Yesteryear’s franchises have been returning to our screens both big and small. In addition to all the recent remakes, we’ve seen (or will soon see) the new adventures of Rocky and Rambo, of John McClane and Indiana Jones. Television is not immune either, with the re-launching of Battlestar Galactica and soon, The Bionic Woman.
But in addition to these high-profile properties, at least one more is making a comeback this fall, and so far, it’s still below many people’s radar: V.
You remember V: NBC’s alien invasion saga that in just the two years between 1983 and 1985, managed to devolve from brilliant political drama to pulpy claptrap. V arrived first as a four-hour miniseries on NBC in May 1983. A masterwork by writer/director Kenneth Johnson, V detailed our visitation by alien Visitors, seemingly benign, but who bring with them horror and totalitarianism. V was not grandiose science fiction so much as political and historical allegory (its specific referent was World War II). The miniseries garnered a huge audience and much acclaim.
It stands to reason, then, that it also garnered a sequel. 1984’s V: The Final Battle was a six-hour affair and included a great many more action sequences than its predecessor. However, as Johnson departed the project long before its completion, the sequel lacked much of the original’s poignancy and creeping dread.
This would be something of a stop-over, as, in October 1984, NBC debuted V: The Series, an ill-fated, mess of a show that made V: The Final Battle look like, well, V.
The series was cancelled in the spring of 1985; not even a full season’s worth of episodes aired. Spin-off toys, novels, comic books, and trading cards were not long for production either. In just two years, the property had been ground into creative bankruptcy and, it would seem, borderline irrelevance.
Still, both here and abroad, V fandom limped along. The two miniseries came to be released on home video and later on DVD, where they were joined by a boxed-set of the weekly series. Over the years, rumors and announcements have given the faithful hope that V would be relaunched. One-time science fiction luminary J., Michael Strazynski was even said to be developing his own extension the franchise, as was V’s creator, Kenneth Johnson.
This October, Johnson will unveil his vision for what happened next—not after the cliffhanger of the weekly series, but after the conclusion of his miniseries. One of the present moment’s more unusual franchise reboots, Johnson has written V: The Second Generation, a novel adapted from his teleplay for a miniseries that has yet to see production.
Underlying the novel are two premises. The first is that, twenty years after the Visitors’ arrival, they remain in power, draining Earth of its water, siphoning off its people, and perfecting their propagandist hold on all of us save for the beleaguered Resistance fighters whose only hope is another alien race that has defeated the Visitors elsewhere.
The other premise—the real premise—is that only what Johnson committed to the screen in 1983 is cannon. V: The Final Battle, V: The Series, and of course, the comics and novels, never happened. With the novel, the author brazenly asserts his authority over the franchise, and it is a welcome act. Twenty-plus years of sealed fates and established history are undone. This is one the more intriguing dimensions of the novel. And it something very few of the many franchises currently being relaunched would risk. Imagine, for instance, if only the first Rocky “counted.” (You mean he never beat Apollo? He never fought the Russian? He never had another training montage?)
I was very pleased to receive a review copy of V: The Second Generation from the publisher, TOR. In accordance with TOR’s request, I am saving much of what I have to say for a longer review and interview with Johnson that I will pen later this summer. For now, I can say that Johnson’s vision of the Earth firmly held in the grip of propagandizing totalitarians is both effective and timely. In fact, both Johnson’s new novel and original miniseries may be more relevant now than when he launched the franchise in 1983.
Readers might also be invigorated by the action sequences. Johnson indulges in more action than he did in 1983—more action and bigger action. Reading the book, it is easy to imagine how satisfying it must have been to write such sequences, especially for an author who is really a filmmaker, and one who is often confined to television at that. After all, on the printed page, one word costs the same as all the rest.
V: The Second Generation will be available in both hardcover and paperback this fall.