Thursday, 14 September 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Comic Issues 5-8

DC2-4: Shadows Past and Present
Publication Date: March-June 1995
Written by Tim Dehaas (from an outline by J. Michael Straczynski)
Artwork by John Ridgway (pencils and inks) & Robbie Busch (colours)

Date: This storyline takes place prior to the events of episode B9, setting it in early 2259. Keffer is a full Lieutenant, placing it after the events of episode B4 (which are also directly referenced). Episode C8 confirms the flashback storyline takes place in 2253.

Plot: On Babylon 5 Ambassador Mollari is toasting the recent reversal of fortunes for the Centauri Republic. His joviality arouses the suspicions of Security Chief Garibaldi, who decides to keep an eye on him. G’Kar is also angered by Londo’s flippant disregard for either the ten thousand Narns killed at Quadrant 37 (episode A22) or the crew of the Narn warship dispatched to investigate Z’ha’dum (episode B2).

Londo meets with Mr. Morden, who asks Londo to let them know if Garibaldi continues to investigate his activities. Shortly after this, Londo speaks to Lord Refa on Centauri Prime, unaware that Garibaldi has hacked the transmission. Refa and Londo agree to meet in person to discuss the latest events, including the attack on Quadrant 37 and the Centauri Emperor’s failing health. Garibaldi “borrows” a shuttle to investigate. Lt. Keffer sees the theft in progress but, rather than report Garibaldi, offers to fly the shuttle for him. Morden then intercepts Londo and tells him to cancel his meeting with Refa and undertake a diplomatic mission elsewhere, whilst his “associates” deal with Mr. Garibaldi.

Garibaldi and Keffer’s shuttle arrives at Londo and Refa’s meeting place, a remote outpost planet on the fringes of Centauri space. Keffer tells Garibaldi that he can trust Sheridan, but Garibaldi retorts that Sheridan hasn’t earned that trust like Sinclair did. Keffer asks him how he and Sinclair built up that trust and Garibaldi agrees to tell him the story.

Six years earlier, in 2253, Garibaldi was running a shuttle transport service on Mars Colony. He’d been fired from his last couple of jobs and found the transport gig an easy way to make money. He was also drinking way too much. He was hired by Lt. Commander Jeffrey Sinclair to survey a remote area of Syria Planum where odd readings had been detected by Earthforce.

Garibaldi’s story is interrupted by the arrival of a Shadow fighter, which shoots down the shuttle. Keffer manages to make an emergency landing on the planetary surface and he and Garibaldi set out for a Centauri settlement about fifteen miles away. However, the Shadow fighter lands at the crash site and the mysterious crew eliminate all trace of the crash before heading off in pursuit of Garibaldi and Keffer. To distract them from the danger, Garibaldi resumes his story.

Sinclair and two fellow officers, Foster and Sanchez, were tasked with looking for anything “that shouldn’t be there.” After several days of surveying remote regions of the Martian surface, the shuttle’s guidance system failed and the ship crashed, killing Foster instantly and injuring both Sinclair and Foster. The nearest settlement was fifty miles away. Sinclair, whose injuries were lighter, and Garibaldi set out on foot, leaving Foster in the (arguably) greater safety of the shuttle wreck. The two men were trapped in a cave by a sandstorm and then a rockslide. Garibaldi, fighting both alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder after Kemmer’s death, managed to pull himself together and rescue Sinclair from the rockslide. The two men then resumed their trek out of the desert.

They were distracted by a disturbance nearby and came across a startling sight: a huge, black, spider-like ship embedded in the Martian surface. Another ship of the same design was hovering above, using a powerful energy beam to cut it free. On the ground were humans, people apparently helping the excavation from a mobile base. After knocking out two of the humans when they stumbled across Sinclair and Garibaldi, they realised they were telepaths: they had no comms gear in their helmets. Using a stolen transport vehicle, Garibaldi and Sinclair gained entry to the base and discovered that the telepaths were conducting experiments on other humans using alien bio-technology, possible recovered from the alien ship. Discovered, Garibaldi and Sinclair blasted their way out, using grenades to almost destroy the base. The telepaths remained to save the base rather than pursue Sinclair and Garibaldi, who recovered Sanchez and drove out of the desert. They later flew back to the recovery site and found that the entire site had been sterilised with no trace of the alien ships, the telepaths or their base.

In the present, Keffer and Garibaldi are attacked by the occupants of the Shadow ship: feral, goblin-like creatures with telepathic powers who try to convince Keffer and Garibaldi to kill one another. They fail and are shot dead. Their bodies are vapourised by self-destruct devices moments later. They reach the Centauri city and are arrested. The security chief contacts Babylon 5 to ask for Ambassador Mollari’s opinion. Londo, after a moment’s hesitation, vouches for them and arranges for them to be returned to Babylon 5.

Back on the station Sheridan reads Garibaldi the riot act, but Garibaldi is certain that something is going on. After describing the alien ships he saw on Mars, Keffer recognised them as the same ships he saw in hyperspace during the Cortez mission (episode B4). Garibaldi also shows Sheridan the only piece of evidence he recovered from the crash site: a tattered Psi Corps badge.

Unbeknown to Garibaldi, one of the telepaths being experimented on at Mars was Talia Winters…

The Arc: Garibaldi experiences traumatic flashbacks to the death of his friend Kemmer on Europa (as related in A13).

Garibaldi and Sinclair’s adventures on Mars are referred to in episode C8, which picks up on some dangling plot threads from this episode and even features flashbacks to some of the same events. This may be the very first instance of a live-action television series directly referring to the events of the tie-in comic in a canonical fashion.

The suggestion that Talia was being experimented on by Psi Corps using Shadow technology is an utterly explosive revelation to seed in spin-off material, and is explored further in episode B19.

This issue hints at a relationship between the Shadows, Earth and Psi Corps. Episodes C1, C5 and C14 expand on this idea significantly.

Background: The aliens on the Shadow fighter are servants of the Shadows, rather than Shadows themselves. They are short, humanoid, ugly and have low-level telepathic powers. Despite their ability to run extremely fast and their evident hostility, they are not skilled in combat and are easily dispatched.

However, a Shadow itself – the semi-invisible insectoid aliens seen at the end of episode A22 – can be seen in the final comic on Mars. Its outline is discernible in the far left of the big splash image of the Psi Corps base, watching over events from afar.

Sinclair was a Lt. Commander in 2253, having been a lieutenant during the Battle of the Line in 2247/48. He was only made a Commander later on, in 2255 or 56, prior to taking command of Babylon 5. This is a fairly slow career progression, reflecting his fall from grace following the Earth-Minbari War.

Londo’s role in the destruction of the base in Quadrant 39 appears to be quite well-known amongst certain Centauri politicians and military personnel on even remote outposts.

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Garibaldi openly admits to spying on Londo’s outgoing transmissions. It is highly improbable that Garibaldi would do this, would be capable of doing this (since Centauri technology is superior to Earth’s) or would admit it so blatantly to Londo’s face.

The colony where Garibaldi was stationed and Kemmer was killed is mistaken identified as Io; it was in fact Europa. An ice-mining operation on Io, the most volcanically active body in the Solar system, would be impressive.

It’s unclear why the telepaths don’t spot Garibaldi and Keffer immediately, since they cannot communicate with anyone else. Perhaps their guard was down or they were uncomfortable using their telepath powers so close to a Shadow ship.

Behind the Scenes: This four-issue arc was published under the banner title Shadows Past and Present, divided into the individual issues With Friends Like These…, Against the Odds, Survival the Hard Way and Silent Enemies.

Unlike the first story arc, J. Michael Straczynski was credited as the story writer for these four issues.

Familiar Faces: Writer Tim DeHaas has worked mostly in comics, but has written two episodes of Star Trek: Identity Crisis for The Next Generation and Phage for Voyager.

Artist John Ridgway is a noted British comic book artist, best-known for some accomplished work on various Doctor Who comic books dating back to the 1980s and also his work on Hellblazer.

Review: A massive step-up from the first comic arc, this four-issue arc features much better artwork (if rather less “clean” than Ridgway’s other work) and a story that not only reflects on and nods to the arc, but actually makes significant additions to it: the Shadows are working with some humans, some of their ships are buried underground on other worlds and the Shadows and Psi Corps have some involvement in experiments involving Talia Winters. And it all stems from a throwaway line of dialogue from one of the worst episodes of the show (Garibaldi’s brief mention of “walking out of the desert” in A4). It’s not high art, but it’s a serviceable and very solid addition to the Babylon 5 mythos. ***½

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