Once again, it’s morning in Blogland…and here is my Vance Astro TV special.
Hot on the heels of his guest-appearance on the Six Million Dollar Man (in which his capsule gets accidentally shunted through time by the emergence of his psychic powers, to land in the milieu of Steve Austin…paste in appropriate old Defenders plotline here), and his return to his original course in the dystopian future we call the 1980s…comes the ill-fated pilot that was called, unfortunately, “Galaxy Guardians”.
[NOTE: but just because I’m playing games with time and TV here, doesn’t mean the rest of you have to. I’m just once again on the track of the joy of cheese and stars…in fact I imagine this as a show made today, that’s set in the 1980s imagined by the 1970s, that references a phony episode of SMDM from the 1970s to set itself up with. So, shall we see how deep this rabbit-hole goes…?]
ACT ONE: Vance Astrovik, bad boy of the U.S. Air Force, has been grounded, probably for good, under a cloud of mistrust. Living a life of debauchery among the ozone amputees in New York City, he is approached by a mysterious officer of a top-secret project that aims to “put a man on Alpha Centauri”, and tricked/coerced/tempted into joining it. Everybody who works for the project (based in California, natch) has some sort of bionic augmentation, which freaks him out a little — he’s anti-bionics. But that’s why they’re so committed to getting Man off Earth — Earth’s ruined as a human habitation, and they’re all living proof. Boy, it sure is fortunate that folks came up with the bionics just in the nick of time, though, isn’t it? Not at all, Vance…the U.S. government has secretly been working on bionic-replacement technology for a very long time, in fact the founder of the bionics program envisioned it as an answer to environmental degradation from the first…and you would not believe the deals he made, to keep the program funded. This research goes back to the Second World War, and was kept alive by the informal affiliations forged back then, of which frankly we don’t even have any records. Something to do with an “O.S.I.”, whatever that was…splinter group of the O.S.S.? Pre-C.I.A.? During the War? Possibly Top Secret and Eyes Only? Well, we don’t know, there was a fire that burnt up a critical archive in Eisenhower’s day…but anyway eventually the bionic program was “daylighted”, when the hole in the ozone became too threatening…and the star-shot program is seen by the people working on it as a furtherence of Dr. Rudy Wells’ lofty, farsighted, altruistic goals…and it’s run by some heavy people, too.
Colonel Steve Austin, for one…representative of the mysterious never-seen man called “Oscar” who runs the whole project. Steve is known only by the codename “Bert”, and apparently “Ernie” died some time ago. Anyway it’s “Bert” who agitated for Vance’s recruitment, but he’s not prepared for this sullen Vance who hates the bionic technology because he considers it demeaning…he thinks trying to put bionic band-aids on the human race’s problems is a hypocritical solution, just a way of trying to keep us all in some happy 1950s techno-dream, when our problem is that our own technology’s turned against us, and stabbed us in the back. Still, that’s how they get him for the program, by promising a way out of that very situation, and good ol’ Steve knows it has to be Vance, so everything’s gonna work out fine somehow anyway…even if there’s some question among the higher-ups that Vance may be some sort of radical Green.
Welcome to the Eighties that never happened!
So there’s some mushy stuff with a girl — Dawn Sommers, Steve’s daughter as it turns out — or “Big Bird” — who’s the project’s chief medical officer. Eventually Vance learns he’s to have a very sophisticated form of bionics implanted in his brain — a chip, that’ll keep his brain alive while his body is frozen for the 1,000 year journey to Centauri space. Anger! Accusations of betrayal! Pleading to do what’s good for all humanity, met with a stony, unyielding prejudice! And…a secret?
ACT TWO: It turns out Vance is a radical Green (though they don’t call them that, in this Eighties), with ties to his own secret cell of the American military-industrial complex…and they try to break him out. During the course of the breakout, three things happen: Vance learns his compatriots aren’t what they seem, not only are they working for “a foreign government” that (wrongly; ideologically; hypocritically) blames the U.S. for the ozone holes, but also they themselves have extensive bionic augmentations of a sort of superhuman kind — Vance has never seen or heard of this before…
But also they all get mysteriously dispatched by some “enemy” Vance never gets a good look at…
…And (of course!) Dawn Sommers dies.
In the end, Vance switches stances and turns the tide, and the bad guys are routed. He tells Steve: “put in the chip”…he goes into the capsule…the mission to Alpha Centauri is launched. Vance is frozen. But as his rocket leaves Earth…
The chip, the chip. Nightmare-memories of Dawn’s death coming to him as the thunderous roar of flame pushes him to escape velocity, Vance prays that he won’t live a thousand years dreaming of her death over and over again…prays to wake up, please let me wake up from this horrible dream…and something glitches out just as the engines stop roaring, and he does wake up. Looks at the clock. It is not a thousand years later, and he isn’t unfrozen. Mentally, Vance screams in horror. And something very weird happens.
INTERSTITIAL: Compressed flashback of the SMDM episode where Vance falls to Earth, thaws out, learns about his powers and how to use them, helps Steve, sets up his own story…somehow returns to space? Man, I don’t know what happened in that story…maybe some guy Steve was fighting in the 70s was using some kind of dangerous high-octane psychic SETI technology, and it tripped Vance’s chip, and awakened bionic psychic powers in him? Vance comes to Earth in the year of his own birth, causing massive earthquakes, tidal waves, because the same person can’t be in two places at once…and then it all gets reversed, using that same technology, and Steve wins the day. Sure, why not. Anyway the compressed flashback ends, just in time to deposit us in the…
ACT THREE: A muffled roar, and then Vance’s high-tech 80s computer says: “Touchdown achieved. Commencing thawing process. Warning. Warning. Suit seal must be maintained. Suit seal must be maintained…” And we get Vance’s voiceover, telling us what the computer’s talking about, in fact expositing all sorts of things for us. How weary he is. How he hopes it’ll all be worth it, that there will even be a human race to go back to, to bring out here to Centauri space…but maybe there isn’t. Maybe he’s the last man left alive. Maybe it was all for nothing…a thousand years of lonely consciousness…it was only the chip that kept him sane, and the memory of Dawn’s idealism…still if he’s the last man he’ll make a good show of himself, meet the natives of Alpha Centauri, try to help them the way Earth needed to be helped way back when…continue Steve’s heroic tradition, the first of the bionic men, he didn’t let it get him down…so Vance is the last of the bionic men, he won’t let it get him down either…he’ll do right by this brave new world, unspoiled by humankind.
And then he steps out…and right in front of a huge crowd of cheering Centaurians is a loose knot of human beings in fancy dress, smiling and applauding. Regular humans, Jovians, Pluvians…though most of them are regular humans. They explain the facts of life to him: that a thousand years is a long time, and Man didn’t die, but got invaded by the reptilian Badoon, who subjugated them for a couple of centuries and then mysteriously left just as the ozone holes got better…and then there were the Dark Ages, but then there was a new Renaissance, and human beings learned to travel to the stars at faster-than-light speeds, and now here they are, waiting to welcome their biggest hero! Some of the subspecies humans are introduced — bionics was replaced with genetic engineering! — among them Martinex and Charlie-27…Charlie gives Vance a mighty wallop on the back…and it is explained that the Badoon came back once, but only attacked Mercury, the Solar System’s communications hub…sadly the Mercurians were all wiped out, and since then things have been so tumultuous Mercury has “not been reestablished”, Martinex explains (since Vance has made his way past the dignitaries and in among the other representatives…chosen by their accomplishments to attend this grand celebration). “That sounds awfully cold,” Vance says. Martinex looks sorrowful. “It’s not meant to sound that way,” he apologizes. Charlie chimes in, saying that Jupiter now routes communications traffic through the Solar System…makes more sense than Mercury anyway, but at the time the Jovian colony was considered a genetic longshot. Charlie laughs: we sure showed the naysayers! Now the Jovians run the Terran Confederation’s Navy, by virtue of their ability to withstand ultra-high G-forces. Funny how that worked out, don’t you think, Vance? And look, here we all are, all the major delegations of the Confederacy worlds, the top political leaders from all planets, here to welcome “original” humanity back!
But Vance is looking around for the disaffected: this era’s “ozone amputees”. Are there no disaffected people here? When he left Earth, they were everywhere…
Meanwhile a shifty-looking person speaks into a wrist-communicator. “Alert Badoon strike force…coordinate Plan Mercury…”
Vance finds Yondu, and speaks to him about what he thinks of all this. Yondu unloads some primitivist Zen on him…not all Centaurians agree with the Confederacy, but they all welcome friends…he gives a very stirring speech about how all people are “aliens” when they are disconnected from harmony, and how they always have to reach out to one another…then demonstrates the properties of the yaka arrow. Vance says Yondu makes a pretty convincing case, but he’s not sure this is all real harmony at all. Yondu (alone of all the people at the big party) understands he’s bitter, but maybe he’s wise as well: maybe his voice is needed. Maybe he’s been sent here, across time, to ensure that utopia has room for the non-utopian as well. The Centaurians are a race small in number, nothing like the human race…maybe ten million? They are all gathered here today to welcome Vance. He looks out over the temporary city of the ten million Centaurians…maybe Vance has not just been sent here for humanity, but for them too? His words echo something Dawn said, so long ago, when she was trying to get Vance to accept the chip.
And by the way…Yondu can’t pronounce “Astrovik”. He struggles with Vance’s name for a small comical bit, eventually producing “Astro”.
And then the Badoon attack. All the Terran and Jovian and Pluvian delegates fall to the ground — chips in their head, of a biological nature! Planted there by the Badoon centuries ago, and passed on from generation to generation! A couple of warships swoop down…announce some shit like how this was all their plan, the Badoon don’t conquer by war, they conquer by stealth…they infect growing civilizations with their control mechanisms, and then harvest them when the time is ripe! That sort of thing. Yondu cries (and the cry is taken up by his people)…”Run, Vance Astro!” They cover for him, millions of yaka arrows…but in vain, because they’re all wiped out. Only Yondu, who helps Vance to flee, survives…
The fleets of Earth, peopled by the Jovians, are wiped out. Paralyzed Jovians in their sky-cities sink into Jupiter’s nasty-as-anything atmosphere, never to be seen again. Pluto, having been a potential early-warning station, is utterly destroyed, just like the Mercurian colony was a century ago. Only Earth remains, and the bulk of the Badoon fleet is going there to wreak their havoc. The dignitaries on Centauri are all scooped up as hostages. Eventually Vance ignores Yondu’s advice, turns and fights back with his psychokinetic power — the one human the Badoon can’t control! It’s dramatic; but then eventually, he and Yondu are both captured too.
EPILOGUE: Vance and Yondu are confined in a Badoon ship, where the Badoon chief scientist is caught saying something like, they can’t even introduce the compliance biochip into Vance, because something — something — is blocking it. It’s as though he already has a bio-chip in his head. So they’re going to experiment on him. Also, why was Yondu the only Centaurian designated to run with him? There must be something special about him…the others all acted as one, but he acted differently, and around him there erupted a strange storm of psychokinetic energies. Maybe Badoon bio-control science could learn a lot from the study of this one. And that’s the Badoon perspective: science is for control above all. “Humanity”…there never was any such thing, it was just a carrier for the grim, impersonal objectives of science. Humanity left to their own devices split themselves into scientific, technological forms. Just meat-machines, making bigger meat-machines to operate ships, or crystal machines to bring better data. All is Machine…Man was only ever an illusion that Machinery used to further itself. But the Badoon are the masters of Machinery: the universe would be cold and empty if it weren’t for the Badoon, the only spark of true independent intelligence there ever was. And thanks to so-called “humanity”, they’re about to become even more intelligent.
Vance yells something typically Seventies back at the Badoon scientist, who laughs heartlessly at the mechanical construct’s reflex simulation of “real” emotion. Then the bio-probes move in. SCREEEEEAAAAAAM! Only this time it isn’t mental; it’s physical.
Because the suit seal must be maintained…!
And there the show ENDS. Only to cue, with certain adjustments, Marvel Super-Heroes #18. And then an adjusted Defenders/Guardians team-up story, only perhaps without the Defenders themselves, just Starhawk. And then we’re right on into pure Marvel Presents.
But of course those shows never get made, in this scenario.
Hey, it isn’t my Vance Astro — mine’s in the comics, and he spoke with the voice of Steve Gerber.
But it’s a Vance Astro; and, I think, not any worse a Vance Astro than the one we’ve seen since Marvel Presents was cancelled.
So okay, Mike…
Over to you!