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II. But what happened in The Penny Paradox, anyway? Continued from this post.

(EDIT: I have completely re-written this since I originally posted it Saturday.)

The fanfic titled The Penny Paradox, by Leni R. Sommer and Peggy Spaulding, covered the months after the events of Buckaroo Banzai: Across The Eighth Dimension. (It is also available here.) My peer group circa 1993-1995 accepted this fanfic as "canon" in lieu of an actual sequel to The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai: Across The Eighth Dimension. It influenced my own Buckaroo Banzai fanfic, which was essentially a continuation of The Penny Paradox, long before the Buckaroo Banzai comic book was released, or there was any news of a possible TV series in the works - which ultimately failed to materialize, due to the franchise being stuck in Development Hell for decades.



First off: Rawhide is truly dead in this narrative, and the first story in the volume, “Ashes To Ashes,” depicts the different ways that his fellow Hong Kong Cavaliers deal with his passing.

Second: The fic introduced two OCs: Carly Beren, a researcher in the fields of communications, archaeology, and maths, whose interests branched into things like tesseracts and time travel (the MCU’s current re-imagining of Jane Foster is not that far off, actually) who spent time working with blind and deaf children after her own daughter Caitlin was stricken with an illness that permanently damaged her hearing. The fic describes their recruitment and assimilation into the Banzai Institute over a period of several months (the fic was written in 1986-1997, and the Challenger disaster is mentioned in the second volume, so it’s safe to assume that the events depicted in the story are also occurring around the same time.)

Caitlin (who we assumed to be around 6-7 years of age, based on her depiction in the story) is written as what would become known in New Age circles as an “Indigo Child,” possessed of strong intuitive ability, and filling the role of what TV Tropes refers to as the Oracular Urchin. It is immediately apparent to her that something is way off about Penny Priddy...suspicions that were echoed by Rawhide about Buckaroo’s deceased wife Peggy in his journals, which are unearthed after he is laid to rest. And to say any more about that subplot at this point would be revealing too many spoilers.

The first ever depiction of Lo Pep that I saw, in canon, fanfic, or otherwise, took place in The Penny Paradox, when he made an attempt to kidnap Carly Beren on the orders of Hanoi Xan, after some of the World Crime League’s blackhat hackers apparently stumbled across some of her notes regarding tesseracts on the Banzai Institute mainframe. As I would later learn from the novelization of the film, Xan’s greatest wish (aside from tormenting/killing Buckaroo Banzai, after forcing him to witness the suffering and death of all of his loved ones) is to master instantaneous travel between two distant points in space (OR: as Homestuck fans might put it - “How do you expect to outrun me when I am already here?”) This event actually ends up forcing the foreshadowed issue with Penny...and again, spoilers.

Xan himself does not actually show up until Volume II.

Volume II of The Penny Paradox was, and is, the most awesome example of what TV Tropes calls Canon Welding that I have ever seen. One of the attractions of the Buckaroo Banzai mythos is how adaptable it is to being a shared universe with other franchises. I have seen Ghostbusters fanfic crossovers with Buckaroo Banzai. I have seen a fanfic crossover with Firefly. One could just easily imagine it being crossed over with Back To The Future or Weird Science. It apparently has been exists in-universe with The Phantom 2040 and Battletech, both of which refer to it at least once in their own canon. it has been considered to be a part of The Wold Newton Universe.

Volume II starts out as a continuation of the storyline from Volume One...and then turns into a crossover with a little-known cult sci fi show from the very early 1980s, called The Phoenix, starring Judson Scott. (Seriously, just look at him!)

As a hippie child raised by a hippie who still held on to the new-age mysticism of the 1960s and 1970s, this show was right up my alley. And I never would have known about it if it hadn't been for The Penny Paradox.

The next story is a Dr. Who crossover. Then it's a BBC's Robin of Sherwood crossover, using the earlier Dr. Who narrative as a framing device to get there. Then it's a Star Trek (the Original Series) crossover. And it's all really, awesomely, amazingly coherently done.

And after that, it was over. That was it. There was no more of it. Nothing but our imaginations run rampant, and us left wanting more of the story.

Also, the lady Interns and Cavaliers were in this. Pecos was included, as was Big Norse. All of the lady Hong Kong Cavaliers and Blue Blaze Irregulars who were cut from the film appear in The Penny Paradox. This, and the novelization by Earl Mac Rauch, made me realize just how audiences had been cheated of seeing these heroines on the big screen when Across The Eighth Dimension was released.

A common complaint that I hear from women who have viewed Across The Eighth Dimension was that they fell asleep during it, or that it failed to hold their attention; a possible reason could be that there is no active female "in character." All of the female characters are passive or absent. Penny Priddy quickly becomes a damsel in distress, robbed of agency, appearing to be "fridged" at one point (complete with "male protagonist longingly gazing upon the body of his dead beloved" scene.) In the 2006 comic, she WAS fridged. Mrs. Johnson is onscreen for less than five minutes. Big Norse isn't even mentioned, her place in the World Watch One taken by an unnamed male Banzai Institute intern. Pecos is in Tibet.

The fanfic that I have seen more than adequately rectifies this issue, but it is a pity that executive meddling caused the ladies of the Banzai Institute to be axed from the film for the most part.

III. The Book Of The Film.

I found Earl Mac Rauch's novelization of his film The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai: Across The Eighth Dimension entirely by accident, in a used bookstore in late 1995. Until then, I'd had no idea that a novelization even existed. It went further into Buckaroo's backstory than the film ever did, explaining how his parents were murdered by Hanoi Xan during the test run of the prototype of the Jetcar in 1955.

My original mental picture of The World Crime League as a rebel paramilitary organization was Jossed. Instead, I was introduced to a re-imagining of Sax Rohmer's Celestial Order Of The Si Fan. Hanoi Xan, the Pivot Of Mystery himself, was basically Fu Manchu.

I'd seen expys of Fu Manchu before - most notably, Ming The Merciless (and how weird is it that the same Computer Science teacher who gave me my first copy of Buckaroo Banzai on VHS also gave me a copy of the 1981 Flash Gordon film that same year?) But the fact is that the depiction of an evil Asian secret society hell-bent upon destroying the West probably wouldn't fly today, especially since the Western entertainment industry has begun make attempts to appeal to audiences in Asia.

The novelization of Across The Eighth Dimension is laden with examples of Orientalism (the practice of the casting of Asian peoples and cultures as eternally exotic and barbaric "others" by Western writers and artists) even when lauding Buckaroo's positive character traits. To be fair, one can tell from the novelization that Earl Mac Rauch was very obviously inspired by the 1930s-era pulp fiction works that brought us Fu Manchu and Flash Gordon. Those were less enlightened times.

However, the main thread of the storyline went in another direction entirely; the novelization goes much further than the film in depicting its villains, the Red Lectrtoids, as living examples of toxic masculinity similar to Immortan Joe’s “War Boys” in last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road; a group of resentfully seething nationalists belonging to a violent patriarchal honor-culture, who have been exiled from their home planet for unjustly warring against the dominant culture of Planet 10: a civilization of black-skinned beings led by a female leader. So there's that.

Earl Mac Rauch is an entertaining writer, and I legitimately enjoyed the novelization of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across The Eighth Dimension in spite of its problematic aspects. It reads like a 1930s pulp fiction novel set in the 1980s, and it's supposed to. It's obviously an homage to that genre of literature, and the fact that some of the problems inherent in the genre made it into the narrative is just something that I've had to learn to reconcile with the aspects of it that I do like.

Another aspect of the novel which is only implied by the film is the idea that the story recounted in Across The Eighth Dimension itself is just one episode in an ongoing storyline containing many such chapters, serialized by the Banzai Institute's chronicler Reno Nevada (the alter ego of Earl Mac Rauch himself) and released as novels, comics, and television shows. This media never actually existed in the real world (well, until the line of comics was released in 2006) except meta-fictionally "in universe" within the Banzai mythos.

However, much of the fandom behaves as though they believe that Buckaroo Banzai and the Banzai Institute exist within the real world for the sake of this narrative. Many of the fanfics follow the example of the novelization, and are interspersed with snippets which are supposed to be taken from Reno's accounts of actual previous adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers.

Also: the novelization contains the foundation of the plot of The Penny Paradox fanfic, based upon the last words uttered by Rawhide before his untimely death from the Red Lectroid toxin. Reading the novelization made me appreciate just how neatly the events of the fanfic seemed to unfold naturally from the storyline in the novelization itself.


To be continued.

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