Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dark Horse Returns to a Familiar Future War in Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle




Given the number of comic book, movie, novel and TV series that I've followed over the decades, I'm used to having key questions, plot developments and character fates remaining unresolved. I don't like this--I much prefer to explore interesting ideas in further detail instead of forgetting them--but I suppose it comes with being a horror and sci-fi fan.

That said, Dark Horse has brushed the dust off of its Terminator license and is currently publishing Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle, a 12-issue miniseries that's written by J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by Pete Woods. The first issue arrived last month and the second issue is currently available at comic shops, newsstands, and other places that carry Dark Horse titles. The miniseries sets itself up to answer certain questions posed in the first four Terminator movies, questions that will probably not be addressed when the franchise is rebooted in 2015. So far, Final Battle looks to be the most ambitious Terminator comic book miniseries since Malibu Comics' two-part Cybernetic Dawn and Nuclear Twilight miniseries. Read on for my complete review, and why Final Battle is worth a look for any Terminator completist.

Terminator Salvation: The Final Battle takes place in two different time periods: in 2029 during the days before John Connor's final attack on Skynet, and in 2003 during the months before Skynet's nuclear assault on humanity (a.k.a. "Judgment Day"). Most of the action in 2029 centers on John Connor and his wife Kate, while the action in 2003 involves Dr. Serena Kogan, the enigmatic character that was introduced in Terminator Salvation. (Other characters that were introduced in Salvation--Marcus Wright, Blair Williams, Barnes, Star, and John and Kate's unborn child--haven't appeared in Final Battle yet and I don't know if they will at all.) Another character, Simon, appears in both 2029 and 2003; he's sent back to 2003 by John to prevent something related to Dr. Kogan's research that could secure Skynet's victory against the human resistance.




The Terminator franchise has a very haphazard history when it comes to who-owns-what within the franchise, so it's nice to see Dark Horse trying to put the pieces together before the 2015 reboot. I wasn't a fan of Straczynski's signature TV series, Babylon 5, and I'm not familiar with his extensive work in the area of comic books; regardless, his experience with complex, multilayered narratives shines through in the first two issues, and the ground work that he's laid so far is shaping up to be an engrossing conclusion to the first four Terminator movies--or at least a conclusion to the story threads from the Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation timeline. (Terminator fans who are looking for a conclusion to the Sarah Connor Chronicles will have to look elsewhere, unfortunately.) Adding to the story's quality is Pete Woods' artwork, which expertly captures the look and feel of the Terminator universe. In one panel, he even included a Skynet machine that bears a similar design to the T-1 tank in T3.

Terminator novels, comic books and video games and flirted with the idea of human sympathizers for Skynet, but Dr. Kogan is shaping up to be a sympathizer who is essential to Skynet's overarching plans. Just as Cyberdyne and Miles Dyson were crucial to the birth of Skynet, Dr. Kogan is proving to be essential to the development of T-800 units, Terminator hybrids, and other Skynet technology that uses organic components.

What I also find fascinating about Dr. Kogan is that she only appears in the T3 - Salvation timeline; her involvement with that timeline's Skynet would also explain why T-800s appear almost a decade earlier than they do in the timeline that the Kyle Reese from the first movie came from. The unexpected early appearance of the T-800 in 2018 is a muted but crucial plot point in Salvation, the plot point that leads John Connor say this: "I knew it. I knew it was coming. But this is not the future my mother warned me about. And in this future, I don't know if we can win this war." This summarizes his realization that all he and his mother Sarah knew about Skynet--its strengths, weaknesses, and stages of development--came from a different timeline and may wind up leading humanity to its doom. What exactly Straczynski has in mind to do with Dr. Kogan isn't completely clear yet, but I'm sure it will be an interesting addition to the Terminator saga.


Early conceptual art of Dr. Serena Kogan for Terminator Salvation.


Click here and here to read my reviews of other tie-in comics and novels for Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation.





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