Monday, January 10, 2011

Batman Returns, and Returns, and Returns: The Starlog Project, Starlog #180, July 1992


For a record-breaking third issue in a row, the same movie is featured on the cover of Starlog: Batman Returns. And so he does.

A problem I've always had with superhero movies is that they often start out with one villain in the initial film; then in the second, they have two villains, and in the third, three, and so on. For a case in point, see the Spider-Man movies (if you count Harry in the second and third movies as a villain). It's a development that normally annoys me, because it always strikes me that the writers and producers don't have enough faith in their star character to continue to carry the films, as if we all are going to tune in merely to see a parade of disposable super-villains get vanquished (which, of course, they are).

Batman Returns is both a part of and a subverter of this form. There are indeed two villains: the Penguin and Catwoman. They are indeed both vanquished (oh, you knew that by now, didn't you?). But this movie is a better movie than the first, and the villains aren't your typical Batman and Robin-type villain teamup; they are complex and they're portrayed by top-flight actors. (Danny DeVito is particularly amazing and creepy.)

Does it deserve three consecutive covers in a row? Well, few movies do; but Batman Returns was the giant film of the time, and Starlog clearly knew what would get people to pick up a copy at the magazine racks. Like most magazines, they'd put a picture of a puppy licking Zac Efron's face on the cover every single issue if that's what would ensure big sales. (That is of course the reason Barack Obama showed up on so many magazine covers in 2008; he was newsstand gold. The closest to Efron-puppiness that the political world gets.)

Starlog #180
84 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

I've lost count. This is either the third or fourth issue of Starlog that includes a letter from yours truly. What got me to put pen to paper (or slip paper into typewriter, which for you kids was a mechanical device for creating documents that was not connected to the internet; sort of like a keyboard to nowhere) was actually more sequel concerns. Specifically, it was concern over the increasing trend of novelists to write series of books based in one world, multi-part books that never seemed to end, merely stringing you along to buy the next in the series. I certainly understood (and understand) the income-need by the writers and the publishers that fed this trend, and in many cases I understand the readers' needs to continue exploring a world they've come to love. But I thought the trend had gotten so far out of hand that readers were being fed never-ending pablum, and writers were sacrificing their role to tell an honest story. We all have to pay our bills, but it isn't out of bounds to occasionally remind ourselves that just because NCIS has been renewed for yet another season that we're not contractually bound to watch it.

The rundown: Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito share this month's cover, which also notes that it's the 16th anniversary issue of the magazine, though there are precious few reminders inside the issue that it's a special edition; heralding the return of former editorial staffer David Hirsch as a music correspondent, Star Trek VI's Valeris (Kim Cattrall) is featured on the contents page, which references Hirsch's interview with Trek VI's composer, Cliff Eidelman. In a shortened Medialog column, David McDonnell notes that George Lucas received the Irving G. Thalberg Award during the Oscars, and Marc Shapiro reports on an attempt to bring Robert Heinlein's classic Stranger in a Strange Land (which is mis-labeled Stranger in a Stranger Land) to the screen. This issue sees the return of another former Starlog editorial staffer, Michael McAvennie, who kicks off a new column called Gamelog, which reviews new video game releases; this issue, he reviews some Terminator games, among others.

The Communications section includes still more Trek-vs-Space: 1999 infighting, a vehement anti-Gene Roddenberry letter, memories of Irwin Allen, an absolutely brilliant letter critiquing multi-book novels, and more; David Hutchison's Videolog column warns us that Freejack has been released, among other genre titles; Booklog reviews Illusion, Gifts of Blood, Dragon Death, and The Missing Matter; Fan Network includes Lia Pelosi's fan club and publications directory, plus the convention listings; and in his From the Bridge column, former publisher Kerry O'Quinn actually references Starlog's 16th anniversary while sharing the story of a fan who made his professional science-fiction dreams come true.

Ed Henderson contributes his first article to the magazine, a look at the history of Godzilla on the big screen (with illustrations by Kevin Brockschmidt); Kyle Counts interviews actor and director James Darren, who discusses working on The Time Tunnel, Quantum Leap, and more; Marriette Hartley is called "one of TV's classiest actresses" as she's profiled by Lee Goldberg (after all, she didn't give the magazine the Terri Garr treatment); Batman Returns director Tim Burton is interviewed by Marc Shapiro, and he discusses how to assemble the best villainous roles for his superhero films; and Ian Spelling talks with genre favorite actor Lance Henriksen about his roles in Aliens and Alien3, Pumpkinhead, and other films.

The Star Trek interview marathon continues with Pat Jankiewicz's chat with director Gene Nelson, who discusses his episode "The Gamesters of Triskelon" (which Jankiewicz rightly calls "Star Trek as its most glorious and notorious"); Jean Airey interviews actress Judi Trott about her role in Robin of Sherwood; Tom Weaver and Paul Parla tag-team on a long Q&A with actor Ben Chapman, who portrayed the title role in Creature from the Black Lagoon; David Hirsch returns to the Starlog fold with his interview with composer Cliff Eidelman, who talks about working on Star Trek VI; and in his Liner Notes column, editor David McDonnell relates where former staffers have gone after leaving Starlog during its 16 years of publication (James Elrod is an electrician for the Metropolitan Opera, David Hirsch is an optometrist and a music journalist, Ira Friedman is producing a comics line for Topps, and so on).
"If you'll recall, the adventure of the original Star Trek is that the plots always led them to other planets. The surprise was, 'Who were they and what did they look like?' That was always fun, like in ["Gamesters"] – the alien characters were brains! We didn't show that until well after the middle of the episode, and all these other people involved weren't weird faces, like Angelique. Now [with Next Generation], there are no surprises. Whenever they come up with a new face, it either has one eye, two eyes or horns! It lacks the wonderful element of surprise the original had. Where their adventures led them was where the surprises came."
– Gene Nelson, director, interviewed by Pat Jankiewicz: "The Gamesters People Play"
For more Starlog, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.
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