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  • 9/11: The Box

    I was in New York City on 11 September 2001. My wife and I had stopped in to visit family on our way moving to Prague from Los Angeles. From the balcony of my family’s flat, you could see the World Trade Center in the distance. It literally towered over all of New York.

    I woke up before the attacks. The most I could think of was the Yankee game from the night before, rained out after we had waited in the stands for several hours. That left the sky an almost unreal blue, the kind that only exists in the upper reaches of the stratosphere, but which rain seems to wash down to Earth to soak into your cornea for a few hours before the sun finally burns it all away.

    It was, in every way, in shattering contrast to the unreality of the events that followed. Newscasters watched the first building burn and could only speculate on some incalculable navigation error. Even after the second building burst into flame and one of the towers actually fell, I could still only process: “My God. The NYC skyline will never look the same, with only one tower left.”

    As a kid in New York, watching them built, you didn’t think of them as the “World Trade Center”; that would be boring. They were the “Twin Towers”, and you never considered that one could exist, even for a half hour, without the other. And then, like conjoined twins codependent on some vital organ in the national consciousness, they did not.

    But yet, even then, looking through the scar of the skyline into the empty space where the buildings had anchored the island, the event still remained unthinkable. It wasn’t until small aspects began to aggregate that the scope of it all came into focus; like a photograph sharpened by the details that your eyes can see but a lens cannot.

    When I lived in Europe for five years, I realized it was these details that underlined your sense of cultural dislocation—the shapes of keyholes and doorknobs, for instance—rather than the broad strokes of language and history. The broad strokes merely bent the direction of the tracks; but it was a small stone that could actually derail the train.

    The days that followed became filled with these unanticipated moments, the kind you can’t prepare for, like turning a corner on the street to find a spontaneous candlelight vigil, random strangers who came together just so they could spend a few moments in each other’s company.

    Both the city’s Red Cross and a local firehouse stood right below my family’s flat. We watched through the day as the line to donate blood at the Red Cross snaked around the block. But when we finally went down to join the line, officials turned us away–no room for any more stock, and nobody had survived anyway.

    We passed the firehouse a few days later, and saw the entire cross-street shut down by a dune of flowers that cascaded out the station doors and into the roadway. We saw that officials had posted two letters in the glass case outside: The first, from the city fire commissioner, requested the names of the station’s firefighters who’d died. The second, from the firehouse captain, refused to designate his men as dead; he would record them only as “missing, still on duty at the scene.” Following that: a list of more than half the men who had been under his command.

    A few days later, my wife and I took a walk in Central Park to escape the relentless coverage on TV. We were relieved to smell the barbecues that you’d normally see on a late summer day, as if people had finally returned to the normality of their lives.

    Except, after a few minutes, we realized that there weren’t any barbecues; it was the smell of the wreckage at Ground Zero, still burning, drifting up to blanket the entire island. You couldn’t even breathe without a constant reminder of the attacks.

    One memory stands out. In the weeks after the towers fell, every square foot of fence in New York was conscripted by flyers from family members searching helplessly for loved ones. Each carried the same message: Have you seen this person? Worked on the 99th floor. Worked on the 101st floor. Worked on the 97th floor. Over and over again—all pictures of smiling, photocopied faces; all ghosts, all gone.

    Along these fences, people would sometimes leave artwork, mementos, origami cranes, or stuffed animals pinned with sealed, secret envelopes. One man walked by with his young daughter, showing her the keepsakes that others left behind. She asked the kind of question that people overwhelmed by massive tragedy never consider: What will happen to all these things?

    The man didn’t really expect the question, and didn’t really have an answer. He told his daughter that someone would eventually come by and put it all in a box.

    And then the girl asked, with that kind of innocence reserved only for children: “What do they do with the box?”

    What do we do with the box.

    I’ve asked myself that question every year on the anniversary of the attacks. I had a friend once burst into tears from a simple question like “how’s work”, because she held a job at an investment firm and knew dozens of people who died that day. Whenever I see an electric blue sky, the kind that really only exists in your memory, I still think of airplanes exploding.

    All that only serves to remind me of just how utterly stupid I was to worry about a Yankees game from the night before; or how, as a thousand people were crushed into grey concrete dust, I could still only think about the New York City skyline. Even now, thinking back on it, I still feel ashamed, really.

    STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE Comics!

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    Back when I edited Star Trek for IDW, I put together a proposal for a series of reprint collections that I called Star Trek Archives, culling the best stories from 40+ years of Trek comic books  and re-releasing them in a deluxe format. Most of the comics in the “Trek oevre” appeared prior to the current industry trend of omnibus editions, so most had never been republished, and entire series–like some great titles from the second Marvel run of “Paramount Comics”–were at risk of falling into total obscurity.

    I pitched an entire range of collections, not just “Best of Star Trek” but editions that focused on creators, characters, storylines and even villains. The project would also create the opportunity to collect special issues that had been scattered across the years, such as film adaptations, as well as dig through a few older, scandalously forgotten series to give them new life.

    Star_Trek_Archives_vol01_BestOfPeterDavidcvr_largeI had wanted to put more Trek books on the shelves to coincide with the new film–the reason the Archives began appearing near the end of 2008, to coincide with the movie’s original December release date–but it would also let us tip our hats to some of the marquee Trek creators whose work had appeared throughout the years; such as fan-favorite Peter David, writer/creator of the Fallen Angel series I edited for IDW, and John Byrne, whom IDW recruited to do the first-ever Trek series of his long, iconic career after he tested the waters in the Alien Spotlight series.

    And so, in October 2008, fans began seeing Archive editions like The Best of Peter David, with stories that Peter and I hand-picked from his DC Comics run, as well as The Best of Gary Seven, to go along with  Byrne’s IDW series showcasing the character, which would see its own collected volume hitting the stands at around the same time. Readers also received The Best of the Borg–a favorite of mine, obviously–collecting both Marvel and DC issues but which had the good fortune to feature cover art from the Borg Alien Spotlight I had written for IDW.

    Star_Trek_Archives_vol02_BestOfTheBorg_largeSome of the collections I developed for the Archives series eventually became the roster for the spinoff Omnibus line that IDW now publishes, including the entire reprinted run of the gloriously bizarre first Marvel series, along with its later Star Trek: Early Voyages title that recounted some exceptionally well-crafted tales of Captain Pike. It also included a Trek Movie collection, to feature a new Wrath of Kahn adaptation that Risa Kessler of Paramount and I had conspired to schedule for quite some time as the only TOS film–thanks to a quirk in Trek licensing history–that never received proper comics treatment.

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    Last Generation #4, by Gordon Purcell, which featured Sulu in command of the Excelsior.

    It’s been tremendously gratifying to watch those projects come to pass, first under my successor Andy Schmidt and now with the talented leadership of Scott Dunbier, along with other projects I originally developed plans for at IDW, such as the second Alien Spotlight series showcasing the Klingons, Tribbles and the Q, or the upcoming Captain Sulu miniseries, featuring his command of the Excelsior. (Did I just mention a new Sulu-Excelsior series to be published by IDW? Why, yes I did…)

    But though these are good reasons one and all to launch the Star Trek Archives, even that conceals my true motive for the project, and for recruiting my already busy IDW cohort Clydene Nee (of San Diego Comic-Con fame) to help me out. The true reason that I conceived, pitched, negotiated and developed the entire Archives project is:

    I wanted to publish Deep Space Nine.

    The problem with DS9 has always been that, as has been widely discussed, IDW’s initial Trek license covered only TOS and TNG, with simply an option to pick up ancillary series like DS9, Voyager or Enterprise. And, just like with the TV ratings, comic sales for spinoff series have always been the bastard stepchild of the flagship franchises. So the question becomes: If you have only a handful of Trek titles available on the schedule, will you slot them with Kirk and Picard, or with Sisko and Kira, when you know one is likely to make reliably less money than the others?

    But, again, like the TV show, DS9 has nothing if not an insanely dedicated and loyal following, and was easily the most consistently, heavily-requested Trek franchise among IDW’s readers whenever we’d ask what they wanted next. If I could test the waters for a DS9 series–some way to gauge fan support, without a full commitment to the schedule and the license–I’d find out if we could still make the Deep Space Nine numbers work.

    ST-Archives-Vol4new-cvrAnd thus: Star Trek Archives: The Best of DS9.

    I had known the guys from Malibu Comics, the original DS9 publisher, from way, way back in the day, when I worked as a founding writer for Wizard Magazine, and I thought they had produced some great DS9 stuff–it had even featured art by Gordon Purcell, now one of my artists on Trek at IDW, and who would go on to pencil my series Star Trek: The Last Generation. It also featured standout scripts by Mike W. Barr, who had written Trek for virtually every publisher to hold the license (minus the early Gold Key), and who I had met back during his Ultraverse days.

    All of which represents an extremely lengthy and self-indulgent preamble to the news that, after years of discussion and massive fan requests–dating back to the days of my predecessor Dan Taylor in the Trek editor’s seat–it looks like IDW will now finally pick up the Deep Space Nine license.

    Keep in mind, however, that like all projects not yet officially announced, this could all be the result of inside information gone frighteningly haywire, that there are infinite possible outcomes in an infinite universe, and as the saying goes, it’s not canon until it’s canon.

    idw_logo2But, take note, IDW has played it extremely close to the vest about its upcoming  Trek lineup, apart from a nuTrek movie tie-in slot, the finale of John Byrne’s Romulans saga and an occasional Alien Spotlight one-shot scattered sporadically across the schedule. The runaway success of the film has propelled Trek back into the pop culture stratosphere, and IDW will be coordinating its upcoming schedule to reflect that.

    I can’t say whether the DS9 Archives played a decisive role in this development, or if it’s simply the fact that the nuTrek franchise has momentarily sidelines Shatner-era TOS titles; perhaps a combination of the two, along with IDW’s longstanding posture of soliciting reader input and being responsive to what fans want. In that respect, it’s got one of the best reputations in the business.

    So, what shape will new DS9 comics ultimately take? I’m speaking now from personal experience as the Trek editor and my years in the comics biz, and not from any additional inside info; but I would speculate that they will not interface with the DS9 Relaunch novels from Pocket Books. IDW has always been quite independent in its Trek storytelling, and I would expect that it will pursue its own creative path without the obligation to proactively incorporate the prose-novel efforts.

    Avatar,_Book_One_coverIDW will probably do what it can to avoid actively contradicting such stories, but keep in mind that both producing comics and novels remains acutely work-intensive, and it’s difficult enough already to keep in mind 168 episodes of the TV series, let alone what happens on every page of every novel that Pocket Books has ever published. Add to that the fact that Senior Editor Marco Palmieri has been laid off from Pocket without replacement and Paramount recently lost the encyclopaedic knowledge of  Trek guru Paula Block, and you can start to imagine the difficulties involved.

    That said, it seems unlikely that IDW would examine the post-TV era anyway–major characters exited for parts unknown during the series finale, and it would be counterintuitive for IDW to pay license for those characters,  only to not make use of them; moreover, Pocket has already re-examined their fates, so retreading such recently familiar ground would only invite unnecessary comparison.

    Instead, what you’ll probably see, much as IDW has done for TOS and TNG, are stories set during the arc of the TV show; perhaps the Dominion War–by far and away DS9′s most popular contribution to Trek lore–and, more specifically, stories that feature Worf’s presence on the station, since that would allow IDW to integrally market a major TNG character and remedy concerns that a DS9 series might not sell as well.

    comiconIDW will most likely unveil its DS9 plans at the San Diego Comic-Con next week–so, if the universe unfolds as it should, you would begin seeing new DS9 comics by either the end of this year or early 2010. I’m led to believe that a writer has already been hired, with an interior artist to follow shortly (if not already); and, if it is indeed slated for a Comic-Con announcement, then promotional artwork will already have been produced, so we may see the first new DS9 images even before the end of this month.

    I’ve moved up and on to other companies and projects since IDW, but even still, it’s the one announcement I’m going to be paying closest attention to at the show next week.

    Now about that Sulu series…


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    LAST GENERATION Original Artwork for sale!

    last-generation-logoHeya! Just wanted to post a note that my buddy and inker extraordinaire, Bob Almond, whose work made Star Trek: The Last Generation look so incredibly polished, has put original artwork pages up for sale online for the entire miniseries.

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    Bob Almond

    If you’re a collector of original comic book art, or just want a cool-as-Kahn Star Trek collectible, you should definitely check it out. Bob makes regular convention appearances where you can pick up his Last Gen pages and stuff from other titles  (Marvel Comics, etc.), but a number of spankin’ pages from the Trek series have already sold, so you might want to look into it now before all the best ones are gone.

    Bob’s so notable in the industry that he runs the Inkwell Awards (the comics biz’s premiere awards for inking work), so I was incredibly lucky to have him rock my world on The Last Generation. He’s also about as nice a guy as you’re likely to meet, so if you do run into him at a show, chat him up and he’ll tell you a couple of cool stories.

    There are a number of great pieces still up for grabs, but I’ve reproduced a few of my favorites from the series below. Click on the link above to go to the Comic Art House site, which handles sale of Bob’s work.

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    STAR TREK: THE LAST GENERATION collection out now!

    last-generation-logoJust wanted to make quick mention that the collected edition of Star Trek: The Last Generation hits the stores today! The individual issues sold out in a lot of locations, so if you missed a chapter or just want to have a cool ominibus edition of the entire story, you can pick it up now. It was written to be a single continuous story arc, so reading it in one sitting is definitely the way to go.

    Let me take the opportunity to give a special shout-out to Gordon Purcell, who turned in some devastatingly awesome art for the series, along with his inking cohorts Bob Almond and Terry Pallot and colorist Mario Boon.

    The collected edition also features the entire cover gallery for the series, including works by X-Factor veteran Pablo Raimondi, G.I. Joe penciller Robert Atkins, colorist John Hunt, cover artist extraordinaire Joe Corroney, stunning painted illustrations from my pal J.K. Woodward and even piece from Gordon himself.

    You’ll also find the X-Men #141 tribute cover that J.K. delivered for the first issue’s limited edition, as well as Nick Runge’s cool-as-hell homage to the movie poster for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, on which events from the series are based.

    You can of course find it at your favorite Friendly Neighborhood Comics Shop, but it’s also on the shelves in bookstores around the country as well as online from Amazon.

    STAR TREK: THE LAST GENERATION Collected Edition.

    STAR TREK: THE LAST GENERATION Collected Edition.

    R.I.P. Dom DeLuise

    domdeluiseI didn’t want to let this week pass without taking note of the departure of one of our generation’s greatest funnymen, Dom DeLuise. It’s ironic to work in an industry called “comic books”, when someone like Dom virtually wrote the book on comedy. I had the chance to spend the day with him early in my screenwriting career, when he directed a TV film called Boys Will Be Boys–which, yes, sounds like a porno title (and probably is) but was really more of a Home Alone flick with two kids instead of one.

    It was a bit of a vanity project, and Dom called in favors from Hollywood friends like Mickey Rooney, Ruth Buzzi and Charles Nelson Reilly (of “Match Game” fame!) to populate the cast. It also starred John Voight, Julie Hagerty, Randy Travis, Dom’s son Michael and even the exquisite Catherine Oxenberg, who I’d had a mad crush on ever since her pouty-lipped heyday on Dynasty. How’s that for one of the most bizarre cast lists you’ll ever see?

    Anyway, my good friend Brian Hennessy–now at Disney, and who went on to produce the film Schooled–had been Dom’s First A.D. at the time, and he invited me onto the set as an extra, so I could see the sausage made from inside the factory. This in itself was an eye-opener as I spent the day with the rest of the extras–several dozen painfully struggling actors, desperate for a camera to pan across their faces for even just a moment; as if Steven Spielberg would be at home watching this direct-to-video feature, see some random actor onscreen for two seconds, and jump to his feet shouting, “That’s him! He’s my next Indiana Jones!”

    arne-starr1As it turns out, some actors actually make entire careers out of working as an extra. (More by circumstance than design, obviously, but still.) Comic book artist Arne Starr, who worked on Star Trek titles through some celebrated runs in the 1990s, actually has an entire web page devoted just to his “background” work; I had been in talks with him at one point about possibly doing a Trek project for IDW, and he once spent an entire conversation recounting how that’s-his-hand-in-that-scene-from-CSI, that’s-his-ponytail-in-There Will Be Blood, and so on. (Arne has actually appeared in dozens of major projects ranging from Iron Man to Mad Men and Frost/Nixon–and yes, of course, even the new Trek.)

    So, maybe it was because I was the only extra there who really didn’t give a shit about scoring my big acting break by sipping fake champagne in the background of some cocktail party scene, but at one point during a gap in the shooting I found myself standing next to Dom DeLuise, and he actually began chatting me up. (Probably a good example of how utterly magnanimous he was.) By complete coincidence, it turned out that I had once worked for his attorney, an old friend of his, and he seemed to suddenly savor the opportunity to talk to someone on set who wasn’t handing him a  headshot or asking him to resolve some lighting catastrophe.

    mickeyrooneyMickey Rooney, meanwhile, had been a sheer comic genius in his scenes that day–ad libbing like a madman and rewriting entire comedy bits on the fly. At one point, he decided he wanted an extra onscreen with him to bounce a riff off of, and the herd of extras nearly stampeded for the opportunity of delivering a single line, some even pulling out their SAG cards should they need a union cred to take a speaking part. At that exact moment, however, Mickey saw me chatting with Dom, then grabbed me by the shoulder… and I suddenly became The Guy.

    After we shot the scene a bunch of times (my line ultimately left on the cutting room floor–oh, the humanity), I ended up back in the tent for the extras, who immediately swarmed me to find out how it had gone and what I did to get the part. And so, for the rest of the day, I became King of the Nobodies, an anonymous celebrity among unknowns–people who wanted to chat me up and find out my secret, when I was actually the one person among them who well and truly couldn’t have cared less about whether Steven Spielberg saw my face in the corner of his TV for two passing seconds.

    (But, hey, I even made it into the trailer–look for me over Julie Hagerty’s shoulder at 0:40 to 0:42!  How did Spielberg not see me??)

    boys-will-be-boys1Eventually, however, the day became unbelievably hot, especially for late September–something like 90 degrees, made worse by the fact that it was a backyard scene around a pool, when all of us just wanted to jump in and be done with it. But Mickey Rooney, already pretty old at the time, was a trooper, doing take after take, the same scene with a dozen different spontaneous improvised punchlines, to give his friend Dom the most material to work with.

    What none of us realized was that it was also Mickey Rooney’s 75th birthday–and just when the heat became unbearable, Dom ordered a break and surprised Mickey with a massive cake; then, to everyone’s surprise, he invited all the extras in the tent out front to join them–again, the type of gesture by someone who recognized that a tent full of people out front were all getting paid $79 to bake in the heat all day. So, in typical surreal Hollywood fashion, the fake cocktail party now for 30 minutes became a real party, with Mickey spending his birthday surrounded by elegantly dressed people he didn’t even know.

    Despite that, before he cut the cake, Mickey got misty-eyed and told us all a story. He had become famous at an extremely young age, working the Hollywood lots when he was just a little kid, barely old enough to know where he was each day and having no perception that what he was doing was Extremely Important to all the grownups around him.

    mickeymouse1One day while shooting, however, he got bored, as kids often do, and started wandering around Warner Bros. during the long breaks between takes. He came across some guy drawing funny pictures, which of course was infinitely more interesting to a seven-year-old than watching people hang lights all day. So, while everyone on the set searched for him, he spent the day with some unknown artist as the man drew cartoons of a rodent–and that’s how Walt Disney named Mickey Mouse.

    After the story, Dom kissed Mickey on the forehead, and you could tell it wasn’t the first time. People will talk about how Dom DeLuise made them laugh in roles from films like Blazing Saddles, History of the World, Cannonball Run (as Captain Chaos!) and countless others, and they’d all be right. But I’ll also remember the day that I spent eating Mickey Rooney’s birthday cake as King of the Nobodies, all because Dom was such an incredibly nice guy. He’s sure as hell going to be missed.

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    Me and Mickey, mugging it up in our big scene.

    WordPress Top-100!

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    Wow, I just wanted to say that the Star Trek movie script review that I published this week has easily become one of the most heavily-trafficked posts in the short history of this site–literally thousands upon thousands of visitors during just a few days. It even charted in the Top-100 posts for all of WordPress (#54, see above–click for full size), with this site itself hitting #78 on the Top Blogs of the Day.

    In fact, according to my metrix software, this site actually ranked considerably higher for the week than the blog for the entire company of Radical Publishing, where you can find my most recent work. That just blows my mind, and let’s hope my friends and colleagues there don’t hold it against me. ;)

    Thanks to all of you for reading, and hope you like the film.

    Pax,

    ASH

    Len Wein and Christine Valada

    Christine and Len.

    Christine and Len.

    Just wanted to post a quick note about the terrible turn of events for comics writer Len Wein and his amazing wife Christine Valada. An old piece of wiring inside their bathroom walls sparked and set their house afire. (Christine had been at work; Len and their son Michael, asleep.) As the fire began to crown, Len and Michael awoke and escaped — but Sheba, their dog, ran back inside to her usual hiding spot in the bathroom, and never made it out again.

    I knew Christine when we were both in law school (me in my first year, she in her last), and we would often commiserate about the experience; like me, she eventually lost interest in a law career, and has now instead become a top-notch photographer and university professor. Len, meanwhile, remains a legend among comics writers, having created Wolverine and the new X-Men, and much that was lost can never be replaced — such as original artwork from Giant-Sized X-Men #1, the first appearance of the new team that would go on to become the most popular franchise in modern comics history. It utterly breaks my heart to find out what happened here, and how it quite literally could have happened to anyone, without warning, at any time.

    The Wolverine movie opens in about a month; it’d be great if Fox steps in to help. And though it will be quite some time before they as a family can retrospectively look at the events rather than continuing to experience them, the final, essential truth will be: Len is OK, Christine is OK, and Michael is OK; Sheba is in their hearts, and everything else is just paper.

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