Wednesday, June 11, 2014

CBR Terminator: The Burning Earth

There was a nuclear war. A few years from now, all this, this whole place, everything, it's gone. Just gone. There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it.

It was the machines.

Comic title: Terminator: The Burning Earth 
Art by Alex Ross
Written by Ron Fortier

Published by NOW Comics/Dark Horse Comics
From 2013 (1990)
Lineup Terminator Series
Format: Trade Paperback collecting the 1990 mini-series Terminator: The Burning Earth #1-5.

Long before Dark Horse Comics and Marvel Comics would ever battle for the lucrative rights of The Terminator franchise in 1990, and decades prior to the recent Dynamite Entertainment and IDW Terminator comic book series, it was NOW Comics who original got the rights of James Cameron and Orion Pictures.

Back then there only was the original 1984 Terminator film. And fans looking for more could only look for the comic book series NOW quickly launched.

Despite the film being deemed a huge success at the time, it hadn't become the cult landmark and there wasn't any sort of franchise to speak off built around it.

The first comic book series ran from 1988 to 1990, for about 17 issues (plus a couple of one shots).

Ron Fortier who was an aspiring writer trying to get into comics was able to get a chance to jump on the title around the 5th-6th issues, taking over from the previous author. He didn't like much science-fiction but decided to take this as a war series, taking cues from DC's old Sgt. Rock comics and the likes of it.

John Connor was turned into this gritty seasoned war veteran, called "The Bear" by his recruits.

Fortier had a lot of problems with the artist, considering him a rookie in the medium, a lot of his stories, dialogues and details were cut off voluntary turning his book into a much simpler cut of what it could have been.

Anyway, the series was popular enough, but by the early 90s the Chicago-based publisher would be losing the rights to much bigger publishing houses with more money under their hands. For one and very simple reason. James Cameron would start working on a much anticipated sequel.

NOW Comics would be allowed to produce one final mini-series in 1990.

Since they once gave a chance to Fortier despite being inexperienced working on a comic at the time, they decided to use another aspiring comic book artist, another fairly young newcomer.

And that is how a young Alex Ross ended up working on this following last 5-issue Terminator series...

Before there was any sort of actual sequel to James Cameron's original film, the people at NOW at to just make stuff up as they went along. Which wasn't that a problem really. It just means they didn't end up in continuous time travel shenanigans as later Terminator work would.

With only one film to go by, Ron Fortier decided to focus the previous NOW Comics Terminator series on John Connor, his human resistance squad and the "War Against the Machines". For a change, there's no time travel aspect to this story. Since he was given free reign in terms of expected narrative, it all just took place in this dark post-apocalyptic future. While the original series tried to explain how and why T-800 Terminators were coated in human skin, the way they developed human expressions and were able to interact and infiltrate people. The comic series used to take place in 2031.

"The Burning Earth" jumps to an undisclosed amount of time in a later period (said to be 2041 in promotional material).

We now find an older bearded John Connor, tired of a war that has been going on way too long for anyone to even be able to remember what year it is supposed to be.

The story does follow some previous threads from the original series, we do get to see some of the last remaining surviving human resistance soldiers in Connor's command, but you can just as well drop into this without any prior knowledge to those old comics difficult to get your hands on.

The world is covered in cracked-skulls. Skynet has almost wiped out the entire human race. All the resistance rebels are worn down by years of constant war.

Skynet's also getting tired of this game, a decade spent on a useless war when it could be planning the following step of its conquest of the planet. The artificial intelligence decide to make on final counter offensive to wipe out every remaining living being.

We also get some hints regarding Skynet's real purpose, not clearly laid out though. It seems the AI developed this idea to maintain a form of peace, but since the human species would always crave for war, people always at each other's own throats, the best course of action was simply wiping out the entire planet to provide a clean new slate for the world (or so I understood it). Cleaning the humanity off the surface of the Earth is the absurd way it came up with to save humans from killing each other...

As John Connor was about to finally commit suicide, since there seemed to never be any way out of this... John suddenly witnessed a couple of resistance fighters sacrificing themselves for him!!

John has to make things right for them. For all of them! So many good soldiers lost to a pointless war...

John also organizes a final strike of his own. They have been able to locate an unknown base in Thunder Mountain, Nevada. Could this be Skynet's real headquarts? (coincidentally, the same general idea Bethesda would use in their game Terminator Rampage)

It was a former siege of power, probably where Judgement Day was even launched from!

Connor organizes two missions. One led by himself in person to infiltrate the premise, locate the mainframe and destroy Skynet for good. Another rag tag team will have to find the local source of power and destroy it at the same time, to be sure there are no back-up systems or any other way Skynet can find to disperse itself outside.

Skynet's also on its last resources as well. The AI deploys hordes of a newer simpler Terminator killer robot model. Much simpler but just as effect, black-coated and less human than ever. It just was finishing a new improved upgraded female model, the Aurora Model 808.

Suddenly Skynet launches the last final attack on humanity. Our heroes get hit by the nuclear waves miles away from them. They lose some more remaining men... But they're also able to get into the ex-military complex thanks to the distraction it provides them.

The second team knock the power while Connor's group finds the mainframe and...

Will John Connor's team be able to destroy Skynet in time? Well, you'll have that for yourself...

While Fortier always had some problems getting the artists render the exact story he had in mind, with Alex Ross on board none of his material was left out of this final Terminator story.

This last hurrah was a great success with the fans and defined some new standards all future publishers would be compared to.

It even went on being reprinted several times, in 1990, in 2004 and 2006 again before my above all-new deluxe re-issue reprint Dark Horse released recently.

The story itself went on inspiring back the look and the feel of the future war as seen on the Terminator 2 film itself, no doubt. Alex Ross' vision of this dark future probably found its way back on screen as an inspiration for the art direction. You can clearly see a couple of elements drawn upon on the later T2.

A young debuting Alex Ross gave this comic the stunning painted distinct look. While it's far from his current work, it certainly was a milestone for him. He was still at school and living at his parent's place back then. A friend of his knew how to get to the guys at NOW Comics through a convention... and they took him in no questions asked based on his marketing promotional work he did as a job on the side.

Ross would of course grow up to become one of the finest artist in the medium (though it's kinda sad how he left sequential art for mostly doing pin-up covers and illustration work nowadays).

At first he wanted to do this entire comic via oil painting, but that technique was way too much time-consuming and would take too much time just getting the pages dry enough to send to NOW. Plus print back in the day didn't allow much fidelity regarding his finished work and the actual re-printed comic pages at the end of the day. So instead he ended up using mixed techniques and watercolor on black paper sheet, with a ton of whites. The change is done as soon as the 3rd page, so it's not really distracting or anything, really.

Alex Ross has since then become a renowned Eisner Award-winning artist. He did for this new edition the all-new gorgeous cover art.

The book also includes a pretty interesting foreword by Brandon Graham, as well as an introduction by writer Fortier and an afterword by Ross himself. Great stuff, very interesting behind the scenes context for these NOW Comics Terminator books.

Overall, it's a great classic, Highly Recommended!

Easily one of the best Terminator comics ever published, and much better than NOW Comics' own Terminator on-going series.

Terminator: The Burning Earth was a big departure in comparison to the earlier NOW Comics Terminator series, which was more cartoony visually in style and less focused in tone.

It does follows the same resistance army led by John Connor against Skynet, using any of the past surviving characters from the original series, although it's not required to be familiar with those to enjoy the read.

Alex Ross art is simply astounding, the way he renders the Endoskeleton and the HKs are pretty close to the film. I also personally liked the design of these new Terminator models, as Skynet was running low on resources by then, producing them in much larger quantity but with less quality to end the war as quickly as possible.

In the end humanity survives. It's all over, or is it...?

This was Alex Ross' first real published work, his comic debut, before he became an industry staple going on to make such work as the Marvels and Kingdom Come.

I give it:
3 / 3 Aaylas!

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