Hero Nation Index: ‘Star Trek: Picard,’ Alex Kurtzman, Jim Lee

The Hero Nation Index is a Monday round-up of news from the genre sector (sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes, horror, and animation).

Since the very first Star Trek mission aired on NBC in September 1966 the far-future brand has been defined as much by its “family” dynamic and crew ensembles as by its sci-fi concepts and alien adversaries. That heritage presents a challenge to the producers of the newest iteration, Star Trek: Picard, the eighth Trek series but the first named after a single individual.

How will the new CBS All-Access series carry on Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s “family tradition” by launching a solo mission built around one character, even if it is longtime fan-favorite Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart)?

“It’s a great and necessary question and it’s something that has been baked into the DNA of Picard,” Alex Kurtzman, the show’s executive producer, said when I asked him the question during the newest edition of Crew Call, the Deadline podcast hosted by film editor Anthony D’Alessandro.

Kurtzman elaborated: “Yes, obviously, it is Patrick’s show but we have a unbelievable cast. The thing I loved about the Next Gen cast is that you really could have focused any episode on any of them, you know, and I would say the same about our cast now. It’s such an incredibly brilliant group of actors…and they’re given such amazing things to do that, without spoiling anything, I think you will feel that [same feeling].”

Check out the entire podcast to hear more about Star Trek: Picard and tidbits about the upcoming animated Star Trek series that Kurtzman says will seek out younger  fans (and put the brand on toy aisles in a far bigger way). Kurtzman said the future of Trek can be bigger than its past if creators follow a prime directive: Keep every show special.

“Each of these Trek shows has to have a singular identity, Kurtzman said. “You can’t feel you are getting the same thing from any two shows. They have to be different in tone, they have to be different in visual style, color palette, storyline everything has to feel unique to those shows. And that’s how I believe the franchise will grow.”

DC COMICS DEPLOYMENT: DC Comics co-publisher and fan-favorite artist Jim Lee is still trying to get his head around his recent journey to Kuwait with the USO to visit with some of the 12,000 U.S. troops stationed there.  “It’s a lot to unpack,” Lee said of the trip, which was keyed to the 80th anniversary of Batman.

It was bestselling author Brad Meltzer who approached Lee a year ago with the notion of bringing a Comic-Con-style experience of some sort to military bases. The anniversary of DC’s most popular character (sorry Superman) was the perfect platform so in late May an envoy of creators and actors from the DC Universe jetted off to the Middle East: Lee,  Danielle Panabaker (CW’s The Flash), Nafessa Williams (CW’s Black Lighting), Candice Patton (The Flash) , and Batman comics writer Tim King. They even brought along a Tumbler Batmobile from The Dark Knight-era films that proved to be a big hit with troops at the five bases they visited (Camp Buering, Camp Arifjan, Ali Al Salem, Camp Patriot, and Al Jaber).

“Every single one of our security detail was into comics and not just the TV shows and the movies, they were pulling out comics, some from the 1990s, too, so these were longtime fans and passionate fans,” Lee said with obvious pride. “The theme of bringing the superhero to the real heroes, the ones without capes, it was amazing.”

Lee is a rare meld of creative talent and high-level corporate leadership. Not only is he a visual savant he’s arguably the most popular comic book artist of the last 25 years. And as the uber-art director for DC his design agenda and sensibility echo in the DC Universe in a profound way. Art was also his path to acceptance as a child: Lee immigrated to the United States at age 5 and spoke no English. It was his drawings of classmates that helped him adjust to a new life and then, eventually, it led him to his life’s work. That background added layers of patriotic emotion to the trip for Lee, who is now a father of nine.

Readers of DC Comics might want to watch Lee’s body of work over upcoming months to see if they can find imagery that Lee brought back with him like souvenirs of the imagination.

“I was definitely taking visual note of everything,” Lee said. “Tom King and I were nerding-out basically…we saw an old Soviet tank from the Iraq War, for instance, on the side of the road so I made them pull over and I was checking out the turret and the scale of it. I had seen images in military books of the vehicle but I had never seen one in person. As an artist you take everything in and store it. I don’t know where I will use it but it will be in there somewhere, someday.”

ESSENTIAL SHELF: Jon Cryer isn’t an evil mastermind he just plays one on TV. The Emmy-winning star of Two and A Half Men was a bold casting choice to play Lex Luthor on Supergirl and it was a gamble that paid off in a big way. Cryer is no tourist in the DC Universe. Not only did he have a part in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace he’s an avid fan of graphic novels and knows his stuff about old-school comics. So I asked him to share a recommended reading list. Here’s Cryer’s short list of must-read graphic novels, and it’s a great one: Frank Miller’s Daredevil: Born Again; The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes; Lex Luthor: Man of Steel; The Umbrella Academy; Superman: Birthright; My Friend Dahmer; Whiteout; Frank Miller’s Ronin; and Will Eisner’s A Contract with God.

FLASHBACK: Here’s the trailer for the 1987 film Superman IV: A Quest for Peace. Cryer (who was coming off of his role as Duckie in Pretty in Pink) plays Lex Luthor’s nephew, you can see him at the 1:26 minute mark.

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