Friend of Newsarama Marc Guggenheim has many projects on his plate, ranging from producing the fall TV series FlashForward to co-writing the Green Lantern feature film to his work on Amazing Spider-Man and his own creator-owned series Resurrection.
So why did we call him up at his office to discuss why he’s doing a comic of a 30-year-old, critically-lambasted TV show?
Many of you may be fans of the original TV series Battlestar Galatica, or its acclaimed 2003-2009 remake on the Sci Fi…sorry, “SyFy,” Channel. However, even the most die-hard Galacticans are hard-pressed to name the critical merits of the original Galactica’s sequel series, Galactica 1980, which brought the original conflict to Earth with stories about super-powered Cub Scouts and time-traveling to the Nazi era.
…well, at least it had flying motorcycles…
But regardless of the quality of the episodes (Okay, “The Return of Starbuck” was pretty good), the idea behind the show was very intriguing. And so, Guggenheim took on a task SF fans have dreamed of for decades…how to make the 1980 series good.
Now, this September, fans will find out if he succeeded with Galactica 1980, a new limited series from Dynamite that reinvents the original’s premise. Intrigued by this, we gave Guggenheim a call, and had a rollicking discussion of Galactica lore, and the future (pun intended) of science fiction on television.
Newsarama: Tell us the story of Galactica 1980
Marc Guggenheim: Well, it actually has its origins about 2-3 years ago, where Dynamite had approached me to do something with Battlestar Galactica. I sent them several ideas, and this was one of them. Actually, I had the idea years earlier and was glad to find an opportunity to tell the story.
I’d had this idea in large part because I remember vividly when the original Galactica 1980 was promoted. This was before the Internet – there were all these commercials for it, and my 10-year-old self was going, “This is going to be the most amazing series ever!” And then…
NRAMA: …it was not.
Guggenheim: No. Not so much. But my 10-year-old-self never really let it go…
I don’t even remember the other Galactica ideas I pitched to Dynamite. However, I’d included, the Galactica 1980 idea almost as an afterthought, thinking they’d never go for it. The pitch was, basically,doing Galactica 1980 from the parallel universe where they actually did it well, where the execution wasn’t lame.
Or, to put it another way, where the series was as good as my 10-year-old self thought it would be. “Wow, Galactica finds Earth! That’s the coolest idea ever! They’d have to work pretty hard to make that not work!”
NRAMA: They tried pretty hard.
Guggenheim: Clearly, they did. They threw a lot of things at the wall to make that happen. But it was something I felt still had a really good idea at its core.
So I wrote the first couple of issues, then went off and did other projects, and when my workload freed up, I was able to go back and finish this. It’s sort of my Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk, where I was able to go back and finish something I’d started a while back.
NRAMA: Well, it’s just a cool concept, and you can do so many ideas with Galactica interacting with Earth society. It’s like the old saying, “Why not remake a bad movie?”
Guggenheim: Exactly! I don’t want to spoil too much, but for me, it wasn’t just interacting with the culture, but interacting with the culture as it existed in 1980. How does the world react to Galactica’s arrival in 1980, at the height of the Cold War?
All I really want to say at this point about the story is, in 1980 we had no idea what the Soviet’s capabilities were, and they had no idea of what our capabilities were. What provided fuel for the fire of the Cold War was the mutual paranoia, and the idea that either party might develop a superweapon. Now imagine what happens when you drop the Galactica into that cauldron of paranoia…
NRAMA: I remember things like The Day After, and the talk about the Star Wars program...it was a pretty tense time.
Guggenheim: It was a very tense, tense, terrible time. What people forget is we had just launched the Voyager probe with the golden record, where we were inviting people to come to Earth. Of course, that also plays a key role in the book.
NRAMA: Didn’t they find the Voyager on the show, in the last episode?
Guggenheim: No, that was something different. The final episode of the original series had the Galactica getting close enough to Earth to hear the Apollo mission, the moon landing.
NRAMA: Good memory!
Guggenheim: Yes. It’s very sad that I remember that. (laughs)
NRAMA: But as you said, Galactica coming to Earth during this time offers myriad possibilities in exploring the social and political implications of such an encounter. That said: Will there be flying motorcycles?
Guggenheim: It’s a good question, and the answer is…maybe. I want to get a flying motorcycle in there, and I’m not sure if I can fit it in. But the desire is there.
NRAMA: The two things I found interesting about the original iteration of Galactica: 1980 were the flying motorcycles and, to a lesser extent, Doctor Zee.
Guggenheim: Love Doctor Zee. Doctor Zee plays a huge part in the series, but it’s a very different part than on the TV show.
NRAMA: I did some research before this interview, and found they wrote but never filmed an episode of Galactica: 1980 that implied Starbuck got rescued!
Guggenheim: I’d heard of that. And you know, that’s the last episode of Galactica: 1980, the Starbuck one where he comes into contact with this mystical baby that turns out to be Doctor Zee. And my Doctor Zee has nothing to do with that origin. (laughs) I didn’t feel beholden to that original continuity.
My Doctor Zee is a sociopath. He’s a brilliant scientist who started to become too elderly, and transferred his consciousness into the body of a young boy, because he’s just that kind of sick fuck.
NRAMA: You…you have a darkness in your soul.
Guggenheim: You sound like my wife. I wanted to make Galactica: 1980 really, really dark. (laughs)
NRAMA: Between this, Resurrection and FlashForward, do you just have a thing for destroying the world?
Guggenheim: You know, it’s funny. There are elements of Resurrection in Galactica: 1980, and I realized, “Huh, this is a recurring sort of thing.” Though FlashFoward is not an apocalyptic story, and I would not put it in the same category as those other projects.
But yeah, I noticed Galactica: 1980 had some things in common with Resurrection, and there’s even some common locations.
NRAMA: Are there any carry-overs from the original Galactica: 1980? I assume you’re not going with Troy and Dillon…
Guggenheim: No, Troy and Dillon are in there! What I did was – I should be more clear on my approach – while I’m not tied to the continuity of the original show, I did want to work with the same cast of characters.
So there’s old, bearded Adama, there’s Doctor Zee, there’s Col. Boomer, and there’s Troy and Dillon. In fact, even Doctor Mortinson, the character Robert Reed played on the series, has a major role here.
I tried very hard to work with the existing cast as much as I could. Which is not to say there isn’t one additional character from the original Battlestar Galactica series who makes an appearance at the end of issue #2.
NRAMA: Damn, now I’m going to have to guess…I always imagined Count Baltar was still rotting in the brig.
Guggenheim: I have no comment.
NRAMA: You’re a tough nut to crack, Guggenheim.
Could you tell us about some new characters we might be seeing?
Guggenheim: President Jimmy Carter plays a large role in the series. Though I don’t know if you could call him a “new character” or not.
NRAMA: …I kind of wanted to see Reagan vs. the Cylons….
Guggenheim: Wherever possible, I tried to work with the same pieces, just arranged in a different way. It’s sort of an Elseworlds take.
NRAMA: And this is a miniseries…?
Guggenheim:: Yep, four issues. And where it ends certainly offers the opportunity for additional stories…
NRAMA: Tell us about your artist.
Guggenheim: Cezar’s terrific. He’s got an incredible storytelling sense -- very clear yet visceral. He’s captured the scripts beautifully and has a real feel for the BSG world. Getting in his pages every few weeks has been a genuine thrill for me.
NRAMA: What’s been the most fun thing about getting to work on this?
Guggenheim: The whole project has been really, really fun. I’ve never done anything like this before – taking original characters and reimagining them.
I’ve done creator-owned stuff, or stuff where I’m coming on and carrying the torch for long-standing characters, or even something like The Flash, where you had a character like Bart Allen who hadn’t been received well and sort of needed rehabilitating. But this is new and different and a lot of fun for me.
NRAMA: How influenced is this by the style of the modern, relaunched Galactica?
Guggenheim: Not that much, but I’ve put some tips of the hat in to the modern version. When Dynamite sent me the first mock-up of the cover, the logo was for the modern version, then it was the classic BSG for the Previews solicits.
And I asked them to change it back to the modern version for the final printed take, because I wanted to really project that image of a dark Battlestar Galactica.
But that’s not to say Caprica Six is in this series. I’m not playing with that continuity, but rather the idea of a darker take on the original idea is certainly out there, and I have no desire to write my way away from it.
NRAMA: I really wanted to see that story, of Galactica dealing with modern-day Earth, in the updated series, and…they went in a much different direction.
Guggenheim: Sure. Well, that’s the thing – it’s a very, very different take, which I thought was very cool and equally interesting. But this series is for the people who wanted to see Galactica interacting with “Modern Earth” – you can debate whether 1980 constitutes modern-day amongst yourselves.
NRAMA: You ever want to rework any other 1970s SF series that never quite realized the potential of their ideas? I have a weird fondness for The Fantastic Journey myself….
Guggenheim: You know, I think there are plenty of ideas that could be reimagined, and should be reimagined. For me, this was a different mission statement than reimagining a lame series, because one could argue that Ron Moore already did that – he took what was for some people a cheesy Star Wars ripoff, and made it something really smart and complex.
In my case, it’s sort of the “parallel universe” version – in some iteration of the cosmos, Galactica: 1980 was done well, and this is the comic book adaptation. (laughs)
NRAMA: Now, Ron Moore just did Virtuality –
Guggenheim: …which I still haven’t seen…
NRAMA: Okay, no spoilers. (laughs) But when Moore did his BSG, you had a very familiar, known concept that was given this more complex treatment, which perhaps made it more accessible.
Given the number of reimaginings that are out now – the remake of V, the Star Trek film – do you feel maybe it’s easier to do a complex science fiction story when people are already familiar with the concept? In other words, if you’re doing a remake, do you feel maybe there’s freedom to be more complex because people already know the basic story?
Guggenheim: That’s an interesting theory. I hadn’t thought about that, because, honestly – and one could point to the fact that Virtuality is not being made into a series as an example of this – I’m not sure if anyone in this economy can do an original SF story without reimagining something.
I fear very much Hollywood is becoming like Broadway, where original musicals are becoming a thing of the past and everything has to be a revival of an old musical, or repurposed movies or books or whatnot. I wish that more people were doing original content and generating new ideas, as opposed to rehashing old ideas.
NRAMA: Hey, people can watch FlashForward!
Guggenheim: Hey, I’d love for people to watch FlashForward – I am really, really proud of what we’re doing on that show. It’s being done by two guys and a staff full of writers who care about good television and good storytelling, and approach it from a fan’s perspective. It’s written with a lot of love, and I think that’ll be evident when people see the show.
It’s great when original ideas surface – you wish more could get off the ground. It’s hard! And even the original ideas that do get off the ground aren’t always embraced by readers or fans. That’s a tough road to hoe, as they say.
NRAMA: Aside from this and Resurrection and your Marvel work and the Green Lantern script and, you know, sleeping and eating food, what else are you working on?
Guggenheim: You know, I’ve scaled back, which has been great. Essentially…what am I doing? I’m super-busy on FlashForward, so I’m trying hard to hold the line on taking on additional comic book work. I’m currently writing my next Amazing Spider-Man arc and an Iron Man mini-series with Brannon Braga.
There’s one other thing I’m working on right now, but I can’t announce it here, because Marvel will be upset with me. When they tell me the time is right, I’m sure there will be an announcement.
NRAMA: And to move outside of your work…annnnnyy chance there’ll be a Reaper comic? (Newsarama Note: Guggenheim’s wife, Tara Butters, co-created the now-canceled CW series)
Guggenheim: Oh, gosh…I would say there’s a chance, and it’s so not my place to talk about it!
NRAMA: I’d actually like to see you try and write an issue of that…
Guggenheim: I’d like to! I’d always joked to Tara that I wanted to write an episode, but at the same time…it sounds good in theory, but I’m not sure how good it would be for my marriage. (laughs). Who knows? Anything is possible, and if they do do a Reaper comic, that could happen.
NRAMA: One last thing: It seems like this is the fall for guys who are working in both comics and television. Have the geeks won, or are they just having a moment?
Guggenheim: Good question. I don’t know if I’d say the geeks have won, but we’re definitely more than a moment. I think the thing to note is that there are a lot of TV writers who love comic books, ever since guys like Joe Straczynski broke in and paved the way for the rest of us. I don’t think it’s something that’s going to go away any time soon, probably to some people’s chagrin. (laughs)
Galactica 1980 arrives on Earth this September
Zack Smith firstname.lastname@example.org is a regular contributor to Newsarama