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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

enik1138 at popapostle-dot-com
"Death Valley" Part 1
Terminator Special
Dark Horse
Written by Alan Grant
Art by Guy Davis
Cover by Geof Darrow
August 1998


A bounty hunter is sent to bring a senator's daughter back from her membership in a motorcycle gang. He finds her...and a couple of Terminators in the bargain.


Read the complete story summary at the Terminator Wiki


Notes from the Terminator chronology


Page 4 states the "current" year is 1998. This is past the August 29, 1997 date of Judgment Day set in the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but it's obvious that Skynet's nuclear armageddon has not yet occurred. Dialog in later chapters of Death Valley also indicates that young John Connor is still ignorant of his future, Skynet, the Terminators, etc. It seems this is an alternate timeline in which the events of the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day never occurred.


Didja Know? 


The Terminator Special was a prelude to the 4-part 1998 mini-series titled simply The Terminator, published by Dark Horse. The title "Death Valley" comes from the the name of the trade paperback collection of all five issues.


Didja Notice? 


The metallic skull on the inside front cover of this issue does not look like a normal T-800 skull. Perhaps it's a different Terminator series.


On page 4, panel 1, the biker's motorcycle is seen to have a pentacle on the gas tank, a pentagram (five-pointed star) circumscribed by a circle. This symbol has been used in religious and magical rituals since ancient times and is still in use by various neopagan religions. Christian religions in recent centuries tend to associate it with Satanism; the biker is soon revealed to be a member of a Satanic biker gang.


VanDirk's narrative mentions staking out a shop in Furnace Creek. This is a tiny town in Death Valley, California.


After making the biker, Donny, walk barefoot across the hot desert land, VanDirk states that the rock-hard salt crystals did a job on him. Much of Death Valley is made up of salt flats, dry lakes covered by a layer of alkali salts. VanDirk remarks to himself that the Devil supposedly doesn't like salt, but he can't remember why. Presumably, he is thinking of the superstition stating if you should spill salt, you should throw a pinch of it over your left shoulder to blind the Devil standing there; it is considered a bad omen to spill salt because of salt's great value in ancient times and due to the legend that Judas spilled salt at the Last Supper as seen in the painting The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci.

On page 6, a computerized voice speaks to Lt. Stamford during his torture. A glowing red, eye-like lens look down on him from an apparatus. The eye is reminiscent of HAL 9000, the sentient computer from the films 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010. Possibly, the voice and eye are that of Skynet, though the story takes place after unspecified previous attempts to prevent John Connor's birth have failed, which would imply a time after the resistance has destroyed Skynet; the computer presence here may be one of the many machine-run complexes around the world which were said to continue to fight the humans, as per their programming in "Tempest" Part 1.  
Skynet(?) eye   HAL 9000 eye (from Wikipedia)


It seems that this computer is not aware of Skynet's previous attempt to kill John Connor as a child; this is our first clue that, in this timeline, the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day never occurred. Since all attempts to prevent his birth have failed, it decides to send Terminators back in time to kill him as a boy.


The two Terminators introduced here are D-800L (male) and D-810X (female), continuing the naming scheme introduced in earlier Dark Horse mini-series in the Terminator franchise.


The time displacement chamber seen on page 9 is dissimilar from any previously seen.

Time Displacement Chamber


The Devil tarot card image on page 10 is very similar to common depictions found in many tarot card sets. The tarot reading Cindy gives after drawing it must be based on all the cards she's drawn so far, not just the Devil, as her description of "Evil comes this way...there will be the end of something and the start of something...someone will be hurt..." does not particularly describe the typical interpretations of this card (which relates to materialism, egotism, temptation, etc.).


On page 13, notice that after D-810X unconcernedly steps on and kills a lizard in the desert, D-800L looks back at the dead creature questioningly. This is an early indication of the concern for life (for a Terminator, that is!) that is evidenced by D-800L throughout the mini-series.


On page 15, Cindy draws the Tower from the tarot deck, saying it means danger and death. The Tower is often interpreted as danger, destruction, or disruption, but generally not death per se. However, death does find Cindy just a minute later.


At the end of the issue, the female Terminator, D-810X, takes another biker's motorcycle which also has a pentacle on the gas tank.


Unanswered Questions


What caused D-800L to arrive slightly behind in time from the arrival of D-810X? It's never explained throughout the mini-series, though D-800L does speculate here, simply, "Possible error in time displacement." In the later chapters of this mini-series, it seems that D-800L is suffering from some anomaly in his programming, as he exhibits somewhat of a concern for life...human, animal, and that of himself and D-810X.


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