Suffering from Terminator withdrawal, now that the TV show's on break and the movie's weeks away? Skynet has published a novel and some comics that lead up to Terminator Salvation. We've reviewed them for you.
The novel is Terminator: From The Ashes, by Star Wars veteran Timothy Zahn, published by Titan Books. And the comics are called simply Terminator Salvation: Official Movie Prequel (although the storyline appears to be called "Sand In The Gears." The comics are published by IDW, and they're written by Dara Naraghi and drawn by Alan Robinson. There's also a comic called Terminator Salvation #0, which appears to be a comic-book adapation of the first 20 minutes of the movie.
In From The Ashes, we catch up with John Connor and his wife Kate, in the bleak world of 2018. John's squad includes the super-bad foot-soldier Barnes (played by Common) and the master-dogfighting pilot Blair (Moon Bloodgood). They figure out where Skynet is going to launch its next Terminator attack against the human survivors, and they hatch a plan to capture Skynet's supply base while all its Terminators are distracted by the attack. But Connor doesn't know that the survivors who are Skynet's next target include the young Kyle Reese and his friend, the mute little girl Star (played by Jadagrace in the movie).
In the "Sand In The Gears" comic, meanwhile, John Connor is only peripherally involved, and none of the movie's other supporting cast appears. The main storyline involves a a group of Resistance fighters who launch a two-front operation against Skynet, in Niger and in the United States. The Niger operation involves an Arab resistance fighter, Yusuf, who must learn to trust Lysette, a French doctor who hasn't bothered to learn any Arabic, and who used to treat only the important people at the local mining company. Now that civilization has collapsed, can these two set their differences aside and work together? The answer may not surprise you. And in the U.S. part of the anti-Skynet operation, an old guy named Jackson whose family died in a Terminator attack seeks revenge, while Elena, a woman who's in love with John Connor realizes he'll never see her as anything but a good soldier.
The most interesting thing about both the novel and the comics is the portrayal of human survivors who haven't joined the resistance. In From The Ashes, Kyle Reese and Star go to live at Lost Mouldering Ashes, a community of about 250 people who are sheltering in a ruined building, trading gasoline for supplies and food. The community's leader, Grimaldi, is a former corporate executive who's used to being in charge but has no idea how to deal with a military struggle. And Grimaldi wrongly believes that Skynet will leave his community alone if the humans don't offer any provocation. When other communities have been attacked, Grimaldi believes the resistance brought Skynet's wrath down on them. The community's other main leader, former Marine Sgt. Orozco, realizes that Grimaldi is wrong about Skynet, but he has his own reasons for not wanting to join the Resistance.
Meanwhile, in "From The Ashes," another group of human survivors refuses to help Elena's operation against Skynet. Their leader, old man Jackson, says: Every time your joke of a Resistance pays us a visit, you're that much more likely to bring the damn Terminators down on us.... We'd rather just live our lives under the radar. The war is over. We lost. All's I care about is the survival of my family. It's only after Terminators wipe out his family that he swears revenge against Skynet and decides to help Elena's operation.
The other plot strand that these prequels set up is John Connor's struggle to get the Resistance to take him seriously. In the novel, particularly, he launches an ambitious plan to capture - not destroy - a Skynet supply/repair facility, because he needs to prove himself to the Resistance. The orgnazation is run by former generals and admirals, and has a relatively good supplies and ammunition. But they don't entirely trust Connor or see him as a valuable part of the fight against Skynet. At the end of the novel, he's finally proven himself enough to get brought into the Resistance chain of command proper, but he's still just one link in that chain, without much authority - even though he knows more about Skynet and Terminators than anyone else.
If you're only going to get one Terminator Salvation prequel, I'd recommend From The Ashes - for one thing, it does introduce the movie's main cast, except for Marcus Wright. For another, it's a pretty engaging war story, with enough cool action set pieces to keep you turning the pages. It gives a nice sense of how the world of 2018 works, with all the different types of Terminators running around, all networked to Skynet - so it knows whatever they know.And the main extra character, Sgt. Orozco, is an interesting enough chraacter that I was sorry he doesn't pop up in the movie (according to IMDB, anyway). Orozco's struggle to save a community he knows is doomed is pretty compelling, and his battle of wills with the stuffed shirt Grimaldi will no doubt remind you of all the delusional middle managers you've encountered in your own life. From The Ashes doesn't reinvent the war novel, or anything, and I couldn't honestly tell exactly what was supposed to be going on in about half the fight scenes. But all the sequences where Blair flies around and outwits Hunter-Killers (earning the name Hunter-Killer Butt-Kicker, or Hickaback for short) are pretty thrilling.
"Sand In The Gears," meanwhile, feels more non-essential. There were long stretches where I felt like Dara Naraghi wanted to write a story about Arab and French people learning to understand each other, and decided to use this opportunity to get it in front of a lot of Terminator fans. On the other hand, the stuff with Jackson's delusions that Skynet will leave his group of survivors alone were a nice compliment to Grimaldi's in the book. And the comic includes some great scenes of a T-600 trying to impersonate a human, with mixed success. There are some nice panels of T-600s squashing people's heads and running rampant through the post-apocalyptic landscape. But you won't have a great aching void in your life if you skip the prequel comic.
And then there's Terminator Salvation #0, which is an adaptation of the movie's beginning. It has a lot of the lines of dialogue you've heard in the trailers, including "If you can hear this, you are the Resistance," and "This is not the future my mother warned me about." It starts out with Marcus Wright in the 1990s, about to be executed for killing someone. A woman comes to him and offers him one more chance to donate his body to an experimental research program, and he finally says yes in exchange for a kiss. Then he's executed, and the next thing he knows, it's 2018 and Los Angeles has gone way downhill. He's about to become toast, until Kyle Reese and Star swoop down and save him. ("Come wiht me if you want to live," Kyle says.) Meanwhile, the Resistance leaders are suspicious of John Connor - again. He's the only survivor of an assault on a Skynet facility. (He escaped in his helicopter, with the dead pilot, just as everything blew up, while a Terminator clung to the helicopter skids.) Other Resistance fighters stand up for Connor and say they're sure he's not a collaborator. Plus, they found a purported list of Skynet's main human targets, and John Connor's name was second on the list. Top of the list was some random teenager named Kyle Reese. Connor says the Resistance leaders are being too cautious to win against Skynet, trying to outsmart an enemy a thousand times smarter than they are. He and the Resistance brass have this great conversation;
Random stuffed shirt: The men say you're going to lead the Resistance some day. You expect us to just hand over control to you, is that it?
Connor: No, I expect Skynet to kill you. I'll have to fight alongside whoever's left.
The Resistance has a new plan to defeat Skynet: a signal that will basically turn off all of the machines, everywhere. A secret "off button" that was installed before Skynet even took over. And they want Connor to test it. Oh, and the new timeline is so bad, that the horrible future John Connor's mother used to describe to him seems mild by comparison. "The future I used to dread is the only hope I have left," he says in a voiceover caption.
All in all, reading all this preview material has made me more excited for the movie, which I was already looking forward to. It's in the nature of prequels (and media tie-ins generally) to be non-required reading - although it sounds like the new Star Trek movie makes more sense if you've read the prequel comics. But these tie-ins are like most: they provide a bit of extra backstory and give you an extra story to sate your cravings in between the movies or TV shows. But From The Ashes is a pretty bracing war story about an army fighting without support from the last few remaining civilians, which is always a good basis for a tale.