretty cool. The sets and ships were pretty different from the sleek models in every other scifi show, and the space suits and the Moon seemed so alien. Twenty-five years later, armed with a couple of science degrees, I ordered a season for nostalgia’s sake.
O. M. G.
It was awful. Aside from the terrible writing and passive characters, and the apparent scattering of Caucasian British humans throughout the cosmos, I could do nothing but choke on the science and toss this drivel into a corner (actually, I think I left the boxed set in Havana, but that’s a story for another time…).
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