Thursday, September 08, 2005

Sometimes They Call Me The Space Cowboy

This was posted on an "in-house" blog a few months ago, but with the up-coming release and inevitable catastrophic failure of Serenity I thought I'd update and re-publish it here.

Here's an example of what later became a cliche not only in comics but in other popular media as well.

Space Western #44
aka Joss Whedon's Serenity

Over the years, it became kind of a running joke in comics to have 'Nazi Tigers from Mars' or 'Nazi Space Pirates' show up occasionally as part of the retro back-story to some books. This cover was all too common back in WWII and is a prime example of the typical war propoganda that pervaded all aspects of entertainment. This book is one of the comics that perpeptuated the cliche.

This book has combined cowboys, Nazis & interplanetary travel all in one awful mess. The art is pretty lame also and very disjointed. The coloring distracts, as the faces are garishly hued with exaggerated colors. This cover also happens to have one of the most unfortunately placed title labels I've ever seen. Spurs Jackson is aiming randomly and blazing away with his space-guns at the Evil Forces of Nazism, and the action is obscured by a block of text. It probably sold okay, though, thanks to having three sure-fire elements that appealed to the target audience. And don't be fooled that it lasted at least 44 issues, as books then continually changed titles but kept the numbering consistent.

What makes this cover worthy of some appreciation is the nostalgia factor and it's absurdity.

Side Rant: Author Lewis Shiner calls this kind of plot the Just Like Fallacy*, Space Western* & Used Furniture*.

It is also my biggest peeve in modern SF. It is such a piece of hackwork to take cowboys and put them into space. This cliche was old in the 40's and when Star Trek did it in the 60's and deserves only my contempt in 2005. What am I talking about? I'm talking about TV's short-lived Firefly and soon to be A Sci-Fi Channel World Premier Movie by Joss Whedon.

While the film Outland did it to good effect by aping High Noon, Joss Whedon has used familiar elements from cinema and television but not as an homage, and comes off as dull.

You know, many story submission guidelines actually take the time to tell a writer not to do "Space Westerns" because it is such a tired idea. Heading the gang off at the Horseshoe Nebula instead of the Horseshoe Pass doesn't fool anyone except rabid fan-boys and production studio execs with more cocaine in their heads than brains.

And don't respond by saying the DVD set of Firefly sold "500,000" copies or a silly claim like that. It was 500k sold to stores. Go to Sam's Club and you'll see racks of box sets just sitting there. And if 500k were sold directly to fans, you could quadruple that number of people who were going to see the film and even if they went twice, the film would still be considered a devastating loser-fest.

Do the math.

The thing is, I like Whedon...I'm just embarrassed by Firefly and it's crappiness. I'm constantly suprised that fans suck it up and beg for more! Did anyone with their brains not fogged by weed see the preview on Sci Fi Channel a few weeks back? Cripes. Talk about bad editing and acting, that 'bar fight' was awful. I felt embarrassed for the actors, cameramen and even the grips.

I can't even count how many bad cliches are in this show. The faux sexual tension between the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold and the captain, the genius kid, the troubled doctor...just watch Gunsmoke on TV Land if you want a Western.

* Lewis Shiner
Just-Like Fallacy: SF story which thinly adapts the trappings of a standard pulp adventure setting. The spaceship is "just like" an Atlantic steamer, down to the Scottish engineer in the hold. A colony planet is "just like" Arizona except for two moons in the sky. "Space Westerns" and futuristic hard-boiled detective stories have been especially common versions.

Space Western: The most pernicious suite of "Used Furniture". The grizzled space captain swaggering into the spacer bar and slugging down a Jovian brandy, then laying down a few credits for a space hooker to give him a Galactic Rim Job.

Used Furniture: Use of a background out of Central Casting. Rather than invent a background and have to explain it, or risk re-inventing the wheel, let's just steal one. We'll set it in the Star Trek Universe, only we'll call it the Empire instead of the Federation.
Anyway, Oblivion (partly written and co-produced by Peter David) did it first and better.



  1. If all you can see in Firefly is cowboys in space then you can't have watched very much of it.

    Not that I'm suggesting you ought to, just pointing out that your assessment is a very superficial reading of the show. Kind of like saying Buffy is 90210 with a monster of the week. If you like Whedon's writing then you will enoy it, if you don't then there's no point bothering.

  2. Wow, even the grips. That's bad.


Moderation enabled only because of trolling, racist, homophobic hate-mongers.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.