Sometime in the spring of 1985, a bunch of my classmates gathered around the school print shop’s giant light table and discussed a WIKKID AWESOME film movie aired on HBO the previous night. As it happened to coincide with one of my family’s on-again-off-again rounds as pay TV subscribers, it was one of the few times in junior high where I was able to join in on the reindeer games of overheated summarizing and semi-accurate quote dropping.
“Yeah, and then he asked for a plasma cannon and the clerk said he didn’t have one and he blew him away! And when he said ‘I’ll come back’ and then shot up the police station? Holy shit!”
The movie was The Terminator, the apotheosis of early 1980s action-exploitation flicks and proof positive that attention to craft can elevate “good for what it is” into “just plain good, period.” It took the basic framework of the slasher flick and combined it with a reasonably clever sci-fi love story embroidered with the apocalpytic and urban paranoia of the era. Throw in some ambitiously cartoony special effects and a half dozen pyrotechnic action setpieces, and you have a work whose whole exceeds the the sum of its derivative parts.
Much of that charm was bleached out of its big budget follow-ups and efforts of multimedia franchise building. The original film is all the Terminator one really needs, but leaving well enough alone is an utterly alien concept to hungry-eyed Hollywood folk and fervent fans who demand an extended journey into the realm of diminishing returns.
It didn’t matter that the premise of the film — a killer computer throwing a cybernetic, cross-time Hail Mary in hopes of re-writing the rules of a losing game — obviated the need for (or plot logic behind) any sequels. As long as there are willing consumers, there will be eager purveyors.
That said, I’m having a great deal of difficulty imagining anyone either wanting or enjoying Now Comics’ 1988 spin on the Terminator’s “expanded universe.”
Coming a few years after the movie and a few years before Dark Horse secured the licensing rights for the franchise, the Now incarnation of The Terminator was another odd artifact of late 1980s indie imprint exuberance.
The series was set in the immediate aftermath — minus the references to the destruction of Skynet and triumph of the human resistance — of the movie, where an ensemble cast of military sci-fi stock characters (between Terminator and Aliens, James Cameron became the patron saint of lazy genre writers for long stretch there) battles against the machine intelligence seeking to destroy them.
Gone were the blackened, skull-strewn wastelands depicted in the source material, replaced with a genero-pocalypse of forested countrysides, teeming jungles, and lush tropical swamps.
And a heroic anti-terminator android from the MOOOOOOOON who resembled the love child of the Ultimate Warrior and Michael Bolton.
And Skynet reimagined as a foppish carnival barker who gets backsassed by his own creations.
And cameo by the G.I. Joe team’s Rock ‘n’ Roll in the role humanity’s savior, John Connor.
Did I mention the final couple of issues feature a suit of knock-off Iron Man armor built by Cuban-Soviet scientists?
Totally in the spirit of the original film, I swear.
Rarely, if at all, do the folks who helmed the series show any inkling that they understood the appeal of the core concept, except as “WOO YEAH GUN AND ‘SPLOSIONS AND KILLER ROBOTS.” The contextually prompted menace is what made the filmic Terminator’s sparse lines of dialogue so memorable. In contrast, the comic’s cast of terminators (or “gators” in the characters’ silly lingo) have been apparently upgraded with a death-quip firmware upgrade engineered from a damaged VHS copy of Commando.
The net result of this is akin to watching Colonial Marines cosplayers getting chased around the Middlesex Fells and Medford municipal parking garage by a pack of bodybuilders. I don’t need to buy a sloppily constructed funnybook to see that. I can catch a better produced and more succinct version of that on public access any given weekend afternoon.