Let’s talk about the future: specifically, the far-flung year of 1999. Earth has colonized the moon following years strife and a third World War. This was the future as envisioned by Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, creators of “Space: 1999,” the cult TV series which lived a short life from 1975 to 1977. Now writer Drew Gaska (“Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes”) is taking us back to the the future year of 1999 with the graphic novel “Space 1999 – Aftershock and Awe” for Archaia, which reimagines the TV series with some new characters as well as elements planned but not shot for the show.
I was taught to write comics by Denny O’Neil–he’s written tons of Batman stuff and he was in charge of Batman at DC for 15 years–and one of the things that he said to us was ’Pick a moment where you define a character.’ And one example that he gave was a school bus that was turned over on the side of the road. When your character passes by that school bus, do they drive by? Do they pull over and start pulling kids out of the bus? It’s through adversity that we can show the character in shining moments and how our characters come out of the fire renewed and changed.
“Space 1999″ the TV series and the comic follow a catastrophe which sends the 311 inhabitants of a lunar colony drifting off into space when a nuclear explosion detonates, knocking them and the base out of the Earth’s orbit. This is the crucible Gaska plans to put his characters through, in particular hero Commander John Koenig, leader of Moon Base Alpha and played by Martin landau in the original TV series. “He was on Moonbase Alpha, but then he’s kicked off and his fiancee was looking forward to them having their life on Earth. And when he gets a chance to go back up there and fix a problem, she left him.”
The first part of Gaska’s story, “Awe,” adapts the pilot for the series, while the back half looks at what happens to Earth in the wake of a major disaster like the displacement of the moon. Gaska created personal journals for Koenig to show what the character was doing through in the wake of the disaster, while “Aftershocks” focuses on his fiancee back on Earth, dealing with the prospect of never seeing the man she planned to spend the rest of her life with, while attempting to survive the cataclysm caused by the moon leaving the Earth’s orbit. For Gaska, the opportunity to explore those corners of the “Space: 1999″ universe, a way to look at some of the potential real-life chaos which would be wrought by the moon being kicked out of its orbit–something the original series couldn’t really afford to dive into.
With “Awe,” Gaska added elements to create continuity between the first and second seasons of the series, and he cites creating a backstory for a little girl who materialized in season two of the series without explanation. “Shermeen was a character that was in the second season of the show, and when she shows up she’s 16 years old and she’s in one episode. And when you do the math–because it’s about six years going on in the series–that would make her 10 years old when they left the moon.” To explain why a child was on Moonbase Alpha during the disaster, Gaska came up with a story about her being a science prodigy on a school trip thanks to her extensive knowledge of botany, thus clearing up how she was responsible for hydroponics as a teen in season two.
“At their core, these series had something decent to say about humanity,” Gaska tells me when I ask him why he chose to revisit “Space: 1999,” a property that might not necessarily be familiar to the wider audience. “In a lot of ways, they’re dated because they were made in the 1960’s, but in a lot of ways, they relate to what’s going on with us now.” He sees what he and other like-minded returns to these sci-fi classics as an attempt to reinvigorate them with higher production values (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Star Trek ’09”) or expand the scope beyond what the original creators were capable of realizing during the original runs. It’s, of course, also a way for the property holders to keep those titles relevant so that fans will keep buying stuff related to the original shows. “Personally, as a creator, I think there’s a core truth in these things that can be retold to audiences in a way that would get them excited.,” Gaska adds.
Delving into some of the unseen or forgotten history of the show involved Gaska working with the site Space: 1999 Catacombs, which has served as a repository for the history of the series, collecting scripts, links to classic toys, comics, and other errata related to the show.
“It’s going in and looking at the rich continuity of the series,” Gaska says, adding that back then, sci-fi series were less concerned about long-form storytelling, focusing instead on the threat/story of the week. Gaska credits Martin Wylie from that site for compiling the extensive archive of info that he was able to access for “Aftershocks and Awe.” “He’s gone in and found scripts that are impossible to find and posted information on them and pretty much everything to do with the series.” Gaska says that even prior to getting the license for “Space: 1999,” he’d pored extensively over the site.
The challenge was taking all of that material and working it into a new take on the series without a hard reboot. “How do we make it relevant again without rebooting it,” Gaska wondered, ultimately settling on an alternate timeline where J.F.K. wasn’t assassinated, ultimately paving the way for the colonization of the moon in 1999.
Besides “Space: 1999 – Aftershocks and Awe” (which is available now) Gaska has recently released his graphic novel “Critical Millennium,” also through Archaia and he’s working on a couple of other projects that will likely be out sometime in 2013.