Friday, 12 January 2018

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Comic Issues 11-14

DC12-DC14: The Psi Corps and You!
Publication Date: December 1995
Written by J. Michael Straczynski (plot) and Tim DeHaas (script)
Artwork by John Ridgway (art) & Robbie Busch (colours)

Date: Mid-2259

Plot:    Diane Matthews, a commercial telepath working for Psi Corps, presents a special magazine from Babylon 5 designed to tell children about Psi Corps and their goals.

Matthews explains that one of the first verified telepaths was her great-great grandfather, William Karges. One hundred years ago, Karges discovered he could read people’s minds. He used this ability to go up through the ranks of the Earthforce military, eventually becoming chief bodyguard to President Robinson. He stopped three terrorist plots and died in the line of duty, identifying a would-be assassin that her other security forces neutralised. Karges died after confessing his secret to the President. Aware that other telepaths existed in hiding, Robinson declared an amnesty, promising support and assistance for any telepaths who came forward. This resulted in a monitoring organisation. As the number of telepaths increased, the organisation metamorphosed into the Psi Corps.

Matthews also relates the story of a young boy named Alfred who discovered his telepathic powers in school. He told Psi Corps straight away, was inducted into the Corps and is now one of its most respected members.


Dating the Comic: The Markabs are still an extant species, placing the comic before their extermination in episode B18 (which most likely takes place in February 2259).

The Arc: The comic takes the format of an in-universe news/propaganda piece, similar to episode B15. As such it’s unclear if the information in the comic is reliable or simply paints Psi Corps in the best possible light.

The book trilogy NOV10-12 and episode D8 expand on some of the information in this comic. They confirm that Psi Corps was founded on 12 April 2161 by order of President Robinson. They also confirm that the existence of telepaths had been first suspected in the early 22nd Century, with the Metasensory Regulation Authority (MRA) set up in 2132. The MRA later transformed into Psi Corps.

Background: During the Earth-Minbari War, the situation grew so desperate that telepaths were allowed to fight on the front lines. One pilot. Lt. Andrew Denmark, served in Sinclair’s unit, Alpha Squadron. He used his telepathic abilities to hold the squadron’s morale together, allowing it to cover Sinclair’s attack on the Minbari flagship during the Battle of the Line. Denmark and the rest of the squadron were wiped out in the process, however.

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: Diane Matthews is apparently a commercial telepath on long-term assigned to Babylon 5, and in fact seems to be doing the same job as Talia Winters. Having more than one commercial telepath on the station makes sense, except for the fact that Matthews is never mentioned in the TV show, at all.

The Markab trader looks absolutely nothing like a Markab.

Bester’s backstory is at complete variance with what we learn in NOV10, although given the real story (that Bester was the son of rogue telepaths) that’s not surprising.

Behind the Scenes: For reasons given in the entry to DC12-DC14 below, this was the last issue of the regular monthly Babylon 5 comic book. J. Michael Straczynski cancelled the book after he got into a turf war with the editor of the book at DC Comics over who was going to get the final edit on the comic.

This comic was directly inspired by the Psi Corps advertisement in episode B15.

Review: Pretty slight and thin stuff. We didn’t need to know that Psi Corps is a bit dodgy (that’s been well-established), but the information about the founding of Psi Corps is moderately interesting. **½

DC12-DC14: In Valen’s Name
Publication Date: November 1997 – May 1998
Written by J. Michael Straczynski (plot, script for Part 1) and Peter David (script, Parts 2-3)
Artwork by Michael Collins (pencils), David Roach (inks) & Prismacolor (colours)

Date: February 2261

Plot:    Babylon 5 receives what appears to be a signal originating from space station Babylon 4, despite the station being taken a thousand years into the past to fight the Shadows (episodes A20, C16 and C17). Delenn theorises that the station’s fate after the Great War was never established: the station was moved to an unknown location to serve as a memorial to the war and the crew in charge of moving it never returned.

The crew take one of the White Star Fleet to investigate further. Delenn is keen to find if there are any records or messages on board which can expand the Minbari understanding of the war and the ultimate fate of Valen (Sinclair).

The crew indeed find Babylon 4, now over nine hundred years old. The station has been abandoned for centuries, the hull has been damaged by micrometeorite impacts and the carousel is no longer rotating. The interior garden area is dead, although the ruins of ancient Minbari buildings can be discerned. The station’s fusion reactor is dead but some of the backup solar panels have been brought back online. Unknown aliens attack the crew but are driven back. Delenn is horrified at the idea that alien scavengers are engaged in grave-robbing in the place of Valen himself. Ivanova scans the station and confirms that the arrival of the aliens has disturbed the station’s orbit and it will hit the planet’s atmosphere in three days.

The crew proceed to C&C and find the control centre radically changed from their last visit, with Minbari technology built into the original computer systems. Ivanova manages to get the computer system back on-line (the Minbari’s crystal-based systems having far greater longevity than human technology). They discover records left behind by Nukenn of the Minbari religious caste and Rashok of the warrior caste, who both recount their time with Valen.

Nukenn and Rashok confirm that the Minbari battle fleet had been severely depleted by constant combat with the Shadows. The battles had been fought in deep space and the Shadows were apparently unaware of the location of Minbar, meaning the fleet could not return home without the Shadows following them. The destruction of the Minbari Starbase left the fleet without a place to resupply and regroup. Other races in the region had been subverted by the Shadows and turned against the Minbari. But, in their darkest hour, they received a mysterious signal. This led them to a massive alien space station commanded by Valen, a Minbari of unknown origin. The Vorlons – beings of myth from the earliest Minbari legends – had also reappeared to deliver the station to them.

Valen refused to divulge his clan name or point of origin, or that of his ally Zathras. However, they helped the Minbari upgrade the station with new weapons. Zathras also adapted the station’s Cobra Bays to hold Minbari fighters and other ships, whilst also upgrading the engines (Babylon 4 had thrusters to allow it to move from system to system, even through hyperspace). The presence of the new base allowed the Minbari to regroup and win several key victories against the Shadows. After that point the religious and warrior castes became divided over the course of the war. Frustrated, Valen founded the Anla’shok, an army that did not recognise caste, to continue the course of the war. Later, Valen formed a coalition of other races to fight the Shadows. The most notable of these were the Tak’cha, an insectoid race with highly impressive fighting skills. They revered Valen, to the point of attacking races that refused to join Valen’s coalition (even if they preferred neutrality), such as the Yolu (later a member of the League of Non-aligned Worlds). Valen grew angry and banished them from the alliance. The war was eventually won and Valen disappeared, foretelling that the Shadows will return and that the Anla’shok must watch and wait for signs of their coming.

The alien scavengers are now revealed to be a Tak’cha recon party. Fearing these aggressive strangers who are defiling their holy place, one of the Tak’cha goes EVA and destroys the White Star ship with an explosive charge. More Tak’cha warships arrive, but Sheridan manages to hold them off with a decrepit Minbari fighter that they found in the docking bay and managed to get operational again. The deadlock is broken when the Tak’cha recognise the name “Delenn.” They confirm that their records (which are much more complete) contain records of the meetings between Valen and Ramde Zarwin, the Tak’cha general who commanded their forces in the alliance. Valen told Zarwin of his friend Delenn and the wisdom and patience he learned from her. Valen wanted to leave a message with the Tak’cha for Delenn to try to avert the war between Earth and Minbar, but the Vorlons talked him out of it.

Satisfied that the conflict was a misunderstanding, the Tak’cha transport the B5 crew home. They pause to watch Babylon 4 burning up in the planet’s atmosphere, its job – at long last – complete.

Dating the Comic: The story takes place relatively soon after the end of the Shadow War and before the conflict with Earth gets away in earnest.

The Arc: This story is more about tidying up loose ends than pushing forward the main story arc. Nevertheless, it clears up a lot of unanswered questions, especially when combined with NOV9.

The Minbari fought the Shadows initially by themselves, refusing to work with other, “inferior” races. This led to their decimation when the Starbase was destroyed. Valen (actually Sinclair, transformed into a half-Minbari hybrid) helped them regroup and also encouraged them to ally with other races, including the Tak’cha.

Upon arriving in the past, Valen sent a signal into Vorlon space, asking for Kosh and Ulkesh by name. Bemused, they arrived and learned of Valen’s origin point in the future. He refused to endanger the timeline, but told them enough to win their trust and alliance. Valen also burned the letter he had received from himself (C16) so as not to give knowledge to the Shadows should he be captured.

The original Rangers were opened to both warrior and religious caste members. According to NOV9, after much argument and controversy, the Rangers were opened to the worker caste as well. This gave the workers parity with the other castes; before that they were treated as serfs at best (and slaves at worst) by the other two castes. The Grey Council was then founded out of this arrangement.

Sinclair says that, “I’ve found her”. This seems to confirm that Catherine Sakai was indeed taken a thousand years into the past during the events of NOV9 and Sinclair was able to locate and be reunited with her. Episode D9 hints at what might have happened to them next. Other sources suggest that Valen caused a “great scandal” with his marriage, presumably by marrying an “alien” (some fans have suggested that Sakai also went through the chrysalis process, but this does not seem to be the case and she married Valen and had children as a human).

The Minbari and their allies won the war against the Shadows. The Shadows scattered in all directions, hiding their ships across the galaxy. Although Valen knew that Shadow ships were buried on Ganymede and Mars (among other worlds), he could not move against them without endangering the timeline.

Background: After the Great War, Babylon 4 was moved into the orbit of a barren planet in Sector 730 by 12 by 9, which is about 40 hours from the Epsilon Eridani system by hyperspace.

Babylon 4 had a Zen Garden similar to that on Babylon 5. As he did on B5 when he was Sinclair, Valen liked to sit in the garden and contemplate matters.

Babylon 4 had ion engines which allowed it to move. Earthforce wanted the station to not be a “sitting duck” to threats like the first three stations. Babylon 5 was constructed on such a tight budget that it did not have such engines.

Babylon 4 was by far the largest and most expensive space installation built by the Earth Alliance, far more impressive in size and scope than Babylon 5.

The Yolu have been a starfaring race for over a thousand years. They declined to join Valan’s coalition against the Shadows. The Tak’cha tried to punish them but were stopped by Valen.

Ivanova provides the number of ships involved in the Battle of Coriana VI (in D6): 10,000 Vorlon vessels, 10,000 Shadow vessels and 6,000 ships belonging to the alliance coalition. It is assumed she is doing some rounding up or down.

References: Ivanova quotes J.B.S. Haldane’s adage, “The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”

Unanswered Questions: What happened to the Tak’cha? Did they rejoin the interstellar community?

Mistakes, Retcons and Lamentations: It is highly convenient that the Tak’cha rediscovered the station at the time they did, a few months after the incident in C16-C17.

Given that the Yolu have been knocking around on B5 since Season 1, it would have been handy for them to have mentioned their records of the Shadow War at some point.

The Yolu also don’t resemble their TV counterparts at all.

Garibaldi says, “Twice before we nearly didn’t get out,” when talking about Babylon 4. I’m assuming he’s using the royal “we”, as he only attended the mission in A20, not the one in C16-C17.

Sinclair’s final message from the past says, “Delenn, Catherine, Susan, Michael, if any of you see this somehow, don’t cry for me. I’ve found her at long last, I’ve found her.” Straczynski later admitted that “Catherine” was included in this by mistake, confirming that the “her” is in fact Catherine Sakai.

Behind the Scenes: After the publication of DC11, Straczynski had a falling out with the editor of the DC comics line. Straczynski had written a script for a four-part story called The Book of War. This would have introduced the character of Marcus Cole before his appearance in C1 and would have explained his backstory. The editor changed the script, altering the entire meaning of scenes. Straczynski told her he was unhappy with this and the script would have to be reverted to its original form. Because Straczynski had right of approval over the comic storylines, he would not approve the amended script. However, the editor would not approve the original script, and DC Comics management got involved, pointing out their editorial policy not to give final script approval to outside writers. The complication had emerged because it was unusual for an outside licence holder (Straczynski in his position as Executive Producer/Showrunner of Babylon 5) to be a writer as well.

The situation logjammed and the comic series was cancelled, although DC still had several issues left on the contract. To get around the limitation, Straczynski wrote In Valen’s Name for The Official Babylon 5 Magazine (a Titan Books publication) and they in turn sold reprint rights to DC. The story was thus originally published in six parts in The Official Babylon 5 Magazine and then reprinted in three parts as a stand-alone mini-series by DC Comics.

The Book of War script was given by Straczynski to his wife, Kathryn Drennan, who adapted it for use in NOV9. Another script that was in the planning stages, by Tim DeHaas and set during the Earth-Minbari War, was cancelled outright.

Review: A reasonably solid story, although it’s primary purpose is tidying up loose ends from pre-existing storylines. Still, it’s good to learn (when combined with other material) that Sinclair and Sakai were reunited in the past and had a relatively happy ending, as well as putting a final pin in the B4 storyline. ***½

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