Shatner’s Man O War:

A Voice is Missing

We are given Chapter 1, “How it All Began.” Opening the book we are told “in the near future, humanity has colonized the moon and Mars, but corporate greed and over reliance on technology have stripped Earth of tis natural resources.”

Earth, it seems, has succumbed to humanities worst intensions of over consumption and greed. Earth has beca reliant on Mars, and now Mars too is threatened by humankind’s voracious appetite. And the only person who can save both worlds is Ambassador Benton Hawks.

Yes, I had that movie trailer voice in my head as I read the introduction to William Shatner’s new Man-O-War “graphic novel.” And like many movies whose trailer was narrated by that voice, this Shatner Singularity and LNL Partners, Inc. A-List Cinematic Graphic Novels book plays to our current history more than it does to the future. Unfortunately, also plays like a cliche of the 99% under the boot of the 1%.

We’ve got Red Planet, Inc. deploying “Gestapo” approaches to a worker insurgency known at The Resolute, along with “money grubbing bosses,” “killed or be killed situations” and “workers who turn into terrorists” —and those are the actual phrases used within just the first few pages of the book. Halfway through this first issue we have already lost The Resolute’s leaders and Red Planet, Inc. has threatened their children if the rebellion doesn’t end.  And then we meet  the Ambassador who is fighting the eternal clock, his own corporate rebellion with Clean Mountain Enterprises, and some yet-to-be described event he seems to have screwed up.

And then find Wikipedia like detail of corporate history—followed by the recounting of the death of a significant person to our hero at the hands of an apparent accident that involved Green Mountain.

I know a good comic can go on for years and stories are parceled out in small increments, but there is a big thing missing from this book: the answer to why should I care about Chapter 2? Bill, I’m looking for a story, some engaging personality that will draw me in. The rebellion took a good local shot on Mars and lost. There leaders are dead. I could read because I just want to see what happens in the train wreck, but i would rather read because the characters intrigue me or the plot is unique, or the action too adrenaline-charged for me not to want more. Sorry, but not so far. So far we have the Occupy Mars movement on the brink of destruction, a disgruntled hero who hasn’t actually bought into the plot yet, and a smoking gun in the form of a memory triangle, that I’m not even sure ended up with anyone who could leverage its contents (here R2, take this to Obi Wan).

As for the art by Rick Edmond, John Herbert Sherp, it mixes casually drawn humans with more precisely drawn mechanicals, including humans in mechanical suits—computer generated items, and it appears, photographic items, are also present. I would say integrated, but they aren’t integrated. The art direction is a bit of a mess (“So say we all,”  Wilson Ramos Jr.), but the art is more engaging that the writing.

I find this book extremely disappointing following the hype of Comic-Con. Given this is a cinematic graphic novel, perhaps the creative team became too intrigued with the technology to be bothered with the writing. This is an Indiegogo funded project, so hopefully the investor promises of 16 chapters and 2-hour running time will be enough (all items will be delivered to supporters/investors between August and October 2015). I wasn’t able to review the animated version (though I watched the trailer), but I am familiar with the form through the earlier Buffy The Vampire Slayer Motion Comics offered by Dark Horse. I found the cinematic approach in those books very engaging, but those treatments also included voices, not just animation and effects. The creation of animated comics on digital devices is fairly new and different technology are competing to discover the best way, or ways, of delivering great consumer experiences. Perhaps the sound and animation will create thrills where the script does not, but I’m guessing not. Shatner needs a little Whedon to brighten this universe.

In contrast to Shatner’s prosaic prose in Man-O-War, I offer this quote from his 2015 Comic-Con panel with The Autobiography of Captain Kirk writer David A Goodman:

“I love Science Fiction because of the fact that you pretend you know what the future is going to hold. I’ve got to imagine everybody is tantalized by the prospect of the future and knowing that even though you may be young, that the amount of time you have on earth is so small, so limited, that the future gets ahead of you. That you are going to die before the real future, before the oceans rise, your dead. What’s going to happen when the oceans rise, what will your kin be thinking and doing. But further than that, will technology be able to close the gates in the harbors in New York and all the great cities and keep the oceans out like they do in Holland? What will science do and how will it be, and what my children’s children do water and earth and…and what will rockets be like and will we discover life on other planets? And if that’s so what will the implications here on earth.

There are so many mysteries out there, things we don’t know. There is a pyramid on Ceres. We don’t know what it is. What is it? So can speculate has it been left there by a past generation? Come on. It’s filled with all this magic. And that’s mythology. That’s the explanation for things—the Greeks, when they found these big bones, they said, uh, big bones. There must have been a race of giants over there on those mountains we have never been able to climb. A race of giants. That’s an explanation. Thats a mythology of those people. They didn’t know they were dinosaur bones—they didn’t know those huge bones belonged to animals that were alive 65 millions years ago. They invented a thing. So we are inventing a whole life 400 years from now. Maybe we will know what dark matter is and we will discover that there are eleven other universes all intermingling with ours and we know nothing, and the speed of light is nothing. Perhaps we will discover all of that. And the big point of that, the hero, the hero with the thousand faces is Captain Kirk.”

Goodman did not write this. Shatner spun it from the Ether in answer to a question.

Where is that voice Bill? You may have claimed you didn’t know what you were saying during this panel, but you did, and you did so in a rather poetic way. I hope you can find that reflected voice to infuse into your fingers as you pound out future scripts for Man-O-War. Perhaps as the The Library Journal  wrote in its review of mid-90s novels from which these books are derived “tight writing, rather than character development, propels this action/adventure.” Perhaps its time to add a little reflection for a new era. We can only wait and see where these books take us.

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Daniel W. Rasmus is the founder and principal analyst at Serious Insights. He is the author of Listening to the Future, Management by Design and Sketches of Spain and Other Poems. He teaches strategy at Pinchot University and writes columns for GeekWire.

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