Tuesday, February 23, 2021

2001: A Reading Odyssey

 Like many of you dear readers, I signed up for HBO Max prior to Christmas 2020 for the sole purpose of streaming Wonder Woman 1984.  And like many of you, I was colossally disappointed with the film.  In fact, I fell asleep in the middle of it!  However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I didn't abandon HBO Max to the streaming platform dung heap as if it were a fig tree in leaf with no fruit, cursed forever to wither and die.  No, instead I explored the site to see what else it had to offer and found that if you discount the latest Star Wars/Marvel Disney+ TV shows, it had some of the best content out there!

This platform has many of my favorite movies: Logan's Run*The Omega Man*Soylent Green [funded by Bill Gates], An American Werewolf in LondonBullit*Escape From New York*, etc. (*I even own the soundtracks to these.).  I'm also watching Showa era Godzilla classics, most for the first time (I highly recommend Ebirah, Horror of the Deep [jazzy soundtrack - fun ensemble] and Godzilla versus Hedorah [stylistically filmed with epic smackdowns].)   I've reenjoyed films I liked before, but hardly remember in detail (like most things these days after hitting 50 last spring) such as Time Bandits, The Maltese Falcon, and A Hard Days Night.  Plus, I finally got around to watching movies I've always wanted to check out like Capricorn OneJojo Rabbit, and the moody atmospheric Solaris (1972).  

This last one directly influenced my decision to revisit the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey! (Incidentally, it guest stars Ed Bishop soon to be cast (in 1969) as Commander Ed Straker of S.H.A.D.O in the highly entertaining Gerry Anderson classic TV series, UFO, which I just finished at the close of the never-to-be-forgotten 2020 year.)  And just like the mysterious Monolith took Dave Bowman on "the ultimate trip" to becoming the Star-Child.  The movie was the springboard for my own (as U2's Bono sang it) "voyage of discovery" to delve into the a 2001 Reading Odyssey in 2021!

Fortunately, for me this was not an expensive* endeavor (not pronounced IN-DEE-A-VOR) as I had all of the material on hand in my collection**:

*I've spend less that $20 getting the novels, 2010: Odyssey Two & 3001: The Final Odyssey from the local used bookstore and ordering the 2010 comic adaptation in Marvel Super Special #37 from eBay.  I'll probably end up springing for the 2010 Blu-ray too for $6.

**"like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old" [Matthew 13:52]

A reading sequence in four parts where I ruminate my thoughts, impressions and remembrances:

#1: The Lost Worlds of 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke  (1972) [First Print!], Sidgwick & Jackson

I'm fairly certain I bought this for the beautifully painted cover.  Certainly I got it also because of my fondness of the film and comic, but I doubt I ever really expected to read it.  However, upon finishing the film, it was the first item that I sought out (and I didn't have to dig 40-feet under the Moon's surface to find it -- although it was at the bottom of a stack of books).  This is an account of Clarke's collaboration with Kubrick to develop the story (the novel and screenplay were being worked on somewhat simultaneously).  Clarke includes background to the film, but he also includes some of the original short stories that inspired it (such as The Sentinel) and backstory that was later dropped from consideration.  We get to learn more about the astronauts on Discovery and the birth of Hal.  Additionally, there are alternative endings, when he and Stanley were still figuring out where they wanted to go and how they wanted to finish.  You also get to read about the aliens behind the Monolith.  I definitely like having the Monolith be more mysterious, but this was all very enjoyable and it scratched my 2001 obsession-itch extremely well.

#2: 2001: a space odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, based on the Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (1968) [First Printing paperback edition!], Signet Books

Speaking of mysterious, I was mystified when I couldn't find my copy of the novel.  I knew I had read it once upon a time, but it wasn't in the same place as Lost Worlds.  Finally, I remembered I have a whole shelf devoted to novelizations and there it was.  Again, a very good read with succinct chapters that made for excellent pre-bedtime reading.  It generally is the same as the movie, but they go to Saturn, instead of Jupiter.  You also get some extra exposition that helps you interpret the film better.  You're privy to the thoughts of Moon-Watcher (the bone wielding pre-Man).  I especially like the expanded parts with Dr. Heywood Floyd.  And unless I missed it, the classic, "Open the Pod Bay Doors, Hal" scene is ABSENT!  The film cuts it out, but Dave spends another few months piloting Discovery to Iapetus after lobotomizing Hal.  The only draw-back is that some sequences were understandably similar to what I had read in Lost Worlds.  I'm not deterred though, I'm on a mission to complete a 1000 years of reading by getting to the three sequels.  I've already started 2010 and I've had 2061 in my possession, borrowed from a friend, since 1989!  No, he's not getting it back.  Sorry, Yong!

Last spring I was on a James Bond kick and re-read Casino Royale up to Spy Who Loved Me where I got stalled. Still it was an excellent ride of the 007 wave I was on.  I switch gears so often on my interests at any given time, it's very rare that I finish a whole series.

#3:  2001: A Space Odyssey [Marvel Treasury Special] by Jack Kirby (1976), Marvel Comics Group

I remember getting this Very Fine + copy at Another Universe in the Columbia Mall in the mid-90s. It was only $20 and they had multiple copies.  I wish I had purchased more!  I've made similar investment blunders before.  Like when I only bought one NM/warehouse copy of Amazing Spider-Man #129 for $20 from Dave's Comics in Richmond.  I should have pressed and CGC'd that book before I sold it!

I don't think I was even aware of this books existence until I saw it at the Mall. I only knew about the comic series (see below), which was ultra confusing when disconnected from the film that I hadn't seen at the time.  But this . . . this . . . is a masterpiece!  Could it be the best representation of Kirby's mid-70's/post-DC work?  I absolutely believe it can!  It's a great adaptation of 72 pages.  Considering that the film lacked a lot of dialogue, this book probably has more words than the screenplay, but that just makes it a nice blend of the film and the novel to me.  Plus, 70's exposition is a lost art these days.  You've got dynamic panels, full-page spreads, photo-collages, and some two-page spreads all at the massive Treasury Edition Size!  Kirby couldn't recreate the spectacle of the film with the music and cinematography, but he captured the mood well enough and the size gives it just the extra "oomph" it needs!  Sure all the guys have that Kirby-face, but who cares, I'm not looking for Neal Adams here.  And you call tell that Jack must have been really jazzed to do this story, he's not cutting any corners.  This is a labor of love!  And let me say that Jack's depiction of the change from elderly man to child is BETTER than Kubricks!  No lie.

Alas, not everyone agrees with me . . . 

A copy on eBay will set you back around $150 to $200 these days.  And when you consider that it may never be reprinted.  Well, it's a book that's worth having whether you're a Kirby fan, a 2001 fan, or both!  I would enjoy a 2001 Marvel Masterworks, but really it needs to be one of those Monster-sized HC editions.  I skipped out on the Eternals one recently (cash flow issues).  Also, the Eternals is probably my LEAST favorite Kirby series, despite a really strong start.  Although, the new Marvel series seems to be promising.

#4:  2001: A Space Odyssey #1 thru #10; regular comic series "Based on the Concepts From MGM/Stanley Kubrick Production" (1976 Sep 28 [1976 Dec cover date] to 1977 Jun 21 [1977 Sep cover date], Marvel Comics Group

My first issues of the series were gotten off the stands, likely at the local 7-11, back during "Matthew Year One".  Those would have been issues #9 and #10.  But I'm not convinced the copies I own are my originals. #9 feels like a Slurpee was spilt and dried on it!  Somewhere along the way I got #1 -- I think in Kansas City, maybe the same time I got Star Wars #1 and #2 as back issues (still relatively early late 70s).  I didn't fill in my collection until many, many years later.  Having reread them now, I wish my issues were in better condition, but they're readable without giving you a mold allergy.  In this rereading I also devoured any text pages/letter pages, each Bullpen Bulletin with Stan's Soapbox, and all the tasty Hostess Ads!  Marvel was really adding some great new titles during this period from mid-1976 to mid-1977: Logan's Run, Godzilla, Star Wars, Human Fly, Nova, What If, Rampaging Hulk magazine, etc.   The famous Thanos versus the Avengers annual appeared along side the second series of Marvel character Slurpee cups.  Spidey and Howard also premiered in local newspapers.  What a great time to become a fan!

About the series itself, it started out fairly formulaic, but it's such a good formula!  Primitive man gets taught by the Monolith to advance to the next stage, then seque to 2001 where an astronaut encounters the black slab and turns into a Star Child, which Jack describes as the "New Seed".  Despite some genuinely positive letters, most were critical, some severely so, and some cautiously.  No one really knew what to make of the book, since it had no recurring characters.  They wished Jack had a better scripter, etc.  I will say Archie Goodwin is listed as "Admired by" in the Editor category, so he may have given Jack a fairly freehand, but trusted him to some degree.  You see that is some of the lettercol responses, encouraging readers to have patience, Jack's putting together a broader story, etc.  Can you believe that they're complaining about 30 CENTS!?!  With comics costing $4, $5, and $6 these days.  I know, time value of money/inflation and what not.  Still, 30 cents, what a bargain!  As a nearly/newly 7-year old, 30 cents wasn't necessarily easy for me to come by, but these writers could afford stamps!  

Thoughts on each issue:

#1 -- Probably the best cover of the bunch.  Nicely captures the whole theme in a beautiful design, even if the Monolith isn't drawn at the correct 1 x 4 x 9 dimensions (the squares of 1, 2, and 3).  And the corner box art, OUTSTANDING! I loved this issue, which as I mentioned before was way over my head as a kid (what off earth was happening to the astronaut at the end?).  Cave man learns to fight with a stone knife.  Nuff said!

#2 -- If the facial proportions were less exaggerated, this cover design would work better.  It's a great story.  Following the formula but with interesting differences.  Here you have a primitive woman create the first (wo)man-made religion by dressing up in old bones and scaring the locals into doing her bidding.  Honestly, she was just hungry.  The Astronaut scene is particularly good when the Monolith creates the character's pool side environment where she rapidly ages and dies to become the material needed to germinate the new seed.

#3 & #4 -- A two-parter!  Marak the conqueror encounters an old man who learned how to make Bronze swords. And wait until you see how the wheel is discovered!  Marak sees a neighboring ruling woman in a vision and must have her. Nothing and no land will stand in his way. When she sees him coming, she doesn't resist, instead they join forces, creating the first empire/stable government.

Then in the future a direct descendant of Marak, encounters the Monolith in a sacrifice play to save his fellow astronauts.  When the Monolith creates the perfect environment for him, he refuses to go though the evolution process and instead lives out an eternity in his own paradise.  Same formula, but with different results! It's a great story.

#5 & #6 --  Another two-parter!  It's the year 2040!  What?  Yeah, that's what the letter writers asked.  Norton of New York gets to live out his fantasy as super-hero in a pay-by-the-hour simulation.  Most of life is an escape since pollution is so bad. There's even a matte paining at the beach!  Norton learns from a brief encounter with the Monolith (he thought it was part of the "show" experience) that he needs to go to space for some real adventure.  Did I mention how much of a comic geek Norton is?  Well, he ends up saving an alien princess (who looks like one of Jack's Rigellians from Thor), but he just misses the "boat" himself, dying in spectacular fashion in one of the best splash pages of the whole series.  I found an image of the original art online (see below):

#7 -- The New Seed explained!  And what a gorgeous cover, it may be second best, but it isn't second-rate!  By my counting this is the fifth Seed we've seen (including the Treasury Edition) to date.  But this time we see where it goes and what it does!  The Seed is just exploring the galaxy and comes upon a planet it its death-throes.  It's a toxic and violent environment that will never get better.  But even on this world there are dying embers of love.  Unfortunately, it's doomed to die, tragically.  But maybe not!  The Seed takes the vanquished lovers, intermingles there essence and uses it to "create" the possibility of life in the ocean of a developing world.  I love this concept as science fiction, but as a strict Biblical 6-day Creationist, it can only ever be fantasy to me.

You know 2001 would end perfectly right here, but we still have three more issues to go . . .

#8, #9 & #10 -- A three-parter (and a back-door pilot to another series). It's the debut of X-51, aka Mister Machine, and soon-to-be rebranded as Machine Man long before he took up cussing.

Jack's thrown the "formula" out the window now.  X series robots are running amuck.  They all get homicidal at a certain point so the order is given to detonate them all.  X-51 is different he's been given a human face and has been raised as a son by his father.  Aaron Stack is his name.  The powers that be don't care if he's well adjusted, they want him destroyed.  His "dad" takes out his inner mechanism bomb, sacrificing himself, so Aaron can escape.  X-51 doesn't find out about his death until issue #10. He's captured and they remove his face. Uh-oh, that might cause him to go insane too -- luckily the Monolith gives him an idea for escape. (#8 picture at the end)

I was going to see issue #9 is my least favorite, but it's not as bad as I thought (the art is more rushed though) and serves as a good bridge to the excellent issue #10.  X-51 escapes and we get to see him strut his stuff.  He can mimic another's voice. He can extend his arms and legs.  A wise scientist realizes they can't beat him, so they give him his face back and release him into the world.  The Monolith meets him again, hints at a greater destiny (Earth-X maybe), but Aaron declines; he'll pave his own way as a free man (a recurring them in many of Kirby's books).  You get the sense that this story is contemporary (1977) and may take place in the Marvel Universe (which eventually it does in a mild retcon I think), but really there is just a kid that likes super-heroes and Marvel Comics, not evidence of the 616 universe.  Also includes the Godzilla #1 House Ad!!!!

I really enjoyed the final issue despite the worst name of any villain's henchman, Mister Hotline!  Yikes!  I like Mr. Machine's interaction with the small town family and constables --  gave me a Dark Shadows feel of every-day/everyman characters meeting the strange and unusual.  Hotline is a Devil worshiper or so he thinks.  The "devil" believes Aaron holds the key to free will and if he can subvert it like a deleted/censored social media post, he can control the world and all thought.  When Mister Machine is captured they dismantle him - head, arms, legs, and torso.  They bring the head to "face the heat" of the demon.  Meanwhile the other body parts, sprout TV cameras and start to mobilize to rescue Machine Man's head.  It's a nifty turn of events.  And it turns out the demon/devil is really a disguise for a super computer!  Mister Machine saves the family and is on his way to becoming a super-hero in issue #11, which never appears . . . and Machine Man #1 won't hit the stand for another six months!

I forgot to mention that all the series issues are inked and lettered by Mike Royer, who I've always thought complimented Jack's pencils the best.

As an extra bonus to myself, I realized I had a Marvel Legend's Machine Man figure (fairly accurate with telescoping arms) that I never had opened.  Well, what better time than now!  I only wish there were more 2001 toy related merchandise!

There's one more thing I have to read regarding the 2001 series.  There was a retrospective in TwoMorrows' Back Issue #89, which was glad to see I had in my collection.  I didn't want to read it before I wrote this post, otherwise, the whole idea of it may have been moot, having been relayed somewhere else (and perhaps more thoroughly and better written).  Oh well, I was thankful for the opportunity to put something together again.  It was fun and I hope you enjoyed reading it.

So until next time, enjoy your own personal Odyssey.  Mine is still going to be swimming in space and Monoliths during my leisure.  I've got three more novels to finish!

Take care.