Archive for October, 2011

Review by C.J. Bunce

If we didn’t have Batman #1 and Detective Comics #1, there would be a fair amount to rave about with Batman: Dark Knight #1, another DC Comics “New 52” title, written by Paul Jenkins with pencils by David Finch (interestingly the artist on this book has top cover billing over the writer, which I don’t recall seeing before).

First of all, the art is great and the Batman narration is as good as the other two main Bat-titles.  Note: I won’t be buying or reviewing a fourth title, Batman and Robin, since Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman and Robin series may have forever scarred me and averted me from a title focused only on that duo.

Here, Batman is again on his way to foil a breakout at Arkham Asylum.  But wait a second, isn’t that the plot of Batman #1? Didn’t these writers coordinate that kind of glaring oddity?  It could have been useful and interesting had they shown two sides of the same event, but the writer shows us no indication here of that happening.

A new twist is an internal affairs detective who is pretty savvy to Bruce Wayne’s support of Batman, including getting too close for comfort to a likely background relationship between Bruce and Commissioner Gordon.

Despite some nice splash pages, good inks by Richard Friend and good color work by Alex Sinclair, this issue does not offer anything not available in another title.  It begs the question: Why not just give readers a weekly Batman comic that fuses 2-4 of these series together?  Soon we will be seeing more story elements tripping over each other, such as the fact that a presumably new “love interest” is introduced here (Jai Hudson) and yet we see Batman “linked up” with Catwoman Selina Kyle in the Catwoman series.  Continuity is just lost out the window.

If you have to pick just one Batman title to go forward with, you’ll be hard pressed to keep this as your keeper of the bunch.  For me, Batman is the series I plan to follow going forward.  Keep in mind that Batman is the busiest guy in the DCU right now, also appearing in Justice League, Catwoman, Batwoman.  Not to mention other Bat-zines like Batwing and cameos in every other book.  Can you have too much of a good thing?  I think we’re going to find out.

Here is some nice pencil work by Finch:

Ultimately Dark Knight may be one of the victims of trying something as ambitious as releasing 52 new series at once.  It makes you wonder if the writers and artists realize how much they really are competing against each other for consumers’ dollars.  It is unfortunate because even having a nice piece of work such as this result may not keep you in the running when you’re in the leagues with other equally good creators.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

“But if the battle looks to be going sour they’ll break, and they’ll break bad.” – Jocelyn Bywater, p. 710 of A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Paperback.

I declare right up front that if you haven’t watched Season 4 of Breaking Bad, read A Game of Thrones or read A Clash of Kings, there will be SPOILERS ahead.  I warn you because part of the joy of these pieces of art is the unknown journey and a spoiler would change your perception.  However, it’s also because part of the journey consists of knowing that no character is truly safe.  I found that out as did viewers of the HBO Game of Thrones series when four-fifths of the way through the first book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Eddard, the Stark patriarch and one of the narrators, gets his head separated from his body.  Needless to say, he doesn’t return in the second book.  If you know he dies and the others live, part of the experience is gone.  However, once a main character–not only a main character, but one of the narrators–perishes, you know that no one is safe.

Viewers of Breaking Bad saw that with the finale, as the main bad guy for the past two years, Gus Fring, died as well.  I’ve already spoken with at least six people on the magic of that final episode of the season as well as his death scene as everyone excitedly wants to talk about it.  As fanatic, or even casual viewers, that episode makes us giddy.

When real stakes exist, I posit that a show is better for it.  If we know that the two main characters of a romantic comedy will end up by the last act no matter if one likes pizza and the other likes sushi, it’s not near as interesting.  If the only time a TV show takes a chance is during sweeps or a “very special” episode, then we know all of the other car chases, break-ups, boat chases, misunderstandings or motorcycle chases will end up ok.

However, to have real stakes, you have to care about the person.  To care about the person, they have to be real.

For example, I just saw the movie Moneyball last week.  It’s ok.  My favorite part is the footage of Jeremy Brown at the end because I cared about him.  The dialogue leading up to real footage of his time in the minors made him a real person (that and the fact that he is a real person with a cool story detailed in the book.)  I felt an emotional connection to that moment.  Brown diving back into first touched my heart more than any other moment in the movie.

On the other hand, the portrayals of Art Howe and Grady Fuson (probably very similar to the portrayals in the book, but it’s been a bit since I’ve read it, so I can’t say with an absolute certainty) made me shut off my mind.  Let me sum up the characters:

“I’m an old man, I’m set in my ways and I refuse to change. Harumph.”

That’s all the audience is given about these two real life people.  So, when they meet the wrong end of the pink slip, you’re expected to cheer.  Yea!  Stubbornness defeated!  Bad guys lose!  Yea!

It doesn’t have to be that way.

For example, in Breaking Bad, by my count, the main protagonist Walter White has killed eight people directly and put many more in danger.  He cooks meth for a living.  He lies to his family.  He’s arrogant.  He treats Jesse Pinkman, his best friend in the world and his substitute son in his life in the underworld, worse than you’d treat an enemy.  He has poisoned Jesse’s girlfriend’s son.  He has watched as Jesse’s ex-girlfriend died through suffocating on her own vomit.  As I write all of this, I can’t imagine too many former high school teachers that would be worse human beings.

Yet, everyone I talk to about the series cares about him and, dare I say, roots for him to survive.  Why?  Because we know him beyond a simple archetype like “man in a black hat” or “drug dealer” or “bureaucrat” or “stubborn old man.”  We know that he has survived cancer for now.  We know how much he loves his son and his daughter.  We know how he wants to provide for his family.  We know that he lets his pride get in the way of accepting charity.  We know he wants to live.

He didn’t get to murderer in one step.  It took a while.  He struggled with the first step.  Jesse and Walt flipped a coin to determine who would kill the first person that stood in their way of survival.  That he needed to keep breaking bad for his own self-preservation made sense the further and further he plunged down the road to becoming a drug lord.

For another example, take Game of Thrones or Clash of Kings.  At the heart of the story is the Stark family, the sons Robb, Jon, Bran and Rickon, the daughters Anya and Sansa, father Eddard, mother Catelyn and ward Theon.  As different narrators with different perspectives, we follow them as they separate across the Seven Kingdoms.  We see through their eyes how they perceive those around them, their friends and their foes.  For example, we see Catelyn refuse to acknowledge Jon, the bastard son of Eddard through some unknown woman.  We see Catelyn take Tyrion Lannister prisoner to answer for the partial paralysis of her son Bran, though Tyrion was innocent.  Later, we see Catelyn release one of the most notorious prisoners and her son’s best bargaining chip in a war so that she can try to get her daughters back.

In other words, she makes a whole lot of decisions that make the readers think she is a heartless, impulsive idiot.  But, we understand her idiocy.  Catelyn wasn’t supposed to marry Eddard, but rather his older brother who died in a war to usurp the Targaryen king, so as a woman in this time, she’s never really felt safe in her role as his wife.  All she has is her kids and as they are flung to the corners of the kingdom, she is alone and scared.  How do you react when your world is turned upside down?  I don’t know, but Catelyn makes decisions that are very probable.

Conversely, in A Storm of Swords we get narration from another Lannister (Jamie joins his brother Tyrion) and we see more of the viewpoints from the faction opposing the Starks.  We are familiar with their exploits and as we learn more about their father (Lord Tywin) we see how the Lannister “monsters” in the form of Jamie, Cersei and Tyrion came to be.  They also care about their family.  They also care about honor.  They also care about love.  They want to live.

We all do.  But, when someone opposes us, we don’t look at it from their viewpoint, but rather the view that they are blocking our happiness.  Their motivations are the same.  The pursuit of life, liberty, love and happiness are the daily stakes in our lives. We all want the same thing.  Great characters want the same thing.  The pleasure is seeing when an artist knows that and makes the “bad guys” every bit as sympathetic as anyone else.  That’s when a story captivates us.  That’s when we leave the movie theater, when we put down a book or stand up from the couch and smile in happy amazement.  I look for those moments in every piece of art and in the books of A Song of Ice and Fire and Breaking Bad I’ve found them.

Review by C.J. Bunce

As much as I am a fan of Rags Morales’s art style, Grant Morrison’s reboot story of Superman in the flagship title Action Comics for the DCU is really pretty ho-hum, if not plain disjointed, and ultimately hits the floor with a thud.  The excitement, energy, and portrayal of the great power of Superman of the past is non-existent here.

Much has been said about Superman’s new costume–shirt and cape are not all that different, but he is wearing jeans and no red boots–and ultimately that doesn’t matter.  Morrison’s writing is just…odd.  Even read by someone with an extensive vocabulary, from seeing the use of the archaic and out-of-place word “teetotal” on page one to a character named “Mrs. Nyxly,” you get the feeling that someone is putting us on here.  A key story element about a problem with a train comes out of nowhere.  Can this Superman see the future?  Doesn’t seem to be what is happening here.  There are just elements here that don’t jibe.  And why does Superman have these strange gold, shining eyes?  At first I thought this was meant to convey a Bizarro appearance, which could have been fun, but on re-read that’s not the case.

In one scene Superman captures a baddie named “Glenmorgan” for using “illegal cheap labor, no safety standards” which echoes a bit of what we’d expect from a 1970s Green Arrow, so maybe this new Superman will be pursuing non-obvious villains down the road.  But unfortunately we only get this in a singular image of the book.

OK, I’ll say it.  Superman with jeans and some form of brown dress shoe looks, well, just plain silly.  What’s the point, and does it say anything about the character we care about?  Wearing jeans makes him modern?  Who in the USA in 2011 wears brown dress shoes with jeans rolled up at the cuff?  There’s nothing cool about this look.  Dorky, yes.  Cool, no.

The standard cast of Superman is here as well, evil-without-explanation Lex Luthor, goofy Jimmy at the paper and sassy looking Lois Lane.  In this brief intro they appear as mere caricatures.

Strangely enough the best parts of Action Comics #1 are four entire pages of entirely visual content with no words.  The value in this first issue is Rags Morales’s renderings, not Morrison’s story.  What appears to be happening here is a Smallville sequel, a boy of steel instead of a man of steel.  Isn’t that what Superboy is for?

Stepping back from the story and art, other than Justice League, all the rest of the New 52 appears to be priced at $2.99.  Inexplicably this is a $3.99 book.  Unfortunately it doesn’t offer enough to keep anyone reading except maybe the diehard Superman loyalist.  With all the solid books introduced this past month featuring Batman, other Justice League characters and the unexpectedly refreshing non-A list titles, this title won’t make the cut for anyone looking to end up with only a few titles for the long haul.

Review by C.J. Bunce

(with spoilers)

The best thing about The Flash #1, another of the re-started DCU titles published in the past few weeks, is that they didn’t mess around with which Flash they chose to move forward with.  To me, Barry Allen is always THE Flash.  Barry was killed off in 1985 in the Crisis on Infinite Earths series, which ended with Flash sacrificing himself to save Earth.  Before that, his long-time girlfriend-turned-wife Iris West was killed.   After 23 years Grant Morrison brought Barry back in Final Crisis, and via the Flashpoint mini-series this past year it was anyone’s guess where The Flash would be for the new DCU reboot.  Here, we’re at the beginning again, and with Barry and co-worker Patty Spivot dating it’s a refreshing place to re-start this series.

Issue #1 begins with Barry and Patty at a technology trade show.  A strange terrorist-like force that looks just like the Cobra Commander squad from G.I. Joe crashes the event leaving Barry to zip out  in Flash mode and stop the squad, one by one.  Just like a Clark Kent-to-Superman-and-back transformation, Barry walks in at the end to Patty having no idea that he even left.  But Iris West is here, too, this time as a reporter pursuing Barry.

This Barry story has the same nice tone that the short-lived The Flash TV series had.  The Flash series has always been an easy read–like any number of superhero titles, from Spider-man to Justice League of America to the Fantastic Four, you could just pick a copy off the rack and jump right in.  So the challenge for writer Francis Manapul and artist Brian Buccellato is creating something new with this well-known hero.  How can you raise the stakes for The Flash when he was already killed off and left for dead for 23 years?

Here, Manapul answers that by introducing a long-lost friend named Manuel who shows up as one of the dead shooters at the trade show, only to have Barry see him later, and in the last frame step into something he couldn’t expect, apparently a clone army of Manuels.

I wouldn’t say The Flash is one of the New 52 stand-out titles because there is not much new by way of art style, storytelling, or surprises.  Unlike similar classic Justice League reboot titles for Savage Hawkman and Aquaman, there is not a lot here to rave about.  Will diehard Barry Allen fans be happy with this approach or demand something more?  Too much change, as with the Green Arrow series, will put off readers, but retelling the same story as it has been told before will probably not re-ignite anything for the current DC fan base either.  For an audience of new readers, however, this series would be a good place to check out a solid, classic character, whose story, originally or retold, is worth reading if you just like the idea of “the fastest man alive.”

With a choice of 52 DC regular titles to choose from (and every other publisher’s product out there), unless you’re one of the rare ones reading them all or you’re just a tried and true fan of the character, it will be hard to keep this series on the shortlist unless the creators can amp up the action and creativity to compete with other titles.

Review by C.J. Bunce

One book that was released this month to no real fanfare was a new DC Comics title that is not part of the new 52 renumbered series, Huntress, written by Paul Levitz with art by Marcus To.

Huntress, whose alias is Helena Bertinelli (no relation to Valerie, we expect), is returning to Italy from Gotham City to do a little investigative clean-up work in great Dark Knight Detective style.  In sweeping a warehouse district she happens on another shady business, human trafficking of little girls, and so she adds this to her list of odd jobs.  “Wonder how many corpses I’ll leave behind on this trip?” she asks herself.

This is a nice single story issue, with a beautiful drawn style for Huntress both in and out of costume.  Ideally Birds of Prey would still feature Huntress as part of the team, but the younger look of the new Birds must not have had room for this great character.  A better team-up would have a more classic Black Canary with Huntress and maybe even Zatanna, but with no more Oracle aka Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl, I guess that is not in the cards.  Anyway, there’s some tight writing here and of all the actual New 52 titles that were more fluff and action, this book packs some great action scenes and Huntress gets ample opportunity to develop her determined and almost bitter attitude and kick a little butt on the side.

Unfortunately Huntress is slated as a six-issue mini-series only. DC Comics would be wise instead to kick some of the new DC titles that have fizzled to the curb and insert the Levitz/To duo as a regular title.

Review by C.J. Bunce

When the 52 titles of DC’s “New 52” were announced a few months back, a glaring omission was a comic book featuring our favorite backward talking, fishnet wearing magician, Zatanna.  Happily she has a featured role in the new series Justice League Dark.  If we’re lucky, she will be proclaimed the ultimate leader of this new spin on the Justice League.

Funny Name

The title is a little weird but the “dark” is enough to pick up readers and it is, after all, why I grabbed this one.  Let’s see, there’s Milky Way Dark and now there’s Justice League Dark.  I hope they don’t plan to really call the team that.  In the very best scene of Issue #1 we see Zatanna working with Batman, and the rationale for this series is laid out:  there are some things the Justice League is not suited for, things involving an understanding of the darker elements, like magic.  Zatanna gets to work one of her backward spoken charms on Batman entangling him in gold magic.  This is one of the best drawn Batmans of the New 52, by artist Mikel Janin.  And the new Zatanna looks great, even without her classic fishnets.  Writer Peter Milligan’s best work in this book is this scene, and he shows some great characterizations between these two key characters of the DCU.

Nice Grouping

The Enchantress is the villain at the beginning of this new title.  She is wreaking havoc from her base inside an envelope in a dilapitated shack (and yes, you read that right).  Madame Xanadu foresees doom is coming and a strange girl is seen dying in multiple realities yet fixed in one reality–“34 simulacra of June Moone” as Zatanna sees it.  Shade, who freely manipulates and changes realities keeps changing his girlfriend Kate.  The actual Justice League of Cyborg, Superman and Wonder Woman try and fail to stop the Enchantress, who is involved in supernatural deaths and a power plant becoming sentient (one panel is all we get on that oddity).  It is unclear how this fits into the ongoing Justice League series, however.  John Constantine is summoned by Zatanna.  And June Moone tracks down Deadman.  It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.  Former JLA member Zatanna, in new outfit, is the obvious headliner for the group but only time will tell.  Ultimately Madame Xanadu sees death for all these would-be team members.

I like the concept here and the art is well done.  I also like the use of several women characters featured instead of the typical male team-up with a token female character.  Issue #1 features a nice cover by Ryan Sook.

If there is one thing I don’t like it is the choice of the same expletive multiple times in one issue–“Christ!”, and an odd choice at that.  It’s one thing to have a novel peppered with a few expletives of any variety if it furthers the plot, but here the use seemed random, unnecessary, and in a story of only 24 pages just not appropriate to the story or a teen rated title, dark or not.  A writing teacher once said over-use of expletives is a sign of poor writing.  Unless it is a book about the mob or gangs, I would agree.

An overall well-drawn book and unique character ensemble will have me back next month for Issue #2.  DC Comics also released a slick trailer that fits the mood of this one, at this link.

The Midwest Comic Book Association is hosting the 23rd Annual MCBA FallCon “Comic Book Party” at the Progress Center located on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on Saturday October 15, 2011 in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Twenty-three shows is a long time for any convention so if you’re in the area this may be a great way to spend up to six hours today pouring through more than a half a million comic books for sale and meet more than 100 comic book creators scheduled to attend.

Although the MCBA does not appear to be officially pronouncing any single event headliner today, a quick look at the long roster of guests will likely reflect someone you want to meet or someone you want to catch up with again.

Comic book artist Keith Pollard is scheduled to attend, best known for his work for Marvel Comics in the 1970s and 1980s on Thor, The Amazing Spider-man and Fantastic Four.  Other familiar attendees include Patrick Gleason, fresh from his work on the new Batman and Robin, midwest artist and writer Phil Hester (Green Arrow, Ant Man, Green Hornet, Bionic Man), Christopher Jones (Young Justice as well as artwork in Batman Strikes with writer Jai Nitz), and Tom Nguyen (straight from his recent work on the new Green Lantern series).

Along with other comic book creators, Christopher Jones says he will be talking to fans, doing commission sketches, and selling comics and art, according to a post on his website.  He’ll also be showing off his new event banner:

Artist Steve Kurth (who has some stunning original art pages posted on his website), best known for his New Mutants work, is also scheduled to attend. (Hopefully he and the rest of these creators bring some original art to drool over).  Check out this great Iron Man page from his website:

Tickets available at the door for $8.00 and $1.00 off with a canned food shelf donation. Kids 9 and under get in free.  Check out the MCBA website for more information.

C.J. Bunce


Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

USA Network’s hour-long comedy about a fake psychic detective solving real crimes began its fifth season this week, with the first notable guest spots the network promises to be a key feature of this season.  As “Sean Rescues Darth Vader” opens, hyper-observant Sean Spencer (James Roday) is shown “James Bonding it up in here” at the mansion of the British ambassador (Malcolm McDowell, Heroes, Time After Time, Star Trek Generations), where a party is underway for an exchange student newly acquitted of the murder of his girlfriend.  True to series tradition, Sean’s presence at the mansion has nothing at all to do with any of that–the Psych team has been hired by a kid to recover the vintage Darth Vader action figure the ambassador’s son stole from him.

And, of course, in true Psych tradition, things only get wilder and more ridiculous from there, when Sean stumbles over a murder victim and nearly gets caught by security guards as he flees the mansion.  The episode is a classic Psych premiere–slightly more over-the-top than usual, featuring big-name guest stars (McDowell is joined by veteran British actress Polly Walker (Enchanted April, Patriot Games)); a semi-irrelevant plot; silly banter and jackassery by Sean (here his obsession with achieving diplomatic immunity); and verbal sparring between Sean and frenemy Detective Lassiter (Timothy Omundson, Judging Amy, Starship Troopers, Xena: Warrior Princess, Star Wars video games).

Although every cast regular got decent screentime, Omundson probably had the standout role in this episode.  Driven by his anger over discovering Juliet’s relationship with Sean in last season’s finale (“Yang 3 in 2D”), Lassiter dials up his determination to discredit Sean, and we see some great funny moments as he administers polygraph tests to Juliet and Sean.  In a notable departure from series tradition, the flashback to Sean’s childhood that is typically the opening of each episode was moved to the end, where we saw Henry Spencer training his son to beat a lie detector.  I’m not sure such a move was necessary, because the audience already knows Sean is lying, but it did create a moment of outraged suspense, as fans all over were likely exclaiming over the missing flashback sequence.  I guess I can’t complain.

According to USA Network, we’ll see lots more guest stars this season: William Shatner, Danny Glover, Jason Priestley, Wayne Brady, Molly Ringwald, and Madchen Amick, among others.  We’ll also see the first episode written and directed by James Roday, in which Detective Lassiter finds love.  And I’m sure we’re all looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

To tell you the truth, I really wasn’t looking forward to House M.D. this season, so much so that I actually forgot to watch the season premiere.  After the departure of Amber Tamblyn and last year’s bizarre, Clockwork Orange musical dream sequence, I was pretty sure that House’s antics had lost both their power to shock his co-workers, and to entertain audiences.

Well, after getting caught up on the first two episodes of Season 8, I’m happy to announce that I was wrong.  But you can understand where I was coming from; after all, if House in rehab wasn’t that interesting, and House in a mental institution wasn’t that interesting, and House in a relationship with Cuddy wasn’t that interesting, how was House in prison going to be any different?  It was, and I’m almost sorry Hugh Laurie’s going to be back at Princeton Plainsboro for the rest of the season.

With “Twenty Vicodin,” the writers clearly capitalized on what has always been one of the show’s top assets: fresh cast members.  From House’s spooky, silent, hulking cellmate (Michael Bailey Smith (Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek Voyager) as Sullivan), to the dilettante prison physician (new series regular Odette Annable (Monk, Cloverfield, Life on Mars (U.S.)), as Dr. Jessica Adams), “Twenty Vicodin” was peppered with engaging characters to challenge House.  The plot hinges on House’s efforts to earn parole (after crashing his car into Cuddy’s house in last season’s finale) by keeping his nose clean on his last five days in prison.  That requires him to stockpile and hand over the eponymous twenty vicodin to prison gangleader Mendelson (Jude Ciccolella, Life, Medium, Monk, Burn Notice, Law and Order, Star Trek: Nemesis); avoid pissing off fellow inmates; really avoid pissing off the infirmary supervisor; and somehow simultaneously (of course) solve a medical mystery.  Fellow inmate Nick (Sebastian Sozzi, Law and Order) has mysterious symptoms, and House must circumvent every prison regulation in place to diagnose him.  And by the way?  It’s not lupus.

Episode 2, “Transplant” doesn’t quite pick up where “Twenty Vicodin” left off, because while House did save the guy’s life, he also annoyed enough folks in prison to get another 8 months tacked onto his sentence.  Enter new Dean of Medicine Dr. Foreman (Omar Epps), in a fairly inevitable if ho-hum choice with an offer: come back to Princeton Plainsboro to diagnose a “dream patient”– a pair of already-harvested lungs slated for a transplant to Dr. Wilson’s (Robert Sean Leonard) dying cancer patient.  The medical puzzle in this episode is House at its best–intriguing, impossible, desperate, and totally innovative.  With his original team long gone (is it mean to say “Yay!”?), House must work with disgraced neurology intern Dr. Chi Park (Charlene Yi), who is not quite Amber Tamblyn, but held her own as well as any House fellow can be expected to.  We’re definitely looking forward to watching her character grow this season.

But the heart of “Transplant,” as it always is, was Wilson, carrying the emotional plotline for both the lungs and for House’s return to the hospital.  House’s and Wilson’s relationship has always been the sort of subtle backbone to the series, explored in varying depths through the years, but with this episode you got the sense that everyone finally got that, and that we may see that relationship explored in even greater depths this season.  Robert Sean Leonard’s performance was top-notch, particularly in the painfully satisfying scene of Wilson finally telling House that he just doesn’t care anymore.  You truly had the sense that he meant it; he just seemed done.  We also had a sense that just maybe House might have finally changed, too, expressed in the beautifully-written and deceptively simple line, “We save the lungs.  Wilson needs them.”  Of course, they’re House and Wilson and this is episodic TV, so too much can’t change between them, and it was nice to see them heading off into the sunset together for a steak.

After these promising first two episodes, can Season 8 keep up the momentum?  I have to admit, the teasers don’t look promising.  More Princeton Plainsboro, more old team.  I’m tempted to yawn, but my DVR is still firmly tuned to Fox Mondays at 8/7.

Where are they now?

After spending nearly 11,000 workyears on the Voyager space program so far, or one-third of the estimated effort required to build the great pyramid at Giza, the Voyager space probes are currently in the “Heliosheath” – the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas, more than 17 billion kilometers from the Sun.  Thirty-four years ago this past August 22, Voyager 2 was launched and a few weeks later on September 5, 1977 Voyager 1 was launched.  Both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through the Deep Space Network (DSN), according to NASA.

The focus of the original mission for the Voyager probes was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. After making several discoveries there — such as active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and photographing the intricacies of Saturn’s rings — the mission was extended, with Voyager 2 going on to explore Uranus and Neptune–the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets. The current mission–Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM)–is exploring the outermost edge of the Sun’s domain.  In 2008 the probes were two of only a handful of objects that man had successfully sent beyond the edge of our solar system.

What the Voyager program did that no other program has done is send a distinct and comprehensive message to be intercepted at some point by a hopefully intelligent and friendly lifeform somewhere beyond our own solar system.  The means was a gold record and record player.  The gold record itself was affixed to the each probe and contained images and photos from Earth as well as a carefully selected group of music intended back in 1977 to reflect a broad range of world music, as well as spoken greetings in several languages.  Then President Jimmy Carter’s voice can be heard on the album, stating: “This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.”


Back around 1998 my wife and I attended a superb Carl Sagan memorial concert by the Oregon Symphony, hosted by Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan.  It was a performance of key pieces from the Voyager space record – the very record that accompanied the original real Voyager space probes (and that inspired V’ger, the “villain” of Star Trek: The Motion Picture).  The concert sought to answer the question: How do you select a limited sampling of the music of Earth for a recipient outside our universe?  The music selected was quite diverse.

Back in the 1980s you could buy a limited box set that included the book Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record (an indispensable Voyager reference) as well as a CD of the complete music, languages and sounds and a CD-ROM of the photos included on the space record.

Probably the most incredible part of the Voyager album’s history?  A sample of the isotope uranium-238 is electroplated on the record’s cover.  Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.5 billion years and it was hoped an intelligent civilization that encounters the record a billion years from now could use the remaining uranium to determine the age of the record, and hence, the time our civilization existed.

The ongoing journey of the Voyager probes can be tracked at NASA’s website.

Sagan’s Murmurs of Earth book and disc set is still available from time to time at Amazon from $100 on up for the deluxe setThe book alone is also available and is inexpensive despite being long out of print.  Every school library should have the book and disc set as this is an incredible educational tool.  What would you include on such a record to be sent to other worlds?  This set also is interesting from a sociological perspective–it reflects what humans in the late 1970s viewed as important.  It is the ultimate time capsule.  Undoubtedly, the disc would look very different were it created today.

Here are the musical selections on the Voyager records:

  • Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F.  First Movement, Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor. 4:40
  • Java, court gamelan, “Kinds of Flowers,” recorded by Robert Brown. 4:43
  • Senegal, percussion, recorded by Charles Duvelle. 2:08
  • Zaire, Pygmy girls’ initiation song, recorded by Colin Turnbull. 0:56
  • Australia, Aborigine songs, “Morning Star” and “Devil Bird,” recorded by Sandra LeBrun Holmes. 1:26
  • Mexico, “El Cascabel,” performed by Lorenzo Barcelata and the Mariachi México. 3:14
  • “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry. 2:38
  • New Guinea, men’s house song, recorded by Robert MacLennan. 1:20
  • Japan, shakuhachi, “Tsuru No Sugomori” (“Crane’s Nest,”) performed by Goro Yamaguchi. 4:51
  • Bach, “Gavotte en rondeaux” from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux. 2:55
  • Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, no. 14. Edda Moser, soprano. Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor. 2:55
  • Georgian S.S.R., chorus, “Tchakrulo,” collected by Radio Moscow. 2:18
  • Peru, panpipes and drum, collected by Casa de la Cultura, Lima. 0:52
  • “Melancholy Blues,” performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven. 3:05
  • Azerbaijan S.S.R., bagpipes, recorded by Radio Moscow. 2:30
  • Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor. 4:35
  • Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1. Glenn Gould, piano. 4:48
  • Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor. 7:20
  • Bulgaria, “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin,” sung by Valya Balkanska. 4:59
  • Navajo Indians, Night Chant, recorded by Willard Rhodes. 0:57
  • Holborne, Paueans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs, “The Fairie Round,” performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London. 1:17
  • Solomon Islands, panpipes, collected by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service. 1:12
  • Peru, wedding song, recorded by John Cohen. 0:38
  • China, ch’in, “Flowing Streams,” performed by Kuan P’ing-hu. 7:37
  • India, raga, “Jaat Kahan Ho,” sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar. 3:30
  • “Dark Was the Night,” written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson. 3:15
  • Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, performed by Budapest String Quartet. 6:37

C.J. Bunce