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Galactica Headed Towards Apocalypse

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Battlestar Galactica is the best show on television. Four seasons ago people may have scratched their heads at this statement while thinking back to a campy mythology-obsessed show from the 70s that featured shiny evil robots. Now, however, that statement has validity thanks to Sci-Fi Network’s amazing revamping of the classic show. Dynamite Entertainment hopes to capitalize on the excitement by releasing comics based on the franchise, as well as returning glory to the original series. By enlisting the help of veteran small-screen writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, they’ve taken steps in the right direction. Grillo-Marxuach works for Medium and has written for a little show called Lost, and now he takes on a beloved science fiction franchise with Battlestar Galactica: Cylon Apocalypse. BF chatted up the author about times when Starbuck wasn’t a woman, but a womanizer.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Can you start off by giving a description of your upcoming limited series – Classic Battlestar Galactica: Cylon Apocalypse?

JAVIER GRILLO MARXUACH: It’s about the ragtag fleet that is sort of rocked by two discoveries. One of them is that they find a very concrete signal from Earth, that gives them hope, that they may actually find their destination, and it describes the way to get there. And the other one is that they find a weapon that is very ugly and unstable that they may still be able to use against the Cylons. It’s really about how Adama and this ragtag fleet deal with this sort of stoke of luck, but all the complications that come with knowing that you have a great power in your hands.

BF: How did you become involved in this project?

JGM: I had just finished doing The Middleman, and was getting ready to do the Annihilation: Super Skrull series for Marvel, when Nick Berucci from Dynamite got in touch with me. He had read an interview and liked what I had to say about comics and thought I would be a great match for what Dynamite was doing. So we met, and they were a really nice bunch of people, and had some interesting properties, and when he mentioned he had Battlestar Galactica, I thought, “That’s my favorite show on TV right now.” Then he mentioned he also has the classic series, and I thought, “Wow, I have to do something with that.”

I loved the Galactica series when I was a kid, and I loved the movie.  One of my first memories of Galactica as a property was seeing the movie in a movie theatre in Puerto Rico. And I remember it as this huge grand spectacle, and having a blast watching it, and becoming hooked on the show.

So, by the end of the meeting I was saying: I have this idea for Classic Battlestar Galactica! And I just started pitching it off the top of my head. And off of that the story that would become Cylon Apocalypse came about. I literally ran home and wrote an outline based on all of the things I had spun out at the meeting.

I was very enthusiastic to do it, because I think the classic Battlestar is iconic in many ways. Not just the core idea of humanity running away from this overwhelming menace, but also – you know, even the uniforms and the ships, I remember it being this great icon and it really struck a cord with me.

BF: When during the original series will this comic be taking place?

JGM: You know, I took a more general approach to it. I know that a lot of the fans of the series are very sort of cannon-driven and I know that people try to reconcile the comic books that Marvel put out in the 60s and 70s with the series. I like to think of this as an episode of the series. The mindset I put myself in was: if I had been on that staff, with Greg Larson and Frank Lupo, what would I have pitched as an episode idea. So it sort of fits in with the sort of episodic content of the series – it can be at any point in there.

But, I suppose if people really need an answer, I would say it’s probably somewhere after… well the series didn’t really have an ending, but it’s within that run of episodes at the end of the series.

BF: How will you be handling the strong mythological motif of the original series?

JGM: You know what, I think they did a great job of plumbing that in a lot of the episodes with Lost Planet of the Gods, and the Crystal Ships, so I’m kind of staying away from that. This is a story that is in some ways a little more military and a little more character-driven, so I am centering on that.  As you put it, there really is no mention of the mythological aspects of it, beyond what they called everybody.

BF: What kind of fan-service can we expect, for those of us who are intimate with the original series?

JGM: The whole point of it is that I’m a big fan of it and anything that I didn’t know… there’s a Battlestar Wiki, and I basically lived in it for four months. I decided I wasn’t going to make up any new characters for the ragtag fleet, so if you liked any of the characters… if you liked Sgt. Omega, who was the bridge officer, who sort of called out the meetings, if you thought Ed Begley jr. was cool as Ensign Greenbean – he’s there, if you thought Jolly was a really cool character – he’s there, I put the daggit, I put Boxey in… I really tried to cover all the bases. I tried really hard to populate the comic with characters who, if not shown in the series, were at least mentioned in it. The series had such a rich amount of characters in it, so why not try to pluck them from obscurity, and have them in the book.

There are all of those winks at the old show, but they’re also in favor of filling out the world and character and all that. And you know, if you liked a lot of the broader mythological strains of the series, I tried to use those. The fact that the Cylons used to be Reptilian beings – the mythology for the Cylons in the old show was much different than the new one – the Cylons were created by these serpent creatures which were the original Cylons – and that’s even referred to in my book. So I’m trying to reach further back into the mythology of Galactica, and plumbing that for what the story needs to be.

And also – one last thing – the profanity goes beyond frak and feldercarb, there’s other things. I looked for classic Galactica profanities to stick in there as well. [Laughs]

BF: You mentioned Boxey and Muffit. Did you have to bring them back? [Laughs]

JGM: You know what, it’s interesting, it’s not going to be Muffit saves the ship, as was prone to happen on the show on occasion. It’s more of a character thing that happens with Boxey and Apollo. Apollo was a single parent, really, in the series. I tried to touch on the key relationships of the show. There’s a much bigger sub-plot that has to do with Starbuck and Cassiopeia and his relationships with other women.

Apollo was a single parent, and I thought that merited some attention since there’s an apocalyptic final battle that takes place at the end of this series; I felt that was something worth touching on. It’s not going to be Muffit running around the ventilation tubes of the ship, taking the bomb that’s going to blow up Galactica out of the airlock, it’s more about character.

BF: God, thanks for that. [Laughs]

JGM: No problem. I’m trying my best not to annoy. You know, whatever fun you had with that character, I’m trying to spark it a bit, and then move on to an action story.

BF: In the original series, Starbuck was one of the ultimate playboys. Is he going to retain that smoothness?

JGM: It was actually one of the big mandates of the studio that Starbuck needed to remain a rogue and a ladies man. You’re going to recognize all the characters, and see that side of Starbuck. His womanizing is not a great part of the series, because it is a wartime story, but he’ll be the lovable rogue that you knew and loved.

BF: Did you feel any pressure not to center on Starbuck, Apollo, and Adama since they were so prominent in the series?

JGM: Well, they are very prominent in what I’m doing. For me it’s not to showcase them, as they’ll have the lead part because they were the leads in the show, but for me it is to find where other characters can have their moment in the sun, where other characters could shine. The trick is not to ignore your leads in favor of other characters because you feel you need to do a story about Boomer, it’s to make everyone part of an ensemble. It’s a large fleet and a large contingent of military people who want to fight this good fight, and that’s what I tried to do.

BF: How much did Universal control the script?

JGM: You know, it’s their property, obviously, and they’re very protective of it. They don’t want you to write a series finale. [Laughs] They don’t want Galactica to find Earth or anything extreme like that. They had guidelines for what they did and did not want me to do. They read the scripts and commented on the scripts, they were very hands on. Especially now, with the new Battlestar being as culturally prominent as it is, they’re aware that the name means something. I don’t look at it as control, I look at it as this is somebody else’s game and I’m here to play it and have to play by their rules.

BF: Ok. How do you feel about the new series?

JGM: How do I feel about the new series? I love it! I think it’s the best show on TV. The show is spectacular. It’s a real sort of reinvention of a genre that’s been very homogenous over the past 20 years, and I think that they are just friggin’ geniuses.

The thing I love about it is that, the shows that I watch regularly make me forget that I work in television. I don’t analyze them like: “Here comes the Act 1 break, or this, that, or the other thing.” The shows that I love are the ones that turn me back in to a rank and file viewer. I just watch it and am surprised by it and it’s inventive and wonderful. And I forget that I know how they make it.

The other great thing about it is that if you are a fan of Battlestar Galactica, it made it possible for the license to exist and for Dynamite to be putting out these books, and for all of the renewed interest. I think it’s good for fans of the old and the new alike. It’s great television and it’s given Battlestar Galactica a great boost.

BF: I completely agree. Did you try to avoid being influenced by the new series at all?

JGM: I worked in one sort of knowing wink towards the new show, then let it rest. They are different animals, different shows. They take place in different universes, different continuities and that’s that. Classic Galactica and New Galactica are different things, and to try to bridge them is a fool’s errand. I think the best way to approach this kind of material is that each series has its own integrity and dignity, and you have to respect that. Otherwise it gets so damn messy. [Laughs]

BF: You wrote for Lost, which had millions of viewers. How do you go about writing for something with a much smaller audience like a comic series?

JGM: I approach them all with the same amount of care and attention. I think I was a little more daunted with the task of writing Galactica. At the time I took the assignment I was still writing for Lost, and if someone came in and told me to write a script for Lost, that’s what I did everyday. That was a task I was used to.

When this opportunity came around, I was like, “Wow, I really have to bone up on this stuff!” The audience doesn’t matter to me; I try to do my best. I really don’t take on a lot of comic book work because I have my day job. I’m the co-executive producer of Medium, and I only do things that I know I can do, and am passionate about. I want the end product to be as good as it can be. Because it’s what I do.

BF: Were you responsible for any character deaths in Lost?

JGM: [Laughs] I sort of faux-killed Shannon in one episode. I co-wrote an episode with Carlton Cuse where she was eaten by the monster, but it turned out to be a hallucination. So I don’t know that I can be responsible for any of the deaths or not. But I did hang a hobbit! And I think he was dead for like two minutes. But just not as permanently as some would like. [Laughs]

BF: So, it looks like you were meant for comics—your characters don’t stay dead.

JGM: [Laughs] Well, you know I killed Super-Skrull. I totally fragged the guy and he was dead. I was writing the third issue when I got a call from Andy Schmidt telling me, “So when we bring Super-Skrull back…” and I was like, “Whoa, what?” So, yeah, I guess I was destined for comic books.

BF: That’s all I have for now. Anything else you want to mention?

JGM: Well, Middleman Volume 3 will be coming out the middle of next year. That’s a script I’ve actually completed and is in the hands of Les McCrane who will be drawing it as soon as he frees up. And Super-Skrull: Exodus which comes out from Marvel next year. And, of course, Medium.

Look for Battlestar Galactica: Cylon Apocalypse when it hits stores early next year.

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