Monday, August 05, 2019

Star Trek Original Series: Re-Viewing the Third Season, Fifty Years Later

Fifty years ago, the summer reruns of Star Trek's third and final season were coming to an end.  Most observers consider this the weakest season of the series, limited by small budgets and the growing knowledge that the show was not going to be renewed, and everybody would need to be looking for new jobs.

This summer I watched most of those third season episodes, and enjoyed them.  The season overall may be the least impressive of the three, and several of these episodes are misconceived.  But the repetition of their reputation obscures the best of them, and the season overall.

An element missing in prior evaluations is new, for I watched the latest remastered versions that include new visuals: the CGI intro images, and typically new images of the planet of the week and space vehicles, as well as grander cityscapes and (where possible) planetary surfaces and features.  These and other improvements enhance episodes for the first two seasons, but they nearly transform the third season episodes, since they were skimpy on such effects. These new images that usually begin the episode encourage a fresh look at them, perhaps with the wonder that accompanied first viewing in 1969.

I was also reminded that when I tuned into Star Trek in syndication in the mid 1970s, many of the first episodes I saw were from this third season.  I watched these stories every afternoon, and the cumulative effect was pronounced.  It was the very nature of these episodes--tight dramas, character and idea-driven morality plays--that made me a long-term Star Trek enthusiast.

Another feature of this season is the final definition of the major characters of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.  Kirk's romantic involvements may be many, but they are not merely the conquests that critics call them.  Taken individually, they make sense.  Taken cumulatively, these episodes demonstrates Kirk as the active principle as well as the principal character.  Spock is the reactive character, calm where Kirk is excitable, deliberate where Kirk is intuitive.  But when in command, Spock as well as Kirk is decisive, though with different factors in his decisions.  Fascinating.

Despite Leonard Nimoy's many acerbic comments about the third season scripts, his portrayal of Spock during this season is definitive. I'd watched episodes from all three seasons when they first ran, but sporadically. Since these episodes were the first I saw daily in syndication, they formed my idea of Spock.

The third season featured two episodes by Jerome Bixby.  I've written here at length about "Day of the Dove," a season highlight.  The other is "Requiem for Methuselah," the basic plot idea of which Bixby would use in the obscure but fascinating 2007 film, The Man From Earth.  A notable moment at the end of the episode is Spock, seeking to ease Kirk's pain in losing a woman he loved,  performing a quick Vulcan telepathic fix, by whispering "forget."  It is of course the counterpoint to the moment more than a decade later in the feature film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in which the dying Spock whispers to Dr. McCoy, "Remember."

Other highlights of the season might include "Is There in Truth No Beauty?," "Wink of An Eye," "The Cloud Minders" (in which Star Trek deals with class issues, a more common theme in classic Doctor Who) and "All Our Yesterdays."  "Plato's Stepchildren" made television history with the first interracial kiss.

Other usually derided episodes turn out to be not so bad, such as "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" (in which McCoy gets the romance), "And the Children Shall Lead,"  even "The Paradise Syndrome," "The Savage Curtain," and "Spock's Brain" (which is silly but fun.)  I can't begin to defend the gender politics of "Turnabout Intruder," an unfortunate way to end the series.  (Ironically the worst episodes of the season were written by Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon, who in prior years together created the character of Star Trek as well as many of its best episodes.)

But I also saw third season episodes that are hardly ever mentioned favorably, but were among those that first drew me to Star Trek.  They include the stage-set morality plays I still find fascinating: " Spectre of the Gun" and especially "The Empath."  If there is one episode I remember that got my attention when I saw it in syndication, it was "The Empath," a story told on essentially a bare set--yet with those challenging issues and ideas that set Star Trek apart from other science fiction.  That the character of the Empath communicates basically through movement was brilliant, and is still enchanting.

Yes, the costumes and sets are often laughable, but Star Trek often played near the edge of the absurd. I noticed something else when watching these episodes: the skill with which they built suspense, layering on the jeopardy.  I remember that also was a big attraction.

I appreciate again that the stories are actually about strange new worlds, and not Federation politics and personalities, or spies and warfare--easy devices to hold viewers, but not what Star Trek was about.

I also miss the relative modesty of the stakes.  The Enterprise and members of its crew were often in danger.  A planet that needed medical supplies, or was in the path of an asteroid, were crises enough.  These episodes didn't need to put Earth or the galaxy or the fabric of the universe in danger of extinction every week. They created drama on more of a human scale. They are a real relief from the meaningless and bloated clashes of superheroes invented for the purpose of creating jeopardy and adrenalin-surging CGI battles.

Another historical note: While these episodes were re-running, the first human stepped foot on the Moon.  It was the culmination of the US manned space program which had been ongoing for a decade, including the three years Star Trek was on NBC's weekly schedule.  But it came at Star Trek's lowest point.

The series had been cancelled, which until then permanently sealed the fate of a show.  William Shatner, not only unemployed but broke (due to a recent divorce), described watching the moon landing on a portable TV set, trying to hold its uncertain reception as he reclined in the back of his truck, which was his traveling home while doing summer theatre.  The fictional Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise watched the actual moon landing alone in an empty parking lot.

When the third season reruns ended, fifty summers ago, it seemed that Star Trek was nothing more than a failed television series, and would never be seen or heard from again.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

The First Step

Fifty years ago today, a human being first set foot on another world for the first time. Some 600 million people on Earth were watching and listening as Neil Armstrong descended to the surface of the Moon from the Apollo 11 lunar lander, saying (in words slightly obscured by static) "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

 Those of us who were alive and old enough usually remember where we were. I was visiting Colorado, and had spent the afternoon in a car winding through the dry bare mountains near Denver, which seemed to me as desolate as a moonscape. Kathi, the driver, and my girlfriend Joni were from Denver and we were seeing the sights, but I remember this landscape (and possibly the thin air that I wasn't used to) just made me despondent. A few hours later we were in the basement rec room of Kathi's parents' house as we watched the ghostly image of Armstrong on the Moon.

 I felt it--that I was watching in real time an extraordinary moment in human history. At the same time, that indistinct black and white image was a little like watching Captain Video on an early black and white television set when I was five or six.

Nichelle Nichols, Neil Armstrong and Majel Roddenberry
Years later the worlds of science fiction and factual history collided again for me at a Star Trek convention dinner. I stopped to speak to Nichelle Nichols at a table in the darkened ballroom when she said she wanted to introduce me to someone. From the seat next to her up popped a man in a suit holding out his hand--it was Neil Armstrong. I shook the hand of the first human to really touch another world.

  Well into the 1950s the prevailing public view was that the idea of rocketing humans into space was childish fantasy, which no sane adult could afford to believe and remain reputable.  Then when it began to happen in 1961, all kinds of vistas seemed to open, along with all sorts of fears.  In the US, the manned space program really caught the public imagination.

The Apollo program to deliver humans to the moon was perhaps the last great public enterprise to engage government, private businesses and the public in a large common endeavor, although it was still fairly limited.  There was a feeling of common purpose that permeated the program and extended to the media.  The story of humans in space, of humanity on the Moon, was so powerful and inspiring that it often overrode selfishness and spin.  The Star Trek dream of a united states of Earth exploring the galaxy seemed a natural ideal.

 Between 1962 and 1972 there were a lot of manned space flights, and a lot of firsts--the first American in space, the first American to orbit, the first woman in space (Russian), the first two-person mission, first spacewalk, etc.  Then the first manned spaceship to orbit the moon, which focused immense global attention.  Finally the first landing and the first humans to step onto the Moon's surface.  (Parenthetically, this is why those who say that Star Trek would have done better in the ratings if the Moon landing had happened sooner are wrong.  There was huge public attention to a number of manned space shots during Star Trek's run.)

The last human on the Moon, so far...
There were more moon landings over the next three years after Armstrong, while the public gradually stopped paying much attention.  Eugene Cernan climbed back aboard his moon lander in December 1972.  He is until this day, more than 46 years later, the last human to walk on another world.

  When asked what surprised him about the space program, eminent science fiction writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke said that it was that humans would get into space, and then stop.

 This year, science fiction novelist Kim Stanley Robinson published Red Moon, which posits that humans are going regularly to the Moon in 2047, and most of them are Chinese.  Despite noise out of Washington, that seems the most likely possibility.

He uses the decades-old experiences to describe what being on the Moon might actually be like.  He's especially good on the persistent complications of lower gravity, and on the intensity of the deeply black-and- brightly white contrasts of the surface.

 Much of the action of the book, however, is driven by political developments on Earth, which also seems likely. The US and Soviet space programs were driven financially by Cold War politics.  But then, many if not most scientific discoveries and endeavors in history were driven either by military ambitions or commercial interests.  Apollo was not untainted, but it was as close to furthering an ideal of a united humankind and a common enterprise as any so far.

 In interviews as well as his fictions, Robinson suggests that the possibilities for humans in space needs major revisions from the hopes of the 1960s, or even the dreams of some present day promoters. Yes, humans will return to the Moon and probably get to Mars, he suggests, but their habitation will remain on a small scale, basically like scientific outposts in Antarctica.  The chances of large settlements, let alone "terraforming" other planets are remote at best.

As for exoplanets beyond our solar system, even if humans were to develop the means to reach them, they would face what essentially is the reversal of what H.G. Wells Martians experienced when they tried to invade Earth in The War of the Worlds, and Terran microbes killed them.  If another world is lifeless, humans can't survive there long enough to create conditions for life, and get it started.  If another world has life, it is likely to be lethal to humans on the microbial level.  Not to mention the likelihood that the environment of the Earth is the only one that will sustain the collection of organisms we call the human body.  Or as KSR (among others) repeats: There is no Planet B.  Humans will have to unite their efforts on their own world, or not at all.

 The enduring images from the Apollo program are not of the Moon but of Earth--the images known as Earthrise and The Blue Marble. Humans have continued to go into space in low Earth orbit, and have recorded visible increases in pollution, witnessed huge storms and fires. Many have felt humbled by the beauty, fragility and rarity of our planet seen from space.  Star Trek and other fictions help stretch our imaginations, and nurture our sense of wonder, while providing stories that help us in other ways.  But perhaps this inward look from space is the most important.

Friday, December 28, 2018

R.I.P. 2018

Late in 2018, Star Trek lost another of its original creators in John D. F. Black, a producer, story editor and writer and collaborator in Trek's earliest days.  He wrote the classic episode "The Naked Time."  He then repeated that formative contribution in the early days of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Many believe that the first season episode "City on the Edge of Forever" was the best of the original series.  Harlan Ellison wrote the script upon which that episode was based.  The outspoken and mercurial Ellison was a force of nature in science fiction from the 1960s onward.  In addition to his own prolific fictions (like the classic "A Boy and His Dog") his contributions included the Dangerous Visions collection of stories, and its sequel, which helped define the New Wave era in American science fiction.

Emmy-winning sound designer Douglas Grindstaff populated the Star Trek universe with many of its defining and memorable sounds.  Similarly, John M. Dwyer helped create the look of Star Trek as set decorator for the original series, a season of TNG and six of the feature films.

Richard H. Kline, cinematographer and Frank Serafine, sound director and editor, both for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, died this year.

Veteran actors did guest turns on various Star Trek episodes, including Joseph Campanella and Georgeann Johnson, who passed away in 2018.

Celeste Yarnall made a lasting impression with one role as Yeoman Martha Landon on the original series episode "The Apple."  After her TV and film career she again became part of the Star Trek family, appearing with other Trek alums in the independent film Of Gods and Men, produced by Sky Conway and directed by Tim Russ.

Also making a lasting impression with one TOS role was Roger Perry as the 20th century astronaut taken out of time by the Enterprise in "Tomorrow is Yesterday."

Perhaps the most tragic Trek-related death of 2018 was the suicide at age 33 of John Paul Steur, an actor and musician who was the first to play Worf's son Alexander in TNG.

Other guest actors who died in 2018 include James Greene,  Richard Merrifield (TOS), John Eskobar (TNG), Robert Mandan (DS9) and Yyonne Shoz (Voyager).  Donald R. Pike (Star Trek VI) and Ann Chatterton (Star Trek II) did stunts.  David Bischoff was a writer for TNG.

Peter Miles (right)
Among the guest actors during the decades of Doctor Who who died in 2018 were Peter Miles, Pamela Ann Davy, Helen Griffin, Jacqueline Pearce and Allan Bennion.  Also Who directors Derrick Sherwin and Bill Sellars.

Other contributors to science fiction classics on screen were actor Margot Kidder (Lois Lane in the Chris Reeves' Superman films,) Douglas Rain (the unforgettable voice of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gary Kurtz (producer, Star Wars), Al Matthews (actor, Aliens), Michael D. Ford (art director, The Empire Strikes Back), Michael Anderson (director, Logan's Run), Donnelly Rhodes (actor, Battlestar Galactica), and Kin Sugai (actor, Gojira/Godzilla.)

The crossover comics/s.f. genre lost two of its originators in 2018: writer, editor and impressario Stan Lee and writer Steve Ditko, who among other things, each co-created The Amazing Spider-Man.

The written word of science fiction lost one of its greatest in Ursula K. LeGuin.  Among her many classic works is the novella "The Word for the World is Forest", which first appeared in the second Harlan Ellison anthology, Again, Dangerous Visions, and won a Hugo. Her legacy continues to grow.

Other valued and remembered contributors include writer and elder Karen Anderson, Peter Nicholls (editor of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction), and writers Dave Duncan and Mary Rosenblum.

May they all rest in peace.  Their work lives on.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Who Is This? The Doctor Is Back

The new season, new Doctor and new showrunner had their debut on Sunday.  Thanks to the BBC America ap on our Firestick or whatever it is, I got to see it.

So the long whatever that was of Steven Moffat is over, as thrilling and challenging as some of it was. With Chris Chibnal we are back in Russell T Davies territory, with the emphasis on real life and family, along with the interstellar multi-dimensional adventures. Like in Davies stories, good people and sympathetic characters die, but the Doctor carries on.

 Similarly, Jodie Whittaker returns the Doctor to the exuberant pro-active David Tennant mold.  But those early reviews I saw quoted at Doctor Who News that claimed, apparently as praise, that within a few minutes they forgot the Doctor is now a woman, really missed the point.  Jodie Whittaker brings a different flavor of exuberance to the Doctor, and it's unlikely that this will be the only difference that feels like it comes from this actor who is a woman.  This Doctor is definitely a woman.

The Doctor Who News review felt the regeneration was handled most similarly to the first Matt Smith episode, but I definitely saw resemblances to the first David Tennant story, right down to the wisp of regeneration energy that escapes the Doctor while she sleeps.  But regeneration was even more of a theme--as the Doctor turns it into a possibility for everyone at every decisive moment: the chance to change while remaining the same person.

The result is that I felt good after seeing it in a way I haven't since Tennant and Davies' "Christmas Invasion" (however much I admired the episodes introducing Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi). I think I get to see a couple of more episodes of this season before BBC America shuts me down.  Oh well--I'm not used to the commercials anymore, and I could really use subtitles, so I hope they will still make DVDs because that's likely to be the way I will eventually see it.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

The Return of Picard--and the Future?

"Old men ought to be explorers."
T.S. Eliot

Patrick Stewart's announcement that Jean-Luc Picard is coming back is exciting news in a number of ways.  The return of the character of Picard--arguably the essence of the Star Trek vision--is potentially wonderful.  But part of why that is so is the return of the person playing him: Patrick Stewart.

At his unheralded convention announcement, Stewart also said that while there are no scripts, they have been talking about story lines for months.  This clearly means that he is part of creating those stories.  This is important in at least two ways.  First, because of who he is, his experience in drama and in Star Trek as well as life.  Second, because he is the first living connection from the Roddenberry era who is so intimately involved in these initial character and story concepts as well as actual stories and plots.  Sure, there was the occasional TNG star who directed episodes.  There was at least some contribution from Rod Roddenberry and Nicholas Meyer, but Gene's son was too young to be involved in his father's Star Trek, and though Meyer wrote and directed several of the best movies, he never really worked with GR.

That connection is important, as experience has shown.  Whatever their virtues, the films and TV show created since the cancellation of Enterprise severed the professional connection and emptied Star Trek of everyone who worked with Roddenberry or was mentored by him as a writer or producer.  These newer incarnations have not quite connected with Star Trek fans in the same way, because something of the soul of Star Trek was lost.

Stewart announced that the new Picard stories will take place some 20 years after the events of Nemesis.  This takes us at least a little farther into the future, which is where Star Trek must boldly go again (as I argued here recently.)  It is an opportunity to imagine the future anew.  A lot can happen in 20 years.

It is an opportunity to revive Star Trek as a model of that future.  The essence of GR's vision was that it's not only technology that changes from today--people change as well.  Though writers moan about the lack of "conflict" and the too-perfect crews that GR insisted on, they are missing the point.  Modelling the people of the future is the most important aspect of what Star Trek is about.

The worst thing that happened to Star Trek was 9/11.  Suddenly stories were all about terrorism and torture, covert groups and and warfare. (This was especially true in the novels, but I think even some cast members will argue that 9/11 threw Enterprise off the track.)   It is true that Star Trek deals with aspects of the present in metaphor and allegory.  But it is also about the future, as a guide to the present.

The opportunities for this new series are almost infinite.  For example, we last saw Picard about to take the Enterprise farther into unexplored space.  Suppose instead of continuing to get involved in diplomatic missions, Federation politics and confrontations with the Romulans etc. (leaving that up to Captain Riker perhaps), Picard spent those 20 years exploring, farther and farther.  Perhaps he encountered intelligences that are inconceivable, on the kind of scale that Olaf Stapledon wrote about in Star Maker, for example.  Perhaps he returns to a changed Federation, with different technologies and problems.  Perhaps others find him hard to understand, after what he has seen and experienced, and how it changed and deepened him.

In such an enterprise, Patrick Stewart and the other series creators could do worse than look for inspiration to T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets.  These poems reflect on the lessons of age.  There are many lines (in addition to the one quoted above) that can inspire useful ideas and perhaps even stories.  "In the end is my beginning... As we grow older/The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated... History may be servitude, history may be freedom.  See, now they vanish... For us, there is only trying.  The rest is not our business..."

O dark dark dark.  They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains...

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation...

Update: There are rumors that the Picard series won't be set in the Prime universe in continuity with TNG etc.  Normally I wouldn't bother with rumors, except that Alex Kurtzman is in charge, and based on his track record with Star Trek, I don't trust him.  I can only trust that Patrick Stewart, who spoke at Gene Roddenberry's funeral, will not get involved in a project that breaks from the Star Trek that GR created.  These people must know that such a betrayal would doom the series instantly.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Has Star Trek Stopped?

It may seem odd to ask at this particular moment if Star Trek has stopped.  After all, the second season of a Star Trek television series is soon to begin, with rumors of several other television projects, including the possible return of Jean-Luc Picard.  The fourth feature film in the current series is reportedly getting itself organized, with another feature in the planning stages. There hasn't been this much Star Trek activity since the 1990s.

But in the way I mean it, Star Trek did stop shortly after that. On television, it stopped in 2001 when the last episode of Star Trek: Voyager aired.  At the movies, it stopped a year later with Star Trek: Nemesis. That's when Star Trek stopped exploring a new future, moving ahead on the timeline of tomorrow.

It stopped in the 24th century (Voyager in 2378 and Nemesis in 2379. The 24th century backstory for the 2009 Abrams film is said to have happened in 2387. Arguably, scenes of various series episodes projected a little further.)

 Since then it's been backwards to the future: a prequel series to the Kirk era with Star Trek Enterprise, alternate universe stories but in the 23rd century in the Abrams movies, another prequel series to the Kirk era currently underway as Star Trek:Discovery.  Though the time frames of projects now in the works haven't been announced, everything said about them suggests they are mostly 23rd century stories, with perhaps a 24th century TNG era limited series in the mix.

But Star Trek started with a future imagined from the ground up.  Gene Roddenberry consulted with science fiction authors (notably the ABC giants: Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke) but he also consulted with scientists and futurists.  In fact, the one book by Arthur C. Clarke that Roddenberry said he'd read was Clarke's nonfiction Profiles of the Future, which helped ignite the futures studies movement of the 1960s and 70s.

Roddenberry and his team created a self-consistent, credible 23rd century future, with new technologies--and new ways in which humans had to interact with technology--and a new society.  It envisioned a future in which individuals weren't restricted by race or gender, and that kind of equality was accepted.  It posited a united Earth with world government, a United Federation of Planets, and a Starfleet with a new ethical foundation.

Almost two decades after this original series was broadcast, Gene Roddenberry was given the opportunity to create a new Star Trek series.  He didn't do a sequel or a prequel.  He and his team imagined a new future, of the 24th century.  We saw how the original vision developed and met new challenges in the next century.

In those intervening years, Roddenberry spoke at conventions about mistakes he'd made with the original series, things he wanted to do but couldn't, and where he saw the Star Trek future going.  From the very first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, he began exploring that farther future.

We are more than 50 years into the actual future from the original Star Trek series. Future possibilities from this perspective are quite different than they were in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.  The kinds of technologies we can envision are different, as are the issues involved in their use.  Scientific knowledge, or at least theories and informed speculation, about the universe are greatly different as well.

If Star Trek were true to its original mission, it would envision a post-24th century future that better reflects what we know and what we think about now.  Instead, Star Trek is stuck in its own past.  It is no longer an enterprise of exploration.

At best, it has become a static myth, like King Arthur or Robin Hood. New stories are woven with old cloth.  At worst, it is what people most often call it: a franchise, a Kentucky Fried Chicken of space opera.  As long as it keeps familiar elements and pushes the old buttons, it can generate stories and cash flow.

I don't have a bad word to say about Star Trek: Discovery or anyone associated with it.  I haven't seen it.  (Okay, one personal observation: mirror universe stories are almost invariably evidence of lack of imagination.  The only one that meant anything was the first one.)  I don't envy the difficulty of creating anything under the intense pressure of omnipresent social media.  Star Trek was probably the first story universe to be kept alive because of its fans.  Its ideals and exemplary characters had deep meaning to its most ardent viewers.  But Gene Roddenberry explicitly said he would not allow fans to dictate creative decisions or direction.

New Star Trek stories may well be taking on issues of our present, as Star Trek stories always have.  But that's only half of the mission.  The other half is envisioning and modeling a future.  A brand new future might be expensive to create, but even more, it would take research and imagination.  But that's how Star Trek started.  Has it stopped?

Monday, March 05, 2018

Captain's Log: Benny Would Be Proud

It's a major studio Marvel Superhero movie with a black African hero, a largely black cast, a black director and writer--not only was this movie made and released, it quickly broke records at the box office.  

Black Panther is an immense success. Released in 2018, it is already a favorite in several categories for next year's Academy Awards.

Benny Russell would be proud. Benny was the 1953 science fiction writer who imagined Ben Sisko as captain of a space station in the famous DS9 episode "Far Beyond the Stars," with Avery Brooks starring and directing.  Prejudice stifled him.

Benny would also take note of Ta-Nehisi Coates, an award-winning journalist and author, who recently has been writing for the Black Panther comic books.  It was just announced that he will be writing a story for the Captain America comics, the first black writer to get that assignment.

There's been a troublesome trend building for the past 20 years or so but becoming highly charged and visible the past few years, of a vocal group of gamers and fans, including Star Wars and Star Trek fans, with belligerent racist and anti-women demands,trying to force their twisted conceptions on everyone else through bullying, boycotts and other tactics.  These along with the most extreme online trolls have injected poison into the process.

Star Wars and Star Trek, and the Marvel and DC superhero movies, have all become massive "franchises" with billions of dollars at stake.  And they have become increasingly sensitive to fandom, sometimes appearing to be making creative decisions based on what's popular with the most vocal groups of fans. (Which is something that Gene Roddenberry said very plainly that he would not do.)

Fortunately, and almost against expectation, these franchises have not pulled back in the areas of diversity and equality.  Star Wars films and the latest Star Trek TV series feature prominent non-white and non-male characters.  And the superhero franchises especially have proven that these white and male supremacist bullies are not representative.

DC had its biggest superhero hit, both critically and at the box office, with Wonder Woman.  Marvel is now enjoying its biggest critical and box office success with Black Panther, and it's not nearly over.

Benny--and his fellow writer Kay Eaton-- would be overjoyed by this, too.